Review By: Blake M. Petit BlakeMPetit@gmail.com
Quick Rating: Great
One of comics' most innovative writers takes an amazing look at how the superhero has changed with culture, and how culture has evolved as a result.
Writer: Grant Morrison
Cover Artist: Frank Quitely
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau
You may have heard of Grant Morrison. He's written some comic books... actually, a lot of comic books, most of them dealing with superheroes in one fashion or another. And as such, he's spent a lot of time thinking about and studying the superhero art form. Last year, Morrison began a project to compile all of the interviews he'd given about the superhero form into a book, but along the way, the project began to change. Instead of a simple compilation of interviews, the book became an extensive treatise on the history and potential of the superhero as a genre. The result, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human, is one of the most intriguing studies of the superhero as a whole that I've ever read.
The book has several facets to it. On one level, it works as a history of the superhero, from the origins of Superman back in Action Comics #1, to the imitators and the revolutionary characters that followed, leading all the way up to (in an epilogue Morrison admits he managed to sneak in just at the last minute) Morrison's reinvention of Superman in this September's upcoming Action Comics Vol. 2 #1. He touches upon most major superheroes of the past 70 years, and although some fans will no doubt be irritated that their personal favorite was left out, there's just not room for everybody. What he creates is a good cross-section of the genre.
On another level, the book is a bit of autobiography. Morrison talks about his childhood, adolescence, and adventures as a writer of superhero comics. If this seems a little self-indulgent in a book that's about the superhero art form, it becomes clear why it was necessary when he dovetails into the other major part of the book: the discussion of his own work. Informing us about his past is a way of explaining how his thought process worked in his early work in the UK, his reinventions of Animal Man and Doom Patrol, and finally, the way The Invisibles both led to and was influenced by what has become known as the “Kathmandu Incident.” Fans of Morrison will have heard him speak about this before in vague terms (his belief that he was taken by a higher intelligence to a place outside of our own dimension, and there given a view of our reality as a whole that has changed his perceptions of existence). Supergods provides the most detailed description of the incident I've ever heard. People who believe in his tale will find this most intriguing. People who are (like myself) more skeptical about the reality of it will still find a strange, compelling insight into how this experience has informed the creation of the work Morrison has done in the years since then.
Morrison's fans will also find a lot of information here about his intentions and creation of his most well-known works, from the aforementioned Vertigo series on through things like New X-Men, Seven Soldiers, Final Crisis, and All-Star Superman. In so doing, he examines how his perception of superheroes influenced the creation of each of these stories, clearly draws the patterns that show how history and popular culture change the way we view our heroes and villains, and dissects the work of other contemporary writers including (but not limited to) Mark Millar, Brad Meltzer and Brian Michael Bendis.
Truly, the only thing I would change about the book would be to include more illustrations. There are covers and comic book panels scattered throughout the book, but sparingly. Considering how often he talks about the evolution of the artwork, having more examples of it would be welcome. It's also notable that all of the illustrations come from titles owned by DC Comics. It's not really that surprising there's no Marvel work in here (Morrison's tale of writing New X-Men paints the then-publisher of the company in a somewhat negative light, and it's likely they denied permission to use their artwork, if they were even asked), but I am rather surprised that there wasn't an inclusion of some of the other Golden Age comics, or the various British superheroes that are discussed throughout the book.
Fans of the work of Grant Morrison will be unable to pass up on this book. People who are interested in superheroes not merely as entertainment, but as a reflection of culture and society will find Supergods to be a very well thought-out, detailed examination of how these demigods in capes and tights are truly a reflection of ourselves, of who we wish we were, and of who we have the potential to become.