Claude Lalumière’s “Super Stories of Heroes & Villains” anthology is a must-read if you’re a fan of the superhero genre. (And judging by the success of the “Avengers” movie, there are millions of fans out there.) The anthology features 27 stories, many of them by lesser-known (but highly talented) writers, as well as stories by the omnipresent Cory Doctorow, Kelly Link and George R.R.Martin.
Although some of the stories aren’t quite about superheroes, most of them take traditional superhero tropes and have fun with them – or create strange worlds with their own mythology. I’m giving this anthology a well-deserved 5-star rating, with a small caveat: a couple of stories talk about the characters’ sex lives in great detail, so you might not want to buy this book for your nephew’s birthday.
And now, a brief guide to the stories:
“Ubermensch!” by Kim Newman: what if Superman crashlanded in Bavaria instead of Kansas? And what if he became a Nazi? The protagonist is a Jew who spent 50 years after WW2 hunting Nazis and who finally gets a chance to interview the captured Superman. Excellent story and a great way to start off the anthology.
“A Knight of Ghosts and Shadows” by Chris Roberson: a hero with mystical powers and not-so-mystical .45 Colts searches for a demon in a California town during WW2. Well written story that, among other things, features an unorthodox way to protect your secret identity.
“Trickster” by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due: a great story (almost a novella, really) told from the point of view of an African tribesman who encounters an American college student after a botched alien invasion. The story is told in bits and pieces and it’s never quite clear what exactly happened in the outside world, but the ambiguity only makes it better.
“They Fight Crime!” by Leah Bobet: a very short, very unusual story about love triangles, secret romances, superpowers and using “fighting crime” as a euphemism for a certain adult pastime.
“The Rememberer” by J.Robert Lennon: a surprisingly realistic look at what would happen to a person with super-memory in today’s world. This story provides a rare glimpse at the psychological side effects of having superpowers.
“The Nuckelavee: A Hellboy Story” by Christopher Golden and Mike Mignola: Hellboy is tasked with protecting the last living member of an old clan from being killed.
“Faces of Gemini” by A.M.Dellamonica: twin sisters with an unusual origin story team up to rescue their captured teammates. The “bickering sisters” subplot is straight out of Buffy (of which the author is a huge fan), but the odd number of sexual innuendos and scenes where both sisters prance around naked and wear each other’s clothes make this an R-rated story, in my opinion.
“Origin Story” by Kelly Link: in a world where almost everyone has superpowers, a famous superhero comes back to his hometown for an annual parade and hooks up with his high school sweetheart. This story is great because it’s unlike anything else: snippets of dialogue during the characters’ pillow talk paint a world with bizarre arch-enemies, music-obsessed mutants who hide in the forest, cabarets where girls show off their quirky powers, etc. Nothing in this story is quite as it seems, though…
“Burning Sky” by Rachel Pollack: some of the stories in this anthology are about superheroes with occasional sexual overtones. Pollack’s story, on the other hand, is all about sex, with some superhero action in the background. Following in the footsteps of Charles Moulton (the creator of Wonder Woman), Pollack explores some of the more private aspects of liberated crime-fighting women.
“The Night Chicago Died” by James Lowder: a phenomenal mix of pulp action, superheroes and zombies set in the 1920s Chicago. One of the longest – and best – stories in the anthology.
“Novaheads” by Ernest Hogan: I had no idea that lucha noir even existed, and I think I’m hooked now. This story’s cyberpunk world features a Latino version of the United States, with an omnipotent corporation (“Better living through mind control!”), its genetically-enhanced 8-foot-tall wrestlers and street drugs with rather messy side effects.
“Clash of Titans (A New York Romance)” by Kurt Busiek: a hilarious story about a never-ending feud between a brilliant villainess and a goodie-two-shoes superhero (think “My Super Ex-Girlfriend”). The protagonist is a hapless guy in charge of New York City’s tourism PR who just wants to find an affordable condo in the city.
“The Super Man and the Bugout” by Cory Doctorow: what if Superman lived in Canada and had an overbearing Jewish mother? And what if there was no more crime left to fight? Short, funny and quirky.
“Grandma” by Carol Emshwiller: even superheroes can grow old and feeble. A little girl’s story about her formerly-superpowered grandma.
“The Dystopianist, Thinking of His Rival, Is Interrupted by a Knock on the Door” by Jonathan Levin: sometimes all you need to be a supervillain is industrial-strength misanthropy, some writing talent and a vivid imagination. So vivid, in fact, that some of your creations may come to life…
“Sex Devil” by Jack Pendarvis: this isn’t a superhero story per se – it’s a teenager’s pitch to comic book publishers, filled with Freudian overcompensation and a young teen’s lexicon. Funny in a “meta” way, but that’s about it.
“The Death Trap of Dr.Nefario” by Benjamin Rosenbaum: it’s not easy being Gotham’s top psychiatrist. A fun and unusual perspective on Batman’s and Robin’s relationship.
“Man oh Man – It’s Manna Man” by George Singleton: what if you had the power to temporarily hijack somebody’s vocal cords? The protagonist finds a creative way to use his strange and seemingly unremarkable power.
“The Jackdaw’s Last Case” by Paul Di Filippo: I don’t know much about Kafka, but after this great story, which features him as a superhero, I want to know more!
“The Biggest” by James Patrick Kelly: a country bumpkin with superpowers travels to New York City to make a name for himself during the Great Depression. The story also features a cameo appearance by King Kong!
“Philip Jose Farmer’s Tarzan Alive: a Definitive Biography of Lord Greystroke” by Win Scott Eckert: I’m not entirely sure what to make of this story. It’s not fictional and it doesn’t feature any superheroes. It describes a genre of real-life biographies for fictional characters and talks about the most prominent writer in that field. So, basically, this is a story about stories about stories. Very meta, if you’re into that sort of thing.
“The Zeppelin Pulps” by Jess Nevins: an unusual mix of fact and fiction, this story is an article on zeppelin noir books that never existed.
“Wild Cards: Prologue & Interludes” by George R.R.Martin: if you’ve never heard about the “Wild Cards” series, this story is a great introduction. An alien “wild card” virus released in New York in 1946 kills 90% of the population, turns 9% into deformed freaks (jokers) and gives the remaining 1% (aces) godlike powers. As a result, the world’s history is forever altered. If you like realistic superheroes and/or alternate history, give this story (and series!) a shot.
“Wild Cards: Just Cause” by Carrie Vaughn: an action-packed and somewhat said (but oh-so-well-written) story about Wild Card superheroes wroking for the United Nations and trying to save the world, one disaster area at a time.
“Bluebeard and the White Buffalo: A Rangergirl Yarn” by Tim Pratt: a short story set in Tim Pratt’s fictional 19th-century United Stats, where Wild West is wilder than you can imagine, with cowboys who ride unicorns, with steampunk and magic, with vague prophecies of a miraculous buffalo birth…
“The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children” by Will Clarke: a quirky story about a small Louisiana town dealing with a generation of kids with superpowers.
“Pinktastic and the End of the World” by Camille Alexa: a short piece of Young Adult fiction, with superpowers and unrequited crushes.
“The Detective of Dreams” by Gene Wolfe: a strange story told by a detective in pre-WW2 Europe investigating abnormal nightmares.
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