The holiday itself is not celebrated yet… but in the far future…
For Earth humans everywhere it was a special day, the third Monday of the month: Miracle Monday.
On Miracle Monday the spirit of humanity soared free. This Miracle Monday, like the first Miracle Monday, came in the spring of Metropolis, and for the occasion spring weather was arranged wherever the dominion of humanity extended.
On Uranus’s satellites where the natives held an annual fog-gliding rally through the planetary rings, private contributions even made it possible to position orbiting fields of gravitation for spectators in free space.
On Titan, oxygen bubbles were loosed in complicated patterns to burst into flame with the methane atmosphere and make fireworks that were visible as far as the surface of Saturn.
At Nix Olympica, the eight-kilometer-high Martian volcano, underground pressures that the Olympica Resort Corporation had artificially accumulated during the preceding year were unleashed in a spectacular display of molten fury for tourists who walked around the erupting crater wearing pressurized energy shields.
At Armstrong City in the Moon’s Sea of Tranquility there was a holographic reenactment of the founding of the city in the year 2019, when on the fiftieth anniversary of his giant leap for mankind the first man on the Moon returned, aged and venerable, to what was then called Tranquility Base Protectorate, carrying a state charter signed by the President of the United States.
The prices of ski lift tickets on Neptune inflated for the holiday. Teleport routes to beaches and mountains on Earth crowded up unbelievably. Interplanetary wilderness preserves became nearly as crowded with people as Earth cities.
Aboard the slow-moving orbital ships that carried ores and fossil materials on slowly decaying loops toward the sun from the asteroids, teamsters partied until they couldn’t see.
On worlds without names scattered throughout this corner of the Galaxy, where Earth’s missionaries, pioneers and speculators carried their own particular quests, it was a day for friends, family, recreation and – if it brought happiness – reflection.
But today, in 2017… It’s just my very favorite Superman story ever.
It had an odd genesis. For how this greatest of all Superman stories happened, you have to go back to the first Superman movie with Christopher Reeve, back in 1978.
See, the thing was that Ilya and Alexander Salkind, who produced it, had not a single iota of artistic ambition to them. None. They were dealmakers. They were always courting stars that were ‘bankable,’ which is how you got Marlon Brando as Jor-El. (Frankly, as screen Jor-els go, he really wasn’t much. I can think of half a dozen guys who’ve done it better, from David Warner to Russell Crowe.)
(Actually I think there are only five or six other guys who’ve done Jor-El on screen period, including cartoons. Pretty much ALL of them did it better than Brando, who was too lazy to even memorize his lines.)
But Brando was BANKABLE. The Godfather had made him a megastar. That was what the Salkinds wanted, to be able to bellow at the world that Brando was in their movie.
As it happens, another fellow that was suddenly riding a crest of newfound stardom was the author of the original Godfather novel, Mario Puzo.
No one who actually READ The Godfather looked at that novel and thought, “Damn, that guy is perfect for writing the Superman movie.” But the Salkinds weren’t readers. I’m not sure either one of them ever read anything that wasn’t a contract. The one thing they cared about was that Puzo was famous, a superstar writer. They figured they’d get him on board, milk the publicity for all it was worth, and then hire an actual screenwriter to fix it later. Which is exactly what happened. Tom Mankiewicz, who genuinely knew something about how to make hero stories work, took the basic outline of Puzo’s story and turned it into the movie we all know.
But, in their frenzied deal-making, the Salkinds had agreed to a clause in Puzo’s contract that if there was any kind of book deal, it had to include him.
Here’s where it gets murky. No one can confirm if Puzo had to write the novelizations himself or just get paid for them, but either way, apparently no one wanted to spend the money. And as it happens, there was already a Superman novel on deck that recounted the origin of the Man of Steel and featured Luthor as a villain.
Elliott Maggin’s Last Son of Krypton hit the stands in 1978. I bought it off the spinner rack the second I saw it and since it was packaged as a movie novelization, I thought that this was what the upcoming Superman movie was going to be. I was bitterly disappointed when I got to the 8-page photo insert in the middle and realized this book had nothing to do with the upcoming movie. (I have no idea if they still do this, since I have gotten out of the habit of buying movie novelizations for the most part… but publishers used to release them in advance of the movie’s actual premiere, presumably for nerds like me who couldn’t stand to wait and didn’t mind being spoiled.)
I picked it up at the airport on the way to Hawaii for one of the most miserable family vacations ever. That book saved me; I must have read it five or six times in the course of the two weeks we were there. Whenever I wanted to hide out from my dysfunctional screaming family I dived back into Maggin’s galactic Superman epic. It wasn’t the movie… it was better. It was a movie I could see in my head. And though Last Son of Krypton had nothing to do with Christopher Reeve, his image plastered all over the book made me visualize Superman as him, though everyone else in the mental movie playing as I read still looked like Curt Swan drew them.
