"The Super Hero's Journey" is a gorgeous graphic celebration of Marvel Comics

The Super Hero's Journey is a new graphic biography/memoir of sorts, written and illustrated by Patrick McDonnell. Though he's perhaps best known as the creator of the popular comic strip Mutts, McDonnell has also taken a slightly more introspective turn in recent years, such as his graphic novel about environmentalism inspired by his conversations with the Dalai Lama.

That's precisely where The Super Hero's Journey comes in. Here's the official blurb:

Imbued with the creativity, artwork, and heart of Patrick McDonnell, this all-new graphic novel love letter features the classic Marvel super heroes including the Fantastic Four, the Incredible Hulk, Captain America, Black Panther, and Spider-Man, and is the synthesis of McDonnell's positive, inspirational sensibility and Marvel's blockbuster brand. Using the Marvel Universe as avatars, McDonnell muses on how comics changed his life and inspired him to become a cartoonist, instilling a moral sensibility that he carries through his work and his life.

Visually striking, The Super Hero's Journey incorporates panels from classic Marvel comics as a tribute by McDonnell to his heroes—Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and the other creators of the Marvel Universe—alongside inspirational quotes from Eckhart Tolle, Thoreau, and others, presenting an adventure unlike any you have ever read.

On the surface, the book is ostensibly a telling of the early days of Marvel Comics — not quite in the same way as I Am Stan, though the two might pair well together. What makes The Super Hero's Journey stand out is the way McDonnell marries the biographical elements of Lee, Kirby, and Ditko with his own autobiographical explorations of how their myth-making impacted on his life, as well as how those foundational superheroes resonated within the larger literary canon (hence the Joseph Campbell of it all). McDonnell weaves these elements together through fantastical comic book storytelling, bringing metafictional Marvel characters into the action of their origins and impacts.

Another way to put it is, it's a really neat way to write a love letter. When I asked McDonnell about the book, here's what he had to say for himself:

"The miracle is not to fly in the air, or to walk on the water, but to walk on the earth." The Super Hero's Journey is my graphic novel love letter to the classic Marvel comics, their marvelous creators, and the cosmic joy I found in their work. It combines my art with the original panels and pages of Lee, Ditko and Kirby to tell a new story in a new way.  The story centers on how these iconic heroes provide us with inspiration to discover the super being inside us all.

As a longtime superhero fan, who's learned a lot from comics that I've carried with me into other aspects of my life — this gets me in just the right spot. It has all the feeling of an old school indie comic book memoir, while incorporating the very characters that it's responding to. Here's a look between the covers, if you're interested:

The Super Hero's Journey is out September 26 from Abrams ComicArts.