Supergods is an epic work of non-fiction. The nature of the book cannot be easily distilled. It is a history of the comic book superhero, but it is far from comprehensive. It is Morrison’s biography, yet contains only a few anecdotes. It is a study of society in the twentieth century through the eyes of alternative cultures, yet barely touches on most of the major events during that century. It is a speculation of various spiritual beliefs but presents no hard evidence of Morrison’s experience. It is fascinating, frustrating, informative and fulfilling.
Morrison is one of the top comic book writers in modern times. He is known for writing flagship titles for Marvel and DC including Superman, Batman, X-Men, Fantastic Four and JLA. In terms of comic book superstars, few stand taller than the opinionated Scotsman. He is also a playwright, musician, metafictional character and spiritualist. If Supergods was dreary and poorly written, you’d suspect that Morrison wasn’t its author.
The structure of the work is historically linear, beginning with the invention of Superman and Batman, with an analysis of their first covers and their subsequent impact during the late 1930s and early 1940s. What follows, up to the 1980s, is a detailed history of many of the famous superheroes and a mention of some of the more obscure ones that have come and gone. All the big names are tipped a nod; Lee, Kirby, Ditko, Shuster, Siegel and others. The Golden and Silver Ages are the glorious history lesson. Part Three of the book is called ‘The Dark Age’ and at this point Supergods becomes a more confused tome, as Morrison introduces himself into comic book history; how he was influenced, his early childhood efforts, his adolescence and then his eventual success at his chosen career. His life is not just interesting, but relevant to the story as he ties his thoughts and experiences with politics and culture from his perspective. A good example is his opinions and reactions to Alan Moore’s Watchmen. I won’t spoil it for the reader, but it is a very interesting section. The fact Part Four is called ‘Renaissance’ is indicative of the subject matter. More comic book history is presented alongside Morrison’s career. Morrison also introduces a mystical perspective based upon his drug use and travels. At this point, everything is more subjective and I would invite the reader to judge Morrison’s words for themselves.
Throughout the book are diversions when comic book characters have become film and television stars. There is a section on the history of the TV and movie Batmans (or Batmen?). Morrison’s cultural awareness is a useful addition to his prose as he explains that for example, comics became influenced by the TV shows that were based on earlier comics.
There is no doubt that that Morrison is an accomplished narrator of both the history and culture of the superhero. His prose is eminently readable, although some of his opinions might be taken at face value and his perspectives are hard to relate to. He has a huge ego which is well represented regularly during the latter parts of the book. I think it us up to the individual fan to decide if it deserved. The conclusion about the nature of the modern human in the age of the modern superhero left me a little cold. There is, it appears, nothing that he doesn’t know about comics book heroes, which means he has done a thorough job of researching the subject, or he has a natural and gifted encyclopaedic knowledge. Despite the flaws, there is nothing about Supergods that I wouldn’t recommend to any fan of comics, superheroes or twentieth century culture. I am more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan, but what this book has engendered in me is a desire to re-read all my old favourites and explore the ones I’ve missed, from both sides of the universe. Surely, that is job done.
- Informative superhero history
- Very well written
- Geek heaven
- Unfocused autobiography
- Speculative theories and opinions may not please all