Cranium Comics

Stories that get in your head.

Book Review: Supergods

My first experience reading Grant Morrison’s work took place during high school when I picked up a copy of Batman: Arkham Asylum.  During that time (late 80s) comics were undergoing a transformation with writers like Morrison, Miller, and Moore dissecting the traditional comic icons and making them more fallible, thus more human. I remember admiring the amazing art by Dave McKean and appreciating the care that seemed to be put into every detail. This included the format (graphic novel), paper stock, and layouts which seemed to break away from the traditional comic conventions of the time. The loosely rendered illustrations and scratchy, emotive text provided an alternate view of how comics could be depicted. I only later realized after reading Supergods the breadth and influence of Grant’s work including his Animal Man, Doom Patrol, New X-Men, and others.

In Supergods, we get a walk-through of each age of comics from the Golden age, Silver Age, the Dark Age, into the Renaissance. Throughout his explanations, he interweaves his own experiences as a nerdy comic and sci-fi writer, punk rocker, and chaos magician. We read of his struggles with his first girlfriend, his travels around the world, touring with his band (the Mixers) and his experimentations in chaos magic. Grant’s insightful storytelling puts the history lesson in context, tying everything in to give the reader a better overall sense of the rich tapestry that make up their origin. Based on my limited knowledge of comic history, I found this to be refreshing and extremely informative. Each period in comics seemed to be fueled by certain societal attitudes, general perceptions in the comics industry itself, and other global influences. From post-war America to the civil rights movement to the trippy sixties and seventies, comics reflected the essence of societal convention and in some cases outcry. Some of the more interesting aspects for me were reading about the Comic Code Authority’s influence on EC comics, how titles and characters are often reborn/revived based on a new way to tell stories, and the British invasion into the American comics scene. Another aspect was the need for superheroes as relatable, real-world gods. This can be summed up by the way Grant describes two of DCs most popular characters, Superman and Batman. “Superman was of the day; Batman was of the night and the shadows. Superman was rational, Apollonian; Batman was Dionysian. Superman’s mission was the measured allotment of justice. Batman’s an emotive two-fisted ask-questions-later vendetta.”

The book left me with the desire to pursue many of the titles he references in his “Suggested Further Reading” section. I was particularly interested in the mid 70s Green Lantern / Green Arrow stories by Denny O’neil and Neal Adams, so I picked up a few copies on a recent trip. I appreciated the way in which Supergods captured the struggle between the Comic Code Authority and what was happening in these issues. Topics such as drug addiction, cults, and bigotry were all referenced, which represented a substantial challenge to my conventional wisdom of what comics were all about.

All-in-all, Supergods is packed with enough obscure information to keep any comics fan interested. If you’re like me and could use a good history lesson on the comics you’ve read or heard about, this is the book for you.

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