Nineteen months after my first, it is time for me to begin my second non-Fiction book review. This is only a beginning; as of release day, I have read only half of this 426 page book, and as of the completion of this review I have contractual obligations that will take up my reading time for the next two weeks. It is for the contents of this review to determine if, once I’ve completed Fate of the Jedi: Ascension, I will choose to pick up Grant Morrison’s Supergods where I left off.
Much like Frank Miller, Grant Morrison is both a loved and hated writer of comic books. Unlike Miller, who is often loved and hated by the same people, comparing his earlier works to his more recent ones, Morrison seems to be taken as more of an all-or-nothing creator. One of the “greatest innovators” of comics, he’s said to have “destroyed X-Men” an has the goal of either saving or destroying Batman. I’m not familiar enough with Morrison’s work to critique or judge it as a whole, save to say that Batman R.I.P. left me memories of acid trips that I’m fairly certain I never experienced beforehand and that Morrison seems to have a penchant for handing out the Batman suit for more and more people to try on. As for X-Men, Supergods refers to “inadvertent irreparable damage to the canon” perpetrated by the author, so he’s familiar with why some may take issue with his work, even if I’m not. A glance at the X-Men Wikipedia page easily lists some changes that some fans may take issue with, but I couldn’t tell you how it was pulled off.
Between the title and the book’s extended subtitle* (What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human) I went into this novel expecting it to be an analysis of superheroes from a purely mythological standpoint- a comparison of superhero tropes to those as old as the printed word. There’s some of this present (the “Sun God” line had to come from somewhere), but the back cover blurb about “the first true chronicle of the superhero” is more accurate.
For the Internet Age, Supergods: WMVMMAASGFSCTUABH** is the text equivalent of starting to read a Wikipedia article on the Golden Age of Comic Books and clicking each interesting link as it comes up. The book covers everything from the history of the creators of comics (such as the public side of Wonder Woman creator Charles Moulton’s alternative lifestyle) and the pop culture influences on character creations (such as the many bat-themed influences that Detective Comics borrowed from to create Batman), to the social history of the United States and Britain throughout the 20th century and the specific pressures that comics faced during each era.
By and large this is an interesting read for any Wikipedia-clicker, but once you get to the Silver Age, the writing becomes more and more interspersed with the author’s memoirs. I’m not sure if this was included as a way to make the work unique from any other works about comics, a way to expound on the social issues of the day as he perceived them, or merely a way to tell potential readers about his own creative history, but in a 426 page book that is both taller and wider than the average novel, it reeks of unnecessary padding that could have been cut out and led to nothing other than a tighter, more easily read book. It’s not that these passages aren’t interesting- they just don’t seem to fit, and every time I chose to do something other than further my reading of Supergods, it was in the middle of one of these passages.
I suppose from the writer of Battle for the Cowl and Batman R.I.P. I should have expected to go into this reading something schizophrenic and extremely difficult to follow. At times, this is correct, such as one page’s remark that “the early Dark Age… trend was for “weird” heroes… such as Swamp Thing”, followed six pages later by “American Dark Age comics were deadly serious, with little room for the absurd”. This is the oddest example, but the entire book, as non-fiction books are wont to do, hops between topics so quickly that without references to things like Jack Kirby’s military history, it would be difficult to discern that two individuals being spoken of 5 pages apart are the same individual.
While I’m speaking on the eccentricities of the writing, one thing that doesn’t bother me personally, but might be jarring for the occasional reader that is used to reading child-friendly comic books and school-friendly non-Fiction works is the frequent use of the word “fuck”. Grant Morrison is not afraid to go all out, matching descriptions of superheroes’ coitus with the common term used for it.
There’s even one “fuck you” in the text, when Morrison describes his term as a punk “convert”. Mostly, I find this ironic considering that Morrison writes for Batman, and we all know that Batman’s discovered that punk is “death, crime and the rage of a beast!”
Halfway through this book, I don’t expect the formula to change, which is why I state with confidence that Supergods is a great piece to read- as a start, or as a supplement. It contains enough information to add tidbits to your knowledge, or to give you a starting place to really start researching. It’s the perfect supplement to my comic hobby, while a more professional collector getting started will find a treasure trove of names, origins and issues surrounding the history of superheroes and comic books.
After today, I’ll put this down and get reading on materials that others are waiting for me to finish with. Until the end of today, and after I finish that, I definitely plan to pick this book back up.
*This doesn’t seem to appear on any final cover I’ve seen
**I don’t care, it’s still awesome and I’m using it