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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 soci 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. Written by NPR book critic, blogger, and resident comic book expert, Glen Weldon


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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 soci 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. Written by NPR book critic, blogger, and resident comic book expert, Glen Weldon

30 review for Superman: The Unauthorized Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mike

    So a confession first: I find Superman utterly boring as a character. He is absurdly powerful, is good to a fault (he is often described as a "big blue boy scout"), and generally hasn't done anything to ever capture my attention. As the author put it: Superman is every handsome, athletic, trust-fund kid who roars his convertible into the high school parking lot as the sweater around his neck flutters in the breeze. Why has a schmuck like that endured for 75 years?" But he is, indisputably, a p So a confession first: I find Superman utterly boring as a character. He is absurdly powerful, is good to a fault (he is often described as a "big blue boy scout"), and generally hasn't done anything to ever capture my attention. As the author put it: Superman is every handsome, athletic, trust-fund kid who roars his convertible into the high school parking lot as the sweater around his neck flutters in the breeze. Why has a schmuck like that endured for 75 years?" But he is, indisputably, a part of the American fabric having been fighting for truth, justice, and the American way for 75 years. Even people who don't read comics know who Superman is, where he comes from, what his weaknesses are, and who his main squeeze is. He is, at the very least, a fascinating piece of American culture. It is with this mindset that I delved into this comprehensive history of the character. The fact that it was written by Glen Weldon of NPR (who also wrote an excellent book about Batman called The Caped Crusade) just added to my anticipation. So Superman. You know, this guy: Or maybe this guy: Perhaps this guy: Or even this guy(s): Yes, much like his fellow DC caped do-gooder Batman, Superman has been through A LOT of changes over his existence: Yet the world around him was about to expand and enrich itself as an unprecedented pace. The Last Son of Krypton would suddenly find himself the harried patriarch of an extended, obstreperous family, all clad in tight long johns. New loves would entice him, new enemies would dedicate themselves to his utter destruction,. And where once there were no monkeys, now there would be monkeys. In abundance. Yes, you read that right, monkeys (pet sidekicks were a thing for a while in superhero comics. Weird, I know). Much like Batman (who debuted a year after the first appearance of Superman), Superman was an amalgamation of different, existing characters in the comics (see also: under the sun, there is nothing new). He initially fought gangsters and swindlers and crooks for the sake of the little guy, the working man, the average Joe. He was very much a New Deal Democrat, pursuing social justice along with legal justice. But with the advent of the 50's and the strict comics code Superman changed, transforming into an Eisenhower Republican, an exemplar of stability, proper decorum, and due deference to authorities. Superman would go through many such changes over his existence (including ::shudder:: a mullet). It was quite fascinating to see how the prevailing culture would impact how writers and drawers portrayed and changed Superman and Weldon does an excellent job guiding the reader through the changes in time. Another fascinating theme of Superman is just who is he. Is he Superman who assumes the role of Clark Kent as a disguise? Is he Clark Kent with Superman as an alter ego? Is he just Clark from Smallville who assumes both roles because that is what is needed to be a superman among mere men? The answer is...Yes. He has been all of those depending on the writer. I think it is interesting trying to come to grips with the fundamental question of identity of such a character and there are valid interpretations of all of the above. In addition to that there is a constant push and pull within Superman/Clark between his Kryptonian-ness and his Humanity. Much as immigrants to America struggle with how much of their old culture they will continue to identify with and much much will they assimilate. Superman is the ultimate immigrant and the struggle he faces has been faced by countless people across time. But this book covered more than the comics, it also covered Superman's many other media manifestations. From radio, to theatre shorts, to full blown movies and TV shows Superman has been beamed into our head holes from multiple sources. And, like the comics, it isn't one cohesive character. Different writers and actors had their own take on the character, some of it from the comics some of it new that bled into the comic's continuity. Each just as much a legitimate Superman as the last, but each with its own take on the character as constrained by the medium he was being represented in (not shockingly 1950's special effects didn't do much to convincingly show a man flying). This book also delved into comics culture. Specifically the development of the idea of continuity, the transition from the old guard of writers to a newer generation that grew up reading the character, and the growth (for better or for worse) of fanboy/girlism (fanpersonism?). It is quite interesting to see how the change in generations altered how readers viewed comics. Transitioning from something pre-teens would read for a dime and then throw away to adults who would have a conniption if there was some problem in the continuity (and then complain about it on the Internet) is quite stark. In light of these developments Weldon explains why DC made the decisions it did regarding the Superman character and his many comics (yes, there wasn't just one Superman comic, there were a bunch all running at the same time under different writers and artists). This was a great book that even non-Superman fans (like myself) can enjoy. But there were some shortcomings. The most glaring one (but not really Weldon's fault) was the lack of comic images. Yes, a history book about a comic character and not a picture to be found. This is, after all, the unauthorized biography of the character. Weldon does use some very descriptive prose to get his points across but man, a picture really is worth a thousand words. The other major one (in my opinion) was he sometimes got bogged down in minutia. I don't think the book was necessarily enhanced by reviewing every major comic plot arc, especially by the end. I would have preferred Weldon to pontificate about the larger trends that Superman was exposed to instead of learning about some less than well received set of Superman stories. But, in the grand scheme of things, this do not do much to reduce the quality of the book and the story Weldon is telling. But that still leaves the question: why has a schmuck like Superman survived 75 years? Throughout all his many, many, MANY transformations Superman has remained true to some basic, bedrock principles that define him much more than the cape, or the giant S, or the red underwear he wears outside of his pants: he puts the needs of others over those of himself and he never gives up. This the reason he is the moral center of the DC universe. He is a moral rock of Gibraltar, the one constant in a turbulent and dangerous world. Through all his zany adventures and costume changes (thanks 1990's -_-) and deaths he always strives to fulfill these principles. As boring as he is, I think if we all strive to be more like Superman* the world would be a much better place. That is why he has persisted and become as American as apple pie. That is why now, more than ever, he is an ideal to strive for, a light to push back against the darkness we find in the world not by punching it, but by lending a helping to any who need it. *This is in no way intended to condone jumping off high buildings with a towel for a cape. That is dangerous and it WILL kill/maim you.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Tasha Robinson

