Friday, 9 July 2010

Roots: Elliot S! Maggin, Alan Moore, Superman & "Last Son Of Krypton"

1.

Wherever you look, there he is. And if he isn't there, well, why not? Because even today in 2010, there's still something distinctly peculiar about any modern-era superhero comic which appears to bear no trace of Alan Moore's influence at all. Though just five and a half years passed between the first appearance of Moore's "Marvelman" in March 1982 and his final "Swamp Thing" cover-dated September 1987, those 66 months marked the single most influential and innovative creative assault upon the low-expectations and unthinking conservatism of superhero comics since Lee, Kirby and Ditko's Marvel Revolution of the early 1960s. And just as all cape'n'spandex comics from the first appearance of the Fantastic Four in 1961 to that of "Warrior" twenty odd years later can be read in the light of how close or not they are to the template hammered out by chance and design by Lee and the Marvel Bullpen during the Camelot era, so too can everything in the genre since 1982 be weighed to see how much of Moore's radicalism and ambition and style informs, and perhaps even deforms, the work. Wherever you look, there he still is, even though the man himself wants nothing to do with this "super-heroic" era that is most characterised by the many popular adaptations, and indeed perversions, of his short-lived superhero revolution.


But, while it can be no measure of a surprise at all to note a Moore-esque transition between one scene and another in this month's "Avengers", or a strangely appalling corruption of his "overpeople" in the latest JLA, it has been a shock for me to recently start noticing the influence of Alan Moore on work published in the years before he began writing. For it's as if Mr Moore has taken on the capacity of T. H. White's Merlin to move backwards through time and, perhaps driven so mad by this temporal reversal that more worthwhile activities elude his sense of purpose, is rewriting superhero texts of the past to reflect the technique and content of his work during his great four-colour insurgency of 1982 to 1987.

2.

Here's one of my favourite lines which marks for me how distinctive and evocative that unique fusion of style and content sparkled when it first appeared;

"He glowed with light and power and sometimes he twinkled under the sun. He was a fallen star."


Now, perhaps you're wondering which Marvelman chapter the above quote comes from, because it really does sound like something Mr Moore would've added to a panel from his first year or so of scripts to Michael Moran's revival, doesn't it? You might even suspect that the lines would be most likely found in one of Mr Moore's earliest and rather endearingly-stiff efforts in "Warrior", because it does surely seem to come from that initial text-heavy period of his superhero work.


But, if you haven't already seen through my awkward misdirection, and of course you have, you'd be wrong to think that's a quote from a early Marvelman, or even a Superman, script by Mr Moore. And that's because it's not an extract from Alan Moore's work at all. It's actually a quote from Elliot S! Maggin's 1978 novel "Last Son Of Krypton", a gently radical tale which appeared 32 years ago in the wake of "Superman: The Movie", when Alan Moore was unbelievably just 25 years old. And to re-read "Last Son Of Krypton" today is to on occasion come face-to-face with example after example of premature Alan-Mooreisms. Indeed, as unlikely as it might sound from the vantage point of our today, it's extremely hard not to see a direct influence leading from Mr Maggin's revolutionary-in-its-day description of Lois Lane thinking how Superman seemed to glow "with light and power", to twinkle "under the sun" as "a fallen star", to the famous era-marking description of the Justice League in "Swamp Thing" # 24, which began;

"There is a house above the world where the overpeople gather."

3.

I have an awful feeling that everyone else must have noticed these similarities, and long ago known that there was something of a direct and obvious relation of sympathy, if not a direct influence, on Mr Moore's work from "Last Son Of Krypton". At the very least, I fear that I've missed a critical consensus that accepts as a commonplace given how Elliot S! Maggin's novel shares with Mr Moore's early superhero work several key matters of both style and content.

Alternatively, I've an equally fearsome sense that what I think I've seen isn't there at all, that Alan Moore couldn't have been influenced to any significant degree by a cheap paperback that wasn't even a movie tie-in.

But, I was reading Mr Maggin's novel in preparation for a blog I was intending to write about his work, and it was during that reading, which was far too enjoyable to label "research", that I suddenly crashed right into the following sentence, and it was if the Alan Moore of 1985 had time-travelled back to 1978, magically possessed Mr Maggin, and inserted one of his characteristic mainstream-era descriptions into "Last Son Of Krypton";

"Cities of silver towers raked at the sky like wire hairbrushes and ancient lakes went stagnant and dead and the world was afflicted by a hero."

You see, I really do see Mr Moore's influence everywhere, and that fact leads me to wonder whether I automatically generate an illusion of Alan Moore's shadow even when it's patently ridiculous to suggest that the Bard of Northampton had anything to do with matters at hand. But that quote, with its deliberate use of everyday language and objects to make the reader regard the fantastic in an unstereotypical light, does remind of, for example, the following narration by Mr Moore from "Mysteries In Space", where Adam Strange notes how;

"Out there, in the creeping, advancing desert, the Thanagarian ship cools beneath the speckled black eggshell of the night."


And "Last Son Of Krypton" contains a great deal more of this type of imaginatively-engaging narration which seems quite unlike most of Mr Maggin's work in his regular DC Comics scripts of the time. Skim back a few pages from the last quote, for example, and there's a line about how " .. .the thing they thought was a rock from the sky screamed like a thousand busy telephone wires ... ", which again sounds very similar to Mr Moore's DC-era attempts to engage his reader's sensory imagination with thoughtful and evocative metaphors.

But, so many writers have taken that route to snare the attention and emotions of the comic book consumer, even if it wasn't such a familiar tactic in the late Seventies ghetto that was the superhero comic book, and I am aware of how easy it is to draw connections where none exist on some very thin evidence indeed. So, I thought, I'm seeing things, recognising patterns where none exist, or, as Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, and as I learnt when writing about John Forte not so long ago, "What you look hard at seems to look hard at you".

Yet, there's more, you see, looking hard back at me, when I look hard at it.

4.

It's not as if I'm in any way accusing Alan Moore of lifting material or even borrowing the spirit or surface from Elliot S! Maggin's work, although in truth there's nothing at all wrong with being influenced by good work. In truth, I find it hard to believe that Mr Moore ever read "Last Son Of Krypton", and even if he did, most of the novel lacks any trace of what would become the signature techniques and themes of his later work. But one way or the other, a superhero novel in 1978 doesn't fit in with my own understanding of what Mr Moore was engaging with in those post-punk years, though it was in its own modest way a fascinating book. No, it rather seems to me that the likeliest explanation for the similarities I'll be discussing is that both men were involved in the business of developing and exploiting the magical and often disconcerting strangeness at the heart of the concept of the superheroes, reinventing the superhuman for a new and more curious generation. For Mr Maggin, such a project would perhaps have been part and parcel of the labour of creating a novel about "Superman" in an era where the comic books were at the very best targeted at the intellectual level of a typical early-adolescent. Where the rituals of familiar violence, bullets against chest, fists through walls, and so on, might function with some effectiveness for the ever-changing and youthful core-readership of "Action Comics", they'd not carry a sense of wonder and generate a spirit of involvement over 250 pages of a novel, particularly since such a novel would be expected to attract a slightly older and perhaps more sophisticated readership than normally invested in the monthly floppies from DC Comics. No, Elliot S! Maggin must have known that he'd have to take the familiar, even over-familiar, tropes of the Superman mythos and present them in intriguing and unexpectedly-poignant ways, and that in doing so he could produce images and adapt concepts which were as exciting to the novel's reader as that first appearance of Clark Kent ripping off his shirt had been to millions of five year olds when they were first exposed to the Man of Steel . And that's of course exactly what Mr Maggin did, to the degree that while the novel's main antagonist and his traditionally villainous schemes are of little interest today, the characters and the world they live in still retain something of the shock of the new and invigorating. For example, under the heading of "Significant and Enduring Theme No 1: Love", Mr Maggin wrote;

"Superman loved Lois Lane.
Lois Lane loved Clark Kent and ached in vain
to believe he was Superman.
Clark Kent loved Superman.

