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A Man of Steel (by any other name): Adaptation and Continuity in Alan Moore’s “Superman”

By Jack Teiwes

Alan Moore’s body of work on Superman has been long, sporadic and varied, and at its core has served as the site for his most prolonged and detailed examination on the topic of superhero comics, and especially the inherently metatextual nature of comic books’ diegetic continuity. While Moore has explored several other themes in the process, analysis of his two most specific writings on Superman reveal a dialogic relationship between them, initiating and later revisiting a critique of the practice of continuity revision that became a major issue in superhero comics during the era of his contributions to the genre. Indeed, Moore’s writings on Superman both directly and via pastiche versions have spanned the majority of his mainstream career and punctuated shifts in both his own approach and that of the comic industry itself.

As continuity and the alteration thereof have been common themes, all of Moore’s Superman-related work engages in metafiction to one degree or another, and serves as chapters of Moore’s ongoing examination of the nature of superhero comics as opposed to merely superheroes themselves. While other significant works by Moore such as Watchmen have engaged with superheroes on other levels, these core Superman-related works are concerned with superheroes specifically as comic book characters.

To this end Moore has utilised Superman and his analogues more times than any other character in his career. Why Superman? As both the most enduringly iconic manifestation of the superhero and the archetype whose creation originated the entire genre1, his history has by no coincidence been emblematic of trends in the publication of superhero comics and the treatment of their continuity, thus serving as a distilled example for Moore’s explorations of these very issues.

Adaptation has always been a core component of Alan Moore’s work, taking preexisting histories, characters and tropes, exploring and reinventing them in new and unexpected ways, utilising varying techniques of adaptation to explore, deconstruct, parody and comment upon their original sources. This has ranged considerably in application, from the direct, authorised use of pre-existing characters such as his work with mainstream Marvel, DC and Image characters (Captain Britain, Batman, WildC.A.T.S [#21-34, Wildstorm/Image Comics, 1995-1997]); the significant adaptive alteration of established continuity as a means of reinventing existing characters (Swamp Thing, Miracleman); through to the use of pastiche analogues of established characters (Watchmen [DC Comics, 1986-87], and many of his titles for America’s Best Comics) that openly adapt identifiable originals; and finally to the appropriation and reframing of historical or literary characters now in the public domain (From Hell [SpiderBaby Press, later Tundra Publishing, later still Kitchen Sink Press, 1991-1996], The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen [Wildstorm/DC Comics, 1999-present], Lost Girls [Taboo, later Kitchen Sink Press, later still Top Shelf Productions, 1991-2006]). Indeed, the majority of Alan Moore’s major works in the comics medium have employed preexisting characters in one form or another, and thus examinations of his strategies of adaptation when doing so are of value to any study of his work.

It is significant, then, that Superman is the only character in Moore’s career which the writer has revisited on so many occasions, or adapted in so divergent a fashion. Although Moore penned a comparatively small number of authorised stories using the original Superman property, his greater body of work on the character includes several other, far more extensive examinations of the Man of Steel through adapted versions of the character. These adaptations stretched to opposite ends of the spectrum from a very broad thematic approach to Superman’s core concepts to a highly specific metacommentary on the minutiae of the character’s comic history, and that of the industry in general, continuing a criticial examination of comic book continuity revision begun in the handful of stories that fell between these two major projects.

Moore’s first indirect engagement on the topic was via a drawn-out run on his UK title Miracleman (originally Marvelman)2, in which he deconstructed the very notion of a godlike superhuman in the Superman mould, entailing a radical reappraisal of superhero narratives. Following this, Moore wrote a few stories during the mid-1980s for DC Comics using the official Superman character, which yielded some memorable tales that both examined aspects of the hero’s psychology before ultimately embarking on a subtle interrogation into the futility of revising comic book continuity. A decade later Moore revisited the Superman character via a blatant pastiche version, Supreme3, where, in stark contrast to the “realism” and broad thematic approach in Miracleman, he embarked on an elaborately detailed adaptation of Superman’s history and mythos in an act not of deconstruction but reconstruction of both the character and the genre he originated, and in the process extended his earlier examination on the metatextual implications of continuity revision.

Figure 1. Cover to Miracleman #1
Figure 2.
Figure 3. Cover to Supreme: The Return #1

The core trinity of Alan Moore’s work on Superman in one form or another: Thematic exploration in Miracleman, unconventional extrapolations of the official Superman property, and comprehensive pastiche via Supreme.

With Miracleman at one end, Supreme at the other and a handful of noteworthy stories with the genuine Superman in the middle, work both directly and tangentially concerning Superman has spanned a significant portion of Alan Moore’s mainstream oeuvre, and has hosted a recurring examination of the nature of superhero comics. This is most readily evident in the case of the seemingly frivolous Supreme, in which Moore used a densely metatextual adaptation of Superman which serves as a celebratory reexamination of the character and the Silver Age of superhero comics as both a repudiation of the era of grim, “serious” comics he himself ushered in, and as a lively parodic exploration of the very notion of comic book history and continuity. In doing so, he was revisiting the key subtext of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Superman #423 and Action Comics #583, DC Comics, 1986), the most significant of Moore’s 1980s Superman stories, thus creating a dialogic relationship with his own earlier work, and a commentary on the development of the comics industry in the intermediate decade. This was achieved in no small part via his partnership with artist Rick Veitch, the most fruitful collaboration of Moore’s entire Superman-related output, through their fastidious attention to replicating both the idiom and visual schema of the comic book techniques of yesteryear. These adaptive techniques and thematic explorations used in Supreme, and their consequent interrelation to his earlier work, are also of key interest.

Miracleman and the “apotheosis of humanity”

Moore’s first examination of Superman was his most broadly thematic and yet most tangential in specific detail, via his opus Miracleman. A revival and radical reinvention of a defunct 1950s UK character, the title was a breakthrough project for Moore which in large part led to his gaining the attention of the American comic industry (Parkin, p. 28). Although Marvelman/Miracleman was clearly based on Captain Marvel4 moreso than Superman directly, there are various allusions to him,5 and Moore has stated that certain elements of the plot were directly influenced by the concept of taking ideas in the Superman mythos to their “realistic” extremes.6

Moore used the character to explore the fundamental notion of a protagonist with the powers of a demigod in the Superman mould, using what was to become his signature deconstructionist approach to extrapolate this core concept to its logical extreme. Depicting the “real world” consequences of such a being’s existence, Moore’s benevolent Miracleman proceeds to fix the world’s problems (whether mankind wishes him to or not) in the wake of a cataclysmic battle between superhumans, with the result of radically altering the human condition to a point where it has become virtually unrecognisable.

This “apotheosis of humanity” stood in stark contrast to the type of oneiric climate Eco attributed to Superman (Eco, pp.107-124), irrevocably subverting the typical outcomes of superhero narratives. In doing so, Moore deconstructed the genre itself by depicting the radical opposite of the non-interventionist postwar Superman7 and other traditional depictions of superheroes as figures merely maintaining the status quo, both within their diegetic worlds and externally, in terms of not significantly developing as characters.

Figure 4. Ubermensch unleashed. (Interior from Miracleman #15, page 19)
Figure 5. Ubermensch unleashed. (Interiors from Miracleman #15, pages 20-21)

Moore’s evocative, almost poetic narration of Miracleman’s reflections on these events is in stark contrast with John Totleben’s highly detailed artwork, which depicts on a concrete level the shocking destruction of London at the hands of former sidekick Kid Miracleman. Totleben’s broadly realistic linework serves to ground the almost surreal, Bosch-by-way-of-Auschwitz tableaux of sadistically elaborate dismemberments rather than stylise them, rendering the “reality” of such inconceivable carnage all the more unsettling. Moore’s narrated use of the idioms “the cat is out of the bag” and “opening a can of worms” to describe the fundamental shift in human destiny that this new holocaust has caused is reinforced through Totleben’s artistic use of an idiomatic reference to the notion that life as we know it has been “shattered”, evoked by panelling repetitions of his image of Miracleman’s grief in the shape of a jagged pane of glass which “zooms out” from the personal to the public, revealing the images in context as part of the horrific double splash-page. Having gone through a number of different artists due to the sporadic publication of the title, Moore’s collaboration with Totleban for the entirety of the third “book” of his Miracleman run (issues 11-16) enjoyed the greatest cohesion between text and image as a result.

Invoking the Nietzschean ÜbermenschMiracleman is a work in which Moore explores in great detail themes of transcendent superhumanity and demigodhood that hold inescapable resonance for not only the character but even the core idea of Superman. It functions as Moore’s magnum opus on the concept of the superhero as a genuine superhuman8; in presenting his largest, most far-reaching take of what would ‘really’ happen if superheroes and advanced aliens existed in our world and how utterly and irrevocably they would change society, Moore deconstructs the very notion of the superhuman.

Miracleman also contained one of Moore’s earliest uses of metafictional themes within the superhero genre. Although the book is set in a “real” world in which superheroes only exist in comic books, Miracleman is explicitly fashioned in the guise of a superhero by the scientist who creates him with reverse-engineered alien technology. Gargunza, the scientist, had determined this was the best way of having Miracleman’s human mind accept his seemingly impossible superhuman abilities, the chance discovery of an actual Captain Marvel comic is even depicted as his inspiration for this idea. Moore thus explains away the characters’ original adventures depicted in the 1950s’ comics as being the representation of implanted false memories designed to generate the desired superhero persona. This metafictional conceit was demonstrated in the first issue which begins with several reprinted pages of vintage Mick Anglo material9 with typically sunny and simplistic 1950s imagery, which then give way to the moody and detailed pencils of Garry Leach representing the “real” world of the main story.

Figure 6. Dark shift. (Interior from Miracleman #1, page 8)
Figure 7. Dark shift. (Interior from Miracleman #1, page 11)
Figure 8. Dark shift. (Interior from Miracleman #1, page 13)

Moore’s use of reprinted Mick Anglo art from the 1950s sets the stage for what his take on Miracleman is not going to be like, transitioning through an ominously pertinent Nietzsche quote, and into the bleak and confusing “real” world of Mike Moran’s present day nightmares of his forgotten life as a superhero, realised through the dark and detailed artwork of Garry Leach, almost a polar opposite of style to Anglo.

Although metafiction was not a major component of Miracleman, Moore employed the pointed acknowledgement of superheroes as comic book creations as an integral part of his thematic deconstruction of a godlike Superman-figure rather than dispense with the trappings of the genre altogether. It would be a technique that would recur in his later work, especially on Supreme.

DC Comics and the “real” Superman

Following and parallel10 to his work on Miracleman, Moore began working for DC Comics and made his name in America with an acclaimed run on Swamp Thing, leading to many brief, one-off stories featuring a wide variety of DC’s stable of characters.11 This period yielded Moore’s few extant works on the official Superman property, starting with two obscure humorous prose pieces in UK annuals12 before “graduating” to write the character in comic book form.

The first tale, which has remained very popular13, was For the Man Who Has Everything (Superman Annual #11, DC Comics, 1985), in which a villain traps Superman in an induced fantasy of what his life would have been like on Krypton had it never exploded. Despite the illusion being designed to be inescapable by granting one’s heart’s desire, Moore depicts instead a troubling vision of Kryptonian society on the verge of collapse, with Superman reluctantly rejecting this dream-state. The story suggests that the hero’s own subconscious had problematised the appealing mirage and ultimately refused to accept it due to a profound and inescapable sense of survivor guilt. Moore took advantage of his Watchmen collaborator Dave Gibbon’s talents for verisimilitude, with detailed, believable renderings of Krypton faithful to well-known fantastical Silver Age designs yet overlayed with a pervasive mood of gritty urban decay. Gibbon’s mastery of subtle facial expressions (a relatively uncommon talent amongst mainstream superhero artists) was vital to Moore’s deeply emotional tale of the hero’s inner turmoil, whilst also providing bravura fight sequences for the parallel action story.

