An illuminating, if occasionally biased history of the most American of icons—the superhero—as told by one of comics’ most prominent writers.
Morrison (Absolute All-Star Superman, 2011, etc.) is ideally suited to the task of chronicling the glorious rise, fall, rise, fall and rise again of comic-book superheroes, from Superman’s auspicious beginning as a Depression-era symbol of the power of the individual to Wolverine’s rise to prominence in a more morally ambiguous era. The author has the fan credentials (growing up “on the dole” in his native Scotland, superhero stories were his favored means of escape); the professional credibility (having authored hugely successful runs on fan-favorite titles like Batman and JLA as well as critically acclaimed runs on lesser-known books like The Invisibles and Doom Patrol); and the intellectual capacity (his close-reading critique of superhero motivations and mores reads more like a dissertation than an all-ages historical narrative). Unfortunately, his insider status hamstrings his efforts when he reaches the “Dark Age” of superhero comics—the same period in which he entered the field. Personal relationships with certain luminaries (including Mark Millar and Warren Ellis) color his commentary, and an unfulfilling experience writing Marvel’s New X-Men gives rise to a vendetta that spurs him to dismiss that company’s recent efforts as pale imitations of DC Comics’ more inventive large-scale superhero event stories—tales that Morrison himself has had a big hand in crafting. Biased commentary aside, this is as thorough an account of the superhero phenomenon as readers are likely to find, filled with unexpected insights and savvy pop-psych analysis—not to mention the author’s accounts of his own drug-fueled trips to higher planes of existence, which add a colorful element.
For serious comics aficionados only, but those who dare enter will find the prose equivalent of a Morrison superhero tale: part perplexing, part weird, fully engrossing.