With the publication this month of his new book, It's Superman!, Tom De Haven, 56, offers up his own version of the American icon created by Clevelanders Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. A Midlothian resident and the author of the critically acclaimed trilogy of Derby Dugan books, De Haven has crafted an engaging, literary novel set in the late1930s that just happens to be about a man who can leap tall buildings in a single bound. The book stays true to Superman's core without getting bogged down in the trivia that's accumulated around the character since his 1938 debut. If you'd like to judge the novel for yourself, an excerpt begins on the next page, following our interview with De Haven.
How did you get this gig?
[DC Comics] approached me in about 1997. ... The final proposal that they accepted was written, and I can tell you this because it's one of those things you don't forget, it was a week after 9/11 when I handed it in. So I was doing it at that time. I think to some degree the book's final form had a lot to do with that.
In what way?
One of the things that I put in this proposal was that if I was going to do this, this was going to be dead-on straight and there was going to be no cynicism and no winks. I was going to do a flat-out American novel about an American hero. Period. And they liked it.
Before working on this book, were you a fan of Superman?
Oh, yeah, I've always been a fan of Superman. It's just like, do you like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones, do you like Superman or Batman. I was always a Superman person. ...
I caught a few Richmond references while reading. Clark Kent works for a newspaper called the Herald-Progress in Smallville, and Lex Luthor spends some time in Ashland during his childhood. Were there any I missed?
The funny thing about this book, I don't know if you're aware of it, but it was a thousand pages long, and last Christmastime, I went down to Virginia Beach and locked myself in a hotel room for quite a while until I cut this thing in half. So a lot of the stuff that I remember about the book basically isn't there anymore. [ Laughs .] So I can't remember anything else.
In some ways, your version of Superman hews back to his original appearances, when he was throwing wife beaters through walls.
The thing about it is, Siegel and Shuster, the young men who created him, put a lot of themselves in there. There was that very New Deal-era idealism that they infused into the early comics — clearing slums and destroying automobile factories that produced unsafe cars. This was incredible stuff that Superman was doing in the first couple of years. He was really a very different guy. If you look at the drawings, he was a little guy. He looked like Jimmy Cagney, rather than the kind of refrigerator that he's been drawn as lately.
One last goofy question: How do you go about figuring out Lois Lane's bra size, which you give as 34B?
[ Laughs. ] I don't know. That was one of the things I found out in my research, that the sizing of bras came in at that time, and I said, "I've got to use this."