Suspended Animation Suspended Animation
by Michael Vance & Jon Suter

    April 17, 1998

    One of the latest wrinkles in the exploitation of popular comic book heroes is the appearance of adult novels based on such heroes as Superman and the X-Men. There are now enough titles in print to demonstrate the existence of a "niche market" ripe for cultivation.

    Prose tales about popular comic characters are nothing new. Companies such as Whitman churned out numerous titles for the juvenile market.

    Most of these cheaply produced works were sold in department store chains like Woolworth. Regular bookstores would rarely handle these poorly bound, rapidly yellowing cousins of comic books.

    Very few copies of these have survived in good condition; a few have been reprinted as curiosities.

    In terms of writing, such books were milder than most pulp magazines or dime novels.

    The new prose versions are, in many cases, as ephemeral as those of the 1940s, but a clear attempt is being made to woo adult readers who have outgrown first passions for superheroes.

    There are few illustrations.

    In some cases, such as Roger Stern's Death and Life of Superman, we have prose recapitulations of major comic book story area. Sterns' prose is competent, but how many readers who have never seen the Doomsday comic books of Superman could begin to visualize the characters, let alone understand their relationships? Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen probably are recognizable, but how many casual readers would ever understand references to characters Booster Gold or Maxima?

    Collect them if you want, but their most intriguing aspect is that they are marketed as adult books.

    Another sign that novels about comic book heroes sell well is the tendency of the Science Fiction Book Club to issue anthology volumes which contain three or more works which originally appeared in paperback format only.

    The Club has handled several Star Wars titles in that way, and has recently issued a single volume version of writer Christopher Golden's X-Men trilogy, Mutant Empire."

    Now collectors can bag their paperbacks and keep the Club's hardbacks on their book shelves.


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