Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero Hardcover – Jun 12 2012
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“Engaging, fun, inspiring—like the Man of Steel.”—The Huffington Post
“Powerful . . . wonderfully readable.”—The Plain Dealer
“A story as American as Superman himself . . . The best origin story pulsing through Superman is not the one about the Krypton-to-Kansas alien baby, but rather the one about the superhero’s mortal and sometimes star-crossed creators.”—The Washington Post
“Fun, enlightening pop-cultural history.”—Kirkus Reviews
“A rich history full of lively heroes and villains‚ much like a comic book. Essential for Superman fans.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“[A] comprehensive, definitive history.”—Publishers Weekly
“Action and adventure . . . comedy . . . tragedy . . . mythology . . . Larry Tye captures it all! As complete a history of the Man of Steel as ever published, this book is a deeply documented yet anecdotally told tale that transports us from the bedroom of a daydreaming teenager in 1930's Cleveland, Ohio, to the collapsing towers of the planet Krypton, from the wheatfields of middle America to the hearts of every American, with a story that is entertaining, revealing, and shocking, yet crammed with historical information. If you liked reading The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, wait till you read Larry Tye’s true story behind it all!”—Michael Uslan, author of The Boy Who Loved Batman and executive producer of seven Batman movies
“I only wish I had the good fortune of reading Larry Tye’s book before I made Superman, the problem being that if I had, then the motion picture part of Superman’s history would not have been in Mr. Tye’s book. Having said that, the reason I found Tye’s book incredibly informative is his sense of my bible in making the film—that is, verisimilitude. Reality overcame everything.”—Richard Donner, director of Superman
About the Author
Larry Tye was an award-winning journalist at The Boston Globe and a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. A lifelong Superman fan, Tye now runs a Boston-based training program for medical journalists. He is the author of the New York Times bestseller Satchel, as well as The Father of Spin, Home Lands, and Rising from the Rails, and co-author, with Kitty Dukakis, of Shock. He lives in Lexington, Massachusetts, and is currently writing a biography of Robert F. Kennedy.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Not much attention given to Smallville even though it is said to "define Superman for the current generation"
Hope the author writes another book covering Superman from Smallville to New 52 to Man of Steel and Beyond.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
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. He talks about the supposed "Superman Curse" for actors in the various Superman live-action movies and TV shows who were forever typecast. He gives a background the various Superman re-boots from the Silver Age, the Imaginary Stories era, to John Byrne's `80s revamp, to the modern 52 series. (And yes, he gets things wrong. I could pick him apart on some details--Titano the Ape is not from Krypton nor part of the Superman family. Etc. etc. But that's just petty). It's was all familiar to me, but Tye's writing was lively and I didn't mind re-visiting it.
Some of his writing did voyage into the bombastic, and I think Tye exaggerates Superman's popularity in certain eras. He talks so much about the Superman craze in the 19 50s, which I found dubious enough that I asked my mother about it. No, she said, she barely knew who Superman was when she was a kid. For her and all of her friends it was Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse that kept them glued to the new-fangled TV sets, not George Reeves.
Most interesting in this book was in regards to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Unencumbered by the politics and emotion of a comic book fan, Tye makes some controversial statements that--I am guessing--he doesn't even realize are controversial.
In this age of Creator's Rights and the image of cold, faceless corporations stripping creators of their creations then throwing them penniless in the streets--in an age where Marvel comics sued the creator of the character Ghost Rider for copyright infringement for drawing a sketch of his own creation at a convention--Siegel and Shuster are the poster children of "creators done wrong." According to the legend, DC Comics bought Superman lock, stock, and barrel from Siegel and Shuster for $130 then left them to die penniless old men while the company raked in billions.
Tye paints an entirely different picture, and perhaps a more honest one. Yes, Tye says, Siegel and Shuster created Superman, but it was really thanks to publishers Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz that we still know who Superman is today. Donenfeld and Liebowitz neither knew nor cared about comics, but they did know money and advertising, and together they created Superman Inc that pushed the character beyond the pages of the comics and into eternity. They saw the potential in Siegel and Shuster's creation, and they took that crude beginning and refined it into what we know today. It was something they wouldn't have done if they didn't own the character. They wouldn't have made the effort if they hadn't been able to reap the rewards.
Some of the most interesting quotes in the book come from old exchanges between the parties: "You have the germ of a great idea in Superman, but you need constant editorial supervision" said Liebowitz. And even harsher, "as long as your ego tells you anything you do must be a preordained success, I would be interested in having you name one feature -outside of Superman - that you have developed which has enjoyed even a modicum of success." Liebowitz also noted that of a surprise bonus checks sent to Siegel, he "did not see fit to acknowledge it, though you did deposit it."
And Siegel and Shuster hardly suffered. They were given better deals than any professionals in the industry at the time, and both Siegel and Shuster were effectively rich men when the comic was at its height. But both of them wanted more, and constant money-grubbing and lawsuits caused enough bad will that Donenfeld and Liebowitz cut them off entirely. Poor money management and extravagant spending in the good times led both Siegel and Shuster to squander their acquired fortunes.
That history isn't going to sit well with some people. It was a hard pill for me to swallow, the idea that the corporation of DC Comics has more to do with the success of Superman than the original creators, But Tye makes the case so effectively, and with so little bias, that it is hard to deny.
I don't think he intended it, but Tye forced me to re-consider some long-held truths about who made Superman. Liebowitz in particular, who lived to be 100 years old and guided Superman from that first issue to the Christopher Reeve film in the late `70s and up until he retired in 1991, had far more to do with building the Superman we all know and love than probably anyone else. Yet he is always portrayed as the villain of the story, and Siegel and Shuster the poor victims. The story is obviously more complicated than that, as real life is no comic book and real people are not supermen.
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). The only real problem I have with the book is that the chronology is very squishy -- a lot of the story threads overlap in time and it's not as clearly delineated as it could be.
Comics have a long, frequently controversial history, but there are few as big as Superman. If he's your kind of hero, or you just like comic trivia, this is the definitive book.
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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