Supergods, like its author, celebrated comic book writer Grant Morrison, is a complicated book. This is no primitively rendered Golden Age Superman. Nor is it some drug-induced phantasmagoria from the ’60s or ’70s. (More on that below…) Supergods, rather, is a sleekly designed tome delivered to us from the future. Like Medieval serfs given a computer, we poke, prod and stroke it, we admire it and guess its possible uses, but we are unable to comprehend its true potential.
Supergods is, superficially, a history of superhero comics from their inception through approximately 2010. (The book was published in 2011.) It begins as any reader might expect: with Superman. Morrison expertly deconstructs the cover of the issue of Action Comics in which Superman first appeared, evoking the mystery of this new character archetype. He further elaborates on the story, discussing the artwork and dialog panel-by-panel. Morrison’s analysis is impressive but worrying; the reader will wonder if Morrison’s discussion of each character will be this exhaustive. Batman undergoes a similar analysis. But Morrison is setting the stage: the eternal tension in comics between darkness and light.
Although Morrison devotes the bulk of Supergods to superheroes, dividing the text into four units, each reflecting his understanding of the history of comics (Golden Age, Silver Age, Dark Age, Renaissance), the book is at its most interesting when he discusses his own life and his career as a writer. From his first impressions as a child near a US Naval base in Scotland, we are given a detailed biography of Morrison. The result is fascinating in an almost perverse way. Morrison seems, frankly, insufferable: A too cool for school teenager; a self-impressed “artist”; a comics phenom. Morrison relates bluntly how successful he is, how youthful he appears (repeatedly), and how wealthy he has become. Although off-putting, one can’t help but be impressed by his honesty.
Morrison has his quirks, and he freely relates them. (He likely doesn’t see them as quirks.) He practices and believes in the efficacy of Chaos magic. He heals his cat’s cancer through sheer willpower. In one particularly eye-popping passage, Morrison relates a “vision” he experiences in Katmandu, temporarily leaving this reality and traveling to another world whose inhabitants appear to him as a constantly shifting array of fluorescent light bulbs. (This is, he claims, unrelated to the hashish he ingested immediately prior to said experience.) Horrified, one can’t help but read on.
Supergods is, ultimately, strangely, inspiring. Morrison’s story is that of someone who is completely comfortable with who he is. He creates for a living and earns considerable wealth doing it. More impressive, though, is his take on life. He accepts his artistic medium of choice, comics, on its own terms, and insists that superheroes needn’t be “realistic” (or “grim ‘n’ gritty,” as we called them in my day) in order to be interesting and meaningful. This attitude is reflected in his own life: he acknowledges that something doesn’t need to be objectively true for one to believe in it and, touchingly, in this age of cynicism and snark, insists that it’s perfectly fine—even desirable—for one to believe in and feel strongly about things, without worrying what someone else might say about it. What a strangely liberating thing to hear, buffeted as we are by negative comments and Internet memes. Recommended less for comic fans than for writers and other creative types.