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Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero

4.3 out of 5 stars 89 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover
  • ISBN-10: 1588369188
  • ISBN-13: 978-1588369185
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)

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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In the introduction to this book, author Larry Tye worries that he doesn't have anything new to say about Superman. After almost seventy five years of people writing Superman and writing about Superman, what can there be to add? Or, as Tye's editor says, "There are 200 books about Superman. Why do we need 201?" And the fact is, Larry Tye doesn't have anything new to say about Superman. What he has is a new way to say it.

Tye offers perspective. Because Tye is not a Superman fan. Oh, he has fond memories of the character like every other American who grew up on Super Friends and Christopher Reeve. But before starting "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero" Tye had never even heard of the TV show Smallville. No, Tye picked Superman because Tye is a biographer of American heroes, like Satchel Paige and Robert Kennedy. And when looking for a new subject, he realized that America's most enduring hero, whose influence has never waned, was a fictional character.

Starting from an almost blank slate, Tye carefully collected and correlated seventy-five years of writing, then condensed it down into a single narrative. IF you don't know much about Superman, there might be some surprises here. Tye talks about Superman's Jewish origins and influences, using sources I recognize from the outstanding Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend collection of essays.
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Format: Hardcover
Most people know the basics about Superman, most fans know at least something about his creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, and most children of the 70s and 80s know the Christopher Reeve Superman films. Larry Tye's "biography" of Superman digs a little deeper into all of this and more. The book spends the most time on Shuster and Siegel and the Reeve films, but this story has been told in many other books and places. Where Tye really succeeds is in telling the whole story of Superman and not just the 1930s creation and 1970s and 80s films. Tye explains what happened to Shuster and Siegel in later years, including their ongoing legal battles and what appear to be bribes by DC Comics (and its various predecessors and successors) to keep the two creators happy and out of the courtroom. Tye also spends significant time on the comics, which are oddly enough often forgotten when discussing Superman's exploits in favor of the George Reeves TV series and various movies. The comics, as Tye explains, went through many permutations through the years just as Superman did in other media forms. Tye did miss discussing the excellent 1988 (excellent because I was 7 at the time!) 50th anniversary Saturday morning cartoon series and a few other Superman oddities (such as the Super-pup pilot), but overall this is a comprehensive book that is easy to read for a fan and, I suspect, for those with a more passing interest.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This is a very interesting study of the history and development of Superman, both the comic and the mythos, as well as a study of the stories of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the founders of DC Comics, and the forces that turned a not-entirely-original superhero into one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. The story tracks the development the mythos from a poorly drawn initial comic with a very vague backstory up through the expansion of the Superman property into radio, film, and television, from Action Comics #1 to Smallville. A lot of peoples' stories are told, but the two most important seem to be those of Jerry Siegel and DC cofounder Jack Liebowitz, whose often-antagonistic relationship seems to play out as two talented people, a writer and a marketer, who, despite being dependent on each other, seem to have spent most of their careers talking past each other.

The media history is no less interesting though -- from the early radio and animated shorts through the George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Lois and Clark, and Smallville eras, all of it gets covered (although Lois and Clark seems to get shorted a bit compared to Smallville). And the legal issues -- many of them going back to the original rivalry between Liebowitz and Siegel -- get some pretty in-depth coverage as well. Also of interest was how factors like World War II and the CCA affected both Superman's character and the stories, and the many permutations the names and people in the mythos have taken (it was a long, long time before Clark's parents were settled as Jonathan and Martha, for example), not to mention the significant influences of Siegel and Shuster's Jewish upbringings (the author goes so far as to say that Superman has been basically Jewish since the beginning, if you know what to look for).
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Format: Paperback
While some may find the fantasy (fantastic and narrative nature) of Superman paramount, the underlying reality is that when Siegel and Shuster (young Jewish Americans) created Superman, a despot named Adolfo Hitler was supreme leader in Germany. After the seeds of modern Eastern European anti-Semitism had been planted more than 30 years before from Berlin to Moscow, Hilter began to capitalize on the bandwagon and began the pogroms that eventually lead to the Jewish Holocaust, which much of the world did not want to believe existed until Allied forces entered the work and death camps in 1945. So, when Siegel and Shuster wanted to create a hero that was beyond the reach of all human suffering, one possessing über-ness (to use the German root word), they created Kal-El.

This examination is about all aspects of how and why Superman came to be and the myriad affects that have been sewn not only into just our society, but also touching cultures around the world.

Larry Tye's research tells the complete story of Superman and how these many stories have changed lives. I cannot recall if the best part is even in this text; but it is discussed in Freakonomics by Levitt and Dunbar. The early Superman tv show and comics are directly related to the weakening of the KKK. Yes, because of a children's comic/tv show. It's hilariously awesome!
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