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Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero [Audiobook] [Audio CD]

Larry Tye , Scott Brick
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

12 Jun 2012
Seventy-five years after he came to life, Superman remains one of America’s most adored and enduring heroes. Now Larry Tye, the prize-winning journalist and New York Times bestselling author of Satchel, has written the first full-fledged history not just of the Man of Steel but of the creators, designers, owners, and performers who made him the icon he is today.
 
Legions of fans from Boston to Buenos Aires can recite the story of the child born Kal-El, scion of the doomed planet Krypton, who was rocketed to Earth as an infant, raised by humble Kansas farmers, and rechristened Clark Kent. Known to law-abiders and evildoers alike as Superman, he was destined to become the invincible champion of all that is good and just—and a star in every medium from comic books and comic strips to radio, TV, and film.
 
But behind the high-flying legend lies a true-to-life saga every bit as compelling, one that begins not in the far reaches of outer space but in the middle of America’s heartland. During the depths of the Great Depression, Jerry Siegel was a shy, awkward teenager in Cleveland. Raised on adventure tales and robbed of his father at a young age, Jerry dreamed of a hero for a boy and a world that desperately needed one. Together with neighborhood chum and kindred spirit Joe Shuster, young Siegel conjured a human-sized god who was everything his creators yearned to be: handsome, stalwart, and brave, able to protect the innocent, punish the wicked, save the day, and win the girl. It was on Superman’s muscle-bound back that the comic book and the very idea of the superhero took flight.
 
Tye chronicles the adventures of the men and women who kept Siegel and Shuster’s “Man of Tomorrow” aloft and vitally alive through seven decades and counting. Here are the savvy publishers and visionary writers and artists of comics’ Golden Age who ushered the red-and-blue-clad titan through changing eras and evolving incarnations; and the actors—including George Reeves and Christopher Reeve—who brought the Man of Steel to life on screen, only to succumb themselves to all-too-human tragedy in the mortal world. Here too is the poignant and compelling history of Siegel and Shuster’s lifelong struggle for the recognition and rewards rightly due to the architects of a genuine cultural phenomenon.
 
From two-fisted crimebuster to über-patriot, social crusader to spiritual savior, Superman—perhaps like no other mythical character before or since—has evolved in a way that offers a Rorschach test of his times and our aspirations. In this deftly realized appreciation, Larry Tye reveals a portrait of America over seventy years through the lens of that otherworldly hero who continues to embody our best selves.

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Product details

  • Audio CD
  • Publisher: Random House Audio; Unabridged edition (12 Jun 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307990109
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307990105
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars AKA, Superman: The Biography... 22 July 2012
By C. Ball TOP 1000 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Hardcover
I'm not a comic book fan, and I can take or leave most superheroes. I like the comic book movies that have been around in latter years, like X-Men, The Avengers and Batman, but most of the time they leave me cold. I get put off by the fanboy craziness, the convoluted storylines, and let's face, I'm a bit of a literary snob and I like my books without pictures. No judgement, that's just me.

That said, I love Superman. I couldn't tell you why. There's something about Superman that elevates him above most superheroes, a steadfastness and a nostalgia, a representation of all that's good in the world. Most superheroes I associate with fighting crime, with death and destruction and evil, but somehow Superman seems to rise above what he confronts in a way that, I feel, the others don't. And that makes him fascinating. One of his nicknames is the Big Blue Boy Scout; how does he manage to continue that image without being insufferable, smug, goody-two-shoes?

This is a really interesting look at why Superman has lasted so long, how he has come to represent 'truth, justice and the American Way', what Superman tapped into that made him such an enduring popular culture icon. Tye charts his history from his creation by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, through the radio plays and early TV serials with George Reeves, through Christopher Reeve and the movies, Lois & Clark and Smallville, all the way up to the present day. You can really feel the affection for Superman that Tye feels, and it reawakened my own love for the Man of Steel.

Whilst Superman began as a comic figure, he's now transcended the material he came from and seems to exist outside of any form of entertainment media.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  74 reviews
36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Who made Superman? 19 May 2012
By Zack Davisson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
In the introduction to this book, author Larry Tye worries that he doesn't have anything new to say about Superman. After almost seventy five years of people writing Superman and writing about Superman, what can there be to add? Or, as Tye's editor says, "There are 200 books about Superman. Why do we need 201?" And the fact is, Larry Tye doesn't have anything new to say about Superman. What he has is a new way to say it.

Tye offers perspective. Because Tye is not a Superman fan. Oh, he has fond memories of the character like every other American who grew up on Super Friends and Christopher Reeve. But before starting "Superman: The High-Flying History of America's Most Enduring Hero" Tye had never even heard of the TV show Smallville. No, Tye picked Superman because Tye is a biographer of American heroes, like Satchel Paige and Robert Kennedy. And when looking for a new subject, he realized that America's most enduring hero, whose influence has never waned, was a fictional character.

