Monday, September 17, 2012

Book Review - Superman Versus the Ku Klux Klan by Rick Bowers

            This book is an interesting read and has a laudable intent, to show how the producers of the Superman radio show used it as a sort of carrier-wave to transmit very basic American messages of tolerance, fear play, and the equality of all.
            However, the book falls short of my hopes in several ways.
            First, it uses “Breathless Documentary-Speak!”  Author Rick Bowers is either lazy or does not know that he writes in a voice equivalent to a Discovery Channel documentary.  Examples:  The production staff for the radio show doesn’t work in just ANY radio studio, it has “state-of-the-art” studios (page 95).  This is a worthless string of words.  That’s like saying that my dad was as tall as his height.  If the studio existed, then by its very existence it was at the state of its art for that time.  DUMB use of words.
            In another example of maybe thoughtless word-association, Bowers is talking about kids’ fan letters to the radio program, using the Superman Code given out to listeners.  The show’s sponsor just didn’t have some people deciphering the messages, on page 116 we learn of  “a crack team of decoders.”  Not just any ol’ team, a CRACK team (as in crackerjack I guess).  This is another example of lazy word use.
            There are also several errors & irritations that got under my skin and made me a little cranky.
            In talking about the young Jerry Siegel’s love for pulp magazines on page 12, Bowers talks about  “the smudged type on that thin paper.”   WRONG!  Pulp paper is coarse and THICK.
            On pages 13-14, he writes about the KKK’s distrust of the New deal, “President Roosevelt’s program  to restore the economy by putting people to work.”   DISINGENUOUS!  A truer “explanation” would include the fact that Roosevelt was putting people to work by creating semi-temporary government agencies to employ them doing various projects -- from sociological surveys to construction projects, USING TAXPAYER DOLLARS.
            Did you know that Philip Wylie’s 1930 novel Gladiator is “the first science fiction novel to introduce a character with superhuman powers” (page 15)?  WRONG!  What about Dracula?  I’d say crawling down a wall is pretty superhuman.  What about Gilgamesh, for that matter?  And spare me the “science fiction” qualification.  What about Wells’ Invisible Man?  That was pretty superhuman and science-fictionish.
             The book is stretched-out and padded, to try and fill a book length.  There are cut-lines top and bottom of each page to fill space, and the text is almost double-spaced.  The reader is given chapters of background info on Superman’s creation and development, which is really not necessary for Superman fans.  The elongated book stretches to 160 pages, with a meager four-page color insert.
            If they were really hurting for content, why didn’t Bowers include some pages from the scripts in question?  No matter how purple the dialogue, it would still be great fun to read the actual words.
            You don’t even get a mention of the Ku Klux Klan at all, until page 48!
            Other mistakes include Bowers stating on page 95 that radio scriptwriters “added the roles of cranky editor Perry White and copyboy Jimmy Olsen.”  WRONG!  What the radio show did was, give a specific name to Jimmy.  A youngster working for the Daily Planet first appeared in Action Comics #6 in 1938, and is generally accepted as the character who “grew into” becoming Jimmy. While Clark and Lois’s first editor was called George Taylor, Perry White first appeared in the comics in Superman #7, in 1940, roughly contemporaneous with the beginning of the radio show.
            In his closing words about the Superman character, Bowers makes a simple mistake on page 148 in saying that “Superman teamed up with Batman, Robin, Wonder Woman, and Captain America …”  Umm, Superman DID NOT team up with Captain America, who was a Marvel Comics character.
            Even the index is disappointing.  For example, you can’t find Philip Wylie or his book Gladiator in it.  On page 118 of the book, the radio script “The Scarlet Widow” is mentioned as a storyline which “featured one of the few female criminals to clash with the Man of Steel.”  But you can’t find her in the index.
            It’s a real shame that a book like this was not written by a Superman fan, who could have avoided silly goofs and omissions like these, and made it a much more intriguing read.

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© by Mark Alfred