An Homage to Classic Superheroes: After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

An Homage to Classic Superheroes: After the Golden Age by Carrie Vaughn

After the Golden Age-small Dreams of the Golden Age-small

Superheroes rule at the box office, and have for nearly a decade. They’ve pretty much conquered television as well. And of course, they’ve been the predominate genre in American comics since the 1960s.

But novels? Not so much. For whatever reason, the massive popularity of American superheroes just hasn’t translated to prose. There have been some solid attempts, however, perhaps most notably Peter Clines’s Ex-Heroes series and George R.R. Martin and Melinda Snodgrass’s long-running Wild Cards shared universe (now in development for television at Universal Cable Productions).

One of the most interesting to me personally is Carrie Vaughn’s two-volume series After the Golden Age, about the children of famous superheroes, struggling to find their way in the world and form their own fledgling supergroup. Publishers Weekly called the first novel “A loving homage to classic superheroes,” RT Book Reviews says it’s “More than a superhero story… an adventurous story that is much more about the emotions than the ability to fly,” and Locus gave it a very enthusiastic review, calling it “A thrilling yarn… good old-fashioned comic book fun.”

Here’s the back covers of the paperback editions.

After the Golden Age-back-small Dreams of the Golden Age-back-small

Both volumes are still available in paperback from Tor. Here’s the publishing details:

After the Golden Age (352 pages, $7.99 print & digital, January 2012) — cover by Colin Anderson
Dreams of the Golden Age (352 pages, $7.99 print & digital, November 2014) — cover by Arcangel Images

See all our coverage of the best fantasy series here.

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I want to write an epic superhero fantasy. But I struggle between wanting to go all out and the restraining hand of realism when it comes to projects I want to set in the “real world.”
On superhero novels in general, I wonder if the failure to translate into novels is the tendency to use superheroes as props to tell more mundane stories.


To sftheory1 and John, my thoughts – I waited a while coz I didn’t want to troll… This article made me think a bit… Some thoughts for those that look back or search later;

I’d like to do a “Superhero” genre story someday too. They are too underrepresented in literature, but the irony is that they started from literature. Specifically the “Pulps”, most notably the “Weird Detective” sub-genre; Detective stories dealing with supernatural, high tech, bizarre – yes this is Batman’s start.

Right now I’m doing fantasy, adventure and historical fiction. Superhero is a genre I might tackle later, after I do science fiction. Someday I’ll do an Entropic fiction, like Clark Ashton Smith’s “Zothique”.

What argue, both for myself and anyone thinking of doing it:

1. To kind quote a favorite philosopher of mine – one whom I won’t name – “When I walk into a bookstore I think about the CRIME of adding another single page to that stinking PILE of print…”
The show must go on and all that, but what are you truly adding to the genre by typing out a collection of plot, events, characters, etc.? Though under-represented in literature the superhero is certainly more than covered for in visual media. When we had “American McGee’s Grimm” they did a short comic series where the evil dwarf wrecked superheroes, starting the story “Greetings, Children…hehehe…A popular definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
What could you do to add to it? It’s been done to death. De-construction: Dark Knight Returns, Watchmen… Revival? Every few years till even “Comic Book Guy” level fanboys choke on it. Modern “Topical” issues? Marvel has made some of their best characters when they let good writers alone with “Token …ority… character” (Daredevil, Blade, Black Panther, Power Man) but nowadays it bonks; Thor, MsMarvel, MoonGirl… Hate the first, kind of ok with the 2nd two, but not enough sales, they’ll be cancelled or dumped to 3rd rate writers/artists. Even “Style over Substance” can be an art in itself if done right – Vampire Hunter D, The Incredibles, but again done to death.

2. After #1, don’t think I’m being “Captain Bring Down”…ok?
I just argue it should be a product an excellent writer tackles; bringing the ‘superhero’ back to the written word.
The “I’m just hammering on my keyboard hoping manuscript #1001 will be accepted at last and get printed and join the pile of print and…” is done already. Again and again and again. Want to do that Marvel and DC and Image and others are always looking for writers who can make an entertaining story despite rigid ancient characters and regular dumps of sludge (crossovers) and chew-up and spew (ultimate crisis to end all crisis) too often to carry a good long story. AND – you’d not worry about having a publisher mmmaybe not use ugly photoshop or some stock image from an art gulag, you’d have talented artists draw every major scene and event…! But there are some stuff in comics that are excellent for stories, check out the “Prophet” series after they left the “Extreme, dood…!” 90s and explored the far future Heavy Metal style. I also love “Black Summer” done years ago.

3. I’d suggest a return to the “Pulp” roots. And the earlier sources… Classic fantasy, legends, myths.
But – I don’t mean “Make Pulp Style Genre Adventures” – uh, unless you were out to do that already, superheroes in the modern sense be darned…
I mean, I’d love to hammer out or see hammered out a turn of the century to mid century yarn with a hard boiled hero donning a mask and saving a beautiful heiress from a crazed cult of hooded figures who are trying to torture her into insanity with deadly perils. Like they need a hidden giant emerald only she knows about but not so much for its value but their real leader is a Chinese super-scientist and the gem was a treasure looted in the aftermath of the Boxer Rebellion and he can use it’s power to dominate the world…
I’d like to do it just to make the “Politically Correct Precious Individual Snowflakes” go fwowy up in their expensive natural granola that breaks their teeth with the rocks and twigs. Possibly would be published in Castilla house, though I’d self-publish online regardless…
But, no – crude “Returning to Pulp Roots” for its own sake is derivative..

Think more of visiting it like the hero returning to the sacred cave or the wizard’s lair to repair and rebuild his magical weapon – perhaps in a more modern term having various “Mana Gems” gained through the first hero’s journey. Like an Anime/Manga – Magic Knight Rayearth where the girls were given their first magic weapons but then went on a quest for magic metals so they could have their real ones made.

How do you capture that magic again? How do you re-forge that magic weapon? Where do you find the fire that burns and destroys but then re-forges into the Super-Human?

Not a question I’m ready to seek right now. I’m exploring other things in my stories, which even if they read like pulps are meant to have layers of meaning. I’m a big fan of Khalil Gibran, Sufi Wisdom stories, lots of bizarre, eclectic stuff as much as Conan the Barbarian. And anyone who only wants a good ‘surface’ – uh, well, again I say in no offense but perhaps should try to get published with DC, Marvel, etc.?

Also – IMO – if anyone wants “Super Heroes” done today that is good not just major publishers treading water and spewing something they think relevant one should check out “Empowered” by Adam Warren published by Dark Horse. It’s a comedy with some sexy but not pornographic content – both having tried and true tropes in Superheroes and joking/modifying them. One of my favorite Sub-plots is he actually used the “Faust Gambit” plot trope – one of the characters -not the main one- sold her soul for superpowers, and it explores the funny, the scary, the sad aspects of it.


John, I agree that the market hasn’t found the right balance.
Personally, I would prefer a superhero novel (or series of novels) to replicate (as best as possible) a comic book format.
The problem for superhero novels may boil down to Marvel and DC (and other comic book publishers) make superhero novels redundant. What advantages do novels have over comics that could attract comic book readers to try out a super hero novel? And is that advantage something that superhero fans want to read?


You raise excellent points that any writer of superhero stories not for Marvel or DC need to answer. And a spiritual return to the roots of the superhero story may be interesting if not bound to the past.

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x