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Supergods by Jordan Ferguson

When I was eleven years old, I read Grant Morrison's Arkham Asylum.

This was probably not the best idea.

Be that as it may, Morrison's work imprinted on me, and I've always made sure to poke my head in on whatever he's up to: his Doom Patrol run is probably my favourite superhero run of all time [though it sags and bloats at times], his run on New X-Men is the only time I cared about mutants in 15 years [Magneto = Xorn, suck it fanboys], and his work on Batman the last five years, while certainly controversial, is the tightest that ship's been in years. The man is clearly a genius, I don't think anyone can reasonably argue against that. But what you come to realize the further you dig into the man's body of work is that there are two Grant Morrisons: the evil genius who explodes your expectations of what a superhero comic can be, and the mad magician who does a lot of drugs and goes off the rails examining the nature of reality. The first guy wrote WE3 and All-Star Superman. The second guy wrote The Invisibles and The Filth.

I didn't know which one would end up writing his recent non-fiction book Supergods, a treatise on what superheroes mean to the world at large. One part history, one part memoir, one part manifesto, it has to be said the book veers a little too hard towards Mad Bastard Grant, with his psychedelic drug visions and firm belief that the DC Universe is a living thing.

The first half of the book is heavy on the history, which will be welcome for the uninitiated, but for longtime readers, you won't find much here you didn't already know, though I did gain a better understanding of just how messed up early Wonder Woman comics really were [happiness in slavery and all that]. The problem is the book kind of falls apart when Morrison has to navigate his thoughts without the historical facts to anchor him and keep him on course. Readers looking for director's commentary on his work won't find much in Supergods, but there are tidbits here and there: I have a strong urge to go back and re-read Flex Mentallo now that I know what the hell he was trying to accomplish with it. So I don't want to give the impression that there's nothing in the book for longtime fans, you'll learn much about Morrison's childhood and his rock superstar goals, and he makes occasionally compelling arguments for the cyclical way superheroes reflect societal attitudes and his long held belief that the DCU is a world as real as our own, but there are sharp, sharp detours into New Age beliefs and philosophy. By the time we were in Kathmandu watching Morrison trip out so hard he sees a Buddhist temple transform into some sort of spider mecha, before he teleports out into the fifth dimension accompanied by glass-skeletoned angels, I started asking myself what the hell I signed up for.

Morrison, to his credit, never argues his truth as ultimate. He just sets out what happened to him and what he thinks it meant, and leaves it to the reader to decide if there's something to it or if it was just the drugs, even though he no longer partakes.

Supergods is a beautiful mess of a book, too inside for casual or new readers, too outre for your standard DCU fan. Fans of Morrison will find aspects to enjoy, but how much you like it will probably depend on how much you liked The Invisibles, since that comic is probably the purest distillation of the ideas that Morrison lays out in the book, starring his "fiction suit" King Mob as it does. But if you're like me and liked Vinamarama better than Seaguy, the book feels a lot like having a lengthy dinner with someone you've long admired and realizing you have nothing in common with them: sometimes interesting, often awkward, and after awhile you just wish you were somewhere else.

Jordan Ferguson wants to live on Danny the Street. He accepts love letters and hate mail at poetryforgravediggers.wordpress.com.