The first half of 2012 has been a great year for both Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc. Both have spent several months among the Top 10 titles in Amazon’s superhero category. WtC remains in the Top 10, while VI holds steady in the Top 20. Not everyone has a Kindle, however, so for readers out there who prefer Barnes and Nobles’ Nook, both titles have now been made available.
It also looks like Wearing the Cape will soon be going international; although both titles have been available in English wherever Amazon has a market, WtC may soon be translated for sale in Italy. I had no idea Italians enjoyed American superhero stories, but perhaps with the international success of The Avengers and the other Marvel superhero movies we shouldn’t be surprised.
So thank you to everybody who has enjoyed the books and shared their enthusiasm–WtC and VI have succeeded almost entirely on word-of-mouth, with only pennies spent on marketing, and the income from these titles has enabled me to work only part-time while continuing my writing; when Bite Me is finished I intend to return to the WtC titles for a third Astra story (with at least 4 or 5 planned to round out the series), and move to finish several long-time projects from years past.
Also, the second Review-Drawing is finished as of the end of June, so everyone who posted a review on Amazon or Barnes & Noble please let me know who you are and your names go in the hat for the free autographed book of your choice.
I have made some changes over on my Wearing the Cape blog. The big one is the inclusion of a new page, The Post-Event World. TPEW is still small but will expand, and is a page devoted to the background of the stories. I intend to add sections on power-types and classes, the legal structure of Crisis Aid and Intervention groups (superteams), etc. The bit there now–a brief history of post-Event warfare–came from a conversation awhile back and at least explains why the US Military keeps trying to recruit Astra.
So, onward. Enough about superheroes, let’s talk about superhero stories.
The State of the Genre
While there are critics and reviewers who predict the eventual death of Hollywood’s superhero-movie boom (and more than a few who hope for its early demise), I think that superhero movies will be with us for the foreseeable future. Two reasons: one, CGI technology has at last advanced to the point where any superhero can be believably portrayed on the silver screen and superhero spectacle practically defines block-buster, and, two, superheroes lend themselves to merchandizing like few other Hollywood properties.
This is good news for Hollywood, but even better news for the superhero genre generally. I predict that the explosion of well-made and well-written movies like The Avengers will broaden and youthen the fanbase, in the way that Star Trek and Star Wars did the sci-fi fanbase and Harry Potter and The Lord Of The Rings did the fantasy fanbase.
The superhero genre is really a sub-genre of sci-fi/fantasy, and steals shamelessly from both. There are few required elements, beyond the presence of superpowers (the TV show Heroes even dispensed with the costumes and codenames). However, sampling the recent offerings I have noticed three distinct styles of superhero stories–all of which can share the same elements. Whether for the YA or adult market, there are three basic modes of superhero storytelling: deconstructive, cinematic, and realistic.
Ironically, in literature the deconstructive superhero story has been the norm until recently. This is because the superhero genre is full of tropes and conventions that are completely unreal. I’m not talking about the power to leap tall buildings with a single bound–I’m talking about secret identities. One is simply physically impossible, and sci-fi/fantasy handwaves the physically impossible all the time. The other is socially impossible without a good deal of explaining and special pleading; in the real world Batman is as impossible as Superman. The sheer impossibility of costumed crimefighters in the real world acting the way portrayed in comics makes the genre a rich target for deconstruction, played for humor or for dark, dystopian purposes (what are the heroes really doing?). The long-running Wildcards series is mildly deconstructive; it assumes that, given superpowers, some individuals will try and act as superheroes–with varying degrees of success.
Cinematic superhero stories are the ones that play it straight; they assume the reality of all the standard superhero tropes (being able to maintain secret identities, to fight crime without being hunted down by the police, and to always emerge triumphant). Seriously; considering how awesomely bad-ass master supervillains are, how often superhero’s nemesis wield the power to conquer/destroy the world, the heroes must win every time. If the story appears cinematic and then they lose, you’re in a deconstructive story. Cinematic superhero stories remain pretty much confined to Middle-Grade YA and novelizations of Marvel/DC story-arcs, where readers don’t question the narrative and social unreality of the genre.
Against the other two styles, realistic superhero stories are a growing part of the genre. Realistic superhero stories accept the standard superhero tropes, but try and explain them in a way that gives the superhero room to believably be what he is in the comics; a public-spirited hero fighting for Good. Oddly, TV and movies are a driving force behind this. The Incredibles, for all its cinematic battles, featured government-sponsored heroes with a sophisticated support organization helping to maintain secret identities, public backlash (personal injury lawsuits!), and superhero death. TV shows like Heroes, The Cape, and No Ordinary Family made attempts at superhero-realism, with varying degrees of success.
Recent superhero novels fall mostly into the realistic and deconstructive styles, often mixing the two. In Hero Years… I’m Dead heavily deconstructs the genre but leaves it intact. Ex-Heroes portrays a previously cinematic world in which the zombies won. After The Golden Age strives for high social realism and mostly accomplishes it. Confessions of a D-List Supervillain gleefully dances the line between cinematic and deconstructive. Wearing the Cape and Villains Inc… I like to think they meet at the nexus of the three, but I’m not impartial.
Of course writers write what they like to read, and I’m no exception; WtC and VI are both intended to be internally consistent–the rules governing superpowers rather strict–and socially realistic. This is because, whatever the genre, I enjoy character-driven stories; it is hard for me to invest emotionally in characters when I can’t suspend disbelief sufficiently to buy the reality of their situation. Deconstruction is often too self-aware for the suspension of disbelief, while the cinematic style is generally too artificial–I can’t help trying to peek behind the curtain and point out the wires. This is, of course, a matter of taste; fortunately enough readers share my taste to enjoy my stories, and that’s what counts.
And now, the question; trying to write for a living, I don’t have enough time to read as much as I used to–even to keep up in my chosen genre. Does anybody out there have story/stories to recommend? I’d love to hear about them and how they fit into the genre-structure I just discussed.
–Marion G. Harmon