Artvoice: Buffalo's #1 Newsweekly
Home Blogs Web Features Calendar Listings Artvoice TV Real Estate Classifieds Contact
Previous story: Reunion
Next story: 6/4/68, And You Are There, Sort Of

It's Superman! A Novel by Tom de Haven

Ballantine Books, 2006: 432 Pages

2006 was the year of Superman, with the release of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, starring the unknown actor Brandon Routh, and the subsequent release of Hollywoodland, an intimate look at the legends surrounding the death of the first man to play the superhero on any screen, George Reeves. The tale of Superman and the surrounding iconography has been pervasive in history since the inception of the character by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster in the 1930s. Many have told the tale of the “Man of Steel,” and done it well (and continue to do so, in weekly comic books and other media). Is there room for another addition to such an overcrowded pop-culture shelf?

I believe the answer is a resounding yes—especially if that addition is Tom De Haven’s mythical, engrossing novel It’s Superman! The novel recounts a new history of the youth of Clark Kent, Lex Luthor and Lois Lane, adding in a number of new characters along the way, but never so many that the “real” story gets lost. Setting his tale first in the fictitious Smallville and then in the realistically drawn Los Angeles and New York City of the 1930s, De Haven situates his tale amidst the realities of the Great Depression, the swirling hopelessness of the Dust Bowl and the glitz and tawdry glamour of young Hollywood. De Haven also smartly incorporates the famous and infamous of the era, drawing his storylines from bygone headlines such as Hitler’s rise in Nazi Germany and the city of New York under the authority of Mayor LaGuardia.

De Haven’s Kent is a well-meaning, lost young man, both impressed by and ashamed of his powers, aware that he is different and struggling with the realization that no matter how much he loves his parents or his hometown, he is truly alone. It is the appearance of a new character in the mythology, a photographer named Willi Berg, which sets in motion the events that take Clark form Smallville to the big city. Ultimately, it is Clark’s friendship with Berg that brings about his new identity as the caped-crusader, to fight for good in a city overwrought with evil. This novel is as literary as any that I’ve read lately, and while certainly not for children, it does satisfy the child at heart.