Book Review: IT'S SUPERMAN!
I have two hard and fast rules about fiction, both of which I’ve broken in the past year:
First, I don’t read novelizations based on movie scripts. Well, I read the Serenity novelization last winter. So sue me.
Second, I don’t read novels based on comic book heroes. Well, I just finished It’s Superman!, a novel by Tom De Haven. Whew.
The cover illustration on the It’s Superman! trade paperback caught my eye first; it’s an animation cel from the Max Fleischer Superman cartoon series of 65 years ago. Hmm, I thought, this looks intriguing. So I read the first two pages. Then I read three pages more. Then I took the damn thing to the counter, plunked down fourteen bucks, and took it home.
I don’t know anything more about Tom De Haven than the five-line “About the Author” bio on the last page of this book: he’s written eight novels and writes for Entertainment Weekly and the New York Times. What I do know is that It’s Superman! is a 417-page romp that I didn’t want to end. As I reached its last pages, I began yearning for a sequel.
De Haven’s Superman is the Siegel and Shuster Superman, stripped down to his bare bones. This interpretation owes a lot to Philip Wylie’s pulp sci-fi classic Gladiator, long credited as the Superman template. De Haven presents Supe’s origin story, and I know what you’re thinking — jeezus, another version of the origin? Well, yeah, but this is a dynamite one. It’s set during the Depression, and teenaged
It’s Superman! is terrific. De Haven has tossed a dash of Steinbeck and a smidge of Hammett together with a touch of Wylie to create a Superman story that is a wonderful blend of Of Mice and Men, gangster noir, and retro sci-fi. It’s a revisionist masterpiece, full of surprises. This may not be your Superman, but it’s sure your granddaddy’s. And there’s nothing wrong with that.