    I was never particularly interested in Superman as a character, but I love the author, Glen Weldon, who I know from his acid wit on the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. (Essential listening for fans of pop-culture, podcasts, insightful criticism, and general good humor.) So I read this, his first book, largely out of a sense of loyalty. And it's unsurprisingly hugely interesting, even for a non-Superman fan. Weldon tracks how Superman has changed over the decades: visually, under a wide varie I was never particularly interested in Superman as a character, but I love the author, Glen Weldon, who I know from his acid wit on the NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour. (Essential listening for fans of pop-culture, podcasts, insightful criticism, and general good humor.) So I read this, his first book, largely out of a sense of loyalty. And it's unsurprisingly hugely interesting, even for a non-Superman fan. Weldon tracks how Superman has changed over the decades: visually, under a wide variety of artists; narratively, under a wide variety of writers; and culturally, in response to what was going on in comics as a whole during various eras. He also tracks the character's changes through radio, TV, films, and merchandising, and ties it all into a sort of Unified Field Theory of the various cultural purposes of Superman. I grew up with some of the comics he describes; a lot more of this history happened during my lifetime as I wasn't paying attention to comics. So it's terrific to have it all summarized and brought together, with humor and insight. I do wish there was more of Weldon's distinctive "voice" in the material — he comes through in little sardonic moments, often in tiny parentheticals—sometimes just a simple "(heh)"—but overall, he seems to be working for a gentle authority rather than the full-on sardonicism he's so capable of. Still, he lets his inner comic-book geek out and goes into a lot of close detail about fan response and continuity changes, while still keeping the material accessible for non-comics fans who are just interested in a cultural phenomenon. This was a fascinating book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Brian Eshleman

    The author offers an intriguing thesis that Superman's seeming imperviousness to change is an illusion. His creators' ability to change him suddenly with the culture is one of the reasons for his endurance. Weldon stays true to that thesis, pointing out Superman's New Deal sympathies, as World War II lockstep with those in power, his 1950s likeness to a Life With Father figure. The author probably could have kept the ball in that fairway and with some tight editing shortened the book. At least fo The author offers an intriguing thesis that Superman's seeming imperviousness to change is an illusion. His creators' ability to change him suddenly with the culture is one of the reasons for his endurance. Weldon stays true to that thesis, pointing out Superman's New Deal sympathies, as World War II lockstep with those in power, his 1950s likeness to a Life With Father figure. The author probably could have kept the ball in that fairway and with some tight editing shortened the book. At least for a waiter who hasn't followed the comic books, he spent a lot of time on every twist and turn they contain.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Katie Curler shoults

