Why do superhero novels suck

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Arkrite
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby Arkrite » Sun Jan 26, 2014 12:24 pm

It comes down to people believing there isn't a market for it.
Since the big companies don't think there is a market for it they aren't really looking to buy them, which means most of the people who write books for a living are busy writing other books they can make some money off of.

This leaves us with people who aren't really professional writers.
This leads into all sorts of problems. Lets be clear, there are people who can write really well and have a good grasp of the basics.

But more often than not you wind up with people who just really want to write something.

And as with everything you have some good stuff and a lot of bad stuff to wade through. This is true of every art form.

That being said I've found some books that are actually quite good, and some that are acceptable at the least.

A few I'm really fond of are:

Velveteen vs. The Junior Super-Patriots by Seanan McGuire (I really like this one and it's free on her website)
Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines (I hate zombie stuff, but this is actually pretty good)
Sensation: A Superhero Novel by Kevin Hardman

Sensation is more of a kids book, but wins a prize for having a superhero who has more than one super power AND uses his powers more twice in the entire story.

Acceptable ones/guilty pleasures include

Wearing the Cape by Marion G. Harmon (Really good world building, poor characterization and weak plot)
Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell (Kids book, and the main character could bear to be more of a good guy in spite of how he acts)
The Cloak Society by Jeramey Kraatz (Another kids book but still fun as it has characters who use their powers, and a real set of good guys and bad guys)


I think one thing I keep repeating is probably a bad sign. Most of the worst books I read the heroes have powers that they rarely if ever use. Or a painfully limited power.
Renegade X's main heroic character is a man who can fly. That's his only superpower and they never really explain how that's terribly useful.

Now if I had to list all of the bad ones... well, we'd be here for quite some time.

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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby The_Watchman » Mon Jan 27, 2014 5:28 am

There's also the issue of many superhero tropes being grounded in a visual medium. Costumes work in comics (and film/TV/cartoons) because they are visually striking. Visuals tend to be harder to properly convey. I mean every single Dresden Files cover seems to have Harry in a cowboy hat and a ton of people seemed legitimately surprised that Rue from the Hunger Games was black. Now apply that same principle to try describing a superhero costume and convey a good description that doesn't sound absurd.

I'd argue that Urban Fantasy has become the stand in for more traditional superhero books. That genre shares many of the same pulp inspirations and tends to have dramatic superhuman feats, secret identities to some degree, and an alarming tendency to be juvenile.
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby saint_matthew » Mon Jan 27, 2014 7:42 am

The_Watchman wrote:There's also the issue of many superhero tropes being grounded in a visual medium. Costumes work in comics (and film/TV/cartoons) because they are visually striking. Visuals tend to be harder to properly convey.


Thing is that costumes aren't all that important beyond there existence, in prose format. The only reason we fixate on them in a visual medium is because its a visual medium.... Its like saying "oh we can't have star wars novels, because a novel can't have billion dollar special effects." You don't need billion dollar special effects, since in prose you focus on the strengths possessed by the novel format.

Because beyond describing the general appearance of Batman (complete with front cover art), what difference does it really make to the narrative which version of the Batsuit you are imagining? After all "Soon I will be invincible" had no problem with that aspect & it had to do it for a bakers dozen of characters. Because it only becomes complicated when you try to rationalise it.... When you just straight up announce "this is the way the universe is & I'm unapologetic about it, now lets get back to our story", it works.

I mean, do you personally have trouble explaining what a characters costume looks like in a M&M game? Or does it just work because everyone at the table has agreed "yep, this is a genre convention & we just aren't going to question the validity of a grown man wearing a cape?" Because that's how it works in a novel too. You unapologetically say "yes this is a superhero novel, it contains superheroes, now do you want to pick apart the concept, or do you want to enjoy the narrative?"

The_Watchman wrote:I mean every single Dresden Files cover seems to have Harry in a cowboy hat and a ton of people seemed legitimately surprised that Rue from the Hunger Games was black.


To be fair, its because Suzanne Collins has a tendency to burry the leed under flowery text descriptions to the point you start phasing it out, in the hopes of eventually getting to a point where something happens.

The_Watchman wrote:I'd argue that Urban Fantasy has become the stand in for more traditional superhero books. That genre shares many of the same pulp inspirations and tends to have dramatic superhuman feats, secret identities to some degree, and an alarming tendency to be juvenile.


Jacqueline Carey would agree with you.... Especially given that that's exactly what her Santa Oliva series was... The pretence that mythical monsters are the same thing as superheroes. I'd say that Urban Fantasy is a rule 63 version of Superheroes.... With the difference being that urban fantasy actually gets a mainstream release.
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby hypervirtue » Mon Jan 27, 2014 4:41 pm

saint_matthew wrote:I mean, do you personally have trouble explaining what a characters costume looks like in a M&M game? Or does it just work because everyone at the table has agreed "yep, this is a genre convention & we just aren't going to question the validity of a grown man wearing a cape?" Because that's how it works in a novel too. You unapologetically say "yes this is a superhero novel, it contains superheroes, now do you want to pick apart the concept, or do you want to enjoy the narrative?"


