Let’s face it; any short story compilation that boasts efforts by Jonathan Lethem, Kelly Link, Cory Doctorow, and George R.R. Martin is bound to turn heads. And, as you’d expect from taking one glance at the table of contents, the “super stories” in this book are all first-rate.
But the pool for superhero prose isn’t very deep (especially for “great” superhero prose) and many of these stories have been reprinted numerous times in similar collections over the years. And that, unfortunately, mutes some of the book’s thunder.
Beyond picking material from heavy-hitters like Jonathan Lethem and Kelly Link, the challenge for editor Claude Lalumière was to look around and find supplemental content in creative places. As a result, we get a story from a comic book, interstitial text from a Wild Cards novel, and a couple of fake non-fiction entries. The editor was obviously trying his best to be clever and add a little bit of extra value to his anthology.
And we’re happy to report that he was mostly successful. This is the second superhero anthology from Lalumière this year (Masked Mosaic came out in February) and he obviously has a knack for identifying good stories and good writers. If the capes-and-cowls genre ever hopes to find a foothold in the mainstream, it desperately needs a champion, and we think Lalumière would be a great nominee for the position.
The collection kicks off with a strong contribution from Kim Newman called “Übermensch!” After being imprisoned for 45 years as a Nazi war criminal, Superman begins to wonder what his life might have been like had his Kryptonian rocketship landed in the wheatfields of Kansas instead of Bavaria. Yes, indeed. What would have happened…?
Another great story is “The Jackdaw’s Last Case.” Author Paul Di Filippo brings Franz Kafka to New York City and recasts him as a Dear Abby-like newspaper columnist who ventures into the night as a masked crimefighter. As you’d expect, Di Filippo’s story is loaded with action, humor, and good advice.
Other stories worth mentioning are “A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows” by Chris Roberson, “They Fight Crime!” by Leah Bobet, “Origin Story” by Kelly Link, “The Super Man and the Bugout” by Cory Doctorow, “Burning Sky” by Rachel Pollack, “The Death Trap of Dr. Nefario” by Benjamin Rosenbaum, and (not to be forgotten) “The Rememberer” by J. Robert Lennon. It’s all good stuff.
In his introduction, the editor says that we are currently living through a resurgence of great superhero fiction. In many ways, we agree with him. Superhero comics and movies are better than ever. Now it’s time for superhero prose fiction to power up too. Are you ready?
[Super Stories of Heroes & Villains / Edited by Claude Lalumière / First Printing: September 2013 / ISBN: 9781616961039]