The formative years of the Man of Steel, in a rib-tickling melodrama set in Depression-era America.
De Haven’s knowledgeable assimilation of U.S. pop culture (displayed in such memorable entertainments as Funny Papers (1985) and Dugan Under Ground (2001) is well-suited to the familiar comic-book tale of Kansas farm kid Clark Kent’s loving relationship with his adoptive parents, astonished discovery of the superpowers embedded in “his puzzling, uncomfortable, intimidating body” and gradual acceptance of his role saving the world from malefactors while disguised as a mild-mannered, slightly geeky newspaper reporter. De Haven skillfully juggles parallel narratives, shifting among Clark’s attention-getting early heroics (e.g., catching a speeding bullet in midair), Lois Lane’s rapid climb up the big-city journalism ladder (interrupted by romantic friendships, one with Polish-American photographer Willi Berg, whose path also crosses Clark’s) and criminal mastermind (A)lex(ander) Luthor’s ascent to prominence as NYC alderman and evil genius whose plans to control the world involve deploying a fleet of semi-indestructible robots. Shades of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, then, as well as the comics’ world of cartoonish overkill. De Haven gradually brings Clark out of Kansas, as he rides the rails across America, discovers his humanity (and vulnerability) along with his ability to fly, encounters perpetually endangered Lois (later his reluctant colleague at the Daily Planet) and resists the criminal blandishments of Lex Luthor (who, in a wicked biblical parody, attempts to seduce our hero by promising, “I’ll give you the world”). There’s a little too much of everything here—stalwart public servants, sleazy underworld goons, greedy and murderous molls. But the narrative excess is irresistible, and De Haven anchors it resonantly in Clark’s fears “that he’s not quite genuine, that he’s a made-up character in a story.”
Comic noir with a super-keen edge, in De Haven’s best book yet.