    I'm an avid Pop Culture Happy Hour listener, so I went into this book knowing I loved Glen Weldon's turns of phrase. I'm afraid I did not go into it with any sort of built-in fondness for the Man of Steel. I was expecting a social history of Superman - what he's meant to America and how that's changed. While Weldon certainly touched on these larger ideas, I'm afraid any sweeping conclusions were forfeited in favor of tracking Superman through all of his various comic book iterations. To a comics I'm an avid Pop Culture Happy Hour listener, so I went into this book knowing I loved Glen Weldon's turns of phrase. I'm afraid I did not go into it with any sort of built-in fondness for the Man of Steel. I was expecting a social history of Superman - what he's meant to America and how that's changed. While Weldon certainly touched on these larger ideas, I'm afraid any sweeping conclusions were forfeited in favor of tracking Superman through all of his various comic book iterations. To a comics novice, this endless cataloging felt extremely dull, despite the fact that the author's passion for his subject matter shone clearly throughout.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Matt Smith

    I've been on a Superman kick since Labor Day. Ish. To be honest I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because I realized that the Superman movies are on HBO Max and I wanted to re-watch Donner's Superman. Maybe it's because I realized that it's probably time for me to actually buckle down and read Superman IV The Quest for Peace. Or maybe given the state of the world right now I want to look at something that will be positive and that inspires hope and a better possible tomorrow. Whatever the case, I've been on a Superman kick since Labor Day. Ish. To be honest I'm not really sure why. Maybe it's because I realized that the Superman movies are on HBO Max and I wanted to re-watch Donner's Superman. Maybe it's because I realized that it's probably time for me to actually buckle down and read Superman IV The Quest for Peace. Or maybe given the state of the world right now I want to look at something that will be positive and that inspires hope and a better possible tomorrow. Whatever the case, it's about time I got to Glen Weldon's exhaustive history on The Man of Steel, from his origins until "Today" (really right before Man of Steel came out). This is definitely a book that came out before The Caped Crusade, and it shows. While exhaustive, this can, at times, be rather dry. It blazes through decades of history in its short time and is remarkably dense, Weldon knowing all the ground he has to cover. Unfortuantely, you can tell the lessons he learned from this book that he applied to his follow-up because whereas the other book has a deep charm and joy as Weldon gleefully recounts a character with a particular perspective, unafraid to sprinkle in liberal interpretations and perspectives on what is happening in Batman's history, this book is merely a retelling of all the facts that went into Superman's substantial life as he nears a century of existence. Now, that said, if anyone wants an understanding of Superman, why he's important, why he has weaksauce villains, how he came to be, and the rigidness with which he exists, this is a book for you. Anyone who believes Superman to be boring and a waste of space is missing out on one of the most deeply iconic characters of the past century and why that character has had the impact he has. It inspired so, so much Superman joy in me, giving me thoughts and excitements of what to read and watch, and is helping rekindle this Superhero thing I've been going through lately. Hard to explain why on that one too. Maybe it's the Avengers video game, which inspired an MCU rewatch. Makes sense considering the deep deep pool of Avengers to inspire this. For comparison, all it took to spark it in the other direction was one Superman.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    Weldon's book doesn't get too in depth over every part of Supermans history, because if he did the book would probably 4 times the length, but when he does it's a well thought out and intelligent read. He explores how Superman has changed with the times and how they've effected him as a character and how writers have approached him. It's not just the comics though. He includes Supermans history in both tv and film, not leaving much out. It starts off and it's a bit of a taxing read, because he r Weldon's book doesn't get too in depth over every part of Supermans history, because if he did the book would probably 4 times the length, but when he does it's a well thought out and intelligent read. He explores how Superman has changed with the times and how they've effected him as a character and how writers have approached him. It's not just the comics though. He includes Supermans history in both tv and film, not leaving much out. It starts off and it's a bit of a taxing read, because he reciting the first few issues of Superman almost panel for panel. But as we get further down the line, mostly from the 50s onwards, I couldn't put it down. If you're interested in the character and are looking for a book about Superman that isn't a comic, this is for you.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric Mesa

