Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Aging and Super Heroes

In Michael Stackpole’s afterward to I’m Hero Years… I’m Dead, he wrote about how he had to publish the book electronically because publishers didn’t l know what to do with a superhero novel. My, how the world has changed. I credit the MCU movies with making superhero novels and Cape Punk viable.

I do think that In Hero Years is an important milestone in Cape Punk (the book labels itself Super Hero Noire) but that might just because I think Stackpole is a fun author. It does represent an example of what was to come.

(That said, it is _far_ from the first example. Even if you argue that 1930 Gladiator, which allegedly inspired Superman, doesn’t count since it predates the genre, there are works like 1977’s Superfollks. Now that is a weird read, exploring what if Superman was a sexual and neurotic being. And it’s even stranger than that sounds)

The protagonist (who has many aliases but we never learn his actual name) returns to Capital City after two decades of exile. While he was gone, super powered shenanigans  in Capital City have become literal extreme sports events. Villains post heists and heroes bid on thwarting them. There’s betting and fantasy team leagues.

I was going to say that the city has monetized crime but that’s literally the point of crime in the first place. The city has legitimized violent super crime so it’s like white collar crime. And if that sounds like an intrinsically unstable and fragile setup, Stackpole agrees with you :)

The book bounces between the hero trying to sort himself out and having to deal with the greater situation of the city. To be honest, the ending turned into a more conventional comic book ending, which felt flat for me after so much deconstruction.

However, the voice and development of the protagonist is amazing. He’s an acrobat/martial artist/detective/gadgeteer (think Batman) Having him ruminate about the nature of being a crime fighter and being a crime fighter who’s growing old is riveting. I could read a whole book of his monologues.

I read In Hero Years when it first came out and reread it recently. On the one hand, I found the plot flatter than I remembered. On the other hand, I found the protagonist even more compelling than I remember. On a whole, a win for Mr. Stackpole.

I honestly wouldn’t say that deconstruction is the point of a lot of Cape Punk. I think it’s a love for comic books and super heroes disguised as deconstruction.

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