I have a special place in my heart for superheroes (which goes part of the way towards explaining a forthcoming book coming out by kt literary client Matthew Cody) and so I was eager to read Michael Chabon’s recent New Yorker article. Go read for yourself. I’m only on page one so far, but I had to stop and post this:
Superman invented and exhausted his genre in a single bound. All the tropes, all the clichés and conventions, all the possibilities, all the longings and wishes and neuroses that have driven and fed and burdened the superhero comic during the past seventy years were implied by and contained within that little red rocket ship hurtling toward Earth.
The article loses me a little as it gets into a discussion of costumes, but what I want to talk about here is this question of genre.
Writers so often ask about trends, and the question of what’s hot and how to write to that, but Chabon intuits another way around that question. If the syllogism is that Superman created the genre, but there are other superheroes, how else can we write that sentence, and what can we learn from it?
Does “Buffy created the genre, but there are other vampire slayers” work? How about “The Lord of the Rings created the genre, but there are other fantasy epics”? What else? After Buffy and LOTR, do other examples of their genre only come off as cliché? Discuss!