No one understood this."

Take a deep breath, and read that again if you're not familiar with it. And then, perhaps, you'll see what I'm trying to express about Mr Maggin's work, and Mr Moore's too. Because if those four lines above don't inspire you and get you to thinking, and thinking again, and wondering, about the eternal, and yet-now lost, triangle between Lois and Clark and Kal-El, then perhaps Superman really isn't for you.

But of course he is. Look:- "Lois Lane loved Clark Kent and ached in vain to believe he was Superman." Isn't that simply brilliant?

5.

But then, travel on another forty pages in "Last Son Of Krypton" and an incident is described which seems to prefigure my favourite short scene in Alan Moore's "Swamp Thing", and it's then that I can't help but suspect that the connection between Mr Maggin and Mr Moore's approach to superheroes is more than a coincidence of purpose. For in describing Superboy's first appearance, Mr Maggin narrates how two bank-robbers dressed in deep-sea diving gear are caught by the young Clark Kent as they're escaping from the scene of the crime. Of course, this being Superboy's first ever public appearance, bullets must be fired and Kryptonian bodies must be proven to be invulnerable, but it's the aftermath of this confrontation that caught my eye while rereading "Last Son Of Krypton". For Smallville's police chief is described as suddenly facing, in the aftermath of a strange and frightening crime in his little town, the self-proclaimed mission of an obviously-super-powered alien boy;

"George Parker thought it was a matter for the mayor's attention. The mayor thought the governor should know. The governor, naturally, used the alien teenager as an excuse to call the President."

My mind immediately went to the only other example of such important information about superhuman activity going up such a chain of command that I know of in comic books, namely the terrifying sequence in "Swamp Thing" # 23, where another small town policeman, Luther Galen, is faced with a far more horrifying situation, the Floronic Man having taken control of the town of Houma. It's another small town, however, and another small town police-chief, and another remarkable and unfamiliar superhuman event, and there's the same authorial strategy of describing the escalation of the situation up through the levels of government and crime-prevention agencies in Mr Moore's script too;

"Then he called Morgan City ..... And Morgan City called Washington ... And Washington called in the Justice League."

It's so powerful a technique in Mr Moore's hands, showing in the brevity of the quite-legitimate buck-passing how immediate and awful the situation is. (It also establishes how far above even Washington the "overpeople" of the JLA are.) But it's still the same basic strategy of describing how the state responds to the shocking and unfamiliar as was used by Mr Maggin with that first appearance of Superboy, and I've never seen it used anywhere else, except in these two places.

And of course it's probably a coincidence, and the two examples are indeed close only in principle rather than phrasing. Even at my most inductive, I can't do anything but wonder whether Mr Moore's famously retentive and adaptive mind noted that little narrative trick of "mayor" to "governor" to "president" and stored it unconsciously for future use.

But, there's still all this other stuff too.

6.

I. Alan Moore's depiction of the Justice League Of America as the "overpeople" in "Swamp Thing" # 24 marks for many readers the moment when the radical scale of his re-casting of the DCU became obvious. For there was apparently no parallel with how the Justice League had been shown before to those absolutely key scenes in "Swamp Thing". Even in the best of their appearances before that, such as in Steve Engelhart's run, the Justice League was a collection of characters from quite different and distinct traditions within the DCU. They literally were the greatest heroes of the DC comics universes, with a considerable number of second-string characters added to their ranks for seasoning too, but the JLA was always less than the sum of its parts. Hawkman stood over there and Batman over here, and it took an effort of will to believe that they truly shared the same world. Indeed, even if it was to be granted that they co-existed in a totally convincing manner on the same globe, that shared world was worryingly one-dimensional. It was a "top-down" universe, composed of quite separate fictional realities which had been awkwardly merged together by commercial as much as creative necessity.


But Mr Moore's overpeople are all recognisably part of the same world, anchored in the same aesthetic, shown by artists Steve Bissette and John Totleben to be terrifying separate from the likes of you and I in their power and their responsibilities. All of a sudden, this DC-Earth in Alan Moore's DC-Universe became a recognisable world, one which extended from the JLA satellite in orbit to Terrebonne County in Louisiana, and far beyond. And it was a world which seemed unlimited in its potential because Alan Moore had created story-logical boundaries within which the characters could be defined and act, because he had vigorously and fiercely interrogated what had previously been taken for granted, recreating it all into a shape that seemed magical and yet self-consistent, respectful of the past and yet impatient with the over-familiar conventions and one-dimensional thinking of decades gone by.

Now, a detailed examination of how Alan Moore reinvented the DC Universe using logic, imagination, discipline, skill and his own very high expectations of himself will have to wait for another day. (*1) But we all know it happened. We know that Mr Moore made us all look at the DCU, and superhero universes as a whole, in a quite different way. For he was concerned not to simply connect up disparate and contradictory continuities, as if knowing which Batman appearance in Detective came before which one in "World's Finest" would constitute a vibrant, engaging fictional reality. Instead, Moore looked beyond all the numberless single events in DC history in order to construct a thrilling super-structure into which everything that had gone before could be placed and made to be even more enchanting and exciting and full of promise in how each individual and previously disconnected element related to each other. (Any reader who can recall buying the first Swamp Thing Annual in 1985 and experiencing how Mr Moore made sense of the DCU's magical characters and their various homelands will know how inexpressibly exciting that was.)

*1 - But it is in the works, just as a piece on Mr Maggin's Superman novels is too.


II. But of course Mr Moore wasn't the first writer to take on such a task where the DCU was concerned, though he was, and remains, the most brilliant and incandescently imaginative of those who have tried. And of the writers who came before him, Elliot S! Maggin was by far the most important and the most successful, both in his famed, and much admired by Grant Morrison, "Must There Be A Superman" tale and in his Superman novels too. For just as Mr Moore, for example, provided a context into which the previously poorly-conceptualised and sloppily-integrated "magical" characters could flourish, so too did Mr Maggin in his earlier era begin to provide a wider context for Superman that was concerned with far more than who hits who and where. Mr Maggin was, on his day and in the appropriate forum, a writer concerned with ethics and the new kind of superhero entertainment we discussed above, with the wider picture of how a superheroic universe would actually function in between the punch-ups. What would be its laws, its customs, its economy and science? These were the questions the best of his work was engaged with. Most of all, Elliot S! Maggin was concerned to investigate what would it be like to actually live in such a fantastic universe, which was the central plank of Moore's reformation of just half-a-decade later too. And just as Mr Moore was so audaciously imaginative that he might make his audience laugh out loud at how his innovations far outstretched what less radical minds could conceive as appropriate, so too was Mr Maggin, in an albeit less frequent and pronounced fashion, capable of shaking up the form and letting his readers know that it was alright, that it was indeed mandatory, to think and to enjoy doing so. Which is a radical claim, I know, but anyone seeking an example of this need look no further than "Last Son Of Krypton", where Superman is depicted experimenting with an extra-terrestial bacterial culture called "Regulus-243", which, we're told;

" ... caused a violent chemical reaction in organic matter turning it on contact into particles of a saline crystal. Superman occasionally wondered if the only recorded incidence on Earth was the death of Lot's wife during the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah."

