The ge­nius of su­per­heroes

Kapi-Mana News - - REVIEW -

Grant Mor­ri­son –

(Jonathan Cape) In 1999 I was liv­ing above a pub in Lon­don, work­ing dou­ble shifts in the kitchens, sling­ing pies at drunks for £5.50 an hour, six days a week.

It was a bleak ex­is­tence. The few hours I had off a week were spent ei­ther at the Bri­tish Mu­seum – it was free, warm, and filled with the prom­ise of hu­man ac­com­plish­ment and his­tory – or at my spir­i­tual home, a comic book store called For­bid­den Planet on Sal­is­bury Ave.

Dizzy Lon­don was a grim mis­tress. The harder you worked, the harder she worked you over. But at For­bid­den Planet, in the charmed and charm­ing com­pany of plas­tic fan­tasies and pen and ink il­lu­sions, the bit­ter re­al­i­ties of life in the Me­trop­o­lis fell away.

Most of the sto­ries in comics in those days were still set in a mil­lion myth­i­cal me­taphors for Amer­ica – es­capist fan­tasy of the first or­der. But then I dis­cov­ered a Bri­tish comic called The Invisibles, and every­thing changed.

Psy­chic un­der­ground guer­rilla cells, a plot by the Il­lu­mu­nati to in­stall a mon­ster on the English throne, Brazil­ian trans­ves­tite shaman bat­tling face­less pandi­men­sional trick­ster gods, and an ul­tra-vi­o­lent, leathertrousered an­ti­hero named King Mob, all at play on the streets – recog­nis­able down to the bill posters and shop­keep­ers – I walked day in, day out.

Sud­denly, with The Invisibles on my side, life in ‘‘Grey Bri­tain’’ was so much more than just my Kiwi rite of pas­sage. It was an imag­i­nary, imag­i­na­tive, il­lu­sory, ex­tra-sen­sory, other­worldly ad­ven­ture.

And the man re­spon­si­ble was a sen­si­tive Scot named Grant Mor­ri­son.

Mor­ri­son’s ca­reer in comics now spans more than 20 years and 53 pub­li­ca­tions. His name is leg­end and his in­tel­lec­tual, ephemer­a­gath­er­ing style of sto­ry­telling has at­tained al­most un­touch­able sta­tus. In­deed, his work in the 90s is cred­ited, along with that of fel­low Brit alumni Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman and War­ren El­lis, of chang­ing the face of the medium from so-called tacky es­capism for chil­dren to a ma­ture, adult art form.

Gath­er­ing to­gether and em­bel­lish­ing on es­says and talks he has given dur­ing the course of his ca­reer, Mor­ri­son has writ­ten his first non-fic­tion work, Su­per­gods – a study of the role played in the modern world by su­per­heroes. Far from bub­blegum play­things, to Mor­ri­son the su­pers are lit­er­ary fig­ures for whom, un­like some other ‘‘adult’’ comic book writ­ers, he has a great deal of re­spect and pas­sion.

The book is a cu­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of artist’s au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, fan­boy mem­oir, spir­i­tual road trip and aca­demic study. Un­for­tu­nately, Mor­ri­son never fully com­mits to any of these strands, so the ca­sual reader may be left with more ques­tions than an­swers in the end.

But for fans of comics, and Mor­ri­son’s comics in par­tic­u­lar, Su­per­gods pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity to com­mune with the eclec­tic ge­nius-mage, see what makes him tick, what aspects of his ca­reer he feels de­fine him, and per­haps learn one or two of his se­crets – af­ter all, what comic fan doesn’t have a char­ac­ter or two of their own wait­ing to burst forth from the newsprint? Mor­ri­son is never bet­ter than when he is telling tales about his own gen­e­sis as an artist. His tone is so witty, self-dep­re­cat­ing and full of love, I can’t help but wish the book had had more of this, and fewer mus­ings on the wider po­lit­i­cal and so­cial land­scape.

More sto­ries like the one he tells about meet­ing a liv­ing em­a­na­tion of the ul­ti­mate Su­per­god, Su­per­man him­self, at San Diego Comic-Con. And how that con­ver­sa­tion – with Su­per­man in char­ac­ter the whole time – in­spired the cre­ation of Mor­ri­son’s award-win­ning se­ries, All Star Su­per­man.

But then, I would never ex­pect a lin­ear nar­ra­tive from the man who cre­ated Danny La Rue – the sen­tient, cross-dress­ing thor­ough­fare – and wrote comics about Hitler and killing your boyfriend. Thank the Su­per­gods the mag­nif­i­cent mind of Mor­ri­son just doesn’t work that way.

Su­per­gods: Our World in the Age of the Su­per­hero

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