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on 7 July 2011
I'll be frank from the off - I was a Grant Morrison fanboy way back in his early Doom Patrol and Animal Man days, although he lost me for a while with the Invisibles, so I wouldn't claim to be impartial. But the reason I loved his comics is the same reason this prose book is so damn good. He's genuinely passionate, smart as whip, and comes at things from odd angles.

It's a blend of a historical and sociological examination of the early days of comics taking this through to the current era (and there are some gems in there - the fact that Wonder Woman's creator also invented the polygraph is one of those things that is so perfect - when you consider her lariat of truth, that even if Morrison has made it up, it ought to be true), with his own beginnings as a consumer and creator, to some mind-expanding bits of how he opened his consciousness and go his ideas pouring out. He can approach comics and the writing of them with a critical eye as to their limitations, but also an eye on the huge potential and wonder that can be found in their pages if you get the right combination of passion, ideas, talent and an artistic take.

You may well not believe him when he talks about writing sequences in the Invisibles as part of a magical construct to make good things happen to him in his real life, you may or may not believe that he himself believes it, but the fact that he even thinks about it and shares this with the reader is fascinating. Who else is writing that sort of stuff these days? I want my creators of superhero fiction to believe that magic exists.

He writes a very compelling piece on the dangers of listening to the vocal portion of a fanbase, and gets away with what could actually be two fingers at the internet community by the flair of his thoughts and the fact that you can tell he means it. There are times, particularly in his reviews of Alan Moore's work where you can sense some lack of objectivity and a feeling that he just plain doesn't really like the guy (though he calls Moore out fairly and squarely on the central plot device of Watchmen being flimsy and just plain unworkable).

I could personally, have heard a lot more about how it was that the guy who wrote Invisibles (a series that was deranged and inspired and complex to a point where it was possibly near unreadable for the average person who wasn't living in the authors own head) managed to persuade Marvel to let him have control of X-Men, their most valuable commmodity, and then DC to let him have control of Batman, their real big hitter; and write in both of them stories that weren't just beautiful, dazzling comics that revelled in the medium itself, but also intricate and complex and at times unintelligible to a casual reader.

I'm afraid I have gone a bit fanboyish again - there are comic book writers who when they step outside of that medium don't really deliver, or do so in a way that makes you wish they'd done all this as a comic, but from this book, Morrison isn't one of them. I read this at a single swallow, and could cheerfully have read another 300 pages of it. What Morrison does, when he is at his best, is make you read something and occasionally hit a speed bump where you think "I'm not smart enough to quite get this", BUT rather than make you feel resentful or annoyed that he's not taken you by the hand, makes you interested in what he's beckoning at and want to find the way yourself.

Horrible, gushing review, but basically, if you like comics, or are interested in the creative process, or how having access to drugs, foreign travel and lots of cash can actually in the right hands produce creativity rather than self-indulgence, this is worth a read.
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on 18 July 2011
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 bête 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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on 14 July 2013
The first half of Supergods was a reasonably entertaining account of the history of the superhero, with enough interesting anecdotes and tangents to keep me reading all through the golden and silver age. But when Morrison reaches the '80s and increasingly starts mentioning his own contributions to the world of comics, the book nosedives into a strangely self-obsessed never-ending autobiographical rant. Not really what I signed up for, gave up.
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on 28 October 2014
'Supergods' makes one point abundantly clear: Grant Morrison loves, knows, and understands superheroes. Growing up in Scotland, Mr. Morrison saw American comics and their heroes as a means of escapse and as a means of stimulating the imagination. He has written in the form of 'Supergods' a history of American heroes, from their birth in the early twentieth century into the twenty-first.

My only complaint about the book is that Mr. Morrison takes the opportunity to promote himself. True, he was responsible for the creation of 'Doom Patrol' and 'The Invisibles', but there is something odious about singing their praises, especially when one thinks that Mr. Morrison cannot be objective. Nevertheless, 'Supergods' is an engrossing and authoritative read. Highly recommended.
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on 2 January 2012
I have start by saying that I have really enjoyed reading this book, as it has reminded me of much of my personal history in and around the subject matter, it is however hard to recommend. Neither a masterful history of comic books, nor an intriguing autobiography of Morrison's journey through psychedelia, meta-fiction and the world of superheroes, it ends up being a poorly edited mish-mash of both.
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on 31 August 2012
I bought this book in the mistaken belief it would be a history of the comic book industry; its genesis, relevance and future. Sadly not. What I bought turned out to be a thorough history of DC Comics with only cursory examination of other publishers, bulked up with hagi-autobiography about how great Grant Morrison is. Apparently he's written the best comics, made the most money and done more champagne, charlie and cuties than us. There's one page out of four hundred about Gaiman's "Sandman" and dozens about Morrison's "Flex Mentallo". Sorry, who? If you're a Grant Morrison fan, as Grant Morrison clearly is, then this may be the book for you. But for the rest of us, that thoughtful analysis of the comic book industry remains to be written...
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on 16 October 2011
I loved this book. It is part memoir, part (of a selective) history of American comics, part review, and part magical-mystical tract on how to transform the world! One of the secrets, in my opinion, of Grant Morrison's success is that he's never forgotten the magical impact of colour superhero American comics on a young child growing up in the austere black and white backdrop of Glasgow in the sixties. I can relate to this because I was one such boy myself, only a few years older than Morrison. We seem to have had a parallel comics reading 'career' so for me it was an uncannily familiar reading experience. I was introduced to American comics at about the age of seven when I was ill with chicken pox. My father brought home a pile of comics given to him by a colleague at work. My very first comic was a red kryptonite tale that turned Superman into a dragon. What the hell was this? A flying hero, kryptonite, Lois and Jimmy, the secret identity that he kept from his girl friend? And so on. It was as though I'd tapped into an alternate universe. It was too bizarre and too vibrant for anybody to have made up. I occasionally glanced at the sky to see if I might catch a glimpse of Superman on his world patrol! It wasn't just the story. It was everything it implied! There was a magical background, back stories, untold wonders to be experienced, and they could be experienced through the other DC titles. The Flash, Hawkman, the Atom, Green Lantern. There was a cleanness and purity to them reflected in the sublime artwork of the likes of Curt Swan and Carmine Infantino. Over and above them shone the godlike goodness of Superman, a rock steady force that always tried to do the right thing.