How this was sensationally, yes, audacious material! It rewarded thinking, it expected its audience to be sceptical and thoughtful and open to far more than the year-upon-year grind of jail-break and capture, villainous threat and heroic achievement. Where just a few years before, DC Comics had released an utterly-respectful Treasury Edition adapting the first few books of the Old Testament, albeit without much trace of the sex and violence therein, here was their flagship character showing a solid detachment from old-school religiosity as well as intelligence and humour. (I first read the book while a mid-adolescent on Christmas Day of 1978 and can even now remember feeling after reading that brief passage above as if something was indeed going on here, Mr Jones, though I didn't, sadly, yet know what it was.)

In this way, Elliot S! Maggin's "Last Son Of Krypton" reflected the same ambition which powered Alan Moore's assault upon the complacency and slothfulness which characterised so much of DC's pre-1984 output. And just as Moore later detailed the broad outline of the topography of Heaven and Hell, so Maggin had imaginatively created the framework of law, tradition and even trade of the wider DCU beyond our solar-system of "Sol-6". There was in this the same shock and excitement, as Maggin developed the Guardians of the Universe" and their role in "Last Son Of Krypton", as there was when the Demon turned up in "Swamp Thing" as a rhyming prince of hell. For Mr Maggin described the little blue authoritarians of Green Lantern is a way which rewarded the reader for taking the DCU seriously, in a manner which said that Elliot S! Maggin was thinking about how this wonderful and undeveloped DC Universe worked too, and that he'd take the material seriously if the reader would keep up with him. So, he told us how "The immortal Guardians were a manipulative breed, and age brought with its subtlety", and immediately we weren't stuck with the dry good cop Guardians, or even with the senile and irrational Guardians of current continuity, but aged, crafty and wily rulers of the Universe with 4 000 years of experience of being in charge.


7.

In such a way did both Mr Maggin and Mr Moore engage with the process of trying to save the DC Universe from its strangely disconnected and uninspired ranks of owners, editors and creators. They weren't the only writers to be doing so, and respect and gratitude where the period is concerned is owed to host of others, from Paul Levitz to Alan Brennert, from Len Wein to Steve Engelhart. But it's to Maggin, to the lesser degree, and Moore, to the greater, that recognition is most owed. For unlike even more recent claimants to the title of Lord of the DCU, they weren't concerned to abandon the charming if often-childish roots of superhero comics. Maggin had no problem integrating, for example, the existence of Superbaby with his novel's narrative while simultaneously musing on how space bacterial infections might explained strange Biblical punishments, just as Moore could use the silver age confection of Krypton's Scarlet Jungle in "The Jungle Line" without making Superman's pending death any less the moving. They both set out to make the magical more magical rather than less. And one of the main tools that they both put to work was to make the life and experience of the superhuman simultaneously more extraordinary and yet more grounded in an everyday and prosaic reality. To do this, they engaged their imaginations to show superpowers working in a way that had rarely if ever been shown before, and they cleverly used a more poetic, if somewhat awkward, form of English to do so. So, Maggin describes Superman as " ... indestructible enough to take a steam bath at the core of the sun", and Moore writes how " .. once he bathed in the sun, careless of the mile-high geysers of flame that spat at him in frustrated outrage." And if Mr Maggin is somewhat flatter and more workaday in his prose, and if Mr Moore in this pre-Watchmen period is somewhat flowery and obscure at times, the results are still well worth it. Because instead of a world mostly concerned with which bullets hit whose chests, and how those speeding bullets might be outraced, they gave the reader a panorama in which the wonder of superheroes which any child might know was recreated for the adult, or perhaps adolescent, reader.

And it is strange how often Mr Moore and Mr Maggin touch on the same examples to illustrate this recreated, re-energised sense of wonder. Or rather, it would be strange to find the topics being reimagined by the pair of them, if Superman hadn't had the history he had, hadn't already been long associated with particular tropes such as, for example, travelling through suns, as discussed above, or turning coal into diamonds. Mr Moore told us in "Swamp Thing" # 24 how " ... Superman is a man who can see across the planet and wring diamonds out of anthracite", compelling the reader to imagine the physical effort and action of doing so with the use of the verb "wring", and he stops us feeling complacent about the familiar process of squeezing coal to jewellery by placing "anthracite" into the sentence. And six years before, in "Last Son Of Krypton", Mr Maggin had described how Superman " .. closed the lump in his two hands and squeezed. A tiny jet of black dust escaped through a crack between his two thumbs, but the last few specks of that dust seemed to twinkle before they hit the ground", making the routine magical again simply through the trick of making seasoned eyes see that old production is a rather different light, and to a far more involving effect.

8.

Another technique which Mr Maggin and Mr Moore shared was the habit of producing lists of remarkable things and events which emphasised again how the life of the superhuman is both fabulous and yet banal at the same time. By doing so, both writers showed their audience how wonderful the life of, for example, Superman was, and yet how everyday his immersion in it was too. So, Mr Maggin described a night for Kal-El in his Fortress Of Solitude in "Last Son Of Krypton";

"Superman fed and groomed the fearsome menagerie of domesticated extra-terrestial creatures he kept and studied in one of the lower levels of the fortress. He wrote and entry, in the Kryptonese language, in his personal journal. He painted a landscape in acrylics - he favoured the vistas of Jupiter and its moons, but this was a Martian plain - while he listened to a recording of sonic flare patterns as performed by a musician of Polaris-4."


Mr Moore applies a similar method in the Superman Annual he wrote for Dave Gibbons to draw, again heaping detail upon detail of events in the Fortress of Solitude during an attack by the tyrant Mongul:

"Their enclosure shattered, a cloud of terrified neonmoths boils beneath the distant ceiling, shrieking with human voices .... Becoming over-excited, three sentient puddles from Minraud IV evaporate completely, leaving a faint odor of gasoline. In the chamber of Archives, a machine with a brain made of light is counting the distant pulsars."

Of course, Mr Moore's details are more marvellous, more poetic, more truly imaginative, but then 1985 was a long way from 1978, and part of the reason for that was both Mr Maggin's pioneering work and the subsequent revolutionary assault by Alan Moore himself on the medium-stifling low-expectations of comic-book creators and audiences alike. Elliot S! Maggin will always seem a more conservative figure compared to Alan Moore, and rightly so, but in the context of his time, and when his significant influence on the likes of Mark Waid and even perhaps Alan Moore is considered, he was a revolutionary of sorts too.

9.

