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Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

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Animated by the stories of some of the last century's most charismatic and conniving artists, writers, and businessmen, Men of Tomorrow brilliantly demonstrates how the creators of the superheroes gained their cultural power and established a crucial place in the modern imagination. "This history of the birth of superhero comics highlights three pivotal figures. The story Animated by the stories of some of the last century's most charismatic and conniving artists, writers, and businessmen, Men of Tomorrow brilliantly demonstrates how the creators of the superheroes gained their cultural power and established a crucial place in the modern imagination. "This history of the birth of superhero comics highlights three pivotal figures. The story begins early in the last century, on the Lower East Side, where Harry Donenfeld rises from the streets to become the king of the 'smooshes'-soft-core magazines with titles like French Humor and Hot Tales. Later, two high school friends in Cleveland, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, become avid fans of 'scientifiction,' the new kind of literature promoted by their favorite pulp magazines. The disparate worlds of the wise guy and the geeks collide in 1938, and the result is Action Comics #1, the debut of Superman. For Donenfeld, the comics were a way to sidestep the censors. For Shuster and Siegel, they were both a calling and an eventual source of misery: the pair waged a lifelong campaign for credit and appropriate compensation." -The New Yorker


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Animated by the stories of some of the last century's most charismatic and conniving artists, writers, and businessmen, Men of Tomorrow brilliantly demonstrates how the creators of the superheroes gained their cultural power and established a crucial place in the modern imagination. "This history of the birth of superhero comics highlights three pivotal figures. The story Animated by the stories of some of the last century's most charismatic and conniving artists, writers, and businessmen, Men of Tomorrow brilliantly demonstrates how the creators of the superheroes gained their cultural power and established a crucial place in the modern imagination. "This history of the birth of superhero comics highlights three pivotal figures. The story begins early in the last century, on the Lower East Side, where Harry Donenfeld rises from the streets to become the king of the 'smooshes'-soft-core magazines with titles like French Humor and Hot Tales. Later, two high school friends in Cleveland, Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, become avid fans of 'scientifiction,' the new kind of literature promoted by their favorite pulp magazines. The disparate worlds of the wise guy and the geeks collide in 1938, and the result is Action Comics #1, the debut of Superman. For Donenfeld, the comics were a way to sidestep the censors. For Shuster and Siegel, they were both a calling and an eventual source of misery: the pair waged a lifelong campaign for credit and appropriate compensation." -The New Yorker

30 review for Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book

  1. 5 out of 5

    Greg Dyer

    Let me start with a couple of caveats. The focus of this book is not for everyone. It will likely be of some interest to those generally interested in popular culture and 20th century history. It's primary audience, however, consists of the geeks alluded to in the subtitle. (I count myself as a geek wannabe.) Organized primarily around the evolution of Superman, Men of Tomorrow branches out to consider the cultural influences and the interpersonal relationships that shaped the growth of the comic Let me start with a couple of caveats. The focus of this book is not for everyone. It will likely be of some interest to those generally interested in popular culture and 20th century history. It's primary audience, however, consists of the geeks alluded to in the subtitle. (I count myself as a geek wannabe.) Organized primarily around the evolution of Superman, Men of Tomorrow branches out to consider the cultural influences and the interpersonal relationships that shaped the growth of the comic book industry. Fans and readers of comic books will learn some interesting tidbits related to the creation and development of some of the industry's most iconic characters. However, I find Jones's book most interesting as lens illuminating the larger cultural shifts taking place during the 20th century. While the book sometimes falls into passages of industry-specific details that seem a bit tiresome, Jones generally does a very nice job of providing those details within a structure that generates interest and engagement on the part of the reader. The central thread of Superman's evolution--and the ups and downs confronted by his creators--ultimately provide an emotional weight and significance that makes this book more than simply a chronicle of historical minutia relevant only to the geeks.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Wes Freeman

