Transmyscira: Time Dies Screaming in SUPREME BLUE ROSE

We discover possible pasts at the same time as we feel the opening up of possible futures.

– Peter Wollen, Raiding The Icebox: Reflections on Twentieth Century Culture


We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.

– Marshall McLuhan


If the zoo bans me from hollering at the animals I will face God and walk backwards into Hell.

– @dril


Supreme Blue Rose is one of Warren Ellis’ greatest accomplishments in comics, but it’s also more or less his most forbidding and least accessible work. Swathed in Tula Lotay’s breathtaking artwork, Supreme Blue Rose towers over the average reader like an impossibly beautiful sphynx guarding an equally impossible riddle, but solving that riddle unlocks an unparalleled perspective on the current state of superhero comics.

In a sense, Supreme Blue Rose is a lot like reading Jacques Derrida or Judith Butler. There’s a clear sense of worth in understanding them, but they teeter precariously on top of decades, if not centuries, of prior works that need to be digested before they can be properly understood. That dynamic has probably doomed Supreme Blue Rose to being prized by no one but Ellis’ most dedicated fans, but it also exists as a unique gift to anyone who has cared to follow the twists and turns of his career since Stormwatch or Transmetropolitan.

Cover art by Tula Lotay

Supreme Blue Rose is a lot of things: it’s a William Gibson novel told as a Superman comic, the sequel to Planetary, and a passion project on a topic that Ellis would never admit to having passion for. It is all of those highly specific niche products, but it also stands atop all of the innovations and tangents in the medium since The Anatomy Lesson, giving us the clearest conceptual lens available to reflect on the ludicrous, improbable nature of superhero (adjacent) comics since the British Invasion.

A unique and beautiful fact about comics is that, unlike any other major art form, the critical theory of comics is contained primarily in comics. Prose writing about comics is, of course, important and meaningful. I obviously wouldn’t be writing this otherwise, but with the notable exception of Women in Refrigerators, the form, function, and development of the medium is most conclusively communicated by comics themselves.

In the most basic sense, that principle is most easily seen at work in Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics which goes beyond using comics as examples as the principles under discussion to make it the primary vehicle for communicating with the reader. McCloud uses a caricature of himself to literally walk the reader through the art form, its history, and structure. While a select few comics, like the culmination of Grant Morrison’s Animal Man run, directly invoke the creators themselves to carry on a dialogue with the reader, the practice of making comics to analyze and contextualize other comics has been a central feature of the mainstream since at least the British Invasion of the 1980s.

Interior art by Tula Lotay

It’s probably uncontroversial to say that Alan Moore did the most to lay the foundation for this dynamic when he decided to approach the fictional worlds he wrote in as if they were “real,” as if he were writing historical fiction that required a lot more rigorous attention to situating his stories in time and place. That required a lot of back fill, spinning out histories for major settings like Gotham City in the pages of Swamp Thing, but it also meant that Moore had a lot more agency over the flow of history than if he were writing, say, Wolf Hall.

Which meant that he also had the freedom to complicate the structure and the meta-historical view of the Marvel and DC universes by introducing the idea of a multiverse in the pages of Captain Britain. The introduction of the multiverse, cribbed from Michael Moorcock, is possibly the most important single act to the development of critical theory as comics because it opened up incredible opportunities for bringing a self consciously postmodernist perspective into superhero comics, buttressed by Neil Gaiman’s efforts to break open a broader intertextuality between comics, religious texts, myth, and literature through The Sandman.

But Moore and Gaiman didn’t produce that work out of the clear blue sky. To paraphrase Karl Marx, and by extension most of the major Batman writers of the last thirty years, a society produces the revolutionaries it requires. A typical approach to critical theory begins with the acknowledgement that the three most influential thinkers in shaping the 20th century (from a western standpoint) are Charles Darwin, Karl Marx, and Sigmund Freud. Love them or hate them, you have to reckon with their outsized influence on our thinking and their specific, foundational influence on superhero comics has been almost too obvious to merit explanation.

Interior art by Tula Lotay

That doesn’t mean that superhero comics began life as communist propaganda incest fantasies, even if that’s more or less what Dr. Fredric Wertham was arguing in the 1950s. It just means that they weighed heavily on the medium in one way or another. Wertham, who paved the way for the Comics Code Authority arguing that comics turned children into delinquents before the US Senate, was heavily influenced by Freud, who he both corresponded with and personally visited.

That said, William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman and one of Wertham’s most prominent targets, was also deeply influenced by Freudian psychoanalysis by way of Willhelm Reich. Both Wertham and Marston approached comics from the perspective of Freud’s work on childhood development to violently clashing conclusions. Like Freud and Jung had before them, and Moore and Morrison would long after them.

The grand irony of Wertham’s legacy is that in comics, he’s known for creating the pretext for the CCA, which was used as a politicized right wing cudgel to drive women and creators of color out of the industry. Simultaneously, Wertham was known as a progressive psychiatrist willing to treat Black patients against the norms of the time and his work was notably cited in the overturning of segregation statutes, including Brown v. Board of Education. Kind of like how Dean Kamen is remembered for the Segway, instead of the first practical insulin pump.

But if you want to get hit all at once by the triple whammy of the influence of Darwin, Freud, and Marx on superhero comics, just pick up any issue of any X-Men series ever. It’s all there: cartoonish extrapolation on theories of evolution and natural selection; revolutionary politics and the cyclical nature of history; sexual repression, transference, and sublimation. Not only that, but it was all there before Chris Claremont showed up!

Interior art by Sam Keith

So when the likes of Gaiman and Moore showed up, they weren’t acting on anything that wasn’t already in the mix. They came in to update the cultural and critical thought in an overt, self conscious way, broadening the scope of what comics as a medium could do and say. Key to that effort was the clear telegraphing of what they were doing and what thinkers they were leveraging to accomplish it. They created easily legible epistemologies, or genealogies, depending on your preferred language.

I’m no great champion of The Sandman, but Gaiman and his collaborators broke down a lot of barriers to create a two lane highway in and out of comics. The segment leaning on The Canterbury Tales, in which characters representing very different storytelling genres and traditions intermingle to tell their stories, is especially important to The Sandman’s meta-textual agenda of taking comics out of a hermetically sealed, superhero-centric cultural niche and placing it in the larger context of the storytelling traditions it grew out of and continues to illuminate. It’s a pretty textbook example of the postmodern desire to problematize the barriers between “high” and “low” culture.