I. Once the mind begins to suspect that Elliot S! Maggin's novel had some kind of influence upon Mr Moore, suspiciously weighty evidence begins to pile up. But is it any kind of surprise that a comparison of the work of two such gifted writers on such a long-lived and well-worked character might produce so many similarities? And yet the parallels do remain, almost as if "Last Son Of Krypton" had either been a novel solidly processed at one time by Mr Moore, or perhaps even one consulted by him as he embarked on a sadly-short-lived mission to save the DCU from its own guardians and creators. For example, Mr Moore's take on Luthor is remarkably close to Mr Maggin's in the novel. Not only is his Luthor as rude as Mr Maggin's version, and his was by far the rudest and most dismissive Luthor of all, but his Luthor also has the same teams of "his people" preparing impossible technology for him as Maggin described. And in both "Last Son Of Krypton" and "Whatever Happened To The Man Of Tomorrow", villains are tracked through phone-wires and radio waves using Superman's super-senses, and Superman's secret identity is revealed to the world in the studios of Galaxy TV too. And both Mr Maggin and Mr Moore prefer to avoid having Superman's brute strength and raw speed dully win the day, choosing cosnistently to have him use his considerable intellect to avoid violence and close conflict, as where Moore has a giant magnet collect the mass ranks of Metallos, or a complicated series of procedures by Superman rescues both crew and Metroplis when a dangerous cargo begins to explode in Maggin's book. The parallels are there, even though they're probably nothing more than that, between the half-dozen stories Mr Moore wrote that involved Superman and his world and Mr Maggin's two novels, and especially "Last Son Of Krypton".


II. Similar and pleasing themes as well as incidents abound. For example, there's a wonderful rationalism that unites the peoples of Earth-Maggin and Earth-Moore. Instead of constantly regarding alien creatures and artefacts as shocking, scary and threatening, the citizens of the DCUs of Mr Maggin and Mr Moore pragmatically take the facts of inter-stellar communication for granted. In Moore's "The Jungle Line", Dr Everett asks that his audience be impressed by a particular lump of space-rock even though "In these days when reports of alien contact are commonplace, this meteorite may not appear special.", while Mr Maggin writes that;

" ... a world whose most public figure is a super-powered alien from a lost planet is not startled or horrified or even particularly curious at the visit of an eccentric, erratic character from somewhere in space. The world is amused."

And so in both men's work, there is a charming sense that the reader is expected as well as encouraged to be intelligent and to have a sense of humour. (Well, of course alien objects aren't so exciting and frightening any more: they're everywhere! They're marrying your sons and daughters and everyone's fine about it, mostly.) And the effect of their having simply and playfully thought in some greater depth about the world being described, rather than following stale formulae to generate some small measure of thrill and chill, produced stories which were counter-intuitively somewhat less self-conscious and considerably less adolescently grim than today, and the result of their work is still to simply encourage the reader to read more, and think more, and, yes, laugh more.

10.

But though some future historian of superhero comic books might go further, might point to the verses prophesying doom for the Guardians in "Last Son Of Krypton" and speculate whether they might have inspired Alan Moore's tale of the terrible end of Abin Sur, or might wonder if Maggin's Galaxy Building with its "bleached white tiling on the floors, porous ceiling that ate sound" may have sparked off the setting for old man Sutherland's killing in "The Anatomy Lesson", the truth is that there's no proof of any direct line of influence from "Last Son Of Krypton" to Alan Moore's DC Comics work at all. (I mention the two previous examples just to discuss how easy it is to get carried away when digging for the evolution of influence from creator to creator.) Yes, there's a considerable similarity in how both writers tried to create more exciting and compelling superhero universes, how they used language to appeal to a more literate sensibility, and how they engaged their reader's imaginations in order to make a stale form intellectually and emotionally incandescent. But then, none of those ambitions or writing approaches began with Mr Maggin, and there's no need for Mr Moore to have ever read "Last Son Of Krypton" to have mastered a more poetic approach to getting his readers to engage with his fiction. By the same token, the similarities in technique and tone and characterisation must surely be better ascribed to chance than some considerable influence.

And yet, if I were forced to take the stand, I would say that the fact that all these similarities co-exist, even in such a narrow and repetitive field as the Superman mythos, may point to some kind of influence having occurred. Mr Moore has by all accounts a mind that absorbs and processes most everything he comes across, regardless of its apparent significance or critical worthiness, and given how radical and imaginative "Last Son Of krypton" was in its way in its own day, and it surely was, I think that there's some small chance that the Bard of Northampton may have flicked through it and then consigned its contents to that furnace of his imagination that seems to reduce all of his experiences to the raw stuff that informs his writing.

But whether that happened or not is in most ways unimportant. Should the 25 year old Alan Moore have come across the book, and read it on some cash-poor Northampton afternoon when his head was full of a determination to write well in a form which rarely recognised the importance of writing at all, then I shouldn't doubt the wisdom of his mind storing a memory of how what Mr Maggin was doing with prose could be done with comic books too. But whether Alan Moore was touched by "Last Son Of Krypton" is in truth of less consequence than the fact that, as so many professionals and fans will testify, Elliot S! Maggin was well ahead of the game when he wrote the novel in 1978, and his work should remembered for what it was, radical as well as traditional, daring as well as familiar, a half-way house of a significant sort between the Bronze Age of super-hero comic books and whatever era it is that we're wading through at the moment.

11.

In Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's "All-Star Superman", Agatha bemoans the Man Of Steel's fatal illness and declares "If only we could find a way to crack the Krypton Code, we could grow a second Superman." Well, I thought, reading that with my head full of Mr Maggin's novel, the "Krypton Code" has already been cracked. It can found locked away in the fragments of stories by every Superman creator since Siegal and Shuster, in the justly celebrated and popularly-known works by the likes of Alan Moore, and particularly in the less well-known, and yet quietly radical, "Last Son Of Krypton" of Elliot S! Maggin too.

NB 14/7/10: Elliot S! Maggin himself has added a comment below which is very much worth the reading, of course! Please do head down to the comments, because his words are fascinating and highly informative, as is only to be expected.

Sadly both of Mr Maggin's Superman novels are long out of print, but copies aren't too expensive on the second-hand markets. "Last Son Of Krypton" is by far the better of the two, in my unimportant view, but both really are well worth reading and keeping. Al Ewing, in the comments to this piece, has passed on the very good news that the Superman stories by Mr Maggin can be found at
http://theages.superman.nu/Novels/ , and I'm off to read the Krypto story by Mr Maggin which I've never seen before. Thank you, Mr Ewing! The illustrations by Curt Swan placed above to have some art from stories written by Mr Maggin on this blog are from the fun "Superman In The Seventies" paperback by DC Comics, which does contain "Must There Be A Superman". I hope you're having a fine day and thank you for reading!


.

36 comments:

  1. Wonderful stuff.
    I read an interview a while ago with Maggin where he said the books were his favourite of his work because editorial didn't read them. He knew editorial didn't read them because they wouldn't allow any mention of trademarks and there's a whole section in one about aliens stealing Xerox machines because they were the best copiers in the galaxy.
    Apparently Xerox bought several thousand copies for their employee book-of-the-month club, and DC never understood why...

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hello Andrew - That's two brilliant anecdotes in one comment, both of which I'd happily have thrown in if I'd've known. The double-gag of Xerox doing that and DC being so baffled - perfect.

    Mr Maggin sounds like a thoroughly interesting character. I do wish he'd have been left to simply write a few more DCU novels before he went off into the reality-based community.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Why should you be so reluctant to accept that Alan Moore read Last Son of Krypton and quite probably Miracle Monday as well? I've always felt quite certain he did. You've done a wonderful job of assembling a body of textual evidence demonstrating the connection…but you still sound like you're shying away from accepting your own conclusions, even though you offer no argument to the contrary other than "it seems unlikely." It really doesn't.

