Thursday, 12 January 2012

Books: Supergod


Written by Warren Ellis
Art by Garrie Gastonny

Available now from Islington Libraries
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Stanisław Lem was a Polish science-fiction writer who thought that contact with alien lifeforms would be nothing like it appears on Star Trek: all easy and sanitized: and everyone looking like an actor in make-up. As a quote from his most famous book Solaris [1] has it: "Any attempt to understand the motivation of these occurrences is blocked by our own anthropomorphism. Where there are no men, there cannot be motives accessible to men." Or: (let me put it another way if that's too much for you) if something's not human - it won't think like us: and it's pure vanity (or - hell: hubris is a good word) to assume otherwises. Got it? [2]

If you take that idea and apply it not to outer-space aliens but rather to the wonderful world of supermen and costumed heroes then: you get Supergod (no relation to Grant Morrison's Supergods). A comic by the marvellous Warren Ellis [3] that attempts to give the reader a flavor of what Stanisław Lem would have done if he ever managed to get his hands on Superman. Or if that's a bit too vague for you - then let me put it this way (this could be the tag-line for the front cover): what if all the powerful nations on the planet had their own Dr Manhattan? And what would happen if those Dr Manhattans went to war?

I don't know if this is official - but as far as it works for me: Supergod kinda acts as the third part in Warren Ellis' unofficial "screwed-up superheroes" trilogy (The other two parts being Black Summer and No Hero - both of which are top banana and you should get hold of now): a close up look at the dirty and unremarked underpinnings of comic's favourite genre handled with a particularly mature sensibility  (well - as mature as you can get with this kind of stuff: which mainly means lots of horrific gore and violence - but all done to make somekind of bigger point [4] - promise).

A few of the other people I've spoken to who've read it have made complaints that as the whole thing is narrated it "doesn't really feel like a proper story" to which I can only respond - what the hell is wrong with you? One man talking through the destruction of the world and pointing out all the places it went wrong is basically my text-book definition of a good time (yeah - ok - I'm messed up in the head - so what?): and the way everything is presented just gives it this wonderful eulogic [5] quality that (basically) I really, really liked.  

Comparing Supergod to the other two books (which you don't have to have read in - the only link between them all being their semi-deconstructionist (if that's the right word?) take on the superhero theme as opposed to characters or stories or anything particular like that) I've gotta say that I really missed the Juan Jose Ryp's artwork (he's the one who did the artwork for Black Summer and No Hero) which had just the right crunch and snap needed for this kind of massive doom-laden apocalyptic mini-epic (or if not him - then Chris Weston - although hell: if I had my way - Chris Weston would just be the artist for everything ever). Because in comparison (or just taken by itself) the Garrie Gastonny's artwork (sorry dude) was a bit of let-down for me here. I mean - it's functional and you can tell what's going on etc etc. But with a greater amount of detail and meticulous attention to all of the little fiddly bits that you really need to help sell the atmosphere for something like this - this could have been one of the most awesome things ever [6]. As it stands - it's still worth reading - but it's kinda tinged with a disappointing feeling of "what if?" Still - worth trying out: if only because (at least for me) you can never get too much superhero flavored horror: and this is up there with the best of them.

[1] Altho - the reason most people have heard of it is the 1972 Andrey Tarkovskiy film adaptation (mostly beloved by people who want to sound clever "Science-fiction? Oh no - I don't really have time for all that mainstream stuff - but have you seen  Tarkovskiy's Solaris?"). I mean - it's not like it's an awful film but it is super-pretentious (I particularly liked the close-up shot of someone's ear with the cod-philosophy going on over the top) and not as good (sorry) as the 2002 remake by Steven Soderbergh starring George Clooney (and why more people haven't heard of that version is a mystery to me - come on people! It even has Jeremy Davies in it for godsakes! (better known as Dr. Daniel Faraday from Lost (who I don't mind admitting that I have a serious man-crush on: I think it's the way he moves his hands...)).

[2] Or - in other words (words?): "no description available."

[3] You can tell it's him - because he does the same of stuff he does in Planetary where he takes stuff like the Fantastic Four (and god - Warren Ellis really loves the concept of the Fantastic Four huh?) and the Six Billion Man (see also: Global Frequency) and warps them into horrific new shapes. Like a guy making animal shapes with balloons - only instead of balloons it's ideas and instead of animal shapes - it's stuff that's going to give you nightmares. So maybe not someone to book for children's parties.

[4] The bigger point? Well - (the title kinda gives it away) try mashing together religion and superheroes and you get lines like this: "The whole of religious history is about us trying to build amazing creatures that will save the world. A superhuman, by definition, does not think like us. And certainly does not act like us."

[5] That's a word right? You know - like a eulogy.

[6] There's a bit towards the end which features a cameo from a pretty well-known horror beastie that could have been mind-blowing stunning and crazy and instead is only notable for what it depicts rather than how it depicted it (which makes it feel like a waste: I mean - it's comic: I want my cool images please and etc).


Further reading: No Hero, Black Summer, Irredeemable, BlackgasMinistry of Space, Watchmen, Supreme Power, Akira, Planetary, The Boys, CradlegraveThe OneGlobal Frequency, Crossed.

Profiles: Warren Ellis.

All comments welcome. 

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