FORGOTTEN BOOK: SUPERMAN by George Lowther, 1942
This is the 140th in my series of Forgotten Books.
With the recent hoopla regarding the 75th anniversary of everyone’s favorite Kryptonian (unless you are a fan of Supergirl or New Krypton or one of those other survivor types) I thought it might be interesting to read the first original novel devoted to Kal-el aka Clark Kent aka Superman.
I am a Superman fan. The earliest comic I recall reading was a late 50’s issue of Superman. I read many issues in the 50’s and early 60’s until Stan Lee and Spider-Man look me away to Marvel for a long time. I watched the TV show in glorious black and white with George Reeves and loved it. So in the mid 70’s I found the original publication of this novel and bought it. Red cloth, wonderful illustrations by Joe Shuster but no dust jacket. Somewhere in the 80’s I found a trade paperback (which I later found out was an unauthorized edition. I never had the Armed Services Edition or ASE which is now pretty expensive. The one copy on eBay is $450). Then in the early 2000’s I got this reprint of the book with an amazing dust jacket. But all those years I never got around to reading it. So this week I said to myself, it is time.
George Lowther was a radio scripter for a number of shows including the Adventures of Superman, so it fell to him to bring the big guy to the novel medium. And the story is interesting, not so much for the plot but for the things in it that were not in the comic. Here the earthly parents of Superman are Eben and Sarah Kent. According to the introduction by Roger Stern, Jonathan and Martha Kent were an invention of the 1950’s. Little time is spent on the planet Krypton, though Jor-el and Lara are described and the destruction of the planet is accomplished rather quickly.
Young Clark meets Perry White while still a teenager and uses that introduction to attempt a job interview a few years later. The young Clark has recognized his powers and Sarah Kent has man him a costume but he has not revealed himself to the world at the time of this novel. In order to get a job, Perry White has sent Kent to Maine to investigate a ghost ship with skeleton crewmen that is menacing a shipyard. Soon Clark himself sees the ghosts and cannot explain the phenomenon. Lois Lane, whom he barely met in Perry’s office is sent to backup the review and story.
Being a wartime novel, you might be surprised if I said there were Nazi saboteurs involved. However, if you get the Applewood Books edition which is what I read, do not read the back cover as they spill the beans over the villain’s identity right there. Not that it was hard to figure out.
It was a fun read, obviously designed for a younger reader. Fast moving with few descriptive or contemplative passages made it ideal for that market. The four full color pictures, six full page black and white illustrations and many small sketches throughout the book made it even more exciting.
Another word about the Applewood Books edition. My copy, which is the only copy I have seen, had a poor printing job, with 8 full pages of text missing. And, of course, it is all in the final sheaf of pages with much of the plot resolution. Check out any copy before you purchase to be sure all pages are there. This does happen, but rarely. My copy of PORTRAIT OF JENNY by Robert Nathan in SIX NOVELS OF THE SUPERNATURAL had the same issue. Fortunately I had a separate copy of the novel and could still read those pages.
Copies of the various states of the book are available on the web ranging from a little (under $15) to a lot (over $2,500 for a beautiful first edition signed by Siegel and Shuster which would be nice but is way out of my league). I enjoyed the book for what it was and was glad to have finally read it. And, as always, your mileage may vary.
Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.