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| 29.6.02
Superman: The Complete History, by Les Daniels

This book caught my eye when I was browsing in Barnes and Noble last week, and I ended up spending the entire evening there reading it from cover to cover. Not only is Daniels exhaustive in bringing us the twists and turns in Superman's evolution since he was first published by Jerry Siegel (writer) and Joe Shuster (cartoonist) in June of 1938, but he also compellingly explains why Superman has remained a popular character for over 60 years.

The real reason I picked up this book, however, is because I've been thoroughly obsessed with the new Superman television show called Smallville that came out on the WB network this year. While Superman: The Complete History is ironically incomplete in this regard (being written in 1998 it ends its chronology with the end of the ABC series Lois & Clark) it still brought to light many synergies between the lives of Superman's creators, the early comic books, and the latest incarnation.

Here are a few of the choicest bits:

Siegel and Shuster grew up in an Ohio town called Glenville. Superman grew up in Smallville.

Both Siegel and Shuster were quiet, nerdy, Clark Kent-like characters.

Joe Shuster drew cartoons for his school newspaper, the Glenville Torch. On Smallville, Chloe is the editor of the Smallville Torch. In a first-season episode she even dates a nerdy guy with super powers who draws cartoons for the paper.

Joe Shuster's hometown was Toronto, and was his inspiration for the city of Metropolis (the name Metropolis, of course, is a tribute to the 1927 silent film classic directed by Fritz Lang.)

Toronto's newspaper was called The Daily Star, and this was an early candidate for the name of the paper where Clark Kent was to work, before an editorial decision changed it to The Daily Planet.

Although Siegel and Shuster sold the first Superman cartoon (including all rights and ownership of the character) for the paltry sum of $130 in 1938, they had been developing the concept (and changing it) for years. One of the first prototypes they had was a character called "The Superman," who was an evil bald scientific genius with vast mental powers. Lex Luther, anyone?

Lex Luther was first introduced in 1940. The original Lex had curly red hair. It was a nice touch in the Smallville pilot episode that young Lex had the same curly red hair, before losing it in the meteor shower that brought Clark to Earth.

It was not until the first Superman radio show aired in 1945 that flying was established as a super-power. On Smallville, Clark Kent has not yet learned to fly.

In the original cartoon the symbol on Superman's chest doesn't look the way it does now --it was a less triangular shield with a more standard looking "S" on it. I caught a glimpse of a very similar emblem on Whitney's (Lana Lang's boyfriend) high school letter jacket in the pilot episode of Smallville. For some reason the emblem on his jacket is just an ordinary "S" in all subsequent episodes.

The actress Annette O'Toole plays Clark's mom on Smallville. In the movie Superman III, she plays Lana Lang!

Why has Superman remained such a phenomenon for so long? Les Daniels explains it in terms of our insatiable appetite for heroes. Superman is similar to the gods and heroes of ancient Greek mythology. Yet while Superman is physically and morally better than us, he chooses to live his life as the humble Clark Kent. This affirms the ordinary individual, causing us to identify with him rather than resent his superior powers. The Superman incarnated in the humble, bumbling human also taps into the imagery of the Christian story.

Great book, and a great show!

PUBLISHER: Chronicle Books; ISBN: 0811821625; (1998)

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