I'm not talking about novelizations of Kingdom Come or The Dark Knight Returns, or collections of commentaries about comics, but actual prose books featuring original superheroes written by non-comic book writers.
Of late, as I have been helping my wife complete work on her first book (which is now available via Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon), I have found myself delving into the world of self published novels which in turn has led me to discover a new wave of fiction featuring other peoples superheroes. (Some of which are pretty good, but more on that next week.)
I think there is a tendency among comic book readers to think of COMIC BOOKS to be the real source of super heroic stories and any BOOK featuring superheroes will be either too derivative or one dimensional to be given any serious thought. (At least that seems to be the impression I have gotten when discussing the topic with other comic book readers.)
What I think is a bit ironic about that notion is that in many ways, the reverse is true. First, many people feel the inspiration for modern heroes started with some of the early heroic fiction of the 1930's. Among the first and most cited is Phillip Wylie's Gladiator novel.
Gladiator presents the adventures of Hugo Danner, a man whose scientist father developed a serum that gave young Hugo the proportionate strength of a ant (sound familiar?), the ability to leap like a grasshopper, superhuman strength, speed and bulletproof skin.
Because of the era it was written, the story will probably be a bit off putting to modern comic fans, but has a lot of interesting ideas in it. In fact, while no direct evidence has ever been presented, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that this book was the inspiration for Superman.
A more famous inspiration for the superhero genre would have to be Doc Savage.
True, Doc didn't fire lasers from his eyes or have bulletproof skin, but it's easy to see how this man of tomorrow inspired the modern day hero, especially those of the Batman ilk.
Filled with some highly imaginative ideas, the Doc Savage series was quite popular during the 30's and 40's but sort of faded out during the 50's. In the 60's the series found a new market of readers when Bantam book reprinted the series with cover artwork by James Bama.
Of late, noted Doc historian and co-creator of The Destroyer series Will Murray has written new stories with Doc featuring concepts with more big-screen appeal like this one featuring Doc Savage on Skull Island
Within more recent history, George R.R. Martin (of Game of Thrones fame) edited a series of shared world anthologies featuring non-comic superheroes under the Wild Cards banner.
The Wild Cards series features a rather ingenious framework for a superhero world (heroes, villains and mutates are the rare survivors of a deadly alien virus) with such notable contributors as George R.R. Martin, Roger Zelazny, Lewis Shriner, Melinda Snodgrass, John Miller.
The first book starts in the 1940's and follows the world of heroes through the Red Scare 50's, Vietnam era 60's and 70's and ends in the modern era. Subsequent novels have all taken place in the modern era, with some spotlighting different areas of the globe.
Because of its modern take on the superhero genre against a historical backdrop, people have often compared Wild Cards to Watchmen (and while there are a number of shared ideas, but I think that is just zeitgeistian coincidence.) I tend to see Watchmen as a very deliberate story with many set goals while the Wild Card series is a more random exploration of the superhero genre with vetted science fiction writers extending Stan Lee's concept of real world superheroes to the next level.
The series started in 1985 and has continued over the years at different publishers and was even adapted into a
The most current volume being Fort Freak which came out in 2011 As of 2011, there was talk that Universal Pictures would make a movie out of the series through their partnership with SyFy.
The most important thing about the Wild Cards series is that it successfully delivers on the promise of richer, deeper stories in a superhero setting. Writers are allowed to develop ideas with more complexity, verisimilitude, thematic depth and stylistic nuance than one would ever see in a comic from the big two.
Sadly, even though Wild Cards paved the way for a new era of Superhero fiction, no one seemed interested in traveling down that road.
Until recently. But that will be the subject of next weeks post. ;)
*Thanks to Trey Causey for the correction on today's post. - JS