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by Robert Mayer

Download Superfolks epub
ISBN: 0417054602
ISBN13: 978-0417054605
Category: Literature
Author: Robert Mayer
Language: English
Publisher: Littlehampton Book Services Ltd; New edition edition (November 13, 1980)
Pages: 240 pages
ePUB size: 1790 kb
FB2 size: 1326 kb
Rating: 4.3
Votes: 685
Other Formats: azw lit mobi doc

Anyone who thinks that Watchmen or the Incredibles are fairly new concepts needs to be aware of this book. I wouldn't know about it at all were it not for Kurt Busiek mentioning it in his first Astro City collection. It's an more ways than one.

As Busiek correctly notes, this novel takes the superhero story and places it against the backdrop of a mid-life crisis. You're surely familiar with this story by now: a superhero has retired to spend more time with his family but he's finding it stultifying. He gradually finds himself drifting back into the game he left behind when an unknown menace seems to be doing more harm to the city he once protected. One could argue that Frank Miller practically cribbed most of the plot highlights for "The Dark Knight Returns", though that is a bit unfair to say.

I can honestly say that this IS a good book, probing all the assumptions anyone ever made about a Superman story along with a little dissection of the Captain Marvel cycle. However, that statement comes with a couple of caveats. First, it's helpful to have a working knowledge of late 1970s pop culture to get most of the jokes (which range from Candice Bergen to Kolchak). Second, if you're easily offended by racial epithets and sibling incest, you might want to skip this one. Both will pop up in due course.
I'll try not to repeat too much of what everyone else here has said. Yes, this is a wonderful and groundbreaking book. It's also a very quick read. I naturally read most books, even fiction, very slowly. Not this book. I found myself turning pages so fast that I had to intentionally slow myself down so it wouldn't end too soon. The author draws you into his world very easily in all the right ways.

A bit of advice: I recommend stopping every so often to remind yourself of context. How would this book be seen by someone reading it back when it was written -- before The Watchmen, The Tick, The Incredibles and just about everyone else has re-done the genre of placing superheroes into the everyday world. The satire is that much funnier when you see it from this perspective. Also, there are tons of contemporary pop-culture references which are funnier when you remind yourself of the era in which this was written.

If you think my advice is over-analyzing what should just be fun pop fiction, ignore me. It's still a great book on its own merits.
Clever. Cute. A little over the top but never to its detriment. Superfolks is the seed from which all the meta superhero comics would spawn. The roots of Watchmen are here. Along with a ton of other post-modern comics.<br/>Mayer uses so much of superman lore, bent to be just the slightest bit obfuscated, to weave a fun tale with heroism and humor.
I read it while in my early teens and am about to read it again at 51. I suspect it will be completely different, and I will understand the sublety
I read this when it first came out, decades ago, and enjoyed it thoroughly then and was delighted to find it again more recently. It was the first book of its kind that humanized super-heroes, and reminded us that we may all age, but our mission remains the same.
Superfolks was one of my favorite sleaze ball reads this year; it's a must for people that enjoy Christopher Moore's satire and the odd ball approach to Superheroes that writers like Grant Morrison deliver with a side order of Disney porno.

I found the book to be cute at first, but it just keeps on piling up the fiction references. Imagine a world where everything fiction in our world existed, that's what this book is.
Cute to begin with, but ultimately boring.
If someone described to you a book that was an influence on the superhero deconstruction stories of Alan Moore and Grant Morrison (among others) in a satirical style that was not unlike Kurt Vonnegut, what kind of book would you imagine? A funnier "Watchmen"? A sort of proto-"Marvelman"? An "anything goes" style of absurdity that leaves a distinct roadmap for later projects like "Doom Patrol"? A work that skewers superheroes and all that cliches that come along with 1970s genre stories, from the point of view of someone who didn't spend their life in comic books? All of those things sound kind of awesome in their own way and I'm sure anyone reading that description that can probably envision their own equally fascinating variants on those themes.

I just don't feel like this is the book that people would come up with.

Its interesting because this book has been trumpeted by people whose writing and sometimes opinions I respect, people like Grant Morrison and Kurt Busiek (Stan Lee gets a blurb too but since he's nonstop Captain Positive his testaments are the kinds of things I chuckle indulgently over with a "oh, bless . . .") so its clear that even in a world where people like to hold up obscure things as awesome simply because they're obscure, a number of people who later found careers in writing comic books have read this and found it to be worth talking about. And from a historical standpoint it is, because it is probably one of the earliest attempts at deconstructing the superhero genre.

But beyond the historical aspect, I don't think there's too much else to recommend here. Maybe I've been spoiled over the years by more sophisticated deconstructions like the aforementioned Moore's, maybe my taste runs more toward the grittier tone that he and the writers who followed him often took . . . but I went into this knowing it wouldn't be on par with something like "Watchmen", if for nothing else writing a book about superheroes without the benefit of the madcap visual madness the best comics are capable of is like trying to take in an art museum where the colors have been removed from all the paintings. Most of the elements are there but its not quite the same.

So I expected an embryonic effort in that regard and in fact didn't even expect to be blown away, especially as its clear that its not a serious deconstruction. What I didn't expect was an embryonic take on writing a novel entirely, like someone had mailed out a first draft that was written to give their friends giggles and somehow got published by accident. There are moments but its just . . . not professional.

