Super Powers

Boys of Steel - cover - 75th anniversaryBoys of Steel: The Creators of Superman
By Marc Tyler Nobleman
Illustrated by Ross MacDonald
(Alfred A. Knopf, 2008, New York, $16.99)

A special edition of Boys of Steel, commemorating the 75th anniversary of Superman’s debut, is due out in July 2013.

For generations, readers, filmgoers, and television viewers have thrilled to Superman’s strength. His powers and crime-fighting exploit satisfy audiences’ thirst for adventure and justice. But the superhero’s creators were wildly different from their creation. Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster were shy, myopic boys when they met in 1930’s Cleveland. Unpopular at school, troubled at home, they shared a love of the fantastic. And nothing, from a teacher’s discouragement to an editor’s rejection, stopped them from creating the Man of Steel.

In Boys of Steel, Marc Tyler Nobleman and illustrator Ross MacDonald tell Siegel and Shuster’s tale. Nobleman’s text is, at times, a bit dense for the youngest readers and listeners; however, the picture-book biography’s themes – of alienation, escape, and justice – should resonate with middle-grade and even young adult readers. Nobleman skillfully blends the artists’ story with a discussion of superheroes’ place in audiences’ psyches. MacDonald’s illustrations alternate between realistic scenes of Depression-era Cleveland – executed in the style of that era – and the more dramatic tableaux of conflict and heroics that unfold in the characters’ imaginations. The latter are often rendered in a dark blue, the color of dreams, perhaps, and shadows. An excellent author’s note about the rest of Siegel and Shuster’s lives follows the narrative.

Both a homage to Siegel and Shuster and an introduction to comic book history, Boys of Steel is also a moving narrative about two people who had the courage to follow their daydreams. The illustration that graces the book’s frontispiece and end is particularly poignant. A black and white, bespectacled image of the comic’s creators stand hands on hips. Behind them is their shadow, a blue silhouette of Superman himself. The real Superman was two men, and their superpower was their imagination.

-Dorothy A. Dahm

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