    Smart, concise history of how comic books became a thing and doesn't leave out any of the good stuff. Re-emphasizes the argument that all American forms of mass entertainment media in the 20th century are on permanent loan from the street culture of New York City -- a place that seems to own stock in every American cultural enterprise this side of the Civil War and will always get the big chair in the shareholder's meetings, even if the product under discussion isn't their own. Author is here to Smart, concise history of how comic books became a thing and doesn't leave out any of the good stuff. Re-emphasizes the argument that all American forms of mass entertainment media in the 20th century are on permanent loan from the street culture of New York City -- a place that seems to own stock in every American cultural enterprise this side of the Civil War and will always get the big chair in the shareholder's meetings, even if the product under discussion isn't their own. Author is here to tell you that comic books were made by pornographers, chiselers, and tough guys of every stripe working in sober collaboration with geeks, zealots and psychopaths to turn their most private desires into pictures of dudes wearing tights and speaking in bubbles. Manages to distill that same hustling, pre-war optimism The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay did, but its way grimier and even more zany. Protagonists are, ostensibly, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster (the creators of Superman) and Harry Donenfeld and Jack Leibowitz (the original publishers of DC Comics), but behind every name author drops (Jack Cole, Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Gardner Fox, Gil Kane, Art Spiegelman, Charles Biro) there is surely a biography worth reading. As book isn't 1200 pages long, author has used apposite discretion in what he picks and chooses. Keeps the pace fast and in disciplined ratio to the inherent dorkiness of the story. (His perspective on the latter is another reason to read book.) The characters at the center of book, Jerry Siegel and his arch-nemisis, Jack Liebowitz, are compelling to watch -- author wisely sidesteps the temptation to characterize them as one-dimensional, big-chinned characters in a meta-comic -- as the respective heart and head of the first comic book boom. When the excitement abates, they find themselves in direct opposition to each other and the excellent chapters that follow the first comic book bust are as revealing about the nature of entertainment and the industry that supports it as any other book I know. A great book about young Americans.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    I read this as background for Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Research soon turned into fascination with the true story of the origins of the comic book and the superheroes that made the genre a cultural phenomenon. Well written and documented, Men of Tomorrow is an important social history of the comic book in America. Jones has done a fine job of interweaving the stories of the creators (writers and artists) and the publishing entrepreneurs who made the comic book s I read this as background for Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Research soon turned into fascination with the true story of the origins of the comic book and the superheroes that made the genre a cultural phenomenon. Well written and documented, Men of Tomorrow is an important social history of the comic book in America. Jones has done a fine job of interweaving the stories of the creators (writers and artists) and the publishing entrepreneurs who made the comic book successful and took advantage of the underpaid and often anonymous talent to earn their fortunes. The book is dense with names, especially since many of the Jewish authors and artists with Eastern European names took one or more pen names during their careers in order to appear less "foreign" to the American public. I felt at times that I needed to make charts to keep up with the large cast of characters. The work is thoughtful, and the reader comes away with real insights into the complicated relationship between social changes in America and the roller coaster history of the comic books and those who created and marketed them. The book is illustrated with interesting photographs of several of the principal movers and shakers as well as with reproductions of representative covers and panels from significant comic books. Reading it made me want to revisit the superhero comics of my youth.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Victor

    So, before the review: The author of this book is a convicted pedophile and child pornographer who is still alive, though imprisoned, iirc. PLEASE do not buy this book new, or borrow or buy it in electronic form. Buying physical copies from used booksellers or borrowing it from.a person that already owns it are, imo, the only ethical ways to read this because they're the only ways that definitely result in zero money being even possibly given to the author. WHY READ THIS AT ALL THEN? Because it' So, before the review: The author of this book is a convicted pedophile and child pornographer who is still alive, though imprisoned, iirc. PLEASE do not buy this book new, or borrow or buy it in electronic form. Buying physical copies from used booksellers or borrowing it from.a person that already owns it are, imo, the only ethical ways to read this because they're the only ways that definitely result in zero money being even possibly given to the author. WHY READ THIS AT ALL THEN? Because it's a very good narrative history of a narrow subject that has only a few decent books of any depth written on it at all, and because a fair amount of the book is based on unpublished interviews with now long-dead subjects, and because (for now) it's still available very cheaply on the used market. ACTUAL REVIEW: This is a history of the development of DC Comics as a company and Superman as an idea, hero, and icon. Though many people seem only dimly aware of this, the phenomenal success of superheroes as a pre-eminent force in American and worldwide pop culture is based on a very long history of both DC and Marvel Comics ruthlessly exploiting the actual creators of the heroes and giving them their due only after public shaming by organized comic book fandom. I'm a bit too young to remember the happy ending to the particular tale told here, that of Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster, creators of Superman, but I remember feeling indignant towards Marvel's behavior towards Jack Kirby publicized during the Marvel 25th Anniversary publicity push quite clearly, and some satisfaction when he won back some of his work. This, unlike most books on comics, only really focuses on the creations secondarily, and is much, much more about the men that created, maintained, and grew the businesses that spread this then-new four color art form across the country in the 1930s, particularly Harry Donenfeld, the glad-handing connected guy who smelled money on the wind, and Jack Liebowitz, who went from pornographer's accountant to board member of the fourth-largest corporation in the country before dying at 100. It's also about their relationships with Siegel and Schuster, creators of DC's golden goose, Superman, so to a certain extent, the book is about superheroes, but only in the way that a history of the Coca-Cola company is about the beverage, a welcome change from most books about comic books. To say the business and its vital relationship with the creators it needs in order to profit is deeply tempestuous is a radical understatement. Siegel, particularly, was too naive and trusting while a young creator, and there's real disgust at the business hacks who ended up making millions off of Superman while Schuster sat, blind, in a cold water flat supported by his siblings, but the real story here is the fascinating world of legal but disreputable business shown that flourished during the interwar period. It's also truly great background for any one unfamiliar with the golden age superhero boom, both in understanding the business & the popularity of the characters at the time. SO, IF THIS BOOK WASN'T POTENTIALLY MAKING A CHILD PORNOGRAPHER RAMEN MONEY IN PRISON, WHAT WOULD YOU RATE THIS? Oh, four stars, easily. But fuck that guy.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Heather

