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on 15 May 2014
One of the most interesting and best comics writers, Grant Morrison, has produced a chronicle of comics from their inception in the late 30s to the present day, along the way talking about superheroes and their effect on our culture as well as providing a look into his own turbulent life from quiet teen to superstar writer. "Supergods" is throughout a fascinating look at this wondrous creation, the superhero.

For me, a huge fan of comics and superhero comics, the book was great fun to look at the inauspicious beginnings of the genre, the creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel and Bob Kane and the oft forgotten Bill Finger, through its various incarnations through the years. Morrison goes through the book chronologically and devotes the first chapter to an extensive look at the front covers of "Action Comics #1" and "Detective Comics #27", the first appearances of Superman and Batman respectively, setting the tone of the book as an in-depth look at Morrison's two favourite characters in comics.

He divides the evolution of comics into different "ages" from the Golden Age, Silver Age, Dark Age, and Renaissance Age (which we're currently in), and I won't go into detail as to every age but suffice it to say for those who believe Morrison wasn't detailed enough, I found him more than adequately explaining the relevant heroes and writers of the time in the context of the era and its effect down the line on future writers, innovators and characters.

Morrison could quite easily have written a memoir of his own life in this book but chooses to occasionally throw in tidbits of his autobiography amidst the intricate pontificating upon superheroes. We find out about his modest childhood and his journey into comics through endless writing and drawing and sheer persistence before landing a job with 2000AD and from there to DC's "Animal Man". There are some gossipy bits thrown in like an anecdote of Glenn Fabry biting Karen Berger's ass during a party welcoming the British Invasion of writers and artists to America, as well as a glimpse into why Morrison's relationship with Marvel soured following the dissolution of "New X-Men" (it also might explain why Marvel didn't allow Morrison to use any of the covers of their comics for reproduction in this book, unlike DC who did) though Morrison's breakup with protégé Mark Millar is ignored (unlike in the documentary about Morrison "Talking with Gods" where he says if he was in a car and saw Millar on the street, he'd change course and accelerate).

Then there's the vast wealth of information scattered throughout the text like a shotgun that fires genius like buckshot onto the blank page. Morrison stayed up writing for 50 hours straight before ransacking his teenage dream diaries to get into the mindset and create the nightmarish imagery to write "Arkham Asylum", a book he wrote in 1 month. He gave to Neil Gaiman a book with a story called "The New Mother" by Lucy Lane Clifford that set him onto the path of creating "Coraline". Jim Lee is a Princeton Physics graduate. He also provides an explanation for Warren Ellis' series "Planetary" which I'd read recently, baffled - it's an abstract reckoning between "good" imagination and "bad" imagination. He also explains the even more baffling "Final Crisis" book he wrote a few years ago - it was a story of a bad story devouring a good one. Who knew?

One of the best chapters in the book is "Hollywood Smells Blood" which goes into great detail about Batman's on-screen adaptations which for me began with the Adam West TV show but Morrison goes back to 1943 when Batman had his own TV serial. This part of the book was utter hilarity and showed Morrison's strengths as a comedic writer in the description of these early serials. One of my favourite passages describing Robert Lowery's Batman of 1943: "This wrinkled costume he wore would be unable to stop a lit cigarette let alone a slug from a .45. With his pitiful fighting skills, which relied on clumsy haymaker punches and off-balance lunges, Lowery's Batman could expect a crime-fighting life span of three weeks, with a career ending abruptly the moment any half-trained yellow belt tae kwon do novice punched him in the head." (p.333)

And his teardown of Joel Schumacher's Batman films is equally hilarious.

Morrison occasionally lost me such as when he described in painstaking detail his journey to Alpha Centauri where he saw beings of another dimension and spoke with what we call Gods. He really does believe this happened and I totally respect him for it, but I feel the story loses some of its impact when he begins it by telling you he swallowed a ton of hash before the aliens stepped from the walls. Some might also criticise his views on comics such as his excellent interpretation of Alan Moore's "Watchmen" which he does not hold in the same high regard as many of his peers do - he felt it was too self-referential and knowing.

