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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography Hardcover – April 1, 2013

ISBN-13: 978-1118341841 ISBN-10: 1118341848 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118341848
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118341841
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1.1 x 10.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (58 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #86,626 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


""Weldon's years as a lifelong Superman fan give him superb insight into the character's central truths.... A reliable, witty, and informative guide."" —NPR Books

""Breezily written and compulsively readable."" —A/V Club

""An excellent portrait of the Man of Steel, managing to be fan-crazed and critical at the same time."" —Publishers Weekly

""[Gathers] the sprawling, complex, and occasionally contradictory history of Superman into a rich and deeply textured story."" —New York Journal of Books

From the Inside Flap

You likely have an indelible image of Superman etched in your brain. But from the moment of his birth (as the offspring of two teenage proto-nerds) in 1938, the Man of Steel has proven far more changeable than anyone expected. While he hasn't aged a day, his appearance, powers, vulnerabilities, and persona have evolved in numerous ways.

In Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, NPR's resident comic book expert, Glen Weldon, tells the life story of the world's first, and still the most popular, superhero, from his creation to the present. He reveals how this cultural icon has been continuously transformed, not just by time but by his travels through a variety of media, including comic books, radio, television, movies, and graphic novels.

The original Superman, a tough-talking, two-fisted bruiser, was quick with a smirk and a sarcastic quip. He was impatient and prone to violence—our hotheaded, protective big brother. Yet that early Superman was a social reformer with a decidedly anti-militaristic streak. Only a few years later, he would become a super-patriot, championing the war effort in comic books and on the radio.

Most baby boomers met "The Big Blue Boy Scout" for the first time not through comics or radio, but as played on television by actor George Reeves. Reeves' Superman was more fatherly than his comic book counterpart, a quality that promptly leached into the comics as well. Weldon documents how Superman's persona shifted again in the 1960s and early 1970s as his middle-aged writers started chasing the nation's emergent "youth culture," unintentionally turning him into our bemused, out-of-touch uncle. Then Christopher Reeve came along to make him a more dashing, good-humored, and sometimes passionate hero.

No biography of Superman would be complete without a thorough treatment of Clark Kent, along with his coworkers Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen and their boss, Perry White. Weldon tracks their first appearances and development throughout the series and also pays special attention to Superman's archenemy, Lex Luthor.

Complete with thorough accounts of the Man of Steel's more recent films and television shows as well as comics, graphic novels, and a Broadway musical, Superman: The Unauthorized Biography is the ultimate resource for anyone, young, old, or in between, who wants to know everything about everyone's favorite superhero.

Customer Reviews

Extremely witty and informative !!!!!
Joseph F. Dowling
I really like this book very much and believe any Superman fan will enjoy reading it.
superman fan
At this point instead of skimming the book I simply read it cover to cover.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By DM on April 4, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Like many readers, I was first introduced to Weldon's particular brand of snark through the "Pop Culture Happy Hour" podcast. While I'm not a Superman expert, I'm certainly a fan, and excited to read Weldon's take on this icon of Americana.

He doesn't disappoint. Weldon takes us through the evolution of the Man of Steel from villain (in an early imagining) through his many, many incarnations with wit, insight, enough detail to satisfy the fanboys, and enough perspective to satisfy the rest of us.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I try very hard to not be the person who says "normally, I don't like this thing, but I like your version of this thing." I mean, if I don't like that thing, why am I reading/watching it? And if I do like your version, what have you done that is so different (wrong? terrible? missing the point?) that I like your version? It's meant to be a compliment, of course, but it doesn't necessarily come across as such.

Yet I feel I need to say something very close to that statement when discussing Glen Weldon's history of Superman. Because the thing Mr. Weldon has done is make me care about Superman. He has translated, explained, and represented Superman to a life-long comics fan who has just never cared for the big guy before.

In short, I have never cared one way or the other about Superman. And what Glen Weldon has done in this book -- that is different from other people talking about Superman -- is describe Superman's history so lovingly, so thoroughly, with such humor and passion and joy, that I have come to appreciate Superman.

Superman: An Unauthorized Biography is not a history of the making of Superman properties, though it touches on that. Nor is it a history of the Superman canon, though that canon is a large part of the book. What Weldon has written is exactly what it says on the tin -- a biography of a fictional character, delving first into the canon, then looking at creators, back and forth. We learn not only what Superman was, what he was doing, during decades past, we learn why he was those things and what the people creating him meant.

This book is sociology, history, and biography. Moreover, it has that quality that makes all the good histories great. Weldon loves this subject, that much is clear.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Parker on May 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I come to Superman as mostly a casual fan. I love the Donner films and the Bruce Timm animated series from the 90s, but my direct knowledge stops there. That did not stop me from poring over every detail in this book.

Most importantly, S:TUB tells a very compelling story, one which any level of fan can approach and adore. I recommend it to any fans of comics, superheroes, storytelling, serial fiction, icons, myths, whimsy, absurdism, American art, or popular culture.

At 75, Superman is a cultural icon, and his appeal extends far beyond the panels of Action Comics. However, Weldon's book never neglects to locate the character's essence in his comic book incarnation, no matter the decade. Weldon's greatest strength as a writer (biographer?) is his desire to celebrate the silliness of comics alongside the ponderous mythmaking. If you're asking yourself "Why this book and not another Superman book?" I would say that this is what makes Weldon's book distinctive. He delights in poking fun at the wackadoo sci-fi of the Silver Age and the roided-out Supes of the 90s comics. The occasional biting remark was a welcome reminder that comic books aren't a tonally consistent medium, and that mix of the absurd and portentous is what can make the superhero comic so fascinating.

Occasionally while reading, you may feel inundated by names, dates and apes. But overall, this is a fascinating and lively document that should inspire us all to seek out more Superman. I am even oddly compelled to watch Superman III & IV.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By brinsonian on April 9, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
If you've ever fallen into the wormhole of a particularly thorough Wikipedia page, only to emerge both pleased with your newfound knowledge and slightly ashamed of the "non-authentic" way you got it, this book is for you.

Weldon manages to form a mostly cohesive narrative of the seventy-five years of Superman history we now have behind us. The only difficulty is the sheer number of writers, artists, and editors who have been involved (not to mention the increasing numbers of alternate storylines, other Earths, reboots, and more); that information can be overwhelming to those of us not steeped in comics history (or who aren't good at keeping names straight).

Luckily, the flip side of that is that Weldon's approach also includes non-comic book iterations. This book is just as welcoming to people like me, whose experience with Superman has largely happened through television (Lois and Clark, the animated series, Smallville), and his treatment of those iterations as just as "valid"; as the comics helps drive another stake into the particularly dumb stereotype of the overprotective, exclusive fanboy comics culture.

Overall, this book is a strong overview of Superman and his role in DC corporate history, superhero mythology, and what exactly the changing "American way" even is, anyway (my takeaway: shoddy tenements = bad, playing tricks on your girlfriend to teach her a lesson about being a snoop = good). And it's way more fun to read than a Wikipedia page.
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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
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