The author of EROTIC LIVES OF THE SUPERHEROES has an interesting premise: What happens to superheroes when they get older? It’s not an entirely original idea, but when you’re dealing with a genre that’s more than 70 years old, how much originality can you expect? But let me begin with a small bit comic-book trivia:
When Alan Moore was pitching the story that would become WATCHMEN to DC Comics, he originally intended to use a group of characters that DC had acquired from the defunct Charlton Comics. Since Moore’s storyline would ensure that many (if not most) of the characters would be unusable afterward, DC requested that he create his own. Moore’s solution was to come up with characters that were analogues to Charlton’s.
If you weren’t familiar with the Charlton superheroes, you could enjoy the story anyway. If you were familiar, you could figure out who was supposed to be who (Nite Owl is Blue Beetle; Rorschach is The Question; etc.). But the biggest and arguably the best reason for Moore to come up with alternate counterparts was that true Charlton fans could read and enjoy WATCHMEN without becoming upset over how their favorite heroes were portrayed or their ultimate fate at the end of the series.
I bring this up (and yeah, I’ve got a reason) because the entire time I was reading Marco Mancassola’s EROTIC LIVES OF THE SUPERHEROES, I kept wondering why he didn’t do the same thing. Back to that in a minute.
Mancassola’s novel tells the story of four retired superheroes — Batman, Superman, Mr. Fantastic (of The Fantastic Four) and Mystique (of the X-Men) — now in their 50s and 60s. The book is broken up into sections that focus on each character, although they occasionally intersect. There’s also a subplot about two sons of Italian immigrants who grow up obsessed with superheroes. One becomes a cop and the other (who has a secret superpower of his own) becomes a newspaper reporter.
Oh, and there’s a murder mystery that isn’t really much of a mystery, but it doesn’t matter because the real reason you’re possibly interested in reading this book is because of the words “erotic” and “superheroes” in the title. Right? Well, if that’s the case, you’re in for a disappointment. More on that, too, in a minute.
Mr. Fantastic is divorced and spends his time consulting with the scientific community and giving guest lectures to would-be astronauts. He meets, falls for, and becomes obsessed with a much younger woman. Meanwhile, Superman is old, frail and sickly, and Mystique, having paid her debt to society through a lengthy prison sentence, is now the star of a popular variety show where she lampoons celebrities. As for Batman …
The majority of the publicity around this book has focused on the homosexual relationship between Batman and Robin. (See the “XXX-CERPT” at the end of this review; you can almost hear Dr. Fredric Wertham, of SEDUCTION OF THE INNOCENT fame, yelling from his grave, “I knew it!”) Although Batman’s section in the novel is much slimmer than Mr. Fantastic’s and Mystique’s, it’s probably the most offensive one to fans of the character. And I’ll readily admit that I am a Batman fan.
No, I didn’t find it offensive because Batman is portrayed as gay. (In actuality, along with the sexual relationship with Robin in the book, Batman also has many dalliances with men and women.) What I did find offensive was Batman portrayed as a preening, shallow narcissist who cares more about his perfect looks and the perfect lighting in his perfectly decorated penthouse than he does in fighting crime.
Anyone who has ever read a Batman comic, or seen any one of the movies, knows that the entirety of his psychological make-up relies on his obsession over the murder of his parents and preventing anyone else from becoming a victim. Batman would never shrug off Robin’s murder with an “Oh, well, what can you do?” attitude, preferring instead to strut around his penthouse in his underwear, singing the Italian disco song “Magical Body.”
Yes, that scene really does take place in this book, and no, I don’t believe even the Adam West version of the character would have acted that way.
Therein lies most of the problem with Mancassola’s book: Any reader who is familiar with these characters will be struck by how alien they seem. They are so far removed from the way they’ve been portrayed over the past multiple decades that they come across more as caricatures. I would have thought the author was parodying them, except the end results are not funny, and not fun. In fact, his portrayal of all of them, even the ones appearing in cameos, show either that Mancassola has a disdain for the superhero genre (in which case, why write a book about them?) or that he’s totally unfamiliar with them.
From reading this book, my impression is that the author is basing his portrayals of these characters on a few panels of some random comic books he came across, and perhaps watching a few minutes of the various movie adaptations. The rest, I’m willing to bet, came from researching names on Wikipedia and IMDb.
So if the author had used his own superheroes rather than world-famous ones, would I have enjoyed the book any better? Well, no.
Although Mancassola has a fairly good idea for a novel, albeit one that I think has been done much better elsewhere, and he has the ability to occasionally turn a nice phrase here and there, the book still drags on and on. And just when you think you’re getting somewhere, it drags on some more. Unfortunately, if the reader is hoping that perseverance will pay off in the end, you’ll still be left with a handful of unresolved plotlines.
Yes, I’m sorry to say that the author never satisfying concludes any of the subplots, even the murder mystery. Instead, the story drifts off in a rambling nature, like an old man falling asleep in the middle of telling you a long story about how cheap everything was back in his youth. So if you’re wondering why Superman is frail and sick (he’s friggin’ Superman!) or why Wolverine, who appears in a cameo, needs two bodyguards (he’s friggin’ Wolverine!), your questions never get answered.
The worst crime of this book is the title. If you’re going to call a book EROTIC LIVES OF THE SUPERHEROES, the book should be erotic. The small amount of sex that’s depicted is more disturbing than erotic, unless the idea of Mr. Fantastic shaping his finger like a penis and using it to satisfy a woman turns you on. Or Batman satisfying his own sexual needs by having young women insert their hands into his anus. (Again, I don’t think I can picture the Adam West version of the character doing that.)
No, this isn’t Harold Robbins writing superhero fan fiction. This is the work of a writer using other people’s creations to get a subpar book published. Besides the unresolved plots and the general tediousness of many of the passages where the characters go on and on with their introspective contemplation, Mancassola writes these characters as if he has a general dislike for them and for superheroes in general.
Honestly, I’m not a fanboy type who thinks superheroes should only be revered; I’m a fan of Garth Ennis’s THE BOYS, a series which, like WATCHMEN, used characters similar to the iconic ones we all know, but also different enough that the story could be enjoyed without the constant comparison factor.
This book? This feels like a slap in the face to anyone who ever enjoyed a comic book featuring any of these characters. —Slade Grayson
“The young man had moved into the mansion with him. He’d learned all Batman’s secrets. He was strong, he was brave, and before long he’d become Batman’s assistant. In fact, he was soon at Bruce’s side every minute of the day and night: in the nights they spent patrolling the city, in the nights they spent in the bedroom. He was his assistant in his mission as a superhero, his assistant in the discovery of new sexual impulses. Robin satisfied every request. Robin complied with a smile whenever he was asked, giving in to Bruce’s desires, silently offering his white and hairless body, like a sacrifice, like a soft laboratory animal.”