Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: Boys of Steel

I recently received an email from Marc Tyler Nobleman, the author of this book, and tracked down a copy of Boys of Steel at my local public library.

The book tells the story of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's effort to get publishers to accept their Superman character. It's aimed at youngsters from 8 years old and up (although it is suitable to be read to even younger children), but the book entertained and charmed this middle-aged comics fan.

Nobleman creates sympathy for Siegel right from the first page, where we learn that Jerry preferred being at home, with his friends, rather than in high school. Siegel's "friends" were the pulp heroes of his time, like Tarzan and Doc Savage. Eventually he finds another buddy who shares his interest in those types of adventure stories, an aspiring artist named Joe Shuster.

The idea for Superman came to Siegel one night while tossing and turning in bed. He got up to write down some of his thoughts, and the next morning dashed over to Shuster, who shared his excitement in the character. But publishers turned out to be less enthusiastic, and it was only after the S&S boys became established in the comics industry (creating characters like Slam Bradley and Dr Occult) that the company that would become DC published Superman in its first issue of Action Comics. And the rest, as they say, is history, with Superman rocketing to stardom in comics, newspaper strips, cartoons, radio, TV and the movies.

Nobleman has an engaging writing style that makes the book a quick read and he clearly loves his topic. Each page features the retro-30's-style illustrations of Ross MacDonald, which supplement the text perfectly. This is a beautiful book that gives an inspiring message to kids that success may not come easy, but it does come with diligence and persistence. At the end, there are three pages of text only that give the story behind the story, detailing the longstanding efforts by Siegel and Shuster (and their heirs) to retrieve the rights to the character.

Although I was familiar with much of the background, the book did provide some surprises. Siegel's father died of a heart attack while being robbed at his clothing store. This created an additional motivation for Jerry to create a hero who would fight crime and injustice.

Boys of Steel has received numerous positive reviews and awards, which you can see at Nobleman's blog. It is an American Library Association Notable Children's Book for 2009 and A Junior Library Guild Selection. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. If you'd like to buy it (the book would make a great Christmas gift), consider getting it from my Amazon store:

Marc mentions that he is currently working on a similar biography of Bill Finger, the writer who co-created Batman. I look forward to that volume with great anticipation!