File Size: 7182 KB
Print Length: 480 pages
Publisher: Spiegel & Grau; Reprint edition (July 19, 2011)
Publication Date: July 19, 2011
About half the book traces the history of the comic book superhero, from the creation in the Golden Age of comics through its multiple (and discrete) evolutions in the '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, and '00s. Morrison analyzes key super-hero comics at length, and his dissections of their creative origins, meaning, psychological underpinnings and relation to their times are generally fun and interesting. I actually sometimes skipped his information of comics I have not yet read. Morrison brings his best insights to sustained explications of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen, and although these masterpieces have been examined to death by bloggers in the last two decades, Morrison's analyses are surprisingly fresh and original. I've read Watchmen six times and Morrison remarks a number of things I never noticed or considered. Which usually, let's recall, is actually important critics do. Unfortunately by the time Morrison becomes to the '90s and '00s, they have little negative or truly critical to say about other popular and/or best-selling superhero works, most of which were written by his friends or colleagues (Mark Millar, Tag Waid, Warren Ellis and others). Although he analyzes their importance well enough, I got the sense that he didn't want to state anything bad about the works of his friends or creators more youthful than himself.
Morrison's not shy about engaging the works of Alan Moore, though, and Supergods is his most sustained explanation of his relationship with Moore's works. Morrison and Moore are arguably the two greatest living interpreters of the superhero principle, rival gods warring over the same turf who have planted their career-defining flags on the same soil (deconstruction of the superhero and the incorporation of "magic" into narrative)... and Morrison has always seemed uncomfortable, even insecure, about that. I've read a dozen interviews over time where Morrison casually terminated or outright insulted Moore and his works. In Supergods, though, Morrison seems to set these petty issues to rest. He admits his praise for Moore's work and maturely articulates what he did and does dislike about some of them, while keeping a bit of the (bestselling, fan-favorite) Morrison/Moore super arch-rivalry intact.
The 3rd thread in Morrison's narrative square is his autobiography as a comics creator. He or she recalls his family childhood in Scotland, followed by a portrait of the artist as a young person and his climb up the corporate of the small but vibrant UK comics landscape of the '80s. We get a good history of when and how he or she wrote his major works, starting with the "British invasion" of the earlier '90s under the Vertigo label (a golden age group that I, and many comic readers of my generation, fondly recall as practically life-altering in influence). We also get a lot on his moves around the world, his fascinating attempts to make his art influence his life, and his experiments with psychedelics, including a long description of the (seemingly drug-induced) vision/out of body experience/"alien abduction" he experienced in Kathmandu just as he began writing The Invisibles. Morrison's views on "magic" and "rituals" would get tiresome in the hands of lesser authors, but the fact that he's built one of the most artistically and financially successful careers in comics on those foundations makes his hunt for those far-out concepts challenging to dismiss.
As Morrison readers know, the man has a seemingly unlimited supply of ideas that erupt from his brain onto the page, too numerous for him (or us) to start to explore in depth, and this is the root of his biggest strengths and weaknesses. The pages of Supergods are littered with mostly interesting asides and concepts, whole handfuls of them just tossed out there, but the book can get a bit exhausting, especially because of insightful but fairly long descriptions of comics we either haven't read or don't have in front of us for comparison, like listening to film commentary tracks without seeing the films. Morrison's ardent belief in a few questionable new age concepts may raise some eyebrows (like the ability to heal pets through pure force of will and a theory on photo voltaic radiation and zeitgeist that made even me, a lifelong Morrison reader, tremble my head), but again-- it's Grant Morrison. His / her best works are never easy and I'm willing to roll which includes infrequent nonsense.
The fourth and arguably most important part of Supergods is the theory Morrison uses to tie this altogether. In the illuminating final chapters, Morrison weaves together the teachings from his life, his art, and the super-hero, and points out the ways that we, the viewers, can start to use them to our own artwork and lives.
In brief, Supergods is a summation of Morrison's lifelong creative journey, a synthesis of lessons learned from years of fearless (and tireless) personal and artistic experimentation. And surprise! The psychedelic enfant terrible, the Johhny Rotten of comic book heroes, has mellowed and matured into one of the sanest, most grounded, most decent, most human voices in the medium. I've never personally thanked a article writer within an Amazon review before, but thanks, Grant. I actually feel truly enriched by your many great journeys and now by Supergods., Grant Morrison's saga of the superhero from the birth to its many tomorrows is a pleasant breeze wafting from an endless summer somewhere in the future where you will all become superbeings. Welcome to me, at least, who, like the author, expanded up absolutely enthralled by comic books.
And like Morrison, I'm tired and bored with the dystopian, snarling pretenders in leggings who masquerade as superheroes these days. I'm no Pollyanna or prude afraid of the dark - I've spent a good share of my job writing about dark worlds present and future - but there's still that kid in me who grew up believing in Stan Lee's admonition that "with great power comes great responsibility. " Too many superheroes have wrong their shirking of duty for a punk rebellion against authority.
The contrasts between the Green Lantern and Captain America movies highlight this problem. Hal Jordan allows himself to be convinced - very easily - that he or she doesn't deserve the band he's been given by a dying hero. His / her acceptance of his role finally comes rather perfunctorily, as a necessity for the final act, somewhat than from any real desire to live up to his destiny. Not too with Steve Rogers, who will be untiring in his efforts to shoulder more responsibility than his weak frame are designed for.
Morrison thinks superheroes are archetypes of aspiration, untiring and, in the finish, always undefeated. His book chronicles the pop culture history of this archetype in many of the manifestations, not simply in comics but also in similar trends in music and fashion. I've read many of the comics he or she calls on as exemplars, and I loved reading another author's heartfelt and deeply illuminating appreciation of these works.
Heartfelt is the key word for this book. Grant Morrison is laying it bare, praying to his love of the good guys, and using biographical moments to back it up. Even if I were inclined to disagree with his analysis - and I am surprisingly on the same page for the majority than it - I could never argue with his passion and love for the authors and artists whose work consumed by childhood.
I actually do, nevertheless , have a geek critique. Even though Morrison admits he could not give a shout to be able to all his favorite comics stories, I still would have liked to have seen more attention given to Steve Englehart for his Secret Empire saga in Captain America and his Detective Comics collaboration with Marshall Rogers, both these styles which I feel are keystones worth mentioning in the evolution of the super-hero in the `70s and early `80s. But I can't complain too much - he does give proper attention to Starlin's Warlock, in fact.
This is probably the best book to give to someone who hasn't read comics in quite a long time and might be looking to rekindle their interest in the men and females of tomorrow. It can also a great launch for Jungians and archetypal psychologists who have yet to turn their analytical gazes to the primordial pop culture pool through which our culture swims., An excellent, thorough review of the history of comic-book heroes, of Grant Morrison's life and career, and the deeper meanings in our love of superheros. Coming from one of the most creative and innovative minds in comics, it is no real surprise that this book offers on multiple levels.
Morrison intertwines the history of comics using their impact on American culture, the actual needs fulfilled by superheros, and the role of comics in his own life. He provides detailed descriptions of comics that are typical of different eras in comic book history or were otherwise noteworthy or " ground-breaking. " He really does not spare his unique perspective and personal opinions of the comics he or she describes. From the launch of Superman and Batman to Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's Darkish Knight to more modern works, Morrison describes, analyzes, and opines about the impact, quality, and meaning of important comic innovations. Even a comic buff has much to learn about comics from Morrison's book.
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