Maggin explained how the book came about in an interview some years ago: “… Last Son of Krypton started out as a treatment for a movie — the Superman movie that I was trying to convince DC Comics needed to be made as far back as 1974. When Mario Puzo showed up at the office one day to tell me he’d gotten an assignment to write a Superman movie and would I spend a couple of days with him telling him who the character was, I was thrilled and disappointed. I spent two days with Puzo, telling stories and smoking enormous cigars, and had a fine time. Then I took my ignored little film treatment upstairs to Warner Books where a senior editor said go ahead and write a novel out of it. I did, and through a series of unlikely events, the novel was published the same day as the movie was released, and became a bestseller.
“It is an independent original story unrelated to the first Superman movie with which it was released and marketed, and the only one of nine publishing products that came out with that film to make any headway in the marketplace at all.
“Warner Books took it out of circulation some time ago, going so far as to destroy several hundred thousand warehoused copies, I am told.
“The book was released when I lived in New Hampshire, the day Superman: The Movie was released. I got a frantic phone call that week from the guy who was president of DC Comics saying that Alexander Salkind — the producer of the movie — wanted to sue me. Apparently someone had finally read him the book or something, and he thought there were too many incidents in common with the movie. I said that I had not seen the movie or read the script, but that I had handed in my manuscript a full year before Mario Puzo handed in his script, and owing to my conversations with Puzo. I told this guy where to look for proof of that, and said maybe I should sue Salkind.
“Got a phone call from the guy at DC the next day saying, ‘Salkind says, “Just kidding.”‘ And that was the last I heard about it.”
The book was hugely successful. Part of it was the packaging, of course, but word-of-mouth on it helped a lot, and a riff on aliens stealing Xerox machines made it a hit at the Xerox corporation. Certainly it zoomed to the top of my personal favorite Superman stories. And it stayed there until 1981, when Miracle Monday came out.
It was packaged the same way, as a novelization for Superman II, and for the same reason– no one wanted to pay Puzo what he was contracted for if they actually adapted the screenplay for a novel. This time I knew exactly what I was getting and I was far more excited about this book than seeing the movie the packaging pretended it was adapting.
The blurb: What happened when the Man of Steel confronted a demon of fire?
When a historian from the future travels to Metropolis of the past to unravel the mystery surrounding the joyous holiday of Miracle Monday, she finds herself embroiled in events that threaten the stability of the Universe and the laws of physics themselves.
Superman faces down the devil itself in this reissue of the bestselling novel.
That’s right. Superman versus a demon from Hell itself.
But it’s so much more than that. It really serves as Elliott Maggin’s Final Word on what Superman and Lois and Luthor and the Kents and the folks at the Daily Planet are all about. Everyone gets wonderful, wonderful character bits. And the best part is Superman himself, incorruptible and decent and good, but not naive. Here is possibly one of the greatest face-offs in the history of Superman stories, when the Man of Steel confronts the possessed Kristin Wells.
There have been many Superman stories since then and some of them have been brilliant. But for me, none have been as wonderful as this one.
It has always annoyed me that this brilliant novel has languished for years in the licensed-novelization tie-in ghetto.
Last Son of Krypton at least got a nice Book Club hardcover. But Miracle Monday didn’t even rate that much. I figured with DC rebooting the origin every eighteen months or so, the chances of the book getting a nice new edition were close to zero.
These covers I posted aren’t real; they are the work of one David Herman, who did them as a design project. You can read about them here. I love them, especially the one with the broken Clark Kent glasses, and just wanted to share. But an ACTUAL re-issue was not happening.
Except it is.
A new edition on Kindle and in paperback.
Maggin edited the new edition himself, so it’s the author’s preferred text. And I’m assuming that the deal he struck with DC allows him a better slice of the sales than the original work-made-for-hire deal most licensed-novel writers get.
I cannot recommend this book strongly enough. It is the novel I hand to people that complain that Superman is a boy scout, that Lois is just a bitch, that the character is too dated to work in a modern context, and blah blah blah. Those criticisms are bullshit. Maggin disproved them all back in 1981 and now people can see for themselves why guys like Mark Waid insist this novel is the go-to bible for how to characterize Superman.
I hope you check it out. Amazon link is here. The Junk Shop gets a little referral fee if you use that link to buy it, or if you should happen to do any other shopping while you are there… but I would be banging the drum just as loudly and enthusiastically for it even if we got nothing. This is a book that I think everyone should read. I have given away and replaced at least eight of them over the years. Chances are I’ll be giving away my old one when the new one gets here.
Good Miracle Monday to you all, and I’ll be back next week with something cool.