Monday, May 14, 2012

Book Review: Supergods by Grant Morrison

A while ago, you may have seen my review of the first half of Supergods.  Well, I’ve finished the book, and am ready to give you a complete review.

Supergods, by Grant Morrison, is a book about comic history.  It’s also an incomplete memoir of Grant Morrison’s life and career.  Perhaps not too surprisingly, given the mixed feelings of the comic-reading public toward Morrison’s own comics, I have mixed feelings about this book.  Which side am I leaning toward?
The opening to this book is an excellent look at the Golden Age of comics.  I imagine that most people reading this book, and an even more overwhelming majority of the people reading this article, were not alive during the Golden Age.  It is perhaps due to this, or perhaps just a very happy coincidence, that this is the best historical part of the novel.  We get a very in depth look at the creation of such characters as Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman and Captain America, not to mention a look at other characters such as the members of the Justice League of America, the original Human Torch, and others.

As World War Two ends, the book continues along the path of comic evolution and American culture.  Oh, Britain definitely gets its turn in the spotlight, but when we’re talking about the formative moments of the Golden Age, the Comics Code, and the Silver Age, it’s all about American history and American politics.  If you were wondering why half of your favorite Golden Age characters were re-created in the 50s and 60s, and why Silver Age comics are so… Silver Age, you get a good look here.

After that, it starts to get muddled.  Not only are the already ambiguous and not necessarily agreed upon boundaries of Bronze, Dark, and Modern Age discussed, but in the settings of American vs British comics and Independent vs DC and Marvel, giving us a three-dimensional axis to try and follow along. Any non-fiction book trying to move linearly through a topic with enough facts has this problem, and it wouldn’t be a concern but for the people, one in particular that made the third quarter of this book extremely tedious for me to slog through, but I’ll get to that shortly.

A writer of an informative work following the careers of several individuals (let’s call them Lee, Kirby and Ditko for the sake of examples) has a choice to make.  In this case, rather than devoting entire chapters to them, the choice was made to return to them time and again.  While this might not be a problem for some readers, I struggle with movies that do this, because I’m extremely slow to familiarize myself with names and people, and by the time I realize that the guy who created Captain America and the one who created Darkseid are the same person, I tend to lose a lot of character traits between the cracks.

But, as any comics fan could expect of a piece written by fans, for fans, the creators aren’t the only ones being followed.  Superman was with us from the first page of the book, and Batman, Captain America, the Justice Society, and the Justice League weren’t far behind.  These individuals have gone through even more than their creators in the decades since their origins.  Morrison didn’t go into everything like Superman and Batman’s changes in Date of Birth (you could write a book on that stuff alone), but he did make sure to stop in between each Era and Semi-Era to mention how the changes in popular writing style were effecting the Zeus and Hades (or at least the Apollo and Erebus) of the comics world.

Then we get to theother individual that I mentioned.  You remember how I said in the first paragraph that this was also a memoir?  I’ll admit, I struggle to keep up with half a dozen individuals over the course of their lives while they’re all being relevant in the comic industry.  Now add in a really weird guy (Normally nothing wrong with that, but I’m trying to piece this book together) with a really complicated life story who gets more focus on each year of his life than any of the other individuals in the book do.

Fans of Morrison’s work might find this really interesting.  I… didn’t.  The only thing I’ve read by Grant Morrison prior to this (that I’m aware of) is Batman: R.I.P., which I would describe as a bad acid trip meeting Batman on paper.  This doesn’t fill me with an incredible urge to learn more about every detail of Morrison’s life when I could be learning about Geoff Johns, for example, whose work I’ve read a ton of, though honestly I would still rather see something more linear about Moore or Kirby filling up that space.

Morrison’s life sometimes seems to be described the same way a bad trip would be, which is not a good thing when you’re reading what you thought would be entirely a lesson on the origins and histories of your favorite superheroes.  It might even be a touch egotistical, for that matter.
In any case, these chapters with heavy involvement on the side projects and personal life of a comics creator that I had no attachment to really hurt my pacing of the book.  The last quarter picked up, but it took me a while to get there.

I still think this book is a must for anybody who wants the nitty gritty details, any serious comics collector who wants to learn about the Golden and Silver Ages.  That said, I don’t recommend it as strongly as I thought I would, because of the bogging down that some of these details cause.  If you’re a huge fan of Grant Morrison, don’t let this escape your fingers.  Get it signed and everything because you’re going to eat up every word.  If you have no interest in Morrison’s personal life, be a little more cautious, buy the paperback or get it with a coupon, because you’re going to be looking mainly at about 75% of the book.  Which isn’t bad, but still, try get something 25% less than the full price.

Bill Silvia is a regular contributor at Fantasy & SciFi Lovin' News & Reviews.  You can find more of his content at www.MiBreviews.com

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