Grant Morrison’s Manifesto: Better Living Through Superheroes

Grant Morrison: Talking To Gods

By Patrick Meaney

Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero (UK Edition)

By Grant Morrison

“I don’t want to expose the futility of one of the last great ideas we have”.

Grant Morrison, on Superheroes

In Animal Man #26 Grant Morrison made what remains his definitive statement about the nature of the world he and all of us as comic book fans live in. At the end of his first run on an American comic book, we see him walk up the Scottish hills in an attempt to make contact with his long lost childhood imaginary friend Foxy. Morrison flashes the light out across the night in the hope that Foxy would respond, but its only when he turns away disappointed that we see a light flash across the horizon in response.  The moral of the story is that out there in the fictional world our imaginary friends exist and through comics we have an unique chance to interact with them that we too often miss out on due to our preoccupation with the ‘real world’.

It’s a theme that has continued through his work and is rightly at the centre of two recent retrospectives of his work, Patrick Meaney’s bio-pic entitled ‘Grant Morrison: Talking to Gods‘ and Morrison’s own foray into the world of prose ‘Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero’.

Both are fascinating for a Comics Nexus reader and complement each other when it comes to looking at where Grant Morrison is after over two decades at the heart of mainstream comics. Both delve into what was behind the creation of his signature series and spend a lot of time telling crazy stories about Morrison’s unconventional childhood in the shadow of a nuclear missile base in Scotland and his drug fuelled globetrotting in the nineties.  You’ll often find that one helps explains something in the other, so for example in each Morrison gives different nuggets of information about his troubled relationship with Alan Moore.

What distinguishes Supergods from the film is its look at the history of superheroes with Morrison providing a history of superheroes from Action Comics 1 to the modern glut of summer blockbusters. At times this creates the impression that the book is disjointed or unfocused, with Morrison’s enjoyable analysis of milestones in superhero history sitting cheek by jowl with his childhood memories or his theories about magic. But when we reach the point of the book that it begins to cover Morrison’s own career the various strands start to gather momentum and coherence.

In both Supergods and Talking to Gods, Morrison casts himself as antithesis of the likes of Denny O’Neil, Alan Moore, Frank Miller, Mark Miller and Warren Ellis who sought to make superheroes realistic by burdening humankind’s four-color imaginary friends with our problems and physics. While always making sure to acknowledge the craftsmanship in such work it’s clear that their approach just leaves Morrison baffled at the thought of people wanting to chain our imagination to the world we already have.

Instead Morrison calls on all of us to view superheroes and fiction as a whole in a different way. In the closing pages of Supergods, Morrison celebrates the enduring virtues of the superheroes and claims that they made him the man he is today. He credits their example as having helped him live a successful and moral life and in doing so brings together his love of silver age superhero comics and his magical practices into a unified theory. As he passionately argues towards the end of Talking to Gods, the truly rebellious act in this world is to be happy and not lose faith in our ability to make the world a better place. If Morrison was right as he first argued with The Invisibles that fiction can be used as hypersigils to change the world, then it surely it’s in everyone’s interest to charge that power with optimistic and life-affirming stories? Far from forcing superheroes to confront grime and squalor we should be using them to inspire us to new heights. After all who would you rather the next generation grow up admiring; Wanted’s Wesley Gibson or Superman?

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