Look! Up in the sky!
The Sheeda, creeple-people!
Save us, Superman!
Grant Morrison is a legitimate genius, a legitimate magician & a legitimate nutjob. That is the soup that this book is stewed in, & that soup is delicious. Supergods reflects Morrison's oeuvre, in equal parts mind-bending psychedelia (shades of Doom Patrol & the Invisibles), insightful commentary on the history & trends of superheroes (echoing his JLA run & 52), a slow dissection of the superhero as a concept (culminating in Animal Man & Seven Soldiers) & ultimately a synthesis of mythology, meta-text & the super-hero (giving us the Lynchian Batman & Robin & the sublime All-Star Superman). The book starts with Nietzsche: "Behold, I teach you the superman: he is this lightning, he is this madness!" (ix). Yeah, that is just about right. It is no wonder that the New York Times' Dave Itzkoff had trouble with it: it isn't a book for everyone, & largely floats on Morrison's charisma & the bombastic style in which he writes. That...isn't a deterrent for me? It is a feature, not a flaw. One element that the reviewer does nail on the head is the simple elegance of the truth Morrison elucidates-- that some comic book writers are missionaries "who attempted to impose their own values & preconceptions on cultures they considered inferior," compared to his own preferred method, anthropologists who "came & departed with respect & in the interests of mutual understanding" (218). The first section of the book is an over-view of comic book superheroes, digging through back issues & looking for just how & why caped & masked mystery heroes plugged into the zeitgeist of any given era. There are things to be learned here! I didn't know Julius Schwartz was H.P. Lovecraft's literary agent (81)! & for that matter, I always forget-- perhaps on purpose-- that Dan DiDio came from the fondly remembered CGI show ReBoot (358).
Around a third of the way through, the tone changes from historical to personal, from a survey of a genre to a biography of a man in context. Morrison is a reader, & then a writer, & then a superstar, & finally an institution. The story of comics is then filtered directly through him; there is no prevarication about detachment or objectivity. Morrison is the shaman through which the Dark Ages & Renaissance of the Cape & Cowl are summoned; the reader (presumably, & in my case actually) has their own association & attachments to the subject of these contemporary periods, & together those two halves make a more complete picture. When Morrison says he found the same feelings that 2001: A Space Odyssey stirred in him in the work of Jack Kirby, I found myself vigorously nodding my head "yes," knowing that as usual, Grant Morrison "gets it," whatever the "it" is (109). When he says "...I felt like a supervillain but tried to forge a moral code & some sense of an adult male self-- with only comic-book heroes, barbarian warriors & my dad's offscreen brand of committed proactive socialism to guide me" it was just another way of saying that it didn't matter what the "it" was (163). Grant Morrison got it. Interspersed through all of this is Morrison's Wizard's Journey, ripe with stories of cross-dressing, drug use, demon summoning & in the end his contact with both Fifth Dimensional & Two Dimensional beings. After all the Freudian psychoanalysis of super-heroes, Morrison decided to bring on the Jung (292). We get Morrison destroying the tropes of the genre in Final Crisis-- something maybe I should revisit with my new-found Morrisonmania-- & Superman wishing the world back into being. Superman, the "Faster, Stronger, Better Idea" (xv). Here to save the day. "He would never let us down, because we made him that way" (410). Supergods is, in a word, wonderful.