Tag Archives: villains

(Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman

Superman: The High-Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye (Random House, $27.00, 432 pages)

“Elemental power – a simple grandeur of conception – that sticks in the soul and finds it way to the corner of one’s smile.”

Superman: The High Flying History of America’s Most Enduring Hero by Larry Tye is the story of the history behind the world’s most beloved and enduring hero.   Initially created as a villain in 1933, Superman was later revised as a hero by Jerry Siegel and drawn to resemble movie star Douglas Fairbanks Sr. by Joe Shuster (Clark Kent was molded after Harold Lloyd).

I have always liked Superman.   I still remember when my mom took me, an eight-year-old, to the big city to see Superman: The Motion Picture starring Christopher Reeve.   It was a big outing, not only the city…  but a movie!!!

I read everything I could about the movie beforehand, kept every article, studied every picture, and learned the bios of the stars and crew.   Heck, I knew what the movie was about before I even entered the theater.   But you know what?   For those two magical hours I truly believed a man could fly.   And Christopher Reeve will always be “my” Superman.

Since then, Superman has always held a magical hold over me.   I have a huge Superman collection, which I love and my wife abhors.   Lately the collection had to suffer due to kids, rent, food, etc., but at least it’s easy to buy me presents.   My son, who at the age of three and despite a constant brainwashing from his old man, decided to follow Batman (probably just for spite), has an ongoing battle with me about who is the “greatest superhero.”

I’d like to think I’m winning, but really, is there such a thing as winning an argument with a five-year-old?

I got this book from the local library.   When I took my kids there a few weeks ago my son spotted it on the “New Books” shelf, grabbed and proudly presented it to me.   You know I had to check it out.

This is Superman – the granddaddy of all superheroes, the one who started it all, the icon who is held to a higher standard in fiction and has set the standards for many of us in the nonfiction world.   It’s no wonder that the franchise is almost 80 years strong and growing stronger.

The research in the book is excellent and the book itself is fascinating.   Mr. Tye goes through the early development stages of Superman by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, through the character’s successes and their mismanagement of their careers, the shysters, the businessmen, and the fanboys who grew up to reclaim their hero and his “parents.”   The tale continues through the years, telling of important story arcs and individuals who shaped the mythology: writers, artists, actors, and publishers.

Along the way the author reaches the conclusion that Superman is not just an American hero, but a hero to children around the world and an icon to look up to.   Especially poignant to me was the time after the death of Superman where, in the comics, heroes rose and ordinary people wore the famous emblem trying to live up to the ideal of Superman himself.

The book is a well-researched document about a beloved character and the people who made him so.   The narrative is full of wonderful anecdotes about the comics (including why many characters have a double-L in their names), the famous copyright trials, the movies and TV shows (including Smallville), and is chock-full of interviews with a cast of characters who deeply care about this mythological titan.

Rating: 5 stars out of 5 (a rating equivalent to Highly Recommended on this site).

This review was written by Man of la Book, and originally appeared on the Blogcritics Books site.   You can read more reviews by Man of la Book at his bookish blog:  http://manoflabook.com/ .

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Monster Mash

The Bone Yard: A Body Farm Novel by Jefferson Bass

“Just head, in a patch of ground between two huge branches of the live oak, stood three rows of knee-high crosses – four crosses in two of the rows, three in the other; eleven crosses in all…  Vickery eased the Jeep to a stop alongside the nearest row of crosses.   ‘Welcome to the Bone Yard,’ he announced.”

The most recent mystery/thriller from the writing duo of Dr. Bill Bass and Jon Jefferson, together known as Jefferson Bass, is not for the faint of heart.   The underlying message here is that human cruelty knows no limits.   This book picks up smoothly after the last one in the series, The Bone Thief.

This reviewer began absorbing the book as an Audible download to an iPod that was plugged into the dashboard of her trusty Mini Cooper.   The tale began innocuously, as do all the Body Farm novels.   The subtle, aw shucks anthropological introduction is followed by a second story line.   The first is set in the present day and the second is grounded in the Florida swamps of 40 years ago.

