Things I wish I’d written: Last Son of Krypton

I think I’m going use this space to occasionally talk about things I wish I’d written. I’ll start off with a book I just had to replace, because my original copy is disintegrating into its constituent molecules.

It would be easy to look at the cover of Elliot S! Maggin’s Last Son of Krypton and dismiss it as a novelization of the 1978 Superman movie. I mean, there’s Christopher Reeve, right on the cover.

Last Son of Krypton

If it were a novelization of the movie, I’m not saying that would necessarily be a bad thing. I almost never read media tie-ins anymore, but I have nothing against them. They were my gateway to science fiction and fantasy. When I was a wee tot I almost never went into the children’s sections of bookstores. Instead, I’d gravitate to the dusty little corner of the sf section at Vroeman’s on the Santa Monica Mall, where maybe they’d have two or four shelves of Star Trek and Planet of the Apes novels.

Anyway. The cover notwithstanding, Last Son of Krypton has nothing to do with the movie released simultaneously with the book’s publication. Veteran comics writer Elliot S! Maggin’s offers his take on Superman’s origins and explains his animosity with Lex Luthor (Superboy killed his baby, which was just slime in a Petri dish, but still understandably upsetting to Lex), but what truly distinguishes the book is that it’s one of the few times Superman is presented in a way I find absolutely compelling and right: A god who chooses to be a man.

The story gets underway with Albert Einstein, who understands that Superman must be, first and foremost, a man. Which was not necessarily Jor-El’s plan. Using Kryptonian fizzy-wow technology, Jor-El contacts the great Earth scientist to tell him that he’s sent his son rocketing to Earth, and if Professor Einstein would raise him, he’d be much obliged. But Einstein thinks young Kal-El would be better off being raised by humble salt-of-the-earth folk, so he contrives to have Jonathan and Martha Kent come upon the super baby’s crash site. It’s not an accident that Superman is raised by simple farmers. That was Einstein’s call.

The story that grows from that premise gives us a hero who’s not the “Big Boy Scout,” or the “Boy in Blue,” or any other kind of naive, law-and-order character worthy of our suspicion whom we’d love to see pounded and kryptonite-poisoned by the Batman. This Superman is charming, witty, canny, and as urbane as one might expect from a citizen of the galaxy. But he’s also a god. Because you can’t have Superman’s abilities and not be a god. It would make no sense.

So, when Kal-El poses as Clark Kent, lets himself be the brunt of sportscaster Steve Lombard’s jokes (and then, because he’s not without pride, finds subtle ways to give Lombard his comeuppance), when he chooses to live among a species as fragile to him as wet tissue, it has nothing to do with maintaining a secret identity. It’s because he’s chosen to be human. Because that’s what his parents were, and, as most parents do, they raised him to be like them.

There are themes and motifs in Last Son of Krypton that I’ve played with in some of my own writing, but I’ve never done it as movingly as Elliot S! Maggin does in the following passage. It’s Jonathan Kent’s death scene.

He had broken the time barrier, he could speak every known language on Earth, living or dead. He had been born among the stars and could live among them now if he so chose. He had more knowledge in his mind and more diverse experience to his credit then any Earthman alive could ever aspire to.

Yet he stood at the deathbed of this elderly, generous man whose last Earthly concern was his son’s happiness. Superboy listened, because he believed Jonathan Kent to be wiser than he.

It’s not the most euphonious thing I’ve ever read. On a line level, it’s got some clunk. But I’d be incredibly proud to have written it.

4 Responses to “Things I wish I’d written: Last Son of Krypton”

  1. 1 nojojojo
    February 23, 2009 at 5:59 pm

    Huh. I remember seeing this book and not picking it up because I thought it was just a media tie-in. That’s what I get for judging a book by its cover. Looks like I’ll be hitting the library again. Thanks for the recommend!

  2. February 23, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Well, strictly speaking, it is just a media tie-in. But it’s a really good one!

  3. February 24, 2009 at 12:54 pm

    So it’s a novel, not a comic?

    And…Einstein. Who knew?? I might have to see if I can track this down for the Einstein-obsessed of the family…

  4. February 24, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Yep, SarahP, it’s a novel. AND A DURNED FINE ONE. AbeBooks has many dirt-cheap copies for sale.

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