As long as this review's been, I haven't tapped the surface of the content of this book. I'll just say that any comics fan would love this book as it's written by one comics fan for others. It's full of knowledge and views on comics that are well worth reading, it feels like you're eavesdropping on the most interesting conversationalist you'll ever meet. And his writing style too is of such shockingly high quality, you'll be astonished of his vocabulary and descriptive abilities.

I was glad also to know that my favourite of Morrison's books - "All Star Superman" - is also his favourite and his anecdote of meeting the real-life Superman is also included here. He finishes the book with a powerfully inspiring message of hope and optimism that I dare anyone to feel cynical about, it's so purely expressed and beautiful. So I'll end it here, urging you the reader to pick up this book and see the superhero through Grant Morrison's eyes.

In Morrison's own words that end this book "There's only one way to find out what happens next..."
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on 4 December 2012
One of the most interesting and best comics writers, Grant Morrison, has produced a chronicle of comics from their inception in the late 30s to the present day, along the way talking about superheroes and their effect on our culture as well as providing a look into his own turbulent life from quiet teen to superstar writer. "Supergods" is throughout a fascinating look at this wondrous creation, the superhero.

For me, a huge fan of comics and superhero comics, the book was great fun to look at the inauspicious beginnings of the genre, the creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel and Bob Kane and the oft forgotten Bill Finger, through its various incarnations through the years. Morrison goes through the book chronologically and devotes the first chapter to an extensive look at the front covers of "Action Comics #1" and "Detective Comics #27", the first appearances of Superman and Batman respectively, setting the tone of the book as an in-depth look at Morrison's two favourite characters in comics.

He divides the evolution of comics into different "ages" from the Golden Age, Silver Age, Dark Age, and Renaissance Age (which we're currently in), and I won't go into detail as to every age but suffice it to say for those who believe Morrison wasn't detailed enough, I found him more than adequately explaining the relevant heroes and writers of the time in the context of the era and its effect down the line on future writers, innovators and characters.

Morrison could quite easily have written a memoir of his own life in this book but chooses to occasionally throw in tidbits of his autobiography amidst the intricate pontificating upon superheroes. We find out about his modest childhood and his journey into comics through endless writing and drawing and sheer persistence before landing a job with 2000AD and from there to DC's "Animal Man". There are some gossipy bits thrown in like an anecdote of Glenn Fabry biting Karen Berger's ass during a party welcoming the British Invasion of writers and artists to America, as well as a glimpse into why Morrison's relationship with Marvel soured following the dissolution of "New X-Men" (it also might explain why Marvel didn't allow Morrison to use any of the covers of their comics for reproduction in this book, unlike DC who did) though Morrison's breakup with protégé Mark Millar is ignored (unlike in the documentary about Morrison "Talking with Gods" where he says if he was in a car and saw Millar on the street, he'd change course and accelerate).

Then there's the vast wealth of information scattered throughout the text like a shotgun that fires genius like buckshot onto the blank page. Morrison stayed up writing for 50 hours straight before ransacking his teenage dream diaries to get into the mindset and create the nightmarish imagery to write "Arkham Asylum", a book he wrote in 1 month. He gave to Neil Gaiman a book with a story called "The New Mother" by Lucy Lane Clifford that set him onto the path of creating "Coraline". Jim Lee is a Princeton Physics graduate. He also provides an explanation for Warren Ellis' series "Planetary" which I'd read recently, baffled - it's an abstract reckoning between "good" imagination and "bad" imagination. He also explains the even more baffling "Final Crisis" book he wrote a few years ago - it was a story of a bad story devouring a good one. Who knew?

One of the best chapters in the book is "Hollywood Smells Blood" which goes into great detail about Batman's on-screen adaptations which for me began with the Adam West TV show but Morrison goes back to 1943 when Batman had his own TV serial. This part of the book was utter hilarity and showed Morrison's strengths as a comedic writer in the description of these early serials. One of my favourite passages describing Robert Lowery's Batman of 1943: "This wrinkled costume he wore would be unable to stop a lit cigarette let alone a slug from a .45. With his pitiful fighting skills, which relied on clumsy haymaker punches and off-balance lunges, Lowery's Batman could expect a crime-fighting life span of three weeks, with a career ending abruptly the moment any half-trained yellow belt tae kwon do novice punched him in the head." (p.333)

And his teardown of Joel Schumacher's Batman films is equally hilarious.

