Superhero Fiction for Grown Ups

If you visited the library over the weekend or yesterday, you might have noticed lots of superheroes wandering the stacks! This year, our summer reading theme is Every Hero Has a Story, so we’ve got lots of fun programs for kids and teens about superheroes, and of course, lots of superhero fiction for them to check out.

But what about adults?

Here are seven superhero novels written for grown ups! They run the gamut from fun and campy to more literary and thought-provoking.

Jacqueline Carey is perhaps best known for her Kushiel’s Legacy novels, a sexy high fantasy series. But Santa Olivia is set in our world. Carey has a unique take on superhero and werewolf myths, and it still features her signature lush prose and vivid characters. Loup, the daughter of a “Wolf-Man” genetically engineered by the US government, has grown up an outsider in Santa Olivia, a military town on the Texas-Mexico border, until she forms a vigilante group with fellow orphans and seeks to redress the injustices the military have perpetrated against the locals. Dressing in costume as the patron saint of the town, she brings hope to her community. This fast-paced yet intricately plotted superhero story is a perfect summer read.

For those looking for a superhero story that borders on parody, there’s Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. It stars Doctor Impossible, an evil genius who is dead set on world domination (as most evil geniuses are). He’s tried everything conceivable, and always failed, but he’s sure his latest plot will succeed. What he doesn’t anticipate is Fatale and her band of superhero misfits intent on taking him down. Fantastical and fun, this is for readers looking for light summer fare.

Readers looking for fast-paced and suspenseful superhero stories should look no further than Vicious by V. E. Schwab. Victor and Eli, two brilliant friends, discover how to give themselves superpowers. Victor ended up in jail and Eli went to work with the police, but Victor knows that Eli is the real villain. Even if Victor isn’t a particularly good guy, he knows Eli must be stopped. This novel will appeal to die-hard superhero fans as well as readers who just like a good story of betrayal and redemption.

In After the Golden Age, Carrie Vaughn delivers an homage to the superhero genre. Forensic accountant Celia West is the daughter of two great heroes, Captain Olympus and Spark, but lacks powers herself. When the city prosecutes the  villain Destructor for tax evasion, Celia is tapped to gather evidence, but her investigation uncovers long-buried secrets about her family and the city. The story is layered with darkness but with dashes of humor thrown in. The characters are believable rather than stereotypes. While plot-driven, the novel still manages to be a moving story about family relationships.

Prepare to Die! by by Paul Tobin will definitely appeal to comic book fans, as Tobin is a veteran comics writer. This is the story of Steve Clarke, whose superhuman punches can take years off the life of his foes. But when his nemesis informs him he only has weeks to live, he returns to his hometown and reflects on his relationships and regrets. Tobin balances action with contemplation in this fun story that promises a tale of superheroes, sex, and secret origins.

Fans of Southern Gothic fiction don’t have to miss out on the superhero action. Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers is set just outside New Orleans and blends traditional crime fiction with supernatural superheroes. Dark and gritty, this is a different kind of superhero story — one with pirates and carnival freaks, too.

Even readers who prefer books with a literary bent can enjoy superheroes. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is about an escape artist who teams up with his cousin to write comics just as they’re becoming popular in the late 1930s. Chabon’s writing is engaging and witty, and the adventures are truly amazing.

Every hero has a story, and each of these is a unique take on a the superhero genre.

– Molly Wetta is a Collection Development Librarian at Lawrence Public Library.