Monday, June 16, 2008

Superman and Miracle Monday

In a post last week, I quoted from the vetoed Superman 2000 pitch from a decade ago, and one of the lines referenced Elliot S. Maggin's 1981 Superman novel, Miracle Monday: "The scene with Superboy and the grasshopper in Miracle Monday nails it beautifully; this could be the world’s scariest living being, a detached, scientific observer with the ability to experiment upon us all."

My copy of Miracle Monday arrived in the mail today, and even though I'm only two dozen pages into the book, I've already read the bit with the grasshopper, so now I can shed some more light on what Morrison, Waid and company were talking about (for those of you, like me, who had never read this long-out-of-print novel; and let's be honest, that Miracle Monday reference in the pitch probably came from Waid, right?).

The Superboy and the grasshopper sequence begins with Jonathan Kent waking up from a nightmare in which he, fearing Superboy would be worshiped as a messiah, begins digging up the Kryptonite meteor. "The man certainly did not want to kill his son," writes Maggin. "Fathers do not kill their sons. He did not even want to punish him. He only wanted to talk to him--to make him listen, the way a boy ought to listen to his father." It's a startling scene, even for a nightmare, as Jonathan Kent realizes that Superboy is too powerful, too inhuman to be allowed to reign over humanity, so the father begins digging for the chunk of extraterrestrial rock that will destroy his own adopted child. That's a lot of heavy subtext for a mass market novel billed as a tie-in to the Superman movie sequel, and the nightmare is the thing that begins the book. And it gets creepier, as Jonathan Kent digs up the Kryptonite and a hand springs up from the earth, pushing the shovel and the father away. Superboy rises out of the ground, menacingly:

"The boy glared at the man, raised the shovel over his head like a broadsword."

Jonathan wakes up, but what an image! Demonic and Oedipal--it surprised me to read such a depiction of Superboy in the opening sequence of the novel, even if it was just a dream.

But the dream sets up the grasshopper scene, for Jonathan's fears are not quickly forgotten, and he sees young Clark sitting with a microscope peering at "a cross section of a grasshopper's nerve ganglia." "I dissected him myself with my fingernails and my microscopic vision," says Clark, enthusiastically, and given the context of the previous scene, chillingly.

The scene continues as Clark uses his own super-intellect and his "weird optic nerve" to project the magnification so Jonathan can see a single molecule of a virus attached to the grasshopper's nerve cell wall. The scene is laced with unease, as Jonathan thinks the dead grasshopper is a sign that Clark has no regard for life, but sees all living things as part of a science experiment he can conduct at will. It's the first sign of his nightmare coming true.

The reality is that Clark had found the dead grasshopper, along with dozens of other dead ones, in the fields, and he dissected it to find out what had killed it. To prevent it from happening to other grasshoppers. To save lives.

The point of the scene, in the novel, is to establish the very human fear of someone like Superboy/Superman using his unstoppable powers unchecked. And to emphasize that even with all of his immense power, Clark Kent would never even consider hurting any living thing, no matter how small.

No wonder Miracle Monday--or at least this one bit of it--was cited in the Superman 2000 pitch. I don't know if Maggin's book is any good overall, but that opening sequence captures the essence of Superman perfectly. Superior, detached, possibly frightening, but deeply humane, and deeply good.


Richard said...

"I don't know if Maggin's book is any good overall..."

Well, you could just take my word for it, or you could read the whole thing. Whichever seems the best use of your time...but I don't think you'll find the latter to be much of a hardship. It's not necessary to have read Maggin's first Superman novel Last Son of Krypton to enjoy this one thoroughly. The only thing to note is that the earlier book covers in great detail Maggin's version of Luthor and the nature of his relationship with Supes, and it might add a little depth to his actions as a supporting character in Miracle Monday. But you can always read the other one later.

Timothy Callahan said...

Maybe I'll wait for Last Son, then. I ordered both at the same time, but Miracle Monday arrived first.

But since you vouch for them both, I will read the hell out of them.

If I don't like them, you, Morrison, Waid, Millar, and Peyer are to blame. And I will have my sweet revenge.

If I do like them, then I will do a blog post about how awesome RAB is.

Bill Reed said...

I've had this book since I was a kid; I tried to read it, and have read the grasshopper scene... but I never finished it. My kid sensibilities didn't take to it-- but I've never gotten rid of it. So maybe I'll have to pick it up and read the thing, finally.

J.R. LeMar said...

Damn. I have got to get this book now!