Super Boys: The Amazing Adventures of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster—the Creators of Superman, Brad Ricca (St. Martins Press)

super boys

Spanning nearly a century, this is the story of a would-be sf writer and tireless self-promoter (Siegel) and his more subdued but very talented schoolmate (Shuster), who created a superhero and, quite by accident, kick-started the immature comic-book industry and revolutionized sf. Then, thanks to one ill-considered decision made before anybody knew how popular or profitable Superman was going to be, they nearly lost all connection to the hero they’d created. Ricca reveals the true story of Superman’s creation (the Man of Steel was the product of roughly equal parts imagination and clever repurposing of preexisting ideas) and goes into great detail about Siegel and Shuster’s protracted, often heartbreaking legal battle to reclaim ownership of their character. After the pair’s contract to produce Superman stories expired, Shuster faded into relative obscurity, but Siegel kept his hand in the comics industry, even returning to the Superman character in the late 1950s as an uncredited scripter. Ricca tells their post-Superman stories with compassion and just a hint of righteous indignation. How dare Superman’s publishers, who were making millions of dollars, cast aside his creators? At the end of this account, when Siegel’s and Shuster’s names are finally restored to the character, four decades after his creation, readers might find themselves leaping out of their chairs and cheering. A wonderful book, as exciting as Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), which was, of course, inspired by Siegel and Shuster, and as gripping as Sean Howe’s excellent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (2012).

This review originally appeared in Booklist, April 2013

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