01/11/2010. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts
pub: The Essential Superman Encyclopedia by Robert Greenberger and Martin Pasko. Titan Books/DC Comics. 495 page super-enlarged illustrated softcover. Price: GBP 18.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85768-106-5.
check out websites: www.titanbooks.comand www.dccomics.com
Last year, I read ‘The Essential Batman Encyclopedia’. This time, it’s ‘The Essential Superman Encyclopedia’. This time, Bob Greenberger has the assistance of Martin Pasko because as the backbone of the DC Universe, Superman in all his worlds touches on so many characters and events. Principally, the focus is on the original Superman of Earth-2 and the current incarnation of Earth-1 as well as explaining how the various Crisises have adjusted reality with a strong under-current that whatever happens, you need super-heroes to keep super-villains in check.
I should point out that as an encyclopaedia, if you bought this book then you’re far more likely to browse particular entries than read it all the way through. I read the entire book but hey, I’m a reviewer, it’s in my job description but then again, I also read the Michael Fleisher ‘Superman Encyclopaedia’ nearly thirty years ago, but I like reading, as well so can also see it in comparison. This one really does have a lot more ground to cover and you’ll come away from this book knowing a lot more about the Man of Steel than you did before you started it. If you do try to mimic my super-feat, you will essentially take about a month and pace yourself cos, even with all the art littered throughout, this three column a page book is a very long read.
Saying that, with the availability of such books as ‘The Superman Chronicles’, it you are interested in looking up any of the earlier stories that are reference, they are at least available these days, as indeed are current tales as graphic novels as I’m discovering.
Now, how to review this book? Having so much information put together, I tend to look at things that might be conceived as being oddities or questionable. I mean, although both Earth-1 and Earth-2 Supermen are against the taking of lives, it’s interesting how many deaths they have been responsible for over the generations, even if it is justified in most places but let’s not generalise too much or this review could turn into a book itself. So, let’s hit on some selected entries that you can look up when you buy the book.
The Amnesia Machine. I really need to read this story if only to wonder why Superman could just look under Batman & Robin’s masks with his x-ray vision to see who they really are.
Captain Strong bears a certain resemblance to a spinach-chewing sailor.
With the Jor-el and indeed any entry related to Superman’s home planet, it’s interesting to note that Krypton had a uranium core. I presume it wasn’t without other ingredients, including I hope a high percentage of lead or it would reach critical mass. Hmmm...it did that, didn’t it? Logistically, there was always a suggestion that Krypton was a heavy planet so on a planet like Earth where they would be much lighter then the super-powered Kryptonians would be swimming through the air even if it looks like flying. Doesn’t explain what happens beyond the atmosphere but you have to start somewhere.
It wasn’t until I was reading the Krypton entry that I discovered the religious faith that the Kryptonians had was based a sun-god named after their star, Rao, and that the other four gods didn’t include any with evil intent. Whether that means there weren’t any or they haven’t been disclosed yet is hard to say but considering how in the 70s-80s, when Superman used Rao’s name in his dialogue tends to suggest that he still supported his own faith.
One of the biggest letter entries in this book has to be ‘L’. Indeed, when you read the entries, its amazing and now a tradition that most of Superman’s amours have the initials of ‘LL’. Strangely, Lex Luthor has similar initials but I don’t think he’s as interested in the Man of Steel in quite the same way. I’m sure some writer will investigate the cosmic significance of this double ‘L’ in a story one day.
It’s amazing how influential and involved Lar Gand aka Mon-el aka Valor has been on Superman’s life, both in the present and the far future. Come to that, the same also applies to other members of the Legion Of Super-Heroes. I’d love to see and Essential encyclopaedia on them.
There is an extensive section detailing Metropolis and Smallville which I couldn’t help think that a map, even if it had to be commissioned especially for this volume, could have been used to give a better picture (sic) than so many statistics.
I mentioned earlier that Superman has never deliberately killed anyone, it’s not difficult to note that the earlier Earth-2 Superman might have been fast but not fast enough to stop people being killed by bullets they fired at him bouncing off his invulnerable torso.
It goes without saying that the Superman entry is the biggest of the lot and I like the point made calling things ‘apocryphal accounts’ to cover inconsistencies with reporting when the Man of Steel does something once and never again.
Looking at the picture of Vartox, Superman looks positively over-dressed and one really has to wonder if the hero of Valeron comes from a fetish planet.
Of the things missed out on which could have been useful is a header pointing out where you are when scanning through the book looking for an entry. That’s not to say that you couldn’t just scan the page interiors but it would stop you being waylaid by another entry and believe me, there’s enough of them, not to mention the cross-referencing. I still think there should be a better system to distinguish entries that belong to either Earth-1 or Earth-2 Supermen but adding colour markers to the interior would no doubt add to the price so maybe a different font could be considered.
I could fill a book with a lot of the things missed out pointing out here but I hope I’ve piqued your interest. If you need a book to cover all things Superman, then this one will give you a wealth of information and at a reasonable price.
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