Dimension Traveling at Its Finest: Warren Ellis & Tula Lotay’s Supreme: Blue Rose

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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.

Cover for Volume One of Supreme: Blue Rose

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. 

Apocalypse by Trees: Warren Ellis’s Trees

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Given the revival of zombies and other forms of apocalypse in modern media and culture, perhaps today’s media creators are all honing in on a general instability hiding under our technology age where the future seems bright but something rotten lurks underneath.

Warren Ellis’s Trees capitalizes on the concept and the fear of the apocalypse in the modern age with alien tree-like creatures falling from space and landing on Earth. However, unlike the zombies and any active attacking force galvanizing the end of the world, the trees rule and stand with a nearly silent presence, growing and oozing a mysterious green acidic liquid. In a way, the trees do not intentionally inflict malevolence on the humans and communities of Earth. They simply grow and live, but as they flourish, they interrupt human life, landscapes, natural resources, and societies, leaving humans to adapt in the wake.

Cover for Warren Ellis’s Trees Volume One

Given the indifference of the trees, they really cannot serve as villains in the series. Consequently, as seen in the wake of most natural disasters, the enemies and the heroes rise from humans as they try to live in a new world from the rubble of the past. And though the non-sentient trees now control the world without communicating their intentions (or really even having the facilities to do so), evil rises in varying degrees from different people futilely grasping for control, and good rises from people understanding the triviality of life given the inexplicable damage of the trees and have thus tried to adapt and life as freely and happily as possible.

The first volume of Trees compiles the starting eight issues and covers the reactions and survival strategies of people across different classes and countries across the world. In this first volume, we see how politicians, dictators, scientists, farmers, painters, lower level gangsters, police, and everyday, regular people live in the shadows of the trees. Each group of focus brings a radically different perspective to the circumstances, and given the direness of the world of the trees, each group’s intentions are truer to their characters and personas than ever.

In this first volume, a scientist studies in isolation in Norway, unrelentlessly and irresponsibly committing everything to understanding the tree’s expansion. An uncommonly wealthy man in Rio de Janeiro contemplates on his political career and his desire to change the current regime of law enforcement. In the city of Shu, a former farmer crosses barricaded gates to enter an artist and freak community centered and thriving around a tree and separated from everyone else by concrete walls and military guard. In Somalia, a dictator plans on using a tree as an object of military strategy. And, in Cefalu, small time mobsters reign over the mostly abandoned wasteland caused by the arrival and permanent residence of a tree.

Despite the presence of these uncaring and unrelenting trees in these people’s lives, the world has really not changed too much. Power struggles still exist. Kindness still exists. Brutality still exists. Greed still exists. Vices and virtues all remain the same but each has been magnified, and the territory between has become even more unclear in this world. And, this grey area is what makes Trees a fascinating read because this amplified ambiguity between good and evil parallels the same territory in our globalized, technology linked world.

Undoubtedly, the fiction of the trees linger in the background of the narrative, but they exist exactly the way they do in the world of the series as silent, domineering giants, ready to make a move that could dissolve an entire community at any moment. Consequently, a sense of transience runs throughout every branch and arc of Trees. Unlike in most fiction, a character or setting can disappear from the narrative at anytime due to the unpredictability of the trees and the administrations of the various people who attempt to run the world, making the fictional world detailed in Trees far less different than our own transient real world.

Absolutely an exercise in existentialism, as expected from most post-apocalyptic works, Trees asks plenty of hard questions about human motivations and purpose. Each character in the series approaches the question in a different way in light of the mercurial and death-inducing trees, and in turn, Ellis asks us to think about our own existence in reality where life is just as fragile and temporary. Despite the heavy topic, the combination of Ellis’s prose-like narration with fluid dialog and Jason Howard’s semi-realist artwork makes Trees emerge as more of a naturalist rather than allegorical work. Though it may border the line between insightfully powerful and heavy-handedly pretentious, Trees has the potential to capture and interpret all of the struggles, conflicts, and moments of hope seen in modern times around the world, preparing it to become one of the most comprehensive series offering commentary on the experience of living as a human being on Earth in the 21st century.

Trees Volume One is written by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Jason Howard. This first volume collects issues 1-8, and issue 9 will be available in May.