The first Superhero short story I remember really liking was “Übermensch!,” a 1991 short story by Kim Newman about a world in which Superman landed in a German field and became the Führer’s greatest weapon. This was a great story and I was greatly intrigued by the idea of a comic book hero in print format. I read a few other stories and even a couple of novels which featured comic book stars, but none of them reached the same heady heights as Übermensch!
So I was excited to find Masked edited by Lou Anders. These are great little stories, though some try a little too hard to be Watchmen. My main problem with Watchmen was it’s cast of no name superheros. I liked by hero angst best with Superman, Green Lantern, and Green Arrow. There was some really kick ass comic books in the early 1970s that set the ground work for Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns that everyone seems to have forgotten about.
Anyway-Masked is a collection of short stories featuring no name superheroes living on alternate worlds. Most of the heroes bear striking similarities to heroes we are familiar with-super heroes that sound a lot like Superman, Wonder Woman, The Thing, and Plastic Man. There are one or two heroes that manage to be unlike anyone else, which is a pretty neat feat in itself.
Some of the stories drag and one or two tried a bit too hard to be stylish, but overall, these are some really good short stories. By far my favorite of the lot is Downfall by Joseph Mallozzi, the story of a former super criminal living in the witness protection program and trying his best to start a new life. My least favorite was Thug by Gail Simone, which was a kind of Flowers for Algernon written by the Hulk.
My father-in-law was a big fan of science fiction, but he didn’t really like short stories because just when things start to get interesting, the story is over. So part of the problem with a book like Masked is that the authors have to create a universe filled with superheroes, but also make it a slightly different universe than the ones we are familiar with. Some of the authors felt the need to add a little too much back story.
Since comic books are one of those places where it’s all been done before, there is also that feeling of nostalgia while reading a few of these stories. Sure the names were changed to protect the innocent, but the general universe of the superhero is easy enough to fall into. Besides, we are constantly being inundated with new comic books and graphic novels and reboots and revamps and resurrections.
I wouldn’t be too surprised to see one of these stories made into a movie. After all, someone was stupid enough to turn Kickass and Watchmen into movies.