Monday, March 6, 2023

It’s Superman by Tom De Haven

I never thought I would rate a licensed Superman novel as high as this one, it’s right up there with Kavalier & Clay for me. It’s Superman by Tom De Haven was published in 2006 and it never registered on my radar until a few years ago, when Howard Chaykin (on his Facebook) recommended this - more than once!

If you’re a Superman fan and are okay with a revisionist take, this novel is for you. We’ve seen Superman as a young man in the Smallville TV show as well as in DC’s Superboy comics, where he was a teenager in the 1940s or 1950s. This novel places his teenage/early adulthood years in the late 1920s / 1930s, which lines up perfectly with the debut of Action Comics 1 in 1938. This is quite a mature and well researched novel; the author knows a tremendous amount of that era, from how people went to the movies on Saturdays to what they listened to on the radio. (I didn’t know, for example, that Les Paul sang under the name Rhubarb Red.) I laughed during one chapter where an inept kidnapper is frustrated finding a phone booth that works in these small towns. Clark Kent is the protagonist, a loving son and wannabe reporter, a country bumpkin once he leaves Smallville. During Clark’s early years we see Lex Luthor & Lois Lane, in New York City, where they bump into famous historical figures such as Mayor La Guardia. Lex has his own story arc, from small time criminal to becoming an NYC Alderman and an even bigger criminal mastermind. Willi Berg, a photographer who gets himself into more trouble than he can handle, is the first of Lois Lane’s boyfriends that we meet; if you’re into a saintly version of Lois, this will probably offend you, but it is a portrait of a very determined reporter. The Depression is plainly evident after Clark leaves Smallville and travels to other states, including Texas & California. There’s a slow burn before Clark flies or puts on a costume; the story is more about the Odyssey he goes on, but it still forges the same New Deal American hero that Siegel and Shuster created. 

Scott Brick does a superb job on the audiobook, telling this story with different accents. I thought this is one of the very best novels I’ve listened to. 

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