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.
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.”
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.
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?
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.
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 recognizably 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 recognizable 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!