Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human by Grant Morrison
My Rating: ★★☆☆☆
In the title of Supergods, Grant Morrison seems to be promising an exploration of ‘What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human’. Does he live up to that promise? No. If you take up this book expecting moral philosophy or some kind of analysis on how the values in our fiction will help us be better humans, boy, are you in for a disappointment.
I have a sulky feeling that the only reason Grant published this book was to take advantage of the predicted upsurge in importance of comics that his pet theories tell him and the reason why publishers went ahead was to cash in on the sudden elevation in the status of pulp comics following Nolan’s reinvigoration of Batman.
So with a serious sounding title and an alluring subject matter, Morrison proceeds to happily serve up a brew of 75 years worth of comic book history, his own bildungsroman and literary criticism on his colleagues and praise for his favorites. The history that he presents is thoroughly colored by his own biases, but at least he never makes an attempt at projecting a dispassionate observer persona. The book is cursory and without focus for the most part; the history is too superficial for an ardent fan and would be way too detailed to serve as an introduction to comics. The analysis that he attempts to bring to the art of story-telling has already been done in much better fashion by Scott McCloud and the evolution of ideas and causal connection to real historical events could also have been better handled by a historian or in conjunction with one. The constant comparisons to Beatles, to Picasso and to Wagner, among others, makes one feel like Morison is trying too hard to fit something that we all know to be a mass product to the exclusive category of High Art.
Almost half the book is about the Golden and Silver ages which saw the birth of Superman and was followed by a burgeoning pantheon of copy-cat heroes like Batman and soon by original and radical version like Captain Marvel. One of Morrison’s pet ideas is the idea of the author inserting himself into the page. He gives a detailed analysis of how this grew in him and of his experiments in sending a 2D version of himself into the comic world to interact with the characters and this makes more and more sense as he himself blends into the narrative of the book in the last two-thirds and the book becomes more an autobiography than a history. Of course, the book becomes a completely psychedelic trip at this point with Morrison using up most of the remaining pages to convince us that he is God’s agent on earth to spread peace and truth. These quasi-religious ideas and Morrison’s long rants about peers soon make the book seem loose and untidy and it just plain comes apart in the last few chapters and all the good impression one might have built up for the book erodes away as the reader struggles through Morrison’s repeated assurances that there is more to the world than what we see and that extra-dimensional super heroes has made him the vessel to reach us through his art. As we close the book, even though we are thoroughly impressed by the force of his language and the wild imaginative scope of his ideas, it would be an effort in credulity to take Morrison or the book too seriously. At the very least, it pointed me to some excellent graphic novels and artists. For that and for the writing style, an extra star.
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