Figure 9. Moore’s early Superman work for DC, the prose story I Was Superman’s Double. (Detail from Superman Annual 1985 (UK))

Moore’s first official Superman stories for DC were illustrated prose pieces rather than comics, a staple of the format of UK annuals. The illustrations by Bob Wakelin, although not using an image/text interrelation at the level of comics, do nevertheless use comic book conventions such as multiple images depicting the major story points divided into three panel-like segments, encapsulated within a “thought balloon” traditionally used for text. This positioning of the images within a thought balloon (as opposed to a speech bubble) emanating from the cab driver spinning the spurious yarn is likely significant, as it suggests the tale is a work of imagination rather than a recounting of fact. Given the prose format of the story, it is unknown if this composition of the image was personally dictated by Moore, or purely the initiative of Wakelin.

Figure 10. Moore’s early Superman work for DC, the comic tale For the Man Who Has Everything. (Interior from Superman Annual #11, p27)

For the Man Who Has Everything was another collaboration between Moore and Dave Gibbons, his partner on the seminal series Watchmen, and utilised many similar techniques. These included formal panel arrangements, highly detailed backgrounds containing obscure references, and the juxtaposition of panels depicting the disjunction between fantasy and reality (one of the story’s key themes) or parallel action, as in this sequence where Robin’s efforts to revive Batman are shown as roughly simultaneous to the beginning of Superman’s epic battle with Mongul. To emphasise Superman’s incredible speed as described in the text by Moore’s omniscient narrator, Gibbons creates a cinematic slow-motion effect (combined with a “push-in” for dramatic impact) in which Mongul moves very little before being struck by the hurtling Man of Steel, a point further emphasised by Wonder Woman’s minimal change of relative position as she falls limply from the villain’s grasp, indicating the hero’s velocity compared to the slower effect of gravity.

Following this uncommonly psychoanalytical Superman story came another in a similar vein, The Jungle Line (DC Comics Presents #85, DC Comics, 1985), featuring an unconventional crossover between Superman and Swamp Thing, with the former never even becoming aware of the latter’s involvement, in a play on the conventions of superhero team-ups by colliding two properties of incongruous genres. Moore delves once more into Superman’s psychology as the survivor of an extinct race, in this case having the hero experience terrifying hallucinations while succumbing to a deadly alien spore, all the while expressing fear of his own mortality. Moore and his versatile Swamp Thing collaborator Rick Veitch (who would later prove integral to his work on Supreme) created surreal visuals to represent Superman’s hallucinogenic states, in marked contrast to the realistic pencilling of Gibbons on the previous story. While Gibbon’s clean lines and painstaking backgrounds were perfectly suited to creating the believable dreamworld of Superman’s imagined life on Krypton, Veitch’s use of looser, more abstract renderings of the Man of Steel’s nightmarish delirium were equally appropriate to the second tale’s significantly different tenor.

This pair of standalone issues is unique in Moore’s wider Superman-related work, being his only stories which focus on the significant ‘Last Son of Krypton’ theme of Superman’s origins14, the character’s own sense of being an alien, and raising issues of survivor guilt.15 In depicting Superman as having deeply repressed trauma over being the sole survivor of a planetary holocaust, Moore’s tales are rare and noteworthy probes into the character’s psychology, providing a far more analytical and affecting portrayal of the character’s conflicted attitudes to his lost homeworld and status as a refugee of a dead race than had been previously attempted by other writers.

Undoubtedly though, the most significant of Alan Moore’s work featuring the official Superman character was his two-part story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, which brought an end to the classic history of Superman and paved the way for its imminent revision.

To understand the purpose of the story in context, in 1986 Superman was foremost amongst the DC characters who were subject to significant alterations of backstory and status quo as a result of Crisis on Infinite Earths (DC Comics, 1985-1986), the company-wide crossover event designed to simplify and notionally modernise their sprawling fictional universe. Superman in particular had an especially thorough “rebooting” of his diegetic continuity, having not only the details of his origin story significantly revised but essentially his entire past history discarded and begun again from scratch.

Figure 11. Metapocalypse Now! (Cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths: the Absolute edition)

An unusual artistic collaboration, in which modern superstar artist Alex Ross paints with his signature photorealism over pencil art newly draughted by veteran star George Pérez, the original penciller on Crisis. Doubling as a promotional poster, this mammoth artwork dramatised several of the massive series’ key scenes and recreated some of its most iconic images, while conveying the immense scope and complexity of the 12-issue series. The metatextual multiverse theme is given central prominence in the mirrored figures of the Earth-1 and Earth-2 counterparts of Superman, clutching alternate fallen comrades. The image contains 562 identifiable figures which, like the series itself, comprises virtually every character owned by DC Comics at the time.

One of the major goals was to sweep away what was perceived at the time as the vast amount of extraneous, confusing, and notionally “dated” or “silly” elements of the mythos that had barnacled onto the character over the first four and a half decades (mostly during the Silver Age of comics, generally considered to span from 1956 to approximately the early 1970s)—in particular many of the Kryptonian supporting characters and associated concepts such as Supergirl, the Kandorians, Krypto the superdog, General Zod and the Phantom Zone criminals, Superman Robots, the bottle city of Kandor, multiple colours of kryptonite, even the Fortress of Solitude and Superman’s early career as Superboy. The removal of these elements from continuity and the establishment of a new origin and status quo was to be masterminded largely by writer/artist John Byrne and would be unveiled in the limited series The Man of Steel (DC Comics, 1986).

However, scheduling issues caused a delay between the end of Crisis (theoretically the point at which company-wide continuity was altered) and the debut of The Man of Steel, leading to the Superman titles having to tread water for some months and continue depicting the pre-Crisis version of the character (Well, p. 87). As it turned out, this afforded DC a somewhat unique opportunity to give the departing “classic” version of the character a fitting send-off rather than just abruptly switching over to the new version. The idea was to tell a celebratory “final” tale of the Silver Age16 Superman in the form of an “Imaginary Story.”17

DC turned to their “hot” writer Alan Moore, who was approaching the apogee of his career with the company with Watchmen debuting in the same month. Collaborating with the veteran Silver Age Superman penciller Curt Swan, Moore took to the project with gusto (Khoury, 2003, p. 121), crafting a concise epic in which Superman’s story comes to a definitive, irrevocable close.

The prologue to the tale ends on an intriguing phrase: “This is an IMAGINARY STORY… Aren’t they all?” and thus, from the outset Moore frames Superman and his final story in mythic terms, but also signals his metafictional awareness of the tale’s unique position. From the beginning Moore seems to poke fun at the very notion of one type of fictional story being more or less “real” than another, suggesting a fallacy in the entire notion of the impending continuity rewrite18 that overtly casts away old continuity within the narrative diegesis of Crisis, as opposed to his own more integrated approach of radically reinventing characters from within their established continuity, as he had already done on Swamp Thing and Miracleman. It was a metafictional theme he would revisit years later in Supreme.

In any case, although the Imaginary Story designation made the tale technically not part of the canonical history of Superman19, it was an inordinately resonant one, since not only was the “what if?” formula of the Imaginary Story long-retired by this time, but furthermore the original function of such stories as a brief interruption that would be followed by a return to the status quo was subverted, since in this case the status quo itself was being erased and replaced by an entirely new version, something of which readers at the time were well aware. Indeed, the issues in which the story was published (Superman #423 and Action Comics #583) were actually the last issues published before Byrne’s changes came into effect. Thus, to all intents and purposes, it really was the final story of the Silver Age, pre-Crisis Superman, even if it ‘never happened’ in terms of official continuity.20

The story involves Moore’s systematic demolition of Superman’s Silver Age mythos, in a compact yet grandiose narrative depicting Superman’s last stand, wherein a conspiracy of old enemies wages a vicious campaign which exposes his secret identity, brings about the death of old friends and lays waste to the Daily Planet. Superman takes those closest to him to his arctic Fortress of Solitude to await the inevitable siege, which results in the deaths of friend and foe alike, until with Lois’ help Superman kills Mr Mxyzptlk, the architect of these events

Figure 12. The end of an era in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Interior from Superman #423, page 1)
Figure 13. The end of an era in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Interior from Superman #423, page 8)
Figure 14. The end of an era in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Interior from Action Comics #583, page 14)

Curt Swan, the most prominent and longest-serving penciller on Superman’s comics over the Silver Age, brought his customary style of strong conventional storytelling and panel layout to this “final” tale of the Superman of his era. The collaboration with Alan Moore yielded some interesting results, such as this title page of the first installment containing a “zoomed out” visual repetition of the central image of the issue’s cover in much the same technique to that used by Moore and Gibbons on the cover and first panel(s) of each issue of Watchmen. More generally, the use of Swan’s familiar pencils served to heighten the impact of Moore’s dark script, with the many acts of violence such as these depicting assault on the Daily Planet offices or the mutual annihilation of Krypto the Superdog and the villain the Kryptonite Man seeming all the more confronting due to their unprecedented nature. Despite being an “Imaginary Story”, Moore’s shattering of the status quo is legitimised when rendered by the Superman artist considered “definitive” by a generations of readers.

Having broken his oath to never take a life, Superman atones by deliberately exposing himself to Gold Kryptonite (a variety which permanently negates his powers) and the world at large believes the Man of Steel to have perished. However, in a framing story set a decade later where the retired Lois is being interviewed about these events, we are introduced to her husband, blue-collar mechanic Jordan Elliot. Via some subtle clues we realise that Elliot is in fact Superman,21

still just a normal, mortal man, thoroughly enjoying living out his days in suburbia with Lois and their newborn son.

Evoking the fairy-tale line “happily ever after” in marked contrast to Superman’s famous catchphrase that he fights “a Never-Ending Battle”, Moore’s portrayal of a happy ending (albeit after considerable carnage) is, like much else in his tale, very unexpected. Moore’s choice suggests that for all the bizarre and wonderful experiences of being Superman, all that Clark/Kal-El really wanted in the end was to be a part of humanity, to love and enjoy life. It is a curious conclusion, as other examples of Superman “End Tales” have emphasised notions of the character’s presumed immortality22, his death or the perpetuation of his Never-Ending Battle.23 The notion that Superman could have a mundane suburban retirement and be utterly contented with it is perhaps one of the boldest ideas that the infamously dark Alan Moore has ever used in a superhero story.

Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? stands as Moore’s most renowned work on the Superman character and remains one of the most memorable Superman stories in comics, having been kept in print in various trade paperbacks24 and referenced by other comics in the decades since.25 Moore’s approach to telling an intended final tale of the Silver Age Superman and his fantastical mythos was by no means simplistic, however, and conveys layers of meaning beyond its surface narrative. Although the tale does not involve any overt use of metafiction within its own plot compared to Supreme or even Miracleman, it is a major subtextual concern of the story in terms of its positioning at a watershed moment of change in the continuity of not only Superman himself but the entire “DC Universe”. Moore’s “Imaginary Story”—itself an inherently metafictional construction—served as a kind of subtly rebellious alternative voice in the face of the unstoppable, editorially mandated continuity changes taking place through Crisis and the imminent The Man of Steel which was by the same token an event with unavoidably metafictional overtones.

While it is not known to what extent Moore was appraised of the specific changes intended to be wrought on Superman’s continuity by Byrne, he was unquestionably aware that the general purpose of Crisis and the Superman reboot specifically was to remove extraneous, “outdated” characters and history, and he was likely given at least a general understanding that most of Superman’s supporting cast of sidekicks, pets and gadgets would be jettisoned.26

Also to be effectively jettisoned was Curt Swan, who had worked prolifically on the Superman titles for over thirty years and come to be seen as the character’s definitive penciller to generations of readers, yet was now essentially given his walking papers to make way for the new, “modern” style of incoming artists John Byrne and Jerry Ordway. While it is unknown whether Moore personally requested Swan as his collaborator for this project, Swan was the natural, indeed obvious, choice, and Moore spoke highly of the experience (Khoury, 2003, p. 121). The genuinely Silver Age style of artwork which Swan brought to these issues perfectly reinforced Moore’s storyline that was designed to close the book on the era with which Swan was so indelibly associated, and from which he would never truly re-emerge into the modern period.

