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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography 1st Edition

4.4 out of 5 stars 61 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1118341841
ISBN-10: 1118341848
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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.


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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 (61 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417,422 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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Format: Hardcover
Super­man: The Unau­tho­rized Biog­ra­phy by Glen Wel­don is a non-fiction book chron­i­cling the fic­tional his­tory of the Man of Steel in comic books, radio, TV, the­ater, music and movies. Mr. Wel­don is a con­trib­u­tor to NPR's pod­cast Pop Cul­ture Happy Hour.

A short dis­claimer: I stopped read­ing the comics sev­eral years ago. I sim­ply couldn't keep up with the com­pli­cated sto­ry­lines which ran across mul­ti­tudes of titles. One sto­ry­line I could still keep track of, but once every Super­man title (they were 5 at the time) started their own, that was it for me. I do, how­ever, get the graphic nov­els (which col­lect the sto­ry­line from all the titles in one vol­ume) and enjoy them very much. Read­ers of my blog and twit­ter feed know that I post about them as well.

I have been a Super­man fan for many years, I was hooked when I was 8 years-old and my mom took me to see "Super­man: The Motion Pic­ture" in the big city - that was it! Ever since I try to read as much as I can about the Man of Steel, comics, nov­els and non-fiction work. So when I saw Super­man: The Unau­tho­rized Biog­ra­phy by Glen Wel­don (tum­blr | @ghweldon), I knew I had to read it.

The book is well researched with some excel­lent obser­va­tions by the author. Mr. Wel­don traces the ori­gins of Super­man, both in the pub­li­ca­tion world and the mythol­ogy cre­ated around him. He iden­ti­fies the two ele­ments which are con­sis­tent with all the incar­na­tions of Super­man (Bryan Singer's movie Super­man Returns broke them and it's one of the rea­sons it didn't work) as well as his evo­lu­tion both phys­i­cally and emotionally.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Not unlike Superman compressing a lump of coal into a diamond, Glen Weldon compresses 75 years of Superman history into about 340 pages--and creates a gem of his own. Virtually all aspects of Superman's pop culture iterations are explored in detail--comics, TV, movies, Broadway. In some hands, this could resemble an eye-glazingly obsessive Wikipedia entry, but Weldon's quick pace and sharp wit keeps things moving.

Occasionally, though, the pace is a little too fast--the deaths of Superman creators Joe Siegel and Jerry Shuster merit only a couple of sentences in the book. And while Weldon notes the tribulations that befell TV Superman George Reeves, he never mentions the tragic mishap that left Superman actor Christopher Reeve paralyzed. It seems a particularly glaring omission since Weldon DOES cite Reeve's appearance on "Smallville" as a "wheelchair-bound scientist" without noting the real-life poignance of the scene.

Another, minor quibble: the book has no photos or artwork, and Weldon's descriptions of the various Superman artwork, vivid as they are, only go so far. Readers may have to search the net (or a comic store) to better appreciate the artistic styles of Shuster, Wayne Boring, Curt Swan, etc.

Weldon more than compensates for these shortcomings with a "snappy, punchy prose style" (as Perry White once said of Clark Kent), and he's great at detailing the appeal and endurance of Superman without falling into hagiography. Weldon's also quick to point out other works that cover certain aspects of Superman history in greater depth. Casual comics readers, fanboys, and pop culture aficionados will all find this book accessible and informative.
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