Muir Book Wednesday # 1: The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television
So watch out! BLATANT SELF PROMOTION AHEAD!
This week, I'm initiating another new "blog" feature, the "Muir Book Wednesday." I figure that since sixteen of my books have been published (and I've signed contracts for twenty-one...sheesh...) I ought to be able to write about my books once a week for a while. It will a) fill up some space, and b.) familiarize people with my work off the net, in print.
I want to start off with my award-winner, The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television, published by McFarland in 2004. Although I didn't expect this would be so, it ended up being (so far) my most successful book with the company, both in sales and in response from the critical community. In April of 2005, The New York Public Library selected it as a "Best of Reference" for the year. Library Journal awarded it a "starred" review.
Here are some quick stats: The book is 621 pages in length. It features four appendices: Conventions and Cliches of Superhero Films and Live-Action Television, Incarnations, Memorable Superhero Ad-Lines, and The Best, Worst and Most Influential Productions.
The book opens with an introduction called "Thank God You're Here!" and then moves into a more-than-20 page overview of superhero film/tv, including sections with the following titles: "In the Beginning: Superheroes with Straight Faces (1938-1957)," "Then There Was Camp: The Age of Batman (1966-1975)," "The Age of Americana: Nostalgia Reigns Supreme (1973-1985)," "The Dark Age (1985-1998"), "The Dawn of the Woman: The Ascent of Buffy (1997-2002)," Renaissance and Re-imagination: Superheroes Triumphant (1999-2003)," and "A Cartoon (and Kid-Vid) Nation."
After the overview, I move into the bulk of the Encyclopedia which includes all the various entries for superheroes on TV and film, 1951 - 2003. These include: The Amazing Spider-Man, The Ambiguously Gay Duo, Angel, Aquaman, Automan, The Bionic Woman, Birdman and the Galaxy Trio, Birds of Prey, Black Scorpion, Blade, Blankman, Bluntman and Chronic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Captain America, Captain Nice, Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Condorman, The Crow, Daredevil, Dark Angel, Darkman, Doctor Strange, ElectraWoman and DynaGirl, The Fantastic Four, The Flash, The Gemini Man, The Greatest American Hero, The Green Hornet, Green Lantern, The Incredible Hulk, The Invincible Iron Man, Isis, The Justice League of America, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Man from Atlantis, Manimal, M.A.N.T.I.S., Martian Manhunter, The Mask, The Meteor Man, The Mighty Thor, Misfits of Science, Mister Terrific, Mutant X, Mystery Men, Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., Nightman, Now and Again, Once A Hero, The Phantom, Plastic Man, RoboCop, The Rocketeer, The Shadow, Shazam!, Sheena, The Silver Surfer, The Six Million Dollar Man, Spawn, Steel, Superboy (including Smallville), Supergirl, Superman, Swamp Thing, The Tick, Unbreakable, Witchblade, Wonder Woman and The X-Men. Whew!
These entries range from a single page to 42 pages in the case of superheroes with many productions (like Batman). All TV shows featured include episode guides replete with cast and crew, synopsis and airdate.
But hey, enough of my yakking, here's what the critics say about The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television:
"The over-the-top, first-stop-in-pop-culture maven, McFarland has unearthed another killer-kryptonite jewel. This bounteous reference cornucopia documents 50-plus years of 71 superheroes in film and television, providing both basic and detailed information for films and episodic listings for television shows. This is genre guru Muir's 11th book for McFarland, and he knows the landscape like Aquaman knows Atlantis...Divided into four sections, the text includes a history of film and television superheroes, a conclusion, and numerous fun and quirky appendixes. The bling-bling, of course, is the mondo-hefty Part 2, encyclopedia of shows, each entry of which provides a full origin and history of the superhero, full credits, format, cross-references, episode-by-episode descriptions for the television shows, and critical notes. If you can swing it, get two copies...you'll need them both. Rock on, Muir and McFarland! A Library Journal "Starred" Review." - LIBRARY JOURNAL, May 15, 2004, pages 77-79.
"For years I have wanted a book on superhero movies, and the new 600 + page brick known as THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF SUPERHEROES ON FILM AND TELEVISION by John Kenneth Muir goes one better by including TV shows too. From the early days of Adam West camping the cape of Batman to the current Marvel movie bonanza of X-MEN and SPIDER-MAN, this book covers them all...Each title gets an individual discussion and review, with the TV shows often accompanied by detailed episode guides. The book's introduction is a terrific history of the genre, with Muir demonstrating he knows his stuff..." - Rod Lott, HITCH DAILY, March 8, 2004.