Figure 15. The Silver Age Superman bids his readers farewell. (Interior from Action Comics #583, page 21)
Figure 16. The Silver Age Superman bids his readers farewell. (Interior from Action Comics #583, page 24)

In another similarity to his work with Dave Gibbons, Moore has Swan create parallel pages for the dual conclusions of his tale in the final pages of both the “flashback” main story and the “present day” framing device set in the near future. Swan employs identically proportioned panel layouts and his compositions broadly mirror the blocking of the characters in the equivalent images from either page. Both pages conclude with the Man of Steel opening and looking back through a door in farewell, first as Superman to Lois, and finally as Jordan Elliot to the implied reader, breaking the fourth wall and corroborating the understated hints about his new civilian identity. Swan’s portrayal of Elliot/Superman’s parting wink recalls Moore’s opening prologue at the beginning of the story’s first issue (see Fig. 9) that described it as a tale that “ends with a wink”, but also evokes the manner in which actor George Reeves as Clark Kent would often similarly aim a wink directly to-camera at the end of episodes of the 1950’s television series The Adventures of Superman (Whitney Ellsworth and Robert J. Maxwell, Kellogs, 1952-1958), in acknowledgement to viewers who were the only ones “in on the joke” of his secret identity. Although the television series and the comics of the Silver Age had little in common, they were both the primary portrayals of Superman in the popular consciousness for a common era, and Moore and Swan’s intertextual referencing of the show served as yet one more farewell to a soon-to-be-bygone era for the Man of Steel.

Moore’s story can therefore be seen as very much a sweeping round-up of these precise elements, a virtual cattle-call of Superman’s major enemies, old allies and outrageous accoutrements. The story reads as almost a catalogue of the more outlandish and “childish” aspects of Superman’s ballooned Silver Age features, from Elastic Jimmy Olsen to the Legion of Super-Heroes, from the Phantom Zone to Gold Kryptonite.27 While on the one hand a bleak little Götterdämmerung for Superman’s supporting cast, it is also clearly a celebration, a swansong for these elements that were soon to be swept aside.

Yet, for all this revelling in the obscurata of the Silver Age, Moore very much appears to be subverting this task as well. Given the status of the tale as both “imaginary” and immediately preceding a massive continuity revision, the considerable death toll of these characters seems more than a little gratuitous upon a first reading—not a criticism one would commonly level at Moore’s work. Looking at the tale today this might not be so striking, as the “kill ’em all” ethos of alternate-future “End Tales” has since become something of a well-worn trope in comics and television, but in 1986 was still relatively uncommon.

Instead, Moore appears to be rather slyly making an embedded criticism of DC’s decisions to kill off a vast number of minor characters during Crisis that they no longer wished to use after the continuity revision. Further still, the story can be read as a critique of the very notion of the Crisis revision itself and its “metapocalyptic” approach to continuity. Seen in the wider context of his later career and specifically in terms of the strong similarities to his work on Supreme (which would use an overtly metatextual device of characters being “revised” out of existence), this “Imaginary Story” begs the question as to why, if these characters are going to be discontinued from continuity, do they actually need to be killed in the narrative itself?

Figure 17. Continuity carnage in Crisis (Cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #1)
Figure 18. Continuity carnage in Crisis (Cover to Crisis on Infinite Earths #7)

George Pérez’s now iconic covers from the Crisis maxiseries were evocative of the violence wrought both literally upon DC’s characters but also metatexually on their continuity. The apocalyptic and violent imagery was echoed by Moore and Swan’s work on Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, which followed soon after and served as a critique of both the means and ends of Crisis.

Given his own chance at an “ending” for Superman not directly tied in to Crisis, Moore underlines the absurdity of killing off characters DC did not want to use anymore while preserving those who are simply going to be revised anyway because of some misguided in-universe logic.28 Given the freedom of an Imaginary Story but in the process mocking the very notion, Moore subtly suggests that these Silver Age versions of beloved characters like Lana Lang or Krypto the Superdog are not simply being written out, retired in an abstract way—they are being killed. After all, is not the removal of a fictional character from diegetic “reality” effectively equivalent to metafictional death? Why violently murder characters like Supergirl and Lori Lemaris in the pages of Crisis when just as many other “silly” details like Jimmy Olsen turning into a giant turtle are going to be simply swept under the metatextual rug by the forthcoming reboot regardless, without requiring the bodily death of the character? Moore’s tale seems to aim the sidelong critique to DC that if they were going to murder some characters that they did not want anymore but then revise reality anyway, why not simply slaughter everyone…? Viewed in this light of a meta-critique, Moore’s “Imaginary” killing spree in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? served to make literal the violence being done to the “official” continuity, in order to highlight the essential ludicrousness of the whole endeavour.

As is often the case, Moore’s tale works on both the level of a genuinely exhilarating, tragic and uplifting epic when viewed at face value, while subtextually functioning as both an oddly plaintive celebration of the wild and wacky concepts of the Silver Age Superman29 that were about to be abandoned, and in doing so composing a subtle critique of the execution and even very concept of the drastic continuity reboot his tale served to punctuate. These were all themes which Moore would revisit in more depth in his final work on the topic of Superman a decade later, in the pages of Supreme.

Pastiche, homage and metatextuality in Supreme

Apart from penning a proposal in 1987 for Twilight of the Superheroes, an unrealised crossover event in which Superman would have played a key role30, Moore cut ties with DC not long after Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and took a hiatus from mainstream superhero comics altogether. His return to the genre was somewhat unexpected, all the more so due to his new employers being Image Comics, then still a very new independent publisher with something of a reputation at the time for style over substance.

While in Miracleman Moore deconstructed the very notion of “the superman” to investigate its most extreme implications, and his small collection of official Superman stories plumbed the depths of the official character’s psychology and brought his classic era to a close amidst some intriguing metatextual commentary, Alan Moore’s final work on the Superman theme to date31 in Supreme is at once his most celebratory and elaborately metafictional adaptation of Superman yet.

Once upon a time the notion of comic book characters having close resemblances to preceding characters in appearance, abilities or origins was a cause for accusations of plagiarism and grounds for litigation, as famously was the case with Superman’s occasionally more popular alleged-derivative Captain Marvel, over whom DC sued Fawcett Comics (and won), before eventually buying out the character in 1973. However, at some point over the decades of continuous publication and generational change amongst creators, attitudes began to soften somewhat, and a strange new type of character emerged, that of the readily identifiable “homage character” or “pastiche version” of a much more familiar original.

Figure 19. Holy homage, Superman!

Just a few of the most prominent Superman pastiches, clockwise from top right: Hyperion from Squadron Supreme (Marvel Comics), Mr. Majestic from WildC.A.T.S (Wildstorm/Image/DC Comics), Samaratin from Astro City (Homage Comics/Wildstorm), Sentry from The Sentry (Marvel Comics), Apollo from The Authority (Wildstorm), The High from StormWatch (Wildstorm), and Omni-Man from Invincible (Image Comics).

A technique favoured by many of the most acclaimed writers in the mainstream industry today,32 the purpose of these often quite thinly-veiled imitations of well-established characters can vary from parody to lighthearted analysis of genre conventions, or even serious analyses of the mimicked character that would never be allowed with the actual property itself. Sometimes these ersatz versions of longstanding characters serve to play upon or subvert the familiar archetypes of the genre by playing them radically against type—depicting a Superman-esque character as a fascistic conspirator33 or running a child abuse ring,34 for example. The general rule of thumb is that pastiche versions of characters are used when it can be safely assumed that the owners of the character whom the writer is referencing would never permit their property to be depicted in the intended manner.

Thus, the more archetypal and well-established a superhero is and the more influential the character has been in the genre, the greater the likelihood that they will be pastiched over and over again. It is therefore unsurprising that this has happened to Superman with greater frequency (and from earlier in his career) than any other character, being himself the original, genre-launching prototype.

In this context Alan Moore’s use of pastiche in Supreme was not a revolutionary act in and of itself.35 What was highly unususal, however, was the way in which Moore took the freedoms of the pastiche convention to write not a vaguely analogous take on Superman so as to explore incongruous ideas or outright mock the original material, but rather to engage so wholeheartedly with the extreme specifics of the entire Superman mythos, and in doing so produce some highly metatextual commentary about the history of the medium itself.

As with many of the titles he wrote over the course of his mainstream career, Moore did not create Supreme, but rather reinvented for his own purposes what was originally a shallow, uninspired character. In some ways akin to how Miracleman was fashioned by Mick Anglo as an ersatz Captain Marvel, Supreme had been created in 1992 by Image Comics’ controversial co-founder Rob Liefeld36 as a superficially obvious but substantively divergent pastiche of Superman.

Somewhat dubiously claimed by Liefeld to be intended as an examination of what an immensely powerful character akin to Superman might be like without traditional heroic motivations and ethics,37 the character was from the outset a typical example of the worst excesses of style-over-substance early 1990s overkill, of which Image was often considered the worst offender, and Liefeld the most egregious of the group.38 Featuring a succession of contradictory origins as an angelic religious zealot, a resurrected prison inmate, and even a pantheistic god, Supreme was a violent egotist with little similarity to Superman other than in abilities and superficial appearance. As Moore himself put it, when describing the character before he came on board, Supreme was merely Superman portrayed as a “psychopath”, a concept he felt simply “wasn’t very interesting” (Khoury, 2003, p. 176).

Figure 20. Rob Liefeld’s violent, pre-Moore Supreme (Cover to Supreme #1)
Figure 21. Rob Liefeld’s violent, pre-Moore Supreme (Cover to Supreme #2)

Prior to Moore’s run, Supreme was a fairly ill-defined and generic pastiche of Superman, legible in the character’s similar caped costume, chest insignia and superpowers. Although not overtly aping Liefeld’s pencilling technique, these covers by Brian Murray demonstrate much of Liefeld’s “house style”, such as hyper-exaggerated musculature, grimacing faces and “pin-up” style covers containing a lack of narrative relevance to the interior story. Although many of the Supreme covers during Moore’s run were similar in style (including several drawn by Liefeld himself) for marketing reasons, most issues had alternate covers which contrasted those in this style with compositions that were generally more tied in to the issue’s content.

When Moore made his surprise return to the mainstream in 1993 by working for Image, some considered him to be “slumming it” (Parkin, p. 57), or merely paying the bills to facilitate his “real” ongoing independent projects of the time such as From Hell and Lost Girls. It is a critique of some arguable validity, reinforced (or perhaps misled) by the fact that Moore had seemingly abandoned his famous technique of darkly cynical deconstruction of the superhero genre, and instead seemed to be writing fairly uncharacteristically traditional superhero comics. While things are rarely ever so simple when it comes to Moore’s work, there is some truth to be found in the perception that his early 1990s Image work prior to Supreme was somewhat pedestrian compared to his seminal 1980s output.

However, by his own admission, there was a definite point to this, as Moore had grown dismayed over the years by the influence that his own work had exerted on the industry. He perceived, rightly or wrongly, that the unrelentingly “grim and gritty” direction that comics had taken since the late 1980s was largely a result of other creators (poorly) imitating the superficial results of his deconstructionist style—i.e. overt depictions of violence, sexuality and character neuroses, rather than Moore’s more complex conceptual motives behind composing these representations. Moore thus claimed that he felt a sense of responsibility to help the mainstream superhero genre reclaim a sense of joy and innocence without sacrificing literary merit (Khoury, 2003, p. 176). While initially this resulted in some fairly straightforward storytelling on titles like WildC.A.T.S39 and Spawn (#8, 32, 37 [1993, 1995], as well as Spawn: Bloodfeud #1-4 [1995], and Spawn/WildC.A.T.S #1-4 [1996], all published by Image Comics), it was an impulse which would lead to Moore’s new approach of “reconstruction” that informed his large output under his imprint America’s Best Comics, launched in 1999. An important stepping-stone for developing this new voice was his work on Supreme.

