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Holy Bookworms! Superheroes Take To The Page

Quake in fear, puny humans! Spandex-clad superbeings have engineered a mass escape. From big screens and billboards, to bus ads and even bookshelves: this summer, nowhere is safe from superheroes.

To wit: Here's writer Junot Diaz explaining to the comic news site why he stuffed his Pulitzer Prize-winning debut novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, with so many allusions to comic book characters:

What I'm arguing in the book, in part, is that not only are there folks that use comics and their metaphors as a way of understanding the world but that there are parts of the world, experiences in the world, that cannot be understood without the metaphors that comic books deploy.

Diaz is by no means the first contemporary writer to take funny books seriously; novelists Michael Chabon and Jonathan Lethem have famously trafficked in the uniquely American myth and metaphor of the comic book hero. And lately, writers of nonfiction have begun to explore the early history of comics, unearthing gritty tales of corruption straight out of the pulps. Meanwhile, a new generation of critics is busily deconstructing our enduring fondness for those who mete out swift justice in body-conscious, fashion-forward unitards.

So give up; resistance is futile. Surrender your will — or at least a summer afternoon — to smart, satisfying, slyly surprising reads like these:

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Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.