    I already knew almost all of this; well, the outline, anyway. I've been reading comics on and off for three decades and ever since discovering sites like Comic Vine and reading Grant Morrison's Supergods, it's been easy to learn about plots and trends that took place when I wasn't reading. (Or even before I was born) In fact, it's almost requesite when reading Grant Morrison's comic work if you want to understand all the references. And for the way that I and my infrequent collaborators on www.c I already knew almost all of this; well, the outline, anyway. I've been reading comics on and off for three decades and ever since discovering sites like Comic Vine and reading Grant Morrison's Supergods, it's been easy to learn about plots and trends that took place when I wasn't reading. (Or even before I was born) In fact, it's almost requesite when reading Grant Morrison's comic work if you want to understand all the references. And for the way that I and my infrequent collaborators on www.comicpow.com write, it's important to understand the history of the characters or writers. But what Waldon provides is a great sense of context for all the trends in Superman's history. He provides a through-line that shows how the trends that have buffeted Superman have swung pendulously. He also emphasizes the true essence of Superman and that any deviations from that essence are when changes go too far and end up rejected for they leave us with a hero that is Superman in name only. My personal history with comics was definitely more in the Marvel pool. When I first started while in Elementary school, Marvel was just more appealing to me. I had seen reruns of the old Fleisher Superman cartoons and I was an avid fan of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm's Batman: The Animate Series. But I didn't get into DC comics until just before the New 52 via Gotham City Sirens and Scott Snyder's Detectic Comics run. (During this time I also discovered and became a HUGE fan of Image Comics via Saga, Chew, and others) Then it was New52 which eventually grew stale with me. (I will credit Dr Chrisy Blanch's MOOC with introducing me to the original Seigel and Schuster conception of Superman and contrasting it with Mark Waid's Birthright origin story) So Waldon's book definitely provided me with lots of details I wasn't familiar with and really made me appreciate the persistence of the hero often derided as the Blue Boyscout. Whether, like me, you're a comic fan or you just know Superman via his presence in American (and, probably, world) culture - Waldon's decade-by-decade history of Superman will provide you with insights into why he has survived so long. PS Thanks to my younger brother, Daniel, for gifting me this book for my birthday a couple year ago.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mitch Rogers

    Is this my third superhero biography in two months? Yes, yes it is. This is my genre now. I am a little hesitant to write this review, on the hypothetical chance that Glen reads it and then, in an equally hypothetical turn of events, refuses to meet me at some hypothetical soiree we are both (hypothetically) invited to. But here goes. This book felt like a low-budget rehearsal for The Caped Crusade, a book Glen absolutely clobbered out of the park. I had never noticed until now, with the opportuni Is this my third superhero biography in two months? Yes, yes it is. This is my genre now. I am a little hesitant to write this review, on the hypothetical chance that Glen reads it and then, in an equally hypothetical turn of events, refuses to meet me at some hypothetical soiree we are both (hypothetically) invited to. But here goes. This book felt like a low-budget rehearsal for The Caped Crusade, a book Glen absolutely clobbered out of the park. I had never noticed until now, with the opportunity to closely compare two very similar projects, the difference a good editor and editing process can make. This book had some uncomfortable micro issues (blatant typos showing up in pretty much every chapter) and macro issues (poor development of marginally presented themes). Overall, it felt like a long Wikipedia article, albeit one written with some flair.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Donald Kirch

    Makes you almost "believe" that a Man could fly :-) Very much recommended, for "the child" in all of us.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cloak88

    A comprehensive history of the publication of the Big Blue Boyscout. This book chronicles the changes, the different interpretations, different versions and the history of superman both 'on and off' the comicbook pages. In all this was a pretty interesting read. With 75 years worth of publications to wade through there is a lot to learn. Different versions corresponding to different times and mindsets. If this Icon of the Superhero world and comicbook publishing holds any interest for you than th A comprehensive history of the publication of the Big Blue Boyscout. This book chronicles the changes, the different interpretations, different versions and the history of superman both 'on and off' the comicbook pages. In all this was a pretty interesting read. With 75 years worth of publications to wade through there is a lot to learn. Different versions corresponding to different times and mindsets. If this Icon of the Superhero world and comicbook publishing holds any interest for you than this may be a good fit for you. Written in a chronological order this book starts with the creation and origins of the character and follows-up up with subsequent iterations under different authors and media. The Radio shows, TV and movie versions each get their chapter and give a good overview of this Iconic character. Having personally never read any of this comics or had much of an interest in the movies, I found this book to be engaging and accessibel. Terms were explained and the different versions were given context in the time they were written. So yeah a good book. Superman Fans Rejoice

