‘The Ages Of Superman’ is the first of four books looking at how super-heroes have changed over the decades. I suspect familiarity with the stories will help you to assess the eighteen writers essays here. I was expecting to see them focusing purely on the Man of Steel but was glad to see diversity to Superboy, Lois Lane, Supergirl and even Spain, where Franco had an outright ban on the American comicbook hero. The footnotes are pages long but fortunately, the majority of them are just reference to particular comicbook issues which you might need to look up if you want to confirm anything they write about. This is one of those instances that it truly would have made sense to have included on the same page or even within the text as I doubt no reader would have thought the worse of them for doing so.
Are there any things that I take issue with? I always thought Titano, the giant ape was supposed to be a King Kong surrogate not, as Lori Maduire suggests, a warning not to tamper with nature. Saying that, Peter Lee’s discussion of how many Superman stories focused on radioactivity, especially that of kryptonite in the use of atomic power and the associated fears, will make you think. Considering Superman dumped any kryptonite he found on Earth into the ocean makes me think he was one of the first fly-tippers. Likewise, I wonder considering its radioactivity, how much has to be put together to get a critical mass, which is after all what destroyed the much heavier Krypton? It’s interesting that he references Superboy’s first encounter with Lar Gand aka Mon-el because at the end of the Adventure # 305 story ‘The Secret Of The Mystery Legionnair’ the recap the way it is written Superboy has a thought balloon where he was planning to murder his ‘older brother’ which wasn’t noted.
Thomas C. Donaldson’s examination of DC’s sexism and trying to break out of it bringing in more super-heroines than the main four they had makes for an interesting ponder, none of which is helped that the company didn’t have any female writers at the time. Mind you, I wish he’d considered the Legion Of Super-Heroes that had a far better representation of the opposite sex.
There is some emphasis on the significant changes with Superman, mostly with the reboot John Byrne did in the mid-1980s, although Denny O’Neil’s power adjustment and removal of kryptonite and even the ‘Death Of Superman’, as José Alaniz points out have literally become footnotes in his history. Mind you, having characters die and be resurrected has now become a super-hero cliché that no one believes anymore.
Stefan Buchenberger’s examination of why Superman has never been corrupted by his power compares to similar DC characters from across the 52 multiverses citing a couple examples shows that we only see the best version all the time. The real problem, as always, is Superman is just too powerful and that has always been an obstacle in any true development as an icon. We accept him that way but it does tend to deter anything that can be done with him significantly because as those two examples from the previous paragraph shows, they are quickly forgotten.
In some respects, I wish these writers had explored the TV and film versions of Superman more. They touch on the subject but do no more than that which is a shame because the number of variations does show people think there is more to him as an icon status.
There have been various explorations of super-heroes over recent years, mostly their psychological profiles. I think this particular series of books would have been helped with a summing up by the editors as to what they have learnt from their colleagues out of all of this but as you can see from the above, they gave me plenty to think about.
(pub: McFarland. 239 page indexed small enlarged paperback. Price: £33.50 (UK), $40.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-7864-6308-4)