ACROSS from my mum’s house in Coatbridge, on the crest of the Blair Road, an archway of superheroes scrapes the sky (well, nearly). Wrought in the kind of iron railing my grandfather Kane used to hammer out in his Monklands blacksmiths, and surmounting the entrance to the old commercial canal, Captain Coatbridge raises her arms in flight, flanked by two other female exceptionals.

Underneath there are a few granite blocks, rooted there for the ages, and carved with what look like comic strip action words. These turn out to be, delightfully, “Dunt!”, “Scud!” and “Skelp!”

Readers with good memories of the Scottish press will recall that this quirky monument was erected by comic writer Mark Millar. Coatbridge born and bred – indeed, he used to try to catch frogs in said canal – Millar is now a nine-figure multi-millionaire, having sold his comics empire Millarworld to Netflix a few months ago.

Their first co-production, a comic (and eventually a movie and TV series) called The Magic Order, was announced this week.

Millar’s ascent started with the way he wrung startling changes on stock American superheroes like Superman, The Fantastic Four and the X-Men. But it’s his evident ability to create new characters and franchises – like Wanted, Kick-Ass, Kingsman – that has attracted the mega-dollars, as US content companies struggle for supremacy.

All power to Millar. If you ever wanted proof it’s intangibles (as much as tangibles) that drive economic success in Scotland – literally, in Millar’s case, the dreams and stories springing from his own head – then it’s right here. But it’s also a chance to reflect a little on the phenomenon in which Millar’s enterprise makes sense – that is, the seemingly endless pantheon of superheroes marauding and crashing across our various screens.

So far in 2017, superhero movies like Spiderman, Logan, Wonder Woman and Guardians of the Galaxy have grossed more than $3 billion, with the returns yet to come from Justice League, Thor or Power Rangers. The global demand is extraordinary.

Yet for a deeper explanation, we can turn to an old Scottish colleague of Millar’s, the inarguably brilliant comics writer Grant Morrison. A bona fide visionary in his own right, building his own mythical universe title by title, Morrison attempted to account for the current craze in his 2011 tome, Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero.

Morrison suggests that our appetite for caped crusaders comes from our deepening cynicism and despair about the public realm. Could it be, he asks, that “a culture starved of optimistic images of its own future has turned to the primary source, in search of utopian role models?”

He continues: “Could the superhero in his cape and skin-tight suit be the best current representation of something we all might become?” That is, a form of being in which “our best qualities are strong enough to overcome the destructive impulses that seek to undo the human project?”

There’s no footering about with Grant Morrison. He begins Supergods by recounting his activist parents’ opposition to the nuclear weapons in 1960s’ and 1970s’ Scotland. In young Grant’s mind, “the superheroes laughed at the Atom Bomb. Superman could walk on the surface of the sun and barely register a tan”. Superman was also the invention of two New York Jews, Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, in 1933 – an omnipotent and justice-dealing figure, at a time of gathering darkness for the Jewish diaspora.

We live, again, in a “comic book reality”, as Morrison puts it – “traumatised by war footage and disaster clips, spied upon by ubiquitous surveillance cams, threatened by exotic villains who plot from their caverns and subterranean lairs, preyed upon by dark and monumental Gods of Fear”. So it’s perhaps no surprise that superhero universes currently whirl around our heads.

Like Morrison, to whom he was an early apprentice, Millar similarly exults in the saving powers of superheroes. Yet Millar also likes to smear their feet with the clay of human weakness and desire, and even economic and social exclusion.

Wanted depicts an office-working drone who discovers he’s the son of an assassin in a secret justice order. Kick-Ass’s key characters are shabby teen comics fans who strive (and manage) to become costumed crime fighters. The Kingsman is a “ned” or “chav” – pick your snooty soubriquet – who has been identified by a James-Bond-like secret service as officer material (it’s like My Fair Lady with bloodbath scenes).

This theme – where ordinary social factors become the measure of anyone’s superpower – continues with other titles in the Millarverse. One comic imagines that Superman’s meteorite lands not in the US midwest, but in Soviet Russia – and so the “Red Son” defends Marxist-Leninism against 1950s’ America. American Jesus (or Chosen) has the Messiah resurrected as a screwy, adolescent 12-year-old, entertaining pals with his water-to-wine tricks.

Millar’s Huck is like Forrest Gump with superpowers – his special needs, and his extraordinary abilities, both protected by his watchful local community. Superior gives a boy with multiple sclerosis a shot at super-heroics – but the deal is Faustian, involving souls and devils (Millar is still an active Catholic).

Even the new, post-Netflix deal title announced earlier this week maintains Millar’s preferred theme – the link between the quotidian and the super-powered. The graphic for The Magic Order shows four quirky New Yorkers hovering in space above Midtown, like the eternal wizards they are – except they’re holding down tedious jobs like everyone else, while they protect humanity from cosmic evil.

Millar obviously honours the founding traditions of superhero comics, such as the mild-mannered, stammering Clark Kent, and the squirting awkwardness of science whiz Peter Parker. But he’s also self-consciously working in the tradition of those great subverters of superhero status – Frank Miller’s rendition of Batman as The Dark Knight, and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. As well as the Brit-com lineage that comes from 2000AD, where grumpy Scotsmen imagined dark satirical dystopias like Judge Dredd’s Mega-City One.

That’s my era of comics too. And since my youth, it’s been fascinating to see how comics have moved to the centre of our modern imaginarium.

One reason, suggests Morrison, is that it doesn’t take much material resource to dream up a comic. The sheer inventiveness of a visual artist like Jack Kirby, Kevin O’Neill or Brian Bolland could be realised with pen and ink, colouring and words, week in and week out. No need, like movie moguls, to juggle starpower, finance capital or massive tech.

And comics readers were also empowered, in comparison to other consumers. With a comic, background details could be lovingly lingered over; action sequences could be read and re-read, requiring no more tech than paper and fingers.

The worlds conjured up in comics anticipated both the intense way we explore our game worlds, and the power we now have over TV and movies. We can stop, start, curate, rewatch, or socially share our digital content. But much of that power was already in the hands of comics readers. As Morrison puts it, you could “roll up your gods and stick them in your back pocket, like a superstring dimension”.

Every content provider nowadays wants a lively social culture to arise up around their offering. Comics have always had that: the sprawling fan conventions, the comic shops hanging on doggedly in every half-decent sized town. And as Morrison and Millar both prove, this culture also inspires creativity – the desire to draw and write comics, as much as collecting or merely enjoying them.

Do we nurture our comics talent in Scotland? Well, Millar’s artist collaborator Frank Quitely was recently celebrated in the Kelvingrove Gallery. And Millar himself – never shy about intervening in Scottish national debates – has often thought of running Creative Scotland as “his dream job”. But Heriot-Watt University’s course in comic story-writing bit the dust a few years ago, so the route to respectability doesn’t look like it’ll go through the academy (computer games fare better there).

Maybe that’s as it should be. Morrison hymns how comic strips are still one of the easiest ways “the idea in your head” can be realised. Any bedroom in any town can become a phantasmagoria for the comic writer. Let’s see who dunts, scuds or skelps their way out next.

Supergods: Our World in the Age of the Superhero, by Grant Morrison, is on Jonathan Cape. For more on Mark Millar, go to Kingsman: The Golden Circle is in cinemas now.