(Posted by Ron Hogan)
For years I tried to remember what the heck that story was and how could I track it down again. At some point, because I remembered there being so many characters created by other people, and because I’d read it in a magazine, I got the idea that it was a Philip José Farmer story. (Which, for some reason, also made me think it had sex scenes, because I also remembered not really getting much of the story beyond the fact that it named comic book heroes I recognized.)
A couple months ago, I was browsing in my local bookstore when I stumbled onto Robert Mayer’s Superfolks, which had just been brought back into print, and nearly felt chills as I read the opening pages, because I knew instantly this was that story. I’m positive now that I read an excerpt in a magazine, because I can’t imagine either of my parents buying this novel in 1977–it turns out to be sort of a parody of Donald Barthelme parodying Frederick Exley by making his sad sack suburbanite a washed-up superhero who’s retreated entirely into his secret identity…as newspaperman David Brinkley. And, yeah, it’s pretty much the real David Brinkley: the entire novel is populated by a mixture of real-life and pop culture icons. It’s also a send-up of 1970s New York, when crime was hitting all-time highs and the city was nearly broke. That’s one of the things that would have gone completely over my head in ’77, since I was not only at the complete opposite end of the country, but another couple thousand miles beyond that, living on a military base in Hawaii.
So of course I started reading the novel as soon as I left the store, and pretty much devoured it overnight. It’s just fantastic stuff–apparently, a lot of comic book writers who either read the whole book in ’77 or a few years later cite it as a major influence in their desire to write more psychologically “realistic” superheroes (including the sex scenes, which do turn up, but which I probably didn’t read back then–a good thing, too, as the thinly disguised Marvel Family scene alone would have scarred me for life if I’d seen it as a kid), but there’s a lot more to it than just the comic book satire. I would definitely recommend going out and tracking down your own copy.