    In the depths of the Depression, out of the crowded tenements of New York and Cleveland, the comic book superhero leapt into being. Out of a mix of geekiness, science fiction, and outsider yearning, a crew of young men from working-class Jewish neighbourhoods and shady backgrounds created a series of blue-eyed, chisel-nosed crime fighters and adventurers who quickly captured the imaginations of young and old. Within a few years their creations had spawned a new genre that still dominates youth e In the depths of the Depression, out of the crowded tenements of New York and Cleveland, the comic book superhero leapt into being. Out of a mix of geekiness, science fiction, and outsider yearning, a crew of young men from working-class Jewish neighbourhoods and shady backgrounds created a series of blue-eyed, chisel-nosed crime fighters and adventurers who quickly captured the imaginations of young and old. Within a few years their creations had spawned a new genre that still dominates youth entertainment seventy years later. Gerard Jones' book is exhaustive in its portrayal of the origins on the comic book industry, starting with the childhoods of those pivotal in the movement, through to and beyond their deaths. Anyone remotely interested in comic books will likely know the rough story of Superman's creators being shafted monetarily for their creation, but to read it in such brutal detail is really sad. It's not just a venture through the characters, nor does it focus specifically on one person (though, Jerry Siegel admittedly dominates, through his refusal to give up). Aside from being ridiculously interesting, well-written and researched, it's just kind of depressing. It's a bit of a warning for people to own their own work in creative fields. It's not even one-sided, where you'd expect the artists to be the victims entirely, Jones will highlight their own faults and problems, whether it be attitude or perceived talent at different points in their career. Interested in comic books and their history? An excellent, comprehensive read on their origins. But it will probably make you sad to see quite how badly certain creators fared over the years.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    I read this a few months before I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and I think I benefited from it. This book is the "real life" version (inspiration) of Chabon's novel - essentially following Jerry Siegel (and to an extent, Joe Schuster), all through the Golden Age of comics and beyond. Along the way we get stories from all of the major workhouses in New York, including some great anecdotes about Will Eisner (like his marathon run to finish a comic with his bullpen in he middle of I read this a few months before I read The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and I think I benefited from it. This book is the "real life" version (inspiration) of Chabon's novel - essentially following Jerry Siegel (and to an extent, Joe Schuster), all through the Golden Age of comics and beyond. Along the way we get stories from all of the major workhouses in New York, including some great anecdotes about Will Eisner (like his marathon run to finish a comic with his bullpen in he middle of a blizzard). Jones' timeline and narrative is excellent, and you really see how the industry grew, fell, and almost collapsed all together. I was able to read Kavalier & Clay and find myself picking out who was supposed to represent whom, and who was an amalgamation of others. Also, Bob Kane was a real prick.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/C... http://www.sfgate.com/crime/article/C...

  8. 4 out of 5

    Johnny

    Growing up in the so-called “Silver Age” of comic books (‘50s-early ‘60s) and being such a geek that I attended San Diego Comic Con before it moved to the convention center, it’s a wonder I didn’t read Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book before. This history rings true for the limited information I have on comic book history (reading Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent many years ago, working for a company which briefly published comics (Ziff-Davis), devouring my au Growing up in the so-called “Silver Age” of comic books (‘50s-early ‘60s) and being such a geek that I attended San Diego Comic Con before it moved to the convention center, it’s a wonder I didn’t read Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book before. This history rings true for the limited information I have on comic book history (reading Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent many years ago, working for a company which briefly published comics (Ziff-Davis), devouring my autographed copy of Will Eisner’s Shop Talk interviews, reading about the Kefauver hearings and the end of EC comics, and studying a bit about Stan Lee and Jack Kirby—I didn’t say I was a scholar on this) and it definitely rings true for my experience in periodicals publication and distribution. Not since I read Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America have I seen the relationship between printing, pulps, comics, paperbacks, and magazines fit together so nicely. And, since I dealt with specialty shops in distributing my game magazines, it doesn’t surprise me when I read about Harry Donenfeld’s pre-National Periodicals days of distributing Margaret Sanger’s birth control devices and information along with his skin magazines via burlesque theaters and involvement with Frank Costello (and other Mafiosi). There are fascinating stories in this history of the comic format. The relationship between the strips syndicated in newspapers, comic strip collections, and comic books was clarified for me as never before. I always preferred the latter and it was only in adulthood that someone (probably an interview with Neal Adams or a conversation overheard when one of my magazines commissioned an illustration from his studio in the early ‘90s) clarified that the strip creators usually kept control of their characters while the “work for hire” comic book work didn’t allow people like Bill Fingers or Jerry Siegel to benefit from their previous work. I particularly like the fact that Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and the Birth of the Comic Book took the time to tell some of the stories of the business guys and distributors, as well as the creators. However, I was disappointed that this was primarily the story of Siegel and Shuster and the house that Jack Leibowitz built. It occasionally mentioned the brief history of EC Comics, Lev Gleason, Charlton, Archie, Timely, Ziff-Davis, Quality, Dell, Warren, Image, and All American (though it later became part of National), but I feel like a lot of the stories behind those publishing groups still need to be told. I liked the part about Martin Goodman, but the volume was very light on Marvel Comics’ ancestral publisher and didn’t really deal with the “rest of the story” sufficiently after Jack Kirby left Marvel [I wanted to know about the short-lived Jack Kirby Comics line just before he died.]. The truth is that I was fascinated by this history, but like any fan boy, I wanted more. I wanted to know about Roy Thomas, Marv Wolfman, and Warren Ellis. The brief description of Steve Ditko’s rise was fascinating, but I was disappointed not to read more about Gardner Fox, Archie Goodman, both Romitas, and the origin of Dark Horse Comics. In spite of my interest in the subject matter, I learned a lot from this volume. I’ve even recommended it to my local comic book guy.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pendry

