As I write this, I am in a post-4th of July haze induced by hot dogs, jazz, the sound of forbidden fireworks fired in the streets, and a long walk through what felt like an abandoned Los Angeles. In this state, I’m reading two works at the same time that lead me toward disorientation because I could not imagine two series more opposite in tone and content. The crazy two are Daniel Clowes’s The Complete Eightball and Warren Ellis’s Supreme: Blue Rose.
To heighten this sense of confusion, Supreme: Blue Rose may just be one of the most dream-like and ethereal comics for the masses I’ve seen in some time.
Warren Ellis must never sleep. His sharp series, Trees, has progressed a few months after the first volume was released earlier this year, and simultaneously, another series, Injection, has begun this summer. And in addition to these two, he’s also managed to complete seven issues of Supreme: Blue Rose, which are collected into the first volume for the series that hit comic book stores this week on July 1st.
When Ellis actually sleeps between all of this work, his dreams must be filled with multiple dimensions and plenty of time travelling into places we will never see, but thankfully for us, he and Tula Lotay have materialized these forbidden foreign places in between the folds of the spectrum of time with Supreme: Blue Rose.
Diana Dane (yes, that’s probably the epitome of a superhero name) seems to have ties to some alternate universe. In her dreams, a man warns her about trusting a complete stranger named Darius Dax (and yes, that’s the epitome of a supervillian name), and a faceless man, cleverly named Enigma, stands on the shore staring into a bay where he claims a guardian of the future once descended and spoke to him as she surveyed the land one last time before it would change. And if things could not get any more ominous, the faceless man appears at a street corner as Diana travels to a meeting with Darius Dax at the National Praxinoscope Company for some reason undisclosed to her.
But let me warn you, despite the superhero names and some familiar archetypes seen in some superhero comics, Supreme: Blue Rose is far beyond a superhero tale. It is not really even an anti-superhero comic….
Diana has fallen from grace from her rising journalism career, and consequently, when Dax offers her a total of one million dollars to investigate the whereabouts of Ethan Crane, even under far beyond ordinary, most likely supernatural circumstances, she has little reason to say no. One million dollars does not come without some level of grief, and Diana has quite a lot of it in store for her.
As it turns out, the universe resembles some giant, self releasing software development machine. It releases versions of reality and merges them into the time space continuum, creating multiple branches of reality that may or may not shift when a new version arrives. Unfortunately, a recent version has disrupted the separation of realities, and fragments of others are falling into the one Diana Dane and Darius Dax inhabit. The answer to the clashing of alternate realms lies with Ethan Crane, but he has seemingly vaporized, and his disappearance may be a sign of the end to come.
In parallel to Diana’s quest to find Ethan Crane, Ellis also presents the worlds of Professor Night, a television serial character, and Chelsea Henry, a professor turned dimension jumper. Professor Night battles his own enemy and lover in Evening Primrose in a decaying futuristic world, and Chelsea attempts to understand her own powers and the truth behind the universe. Both Professor Night and Chelsea wander through their worlds and also multiple dimensions in search of something, and as Supreme: Blue Rose unfolds, they both travel into Diana Dane’s world, all culminating into a final scene where the past, the present, and the future collide, shatter, and fold.
Supreme: Blue Rose feels like Ellis’s “fuck you, I can do it better” to the frequent use of alternate universes in superhero dynasties. Ellis expands that inherently human fascination with what ifs and regrets to create a whole series around alternate realities that constantly and cryptically twist and turn. With this series, in our post-modern world, Ellis proves that he shall remain as the king of futuristic, nihilistic concepts; every character in Supreme: Blue Rose has no control over his or her existence(s), and all of their perceived realities remain in a fragile state, ready to fall at any moment, rejecting any belief that we as humans can hold true power over our own reality.
Beyond the experiences of the characters, the instability of the worlds of Supreme: Blue Rose are most evident in the artwork by Tula Lotay. All of the illustrations have a looseness and haziness to them accomplished by pastel and watercolor techniques that blur the lines between dreams, pasts, presents, and futures, making us as the readers question what is real and what is not and if the concept of the real even matters. Lotay’s artwork paired with Ellis’s narrative makes Supreme: Blue Rose transcend above all other dimension shifting series.
By the end of Supreme: Blue Rose, Diana Dane may or may not have succeeded her mission, and Ethan Crane may or may not have helped change the universe, but alas, an exact answer may not exist because we have no idea which reality the events occurred in. A goal directed plot certainly exists, but the most fascinating parts of the series occur across dimensions with the reveal of different versions of a single character which can be pieced together to establish each character’s fundamental motivations and inclinations toward good or evil or nothing at all. With Supreme: Blue Rose, Ellis pushes the storytelling technique of fragmented character building into a new territory, all while reminding us not to get too swept up in our own fantasies of our own possible alternate realities, since after all, we have an essential character and spirit, and that will permeate all of the dimensions, whether you’re a desk clerk in one reality or a supermodel in another.
Supreme: Blue Rose by Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay is available now via Image Comics.