Morrison occasionally lost me such as when he described in painstaking detail his journey to Alpha Centauri where he saw beings of another dimension and spoke with what we call Gods. He really does believe this happened and I totally respect him for it, but I feel the story loses some of its impact when he begins it by telling you he swallowed a ton of hash before the aliens stepped from the walls. Some might also criticise his views on comics such as his excellent interpretation of Alan Moore's "Watchmen" which he does not hold in the same high regard as many of his peers do - he felt it was too self-referential and knowing.

As long as this review's been, I haven't tapped the surface of the content of this book. I'll just say that any comics fan would love this book as it's written by one comics fan for others. It's full of knowledge and views on comics that are well worth reading, it feels like you're eavesdropping on the most interesting conversationalist you'll ever meet. And his writing style too is of such shockingly high quality, you'll be astonished of his vocabulary and descriptive abilities.

I was glad also to know that my favourite of Morrison's books - "All Star Superman" - is also his favourite and his anecdote of meeting the real-life Superman is also included here. He finishes the book with a powerfully inspiring message of hope and optimism that I dare anyone to feel cynical about, it's so purely expressed and beautiful. So I'll end it here, urging you the reader to pick up this book and see the superhero through Grant Morrison's eyes.

In Morrison's own words that end this book "There's only one way to find out what happens next..."
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on 17 October 2012
Since I've found myself delving deeper in to comic books and writing more and more about them in my news articles, I went looking for a book that might expand my mind on the subject.
I picked up Supergods and began reading immediately, ploughing through chapters like nobody's business. The first half of this book is an excellent history of how comics started and subsequently began to evolve until they reached a stage of going through cycles of themes and attitudes.
Whilst covering the early years Grant Morrison talks about himself as a child in Scotland, discovering comics and growing a love and respect for them. At first these little autobiographical glimpses in to his childhood and teenage years are quite interesting. They put the evolution of comics in to the context of their young readers.
At this point in the book the only thing I felt that could improve it would be more images of the pages he describes and for them to be in colour. Of course my guess is that was someone else's decision and who knows, if the book's popular enough a colour edition could be printed one day.
I also got the sense that some sort of deal with DC had taken place as every single image is from a DC comic. Which means you will have to rely on good old Google if you want to see Captain America or Spider-man's first appearance.
The bias towards DC is also seen within Grant Morrison's writing. He does cover Marvel's important writers and their works but the bias is always there. He briefly mentions his job writing for X-men where he was practically counting the days until he could jump back over to DC.
At around the halfway point the book goes through a bit of a shift. We reach the point where Morrison has finally become a writer within the comic book industry itself and he can't wait to tell you all about it. The well-researched history is moved aside to make room for stories of Morrison's experiments with drugs, round the world trips and his new age attempts to become a magician.
By the time it got to him taking his ill cat to a church to be fixed by spells I just had to skip ahead until the subject was back on comic books (so forgive me if that description isn't wholly accurate).
If there's one thing that Morrison makes clear, it's that he loves Grant Morrison. "I was taken to see The Matrix... and I saw what seemed to be my own combination of ideas enacted on the screen." He makes claims that he inspired great works of literature and graphic novels. He repeatedly points out that established comic books became best sellers the second he touched them.
These claims could all be very true but the thing is it's not for him to say. At times I got so wound up by this attitude I had to put the book down to stop myself from getting too angry about it.
The biggest problem with Supergods is that it really should have been two separate books. One a history of comic books over the years, explained with an unbiased and knowledgeable voice. The other an autobiography where Morrison would be free to talk about his life, his career and the things he personally loves and hates.
There's enough interesting material here that I would still recommend it to anyone seeking a bit of background. And if you're a huge Grant Morrison book then you'll probably gain some extra enjoyment out of it. But unfortunately for me it was far too biased and far too busy showing off to do what it was supposed to.
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on 23 January 2014
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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