The Thunder Child

Science Fiction and Fantasy
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Vol 1, Issue #3
"Stand By For Mars!"
March 2006

Fiction Book Reviews
by Caroline Miniscule

It's Superman
by Tom De Haven
Chronicle Books

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Caroline Miniscule has traveled around the world. She now stays in one place and reads science fiction. She is a graduate of D'Illyria University (the university of the mind).

Our version of the story opens on the last Saturday of May 1935 with the arrival of Sheriff Bill Dutcher at the police station in Smallville, Kansas. A craggy man with steel gray-hair hair and long side-burns, he's wearing tan slacks and a barn jacket over a maroon polo shirt. His star is pinned to the pocket. He brought along his pistol belt and holster but leaves that in the trunk with his 12-gauge. Those won't be necessary. When he got the call an hour ago, Dutcher was off-shift, at home in Lyndon savoring his third highball of the evening and playing canasta with the wife and some neighbors. He could have been easily in a fume, or worse, by the time he motored thirty miles through drizzle and dust blow to this clodhopper townóbut no, not at all. He is in fine spirits, especially once he discovers those federal glory hogs out of Topeka haven't shown up yet. He shakes hands with two deputies that meet him at the door, even clapping one of them on the shoulder. Then he speaks privately with Doug Parker, the local chief of police, both of them turning together to cast brief looks at the farm boy, seventeen years old and hunched low in a varnished chair near the chief's desk. Judging by the kid's shiny eyes and heavy breathing and the tense fist that he rubs back and forth on his thigh, any minute he'll put birdie to his dinner plus whatever Jujubes or Raisinets he had earlier at the picture show. "You might think of giving Sergeant York, there, a wastepaper basket," says the sheriff, "while I go and see Jiggs."

Jiggs was a wanted criminal who is now dead, killed while throwing his weight around in a movie theater lobby. The seventeen-year-old whom he had been picking on...before his pistol apparently fired backwards and killed him, was...Clark Kent. Clark's fist, that author DeHaven mentions in his opening paragraph above, never opens, because in it Clark is holding a bullet that he'd grabbed out of the air. Clark has always known he was different - strong, fast, never got a cut, or a bruise, never bled...but he's just learned he's impervious to bullets.

And so begins the story of the coming of age of Clark Kent...for this is nothing if not a coming-of-age story, writ large.

Before there was Batman or Spiderman, (but a few years after King Kong) there was the now iconic figure of Superman. Practically everyone knows the character's history, whether it be from the original comics, the classic 1950s television series starring George Reeves, the 1970s movies of Christopher Reeve, or the television incarnations of Superboy and Smallville.

Each of the later incarnations have taken a few liberties with the original, and It's Superman is no exception. But, do the liberties work, is the question a reader has to ask himself. (Never mind arguing whether they were necessary, just, do they 'work.') And with this novel, they certainly do.

As in most coming-of-age stories, the protagonist is an outsider. For Clark Kent, of course, he is the ultimate outsider, probably an alien from another planet. Jonathan and Martha Kent find him as a small baby within the wreckage of a rocket, and decide to adopt him. (His birth parents and planet of origin are not part of this story.) And as a seventeen-year-old, he's as full of self-doubt as any other teenager dealing with the issues of "fitting in," of "getting a girl," of "becoming a man," of being like everyone else.

After the death of his mother, Clark leaves home to find himself, along with his mentor, photographer Willi Berg (ex-boyfriend, Lois Lane), to become a 'bum' on the railroads (it's the Depression, after all), and ends up in Hollywood, California for a while.

Meanwhile Lois Lane has graduated from journalism school (she's only 18, but being extremely intelligent, she was bumped forward several grades) and is struggling to make a living as a reporter while she deals with her own problems of being a woman in a man's world. Lois is a flesh-and-blood woman who has her share of men friends, but she also has big ambitions.

And as fate would have it, at the same time there is Lex Luthor, newly elected politician, who is intent on driving all organized crime out of the city of New hook or by crook and for reasons of his own.

All the strands weave and why Clark decides to become Superman, how he meets Lois Lane, how he foils Lex Luthor, how he becomes a man. The plotting is complex, the issues real, the character alive and passionate, their motivations believable.

Tom DeHaven's narrative is sure handed. The narrative style he uses here - all the characters acting in the present tense - works very well. The reader is very much drawn in to the action, as well as into the minds of the characters.

In reading this novel, you will believe that a man can fly, and be the best that he can be...and do it all for love.

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