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The Man From Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman

The Man From Krypton: A Closer Look at Superman

Edited by: Glenn Yeffeth
Cover Design: Todd Michael Bushman
Cover Art: Paul Gilligan

Published by: Benbella Books (May 1, 2006)

Reviewed by: Neal Bailey

Click to enlarge

You'll have to forgive the departure from the usual 1-5 paradigm, as this is a collection of essays. To give it an overall rating would give either too much credit to bad entries, or too little to the truly great ones, and besides, books, unlike movies and comics and TV shows, tend to be less one-note love it or hate it measures. To that end:

The Man From Krypton is a mixed bag, but then, that might just be me.

To acquaint you with my experience, I went to college for five years and positively, absolutely had my fill of diabolical, self-important, whimsical exploration essays. That's a real bias. I also don't like the idea of critically overanalyzing concepts, from a poem to an epic.

"Hypocrite!" you shout, throwing eggs, realizing that this is a self-important essay AND that I'm the first person in history to write an 88 page review of a single Smallville episode. But note, as you cry that, that I don't critically overanalyze the concept behind Smallville, but rather the particular actions of a given character. And also, as I am self-deprecating here, I am also destroying my own self-importance.

Bottom line, this book is dedicated to exploring, largely, many of the concepts that nag at you when you read Krypton. If Superman has super-hearing, and hearing has logical limitations, how can he hear Lois being shot across the world? Impossible. How feminist is Lois Lane, and what does that mean for feminists everywhere.

It's put in a very scholarly tone, and couched in a lot of research. In other words, boring, dry, analytical, and at the same time intriguing if you have the patience for that kind of thing.

It's also the thing that we at the Superman Homepage make a conscious effort to improve upon. Me? I KNOW how to write this kind of essay. I know how to research, catalogue, link, debate, and make philosophically sound points that drag one to a given position, as the essays in this book do. Instead, however, I make with the monkey jokes, take it down to the vernacular, and argue as a fanboy, which is what you've gotta do to persuade one, generally. It's not LCD, it's just simply knowing your audience. This is a book for academia less than, say, you or I in the comic world.

It's not wholly dry. There are a ton of farcical stories and tones, mostly ranging from a mockery of Superman to joke stories that were big on the internet way back when (Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex is a CLASSIC). However, largely it's an academic examination of what Superman means to people, how he's flawed, where he always succeeds or where he critically fails.

Some of the essays are outright infuriating, in that they don't know or understand the general character or they make a preponderance of idiotic accusations. There's an essay that says that Smallville promotes communism because it says that the evils of Metropolis are coming to turn the mid-west into proletariats. There's another that asserts that Lois Lane is not a strong female in literature through Noel Neill because she falls in love with Superman and depends on him. As if love were a sign of a weak female. It then goes on to assert how wonderful Margot Kidder's Lois is (and Kidder's was, but not for these reasons) because she chain-smokes, is a general pain in the @%$, and has sex with Supes. It further asserts that the ultimate assumption of female power is single motherhood, and thereby the new Lois is going to be just great. This by a man.

Some of the essays are ingenious, examining how Superman adopts what is traditionally a fascist attitude, deciding what's right for the people, and yet still manages to make it democratic in the end. There's a critical examination of the arc of Superman in a TV show that examines Smallville closely and well.

Honestly, if you like what we do here, and you want to take it to the next level, IE if you want to turn Superman into a dialectic and a deconstruction, this is the way to go. It's a good read if you're college educated. It's a good read if you're literate. Is it fun? I wouldn't say it was a blast, but it was NEAT. It's fun like reading Dostoevsky. You have to be in a certain mentality, it's not something you can take your mind out of.

Did I learn anything new about Superman? No. This book is like sitting around and talking about what Superman means in a comic shop, if you applied strict and rigid logical parameters to the debate and brought in some people with weird ideas. You know, that guy in the back that always says, "Papa Smurf is a communist!"

It sounds like I'm knocking this book, but really, I'm just reviewing it for you guys, who are not necessarily likely big on the literary criticism over, say, reviews, the difference between which is like the difference between fiction and literature. Most of you want a Superman book to tell you a good Superman story and entertain you. If you want something deeper from fiction, you look to literature, and thusly when you want more on Superman, I'd look here.

Or, you know, HERE. This site. I'm surprised, given the length and the talent with which the people on this website have philosophized about Superman, the depths to which we know the character, and the strengths we bring to the critical analysis of him as an entity, we weren't consulted or contacted by the people making this book. Even the current comic writers do that, and that's a sign of care to the subject. Furthermore, there are errors, assertions about the character which are false that even a cursory proof reading by someone very familiar with Superman would have detected, such as calling "Birthright" "Rebirth" and others that made me wince as I read through.

Another key part of the book is that reading the end of the essays, when you hear about the authors involved, they're all older, they're all very established, but none of them are very familiar or authoritative about Superman to my ears, which is a strike against the book. I'm not saying I'm the be-all end-all, far from it, but a lot of the Superman fanatics float in this internet circle, and given that I'd only heard of "Man of Steel, Women of Kleenex" makes me wonder where the authority from this piece derives, and how much of the research for these essays was cursory and spec for the freelance assignment, and how many were, like my 400 articles here, labors of love done for free.

It's a good read, an average read. Is it worth the 18 dollar price tag? Maybe not, but that's up to the individual. I feel bad saying that, given that I was offered the book by the publisher for free (a fact I have to disclose in fairness), but if I can't be honest, you wouldn't trust me, so there's the word on that one.

Feel free to review some pages from the book in a PDF file located at the SmartPopBooks website.

Note: Click here to order "The Man from Krypton".

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