Good Miracle Monday, everyone!

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.

TODAY.

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.

19 Comments

  1. Edo Bosnar

    Man, I’m really going to have to re-read Maggin’s Superman novels: I read them both when they were published to coincide with the release of the movies – only I read them after I had seen the movies. So the first one confused me, but by the time Miracle Monday came out I realized the only tie to the movies was the packaging. Anyway, I don’t remember much of either, as I was still a pretty little kid when I read them. The only thing I do recall is enjoying a lot of the dialogue.
    Great column, by the way. And that page of dialogue you featured is a simple summary of who Superman is why he (and really, pretty much every superhero) does what he does. The people who did and are doing the current crop of DC movies really should have read and taken to heart this book before putting together their own stories.

  2. It breaks my heart how much better-designed those David Herman covers are than the actual cover of the Miracle Monday reissue. Those amateurishly-drawn figures and bad choices of typeface don’t do Maggin’s book any favors.

    I know it’s just a cover, but as an artist, visuals really matter to me. A cover like this makes me much less inclined to buy a book. I hope it doesn’t impact Maggin’s sales in a negative way.

      1. Edo Bosnar

        Second, or rather third, the lament about the new edition’s cover. Any of the three designed by Herman would have been wonderful, but I agree with Greg that the broken glasses variant is particularly compelling.

    1. Le Messor

      I know it’s just a cover,

      I’ve noticed that the cover can affect my perception of the content. I’ve explored the idea with CDs in the past (black-covered CDs are the boringest, since they’re by far the most common). Also with books: one of my favourite serieses is Alan Dean Foster’s Spellsinger series. I knew another guy who hated them. I couldn’t help noticing that mine had the mysterious painted landscape covers, while his had cartoon animals, and wondered how much of a part the cover played in our feelings towards the contents.

      “Are they real leather?”
      “They’re the real Dickens.”
      ~ Black Books

      When I went to buy my copy of The Dark Tower a few years ago, I worked hard to get one single edition so they’d look good on the shelf.

      I knew that could be seen as shallow, but I figured this: even if I spent the rest of my life just reading that series over and over, and no other, 6/7 of the books will be together on the shelf at any given time – they might as well match.

      (Oh, and without having read it, my vote goes to the Notre-Dame cover since I don’t know the significance of the broken glasses. The actual cover looks unfinished – a thumbnail sketch.)

    2. I’m going to guess that the decision is an economic one; the comps shown here are using proprietary images that the designer most likely does not have the rights to, i.e. stock/commercial photography and Alex Ross’ painting. Assuming that Maggin is self-publishing with (at best) benign neglect from DC/Warner, he probably doesn’t have access or permissions for any of their vast library of images. I don’t know who the artist on the final cover is, but they couldn’t have been very expensive. If I had known, I’d have tried to get the gig.

          1. M-Wolverine

            Which eyes? It’s hard to tell on Supes with his HISHE eye dot pupils. (“I’m Batman!”)

            OK, I wasn’t going to pile on, because I’m not in love with the mock up covers as much as some (cribbing some or a lot of Ross and adding a photo strikes me as a good amateur thing, but not remarkable). But the actually cover is really not even good amateur stuff. Heck, it’s not even that great a kid’s drawing. They didn’t even need to go to a major Con, they could have hit just about any local Comic Con and found dozens in Artist’s Alley that draw way better than that. I mean, how many people can draw a decent Superman, and have been doing it since they were a kid? The face, the fact that he has bigger breasts than the horrible pulp cover woman on it, whatever that S logo is supposed to be (hey, if you’re going to do you own thing, at least get out a ruler and make sure it’s even.)

            The strange thing is, the half naked lady aside (which might be a big aside), I actually like the design of that cover the most. It’s the one that conveys that this is “Superman vs. the devil” which is kind of the selling point, without making it a comic book cover fight. I like the demonic eyes in the background, and think it’s a better design of the idea than the mock up which seems like Superman goes to Notre Dame, or fights the Grey Gargoyle. But the execution is so 3rd grade it kills it. I mean really, it looks like it was done in crayon. And not even a box of 64. Maybe the 8 pack.

  3. M-Wolverine

    From the same people who brought you “married heroes don’t have relationship problems” we bring you “Superman is a dull boy scout who isn’t angst-y enough.”

    What it shows is a lack of creativity and talent in a generation of writers. Dark and brooding is easy to create drama. And it certainly has its place. But showy is always easier than subtle.

