Look — up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a … Superman novel?
Guest blogger Ryan McSwain — author of Monsters All the Way Down and the upcoming Four Color Bleed, now on Kickstarter — offers this look back at a literary form that has finally come of age: the superhero novel!
There have been many attempts to capture long-underwear heroes in prose. There are the old Marvel Pocket novels, fast reads packed full of imagination. More recently fans have loved Soon I Will Become Invincible and It’s Superman! Jim Butcher of the Dresden Files even cast his hat in the ring with Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours. Add in indie hits like Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? and Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, and you have plenty to choose from.
If you’re looking for something really special, you want the Superman novels by Elliot S! Maggin, Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday.
Maggin is no stranger to longtime Superman fans. He wrote many of the Man of Steel’s four-color adventures in the ‘70s and ‘80s, enjoying long runs on both Action Comics and Superman. He helped define Superman’s world in the Bronze Age, beginning with the landmark “Must There be a Superman?” in 1972.
Maggin wrote Last Son of Krypton based on his own idea for a Superman movie, and it came out the same day as the 1978 film. The book expands on Superman’s origins and early life, including a memorable retcon with Albert Einstein. Superman and Luthor have to work together to defeat an alien tied to Superman’s past.
Miracle Monday reads like a milestone event in the life of Superman. Luthor’s latest prison escape allows a demon to escape from hell, and Superman must save the earth without sacrificing his ideals. It’s a surprisingly modern story, but it holds true to the characters.
Maggin’s Superman, both in the comics and novels, resides in an era of the Big Blue Boyscout’s history that is currently overlooked. The collective consciousness of comic fans holds plenty of nostalgia for the frenzied creativity of the Golden Age, the naïve splendor of the Silver Age, or the crafted Post-Crisis continuity. For whatever reason, people aren’t reminiscing over the period when Clark Kent was a news anchor with Lana Lang and Luthor still broke out the purple and green tights.
Which is a shame, because the ’70s and early ’80s have a wonderful balance between classic Superman and mature themes. Nowhere is this more on display than in Maggin’s novels. At no point do you feel these stories are ashamed of their origins. Sure, Superman battles a mischievous imp from the fifth dimension. Why wouldn’t he? We’re here to have fun, right?
Maggin somehow takes these absurd elements and puts them into a believable context. He describes elements like Superman’s microscopic vision in detail, just enough to make you say, “Hey, that actually makes sense.” When Superman and Luthor head off into space, it feels natural in this fantastic reality.
Something modern adaptations get wrong, with the possible exception of Smallville, is the relationship between Superman and Luthor. The Bronze Age Luthor is still a villain, but he’s like the Flash’s Rogues Gallery. This Luthor has never killed anyone, which allows Superman to take a different approach to his capers.
In Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, Luthor takes on the role of almost a secondary protagonist. Maggin also explores the childhood friendship between Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, showing where things went wrong. It’s tragic and intriguing, and it adds so much to the dynamic.
A little bonus trivia for you: The title Miracle Monday comes from a fictitious Superman holiday celebrated on the third monday in May. The concept later appears in Superman #400 (1984) and Superman/Batman #80 (2011). Maggin later imported Kristin Wells, an important character from Miracle Monday, into the DC universe as Superwoman.
I have only one complaint about these two wonderful books. Superman exists in this fantastic world, but the rest of the DC universe is missing. Luthor is there, and other villains are mentioned, but none of them show up. The Guardians of the Universe make a guest appearance, but Hal Jordan is nowhere in sight. Superman and Luthor are on their own to save the day, which serves the story, but it leaves me wishing Maggin had written a Justice League novel to complete the trilogy. Fortunately, he wrote a fantastic novel adaptation of Kingdom Come and a Generation X novel I still need to read.
If the idea of an entire comic universe in a book intrigues you, I have good news. Four Color Bleed is my attempt at a massive comic book event in novel form. It’s all the fun of a summer crossover without having to chase down the tie-in issues. It’s inspired by my love for comics from the Golden Age to now, and it captures the fun and imagination of the paneled page. It’s for fans of series like Astro City, Starman, and All-Star Superman.
Four Color Bleed is currently on Kickstarter. I’ve lined up eight fantastic artists for the project. Their illustrations will accompany fictional encyclopedia entries in the style of the old Who’s Who series, to expand the world of Four Color Bleed and its huge cast of characters. Any support would be incredible, so head on over to the Kickstarter and help us make it happen.
Thanks, Ryan … now I’ve got two superhero novels I need to track down. No, make that three superhero novels … I’ve just backed Ryan’s new novel, and I hope Longbox Graveyard’s readers will join me! We Silver Age fans have got to stick together!
DC Comics and Warner Brothers lay claim to their slice of the superhero movie pie as Batman v Superman arrives in theaters this week!
It’s a high-stakes debut as Warners seeks to fire up a superhero cinematic universe to compete with Marvel Studios’ box office juggernaut. Batman and Superman, together again for the first time, in a cinematic slugfest that also promises to be a “backdoor pilot” for the forthcoming Justice League movie!
As you might imagine, Longbox Graveyard has covered both Batman and Superman quite a bit these past several years … get ready for Batman v Superman with these blogs looking at a time when DC’s big dogs weren’t quit so combative!
I took a look at the pre-Frank Miller Batman in this appreciation of Batman, “The Grey Knight.”
And I looked at the very influential Steve Englehart Batman era, too.
I looked at how Grant Morrison and Alan Moore each handled The Last Days of Superman.
Speaking of big dogs … both Batman and Superman were known for their super-pets, and Krypto and Ace featured heavily in my Top Ten Super-Dogs list!
And of course Batman and Superman, themselves, featured prominently in my DC Comics Top Ten.
The Longbox Graveyard podcast did a deep dive on the last time Batman was on the silver screen with this assessment of The Dark Knight Rises.
And you can also check out the Longbox Graveyard Batman Covers Gallery, Batman Trading Cards Gallery, DC Superhero Christmas Gallery, Batman Gallery, Superman Covers Gallery, Superman Gallery, and even hum along with the iconic Batman and Superman theme songs!
Enjoy the film! Even though the trailers show Superman and Batman at each other’s throats, I have a sneaking suspicion they’ll prove fast friends by the end …
A Superman’s work is never done. Out with the old year and in with the new!
Wishing all of my readers a superheroic new year …
A very special plug this week, for our friends over at Fantastiverse!
As part of the continuing festival that is the Super-Blog Team-Up, Fantastiverse has posted a terrific and very professional video tribute to the titanic 1970s battle between Superman and Spider-Man!
I well remember this signature comics event, and I’m sure I still have my copy of this oversized comic kicking around somewhere … I think it’s time I dug it up and read it again!
And in other Super-Blog Team-Up news, there are rumblings that a new installment will be coming your way sometime early in the new year … watch this space! And for all the past installments of our co-blogging project, check out the Super-Blog Team-Up page!