July 07, 2012
Man of Action
James Parker in New York Times:
“Superman!” gasps Lois Lane, freshly scooped from beneath the nodding carbines of a South American firing squad. “Right!” says the boxy blue-and-red figure who holds her in his arms. “And still playing the role of gallant rescuer!” His mouth is set in a kind of grimace, but with dimples. Is he frowning? Tautly grinning? And what can he mean by “still playing the role”? This is only the second Superman comic ever, from July 1938, and already our hero — caped and airborne, with Lois coiled against his unbreachable bosom — is carrying a freight of super-irony.
Then again, as we learn from “Superman,” Larry Tye’s exhaustive and engaging book, irony attends every phase of this story. Superman’s creators — Jerry Siegel (writing) and Joe Shuster (drawing) — were a pair of Cleveland geeks whose underdoggery was purer almost than the alpha-male prowess of the pulp heroes they adored: Tarzan, Hugo Danner, Clark (Doc) Savage Jr. and so on. Both the sons of immigrant Jewish tailors, Siegel and Shuster were uncool, and they were girl-less. They had no money. Shuster, the artist, was horribly nearsighted. And how they toiled, through lost nights of teenage-dom, at their secret weapon: their made-up ultrabeing, their hero to out-hero them all. First, in a misfire, he was naughty (a mind-reading tramp called “the Super-Man”), then he was good. Then very good. At last, on what Tye calls “a hot summer night of divinelike inspiration,” it happened: the elements fused, and the 19-year-old Siegel, scribbling madly in his bathroom, came up with the doomed planet Krypton, Lois Lane, Clark Kent the mild-mannered reporter. . . .
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