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
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Cover date: March 2004
Writer: Kurt Busiek
Artist: Stuart Immonen
Reviewed by: Jason Larouche
Clark spends his weekend as he does any other: hiking in the wilderness alone. One night, he awakes from a troubling dream and finds himself in his sleeping bag...floating in the air. He slowly begins to realize that his secret wish has been granted: he has the powers and abilities of the fictional Man of Steel.
Immediately, he begins to question his origins, as in the possibility of him being adopted and the mystery surrounding these manifesting abilities. He chooses to keep his powers a secret... even from his parents. Every weekend, Clark goes to a different location via flight such as Mount Sunflower and the Canadian Rockies, leaving his problems behind. When he finally drums up the courage of asking his parents if he was adopted (disguised as an issue brought up in class), they write it off as him feeling ostracized and alone. As time goes on, Clark takes to the skies during the week to think. On one of those breaks from life, he comes across Hopefield, the nearest town to Picketsville, completely overtaken by a flood. Reluctantly, he decides to save a man from drowning and takes off, leaving everyone spreading rumors of a "Superboy" in their midst, the first story written by a string reporter named Wendy Case. All of Picketsville and beyond are then invaded by different TV station reporters and newsmen trying to find the truth. Among them are two mysterious men in black who even question Clark himself. After much debate, Clark meets Wendy under cover of shadow outside her hotel window, agreeing to give her the exclusive under two conditions: 1) no form of electronic recording device be used, and 2) she uses the information to help him discover where he comes from.
As the weeks go by, both Clark and Wendy benefit from the working relationship: he talks, she listens, he provides the save, she gets the scoop. Wendy tells the mysterious Superboy she needs more than just a description of his abilities: she needs his name so she can dig deeper into figuring out who he is, and it'd be a beneficial arrangement because of all the possible publicity he can acquire and money that will enable his parents and he to be set for life. On one of their scheduled talks, this time in a different hotel as always, Clark finally decides to give it a shot when he notices an active camera on Wendy Case's bed... one that, according to the open box, works well under cover of darkness. Infuriated, Clark uses his heat vision to burn the camera and cuts off all ties with Wendy.
The next few days for Clark involve a lot of flying and laying low... that is until two military jets nearly get a good look at him as they zoom by. He finally decides the only way to end this is to reveal himself. On Halloween night, Clark surprises his parents with two announcements: he's going to the Picketsville Halloween Festival... and he's going in the Superman costume Uncle Jim gave him two years earlier. They're more surprised at his costume than going to the festival. Clark flies to the party and sees more than one Superboy in the crowd, even his high school tormentor, Mike, who nudges him about "finally accepting his space alien heritage". Before he can tell Cassie about his abilities, the gas main below the town square ignites, causing enormous explosions that threaten the lives of the partygoers. Realizing what he has to do, Clark rushes into action, saving as many people as he can and moving too fast for anyone to see his face. All seems under control until his hearing picks up a moan from the ice cream store nearby. An x-ray scan reveals Cassie trapped under a fallen beam. Clark rushes in and hoists the beam off of her with ease, and is momentarily surrounded by both the media and those he saved. He is about to do a super-feat in front of the live audience when Wendy case bursts through, claiming ownership over the story with such fury and anger that Clark realized that she was somehow behind the explosions. Disgruntingly, he pretends that the beam was balanced enough to move off of Cassie, then "accidentally" pins him as well. The story is instantly declared a hoax, Wendy case is sent to a psychiatric hospital for evaluation, and Cassie thanks him nonetheless for saving her life, calling him her "Superboy", yet winding up with Mike instead. As time goes on, Clark takes his father's advice and comes out of his shell and makes real friends, all the while unaware that the men in black are still on his tail...
TO BE CONTINUED...
Story - 5: As a longtime Superman reader and "Smallville" fan, Kurt Busiek's script blew me away. The concept of the real world, already aware of the 60-year comic book history of Superman, coming to grips with the fact that a real "Superboy" may exist was intriguing. What made this story work were three factors: there were very few inklings towards the comic continuity, the protagonist, Clark Kent, resented his connection to Superman before he recieved his powers, and Wendy Case, the "Lois Lane" of this story, was a threat waiting to be revealed until the climax. In Clark, I see a mixture of Tom Welling's portrayal of his DC namesake on "Smallville" as well as Peter Parker, alter ego of Spider-Man: he doesn't want exploitation, yet can't ignore the money-making opportunities to cash in on by going public. He's human in a sense that he wants to be accepted by his high school classmates, yet doesn't know how to get around the Superman character for them to notice the boy behind the name. Also, when I think of Mike, I'm reminded of the deceased Whitney Fordman in season one of "Smallville"; he was both Clark's rival for Lana's affections, as well as his one-time punching bag in the pilot. So to see him win Cassie was reminiscent of that love triangle. As for dating this in 1990, I can only assume that we're going to follow Clark through adolescence to adulthood in the next three parts of "Secret Identity". Busiek really pulled out all the stops on this book and I can't wait for the next issue!
Art - 5: Stuart Immonen's painted imagining of the script works well in the sense that, aside from the panels and borders, the artwork stands out from the usual line figure motif characteristic of comic book art. The script's purpose of deviating from comic book continuity - from it being a comic book world altogether - rested on a style of art that was not pencil, ink and color. This style of art reminds me very much so of Alex Maleev's take on Daredevil over at Marvel, only more fluent and less sticatto. The design of the characters are very well done. Clark Kent does bear a small resemblance to that of his DC counterpart, yet it's small enough to allow this character to stand out on his own as a separate entity rather than a carbon copy. Clark's parents don't resemble Ma and Pa Kent at all, which is a plus considering this couple didn't find their son out in a cornfield... or did they? That's for Busiek to decide. Wendy Case's look is the same as Clark; separate yet connected to the classic Lois Lane appearance. But where Immonen excedes at is the landscape artwork: As an artist, I was impressed by his depiction of breathtaking wilderness, moonlit skies, golden fields in the morning sun, and incredible snow-covered mountains. And finally, the captions played a key role as well. Since the majority of the story is told through the narration of Clark on his typewriter, to have boxes shaped like torn pieces of paper and typewriter font was a nice touch, reminiscent of David Mack's collage-like artwork on Daredevil.
Cover Art - 4: Also by Immonen, the cover is simple in design yet effective in composition. To me, the cover said one word: Isolation. The main character, long before he becomes superhuman, is shunned by his peers because of his name, and the cover captures that idea in different ways. To have Clark on the outside of the panoramic box of a busy Picketsville High School hallway, especially the great shot of the couple making out, symbolize Clark's loneliness. The same can be said about Clark himself walking - or floating? look at how his feet are disconnected from his shadow - alone. This cover would have gotten a top mark if not for a detail I'm undecided on. As you can see, his green shirt is open, revealing the Superman t-shirt underneath. This is reminiscent of that classic scene of DCU Clark Kent ripping open his dress shirt to reveal that powerful symbol underneath, signalling his change into Superman. It's reminiscent because the body is slighly at forty-five degrees, facing left, but this Clark Kent is letting it hang open because to him it's no big deal. I don't know if you guys agree with me or not, but I personally am still undecided whether it adds or takes away the mystery of what this story is about. You decide.
Check out the Comic Index Lists for the complete list of Superman-related comics published in 2004.