There aren't many rules I tend to hold as sacred, but one of them is definitely "STAY AWAY FROM NOVELIZATIONS OF MOVIES" with a sub-rule of "DO NOT READ ANY BOOKS THAT ARE BASED ON AN EXISTING FRANCHISE OUTSIDE OF THE BOOK REALM". This keeps me safe from dreck like STAR WARS and STAR TREK novels, books based on Dungeons & Dragons and the current boom of books based on popular TV shows like Lost and Monk.
So if it wasn't for the praises heaped upon Tom de Haven's It's Superman by my friend Ken as well as a nice mini episode on the book (which you can watch here) from the gang over at iFanboy, it's unlikely I would have read this. And that probably would have been a shame, because although it doesn't make me want to drop everything and rush out to buy Battlestar Galactica or Halo books, It's Superman proves to be a fun and surprising take on the Man of Steel.
A few words on my relationship with Superman (it's platonic - I swear). About six months ago after hearing about the new "golden age" of comics I decided to swim the waters again after a hiatus of approximately 15 years. The last thing I collected with any regularity was The Sandman, and that was about all I collected. Superheroes were about as far from my mind as boy bands and fondue sets (I still don't get the whole fondue craze). I eased myself in, collecting one or two comics and catching up via trades on some of the bigger stories that had come out. And somehow, after always fashioning myself (to the extent that I could based on my earlier reading) as a Marvel Zombie, I was becoming more and more drawn to the convoluted world of DC. Green Lantern first, then Batman, the Justice League and Justice Society, and finally to Superman. My hesitancy to embrace the Man of Steel stemmed from what I thought was his inherent goodness, which to my mind translated to "boring". A similar thought process applied to Marvel's Captain America - in this day and age, where the lines of morality have blurred and our heroes have become anti-heroes, who wants a white-washed, apple pie silver age hero?
Apparently I do, because Captain America is now my favorite ongoing Marvel book, and between excellent trades like Superman: For All Seasons and Kingdom Come, and his presence in Action Comics, Superman is on the fast track to be DC's equivalent.
I say all this because it's important to note that my recommendation for this book carries the caveat of "for Superman fans only". If you like comics, and you particularly like Supes, you'll most likely enjoy this book. If you're not a fan of comics, or if Superman annoys you, this book certainly isn't going to change your mind.
So what's It's Superman about, and what makes it different from all the other comics, films, and novelizations out there? de Haven tells the story of Clark Kent's early years and gradual transformation into the Man of Steel using the actual world as a backdrop and injecting a more human perspective to Clark's development. In other words, Clark has sex, drinks and smokes, harbors feelings of inadequacy and guilt over leaving his parents...basically transforming him into a Holden Caufield that can jump over building and deflect bullets. The plot revolves around the rise of Lex Luthor as an alderman in New York City, and after he frames a young photographer named Willie Burg (sorry - no Jimmy Olsen to be found), Willie travels the country in hiding with Clark, which leads to adventures as a stuntman in Hollywood, an affair with an ex-actress, a jail breakout, and finally a home in New York City (Metropolis is referenced as the title of an art exhibit of the city), where Clark must stop Luthor's scheme involving killer laser beam robots.
Okay, so the "reality" things takes a bit of a left turn there.
By the end de Haven gradually forsakes the grounded reality of the novel for the more fantastic tenets of the comic, and things as a whole play out rather well. He takes a few shortcuts that feel forced (Kent falls for Lois within one sentence, basically "And with that he is utterly in love.") and Lois Lane is general is so unlikeable that you're left to wonder why the hell anyone would be taken with her. Lex Luthor is okay, but de Haven makes the mistakes of giving his henchmen (and women) more character and depth, so they ultimately become more interesting.
However, all of that is secondary to the main character, and It's Superman's real strength is in it's depiction of Clark Kent, a troubled, awkward boy who is every day reminded of his differences from the rest of the world, and must come to grips with his feelings of alienation and supposed inadequacies. One of my favorite points is his constant fear that's he's not intelligent, especially in relation to his massive strength. In that regard, maybe It's Superman succeeds more as a coming of age story than it does as a superhero story, and that's perfectly okay, too.