If Supreme could have been considered a character that had only superficial similarity to Superman beforehand, Moore took him about as far in the other direction as possible. Accepting the offer from Liefeld to work on the character under the condition that he could completely ignore the title’s preceding content, he proceeded to rework Supreme into an extremely blatant pastiche of Superman. Moore completely overhauled Supreme’s entire fictional universe to resemble Superman, particularly the Silver Age Superman, as closely as possible— indeed, his new version of the character was effectively Superman in all but name, with only token deviations to maintain the distinction.

Having crafted a simulacrum of the iconic character but unencumbered by the restrictions that DC would naturally have placed on use of the original, Moore had free rein to explore the cornucopia of bizarre and fantastical elements which (at that point in time) had been unavailable to the Superman mythos in the decade since the Crisis reboot. Unimpressed with the resulting contemporary portrayals of Superman, Moore saw the potential in a pastiche version:

I suddenly thought, “Well, how could I rescue this lame, appalling Superman knock-off?” …because at the time, I remember thinking that the regular Superman book actually was at least as much of a lame Superman knock-off as Supreme was. (Khoury, 2008, p. 174).

Indeed, Moore felt motivated to use Supreme to reclaim these defunct Silver Age concepts that had had been eliminated by Crisis‘ unraveling of continuity, cast aside for being notionally childish or outdated. Moore, conversely, sought to redress the expunging of these characters and ideas, to recapture and rehabilitate “…that rich mythology and continuity, all those kind of stupid but enduring elements [like] Krypto the Super-dog” (Khoury, 2003, p. 176). Thus Supreme was, in one respect, an unashamed celebration of the style of Superman comics stewarded by Mort Weisinger, the editor of the Superman titles throughout essentially the entire Silver Age, who was directly or indirectly responsible for the propagation of Superman’s hugely expanded roster of associated characters and “classic” continuity elements that had been mostly swept away by the 1986 continuity revisions.

Figure 22. Riffing on the Silver Age. (Cover to Superman #195)
Figure 23. Riffing on the Silver Age. (Cover to Supreme: The Return #4)

Although not particularly informative about the issue’s story content other than the characters featured, guest cover-artist Rob Liefeld’s image clearly demonstrates Moore’s pastiche of Superman’s Silver Age mythos. Liefeld’s cover depicts Supreme with his adoptive sister Suprema and dog Radar the Hound Supreme, flagrantly obvious analogues of Superman, his cousin Supergirl, and pet Krypto the Superdog respectively, all of whom can be seen for comparison on the classic 1967 Curt Swan cover above.

On this level Moore’s reinvention of Supreme’s world as a direct carbon copy of that belonging to Weisinger’s Superman can be seen as pure homage, verging on affectionate parody. Under Moore, Supreme gains a vast supporting cast and a world almost entirely comprised of direct analogues of Silver Age Superman examples, such as archenemies Darius Dax (a Lex Luthor analogue), Optilux (the Brainiac equivalent), childhood sweetheart Judy Jordan (Lana Lang’s stand-in), workplace love interest Diana Dane (Lois Lane), trouble-prone “pal” Billy Friday (Jimmy Olsen), superhuman adopted sister Suprema (cousin Supergirl) superpowered dog Radar the Hound Supreme (Krypto the Superdog), time-travelling teen allies the League of Infinity (30th Century group the Legion of Super-Heroes), android duplicates the Suprematons (Superman Robots), crimefighting super-detective ally Professor Night (Batman) and his sidekick Twilight the Girl Marvel (Robin the Boy Wonder), membership in superhero groups such as the faux-Golden Age team the Allied Supermen of America (Justice Society of America) and their Silver Age successors the Allies (Justice League), an immense secret headquarters in the flying Citadel Supreme (arctic Fortress of Solitude), a vulnerability to the deadly radioactive meteor Supremium (Kryptonite)… and many, many more besides. Even the cover of Moore’s first issue (#41) is a direct evocation of 1939’s Superman #1.

Figure 24. Unabashed homage. (Cover to Superman #1)
Figure 25. Unabashed homage. (Cover to Supreme #41)

Moore collaborated with cover artist Jerry Ordway to signal as overtly as possible his intent to transform Supreme from a generic to a highly specific pastiche of Superman. To this end the cover of Moore’s first issue on the title is a mirror to that of 1939’s Superman #1, an iconic cover second only to the previous year’s Action Comics #1, Superman’s first appearance. Not only does Ordway give Supreme a duplicate pose to Superman’s (something homaged on several other pieces of comic art over the years), but he also recreates the distinctive decorative framing image, which Moore has filled with text in the same hyperbolic style of phrasing as present on the original. The comic’s logo is even slightly redesigned to have a 3D-lettering effect similar to that of the famous Superman logo. Even the choice of Jerry Ordway as the cover artist is a signifier of Moore’s goal in evoking Superman, as Ordway has a long (and, at the time, current) professional association with the character, having been the primary artist on Adventures of Superman for the first three years after Crisis, as well as a frequent cover artist and writer on the title (and Superman) for much of the late 1980s and most of the 1990s.

This extremely detailed reproduction of Superman’s classic mythos in the form of such deliberately obvious analogues quite surpasses any other examples in the pastiche subgenre, and yet served a purpose beyond merely revelling in the bygone age of comics that Moore felt he was instrumental in undermining40. More significantly, Moore used this facsimile of Superman and his swarm of paraphernalia to engage in an extensive and semi-satirical commentary on the history of not only Silver Age comics, but also the peculiarities of the very notion of comic book continuity, picking up threads from Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?

In order to signal this approach and simultaneously create an in-story explanation for discarding the previously established version of Supreme, Moore uses his first issue to introduce one of the key metafictional concepts on his run, that of “the Supremacy”. The story shows Supreme returning to Earth after an absence, only to find it in a state of flux, and is confronted by a group of strange alternate versions of himself (including Blaxploitation female iteration Sister Supreme and cartoonish anthropomorphic rodent Squeak, the Supremouse41) who explain that Earth is undergoing a “revision” and that he must come with them to avoid possibly being erased from “the continuity”. In explicitly peppering the dialogue with words like “continuity”, the term widely used in the industry and fandom alike to describe comics’ narrative history rather than some euphemistic term regarding the character’s diegetic “reality”, Moore makes his intent to employ metafiction clear from the outset.

Figure 26. Reality revisions and strange doppelgangers. (Detail from Supreme #41, page 7)

Artist Joe Bennett depicts Supreme in a fairly standard art style for the 1990s, but endeavours to stylistically distinguish Moore’s other iterations of the character by altering his linework to suggest other eras and genres, such as the more animation-like proportions and fluid posture of Squeak the Supremouse, and the somewhat simplified detailing and rigid posing of Original Supreme evoking the work of Superman creator Joe Shuster. This deliberate visual discrepancy of art styles for different characters within the same panel works to foreshadow Moore’s introduction of the metatexual concept of the Supremacy over the following pages.

Supreme follows them into a white void dimension in which exists a fantastical art deco city entirely populated by hundreds of alternate versions of himself, many of which are bizarre and improbable. Notably he meets a flightless late 1930s version known as “Original Supreme”42 and also the realm’s ruler, “His Majesty Supreme the Fifth, of the 1960s Silver Dynasty”.43 They explain to him the nature of the Supremacy, that reality is in a continual state of revision, in which periodic changes occur which rewrite not only the status quo but also works backwards to supplant preceding history itself – essentially an exact description of DC Comics’ treatment of continuity in events such as Crisis, but from the comic character’s own point of view.

It is further explained that when one of these “revisions” takes place, the old reality is simply replaced by the new one, as though it had never been… with the notably unique exception of Supreme himself. Every time there is a revision in reality, Supreme, instead of simply ceasing to exist, finds himself (and some of his supporting characters) in this void dimension, along with every other past version of himself that has been “revised”. Dubbing their purgatory “the Supremacy”, this ever-growing community of different versions of Supreme built a city for themselves where they all live together eternally, saved from the oblivion of being revised into nothingness.44

Moore’s outré premise clearly posits a kind of metafictional Valhalla for past versions of Superman that have been removed from fictional “existence” due to real-life revisions in comic book continuity. In doing so, Moore refigures these kinds of continuity-revision narratives like Crisis as the whims of implied writers and editors who rewrite, retcon and reboot either small elements or entire histories, which are traumatically experienced by the characters themselves an apocalyptic cancellation of reality as they perceive it.45

Figure 27. Crisis of infinite Supremes! (Detail from Supreme #41, page 12)

Bennett’s art continues to reinforce Moore’s idea of “revised” former versions of Supreme coexisting within the Supremacy by differentiating the disparate iterations with art styles appropriate to the period from which they supposedly hail, i.e. the equivalent periods of Superman comics. Foregrounded in this image is a clear distinction between the modern Supreme with his vaguely Liefeldesque excesses of musculature and detailing, while Sixties Supreme is depicted in a deliberate “lift” of Curt Swan’s early style, with attention to a leaner, more barrel-chested physique, a simpler, Swan-style face complete with a hint of Superman’s spitcurl, and even a different, anachronistic method of shading. Moore’s dialogue cements the distinction, with the modern Supreme’s naturalistic speech in marked contrast to Sixties Supreme’s old-fashioned phrasing.

With this satirical yet infinitely more elegant method of creating a diegetic explanation for continuity changes than DC ever managed with their convoluted Crisis–type crossovers, Moore not only creates a device to explain his own reconceptualisation of the character, but in the process creates a much more expansive commentary about the very concept that comic book continuity—and Superman’s in particular—is constantly being revised and altered both implicitly and explicitly by successive creators and editors who take the character in a new direction. To drive the point home further (and fill out the numbers) Moore’s scores of different iterations of Supreme includes analogues of the innumerable examples of “Imaginary Stories” from the Silver Age, as well as the many times Superman was temporarily altered by the bizarre effects of red kryptonite46—every such alteration counting as a “revision” for the purposes of the Supremacy’s metaphysics.47

Figure 28. The Supremacy salutes the current Supreme. (Detail from Supreme #41, page 20)
Figure 29. The Supremacy salutes the current Supreme. (Detail from Supreme poster by Alex Ross)

Moore’s artistic collaborators’ depictions of large group scenes in the Supremacy serve not only to illustrate the general concept that all past “revisions” of the character coexist in this dimension, but furthermore contain many specific jokes and references (through Supreme-analogues) to obscure Superman stories and minor characters such as Supergirl, Superboy, Superwoman, Mr. Mxyzptlk, The Composite [Batman/]Superman, Comet the Superhorse, Streaky the Supercat, Beppo the Supermonkey, Titano the giant ape, various mutated versions of Superman under the influence of Red Kryptonite such as having a swollen head or lion’s features and many more besides, as well as continuations of the super-pet theme such as “Supreme” versions of a whale, dolphin, turtle, elephant, rhinoceros, bird, butterfly, a UFO alien, an anime “mecha” suit, and even “Supreme” incarnations of unrelated superheroes such as Spider-Man, Kyle Rayner from Green Lantern, The Lieutenant Marvels from Shazam, the Thing from Fantastic Four and the Japanese “tokusatsu” hero Ultraman.

Moore’s conception of the Supremacy contains an evident link to his work a decade earlier on Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? in its critique of the practice of rewriting comic book continuity. As though recalling the line from his memorable prologue “This is an imaginary story… aren’t they all?“, Moore utilises his metafiction of the Supremacy to unpack, play with and further debunk the absurdity of the notion that any one work of fiction can be regarded as more “real” or “in-continuity”48 than any other piece which uses the same character.49 Where Moore’s earlier “end tale” of the official Superman’s Silver Age incarnation served to criticise subtly the most drastic act of continuity revision in the history of the genre (from “ground zero” as it were) and mourn the passing of the character’s outrageous mythos, his revisiting of the issue a decade later through a pastiched adaptation of Superman provided an opportunity to expound this critique far more openly, and actively celebrate and re-evaluate the rejected content that had been absent over the ensuing period.

