Once again I tried to sit down for a pleasant read. The last time I tried this was with a collection of Cordwainer Smith’s short science-fiction and, well, it wasn’t exactly pleasant. Enjoyable and stimulating yes, but it didn’t really relax me or set me at ease, which was what I was hoping for. Now, pleasant is definitely not what I’m usually looking for in a book. I usually prefer the challenging or weird over pleasant, but last week I was so sick and stressed out that it was definitely needed. My wife suggested I read, “my Superman book.” The Superman book being Elliot S! Maggin’s geek-famous Miracle Monday, published in 1981 and now out of print.
Maggin wrote for DC Comics in the late seventies and early eighties working primarily on Superman. In my opinion, he’s the author of the real Superman. Most writers before and after him have struggled with how to portray the Man of Steel realistically. He’s too strong, needing to be weakened or stripped of his powers for interests sake – hence, kryptonite – and no one is really sure why Superman doesn’t just take over the world or fly off some place where he can be left alone. Maggin solves the problem of the realistic treatment of Superman quite easily. He stops treating him realistically.
His solution is simple and profound: Superman is super-good. That settled he just tells better stories, setting Superman against the lore of his past and a hinted at future destiny, where the character can sit most comfortably, in the realm of myth. In fact, Maggin’s Superman stories are the only ones I’ve found where the idea of Superman as a modern mythological character, Superman as a fable for our times, doesn’t seem wholly contrived.
Maggin’s solution to the too powerful and fascist Superman, a creature of super-goodness and super-power, pretty much provides the framework for Miracle Monday. If you have an infinitely capable and good Superman there really is only one opponent worthy to face him: The Devil. I hope I’m not giving anything away here but Superman wins.
Miracle Monday is full of great stuff. I’ll leave you with five things:
- The first chapter, Thanksgiving, is a perfect short story about Superman. I wish more people concerned about Superman would read it. You can read it, the whole book actually, at Superman Through the Ages. Oh, and if Plato can be concerned with children reading stories about Achilles or Odysseus you should be concerned with Superman.
- Superman sees Kirlian auras. He can tell if someone is healthy, sick, innocent or guilty by the color of their aura.
- The first time Superman gets sick. A young Clark Kent is a passenger on a bus that hits and kills a dog. The idea that he was somehow involved in the death of a living thing puts Superboy into a day long fever.
- Lex Luthor proves the existence of the Soul and, by inference, the existence of God. What does he do with this information? Why, he uses it to escape from prison, of course.
- Everyone has a demon, a particular obsession that prevents them from fulfilling their true purposes and potential; alcohol, stamp collecting, whatever. Superman’s demon is Clark Kent, the character he invents because he’s too afraid to relate to the world as he is. He even gives Clark a demon: videotaping funny commercials and showing them to his friends.