The impact of what Moore and Gaiman had unleashed was felt almost immediately. In the grand scheme of comics history, Grant Morrison and Warren Ellis emerged mere seconds after Moore, but there are very clear dividing lines between Moore’s arrival at DC in 1984 and more or less everything that followed from both the United Kingdom and North America. Morrison arrived hot on Moore’s heels, drawing the battle line between himself and his predecessor as early as 1987 when he described Zenith as a deliberate tonal break from Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns.

The next year, Morrison hit the ground running at DC by launching an Animal Man revival using the same strategy that Len Wein had offered Swamp Thing to Alan Moore and that Karen Berger would extend to Neil Gaiman for The Sandman immediately after.

Interior art by Sam Keith

While Gaiman undertook an exceptionally ecumenical approach to following Moore’s wake in crafting The Sandman, breaking comics open to overt incursions from mythology, religion, literature, and Shakespeare, Morrison dove headlong into the cloistered world of superheroes to push Moore’s conception of historicity to the next level.

Where Gaiman pursued intertextuality, Morrison pursued a gnostically inflected metafiction that culminated in his famous entry into the comic to speak with Buddy directly. If Moore would suspend disbelief to treat the DC universe as a place with a real, concrete history then Morrison would portray himself as credulous enough to enter the comic book and make its subject aware of itself.

Gaiman’s work, being much less (literally) esoteric, caught on much quicker and to greater lasting acclaim than Morrison’s early DC work did but he kept plugging away. It’s a common, well founded argument that Morrison tacked towards Gaiman while he figured out his own voice. It’s most apparent in Morrison’s collaboration with Dave McKean on Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth and the first arc of The Invisibles, his reunion with Zenith co-creator Steve Yeowell, but Morrison used both to advance his explorations of post modernism and post structuralism.

Interior art by Chas Truog

In Animal Man and Arkham Asylum, Morrison used the asylum as a liminal space where the hold of space and time was significantly loosened relative to the rest of the DCU. In the former, Arkham Asylum was where Psycho Pirate tried to undo Crisis on Infinite Earths, splitting the DC universe back into multiple worlds from the singular, consolidated one that came out of the 1985-86 series. In the latter, Morrison and McKean depicted all the iterations of the asylum occupying the same physical space in an early example of what Ellis would refer to as “versioning” in Supreme Blue Rose.

As with Moore and Gaiman, Morrison was working in a space that was waiting for him to enact these ideas on as much as he was looking for an opportunity to do it. Animal Man and Arkham Asylum worked because he was taking advantage of the unique way that DC had married its publishing concerns to the cosmology of its fictional world long before he, Moore, or Gaiman arrived there.

The early corporate strategy of DC is best described as an overtly imperialist approach to capitalism that feels almost identical to the way the current tech sector operates: every time they identified a potential rival, they bought them out and absorbed whatever defined their success. As Chris Sims once explained, sometimes that was a set of characters like Fawcett, and sometimes it was a creator, like Otto Binder, who came along with the Captain Marvel acquisition and became a decade defining Superman writer as a result.

Prior to Crisis on Infinite Earths, DC organized their fictional world according to those acquisitions, the same way that Facebook has so far preserved WhatsApp and Instagram as distinct entities that run parallel to and share resources with the main entity. In Facebook’s case, their mania for finding and acquiring their next rival lead them straight into their latest skirmish with Apple in a sequence of events that uncannily mirrors the plot of Supreme Blue Rose. As for DC, that strategy came to an end when Marvel proved too big to swallow and put them in the unfamiliar position of playing catch up. Things might have played out differently if Otto Binder had paid children to tell him what their interests and buying habits were, but we’ll never know for sure.

Interior art by Chas Truog

But more importantly, that organizational structure — keeping characters from a former rival in mostly enclosed fictional spaces and groupings of books — is what created the opportunity for Crisis on Infinite Earths to merge publishing concerns with storytelling in an explicit way, which in turn established a pivot point in the company’s history and the opportunity for the thought experiments that flowed directly out of it.

Which is how critical theory and most of the humanities and sciences have developed. Newton had to get hit in the head with an apple for Einstein to develop the theory of relativity and so on and so forth. And so, in some ways, it seems as though following Animal Man, Doom Patrol, and Arkham Asylum, Morrison recognized that he had more or less stood on the shoulders of giants and decided to use The Invisibles to do justice to the entire train of thought that lead him, and comics more generally, to Animal Man.

The Invisibles is a fascinating case study for a great many things, but how it organizes itself around the progression of western thought since The Enlightenment and the development of critical theory is remarkable given its chaotic execution. The Invisibles is absolutely an occult work, but it’s the product of an occult tradition rooted in critical theory. The bedrock of The Invisibles is revealed through the introduction of the drug “Key 23,” a hallucinogen that makes people interpret written language as whatever the words describe.

Interior art by Phil Jimenez

It’s a gag based on Ferdinand de Saussure’s structural linguistics and the following work of post structuralists like Louis Althusser, Roland Barthes, and Michel Foucault. Saussure is particularly relevant because he broke the function of written language down to “signifier” and “signified,” the word and the material object it describes. Key 23’s purpose in the narrative is to foreground the post structuralist viewpoint that language constructs reality and mediates our relationship with materiality. It’s also the organizing principle of The Matrix, which may or may not have plagiarized The Invisibles depending on which day of the week you ask Morrison about it.

The idea of using comics to explore the concept of the linguistic construction of reality is particularly novel given that, as Morrison first started drawing overt attention to in Animal Man, comics begin with a written script. The Invisibles is also one of Morrison’s most conceptually dense works, blazing through almost as many styles and structures as it has issues, which could also arguably make it his first attempt at using James Joyce’s Ulysses as a major reference point.

While Morrison may have looked to close out the 20th century railing against the grim and gritty glorification of violence in comics the same way that Joyce stormed into it by railing against Yeats and the cult of Cuchulainn, Ulysses’ influence on Morrison wouldn’t be fully perceptible until The Filth. Morrison’s embrace of materiality and the most grotesque functions of the human body, a defining characteristic of Ulysses, is enacted primarily through Lord Byron (“I love the world. I love the whole turning, farting, pissing, shitting mess. I’m not so sure I could come up with a better one or even if I’d wish to see it perfect.”) and the Marquis de Sade in The Invisibles, obscuring the parallels to Joyce.

Interior art by Phil Jimenez

The Filth, however, is a true “epic of the body” as scholar Declan Kiberd describes Ulysses through both Chris Weston and Gary Erskine’s decidedly visceral artwork and how the story foregrounds organs and body parts parallel to Joyce’s initial intention to name Ulysses’ chapters after body parts that corresponded to the books of the Iliad, connecting heroic fiction to the body and materiality much like Morrison did with increasing emphasis in Animal Man, Doom Patrol, Flex Mentallo, The Invisibles, and finally The Filth.