I can see where comic professionals have responded to this over the years. The ideas are there. The basic premise, of a retired superhero dealing with the aging process and no longer being a superhero has to come back and fight a menace from his past one last time, is something that hadn't been done before in the comic book world, not when characters like Superman and Batman had been going for nigh on forty plus years by the time this book was published, still as ageless as ever except for the occasional meaningless "imaginary story". Its vision of a world where all the other superheroes are dead or retired is something new and sprinkled throughout are moments of real invention, where its clear the author is clearly thinking through the implications of what he's started and taking to conclusions that veer between logical and satirical but at least have some weight to them.

So yes, the core of the ideas are worthy. Its a shame the presentation is so gosh darn amateurish.

Right from the start its clear we're in for a bit of a lark. Mayer lists a number of superheroes that have died over the years, most of them famous names, Batman, Superman, the Lone Ranger that clearly were real in this world. Even the mention of Snoopy being shot down could be taken as the author having some fun with the concept and setting the scene (don't fret too much about the lovable beagle's demise, he shows up at least twice later) so there's no any huge red flags.

Then you find out that the hero's name is David Brinkley. Yes, like the broadcaster. And he comes from the planet Cronk, the substance of which that can hurt him is called Cronkite. It goes on and on like this throughout the entire rest of the book, with characters either being actual pop culture figures from that time (his neighbor is Kojak, and not just someone named Kojak but the actual Telly Savalas character) or taking their names from pop culture figures (his parents on Cronk were Archie and Edith, while his Earth parents who adopted him were Franklin and Eleanor). There seems to be no satirical reason for this or a kind of commentary about the world that Mayer is making, time after time he just seems to find it funny, unless its some meta attempt to force people to make connections that aren't quite there. And while its not uncommon for real world figures to appear in superhero stories of this type (let's not forget that Richard Nixon was still President in "Watchmen") this barrage of names seems to have no thought process or rhyme or reason to it, he just does it because it can. But it makes the story read at times (and by that I mean "often") like bad fan-fiction, something posted online without having been seen by an editor or heck, anyone who might have said "maybe this isn't as clever as you seem to think it is". It does come across as something that my peers in high school would have read, full of smirking references to in-jokes that would make people in the know giggle while confusing everyone else.

But even I could overlook that kind of thing (as difficult as that is since he does it on nearly every page) if the book wasn't so tonally all over the place. The overall plot has a skeleton of a thriller around it, with a crime crisis on NYC forcing Brinkley to consider going back into action despite his cozy domestic existence and gradually withering powers. There's a conspiracy afoot to bring him about in the open so he can be killed and its possible the whole thing is being orchestrated by an old enemy who's pulling the strings. There's flashbacks to old memories, a brief and memorable visit with a hero in an asylum, some nice scenes of Brinkley learning how to do things again like fly.

Unfortunately for every time when you start getting sucked into the world of the novel Mayer goes and proves that he has the same plotting skills of a five year old telling you what they want for Christmas and the coherency of someone who hasn't slept for a week and is being forced to recount the thematic intricacies of a Dostoevsky novel. Scenes whiplash from giggly punny humor to serious superhero contemplation to a teenage level of smuttiness, often within the same page. But instead of being delirious and giving the reader a sense of anything goes, it feels like Mayer is simply making things up as he goes along without any regard to whether logic should apply. Brinkley blunders through the novel without any regard for how the dots might connect, with plot twists appearing and being discarded with wild abandon, and left field circumstances arriving so often that the whole book might as well be titled "Left Field".

Maybe its supposed to replicate the craziness of Golden Age comics but for a new era. I could understand that to some extent. But a book where Snoopy literally appears twice (as well as Charlie Brown to reprise his "duckey and horsey" punchline from an old strip), where a fairy godmother comes out of nowhere just because, where a character is orally pleasured by a famous literary character in the next to last chapter for no apparent reason, where a brother and sister in a deathtrap decide incest is the best escape route, on top of all the other stuff I've mentioned causes the novel to veer from what it thinks is "crazy fun wackiness all the times" to utter incoherence.

And the frustrating part is that the serious stuff is decent enough that you wish he had either gone that route or jettisoned the more dramatic moments and gone full gonzo with the over the top stuff. As I said, the entire concept is fascinating, and he's got a variety of really inventive moments peppering the book. The revelation of the ultimate foe and the conversation they have at the climax is worthy. The relationship between the hero and his family is touching in its sincerity. The explanation for how Brinkley might be losing his powers is clever. For someone writing in pure prose Mayer has a good grasp of superhero fight dynamics, with a battle between Brinkley and a Plastic Man stand-in harnessing the nutty logic of the book to good effect finally, with Brinkley discovering a solution that makes sense with the world he's dumped into. Even his ultimate decision is handled sensitively, with a seriousness the rest of the book merely flirts with.

It makes for a weird, weird experience that thankfully will probably only last for a short while (I managed to read it in less than two hours) but its not even weird in a mind-bending or endearingly goofy way. Its just uncomfortably weird, like a person you meet on a train who insists on telling you this rambling and embarrassing tale and expecting you to respond the whole time like its a work of utter genius. Even its fans probably don't apply the "genius" tag to this book but after reading it I wonder if they're responding more to the novelty of the kernel of the novel's concept and by what the novel has spawned, directly or indirectly. As a superhero book its awkward, as satire its clumsy, as humor its often the exact opposite and while the overall effect may be of someone who is writing purely for their own pleasure Mayer was unable to convey even a fraction of that pleasure to the reader. If not for the famous comic writers who keep mentioning it every so often I think it would justly fall through the cracks as a minor curiosity of its era, which is about what it deserves. If any of the stories I've read and liked over the years in this vein were influenced or inspired by this book, I can only imagine it came from one of those writers reading this novel and after finishing, sitting back and thinking, "Gee, I'm pretty sure I can do better than this."