Compelling chronicle of the Man of Steel’s bumpy ride through Tinseltown.
Believers in truth, justice and the American Way beware: Rossen’s tale of showbiz Superman, from his radio debut in 1940 to the bloated blockbuster Superman Returns in 2006, is likely to disillusion even the most idealistic fans. Created by writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster, Superman made his comics debut in 1938 and soon after became a hot commodity in nearly every entertainment medium. From radio and cartoons to TV and (eventually) movies, Superman became as globally ubiquitous as Mickey Mouse. As his image became more iconic, however, behind-the-scenes soap operas not only stalled the property’s development, but also contributed to the ruin of careers, marriages and even lives. Siegel and Shuster received little compensation for their creation despite the billions of dollars of revenue it produced; at one point, the near-destitute pair was forced to sue Time Warner for an insignificant sum just to pay their bills. Actors who have donned the cape have found themselves victims of typecasting, which was particularly distressing to Christopher Reeve. The mysterious death of TV Superman George Reeves in 1959, as well as the injuries and accidental deaths of production staff over the years, have only added to the dark cloud that hovers over the franchise despite the smashing success of the first two movies and moderate popularity of TV shows like Lois & Clark and Smallville. The narrative occasionally delves too deeply into the comic’s mythology for casual readers, but it’s not just a trivia-fest for diehard fans. (There are some delicious tidbits, though: Who knew that Mario Puzo penned the first draft of the screenplay for Superman: The Movie? Or that Charles Bronson, James Caan and Robert Wagner, among others, were offered the lead?)
Solid research and crisp prose make this Superman book a winner.