Above is the most interesting passage in Grant Morrison’s memoir-cum-American comics history Supergods. It describes the conclusion to Mark Millar and J.G. Jones’ Wanted, that would later be adapted into a commercially successful – and moderately entertaining – action film starring Morgan Freeman and Angelina Jolie. Needless to say the film does not end on the same note – it was designed to appeal to a wider audience than the comic. Morrison suggests here that Millar, his one-time protégé who now has two film adaptations to his name and a series of hit books, is like Nietzsche a prophet of nihilism – except the ‘last man’ being described is the self-important fanboy.
Or they’re just comics mate. Lighten up.
Morrison’s description of Wanted as a warning of the nadir fanboy culture is approaching is a rare mention of Millar that hints at the falling out between the two creators. Significantly he instead stresses how much professional assistance his fellow Glaswegian received from him. This is perhaps a more subtle form of attack, belittling whatever success Millar has since achieved after their coquettish all-night-long phone sessions. Instead Morrison reserves his invective for Alan Moore, specifically his comic Watchmen, which is described as a “Pop Art extinction-level event, a dinosaur killer and wrecker of worlds.” Through Morrison’s eyes his comics work has taken place on a battle-field, between the cancerous legacy of Moore’s ‘bleak moral universe’ and the hopeful superhero narrative, as stewarded by DC and Marvel.
Seriously, mate, they’re – JUST – COMICS.
Recently in a rather convoluted series of events, the ever resourceful Pádraig Ó Méalóid wrote a series of articles for The Beat, debating accusations of plagiarism leveled against Moore by Morrison among other matters. This in turn inspired a rebuttal from Morrison – an exhaustive trawl through the original article with interjections written in red font – pointing out every perceived error in Ó Méalóid’s reporting, as well as Moore’s version of events. This sequel was introduced by Laura Sneddon, one of the best comics journalists currently out there, with the following –
“While Moore has previously spoken out about his thoughts on Morrison in various interviews, Morrison has generally kept quiet on the issue. There have been occasional barbs of course, and plenty of praise, but very little on the actual facts of the matter.”
This is problematic, as Watchmen haunts the pages of Supergods, a nagging presence lurking behind every page. There is even a seemingly off-hand declaration that Moore and the sociopath Rorschach are very similar in temperaments, that tails off shortly after it is made.
Not that Supergods lacks for villains. There’s that hoary old figure of Dr Wertham, here trotted out as follows - "[T]he hollow specter (sic) of Dr. Wertham can take it from me that the young readers of Batman saw only a wish-dream of freedom and high adventure. It is Wertham whose name belongs in the annals of perversity, not Batman's.” – of course it is easier when the target of your venom is long dead. Then there’s Adam West, who did Morrison the indignity of grunting in reply to his fanboyish display at a Virgin Megastore signing in 1990. In part this is due to the writer’s hyperbolic style of biography, perhaps more suited to press interviews, where the occasional soundbite is appropriate. It is hard to tell whether he is being serious at times – such as describing the sartorial echo of the circus strongman costume in Superman’s look as a mystery. Or the forced comparison between the purple prose of Roy Thomas and John Lennon’s Lewis Carroll-esque verse. "I sent my avatar onto the page surface to meet the Animal Man" – he declares, failing to mention the debt the comic owes to Alasdair Gray’s Lanark. However he is quick to declare Warren Ellis’ The Authority as being a fusion of his work on The Invisibles and JLA, and there’s the repeated mentions of Millar’s tutelage under him.
Suprisingly Supergods has very little that feels novel within it. Much of the book will be familiar to anyone who has read interviews with Morrison or his introductions to his own works. As a comic history it is sadly as flatly informative as a Wikipedia article – again, there is little new insight present. At one point Morrison delivers a beautiful description of his much admired hero Jack Kirby’s artistic style – “snarling gigantism” – which is perfect. But as a prose writer, Morrison – the one-time enfant terrible of the 90’s turned prophet of superhumans – is oddly rigid.
My greatest fear is that what folks will find most interesting about Morrison is this tiresome ‘feud’ with Moore. Certainly Supergods plays to the gallery by providing plenty of ammunition. It is utterly uninteresting who insulted who, or who came first. Oddly enough my favourite works by both writers could not be more different and have nothing to do with the superhero genre that made them famous – From Hell and The Filth. Perhaps in later years we will have a more insightful book from Morrison on his non-superhero work.