Thursday, December 30, 2010
Episode #152: Happy Birthday, Elliot S! Maggin!
Elliot S! Maggin was born November 14, 1950, (which happens to have been my maternal grandfather's birthday back in 1910) in Brooklyn New York. He wrote comic books in the 1970's and 1980's. He mostly wrote for DC Comics, and the majority of his comic book stories featured Superman. The reason his middle initial has an exclamation mark after it is that Maggin has said that comic book sentences don't have periods. He signed his name on a story credit with an exclamation mark, and then editor Julius Schwartz declared taht his name would afterward always appear in the story credits as Elliot S! Maggin.
His writing career began around the age of 16 or 17, when he had a short story published in a Canadian Boy Scout magazine. He graduated as Valedictorian from Brandeis University in 1972 with a degree in American Studies, and from Graduate School at Columbia University in 1974 in Journalism. Maggin's Junior finals honors thesis in the American Studies Department involved Superman and Green Lantern.
Another term paper became his first published comic book story, which featured Green Arrow, What Can One Man Do?. He got a B+ on the paper, but thought he deserved an A. He sent it to DC Comics and it got published. It appeared in Green Lantern / Green Arrow #87, December/January 1971, published on October 21, 1971. It was the second story of the issue, and has been reprinted in Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection vol. II, Green Lantern/Green Arrow Collection hardcover and Green Lantern/Green Arrow vol. II.
About this story, editor Julius Schwartz said:
"In all my years as a comic book editor, I have never come across a 'first time' script that came within a light year of equaling Elliot S! Maggin's 'first time' comic book script. Indeed, to equalize this thrilling experience, I must go back to the early '40's when, as a literary agent, I sold the very first story of a young Ray Bradbury."
Ray Bradbury is the first science fiction writer I ever read, and got me hooked on the genre.
Elliot's next purblished comic book story was the classic Superman tale, Must There Be A Superman?, from Superman #247, January 1972, published on November 11, 1971. The penciller was Curt Swan and the inker was Murphy Anderson. It has been reprinted in The Greatest Superman Stories Ever Told, Superman In The Seventies, Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told vol. I and Green Lantern: In Brightest Day.
Maggin began writing for the Superman books soon after an editorial change with the Superman titles. Mort Weisinger retired in 1970, and the Superman books were split up among three editors. Julius Schwartz took over Superman and World's Finest Comics. Murray Boltinoff became editor of Action Comics, Superboy and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen. E. Nelson Bridwell became editor of Superman's Girl Friend Lois Lane.
Julius Schwartz was not familiar with Superman. He had been the editor of DC's science fiction titles, and of the Batman books since the mid- 1960's. Julie, as he was called, gave the Man of Steel to his best talent and let them show him what they could do with him. His top writer at the time was Deny O'Neil, who had problems relating to a character as powerful as Superman. O'Neil preferred more street level characters as Batman or The Question. He still wrote one of the classic Superman stories, Kryptonite Nevermore!
Len Wein also wrote some Superman stories, even introducing us to Clark Kent's neighbors in his apartment building.
Comic book writers Elliot S! Maggin and Cary Bates had the most enthusiasm writing for Superman. Elliot was not intimidated by the Man of Steel's powers, but concentrated on stories that explored moral dilemmas, questions of right and wrong. Maggin considered Julius Schwartz as one of his mentors. Elliot and Cary Bates did collaborate on a number of Superman stories. Bates concentrated on the plot, while Maggin wrote the dialogue.
Early in Elliot's comic book career, Gerry Conway killed off Gwen Stacey in The Amazing Spider-Man. Elliot decided he wanted to kill Lois Lane in the Superman titles, which didn't thrill his editors. After he had a dream about Lois, Elliot decided he wanted to get Lois and Superman hitched. That didn't go over well with his editors either. Maggin couldn't win either way, but in the second instance he turned out to be ahead of his time.
Elliot has catagorized himself as a non-practicing Orthodox Jew. But he did enjoy giving the comic book characters he wrote stories with a religious preference. Their religion may have never become a part of a story, but it did help Maggin to flesh out his characters. He felt that Jimmy was a Lutheran, Lois a Catholic, Perry White a Baptist, Lex Luthor a non-observant Jew, Bruce Wayne/Batman an Episcopalian, Clark Kent and his parents as Methodists. While he never bought into Superman's slogan, "Great Rao", Elliot did consider Superman as believing in a Kryptonian version of a monotheistic philosophy.
As he continued to write for Superman, Elliot's version moved closer to the classic Siegel and Shuster version. He saw Superman as more of an American icon than an action hero, personifying the best of patriotic and humanitarian values. Maggin came to see that every successful Superman story uplifted both the character of Superman and the reader.
Elliot loved working with classic Superman penciller Curt Swan, and his favorite comic book artist he worked with was Alex Toth. That was on the story Villain, Villain, Who's Got The Villain?, the main story of Superman Annual #9, 1983.
One of the stories they collaborated on was Who Took The Super Out Of Superman?, which was one of the rare multi-issue storylines of the era, covering Superman issues 296 - 299, pencilled by Curt Swan and inked by Bob Oksner. Superman discovered that his powers disappeared when he would appear in public as Clark Kent, and was vulnerable. When he appeared to the public as the Man of Steel his powers were normal. He began to wonder if Earth really needed protecting 24/7. He also began to think about if he would ever have to choose between his life as Superman or as Clark Kent. So he began to explore his life as Clark Kent. Clark became more assertive, even standing up to the obnoxious Steve Lombard.