"Those seeking a highly detailed guide to such colorful crime fighters should discover John Kenneth Muir's 'The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television.'...Going back more than 50 years, the author offers a history, episode guide, film description and critical commentary for every entry. Muir also details information on arch-villains, gadgets, origins and super powers."-Lou Gaul, THE BURLINGTON COUNTY TIMES, March 4, 2004, page C1-C2.
"* * * * (FOUR STARS/OUT OF FOUR)...The book opens with a succinct history of the subgenre, and notes how various eras have presented comic book figures, on home and cinema screens, from the straight-faced gung-ho action of postwar America through a camp phase of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and a decade of nostalgia, to the 'dark age' of hard-edged cynicism that characterised 1990s' vigilantes...Having written books about Blake's 7, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Space 1999 and the films of John Carpenter, Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven, and Kevin Smith, author John Kenneth Muir is well-grounded in the lore and minutiae of sci-fi and fantasy adventure...This is the first book where all three Captain America movies are featured. Coverage of The Crow is particularly welcome...and [the book] provides the most comprehensive section on The Six Million Dollar Man...I've yet seen in print. Of course Superman, the mainstay of this book's entire subject, demands and gets a suitably expansive chapter-size entry and along with the write-ups for Superboy and Supergirl, this offers the most extensive coverage of DC Comics' veteran figurehead outside of those specialist single-character books." - Tony Lee, THE ZONE: The Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror and Mystery Website, June 13, 2004.
"There seems to be no end in sight for the dominance of comic-book heroes at the movies. That's why it's a good time to dive into this hefty 600-page-plus compendium of trivia and essays about caped crusader types from the past half century. John Kenneth Muir, whose credits include Horror Films of the 1970s and Terror Television is our knowledgeable guide through this tour of supernatural heroes. Each entry includes a detailed history, cast and credits, TV episodes and live-action and animated film descriptions, as well as critical commentaries and entertaining data on origins, catch phrases, gadgets and arch-villains. There are some great focuses on recurring themes - almost-exposed secrets, lost powers, misfits, crossover shows, etc. - and nice appendixes such as "The Best, Worst and Most Influential Productions...[a] must-have geek reference book." -ANIMATION MAGAZINE: "BOOKS WE LOVE" July 2004, page 6.
"John Kenneth Muir must have had one mis-spent youth. In his 'Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television' he gives superhero fans a good resource to the various movie/TV incarnations of our favorite heroes. Covering animation as well, this book is current up to mid-2003, and reaches back to the early 1950s. His presentation covers comic book and comic book-inspired heroes in an entertaining 'Did you know'/documentary format...Filled with great anecdotal and historical information, the entries are illustrated with a smattering of photographs...I love superheroes. And during the course of this writing I was 'lost' several times in numerous entries. That is the beauty of the book, no matter what information was missed due to space, or time limitations you can enjoy it fully...Buy this book. And wait for the second edition where John Kenneth Muir updates the entries and gives us more delight and comic book/superhero video fodder...Happy reading. May your cape never need dry cleaning!"-Tumbleweed, PENGUIN COMICS June 2004.
"John Kenneth Muir's books for McFarland are distinctive because of their authority and effective research. The Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television is no different...the detail is mind-boggling." - CLASSIC IMAGES, May 2004.
"...riveting...Muir sandwiches entries on 71 superheroic individuals or teams from the past 50-plus years of broadcast media between a pithy historical overview and back matter that includes a compendium of plot cliches and several "Best/Worst" lists...Where else are readers going to find such depth of detail, not only on such major figures as Superman or Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the likes of Captain Nice, Isis and Saturday Night Live's Ambiguously Gay Duo?...this is a browser's delight." - School Library Journal August 2004.
"...I thought I'd point you out to this cool guide. This book is 600 some pages of everything you need to know pertaining to superheroes. All you could possible wish to have at your fingertips about guys like Superman, Batman, Daredevil and more." - Yvonne Glasgow, MusicRevueMag: Undergound - The Goth and Punk Page. May 2004.