I think that depends on your group. In an M&M game, mine at least, we tend to spend a lot of time on costume design. The average character has a rather long, detailed, description of their clothing. Usually with accompanying pictures.

-----

For example:

Adept is a young college-aged man somewhere between his late teens and his early twenties. He is wearing a nearly form fitting white gymnastic leotard that leaves his arms exposed but covers the entirety of his legs.

On his chest, over the top of the leotard is a white reinforced vest with gold-colored shoulder pads. An artistic design made of black inlets lines the left and right sides of the vest and a gold circle adorned with a red stylized "A" rests over his right breast. Attached to the vest is a gold trimmed hood that helps to obscure his face. A twin pair of sheaths, each holding one of his trademarked double edged long swords, rest crossed on his back.

His face is further disguised by a gold mask that matches the trim on the hood. Sharp and angular the mask appears to be held on with some kind of adhesive to the skin. White lenses cover the eyes making any significant details regarding them difficult to make out.

His arms are bare save for a pair of gloves that appear to be somewhat armored forearm pads. The armored section appears to be gold while the underside is as black as the night itself. His fingers are revealed, which may be a less than wise choice as it increases the likelihood that his fingerprints could be left at a scene.

His lower section features a gold belt. On the left side a pouch that houses his supply of throwing spikes rests. On his right leg a band of gold holds in place a thigh sheath that contains one of his signature weapons, a collapsible bo staff. Covering his feet, are a pair of white boots that are somewhat obscured by armored kick pads that follow the same gold and black pattern as the gloves that he wears.

-----

I think just being unapologetic and saying, "Well this is a superhero story so live with it..." isn't entirely fair to the medium. I think explaining the costume, and the purpose behind the costume, while solving some of the more logical issues with it, even if it is slightly implausible, is something the author should indeed do.

Instead of saying, "Well he has a cape!" There should be a reason for the cape. The author should point out to the reader exactly why the idea of a grown man wearing a cape isn't silly. (I think you are wrong on the idea of a cape being silly personally anyway...)

Batman wears a cape, often, because it helps him blend in with the shadows better, and allows him to glide. It also is flame retardant and provides protection from such hazards. A cape, in a skilled user's hands, is also a useful tool that can distract opponents.

Having done SCA combat for years, as well as lots of stage combat, I can personally attest to how useful a cape can be in some combat situations.

Superman wears a cape, in the comics, because it helps to show movement when leaping or flying. However, in the universe he has used the cape to shield people. He has used the cape as a distraction. He has used the cape because the bright colors draw people's attention to him.

The Punisher, for example, doesn't wear a cape but his otherwise black outfit features a giant white skull on it. The actual explanation for the presence of the skull (though constantly screwed up in the movies) was because Frank Castle originally placed extra layers of reinforced armor directly under the skull and being a large white target it was most likely to be shot at.

The reasons behind the costume, or at least a plausible enough reason, are necessary for the author to delve into in order to establish credibility.
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby saint_matthew » Mon Jan 27, 2014 6:22 pm

hypervirtue wrote:I think that depends on your group. In an M&M game, mine at least, we tend to spend a lot of time on costume design. The average character has a rather long, detailed, description of their clothing. Usually with accompanying pictures.

-----

For example:

Adept is a young college-aged man somewhere between his late teens and his early twenties. He is wearing a nearly form fitting white gymnastic leotard that leaves his arms exposed but covers the entirety of his legs.

On his chest, over the top of the leotard is a white reinforced vest with gold-colored shoulder pads. An artistic design made of black inlets lines the left and right sides of the vest and a gold circle adorned with a red stylized "A" rests over his right breast. Attached to the vest is a gold trimmed hood that helps to obscure his face. A twin pair of sheaths, each holding one of his trademarked double edged long swords, rest crossed on his back.

His face is further disguised by a gold mask that matches the trim on the hood. Sharp and angular the mask appears to be held on with some kind of adhesive to the skin. White lenses cover the eyes making any significant details regarding them difficult to make out.

His arms are bare save for a pair of gloves that appear to be somewhat armored forearm pads. The armored section appears to be gold while the underside is as black as the night itself. His fingers are revealed, which may be a less than wise choice as it increases the likelihood that his fingerprints could be left at a scene.

His lower section features a gold belt. On the left side a pouch that houses his supply of throwing spikes rests. On his right leg a band of gold holds in place a thigh sheath that contains one of his signature weapons, a collapsible bo staff. Covering his feet, are a pair of white boots that are somewhat obscured by armored kick pads that follow the same gold and black pattern as the gloves that he wears.


So five paragraphs.... I think a novel can handle having 5 paragraphs in it. :lol:

But seriously, as far as accompanying artwork goes, novels can & do easily accommodate that. "Soon I will be Invincible" not only came with cover art that did a good job of that, it also came with a collection of full cover art work in the back. After all this isn't a new tactic, many novels have artwork inside.

hypervirtue wrote:I think just being unapologetic and saying, "Well this is a superhero story so live with it..." isn't entirely fair to the medium.


