Superheroes are not just for kids anymore, if they ever really were. With the popularity of the Marvel movies and television shows, people in capes and spandex out to save or rule the world have definitely gone mainstream. As a lifelong
comic book reader and superhero story fan, I couldn’t be happier about that.
I love how stories like these can use the extraordinary and impossible circumstances of their characters to explore very human problems like identity, fitting in, social issues, friendship, and morality. The high drama situations are a wonderful background to explore with relatable and sympathetic characters.
Superhero is a thriving novel subgenre. It’s a small niche, bridging the gap between graphic novels and traditional novels. The stories are drawn with words, but the tales are still larger than life and feature characters with impossible abilities. The best of them feature interesting people in tough situations with real life as well as comic book problems.
Five of the best superhero novels for adults
By: James Maxey
This is the first superhero novel I ever read. Before that, I didn’t know they existed! What I love about Maxey’s superhero/villain books is how they concentrate on the experience of an ordinary person in extraordinary circumstances. Richard Rogers, AKA Nobody, was a nobody–an unknown stand-up comedian. Then, he woke up invisible. Of course, there’s a bad guy, and a girl (the girl who is “gotten” in the title) and Richard Rogers becomes Nobody, a hero. Maxey knows and uses the tropes of superhero stories well. But what makes them good is the humanity.
The second book focuses on two characters that were villains in the first book, though they are surprisingly sympathetic when you look at things through their eyes. Moral ambiguity is always fascinating, and I love stories that turn on themselves and have you reinterpreting what you thought you knew. Burn Baby Burn does that and has me rooting for the characters I’d thought of as villains in the first book.
By: Susan Jane Bigelow
Broken is a different sort of superhero novel than Maxey’s. In Bigelow’s world, superheroes are a known quantity. They work as a kind of police force for the government. The politics of that are tense and contentious.
Broken is a woman who had been part of that system as Silverwyng. But, when the novel begins, all of that has already fallen apart and she is living on the street, her identity hidden and her powers diminished. Of course, she is pulled in to help someone. And, of course, that changes everything. It’s a redemption story, with a nice arc about the importance of human connections. It’s about doing what’s right, even when that is hard or dangerous. I love how Bigelow makes use of a familiar kind of story and makes it unique at the same time.
By: Peter Clines
Ex-Heroes takes place is post-apocalyptic zombie-infested world where superheroes struggle alongside ordinary humans to survive and keep others safe. The main heroes are St. George and Stealth, though there are several others. Before the world fell apart, these were your traditional cape wearing, people-saving media darlings. More Superman than Spiderman.
Clines writes an excellent fight scene, and still has a lot to say about the importance of letting other people into your life. That theme of human connection is all the stronger in a world where survival is at stake.
By: Mur Lafferty
Playing for Keeps has a large cast of minor heroes. It takes place in a world where many people have powers, but there is a definite hierarchy. Only those with the most impressive powers are accepted to the Academy where they are trained to fight and protect the city. Keepsie owns a bar. She’s a third-wave superhero, with the oddball power that anything she owns cannot be taken from her.
Lafferty wrote a wonderful story that plays with one of my favorite tropes of superhero stories: don’t underestimate “the little guy.” Keepsie ends up being much more important than anyone realized she could be, even more than she herself knew. That “underdog makes good” storyline gets me every time.
By: Larry Correia
Hard Magic is a genre-mashing kind of book. There are steampunk setting details, alternate history elements, and magic, but there are also superheroes (though they aren’t called that and certainly don’t wear capes). They are, all the same, characters with unusual abilities working to save the world from villains and itself. The whole thing has a noir feel, including the hard-as-nails and I’ve-seen-everything hero in the shape of Jake Sullivan.
Besides the underdog, that world-weary hero is one of my favorite kinds of superhero characters. Like Wolverine, my personal favorite curmudgeon, Jake Sullivan tries to act like he doesn’t care, but it’s just an act. He cares deeply and it’s a good thing for the rest of us that he does.
What do you love about superhero stories?
Samantha (Dunaway) Bryant is a middle school Spanish teacher by day and a mom and novelist by night. In other words, she’s a superhero all the time. Her debut novel Going Through the Change: A Menopausal Superhero Novel released yesterday from Curiosity Quills Press. You can find her online on her blog, Twitter, on Facebook, on Amazon, on Goodreads, on the Curiosity Quills page, or on Google+.