Morrison’s role in the overall progression of critical theory within mainstream American comics is a unique one, serving to reinforce that it wasn’t an organized human endeavor, but a chaotic mass of activity that only achieves meaning through the imposition order into charts or narratives. It’s not hard to imagine what the deviation of Morrison’s accelerated adoption of complex critical theory would look like in a Darwin-like genealogy chart.

Between Animal Man and The Invisibles there were two major events that indelibly altered the course of both the industry and the utility of critical theory within comics: the founding of Image Comics by Todd McFarlane, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Jim Valentino, Erik Larsen, Rob Liefeld, and Marc Silvestri in 1992 and Scott McCloud publishing Understanding Comics in 1993.

Interior art by Scott McCloud

Aside from Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, there are few to any other figures in comics who fit the bill of the Marxian concept of a culture creating the revolutionary it requires better than Scott McCloud.

McCloud arrived just at the crest of a massive creative and economic wave in comics that would crash down into Marvel’s bankruptcy three years later to formalize the study of comics in a comprehensive and accessible way for the first time. While Moore, Gaiman, Morrison, and their contemporaries worked out their theories of comics as they made them, McCloud united those meditations and innovations into a single work that could be read as theory qua theory.

This both facilitated a new and broader understanding of the fresh innovations of the British Invasion as well as new context to consider the work of giants like Will Eisner, breaking open comics criticism, comics, and comics as criticism for a mass audience, replacing photocopies of photocopies of photocopies of Wally Wood’s 22 Panels That Always Work as the cartoonist’s bible.

The founding of Image Comics, while seismic in impact, was something else entirely. Six hotshot young talents and one grizzled veteran took their talents into a neoliberal plunge into the open marketplace to immediately spectacular success. As Alan Moore, and others besides rightly observed, it was called “Image” for the reason that its founders were prodigious artists who had little to no experience or aptitude at writing.

Cover art by Rob Liefeld

The Image founders mostly launched with pastiches and derivatives of the Marvel and DC properties they rose to fame drawing like the dangerously X-Men adjacent squad based Youngblood and WildCATS or Liefeld’s Superman and Wonder Woman proxies Supreme and Glory. This had a lot of practical value to the Image founders as they could offer a familiar product to their existing fanbase and it opened up brand new job opportunities for established writers like Gaiman, Moore, and Keith Giffen who were recruited to do the grunt work of actually scripting the comics.

When Liefeld brought Moore on to take over Supreme, Moore immediately recognized that he had essentially been given a blank cheque to expand on his meditation on Superman in Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? without the kind of restrictions that DC editorial had placed on him resulting in the necessity for creating entirely new iterations of the Charlton characters to do Watchmen or, in the case of Twilight of the Superheroes, be refused outright.

There’s a lot of poetry to Moore getting the keys to the castle of a Superman clone, given that Harvey Kurtzman and Wally Wood’s Superduperman was a foundational influence on his approach to writing superheroes. It also provided him with a sterling opportunity to further advance postmodern thought and comics as self referential critical theory. In some ways, Moore drew Supreme even tighter to Superman by introducing a Lex Luthor proxy named Darius Dax, but he also used the creative license afforded him to introduce a new type of cosmology that built directly on his Captain Britain work.

Moore introduced an extradimensional space called The Supremacy, a kind of fantastical retirement home for preceding and alternate versions of Supreme. It took the idea of multiple simultaneously existing versions of a character that Moore initially explored in Captain Britain, portraying a multitude of different earths, each with their own Captain Britains, and more or less combined it with the notion of chronological iterations of Superman divided by Crisis on Infinite Earths.

Cover art by Daniel Acuna

This particular innovation on Moore’s part was a major contribution to the ushering in of what we now call The Prismatic Age, a period in which superheroes are defined not so much in comparisons to each other, but in relation to multiple iterations or derivatives of themselves. It’s also the axis around which Supreme Blue Rose organizes itself.

At DC, the precursor to the Prismatic Age was Mark Waid’s much maligned The Kingdom and the almost intentionally misunderstood concept of Hypertime that it introduced and Grant Morrison took up in earnest until it eventually became the law of the land. Hypertime was, in essence, a vindication of Psycho Pirate’s viewpoint that the Pre-Crisis DCU could be accessed but instead of a linear regression, Hypertime more or less posited that all timelines existed in parallel, that everything published was a living, breathing history whether it was immediately recognized in the current comics or not.

It manifested in a plethora of ways, like Wally West literally splitting into several composite selves like light through a prism or Morrison breaking down the decades of Batman comics into distinct phases of Bruce Wayne’s life to conceptualize of them all as being “in continuity,” but the underlying logic was the same.

As this progression took place through the late 1990s into the new millennium, Jim Lee’s Wildstorm imprint transformed itself into the primary vehicle for analysis and criticism of superhero comics from outside of the orthodoxies of DC and Marvel comics. Following Awesome Comics’ collapse, Moore used his America’s Best Comics sub imprint to further the explorations he began on Supreme in Promethea, Tom Strong, and Top Ten.

More or less simultaneously, Warren Ellis took control of the second volume of Wildstorm’s Stormwatch, using it as a canvas for his own emerging ideas much the same way as Moore had with Supreme. Ellis shifted the property towards his now trademark grounded emphasis on military and spy fiction characterized by sarcastic criticism of US hegemony. He eventually blew up the series in an Aliens crossover to launch The Authority, his famously bombastic send up of The Avengers and Justice League that included Midnighter and Apollo, who are effectively gay iterations of Batman and Superman.

Interior art by John Cassaday

It also brought about Planetary, a synthesis of the two main strands of Ellis’ thinking at the time: a forensic lens on the political, cultural, and scientific currents of the 20th century and his contemptuous yet sharp eyed critique of superhero fiction. Ellis joined the Prismatic Age by building a composite century that melded pulp fiction, Hollywood scifi, and key superhero players into a single clandestine history.

Superficially Planetary is a darkly comic thought experiment casting the Fantastic Four as a cadre of Nazi scientists that consolidated power by finding and killing all the other classic superheroes before they could constitute a credible threat, mirroring both DC’s early business strategy and that of Darius Dax in Supreme Blue Rose.

But it also served as a bully pulpit for Ellis to trace the influences of various pulp mediums on the development of comics and his opinions about the ideologies that have acted on superhero comics using the British Invasion as a pivot point. It was Ellis’ first major foray into comics as critical theory and arguably the easiest entry point into the concept, even if it was nowhere near the first.

