Superman: The Unauthorized Biography
By Glen Weldon
Why do we need another book about Superman? Because the majority of books about the most famous comic-book character of all time haven’t spent much time discussing his comic books. Weldon, a commentator for National Public Radio, spends much of the book looking at Superman in his natural habitat, the comics pages, and examining how individual comic stories constantly change the nature of the character. “Everything about him exists in a state of perpetual flux,” Weldon tells us, except his basic unselfishness and determination to succeed.
Weldon does what many Superman histories don’t bother to do: He reads and summarizes many of the big man’s earliest appearances in Action comics and his own eponymous title, helping us see how he gained his signature traits over the course of his early years. The chronology, which includes Superman’s successful early ventures into radio and cartoons, helps us see how the character became what he is, and what had to be discarded along the way to get him there: The first attempt at a supervillain to fight the invincible hero was not Lex Luthor but the “Ultra Humanite,” a scientist whose mind gets transplanted into a sexy woman’s body.
The pileup of plot summaries can get a little wearying, especially since Weldon was not able to get the rights to show samples of the comics he writes about. But the book still leaves you impressed, above all, with the resourcefulness of the artists and writers who have been assigned to work on Superman. Weldon admits that he is a “corporate-owned, narratively static character,” yet people still come up with ways to insert their own interests into the character and his friends and enemies, whether it’s the mulleted Superman of the ’90s, or the time Lois Lane learned about race by turning herself into a black woman.