Why superheroes?

2 years ago | D. D. Webb (Member)

This is something I've been wondering about more and more as I browse through various serials listed here on WFG. Web fiction as a medium seems very heavy on superhero stories; it's a significant chunk of what's out there, seems like. This is interesting to me, because I've been a bookseller for ten years, and I have only very rarely seen superhero fiction outside of the graphic novels section. Marvel and DC have their tie-in novels, and once in a blue moon an independent title will come up, but the latter are rare enough that they almost always catch my attention when they do.

Why do you suppose this is? If there's a market, you'd think the publishers would pounce on it. What's so apparently different about the world of webfiction that makes it so spandex-friendly? I'm curious to hear everyone's thoughts.

The Gods are Bastards Cowboys! Demons! Elves!

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Responses

  1. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    There have actually been superhero novels in the past - the "Wild Cards" series (edited by none other than George R. R. Martin himself) was moderately popular in the 90s. But you're right, it's not usually done.

    I love superhero stories, but until I found webfiction I assumed that it was only acceptable in comic book format. An older version of Curveball had, once upon a time, actually been an idea for a webcomic I was developing that abandoned because I couldn't find an artist (no way I'd try to do that story with my own art). I read Legion of Nothing and discovered "hey, you can do it in print too!"

    My assumption has been that when people think "superhero stories" they usually think of comic books, and that publishers have fallen into the same trap as everyone else? I dunno. It's nice seeing so much of it online.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  2. paintedbird (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I think there's a lot of superhero serials due to Worm's popularity, actually! At least, that's what I'd assume.

    http://thebitterdrop.com/ || a gaslamp fantasy serial
  3. ubersoft (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    No, there were a lot before Worm, too.

    Curveball (Updating)
    A Rake by Starlight (Updating)
  4. paintedbird (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Really? Never mind me, then, I've clearly got my wires crossed here.

    http://thebitterdrop.com/ || a gaslamp fantasy serial
  5. alex5927 (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I asked this question almost a year ago. I forget who said it, but the best answer I got is that a lot of the people came from webcomics, and comics generally very inclined to super heroes.
    Also, super heroes are fun to read and write about. Publishers just don't realize that, and whenever they get a super hero book, they immediately reject it (or at least, I'm assuming).

  6. Unillustrated (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    There have been at least a few dead paper books starring superheroes. Soon I Will Be Invincible and Vicious are the first two that come to mind, though I have read and enjoyed the Wild Cards stuff, however there aren't any bestsellers that I know of. A big part of that is probably as you suggested, that people associate them more strongly with comics. I think that's changing, TV and Movies are definitely incorporating them to a greater degree. However, superpower fiction lends itself so well to visual medias that I'll be surprised if they ever play a major roll in the publishing world. Even a well described fight scene won't have the same impact that it will on screen.

  7. Dennis N. Santana (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I think it's because the super hero story is kind of a quintessential serialized story genre that has survived and retained widespread appeal in contemporary society; very long runs composed of individually short weekly issues that build their stories toward specific climaxes, draw down, and then begin new stories with the same recurring cast and continue. This kind of stuff began with pulp fiction, but outside of niches within niches, adventure pulps didn't survive to the kind of mass appeal comic book superheroes have in America. Maybe in another world most of WFG would be covered in the adventures of Rick Dangerous, explorer extraordinaire, or something; but for a lot of young western writers stuff like superheroes is probably their first accessible encounter with serial media and the kinds of long-term stories and worlds you can build with it.

  8. George M. Frost (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    A big part of it is due to the nature of serialization. Superhero stories work very well with ongoing narratives, perhaps because there's just so much to explore even with the most simplistic kinds of superpowers. The idea of "how would this play out in the real world" is something that can keep a story going for quite a long time, and because writers don't feel constrained to a set length, they're free to explain as much as they want at whatever speed they want.

    But in traditional publishing, serialization has become a very rare thing. No longer do we see popular magazines running serialized stories every week or month, like how Charles Dickens famously got his start. Nowadays, if you want a print publisher, you have to go with short one-off stories or book-length narratives--both of which require very different types of storycrafting. And generally speaking, a wholly self-contained superhero is just not as interesting, not when there are already so many other stories out there in comic books that have long-running continuity on their side.

    Which brings up the next point. Comics have the genre pretty well-covered. Most superhero enthusiasts probably aren't looking to literature for their next favorite work. And until some breakout mega-hit comes along and redefines the market, I do not think this is going to change.

    The Zombie Knight -- undead superheroics
  9. Unillustrated (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    We're looking at you for that last one Wildbow. Just saying.

  10. George M. Frost (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    No, we're not. We're looking at ourselves. As we should be.

    The Zombie Knight -- undead superheroics
  11. D. D. Webb (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    As writers, we should always be looking at ourselves. That said, Worm is exactly the kind of story that could gain a lot of traction if it wasn't on a relatively little-known medium. Safe to say it's gained a lot of traction even so. If Wildbow ever partnered with an artist to release a graphic adaptation, it'd go over very well indeed, methinks.

    The Gods are Bastards Cowboys! Demons! Elves!
  12. Psycho Gecko (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Well, superheroes are so associated with comics, and comics are associated with children, so I think it shows up less in written fiction and more in web fiction because it falls into the age ghetto. Like the animation age ghetto. However, the internet lets you get away with writing all kinds of stuff. Some people indulge in fanfictions. Others Power Rangers. The Internet Wrestling Community is pretty huge. And, finally, you get people who can finally do some superhero stuff.

    Helping it out is that superheroes are very friendly as far as self-insert characters. A person could probably write about their day, then make up stories of their secret superhero life behind a mask. It also helps that there's a significant emphasis on high school and teens, which a number of people seem to enjoy writing about.

    I bet some people are attracted to the idealism. Others might enjoy deconstructing it and going all gritty. It's open to a lot of interpretations.

    My best guess is that it has something to do with the same reason I like wrestling...big personalities, wild fights, interesting costumes, fun speeches, and some humor. It's just more fun for me. I don't have a problem with the idea that something can be over-the-top and ridiculous, but also be series business. And while some people don't like superhero stories for this, I actually enjoy the fact that you can go all over the place with time travel, epic fantasy, steampunk, magic, mysteries, crime drama, other dimensions, and sci fi alien stories.

    Coincidentally, I'm not sure if my lapse in reading Pact is more because it's not superheroes or if I'm just a little burnt out on Wildbow's style. And as someone who frequently deals with people, I find it unrealistic that there are so many rational actors depicted.

  13. Alexander.Hollins (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    I saw a definitive surge in SH fiction after Worm ended. It WAS always there, but often smaller stories, very few sprawling narratives on it. I think its part the fact that its hard to traditionally publish SH prose, and so people want to fill a gap, and the popularity of Worm, and people realizing they CAN fill that gap. (now if we can get AE to abandon MU and start back on Star Harbor. )

  14. Chrysalis (Member)

    Posted 2 years ago

    Superheroes are a thing, not just in serials. There have been at least 2 superhero TV series in the past 2 years that I know of, countless movies, and if you do a search for books / ebooks, you'll find way more than you might have expected. It's actually a pretty popular genre. Even if you do a youtube search for epic trailer music, many of the tracks feature superhero inspired titles and / or video background art.

    I'm guessing Wildbow converted a good number of people who previously weren't interested in the genre. I'm one of those! I used to dislike anything superhero before Worm.

    Anathema, a web serial about the effect superpowers would have on our world. http://anathemaserial.wordpress.com/

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