Interior art by John Cassaday

Ellis’ rise to prominence at Wildstorm paralleled its acquisition by DC Comics, officially codifying it as a kind of laboratory for exploring lateral and transgressive takes on the DC portfolio at a time when Vertigo had transitioned almost entirely out of using DC characters in favor of pursuing original creator owned content. Which, for a time, encompassed The Authority and other Stormwatch effluvia, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City, Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris’ Sorkinesque Ex Machina, and two wildly divergent looks at retirement for superheroes: Ellis and J.H. Williams III’s Desolation Jones and Gail Simone and Neil Googe’s Welcome to Tranquility. All of them looking to reframe superhero comics by proxy, as expressions of the Prismatic Age.

Then Flashpoint happened, or rather, the reorganization of the DC Comics portfolio that necessitated it in 2011. It wasn’t a conclusive, immediately understood shift like Crisis on Infinite Earths was, but the first crack in the firmament that, to paraphrase Ellis in Supreme Blue Rose, lead to the screaming death of time. Flashpoint and the resulting “New 52” status quo dissolved the Wildstorm universe into the mainline DCU and began re-integrating Vertigo mainstays like Swamp Thing, Animal Man, and John Constantine who had only existed in conventional DC books since the early 1990s via carefully supervised furloughs.

Flashpoint was both a consolidation and an expansion, selectively streamlining continuity while also integrating the previously segregated Vertigo and Wildstorm characters into a single shared fictional space. That was more or less true of the post COIE status quo, but the New 52 leaked like a sieve, and appropriately enough, Grant Morrison is mostly to blame.

Morrison’s Batman Incorporated epic was bifurcated by Flashpoint to such a comical degree that when Cameron Stewart was drawing the Leviathan Strikes one shot bridging the two volumes, he had to go back and redraw Stephanie Brown alternatively as Batgirl and Spoiler while editorial went back and forth on whether it took place before or after Flashpoint, which wiped out her time as Batgirl. So if there’s a single, identifiable point at which time died screaming at DC comics, it was when Stewart was hunched over his artboard contemplating Schrodinger’s Stephanie Brown.

Interior art by Cameron Stewart

Even that was just a goofy anecdote at the time, rather than a harbinger of what was right around the corner. Following the conclusion of Batman Incorporated, Tim Seeley and a then unknown former CIA employee named Tom King did the unthinkable: they successfully followed a Grant Morrison comic. Grayson was the kookiest idea that anyone had seen in quite some time, beginning with the premise that Dick Grayson faked his own death in order to infiltrate Spyral, the mysterious organization Kathy Kane founded after her own disappearance.

Grayson was a spectacular success, but it was also a Trojan Horse. King and Seeley took the license that being an ostensible Morrison spin-off gave them to craft a deliriously psychedelic spy thriller drawing on influences like the Illuminatus! Trilogy and Robert Rodi’s Codename Knockout to turn the strictly grounded New 52 inside out. Most important of all, Grayson was where the Wildstorm characters truly began being integrated into the DCU as more than a backwater of the New 52.

When Midnighter emerged as Dick’s relentless pursuer, both ally and antagonist, it became shockingly clear that something unprecedented was happening. Prior to Flashpoint, Midnighter had grown from a speculative gag under Ellis to the re-inscription of Morrison’s JLA era Batman under Millar to an outlandish, comedically unrestrained power fantasy in the hands of Garth Ennis.

By the time that Ennis was handed a Midnighter solo series, he grasped the overcompensating hyper competence that he and his straight peers had imbued the character with out of their anxiety over writing a gay derivative of Batman. So he embraced the absurdity and took it to a level of excess that he never truly achieved on The Punisher. Midnighter was a myth, a force of nature, and an utterly unique metafictional commentary on Batman. The one thing he was never meant to do was exist in the same space as Batman.

Interior art by ACO

So when Steve Orlando and ACO inaugurated Midnighter’s first solo outing since Flashpoint with the drawing of an empty condom wrapper on top of a pair of Batman briefs, the sheer density of meaning invested in that image threatened to overwhelm the comic itself. It was an incredibly loud statement about what was allowed and how the Batman iconography could be used at DC, especially as it heralded the first Midnighter appearance written by a gay man, but to parse it, to understand the sum total of the layers of meaning in that single panel required not just a fluency in the DC brand, but also the accumulated theoretical work that built up to it.

But the magic, the pure delirious power of comics as a medium is that they taught us everything we need to know to understand them as a function of reading them. It’s quite possibly the most transparent expression of Marshall Mcluhan’s axiom “the medium is the message,” but for the purpose of making and consuming comics, knowing who Mcluhan is is entirely beside the point. It doesn’t make any of that understanding immediately useful outside of understanding the byzantine nature of contemporary comics, but that doesn’t make it any less remarkable.

If you accept that the increasing sophistication of storytelling in comics since the early 1980s has produced at least two generations of autodidacts in postmodern cultural theory, then the elegance of Warren Ellis emerging as the Virgil to usher the reader’s Dante through its inner workings takes shape immediately. Ellis didn’t study critical theory or post modernism in college, he didn’t even go to college. He became one of the sharpest minds in comics and greatest elder statesmen (if you think of elder statesman as a synonym for elder god) out of an overriding passion for discovering and understanding the ideas and structures behind the fiction and technology that sparked his imagination, then built a career out of exposing us to those structures whether we liked it or not.

Interior art by Tula Lotay

Which is why Supreme Blue Rose appeared ten months before Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s Secret Wars and eleven months before the Batman briefs in Midnighter, the precise condition it was written to anticipate. Ellis has been bestowed oracular powers by his fan base for well over ten years, given that Transmetropolitan has been used as the political equivalent of a tarot deck since before the last trade paperback was even published.

It developed that reputation precisely because Ellis assembled it like a tarot deck of the major elements of political theater most relevant to the second half of the 20th century and most likely to be restaged in the immediate future. People drew parallels between the Superstorm in Transmetropolitan and Hurricane Katrina probably because Ellis was aware of Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism thesis in The Shock Doctrine and proceeded accordingly, as one example.

The question of Supreme Blue Rose is, similarly, but distinctly, whether Ellis anticipated its timeliness or if it anticipated him. In the comic itself, one of the overlapping timelines that achieves the appearance of consensual reality features a driveable bridge to the moon that took centuries to traverse, with people spending their entire lives building up small sections of it, never coming anywhere near to living to see it completed.

Interpreted one way, it’s the concretization of the centuries of science and engineering that went into the moon landing. Interpreted another way, it represents the accumulated narrative and theoretical weight that delivered Ellis and Tula Lotay to their comic, winding its way back through Moore and Liefeld’s preceding work on Supreme and the Superman comics those iterations used as their foundation.

