Wednesday, 26 February 2014

History Is - I Am Awesome! - Important

Does falling between two stools always have to be a bad thing?  Interpreted one way, doesn't it just mean you avoided the shit on either side?

Grant Morrison's Supergods falls between two stools, and it certainly isn't shit.  Yes, it spends too much time considering events Morrison was uninvolved in (or even not yet alive for) to be an autobiography, and too concerned with the minutiae of Morrison's rise to global almost-dominance to be a detached history text, but so what? It would be a strange edict indeed to insist that history cannot be explained by those who shape it.  This way, you get your revelations straight from the source and, whilst the resulting bias is likely greater, at least it's easier to spot and correct for. If that's the price to be paid for reading one of the greatest ever comics writers discuss the work of his contemporaries (and reading this whilst Alan Moore launched a fairly punishing broadside at Morrison gave the experience a little extra kick), then it would be hard to argue it is too steep a fee.

Besides, this is Grant Morrison, a man who could probably have eked out a living trading in mysterious pronouncements and egomaniacal overkill even if he hadn't been writing best-selling comics along with them.  If anyone has demonstrated the writing chops for a dabble in gonzo journalism, it's him, though I confess the link may have only occurred to me due to Morrison's detailed-to-the-point-of-tedium descriptions of his various life-changing drug trips.

Except... what makes gonzo writing work at its best is the degree to which the subject and the writer overlap and merge. Morrison manages that more than once here, but more often the two strands sit uneasily next to each other, as though the author has grown bored of writing about the general scene and decided it's time for another expose of life in the world of Morrison.  This is compounded by the fact that Morrison's insights into the development of superheroes as a genre are far more gripping than his own story which, while hardly devoid of interest, are comparatively prosaic.  Particularly in the later chapters, when the struggle of a working-class Glaswegian to break into comics (an inspiring story, if not a particularly remarkable one except insofar as it worked out) is replaced by the tale of a rich man jetting around the world and deciding if he can be bothered to write another best-seller, interest rapidly wanes; again, this is not helped by Morrison's lengthy descriptions of his drug-birthed hallucinations, which are nowhere near intriguing or illuminating enough to justify the pages dedicated to them.

Morrison states in the afterword here that the book was originally conceived of as being closer to an autobiography, and only later was it decided to focus as well on the overall evolution of the superhero genre.  Judging the twin concerns of the book, it's difficult to argue this was a mistake. Still, whether it be because already-written material was not revisited, or for some other reason, the fault-lines extending from where the new concept was shoved into the old one are all too visible. It's like reading two books chopped up and clumsily stuck together.  Yes, one book is competent, and the other is pretty impressive, but a little more work on sensible splicing the two and a ride could have been smooth as well as pretty.

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