Friday, March 20, 2015

Review: Gladiator/Supreme #1

Gladiator/Supreme #1, “False Gods,” Original Cover Date: March, 1997
Written by Keith Giffen, Penciled by Ed Benes, Inked by Wellington Dias, Rene Michelletti

Gladiator Supreme Cover

Why does a comic like this exist? The Image Exodus took place in 1991, six years before this comic, with Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane, Rob Liefeld and others burning bridges out the door as they left high-profile jobs to create their own versions of popular characters. Six years later, in the wake of the speculator bubble collapse, Marvel was declaring bankruptcy and made deals with Jim Lee and Liefeld’s studios to play with high-profile but poorly selling titles like Fantastic Four and Iron Man. It also led to truly bizarre crossovers like this, a crossover of ersatz Superman “Supreme,” a Rob Liefeld creation best known for being completely re-invented by Alan Moore, and Gladiator, an ersatz Superman created by Claremont and Dave Cockrum as part of the Imperial Guard, an ersatz Legion of Super Heroes. While Gladiator was presently starring in a mini-series featuring the Guard, he was a minor X-Men character, while Supreme was not exactly a huge hit, which is why Liefeld essentially gave the character away to Moore, who rebuilt him from the ground up as something between Silver-Age Superman and Promethea. So it’s the team-up we’ve all been demanding! Battle of the 3rd rate Superman knockoffs!

Gladiator Supreme Superman reference
Legends say that he died, then was replaced by a black guy, a teen clone, an alien, and a robot.

We begin our story in space, as Gladiator surveys a destroyed space craft, noting that one basically normal sized individual without any weapons blew up the ship single-handedly. He wonders what level of power could be responsible and reports back to his Shi’ar bosses. They identify the perpetrator as a terran, and state that they’ve researched terran mythology for a likely suspect. They say it’s either that alien who came to earth as a baby who shan’t be named in this comic, or Supreme. How do they know it wasn’t Hyperion? Or Prime? Anyway, after consulting the religious tomes produced by Rob Liefeld, the Shi’ar decide it’s probably him.

Gladiator Supreme hernia
Gladiator is done in by a sports hernia.

We then see Supreme as he lands on a primitive alien planet. He looks around a market full of oddly dressed people (some are in Conan-era clothes, some appear to be wearing jeans). He heads for the nearest church and finds what appears to be an icon in his own image. This makes him super angry, so he annihilates an alien priest with his laser eyes. Gladiator gets the report and heads for the planet, after being told that this primitive alien world is important for some reason, so try not to blow it up or tell everyone that their god is a psychopath.

Supreme Gladiator iconoclast aliens
"I'm telling you Rigel 9 revolves around the SUN"
Gladiator and Supreme get into a punch-up that lasts most of the rest of the issue. Mostly it’s just Supreme pummeling Gladiator and then quoting scripture at him. The fight takes them back to the deployment ship, which ends up being evacuated after Supreme punches Gladiator through it. Gladiator tries to electrocute Supreme using the ship, but Supreme walks it off while Gladiator appears to be down for the count. After pronouncing Gladiator dead, Supreme flies off. Gladiator later shares a laugh with his CO about how Supreme “checked his pulse” like an idiot, because I guess Gladiator doesn’t have a pulse? The Shi’ar consider the fight a wash, since the planet turns on its religion by burning icons in the streets. Relunctantly, they decide to send Shi’ar priests to the planet to instruct the people in their, obviously superior faith, but wonder if it’s a good idea.


I know it’s hard to believe from this review, but this comic was 48 pages long with a $5 cover price. Giffen is a talented scripter, but this is not a 48-page plot. This is a 22 page plot that introduces a multi-part story, oddly stretched until it’s a story where nothing much happens except invincible people punch each other. The side-story about the planet losing its religion is ham-handed and dumb, as we get super brief vignettes of a bonfire being made, and this lets us know that the entire planet hates its “god” now. And the aliens speak only alien gibberish. Why is this backwards planet so important to the Shi’ar? How do the people on the far side of the planet hear that their god is a psychopath?

Gladiator Supreme no pulse
Humans and their "blood." What a bunch of idiots.

Ed Benes was still virtually unknown at this point, and his art here for the most part is very strong. At the time, he would have mostly been known at Marvel for a Captain Marvel mini-series starring Genis-vell. His Jim Lee influence is obvious in this book, but that’s a good thing. Benes isn’t known for his great grasp of proportion, but the only outlet for that in this title is muscles on top of muscles, which is pretty much how people drew Superman knock-offs during this time. His art is dynamic and fun, and helps make the giant fight scene feel like less of a grind. His tendency to draw women as weird bird creatures isn’t really on display, since only a few alien extras are women, every other major character is an (alien) man.

I still can’t help but wonder what the point of something like this is: these characters are not big stars, and the book is clearly just a story pretense for them to punch each other. Why? And Gladiator always loses, so of course he ends up losing this fight, setting up for a re-match. But I don’t even think there is one? I forget if all these Marvel/Image stories ever led into a big finale that explained why at the end nobody in the Marvel universe heard from these ugly idiots again, or if they just disappeared forever without explanation. Jim Lee taking all the best toys to DC a few years later probably means we won’t get more Generation X/Gen 13 team-ups.

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