Cover art by Tula Lotay

Supreme Blue Rose is a master class in subterfuge from a writer who is typically known as a blunt force instrument. Because the starting point for Supreme Blue Rose is mapping Moore’s work on Supreme onto William Gibson’s loose Blue Ant Trilogy (Spook Country, Pattern Recognition, and Zero History), it takes a far more specific frame of reference to unpick exactly who and what the comic’s protagonist is, who she’s looking for, and what she’s going to find out along the way.

The most shocking revelation at the core of Supreme Blue Rose is that Warren Ellis and Tula Lotay made the greatest Lois Lane comic in recent memory without ever acknowledging that it was, in fact, a Lois Lane comic. It kind of gives the game away to frame it like that to the uninitiated, but Diana Dane and Darius Dax have — apparently — always been very explicitly the Lois Lane and Lex Luthor analogues in any version of Supreme that actually looks like a superhero comic.

Lois Lane searching for Clark Kent in the debris of a gaping wound in space and time at the behest of Lex Luthor without understanding who either of them are to her or each other is pretty spectacular on its own merits. Merging Diana/Lois with Gibson’s musician-turned-journalist Hollis Henry (Spook Country, Zero History) and Darius/Lex with outlandish billionaire futurist Hubertus Bigend (Spook Country, Pattern Recognition, Zero History) is downright diabolical.

The general thrust of the Blue Ant Trilogy is that Hubertus Bigend, an ostentatious yet secretive billionaire who wears loud electric blue suits hires one of two chic young women with particular viewpoints on the world to find something for him without telling them exactly what it is they’re looking for or what he wants it for. In Spook Country it comes down to a literal cargo container of stolen US cash earmarked for Iraq reconstruction. In Pattern Recognition, it’s a series of mysterious videos popping up on the Internet. In Zero History, it’s the identity of the designer of a secret clothing brand. Bigend’s sleuthing and cool hunting culminates in Zero History with acquiring the ability to algorithmically predict stock prices minutes in advance.

Interior art by Tula Lotay

Darius Dax introduces himself to Diana Dane in Supreme Blue Rose with a more abstract version of the same goal as his Gibsonian antecedent. Dax is obsessed with theorizing the future, chasing down every possible future and aspect of said futures through a process he describes as versioning. It’s a concept whose mechanics and implications Ellis mapped out in far greater detail in his 2016 novel, Normal, but has emerged recently in real life, in the middle of arcane battles between major tech giants.

The scarcely understood Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s alleged abuse of Apple’s enterprise certification to data mine teenagers for the next big thing are the tiniest tip of a gigantic iceberg of ways that private enterprise is gathering and manipulating data to game the future. Amazon, for example, has openly revealed that they’ve made acquisitions based on following spikes in Internet traffic to startups hosted on Amazon Web Services, which accounts for 34% of all cloud hosting, with Microsoft coming in second at 11%.

Darius Dax’s basic outlook is the product of a thread that Gibson, Ellis, and Moneyball author Michael Lewis were simultaneously chasing through the late 2000s into the early 2010. Bigend’s desire to predict stock prices minutes ahead of time wasn’t an arbitrary choice on Gibson’s part. It was an early theoretical stab at the mania that Wall Street traders were developing for trying to out race each other to stock sales by shaving milliseconds off the length of time it took for their buy orders to reach the exchange servers. For Ellis, that manifested as the murderous conspiracy at the heart of his 2013 novel Gun Machine.

For Lewis, it was Flash Boys, his 2014 non fiction book about stock traders who were outracing buyers to sales then selling the target stock back to the initial buyer at a markup. Central to their success was the ultra secret project to dig the absolute straightest tunnel possible across the United States in order to sell incredibly fast Internet for incredible sums of money. To glorified scammers working out of the country’s most powerful financial institutions.

If anything, Ellis and Lotay’s conception of Lois/Diana is even more disturbingly prescient than Dax. Dane is a hip Old Millennial journalist hopping precariously between freelance gigs, a portrayal whose knife edge has only sharpened since initial publication with the rolling waves of layoffs at outlets like Buzzfeed and predatory hedge funds bleed traditional newspapers dry. The specificity of the contemporary journalist experience is almost unnecessary as the state that we find Dane in is reflective as the overall erosion of professionalisation into the atomized gig economy and the existence at the whim of billionaires that goes along with it.

It’s a dark commentary on present circumstances that the most exciting iteration of Lois Lane in a generation lives paycheque to paycheque and has embraced a rootless, bohemian existence as a consequence of social and economic insecurity rather than, say, a fierce streak of independence, but it’s a conclusion that Ellis and Lotay reach honestly and by way of a lot more than just Gibson.

As unmistakable as the Blue Ant Trilogy’s influence is on the basic character dynamics and plot of Supreme Blue Rose, its Diana Dane is first and foremost an embodiment of Lotay herself. The gap between character and artist was never more than paper thin given that Lotay (and Ellis) did Supreme Blue Rose on a work for hire basis, but Lotay is very much, like Dane or Gibson’s Blue Ant heroines, a highly sought after female creative with a particular viewpoint on the world that makes her uniquely suited to navigate present conditions.

Lotay’s impressionistic linework that combines a surreal mix of realistic figurative work with an intentional lack of depth of field could hardly be more ideal to project the intended sense of atemporality key to Supreme Blue Rose. Her vivid, elegant people feel like the thinnest slices of a whole, like slides prepared for a microscope or animation stills laid over matte paintings. On their own, they evoke Morrison’s construction of the comics page as slices through time, but set against simplistic backgrounds that never feel as real as the figures that populate them, the frequent off setting, and the constant intervention of pastel scribbles in photocopy pencil blue her work conspires to create a world as visibly flat and broken as it is beautiful.

The central conceit of the story is that a previous iteration of Darius Dax detonated a bomb in The Supremacy, which triggered a Crisis on Infinite Earths style reboot of reality but the bomb fundamentally damaged the resulting iteration like a corrupted hard drive. It populated the new world with all the usual players like Ethan Crane (Supreme), Darius Dax, and Diana Dane but left them as mostly ordinary people in a world much closer to our own than typical. Or, as Ethan puts it in the series’ climax, “I’m supposed to be some interventionist god for a simple world, and I’m just another white guy in glasses who doesn’t know what’s going on.”

It’s also resulted in a bloom of radiation or knot in time that has been resolved at some point in the future. A future that has, in the shape of The Enigma, begun salvaging what she can from the broken present and leading it up a spiral staircase into whatever the next reboot is going to be. It’s a novel way to approach this kind of metafiction, focusing on the fact that there will be a future over the horizon rather than fixating on the crisis at hand.

