BOOK REVIEW: Man of Steel by Greg Cox

Man of Steel: The Official Movie NovelizationMan of Steel: The Official Movie Novelization by Greg Cox

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Amazon page

This is the first novelization of a movie I’ve reviewed. In fact, I haven’t even seen the movie yet. However, from the trailers I can see a little of how the book describes the events of the movie. In the afterword the author, Greg Cox, indicated that he hadn’t yet seen the completed movie. (Not surprisingly, considering the desire to get the book out in time.) He presumably worked mostly from the screenplay, and perhaps some unedited scenes from the movie. At any rate, unlike a movie adaptation of a novel, one expects a novelization to be spot on with the movie’s story.

As I’ve said in other posts, it’s hard to do Superman really well. Stories are all about tension, and it’s hard to build tension if your hero is indestructible and has god-like powers. [The sequel is supposedly Batman v. Superman, and one has to wonder how this can be done well. Batman is formidable, but the Joker sometimes gets the best of him, and the Joker is no Superman.] At any rate, I think this rendition does a better job than most, and vastly better than the epicly-awful 2006 Superman Returns.

The story begins on a dying planet Krypton as a coup led by General Zod takes place. Both Jor-El (Superman’s father) and Zod believe the planet is dying, and that urgent steps need to be taken to save the Kryptonian race. However, they differ vastly on how to go about saving the race. Zod believes in saving certain blood lines, and Jor-El believes in a much more balanced and progressive approach.

When we are introduced to Clark Kent/Kal-El/Superman, he is a young man who is living a secret life. He engages in episodes of heroic derring-do, but has not yet donned the costume and is forced to move nomadically from one dead-end job to the next as his powers are revealed. There are also many flashbacks to cue us in to his troubles and dilemmas as a child.

Shortly after Kent realizes who he is and gets some Kryptonian backstory, Zod and his band of zealots shows up–newly escaped from the phantom zone. The climax and resolution of the movie involve Superman’s battles with Zod and the General’s fierce underlings–with a love interest subplot between Lois Lane and Superman.

What this story does right is to introduce a strong foe for Superman to battle. Not only does Zod have a numerical advantage, he is a life-long warrior and is thus more experienced. Zod’s second-in-command, Faora Hu-ul, is a worthy adversary in her own right. This is not Superman versus a green, glowing rock.

The challenge of this type of story (as with movies like The Avengers) is that, having set up an “immovable object meets irresistible force” scenario, it’s extremely hard to resolve the tension in a manner that is both logically and emotionally satisfying. While I have criticized movies for this, if the visuals are impressive enough it seems to work with viewers. It works because it creates enough emotional satisfaction for one to suspend concern about whether the resolution makes any sense based upon what is known from earlier in the story. It’s harder to reliably do this in writing. Therefore, you may find the ending a bit flat after an intriguing build up.

I doubt it’s worth reading the novelization and seeing the movie, except if one is interested in how one’s internal view of it matches with the movie (in which case one should avoid the trailers and read the novelization first.)

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For those who do want to view the trailer.