Having introduced the Supremacy in his first issue, Moore did not revisit it for some time, instead setting about detailing his reappraisal of the Silver Age. Moore was quick to establish his new version of Supreme as an unmistakable ersatz Superman, filling in a new backstory as the hero starts to “remember” his new past, even though this current revision of reality and its history has only existed for days or weeks.

Employing the popular, usually apocryphal notion that one of Superman’s powers is immortality as an in-universe explanation for his lack of aging after decades of publication, Moore’s new version of Supreme had (like Liefeld’s original) been around since the 1940s. This allowed Moore to play with the whole history of the Superman mythos, so that unlike the official Superman character whose frequent revisions and floating timeline constantly obfuscate any notion that his in-story career has ever lasted much more than a decade prior to whatever happens to be the present date, Supreme is depicted as having quite literally been around since before WWII, having never aged beyond prime adulthood.

However, this long history is of course only subjectively true for Supreme as the continuous revisions in continuity mean that he has only actually existed for a very short time. In telling his story the Shusteresque “Original Supreme” relates that he was “…born 1920. That was the first ‘1920’, incidentally. There’s been lots.50

As Supreme begins to explore his newly remembered (and newly created) past in his second issue (#42), Moore unveils the primary image/textual storytelling device which he proceeds to use over the course of his run, that of creating deliberately anachronistic vintage style artwork and dialogue within a modern comic book. Moore consistently wrote an extensive flashback sequence in virtually every issue to be pencilled by his past and future collaborator Rick Veitch51. Rather than function as traditional flashbacks, Moore uses a hypodiegetic framing device of a comic-within-a-comic created with elaborately detailed period-accuracy.

Moore had used a similar device years earlier with “Tales of the Black Freighter” in Watchmen, a pirate comic being read by a minor character in the story which is juxtaposed with the panels of the main plot to provide various thematic resonances.52 In this case, however, Moore uses the device in a far more elaborate and metafictional fashion, as they represent the character’s literal memories through a highly stylised lens.

Figure 30. Comic Book “memories”. (Cover to The Brave and the Bold #28)
Figure 31. Comic Book “memories”. (A false cover from within Supreme #48, page 4)

Rick Veitch’s comic-within-a-comic flashback sequences employ meticulously retro pencilling to ape the prevalent comic art styles of the pertinent decades in which Moore indicates Supreme’s memories took place, in some cases even evoking specific artists’ techniques. In this instance Moore and Veitch homage Mike Sekowsky’s iconic 1960 cover that depicted the debut of the Justice League of America with their pastiche version The Allies, with near-identical composition and linework, deliberately flat colouring and paraphrased cover-text, down to the logo design, censorship seal and publisher’s insignia.

Moore’s collaboration with Veitch on these flashback sequences displayed particularly close attention to the marriage of word and image to create distinctive and quickly recognisable imitations of vintage comic books of various eras. While Veitch meticulously used his astounding skills of imitative linework to produce remarkably perfect simulacra of the various dominant art styles of relevant periods in comics history,53 Moore complemented these images with dialogue composed in a similarly impeccable recreation of the hyperbolic mode appropriate to the style of writing in vogue for each applicable decade of the comics.

Figure 32. (Re)making history. (Interior from Supreme #47, page 8)
Figure 33. (Re)making history. (Interior from Supreme #49, page 8)

Moore’s dialogue and captions are carefully matched in tone to Veitch’s replication of the prevailing art styles of the 1950s and 1970s, respectively. Great attention to detail is paid by both collaborators, such as Moore’s choices of adversaries reflecting the trends of each decade, early team-ups of non-superpowered villains that pastiche Lex Luthor and the Joker fighting the familiar team of Supreme (Superman) with Professor Night and Twilight The Girl Marvel (Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder), a typical 1950s type of story awash with zany plans and oversized props, compared to a faintly psychedelic conflict with Jack O’Lantern, representing resurgence of antihero supernatural characters such as The Spectre (permitted by a change in censorship) as well as the new trend for heroes to fight each other for contrived reasons, bringing together various 1970s comicbook tropes. Veitch complements Moore’s attention to detail with that of his own, not only using entirely different pencilling styles befitting the relevant decades, but also using appropriately differentiated panel layouts and storytelling (highly formal in the faux-’50s, experimental and overlapping in the would-be ’70s), altered colouring techniques representing advances in printing technology, and even simulated yellowing of the paper to varying degrees.

Depending on which decade between the 1940s and the 1970s that the “memories” are set in, Veitch and Moore alter their nuances of art and writing accordingly, and in doing so create even deeper layers of historical reference, for example aping the style of not only Superman comics but also the extremely different and distinctive styles of vintage MAD Magazine and EC Comics artists and writers of the relevant periods, so commenting upon the issues of Cold War paranoia and early counter-culture that had influenced their work.

Figure 34. Comic Culture. (Detail from Supreme #44, page 5)
Figure 35. Comic Culture. (Detail from Supreme #44, page 18)

Looking beyond Superman, Supreme also pays homage to other significant examples of comic art from the 1950s outside of the superhero genre, in these cases EC Comics’ various gruesome horror titles and the raucous satire of MAD Magazine, respectively. Once again Moore and Veitch are at pains to replicate the particular modes of text and artwork that defined the sources they are referencing.

Even obscure historical “inaccuracies” are purposely included, such as portraying the childhood stories of Kid Supreme in a 1950s style despite being set in the 1920s, a metatextual acknowledgement that this was the era in which the Superboy comics they are imitating were actually published rather than conforming to their diegetic chronology. Just as Moore had worked with genuine Silver Age legend Curt Swan on Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? some years after his style had been in vogue, Veitch’s images repeatedly reach back through the stylistic history of comics to create as close an evocation of Swan’s heyday as possible.

Moore and Veitch’s collaboration on these “comic flashbacks” is a remarkably synergistic endeavour, down to minute details of both art and writing that evokes multiple eras of history in the American superhero genre, recreating the styles of line, panel layout and visual storytelling, the use of virtually defunct techniques such as thought balloons (instead of “thought captions”, a technique popularized decades earlier by Moore himself) and narration captions in the style of an omniscient editorial storyteller, extradiegetic title pages and the subdivision of stories within a single issue into shorter “chapters”. Veitch’s strikingly accurate mimicry of bygone draughtsmanship is enhanced even further by deliberately recreating flatter, more primitive colouring techniques and artificially yellowed paper to complete the illusion. Among the comics cognoscenti these faux-vintage pages could almost pass for actual comics of their times were it not for the anachronistic presence of the modern Image Comics character Supreme standing in for Superman.54

Figure 36. Parodic Pastiche. (Detail from Supreme #50, page 18)
Figure 37. Parodic Pastiche. (Detail from Supreme #42, page 14)
Figure 38. Parodic Pastiche. (Detail from Supreme #50, page 5)
Figure 39. Parodic Pastiche. (Detail from Supreme: The Return #5, page 9)

Moore and Veitch worked closely on evoking the scripting and visual storytelling style of the Silver Age Superman comics, often for the purpose of gently parodying the types of plots and social values that the comics of that era often contained, which seem farcical or outmoded by today’s standards.

Apart from creating a considerable visual and literary dissonance and beyond being simply “retro”, Moore uses this technique to openly celebrate and dissect the stylistic history of Superman and mainstream comics in general, leading to Supreme being so densely packed with minutiae and such an abundant amount of subtle in-jokes and references that a reader’s enjoyment (and possibly even comprehension) of Supreme is entirely proportionate to the depth of their knowledge of Superman and DC Comics’ long history.

Figure 40. Hail to the King. (Detail from Supreme: The Return #6, page 8)

Veitch apes Jack “King” Kirby in Moore’s (unexpectedly) final issue, one which is uncharacteristically light on specific Superman parody, choosing instead to focus on a rapid-fire pastiche of a diverse stable of creations in a tribute to the then recently-deceased master of the medium. Demonstrating perhaps the apex of his talent for artistic mimicry, Veitch meticulously reproduces Kirby’s dynamic compositional style, idiosyncratic draughstmanship and sundry details such as heavy blacks, squared fingertips and rugged faces. To exaggerate the contrast between this realm based on Kirby’s imagination and the “real” world, Supreme himself is drawn separately by Rob Liefeld and inserted into Veitch’s panels, creating a strong visual dissonance.

Unfortunately, Veitch was the only artist who remained on the title throughout Moore’s run, contributing to almost every issue. Somewhat similar to his problems on Miracleman, Moore was paired with an inconsistent succession of artists to depict Supreme in the present day sequences, including Chris Sprouse, Matt Smith, Ian Churchill, Joe Bennett, J. Morrigan, Mark Pajarillo and Rob Liefeld. This inevitably led to a lack of artistic cohesion for Supreme, as the contrast between the modern pencillers and Veitch’s faux-vintage art styles failed to coalesce into a stable binary opposition, especially given the at-times jarringly dissimilar styles of the various “present day” artists who worked on the title, with only Chris Sprouse (Moore’s future collaborator on Tom Strong) pencilling several consecutive issues.

This was unfortunate, as a consistent artist on the present day portions (virtually regardless of style) would have served as an excellent counterpoint to highlight the ofttimes nuanced internal variation within Veitch’s “flashbacks”, with their aforementioned capacity to differentiate between the prevailing styles of draughtsmanship in different decades of vintage comics. One cannot help but suspect that this may have had an effect on Moore’s scripting of these modern sequences, as the writer was clearly investing greater effort into his collaboration with Veitch on the retro content than that set in the modern era. As such, the “modern” pages of Supreme often lack the particular spark of image/text synthesis that is typical of Moore’s work, and was clearly evident in the Veitch sequences.

This disparity may well have been due to the fact that, although Moore admits that he does not “really have favourite collaborators”, he nevertheless prefers to write to said collaborators’ individual artistic strengths, approaching his scripting informed by a close familiarity with their work (Khoury, 2008, p.110). One can only imagine this kind of nuanced stylistic relationship was often difficult to develop given his brief and irregular partnerships with many of the Supreme pencillers.

Figure 41. Irregularities. (Interior from Supreme #56, page 15)
Figure 42. Irregularities. (Interior from Supreme: The Return #5, page 4)
Figure 43. Irregularities. (Interior from Supreme #54, page 14)

The rapid turnover of artists collaborating with Moore on the “modern day” sequences throughout Supreme yielded such differing results that these highly inconsistent approaches never gelled into a cohesive stylistic contrast to the pseudo-vintage “flashback” sequences by Rick Veitch. Pictured here are three pages demonstrating the wildly different linework of Chris Sprouse, Ian Churchill, and Melinda Gebbie, respectively.

Moore’s 23-issue run on Supreme falls fairly neatly into two story arcs. The first has been collected in trade paperback under the title “The Story of the Year”, while the latter is dubbed “The Return”. Although individual issues appear deceptively episodic (likely another homage to vintage DC comics, which rarely contained ongoing plotlines), both arcs surreptitiously sow the seeds for dramatic conclusions which tie together various disparate elements, especially those from Veitch’s flashbacks.

In yet another layer of Moore’s metafiction, we are introduced to Supreme’s alter ego as the meek, bespectacled Ethan Crane who, as an artist for Dazzle Comics, works on the comic book “Omniman”55, who is yet another blatant Superman pastiche.56 In a brief moment of self-mockery, Moore even references his own contribution in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? to the elimination of Superman’s old continuity by having the obnoxious British comic writer Billy Friday enthusiastically plan to “snuff Omniman and all the crap supporting characters from the Sixties in one issue!” (Supreme #43).

Figure 44. Metafictional mayhem! (Detail from Supreme #43, page 2)
Figure 45. Metafictional mayhem! (Detail from Supreme #53, page 7)

Moore uses Supreme’s secret identity as comic book artist Ethan Crane to create ever more layered pieces of metafictional humour in scenes set in Dazzle Comics’ offices, a closer-to-home analogue for Clark Kent at the Daily Planet. Moore uses these sequences to poke self-referential fun at his own career and resulting trends in mainstream comics through enfant terrible British writer Billy Friday, as well as further exploring the comic-within-a-comic technique used throughout Supreme by using a different twist, having Omniman, the Superman-esque character that Supreme himself illustrates, apparently spring to life and debate which of the two of them is real and which merely a comic-book character.

