Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: Superman: Last Son of Krypton

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, July 9, 2001

The Kents decided early that at least for awhile they were going to screen his influences very carefully. Martha Kent held, for example, that stories of cutthroats and street urchins of the type Dickens wrote were not the sort of things Clark should be exposed to. She put the Bible and lots of Horatio Alger on his reading list. If he were going to insist on reading, she thought, it might as well be decent material. Land sakes, he can wait for Tom Sawyer until he’s assigned it in school.

“Last Son of Krypton” explores the responsibility of power and the side-effects of universal good deeds through the super-powered adventures of Superman.

AuthorElliot S! Maggin
Length238 pages
Book Rating6

“Last Son of Krypton” came out at the same time as the original “Superman: The Movie”, but other than a few black-and-white stills in the center has nothing to do with the film. Elliot S! Maggin wrote two books in this series, both of them brilliant. (The third book in the series was by another author and simply rehashed the story of the third movie.)

By now, most people know the basic story. Jor-El, one of the leading scientists of the planet Krypton, discovers that the planet is geologically unstable and is about to “explode”. He doesn’t believe they can stop it, and recommends evacuating the planet. The government of Krypton, however, doesn’t believe him, and not only do nothing about the coming catastrophe, but forbid him to say anything about it. He acquiesces, because if they put him away for treason he will be unable to save his wife and child. He builds a tiny spacecraft and places his infant son within; seconds after the spacecraft takes off, Krypton explodes, killing mother, father, and the entire planet.

The spacecraft makes its way to Earth, chosen because of humankind’s resemblance to the Kryptonian race. There, he is adopted by Jonathan and Martha Kent, two small-town midwest farmers (the name of the town is actually Smallville), who soon discover that the child is incredibly strong and can fly. They raise him to be upright and moral. When young Clark Kent graduates from college he travels to the big city (Metropolis, of course) and becomes a crusading (but mild-mannered) newspaper reporter for the Daily Planet. And on his time off, a superpowered crimefighter. He takes part in a bizarre love triangle between himself as Clark Kent in love with fellow reporter Lois Lane, who is in love with Superman.

His greatest enemy is Lex Luthor, who has no superpowers, only a brilliant but slightly twisted mind. Luthor is a great scientist and an even greater inventor, pitting his brain against Superman’s brawn in an attempt to build his criminal empire.

Other parts of the story are not well known, though they’ve been part of the canon for decades. Lex Luthor and Clark Kent knew each other in Smallville; Superman’s Kryptonian name is Kal-El, meaning, in Kryptonese, “Star Child”; the Daily Planet is now a subsidiary of Galaxy Communications, and Clark Kent has been a television reporter for a long time.

Elliot S! Maggin takes on this story and makes it sing. He fills in details, ranging back and forth between Krypton, Smallville, Metropolis, and an interstellar merchant center planet named Oric. He takes the main characters of the Superman mythos, built up over 50 years (this book came out in 1978, exactly 50 years after Superman first appeared in Action Comics), and gives us an insight that we’ve never seen before. He goes beyond what he was probably hired to do (write a novelization of a movie) and creates an honest-to-God good novel that stands on its own and is worth reading on its own, for its own merits. A novel about power, and responsibility, with parallels to political power, parental power, societal responsibility, individual responsibility. Doing good deeds might have repercussions that aren’t as good as you’d like them to be.

There are some interesting comic book in-jokes. The man who guides Jonathan and Martha Kent to be where Kal-El’s spaceship will crash-land uses the fictitious name “Calvin Eisner”. On the one hand this name is meant to sound similar to Albert Einstein, but it is also similar to one of the most famous comic book writer-artists, Will Eisner. (Elliot S! Maggin’s love of the Einstein mythos also shows up in other stories he has written, such as the long-forgotten round-robin “DC Challenge!” miniseries.)

He also brings in the Guardians of the Galaxy, another DC Comics icon, these from the Green Lantern series. They’re presented in the original Green Lantern series as sort of a galactic super-cop organization. Here, Maggin has them observing and guiding the moral development of young civilizations also. On Earth, they’re most concerned about the effect of a Superman on the moral development of the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants. When Superman can do anything and fix any problem, the rest of the planet can cut corners. It’s ironic (and clearly deliberately so) that some of the examples provided as “things Earthlings wouldn’t do” are things that we really do even without a real-life Superman. One of these--which I can’t find in “Last Son of Krypton,” so it must have been in “Miracle Monday” unless I’m just making it up, was the transport of liquid natural gas through urban centers. Fellman Gordon (actually a Guardian in disguise) asks Lois what she would do if trapped in a mineshaft in some really out of the way place, and of course Lois says she’d wish Superman would hurry up because she has a deadline to meet.

“Exactly. You don’t make your peace with your God or your conscience. You don’t cry. You don’t go mad. You wait patiently for Superman to save you. That possibility now exists. No one need despair any more. Superman plays adopted father to the world, ready to bail anyone out of trouble the way his father Jor-El bailed him out of a dying planet.”

“Miracle Monday”, the book that appeared alongside the Superman II movie, is also by Maggin, and also has nothing to do with the movie. I don’t have my copy anymore so I can’t review it, and it’s hard to find, but if you do see a copy, I recommend it nearly as strongly as “Last Son of Krypton”. These are both powerful stories.

Superman: Last Son of Krypton

Elliot S! Maggin

Recommendation: Purchase

If you enjoyed Superman: Last Son of Krypton…

For more about superheroes, you might also be interested in Batman Begins, Superman vs. the X-Men, and Mighty Protectors release: Villains & Vigilantes 3.0.

For more about Superman, you might also be interested in Superman II, Superman: The Movie, The Complete Superman Collection, Superman vs. the X-Men, and Superman Returns is a great movie.