Cover art by Tula Lotay

But it’s also a kind of conceptual inversion of what the metafictional component of DC comics “crisis” events signify. Typically speaking, events like COIE, Flashpoint, and Convergence are enacted to carry out a publishing mandate like the consolidation that the former two set the stage for or DC’s cross country move to California in the case of the latter. Supreme Blue Rose, however, isn’t tied to Image or even DC by proxy in that sense, it’s pointing to our current cultural moment of atemporality that Bruce Sterling, William Gibson, and Ellis himself have spent considerable time theorizing.

In 2011, Ellis attached his elevator pitch for atemporality as a current condition to musings on BBC science fiction property Quartermass in typical style:

“The troubled, dogged professor has simply lived too long, and entered the modern condition: a world where there is no forward motion, everything seems to be an iteration of something else, and the lives of hundreds and thousands can be snuffed out at random by something unseen and awful that nobody quite understands.”

A year before, in a talk called “Atemporality for the Creative Artist,” Sterling framed it this way:

“The idea that history ended, and that the market sorts that out, and that the Pentagon bombs it if that doesn’t work — it’s gone. The situation now is one of growing disorder. A failed state, a potentially failed globe, a collapsed WTO, a collapsed Copenhagen, financial collapses, lifeboat economics, transition to nowhere. Historical narrative, it is simply no longer mapped onto the objective facts of the decade. The maps in our hands don’t match the territory, and that’s why we are upset.

“[…] What we are facing over a decade is a decade of emergency rescue, of resiliency, of attempts at sustainability, rather than some kind of clear march toward advanced heights of civilization. We are into an era of decay and repurposing of broken structures, of new social inventions within networks, a world of ‘Gothic High-Tech’ and ‘Favela Chic’ (as I’ve called it), a crooked networked bazaar of history and futurity, rather than a cathedral of history, and a utopia of futurity.”

In 2010, a lot of what Sterling was saying came off as outlandish and obscure outside of design circles, but as he alluded to at the time, if you didn’t get it, you’d be forced to. Now that we’ve found ourselves fully immersed in a status quo where emptied out department stores are being used as concentration camps to house asylum seekers crossing the southern US border and California Senator Dianne Feinstein is captured on video dismissing children for urging action on climate change we all get it because, like he said, we were forced to get it.

Sterling’s forecast for the cultural impact of atemporality was broad, but a central part of it is what he called “The Frankenstein Mash Up,” a condition that comics were rapidly screaming towards in 2010, but are obviously fully immersed in right now. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is the most obvious and visible iteration, but it’s also the guiding principle behind events like Secret Wars that ran through whatever outlandish or novel collisions they could come up with like putting recent acquisition Angela into the 1602 setting on the basis that Neil Gaiman created them both. Convergence was very much the same thing, pitting characters from wildly clashing settings and eras against each other in a distinctly atemporal battle royale.

Interior art by Tula Lotay

But Sterling also highlighted what he thought were worthwhile areas of inquiry and stances to bring to what he conceptualized as a kind of plateau, the same sort of knot in time that Supreme Blue Rose inhabits while projecting an escape from. Of particular note was his encouragement to “Refuse the awe of the future. Refuse reverence to the past. If they are really the same thing, you need to approach them from the same perspective,” which is a project that Warren Ellis has been chipping away at from both ends since 1998 at the very latest. My usual frame on Transmetropolitan is that it was part of Ellis’ campaign to murder the 20th century in as many different ways as he could think of, but it was never just about problematizing nostalgia, it was also about killing the past’s fantasies of the future.

Ellis stopped using some variation of “Where’s my fucking jetpack?” as a slogan in his work in the mid 2000s because visions of the future had contracted towards the present condition on pace with his dismantling of them. Futurism became more and more pragmatic and plausible until it achieved what Ellis calls “Ballardrian banality,” the condition of either feeling cheated out of a future or the sense of receiving it too late to use. The state of affairs that he and Lotay portray in Supreme Blue Rose and the rationale for hanging its hat on the Blue Ant Trilogy.

Somewhat uncharacteristically for Ellis, or at least against the grain of his cult of personality, in the same talk that he outlined Ballardrian banality, he projected a hopeful counter narrative. Echoing Grant Morrison’s corrective of the Gnostic view that creation is false, broken, or a mistake by suggesting it’s the tangible manifestation of the divine, Ellis argues that “theories of atemporality and manufactured normalcy and zero history can be short-circuited by just one thing: looking around.”

Sterling alluded to this viewpoint, but never quite articulated it in his talk but the subtext is there. Refusing the awe of the future and reverence to the past also has to mean rejecting the angst of the present. Which is one important reason why the elegance and sensuality of Lotay’s work is so necessary to Supreme Blue Rose. Lotay’s Ethan Crane may be a white guy with glasses who doesn’t know what’s going on, but he’s an impossibly pretty, sensualized one. This iteration they find themselves in might be flat and powerless, but it’s smooth, soft, and soothing in a way that no one would have ever expected to see Rob Liefeld characters.

Interior art by Tula Lotay

Another enthralling element of Lotay’s oeuvre that makes her indispensable to Supreme Blue Rose is Sterling’s observation that where modern artists were multicultural, think for example of the modernist obsession with ideas of “primitivism” and the impact of African tribal masks on Picasso’s figurative work, atemporal artists are multi temporal. An outcome of network cultural is that the ubiquity of information allows for an entirely new blending of aesthetics and influences.

Multi temporal aesthetics, like anything, have probably been around for a long time in some form, but an easy early contemporary example is Quentin Tarantino’s Deathproof: everyone drives vintage cars, wear vintage clothing, and otherwise style themselves according to a platonically ideal 1970s that only exists in Tarantino’s head, but none of the aspects of the era it was shot in are scrubbed out, creating wild contradictions: people still carry cellphones but listen to the radio. What was an idiosyncratic quirk at the time is now the dominant aesthetic.

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s TV interpretations of Archie Comics, Riverdale and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina The Teenage Witch are the most perfect, jarring examples. Riverdale is the ultimate multi temporal mindfuck, combining bits of aesthetics and language from the 1950s Rockwellian primordial ooze that the comics originated in, heavy cues from Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, 1990s Satanic Panic ephemera, and up to the second technology wrapped in all the gloss of a contemporary CW teen drama. Sabrina, by contrast is a hermetically sealed period piece without a period. A profusion of dead technology offset by retro-contemporary styling that makes it impossible to date.

