Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: Grant Morrison's SUPERGODS


AUTHOR: Grant Morrison
ISBN: 978-0-8129-8138-4; paperback
E-BOOK ISBN: 978-0-679-60346-7
476pp, B&W, $16.00 U.S., $19.00 CAN

Born in 1960 in Glasgow, Scotland, Grant Morrison is one of the most popular and acclaimed contemporary comic book writers. He is known for such comics as Animal Man, All-Star Superman, Batman, Doom Patrol, and JLA, among others, for DC Comics and The New X-Men for Marvel Comics. He is also the author of one of my all-time favorite comic book series, The Invisibles. He was recently appointed Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE), so he is now Grant Morrison, MBE.

What I did not know is that Morrison had written a non-fiction book that was an analysis of superheroes. It was published in hardcover in July 2011 by Random House imprint, Spiegel & Grau. Now, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach us About Being Human arrives in paperback. Morrison has also written a new afterword for the paperback to correct and clarify errors and omissions in the hardcover edition.

According to the press materials for the book, Morrison uses Supergods to explain why superheroes matter to us, why they will always be with us, and what they can tell us about ourselves – such as who we are. Morrison not only looks at superheroes, which he sees as powerful archetypes, but he also examines the writers and artists that created these characters. He explores the cultural, political, and social movements that he believes that led to the creation of specific superheroes at particular periods of time.

Morrison identifies four “ages” of the superhero. The Golden Age gave the world Superman and Batman and the characters they inspired or that were copies of them (to various degrees). The Silver Age saw the emergence of Marvel Comics, while the Dark Age was personified and defined by Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Morrison names the newest age the Renaissance because this is an era in which superheroes have exploded across the media landscape, in terms of mediums, formats, and platforms.

As a side story to this rumination on superheroes, Grant Morrison also talks about his own life. He tells how he first encountered superheroes and what they mean to his professional life.

Before beginning Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach us About Being Human, the readers may want to consider that this book is a subjective history specifically from the author, Grant Morrison’s point of view. Supergods is not an encyclopedia of superheroes. Rather, it gives a broad overview of superheroes in a manner similar to Larry Tye’s recent Superman: The High-Flying History of American’s Most Enduring Hero, which gives a broad overview of the history of Superman.

With that in mind, the reader can enjoy both Morrison’s wit and his personal and philosophical view of the history of comic books and superheroes. He mixes anecdotes with pointed commentary about superheroes and their creators and publishers. That doesn’t always work. Morrison’s section on Superman is boring, while his section on Wonder Woman and the eccentric love triangle behind her creation is a pleasure to read.

Readers familiar with Morrison know that his writing is not only imaginative and inventive, but that it also has flair. Readers who do not read comic books, but who are interested in superheroes will find Morrison’s humorous tone welcoming. They may be a bit put off by how Morrison plunges their brains into superheroes as if he were plunging them into cold water for a wake-up call. However, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach us About Being Human is an effective way for readers to learn about many superheroes, and having Morrison doing the teaching is a good thing.

Reviewed by Leroy Douresseaux

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