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Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
Glen Weldon (Author)
A celebration of Superman's life and history - in time for his 75th birthday. How has the Big Blue Boy Scout stayed so popular for so long? How has he changed with the times, and what essential aspects of him have remained constant? This fascinating biography examines Superman as a cultural phenomenon through 75 years of action-packed adventures, from his early years as a social activist in circus tights to his growth into the internationally renowned demigod he is today.
Hardcover: 352 pages
Writers: Alex Ross and Paul Dini
Text: Paul Dini
Art: Alex Ross
Reviewed by: Tom-EL
Superman's thoughts return to the present as he lands in Metropolis Square holding a giant fir tree that lights up to become the Metropolis Christmas tree. The crowd cheered and people wanted to talk with him, but he had other matters to attend to. He then hears a cry for help and races to find a girl in the crowd who has fainted. First he thought it was shock, then he noticed how light and weak she was and realized that this girl was starving. He flies her to a rescue mission, the Doctor in charge assured Superman that she would be fed and well cared for. Upon arriving back at the Planet, Clark suggested to the editor that they consider a story on the homeless for the holidays. The suggestion was made in part as an excuse for Clark to check in on the girl. Checking back at the mission, Clark was informed that the girl is a southern runaway, with no friends or family in the city. Reduced to begging for food, she might have died if it had not been for Superman's timely intervention. The Doctor noted that it was too bad Superman can't be there for every needy person. Clark agreed.
After further consideration, including remembering some things Pa Kent told him about putting other people's needs ahead of your own, and consistent with his view that his powers were not strictly his alone, but there for anyone who needs them, Superman requested to address the U.S. Congress. With all the Congressional members assembled, he announced he would like permission to be able to take American surplus food and distribute it to hungry people around the world, as many countries as he could deliver it to in one day. There was some skepticism among some of the Congressional membership, but ultimately they gave their approval. Superman spent several days gathering the food together. He found it encouraging that some people who became aware of his plan were showing up to volunteer to help package the food. The media went wall-to-wall with the story, calling him everything from "Selfless Hero" to "Misguided Outsider". The Daily Planet ran the front page headline "Superman's Stand Against Hunger." A few other countries joined in and offered their surplus food, and finally it was all collected and ready for Superman to distribute it to other countries.
Superman began delivering the food to each location, either in a tanker, or on large platform. He drops off grain in the American Southwest, for Native Americans that will be helped by it. He delivers massive amounts of food and grains to countries around the world where hunger on a large scale exists. In many of these countries, crowds gathered to meet him and express their appreciation. Smiling children reach out their hands to him. He noticed in one war-torn European country, from the faces of the people, it was hard to know if there was still any hope left. A little boy asks "Will you be back tomorrow?" Superman continued to cross the globe looking for venues where the food was needed, but knowing that this was only providing one day's relief, and that even he would not be able to continue doing this on a daily basis. He knew the leaders of the world would need to give consideration to a more permanent solution.
Along the way, Superman put out a large brush fire in Africa, while he also stopped a stampede of wild animals from causing damage or injury to a crowd at a drop off point nearby. Not a huge problem, but it took precious time away from the continuance of his mission. Unfortunately, not all of the deliveries were going well. In one country, a military despot in control of his country was there at the drop point "requesting" that Superman leave the food with his soldiers. The Man of Steel knew that his intention was to give some of the food to his men and sell the rest on the black market. Superman wanted to give the food directly to the starving people that were there waiting, but the dictator prevented it with threats against his own people, so Superman left the food where he dropped it. In one country, when Superman leaves the food, no one leaves their home out of fear, and rats get to the food first. In another place, the food drop causes the people waiting for it to turn into a raving mob to get at it. Superman had to burrow underground to pull himself away from all the grasping hands trying to get to him. In yet another country, as Superman arrives the government warns against his help. In response to his persistence, they fire a chemical-weapon missile at where he is, with civilians below. He attempts to save the people by sending the cloud of poison into space, but the tanker is damaged and the food is poisoned. It was at that point, a disheartened Superman kneeling on the ground, amid the rubble of the destroyed food declared "My mission ends here, incomplete and in failure."
Back in Metropolis, a discouraged Clark sits in his apartment and ponders the failure of his mission. He knows that most people respected what he was trying to accomplish, but he also feels the disappointment of millions across the globe who were still waiting, but somehow knew that he wouldn't be coming. Worldwide media demanded a statement from Superman, and it came in the form of an interview with Clark Kent that was the page 1 story in the Daily Planet. He admits that despite his best efforts, he now sees that the project was too big for one man, even if he is a Superman. The solution to the problem of world hunger rests on the compassion of each person for another. He says, "There's an old saying - give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime." He goes on to say, "I ask everyone to share what they have with those who need it. Their knowledge, their time, their generosity. Especially with the young, for on them rests our future, and all hope of a true Peace on Earth."
In the end, Clark Kent does his part by teaching local school children about what he learned from his father in a Kansas field. He and the kids, each one equipped with an over the shoulder bag of seeds, walk out over the fields spreading seeds. As they walk, he tells them, "...not every seed will make it, but all of them deserve the chance to grow."
