Last time we looked at superhero fiction in pre-existing universes and shared worlds. This week, we look at original superhero fiction.
Read our interview with Lev Grossman on The Magician King.
Up, Up and Away!
The literary superhero scene, though fun, would be routine if it only played with pre-existing heroes. It doesn't take Lois Lane to know the real scoop is original superhero fiction. There are several books that offer a fresh take on the superhero theme.
Consider From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust, a stylishly written story posing as a superhero self-help book; or the action packed novel Devil's Cape by Rob Rogers, which puts a Southern-gothic spin on superheroes. The Damned Busters by Mathew Hughes bends the superheroes theme toward the supernatural and throws in humor for good measure. Not really a superhero novel, per se, but tangentially of interest, is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, an imaginative and human story about the relationship between two Jewish cousins in New York City during World War II.
Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible pits a realistically drawn team of superheroes against an evil scientists bent on world domination, an oldie but a goodie of a trope. Superpowers by David J. Schwartz is about five college students who gain powers and fight crime. The Sentinels series by Van Allen Plexico (comprised of six novels beginning with When Strikes the Warlord) follows a group of paranormal agents as they battle supervillains.
Holy Reading List, Batman!
Not all superhero stories are cut and dry. In Playing For Keeps, Mur Lafferty posits a so-called Third Wave of superheroes who get stuck with leftover superpowers not already claimed by the egotistical First Wavers, and get a chance to prove their worth. James Maxey turns conventional comic book tropes on their heads with Nobody Gets the Girl, in which the protagonist finds himself, through a time travel mix-up, in a world in which he doesn't exist. Nobody can see him except Dr. Know who enlists him to fight alongside superheroines. And Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age, as the title suggests, is an homage to the superheroes of yesteryear. Protagonist Celia West is an accountant, not a superhero herself, but she has superhero parents. Celia's help is required in a tax evasion case against the supervillain for whom she was a sidekick during her younger, rebellious years.
Batman didn't have superpowers and neither does the Ghost, the protagonist of George Mann's retro-superhero novels Ghosts of Manhattan and Ghosts of War. The Ghost fights crime in an alternate 1940s New York City where steam power, not electricity, was the predominate technology. Speaking of steampunk, Andrew P. Mayer's The Falling Machine is a 19th-century steampunk take on superhero teams. Here, the so called Society of Steam aims to stop the dastardly deeds of a megalomaniacal murderer loose in this atmospheric Victorian New York. And speaking of retro, Adam Christopher picks up that torch with his forthcoming superhero novels, Empire State, prohibition superhero noir, and Seven Wonders, a modern-day Silver Age superhero homage.
Just in case you think adults are stealing all the superhero goodness for themselves, there's Mike Lupica's young adult novel Hero, in which young Billy Harriman investigates his father's murder and, in the course of doing so, discovers that his old man had superpowers and that he has inherited them. In Matthew Cody's Powerless, a young boy moves into a neighborhood of young superheroes. The catch? They lose their powers, and all memories of having them, when they turn 13.
Readers of short fiction can get their superhero fix, too. Superheroes edited by John Varley and Ricia Mainhardt offers 25 superhero stories that run the gamut from adventurous to satirical to dark. More recently, Lou Anders fights for truth, justice and the short story with his anthology Masked.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews.