All good superheroes must have an origin story, and Morrison is no exception. His takes place in Kathmandu and involves a mysterious encounter that he has frequently discussed both in lectures and in the documentary film, Grant Morrison: Talking with Gods. He describes the revelatory moment in even greater detail in Supergods. While the specifics of the event have been attributed to everything from a hallucinogenic drug trip to an alien abduction to temporal lobe epilepsy, the end result is always the same. Morrison experienced something extraordinary and left Kathmandu with what he calls “superhero vision”—an ability to see and understand the interconnectedness of time, life, and the universe.
Morrison told me, “It was a complete experience of a completely alternate reality that seemed bigger and more important and meaningful than this one. So I described it as a 5th Dimension. While in a state of consciousness, I was able to see my room as a whole, and I saw all of the history of the universe as one constantly existing thing. It was everything happening at once”.
These concepts can sometimes seem more abstract than a Zen riddle, but Morrison didn’t have to look far to make them more tangible. He found a perfect working model for most of the ideas embedded in the unassuming adventure stories of comic book superheroes. As an example, he told me that one way to understand the nature of time is to consider Superman. “His reality is 70 years old, so we can gaze in at any point in that. We can go back to the 1958 Superman, but we can lay it side by side with the 1972 Superman, we can see into his thoughts, we know what he’s thinking, we can jump along his timeline even though he’s having the experience in a linear fashion”.
At first, some people regarded Morrison as “odd”, but today, when notions such as multiple dimensions and non-linear time are becoming increasingly mainstream, many of Morrison’s ideas might as well be spoken by Morgan Freeman in the Science Channel’s Through the Wormhole.
Grant Morrison: Talking With Gods
(US DVD: 22 Nov 2010)
Armed with his new power of superhero vision, Morrison left Kathmandu and experienced all the ups and downs one might find in a typical superhero story. As he told me, “The chapters where I talk about making myself into a comic book character were all real things and came out of a kind of art installation approach to writing, but definitely I was trying to really connect with the idea of being a superhero and what that would mean. How close could I get to comic book reality”.
Throughout the second half of Supergods, one other name keeps popping up—Alan Moore, the writer of Watchmen. Since Morrison plays with superhero conventions, I asked him if it was fair to call Moore the supervillian of his story. “No, no. Alan’s my long lost twin, not a supervillain”. He laughed, but then added, “People have created this schism between us that doesn’t exist”. Morrison does write with regret about some of his youthful public comments about Moore long ago, but he stresses that there is no feud. “I’m now a big fan of his work. I just was not a big fan of Watchmen. I had a bunch of problems with the way that Watchmen is presented as the exemplar of the best that we can do. It’s certainly set an example of technical excellence, but I had some fundamental problems with the notion of Watchmen’s basic story”.
When it was first released, the young Morrison had also criticized what he calls the “extreme formalism” of Watchmen’s style, but he now says that same formalism is actually inspiring his next big project—Mulitiversity. “When I re-read [Watchmen] for Supergods, I gained a whole new appreciation for it. What I want to do with Multiversity is a modern kind of version of those [formalist] techniques. Where in Watchmen there are nine panels on a grid, based on Steve Ditko’s nine-panel grid, we take an eight-panel grid which breaks down into sixteens because the whole story is on musical octaves and so on”.
In this case, he credits Alan Moore for the inspiration: “The idea was to create, with Multiversity, an absolutely self-reflective comic book where every single little note of it was a fractal that carries the rest of it. So Watchmen kind of inspired me in a new way again”.
Indeed, if Supergods is about anything, it’s inspiration. From the inspiration of re-reading legendary comics to the inspiration of modeling his own life after superhero conventions, Morrison tackles his subjects with a religious fervor. As our society continues to evolve, Morrison sees our reality becoming increasingly like the reality of comic book superheroes. He looks at everything from tattoos to the transgender community, from personal branding in social media to genetic experiments, and he concludes that at some point in the future, we will all be the equivalent of superheroes.
Author photo from
Grant Morrison’s website
That’s certainly what it feels like to read this book. Morrison’s ability to make connections between seemingly humdrum events and grandiose ideas becomes infectious. Reading Supergods and immersing in Morrison’s ideas gives us all as much extra kick as a short-term radioactive spider bite, so that, as David Bowie might put it, “We can be heroes, just for one day”.