    This was the one utterly infuriating thing in an otherwise nearly perfect blog post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hello RAB - you raise a very good point indeed. A very good point. It made me sit back and ask m'self the question you've asked. And the answer that comes back is that I was a social scientist, and that I carry around with me the criteria for evaluating a piece of research in psychology or sociology, for example, where identifying a similarity of content can't be considered the same as nailing down causality. Just because X looks as if it came from Y doesn't mean that it did, and so on. And I think, again on reflection, that I want to avoid sounding as if I think I've discovered something fundamental - such as Maggin's LSOK being SO important in Moore's development - when I just can't prove it. There WERE moments when I was absolutely sure that Alan Moore must have read LSOK & been absolutely smitten by it, but when I wrote the piece up, I tried to show my doubt as it came and went. I simply wanted to avoid seeming that I thought I KNEW there'd been the influence, while discussing the equally important point that both Moore & Maggin were engaged in their own way in a similar project. In a way, I thought that was the more solid point, and so I emphasised that as certain while letting the issue of conceptual casuality hang in the air as a possibility.

    My best to you, RAB. I hope your day is a splendid one.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Maggin's novels can be found here:

    http://theages.superman.nu/Novels/

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you, Mr E. I shall amend the piece so that folks can go check out the material for themselves.

    And they've got the Krypto story I've heard of and never read! You're a good bloke, Mr Ewing!

    ReplyDelete
  7. Funny how the similarities between Moore's and Maggin's prose descriptions never occurred to me. I suppose it's because of the polar dissimilarity between the two writers' approaches to life and the world. Maggin was always quite the optimist, and if Moore has perhaps trudged off in Maggin's direction in the mean time, his primordial work at DC was definitely written while he was in a self-described "bad mood." Maggin was a fan who wanted to make his favorite characters appear fantastic and full of wonder, while Moore's approach had something of Lovecraft in it: dashing out prose so purple it's almost ultraviolet, in an attempt to describe the indescribable terror of existence.

    I do hope your eventual piece on Maggin includes a discussion of his groundbreaking work on Superman #400 (http://superman.nu/stta/400/). I read that as a youngster while I was knee-deep in the freshly-minted Byrne continuity, and it really kind of shocked me. Maggin gives us a seriously dark world that stays dark for millennia, but in which there is a bright star who goes by the name of Superman.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Hello J – I wouldn’t want to give the impression that the prose of Maggin’s novels reads like one great burst of proto-Moore-isms; it doesn’t, of course. But there are those moments, and enough of them I think, when the mind wonders if Moore saw what had happened on occasion in LSOK and how it was done & perhaps decided to file the knowledge away.

    I must admit that I find Alan Moore’s Superman work – as an isolated business of 4 issues & a few guest appearances in Swamp Thing - to be much brighter and fonder than might be imagined. Of course, it’s always darker, or rather more maturely considered, than anything else of the period, but it’s firmly enmeshed in a real regard for the characters and their comic-book history. I guess it’s a situation summed up by having Lana Lang as Insect Queen killing Lex Luthor in WHTTMOS, which seems pretty dark, and of course it is, but then the mind remembers that he’s showing respect to INSECT QUEEN, and only Moore was doing that by that time. It’s such a strange thing, to be both so un-DC-like, if I can put it so, and yet be quite true to DC too.

    You know, Superman # 400 wasn’t at the front of my mind before reading your comment, but how right you are about that being a strange and pleasingly contrary piece of work. And all those wonderful full page tributes too. I hope I can still find it!

    Thank you for your comment, Mr J. Have a splendid day!

    ReplyDelete
  9. I actually read Maggin's TLSOK a year or two ago for the first time. While the prose and even the plot were not particularly memorable, I have to admit that I don't find a great deal to love in Moore's prose, either. Moore is a good idea man, best at creating original plots and setting the mood perfectly for each story, but his writing usually isn't all that great. Where I suspect he excels is in writing instructions to whichever artist he happens to be working with; in other words, he's a fantastic art director. I suppose that's what a comic book writer needs (more so than a poetic diction), and if said writer didn't have much of a visual sense he would be useless to the artist and to his readers. I'd probably rather re-read Maggin's novel than start on Moore's Voice of the Fire.

    I think you're right about Moore's differing approach to Superman. There's a lot of nostalgia in his Superman stories, which apparently dates back to his childhood, when Superman was one of the few influences not driving him towards self-destruction. "Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow" is a shockingly dark story, even today, but Moore still decided to give Superman and Lois a happy ending. It makes you wonder what changed in Moore's approach between writing these stories and writing the proposal for "Twilight of the Superheroes," where Superman meets an inglorious end.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Mr J - I’m still mulling over what I actually think about both Mr Maggin and Mr Moore’s writing from this period, and your thoughtful comment is another good reason to continue to do. I do fully accept that a great deal of Mr Moore’s prose of the 1982-1987 period can be seen, as you say, as “purple”, and Mr Maggin had no pretensions to being a prose stylist. But then I can list quite literally a few hundred masters of a prose style off the top of my head who never involved me in the business of a story as Moore did in this period. I fully agree with all you say, I really do, and it’s hard to disagree with any judgement of Mr Moore’s writing in this period that doesn’t draw attention to how over-rich and just-plain-clunky it often was. And yet, and yet: I think that the first purpose of the style of a writer is to make the story work, make it involving and exciting, and if that’s done, and done well, then I find myself hesitating to state Moore’s work wasn’t great writing. I know, I know, it’s the old chestnut about effect and form, and it’ll rumble on forever as a debate as it has for centuries now. But whatever reservations I have, and I do have them, the work was SO effective. So, applying the same criteria to writing that I would, for example, to music, I’d have to say that Moore’s writing WAS great writing.

    But I’m with you on VOTF, and I don’t find myself being challenged and engaged by much of his later work. I admire pretty much all of it, with the odd Image series to one side, but I’m not won over by it.

    And Twilight: wouldn’t you just love to step into an alternative reality where the series was actually commissioned and completed? A great what if and no mistake ….

    ReplyDelete
  11. I used to think Moore's prose was too 'purple' until I heard him read some of it. When spoken *in his voice* it's a different matter.

    You hear that resonant baritone, slowly enunciating those run-on sentences, anapest into trochee, classical allusion followed by Northamptonshire dialect, clauses that reference only themselves, asides to asides, infintely nested. Content not mattering so much, just the voice, and the rhythm. Rorschach-sparse sentence fragments somehow allusive. And the sentences get shorter. Or sometimes, when repeated, the sentences get longer. But still, the sentences get shorter. The sentences get shorter. Get shorter...

    That stuff, while it doesn't work on the page so well, *really* works when you hear it in his voice, and now I've heard him speak a few times, I can hear him in my head narrating those comics and I'm entranced instead of bemused. Of course, when he's writing it, Moore presumably hears *all* of that in his own voice...

    ReplyDelete
  12. And Colin, if you're not a fan of Moore's later work (I am, myself), you should definitely get hold of A Disease Of Language, Eddie Campbell's comics adaptation of two of Moore's spoken word pieces (really more just illustrations of them - Moore's text remains intact). Other than Jaka's Story from Cerebus, they're the most heartbreakingly beautiful, moving pieces of work I've ever come across in the comics form.

    But personally, I think the last volume of Promethea in particular is as good as anything *anyone* has ever done in comics. In fact I once broke down in tears in public while reading Promethea vol 5 and listening to I Am The Walrus through headphones on the 'bus. I was just overwhelmed by the knowledge that I lived in a world capable of creating such beauty as that comic and that record, and that I could experience both. So I'm not likely to agree with anyone saying Moore's later work isn't engaging...

    Voice Of The Fire is actually pretty great as well, if you're not put off (as most readers are) by the experimental first chapter. It was dated even when it came out though - it's got a very 80s po-mo feel to it, something like Julian Barnes' History Of The World In 10 1/2 Chapters...

