June 6, 2020

Review- Superman: the Unauthorized Biography

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This year marks the 75th anniversary of the birth of the first superhero, way back in Action Comics #1. And although the Man of Steel started the modern  genre of super-powered crime fighters in tights, much of his legend has evolved, as each generation claims Supes as their own.

And this week’s review has lots to reveal about the Last Son of Krypton. Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by NPR’s Glen Weldon is a fascinating look at all things Superman, from his very first appearance to this summers’ past blockbuster Man of SteelIf you think you know your Superman lore, this book may just prove otherwise. This bio delves extensively into all things Superman, including comics, movies, radio shows and much more.

Its amazing that the character has endured generation after generation. In fact, DC Comics has pretty much managed to remake and revitalize the character every 15 years, rebooting the franchise anew.

The author also takes a look at what Superman has meant to each generation. The study is no less than a parallel study of the history of America in the mid- to late 20th Century and how we perceive ourselves. Superman has evolved from a 1930’s “strongman in tights” to a modern day stand-in for a sci-fi Messiah.   Did you know? The early Superman didn’t even fly- that wouldn’t come along until the 1940’s radio show. Kryptonite, the bottle city of Kandor, the Fortress of Solitude, these would all be added to later iterations of the character.

The book also examines Supes extensive connections and influences on the rest of comic book-dom, from DC to Marvel and beyond. Heck, the book gets major kudos from us by evoking the Legion of Superheroes. “Long Live the Legion!” Seminal arguments heard whispered at Comic-Cons, such as Superman versus a magic powered Captain Marvel (remember, magic is Supes “other” weakness) are also explored.

The book is also a fascinating behind the scenes look at the “superhero business” as well. The author traces the cultural upheaval of the 60’s and 70’s, as well as the role of “camp” and how it impacted Superman. Also looked at is the 1950’s fear that comics were “corrupting youth” and the rise (and fall, in the past decade) of the Comics Code Authority. We found in fun to have a Google image search close at hand, so we could check out those old Golden and Silver Age comic covers as we read the book. And yes, he actually sported a mullet (!) briefly in the grunge-soaked 90’s!

Why has Superman endured countless makeovers for the past three quarters of a century? What lies in the future for the Man of Steel? Will he ever get his red pants back? The author distills the essence of the Man of Steel down to its central thesis: He helps other in need, and he never gives up. This is the true success of Superman, and the point that some iterations of the canon failed to heed.

Superman: The Unauthorized Biography was a great read, and one of the most interesting books we’ve come across in 2013!



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