Superhero Fiction: A Thousand Faces, others

This past fall, I had an interesting convention conversation with Frank Byrns, who edits and publishes A Thousand Faces, a quarterly journal devoted to superhero fiction.

I didn’t see the point, myself. Just as some people only read superhero comics because they can get other genres done well elsewhere, I get all the superhero stories I need on the four-color page, and I like the combination of character and art. But Frank was passionate about what he did, so I thought I’d give it a chance. He gave me a sample issue and encouraged me to check it out.

You can read that current issue, #2, online at the link, or order it and its predecessors in print from Lulu.com. (You can also buy issues as PDFs for less than half price.) I sampled a few of the stories from the latest issue.

Sticky didn’t grab me — too many characters, no reason to care. Gave me the impression the author didn’t know as much about relationships as the characters did. I wanted to like That’s Really Super, Super-Gal, but I couldn’t get past a major flaw in the setup. She’s on trial, you see, for someone’s death, and when asked her plea, she says “Guilty.” Then the trial goes on anyway. When someone pleads guilty to something, generally, you don’t bother with witnesses or the like afterwards, unless you’re doing sentencing. I think the author had a clever idea for a setup but didn’t work on it long enough to avoid the contradiction.

I also tried Girl Trouble, which was similarly disappointing. The first two paragraphs felt like a college writing exercise, and while the premise is approachable, the way it’s played out is unbelievable, even for superhero fiction. For What Purpose is the generic superhero monologue every fan’s already read.

I did like Bills, for three reasons: a relatable plot (superhero can’t keep job, needs money); an unusual set of powers (intangibility and electronic disruption); and events working towards a conclusion that tries to be realistic but is still in keeping with the genre and characters. The image of the hero’s head bobbing along at ground level while sneaking was funny, too.

Even though I had mixed results with the stories I tried, I’d recommend the site to those who love superheroes and want more character-driven stories. They’re free to sample, after all.

If you’re looking for more, check out Path of the Just and Path of the Bold. Both are collections of stories based on the superheroes from the Silver Age Sentinels role-playing game. (Although I suspect they’ll be familiar to any fan of the genre.)

The first book includes stories by John Ostrander, Ed Greenwood, and Steven Grant while the second features work by Robert Weinberg, Mike W. Barr, and John Kovalic, as well as many others. Both are edited by James Lowder.

Alternately, there are superhero romance novels. Cerridwen Press, an e-book publisher, has a new title, Introducing Sonika, about the romantic life of a super-heroine.

Sonika is actually 28-year-old Sonya Penn, a Gen Y gal working hard as a physical therapist in order to pay off the enormous medical bills that remained after her parents’ deaths…. incurred when her super-hero parents were killed by their arch-nemesis, Gentleman Geoffrey. Sonya could hardly know that when she met her newest client, he would not only turn out to be John Arlen, the heir to an engineering fortune, but that he, too, was injured by a super-villain.

(I bet they fall in love.) It’s written by Eilis Flynn. The bio information provided to me says she co-plotted Superman comic stories as “Elizabeth M. Smith” during college, but the only credit the GCD shows for that name is an issue of Elvira’s House of Mystery. (Update: Bob points out they’re under “Elizabeth Smith”.) Anyway, shows just how hip the genre’s become.


4 Responses to “Superhero Fiction: A Thousand Faces, others”

  1. BobH Says:

    Search without the middle initial.

    The ACTION #486 story is one I’m pretty fond of, being one of the earliest comics I bought that I still own. Odd little Lex Luthor story.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Oh, duh! I should have thought of that, thank you.

  3. Frank Byrns Says:

    Johanna –

    I would endorse the Silver Age Sentinel books, as well. They were a welcome addition to my own library of superhero fiction.

    Thanks again for taking a look at our magazine.

  4. Van Plexico Says:

    Superhero fiction is where it’s at! Check out the SENTINELS from White Rocket Books, http://www.whiterocketbooks.com, and see the new story featuring these characters in Frank’s A Thousand Faces magazine (online) at the end of January ’08. Check ‘em out!




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