You know superheroes. You love superheroes. But if you want to write about superheroes, sometimes it’s hard to put a spin on a subject that hasn’t already made the rounds. Adam Christopher faced the Superhero Challenge in his latest novel, Seven Wonders; here’s how he defeated it on his own terms.
Sometimes the big idea just comes to you, unannounced, sneaking up and moving into the spare room before you can say a thing. And then it sticks around, lingering, for weeks, months, years. Sometimes you forget about it, and then when you’re working at your desk it suddenly sticks its head in front of the screen and tells you that it is way, way better than the whatever-it-is you’re currently working on.
Well, you get the picture. Those ideas, as annoying as they may be, are often the best. The idea at the heart of Seven Wonders was like that. Annoying, persistent, and quite wonderful.
I love superheroes, and I especially love superhero comics. Superhero novels, on the other hand, are difficult beasts – superheroes need a big canvas, a lot of space, whether it’s on the pages of a monthly from Marvel, or DC, or Image, or the multitude of other comic publishers, or whether it’s on the big screen down at your local multiplex. Superheroes are about colour, and action; they’re about extremes, good and evil fighting it out with a good helping of wirework and SFX and those gorgeous double-page splashes. Superheroes are about excitement and adventure and really wild things.
Mostly. Watchmen has action and spectacle but is about something much deeper, of course. Astro City, one of my favourite comics by one of my favourite creators, Kurt Busiek, tells wonderful, moving stories about individual lives and loves against a vast backdrop of superheroes. Comics can tell any kind of story, and maybe superheroes can too.
Seven Wonders is my love-letter to superhero comics. My debut novel, Empire State, was actually written after Seven Wonders, and while that novel features a couple of superheroes, it’s more a science fiction detective story. When I was writing that book, I’d already done my big superhero story – that manuscript was sitting in a drawer, my homage to the Silver and Bronze Ages of superhero comics, filled with spandex and crazy names and unlikely anatomies, heroes and villains and the people caught in the middle. Of course, Seven Wonders is by no means the first superhero novel – far from it. Superheroes in prose go right back to 1942 and come and go in waves every few years with books like Soon I Will Be Invincible, After The Golden Age, Prepare to Die!, Playing for Keeps, the Wild Cards series, to name just a few – it’s a fine tradition, one I hope I’m contributing to.
So, what was the big idea, exactly? Well, it was – it is – the twist at the centre of the tale, the pivot point that made this story about two opposing factions of superpowered people punching the living daylights out of each something more, something else. It’s an idea that stuck with me for years, and years, until it just absolutely had to be written.
But central to this were the characters – there are good guys and bad guys, and some that are both or neither. For Seven Wonders, I wanted to tell the story from several different points of view – from the heroes, the Seven Wonders themselves: how do they see their own actions as they fight to, apparently, protect their city while letting their arch-nemesis the Cowl do what he likes? And what about the Cowl? He’s the villain, for sure, but nobody thinks they are doing wrong or are evil – they’re doing what they think is best, whether it’s for themselves or for some greater purpose. So what happens to a supervillain when things don’t go according to their plan? And how do the Seven Wonders, the Cowl, and the city’s hapless police department (more often than not cleaning up the mess after the capes have had one of their regular smackdowns) react to the arrival of a new force, an ordinary guy suddenly having to come to terms with being the most powerful superhero of them all?
And… what would you do, if you were Tony? If you had the power to save your city, to maybe show those lazy good-for-nothing superheroes a thing or two while you’re about it… would you do it? Could you control it? Or is that kind of power just too big for a single person to master?
That’s the big idea, at the heart of it. With great power comes great responsibility.
But perhaps with great responsibility comes… great power.