I was given Supergods by Grant Morrison as a Christmas gift by a fellow geek. We’re both in the same vein when it comes to comics, adoring the mythology and depth that some graphic novels offer whilst simultaneously wincing when one of our favourite mediums often does little more than please the lowest common denominator. I had seen Supergods in Waterstones, it had a large display and everything but I misjudged what it was.
Anyone who has read one of the terribly disappointing “The Philosophy Behind…” series (often the blank is filled by pop culture shows such as Star Trek and The Simpsons) probably knows what I expected. When people write books about geeky subjects too often there isn’t the heartfelt sincerity of someone who loves the subject matter, so there’s nothing authentic is what they’re saying. Grant Morrison happens to have written “Arkham Asylum”, one of the most well written Batman graphic novels of them all, my personal favourite comic of all time and the inspiration for the insanely popular “Arkham Asylum” videogame. Morrison mentions this so casually that I almost dropped my book in surprise and whilst I don’t think it skewed my reading to automatically agree with everything he said, it certainly gave his opinions more authority.
This book is part history of comics and part biography, with either side occasionally struggling to get prominence. The opening chapters chronicling the early rise of Batman and Superman is a joy to read and also looks into how absolutely comic books were absolutely reviled in the wake of WW2 (you think us comic geeks have it bad now? We have no idea…). When Morrison himself steps into the frame, it’s actually very pleasant and he talks about his love of these heroes and early geekery in a sense that I feel is quite becoming and almost borders on the adorable. Many people reading this book may empathise with Morrison’s early life to an almost frightening degree (I know I did) and it’s wonderful for someone in their 20’s to reach across the decades and find that people have been feeling the same passion for comics for years.
As more and more characters gain prominence in the world of comics, sometimes it feels that Morrison is quite overwhelmed trying to sumamraise them. This is totally understandable as a full and complete chronicle of the history of comics would be immense plus far too dense to read and he does manage to hit all of the major players in the changing world of the medium. It’s easy to forget that we have Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Sandman and Sin City in one place but that each of these releases brought something totally new and impressive to the comic industry, allowing it to grow.
Towards the end of the book, once Morrison is living off his “Arkham Asylum” money I found it far less enjoyable to read. one chapter in particular revolves around him getting to spend his wealth on “finding himself” by journeying around the world and taking drugs. Good for him but I read this book to find out about comic book heroes and sadly he doesn’t fulfill the criteria. This book really does swerve into biography at this point and I skimmed over a particularly lengthy segment about hallucinations altogether. Grant Morrison’s role in comics is undeniable but I am not dedicated to his life story, as mean as I feel for writing that. If you enjoy this part of the book then perhaps I’m just being elitist but, though Morrison writes incredibly almost continuously throughout the whole book, hitting facts about super heroes and those that love them right on the nose over and over again, every now and then I think he gets carried away. Some sentences seemed overly dense and cryptic, others somewhat arrogant but for the most part this is an exceptional history of super heroes and the changing face of the comic book industry.