three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
56-Jan-Feb-2012
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What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human

A-SupergodsGrant Morrison, one of the most successful comics writers working today, is best known for his contributions to classic story lines as well as original creations such as The Invisibles (1994–2000).

The Topic: In works such as All-Star Superman and Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Grant Morrison brought new life to two of the first comic book superheroes, Superman and Batman. It's no surprise, then, that he has thought deeply about the origins and meaning of these and other superhero characters. A history based on that exploration forms the first part of Supergods, which argues that these powerful archetypal figures say more about us and the era in which they were conceived than they do about the superheroes themselves. But as the timeline of the comics universe intersects with Morrison's own life, his book also becomes a memoir that explores his own experience of reading and eventually writing comic books in the 20th century.
Spiegel & Grau. 464 pages. $28. ISBN: 9781400069125

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"It's hard to tell how much of Supergods will be comprehensible to readers not familiar with Morrison's illustrated work... . Still, Morrison writes with such flair, humor and insight that Supergods may be the season's most winning exploration of pop culture and the creative process." Michael Berry

Independent (UK) 3.5 of 5 Stars
"In passing, [Supergods] is stunningly good on the utopian dream that Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster kick-started when they invented Superman, and the dark twin that Bob Kane created for the Man of Steel in Batman... . [Morrison] tells us what he feels like telling us in an account that is, like the book, essential without being definitive." Roz Kaveney

Guardian (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"Supergods is perhaps the most satisfactory potted history of the American comic book industry I've ever read (and I've read just about all its competitors) while also offering a brilliantly incisive, if very personal, appreciation and analysis of the most important comic books or graphic novels--call 'em what you will--to be published in the past 30 years... . Despite its faults--the length and the occasional self-indulgence--this is a likeable, amusing read. It is a showcase for a writer who really is one of the greats." Jonathan Ross

Telegraph (UK) 3 of 5 Stars
"It would be understating things ... to say that this book isn't for everyone. But Morrison's analysis of how comic books have reflected and influenced mainstream culture is never less than intriguing, and his turn of phrase is often a joy." Robert Colvile

Washington Post 3 of 5 Stars
"In this case, the two heroes are two sides of the same man. Let's call them Grant Morrison-Thoughtful Historian and Grant Morrison-Comics Superstar. When Thoughtful Historian drives the action, Supergods is a lively guide to the ways that costumed crusaders have reflected and affected the times in which they lived. When Comics Superstar takes over, though, the book turns into a bafflingly tone-deaf memoir--an ego trip of superheroic proportions." Dan Kois

New York Times 1.5 of 5 Stars
"Supergods [is] a sprawling and scattershot book that seems as uncertain of its thesis as it is unclear about its intended audience. Readers who wouldn't know Plastic Man from Mr. Fantastic are likely to find Mr. Morrison's overview of comic heroes too impressionistic an introduction to the subject, while die-hard fans will be disappointed by the author's superficial analysis of the ambitious ideas he conjures so readily in his storytelling." Dave Itzkoff

Critical Summary

Reviewers generally agreed that Supergods is an interesting and original mix of comics, history, and memoir, but they then went on to disagree about the value of each piece as well as their combination. Some felt that Morrison had written one of the best short analyses of the genre available, then ruined it by shoehorning in his personal story. Others argued that the book should have fully entered the space of memoir, with Batman and Superman as guest stars. Though few were fully satisfied, most critics felt that the book was worth reading for comics devotees but that it would probably prove inaccessible to mainstream readers or casual fans of the genre.