I used to love going on routine trips to the grocery store or pharmacy with my grandpa as a kid, because all those places had a spinner rack full of comic books that I could pilfer. Those spinner racks are long gone, and comic books are nowhere to be found in mainstream retail society, but there’s a weird kind of pop culture tabloid magazine that has sprung up and sorta scratches the same impulse-buy itch.
These are usually things like celebrating the 40th anniversary of Raiders of the Lost Ark or looking back at the Beatles. I’m kind of a sucker for these magazines, especially the ones focused on pop culture- movies, TV shows, music.
On a recent visit to the pharmacy, picking up Children’s Tylenol for my son, I spotted an unusual sight. Superman! A superhero, there on the magazine racks, like it was 1992 or something. It was a strange spark to see anything comic related in public again, in a mainstream setting. The magazine was called The Story of Superman, and claimed to cover 85 years of the character’s history. I scooped it up without thinking.
I wasn’t expecting much. These magazines are usually just reprints of old articles, old photos, and old features, maybe bookended by a new forward or afterword.
The Story of Superman was not this. No! This was a very comprehensive, very well researched timeline charting the 85 year history of Clark Kent, from Action Comics #1 through stage, screen, and beyond.
I was blown away. Not so much by any one piece of information in the book, but the fact that it was something much more like a book than a throwaway pharmacy magazine. The team behind it does a really great job of putting together a holistic history of Superman. No small feat considering the character spans almost a century and has appeared in comics, radio shows, TV, movies, animation, and more.
I really love the focus on Siegel and Shuster (Superman’s creators) and their trials and tribulations throughout the Man of Steel’s history. There’s also a good amount of attention paid to comic creators who followed, ranging from DC’s SIlver Age editorial staff to trailblazers like Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil.
The Death of Superman, the biggest Superman story of my lifetime, is covered toward the end. Perhaps I’m biased due to my age at the time of its release, but this is one spot where I could’ve used a little more to capture the culture magnitude of it. I still remember going out with my grandpa to get our copies of Superman #75, news crews parked outside comics shops. A page or two more on this event would’ve been cool.
My comic book tastes run pretty far off the superhero path, but there’s always been something about Superman for me. Action Comics #1 was kind of a Big Bang for everything else that followed, in one way or another. Even alt-comix and black and white indies exist in this strange time-space bubble of comic books that Superman established as a lasting cultural phenomena.
Anyways, if you’re a comic book fan, check out The Story of Superman when you’re out and about. It’s a cool history of the original superhero, and solid encapsulation of the perils of publishing and raw deals suffered by creators of even the biggest global pop culture icons.