From confused kid to Man of Steel: a fresh take on growing up Superman

Novel

November 13, 2005|By BOSTON GLOBE

It's Superman

Tom De Haven

Chronicle / 425 pages

Tom De Haven's giddy joy ride of a novel, It's Superman!, returns the famous comic book tale to its roots in 1930s America, with Clark Kent as an awkward high school kid in rural Kansas. The story begins with Clark trying to explain to a local sheriff how a wanted criminal fired his gun point-blank at Clark but somehow ended up dead when the bullet ricocheted.

For as long as Clark can remember, such unexplained things have happened to him. He emerges from serious accidents unscathed, can set fires with a focused stare, and can even drive nails into a fence post with his fist. Oh, and did we mention he can fly?

At the same time, Clark couldn't be more average in the eyes of unsuspecting classmates. At school, Clark is not actively disliked, he isn't unpopular, he's just ... there.

There-but-not-there, De Haven writes. Here, De Haven evokes the notions of alienation so common in adolescence. Clark's abilities don't make him feel special, just different, and different is not what Clark wants to be. He's physically indestructible yet emotionally vulnerable.

While this is Clark's story, De Haven also has a ball with the evolution of two other characters writ large in Superman's world - Lois Lane and Lex Luthor. They reside in a New York run by the beloved mayor Fiorello La Guardia, and it's a dazzling place of gin and jazz where Joseph P. Kennedy and Gloria Swanson canoodle, and newsman Walter Winchell and mobster Meyer Lansky are both feared and respected.

Lois is a hard-charging aspiring journalist, Lex is a criminally ambitious alderman, and Clark, after a stint in Hollywood as a stuntman, winds up in New York, hopelessly smitten with Lois as he tries to clear a friend, who also happens to be Lois' ex-boyfriend, of murder charges.

De Haven lets it all unfold with melodramatic relish, reviving the pulp noir of vintage comic books and Saturday morning serials.

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