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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Was Superman a Spy?

Brian Cronin writes a blog called "Comics Should Be Good" for the site Comic Book Resources. As a feature on this blog called Comic Book Legends Revealed, Cronin regularly explores "comic book legends" and 'reveals' them as either true or false. It's pretty good. And as one of those blog things that becomes a book, the feature was published by Plume last April under the title, "Was Superman a Spy? and other comic book Legends Revealed."

This reads like a history book, whose focus is less chronological than by topic. There's a section on DC, with chapters on Superman, Batman, and one on everybody else the company publishes. There's a section on Marvel, with chapters on the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, Captain America, X-Men, and also one on everybody else. Then there's a section on other companies, including a chapter on Disney and a chapter on everybody else.

A book on legends about comic book characters and history should be right up my alley. It's a quick read, and there's interesting stuff (65 legends directly from the blog, 65 new to the book are explored). However, it's not really about legends in the strictest sense. There are no legends told here. There's merely the revelation.

Let me explain, using the latest entry (from January 21) as an example. On the blog, each entry begins like this:

Comic Legend: The musical "It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Superman" was inspired by the success of the Batman TV series.

STATUS: I'm Going With False.

Then Follows the explanation of why Cronin has chosen true or false as the status. This has to do with the dates of the musical's Broadway opening followed by the original air date of the Batman series, both in 1966. Cronin reasons that Broadway lead time prohibits the show as an influence. That makes perfect sense. He also quotes some of the people involved in the musical to prove that they intended to play it straight, not camp it up like Batman.

All well and good. The book, however, usually neglects to print the legends, nor does it give Cronin's opinion as to the legend's truth or falsehood. So the entries are interesting, but quite often I have no idea what the legend he's revealing was. Some are obvious, some obscure, and some seem just like straightforward anecdotes about comics history, characters, and behind-the-scenes drama. It's not very satisfying on a that level, as I found myself often wondering what the legends were rather than being glad to know the truth at last.

On other levels, I was disappointed that there was no mention of the legend/rumor that George Reeves committed suicide because of all the children getting hurt pretending to fly as he did in The Adventures of Superman.

Also, one of the legends, put on the back cover, is that Wolverine was intended to be a real wolverine by Len Wein, his creator. The book confirms this, but Wein himself has said it's false. Cronin posted this on his blog, but this was after the book's printing, so the book reflects the mistake.

Still, there's some good information here. I'm not sure how I'll use the 30 or so pages on Superman (I can't imagine I'll get a lot of use out of the fact that Superman drawn by Jack Kirby had his face redrawn by somebody else), but I'm glad I have access to them.

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