Comic books and superheroes go together like sprinkles and ice cream. And why not? Comics invented superheroes, and in America, superheroes have dominated popular comics for decades. Still, there’s no actual reason for superheroes to confine themselves to comics only. Marvel and DC’s marketing people evidently feel the same, as both companies have published novels — primarily for young adults — starring some of comicdom’s most iconic characters.
Why bother, you ask? Why not just stick with the comic books? Well, these novels contain all-original stories, and it’s always fun to see your favorite heroes go on new adventures. Plus, novels and graphic novels are two entirely different animals and each has its own advantages. With a comic, you get to actually see the action right there in glorious color; with novels, you can spend more time inside the characters’ heads and even conceal plot twists or drop hints in ways you can’t when you’re looking directly at the scene in question.
So if superheroes and comics are like ice cream and sprinkles, superheroes and prose novels are like ice cream and butterscotch: a little rarer and very different, but still good! If you want to gain a new perspective on your favorite comic book heroes — or if you like superheroes but haven’t warmed up to comics yet — these novels might be just the ticket.
Miles Morales: Spider-Man by Jason Reynolds and Kadir Nelson
Trying to balance school with being Spider-Man isn’t easy, especially when Miles’s teachers are not always as enlightened as they should be. Still, he is handling it — or he was, until his powers start going on the fritz and put his educational future at risk. But just as Miles begins to doubt himself, he uncovers a dangerous plot that only he can stop.
Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond
This book, the first in a trilogy, takes everyone’s favorite “girl reporter” back to her actual girlhood: as an awkward teenager just trying to make friends and lay low in her new hometown, Metropolis. But Lois’s own sense of right and wrong soon puts her in the crosshairs of some dangerous characters. Meanwhile, she finds herself growing closer to a mysterious internet friend, whom she only knows as “SmallvilleGuy.”
Black Panther: The Young Prince by Ronald L. Smith
This is a middle grade series, so it’s aimed at a slightly younger audience than most of the books on this list. T’Challa, future king of Wakanda and Black Panther, is sent away by his father to attend a shockingly modest Chicago middle school. Can he keep his true identity a secret while also protecting his new friends from a mysterious threat?
Batman: The Killing Joke by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips
And here’s one that is definitely not for kids! This is a novelization of the infamous graphic novel of the same name, in which the Joker shoots Batgirl/Barbara Gordon and pushes Batman to the brink. Also in this series of Batman novels, you can find Mad Love, which is co-written by Harley Quinn’s co-creator Paul Dini, and explores her origins.
Black Widow: Forever Red by Margaret Stohl
Back to YA we go with this novel about super-spy Black Widow facing up to her past by, of all things, bonding with a young girl she saved years before. These two might be the only hope for a group of disappeared youngsters who are now trapped in a despicable villain’s deadly game. Also check out the sequel, Red Vengeance, from the same author!
Black Canary: Breaking Silence by Alexandra Monir
This is part of the “DC Icons” series, in which best-selling novelists reimagine the origins of Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and more. This book spotlights a young Black Canary. She has grown up in a Gotham City where, under orders from the dictatorial Court of Owls, women have no rights. Now, Canary will discover the strength of her own voice as she seeks to overthrow the Court of Owls on behalf of women everywhere.
Squirrel Girl: Universe by Tristan Palmgren
Squirrel Girl’s most famous power is the ability to talk to squirrels, hence the name. But what happens when she and her friends are marooned in outer space, where there are no squirrels to be found, AND an interstellar war is heating up right in their midst? Our hero will need all of the powers of a squirrel and a girl to get through this one! This is the latest in the Marvel Heroines series.
Araña and Spider-Man 2099: Dark Tomorrow by Alex Segura (May 2)
Anya Corazon, a.k.a. Araña, is the newest spider-person on the block — and she’s also very, very lost. After being blasted by a strange artifact and stranded in the 22nd century, Anya’s only hope of returning to her own time is Miguel O’Hara, the (former) Spider-Man of 2099. First, however, they will both have to defeat some malevolent villains…not to mention their own self-doubts.
For more exciting tales about smart young heroes, check out these kids’ books about young people making an impact!