Heroes. No, not the show.

I’ve blogged elsewhere about superhero fiction -  but I wanted to say a little more about the genre, which has grown considerably over the past decade or so.

Superheroes have fascinated me for a long time.  Like many other writers, I have a trunked novel. I wrote it in 1991-1992, and it is a superhero novel, THE FURIES,  which involved seven female superheroes who set up a Justice League of their own. At some point I mean to pull it out and see if it’s salvageable, but I wince at the thought of looking at it, and it’s not in hard copy but here on a back-up disk taken from a Macintosh that was at least four computers ago and you know, I have plenty of other things to be procrastinating on instead. Oh, Ms. Liberty, Dr. Arcane, the Sphinx, Zanycat, Rocketwoman, and X, someday your day will come. I know it.  And of the few pieces of academic writing I’ve retained from that pre-Rambo stage in my life, one deals with superheroes and the idea of masks, one with Tank Girl, and the most pretentious one with Alan Moore’s Watchmen and the philosophical idea of the sublime. (The fact that my most successful paper was a Marxist analysis of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer may say something about why I didn’t stay in academe. But man, was that one fun to write.)

I said in that other piece:

Superhero fiction appeals on several different levels. For one, it allows spec fic to do one of the things it does best: literalize the metaphor. A man whose secret identity physically attacks him, a woman whose temper causes her to burst into flame, a relationship imperiled by one partner’s telepathic manipulation of the other—all of these possibilities and more are presented. And on another level, it is possible to utterly geek out with superhero fiction, to go nuts invoking the rich history of comic books or creating convoluted supervillain names. Superheroes are fun; they’re the stuff of lasers and giant robots and sorcerer supremes and full out gonzo neatness.

But in thinking about it, there’s even more built into it. We are drawn to heroes because they are what we would like to be, I think, and it’s interesting that if you ask someone what superpower they’d pick, the answer is often psychologically revealing. And the idea of a secret identity speaks to us all in that we all have secret identities, pieces of our psyche we reveal only to a trusted confidante — if we ever reveal them at all.

Beyond that, in the world of superheroes and villains, people are easier to figure out than they are here in life outside comic books. Wouldn’t it be simpler if we could blame the current American economy on Dr. Evil? And wouldn’t he be easier to fight than the more complex entities of greed and cynicism gone too far — or corporations, for that matter? Is that the reason why superhero fiction is on the upsurge, because we crave that simplicity and the ability to know a person by the costume he or she wears, while knowing in our heart of hearts that it’s never as easy as all that?

P. S. James Maxey, whose NOBODY GETS THE GIRL is an example of the genre will be giving away copies this month in return for superhero haiku. The book’s worth reading, and heck, who can’t cough up a superhero haiku or two?

9 comments on “Heroes. No, not the show.

  1. Bill Ectric says:

    I would choose the power to fly. I think that’s why the Sorting Hat placed me in the House of Ravenclaw. Flying would be the coolest thing ever.

    Hey, Cat, are familiar with a team of super heroes called “The Doom Patrol”? They were one of my favorites back in the sixities, but most people I talk to now have never heard of them.

  2. Cat Rambo says:

    I’m familiar with them, but never read them much. Worth trying to find? I was a big fan of the X-Men, particularly in the Claremont days, but the group I liked the best were the Defenders.

    Though nothing, nothing, nothing will ever beat Alan Moore’s stint with The Swamp Thing. I still weep whenever I read the Pogo tribute issue. In fact, I’m tearing up just thinking about it.

  3. Felix Gilman says:

    Grant Morrison’s 90’s run on Doom Patrol was probably the best thing ever to happen to comic books.

  4. Felix Gilman says:

    Actually, the Doom Patrol spin-off Flex Mentallo was probably even better.

  5. Cat Rambo says:

    I’m adding them to my ever expanding wish-list! Or I suppose I could insult them and see if a crazoid sends me one of those….

  6. Bill Ectric says:

    Wow, thanks Felix. I’ll check those out. Cat, as for “worth trying to find” I guess that would be up to individual taste. They made a big impression on me when I was at an impressionable age. Them, and the original Metal Men. My favorite back story was when Robotman wanted to kill The Chief, for putting his brain in the body of a robot. The Chief then became a kind of “Dr. Xavier/leader of the team” character. I don’t know who came up with “freaks-with-a-wheel-chair-bound-genius leader” first, DC or Marvel.

    The thing is, back then, my friends and I learned a lot about science from comics! I don’t know if it’s the same now, because I have to admit, I haven’t read comic books in a while. We learned about the properties of varoius elements and compounds, the speed of light, atoms and molecules, but in a fun way. One of the arch-villains in The Doom Patrol was called Mr. 103, because he could change into any element (back then we had only discovered 103 elements).

    I used to practice drawing all the characters and even made up my own characters. Fun as hell.

  7. Claire says:

    If you’re remotely serious about ever looking at it again, moving it to some more modern medium would be a very wise thing to do. Those old floppies don’t last forever (about half of the brand-new ones don’t even work out of the box!). And it gets harder and harder to find a machine that can read them every year, and even if you can read them, getting the data moved elsewhere can be an adventure. (Funny, those old Macs with the floppy drives don’t do USB….)

  8. Bill Ectric says:

    I just have to add this because it cracked me up. Another arch-enemy of The Doom Patrol was Animal-Vegetable-Mineral Man. Why it’s so funny is, basically, he could turn into anything. Why bother to call him “Animal-Vegetable-Mineral” Man? It’s like saying “Anything Man.” That science-oriented thing I spoke of before, but gettin’ a little bit silly.

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