    It is hard to praise enough this detailed (perhaps an edge too much so in the very first chapters), well researched, well sourced, well judged and readable account of the creation of the comic books industry. Jones balances the human, creative and business stories and makes a convincing case for this being a peculiarly Jewish-American phenomenon grounded initially (though not today) in a particular milieu. Comic book production in New York in the 1940s was a classic case of an urban centre of exce It is hard to praise enough this detailed (perhaps an edge too much so in the very first chapters), well researched, well sourced, well judged and readable account of the creation of the comic books industry. Jones balances the human, creative and business stories and makes a convincing case for this being a peculiarly Jewish-American phenomenon grounded initially (though not today) in a particular milieu. Comic book production in New York in the 1940s was a classic case of an urban centre of excellence feeding off its own pool of talent and networks. And if you see a non-Jewish name (Kane, Kirby, Lee), don't be fooled, these are just second generation Jewish immigrants coming to terms with assimilation. The American comic book is a Jewish invention to all intents and purposes and Jones has some important insights as to why that should be. Creatively, comic books might be seen as a Jewish re-translation into fantasy of the dialectic between Protestant America and the attempt to configure a new identity. The book should be read as much as a history of the creation of American capitalism as anything else, with a three-way struggle between anarcho-socialism, unregulated capitalism and regulated capitalism. The role of organised crime (aka unregulated capitalism) and the Jewish mobsters as they shift into legitimate business is an essential part of this story and explanatory of much American exceptionalism. One of the reasons America is in trouble today in the wider world is that the necessity of regulation and moral fervour has become a habit, upsetting peoples that really require neither. Screwing over Swiss and French bankers is just an extension of WASP determination to tame the new immigrants into good conduct and moral conformity. It's just how they are. As for the books themselves, they should be studied in and for themselves but the psychological origins of some key characters such as Superman are well argued for. It is fun to read again the polyamorous sado-masochistic origins of Wonder Woman but the personal hurt behind the creation of Superman and Batman is very real and well argued by Jones. The characters, with exceptions such as Stan Lee, are not very attractive. There is a disproportionate number of neurotic losers and outright unpleasant bastards but that's American capitalism for you. Invaluable social history, this book is highly recommended.

  10. 5 out of 5

    catechism

    More like 4.5, but I'm in a good mood today and rounding up. This is basically the nonfiction version of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It's easy to read and I think Jones and Chabon are friends. And so I kept having these weird flashbacks of "wait, where do I know this story from???" and many of the vignettes in Kavalier & Clay are things that really happened. Anyway, if you couldn't get through that one for stylistic reasons but are interested in the subject, I'd give this one a sh More like 4.5, but I'm in a good mood today and rounding up. This is basically the nonfiction version of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. It's easy to read and I think Jones and Chabon are friends. And so I kept having these weird flashbacks of "wait, where do I know this story from???" and many of the vignettes in Kavalier & Clay are things that really happened. Anyway, if you couldn't get through that one for stylistic reasons but are interested in the subject, I'd give this one a shot. It's also way more Jewish (in a historical sense, I mean -- much about the early immigrant experience, alienation & a sense of belonging, the war as perceived by American Jewry, etc). In some ways, it is a fantastic prequel to The Heebie-Jeebies at CBGB's: A Secret History of Jewish Punk. Also! Mob connections, and I do love me some mob connections. (One downside is the lack of women, but that's endemic to comics in general and probably a subject for a different book entirely.)

