Supergods by Grant Morrison

I was super into comic books for a couple of years in high school. Super super into them, and Grant Morrison was writing some of my favorite books. I started reading comics as actual comics not just trades, a few issues into his run on Batman & Robin, which I love. All of his work with Batman is great, and his All-Star Superman is the only version of the character I’ve cared about. His topsy-turvey surreal take on superheroes in Doom Patrol was actually something I read really early into my comics adventures. I think I was a sophomore in high school, and I’m betting a ton of it went over my head, and it would be great to go back and read it again now, but I loved it. It was smart, and weird, and exactly what I needed in my life.

Grant Morrison is one of my favorite comics writers, and I really respect his thoughts on superheroes. I knew I wanted to read this book, but I didn’t get around to it when it came out, then got distracted by different stuff. I stopped regularly reading comics four years ago. I was starting college. My favorite comic book shop had recently gone out of business. DC comics was launching New 52, effectively killing most of the books I had been into. I still read trades from the library, I still have opinions about this shit, but have definitely drifted away.

Coming back to this was so great. It starts as a pretty straightforward rundown of comic history. Morrison’s own opinions are definitely present, but he’s also a passionate historian, who does a thorough job explaining the beginning of comic book superheros in order to make sense of where they go next. Morrison discusses all of these essential comics that I had read as a teenager, but hadn’t thought about in years. It was a blast to remember how much I adore Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, or the Denny O’Neil-Neal Adams Green Arrow/Green Lantern (though he didn’t say anything about O’Neil’s The Question, which I love to pieces, though it isn’t exactly a canonical superhero book.)

Morrison goes through the golden age, silver age, dark age, renaissance, event age, etc. His critique of Watchmen was spot on. (It’s incredibly well constructed, but joyless.) It was a treat to hear him tear about 90s Image comics. His descriptions of Rob Liefeld’s art brought me much joy. He spends more time talking about DC than Marvel, which isn’t surprising considering who’s paying him. I would have loved to see more of his thoughts on the X-Men, especially his own run, which is mentioned but not thoroughly dissected. The X-Men exist as a different sort of metaphor than most other superheros, and their role as an ever changing stand in for marginalized groups isn’t expanded on as much as it could be.

The beginning seemed remarkably normal for Grant Morrison, I was actually surprised. But then he gets into the Silver Age, and starts talking about the multiverse. That’s more like it. Morrison is very out there, a chaos magician who’s had an experience with some sort of other dimensional beings while traveling in Tibet. The further into the chronology the more autobiographical the book becomes, as Morrison’s own work starts to influence what’s happening in the world of superhero comics. It moves from history to theory, not just looking at what superheros have done, but what they could do, and where they should go next. At times things get a little bit… abstract, and pretty weird, but I still enjoyed it. Morrison has a lot of big ideas.

Supergods is a great read for a comic book fan, and I’d imagine it would make a good introduction/reading guide for someone looking to get into the genre. There are lots of people who have only ever read one superhero story, and it was Watchmen, and I feel so sorry for them. If I had to recommend one story for someone to learn about superheros from it would be Morrison’s All-Star Superman. Grant Morrison gets superheroes. He knows how to make them complex as anything, but he never loses the sense of joy and wonder that should be essential.

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