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Book Review: Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye

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Elemental power – a simple grandeur of conception – that sticks in the soul and finds its way to the corner of one’s smile.

Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye is the story of the history behind the world’s most beloved and enduring hero. Initially created as a villain in 1933, Superman was later revised as a hero by Jerry Siegel and drawn to resemble movie star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. by Joe Shuster (Clark Kent was molded after Harold Lloyd).

I have always liked Superman. I still remember when my mom took me, an eight-year-old, to the big city to see Superman: The Motion Picture starring Christopher Reeve. It was a big outing, not only the city… but a movie!!!!

I read everything I could about the movie beforehand, kept every article, studied every picture, and learned the bios of the stars and crew. Heck, I knew what the movie was about before I even entered the theatre.

But you know what? For those two magical hours I truly believed a man could fly. And Christopher Reeve will always be “my” Superman.

Since then, Superman has always held a magical hold over me. I have a huge Superman collection, which I love and my wife abhors. Lately the collection had to suffer due to kids, rent, food, etc. but at least it’s easy to buy me presents. My son, who at the age of three and despite a constant brainwashing from his old man, decided to follow Batman (probably just for spite), has an ongoing battle with me about who is the “greatest superhero.”

I’d like to think I’m winning, but really, is there such a thing as winning an argument with a five-year-old?

I got this book from the local library. When I took my kids there a few weeks ago my son spotted it on the “New Books” shelf, grabbed and proudly presented it to me. You know I had to check it out.

This is Superman – the granddaddy of all superheroes, the one who started it all, the icon who is held to a higher standard in fiction and has set the standards for many of us in the nonfiction world. It’s no wonder that the franchise is almost 80 years strong and growing stronger.

The research in the book is excellent and the book itself is fascinating. Mr. Tye goes through the early developmental stages of Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, through the character’s success and their mismanagement of their careers, the shysters, the businessmen, and the fanboys who grew up to reclaim their hero and his “parents.” The tale continues through the years, telling of important story arcs and individuals who shaped the mythology: writers, artists, actors, and publishers.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster by Neil Adams

Along the way the author slowly reaches the conclusion that Superman is not just an American hero, but a hero to children around the world and an icon to look up to. Especially poignant to me was the time after the death of Superman where, in the comics, heroes rose and ordinary people wore the famous emblem trying to live up to ideal of Superman himself.

The book is a well-researched document about a beloved character and the people who made him so. The narrative is full of wonderful anecdotes about the comics (including why many characters have a double-L in their names), the famous copyright trials, the movies and TV shows (including Smallville), and is chock-full of interviews with a cast of characters who deeply care about this mythological titan.

Related Reads:
The Amaz­ing Adven­tures of Kava­lier & Clay by Michael Chabon
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller
King­dom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross

Buy this book in paper or electronic (Kindle) format.

 

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