A Hidden Genre – The Superhero Novel

Crimson Son isn’t the first superhero novel out there by far. While comic book publishers such as Marvel and DC have been writing companion novels for quite sometime, it could be argued that at least the raw idea of a “superhero novel” predates the comic book format itself.

Sue Storm is merely a descendant of the Invisible Man. The Hulk? Know any other scientists that turn into foaming rage-monsters?

If you want to get all academic, superheroes are simply a modern day mythology, and the obvious cross-overs like Thor and Hercules and hundreds of other castaways-from-godhood titles, confirm this.  (Both the Invisible Man and Sue Storm owe a debt to Gyges Ring.)

But novels that use the modern-day archetype of tights-wearing, fantastical power-wielding, out-to-save-humanity superheroes as central to their plot are relatively uncommon it seems. Especially if you weed out all the DC and Marvel fiction. When I uploaded Crimson Son to Amazon, there was no category for Superhero Fiction to file it under. (There is one, but you have to wade through tech support and have them add you…)

So, if you are enjoying Crimson Son, I thought I would provide a list of  other superhero-themed novels out there that use original settings and characters to tell great, novel-worthy stories.


Devil’s Cape – Rob Rogers

I’m currently reading this one and it may be my favorite so far, though I’m going to reserve judgment until I get to the end. Rogers has created a complex and gritty setting where heroes are not immune to the full range of human experience. Pain, loss, and triumph are all somehow made more real against the highly detailed backdrop of a fictional city heavily influenced by the equally colorful and equally grungy, New Orleans. If you don’t care much for extensive character casts, this may not be for you (though it isn’t Game of Thrones by any means…)

My only complaint thus far is the way the switching from one POV to another constantly breaks up the flow. The city is also both a highlight of the novel and a distraction – I’m expecting a big pay off, some “character development” for the city in the end that will seal the deal on this being a great book. I’ll keep you posted.


sooniwillbeSoon, I will be Invincible – Austin Grossman

If you enjoyed the segways into Black Beetle’s POV sprinkled throughout Crimson Son and perhaps, wanted a bit more, then this is the book for you. Doctor Impossible is hardly as psychotic as the Beetle, but his personal story of failure at the hands of his nemeses, The Champions, is extremely entertaining. Not quite a hapless villain, Doctor Impossible doesn’t lament the fact that his dastardly plans always seem to be cut short by eleventh hour heroics. No, he just keeps scheming, and all the while trying to subconsciously wrestle with just that problem.

The view is split with Fatale, a new recruit for The Champions with a dark past. As the novel builds to a climax, we experience her all too human responses to being “the newbie” on a well-established team of super bad-asses.

While Fatale’s story was interesting, I would have been fine with Doctor Impossible being the sole POV in this book. I wanted a bit more from his awkward struggle to become the world’s worst supervillain. If the book falls flat anywhere, its that it approaches this tongue-in-cheek humor with a bit too much restraint. I kept finding myself comparing it to Doctor Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog which is a high compliment but also a difficult standard to live up to.


oncecrowdedA Once Crowded Sky – Tom King

I struggled a bit with this book. A genius concept combined with almost stream-of-consciousness writing made for a tough slog at times. Despite the constant admission that the characters, indeed the world, is sort of an archetype of every other superhero world ever invented, the characters come out bold on the page, each with little nods to comic book greats but further complicated by their own messy realities. The themes are solid and those ideas that seemed to be percolating right below the surface kept dragging me forward.

In the end, it may be too high-concept for most reader’s patience levels, but I still recommend it as worth a look. If you enjoyed the literary aspects of Crimson Son, you just might enjoy this book.


superpowersSuperpowers – David Schwartz

Schwartz makes good use of the typical tropes and adds a human element to the otherwise fantastical world of superheroes. It’s precisely the sort of book I’ve been wanting to see. While it flips the Crimson Son premise on its head and explores the reactions of a group of powerless college students to the sudden (and mysterious) acquisition of superpowers, it still delivers a honest portrayal of their struggles.

By the end, things start to come apart with each of them and their friendships – I think you expect this to happen from the tone of the book. However, I will say, the way in which things unraveled wasn’t quite satisfying enough to me. Still, a solid read with some interesting literary techniques employed involving pacing and the lead up to the climax.


goldenageAfter the Golden Age – Carrie Vaughn

This is perhaps the closest to Crimson Son and, in fact, shares many parallels. Had I read this before I wrote my novel, I would even say that my book was a response from a male perspective.

The heroine, Celia West, is the powerless daughter of the world’s baddest superhero team and she’s just trying to live her own life as a paralegal.  As daughter of super-powered parents, Celia has made a life-long hobby of being kidnapped. Naturally, it never works out for the bad guys – until one day, a secret from her past comes back to haunt her.

Told from a female POV, this book has much of what Crimson Son does not – a romantic interest, a lot of internal dialogue, and consciousness of self-image which Spencer utterly lacks. I’d be interested in comparisons from male and female readers alike!

Categories: Geekery

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5 replies

  1. Have you read Lev Grossman’s THE MAGICIANS? Could you compare Schwartz’s SUPERPOWERS to it?

    • Good call – It does have a similar tone, but Magicians, IMO, was more effective at accomplishing the sort of loss of innocence realism both were aiming for. Funny though, I wasn’t a big fan of the ending of either book, but I’m notoriously too critical. Both were good reads, but overall, Magicians got the job done better.

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