Thursday, July 9, 2009

Super-Powered Prose: It's Superman by Tom DeHaven

It’s Superman can best be described as a strange duck. Written by acclaimed novelist Tom DeHaven, it explores the days leading up to Superman’s first appearance in Action Comics #1. It becomes quite odd as we meet a slightly befuddled hick in Clark Kent, who isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. We meet Lois Lane, a modern woman with quite the liberal view of sexuality (at least for the thirties). We have Lex Luthor, a New York City (Metropolis) alderman from a shady past with equally shady plans for the future.

We also meet Willi Berg, a new character that ties everyone together. A former beau of Lois and a freelance photographer, he stumbles upon the alderman’s criminal activities. Framed for the murder he witnessed, he flees the city to Smallville, meets a young boy with amazing powers and starts the ball rolling towards the first appearance of Superman.

DeHaven throws out a lot of the established back story of Superman to instead focus on his vision of Depression-era America. We travel from Smallville to Hollywood to Metropolis before the story comes to its end only moments before the first panel of Superman’s first comic appearance. In the process we meet a slew of original characters like Skinny Simon, Dick Sandglass, Ben Jaeger, and Ceil Stickowski add depth to the reality of the early-era Superman’s world.

Unlike the previous reviewed Enemies & Allies, DeHaven devotes an intense amount of effort to get the feel of his chosen time period right. His characters move through their surroundings and develop in to vastly different figures as our story progresses. The plot is weak in places, but when it fails, it always fails to focus more on the strange bunch of figures DeHaven gives us. Luthor’s plot involves his creation of killer robots, but the denouement is anti-climatic at best. It really doesn’t hurt the book though, as by the time you reach the finish you realize the book has much less to do with the potential conflict between Superman and Luthor as it does their similarities. It creates an interesting framework that really accentuates the themes that run through the tale.

If you are looking for a modern tale of Superman, you could do far worse than It’s Superman. The book holds its own even as Kevin J. Anderson’s Super-books fall flat on their face. DeHaven’s tale gets a solid Recommendation.

1 comment:

Matthew K. said...

I had the pleasure of hearing a talk by DeHaven when this book was released. It was evident he had a genuine love of comics and superheroes. BTW- he teaches at nearby Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.