Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis & Tula Lotay

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fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsSupreme: Blue Rose, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Tula Lotay comic book reviewsSupreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis & Tula Lotay

I have to admit that there are a few red flag elements in Supreme: Blue Rose, written by Warren Ellis and drawn by Tula Lotay, that might give some potential readers pause. One is the whole “inside game” element to it thanks to how it plays off of the old Supreme comic universe, meaning lots of its references will go completely over the head of those wholly unfamiliar with that fictional world (and I, I confess, am nearly so, only having picked up on this from recognizing a few names and references from prior reading not of Supreme itself but from some non-fiction about Alan Moore, who wrote some of that comic). I don’t know if one has to have read Supreme to enjoy Ellis and Lotay’s work (especially as that’s only one aspect), but I do know not having read it means one will lose out on a big chunk of referential substance.

Another of those red flags, clearly related to the above, is the meta-fictional aspect of the work. This is one of those genre elements that I’ve found creates one of the strongest “Your Mileage May Vary” responses in readers. Some folks can’t stand the idea of fiction about fiction, like, really can’t stand it, while others lap it up and beg for more. And I think it’s pretty clear, even without having read the original Supreme, that Ellis and Lotay are holding their noses and cannonballing right into the metafictional pool, as evidence by all the references to the universe these characters swim in being “rebooted” or “revisioned” periodically, with events taking a different path as they are “revisioned (as happened with the original Supreme and obviously is happening all the time in the comic world).

02Spinning off from the inside knowledge / metafictional facets is yet another potentially off-putting choice by the creators, and that is to try to mirror the characters’ sense of confusion and dislocation (thanks to the aforementioned revisioning / rebooting) in the text and art so that the reader feels that same sense of being lost at sea. This is always a fine line to tiptoe, akin to trying to present a character who leads a boring existence without at the same time boring the reader, and how one responds to this refusal to lay things out in nice, neat linear fashion, or even in understandable fashion, will go a long way in determining whether one finds the reading experience a pleasantly stimulating one or tosses the story across the room partway through in sheer annoyance and frustration.

To be honest, I wavered back and forth several times between those two options, and while I finally came down a bit more strongly on the side of the former, I can’t say it isn’t a close call.

The story throws the reader immediately into a sense of dislocation with an opening conversation, presented appropriately enough for this surreal story, as a dream sequence, with one character telling another, “And then it all changed… Everything. From a certain perspective, the entire universe is only a few months old.” And thus the revisioning theme is introduced from the very start, and then emphasized by the appearance of another character called (again, appropriately enough, “Enigma”), who tells them:

I remember all my past lives. I just don’t know who I am now… I stood on a lake shore like this before. Jinapo Lacus, near Kraken Mare, in the north of Titan. Liquid hydrocarbon, lapping under Saturn tides. There was a woman on the lake. She had eyes like yours. She said she was a princess of Saturn, and that she came from the future.

Later, after his woman from the future ascends “steps assembled from the shrapnel of her own tears,” pausing long enough to tell him his name, he closes his story by telling the dreamer, Diana Dane, “I feel like a story that the universe didn’t finish writing.”

03That sequence pretty much tells you all you need know about how the rest of the story will transpire, at least in terms of style. Elliptical. Expressionistic. Surreal. Disconnected. Lyrical. A sense of fluidity, not in the fashion of smooth shifts from one causally linear scene to another, but in the manner of one substance melting into another.

In this way, I’d say Supreme: Blue Rose is more poem than story. Not so much in a literal fashion with regard to language, which is seldom as overtly lyrical as Enigma’s quotation above. Though language does play into it, as the dialogue is often highly stylized. But in the way that story and character are (at least it seems to me) de-emphasized here, and the way that tone and style rise more to the forefront. One has to, like a cryptic poem, let the piece wash over you, maybe (probably) more than once or twice, and worry less about decoding it so much as experiencing it.

The poetic style holds as true for the artwork, which I’d say is the strongest part of Supreme: Blue Rose. The colors are often beautiful, the artwork shifting as necessary to the story’s needs, as when for instance the narrative calls for a layering of visuals to depict a layering of worlds. The art is a perfect match for the narrative, with its own sense of the surreal and obscure. Sometimes literally, as in the dream sequence with Enigma, whose face lacks all features.

Supreme: Blue Rose is not an easy work to enjoy. And I can easily see why a lot of people just won’t. For those who might, usually I’d say something like it takes some “work” to do so. But in this case it may take just the opposite. Instead of working at it, instead of calling up your personal memories of Supreme or Googling just what it was about, instead of trying to make sense of the shifting time and space continuums and tying it all together, think of it like a summer shower or a winter snowfall. Don’t try to figure out the rate of the droplets or count the snowflakes; just tilt your head back, let it all fall down upon and around you, and enjoy the experience. Recommended, but with all the obvious caveats.


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BILL CAPOSSERE, who's been with us since June 2007, lives in Rochester NY, where he is an English adjunct by day and a writer by night. His essays and stories have appeared in Colorado Review, Rosebud, Alaska Quarterly, and other literary journals, along with a few anthologies, and been recognized in the "Notable Essays" section of Best American Essays. His children's work has appeared in several magazines, while his plays have been given stage readings at GEVA Theatre and Bristol Valley Playhouse. When he's not writing, reading, reviewing, or teaching, he can usually be found with his wife and son on the frisbee golf course or the ultimate frisbee field.

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One comment

  1. Since for me the Supremes were a successful Mo-Town girl-group, I thought this probably wasn’t for me, until I got to your final few paragraphs. You make it sound intriguing.

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