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson

    I have read Men of Tomorrow a couple of times and use it for research and a starting point for my own research. What I like best about the book is that it is not only easy to read and very well written but I love the fact that Gerard places the history of comic books within the larger frame of historical events. It makes so much of the history more compelling and understandable. I know Gerard because there is information about my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in this book. The inf I have read Men of Tomorrow a couple of times and use it for research and a starting point for my own research. What I like best about the book is that it is not only easy to read and very well written but I love the fact that Gerard places the history of comic books within the larger frame of historical events. It makes so much of the history more compelling and understandable. I know Gerard because there is information about my grandfather, Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson in this book. The info about "the Major" in this otherwise wonderfully written book is almost completely wrong bordering on the absurd. That's how I met the author. Upon seeing the evidence he was quick to make most changes in the 2nd edition and plans to do a complete revision based on my research for the 3rd. I appreciate that and consider him a scholar and a gentleman. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in comics history and modern culture.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    A mind-blower, and an essential one. One of the great history books I've read; not just a "comic book book" or a book on "media/popular culture" as the back cover itself asserts (tho it is that also), but an exhaustively researched, masterfully written, searing saga of the 20th century as it only could have unfolded in beautiful, brutal America. From the streets teeming with immigrant children literally fighting their way thru childhood to the corporate conglomerates & mega mergers of the '60s & A mind-blower, and an essential one. One of the great history books I've read; not just a "comic book book" or a book on "media/popular culture" as the back cover itself asserts (tho it is that also), but an exhaustively researched, masterfully written, searing saga of the 20th century as it only could have unfolded in beautiful, brutal America. From the streets teeming with immigrant children literally fighting their way thru childhood to the corporate conglomerates & mega mergers of the '60s & beyond, Jones wields his pen like a scalpel eliminating all that is unnecessary & uncovering the pure gold of a history whose various threads in the realms of the economic, social, psychological, political & private merge into a single focused narrative that delivers epiphany after epiphany of insight & connectivity. Following the stories of various important players in the creation of the popular art form, from the creators to the distributors to the enemies that tried to bring it down, Jones brilliantly constructs his story out of the lives of these flawed, fascinating characters, trying to understand them & remarkably withholding judgment, finding the common humanity in them all. Never straying to indulgence or sentimentality & with a keen eye for irony & symmetry, Jones keeps the potentially messy & epic tale lean & riveting. An amazing achievement, & an absolute must not only for comic book fans but students of human nature & the history of our crazy, corrupt & contradictory country.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Finn

    I'm not a comic book reader, not by a long shot. I do pick up the occasional comics but those are local varieties and not the likes of Superman or Batman, or any of the others out there, about all the superheroes in existence. So when I first started reading this book, I had no idea what I was about to see unfold in front of me and at first I did think it was slightly boring material, but damn... I'm glad I stuck with it because the history of comics sure is fascinating. The birth of Superman, th I'm not a comic book reader, not by a long shot. I do pick up the occasional comics but those are local varieties and not the likes of Superman or Batman, or any of the others out there, about all the superheroes in existence. So when I first started reading this book, I had no idea what I was about to see unfold in front of me and at first I did think it was slightly boring material, but damn... I'm glad I stuck with it because the history of comics sure is fascinating. The birth of Superman, the names Siegel and Shuster, Stan Lee (Excelsior!), the big companies DC & Marvel, ... If you're into comics, and even if you're not into them like me, I'd reccommend reading this book. I sure as hell am glad I did. :)

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Wren

    Gerard Jones writes: No other fad in entertainment has ever paralleled real-life events as closely as the superheros paralleled World War II. Superman fist drew attention in the summer of 1938, as war fears grew out of the Czechoslovakia crisis, and it was after the war really began late the next summer that the superhero fad took flight. By 1941, as America moved inevitably into the war, the heros grew rapidly in number, popularity, variety, and aggression, and some of the most popular were taki Gerard Jones writes: No other fad in entertainment has ever paralleled real-life events as closely as the superheros paralleled World War II. Superman fist drew attention in the summer of 1938, as war fears grew out of the Czechoslovakia crisis, and it was after the war really began late the next summer that the superhero fad took flight. By 1941, as America moved inevitably into the war, the heros grew rapidly in number, popularity, variety, and aggression, and some of the most popular were taking on the Nazis. The last new superhero to find a big audience, Wonder Woman, hit at the end of that year, as the war finally swept across the ocean. For the next three years, sales climbed. Superman and his imitators had captured a national emotional upwelling and turned it into a shared fantasy of escape. Their first and essential market was kids, but to enjoy the towering sales they did during the war, they had to be read by innumerable adults who pretended they were just indulging the “child in us all.” Superheros turned the anxiety into joy. As the world plunged into conflict and disaster almost too huge to comprehend, they grabbed their readers’ darkest feelings and bounded into the sky with them. They made violence and wreckage exciting but at the same time small and containable. So flat, iconic, childlike, unreal, and absurd were those godlings in tights that no reader had to feel he was really engaging with his own angry fantasies. Superman was less a fantasy self than a god out of the machine – a sudden flash-of-color resolution to conflicts too terrible to think about. The superheros were slapstick comedians in a vaudeville of holocaust. Even in Captain America’s angriest assault on the Nazis and Superman’s darkest melodrama in Luthor’s lab, every reader over the age of eight had to laugh at them. Superheros served the purpose of slapstick comedians but on a global scale: They built fear and frustration in a containable fantasy world and then released them with a shock. Superheros allowed adolescents and adults to slip back to the confidence and inviolability of that last moment of childhood before the anxiety of pubescence. It had been a long, nerve-wearing run for twenty years, through Prohibition and sexual revolution and economic transformation and urbanization and Depression and the rumors of war, when a naïve nation had to pretend to be adult and sophisticated. All through the 1920s and early 1930s, there had been childlike entertainment that had captured adults, but it nearly always had a cruel humor (Our Gang), strenuous melodrama (King Kong), or a melancholy sentimentality (Shirley Temple). Finally, at the end of the 1930s, in the moment of The Wizard of Oz, the American imagination retreated into the laughing, arrogant fun of the ten-year old. Superman was the physical embodiment of that fantasy of wholeness, that wondrous sense of knowing who one is and believing one can do anything, that shatters in adolescence. Superheros were a latent-phase dream, embodying sex but invulnerable to it. They distilled that moment of swelling, big-kid pride in the new power and agility of the body, that last moment before the body begins to make its own scary demands and the world turns the mechanisms of shame against it. Superman in particular cartooned the cruelty of sex – Superman tricks Lois sadistically, but then as Clark he flings himself masochistically before her high heels – but with his famous wink at the reader, he let us know that he played every minute of it as a game. As the “Man of Tomorrow,” he has supposedly evolved beyond sexual entanglements, but in fact he was the man of the day before yesterday, looking at the agonies of adolescence with the superior sneer of a little brother spying on his sister. After the frenzied sexual questioning of the Twenties and the cynicism of sex and economics in the early Depression, and with the draft now bringing on another huge dislocation, the superhero was a welcome island of prepubescence. Superheros were also an expression of a rising American thrill. All the queasiness of the Depression was about to be blown away in a great and terrible battle, and as much as most people shook their heads about the horror of the war, there was a hunger for it, too. The war meant not survival and dirty compromise but utter triumph or utter disaster. It meant unity of purpose too, and the superheros embodied that in their polychrome simplicity: Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman were the most distinct individuals imaginable, but at the same time, each of them was all of us. The rarely spoken hunger for war was especially sharp for the children of immigrants and of the polyglot cities. A nation dominated for a generation by isolationist, prohibitionist, and small-town WASPs was about to plunge into the world, led by its cockiest, most sophisticated progressives. America had won the last war. Since then it had only grown in size, influence, and industrial capacity. It had held itself back from world events as fascism spread, but Roosevelt’s voters knew how powerful the country was. America was playing Clark Kent. It was time to rip off the suit.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Gregory

