While the most common forms of superhero storytelling have always, of course, been visual (comics, movies, TV), there has been an uptick in superhero novels in the last decade or so, as well. And though it can be tricky to pull off, there are a number of them that I think have done an astounding job. Below are some of the books that fueled and inspired me while I was working on The Private Life of Jane Maxwell.
Dreadnought and Sovereign by April Daniels
One of the most recent superhero fiction that I’ve tried, and also hands-down a masterpiece of the genre. Dreadnought captured an elusive but indelible superheroness that I kept chasing when I was working on my own book. This story manages to be happy and sad, real and fun, light and dark and hopeful all at the same time. It’s a glorious encapsulation of everything that makes superheroes great. Plus, it features a transgender lesbian as the main character, and who doesn’t want more of THAT?
Vicious by V.E. Schwab
Would any list of superhero fiction be complete without this title? My favorite V.E. Schwab book by far, this book breaks and subverts so many expectations, and delivers it all with a flare that delighted me to no end. I love everything about it: the nonlinear narrative, the characters, the prose, the world. Normally, I’m all for lightness in my superheroes, but if all “dark and gritty” superhero stories were like Vicious, I’d be seriously tempted by the dark side.
After the Golden Age and Dreams of the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn
If there’s anyone that I look to as my go-to How To Write Superheroes author, it’s Carrie Vaughn. These books capture the exact same delight that I experience while watching any of the bigscreen counterparts. Fun and big and splashy, these are solid superhero books. You’ll get exactly what you expect when reading these.
Soon I Will be Invincible by Austin Grossman
I admit that I haven’t read this one in a while, but the enjoyment of it still shines bright in my mind. This one, like Carrie Vaughn’s work, was among my introduction to superhero prose. I loved the exploration of the villain in this one, and the backstory that’s woven in.
Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond
While I’m primarily a Marvel girl, Superman will forever hold a soft spot in my heart. So when I heard about a book from Lois Lane’s perspective, updated to be YA in the modern world, I knew I had to read it. Fallout does not disappoint, and it’s fun to see a superhero story where the primary characters are those normally left outside the main focus. Looking forward to reading the sequels.
Nonfiction about Comics and Superheroes
The Secret History of Wonder Woman by Jill Lepore
Not only is this a wonderful and fascinating history of an iconic character, it’s a delightful lens through which to explore the history of the women’s movement throughout the 20th century. This book enriched my appreciation of Wonder Woman tenfold, and entertained me as much as if it was a novel.
The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History by Hope Nicholson
This one is an enjoyable reference book of female comics characters, broken down by decade. It explores the history of comics in relation to their female characters, and provides an interesting overview of how women superheroes got treated throughout the years.
Last Night, a Superhero Saved My Life: Neil Gaiman, Jodi Picoul, Brad Meltzer and an All-Star Roster on the Caped Crusaders That Changed Their Lives Edited by Leisa Mignogna
As with any collection of essays, some of these I enjoyed more than others, but on the whole this book was fantastic. I loved how it showed the impact that superheroes can and do have, not just on society as a whole, but the way that they shape and inspire individual lives. If anyone ever doubts the importance of superheroes as an archetype, just hand them this book.
Novels about Comics, and the People Who Make Them
Draw the Line by Laurent Linn
When I first picked up this book, I actually thought that it was going to be a straight-up superhero novel, playing with similar threads that I was exploring in The Private Life of Jane Maxwell. Instead, and to my relief (because I’d hate to be rehashing things that have already been done), this was an exploration of the importance of superheroes as inspiration, and what it means to stand up for yourself and your own beliefs in a world that doesn’t always want you to. And if I have one weakness, it’s everyday heroes. I loved this one.
Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia
Not actually about superheroes at all, but rather webcomics, this was still such an amazing and important novel that I had to include it. It’s hard to describe without giving it away, but this novel explores identity and artistic pressures and inner monsters with such grace and skill that it took my breath away. Just read it.
Bonus: Books on my Radar
The following are books that I haven’t read yet, but look like they’re going to be amazing.
- Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
- Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee
- Wonder Woman: Warbringer by Leigh Bardugo
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All by Corinne Duyvis
- The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Shannon Hale & Dean Hale
- Behind the Mask: An Anthology of Epic Propotions Edited by Tricia Reeks & Kyle Richardson
- The Refrigerator Monologues Edited by Catherynne M. Valente