    ReplyDelete
  13. Andrew, I'm quite taken aback by what you've written here. Yes, of course, why didn't I ever think of reading Mr Moore's work with an approximation of his accent? It's such a beguiling idea that I shall book myself a quiet afternoon hour in a few days and do just that. (I taught for 7 years just down the road from Northampton, so the accent carries a great deal of meaning for me anyway.)

    To Eddie Campbell's adaptations and Promethea I shall go too. Learning to enjoy just about anything is often about being given an "in", an entry into the work where a few reference points eases the transition from here to there. Some Beatles psychedelia, therefore, and Promethea, and the knowledge that it carried that meaning for you.

    Thank for the advice. I shall add them to the "savour for a quiet afternoon" pile that already contains the early Dr Who episodes and the Grant Morrison Batmans, two other areas, as you'll have perhaps noticed from my lack of comments on your blog, I really don't have my bearings with yet.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Before doing that, try listening to some of Moore's spoken work to get his voice and rhythms into your head. I recommend The Highbury Working (mostly because The Birth Caul, his best, is better-served in Campbell's adaptation, but also because I think you'd like the bits about Joe Meek and Heinz).

    And I do think you'll like those - they're *astonishingly* good. My wife, who normally won't read comics (she's legally blind, and has great physical difficulty reading them) has read those multiple times, they're that good...

    ReplyDelete
  15. And actually, if you want listening material for Promethea, I'd recommend Smile over the Beatles. Not only is "Love To Say DaDa" actually referenced in passing in the dialogue, but the whole death/rebirth solar-god thing that Van Dyke Parks brings to it, coupled with Brian Wilson's obsessive godess-worship music, fits the themes of the comic better...

    ReplyDelete
  16. Andrew, one of your comments is caught in the Blogger interface, but when that happens, everything usually appears OK eventually. I don't want you to think that I've been casual with such splendid advice as yours.

    It does make me smile to realise that, yes, I'd enjoy anything Alan Moore had to say about Joe Meek and Heinz. And another point of engagement as close to my heart as Wilson/Parks, as you mention in the "caught" comment, has surely snared me.

    But there can be no higher praise, and no more winning a recommendation, than that of your wife's engagement with the texts. How could I not want to track them down when considering her experience? I hope, if it's appropriate, you'll pass on my best wishes to her, as I pass mine on to you.

    ReplyDelete
  17. I shall, and those best wishes are of course reciprocated.

    Did I ever point you to my brief essay series on Wilson & Parks' collaborations? If not, you can find it at http://andrewhickey.info/tag/van-dyke-parks/page/2/ . You may find it interesting. (Also my rejected proposal for a book on Smile - http://andrewhickey.info/2009/02/15/smile-though-your-nose-is-running/ )

    ReplyDelete
  18. What strikes me about the passage from Maggin's book that you quote in part 5 ("George Parker thought it was a matter for the mayor's attention. The mayor thought the governor should know. The governor, naturally, used the alien teenager as an excuse to call the President.") is that it's funny. The governor isn't concerned about the alien--he's just looking for reasons to talk to somebody more important. The great thing is that Maggin doesn't oversell the joke; in fact, it takes half a second to realize there's something funny there. The minor delayed reaction moment is one of my favorite kind of jokes, and a sign of a skilled writer.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Andrew - Thank you for the steers. It is quite literally impossible, of course, to read too much about, or hear too much of Mr Wilson and Mr Parks at their brilliant best. I shall be heading thenceway this week!

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hello Wesley - and thank you for saying that, because I too felt it was a clever piece of wry understatement & I'm glad that I wasn't allowing sentiment to affect my judgement as I feared . As I said in the piece, I'm taking the oppurtunity to cast an eye on Maggin's writing on Superman as a whole for a future piece, and he really was a writer who was clever and skilled and, as you so well express, funny. It's hard to recognise at times, I found, because of the genre forms he was working in, but as soon as I isoloted certain passages for the purposes of comparing him to Alan Moore, the penny really dropped and I went from thinking his work was oddly appealling to realising that in places it was very good indeed. The first novel, Last Son, is particularly enticing, for all that it is still mostly a standard genre adventure piece, perhaps because he didn't yet have a schema about how to write about superheroes in prose. I can't help but wonder what might have happened if he'd have written far more novels and really had the oppurtunity to sharpen up his chops and extend his reach. It's often those writers who come from the genres where the conventions are taut and plot the main purpose of the job who end up, for me, the best writers.

    I also wonder what might have happened if Mr Maggin had still been writing at DC when Alan Moore arrived. Might that have freed him up a touch and given the DCU another more-interesting writer in a period where the ordinary fare was, with some notable exceptions, rather dire?

    ReplyDelete
  21. Maggin as Dash Hammett and Moore as Ray Chandler--I like it.

    In 1978, I took Mr. Maggin's "Superman: The Last Son of Krypton" from the paperback rack in the neighborhood drug store. I knew Maggin as, with Cary Bates, the regular writer of Superman's comic-book adventures, which I didn't hold in high esteem. That was strike one. Strike two was (my erroneous belief) that the book was an adaptation of the first Chris Reeve film: my experiences with prose adaptations before and since have seldom been rewarding. But there in the store, I read the introducttory section of the book, and more than 30 years later I recall that in this fictional world, in Maggin's telling, the years since Superman's saw the cyclical reappearance of red and blue color schemes in men's fashions.

    What a detail to invent! Both plausible and humorous (as one wonders if the fashion-designers ever went a step further and offered briefs-over-pants as a style too).

    And yet, to my shame, I ended up putting the book back on the rack. Doing so, I committed a sin I found infuriating in those who refused to give comics a chance: I saw the medium--in this case a (presumed) film novelization--and made assumptions about the content. I should have know better. If the book had been by a writer whose work I respected more at the time--Denny O'Neal, say--I would have bought it. My apologies, Mr. Maggin, wherever you are!

    I wonder if it was specifically the challenge of telling his story in prose alone, after his many years of sharing the storytelling task with artists such as Mr. Swan, that led him to some of his evocative descriptions. That rock from the sky, for example, need not be described as screaming like those thousand busy telephone wires in a comic book that shows the rock itself blazing through the air. With the visual depictions unavailable in the novel, Mr. Maggin was forced to invent similes to engage his readers instead. But "forced" is the wrong word: to the contrary, this task seems to have been embraced by the writer, and freed up a kind of creativity his monthly readers (at least this one) never suspected.

    Finally, a variation of that passing-of-responsibility-upstream bit (from cop to mayor to governor to president) is also shown in a few memorable panels in Miller's "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns," when at issue is how to respond to the return of the vigilante Batman. In this case, the responsibility goes DOWN the ranks, to the newly-chosen police commissioner, who promises to arrest Batman.

    I wonder if Mr. Maggin ever read and enjoyed Mr. Moore's work on that Superman-by-another-name, Supreme.

    I will seek out Mr. Maggin's novel now--at long last.

    -Mikesensei

    ReplyDelete
  22. MikeS, that’s a fantastic comment! Thank you for taking the time to make me think again about these things.

    Firstly, your concern about your own preconceptions really hit a chord with me, because I still have a problem fighting through my own. It’s remarkable how much I discover I’ve missed because of faulty reasoning on my part. One of the good things about blogging is that I’m always coming across examples of how I’ve gotten things wrong before & having the chance to correct some small percentage of my own stumbling.