Using Veitch’s vintage-styled sequences, much of “The Story of the Year” details how Supreme reacquaints himself with the various elements of his Superman-mirroring mythos, such as visiting his hometown of Littlehaven (Smallville) and encountering his past sweetheart Judy Jordan (now an elderly grandmother), returning to his Citadel Supreme, rescuing Suprema from a cosmic villain, reuniting with old comrades The Allies, and rescuing others still from the clutches of erstwhile foe Optilux.

However, Moore subtly threads elements through these seemingly unconnected stories and reaches an unexpected climax in which former archnemesis Darius Dax, who died in the 1960s, suddenly resurfaces having used his technology to possess the body of Judy Jordan some thirty years prior57 and laid an elaborate trap for Supreme. Amidst a flurry of further homages, Dax is defeated via an outrageous time travel conceit whereby the villain becomes the very meteor that gave Supreme his powers in the first place.

With this predestination paradox (the first of a few time-loop devices used during his run) finishing off the first story arc, Moore’s second, still seemingly-episodic storyline expanded its metafictional approach and took the members of Supreme’s large supporting cast in new directions. Where “The Story of the Year” established Moore’s thinly-veiled analogues of the Superman universe and supporting cast, “The Return” takes these characters, one by one, to their logical conclusions in ways that would never be permissible with the original Superman characters they represent. It bears some similarities to his approach with Miracleman (and, indeed, much of his work in general) of taking the core concept of a character and extending that to a point where, unlike the Silver Age stories that have inspired them, they radically break free of their oneiric climate.

Figure 46. Lament of a Superdog. (Detail from Supreme: The Return #4, page 9)

Moore extrapolates some of his adaptations of Superman’s Silver Age mythos to their bizarre conclusions, such as having the Krypto analogue Radar discover sex and, due to his superpowers, sire an unmanageable horde of dangerously powerful puppies within 24 hours. Matt Smith’s stylised artwork with its crisp lines and heavy blacks counterbalance the rampant absurdity of the story through keeping the visuals comparatively sombre, in an issue in which Veitch’s vintage flashback sequence uncharacteristically serves as an unrelated backup story.

Examples include the android Suprematons seeking independence as sentient artificial lifeforms, Billy Friday’s strange transformations (akin to those of Jimmy Olsen in the Silver Age) proving genuinely traumatic, a heroic but flawed member of the League of Infinity abusing his ability to time-travel altering the outcome of the American Civil War, and Radar the Hound Supreme impregnating hundreds of normal dogs at superspeed resulting in a plague of super-puppies and his departure from Earth.

Perhaps most notable was Moore resolving Supreme’s conflicted romantic feelings for Judy Jordan and Diana Dane via an elaborate “have your cake and eat it too” scenario involving generational disparity, android bodies and displaced consciousness, a solution which provides an interesting thematic epilogue to a notably angst-ridden scene in his Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? in which Superman confesses to Perry White that he judges himself a coward for never making the choice between Lana Lang and Lois Lane, in yet another link between Moore’s two thematically intertwined Superman adaptations.

Figure 47. Mo(o)re Metafiction. (Detail from Supreme: The Return #3, page 21)

Moore parodies various different eras of Superman comics’ rather antifeminist portrayals of Lois Lane when her analogue Diana Dane meets her various anachronistic counterparts in the Supremacy.

Yet while in “The Return” Moore breaks with the status quo of the tales to which he pays homage, his methodology is far less cynical here than his old deconstructionist style—instead of showing a darkly “realistic” take by imposing the probable effects of Superheroes on “reality” as in Watchmen or Miracleman, Moore’s approach to breaking the status quo of his Superman analogues in Supreme acknowledges the absurdity of the genre’s conventions and exists unashamedly within them.

In this respect Moore’s work here is again something of a thematic continuation and extrapolation of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?, where he was similarly free to wreak havoc on Superman’s mythos without worrying about the consequences to ongoing continuity. The significant difference with Supreme was that with the benefit of a much, much longer run than his two-part Superman “end tale”, Moore was able to devote a whole issue to just about every weird and wacky Silver Age concept that took his fancy and deal with it in his own terms, rather than requiring them to all be shoehorned into a single tale of Superman’s final undoing. In this respect Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? was something of a trial run for his later adaptation Supreme, as the latter expanded greatly upon Moore’s major thematic concerns therein regarding a celebratory re-examination of the Silver Age and a critique of continuity revision.

Figure 48. The end is the beginning. (Cover from Superman #423)
Figure 49. The end is the beginning. (Cover from Supreme #42)

Joe Bennett’s “Origin of Supreme” cover pays homage to that of Curt Swan’s famous cover for the first issue of the Alan Moore-penned Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? Although on one level perhaps just another bit of self-referential humour (and even conceivably of Bennett’s invention rather than Moore’s), the cover perhaps serves a similar function as the mirrored cover from the previous issue (see fig. 22) as a subtle statement of intent, in this case to pick up and expand metafictional themes Moore had begun in his earlier Superman work. It is worth noting that even the original Swan cover was self-consciously retro for its time; declaratory text-heavy covers with box-out images having long gone out of vogue by 1986. This was yet another indication of Moore’s goal in the story of paying tribute to the Silver Age, and something of a prototype for the vintage-style text and art he would create with Veitch for Supreme.

Unfortunately, Alan Moore’s run on Supreme came to a premature end with the closure of Awesome Comics, leaving his second story arc incomplete.58 However, his intended direction was clear, having introduced the idea partway through “The Return” storyline (Supreme: The Return #2, 1999) that archnemesis Darius Dax, upon his death at the end of “The Story of the Year”, finds himself in Daxia, an exact equivalent to the Supremacy where all revised versions of Dax wind up upon being erased from continuity. Conspiring with his fellow Daxes to cheat death and return to reality, the stage was evidently being set for a metafictionally-explosive confrontation with an all-out war between Daxia and the Supremacy (Parkin, p. 76).59

Assessing Supreme in light of Alan Moore’s oeuvre may seem challenging at first, even if only in relation to his other work on the concept of Superman. Superficially, it could be accused of being a comparatively “slight” work, lacking the deeply challenging themes and high-concept deconstruction of Miracleman or the emotive tenor and epochal significance of Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? On the other hand, Moore’s goal with Supreme was almost diametrically opposite to that of Miracleman, and its dialogue with his earlier DC work continued and expanded upon a significant topic in examining the history of the superhero comic medium and the process of continuity revision in particular.

As an adaptation Supreme also represents Moore’s most prolonged body of work60 on the Superman figure and by far his most detailed examination of the character’s history, not to mention the entire Silver Age of comics by extension. In delving into this material with such specificity Moore goes to great lengths to demonstrate how, in intelligent, interpretive hands, even the most outlandish concepts from these bygone eras of comics can still be viable. Furthermore, Moore uses possibly one of his most densely metafictional notions to date to lampoon the periodic overt changes to something as fundamentally “unreal” as comic book continuity, especially in the case of a figure like Superman.

Supreme also acted as very much a prototype for the immediate next step in Moore’s career, in which his America’s Best Comics imprint would put out a multitude of titles that (all of which Moore initially wrote himself) continued the heavy use of metafiction and pastiche61 but increasingly recombined with other elements, adapting older, pre-comic sources such as in his Doc Savage-inspired pulp homage Tom Strong, the television police procedural format “super cops” title Top Ten, and his acclaimed The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which assembles the great figures of Victorian popular literature in a proto-superhero team.

Supreme was thus significant as something of a turning point in the millennial period of Moore’s career, being the first protracted, fully-realised example of his new approach to writing for mainstream comics that lasted for the better part of a decade. His new adaptive style of “reconstructionism” was positioned in opposition to (and apology for) the grim trend in American comics for which he felt responsible with his popular deconstructionist techniques (Khoury, 2003, pp. 120-121, 176). As Moore put it himself:

I suppose with things like the ABC work, with Supreme, with 1963, it was kind of an attempt to say, ‘Look, you know, get over Watchmen, get over the 1980s.’ It doesn’t have to be depressing, miserable grimness from now until the end of time. It was only a bloody comic. It wasn’t a jail sentence. (Khoury, 2003, p. 120).

Figure 50. A new Silver Age? (Detail from Supreme #42, page 11)


Alan Moore’s work on Superman—including Superman by any other name—occupies a curious, elusive, and somewhat under-appreciated corner of both his own career and the larger, nebulous entity of Superman’s own history. While one would not be likely to consider these intersections as definitive examples of either collective, they provide illuminating glimpses into how this archetypal, genre-defining character has provoked and stimulated one of the most revered and conceptually ambitious writers ever to grace the comics medium.

Even when not writing the official version of the character, Moore’s engagement with Superman in one form or another has run virtually the entire breadth of his professional engagement in the mainstream comic industry. Notably, there is no other character that Moore has revisited so many times, and at such length. Moreover, the Man of Steel has been subject to several of the differing techniques of adaptation that Moore has employed across his career. From the disturbing, philosophical deconstruction of Superman’s deepest thematic implications in Miracleman, through a dark yet celebratory refiguration of the official version’s mythos at a turning point in his history, and culminating in an extensive reappraisal of the character’s rich lineage of a bygone era of comic storytelling through audacious pastiche, Moore’s adaptations of Superman have presented an evolving vision of the character. Merlin-like, Moore’s Superman has almost grown in reverse compared to the tide of history for mainstream superhero comics, from darkness through to a new light in an intriguing parallel to the author’s own superhero-writing career.

Most significantly though, Moore’s latter two Superman-related projects, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and Supreme demonstrate a decade-spanning dialogue between significant moments in Moore’s own career, from the height of his mainstream popularity only a short while before abandoning the mainstream altogether, then forward to the turning point in his return to the mainstream that established the course forward for much of the next decade, before once again abandoning the industry almost entirely. Through a paired analysis of the two intertwined Superman works emerges an engaging critique of not only the specific Crisis event, but which also grows to encompass a much wider critical view of the very nature of superhero continuity and the ways in which it is constructed, violated, privileged, marginalised and reborn, exploring through metafiction the nature of a bygone era of comics, and finding it worthy of embracing once more.

To what extent Moore’s adaptations have had a lasting effect on the ongoing existence of DC’s official Superman franchise is difficult to quantify definitively, given the vast number of contributors that have worked on the character both during and after Moore’s official and pastiche work on the character. Nevertheless, one can certainly detect some footprints that the wild-bearded Englishman has left in the snow around the Fortress of Solitude.

While a direct causal link between Moore’s work on Supreme and the writing of later Superman scribes Mark Waid, Jeph Loeb, Joe Casey, Kurt Busiek, Mark Millar, Grant Morrison et al remains unacknowledged, his role as an industry trendsetter is hard to discount, even though his “second wave” of mainstream superhero work is not yet as widely lauded as his groundbreaking debut. At the very least, Moore’s work on Superman and his pastiches demonstrated intriguing foresight in his major reappraisal of the merits of the Silver Age, given that virtually all the zany elements cast out of official canon in the mid-1980s which Moore eulogised in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? and later adapted anew for Supreme would, over the following half decade, crop up in the mainstream Superman comics. To date, we have seen the virtually wholesale reintroduction of diverse Silver Age elements, all championed by Moore—multicoloured kryptonite, Superman’s cousin Supergirl, Superman Robots, an arctic Fortress, General Zod, Luthor as a mad scientist, the bottle city of Kandor, a shared history with the Legion of Superheroes and, of course, Krypto the Superdog.

Figure 51. Everything old is new again. (Krypto poster by Alex Ross).


[1] This attribution is discussed at length in Coogan, Chapter 8, “The First Superhero”.

