Saturday, May 18, 2013

Glen Weldon's "Superman: The Unauthorized Biography"

Glen Weldon is a freelance writer, book critic and movie reviewer.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Superman: The Unauthorized Biography, and reported the following:
Turns out page 99 is all about Fredric Wertham's 1950s public crusade against comic books in general and Superman in particular. Which does line up with FMF's maxim, as the central thesis of the book is that Superman reflects the cultural shifts that take place around him -- that each generation gets the Superman it deserves. And Wertham's crusade precipitated one such shift that changed how Superman was perceived for decades afterwards.

Wertham was a powerful guy whose belief that reading comics caused juvenile delinquency helped launch community crackdowns on comics and, ultimately, congressional investigations as well. He might have had a point about crime comics, many of which were crazy, violent, and crazily violent, but his repeated accusations that Superman was a Nazi, for example, were nothing short of hysterical (and I bet they caused the Man of Steel's Jewish writers and editors no small amount of tsuris.)

Violent crime comics largely disappeared, and superhero comics made several changes to allay public fears about violence. Superman's adventures became more broadly cartoonish and whimsical. Interestingly, it's at this point in Superman's history that the provenance for his amazing abilities changes. From now on, it's the Earth's yellow sun that bestows upon him his super-powers. His creators original concept -- namely, that Kryptonians are a mighty and genetically perfect "super-race" -- quietly disappears from the chronicles. So at least one sense, Wertham's Nazi accusations must have stung.
Learn more about the book and author at Glen Weldon's website and follow him on Twitter.

--Marshal Zeringue