Noncomics: Superman – Last Son of Krypton

In the 1970s and early 1980s streaming a movie was called “reading the novelisation” (except in America, where they instead had novelizations, with a zed, which they pronounce as “zee”). Every major movie — and an awful lot of minor ones — was given a second life in the form of a prose adaptation. And sometimes those second lives predated their first life, with the novelisations appearing on the bookshelves long before the movies reached the cinemas: this was because in those pre-digital days the movies existed as physical rolls of celluloid film (hence the name “film”) and there was only a limited number of copies to go around — all the different countries had to take turns.

The Star Wars novelisation — written by Alan Dean Foster but credited to George Lucas — was particularly successful, selling in excess of three and a half million copies before the movie was even released.

Movies that were already based on a book generally didn’t get a novelisation (though there were some exceptions), but they were instead often re-issued with “Soon to be a Major Motion Picture!” across the front cover, and then there was the actual tie-in version that featured the movie’s poster and text along the lines of “Now a Major Motion Picture!” such as, for example, Roger Zelazny’s Damnation Alley:

Ah, how Mister Zelazny must have LOVED this edition of his novel! “You know, Roger, we’ll sell WAY more copies of your book if we pretend that it has something to do with Star Wars. Are you on board with that?”
I jest, of course! There’s no way they asked him.

But there were some exceptions, some big movies that didn’t receive the novelisation tie-in treatment at all. Most notably Superman the Movie and its first sequel, Superman II. According to one story the movies’ screenwriter Mario Puzo had a clause in his contract stating that his work couldn’t be adapted in any other form. (Or maybe it was simply that Alan Dean Foster was sick that day.)

There were, however, novelisations of the other movies in the Superman film series: Superman III (by William Kotzwinkle), Supergirl (by Norma Fox Mazer), Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (a “junior” novelisation by B. B. Hiller) and Superman Returns (a standard version by Marv Wolfman, and a junior version by Louise Simonson).

And then there was Superman: Last Son of Krypton by Elliot S. Maggin…

This is an original novel that, in this case, ties-in with the movie because it features the movie’s logo and Christopher Reeve on the cover. The paperback edition also boasted a collection of movie stills…

You’ll note that this one claims to be “The Exciting Original Story” to differentiate it from the movie. That tagline is very misleading, of course, because this is not the the “original story of Superman” — not by a long way.

(It’s also not a novelisation of any of the Superman comic-book stories that have used “Last Son of Krypton” as their title.)

Though for the most part the book is well-written, the plot is a bit all over the place, so much so that it’s tricky to explain what it’s actually about. But after careful analysis and considered pondering I’ve managed to boil it down: the late Albert Einstein left some papers containing a hitherto unknown mathematical proof in a time-capsule and Lex Luthor steals them, but then an alien steals the papers from Luthor, so he has to team up with Superman to retrieve them. It’s one of those stories that’s fun to read but when you get to the end you go, “Wait… what was that all about?”

There’s not a huge amount of action, sadly, and most of the action that does appear is over in seconds. That said, Maggin has the characters — particularly Superman/Clark Kent — absolutely spot-on, of course: he was a writer on the Superman comics for many years. (Fun trivia: for a long time he was credited in the comics as “Elliot S! Maggin” and in an interview many years later explained that the “S!” came about because after years of writing comics where the dialogue always ends with an exclamation mark instead of a full-stop he once accidentally typed his name that way.)

It’s the first entry in Maggin’s two-book series of Superman novels, the second being Miracle Monday, a copy of which I don’t own (I could buy one on Ebay but I’m not so hungry for it that I’m willing to pay twenty dollars for postage)…

I first read Superman: Last Son of Krypton back around 1982, I think, having chanced upon a copy in a second-hand bookstore: I don’t recall ever seeing it on the bookshelves when it was was first published in 1978. But my copy isn’t the movie tie-in version, which I believe was only published in English in the USA. I’ve got the Arrow Books edition, published in the UK:

Sure, Supes looks a bit angry on the cover here — like he isn’t at all happy that the artist is drawing him and he’s going to do something about it — and the blurb on the back was clearly written by someone who hadn’t bothered to read the wordy bits that go on the inside of the book, but I do like that this edition isn’t pretending to have any direct connection with the movie.

Plus, my copy also has that strangely-shaped stain on the back cover. What could that be, I imagine that I hear you ask? Why, it’s bleed-through from Sellotape on the other side. You, see, whoever owned the book before me was obviously a big Superman fan because he or she decided to add their own illustrations to the book…

I know this photo! This is from a Superman the Movie bubblegum card (number #59 of the first set, as seen here on the right).

It looks like the craftsperson here meticulously peeled the top glossy layer from the card, cut Superman out, then stuck him down on the inside back cover using carefully-applied strips of Sellotape. It probably looked quite good, forty years ago… before the tape started to go all yellow and crispy.

This wasn’t the only added illustration, though. Our unknown benefactor also adorned this book with six others…

The bonus added illustration on the title page is from a rub-down transfer… It’s peeled away a little, but on the whole it’s weathered the four decades a lot better than the taped-down pics. On the right, the photo of Jor-El comes from another bubblegum card: #131 of the second series, “Jor-El in the Trial Chamber.”

Lex Luthor and Superman, both definitely taken from the pages of a comic: they have some bleed-through from the illustrations on the back.

On the left: #85 in the second series of bubblegum cards (“In the Fortress of Solitude”). The pic on the right was rather neatly clipped from a Trebor Superman Chews wrapper:

Somewhere out there, maybe, there’s a person of about my age who for the past fortyish years has been wondering whatever happened to their precious, uniquely-customised copy of Superman: Last Son of Krypton. Perhaps one day they’ll stumble across this article, maybe in the internet equivalent of a time-capsule, and their questions will finally be answered. They’re not getting the book back, though. I paid good money for it — 50p, I think — but if they can prove that the book was once theirs, I might be persuaded to agree to a visit. Supervised, of course: I’m not that reckless.

Bonus 1:
The Spanish language edition, featuring one of the movie’s most common posters:

Bonus 2:
A more recent edition of Superman: Last Son of Krypton, published by Caveat Corner Books:

3 thoughts on “Noncomics: Superman – Last Son of Krypton

  1. I think in the making of Superman book it mentions this book was published as a tie in even though it was written before the film was made – please see “but that I had handed in my manuscript a full year before Mario Puzo handed in his script”


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