In this book Glen Weldon takes a look at Superman’s history and how he went from a comic book character to a cultural icon. Superman: The Unauthorized Biography shows how the Man of Steel has changed through the years and how different generations have interpreted him, and how the character has endured despite some questionable creative decisions.
I’m a huge comic book fan in general and Superman is one of my favourite heroes. I also love behind-the-scenes stuff like this, and this book is awesome. There’s a lot of detail about how the origins of the character and how Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster first developed the idea, and Weldon goes through the last 75 years, ending the book before the release of Man of Steel. I liked how the book defined the core tenets of Superman’s character, and shows why he has resonated with readers throughout the best part of a century. It also shows how things were changed and added to the mythos, noting the first appearances of characters like Perry White, Jimmy Olsen etc, and when when Kryptonite was first introduced.
Superman of course is not just a comic book character and has branched out into film, television and radio, to varying degrees of critical and commercial success. These different forays are given attention as well, although being a general biography some readers may be disappointed that he doesn’t go into more detail on certain films or shows, but the book isn’t about those shows it’s about the character, and Weldon does a good job of saying what he thinks the adaptations got right and where they may have missed the mark. But Superman is a comic book character first and foremost, and with hundreds (possibly thousands?) of issues published over the years there is a lot of history to sift through but Weldon does a great job of touching upon the main milestones and goes into detail over some of the major events that have happened.
While the book is reverential of Superman it is also quite critical of some of the creative decisions, but it never feels like a fanboy ranting, rather, Weldon delivers some acerbic put downs with a dry wit that I found quite amusing, and he details just why he, and many other fans, were critical of how Superman was portrayed in certain ways. I’m only sorry that the book was released before Man of Steel came out, because I would have loved to see what the author thought of it (given what I gleaned from the book I don’t think he would have been complimentary). It does touch on the legal issues surrounding the character as well, but it doesn’t go too in-depth and prefers to leave that to other books. It also gives an idea of how DC has changed through the years but only insofar as it is relevant to Superman, so a lot of the behind-the-scenes politics of the whole company aren’t explored, so hopefully someone will do a book similar to Marvel Comics: The Untold Story but about DC.
The book had a great layout too, with many sub-chapters so it’s broken down and is very easy to pick up and put down. I found it very easy to read and read it in about three days. I really hope that more books like this are written for other comic book characters because this is incredibly well-researched and manages to give a history of the character and also shows how the world has changed around him as well. It’s a book that I would say is worthy of Superman and I would recommend it to anyone who considers themselves a fan of the Man of Tomorrow.