Tula Lotay’s Ethan Crane is a perfect microcosm of this idea. He comes dressed like an extra at NASA mission control from Apollo 13, but somehow even wrong for a 90s reconstruction of the 70s. He’s wearing the right sort of shirt and glasses for a breathless nostalgia take, but the cut of the shirt and the specifics of the frames are too new, too sleek, too now to be of the time. Like Brooks Brothers rolling out a Mad Men inspired suit line. In that sense, Lotay is every bit the anticipator that Ellis, Gibson, or Sterling have been, embodying the multi temporal artist as the idea began to take shape.

Covers by Tula Lotay

To wit, Lotay’s Mulholland Drive poster for Mondo went on sale a month before Twin Peaks: The Return started airing, which Ellis and Lotay thoroughly pre-empted both thematically and aesthetically in Supreme Blue Rose. It can, after all, be read just as easily as Diane Evans hunting down Dale Cooper escaped from the Black Lodge as Diana Dane tracking down Ethan Crane crashed down from The Supremacy.

All of this is fascinating, and full of fun rabbit holes to get lost in, but the ultimate question here is what use is any of this? Is the spiralling complexity of comics talking to and about each other of any practical use to advancing the medium or is it just a monument to narcissistic self interest, a Tower of Babel built out of longboxes? Realistically speaking, it will absolutely always be the latter, but I also don’t think there’s any particular reason why that’s all it can ever be. The advancement of critical studies within comics, especially mainstream superhero (adjacent) ones, has been very white and very straight, but so too have comics as a whole been since the CCA institutionalized patriarchal white supremacy.

Of course critical and cultural studies were just as white, straight, and male as the comics that reference them until the likes of Franz Fanon, Edward Said, Simone de Beauvoir, Laura Mulvey, Judith Butler, and Fred Moten began to be recognized and built upon in their own right. There’s certainly no excusing the exclusionary nature of academia or comics, but the history of both is full of insurgent figures who have wrenched the canon in their own directions, which Ellis and Lotay allude to in a few ways throughout Supreme Blue Rose.

It’s hard not to see Supreme Blue Rose as a direct sequel to Planetary as it’s more or less covering what’s changed about the nature and structure of superhero comics in the interim, but there’s more to it than just that. Ethan Crane’s admission that he’s just another white guy in glasses who doesn’t know what’s going on is a lot more than a throwaway laugh line. Ethan Crane has always been a white man with white hair, but the parallel to Planetary’s Elijah Snow is inescapable and hardly incidental. Even if they didn’t share that cosmetic similarity, Crane’s line is striking because it reveals just how deeply Supreme Blue Rose inverts Planetary, Transmetropolitan, and most of Ellis’ preceding work.

Interior art by Tula Lotay

In Planetary, Elijah Snow was the amnesiac protagonist who didn’t understand his relationship to the mystery he was unravelling much like Diana Dane in Supreme Blue Rose, but Ethan appearing as a kind of stand-in for Elijah hammers home the point that this is an intentional role reversal because right up until this point, the white guy — with or without glasses — has always had all the answers. The whole point of Spider Jerusalem, as I’ve written about elsewhere, is that he is gothically, terminally correct. His tragic flaw is that he is right about everything and the tragedy of it is that everything is terrible.

It isn’t exactly a rebuke of Ellis’ prior work, but it is the same kind torch passing moment and projection of intent as the moment in Planetary when the John Constantine stand-in faked his death and became a Spider Jerusalem stand-in as a message that the 1980s were over and it was “time to be something new.” Last time it was an aesthetic and rhetorical standpoint, this time it’s a more specific decentering of white masculinity and Diana’s climactic meeting with Ethan isn’t the first or only time Ellis pushes in this direction with Supreme Blue Rose.

When the concept of versioning is explained to Dane by her driver in the second issue, the first example of an alternate history that takes on a life of its own is one where a North African society leaped ahead of the rest of the world technologically and sustained it to become the first people into space. It’s Afrofuturism explained from the perspective of complete credulity in fictional worlds that Ellis inherited from Moore and Morrison. It’s a very obvious example of alternate history making to use, but it’s also remarkable because of how it anticipated how Jonathan Hickman would navigate out of Secret Wars.

Interior art by Esad Ribic

The 2015 Secret Wars event was marketed as the death of the Marvel Universe, and immediately took on the shape of a Crisis on Infinite Earths style consolidation as comic, something Marvel had never done as self consciously as DC has since 1985. The basic setup was that the Multiverse that Alan Moore had spun out into Captain Britain and had  been the framework for almost every Marvel comic that followed it was being collapsed into a single world that Doctor Doom remade in his image. That world was a composite Battleworld made up of all the various iterations of the Marvel Universe. A Frankenstein Mashup Planet.

That world was destroyed and remade into a coherent, single Marvel Universe by Black Panther using the Infinity Gauntlet. Whether Hickman intended it to be wishful thinking, a grenade lobbed over his shoulder as he left Marvel, or just a wink to incoming Black Panther writer Ta-Nehisi Coates,  the implication of the resolution of Secret Wars was a world remade in Black Panther’s image, an afrofuturistic vision that Marvel was absolutely incapable of realizing on a company wide scale. It was a tantalizing image, even if it’s only really been acted upon in Black Panther itself.

But we can use that idea to do some versioning of our own. After all, Ellis only arrived at the implementation of versioning in Supreme Blue Rose after winding out numerous alternate histories for comics, some in conversation with a robot Jack Kirby head and some in the Apparat line. In the real world, our world, the advancement of critical theory in comics came up through what became Vertigo and thrived from there at Image through Awesome Comics and Wildstorm.

So what if we tweak things? What if Fredric Wertham was too occupied pursuing racial justice to write Seduction of the Innocent and the comics industry never came under enough pressure to adopt the CCA? What if the thriving Black-owned comics publishers were never driven out of business and EC didn’t get crushed for depicting a Black astronaut as the last surviving human? We can even simplify a bit and come out at a more recognizable outcome by asking what if, for whatever reason, Wildstorm wilted and Milestone thrived, becoming the critically important laboratory that Jim Lee’s imprint was?

If the latter scenario had happened, I think we can safely say that Milestone would have become the HBCU of comics that it always had the potential to become. By that I mean that like the critical pedagogy implemented by many of those institutions, Milestone would have been an incubator for some of the most sophisticated thinking in comics, but it would have been pulling apart race and gender as social constructs as a central part of the work, setting the pace for the rest of the industry.  It’s a bit of versioning that I’m sure a lot of people have played out in their heads, like Joseph P. Illidge during his time at Lion Forge and Valiant, who, not so incidentally, is a scholar of both Milestone and Wildstorm.