    I suspect that you’re right about Mr Maggin’s reasons for choosing the strategies he did for making the whole business of super-powers more involving and exciting, just as I also believe that it was also about developing new ways of making the business of superheroes magical. Compensating for the lack of pictures + trying to make the business more fascinating of capes’n’costumes for an older audience = a quietly important step forward in this often-disdained but entertaining genre. As I’ve said, the book itself retains much of a conventional form and it’s generally a straight-forward piece, but it is still a worthwhile book.

    I love the idea of another example of the “chain of command” sequence, but now one in the reverse order. Another academic first for the research community which meets here around this blog, and I believe that you win, having found the reverse example.

    Finally, wouldn’t it be interesting to ask Mr Maggin if he’d read Mr Moore’s work and whether he saw a kinship, even if not a measure of paternity? Ah, I wish …

    Thanks for the inspiration, Mike! (I wish I'd thought of the Hammett/Chandler analogy.)

    ReplyDelete
  23. Excellent work as always.

    I have a hard time stepping back from Maggin's work. His version of Superman with Curt Swan was literally the cause of my lifelong love of comics. It formed the baseline from which all other comics deviate. Therefore, it is eternally average in my mind, irrespective of its actual quality.

    The chance to read his prose is, therefore, is exciting. His novels are cheap and readily available. I note that he has also written an adaptation KINGDOM COME that might be worth a look.

    One point in your analysis that I found especially interesting was the difficulty of the DC Universe to cohere as a fictional universe. It seems to me that is why DC properties have proven relatively easy to revolutionize by clever comic writers. Pieces created by different creators in vastly different eras and (often) for different publishers really do not have a common thread binding them together. As a result, it falls to the writer to invent one.

    Creators routinely carve out some piece of the DCU that suits the theme of their work. Then, they are free to re-interpret (or pastiche) various DC characters in any way that suits them. The vast majority of A-list DC properties have the same meaning outside the DCU as within it. Consider the various Supermen (Supreme, Omni-Man, The Homelander, The Samaritan, Apollo) in thriving in work that has little or no connection to the fictional DCU. There is no comparable roster of Spider-Man (or Wolverine, or whomever) pastiches living happily outside the Marvel Universe. The creations of Stan Lee (and his heirs) define each other in an essential way that makes them less portable.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Thank you for the fascinating comment, Dean. In particular, that’s a real mind-boggling comment about how it’s the DC Universe icons which inspire the endless knock-offs – many of them fascinating in their own right – rather than the Marvel properties. That’s one of those “doh” moments on my part, and huzzah to you for pointing that out where it utterly missed my oak head, as well as pointing out how the Marvel Universe was the real creation of Stan Lee’s Marvel rather than the individual heroes within it. That’s really inspiring thinking and I just know I’ll be mulling it over for ages now.

    I’m with you on the fact that there really isn’t a DC Universe, and that the effort of creating one can produce wonders, just as ignoring doing so and focusing on a single character can function in a way that it wouldn’t for many Marvel concepts. Where I do get concerned is when the DC editorial tries to smooth out all the points of strangeness between the DC properties in order to try to make some thin abstraction of the characters “fit” with each other. It’s happened with Captain Marvel since his return from Fawcett-limbo, for example, and JMS’s revamps feel awkwardly like the same. Why they can’t go with the weirdness turned full up, I don’t know. It’s not as if the “make it all the same” school has EVER worked, whereas all the successful revamps, from Swamp Thing through Sandman to JLI and onwards have been OUT there.

    I struggled with Mr Maggin’s “Kingdom Come”, but I’m thinking of having another go at it. The original property just didn’t seem to one which in any way needed a novel, anymore than “Crisis” did when Marv Wolfman had a prose crack at it.

    I very much appreciate your thoughts, Dean. Top stuff. My thanks.

    ReplyDelete
  25. So many wonderful comments here, so much food for thought. As you note, Maggin had gone by the time Moore arrived, but I'd not be surprised were his more ambitious scripts a factor in the massive improvement in the work of Schwarz stablemate and occasional partner Cary Bates - compare his Captain Atom and Silverblade work (from 1987 on) with his Superman and Flash work.

    Mind, it could be simply a case of working with different editors - Bates showed earlier signs of wanting to write 'up' when Ross Andru took over from Julie S as Flash editor, and Barry Allen entered his Starsky and Hutch period, and Iris entered the grave. The stories were more intense.

    I've not read the Kingdom Come novel (I've no great love for the story) but I did tackle the Crisis novelisation. Urk. Managed about 40 pages.

    Tangent-wise, am I the only person who really enjoyed the pre-Moore Saga of the Swamp Thing, by Martin Pasko (another liberated Superman alumnus) and Tom Yeates?

    ReplyDelete
  26. You’re so right, Mart, there are SO many wonderful comments & it’s an absolute privilege to have the opportunity to host them here. It really is.

    I think you raise a whole series of questions of the apparently old-school writers who disappeared largely from the scene by the end of the 1980s and who have been consigned by what passes as comic book history as part of the pre-Moore/Miller past. That’s quite wrong, of course, as you ably establish by pointing out that Cary Bates was doing fine work after Crisis himself. But the perception of history must have its illusion of direction, and a great deal of fine work just seems to disappear from the critical radar. Paul Levitz’s work, for example, has retained some strong measure of its favour, but Mike W Barr has been almost forgotten. The trinity of Maggin, Bates and Pasko are again often disgarded as if they were place-servers, but they weren’t in any way, and Mr Pasko’s work of all them is the most disregarded. I even enjoyed his story explaining that Superman used his glasses to hypnotise the world into believing that he & Clark were separate characters, & his early Saga Of The Swamp Thing issues in particular were certainly not without genuine merit. You’re right there!

    I think there were a whole string of writers who had either left DC by the mid-80’s or who were on their way out in the years following that. (MWB of course hung on later than that & at first did very well.) With the right editorial investment in their abilities, I think a great deal more could’ve been done with them. Certainly when one compares their era with the one of just 10 years later, things have not, on the whole, for the DCU, gone well at all.

    ReplyDelete
  27. Colin -
    Let me tell you what I always told the English majors, more occupied with criticism than substance: You need to write more. Don't just cogitate over other people's imaginations. Tell a story that people can read and run away from. And think then about the processes that squeezed that story out of you. Most of what you say above, Colin, is quite thoughtful, and all of it is very complimentary, but I must take issue with a premise of what you have to say: Of course Alan Moore read my book, for heaven's sake. Ask him. Probably he'll tell you. When Last Son first came out almost no one I knew actually read the thing. I know Julie Schwartz didn't, although he did read the second one. Cary didn't read it; he picked up books in bookstores and put them down if he saw they weren't written in screenplay form. Neal Adams, who drew an early draft of a cover for it, said he bought a copy to put in his bookshelf as a curiosity, I suppose, but I doubt he ever cracked it open. I got away with all sorts of inductive nonsense in the story that I never would have gotten past the poo-bahs at DC if it had been in script form. From a legal standpoint, DC considered itself the "author" of record of Last Son of Krypton, and they had to "approve" it before it went to print. But I promise you no one who worked there ever read it, at least not until years later and probably not then either. But Alan did. And Mark Waid did. And Jeph Loeb did. Trust me on this. I had a hopeful vision through my twenties of getting into a New York subway and seeing a row of hot, leggy, well-dressed administrative assistants sitting across from me on their way to the office, all reading my book the way - in unison, it seemed - they all read the latest fashionable potboiler or legal thriller. It never happened. But the bloody thing sold half a million copies. It bought me a house in the country. I had to wait for my readership to grow up and learn to write before I heard anyone writing and speaking in my voice. It's lucky for me that I was so young when I started. Contrary to appearances, I'm not actually done. And thanks, by the way, for noticing.
    -- Elliot S! Maggin

    ReplyDelete
  28. My best to you, Mr Maggin. It’s an absolute privilege to hear from you. I usually ramble on in reply to comments, but there’s nothing I could add to what you’ve written. It was fascinating to hear more of “Last Son Of Krypton”, and thank you very much for taking the time to do so.

