I used to watch the black-and-white Superman tv show on Saturday afternoons when I was little. Mild-mannered Clark Kent would be hanging around the newspaper office, wearing glasses, looking all shy, and then before you could say "it's a bird, it's a plane!" he'd be flying around saving someone from something. I remember finding it entertaining, but wasn't too impressed. After all, this was the late 1980s/early '90s and I considered myself a good judge of special effects (ah to be young and naive again...).
So with the recent launch of Panels, together with my brothers' decades-long collecting of comic books, I decided to see what Superman was really all about. All I knew of him was what I saw on tv on those Saturday afternoons and that he was created by a couple of Jewish boys in the 1930s. It was time to learn more.
Tye's chronicling of Superman's many incarnations was as thorough and detailed as I had expected. We not only learn about Superman's beginnings in comic books and comic strips, but also his appearance on radio shows, television, and in film from the 1930s until the present. We learn about Superman's creators--Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster--and how they brought Superman to life in the Jewish section of Cleveland in 1933 and then sold their creation to DC Comics in 1938. The resulting decades-long legal wrangling over the rights to the Superman creation is also explored in depth, as are the cultural, political, and even religious ramifications of the Man of Steel in American popular culture.
At one point, Tye claims that every generation gets its own Superman- that is, with each new world crisis or popular craze or spiritual crossroads, an appropriate Superman emerges to act as our moral compass. What makes him so adaptable and eternally relevant is his unshakable quest for justice and the triumph of good over evil. These ideas will never go out of style, and Superman, with his otherworldly strength and superpowers, gives us an ideal to strive toward.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the genesis of this fascinating character, comic books in general, and American popular culture. So go out there and kick some bad-guy butt.