Although I can’t remember exactly when/where I bought it, no single comic brings back memories of my 12 year old self than “Supreme” #1. Revisiting the issue has both been a trip back to adolescence and a new experience with a book I (thought I) knew.
Written by Rob Liefeld and Brian Murray
Penciled by Brian Murray
Inked by Rob Liefeld
Color separated by Digital Chameleon
Colored by Brian Murray
Lettered by Kurt Hathaway
“Supreme” is Rob Liefeld’s version of Superman for his Extreme Studios shared universe. This is never hidden or hinted at; it is about as obvious as can be, and that’s not a bad thing. Liefeld has many admirable qualities, but subtlety is not one of them. Luckily, he is paired with Brian Murray here, who co-writes, pencils, and colors the book, and Murray adds a lot of nuance to a very simple premise.
When the issue is described as simple, that’s not to imply that it is slight. There is a lot on the bone here, and for a book that is fairly dialogue light and made up of a bunch of double page spreads. And most of that falls on Murray’s shoulders as the penciler. Supreme, though clearly modeled on Superman, has an air about him akin to someone like Magneto or Black Adam, where their power is such that they are naturally (pardon the pun) superior. This is achieved through Murray’s composition of the pages, where Supreme is never anything less than totally upright, chin held high.
Murray colored this book himself, and his color work is incredibly rich and saturated. Especially for the time, this was a deeper, darker palette than we saw in a lot of DC and Marvel work, and helped establish “Supreme” as something, visually, quite different. The space sequences, in particular, look absolutely beautiful. With Supreme’s shock of white hair, the darker palette really allows him to pop off the page, further establishing him as an outsider.
This book also continues the Extreme Studios status quo of connecting all their characters together. Supreme debuted in an issue of “Youngblood,” and that team makes an appearance here as well. Liefeld clearly had a plan for a tightly connected universe between his characters, and while it feels natural here, eventually the interconnectivity became an issue when delays ramped up.
One really curious aspect of this issue is how it is clearly labeled ‘Volume Two’ on the cover, despite this being the clear first volume. Perhaps this was a commentary on the first appearance of Supreme being in another title, as my pal (and Liefeld collaborator) Chad Bowers suggested? Or is it a reference to the idea that Supreme had adventures on Earth many years ago, and so those stories would be collected in a fictional volume one? Regardless, it is a mystery that isn’t easy to find an answer to, and seems like a very odd choice for a comic which, in its back matter, brags about being a clean start, unlike Marvel or DC books, which have too many old issues/volumes.
Not much happens in this first issue beyond establishing the main characters or two, but the tone is instantly set for the future of the title. Whereas so many Liefeld books felt like excuses to shove as much on a page as possible, this book has far more restraint, which fits with its more majestic, older, less impetuous lead character. While much of the Extreme Studios books tried to shy away from their exact origins (like “Youngblood” being a Teen Titans pitch), Liefeld and Murray lean into the Superman imagery, but instead of trying to modernize the tale, they go the other way. Supreme is the logical endpoint for Superman, after Lois is dead and he’s lost touch with humanity. This is, in a way, not a Superman pastiche but a Superman sequel, and that is part of what makes it a somewhat timeless read.