[2] The original black and white publication run of Marvelman was incomplete, appearing in UK anthology magazine Warrior #1-21 (1982-84), which was subsequently reprinted and coloured, and then had its story completed in the American comic book format as Miracleman #1-16 (1985-89), published by Eclipse.

[3] Supreme #41-56 (Image Comics, later Maximum Press, later still Awesome Comics, 1996-1998) and Supreme: The Return #1-6 (Awesome Comics, 1999-2000). Similar to Miracleman, and indeed as with many of Moore’s independent projects, Supreme was subject to some changes in publisher during his tenure, with Image publishing the first two issues, Liefeld’s independent Maximum Press putting out #s 43-48 before transferring to Liefeld’s new company Awesome Comics. It was then cancelled mid-storyline with issue #56 and subsequently continued with restarted numbering as Supreme: The Return (albeit with no actual interruption to the story) for six issues before sudden cancellation, leaving the story hanging without a conclusion. In spite of the complex publication history, Moore’s uncompleted run falls quite neatly into two story arcs and has been collected as such in trade paperback form by the publisher Checker as “The Story of the Year” and “The Return”. Even though the second story arc had run for several issues in the original numbering before the book was relaunched with the subtitle, “The Return”, this serves as a convenient title for the second arc and will be referred to as such herein.

[4] The original 1950s Marvelman was a character almost directly mirroring Shazam‘s Captain Marvel (unusually so for the time, although today it would be considered a fairly standard case of pastiche), created out of necessity when British publisher Len Miller lost the rights to use the American character in the UK. (Khoury, 2001, p. 6.) However, given the legally-contested extent to which Captain Marvel himself was inspired by Superman in turn, there is an obvious lineage.

[5] Apart from their obvious similarities in the level and specific nature of their superpowers, the term “Superman” is mentioned in the comic itself several times, both in reference to the DC character and the Nietzschean concept. Other elements are clearly more beholden to Superman than the original Captain Marvel template, such as the Silver Age Superman’s more aloof attitude towards his own humanity, Miracleman’s alliance with a benevolent group comprised of aliens and superpowered humans reminiscent of Superman’s membership in the Justice League, the character Miracledog being an obvious homage to Krypto, Gargunza owing as much to Lex Luthor as Sivana, and the temple Miracleman’s pantheon builds for themselves at the end of Olympus is clearly reminiscent of the Fortress of Solitude with its many wonders and strange trophies.

[6] In particular, Moore described his conception of the horrifically apocalyptic battle between Miracleman and former sidekick Kid Miracleman as an attempt to depict just how much destruction a battle between Superman and Bizarro in downtown Metropolis would “really” cause. (Khoury, 2001, pp.18,20.)

[7] As opposed to the rambunctious pre-war Superman of the first few years of publication, who was a somewhat anti-authoritarian figure who battled corruption and greed on behalf of the downtrodden of the late Depression era.

[8] Although Watchmen is generally considered to be Moore’s definitive text about superheroes, it should more accurately be regarded as chiefly concerning “costumed heroes” rather than actual superhumans, as the only character in its large cast who actually possesses any real superpowers is Dr. Manhattan.

[9] Although interestingly enough, Moore in fact reworded the dialogue in the speech balloons to sound even more clichéd and exaggerated than the real 1950s text actually was.

[10] As with many of Moore’s projects written outside of the “big two” publishers, Miracleman had a very drawn-out publication schedule which entailed significant delays and a change in publisher. As such, although his original run on the character in the UK Warrior magazine beginning in 1982 predated his work for DC, the story was not concluded until 1989 under the auspices of Eclipse. Therefore, Miracleman essentially spans the breadth of Moore’s career in mainstream comics prior to his reemergence in 1993 at Image Comics. (Parkin, p. 55.)

[11] Notably including the graphic novel Batman: The Killing Joke (1988) and many other short stories, most of which are collected in the trade paperbacks Across the Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore (2003), and DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (2006). All preceding volumes published by DC Comics.

[12] “Protected Species” from The Superheroes Annual 1984 (DC Comics UK, Autumn 1983), and “I was Superman’s Double” from Superman Annual 1985 (DC Comics UK, Autumn 1984).

[13] The story has been adapted almost verbatim into an episode of the high-octane animated series Justice League Unlimited, under the same title in Season 1 (Warner Bros., 2004. Written by J.M. DeMatteis, with adapted story credit to Moore and original artist Dave Gibbons), and is reputedly the only screen adaptation of an Alan Moore work endorsed by the author. Significantly, the tale has also been reprinted several times, such as in the anthology trade paperback The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told (which has seen multiple editions since 1987), as well as being included in three collections of Moore’s DC work: Superman: The Man of Tomorrow (B&W, 1988), and the aforementioned Across the Universe: The DC Universe Stories of Alan Moore (2003), and DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (2006). All preceding volumes published by DC Comics.

[14] Given that the characters of Miracleman and later Supreme were both superpowered humans rather than actual aliens, and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? focuses on so many other elements of Superman’s Silver Age mythology that the issue of his being Kryptonian does not feature significantly. This was not altogether odd given that the story’s “end tale” premise required no reiteration of his origin, and the continuity at the time of publication had already eliminated Supergirl and the surviving Kryptonian city of Kandor as then-ongoing elements, thus leaving Superman himself as the last Kryptonian character present (with the technical exception of Krypto the Superdog).

[15] Although Moore’s earlier prose story “Protected Species” concerned Superman’s status as an “endangered species”, the short tale was written from the perspective of an alien “animal bagger” pursuing Superman, and was played chiefly for humour value.

[16] Although by this stage well into the Bronze Age of comics (the parameters are debated, but are generally held to span from the early 1970s to the mid-1980s), the Superman revised by Crisis was perceived (especially in retrospect) as essentially still being the Silver Age conception of the character, especially given his until-then unbroken continuity.

[17] A type of story, once common in the Silver Age, wherein the story content was explicitly understood to take place outside of the wider diegetic continuity and have no bearing on future issues of the comic in question.

[18] A similar notion is expressed in Klock, p. 22.

[19] Moreso than in the sense that the pre-Crisis continuity was about to be stricken from ongoing canon, as by the broader metatexual rules of DC continuity the Silver Age history had been canon before being replaced by a new version of “reality”, whereas “Imaginary Stories” were generally held to have never been canon in the first place. That said, there have been various attempts in later years to suggest that even these tales were in some tangential sense canonical by relegating them to alternate universes.

[20] Something further complicated by the fact that the metafictional model used by Crisis implied that the existing character was literally changed by reality (almost like an amnesiac given a new identity) instead of actually being physically differentiated from the new version. Conversely, this had been retroactively declared to be the case with the Golden Age Superman, designated a separate duplicate character named Kal-L (as opposed to Kal-El) residing on an alternate-reality Earth, meaning that (prior to Crisis) the two supermen could cross worlds and meet each other . The fact that, on the diegetic level, the post-Crisis Superman was deemed the “same person” as the Silver Age one precluded the idea of Superman’s “end story” being in-continuity, even a continuity that was about to be completely swept away.

[21] For example, the first syllables of his name make up “Jor-El”, Superman’s Kryptonian father.

[22] A frequently-evoked trope (in part by casual observers by way of a glib explanation for Superman’s lack of aging due to the common device of a floating timeline), but the idea of Superman possessing effective immortality as an actual superpower has never been definitively established in mainstream DC canon with any diegetic permanence.

[23] Indeed, the whole notion of Superman retiring was portrayed as a pivotal mistake in the narrative of Kingdom Come (DC Comics, 1996), although the tale did conclude with a similar assertion of the character’s essential humanity, but without the sacrificing of his powers or commitment to using them for the benefit of humanity.

[24] Superman: The Man of Tomorrow (B&W, 1988), Superman: Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (1997), and DC Universe: The Stories of Alan Moore (2006).

[25] For example, in Jeph Loeb’s Superman/Batman #18 (2005), and Grant Morrison’s Final Crisis: Superman Beyond 3D #2 (2009).

[26] For example, Supergirl had already been killed off in the Crisis maxiseries.

[27] The Superman Robots (Superman’s many android servants made in his own image for use as decoys) seemed to be just about the only major omission, but this was a continuity issue, as they had already been decommissioned in the 1970s.

[28] i.e. the aforementioned notion that the post-Crisis Superman, Lois et al. are literally the same people as their pre-Crisis selves around whom reality (including their own memories) has changed, rather than being bodily “replaced” by another version, which was the metafictional concept Moore would later use in Supreme. The flaw, of course, is that many of the supporting characters killed in Crisis with the intention of never being used again actually did crop up again in the new continuity regardless (such as Lori Lemaris), making their violent deaths in Crisis ultimately unnecessary and merely gratuitous.

[29] Decades later Grant Morrison had a similar approach to his take on the out-of-continuity miniseries All-Star Superman (DC Comics, 2006-2008).

[30] The existence of the proposal document for the unrealised maxiseries is a piece of comparatively obscure apocrypha that has survived and been disseminated via the internet. Although never used or referred to by DC in any public official capacity, it reputedly remains the legal intellectual property of DC despite its barely schematic form. Indeed, DC have made some attempts to prohibit the proliferation of this document, taking legal steps such as submitting the document for copyright a decade after the fact. Some question if this constitutes an effort to suppress knowledge of the document for various reasons. For a discussion of DC’s legal actions (retrieved on 4/5/2008), see: For a discussion of the document’s authenticity (retrieved on 4/5/2008), see:

[31] Or likely ever, given his retirement from mainstream comics altogether. (Khoury, 2003, p. 181, and Khoury, 2008, p. 208.)

[32] In particular: Warren Ellis, Mark Millar, J. Michael Strazynski, Garth Ennis and Neil Gaiman, to name but a few.

[33] Garth Ennis’ The Boys (Wildstorm/DC Comics, later Dynamite Entertainment, 2006-present).

[34] In this case by Alan Moore himself, with a very minor character in Top Ten (America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm/DC Comics, 1999-2001).

[35] Moore was no stranger to pastiche himself, with Miracleman being originally a transparent clone of Captain Marvel long before he ever got his hands on him, and most of the cast of Watchmen being retooled versions of Charlton comics characters, necessitated when DC refused him the rights to the characters proper. Supreme itself served as something of a springboard for Moore’s extensive use of pastiche in his America’s Best Comics line, such as the Doc Savage-esque Tom Strong (America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm/DC Comics, 1999-2006), his loosely Wonder Woman-inspired Promethea (America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm/DC Comics, 1999-2005), and scores of other characters in Tomorrow Stories (America’s Best Comics/Wildstorm/DC Comics, 1999-2002) and Top Ten.

[36] Although it should be noted that the original Supreme artist Brian Murray has asserted himself as co-creator on his own website: While Wikipedia also affords him this credit, official publications list Liefeld as sole creator of Supreme.

[37] Letters Page, Supreme (vol. 2) #1.

[38] Although Liefeld apparently had little actual input into the Supreme title specifically.

[39] It should be noted that this Jim Lee-created title featured the one other Superman-analogue Moore has used in his career, the Kherubim (alien) warlord Mr. Majestic. He is not discussed here in detail as the character was but one of many in the title’s large ensemble cast and Moore did not pay the character particular attention, with the one exception being a one-shot “The Big Chill” which depicts Majestic as one of a small group of immortals who are the final remaining beings in existence as the universe collapses at the end of time. Although not particularly evoking the Superman character in any other way, Moore does touch upon the common but somewhat apocryphal view that Superman does not age and is therefore immortal. Wildstorm Spotlight #1 Featuring Majestic (Wildstorm/Image Comics, 1997).

