And is it any wonder? Geek websites and newscasts are ablaze with the news of upcoming events happening in the film and television media. Marvel Studios has announced their lineup of superhero films for the next five years. (More Captain America! Doctor Strange! More Guardians of the Galaxy! More Thor! Black Panther! Captain Marvel! More Avengers!) Fox Studios, through a bizarre turn of legal ownership, has announced their roster of upcoming films based on Marvel superheroes. (The Wolverine! Fantastic Four!) Warner Bros., who holds the rights to DC Comics properties, has also unleashed their 10-film slate of films. (Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice! Suicide Squad! Wonder Woman! Justice League! Aquaman! Shazam!) On the television screen, viewers can revel in the live-action adventures of Green Arrow (in Arrow), The Flash, and (one of the strongest of the current superhero shows) Gotham, which depicts the goings-on in Gotham City before there was a Batman. In short: We are not experiencing the death of superhero stories, we are in the midst of a population explosion.
And so it is with literary fiction. Although they lack the visual storytelling medium shared by comics, films and television, novels can and do provide stories that are often more detailed and deeper in meaning. There's more room for these stories to flex their literary muscles.
Case in point: the following recent releases of superhero fiction, although you may not recognize them as such by their titles or covers.
The Heart Does Not Grow Back by Fred Venturini
Fred Venturini's debut novel The Heart Does Not Grow Back is a literary tour de force that defies the expected conventions of superhero fiction. It starts with the teenage years of its main protagonist, Dale Sampson, a bright and nerdy high-school misfit who lacks the social skills to fit it. Oh, and he has the supernatural ability to regenerate his organs and limbs. This does not seem to cure him of his terminal loneliness, though. Although he does manage to befriend a popular jock, he totally blows it with Regina, the girl he secretly pines for. A catastrophic accident with tragic consequences soon changes all their lives forever. Cut to years later, when Dale runs into Regina's twin sister, the wife of an abusive husband—a situation that prompts Dale to use his ability to help others. His "Hero's Journey" is anything but conventional—taking him from the limelight of reality TV to the dark world of government agencies and organ harvesting. The result is a novel that's unique, darkly comic, tragic and thoroughly engrossing.
Lowball edited by George R. R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass
Years ago, George R.R. Martin launched a shared alternate world universe called Wild Cards, in which an alien virus was unleased into New York City shortly after World War II, killing most the world's population, but mutating the survivors. This essentially created a world of superheroes and super villains, which is a fantastic launch point for a huge number of stories than have since spanned about two dozen novels and anthologies. Being a shared universe, multiple authors get to play in this superhero sandbox and readers get multiple perspectives into this imagination-rich setting. Lowball is the latest release in the Wild Cards universe. It's a mosaic novel, which means there's one story arc being handled by multiple authors. The story in Lowballis about a series of kidnappings happening around the city, and the authors making it spring to life include Michael Cassatt, David Anthony Durham, Melinda M. Snodgrass, Mary Anne Mohanraj, David D. Levine, Walter Jon Williams, Carrie Vaughn and Ian Tregillis. It promises to be a wild ride.
Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
Though they may be super, superheroes are still human. That's the prevailing thought that permeates Carrie Vaughn's superhero novel Dreams of the Golden Age, the follow-up novel to the wonderfully human and realistic After the Golden Age. In the first book, a woman named Celia had to cope with being the unsuper daughter of two famously superhero parents (who together were part of a superhero team known as the Olympiad). In this down-to-earth sequel, Celia's daughter Anna has problems of her own that she must deal with. First and foremost is her unending lack of privacy—thanks, Grandma and Grandpa!—a situation that makes it all the more difficult to hide her secret: Unlike her mother, Anna does have superpowers. But she's not the only one. It turns out that several of Anna's friends and classmates also have superhuman abilities. For better or worse, they've been meeting in secret to train together, honing their skills to prepare themselves for becoming the next generation of Commerce City's masked vigilantes. Which leaves one to wonder: Can they handle the great responsibility that comes with great power?
Superpow edited by KV Taylor
Readers of this column know how much of a short fiction fan I am. To that end, I would be remiss if I didn't include at least one recent anthology with stories around the superhero theme. That anthology is Superpow edited by KV Taylor. It puts a superhero spin on classic pulp fiction in stories by William Vitka, Corinne Duyvis, Fox Lee, Edward Morris, Alexandra Seidel, Alan Baxter, John Medaille, Milo James Fowler, Louise Bohmer and Jocelyn Adams. This has all the ingredients of a retro-rollicking good time.
Superheroes Anonymous by Lexie Dunne
Here's a story about a victim who becomes a superhero herself. Gail Godwin is an editorial assistant who becomes the captive of a supervillain and is recused by the superhero known as Blaze. Then Gail is captured again. And again. She eventually becomes known as Hostage Girl. But when she is captured by a mad scientist. She gains powers of her own and transforms from victim into superhero. She is drawn into the underground world of superheroes and must come to terms with her newfound destiny.