The rocketship flees a doomed planet, ends up on earth being raised by a nice old couple, develops powers, and becomes a hero.
That in a nutshell is the origin of Superman, told repeatedly, expanded upon, and elabourated on numerously times, with layers and details added and subtracted all the time. Sometimes, like the John Byrne Man Of Steel miniseries from the 1980’s, they cover everything in six issues. Other times, like the Smallville television series, they stretch the tale out over ten years. While I love both these versions, amoungst others, so much, a new favourite has emerged into my geek mind, one that gives new flight to Kal-El.
With It’s Superman!, Tom De Haven provides geeks a completely new take to this age old story, but still steeped in history. Weighing in at over 400 pages, we get a massively detailed, character rich tale of how Clark Kent slowly becomes Superman, all taking place in the 1930’s.
Basically, Kal-El’s rocket deposits him during the year 1917 in rural Smallville, right nearby a certain Jonathan and Martha Kent. Childless, older, and poor, they manage to take the baby in and love and raise him as their own. But differences of who and what Clark is quickly becomes apparent. When the first chapter opens of this grand play, a teenaged Clark Kent is being interrogated by the police over the accidental death of a ruthless mobster. Trying to cover up how the accidental use of his powers killed this criminal, he manages to get out of trouble. This entire episode further isolates Clark from the rest of humanity, and even from his loving parents abit. He wants to, yearns to, be one of us, and any little way he can achieve this is mentally clung to by this desperate lonely young man.
As the novel progresses, we drop in on hotshot intelligent and feisty journalism student Lois Lane. She ploughs into what she wants, and stands her ground way beyond her years and gender, even if she is a teensy bit scared. Remember, this is 1935, and Lois trailblazes like nobodies business.
Another mainstay of the mythos we look in on is Lex Luther. This brilliant manipulate young man goes out of his way to prove he is not his fathers son. He will be a success, be powerful, and will never ever be afraid. To say Lex has issues is an understatement, but these are firmly under control, thank you very much. At least according to him. Arguing the point is not healthy.
By happenstance and with the help of extra characters created solely for It’s Superman!, Clark finally ventures out of the backwater of Smallville and enters the wide world. He leaves behind the Kent farm and the start of a journalism career in order to test his abilities and learn his place in society. Various good deeds are performed and not performed, all while Clark develops a sense of right and wrong, and battles an internal inferiority complex.
These three main threads, along with multiple minor parts, weave and combine into a narrative taking place over quite a few years and encompassing the width of the United States. When all the principal players in this drama converge in New York City, ably substituting for the fictitious Metropolis, you can feel the story kicking into high gear. Evil plans that were formed are about to be enacted, Clark is getting used to be being Super, and Lois matures even more into a seasoned reporter. Literally a million things happen in the last few chapters, all leading to a powerful coda that will get geeks and non geeks hearts thumping.
All through the story you wonder as to when Clark will transform in his soul into being Superman. It is the primary thrust of everything It’s Superman! encapsulates. And it does this amazingly. Thoughts, feelings, doubts, and societal expectations are all reflected in young Clark’s mentality, somewhat pulling him down from his destiny. We get to see his sorting, and resolving, so many of these issues, eventually leading to his entry into the costumed world of adventuring. It is a journey we love seeing, yet again, and in this totally new way. We always love this story. And as a fan…
You Will Believe Clark Can Fly.
…is currently reading Wordstruck by Robert MacNeil.
P.S. This post is one of several I hope to do this year to celebrate the 75th Birthday of Superman. Happy Birthday Kal-El! Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
P.P.S. Superman Man Of Steel opens Friday, June 14th 2013. For an indepth look at the creation of this landmark movie, check out Jeffrey Taylor’s columns.