Friday, August 03, 2012

'Nuff Read: Supergods

Hardcover released in 7/19/2011.
Supergods, by comic superstar Grant Morrison, is an excellent primer for those interested in the evolution of comic book heroes from the concept's inception with the creation of Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster through their now all-to-commonplace presence in Hollywood blockbusters. For those who think they don't know who Morrison is, if you have any sense of modern popular culture, and many of those who feel they are part of the Illiterati don't, the impact of his work in the comic book medium has been among the most influential on how characters with comic book beginnings are presented in film over the past 15 years.

This non-fiction work's subtitle (not present on the cover of either the hard or soft cover editions) offers greater clarification as to just what Morrison is attempting to do: "What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, and a Sun God From Smallville Can Teach Us About Being Human." Regarding the comic book industry and how the buying public wishes their heroes to be presented, Morrison knows his stuff.

Softcover A released 6/26/2012.
The various published editions also provide an interesting object lesson in marketing and media.  As a high school Advanced Placement Language and Composition teacher it seems to me that there is something to be said about the images on each cover and the persuasive message each implies to a slightly different audience.  The cover to the hardcover edition (upper left) is clearly intended to appeal to those familiar with Morrison's previous publishing efforts: there is little to convince the casual shopper that this is about anything other than comic strips and maybe "sun gods." The illustrations by longtime collaborator Frank Quitely, are likely only recognizable to those who are familiar with the duo's recently completed All-Star Superman series from which the images are taken.

Without the subtitle on the cover it would be fair to say that on a seller's Non-Fiction book shelf it could seem misplaced and belong with wither New Fiction or New Science-Fiction. Apparently there were enough fans of his genre work, or others simply hungry for deeper analysis that the cover didn't impede sales--as the softcover blares it was a "National Bestseller." The comic book fan will also be pleased to know that in addition to analyzing the role of super heroes, Morrison speaks autobiographically about his creative process and his journey from a young lad in Scotland to a comic god in his own right.

Softcover B released 6/26/2012.
The softcover editions, on the other hand, are intended for those who are comic book newbies or came to comic books primarily through their movie iterations. These individuals for the most part may not have been among those buying the hardcover edition. The (in my thinking) superior hardcover edition--which I should have bought but did not due to cost and other factors--is a more attractive tome for the previously initiated--of which I am a longtime member. We know Morrison. We recognize Quitely's distinctive artwork, and we know that Supergods is not one of their fictional collaborations.

Softcover A shows a little more artistic savvy than the straightforward B. Given the release date the cover appropriately attempts to cash in by establishing a visual connection to the recent release of The Dark Knight Rises by using a slightly pop-art Batman Cowl cutout giving the impression that the book minimally deals comic books, and suggests a primary focus being the Batman. (Arguably, Morrison has written the majority of the most popular iterations of the character in the past decade with the all-time graphic Novel bestseller Arkham Asylum and recent runs on DC's Batman and Robin comics.)

Softcover B (above, left) is simply a less subtle, though more detailed, take on Softcover A, intended likely to even more clearly draw an inference to the popular films. Given the less stylistic cowl outline, even the most peripheral "fan" of the character would recognize the Batman's scowling silhouette. As one might properly surmise, both covers taken together separately featuring Superman and Batman delineate, in Morrison's thinking, the two progenitors of all super hero comic books.

As a reading selection, Supergods does a wonderful job of making the case for comic books as literature and as a reflection of the times in which they were written. By looking back at the comic book hero during four distinct comic book movements (The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Dark Age , and The Renaissance) and deftly aligning them with social and political movements, Morrison demonstrates how these works of literature reflect (and often predict) societal changes.

If like me you do read comics, it was interesting to see him reference many of the significant story lines and issues over the past thirty years and to be able to go back and reread them in light of the context provided. A very brisk and engaging summer read for fanboys and newbies alike, though those without much of a background in comic books may find the focus of the book a little scattered; for veteran readers, we know it's just Morrison doing that oddly structured "Morrison-thing."

Other "Summer Reading Books":
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
At the Mountains of Madness: The Definitive Edition by H.P. Lovecraft
The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kankwamba

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