Grant Morrison’s Supergods is destined to become the definitive text on superheroes. This book takes a critical and comprehensive look at the idea of the superhero, which emerged with Superman and multiplied into a horde of crime fighters to fill every imaginable niche. Morrison leaves no stone unturned in this relentlessly thorough examination of superheroes, and every character you can think of (and some you can’t) is looked at with a refined critical eye. The roller coaster cycles of superhero comics are laid bare in this grand love letter to the superhero, and one can’t help but finish this book with a clear vision of the history of comics and a sense that these costumed crusaders represent something noble within the human spirit.
Morrison begins Supergods the same way that superhero comics began with Action Comics #1. Everyone reading this review was born into a world where Superman is as recognizable as an American flag or Mickey Mouse’s eternally smiling face, but Morrison’s analysis of Action Comics #1 explores the symbolic elements of the comic that branded Superman into pop culture in a time when superheroes didn’t exist. He breaks down the cover, the plot, even individual panels into the components that were so resonant with comic book readers that this issue spawned a new genre of superhero comics that came to dominate the comics industry. It is easy to take Superman for granted because he’s been a staple of pop culture for over 70 years, but Morrison’s critical approach to the nuts and bolts that constituted Action Comics #1 reveals to the reader exactly what was so appealing about the Last Son of Krypton.
Morrison continues from Action Comics #1 to critically review almost every superhero comic that followed in a measured, logical progression of analysis that shows how each new superhero story was built upon the ones that came before it. It’s almost as if Morrison approached the superhero genre like an evolutionary biologist tracing the mutations of a species through the fossil record; first, we see the single celled Superman, then the multicellular organism of the Multiverse, before you know it you’re watching the comics medium as it discovers language in Alan Moore’s Miracleman and the superhero idea engineers a complex civilization of mature artwork that bursts into the mainstream consciousness. While I may have pushed the metaphor a bit too far (in the Morrisonian tradition), I can’t stress enough that this is a book that follows the evolution of the superhero idea from its humble beginnings all the way to its emergence onto the silver screen and proliferation into mainstream awareness.
Morrison doesn’t just look at every major writer/artist team since the beginning of superhero comics with a strong analytical eye, he also makes a running commentary on his philosophy of magick as it pertains to comics, writing, and art in general. Morrison’s concept of magick is that ideas have a reality that you can never underestimate. Until God can be measured in a laboratory, Superman is just as real to those who believe in him as the Christian God is to his most devoted followers. He argues that superheroes are the sci-fi gods of the modern world, and just like the ancient Greeks believed a bad thunderstorm was another one of Zeus’s epic temper tantrums, you too can believe in Superman and experience the same mystical awe. Morrison even goes so far as to suggest that superheroes are actually more real than those who create them. Long before Morrison was born, Superman was fighting the good fight, and chances are he’ll still be on a neverending battle for truth and justice when Morrison is long gone. Supergods is infused with a spiritual hypothesis that proposes the possibility that superheroes (and by extension, all ideas) have a very real potential for altering consciousness and subsequently the entire world.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, we also get a glimpse into Morrison’s personal evolution as a writer and a human being. His early days as an isolated and vulnerable kid just looking to meet some girls are exposed, and it’s easy to see a bit of yourself in this younger, less bald version of Morrison. Here is a Morrison that is riddled with fears that are relatable to anyone with a desire to create and a terror of failure. It’s a bold move for Morrison to inject so much memoir into his treatise on superheroes, but one which he pulls off quite well.
Morrison relates his entrance into the comic book industry and we see that his life is intricately enmeshed with the story of superheroes. Not only did he do breakthrough work on early titles like Zenith and Animal Man, but he crafted the hugely successful Batman: Arkham Asylum that cemented his position in superhero comics. At this stage in Supergods, it becomes abundantly clear that no analysis of superheroes would be complete without Morrison examining himself and his own work, and the book takes on a sort of self-reflexive quality.
Morrison’s chapters on his own growth are extremely interesting as he details his metamorphosis from a straight edge comic book writer to an acid tripping comic book character come to life. He writes about his revolutionary work on The Invisibles and the role that magick and self-reinvention played in that classic comic book series. Morrison even describes his life changing encounter with what he describes as hyper-dimensional entities that plucked him out of normal space-time and into a higher plane of existence. While he may lose some readers with his alien abduction story, it’s undeniable that this jaunt into the fifth dimension was a personal epiphany for Morrison and it’s no doubt an experience that will fascinate people for years to come.
Supergods is an ambitious attempt to distill the long history of superhero comics into one weighty tome, and Morrison doesn’t fail to deliver in his comprehensive love letter to the superhero idea. This book is poised to become required reading for anyone that loves superheroes and wants to understand these spandex clad sci-fi gods and goddesses. Beyond merely an examination of superheroes in the context of history, Supergods goes a step further and speculates about the metaphysical nature of ideas and what real effects fiction can have on our reality. If you like superheroes and a healthy dose of philosophic musings on the nature of reality, Supergods is sure to draw you in and entertain you until the last page.