The current day story line revolves around a personal request from Angie St. Claire, a forensic analyst with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to Dr. Bill Brockton – the main character of the Body Farm mysteries.   Angie’s sister has died in a questionable manner and Angie is determined to prove that it was murder.   Since Dr. Brockton’s summer hiatus from teaching at the University of Tennessee in the anthropology department has just begun, he is more than willing to travel to Florida to provide Angie with his forensic knowledge.

In the meantime, local law enforcement officials in Florida come into possession of two skulls that need to be identified.   Naturally, the task falls to Angie and Dr. Brockton and he, in turn, involves his expert staff to determine the ethnicity, age and gender of the skulls.   Along the way clues are revealed that lead to a boy’s reform school.   A separate narrative begins in the voice of a young boy who was interned at the reform school.

As the audio novel progressed, the shared themes of graphic descriptions of unimaginable violence made it clear that there might be some value in switching to a hard copy of the book tucked away safely at home.   Driving while listening to this sort of content is not conducive to safe driving!   The hard copy provided the welcome option of skipping the most horrific scenes of torture, in the guise of attitude adjustment, administered forty years prior to boys who were housed at the reform school sequestered in the woods of Florida.

Both story lines are filled with nagging suspicions and dedicated forensic work that incorporates many jurisdictions.   The reader might well hope that this level of cooperation exists in the real world on a widespread basis.   There are strong plugs for peace and civility from the team of Jefferson Bass.   Moreover, the good guys are very, very good and the villains are rotten to the core.

The tension and intrigue build to a quick paced race against time and evil.   The conclusion leaves plenty of opportunities for a future supply of the further exploits of Dr. Bill Brockton.   This is a real page turner!

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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Dead Man’s Curve

Cat Coming Home by Shirley Rousseau Murphy (William Morrow; $19.99; 354 pages)

This latest Joe Grey mystery oozes with picturesque Carmel charm.   Shirley Rousseau Murphy extolls the architectural beauty of her coastal hometown in the thinly veiled story location, Molina Point.   The plot revolves around Joe, Dulcie and Kit – three cats who speak to their pet parents and sometimes unsuspecting people.   The characters in the mystery that the cats solve are a grandma named Maudie, her six-year-old grandson Benny and, of course, the evil doers.   It’s not fair to describe the villains as their identities are the key to the mystery.   Keep in mind that appearances can be very deceiving!

The story opens with a ghastly double murder that devastates a perfectly lovely family.   Benny’s dad, his new wife, her two children, Benny and his grandma are driving up a mountain road on their way to an Easter weekend of relaxation at Lake Arrowhead when a vehicle pulls up alongside them and shoots the dad and stepmom.   Chaos follows as their car tumbles off the road and everyone is tossed about.   After being rescued, Maudie becomes so distraught that she decides to leave her home in Los Angeles, bringing Benny with her to Molina Point, her childhood home.

Joe Grey and his buddies become part of the story when a series of home invasion crimes occur in Molina Point not long after Maudie and Benny arrive in town.   Added to the intrigue is the presence of an older yellow tom cat that lurks nearby and seems to have something important in mind.   Kit is fascinated by this stranger and makes it her business to find out what he’s doing in town.   Kit’s need for a focus in her life seems to be a continuing thread in these books.

The home invasions are targeted at ladies who are home alone.   They are being viciously attacked by intruders, the interiors of their homes are trashed, but not much is stolen.   One of the home invasions happens on Maddie’s block.   To make matters worse, Molina Point’s dedicated chief of police, Max Harper, is being singled out in the local newspaper for failing to bring the crime wave to a halt.   As usual, the cats are quick-witted and fleet of foot as they race around town just a paw or two behind the villains.

Whether the setting for a mystery novel is a big city or a small town, human frailties are usually at the core of the story.   This tale (or tail) is no exception.   Author Murphy does a wonderful job of developing her characters and providing insight into human nature and feline nature as well.   She refrains from rehashing the premise of her Joe Grey series which allows for more action and intrigue.

Highly recommended.  

This review was written by Ruta Arellano.   This book was purchased for the reviewer.

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