Grant Morrison is among a small handful of fiction writers who have most inspired and informed the style of non-fiction writing that I do in my column Hero Worship. And of those fiction writers, he and Neil Gaiman are the two comic book writers who forever altered the way I looked at superheroes and comics. The themes that obsessively reappear in almost all of his major works – gods and myths, the occult, epic conspiracies and a Philip K. Dickian view of reality – were the very same obsessions of my young, impressionable mind when I first discovered him.
Needless to say, I was excited to be able to finally read his non-fiction opus, Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.
While, on the whole, it’s a good read it wasn’t quite what I had hoped or expected it would be. The subtitle, I feel, is somewhat misleading. I have my own views on what “masked vigilantes and miraculous mutants can teach us about being human” and so was eager to read Morrison’s take on it, since he did, after all, help me to shape some of those views (albeit indirectly through his fiction).
But Supergods is really just part cultural history of superhero comics and part personal memoir. It isn’t until the end, and only briefly, that Morrison discusses what I had hoped the majority of the book would be about: an examination of superheroes as mythical archetypes that illuminate profound spiritual lessons on life and living.
Having said that, it’s an impressively incisive cultural history, albeit focusing more on how superhero comics and their creators, throughout history, have reflected the shifting social values, morals and concerns of their time than on a straightforward historiography of the business and industry of comic publishing. Though for those who prefer their history to be written in a clear, lucid style (and I’m one of them), Morrison’s prose often gets a bit too baroque in a way that works better when he crosses over into the realm of memoir, especially when recounting his experiences with altered states of consciousness.
Another problem is the lack of images from the works that Morrison analyzes. He goes into such minute detail that it’s truly hard to follow along unless you’ve got images from the comic he’s referring to in front of you, especially if you’ve never read those comics. I had to constantly look up old and now-obscure titles on Google for images as I read which became tiresome.
Nevertheless, for fans of comic culture in general and Morrison’s penchant for psychedelic mysticism in particular, Supergods is a fitting addition to your library. Just don’t expect to become too enlightened about what superheroes can teach you about being human. For that, I humbly submit the writing of yours truly.[subscribe2]