Sunday, July 6, 2008

COMICS and MOVIES- Superman vs. Hollywood

While I was a little disappointed in BenBella’s THE MAN FROM KRYPTON, Amazon recommended a couple of other books on the man of steel that were even better. The best of their selections was a book every fan of Superman should read. Jake Rossen has written the definitive book about Superman’s history, not in the comics but in mass media. SUPERMAN VS. HOLLYWOOD starts with the 1941 radio serials (which started just a couple of years after the character’s creation) and goes all the way through to Superman Returns. In the introduction Mark Millar says that he thought he knew the story of Superman on film but he learned several things that were new to him while reading the book. Likewise, before starting the book I was familiar with several decades of Superman film mythology. I had watched George Reeves in black and white on my television when I was just a child. I had sat in a crowded theater (three friends and I were ushered into seats far apart because the theater was so crowded) watching Christopher Reeve give life to the character. I own the “making of” for the 1979 movie. I had rented the Max Fleisher short cartoons in the early days of VHS. I watched the Chris Reeve sequels and followed the first couple of seasons of LOIS AND CLARK, saw some episodes of the Bruce Timm Superman, and followed the development of Brian Singer’s reboot of the franchise. I thought I knew a lot about the history of the character on film. Boy was I surprised! Millar is absolutely right. There is seldom a page that doesn’t include a revelation!

Did you know that, for instance, One of the first Lois Lanes on radio (there were three) was Rolly Bester, wife of Alfred Bester who was writing Green Lantern at the time? That Perry White, Jimmy Olsen, and Kryptonite were invented by the radio writers, not in the comics? That Kevin Smith did not just have numerous meetings with the Warner Brothers brass as recounted in his AN EVENING WITH KEVIN SMITH but actually wrote two complete scripts? That the Tim Burton-Nick Cage reboot SUPERMAN LIVES was going to feature a superman with a new costume, a heavy reliance on gadgets (to please the toy makers), and would fly with the aid of a jet pack? (!) That the first season Superboy of the 1988 series was fired because he was arrested for DUI, violating his “morals clause” (at the same time that he was asking for a 20% raise)? (It isn’t mentioned in the book but one local rumor circulating at the time in Orlando, where the series was being made, was that he was also a little too conspicuous at The Parliament House, the largest gay club in town.)

Superman even destroyed the KuKluxKlan! Really! Seems that in 1946 writers for the radio show were fed information by Stetson Kennedy, who had infiltrated the Klan but had little effect since so many southern politicians and policemen were Klan members. The writers used this information to broadcast Klan secrets in a two part episode where Superman fought the racist organization. Seems that after this, Klan membership, especially among younger people, started to dwindle.

I could go on and on with fascinating stories from the book but instead you should just link over to Amazon and buy it. It is extensively researched, well written, and just plain hard to put down. Most highly recommended to any comics fan.

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