In Hero Years, I'm Dead is a 2010 "superhero noir" novel by Michael Stackpole which follows a superhero, named Coyote, returning to his city after a 20-year absence. He finds that the world has changed greatly since he left. Superheroes and villains have become commercialized, and combat between them is a ritual followed on the level of professional sports, complete with fantasy leagues. Facing a system where he'll never fit in, Coyote is forced to decide whether to change, to retire, or to do what he does best: break the system.Stackpole has released the novel as a digital download with sample chapters on his Web site, here.
Awesomeness by Analysis: Revealed to be the key to Coyote's success. In this world, superheroes are much more realistic about the measures they take to protect their identities, but Coyote has specialized in ferreting out the identities of heroes and villains. He caught the Superman analogue on sunscreen while temping as an accountant.
Mentor Occupational Hazard: Puma dies protecting Coyote and a bystander from Panda-moanium. Subverted in that he's a bit senile at the moment, and probably didn't realize he was protecting his former pupil.
"One who deserves to be worshipped as a god ought to have the background for it, shouldn’t one?"
Old Superhero: The novel doesn't shy away from the fact that older super-heroes typically find that years of heroics or strange empowering chemicals tend to leave one in very bad shape after a certain age. The successful ones frequently parlay this into a living selling memorabilia and autographs, but many of the older heroes never thought to try to control video footage of them and therefore have nothing left to sell but themselves.
"Average age of death, fifty-six years. That’s the toll the stress takes on the body. I guarantee you, any hero over fifty-six is a mutant, an alien, or got out early."
Reckless Sidekick: Nighthaunt reveals to Coyote that he accidentally made Redhawk this by being a bit too competent. Redhawk knew he'd always get rescued, so his modus operandi was to rush in half-cocked and his reaction in a hopeless situation was to give up and wait for rescue.
Renaissance Man: Forced onto Coyote by Dr. Sinisterion as he attended numerous schools to pick up numerous skills.
Resignations Not Accepted: Played with. Coyote wants to retire, his girlfriend wants him to retire, his daughter wants him to retire. The Big Bad doesn't want him to retire in order to draw him into his Evil Plan.
Retired Badass: Coyote eventually tries to settle into being one of these. He's... working on it. At first, he wants to get right back into the game. Even after he realizes he's too old for it, he continues to fight crime when In Harm's Way. Even when he decides to not do super-heroing, he still finds himself being The Chessmaster in analyzing the superhero industry and finding ways to manipulate or break it.
Stuffed In The Fridge: A non-lethal version. Sinisterion's enemies kidnapped and held Coyote hostage for twenty years because he was Sinisterion's son. Didn't really work out because the extent of Sinisterion's caring was whether or not his son died in a way that could be harmful to his own reputation.
Title Drop: Mentioned by Coyote in a conversation with Grant Stone.
Utility Belt: Fairly standard for "Felix"-type heroes in the world. Puma's utility belt serves as a Chekhov's Gun at one point in the book.
Yaoi Guys: It's mentioned in passing that Golden Guardian and his sidekick Goldie were this.