Reviewed by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)
After decades of redefining the comic book landscape with works such as Batman: Arkham Asylum, Animal Man, and All Star Superman, Grant Morrison has crafted an in-depth and detailed study of the superhero phenomenon with his new book, Supergods.
A mash-up of an autobiography and a history lecture, reading Supergods is like blazing through the history of the comic book medium with a rocket strapped to your back and a liter of acid emptying into your brain. It’s loud, it’s crass, it’s punk, but it’s also enlightening and forces you to re-examine everything you thought you knew about men in tights. Morrison doesn’t just talk about what makes these superheroes cool, he gives vast insight into their social and political impact on the world.
Supergods Is A Study On Every Milestone Creator And Character...Almost
No stone is left unturned in Supergods, as Morrison uses his near encyclopedic knowledge of the superhero world, and the greater myths throughout history, to really portray these costume-wearing heroes as our modern mythology. Mainly focusing on the characters of the DC Universe, Morrison’s logic is near flawless as he examines the history of many comic stalwarts, especially Superman and Batman. He uses these two as the book's jumping off point and details how these characters, among other classic superheroes, have evolved with the times and impacted society. Sure, Supergods analyzes the broader aspects of comics, such as their relationship with politics and religion, but Morrison also spends time studying every nuance of the world, even dissecting the smallest of artistic details in the works of Jack Kirby and Curt Swan.
For all of the detail that Supergods goes into, Marvel fans be warned: Morrison pledges his allegiance to the DC Universe fully, while often slinging venomous arrows at the House of Ideas. Detailing Marvel’s formulaic and somewhat creatively bankrupt landscape, Morrison either ignores or lambasts most of the company’s true accomplishments. Characters like the Hulk, Daredevil, and Thor are basically glossed over in this book in favor of closer studies on DC titles The Flash and Jack Kirby’s Fourth World books. While this all makes sense because of Morrison’s bitter divorce from Marvel after his New X-Men stint, which he writes about in great detail, Supergods would have made for a more thorough read without the company bias. That being said, Morrison is so on point with everything that he does discuss that the omitted characters aren’t too big of a loss in the grand scheme of things.
There is a lot of information in this book, and at times it can be a bit much to take in. Fortunately, Morrison adds some absurd humor to his educational prose, making the highly informative Supergods a quick, entertaining read. He’s part court jester, part college professor, and part mad scientist. In a different world, Morrison’s own brand of supreme intelligence, his anti-establishment leanings, and his bald head would make him the perfect comic book villain. But in the mundane world in which we live in, he’s a shining beacon of creativity who adds new layers of intrigue and interest to characters that have been around since the '30s.
Morrison’s Personal Stories Sometimes Enrich The Narrative, Sometimes Distract From It
One of the surprising aspects of Supergods is how often Morrison relies on personal stories and autobiographical beats to add to the greater narrative. He details his history growing up in a pacifist home, until his parents eventually divorce, which led him down a more introspective and haunted road as a creator. Morrison likens the dark spots in his own life to the comic book industry gradually getting darker over time, and brilliantly weaves together a larger narrative about maturing and growing older.
All of that works brilliantly to make the book more relatable on a personal level, but after he starts recounting his own success as a writer, Morrison goes off the rails a bit. In a mixture of self-congratulation and therapy, Morrison uses the latter potions of the book to tout his own successes (of which there are many) and how his writing separated himself from the pack. Along the way he takes some critical shots at Alan Moore, the folks at Marvel, and other comic talent, but while he might sound arrogant at times, Morrison is often right. He often takes aim at the overly realistic take on comic book characters that fill the market and portrays those writers as intellectually and sexually frustrated. His own personal views come into plain sight later on in the book as he deftly points out the shortcomings of modern comics, and often mocks the so called “Nu-Marvel” way of needlessly updating characters. He points out that today's comic book market is severely lacking in vision and creativity, and, honestly, no one would disagree with him.
The first half of the book is very introductory and would appeal to anyone with even the slightest knowledge of comics, but the second half tends to skew towards a more hardcore audience with a working knowledge of the medium. No matter what camp you may fall into, Supergods will easily teach you a whole plethora of comic knowledge that you didn't know beforehand, and perhaps inspire you to fill an Amazon.com shopping cart with some of the "Suggested Reading" that Morrison put in the back of the book.
Grant Morrison’s love of the superhero genre and how it relates to myth and history lends weight and gravitas to even the most hackneyed plots of the Silver Age. Supergods showcases the superhero genre as modern myth and is supremely intelligent, as opposed to simply being stories about funny looking men in Spandex. This book reaffirms the cries of the hardcore comic fan about the concealed brilliance of comics, and it would likely convince the world's most staunch anti-funnybook intellectuals to give these stories a chance.
Reviewed by Jason Serafino (@serafinoj1)