    Superman when right isn’t the perfect boy scout we could never be, but the person who confronts the same things and makes the right choices that we COULD (and should) make, so we can aspire to be him. Not in the lifting building part, but in doing the right thing.

    Not sure where wearing the white hat made one bland. Decades of our heroes were fine doing that. Sure, from Doc Holliday to Han Solo the darker secondary character is fun. But Wyatt Earp and Luke Skywalker can be just as compelling.

    Being good doesn’t have to be anal retentively superior. The cool dude could be the guy doing the right thing. Books like this and the best Superman stories have the “damn, that was bad ass” moments too. I could never figure out why they couldn’t figure out how to do that on screen lately. Even if they didn’t want to go back to the Reeve look. I always thought the syndicated Hercules show (from which Xena came) did a great job of showing how the cool tough dude was also the one who choose right. But since then sadly they’ve been show exactly how it could be done, much like they’ve been shown how ALL of it can be done, by their competitor, Marvel. Because sure, everyone buys tickets for RDJ. But the series that has been most successful, and has had regular movie fans adopt what comic fans have known for a long time, is Captain America. Who everyone once claimed has the same problems as Superman. But he shows that doing the right thing doesn’t have to make you a pushover. And if you can do it with a second string comic book character and maybe 3rd string popular conscious character, you should be able to do it with the biggest superhero in the world.

    1. Le Messor

      Superman when right isn’t the perfect boy scout we could never be, but the person who confronts the same things and makes the right choices that we COULD (and should) make, so we can aspire to be him.

      I’ve been noticing this for a while, actually – that stories used to be about characters we could look up to, people we could aspire to be, who inspired us to be better; but now they’re about people we can look down on so we can feel better about ourselves.

      The latter probably doesn’t apply as much to the antiheroes, but it’s part of the whole thing; ‘if we’re not perfect, we don’t care about perfect people’. (Come to think of it, last time we had one of those, we nailed him to a tree.)

      That’s why I think families these days should be less like the Simpsons and more like the Addamses.

      1. M-Wolverine

        Somewhere during their long run the Simpsons stopped being a family we laughed at and became one we’re supposed to laugh with, and that’s a disturbing commentary.

        The Adams Family were weird to everyone else, but thought they were awesome the way they were. And were awesome in a lot of ways. Which is far better to emulate.

  4. Jeff Nettleton

    I’ve long championed Maggin’s two novels as the best Superman writing ever. Not only does he get Superman and the supporting characters, he made Lex Luthor a fully rounded character. His Luthor can take ordinary objects and create super-weapons out of them, or miraculous medicines. he maintains a series of cover identities, including a globe trotting doctor who dispenses miracle cures. He has a wicked sense of humor. Maggin gets at the heart of what happened to him as a child; not losing his hair, but how messed up his childhood was, except for the friendship of Clark Kent. he treated Clark as a stooge; but, Clark understood his genius. This is why Superman never gives up on Lex and keeps trying to reform him. He wants his friend back and doing something to help humanity. That is explored more in Last Son of Krypton; but, there is still quite a bit in Miracle Monday.

    We also get to meet Lex’s sister, Lena, who is unaware of her connection to the famous criminal. Lena has paranormal abilities, which factor into the future observer, Kristin Wells, and the demon. Lois and Steve Lombard get some added angles and Jonathan Kent is shown to be the moral rock that made Clark a Superman.

    Most publishers stopped using photos from the movies by the late 80s, aside from the cover, in the novelizations. These days, few novelizations are even produced, as the book market is too indifferent. When they produce them, the release usually coincides with the film, rarely in advance, to avoid spoilers. The exception to this is usually when the film is an adaptation of a pre-existing novel. Then, they usually release a tie-in cover in advance. For the big films, there is usually a package of books; a novelization or pre-quel novel, a “making of” photo book, and maybe one or two others, depending on the type of film. Even the comic book publishers don’t really do adaptations anymore; they instead produce a prequel or side story.

    Meanwhile, man, that cover looks like something from a vanity press, created by a deluded wannabe author (I saw a few of those in my bookselling days).

  5. I do believe that somewhere in the pile I have both Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, but never got around to reading them. Whenever they get dug up, I will.

    I know that the Kristin Wells character appeared in the comics (as Superwoman, right?) and that there’s an Annual of DC Comics Presents, I think, that has her story. How much does that tie into the novel?

    Ah, here it is: https://www.comics.org/issue/894586/cover/4/

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