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erin WV

    This was a really fun read, even for someone like myself who is largely outside of the Superman industrial complex. Except for one month in 2011 when I did, I don't read comics. I've seen the first Christopher Reeve movie, and none of the others. I watched Lois & Clark in the 90s and thought it was fine. I decided to read this book for two reasons. One is that Glen Weldon is my favorite contributor to the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, a witty curmudgeon-type I wish I could hang out with in real This was a really fun read, even for someone like myself who is largely outside of the Superman industrial complex. Except for one month in 2011 when I did, I don't read comics. I've seen the first Christopher Reeve movie, and none of the others. I watched Lois & Clark in the 90s and thought it was fine. I decided to read this book for two reasons. One is that Glen Weldon is my favorite contributor to the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, a witty curmudgeon-type I wish I could hang out with in real life. Two, I like cultural history and analysis of icons. My hope for the book was that it would look at Superman the character in his historical and symbolic context. Mission accomplished there. The book is set up chronologically, with each chapter representing approximately one decade, starting in the 30s when Superman arrived on the scene. Instead of getting too much into the ins and outs of how publication came about (the suing of DC Comics by original Superman creators Shuster and Siegel is mentioned only superficially), The Unauthorized Biography zeroes right in on the character. We get recountings of plotlines of the first appearances in Action Comics and see how they paint a picture of a Superman who is being formed, whose motivations reflect the concerns of the day, whose powers change according to the whims of the creators and the needs of the narrative. And then we see how that picture of Superman continues to change and never stops for seventy-five years. Along with his hair and his costume and his jawline, Superman's motives and politics and anxieties constantly evolve, based not just on the revolving door of writers and artists behind the scenes, but also on the changes wrought in American society. It's especially fun to see how the villains change over time. In the 30s, Superman fought Cagney-esque gangsters. In the 40s, Nazis. In the 50s, mad scientists. And so on. Remembering the 90s in terms of their "extreme" villains (with names that Weldon mocks mercilessly and hilariously) was especially fun. Apparently one of the biggest questions new Superman writers need to address is whether they believe Superman is a crimefighting alien masquerading as a man, or a farm boy whose strange powers are just a vehicle through which he does good. The goodness, in fact, seems to be the only thing that stays true--Superman is always trying to do the right thing, enforce a moral code. Drawbacks: Weldon does go into detail retelling the stories as they happened in the comic books, the movies, and the TV shows. They are fun for awhile, but occasionally get repetitive. As the Superman universe expands and doubles and triples and spawns bizarro worlds and paradise worlds etc., they get increasingly complicated as well. If you are a not a Superman completist (as I am not) it may feel like a bit too much. In that same vein, hundreds and hundreds of men (and a handful of women) have contributed to the drawing, writing, and publishing of Superman media for the past seventy years, and their names are crawling all over this book, with very little else to differentiate them from one another. I imagine Weldon had to include "This time with a story by Comicguy Bookington, drawn by Dude McComics," every time to satisfy the scholars who are looking for that thing, though the names became white noise to me really quickly. If you are looking to learn more about Bookington and McComics specifically this is definitely not the book for you. (Luckily Weldon includes an annotated bibliography at the end for your edification!) Minor quibbles, though, about an interesting (pop-)cultural history written in a funny and engaging style by Weldon.

  12. 4 out of 5

    James

    I mean this in the best possible way: This reads like a Wikipedia article written by someone with talent and a point of view. Weldon is witty, with a scary-complete knowledge of the history of Superman. And he both loves the character and isn't afraid to point out when the character has been handled poorly. (Not for superficial reasons like costume design, but when the essence has been neglected or overlooked.) The combo of affection and critique work marvelously. One of my favorite half-paragrap I mean this in the best possible way: This reads like a Wikipedia article written by someone with talent and a point of view. Weldon is witty, with a scary-complete knowledge of the history of Superman. And he both loves the character and isn't afraid to point out when the character has been handled poorly. (Not for superficial reasons like costume design, but when the essence has been neglected or overlooked.) The combo of affection and critique work marvelously. One of my favorite half-paragraphs: "Lana Lang's first impuse, for example, on learning that she had acquired the ability to transform herself into enormous insects, was not to hide under the couch like Gregor Samsa (clearly a Marvel character) but to sew herself a bee-themed costume." That said, while I love what's here, this is one of those books I wish had been at least half again as long. Stuffing 75 years of character history into 335 pages means that things are frequently rushed. All too often, the book consists of recaps of major storylines, a dash of analysis, and a soupçon of (very) funny lines. Some odd repetitions of information feel like artifacts of a manuscript that was condensed and rearranged; occasionally, concepts are introduced and then mentioned again as if for the very first time a few pages later. Whether it was truth or fictionalized, the recent Slate article that discussed 10 pages cut from the manuscript where Weldon discussed the meaning of Krypto hints that there was originally much more to be discovered, and I wish at least some more of it were here. (Seriously, a 10-page discussion of Krypto apparently got trimmed to a paragraph — couldn't we have gotten at least three pages?) But Weldon makes a convincing argument for his central thesis: That what defines Superman, the two ingredients that are his essence, are that he is absolutely good and that he never gives up. Last son of Krypton or one of hundreds of remaining Kryptonians; father figure or brother figure or buddy figure; red trunks or no red trunks; Superman transcends the details, and those two things make him not just the earliest but the greatest true superhero. Fun read. Wish there was more of it.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Parker