Starting from an almost blank slate, Tye carefully collected and correlated seventy-five years of writing, then condensed it down into a single narrative. IF you don't know much about Superman, there might be some surprises here. Tye talks about Superman's Jewish origins and influences, using sources I recognize from the outstanding Superman at Fifty: The Persistence of a Legend collection of essays. He talks about the supposed "Superman Curse" for actors in the various Superman live-action movies and TV shows who were forever typecast. He gives a background the various Superman re-boots from the Silver Age, the Imaginary Stories era, to John Byrne's `80s revamp, to the modern 52 series. (And yes, he gets things wrong. I could pick him apart on some details--Titano the Ape is not from Krypton nor part of the Superman family. Etc. etc. But that's just petty). It's was all familiar to me, but Tye's writing was lively and I didn't mind re-visiting it.

Some of his writing did voyage into the bombastic, and I think Tye exaggerates Superman's popularity in certain eras. He talks so much about the Superman craze in the 19 50s, which I found dubious enough that I asked my mother about it. No, she said, she barely knew who Superman was when she was a kid. For her and all of her friends it was Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse that kept them glued to the new-fangled TV sets, not George Reeves.

Most interesting in this book was in regards to Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Unencumbered by the politics and emotion of a comic book fan, Tye makes some controversial statements that--I am guessing--he doesn't even realize are controversial.

In this age of Creator's Rights and the image of cold, faceless corporations stripping creators of their creations then throwing them penniless in the streets--in an age where Marvel comics sued the creator of the character Ghost Rider for copyright infringement for drawing a sketch of his own creation at a convention--Siegel and Shuster are the poster children of "creators done wrong." According to the legend, DC Comics bought Superman lock, stock, and barrel from Siegel and Shuster for $130 then left them to die penniless old men while the company raked in billions.

Tye paints an entirely different picture, and perhaps a more honest one. Yes, Tye says, Siegel and Shuster created Superman, but it was really thanks to publishers Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz that we still know who Superman is today. Donenfeld and Liebowitz neither knew nor cared about comics, but they did know money and advertising, and together they created Superman Inc that pushed the character beyond the pages of the comics and into eternity. They saw the potential in Siegel and Shuster's creation, and they took that crude beginning and refined it into what we know today. It was something they wouldn't have done if they didn't own the character. They wouldn't have made the effort if they hadn't been able to reap the rewards.

Some of the most interesting quotes in the book come from old exchanges between the parties: "You have the germ of a great idea in Superman, but you need constant editorial supervision" said Liebowitz. And even harsher, "as long as your ego tells you anything you do must be a preordained success, I would be interested in having you name one feature -outside of Superman - that you have developed which has enjoyed even a modicum of success." Liebowitz also noted that of a surprise bonus checks sent to Siegel, he "did not see fit to acknowledge it, though you did deposit it."

And Siegel and Shuster hardly suffered. They were given better deals than any professionals in the industry at the time, and both Siegel and Shuster were effectively rich men when the comic was at its height. But both of them wanted more, and constant money-grubbing and lawsuits caused enough bad will that Donenfeld and Liebowitz cut them off entirely. Poor money management and extravagant spending in the good times led both Siegel and Shuster to squander their acquired fortunes.

That history isn't going to sit well with some people. It was a hard pill for me to swallow, the idea that the corporation of DC Comics has more to do with the success of Superman than the original creators, But Tye makes the case so effectively, and with so little bias, that it is hard to deny.

I don't think he intended it, but Tye forced me to re-consider some long-held truths about who made Superman. Liebowitz in particular, who lived to be 100 years old and guided Superman from that first issue to the Christopher Reeve film in the late `70s and up until he retired in 1991, had far more to do with building the Superman we all know and love than probably anyone else. Yet he is always portrayed as the villain of the story, and Siegel and Shuster the poor victims. The story is obviously more complicated than that, as real life is no comic book and real people are not supermen.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Superman Through the Years 8 July 2012
By Marc Korman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Most people know the basics about Superman, most fans know at least something about his creators, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, and most children of the 70s and 80s know the Christopher Reeve Superman films. Larry Tye's "biography" of Superman digs a little deeper into all of this and more. The book spends the most time on Shuster and Siegel and the Reeve films, but this story has been told in many other books and places. Where Tye really succeeds is in telling the whole story of Superman and not just the 1930s creation and 1970s and 80s films. Tye explains what happened to Shuster and Siegel in later years, including their ongoing legal battles and what appear to be bribes by DC Comics (and its various predecessors and successors) to keep the two creators happy and out of the courtroom. Tye also spends significant time on the comics, which are oddly enough often forgotten when discussing Superman's exploits in favor of the George Reeves TV series and various movies. The comics, as Tye explains, went through many permutations through the years just as Superman did in other media forms. Tye did miss discussing the excellent 1988 (excellent because I was 7 at the time!) 50th anniversary Saturday morning cartoon series and a few other Superman oddities (such as the Super-pup pilot), but overall this is a comprehensive book that is easy to read for a fan and, I suspect, for those with a more passing interest.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Many Histories of Superman 19 July 2012
By Scott T. Rivers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
A fascinating overview of the iconic American hero through his various media incarnations - propelled by the bittersweet saga of creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Thoughtfully researched by Larry Tye, "Superman" (2012) chronicles the major and minor players in the comic-book legend's 74-year odyssey. Recommended reading for scholars of popular and corporate culture. Hopefully, Bob Kane's Batman will receive the same expansive treatment.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Quite a story about quite a story 26 July 2012
By Brian Connors - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
This is a very interesting study of the history and development of Superman, both the comic and the mythos, as well as a study of the stories of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the founders of DC Comics, and the forces that turned a not-entirely-original superhero into one of the greatest comic book heroes of all time. The story tracks the development the mythos from a poorly drawn initial comic with a very vague backstory up through the expansion of the Superman property into radio, film, and television, from Action Comics #1 to Smallville. A lot of peoples' stories are told, but the two most important seem to be those of Jerry Siegel and DC cofounder Jack Liebowitz, whose often-antagonistic relationship seems to play out as two talented people, a writer and a marketer, who, despite being dependent on each other, seem to have spent most of their careers talking past each other.

