Superheroes! by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor (book review).

From the introduction to ‘Superheroes!’ by Laurence Maslon and Michael Kantor, this is a companion book to the American PBS 3-part documentary series ‘Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle’, which I can’t recall being shown in the UK back in 2013, the release date of this book. A quick look on-line and the DVD is out there on Region One only.

For the moment, I’ll focus on the book. It goes through the evolution of the comic-book in the USA before that super-chap and the bat-fella and the explosion of super-heroes from any publisher wanting to make money off the craze. With the Depression in the time period, it also gave a lot of young artists and writers a means to make money and a creative outlet.

With books of this nature, I tend to look for things I didn’t know or they discovered or omissions. After all, if you’re reading here, you must know something about the subject matter.

With the gods associated with ‘Shazam!’, I hadn’t realised that they were a mish-mash of pantheons. Then again, it looks like it was Captain Marvel selling more than Superman that instilled National Periodicals to sue Fawcett than copyright infringement.

Last month, in a different review, I did put up a question mark that I couldn’t recall any super-heroine being created by a lady. This book notes Miss Fury by June Tarpé Mills who dropped her first name. The said character appeared in newspapers in April 1941 and as a Timely comic-book title in January 1943 and earlier than Wonder Woman.

I would dispute them on one detail. Mr. Hyde was a Thor villain for 4 years before he took on Daredevil.

Likewise, I’m not sure if I would include ‘The Liquidator’ with the likes of ‘The Executioner’ as its first book came out in 1964, not the 70s. Boysie Oakes has more in common with James Bond.

The caption contracts the text concerning the Fantastic Four movie of 1994 with the latter being right as it was never released on video.

Len Wein definitely has it wrong regarding Wolverine’s first kill in ‘The Uncanny X-Men’. It wasn’t an alien guard but a member of one of the Savage Land tribes. I remember Chris Claremont telling me that John Byrne has omitted showing there were pterodactyls with men flying on them overhead forcing Wolverine’s decision rather than just a wanton murder.

Looking at the briefing on The Avengers and probably lack of space omits that they weren’t the first to have a skyscraper in New York as the Fantastic Four had theirs with the Baxter Building. Stark’s Manhattan mansion served them for several decades.

After the main history of comic books and up to the 1970s, there is a consistent history but then becomes…well…a bitty, hit on key subjects rather than how they evolved into it. No doubt this follows the needs of the TV series and I’ve added the DVD to my list to have a look at.

Although I can understand the Legion Of Super-Heroes being omitted, it is puzzling that the (Teen) Titans was, considering it was the nearest thing to an equal to the X-Men at DC Comics. Then again, the 2013 release of this book was before the rise of Cyborg in the films.

I should point out that there is a lot of comic-book art here and the errors I point out are small in comparison to the overall contents. Don’t expect a comprehensive history but you will come away from this book better informed.

GF Willmetts

July 2020

(pub: Crown Archetype/Random House, 2013. 308 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: I pulled my copy for about £ 3.00 (UK). ISBN: 978-0385-34858-4)

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