Saturday, July 14, 2012

Book Watch: SuperGods by Grant Morrison

In some ways, I feel like I could send the dozen or so regular readers of this site a copy of SuperGods by Grant Morrison and call it a day with The Signal Watch.

The basic breakdown of the book is equal parts comic book history and Grant Morrison's personal journey and how it associated with comics, eventually becoming his career, which, he reports, is fairly lucrative.  If you read your fair share of comics history and Grant Morrison interviews (and I do), then there's not a whole lot new in the pages, but what Morrison manages to do is what he does so often in the comics he writes: takes an existing idea and takes it on a new journey with a new thesis statement.

The bits of bio about Morrison are what's been reported in comics press: working class Scottish upbringing, hippie anti-nuke parents, punk-era-living under Thatcher, bands, a really vocal attachment to his cats (man, I hear you), early comics he's still talking about, etc...  And if you've read your David Hajdu, Lee Daniels and Gerard Jones, the comics history stuff is mostly known.  However, it's interesting to hear about it through Morrison's filter, what grabbed him as a kid, what grabbed him as a young man, and as a guy at the tipping front end of Generation X (I consider myself the last, dying gasp of the X'ers before Y came along assuming the internet was a foregone conclusion), how we looks at Miller and Moore's books in relation to the industry.  And, of course, he gets to talk a bit about the guys he works with who have been making comics history for the past two decades and more.  

The funniest section of the book occurs during a brief history of Batman on screen with a description of the shockingly bad Batman movie serials of the 1940's.  If you find the book on the library shelf, it's worth flipping around until you find those two or three pages.  Awkward airplane reading as I busted out laughing.

So:  Morrison is also somewhat known for being a "chaos magician", which he never really defines, but he seems to believe in - and, of course, there's the famous stories of the "breakthrough" in Kathmandu where he reportedly communed with 5th dimensional beings, and the appearance of Superman at San Diego in '99.  You kind of have to take Morrison's perception and reporting of events at face value and know that he's alternately speaking in metaphor, describing some fantastic highs, and contributing confirmation bias as magical coincidence, but through his eyes, this is exactly what he means when he describes "magic", so it's hard to argue and I won't.  He's not a flaky new-ager even when he should seem exactly that way, and so I choose to take it as Morrison describes it.

I've read The Invisibles.  I know the score.

Details, omissions, varying degrees of congratulations and attribution belie Morrison's competitive streak.  He's the sensitive kid who wants to clarify in his own mind where he falls in the pantheon of comics creators, never outright calling Moore or anyone else out, but his deconstruction of Watchmen is both brilliant (it made me want to pick it up again, and I've read it at least five times) and meant to take the piss out of the book a bit.  And there's a disenchantment with some he clearly considers prodigies while others he seems to revel in.  What's fascinating is that Morrison actually seems to still read comics, something other writers seem to give up at some point.  And he doesn't just read them, he reads them like fans read them.  Still.

As I think would happen with any creator of his caliber, he does seem a bit confused by fanboys, a common trait among creators if what I read on twitter is any indication.  Y'all, we're a mean and cruel lot and in many ways I would say Morrison has our number.

I don't necessarily agree with how Morrison framed various overlapping waves in comics, but what the hell do I know?  He recognizes the cyclical nature of the content, but you can only ever look back so far in the medium that came into its current form arguably in the 70's, and cites sunspots and cosmic polar shifts to the why's and wherefore's as much or more than the long tail of other popular media, national attitudes, etc...  Or the mood of leadership at the Big 2.  But there's a lot of times where he cites the same book in more than one trend, ignores what else was happening, fails to attribute the echo long after the thunderclap, etc...

In my opening I said that I thought we could stop blogging here tomorrow, and at one point toward the end of the book I seriously considered coming home, apologizing a bit and closing up shop.  It's not just that I think I'm out of the business of talking comics history and trying to contextualize it, it's that the book gets across a message I've hoped to instill over the years, things I do believe but that my lack of desire to draw down real debate keeps me from discussing.  Morrison comes outright and states some of what I firmly believe about super men and women, about the nature of what the characters show us about what we could be.

Whether you believe we're witnessing two-dimensional universes playing out morality tales that make us privvy to the actions of near gods or whether you believe we're scribbling the zeitgeist down onto pages and churning them out for Wednesday purchase, or whether you believe that we're all made of protons and electrons and that the only thing stopping us from a cosmic destiny are the limits of our own imaginations and insistence of the mundane as status quo - Morrison communicates this in every chapter better that I could ever do, and certainly by making a case that I've never had the guts to just flat out state on a site where we talk about funny men and women fighting crime in tights and lingering over soft lit pictures of women who are long since dead.  He explains the simple beauty of the idea of Superman as the embodiment of an ideal that we create and recreate.

For the modern comics fan, it's crucial reading.  The ideas sometimes feel a bit like the headspace I was trying to live in consistently in the 90's, a period in which, I might add, I was consuming Morrison's JLA and Invisibles with equal fervor.  It's a call to arms to dream humanity forward, to embrace the technology and wonder around us to make a world of tomorrow.

You guys have the next few years to look forward to me citing this book, so brace yourselves.

There's a brief afterward in which Morrison mentions his upcoming reboot of Superman in Action Comics, which began in September of 2011.  What I wonder is what his bosses would think reading his book, and given how hard he's pushed in the opposite direction from Lee, Johns and the rest of the folks on the New 52, and how different in tone his work (and what I think Perez started off trying to do) was from the rest of the titles.  Were it not for the obvious and excellent sales...  I don't know.

I should mention - this is a 1st edition, and so there are some factual errors and a type-o or 2.  I'm not fanboy enough to wine too loudly if nobody fact-checked the date of the release of Tim Burton's Batman,

And I've got Larry Tye's Superman book coming in the mail, so...  books ahoy.

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