Superhero fiction began as a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy, and men’s adventure stories. But even today, as it solidifies its own genre marker, it remains flexible enough to absorb all sorts of disparate genres. Authors are now slipping superheroes into the zombie apocalypse and various alt-history timelines. Supermen have also started to appear in steampunk adventures, erotica misadventures, and espionage thrillers.
Of all the permutations available, the superhero/romance novel is the most successful genre mash-up we’ve seen. It works mostly because the romance genre imposes an emotional element that is often missing in superhero novels.
Back in 1991, best-selling novelist Nora Roberts made a wacky decision to put a superhero in her latest novel. But it turned out to be a pretty good idea. Even 20 years ago, Roberts understood the potential of mixing romance with superheroes. “I like writing romance novels because I like to create heroes,” she explained in the book’s introduction. It turns out that she was a very wise woman. Her predilection toward heroes helped open the door to a new sub-genre hybrid.
In Night Shadow, her superhero chases bad guys, falls in love, makes mistakes, and learns how to compromise. And he gets laid too. Said Roberts at the time: “That’s my kind of hero.”
By day, Gage Gutherie was a rich and handsome playboy. By night, however, he became a dark and brooding vigilante known as Nemesis. Like Batman, he walked the night alone. He was ever restless and ever ready. Clad in black, he was a “shadow among shadows, a whisper among the murmurs and mumbles of the dark.”
Things get sticky for Gutherie when he crosses paths with a “sultry brunette with intelligent eyes” named Deborah O’Rourke. She’s a straight-shooting lawyer who adamantly disapproves of Nemesis and his shady crime fighting techniques. To quote the back cover text, “She shared his passion for justice, yet she could not accept his lawless methods.” As their relationship deepens, she is able to crack his resolve and makes him question his vigilante lifestyle. A little time between the sheets also helps soften him up.
Writing a novel that combines romance with superheroes can be an awkward endeavor for any author. We’ve read lots of books (and comics) that struggle to anchor bounding heroism with emotional resonance. Night Shadow, thankfully, gets it right. Everybody needs a little love in their life … especially superheroes.
[Night Shadow / By Nora Roberts / First Printing: March 1991 / ISBN: 0373073739]