Superheroes have a long and interesting history, but for me, they started when I was a kid. Some of my earliest reading memories are tied to the pages of comic books and the exploits of costumed superheroes. I was a huge fan of Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, the Flash and the entire Justice League. (I mostly gravitated towards DC Comics in those days while my brother was a Marvel fan.) I was also a fan of Batman and The Adventures of Superman, which aired daily in television reruns.
As much as superheroes were a part of my entertainment consumption back then, that was just a small taste of how superheroes would pervade our culture in the decades since. Not only are comic books still going strong with DC, Marvel and dozens of other publishers, too...but there's even an abundance of costumed heroes and villains on television, like Supergirl, Flash, Gotham, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Theaters, too, are overflowing with superhero movies. Marvel Studios (Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, Deadpool 2) is pumping out films faster than I can keep up with. Even family fare like The Incredibles is still a big deal. There's no escaping it: superheroes are a significant part of our culture.
Low Chicago edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda M. Snodgrass and Knaves Over Queens edited by George R. R. Martin
Back in 1987, a bunch of writers playing a superhero-themed role-playing game came up with the idea of creating a shared world of stories in which multiple authors could contribute. The gamemaster, George R. R. Martin, served as the editor of the first Wild Cards book, a series that continues to this day, co-edited with Melinda M. Snodgrass, one of the original RPG players. The setting of Wild Cards is an alternate history that diverged from ours in 1946, when an airborne alien virus is released over the skies New York City. The virus, which kills 90% of the world's population, rewrites the DNA of the remaining 10% of its victims, affecting them in various random ways. Nine of every ten survivor is a "Joker," who develop minor or crippling physical conditions. One out of every ten develops superhuman abilities and is an "Ace." The shared world of Wild Cards has resulted in two dozen books so far, some of which are anthologies and some of which are mosaic novels. It's even been optioned for a television series.
Two recent Wild Cards novels are sure to satisfy your summer reading hunger while introducing you to a whole new cast of interesting heroes and villains. First, there's Low Chicago edited by Martin and Snodgrass. In this time-hopping adventure, a superpowered mishap sends high-profile criminals from gangster-era Chicago to points in the past. Their various schemes across time threaten the stability of the entire world. Low Chicago features stories by Saladin Ahmed, Anne Mohanraj and Marko Kloos, among others. Next is Knaves Over Queens (edited by Martin), which shows what happened when the alien virus reached Britain. Here, the Queen forms the Order of the Silver Helix, an organization of heroic Aces out to defend the United Kingdom from the effects of the virus' evil mutations. Knaves Over Queens features stories by Charles Stross, Emma Newman, Caroline Spector and more.
Heroine's Journey by Sarah Kuhn
In the third installment of the Heroine Complex series (after Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship), Asian-American superheroines Evie Tanaka and Aveda Jupiter are once again called upon to protect a demon-infested San Francisco. Well, not at first. Things have been quiet around town since their last adventure, which is making Aveda restless for some action. Evie and Aveda have an interesting history together, rooted in the fact that Evie was only recently Aveda's non-superpowered assistant. Since then, Evie discovered she has super powers. Their relationship has gotten a bit more complicated on both the professional and personal fronts. In the wake of Aveda's rough patch with her longtime boyfriend, Evie gets engaged and makes Aveda her maid-of-honor. But duty calls when a new supernatural threat rears its ugly head and targets brides-to-be.
Rise of the Superheroes: Greatest Silver Age Comic Books and Characters by David Tosh
This non-fiction book is a heartfelt look back at the Silver Age of Comic Books (roughly between 1956 and 1970) by a lifelong fan. Tosh begins his stroll down memory lane with a brief history of comics and the "calm before the storm," that lull of comic book popularity after World War II, that preceded the boom that initiated the Silver Age. He then walks through the years of the Silver Age, citing significant comics and events. As if that weren't enough to trigger nostalgia for those who read those comics, the book is also packed with images of many, many classic comic book covers. Tosh covers both DC and Marvel comics, but there are mentions of other comics as well, and also of the comics' creators. Also included are are interesting sidebars, like listings of pop culture events of the era and how The Big Bang Theory pays homage to Sheldon Cooper's favorite hero, the Flash. All of this makes for a fun bit of reading and remembering the comics of my childhood.