Review: "It's Superman"
It's Superman is a novel by Tom De Haven about how Superman became Superman. It ostensibly wants to get back to the roots of the character by taking us not only to his origins in Smallville but also back to his beginning in the 1930's. However, the book is part of the same trend that gave us Zack Snyder's DC movie universe. Let's go down the list of features, shall we?
Grim and Gritty
DC is all about being dark these days. Some people feel that having things be grim and gritty somehow makes the idea of people with powers and costumes more realistic. Man of Steel is notorious for everything being in shades of gray and blue. The movie had a very somber mood. It's Superman also tries to be more grounded in the real world. Instead of Metropolis, Clark ends up in New York City. Clark spends a night drinking whiskey and smoking cigarettes with his new friend. He has a fling with a costume designer in Hollywood. Lois drinks, smokes, and has sex with her boyfriend. Both Man of Steel and It's Superman kill one of Clark's parents, his father in the movie and his mother in the book. I'm not sure why non-comic adaptations of Supes insist on doing this. He is one of the few DC characters who still has both parents. Maybe the writers are hoping to get some of that Batman gravitas by offing either Ma or Pa Kent.
The book takes the grim and gritty approach to another level by taking us back to 1935. The Great Depression is in full swing. The mob is at the height of its power. New York politics are seedy.
Apparently, the Christopher Reeve Superman who grew up being confident and self-assured was not appealing to the Superman writers of today. Now, Clark is nothing if not angsty. He feels out of place. He doesn't know what to do with his powers. He tries to run away from it all. This is all perfectly plausible, but it is not the character that I grew up with.
In the novel, Superman never even finds out that he is from the planet Krypton. For all he knows, his rocket came from Saturn, Alpha Centauri, or a secret government facility. His costume is a cast-off from a canceled science fiction movie. He later gets an upgrade from Lex Luthor, which he apparently has no qualms accepting even though Lex has already proven to be a villain of the highest caliber.
Shabby Treatment of Jimmy Olsen
In Batman V Superman, Jimmy shows up just long enough to get outed as a government agent and executed by some extremist types. At least he got to show up. In It's Superman, Jimmy is replaced by Willi Berg, Lois' photographer boyfriend. He still becomes Superman's best pal, but he is a bit sketchier than the freckled kid from the comics. When he can't afford to get his camera out of hock, he breaks into the pawnshop to get it back. He has an affair with the married friend of his ex-girlfriend. I expected him to at least dye his hair and take the Jimmy Olsen name when he was forced to go on the run, but the book doesn't even give fans that concession.
Nods to the Source Material
The book doesn't completely turn it's back on the comics. Superman has all the powers he does in the comics, even some that he didn't get until much later. Lex Luthor is a politician/gangster in this version, but there is a nod to his mad genius roots. He plans to build a robot army with his scientist henchman. Superman gets to take a break from knocking out hoods and breaking his friend out of jail (I told you this book was gritty) to fight one of Lex's killer robots. Actually, the most interesting parts of the book are focused on Luthor's subordinates. They are the ones who keep the book moving along while Clark is busy moping his way across the country.
If you're not a fan of the Superman from the comics, or the movies from the 70's and 80's, you might enjoy this. Although if you're not a comics fan, you probably wouldn't want to read it in the first place. If you are a Superman fan, you might still enjoy it. I did, even though I found myself often frustrated with how characters were depicted, or certain developments that didn't make sense to me. Overall, I just hope that someday we get a version of Superman where the people who make it are not embarrassed to be making Superman.
© 2018 Gracchus Gruad