(Recommended by Krupp Library Circulation Assistant Bill Doughty)
Lots of people have written prose novels featuring comic book / comic strip characters over the years, and more often than not, the end results fall into one of two categories. You either end up with a fairly traditional sort of comic story, with extra exposition subbing in for the pictures in order to move the plot along, or else the author attempts to reconceive the characters and setting in some sort of ironic and/or postmodern context. Neither approach is wrong, necessarily, and there are some good examples from both schools of thought (a whole lot of really bad ones, too), but there aren’t a lot out there that bridge that gap. Tom DeHaven’s It’s Superman! : A Novel, however, is one of the few that does exist in that much sought-after middle ground.
Now if you come into this expecting something along the lines of the sort of Superman stories you see at the movie theater or at the local comic book store every Wednesday, you’ll be in for a bit of a shock. DeHaven takes his story of the Man of Steel back to the character’s origins… not Krypton, but the 1930s. The Superman who first appeared in 1938’s Action Comics #1 was somewhat different than the hero we know today – he could leap tall buildings in a single bound, but couldn’t quite fly yet, a powerful enough explosion could make him bleed, and he was sometimes as much a hindrance to the police as a help – and it is this period’s version of the character we come to know over the course of the novel. Smartly, he also tells the stories of two other people important to the mythos, Lois Lane and Lex Luthor, in parallel to Clark’s own, their paths slowly crossing and, soon, completely intertwining, as they eventually grow into the characters we’ll recognize once Superman’s comic book exploits begin.
And that’s the real strength of DeHaven’s work here – exploring the unprobed pasts of these otherwise familiar presences, adding motivations and even providing potential answers to questions we might not have even thought to ask ourselves. How would it feel to be knowingly different, alien, to everyone else around you in Depression- and Dust Bowl-era Kansas? What events lead a farmboy to fight social injustice in the biggest city in the world (and why does he dress like *that* when doing so)? How does a top-of-her-class journalism student fight to get her foot in the door of the male-driven journalist game, and if she really is so smart, how can she not figure out the man she loves and the man she just barely tolerates are the same guy? Why drives a certifiable genius to crime when he could use his gifts to help the world, and why does he seem to actually enjoy squaring off against so powerful an enemy (and where do all those robots of his come from, anyway)?
DeHaven walks a fine line as he tries to find new wrinkles in a story that most people already know coming into this (seriously, how many people don’t know the basics of the Superman story by now?), but by going back to the period of the characters’ real world origins, and focusing more on Man than Superman (apologies to George Bernard Shaw). It’s a bit like the show “Smallville” by way of John Steinbeck, really… and weird as that may sound, it kind of works.