Subtitle: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.
Published by Spiegel and Grau (US)
Hardcover, July 2011
Grant Morrison needs very little introduction, but I’ll give one anyway. Name the popular comic book character and Grant Morrison has likely written part of his or her story – X-Men, Batman, Fantastic Four, Superman, Flash, Justice League. He’s also written some of the more critically acclaimed creator-owned works over the years – WE3, The Invisibles, Seaguy, The Filth. In other words, he is one of the Authorities on Superhero comics and has the pedigree, and love for superhero comics, to write what could be considered the seminal overview of the Superhero – Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.
Morrison’s overview begins with The Golden Age, where else? He laboriously and lovingly provides details and background on Superman and the birth of the superhero. Logically enough, he tells of the birth of Bat-Man and expounds the virtues of Bill Finger, who was just as responsible for the creation of the Dark Knight as was Bob Kane, the creator most closely associated with Batman. In these early chapters, Morrison sheds light on the business side of comic books and superheroes, just as much as the creative side of things. Here he also covers Captain Marvel / SHAZAM!, or as he’s affectionately known The Big Red Cheese and how DC Comics forced Whiz! Comics to cease publishing the escapades of World’s Mightiest Mortal. Morrison also spends a chapter on Wonder Woman and Captain America and closes out the his overview of the first great age of comics with the infamous crackown on comics by Fredric Wertham and institution of the Comics Code Authorit
Where he seems to have the most joy in expounding knowledge is The Silver Age – the second major era of comics from roughly 1956 through the 1970s which serves as the second part of the book. In this era, some of the most bizarre storylines and characters came to the page and it is an era in which much of Morrison’s writing seems to evoke or homage. This is the time when DC Comics relaunched many of their existing superheroes under new guises – the Barry Allen Flash and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern being the two most notable. The Silver Age, as Morrison points out with glee, is also the birth of the Multiverse.
Coinciding with the Silver Age was perhaps the birth/relaunch of Marvel Comics. The chapter under which Morrison discusses the Fantastic Four, The Hulk, Spider-Man, X-Men, and all of the other characters who came to life under the creative hands of Stan “the Man” Lee, Jack “the King” Kirby, and Steve Ditko. Like everything else up to this point in the book, Morrison tells of the four-color heroes of this era with equal hands love and honesty. He closes out the third part of the book with Kirby’s defining work for DC – The New Gods and perhaps the character Morrison considers the ultimate villain Darkseid
The Dark Age serves as the banner of the third part of Morrison’s overview and covers the era many people refer to as The Bronze Age. This is the era where stories become more socially relevant and ushered in the UK writers like Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, and opened the door for writers like Morrison. Synonymous with this age are the seminal works Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns. Morrison closes out his Dark Age with the birth of Image comics.
The Renaissance serves as the banner heading for the last of the four sections of the book and Morrison’s journey through the history of comics covers the industry’s return from the 90s crash. Included are the slew of superhero movies of the 2000s and Morrison’s own close of Kirby’s book on the New Gods – Final Crisis.
To call this book must-read is an understatement. I’ve been a comic book reader for over 20 years and knew, through Internet trawling and simply reading comics and associated industry magazines, much of what Morrison covered in this brilliant tome. The exuberance with which Morrison shares this history provides addictive reading and some historical perspectives that were new to me.
While the book is indeed a must-have historical overview of the capes and tights characters and their stories, Supergods also serves as a partial personal memoir. Morrison doesn’t shy away from highlighting his own impressive work, and if it wasn’t so impressive and important to the genre, it could be considered shilling his own work. What keeps it from being simple shilling is the sheer honesty with which Morrison relates the historical perspective in which his comic-book work sits.
Supergods is a must read, must have, historical love-letter to superheroes as they’ve lived and breathed in our world for just under 100 years. Superheroes and comic books have gone hand in hand with each other as a truly American creation and if you want to get an idea of why they’ve lasted so long and endured hard times, look no further than this terrific book.
© 2011 Rob H. Bedford