Friday, August 12, 2011

Grant Morrison: Supergods

Last week I read Grant Morrison's book Supergods and I couldn’t put down. I loved it so much that I’ve decided to reread it again right away. I’ve seen some negative criticisms of it, in which the writers are disappointed that about half way through, Morrison starts to talk too much about himself and his own work and that this derails what starts out as a history of the superhero. They accuse him of vanity. I think these critics miss the point of the book and Morrison doesn’t help his cause by misstating the purpose of the book himself, as he writes it, by saying repeatedly that it’s a book about superheroes.

The cover jacket proclaims “What Masked Vigilantes, Miraculous Mutants, And a Sun God from Smallville Can Teach Us about Being Human”. Of course the human that Morrison is most familiar with is himself, so, the book is an autobiography. Morrison’s identity is so shaped by the superhero that he has no choice but to attempt the history of superheroes as a part of that autobiography, but, although it is a history of superheroes and it is an autobiography, what the book is at its core is a  grimoire. While it doesn’t given any explicit directions into how to perform any superhero related magic, and to the uninitiated the parts of the book that talk about magic may seem to merely be the lunacy of a drug addled mind, to the initiated there is enough magic there to suggest material for experimentation and more than a few clues as to what sort of experiments Morrison has already successfully performed. While medieval grimoires seem to give technique, they really give broad outlines for procedures that require that the reader already have a grasp of the basics of magic and this book does the same. (For those who would like some technique to go with Morrison’s outline I would recommend Pop Culture Magick by Taylor Ellwood.)

In fact, while Morrison does tell us quite a bit about what superheroes through the years have said about humanity, he  seems less interested in that than he does in showing that they are a sign post to what humanity may become. In this he reminds me of the oath that a ceremonial magician in the Golden Dawn tradition takes upon being initiated into adepthood, in which he or she vows to strive to become “more than human.” He spends a lot of time showing how superheroes have changed from the birth of Superman in the 1930’s through the present due to shifting cultural influences. He is very interested in cultural influences and he makes a case that superheroes as memes have outlived their creators (and in fact are much longer lived than human beings in general) and have taken on a life of their own in a second dimensional ink universe that exists symbiotically with us from which we can take some benefits in much the way that magicians do from other archetypes. Further, their influence on our culture over the years is provable and ongoing and seeing how they influence the culture can show us how they will influence the future. I find his arguments very convincing although given changes in our world and the existence of other, older archetypes which influence and are influenced by superheroes, I would tend to think of them as existing more in a mental world than a 2D world. However, I am probably more influenced by Qabalistic cosmology than Morrison is.

In any event, it’s a good book and I highly recommend it to comic book fans and students of magic.