1978 was not one of the golden years of movie novelizations. Star Wars had done very well in 1976, and the Close Encounters of the Third Kind novelization in 1977 did quite a bit toward helping people understand what the hell that movie was even about.
But the movie tie-in section at Waldenbooks was fairly grim in ’78: there was Jaws 2 and The Bad News Bears Go to Japan, and novels based on some unloved Disney films: Pete’s Dragon, Return from Witch Mountain and The Cat from Outer Space. And that was about it.
The one thing that could have perked up the publishing category that year would be the novelization of the long-awaited Superman film, but Mario Puzo screwed us on that, so we got this instead.
The Exciting Original Story of Superman: Last Son of Krypton was packaged as if it was the Superman novel, with a picture of Chris Reeve on the front, and a 16-page section of pictures from the film stuck in the middle. But this story had no relationship with the movie, except for the basic concept of starting in Krypton, having a couple chapters in Smalville, and fighting Lex Luthor.
When Godfather scribe Mario Puzo was hired to write the Superman script, his contract specified that he was the only person who could novelize the film, and if he didn’t feel like it, it wouldn’t happen. His script was basically unfilmable, and the movie ended up being a collaboration between four other writers, so Puzo had no interest in writing a book about it.
Instead, DC Comics writer Elliot S. Maggin wrote a 238-page exciting original story set in the current 1978 comics continuity, which means that a) Clark Kent works at a TV station, and b) there’s not much interest in the Superman/Lois relationship.
What it’s got instead is a slap-happy willingness to try anything; the plot involves the secret notebook of Albert Einstein, an enormous hypnotic alien jester, black holes, Xerox machines and a secret code based on the names of Moroccan coffee companies. Or something. I didn’t read it very carefully.
Still, if you’d like to skim along with me, here is The Exciting Original Story of Superman: Last Son of Krypton, heavily excerpted down to three sentences per chapter.
Chapter 1: KRYPTON
Criminals were, as a rule, a troublesome group of people.
The Science Council, along with the great majority of the Kryptonian people, had grown soft and complacent.
“You have the choice of sleeping or winding yourself into a frenzy.”
Chapter 2: THE FIDDLER
“Strain shmain. What else is there?”
“Pardon my simplicity,” the old man said, “but have I the honor of addressing God?”
He would get past the nurse today, but not to buy an ice cream cone.
Chapter 3: SMALLVILLE
The old man imagined what it would be like to have muscle tissues heaped one on top of the other and ground together as hard as the composition of matter whose subatomic particles had fallen in on each other.
It seemed amazing, as he walked onto the street with dusk beginning to fall, that he had received his mechanical visitor only about nine or ten hours earlier.
“Walking around Smallville is what I do for a living.”
Chapter 4: THE TRACTOR
Parker sat smiling in a way that nearly annoyed the urbanity out of Stone.
“Like what? Another one of your Communist plots?”
“I should have stayed to see what Hitler would do with me.”
Chapter 5: THE ANCHORMAN
“When they told me I was gonna be on the tube, I figured the chicks’d be climbing the walls like King Kong to get next to me.”
“Ah, that bald fruit’s not human.”
He made skin-tight outfits, especially in red and blue, a recurrent fashion among men.
Chapter 6: THE PENTHOUSE
This was the highest-paid staff in organized crime.
Every New Englander who lives north of Manchester, New Hampshire, knows there is a lot of flying hardware in the sky from somewhere other than here.
“What do you mean egg juice?”
Chapter 7: PRINCETON
Jimmy thought of himself as the last of the Vikings.
“Seen any eggheads around? When do they open the safe?”
Luthor tore off the fake hair as he plopped into his confederate’s car, laid the sealed document on his lap, and headed for the New Jersey Turnpike.
Chapter 8: THE POWER
Banks were thicker in midtown than Cadillacs in Teheran.
Superman caught the .22 shells in his mouth like jellybeans and spat them out at the three guy lines connecting the pilot to his kite.
“Jimmy called up from Princeton and everybody went bazonkas.”
Chapter 9: ORIC
Among those lingering a moment after the service to listen to Towbee were an arachnoid from Polaris, a tripedal from the Septus Group, even a humanoid.
Slavery, of course, was wrong.
“Terrans contend with rocks and sticks, with fossil fuels they’re in a fix.”
Chapter 10: THE MASTER
It stood to reason, then, that he who had the most possessions, since they could only be given and not bought, must be the most beloved by those with whom he comes in contact.
“You may rise up on your wheels, Carlo.”
“Trisection? But that is impossible.”
Chapter 11: THE BROADCAST
Could Olivier, Gielgud, Brando, Nicholson pull off this act as effectively?
Maybe Clark should drop-kick the building into a lunar crater.
“The momentary downpour I created was for the purpose of duplicating conditions of a thunderstorm.”
Chapter 12: THE UNVEILING
“Every law office has my voice print on file.”
Luthor obviously had B.J. by the intrigue glands.
“Napoleon did it with conquest, Supes does it with pretension, my mother did it with guilt.”
Chapter 13: THE ENTERTAINER
One day a repulsive flying lizard swooped down from the sky over Metropolis.
And in a swirl and a splash of colorful clouds Toybee leaped from the back of his whale.
Easily ten thousand people stood in Fifth Avenue, entranced.
