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Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors, and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon (Cappella Books (Paperback)) Paperback – February 1, 2008
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"Replete with scams, lawsuits, megolomaniacal egos, and neurotic actors, with plenty of juicy gossip. Library Journal
"Solid research and crisp prose make this Superman book a winner." Kirkus Reviews
"Superman fans, take warningyou will not want to know any of the gut-churning facts contained herein. And you will not be able to stop reading. Good luck." Patton Oswalt, actor and comedian
"There is so much to discover that Rossen's book should be required reading for all fans of Superman in any medium. . . . It is a film lover's history book that delivers all that we'll ever need to know about the man of steel and his battle against Hollywood." Mania.com
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Why do Superman programs and films always seem to generate such calamitous circumstances? Some have attributed it to a bona-fide "Superman curse" made manifest in George Reeves' apparent suicide and the crippling of Christopher Reeve (No relation, folks - the movie Superman's surname has no S on the end, if I may be allowed one wee little nitpick), but as Rossen illustrates in his laborious text on matters, some of it may have to do with the general stigma of comic books as little more than fare for juveniles, an attitude that seemed to be shared by many who were involved in the production of the various Superman TV series and films, including the much-maligned director Richard Lester, who's taken his share of shots by fanboys for his campy approach to the sequels to the 1978 film; in Lester's case, Rossen fortunately retains an air of non-bias, opting to let personal anecdotes speak for themselves on this oft-targeted figure for fan venting. Ditto the Salkinds, who now share the unflattering light with Richard Donner and his increasing temperament at their intrusions. Who was in the right? Who deserved the real blame? As Ilya Salkind himself recently described the problematic shoot of "Superman: The Movie": "It was everybody's fault, and nobody's." He's not far off at all.
As pointed out in the tome, Superman seems to have suffered more creative blundering than any other superhero due to the increasing difficulty of others to relate to him as a character; his powers make him nigh-omnipotent, and as a result his rogues' gallery outside of Lex Luthor has never been able to make the memorable impact left by the likes of Batman's foes. Even his dual identity as a mild-mannered reporter dedicated to his job works against him in a world that has become more receptive to seeing Spider-Man get soundly thrashed by Dr. Octopus and then hobble home to discover that his sweet old Aunt May can't pay her medical bills, he's six months behind on his rent, and J. Jonah Jameson has plastered another libelous headline branding Spidey a murderer and thief across the front page of the same paper Peter Parker works for. Marvel's characters, for all their nonsensical origins, at their highs thrived on the accessibility of real-life situations; for that reason, Superman has perpetually suffered from a sense of antiquity that has propagated many a half-hearted attempt to "revitalize" the character, a fact which is very much in evidence in this book without necessarily needing to provide further elaboration on it. For DC Comics, and especially for Warner Brothers, their flagship character has been largely treated as little more than a gravy train; the Superman comics themselves have never really been very good in recent years, evidenced by the constant chain of "stunts" DC initiated in the early 1990s beginning with the "Death Of Superman" storyarc that provided the spark for the bulk of controversial attempts made since Reeve's last bow as the Man of Steel to jump-start the Superman film franchise. Such attempts provide some of the more amusing fodder for Rossen's account, in particular producer Jon Peters and his outright dispassion for Superman's two most visible signatures: his costume and his ability to fly. Reading Rossen's descriptions of the various story pitches and casting choices for the part, it's easy to see why none of these radical revamp efforts never materialized and almost compels one to sigh in relief as a result.
And make no mistake, Rossen's writing style is hard and unfettered by personal affections or preferences: considered an idol by many a Superman fan for his portrayal, Christopher Reeve is accounted for as a young actor trying to take the part seriously, but also blinded by that responsibility in the process (more than a few cast and crew members didn't think particularly highly of him). Likewise, Richard Donner, who receives much adulation for directing the only palpable Superman film in the bunch, is as finely skewered as Alexander and Ilya Salkind ever were. Rossen doesn't pull any punches on anybody, really; from Robert Shayne's near-dismissal from "The Adventures Of Superman" for allegations of Communism to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's beyond-the-grave legal battles with DC Comics for a piece of the pie that could acutely affect the "Smallville" TV series (still in production as of this writing) to Tim Burton's apparent dislike for Nicolas Cage (the latter of whom, to his credit, lobbied for more reverence for comics lore in light of all the weirdness Burton and Peters wanted to throw into their Super-package), Rossen opens up areas that I think even the most ardent Superman fan will find surprising. The book is as thorough as necessary in its exploration of every non-comics venture into Superman lore or any smattering of it, from the Salkinds' ill-conceived endeavor to refresh their comic-book palette with a Supergirl film after the nonsensical notion to toss Richard Pryor into the Superman film series cost moviegoers and comic fans the chance to see Brainiac take on our caped hero, to the various Fleisher-influenced and comics-faithful animated series produced by Bruce Timm of the mid-1990s that, with sad curiosity, has enjoyed a success and resonance with younger AND mature fans that Warner Brothers, for whatever reason, has chosen to ignore.
If there's any one real criticism I have for this book - though it doesn't detract from me giving it a five-star rating; IMO it's still an absolute must-read for comic-book fans, film buffs, or any filmmaker who thinks that reimagining a classic character beyond all recognition is a good idea - it's that the meager handful of photos it does contain don't sufficiently enhance the impact of most of the book's content. Rossen would have been better served by screen-caps from the Superpup pilot, pictures of Helen Slater's unused and more comic-accurate (to the time) Supergirl suit, and even some of the outlandish concept art from the unproduced Superman film attempts of recent years, just to show how absolutely misguided the filmmakers have been in trying to breath three-dimensional life into Superman's world.
But really, I can't do any justice to this book. You have to read it for yourself, to see just how messed up Hollywood has been - and potentially still is - in its treatment of one of America's greatest pop-culture contributions.
The first couple of chapters cover Bud Collyer,Kirk Alyn, and George Reeves, as you might expect. The middle section deals largely with the Salkinds, Richard Donner, Richard Lester, and Christoper Reeve; the making of Superman I-III. There's an excursion by one chapter into the Salkinds' Supergirl movie and it's effect on the Superman franchise. There are also scattered references throughout the book to the Batman TV shows/movies and that franchise's effects on Superman. Spiderman and other superhero movie/shows are referenced, but Batman gets the most page time.
The Cannon Group and Superman IV are also discussed. Then we move onto the Superboy TV show and more on the Salkinds. The next bit covers Lois & Clark and there's a brief visit to Bruce Timm's animated version of Superman. Smallville is also dealt with. Most of the latter portion of the book is about with the scripts, producers, and actors contemplated for various possible versions of a new Superman movie before Superman Returns was decided upon. Bryan Singer and the making of Superman Returns are also discussed.
On the whole, this is a very intriguing look. I wish the author had been less cursory in the discussions of Smallville and had gone into more detail with the animated versions of Superman, but I would recommend this book to any Superman fan.
This is one book not to miss, it is almost impossible to put down. Highly recommended.