    I come to Superman as mostly a casual fan. I love the Donner films and the Bruce Timm animated series from the 90s, but my direct knowledge stops there. That did not stop me from poring over every detail in this book. Glen Weldon's book sets out to tell Superman's story from beginning to end, identifying what has changed and (more importantly) what has remained constant. I would say that he succeeds. More importantly he compiles a very compelling story, one which any level of fan can approach and I come to Superman as mostly a casual fan. I love the Donner films and the Bruce Timm animated series from the 90s, but my direct knowledge stops there. That did not stop me from poring over every detail in this book. Glen Weldon's book sets out to tell Superman's story from beginning to end, identifying what has changed and (more importantly) what has remained constant. I would say that he succeeds. More importantly he compiles a very compelling story, one which any level of fan can approach and adore. I recommend S:TUB to any fans of comics, superheroes, storytelling, serial fiction, icons, myths, whimsy, absurdism, American art, or popular culture. At 75, Superman is a vast cultural icon, and his appeal extends far beyond the panels of Action Comics. However, Weldon's book never neglects to locate the character's essence in his comic book incarnation, no matter the decade. Weldon's greatest strength as a writer (biographer?) is his desire to celebrate the silliness of comics alongside the ponderous mythmaking. He delights in poking fun at the wackadoo sci-fi of the Silver Age and the roided-out nonsense of much of 90s comics. The occasional biting remark was a welcome reminder that comic books are never a tonally consistent medium, and that mix of the absurd and portentous is often what makes the superhero comic so wonderful. The book is not without some difficult passages. Particularly in the 50s and 60s I felt awash in names, dates and apes. But overall, this is a fascinating and lively document that should inspire us all to seek out more Superman. I am even oddly compelled to watch Superman III & IV.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Wetherington

    A good book. I grew up on the early 1960's (Silver Age) Superman comic books, left after most of the John Byrne reboot had been discarded and returned briefly for the Death of Superman and a few years following that storyline. I watched Smallville and went to each of the movies because, it was after all, Superman, but could never bring myself to continue spending so much money on the comics when I didn't care for the storylines or the characters. Thus, most of the history, up until the late 90's A good book. I grew up on the early 1960's (Silver Age) Superman comic books, left after most of the John Byrne reboot had been discarded and returned briefly for the Death of Superman and a few years following that storyline. I watched Smallville and went to each of the movies because, it was after all, Superman, but could never bring myself to continue spending so much money on the comics when I didn't care for the storylines or the characters. Thus, most of the history, up until the late 90's when I stopped keeping up with the comic book versions because of too many updates to the origin and changes in character, was already very familiar to me. So I found particular enjoyment and interest in the portions that covered that period to present-day. Weldon is obviously familiar with the character and has done an excellent job of bringing not only the history but the essence of Superman to his work. The only caveat I would offer is his tendency to use a $10 word when a $5 one would suffice. But this is to be expected when your background is NPR and I always appreciate the opportunity to expand my vocabulary. If you have any love for the character or interest in his history, this book should be on your shelf.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    Disappointing. For the most part, this reads like an annotated timeline of Superman's appearances in comics and other media, without much insight tying the character into a larger context. It's exhaustive, I guess, but in the end, exhausting. It did come to life a bit in the section dealing with Superman in the 70s - or maybe it's just that I was more interested because that was the prime of my childhood comics fandom. (I vividly remember the day I raced home from the Navy Exchange to beg, borro Disappointing. For the most part, this reads like an annotated timeline of Superman's appearances in comics and other media, without much insight tying the character into a larger context. It's exhaustive, I guess, but in the end, exhausting. It did come to life a bit in the section dealing with Superman in the 70s - or maybe it's just that I was more interested because that was the prime of my childhood comics fandom. (I vividly remember the day I raced home from the Navy Exchange to beg, borrow or steal the money to buy Superman vs. Spider-Man: The Battle of the Century.) It really bogged down as Weldon delved into the endless crises and reboots that have plagued DC Comics over the past couple of decades. TMI.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Kalyn Bridgewater

