Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

Based on some of the reaction to this book, I’ve concluded that I don’t need to rush to read it, because it sounds like it will anger me (due to some of Morrison’s poorly thought out comments; here’s a more nuanced take). However, my friend David Oakes read it so I didn’t have to, and he agreed to let me publish his “Cliff’s Notes” version, below.

I should probably note the context for this. David and I have a long-running email discussion going about whether and how superheroes are significant for adults, with David taking the For position, and me being a bit more dismissive and uncertain. He sent over these comments in that light. Take it away, David:

Morrison’s Supergods is really three books in one:

  1. A Post-Aquarian take on the Golden Age, as seen in Flex Mentallo.
  2. An Autobiography of Morrison himself, making comics books parallel his life as much as it paralleled comic books.
  3. A sales pitch for the DC comics of the Aughts.

The first has some promising insights, and the second is told in an interesting way. But it is sad — in a “but for the grace of God” kind of way — to watch him slag off Secret Invasion as being an absurd attempt to talk about Islamic Terrorism, while praising Identity Crisis as the birth of a new era.

Way back at the beginning of it all, before he lost the narrative core, he does have something very useful to say on the value of superheroes. Like many people growing up in the Cold War era, the spectre of nuclear annihilation became almost worse than the actuality. But then he found comics:

“It’s not that I needed Superman to be ‘real’, I just needed him to be more real than the Idea of the Bomb that ravaged my dreams.”

We don’t need superheroes to save us from the world; we need them to save our imagination from itself. To give us dreams powerful enough to confront our nightmares.

I like Superheroes. I like Jung. And even if my tolerance for Pop Star wannabes is a tad low, I like a lot of Morrison. But after finishing it, I was “Really? That’s our god?”

Not in a Anti-Fanboy “Morrison doesn’t deserve the love he gets, so I will hate him” kind of way. And not just because he shows the human face behind the media mask he has crafted. (Though the autobiographical parts are very endearing.) Grant, Waid, Busiek, Priest, Pak, Van Lente, Q. Miller, and a whole host of others put just as much effort — if not more — into understanding comics’ place in the greater semiotic scheme, but it is Morrison that we have latched on to, to the exclusion of so many other voices. And that is kind of sad, for us.

I recommend not reading the last two-three chapters. Up to 2000, he does have a coherent narrative. But then it seems to become, “Then I became an Architect, DC Rulz, Marvel Drulz!” I can’t decide if the history is too close, and he can’t make the sorts of insights into broad trends like he did with the Golden and Silver ages, or if the emotions are too close, and he is trying to tell recent history the way he wants it to be rather than what he fears it is.

Or, and I am starting to realize this about his entire body of work, he just can’t craft an ending, so he talks about some stuff and then leaves. Imagine the Writer scene from Animal Man without the emotion of Foxy or the power to insure a happy ending.

It’s his hobby horse that in the future we will all be Supergods, and that comic books are merely carving out a place for us in our collective imagination. Really no different from Transhumanist SF, or even Space Opera like the Lensmen series. With Comics — both Superhero and non — becoming mainstream, I suspect in a generation or so they will get as much Literary cred as Sci Fi. (Which is to say, “Not much”, but enough where you can’t dismiss them out of hand.)

Thanks, David. If readers would like to know more, here’s a selection of quotes from the book on other people working in comics, or you can watch Talking with Gods online — that’s an 80-minute “official” documentary on Grant Morrison.

One Response to “Grant Morrison’s Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human”

  1. ADD Says:

    Supergods is maddeningly unfocused, when it isn’t being aggravatingly self-congratulatory, or contemptively dismissive of far better creators. There aren’t many books about comics that I regret wasting my time on, but Grant Morrison’s Supergods sits right at the top of that list.




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