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Monday, October 13, 2014

IT'S SUPERMAN (audiobook) by Tom De Haven

  How Hard Is It to Nail Down Superman's Personality?

Published by GraphicAudio in March of 2014
Adapted from the novel It's Superman by Tom De Haven
Multicast performance
Duration; Approximately 7 hours

Let me be clear from the beginning about two things:

1) I am a Superman fan

2) I do not mind re-makes or re-interpretations so long as they are done respectfully of the source material.

However, this book does not do that, with the exception of Lex Luthor.

This re-imagined world of Superman is set in the 1930s, which I liked as a choice because that's when Superman was created. Most of the first part of the book deals with a struggling Lois Lane living with a a freelance photographer named Willi Berg in an apartment in New York City (the book dispenses with the Metropolis conceit). Lois is much more worldly than I have ever seen her, but I was fine with that. 

Willi Berg witnesses Lex Luthor, a New York City politician, in the middle of a crime and discovers that Luthor is muscling out the established crime bosses and using his position in city government to provide him cover. Berg flees the city and eventually winds up in Smallville, Kansas.

Up to this point Clark Kent has definitely been the back burner story in this book. You might has well have called it, "It's Willi Berg!" rather than "It's Superman!"  Clark has been in the story a little bit, mostly to show that he and his father are not racists while the rest of Kansas is. Fair enough, 1930s Kansas was not the center of racial inclusiveness. 

Jonathan Kent has, as far as I can tell, always been described as a fantastic father figure.  Think of the 1977 movie version played by Glenn Ford or the Man of Steel version played by Kevin Costner. So much of what Superman is comes from being raised by Jonathan and Martha Kent. In this story, though, Jonathan is inconsistently described an indifferent man (with a hint that he is mentally ill due to a reference to his own father who cut his own abdomen open in front of a mirror) who hates churches with a passion and shows sporadic flashes of being a great father. 

Clark is shown as an earnest cub reporter who hates being treated as a small town rube. He and Willi partner up and head to Hollywood after being tramps for a while, cruising America and doing odd jobs. During this middle part of the book Clark has to be encouraged to use his powers to help people or be restrained from using them to hurt people. This is not Superman's character, at all. I know it's a re-write of the basic story but this is too much of a re-write because now it is not a Superman story. Superman's character is what makes him Superman. He is the constant Boy Scout, the living embodiment of an ideal. Take, for example, this quote from the Man of Steel movie: "You will give the people an ideal to strive towards. They will race behind you, they will stumble, they will fall. But, in time, they will join you in the sun. In time, you will help them accomplish wonders."

This version of Superman has no compass except for the external one provided by his friends. Rather than being a leader, he is a follower. How can he inspire anyone when he cannot even move himself? Superman is not nuanced. He is not filled with gray areas.

Positives:

The characterization of Lex Luthor is well done and interesting. His evil nature is obvious from the start but his true nature only becomes more obvious as you go along. Funny how Lex's character remains a constant but Clark Kent/Superman does not.

I liked the way 1930s current events and people were peppered in throughout the story. 

As always, the performance by the GraphicAudio team is amazing. My complaints with this audiobook have nothing to do with the way they performed it or with their adaptation of it. If you adapt a weak text you will have a weak adaptation.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars.
Reviewed on October 13, 2014.

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