Really? Because I think its incredibly fair to the genre.... After all we don't all sit around looking perplexed because a fantasy novel contains elves & magic. We don't sit there ripping pages out of a science fiction novel because "this book contains aliens, how unrealistic." We just accept its the premise of the novel & move on.

hypervirtue wrote:The Punisher


Yeah, I'm going to stop you right there. No sentence that starts "The Punisher" has anything to do with a conversation about superheroes unless it is followed by the words "makes a terrible inclusion to a superhero universe & is not a superhero." :lol:
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby hypervirtue » Mon Jan 27, 2014 10:56 pm

saint_matthew wrote:Yeah, I'm going to stop you right there. No sentence that starts "The Punisher" has anything to do with a conversation about superheroes unless it is followed by the words "makes a terrible inclusion to a superhero universe & is not a superhero." :lol:


I grant you that one. I am not particularly fond of the Punisher (or any Anti-heroes really), but the explanation of the reason for the skull is a very good one.
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby kingk » Tue Jan 28, 2014 1:22 pm

hypervirtue wrote:
saint_matthew wrote:Yeah, I'm going to stop you right there. No sentence that starts "The Punisher" has anything to do with a conversation about superheroes unless it is followed by the words "makes a terrible inclusion to a superhero universe & is not a superhero." :lol:


I grant you that one. I am not particularly fond of the Punisher (or any Anti-heroes really), but the explanation of the reason for the skull is a very good one.


Wasn't Batman's yellow Bat-emblem said to be similarly armored?

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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby Dr. Mysterion » Thu Feb 20, 2014 10:40 am

Two superhero novels that don't suck are Elliott S! Maggin's Superman novels Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday. Not only are they entertaining stories (Einstein involved in Kal-el's arrival on Earth!), but Maggin does a really great job, IMO, of making a lot of the tropes from the comics work as more realistic-seeming events. these really need to be put back into print at some point.
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby Charles Phipps » Mon Mar 31, 2014 2:22 am

saint_matthew wrote:
Kyle wrote:Has anyone read Brian Clevinger's Nuklear Age?


Nope.


It's a George R.R. Martin-sized Superhero novel that starts out wacky and ends horrifically serious.

I wrote some essays on the subject.

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogsp ... ovels.html

Here's also some reviews of superhero novels.

Ex-Heroes

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogsp ... eview.html

Wearing the Cape

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogsp ... of_24.html

Those Who Walk in Darkness

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogsp ... eview.html

Confessions of a D-List Supervillain

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogsp ... llain.html

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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby saint_matthew » Tue Apr 08, 2014 7:37 am

Charles Phipps wrote:Those Who Walk in Darkness

http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogsp ... eview.html


WHY! Why would you make me remember that that book exists. I was happy not remembering that that book existed... Or that it got a sequel.

Damn you.... YOU BLEW IT ALL UP! :lol:
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby FuzzyBoots » Tue Apr 08, 2014 8:03 am

I have heard good reviews for Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, but I have yet to read it myself.

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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby Charles Phipps » Tue Apr 08, 2014 8:26 am

saint_matthew wrote:
WHY! Why would you make me remember that that book exists. I was happy not remembering that that book existed... Or that it got a sequel.

Damn you.... YOU BLEW IT ALL UP! :lol:


It's a good example of why Darker and Edgier has a limit. According to the author, the ending of the second book was because he had come to loathe his protagonist with the fury of a thousand exploding suns.

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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby Arkrite » Wed Apr 16, 2014 7:46 pm

FuzzyBoots wrote:I have heard good reviews for Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, but I have yet to read it myself.


I'm only half way through and I'm enjoying it a lot.

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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby K.G. Carlson » Sun Apr 20, 2014 6:21 am

Dr. Mysterion wrote:Two superhero novels that don't suck are Elliott S! Maggin's Superman novels Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday. Not only are they entertaining stories (Einstein involved in Kal-el's arrival on Earth!), but Maggin does a really great job, IMO, of making a lot of the tropes from the comics work as more realistic-seeming events. these really need to be put back into print at some point.


I'll second that. My childhood copies are long since dust and my carefully cared for but purchased used copies are looking mighty old. Bring on the acid-free paper reprints!
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Re: Why do superhero novels suck

Postby FuzzyBoots » Fri May 02, 2014 9:44 am

Just finished Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain. It was good. It's a straightforward exploration of a super-powered world, no deconstructions or subversions. It's also pretty solidly a kid's book. Yes, the occasional person gets hurt, and there's beaucoup property damage, but ultimately, you're left with the impression that Penelope's choices are entirely consequence-free and she seldom struggles with a problem for more than a chapter before she's decisively ended it. It is also nice to have a book written from the perspective of a "tinkerer" type rather than a flying brick.


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