[40] During his work on Supreme, Moore penned Judgement Day (4 issues, Awesome Comics, 1997-1998), a crossover-style limited series which encompassed the shared fictional universe of all Liefeld’s characters such as Supreme in an even wider metatextual exploration of the history of mainstream comics, including pastiches of non-superhero genres such as Western, Fantasy and Pulp, using similar artistically-distinct flashbacks to Supreme. The title ultimately served as a critique of the “grim and gritty” tone of superhero comics by portraying reality as being controlled by rewriting a magical book which, in the hands of the self-aggrandising hero Sentinel, had been used to change the once uplifting nature of superheroic narratives into squalid tales of psychotic vigilantes. Although Moore does not target himself openly (if anything, he makes a visual reference to Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns [4 issues, DC Comics, 1986]), the inference to his and Miller’s unintended influence is clear with the narrative’s dating of the “middle nineteen eighties” as the point at which “reality” began to darken.

[41] An obvious analogue of Mighty Mouse, himself derived from Superman.

[42] A reference to the fact that Superman, upon his debut in 1938, was not initially depicted as possessing the power of flight, merely being able to “leap tall buildings in a single bound.”

[43] A nod of the head to Moore’s preference for the classic Silver Age iteration of the character and an indication of what will be at the core of his approach to the character.

[44] For Moore, it was key concept in his approach to his Superman pastiche, realising that:

…once I’d come up with that fairly simple idea, I realised just how rich and funny I could make my treatment of it… where I could parody the various ills of the comic industry and where I would play with wonderful ideas… which was always the thing that Superman represented to me as a child. It didn’t represent to me power or security, or anything like that; it represented wonderful ideas. (Khoury, 2003, p. 176.)

[45] Klock compares the idea of the Supremacy to Moore’s earlier metafictional concept in Swamp Thing of the viewpoint of omni-dimensional access known as Aleph. (Klock, pp. 23-24.) Also using Moore’s notion of the Aleph as a springboard for a far more expansive analysis of highly intertextual metanarratives in comics related multimedia is Angela Ndalianis’ chapter “Enter the Aleph: Superhero Worlds and Hypertime Realities”, in Ndalianis, The Contemporary Comic Book Superhero.

[46] Such as turning into a giant, splitting into two separate individuals, regressing to infancy, growing the eyes and antennae of an huge ant, or going temporarily insane, to name but a few.

[47] Indeed, Moore allows for more variation amongst his past versions of Supreme than was ever really the case with Superman, in particular allowing differing iterations to have completely unrelated origins such as gaining their powers from radiation, a magic belt buckle, etc – itself an observation of the changing trends in fashionable or “believable” origins over the decades for superheroes in general. Tellingly, the only version of Supreme to actually have an alien origin mirroring Superman’s own is the aforementioned Supremacy ruler Sixties Supreme, “Last Son of the exploded planet Supron” (Supreme #41).

[48] Klock also briefly offers an alternative, yet complementary analysis which interprets Moore’s Supremacy device as the expression of an awareness that superhero narratives are enriched by acknowledgement of their complex, contradictory histories, even if false ones need to be created for them. (Klock, p. 191.)

[49] Perhaps best expressed when at one point Supreme is introduced to the twin Supremes White and Gold, who describe themselves as “imaginary versions who were no less real than anyone else after our revision!” (a reference to the classic Imaginary Story “The Amazing Story of Superman-Red and Superman-Blue!” Superman (vol. 1), #162 (July 1963).

[50] When the new Supreme later protests that he has been active ever since the ’40s and merely has developed strange memory gaps, Original Supreme remarks “Banana oil! Your past hasn’t been written in yet! You probably popped into being just a few weeks back!” (Supreme #41). Of course, this is also a joke on the fact that, in the real world, Supreme is merely a pastiche character that had at that point only existed for around four years.

[51] The pair worked together on Swamp Thing and Miracleman, and would later go on after Supreme to collaborate on the “Greyshirt” feature in Moore’s anthology comic Tomorrow Stories (1999-2002, America’s Best Comics). Veitch himself had already written and drawn his own rather bleak deconstructive parody of Superman in his series The Maximortal (7 issues, King Hell/Tundra Publishing, 1992-1993).

[52] Moore had even briefly used a comic-within-a-comic device as an introduction to Miracleman, reproducing pages of a vintage 1950s Marvelman comic with more exaggerated dialogue by way of juxtaposition with his dour, “realistic” tale to follow. This was later recontextualised when it is revealed that Miracleman’s creator Dr. Gargunza had based Miracleman’s false memories on comic books.

[53] Including not only those of Superman comics, but also the extremely different and distinctive styles of vintage MAD Magazine, EC Comics etc.

[54] This was not the first time Moore had used this technique, having previously produced a similar work with Veitch three years earlier, a wide-ranging parody of the early years of Marvel Comics entitled 1963 (Image Comics, 1993), including fake period fan letters, editorials mimicking Stan Lee’s idiomatic prose, and advertisements for non-existent comics in the style of the time.

[55] No relation to the aforementioned Omni-Man of Image Comics’ Invincible.

[56] This is taken to ever further extremes in issue #53 where Mr. Mxyzptlk analogue Szazs “the Sprite Supreme” appears to bring Omniman to life, leading to a confrontation between two comic book pastiches of Superman (one literally so, even within the context of the story) arguing over who is “real”. Evidently, Moore sought to address the question of privileging different iterations of fiction on as many levels as possible.

[57] This is even a double homage, referencing the Ultra-Humanite, a very early mad-scientist enemy of Superman’s that even predated Luthor, and had a penchant for transplanting his brain into new bodies as a method of escape. His first such body-change was into that of a woman.

[58] Unlike other works such as V for VendettaMarvelmanFrom Hell and Lost Girls that suffered similar setbacks but were later completed with other publishers, it is fairly unlikely that Moore’s work on Supreme will ever see completion. Although he had reputedly scripted the final two issues which would have completed the story arc (Parkin, pp. 62, 76), the fact that a decade has passed and he has not attempted to revisit it speaks volumes, combined with some possible acrimony with Liefeld (Khoury, 2003, pp.174-175) and his widely-stated (and thus far upheld) intent to never write mainstream superhero comics again.

[59] Also, anecdotally, “Citadel Supreme”, a website dedicated to Moore’s run, claims: “From an interview published with Alan Moore on the now defunct Mania website, he reveals that there would have been a battle between the heroes of the Supremacy against the villains of Daxia … from the chronology given in the interview this would have started in Supreme The Return #7!” (Retrieved on 8/10/2008).

[60] In terms of volume rather than time, that is pagecount and number of issues, as opposed to years passed, in which case the distinction would go to Miracleman, but again due solely to its sporadic publishing schedule.

[61] Amidst a plethora of other personal criticisms, Rob Liefeld somewhat controversially claimed that, in creating the America’s Best Comics imprint, Alan Moore had essentially copied his approach to Supreme and other titles he had penned whilst working for him at Awesome Entertainment. Although broadly speaking a somewhat justified observation, the tenor of Liefield’s attack was not given much weight in the comic community. (“Rob Liefeld shoots on Alan Moore” Interview with Rob Liefeld by Luke Y. Thompson, Orange County News.)



Coogan, Peter. Superhero: The secret origin of a genre. Austin TX: MonkeyBrain Books, 2006.

Khoury, George. Kimota! The Miracleman companion. Raleigh NC: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2001.

Khoury, George. The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore. Raleigh NC: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2003.

Khoury, George. The Extraordinary Works of Alan Moore: Indispensable Edition. Raleigh NC: TwoMorrows Publishing, 2008.

Klock, Geoff. How to Read Superhero Comics and Why. New York: Continuum, 2002.

Parkin, Lance. The Pocket Essential Alan Moore. Harpenden, Herts, UK: Pocket Essentials, 2001.


Eco, Umberto. “The Myth of Superman”, in The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the semiotics of texts. Bloomington and London: Indiana University Press, 1979. p.107-124.

Wells, John. “Post-Crisis Events”, in Crisis on Infinite Earths: the Absolute edition. Written by Marv Wolfman, writer, pencilled by George Pérez. Supplementary material by various. Originally published as Crisis on Infinite Earths #1-12, 1985-1986. New York: DC Comics, 2005.

Graphic Novels and Comics

Note: Due to the highly collaborative nature of comics, these graphic novels and reprinted collections aka “trades” (trade paperbacks, not always actually using paperback binding) will be alphabetised by title rather than writer. Publication dates of original issues and details of all major creators are listed when available, but in cases of large numbers of contributors only primary artists are listed.

Collected Volumes

Crisis on Infinite Earths: the Absolute edition. Written by Marv Wolfman, writer, pencilled by George Pérez. Supplementary material by various. Originally published as Crisis on Infinite Earths #1-12, 1985-1986. New York: DC Comics, 2005.

Judgement Day. Written by Alan Moore, pencilled by Rob Liefeld, Chris Sprouse, Rick Veitch, Jim Starlin, Gil Kane et al. Originally published by Awesome Comics in Judgement Day AlphaJudgement Day OmegaJudgement Day Final JudgementJudgement Day Aftermath and Youngblood Prologue. Miamisburg, OH: Checker Book Publishing Group, 2003.

Miracleman/Marvelman Note: Alan Moore’s work originally published as an incomplete run in UK anthology Warrior #1-21, 1982-84. Reprinted and completed in the Eclipse Comics run Miracleman #1-16, 1985-89 and subsequently reprinted in the collected editions below, with the exclusion of issue #8, which was a reprint of a pre-Alan Moore story.

Miracleman Book One: A Dream Of Flying. Written by Alan Moore, art by Gary Leach and Alan Davis. Originally published in Miracleman #1-3, Eclipse Comics, 1985. New York: Eclipse Books, 1990.

Miracleman Book Two: The Red King Syndrome. Written by Alan Moore, art by Alan Davis, Chuck Beckum, and Rick Veitch. Originally published in Miracleman #4-7 and #9-10, Eclipse Comics, 1985-1986. New York: Eclipse Books, 1990.

Miracleman Book Three: Olympus. Written by Alan Moore, art by John Totleben. Originally published in Miracleman #11-16, Eclipse Comics, 1987-1989. New York: Eclipse Books, 1991.

Supreme: The Story of the Year. Written by Alan Moore, art by Joe Bennett, Rick Veitch, J. Morrigan, Mark Pajarillo et al. Originally published in Supreme vol.2 #41-52b (#41-42 Image Comics, #43-48 Maximum Press, 49-52b Awesome Comics), 1996-1997. Note: Issue #52 was published as two separate comics #”52a” and “52b”, containing a continuous story across both issues. Centerville, OH: Checker Book Publishing Group, 2002.

Supreme: The Return. Written by Alan Moore, art by Chris Sprouse, Rick Veitch, Matt Smith et al. Originally published as Supreme vol.2 #53-56 and Supreme: The Return #1-6, Awesome Comics, 1997-2000. Centerville, OH: Checker Book Publishing Group, 2003.

Individual Issues

“For the Man Who Has Everything.” Written by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons. In Superman Annual #11. New York: DC Comics, 1985.

“I was Superman’s Double.” (prose story). Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Bob Wakelin. In Superman Annual 1985. DC Comics (UK), Autumn 1984.

“The Jungle Line.” Written by Alan Moore, pencilled by Rick Veitch. In DC Comics Presents #85. New York: DC Comics, 1985.

“Protected Species.” (prose story). Written by Alan Moore, illustrated by Bryan Talbot. In The Superheroes Annual 1984. DC Comics (UK), Autumn 1983.

“Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow?” Written by Alan Moore, art by Curt Swan, George Pérez and Kurt Schaffenberger. In Superman #423 and Action Comics #583. New York: DC Comics, 1986.

Online Materials

“Rob Liefeld shoots on Alan Moore.” Interview with Rob Liefeld by Luke Y. Thompson, Thursday, October 11, 2007, OC Weekly Blogs – Orange County News. Retrieved 5 July 2010.

Citadel Supreme. Retrieved 14 March 2009.
A fansite dedicated to Alan Moore’s run on Supreme.

Moore, Alan. “Twilight of the Superheroes”, 1987. Unpublished proposal to DC Comics for unrealised crossover project. Retrieved 4 June 2008.
Not officially released, but has been leaked for many years and is archived at several websites such as:

Murray Studios. Retrieved 16 March 2010.
Official website of artist Brian Murray

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