Story - 5: A Five, only because the grading scale doesn't allow me to give it a Six. I consider this story to be one of the absolutely best Superman stories I have ever read. I am familiar with the comparison of this story that has been made to Superman IV: The Quest For Peace, and the criticism that it's just a redoing, only without Luthor and Nuclear Man, but I totally disagree with that conclusion. Except for a couple of surface similarities, Superman: Peace on Earth and Superman IV: The Quest For Peace are two totally different stories. Another website in reviewing this story said: "Despite good intentions, Superman could possibly use a Kryptonian version of Star Trek's Prime Directive. By interfering in some tense political situations, he may have stirred the fire sufficiently to bring harsher policies and reprisals down on the heads of those he was trying to help". And exactly what kind of captain would James T. Kirk have been if he'd always followed the Prime Directive? I submit that the point of view that holds to never attempt to solve a problem, or pick up a sword to fight in whatever "Never-Ending Battle" crosses one's path, because of the potential bigger issues that might arise from the effort, is a point of view that never makes a difference, or makes any contribution in the effort to make the world a better place. Either you stand for something, or you don't stand for anything. There are any number of reasons why I liked this story and rate it as highly as I do, but allow me to present to you my top three reasons, which are-
#1. This might very well be one of the closest stories you will ever get to a "Superman in the Real World" story. The villain in this book is not a costumed super-villain on a crime spree, it's not about a giant robot spreading destruction in Metropolis, nor is it an alien tyrant about to lead a mighty armada to invade the Earth. The antagonist of this story is world hunger, and an attempt by the Man of Steel to make a difference, if albeit only for 1 day, in that never-ending battle the real world struggles with. Alex Ross's illustrations of the countries that Superman visits and the people he sees are real people and real places we see in newspapers and news magazines nearly every day. I prefer to think of this story as one brief moment that Superman was pulled out of the comics universe and brought over to our world.
#2. The intro to the 90's TV series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys describes Hercules's strength being surpassed "only by the power of his heart". This was true of Superman long before it was true of Hercules. The very first Superman story I reviewed for the SH was a story in Superman issue 155 called "Superman under a Green Sun". In that story, Superman saves the people of another planet from an evil dictator, even though for most of the story he was without his super powers and he was also blind. I wrote in that review that it proves what we fans have long known, that he's Superman not primarily because of his powers or his costume, it's his heart. To me, this story is another story that verifies that principle. If Superman see's a situation where his help is needed, he will choose a solution based on his determination to do what he believes in and what he stands for, not solely based on what his powers enable him to do. It's not that often that we get stories that demonstrate this side of his character in such a way, but when they do, I greatly appreciate them.
#3. Reason #3 is a "me" thing. This story both begins and ends with Superman's memories of his dad. At the beginning it is a memory of his dad that motivates him to address the problem. At the end, it's his remembrance of principles that Pa Kent taught him that ultimately help him find his own role in contributing to the resolution of the problem. The story never really makes it clear if his dad is still living, but it's clear that Clark still thinks about him, which is important to me because my own dad is gone now, we lost him in 1984, but I still think of him all the time, and sometimes remember things he taught me. I asked Steve to post this story on December 1st because that was my dad's birthday. If he was still with us he'd be 95 today. Here's to you, dad, Happy Birthday.
Art - 5: This would be Reason #4. What else can you say, this is Alex Ross art. For starters, he received the '99 Eisner Award for Best Painter based on his work for this story. Prior to that he was wowing people for his work on "Marvels" and "Kingdom Come." To me, the Treasury Edition size of the book lends itself very well to the realistic style of Ross, in some ways I can visualize the story as if I'm watching a movie on the wide screen. The layout is well beyond the way you could do a story like this in a regular comic book, it seems to me. There is one place where Clark is sitting in his apartment, half dressed as Clark and half in his costume, the look of sadness combined with frustration on his face is a telling scene, and I just don't think this panel could be captured artistically as well in a regular comic book. Towards the end of the story, as Superman is flying in orbit, I can almost hear the John Williams soundtrack as he soars across the panel. On the Amazon.com page for this book, one of the reviewers states: "Let's face it: the reason to buy this book are the amazing full-page painted illustrations from Alex Ross. Beyond his trademark realism, Ross really conveys the essence of Superman's power and dignity here." In my opinion, that statement basically just nails it. In some other reviews of the art for this story and it's mentioned that Ross's Superman resembles George Reeves from The Adventures of Superman. I see that resemblance and I like it because, being old enough to remember that series from syndication in the 60's, Reeves version of Superman holds a special place in my heart.
Cover - 4: Maybe I should say 4 and 1/2. When I grade a cover, usually part of the grade I give is for the art itself, and part is for how much the cover illustrated what the story would be. In this case, while yes, it is Alex Ross art and a very good likeness, it's just Superman's face, it in no way gives any clue about the plot. For all we can judge about the story from the cover, the title might have been "Superman: Peace on Earth", or "Superman: War on Apokolips", or "Superman: Attack of the Killer Tomatoes." It's a great picture of Superman, but the story itself it seems to me had great potential for cover ideas. All in all however, it IN NO WAY detracts from what a special Superman book this is.
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