To be clear, there is now and always has been Black excellence in comics. But more often than not, it takes much longer and more complicated journeys to arrive, and rarely to equal acclaim. For Spike Trotman’s Iron Circus Comics to exist, she had to innovate an entirely new type of publisher supported by brand new crowdfunding platforms and create her own distribution, as one example.

Cover Art to Iron Circus’ FTL Y’all anthology by Paul Davey

The question isn’t existential, but one of continuity and leadership. What the comics landscape would look like if the leading institutions had taken their cues from storytelling lead by an intersectional approach to advancing the sophistication of storytelling instead of a narrow band of self interested intellectual pursuit. A big takeaway from the brief afrofuturistic tangent in Supreme Blue Rose is that none of the intellectual or scientific paths of development we’ve seen had to play out the way that they did.

Concepts like the linguistic construction of reality can be introduced to a mass audience through a Martin Luther King Jr. speech just as easily as through a hallucinogenic drug or seeing the world as a computer simulation. (“Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language.”) Ronald Wimberley’s work in particular gives us a look at what could have proliferated and taken a leading role in shaping comics under different circumstances.

Not only in the most obvious sense of exposing us to a broad range of black thinkers in Black History in its Own Words, but advancing comics as critical theory as a vehicle for interrogating race in comics through Lighten Up for The Nib, and manipulating Shakespeare in incredibly novel ways on Prince Of Cats. The strategies that have been gaining common currency and shaping what defines prestige in comics are being employed to push race and gender forward, but they remain more or less on the fringes of prestige and recognition.

What the present moment requires, and that Supreme Blue Rose, I think, hints at, is the theorizing of standpoint theory as a superpower. Now intersectionality is a word that people love to use, and use incorrectly for a whole host of things, but it’s a very simple idea. How intersectionality came to women’s studies as a discipline is that there were cultural feminists who thought everything should be analyzed simply on the basis of sex, the Marxist feminists who insisted that class took precedence over sex, and the Black feminists who argued that race had to be given a prominent role in analyzing women’s oppression.

Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw entered into that debate with a new word — intersectionality — for a common sense solution: that any analysis of Black women’s issues had to recognize that their race and gender were interdependent. That model expanded into a framework that argued for specificity over essentialism and the embrace of nuance in analysis. This is a bit of a simplification both in history and terms, but the general idea is that intersectionality is about recognizing the interrelated nature of the multiple social locations that a given person occupies. It’s a very simple and non threatening idea when implemented, unless you hate understanding things and listening to people.

Now Standpoint Theory or Standpoint Feminism, that’s the one that really keeps people up at night. Not that it should, but it does. Intersectionality is really just a polite ask that we recognize that people are many things at once, and that has deep implications for their place in the world. Standpoint theory is the slightly more radical idea that people who face oppression by a certain form of authority or system have a more complete view or understanding than someone privileged by it.

Interior art by Kyle Baker

This is scary or threatening to people who hold power because it asks them to consider ceding authority or primacy on some areas of inquiry. For example, that LBGTQIA people have a more complex understanding of heteronormativity than straight people or that racialized people have a more complex understanding of race than non-racialized, or white, people do.

It doesn’t claim that all people of a given marginalized group have special, arcane knowledge greater than anyone else inscribed on their DNA, but it does posit that they’re better placed to begin a line of inquiry the same way that if you were going to go to Paris, you would naturally prioritize asking someone who’s been there before or actually lived there over someone who read a book that took place there once.

While I can’t say that I’ve ever seen the idea of Standpoint Theory as a superpower implemented, it is a direction that comics has been heading towards in novel ways for quite some time. While not utilized as an outright superpower, Truth: Red, White, and Black stands as one of the greatest examples of its utility in superhero comics by providing a further layer of events around Steve Rogers becoming Captain America and a previous round of test subjects only known to the Black soldiers who underwent it because it was kept secret from him and the rest of the world. It also results in a viewpoint of the holocaust and the transatlantic white supremacy that undergirded the Second World War in a way that no white man, Steve Rogers, or otherwise could appreciate through their own eyes alone.

Where comics seems to have come the closest to achieving Standpoint Theory utilized as a superpower is how trans women have been portrayed in a range of comics since the 1990s. As a consequence of being most visible in sex work, it’s pretty typical that trans women are portrayed in most media as being especially knowledgeable about sex, but in a range of comics including The Invisibles, Promethea, Effigy, and Angela: Assassin of Asguard/Queen of Hel, trans women characters are either implied or explicitly said to have more penetrating insight into not just sex and gender, but the general construction of reality.

In The Invisibles, Hilde’s role in the climax of the comic is to control the physical embodiment of joy and sexual energy. In Promethea, the Bill Woolcott aspect of the title character is more remarkable for being included in having special insight along with the rest of the cisgender iterations. She has a similar place in that cosmology to Hilde. In Effigy, Edie has the ability to spot people being possessed suggested to be a byproduct of dysphoria. In the various Angela comics, Sera is frequently hinted to have an understanding of storytelling that extends to seeing beyond the fourth wall.

Interior art by Jamal Campbell

Why that pattern seems to proliferate, I don’t know precisely, but in most cases it does manifest as a kind of special insight that functions as a fantasy extension of standpoint theory. Where we could see a genuine breakthrough in this direction is Brian Michael Bendis, David F. Walker, and Jamal Campbell’s Naomi, a series starring a young Black girl that claims it will “take her to the heart of the DC Universe and unfold a universe of ideas and stories that have never been seen before,” a statement that directly echoes Planetary.

There’s real potential here to explore the idea that Naomi sees what she sees and finds what she finds precisely because she’s a Black girl living in the DCU, which would be a radical step forward in putting the lie to the idea of characters being “incidentally” of their social location rather than informed and empowered by it. That said, Standpoint Theory is a great concept to work into comics in this way because you can’t cheat at it.

Naomi can certainly theorize the idea of Standpoint Theory as a superpower, it can walk us up to it, but until the series has a Black female writer if not artist as well, it won’t be able to fully articulate the very unique Black girl magic it could embody. That said, depending on how Riri’s intellect is articulated and depicted on the page, Eve Ewing’s Ironheart carries the most potential to give us an utterly unique and innovative application of critical theory in comics.

Supreme Blue Rose is very candid in telling us that we did not particularly need it to arrive at Naomi, Ironheart, or whatever else lies around the next corner. It’s also very candid about showing us just how ridiculous and winding the path we took to get to them was. But most importantly, it demonstrates the importance of abandoning reverence for the past and awe of the future in order to open ourselves to what is unfolding all around us.

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