Kent also explored his relationship with Lois Lane hot and heavy. There was even a famous scene that garnered news coverage, which caused readers to wonder if Clark and Lois spent the night together. The next day, as Lois placed a flower on Clark's desk at the Daily Planet, she wore the same dress she had worn the previous day at work. Editors changed one line of dialogue in that panel, and had Steve Lombard say, "New getup, Lois?" The original line, as written by Elliot, was, "Same dress as yesterday, Lois?"
Elliot and Cary also worked together on Superman 2001, which appeared in Superman #300, which was the subject of episode #24. This story was a retelling of Superman's origin, as if he came to Earth the year that issue was published. It was reprinted in Superman: Past & Future, which collected Superman's best time travel stories.
Maggin had a large part to play with Superman #400, October 1984, published on July 12, 1984. It contained 64 pages for the cover price of $1.50. Julius Schwartz was the editor, but his wife was very ill during the production of this issue. Elliot wrote the story, The Living Legends Of Superman, which was reprinted in Superman: The Greatest Stories Ever Told, vol. II. The sotry explored how different people saw Superman in future decades and centuries.
Al Williamson, the subject of episode #131, drew the story, Doc Homer's Superman Nectar, which was about a salesman hawking a "medicinal cure" telling a story of an old and bearded Superman saving a space pilot.
Frank Miller drew The Legend Of Earth Prime, about how the true nature of Superman's secret identity is discovered in the future.
Penciller Marshall Rogers and inker Terry Austin drew the story Resistance, about a future homeless man who discovered Superman's ancient uniform and inspired the populace to rebel a tyrannical government.
Wendy Pini drew Our Greatest Treasure, about a future college class debating the true nature of Superman, if he was real or a legend that began as an early computer game.
Last Son Of Krypton, drawn by Mike Kaluta, told the story about two teen movie goers who become part of a Superman movie, playing the Man of Steel and Jimmy Olsen.
Mike Kaluta drew Miracle Monday, about a future holiday, similar to Thanksgiving or Passover, but honoring Superman. The tradition is to leave a place at the dinner table for the Man of Steel.
Jim Steranko wrote and drew the second story of the issue, The Exile, which told the story of how the legend of Superman inspired humanity to spread throughout the stars in the distant future. Steranko even called Elliot and read the entire story to him on the phone to see if he got it right. Of course, Elliot thought he did, and so did I when I read it.
One of my favorite Elliot S! Maggin stories was The Einstein Connection, from Superman #416, February 1986, published on November 14, 1985. I previously talked about this story as one of my favorite Superman stories in episode #1. To summarize, Lex Luthor would often escape from prison on March 14. When Superman would recapture Lex on these dates, he found Lex doing some unusual things for a prison escapee. One time Luthor approached the New Jersey shore on a small motorboat. Another time Lex ordered an unnamed person's favorite flavor at an ice cream parlor, then working at a European patent office. Eventually Sueprman put together the clues from over the years. When he captured Luthor once again, he took a short detour and took Lex to the Einstein statue that commemorated the physicists' 100th birthday. With a tear in his eye, Lex said, "Happy birthday, Sir." Then Superman returned Lex to prison.
Elliot wrote just under 200 stories for DC Comics, from 1971 - 1986, and periodically from 1989 - 1992. He also served as an editor for DC from 1989 - 1991, for 71 issues of DC's various fantasy titles, such as Dungeons & Dragons, Forgotten Realms and Spelljammer. He also edited eight issues of the more traditional super hero title Challengers Of The Unknown.
Maggin also wrote two Superman related novels. Superman: Last Son Of Krypton (1978). It told the story of Superman's life from Krypton to Smallville and then Metropolis. He and Luthor had to team up to defeat a mysterious alien. Superman: Miracle Monday (1981) told the story of Superman battling an entity of pure evil who wanted to unleash universal chaos. The book introduced time traveler Kristin Wells, who would become Superwoman, and later become a supporting character in the Superman titles. The book introduced the holiday Miracle Monday, which occurs on the third Monday in May. Be sure to mark your calendar.
Elliot wrote scripts for superhero animated series, X-Men and Batman: The Animated Series (1992) and Spider-Man (1994)
He also wrote novelizations of twho comic book series, Generation X (1997), co-written by Scott Lobdell, and Kingdom Come (1999), adapting the comic book mini-series created by writer Mark Waid and artist Alex Ross.
Maggin ran for public office twice, losing both times. The first time was for New Hampshire's 2nd Congressional District in 1984. In 207 he announced his candidacy for California's 24th Congressional District. He pulled out of the race in early 2008.
After his comic book career, Elliot held a variety of jobs, including teaching and freelance writing. Currently, Maggin is a developmental learning consultant with Kaiser Permanente, a managed care consortium.
To read more about Elliot S! Maggin online, as well as some of his best Superman stories, go to http://superman.nu/esm/maggin.php.
Next Episode: Superman: The Triangle Years!
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