Morrison gives us a potted history from the start: the so-called Golden Age, through the Silver Age and then the Dark Age, when comics tried to become more 'relevant' which meant being dark and gritty. Fortunately, writers like Morrison never forgot their initial impact and once again reminded us all of Superman's original appeal, especially in his All-Star Superman series, illustrated by the perfect Zen-like art of Frank Quitely.

Alan Moore was another British writer who invigorated American comics in a similar way, by remembering, in my opinion, their initial impact. Curiously, both Moore and Morrison are practising magicians. I suspect that this is symptomatic of the extraordinary creativity that both gentlemen seem able to tap into. However, whereas Moore seems somewhat embarrassed by his involvement with superheroes and wants to put them behind him, Morrison has plunged into them, almost driven to somehow manifest them in our everyday reality. Indeed, he is under directions as such by higher dimensional electrical angels. Or something. I suspect that these are the 'Supergods' of the title rather than their comic book counterparts.

Morrison has a chapter devoted to his four-part collaboration with Frank Quitely, Flex Mentallo. And quite rightly. This is where it all comes together and in my opinion is the closest that any modern writer has come to producing a Buddhist Mahayana sutra. Like the Mahayana sutras though, they require some familiarity with the language. This is one thing about most of Morrison's work though. The idea that you can just pick up a comic for an escapist read for a few minutes DOES. NOT. APPLY! They can be hard work, requiring multiple readings and possibly a lot of background reading. Hey, you're having your head rewired after all!

Supergods is in fact a lot easier to read than many of his comics. Although, if you're not already familiar with much that he mentions then you might not find it so. However, he does include a list of suggested further reading at the end of the book which might be useful if this is the case.

My only complaint is that even though it's a hardback, the pages were already starting to come loose by the time I approached the end. The physical construction does not seem to respect the contents. Or maybe the contents just refuse to be bound...
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on 21 October 2015
If you are looking for a book solely about the history of superhero comic books then only parts of this book apply. If you are looking for a history of superhero comic books as well as a Grant Morrison autobiography then this is the book. Personally I was only looking for the former and under the impression that's what I was getting. Morrison should definitely have a mention in the superhero comic timeline but he spends far too much time talking about his own achievements when other far more influential comics get small (often deragatory) commentary or no mention at all. It is clear from this book that Morrison knows his stuff and the first half of the book is really informative and enjoyable. Unfortunately he spends far too much time talking about himself and his drug and alcohol experiences which have nothing to do with superhero comics whatsoever. A real shame as there is a lot of information in this book but ruined by the authors ego.
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VINE VOICEon 19 July 2011
Morrison is generally considered to be one of the great British writers of American comics who is either on, or just slightly below, the same pantheon which includes Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman and his other peers are Warren Ellis and Mark Millar. I'm inclined to rank them in the order I've listed with Morrison at No.3.

This book is basically his love affair with super-hero comics, their effect on his life, and his effect (as a writer) on them. I've read a couple of British press reviews of the book and both reviewers miss the point. They like it fine when he's doing a history (albeit a narrow and stylish history) but feel it goes off the rails when it becomes a personal story. They have, of course, got it wrong. The historical account is simply the context for Morrison's personal exploration of the super-hero genre and when it gets personal, it gets going. This isn't a history of super-heroes, though his account of the genre and his response to developments in it is vital to understand how Morrison sees how it should be transformed.

Of particular interest are his reactions to Moore and Gibbons transformative Watchmen. Morrison admires the technique, skill and intelligence which goes into it but finds it a hollow exercise -I'm simplifying here, read the book for his full argument- and made this clear at the time. Several years later Moore described Morrison's Arkham Asylum (with artist Dave McKean) as 'a gilded turd'; 'gilded' referring to the art, 'turd' to the writing. Morrison's opinions on the work of his peers are elegantly expressed and endlessly interesting.

Where the book becomes truly fascinating is when Morrison delves into his experiences with drugs and mysticism which alters his entire perception of the world.


Where the book goes completely off the rails and Morrison is exposed as a self-obsessed nut-job is when he delves into his experiences with drugs and mysticism which alters his entire perception of the world.

Depending on your own inclination. My own view of the world, as a libertarian-leftie atheist who has faith only in hard science and a deep distrust of any form of mysticism, is to take the second view. And yet the more you read of these experiences, the more strangely convincing they become. Morrison sees an analogy between inserting himself into two dimensional fiction space -as he does when he confronts the protagonist of the comic he's been writing (Animal Man)- and dimensions higher than ours which we, like Animal Man himself, are unable to perceive. (To get the next reference you need to read the book for its context) Flash Fact: five year old children cannot see perspective but seven year olds can.

I find this whole personal journey quite fascinating for how it informs the super-hero comics he's written and into which he goes into considerable detail which is all interesting as he's written some of the best mainstream superhero comics ever as well as some of the best oddball comics.
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on 11 January 2012
I enjoyed most of this book, it starts off really well the history of comics and Morrison's early years are good reading.But when he starts writing about his drug experimentation and chaos magic, tripping out and life changing hallucinations I felt I was reading utter nonsense! Don't get me wrong Morrison is a visionary and an excellent writer and I enjoy his work, but I feel let down by this book.
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