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Customer Review

26 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Supergods" Ain't in the Details, 18 July 2011
This review is from: Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero (Hardcover)
Part critical history of comics, part memoir of the writing trade, part mashup of fringe science, pop psychology, and this month's secrets-of-marketing-trends business bestseller, this entertaining, inchoate mess of a book purports to be an essay on superheroes and their significance to us. Of course, significance is in the eye of the beholder when it comes to pop culture, and while experience and common sense may tell us that the detective, the spy, the soldier, and the gangster are fictional archetypes with genuinely universal appeal, the superhero remains, like jazz, an American phenomenon that, in other countries, comes across either as an imitation of the American product, or as something based on such specifically regional imaginative archetypes as to fall outside the "superhero" label altogether. (Harry Potter, anyone?)

Why is the superhero an American rather than a global phenomenon? Morrison doesn't really have an answer for that, but the fun of this story -- and any mythology is all about stories that should've happened -- lies in the telling. Morrison sees the cyclical rise and fall of the superhero comic as a recursive process of imaginative evolution, and devises a four-part structure (like FINNEGANS WAKE) to contain and illustrate the theme. "The Golden Age" and "The Silver Age" are funny and critically astute assessments of the subject, although newspaper comic strips and pulp fiction are simply omitted from the discussion, which leaves out the Spirit, the Phantom, Doc Savage, and the Shadow. This may be only because the author didn't grow up with these characters.

What Morrison dubs "The Dark Age" (1970-1995) sees the rise of "realism" in superhero comics, sparked by Vietnam, Watergate, the '70s economic recession, an aging fandom, and the emergence of Morrison's bÍte noire, Alan Moore, whose downbeat, ruthlessly logical (and bestselling) stories of superheroes who CAN'T save the world caused a paradigm shift in comics writing. For Morrison, realism cripples the imagination of superhero comics writers, and he preferred to seek inspiration in "situationism, the occult, travel, and hallucinogens," not to mention hundreds of unfashionably goofy superhero comics from the '50s and '60s. His response to realism at that time was the exploration of ANIMAL MAN's metafictional universe, "more real" than our own, and DOOM PATROL, relaunched as a book about superpowered PWDs (Persons with Disabilities) who fought threats to reason and to consensus reality.

"The Renaissance" is, surprise, dominated by Morrison's discussion of his own work: THE INVISIBLES as public self-therapy, the long-forgotten FLEX MENTALLO as mental housecleaning, JLA and NEW X-MEN as superior hackwork, BATMAN AND ROBIN as Adam West and Burt Ward meet David Lynch, and FINAL CRISIS as a deliberately "rambling, meaningless, and disconnected" retort to the success of IDENTITY CRISIS, WANTED, DARK REIGN, and to comics fandom in general. (Morrison makes an interesting distinction between horrific "fans" and hip, literate "readers.") While he can be devastatingly funny, as when he's describing Jimmy Olsen's 1950s adventures in cross-dressing, or the checkered history of Batman on film, he can also be uncomfortably confessional: I learned more than I ever wanted to know about the author's messy personal life, and I can't shake the impression SUPERGODS leaves of an entertaining magazine article, spun out, at the last minute, to the length of a sloppy and rather embarrassing book. A waste of time? No. Just less than the sum of its occasionally hilarious parts.
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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Sep 2011 02:23:49 BDT
Nikopol says:
Thanks for this review, which more or less sums up my own impressions of this entertaining but, as Morrison himself admits, quite "idiosyncratic" book. The first half was informative and witty, with many laugh-out-loud moments, but as Morrison began to dominate his own narrative it became self-indulgent and less interesting. Still worth reading, though.

Posted on 28 Dec 2011 21:16:33 GMT
Ram McD says:
Insightful review.
You ask- 'Why is the superhero an American rather than a global phenomenon?'
...Because of marketing.
A valid case can be made for all sorts of psycological; sociological; pathological (etc!) reasons (for the WHY)- yet the truth is they can be sold it.
The Americans weren't the first at it or the best but they can churn it out better...

Gilgamesh, Balder, Quetzicotal, Hercules, Wong Fe Hung, Fong sai Yuk, Fantomas, Zorro, Asterix, TinTin, Diabolik & Sherlock Holmes... Where any of these American?

Posted on 24 Apr 2012 12:58:42 BDT
Thanks for this useful, fair and accurate review. Of all things, this book reminded me of Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers" - lovely at first, but once it starts being all about the author, it becomes something you want to throw at the wall.

Posted on 14 Jun 2012 19:47:01 BDT
McRonson says:
An excellent review of an interesting, erratic and occasionally thought-provoking book. No mention of Grant's other 80s band, the Fauves (I THINK it was the Fauves, I remember seeing their 7" vinyl single on sale in AKA Books & Comics, in Glasgow's Virginia Galleries) or ArtBoy (How I loathe the use of the word BOY in Grant's stuff), with an ex-Rezillo/Human League member. OR Grant's threatened imprint, Snobbery With Violence and so on and his endorsement of the super hero, at a time when most comic book films are juvenile fare aimed at 16-24 year olds, is a bit at odds with the notion that we are slowly becoming superheroes ourselves in the authors' allegedly drug-addled mind.

Generally, you couldn't pay me to read anything Grant does now as what he calls optimism in his own comics, I call a lack of gutsy, kick-ass powerful and groundbreaking work that questioned the effects of violence while objectivising it (see Frank Miller's initial and brilliant Daredevil run and most of Alan Moore's 1980s DC work).

In short, Grant peddles concepts rather than entertainment and guess what? Good for him! Doesn't mean I have to buy his comics, though.

In reply to an earlier post on 15 Jun 2012 12:09:15 BDT
Ram McD says:
I agree wholeheartedly...
G.M. is a talented man but has gone rather far 'up himself'-
Like many 'modern'minds he has a fundamental confusion over the 'esoteric' ideas he's pilfered throughout his career- the classic example is his 'death of ego' chat on youtube (for disinfomation?a few years ago)... & anyone who braggs they smoke an ounce of hash a day has seriously lost perspective; a liar; or smoking utter rubbish!... it's no wonder his hair has left him.

In reply to an earlier post on 19 Jun 2012 10:34:18 BDT
McRonson says:
I was part of Glasgow fandom in the 1980s and vaguely knew the great man himself, albeit on nodding terms. Spotted him once walking up Byres Road in the West End wearing shiny plastic silver trousers and 'Spice Girls' style platform sneakers....

The general consensus was amongst us "Aka-lytes" back then and in the 1980s was that the strongest substance Grant had ever ingested was a Cadbury's Creme Egg. A love of chocolate is something he always makes plain, see. Maybe he exaggerates for effect? Mind you, I'm jolly glad he used writing the Invisibles as a type of cosmic ordering; I just thought it, Marvel Boy (ugh) the Filth were utter boll*cks.

Grant did do a 'brilliant' interview in the late 80s for Amazing Heroes (I think) once where he bitterly complained about how his audiences aren't clever enough for his concepts. Pretty sad. I guess if you're savvy enough to think ahead, keep working, keep cultivating an image then, by default, you'll get there in the end. Frank Miller and Alan Moore pretty much leaving mainstream comics by the mid-1980s certainly left big holes for other writers to wriggle into so good for Grant!

Once again, good review, Ram.
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