Hardcover heroes: Comic book novels

wayne of gotham

There’s a surprisingly long history of comic book superheroes appearing in novels, either hardcover or paperback. Some of us have shelves lined with prose treatments of our favorite heroes.

Having just read “Wayne of Gotham,” a recent novel by Tracy Hickman, I thought I’d make mention of a couple of notable ones.

First, “Wayne of Gotham.” Hickman’s story alternates between two time periods, the present day, as Batman tries to unravel a decades-old mystery, and the late 1950s, when his father, Gotham physician Thomas Wayne, dealt with a threat to his beloved city.

The 1950s storyline, of course, takes place several years before the events of the Batman comics that created the Dark Knight: Thomas and Martha Wayne are gunned down in an alley, while their young son watches, by a deadly criminal. Young Bruce Wayne devotes his life to fighting crime, as we all know, as Batman.

In Hickman’s book, chapters alternate between the present and the past, recounting a mystery that confronted both generations of Waynes.

In some ways, it feels like Hickman’s most daring decision is to depict an aging Batman who fights crime now with the help of high-tech devices. Sure, Batman still enjoys a good scrap. But he’s middle-aged and all those midnight battles have taken a toll on his body.

superman george lowther

The granddaddy of all superhero books is George Lowther’s 1942 novel “The Adventures of Superman.” The character of Superman had been around for a few years by the time this hardback book was published, but the impetus for the book was no doubt the very popular “The Adventures of Superman” radio series. Lowther was a writer on the show as well as many others.

(Fun fact about Lowther, who died in 1975: He also wrote more than 40 episodes of “CBS Radio Mystery Theater,” the last of the widely heard radio dramas, in 1974 and 1975.)

Lowther’s Superman novel, which was reprinted in 1995, was the first novelization of a comic book superhero, of course, but also contributed to the mythology of the character, naming Superman’s parents on Krypton Jor-El and Lara, varying from the earlier Jor-L and Lora from the comics.

(Another fun fact: The radio series introduced several of the core Superman mythos concepts, including Kryptonite, that elemental remnant of Superman’s home planet that can be dangerous to him. Although the radio show is largely unheard these days – I have an audio cassette boxed set from 20 years ago – it contributed a lot to the character.)

enemies and allies

Probably my favorite modern-day superhero novelization is “Enemies & Allies,” a 2009 novel by Kevin J. Anderson.

Set at the height of the Cold War in the 1950s, the novel recounts the early, uneasy meeting between Superman and Batman as they team up to battle Lex Luthor, who is stoking 1950s-era fears of nuclear war and alien invasion.

Anderson’s book is terrific. It’s a good treatment of vintage superheroics and is quite faithful to the feeling of mutual suspicion replaced by growing trust between Superman and Batman. I wish he’d come back to the characters.

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