Having just finished a book I am feeling empowered. And not a comic book, but a ‘real’ book. (Don’t you hate that term, by the way? Another column, I suppose.) The books, Masked, is an anthology of superhero short stories, and I enjoyed it enough to want to use my bully pulpit to talk about it, as well as other superheroic prose I’ve read over the years.
The way I see it there are three broad categories of superhero prose: adaptation of a storyline from comics, movie adaptation, and original content. I’ll give my 2 cents on each, but I’m sure my limited purview will be supplemented in the comments.
Adaptation of a Storyline from Comics
This is probably the type of superhero prose I have the most of experience with. My first foray was the novel The Death and Life of Superman by Roger Stern, which was released right around, if not shortly after, the actual story appeared in the comics. I’m pretty sure I read this before reading the actual comics. I remember enjoying it enough that I was willing to try other adapations like…
The Return of the Sinister Six and The Revenge of the Sinister Six each adapting a Spider-Man arc where he, you guessed it, fights the Sinister Six. These were given to me as gifts in giant hardcover format. I read them eagerly and found, to my dismay, that they were not as good. The author just threw everything into each book, even the subplots that weren’t actually resolved in that book. Maybe as a comic reader I should be OK with being left hanging, even by a novel adaptation, but the sub plot felt so distinct from the actual story of the book and its lack of conclusion left me feeling burned. Couple this with the subpar writing, like how in almost every fight scene a comparison was made between Spidey and Olympic athletes, my second prose attempt was met with failure.
Since then I more or less avoided novels based on storylines I could read as comics. Comics are usually a quicker read, more visually stimulating, and deliver the story as originally intended. IAt some point I picked up a Wolverine novel whose name I can’t remember (I have yet to actually finishing unpacking all those books I wrote about a few weeks ago) as well as a Green Lantern novel about the origin of Kyle Rainer (it was on sale). They were both fine. I’m not sure I’m even looking for recommendations for more of these types of books, but I’m sure there are some gems out there to be had for the tenacious reader.
We now live in a world where there are close to a half dozen superhero movies every year, but there was a time when that wasn’t the case. X-Men was good and had done well. Now, a major studio was going to take on… Spider-Man. To say I was excited would be a massive understatement. And in that excitement I bought the novelized adaptation of the movie BEFORE THE MOVIE EVEN CAME OUT. And I read it cover to cover before even having the chance to go to the theater. While heading into the theater with one group of friends, another was on their way out. They were leaving Spider-Man and in my excitement I quoted a line I had really liked from the book. Silence. OK, so maybe it just wasn’t that funny? We then saw the movie, and the line wasn’t in there. The book had lied to me and made me look foolish. Never again, movie adaptation. Never again.
I’ve been wracking my brain and so far the only OG superhero prose I’ve read is the Masked book I just finished. It was really damn good and has left me feeling like I ought to have read more of this stuff but for the life of me I don’t think that I have. Do these books even exist?
I’ve talked lovingly about It’s Superman before, which is original even if based on an iconic comics character. There’s the just released A Once Crowded Sky which might also fit the bill. But it seems by and large that this fertile ground is depauperate of content. Greg Rucka pushed the boundaries by offering story arcs of Queen and Country in novel form, and while I devoured the comic once I hit the point where I needed to pick up a novel I just…stopped. Bill Willingham has also extended the Fables universe in prose form with Peter & Max, which I quite enjoyed and do recommend, even if he did manage to sneak a few pretty pictures in there. And Robert Kirkman co-wrote a Rise of the Governor novel, but again, as much as I love The Walking Dead I just didn’t have the drive to get that book. The more I write the more I worry I might be a hypocrite, so let’s change the subject.
So how cool would it be to have a series of novellas about a superhero or team that came out once every quarter or so? I’m sure it wouldn’t sell very well, but it would be cool! A lot of my above examples are expanding out from a preexisting comic world, whereas I’m thinking about a book that was only ever prose but still an ongoing superhero story. I’m sure someone has something locked away in their brain, but will it ever get let out? Would you read it if it did?
I think after writing this I will go pick up a few of those books I mentioned but hadn’t read. I am excited by exploring this other facet to superhero stories, and I think I should see where that interest takes me. What about you? You ever read a superhero novel? Glad you did? Do you think that if we can’t see the bright and shiny costumes on the page then there’s no point? Let’s hash it out in the comments!