Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon collects the fictional history of the Man of Steel in comic books, radio, TV, theater, music and movies. Mr. Weldon is a contributor to NPR’s podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour.
A short disclaimer: I stopped reading the comics several years ago. I simply couldn’t keep up with the complicated storylines which ran across multitudes of titles.
One storyline I could still keep track of, but once every Superman title (they were five at the time) started their own, that was it for me.
I do, however, get the graphic novels (which collect the storyline from all the titles in one volume) and enjoy them very much.
I have been a Superman fan for many years, I was hooked when I was eight years old and my mom took me to see Superman: The Motion Picture in the big city – that was it! Ever since I have tried to read as much as I can about the Man of Steel. So when I saw Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon, I knew I had to read it.
The book is well researched with some excellent observations. Mr. Weldon traces the origins of Superman, both in the publication world and the mythology created around him. He identifies the two elements that are consistent with all the incarnations of Superman (Bryan Singer’s movie Superman Returns broke them and it’s one of the reasons it didn’t work) as well as his evolution both physically and emotionally.
The author celebrates the silliness which is a man-in-tights flying around, but at the same time is humbled by the ideals Superman represents. Not just “truth, justice and the American way,” but the way Superman, over the last 75 years, embodied what’s good about society, paved a way to solve our dilemmas and became a symbol we aspire to be.
The book does not include any pictures; I can only assume that this is because of the unauthorized nature of the publication. Mr. Weldon does an awesome job describing the artwork, but I still had to put the book down and try to find the images he is talking about. It would have been much more enjoyable if I had the pictures on the next page or somewhere in the book, but with the Internet at our fingertips, I would say it’s not much of a big deal.
While the narrative sometimes gets a bit bogged down I thought it was a fascinating glimpse into an icon which came to represent America and inspired millions. Mr. Weldon’s lively commentary and irreverent remarks make the book fun to read and remind us that after-all, the absurd is what makes superheroes wonderful.
Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye
Absolute Kingdom Come by Mark Waid and Alex Ross
The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller