Jeremy Carnes Recommends “Supergods” by Grant Morrison

In the latest installment of our Recommended Reads series, Graduate Assistant and M.A. student Jeremy Carnes recommends Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human by Grant Morrison.

“It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No it’s…” Grant Morrison. Acclaimed comic book author and creator behind such feats as All Star Superman, Batman: Arkham Asylum, and his own personal creation, The Invisibles, Grant Morrison is a tour de force in the comic community. Having worked for both of the big two (Marvel and DC), we can trust Morrison to have a view and knowledge of the comic book world that few others possess. Pair this superior knowledge with Morrison’s superhuman ability to spin a great tale, and we are left with Supergods.

Supergods, Morrison’s journey through the history of superhero comic books, is unlike any historical text you will ever read. Morrison’s prose is infected with passion, amusement, and a love for comics that few others could rival. Rather than simply provide a historical checklist of superhero appearances, authors, and titles important in the comic book world, Morrison takes specific time to delineate why the idea of superheroes persisted and why they captured American audiences, and later a global audience, by storm. In a series of brilliant rhetorical moves, Morrison draws parallels between the creation of Superman and the attitude of the depression; he identifies the ways in which Batman offered a productive, and always mysterious, opposite to the bright, positive, outgoing world of Superman; and he describes the ways in which the X-Men embody notions of equality, as were being voiced by activists in the Civil Rights Movement. In short, Morrison offers a view of superhero comics that is not only historically relevant and invaluable in understanding the state of superhero comics today, but he also relates these comics in their specific contexts and milieus in order that we might gain insight into the creative process at large.

As he states, “We live in the stories we tell ourselves. In a secular, scientific rational culture lacking in any convincing spiritual leadership, superhero stories speak loudly and boldly to our greatest fears, deepest longings, and highest aspirations. They’re not afraid to be hopeful, not embarrassed to be optimistic, and utterly fearless in the dark.” Superheroes, through their specific medium, have and continue to have a profound impact on culture at large, as evidenced by the massive successes of the superhero films of the past five years, including Thor, Captain America, Man of Steel, and The Avengers. However, these same books with the ability to transform an entire culture’s thinking have also had specific and lasting impacts on personal lives and personal stories of many individuals who have spent hours upon hours pouring over works that make up the superhero universe.

Personally, as an individual that remembers avidly eating up every issue of X-Men comics I could get my hands on while growing up, Morrison’s work gave me a line of thinking through which I could return to those stories I so often visited in my childhood. His precise retelling of comic book history and his compelling and ardent analyses of the stories that make up this history helped me to think through and rethink through the impact that comic books had on me and my specific beliefs and value systems. As a once shy and awkward child (though admittedly I am still quite awkward, though now much less shy), comic books helped me to embrace the call that Morrison gives voice to in his book: “Get ready to take off your disguise, prepare to whisper your magic word of transformation, and summon the lightening. It’s time to save the world.” I hope it does the same for you.

Morrison, Grant. Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2011. Print.

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