    ReplyDelete
  29. A fascinating (pronouced as Popeye might say it) piece, Colin. I'm genuinely astonished by the parallels you've drawn, and the fundamental rightness of it.

    I've had my copy of Last Son for thir - Jesus - thirty-one years. It's odd that this should be the second day running that I find myself typing this, but the old thing is held together by felt pen and sticky tape. Only my first copy of The Hitch Hiker's Guide To The Galaxy is in worse nick.

    I am of the opinion, unpopular though it may be, that the less of Krypton we see and the less omnipotent Superman is, the better. I will admit, however, that Last Son and Moore's work do much to argue the opposing view (and I'd be lying if the the Showcase collections haven't been the funnest of fun funnies). I last read Last Son in a double-bill with Tom DeHaven's "It's Superman," which I seem to be recommending with frightening frequency.

    I might just dig out Voice of the Fire in a bit, thinking about it. I love that book - got it for a pound, ha!

    Thanks again (and thanks, Elliot, for, you know. The, or even the, Superman book).

    //\Oo/\\

    ReplyDelete
  30. Hello Matthew - your kind words are much appreciated. And you and I must be just two of literally thousands, perhaps tens of thousands given the original sales figures, who have similarly well-worn copies of LSOK around the house. I like realising that that's so. I very much like the idea of the book that's been read and read again and kept somewhere in the house, the book that's part in its own modest but meaningful way of a host of book collections despite being out of print for so long.

    I'm with you on the question of Superman's power and his homeplanet, yet your comment makes me wonder whether I feel that way because those things should as a matter of fact be underplayed or whether it's just that they should only be allowed to be used by writers such as Mr Maggin and Mr Maggin, who knew and know how to make them work.

    I'm looking for my copy of "It's Superman" myself, actually. It's somewhere in this very room, and probably not a million miles from "VOTF". That, of course, is no comfort when I can't find either of them. And you'd think it'd be tough to misplace VOTF!

    Thanks again for commenting.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Holy crow, Elliot S! Maggin! Is it just me, or is anybody else extraordinarily pleased that LSOK bought him a place in the country? There's a lot in that book that made a permanent dent in my head at fourteen -- Einstein never being afraid of where his imagination will take him, Superboy watching over Lex Luthor as he turns himself into a genius. I actually re-read the thing with some frequency, it's got a real heart.

    Much like Maggin's comics: who can forget Lois Lane starting to fall for Clark Kent, after coming over to cook the poor sap her famous beef bourguignon? I re-read that one with some frequency too. They talk about the "f*@# yeah" moments in superhero comics -- Clark making his move on the couch after dinner must surely be near the top of the list.

    Mr. Maggin, you write my Superman!

    I always figured Alan Moore felt the same way. Colin, as to Voice Of The Fire -- I'll never understand people not liking the first chapter, it's exactly the sort of thing Alan Moore does better than anyone else...by which I mean, better than anyone else. It's his comics-oriented mind, you see: that dawning awareness as the pieces come together, the effect of the skillful double vu we've all become accustomed to, only instead of it being created by the arrangement of a page of pictures, it's created in "Hob's Hog" by the use of an altered vocabulary. But it's the same principle of organization at work, I think. In my opinion it's absolutely stunning, and I'll be interested to know if it hit you the same way.

    Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  32. Hello plok – and no it isn’t just you! I’m absolutely delighted that that hard work and daring bought Mr Maggin something of what his work in comics deserved. You’re right – his work has "heart". Matched with that was his audacity with ideas, which is best expressed, I believe, in that first Superman novel, though present to a greater or lesser degree in all his work.

    I really do think that he pointed a way forward for novels about superheroes there, and the road-map he laid out is still there if somebody cares to follow it. But Mr Maggin’s wonderful way of suddenly changing the whole way the reader sees familiar matters – Lois loves Clark but wishes she loved Superman – says to me that the fun of bold thinking needs to get grafted onto those novels which feature the cape’n’costumed characters, as of course it has where a reelatively few noble exceptions are concerned.

    Your words about Voice Of The Fire reinforce those of other trusted folks here. I’m going to go find it now and place it on top of the “read-next” pile. I just couldn’t find a way into VOTF all those years ago and there’s always something else to read rather than a book that didn’t take first time. But too many good folks say “go read”, and of course I must read it again and persevere. Thanks for the words that point me in the direction of what I’ll benefit from locking onto to as I find my feet.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Fifteen months since this memorable post and the comments it generated, Colin, but I had to look it up again because yesterday my daughter (she's 11 and in 6th grade) couldn't wait to tell me that, among the books kept on a shelf for students to choose for individual reading in her Language Arts class, was "a really, really old paperback novel--about Superman! With pictures from the first movie!"

    "Was the title 'Last Son of Krypton'?"

    "Yes!"

    "By Elliot S! Maggin?" [I explained about the exclamation mark.]

    "I don't remember. But isn't that great? Do you think I should read it?"

    Yes and yes, I said. And although those books are meant for in-class reading, she promised to ask to bring it home so that I can finally read it too.

    Thank you for bringing it (back) to my attention in this post--and of course a big thanks to Mr. Maggin for giving us so much more than a pedestrian movie tie-in. This was the smile of the week.

    -mikesensei

    ReplyDelete
  34. Hello Mike:- It's been the smile of the week for me too! I've just read your comment out to the Splendid Wife, and it seems that we're both smiling.

    Thanks for letting me know this, Mike. And I hope you and your daughter have a splendid time with Last Son Of Krypton. I may read myself to sleep with it tonight ... :)

    ReplyDelete
  35. I never read the books you mention in this post, however I am a believer in the idea of "Last son of Krypton" Unfortunately the reality of comic books being a business means there are publishers looking to make a profit so we have things like General Zod, Supergirl, and the Bottle City of Kandor. Has always ignored those kinds of things because I feel they dilute the myth.

    I made a number of these for fans of Superman to use in any way they like, if they want, and thought maybe you and your readers might like this, too. The one on top is just smaller size

    http://oi40.tinypic.com/aqwcl.jpg

    http://oi39.tinypic.com/somngk.jpg

    This is a different kind of thing where I also used a bit of vid file from the Man of Steel film. I thought using the words "The World Needs Superman" gives the entire thing a sense of urgency that's not normally there.

    http://oi39.tinypic.com/2myvr01.jpg


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hello Dr. Eam Infidel:- I fear we disagree about the contribution that Zod, Supergirl and Kandor make to Superman. My favourite era for the Man Of Steel is that overseen by editor Mort Weisinger, and in particular the period from around 1955 to 1964. I don't feel that those story-elements dilute the myth so much as flesh it out.

      But I know that many disagree, and I don't think that the components of the Weisinger era would, as a whole, be a good idea for today's strip. Times change, after all. Though I of course respect your point of view, I'm for the Superman of, oh, about 50 years ago.

      Delete