"Muir characterizes the superhero genre as a uniquely American myth that he tracks from the early age of straight-faced crime fighters through its camp and nostalgic phases and to more recent incarnations as dark heroes powerful heroines...and re-imagined characters." - C&RL News, June 2004 page 338.
"...the encyclopedia is well-researched and provides a wide array of television and film superhero characters' backgrounds, histories, ways they were perceived by critics, plus valuable facts about the TV shows and motion pictures that will prove useful to library patrons who are researching topics as varied as female superheroes in TV and film to the evolution of superheroes from comic book characters to TV and/or film central subjects. As this work is unique in its subject matter...academic, public, school and special librarians will find this title to be a good jumping off point for patrons when they are beginning research on TV and film superheroes. It will also be a good ready reference tool to consult for a particular fact or piece of data on a specific movie or TV programme that centres on a superhero. It is a valuable addition to any library's reference collection." - Carolyn Frenger, Reference Reviews, Volume 18, Number 6, 2004, pages 49-50.
"This book is to be read and referenced. Hardcore superhero enthusiasts will treasure it...Recommended." -LIBRARY MEDIA CONNECTION, Nov/Dec 2004, page 185
"An amazing collection of superhero biographies...detailed." - THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY, "Best of Reference, 2005" Selection.
"Muir's encyclopedia should find much use, issued at a time when superheroes have made a strong comeback in feature films and animation...The book is recommended for libraries...and superhero researchers and fans." - ARBA, Volume 36.
"Most coverages of superheroes focus on comic books and illustrators for the comic book world. John Kenneth Muir's Encyclopedia Of Superheroes On Film And Television narrows the focus to film and television superheroes, with entries by show discussing shows ranging from short-run productions like 'Isis' to 'M.A.N.T.I.S', 'Shazam!' and more. Each film and show receives critical quotes, overviews of plot and premise, cast and crew listings, and seasonal episode overviews. An excellent and recommended reference for film and television buffs." - MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW.
Okay, and here, finally, is an excerpt from my introduction, the first three-and-half paragraphs. Enjoy!
"Thank God You're Here!" An Introduction
People have always adored their superheroes, those larger-than-life figures who rescue the weak, preserve the species, and fight evil in all its forms. Our ongoing delight with superheroes is evident even in the earliest recorded works. After all, what is the great Greek hero Hercules, son of Olympian Zeus and the mortal woman, Alcmena, but a "super man," half-human and half-divine. His great strength and power, granted by his demigod heritage, no doubt, makes Hercules one of the earliest known and oft-imited representatives of the genre.
However, going out on something of a limb, one might say that the superhero really came into his (or her) own in the United States of America of the twentieth century, which gave birth to Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, Batman, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the X-Men, Daredevil, the Incredible Hulk and many more. Perhaps it is not difficult to understand how or why the superhero evolved in this manner. Scarcely over two hundred years old, the United States of America remains a young country in the scheme of world hisstory, and because of that youth lacks a coherent and comforting "old world" mythology such as those of Ancient Greece or the Roman Empire.
A melting pot of immigrants from all the planet's nations, the United States repreents a synthesis of peoples, religions and legends. Still, many common ideals, notably those of freedom and opportunity, are shared among new arrivals to American shores, and those common ideals must be championed in a new and relevant mythology. What could be more appropriate than the mythology of the justice-seeking superhero? Thus Batman and the other contemporary representatives of the genre replace the mostly irrevelant, old or classical myths, like England's Robin Hood, France's Three Musketeers or Greece's pantheon of great heroes (such as Hercules, Thesues and Perseus).
Notably, Jerry Siegel and Joel Shuster's long-lived creation Superman, ""the man of tomorrow," is actually a child of yesterday, representing the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century immigrant experience. Kal-El is a child of foreign origin, from the planet Krypton, adopted by American parents (much as America "adopts" all immigrants) and given a solid, American sounding name of rock-hard strength: Clark Kent. He matures in the safety and security of the corn-fed American heartland of Kansas, is raised to respect traditional family values, and then moves to the big city, Metropolis, where he lives out the American dream...
So, anyway, there it is! Check out my Encyclopedia of Superheroes on Film and Television if you can swing it. It sells at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, Walmart.com, and direct from the publisher at McFarland. The book isn't cheap, but it is thick, durable (hardcover) and packed to the gills with information. Next week, I'll be back with another "Muir Book Wednesday." Consider that fair warning...