    I won a copy of this book from the publisher recently. but it has been on my radar for a while. I have never been a comics reader but am always interested in the intersection between pop culture and society. In this book, Weldon does a great job of demonstrating how even an iconic character is changed by the world at large. While sometimes repetitive with information, he manages to write a compelling book about the Man of Steel and his many iterations. Even for someone who is only marginally fam I won a copy of this book from the publisher recently. but it has been on my radar for a while. I have never been a comics reader but am always interested in the intersection between pop culture and society. In this book, Weldon does a great job of demonstrating how even an iconic character is changed by the world at large. While sometimes repetitive with information, he manages to write a compelling book about the Man of Steel and his many iterations. Even for someone who is only marginally familiar with the deeper Superman cannon this is an enjoyable and informative read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Johnnie B.

    Wow. I learned a lot which is saying a lot for a self-proclaimed comic geek who has been reading the stuff for the past 32 years. I enjoyed it a lot but do wonder if it might be TOO much info for a casual reader. Still, I have come to enjoy Weldon on Cultural Happy Hour and he does not disappoint here.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    It's been an eventful three-quarter-century for The Man of Tomorrow, and this book is out to detail damned near every moment of it. All told though, I'd gladly give up chronicles for comprehension...facts for philosophy. Now where'd I leave that copy of Birthright?

  19. 4 out of 5

    Stevie

    I laughed, I cried, it was better than the Bible!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Jacob

    A perfectly fine introduction for the uninitiated. Merely scratches the surface though. Would have loved for more in-depth analysis to have been included.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Andy Hudson

    Like many other reviewers, I came to Superman: The Unauthorized Biography as a fan of author Glen Weldon from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. I also previously read and enjoyed his Batman history, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. Though not a comics reader, and only possessing a marginal interest in Superman at all, I fully expected to coast along on Weldon's particular brand of charmingly self-aware pedantry and his unmistakable, indefatigable love for his subject. To some e Like many other reviewers, I came to Superman: The Unauthorized Biography as a fan of author Glen Weldon from NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. I also previously read and enjoyed his Batman history, The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture. Though not a comics reader, and only possessing a marginal interest in Superman at all, I fully expected to coast along on Weldon's particular brand of charmingly self-aware pedantry and his unmistakable, indefatigable love for his subject. To some extent, I did. But the cultural observation and thematic dissection that forms the spine of his Batman book is significantly dialed down here. Also underrepresented are Weldon's insightful and opinionated takes on specific hot-button comics issues, stories, and adaptations. The exhaustively detailed chronicle of Superman's continuing adventures that we're left with is impressive in its thoroughness (and, mercifully, still written in Weldon's signature voice), but there's much less here to engage an audience outside the Superman comics' readership. It's a bit of a slog. I listened to the audiobook, read by George Newbern, which is a perfectly acceptable thing to put in your ears when you're all caught up on podcasts. Two and a half stars, rounded up to three out of affection for the author, and out of respect for how many times the narrator manages to pronounce "Mxyzptlk."

  22. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Galbreath

    DNF - I tried for months to make it through this book, but the author doesn't seem to really understand the character of Superman or what makes him tick. Weldon's book has its moments: his chapter on the Fleischer Superman cartoons is fantastic, and his revealing the origins of Superman's conception were hugely interesting. The problem is the writing style is similar to a series of blog posts that recount and summarize every comic, radio, and visual appearance of the Man of Steel, but it offers DNF - I tried for months to make it through this book, but the author doesn't seem to really understand the character of Superman or what makes him tick. Weldon's book has its moments: his chapter on the Fleischer Superman cartoons is fantastic, and his revealing the origins of Superman's conception were hugely interesting. The problem is the writing style is similar to a series of blog posts that recount and summarize every comic, radio, and visual appearance of the Man of Steel, but it offers extremely little actual analysis of Superman's character. I stopped reading when the "Superfriends" show was given a few bare paragraphs of mention. I wanted to make it to see the author's opinions on the "Justice League" cartoon and the movie "Man of Steel," but after that I just couldn't stand the slog. This book is for you if you want a shallow outside view of Superman, rather than to get inside the character's soul. The introduction is simply awful, perpetuating stereotypes of Superman as an outdated 50s wish-fulfillment fantasy exclusively appealing to white teenage boys; one wonder why the author felt the self-sabotaging need to erase whole sections of DC Comics' champion's fanbase seemingly only to appeal to the doubters, much less why, if Superman is so "outdated," an NPR journalist with Weldon's credentials is still writing books about Superman in 2013 in the first place. The world's first superhero deserves a better biography, unauthorized or not.