The media history is no less interesting though -- from the early radio and animated shorts through the George Reeves, Christopher Reeve, Lois and Clark, and Smallville eras, all of it gets covered (although Lois and Clark seems to get shorted a bit compared to Smallville). And the legal issues -- many of them going back to the original rivalry between Liebowitz and Siegel -- get some pretty in-depth coverage as well. Also of interest was how factors like World War II and the CCA affected both Superman's character and the stories, and the many permutations the names and people in the mythos have taken (it was a long, long time before Clark's parents were settled as Jonathan and Martha, for example), not to mention the significant influences of Siegel and Shuster's Jewish upbringings (the author goes so far as to say that Superman has been basically Jewish since the beginning, if you know what to look for). The only real problem I have with the book is that the chronology is very squishy -- a lot of the story threads overlap in time and it's not as clearly delineated as it could be.

Comics have a long, frequently controversial history, but there are few as big as Superman. If he's your kind of hero, or you just like comic trivia, this is the definitive book.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comic book history treated with respect 27 May 2012
By G. Swift - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product (What's this?)
Larry Tye delivers a wonderful final product with this history of Superman. It's not the typical, limited-scope fare that would appeal only to die-hard fans of comic books or Superman loyalists. This is a comprehensive look at the complete history of the character, the creators, and the developers, in all the various media that Superman has conquered.

The history starts with the childhood of Superman's creators, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Their impoverished background greatly shaped not just their lives but also their creative aims. They wanted to create a hero who would stand against all those things and enemies that the small boys from the Jewish ghettoes could not. In Superman they created an amalgam of all the many heroes of the day mixed with those of Biblical stories. They were not shy about their borrowing from others, the details of which Tye lays out quite plainly. Many of these were news to me, given my unfamiliarity with some of the old pulp heroes. The tale of the efforts of the two creators to get their creation sold runs for years. When they finally make the sale, they get all they ever wanted, and more.

The story also focuses greatly on the publishers and businessmen who took the Superman character and ran with him. They knew right away they had a winner and they rode it to the top. They were unrelenting in their pursuit of protecting the character from copycats, regardless that the character itself could have faced the same from the creators of the other properties from which it borrowed, as well as vigorously dealing with those same creators. The chain of lawsuits that Siegel and Shuster, and their heirs, filed to gain control over their creation is given perhaps less focus that some sources, but it does tie much of the second half of the book together.

The chapters run roughly by decade. The entry of the character into radio adventures, newspaper comic strips, movie serials, TV shows, cartoons, and finally movies, all the while still running in comic book form since 1938, shows how the character was affected by the changing times of the nation. The shrewdness of the various owners, publishers, directors, actors, and producers to honor the property and still deliver an enjoyable product, regardless of the medium, shows how the character has survived for so long. The only appearance I did not recall reading was the important role Superman played in the Justice League, Justice League Unlimited, and Legion of Super Heroes cartoon series in the previous decade. Most other cartoons seemed to be mentioned, along with great behind the scenes revelations of the Superman movies.

The history itself actually only runs 300 pages, with the rest of the page count taken by acknowledgments, index, a Superman CV (which includes, for example, Superman's social security number), numerous chapter endnotes (in the preview copy, the notes are included but the notes themselves lack their notation in the text), and a lengthy bibliography that appears pretty exhaustive.

Tye does not seem really to take sides on the dispute over ownership rights, though he does characterize the early business owners pretty clearly as dirty dealers. Rather, he seems to take as neutral a stand as someone might given the subject matter. As a comic book fan, I found the book to be pretty amazing considering how much detail is given over such a long period of time on so many different people involved with the long life of the character. I read it straight through and had to take some time to let it digest before I felt I could write this review. I intend to read it again when it is published so that I can properly follow the endnotes for each chapter as they are cited. I would recommend that other comic fans (even if you're a long-time Marvel guy like me) to get an inside look at the history of the superhero industry. For fans of the character from any medium, this is a great way to see details that have either never been published or at least never seen print under one single telling of the character's history to this date. That it's written by a fan of the character explains the respect given to the material and its proper recounting.
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