University of Jyväskylä
Comics is the medium most overwhelmingly dominated by fantastic narratives. For more than half a century, superheroes have practically monopolized the mainstream Anglo-American comic book industry. Superheroes originated in comics and have a varied aesthetic history in the realm of graphic narrative, even though the storyworlds they inhabit have become increasingly transmedial of late. Especially in more metatextual superhero narratives, memory of the medium plays a significant role.
The first superhero, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel’s Superman, appeared for the first time in 1938. During the rest of the 20th century, superhero comics have generated huge narrative universes, complex superhero canons and peculiar fan subcultures. Consequently, some more recent superhero works have engaged in self-referential play, using the history of the fantastic genre in sophisticated ways. Appreciating these works fully calls for a comprehensive subcultural knowledge of the superhero genre and the comics medium.
One such work is comics writer Alan Moore’s revisioning of the superhero Supreme, originally a “grim and gritty” clone of Superman created by Rob Liefeld in 1992. Moore’s version of the comic is metatextual in many respects: it discusses the tropes and archetypes of the superhero genre as well as exploits its history in subversive ways, including, for example, style pastiches of comics by canonized comics artists, such as Jack Kirby and Wally Wood.
In my paper, I will take a look at Alan Moore’s Supreme (#41-63, 1996–2012), especially its meta-fantastic aspects. I argue that the meta-level discussion of superheroes as well as the experiments with comics medium are ultimately used as fantastic storytelling devices. Furthermore, both of them can be considered medium-specific narrative strategies to some extent, and it’s worthwhile to discuss whether the meta-fantastic aesthetic of Supreme and other medially self-aware comics is able to transcend the boundaries between media even in theory.