    I read quite a bit of non-fiction, usually to satisfy my curiosity about a subject, and I rarely have high expectations for the writing itself. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find this such a (forgive me) good read. Jones tells the story of the birth of the comic book deftly, with some real verve and snap to his prose--better yet, he gets all of his facts right and revealed a few facts I didn't know (and I'm quite a comics geek). Anyone who enjoyed Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and I read quite a bit of non-fiction, usually to satisfy my curiosity about a subject, and I rarely have high expectations for the writing itself. So I was very pleasantly surprised to find this such a (forgive me) good read. Jones tells the story of the birth of the comic book deftly, with some real verve and snap to his prose--better yet, he gets all of his facts right and revealed a few facts I didn't know (and I'm quite a comics geek). Anyone who enjoyed Chabon's The Adventures of Kavalier and Klay will revel in the source material here. Bravo.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Cebulski

    Phenomenally well-written book. Beyond disappointing to learn that so many iconic characters were mostly the composite result of decades of greed though. Yet such may be the very nature of trash: Meaningful material developing only after way long bouts of money-grubbing, ignoring original creators, failing to compensate writers, etc.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Nezka

    A very pulp-y style tell-all of the lives of the earliest superhero comics creators, with quite a few dashes of sexism thrown in; women in comics are barely mentioned and mostly villified as demanding wives and mistresses to whom the comics creators had to work so hard to support. If you are really interested in the details of how the creators worked and fought together, this is for you.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    I really enjoyed this book! It's a history of comic books in America, and although it covers comics all the way through the late 1990s, its primary focus is on the early origins, the creation of Superman and other aspects of the Golden Age. By the time the narrative reaches the end of the Second World War, the story accelerates and moves away from the detail that the earlier years received. The Silver Age is covered from a high-level overview, and the years following the Silver Age receive even I really enjoyed this book! It's a history of comic books in America, and although it covers comics all the way through the late 1990s, its primary focus is on the early origins, the creation of Superman and other aspects of the Golden Age. By the time the narrative reaches the end of the Second World War, the story accelerates and moves away from the detail that the earlier years received. The Silver Age is covered from a high-level overview, and the years following the Silver Age receive even less detail. But that's okay. Other books and other authors can cover comics of the 1980s. I would, however, have liked author Gerard Jones to have delved more into Frederic Wertham's book Seduction of the Innocent and its impact on the industry, but by the time that came around the story was already speeding up. The stories of the early days were really interesting. I was familiar with the sad story of Siegel and Shuster, and how they were squeezed out of receiving the fame and money that should have been due them for creating a character as popular as Superman, but I was less familiar with many of the details. Jones also tells the story of Batman, and Bob Kane doesn't come out looking good at all. Kane is portrayed as a vain creator who consistently took credit for the work of others, with the primary victim of this being Batman's co-creator Bill Finger. Kane didn't only neglect to credit Finger, but took active steps to hide Finger's contributions. I think the best thing about this book is that Gerard Jones treats his subject as something worthy of serious consideration, but doesn't pretend that it's more important than it is. He makes some strong and interesting arguments about how world events and societal trends influenced comic books, but doesn't try to make any dubious claims that comic books affected society or the world at large. He tells us that comic books were popular, and fun, and have been a significant part of American popular culture, not only in the comics themselves but in other media as well. (In recent years, Hollywood has definitely picked up on this in a big way.) Gerard Jones has written a few other books about pop culture. I'll have to give one or two of them a try.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Baba

