Review – Supergods by Grant Morrison

“We are already part of a superbeing, a monster, a god, a living process that is so all encompassing that it is to an individual life what water is to fish. We are cells in the body of a singular three-billion-year-old life-form whose roots are in the Precambrian oceans and whose genetic wiring extends through the living structures of everything on the planet, connecting everything that has ever lived in one immense nervous system.”

A little background for those who aren’t familiar with Grant Morrison. In addition to being an acclaimed writer in the comics world, he also fancies himself a modern-day chaos magician. At his best, he’s adept at synthesizing the most fashionable ideas from contemporary portrayals of superheroes in film with the whiz-bang-gee-wizardry of golden and silver age comics. At his most impenetrable, his stories descend into over-plotted conflicts between cosmic powers that are deliberately laid out in a manner where the panels barely make sense. He’s a man who claims to have communicated with creatures from the fifth dimension, where giant scorpion assassins can “hear our thoughts as easily as we can read Batman’s private inner monologues on a 2-D page.”

In short, he’s a wanker with a ridiculous affect[1]. But he’s an extremely talented wanker, with an impressive body of work to back up his Galactus-sized ego.

Supergods starts off as a fun and fast read. Morrison begins by covering the evolution of American and British superhero comics before his birth. Like a lot of histories of geek culture, the book is most thorough when discussing subjects that have long since become common knowledge among enthusiasts. Aside from learning Morrison’s opinions on pioneering artists and writers, there’s nothing revelatory in this section, but it’s an easy entry point for any reader. For every self-indulgent paragraph about how:

“Outsider culture, in the form of Lenny Bruce, the Beats, and the bohos, was developing a new bardic language to express things that had until now haunted the echoing four-in-the-morning thoughts of men and women in a world they could barely make sense of from cradle to grave…”

…Morrison produces succinct, arch analysis, like:

“Batman knew what it was like to trip balls without seriously losing his shit…”

By the time Morrison himself enters the scene, the book becomes less about the recent history of superhero comics and more about his own contributions to the genre. It is interesting to learn how an early childhood sense of wonder morphed into his adult fascination with other realities (“I just wanted all the wars to be over so that we could spend the money on starships and Mars colonies.”). And his theory about how superhero comic book writers can be divided into either missionaries or anthropologists struck me as rather avant garde. But the panel-by-panel analysis of his own work gives the impression of Morrison as surprisingly insular for a man who claims to be obsessed with gaining a cosmic perspective. Like the meta “fiction suit” he created to enter the world of Buddy Baker as “author Grant Morrison” in his run on Animal Man, he can’t resist inserting himself into the non-fiction narrative of Supergods whenever possible.

What was ground-breaking in comics in the eighties is to Supergods detriment in 2011. By the final chapters, the book is less of a series of essays evaluating superhero comics as modern myths than a chance for Morrison to explain how they’ve influenced his own cross-dressing, drug-induced theology. It will certainly be a valuable text for future writers on the subject, but as a standalone document of the history of comics so far, it’s limited to Morrison’s whims and frustratingly unsourced.


[1] I am of the opinion that his public persona as an occult practitioner is merely an elaborate piece of performance art he engages in to infuriate rival Alan Moore, another comics legend/magicakl anarchist.

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