Saturday, August 02, 2008

Review of Prose, By Johnathan

I think that I may have alluded to the fact that I was an English major in University a couple of times (though with the amount of theory that I've forgotten since then I basically have a degree in Reading Stuff, Forming an Opinion on it and Writing That Opinion Down, at length. Hey! That makes me perfectly qualified to have a comics blog, doesn't it?) and so it shouldn't come as too great a shock to find out that I'm not just a comics nerd and an Internerd, I'm a a prose nerd, too! Okay, also a mythology nerd (Classics minor, word), drama nerd, etymology nerd, history nerd, plant nerd, animation nerd and listener to nerdy music. And ladies, I'm available.

Comics and prose are the biggies, though. I love me some good fiction, yes I do. To that end, I just purchased a book entitled Who Can Save Us Now? (Owen King and John McNally, eds) which is an anthology of short stories about some brand new super-heroes. I haven't opened it yet, so the only solid info I have is that there's a story about someone called The Rememberer, but buying it got me thinking about other text-based tales of the super-hero and whenever I get thinking about things like this I feel compelled to share my thoughts with you lovely folks.

First off, I think I'd list a lot of old pulp yarns as fantastic examples of what superhero text should be: action-packed, character-driven and fairly short. That's not to say that a long, introspective novel about international diplomacy as seen through the eyes of UN goodwill ambassador Courage Lad wouldn't potentially be great, just that I'd likely read a few novellas about the Mighty Turbine giving robotic aliens the business in between volumes. I haven't read nearly as much pulp fiction as I'd like, but for my money I'd have to recommend Doc Savage and the Spider - the Shadow is great and all, but I prefer the radio show. Of course, if we're travelling back through literary history here we could talk about Gladiator (Alas, I haven't read it), The Invisible Man and other such late Victorian proto-science fiction or my man Sherlock Holmes. Heck, we could pull in Arthurian legend, Greek and Norse mythology and the original Dynamic Duo of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, but then this would turn into a much longer and much less focused post. Because it's so incredibly focused right now.

Harry Newberry and the Raiders of the Red Drink, By Mel Gilden. Man, I loved this book when I was a lad. Come to think of it, I still love it. It's a young adult novel written in an absurd style reminiscent of the incomparable Daniel M. Pinkwater. The titular Harry Newberry is a comic-obsessed kid who ends up discovering that the seemingly boring world around him is actually jam-packed with complete weirdness. There are a lot of fantastic touches like people running around in completely thrown-together costumes and... man, I don't want to spoil this one at all. Most libraries seem to have this one on hand and I say: go read it! It's got the best idea for a pizza restaurant ever, I swear, and some of the best brotherly interactions in youth fiction.

Chance Fortune and the Outlaws, by Shane Berryhill. I picked this one a few months back. Judging by the study questions at the back it's also aimed at young adults, but it's a solid read. The title character, though he's been highly trained by an old-school superhero, has to lie about having luck-based super-powers to get into hero school. The Outlaws, his in-school supergroup, are a bunch of engaging characters - there's lots of good teen drama (as opposed to the all-too-frequent bad teen drama) and a rivalry with another, super-douchey team and a sinister plot to foil. Plus, the school's department heads are a pretty good JLA pastiche. Oh, and there's a highly entertaining training battle against a team composed of anime-style super-heroes!

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon. Not strictly a super-hero novel, but enough of the reality of comics creeps into the characters' regular lives to be good enough for me. I can't say too much about this one that hasn't been said before and better, but I'll put it in here anyway because I know a lot of comic fans who haven't read it. Read it! It's a good, good novel, with lots of delicious character development. Stan Lee makes a brief appearance, proving my theory that his super-power is an incredible ability to make cameos.

The Wild Cards Series, Gerorge R. R. Martin, ed. I've read maybe seven or eight of the eleven million or so volumes in this series, and while they were none of them terrible I definitely liked the shared-world collections of short stories more than the later "mosaic novels", partly because I liked some of the contributors more than others and the shifts in prose style got kind of jarring at times but also because the whole thing got so damned dark after a while. The basic story was great: aliens decide to test an experimental mutagen on Earth and it gets released over New York in the late Forties. Most people who are exposed to the stuff die and most of those who survive are radically mutated (these are called Jokers, thanks to a running card-based naming convention). A very small percentage ed up with very super-heroey powers (these ones are called Aces) and part of the series' mandate is exploring how the presence of all of these guys shapes subsequent human culture and history and such. There are a lot of neato characters, like Croyd Crensen, the Sleeper, who falls into years-long comas and wakes up each time with different powers and a new appearance and lives a cycle of sleep and increasingly desperate and stimulant-fueled wakefulness. Or there's Captain Trips, a super-duper hippie who has multiple powered identities accessed through hard drug usage, or Kid Dinosaur, who can turn into dinosaurs and is basically a fanboy who follows other Aces around and annoys them. The first couple of collections are highly recommended, ayup.

Of course, there are all of the books that are about characters that originated in comics, but frankly, I haven't read too many of those. I remember a book of Spider-Man short stories that I enjoyed (the Internet says that it was called The Ultimate Spider-Man), especially one called "Kraven the Hunter is Dead, Alas", though what it was about escapes me these many years later. Marvel books were always fun to read because they always had some nice original artwork inside - I especially remember liking What Savage Beast by Peter David, which had the Maestro and a neat picture of all kinds of possible alternate Hulks (Scaley Hulk! Hairy Hulk!).

Okay, that's it. There are a lot more books that I wish that I could read (say, Superfolk) and others that I have read and subsequently forgotten the contents of (Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask, for example). And I can't seem to even find the damn Hellboy novels. Do they actually exist? Perhaps in the future I will expand on this rambling, unfocused entry. Feel free to clue me in to things that I should check out.

It's all JOHN APPROVED!

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

You may want to try "Soon I will be invincible" by Austin Grossman.

I find it somewhat difficult to get into prose superhero stories. The "Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay" was awesome though.

Johnathan said...

Augh! Blogger ate my comment.

Shorter version of what I just wrote:

Pretty sure I've repressed some bad hero fiction memories, though good hero fiction can be as stirring as good high fantasy or space opera, though just as rare.

"Soon I will be Invincible", yeah I meant to read that - thanks for reminding me to check it out.

And Chabon done good, yessiree.