    A truly amazing book that documents the story of the rises and falls of the superhero comic book industry, from its roots in the NY Jewish ghettos during prohibition in the '20s, its connections to gangsters and pornographers in the '30s, the Golden Age '40s through to the modern day Time Warner - AOL merger and the super hero film industry. It tells the story by recounting the lives and times of Joe Schuster, Jerry Spiegel, Bob Kane, Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby etc and also the lives of t A truly amazing book that documents the story of the rises and falls of the superhero comic book industry, from its roots in the NY Jewish ghettos during prohibition in the '20s, its connections to gangsters and pornographers in the '30s, the Golden Age '40s through to the modern day Time Warner - AOL merger and the super hero film industry. It tells the story by recounting the lives and times of Joe Schuster, Jerry Spiegel, Bob Kane, Will Eisner, Stan Lee, Jack Kirby etc and also the lives of the brokers, publishers and distributors. The key story is that of the Superman comic, which was selling over a million copies a month in the 1940s!... and the story of Warner Brothers and their predecessors screwing over the Superman creators for over 40 years! An absolute must-read for comic fans and for people interested in Jewish-American, American and/or American crime history. 8 out of 12

  20. 4 out of 5

    Philip Cosand

    You'd think with me working in a comic book store and this book having been around for 15 years that I'd have gotten to it before this. Too busy reading comics is my excuse. But it was well worth seeking out and certainly worth all the accolades it has received. I've often read about the early years of DC. National Comics, All-American, the original publishers, Donnenfield; it all got jumbled up in my head. Not here. As we read through the lens of a story, the characters are fleshed out, the event You'd think with me working in a comic book store and this book having been around for 15 years that I'd have gotten to it before this. Too busy reading comics is my excuse. But it was well worth seeking out and certainly worth all the accolades it has received. I've often read about the early years of DC. National Comics, All-American, the original publishers, Donnenfield; it all got jumbled up in my head. Not here. As we read through the lens of a story, the characters are fleshed out, the events become linear, and all the events form a fascinating tapestry. The one complaint is that no one can every truly know every detail. Jones makes some leaps, some assumptions, and at some points admits that we can't really know. Business dealings and negotiations are always going to have a "he said/ she said" background to them. Because of that, the reader must go into the book taking everything with a grain of salt. However, if one is willing to make the trip, it is well worth it. The Bronze and Golden Ages are particularly well attended to. It really is Jack D and Jerry S's story. Stan Lee, Joe Shuster, Jerry Robinson, Will Eisner; these are all supporting characters in the background of Superman's creator versus Superman's marketer. For any fan of Superman, or comics in general (especially the early years), any history buff will be thrilled to see how it all played out over 80 years ago.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Matt Sautman

    While Jones earns much praise for his work, this book is somehow both over-and-underwhelming from an academic perspective. This history is focused largely on Comics' history in regard to white American identity, and while the book does a great job of exploring how ideas like socialism and Jewish identity shaped the evolution of American comic books, this history ignores the evolution of Black comic characters and creators. The chapter "True Crime" is the strongest of the work--I have assigned it While Jones earns much praise for his work, this book is somehow both over-and-underwhelming from an academic perspective. This history is focused largely on Comics' history in regard to white American identity, and while the book does a great job of exploring how ideas like socialism and Jewish identity shaped the evolution of American comic books, this history ignores the evolution of Black comic characters and creators. The chapter "True Crime" is the strongest of the work--I have assigned it even to students in the past--but this chapter does more analysis than any of the other sections. It shows me what this book could have been, what I wish it was.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Mike Gibas

    With his imprisonment, author Gerard Jones is pretty much discredited and abhorred for good reason. Men of Tomorrow is, however, a really compelling and detailed portrait of the birth and growth of the American comic book industry. With detailed research - and a focus on DC, Superman, Seigal and Schuster - it is as exciting and compelling as any modern mini series and a wonderful read. I bought this book long before his conviction, so the choice to read it may be difficult and it is not an easy With his imprisonment, author Gerard Jones is pretty much discredited and abhorred for good reason. Men of Tomorrow is, however, a really compelling and detailed portrait of the birth and growth of the American comic book industry. With detailed research - and a focus on DC, Superman, Seigal and Schuster - it is as exciting and compelling as any modern mini series and a wonderful read. I bought this book long before his conviction, so the choice to read it may be difficult and it is not an easy choice. It is, however, a key text for comic book history

