By Grant Morrison
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Wait. Don't be scared. Don't run. Yes - it's a proper book - no pictures - just words (crikey): but it's written by super-star comic's author Grant Morrison and is full to the brim with insights, memories and a potted history of all things superhero all with a typically Morrisonsque mystical flourish.
Kicking off with a great line about Scotland's RNAD Coulport and it's power to annihilate the Earth fifty times over. This is a book with lots of dry humour ("Was it a superhero adventure or an English lit student bitching about pollution with Walt Whitman samples running in ironic counterpart to the action?") and informative tit-bits (Including Batman and Robin's homosexual outing in the 1950s).
With a structure that takes in "Sun God" Superman's 1932 birth and the spawning of his many imitators: Batman, Captain Marvel, Wonder Woman amongst others (The Golden Age) - before rocketing into the acid-trip of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's sixties Marvel peak (The Silver Age) - and then the slow decent into the grim and gritty eighties and the likes of The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen (The Dark Age) and then into recent history as superheros 'go corporate' and their take over of the box-office (The Renaissance) and wrapping it around DNA double-helix style with his own life-story and ever so humble beginnings ("18 and still haven't kissed a girl") all the way to his ascent to the top of the comic's creator pyramid... It's half-history book/half autobiography. Crammed with lots of interesting insights into the creative processes and a no-nonsense answer to that age-old question of "Where exactly do you get your ideas from?" ("There I met intelligent sculptures made of what appeared to be ultraviolet neon tubes, which fanned and changed configuration as they attempted to communicate with me."): it's all very readable and jaunty.
Some of the prose does get ever-so-slightly purple at points ("After this buildup, the accompanying sound effect THOOOM seems almost tame and unambitious and hardly matches the noise in our heads, of which the final piano chord of the Beatles' "A Day in the Life" is only a faint echo.") - but that's not necessarily a bad thing: in fact I kinda liked how passionate and palpably excited the book gets as Morrison slips into evangelical mood - talking up lost obscure classics and treasures close to his heart. The thing that I did find slightly disappointing is that although Morrison is really intelligent when it comes to crafting a story (however messy they might get towards the end) - there are a few bits where he says things that are a bit - silly. Talking about Alan Moore's claim that Watchmen was "unfilmable" - Morrison makes a crack about how the fact that they ended up filming it proves him wrong. Which is... well.... missing the point a little (but hey - what can you do?): but then just because someone can be smart doing one thing (in this case that would be making superhero comics that sparkle and crackle and pop with irresistible delights) that doesn't mean that they're smart about everything (but then - hey - if Albert Einstein ever wrote a comic I bet it would have been rubbish).
Also: contains the answer to whether Superman poos or not. Which - you know - is good to know.
Links: Wired Article, Guardian Review, Nerd Bastards Review, Mindless Ones Interview, Comic Book Grrrl Interview, Rolling Stone Interview, Comic Book Resources Review, The Comics Journal Article, Every Day Is Like Wednesday Article, Comics Without Frontiers Article: Dissecting a Paragraph Part One: Biased Anthropologists & Heroic Missionaries / Part Two: Change & Judgment / Part Three: Saints, Heretics & Hypocrites.
Further reading: Superman: All Star Superman, New Gods, The Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen, Batman: Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, Doom Patrol, The Invisibles, Batman: Batman and Son, The Filth, Alan Moore: Storyteller.
Profiles: Grant Morrison.
All comments welcome.