This novel is touted as being the precursor to the realistic or at least grittier and less purely heroic portrayal of superheroes that swept through comics in the early to mid 1980s Out of print for over two decades, Mayer s book was reprinted in 2005 with a slightly inaccurate foreword by Grant Morrison and blurb from Stan Lee, Paul Dini, and Kurt Busiek to help draw in current comics readers Clearly, all of this worked on me Superfolks is self consciously gonzo and wacky in a very 70s fashion, and there are aspects of the novel that remind me of the silliness of Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea s Illuminatustrilogy although without the same level of either excess or daring Mayer posits a world where all the superheroes are dead or missing except one, a Superman analogue who is teasingly never named Most of the other characters are named, however, and frequently with the names of celebrities and famous figures fictional and true The protagonist s secret identity is David Brinkley, the stripper with a heart of chrome is Lorna Doone, a jailhouse guard is Bill Buckley Sometimes it s funny, sometimes it s not.The premise of the novel is that this lone remaining superhero is in the midst of a mid life crisis, pining for his former glories that ended when he began experiencing patches of weakness His powers are diminished, and Brinkley languishes in suburban self pity Until, of course, he s called to action by a new wave of turmoil in his beloved New York Woven into this plotline are conspiracies, histories of other heroes, political commentary, and social satire The novel has its moments, to be sure, but I suspect that if it hadn t been about superheroes currently and strangely fashionable again in a second postmodern resurgence it never would have been reprinted It s better read as a document of its time than as some profound and lasting statement on any of the themes it glancingly treats. Considered to be the original retired superhero tale, the inspiration for well known works like Watchmen and The Incredibles Too bad it sucks Mayer s sense of humor seems to be based almost entirely around bad puns, and on naming his main characters after famous people Our protagonist David Brinkley Not only is this not funny, it s confusing when someone like Richard Nixon is mentioned, who are we then supposed to assume he means There s also just something unpleasant about this book Little nuggets of sexism and racism that I m sure Mayer would say are part of the satire, but which just made me feel icky So while this book may be groundbreaking, personally, I d rather break in the opposite direction. So, obviously I d heard mutterings of this before, but it was when it became the latest front in the Grant Morrison Alan Moore DUEL OF WIZARDS that I got motivated to pop it on the old wishlist Morrison s contention, as I recall, being that Moore had not sufficiently acknowledged his borrowings from Mayer in his major early works Wellno The Moore works of which I was reminded here were not Watchmen and Miracleman, they were the charming minor pieces Pictopia and Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow both lovely, but hardly the stuff on which Moore s legacy rests First off yes, this brings a dose of realism to superheroics, but given there s no such thing as an objective take on reality, realism describes an awful lot of styles This is the realism of the postwar American novel it s worth noting that as well as comic book superheroes grown old and giving up, the cast here also includes Holden Caulfield and Portnoy in respectable middle age Plus Snoopy, plus Ronald McDonald, plus various figures from seventies American politics whose relevance I d never have grasped if I d read this pre Google The tone is larger than life, satirical closer in many ways to Mad magazine superhero parodies than Watchmen style realism I should note, though, that while I don t generally buy into the British literary establishment s love affair with that particular school of novelists, it worked here perhaps because of the subject matter, I could go along for the ride with Superfolks in a way I couldn t with, say, Herzog.Second just as Morrison argues, with some justification, that Moore overstates Moore s own status as a unique forerunner, so Morrison himself in turn exaggerates the unique prescience of Superfolks I have a paperback anthology called simply Superheroes which came out the next year, collecting many stories some new, some recent, some dating back to the forties which likewise bring a dose of realism to the heroes the most famous is Larry Niven s essay Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex Marvel s early comics, in their own clumsy way, had tried to do something similar in the early sixties, and DC had got in on the act in the early seventies when Green Arrow s kid sidekick became a junkie I m sure the jokes and Tijuana bibles go back to the first years of comics so called Golden Age Humans can t help but dream of something better hence superheroes Then when they see something better, they equally can t help making jokes about that superman s knob.Still, even if I read this book for the worst of reasons drawn into a feud between two of my favourite comics writers that s another sale for a book which definitely deserves them About which I realise I ve said very little directly, but then just as I came into it broadly ignorant of the plot, of anything bar the most basic premise, so in my turn I wouldn t want to give too much away. I had been looking for this book on and off for quite a long time, now You see, once upon a time, when I was but a young lad of 13 or 14, I stumbled across a copy of it in my local library It made quite an impression Unfortunately, that particular edition of the text had been released under the title Everyman, which meant that my subsequent efforts to find it were doomed to be fruitless, until I finally managed to Google the right combination of the few bits that I actually remembered correctly and turned up a reference to the rerelease under the new title.It s beginning to show its age, but for a 35 year old work it s held up remarkably well It is a broad farce in the older tradition, so there s a lot fourth wall breaking, name dropping all of the city cabs are apparently driven by Bella Abzug , self insertion Mayer himself appears very briefly as a random staffer in the newspaper office and references to other properties DC comics, Snoopy, etc than you d see in a contemporary work But for all of that, it still conveys the basic premise of a superhero who s grown older, settled down, and started wondering about his relevancy and usefulness in a way that many of its imitators never quite managed For example, Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns may edge it out in terms of grim realism and socio political commentary, but in terms of actually getting inside the head of the protagonist, I d still have to go with Superfolks Admittedly, the prose format does allow for development, but still Definitely worth reading for a comics fan, but possibly not a permanent purchase. 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 sophisticated deconstructions like the aforementioned Moore s, maybe my taste runs 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 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 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. Characters 3 Plot 3 Universe 3 I know this is a cult favorite of many people and I did enjoy it, but just didn t fall in love with it. |Book ☸ Superfolks ☸ Before There Was WATCHMEN, There Was SUPERFOLKSDavid Brinkley Used To Be A Hero, The Greatest The World Had Ever Seen Until He Retired, Got Married, Moved To The Suburbs, And Packed On A Few Extra Pounds Now All The Heroes Are Dead Or Missing, And His Beloved New York Is On The Edge Of Chaos It S Up To Brinkley To Come To The Rescue, But He S In The Midst Of A Serious Mid Life Crisis His Superpowers Are Failing HimAt Long Last This Classic Satire That Inspired Comic Books Like Watchmen And Miracleman Is Back In Print It S A Hilarious Thriller That Digs Deep Into The American Psyche This is reminiscent of the Roger Rabbit novel The author has found this then untapped, rich field for parody He then sets out to develop the friction between the real world and the subject But something about it feels unprofessional I can t tell you what, but it does I think part of it might be the author s decision to place the characters in the world of DC Comics without authorization which lends itself to a weird feeling that the important name brand heroes are too important to show up This is heightened by the fact that the main character is a trope for trope double for Superman A couple of the twists are inventive Once in a while a joke hits the mark The author obviously tried to overcome his naming problems by relying on names from other media, but it freights all of his characters with unrelated baggage and confuses the story. I saw this in a store once upon a time, flipped through it, thought it was good and I d buy it when I had money, and then it was gone But due to the Magic of the Internet, I eventually found it again and read it.It hasn t aged well Funny name jokes rarely work on me So calling Kryptonite Cronkite isn t that funny to me, even thought I know who Cronkite was But it had some really good moments, particularly when it wasn t trying to be funny And the ending actually was moving. A satirical look at the life of a retired superhero The book was written in 1977, so some of the humor is dated, but i got a chuckle out of much of it, especially him running into flying doghouses with a french speaking dog I think if you go into it looking for the humor in it than the overall plot, you might have a better time Things seems to just sort of wrap up quicker than i expected.