  23. 4 out of 5

    Trey Meadows

    Long and Meandering, yet interesting and fulfilling in the end. Lots of bits and pieces regarding the history of American pop culture, mostly surrounding the artists and publishers that of what is now DC Comics. The largest portions are about Shuster and Siegel and Jack Liebowitz and their saga for intellectual property. I enjoyed it but wished it included more about the other companies.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matt Starr

    As someone who’s never done serious research into comic books, I feel like I learned quite a bit. The writing style is unlike any history I’ve ever read. The author endures relatability and empathy into the people he reports about. It was a very fun read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Matthew Lloyd

    The subtitle of Men of Tomorrow promises that it tells "the TRUE STORY of the BIRTH of the SUPERHEROES". In many ways, it achieves this goal. But the narrative thrust of this history is not the creation of superheroes, although there is much discussion and some psychoanalysis of that phenomenon. The hook of the story, its beginning and its end, is the dispute regarding the credit for the creation of Superman and the battles Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had to endure to be recognised as his creat The subtitle of Men of Tomorrow promises that it tells "the TRUE STORY of the BIRTH of the SUPERHEROES". In many ways, it achieves this goal. But the narrative thrust of this history is not the creation of superheroes, although there is much discussion and some psychoanalysis of that phenomenon. The hook of the story, its beginning and its end, is the dispute regarding the credit for the creation of Superman and the battles Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster had to endure to be recognised as his creators. One might expect this story to have good guys and bad guys, that Siegel and Shuster were wronged parties manipulated and exploited by the evil Jack Liebowitz. Certainly the book starts out by suggesting that the narrative will follow this path by beginning at the end: Siegel's wife Joanne insisting that he challenge the ownership of Superman one last time before the release of the motion picture in the late 1970s. But this isn't the path the story takes: one is taken through the story showing that Siegel and Shuster made many mistakes, failed to act when they should have done and trusted the wrong people, while Liebowitz behaved within the law, not knowing how the medium in which he was investing would become the beloved phenomenon it was in the late 70s and 80s (and to some extent remains today). Would Superman have become the phenomenon he was and is without the publishing knowhow of Liebowitz and Harry Donenfeld? Was just having the idea enough that Siegel and Shuster deserved all the praise? One is left with the feeling that mistakes were made on both sides, no-one was a bad guy, even if they occasionally did bad things. The greatest tragedy is that of Bill Finger, co-creator of Batman, who did not live to get the recognition of Siegel and Shuster (or even Bob Kane). As with any history, there are things which are left out or could have received more emphasis. It is more a history of what we now know as DC than of Marvel, although the latter gets frequent enough mentions. I was disappointed to find references to Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns as an inspiration for the Batman film - fair enough in itself - but no reflections on what Alan Moore and David Gibbon's Watchmen said about superheroes in the 1980s (Moore himself describes the book as 'Magnificent' on the cover, so it's difficult to push this disappointment too far). While apparently about the birth of superheroes, there is much discussion of the comic books of the late 1930s and early 1940s - including Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman - but little on the Superman and Batman TV series, even less on Wonder Woman. The discussion of the origin of Superman the Movie are largely concerned with Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's attempts to reclaim their credit to creating the hero - fair enough, but it might have been nice to see Christopher Reeve's name once, or a little more about the birth of the superhero on the big screen. There's nothing on Tim Burton's attempts to revive the Superman movie franchise in the 90s. But all histories have their limitations - this one was long enough, detailed enough, and well-written enough that while I want to know more about these aspects, I can't criticise the book too much for not going into them. On the other hand, any reference to Buffy the Vampire Slayer warms my heart, even if there is much, much more to be said about Joss Whedon's relationship to Marvel comics since this book was published. Kevin Smith also gets a mention as someone who moved into comics - but not Jodi Picoult, probably as a result of the publication date. It is a very male history - one suspects that this is the result of the industry rather than Gerard Jones, although there are occasional references to the high proportions of comic readers who from the beginning were female. It also hints enticingly at the parallel and related histories of science fiction, fandom, and conventions, which lead one to hope for a history of those elements, too, which do not exclude comic books. Finally, it is worth emphasising that this book functions as popular history and not literary criticism. There is some discussion of the contents and storylines of the superhero comics under discussion, but it is not discussed in great detail. Where it occurs, it is usually to suggest how Seigel or Finger's lives affected their story writing, or as an illustration of what censors complained about in comic books. But as a history, it's worth reading.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Doug Murphy

    A nice history of the birth of the comic book through 2000.

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Runyon

    Fascinating.

  28. 5 out of 5

    James

    Wonderful.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    Jones writes of the early comic industry with the prose of authority even as some of his narrative conflicts with other accounts of the industry, and is thus in itself guilty of some of the same skeptical embellishment as the historical figures mentioned in the book. As an overview of an industry, it's a good read with wonderfully evocative prose even if its greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses. Jones writes of the early comic industry with the prose of authority even as some of his narrative conflicts with other accounts of the industry, and is thus in itself guilty of some of the same skeptical embellishment as the historical figures mentioned in the book. As an overview of an industry, it's a good read with wonderfully evocative prose even if its greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses.

  30. 4 out of 5

    TheKing161

    wonderful story

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