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Review

‘Supergods’ celebrates modern myths and classic heroes

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October 14, 2011

Superheroes have been a hot commodity at movie theaters around the world ever since Christopher Reeve put on the familiar red and blue tights and made an entire generation believe a man could fly in 1978’s “Superman: The Movie.” Now, moviegoers are prepping for the release of two incredibly expensive superhero spectacles in the form of Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers” and Warner Brothers’ “ The Dark Knight Rises.”

Oftentimes, people tend to forget where these heroes come from: the great American art of the comic book.

Comics’ scribe Grant Morrison has taken it upon himself to chronicle the development of the superhero as a concept throughout the years while relating tales of his own life and times in the comics industry in “Supergods: What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human.” Part history lecture, part autobiography and part philosophy text, Morrison’s book is a love letter to the modern myth of superheroes and the art of storytelling.

“Supergods” starts at the very beginning of the rise of the American superhero with 1938’s Action Comics No. 1, the birth of Superman, and works its way to the summer of 2011. Readers won’t just find a dry history of superheroes. The level of analysis that Morrison puts into these pages is often times staggering. It’s never just about explaining the events that changed the comics. Morrison is constantly using comics and superheroes as a mirror to reality and the culture surrounding them. For Morrison, fiction and reality are rarely all that different, even if one of them has super powered men and women gallivanting around.

There’s just as much autobiography in “Supergods” as there is history. Morrison is one of the most famous writers of modern, mainstream superhero comics. He’s probably best known for his mind-bending work on the Batman graphic novel “Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.” The story of his career, life and creative process are fascinating, although some of his philosophy can get a little bit out there. Once he starts claiming he performs magic rituals that actually work, things get a bit weird. When taken in stride, these eccentricities actually add a lot of depth and understanding to Morrison as a person.

Morrison is an insider and there are times where “Supergods” gets bogged down in the immense amount of information and ideas being shared, but for the most part it’s just as accessible to someone who is mildly interested in the subject matter as it will be for someone who has been reading comics for their entire life.

“Supergods” is a fascinating read for anyone in a creative field. The stark honesty that Morrison uses when talking about writing as an art is very refreshing. He admits to all the times he’s taken an easy way out or outright failed. He tells stories of being poor, living off of government assistance in Scotland and trying to cut it in a crappy rock band with his friends and experimenting with mind altering substances.

I guess that’s as good a phrase as any to describe this book. Mind altering. It’s difficult to walk away from “Supergods” without a renewed appreciation for the modern myths of superheroes and fiction itself. Morrison describes fiction as a living, breathing animal that gives and takes from reality. In his writing, he makes fiction seem as vital to life as food or water, as necessary as human contact and as precious as gold or diamonds. It gave me a reinvigorated need to write and tell stories. It’s actually a fairly inspiring book for something that could be just a simple history lesson.

“Supergods” is a book for anyone who loves superheroes, either on the page or the big screen. It’s a book for people who are interested in the craft of storytelling and why stories matter. It’s a book for anyone with a fascination of America’s pop culture, how society impacted it and vice versa. It’s for those who loved to play pretend and knock out super villains when they were little. It’s for the ones who never stopped believing a man could fly. “Supergods” is a love letter to so many things and deserves a place in any fiction aficionado’s bookcase.

Chris Rohling is a journalism major with a passion for storytelling in almost every medium.