Superheroes Invade Prose Fiction

The newest trend in pop fiction, superpowered heroes, is ready to explode and go toe-to-toe with the vampires, zombies, apocalyptic epics, and wizard/witch kids who have staked vast stretches of territory on bestseller bookshelves.

Superheroes have been mainstays in comic books since the 1930s and have reached success in other media, such as television, movies, vdeogames, and even music, but now they are making a big splash in prose fiction books. 

There have been superhero novels in the past, such as Gladiator by Philip Gordon Wylie and Superfolks by Robert Mayer, but suddenly we are witnessing a surge in prose fiction tales that have until now been the domain of comics and blockbuster film.

Here are some of the ones that are worth a read:

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon.  This award-winning fictional account of Depression-era young friends who invent a comic book superhero named the Escapist (inspired by the story of the creation of Superman) is a modern-day masterpiece.

Wild Cards edited by George R.R. Martin.  Started in the 1980s, this series of stories is set in a world of superheroes, written by different authors.  Allegedly, the original stories were inspired by characters from a superhero-themed roleplaying game that the writers played.  One of the most recent volumes was a big success, Inside Straight, followed by Busted Flush and Suicide Kings.  Some of the older titles can still be found in used book stores, and the original volume is set to be re-released with bonus material.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman.  A villain named Dr. Impossible plots to destroy the world and a cyborg superheroine named Fatale has to step up to save the day when the Earth's main defender, Corefire, leader of the superhero team the Champions, is missing.  This is a fun page-turner, with some great characterization for which the prose format is perfectly suited.

The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem.  Booklist describes this brilliant novel as an exploration of "the origins of gentrification, the development of soul music, the genealogy of graffiti, the seeds of the crack epidemic," but make no mistake, it is inspired by the staples of superhero lore, as two young friends in Brooklyn find a ring that grants them the power of flight.

From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust.  A satirical self-help book for superheroes, these are the notes of a psycho-analyst whose patients include members of the superhero team the Fantastic Order of Justice, who are struggling to find their purpose in life when they have no more supervillains to combat.

I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore.  In a premise tailor-made to eventually be adapted into a movie series, this book tells the saga of superpowered aliens who come to Earth only to be hunted down and killed by another alien race. 

Masked edited by Lou Anders.  Sometimes, short stories are the greatest way to translate comic book ideas into prose fiction.  Here, a number of great writers take a stab at the genre, including one of my favorites, Bill Willingham.  Other contributors to this collection of heroic adventures include Stephen Baxter, Peter David, and more.

Who Can Save Us Now? edited by Owen King and John McNally.  Another collection of short stories, this anthology features the work of lesser-known writers, but for fans of the genre, the tales are very entertaining.

Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines.  Two trends in one -- superheroes vs. zombies!  The hero the Mighty Dragon needs to save the world from the living dead after many of his fellow caped crusaders, along with the rest of mankind, have been decimated by the plague of monsters.

Superpowers: A Novel by David J. Schwartz.  A generic tale of college students who gain superpowers and form a team called the All Stars to battle crime, it still delivers good-natured fun for the superhero fan looking for some escapism.

I'm sure there are others.  If you know of any, please share your recommendation.

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