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Trading Up: Supergod

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What if super-heroes existed in the real world?

Okay stifle that yawn. Yes, I’m talking to you. For the record I’m well aware it’s not 1986 any longer. I also know you probably inwardly wince every time you see that particular question posited as the potential premise for a new series. And yes, the sheer mind-numbing tedium of yet another super-hero deconstructionist story arc is probably the last thing any of us ever want inflicted on ourselves again. But hang on here for just a moment, because Warren Ellis’s Supergod is less about the deconstruction of the super-hero concept and more about its extrapolation; taking their iconic status to its most cynical and yet, simultaneously, disturbingly logical end.

Supergod plays with the chilling notion of a super-powered arms race; of nations beginning a proliferation not of nuclear warheads and chemical weapons but of scientifically engineered “deities” whose abilities are, to all intents and purposes, god-like in scope. The story is told in flashback, with no real reader-identifiable protagonists to sympathise with, which only serves to emphasise the gulf between the weaponised super-humans and humanity all the more. In this respect it’s more a post-apocalyptic history lesson than a standard drama, and something of a nihilistic lecture on the pointlessness of our craving for an objective order to existence.

As the narrative progresses, and we learn of the various super-beings created by individual nations in their march to mutual destruction, Ellis’s ability to bombard the reader with a seemingly limitless barrage of near throwaway, but brilliantly mind-bending, concepts takes on an almost breathtakingly casual audacity. In the U.K. we are introduced to Morrigan Lugus, birthed from the fused remains of three British astronauts and an alien mycological presence, creating a sort of fungal super-computer. Over in India, as an answer to the country’s environmental problems, a hybrid clone and idiot savant machine sentience named Krishna is engineered with ironically devastating results and, in China we see the development of Maitreya, a creature wired to meditate microscopically upon its own atomic structure in order to trigger its own superhumanity.  As more and more nations construct, and then lose control, of their super-humans in this self-perpetuating game of preternatural one-upmanship, the beings begin to come into conflict with each other and the inevitable spiral towards Armageddon begins…

                  

Don’t come into Supergod assuming this is another book setting out to analyse the psyche of the super-hero because it’s not.  At its core this is very much a tale about our most human of failings. Supergod centres on humanity’s need to find a non-existent structure in chaos, and the violent irony inherent in mankind’s ultimate realisation that in attempting to contrive deific salvation it has brought about its ultimate destruction. The realism of the book therefore, is not in the fantastic elements of the creatures and their powers, but of the pragmatic exploitation of them by the nations involved and the brinkmanship involved in their manipulation.

Garrie Gastonny provides fitting imagery for Ellis’s parable that is disturbing in the extreme. He portrays some of the super-humans as having an unsettling majesty that is more unnerving than gracious while others are depicted as being distressingly removed, both physically and emotionally, from the humanity they are supposed to serve. When it comes to the scenes of destruction inflicted on the planet by this unique arms race Gastonny perfectly captures that impression of a clash of the titans that Ellis’s script demands, with mankind very much the insects being crushed underfoot.

Despite the gloriously provocative cover to this trade, ultimately the “super-heroes go rogue” elements are window dressing. Supergod is Ellis’s damning indictment of our need to look beyond ourselves to give our existences the façade of logic and purpose, and our somewhat pathetic and desperate desire to be liberated by something greater. Whether the individual audience member considers it atheistic sermonising or the embodiment of rationalism is largely an irrelevance; I imagine most readers will be familiar with Ellis’s oeuvre and will pick up Supergod looking to simply wallow in his delicious trademark pessimism for an hour or so. They won’t be disappointed.

Supergod is available in the U.K. via Titan Books priced £13.50 and is published by Avatar Press in the U.S. priced $17.99.

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Comments

  • Bart Croonenborghs

    Bart Croonenborghs Feb 29, 2012 at 8:21am

    This review is extremely well written, wish I could reach such lofty levels of insight and wordplay. Great job, Andy.

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Feb 29, 2012 at 4:12pm

    Thanks Bart! That's very generous of you sir.

  • Richard Boom

    Richard Boom Mar 3, 2012 at 2:52am

    interesting! Way you write reviews makes me want to buy!

  • Andy Oliver

    Andy Oliver Mar 4, 2012 at 1:19pm

    Then my job is done Rich... ;-)

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