Chapter 14: THE CROOKED PHILOLOGIST
“Like the word ‘and’ came out spelled ‘texture-consolidated-general.'”
“Does he have four arms and a mustache and speak in rhymes?”
“Who’s the best pilot not serving time?”
Chapter 15: THE CAPER
“They seem to be tacked onto the subjects of clauses like prefixes.”
Clark showed off a crude, nearly indescribable harness-and-pulley system.
Superboy equipped the building with rare chemicals and minerals.
Chapter 16: OA
Average humanoid height in the Galaxy was somewhere between two and two-and-a-half meters.
“Our wayward brother has located and induced a dream sleep upon the Earthman.”
“Have you ever tried to talk a mugger out of pursuing his vocation, Professor Gordon?”
Chapter 17: THE SOCIOLOGIST
A beam of heat vision snapped the branch of the tree and the cat fell.
Superman occasionally wondered if the only recorded incidence of Regulus-243 contamination on Earth was the death of Lot’s wife.
He glowed with life and power, and sometimes he twinkled under the sun.
Chapter 18: OLD-TIMER
“First question,” Superman’s smile asked, “are you really here or are you some kind of astral projection?”
“Was he the thief?”
He was awakened before dawn by the sound of the President of the United States brushing his remarkable collection of teeth.
Chapter 19: POCANTICO TO VEGA
“May I call you Turkey Noodle?”
“You’re telling me that this three-dimensional test pattern is your spaceship?”
“Are you telling me that Jeremy McAfee is you?”
Chapter 20: THE ARRIVALS
Four-fifths of it was liquid, primarily water and ammonia.
Cyber would have been an architect’s nightmare and a technocrat’s wet dream.
A single grain of each of a dozen spices touched to Superman’s tongue was enough.
Chapter 21: THE INTERROGATION
Even naked and imprisoned, Luthor was not to be dominated.
“When I give him something, it’s a privilege; when he gives me something, it’s a non sequitur.”
His would-be tormentors who were his companions were back again, the broom speaking.
Chapter 22: THE HOTEL
There was something like a hotel on Cyber Island.
They would all have immediately begun spewing ammonia bubbles from their feed-out orifices.
Superman didn’t stop to figure out the odds for some extraterrestrial creature’s being named Abraham Lincoln.
Chapter 23: THE SECRET
Luthor never told anyone that he took secret delight in the fact that he was born under the sign of Scorpio.
All matter was effectively the same.
This might bring him around; it would probably kill him.
Chapter 24: THE MAD DREAM
This was the day Superman was introduced to God.
He knew every cubic centimeter of his body, inside and out.
It was a man, an Earthman, also approximately.
Chapter 25: THE ATROCITY
“For a guy who once posed as a Korean guru just to attract 33,000 impressionable teenage kids to a rally in Metro Stadium and hold them for ransom…”
“Well, that only makes 399.”
“He built a time-snatcher powerful enough to manufacture duplicate planets.”
Chapter 26: COLLATE
It seemed that nowhere in the immediate Galaxy were there machines constructed which were capable of doing what Xerox machines did as efficiently as they did it.
“Are you familiar with the twenty-six brands of Moroccan coffee?”
“One guy almost as big as you, but he’s got three legs.”
Chapter 27: THIS WAY OUT
Craft were running in and out of the deck like communicable diseases.
“Listen to the pretzel-brain, he wants authorization.”
“Right. Very good. Tomorrow we learn to spell cat.”
Chapter 28: THE EDGE
John Stuart Mill read about that fast, and came close to going mad because he was incapable of turning pages quickly enough to keep up with himself.
His moss now spat out oxygen as fast as Luthor sucked it up.
“Hey, Hot Pants, I’m talking to you.”
Chapter 29: CHAOS
Every real estate office belonging to the Master filled up with life-supporting, business-stopping foam.
A new age was born here and now.
It made the rest of the trip disguised in an illusion of an infrared wave.
Chapter 30: RETRIEVAL
Luthor set about reaching a billion years into the future for a collection of Xerox-style copies of the dead husk of the planet Oric.
There were nineteen Orics in the sky, and Superman felt quite useless here.
… and the pyramid had no point.
Chapter 31: THE COINCIDENCE
“And what’s more, the whole cockamamie world is wired for sight and sound.”
“What the sizzling suns do you think you’ve been keeping me from doing all these years?”
Was the station simply running a tape of yesterday’s news for some reason?
Chapter 32: THE TAKEOVER
The twentieth floor was naked like a ghost town.
“He has four arms and a large mustache.”
He had no disguise to drop but his madness.
Chapter 33: IN MY FATHER’S EYES
The reporter flexed every boulder-shaped muscle on the surface of his body.
No one in the entire television operation had been capable of thought since Towbee’s takeover of the broadcast media.
Around him, Superman heard titters, then chuckles, then laughter, then guffaws.
Chapter 34: RESTORATION
“How should I know what I’m going to do?”
“What the flying moonballs do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m pretty much flushed with a victory over a would-be despot whose coming was apparently foretold eight billion years ago.”
Chapter 35: THE GIFT
“My role in the whole thing was just that of Superman’s tool to take the would-be conqueror off guard.”
“Jimmy Olsen, Lola Barnett and Pelé are going to judge my Bloody Mary against your mother’s wonderful soft drink.”
There it was, written in Kryptonese.
The reviews are in…
1.96: Mixed Messages
— Danny Horn