  23. 4 out of 5

    J.J. Lair

    This book had every aspect of Superman covered. The cinematic Superman, the television Superman and the comic-graphic novel Superman. I expected something along the lines of "Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture" when I got this book. It's not that. The author critiques every version of Superman. The general public may not know all the storylines. I certainly didn't. Actually a lot of characters on the CW show Supergirl use Superman villians. I didn't know that. I also didn't know how long Sci-Fi This book had every aspect of Superman covered. The cinematic Superman, the television Superman and the comic-graphic novel Superman. I expected something along the lines of "Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture" when I got this book. It's not that. The author critiques every version of Superman. The general public may not know all the storylines. I certainly didn't. Actually a lot of characters on the CW show Supergirl use Superman villians. I didn't know that. I also didn't know how long Sci-Fi was a part of Superman lore. Cinema Superman tends to be Earth bound, not the comics. I learned a lot about comic reboots and additional characters. For a novice wanting to know more, this was an enjoyable readable book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Guinn

    I came to this not because of love for Superman, but because of my love for Glen Weldon, my favorite Pop Culture Happy Hour panelist and an all-around national treasure. The man could write a 300-page book about melting icicles and I would still read it. Despite having very little interest in the Man of Steel, I found this book very compelling. Weldon writes in a way that goes deep into Superman mythology without alienating anyone who may only have a passing interest in the character. If you're in I came to this not because of love for Superman, but because of my love for Glen Weldon, my favorite Pop Culture Happy Hour panelist and an all-around national treasure. The man could write a 300-page book about melting icicles and I would still read it. Despite having very little interest in the Man of Steel, I found this book very compelling. Weldon writes in a way that goes deep into Superman mythology without alienating anyone who may only have a passing interest in the character. If you're interested, Weldon also wrote a book about Batman called The Caped Crusade that's equally as delightful.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jeanne

    Overall, this books was a fascinating account of a character I knew relatively little about. It was definitely exhaustive, and until I got into it, a bit exhausting, but it was fascinating to learn more about such an iconic figure in American pop culture. I didn't realize that the audio book came out in 2020 but the book first was published in 2013. I had been hoping to hear how the current CW Supergirl fit into all this mythos (especially since some things seemed radically different!) but obviou Overall, this books was a fascinating account of a character I knew relatively little about. It was definitely exhaustive, and until I got into it, a bit exhausting, but it was fascinating to learn more about such an iconic figure in American pop culture. I didn't realize that the audio book came out in 2020 but the book first was published in 2013. I had been hoping to hear how the current CW Supergirl fit into all this mythos (especially since some things seemed radically different!) but obviously it hasn't come out when the book was published, which I can't hold against it. I'd be curious if the author wrote more on the subject and if he ever addressed it.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Tanner

    I've never been a big Superman fan, but this is an interesting read. You can discover a lot about a society by tracing the stories it tells itself, and this offers a narrow, longitudinal view. This also filled in a lot of gaps in my knowledge that may make watching Supergirl more interesting? I'm mostly there for Alex Danvers, but it's cool to know a lot of their monsters of the week stretch back to the 40s.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nick Anderson

    Finally got around to this one. As a fairly big Superman fan, there isn’t a TON of revelatory info, but it’s a good arc of the history of the character and the people involved in his existence. Weldon’s writing is easy on the eyes, and the moments where he cannot resist making fun of that which needs making fun of are the icing on the cake. Mild rec for the hardcore Superman fan; highly recommended for those with some knowledge who are eager to get a big picture view.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Craig Garrett

    Extremely well researched and a great recap of the major events concerning Supes from 1938 to 2011(ish). Movies, cartoons, comic strips and the comics themselves are summarized and the creators highlighted. However, aside from some fun one liners, Weldon is nearly invisible here, and he rarely frames the data himself. It makes the book feel a lot like a well done “Superman for Dummies” affair. For such a brief page count though, it’s great.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sara

    I loved it as someone who found my way into comics via the author of this book Glen Weldon.He was talking about Batman comics on pop culture happy hour and that got me started.I have delved into Superman comics because of him and I am very grateful for that because I found so many comic books that I love on my own and via his recommendations which are always spot on.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mary Catelli

    an overview of the history of Superman himself, not of the people making him except insofar as they are the milestones. (Such as, the exit of Shuster and Siegel cut down on the wise cracking that made him actually part of the comics.) And all the variations in character and setting. lost interest in the latter parts, not sure why.

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