Thrift Store Finds: Superman – Miracle Monday

This week’s Thrift Store Find is Superman: Miracle Monday, written by Elliot S. Maggin and published by Warner Books in 1981.

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Cover price was $2.50, I got it for a quarter.

This is the second in a series of paperback novels Warner Books published, presumably in conjunction with their Superman franchise of movies starring Christopher Reeve. Superman II was released in theaters in 1980; presumably this book was in bookstores to capitalize on that film.

Before we get into the book itself, I want it stated for the record: I have been looking for a copy of Miracle Monday for YEARS. Every time I’m at a thrift store, whenever I’m browsing a used book store’s shelves… I’m looking for a copy of Miracle Monday. It’s been at the top of my “Most Wanted” list for awhile now. I had just about resigned myself to eBay when I happily ran across this copy in the wild a few months ago. Both Miracle Monday and the novel which preceded it (Superman: The Last Son of Krypton) have a reputation among fans of Superman as being a great representation of the character. When Superman fans discuss the BEST Superman stories ever told, Last Son/Miracle Monday regularly make many people’s list. High praise indeed for a character who usually appears in a visual medium; I wanted to check them out for myself.

I should also mention, although both books use Christopher Reeve’s image on their covers, neither Last Son of Krypton or Miracle Monday are novelizations of the films. These are brand new stories written by Maggin which use the Superman mythos in new an interesting ways.

The titular “Miracle Monday” is revealed to be a holiday regularly celebrated in 2857 as a day of great joy amongst humanity, although the origins of the celebration have, at that date far in the future, been forgotton. A time traveler from the future named Kristin Wells has come back to this era to learn the origins of Miracle Monday. This puts her into contact with Superman and his extended supporting cast of friends and enemies. As that drama is unfolding, Superman is being challenged by none other than Satan (here called Samael), who dispatches C.W. Saturn, one of his foremost demons, to demoralize and destroy the Man of Steel.

One of the things I quite enjoyed about Miracle Monday is the way Maggin tackles the conundrum of Superman’s secret identity. It’s a question many have pondered over the years: Is Superman the real guy… or is it Clark Kent acting as Superman? For much of my fan life, DC Comics made the decision that Superman was Clark Kent. If you woke this character up in the middle of the night without warning and said “WHAT’S YOUR NAME?” he’d say “I’m Clark Kent!” not “I’m Superman!”

That’s certainly one way to go with the character. Clark Kent grounds Superman and provides some relatable storytelling options. I enjoyed reading a lot of those comics… but for me, that choice rings false. It’s a bad choice because yes, Clark Kent is the human part of Superman… but Superman is NOT human. That’s an important distinction about the character because it’s a choice. Superman chooses to be human, he chooses to be Clark Kent. He doesn’t have to be Clark Kent, but he wants to be. He lives in the trenches with the rest of humanity… even though he’s much greater than all that.

I’ve always been more comfortable with the idea of Superman being the real guy and Clark Kent being the mask, the disguise. That’s the Superman Maggin’s writing here and it’s a beautiful thing. Early in the book, he confronts this idea directly by having Pa Kent dream about a despotic Superboy gradually coming to use his power to rule the Earth in any way he chooses. Later, there are lovely passages wherein Maggin has Superman detail just how much he loves Clark Kent and how hard he works on making the Kent identity believable. Check this passage out to see what I mean:

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The novel continues to approach the concept of secret identity in interesting ways, but revealing those aspects would put us solidly in spoiler territory, so I’ll abstain. Suffice to say, Maggin does good work with the title character and pokes him in new directions vis a vis his dual nature.

Maggin doesn’t skimp on the supporting cast either, crafting both Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen as living, breathing people rather than props. My favorite take on Lois in this book happens when Lois is having a telephone conversation with her new friend Lena Thorul. Lois constantly seems on the verge of getting sidetracked from the story she’s telling Lena, and Lena keeps having to focus her. It’s a great scene showing how much is running through Lois’ mind and instantly colors the character for readers.

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Some parts of Miracle Monday just put a smile on my face. The idea of Superman and Ray Bradbury being friends, the idea of Supes and Ray going to Disneyland and hanging out with Walt Disney…. this is a fantastic conceit, even if it’s just a small plot cul-de-sac that doesn’t directly affect the main narrative. In fact, unnecessary but illuminating details like these are Maggin’s speciality throughout the novel. An early reference to C.W. Saturn (the main antagonist of Miracle Monday) having once lost in a battle to Daniel Webster is another fun aside that deepens the story considerably without advancing it significantly.

I wasn’t totally thrilled with the last DC Comics Universe novel I read by Maggin, but that was more an adaptation than an original creation. Clearly Maggin has an expert handle on The Man of Steel; Miracle Monday more than earned its’ reputation in my opinion. It’s a fantastic book.

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