December 24, 2009

Indians in Varley's Superheroes

This anthology of stories about superheroes includes three about Indians:

Superheroes (Paperback)From Booklist

Superheroes and their derring-do are no longer confined to the cartoons, as a recent "biography" of Superman and this playfully entertaining collection of superhuman adventures attest. Coeditors Varley and Mainhardt wisely avoid episodes from the established superhero pantheon in favor of those from imaginative, even twisted, superhero variations. Using Varley's own wry tale of an invincible Soviet "Bolshoiman" as a springboard, they spotlight comic-book champions' often tongue-in-cheek literary cousins, from Captain Cosmos to Captain Housework. B. W. Clough, for instance, drolly recounts "the Gazorcher's" predicament of handing over "the goggles" to his Generation X-er daughter. Michael A. Stackpole in "Peer Review," however, takes a turn toward serious action-adventure as he treats one crime fighter's apparent defection into lawbreaking and his censure by fellow superheroes. In "Reflected Glory," Paul Kupperberg soberly demonstrates how today's world would really treat a superhero when a PR man slyly uses a superhuman vigilante to further his own career. These and the other stories well may satisfy both fans and foes of the comic-book scene. --Carl Hays

Super Reader, August 3, 2007
By Blue Tyson

Varley admits in his introduction that is is not really very familiar with this sort of thing, and it would appear to show in the result. The story average is 3.28.

So, a lot of average/ordinary, and a small number that flat out really don't belong.

Still, it is by no means bad, and some good stories, just average taken as a whole, and without the shouldn't have been there stuff, would have gotten a 3.5.
The three Native-themed stories with each story's preamble, my description, and Blue Tyson's ratings (in italics):

  • Four Tales of Many Names by Gerald Hausman.The concept of the superheroic figure is neither uniquely American nor exclusive to this century. Most cultures are rife with legends of individuals who have special gifts.An Indian elder tells children the legends of Hawk Storm, Fire Storm, Water Spider, and Snake's Medicine. 3 of 5

  • The Long Crawl of Hugh Glass by Roger Zelazny.Amazing people have been accomplishing superhuman feats throughout history. It is possible, as in the factual case of Hugh Glass, that the most astounding power is the will to survive.

    In 1823 an injured hunter named Hugh Glass crawled over 100 miles through the wilderness from the Grand Valley to the Missouri River.
    An Army scout mauled by a bear dreams of crawling through hostile territory to locate friendly Indians. 3 of 5

  • Basic Training by Jerry Bingham.Some people live their entire lives as though waiting for one special moment.An Indian youth must climb a mesa as a rite of passage. He later uses his knowledge of heights to rescue people from a burning skyscraper. 2.5 of 5

  • Thoughts on Indian superheroes

    On the one hand, one could argue that these stories don't belong in a volume titled Superheroes. The first protagonist is borderline superheroic; if he counts, you could say any mythological character is a superhero. The third protagonist is merely heroic, not superheroic. The second protagonist is heroic only if you call surviving an act of "heroism."

    On the other hand, it's nice to see some recognition that Indians can be heroes. That if Americans are going to mythologize Uncle Sam, John Wayne, Paul Bunyan, Daniel Boone, Johnny Appleseed, and George Washington (for telling no lies), they should mythologize Indians too. Not merely as noble savages or resistance fighters--e.g., Crazy Horse or Geronimo--but as actual heroes. So it's fitting that two of the 25 stories star Indians.

    Even the Hugh Glass story, a cowboy-style adventure, incorporates Indians into the mythology. To survive, Glass must test himself against the harsh land and its inhabitants. As with Jackson's Frontier Thesis, we've defined ourselves as a nation by our interactions with Indians.

    Unfortunately, Tyson's three-star rating for the book is reasonable. I agree with him that only five or so stories deserve a 4 or 4.5 of 5. Rob's rating on the usual 10-point scale: 7.0 of 10.

    For more on the subject, see Why Write About Superheroes?

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