Today we’ve got Claude Lalumiere with us sharing about the history of superheroes in fiction!
Read Pabkins’ review of Super Stories of Heroes & Villains Edited by Claude Lalumiere
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For decades, when people heard the word superhero, they thought of it as a genre for comics and Saturday morning cartoons. Now, superheroes are all over the media landscape, including blockbuster movies, hit TV shows, bestselling novels, and more. In the world of prose fiction, the superhero genre is often thought of as a new thing, as having “finally” jumped from the illustrated page to the written word. But in fact superheroes were developed in prose fiction, beginning in 1903 with the eponymous hero of the novel The Scarlet Pimpernel – the first incarnation of the archetype that would lead, to name a few notable descendants, to Zorro, the Shadow, the Green Hornet, and Batman.
Baroness Emma Orczy went on to write numerous popular novels and stories featuring the Scarlet Pimpernel. The public loved the idea of a masked adventurer fighting for justice.
True, the Scarlet Pimpernel had no superpowers, but then again neither do Batman and Hawkeye; try and tell them they’re not superheroes.
The next major superheroes both premiered in 1912 in All-Story Magazine, and both were created by the same author: Edgar Rice Burroughs. John Carter gained superhuman powers when he travelled to Mars/Barsoom and became a warrior and a champion, and Tarzan, raised in the jungle, achieved the pinnacle of human physical perfection and embarked on a lifetime of weird adventures. They didn’t have costumes, but both the jungle protector (the Phantom, Ka-Zar, Sheena) and the strange hero in a strange land (Adam Strange, Martian Manhunter, Superman) have become staples of superhero fiction.
In 1919, Zorro debuted in “The Curse of Capistrano” in the pages of All-Story Weekly. He remains to this day a potent symbol and a powerful archetype – the most significant antecedent in the brew of influences that would eventually give us Batman.
The 1930 novel Gladiator by Philip Wylie is where – although the superpowered protagonist never dons a costume, never assumes a secret identity, and never completely engages in the neverending fight for justice – the underlying themes and tropes of superhero fiction are for the first time explicitly laid out and examined, giving us the raw matter that would feed into Superman, Captain America, Spider-Man, and so many others.
With the coming of the hero pulps of the 1930s, the superhero formula was almost completely finalized. The Shadow and Doc Savage – the Batman and Superman of the pulp magazines (or, rather, to be more accurate, Batman and Superman were the Shadow and Doc Savage of comics) – are the most famous and most influential of that adventurous lot.
With the publication of Superman in Action Comics #1 (1938), the superhero genre found its ideal medium: a colourful mix of words and pictures where the only limits of expression, adventure, power, and setting were the imaginations of the creators and their readers.
Oh, to be sure, superheroes continued to appear in prose, on the radio, in films, and in the new medium of television, but all these seemed in service and as an appendix to the genre’s dominant presence in comics.
Nearly four decades later, starting in the mid-1970s, though, the superhero genre started to try to once again regain its place as a legitimate prose genre. Byron Preiss’s Weird Heroes series of pulp paperbacks (eight volumes in 1975-77) signalled the beginning of a new era of superhero prose that would progressively grow and take root. Today, after the Marvel Novel Series (eleven volumes, 1978-79), George R.R. Martin’s Wild Cards shard universe (ongoing since 1986), Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000), and so many other novels, stories, anthologies, and series, superheroes are an established fixture of prose fiction, where, after all, they originated.
I’ve been one of those writers whose stories regularly foray into the superhero playground, starting with “Let Evil Beware!” (2002) and most recently with “The Weirdo Adventures of Steve Rand” (2011) and including my 2009 collection Objects of Worship, which includes three superhero stories (“Hochelaga and Sons,” “Spiderkid,” and “Destroyer of Worlds”), but I’m most proud of my 2013 contribution the super-prose endeavour. That year saw the publication of two anthologies of superhero fiction that I edited.
The first, Masked Mosaic: Canadian Super Stories, was co-edited with Camille Alexa (herself an accomplished writer of superhero fiction) and published by Tyche Books in Alberta. Every story in it is original to this volume: 24 all-new contributions to the superhero canon by some of Canada’s most imaginative writers. As a bonus, it sported a killer cover by Steve Thomas.
The second – Super Stories of Heroes & Villains, solo edited by me and released by Tachyon Publications in San Francisco – is my love letter to the superhero genre. It’s a retrospective of my favourite superhero fiction from 1980 to 2012, containing 28 classic stories by an eclectic mix of writers from the USA, Canada, and the UK.
I’ve got more superhero projects in the works, but details on those aren’t quite ready to be disclosed. They’re still super secret.
George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards rampage through unrecorded history! Mike Mignola’s Hellboy battles the fiendish Nuckelavee! Can Camille Alexa’s Pinktastic prevent the end of the world? Will Jonathan Lethem’s Dystopianist cause the end of the world?
In these pages, you’ll find the exploits, machinations, and epic mêlées of these superpowered aliens, undead crusaders, costumed crime fighters, unholy cabals, Amazon warriors, demon hunters, cyberpunk luchadores, nefarious megalomaniacs, daredevil sidekicks, atavistic avatars, adventuring aviators, gunslinging outlaws, love-struck adversaries, and supernatural detectives.
In these twenty-eight astounding Super Stories, join larger-than-life heroes and villains in the never-ending battle of good versus evil!
Check out Goodreads for a full list of stories and authors.
Super Stories of Heroes & Villains
Claude Lalumière (claudepages.info) is an author and editor who divides his time between Montreal, Portland, Austin, and Vancouver. His most recent book is Nocturnes and Other Nocturnes (Infinity Plus 2013)