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Graphic Novel Review – Supreme: Blue Rose

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Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis, illustrated by Tula Lotay (July 14)

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“You are not dreaming. We are trying to communicate with you. Local reality has been reinstalled. Things have gone wrong. The revision has corrupted. Finding Ethan Crane is your supreme priority. Do not trust Darius Dax. We are all going to die.” Supreme: Blue Rose re-introduces the central Image Comics character Supreme, in a multi-layered and often hallucinatory mystery presented by New York Times bestselling writer Warren Ellis and acclaimed new artist Tula Lotay in her astonishing graphic novel debut.

Normally, I’d save the hyperbole for the end, or the middle, or whatever. But I can’t. The only struggle I’m having is whether to call Supreme: Blue Rose my favorite graphic novel (or trade) or my second favorite. It’s that good.

It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination. On three or four separate occasions, I suspected I’d need to reread it. In the end, though, it all came together. I’ll reread it because I want to. Again and again. But not because I have to.

So what’s it about? An unemployed reporter is hired by an unimaginably wealthy individual to investigate an indescribable mystery. Saying any more threatens to spoil something delightful. The author said pretty much the same thing in an interview before the first issue came out.

PREVIEWSworld: [C]ould you elaborate a little on the nature of your re-introduction?

Warren Ellis: I could, but that would kind of defeat the point of buying the book. If you’ve read Supreme before — or have access to the Internet to look it up1 — I can say to you that there’s been a new revision, and you’ll get it. If you haven’t or won’t, then, really, you’re going to have no problem coming in cold, because you’re going to be told a mystery story about the nature of the universe and its agents of stability. Also there are a couple of people who don’t really have heads. It’s fine. You’ll be fine….

Ultimately, I was fine. It’s a sort of genre blending work that combines elements of science fiction, fantasy, horror, drama, and noir. It’s arranged on a scaffold of time travel, metafiction, and the multiverse. It tells a story about itself and about the constant reinvention of characters and titles within the form. Don’t be intimidated. If you’re passingly familiar with, say, Superman, the basic cast will make sense.

This is really Warren Ellis at his best, incorporating many of the elements that made his previous work so outstanding. However, he also draws from his contemporaries and more or less steals their tricks, improving upon them in the process. If you want to pick up one book from the past forty years to demonstrate what the superhero comic can do, choose his one.

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And that’s only half of why Supreme: Blue Rose is so impressive. Tula Lotay’s art is transcendent. I began with bold statements. I might as well run with it. The color palette subtly shifts depending on what genre’s making itself felt most prominently, but there’s a noticeabl reliance pastels, neons, and browns. In a sense, even the illustration is referencing and revivifying some of the most famous work in the genre.

Colors and patterns escape the panels and unite the pages, literally tying the story together. As the narrative comes to a resolution, so do the pictures. Styles blend together as genres collide. What seems like an interesting artistic choice reveals itself as an integral part of the plot of the book.

Beyond that, the characters are distinct, weighty, and individual. Seen from the back, they’re as recognizable as they are in close up. This is invaluable in a complex story like this. You never want to be confused about what you’re looking at when you’re puzzling through a difficult plot. I reckon we’ll be taking a look at everything she works on from here on out.

Supreme: Blue Rose tackles the central challenge of semiotics, defining meaning around the outside of an empty space. And it does it in the context of a superhero comic that’s come to be synonymous with both deconstruction and reconstruction. Our fictions meet, interact with, and redefine reality.

Recommended for fans of The Invisibles, Watchmen, and The Dark Tower.

 

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