Mechani-Cal is a supervillain who fights in an Iron Man armor suit. But his superpowers are nothing compared to those of the author, who apparently possesses a time machine: for this book, book #2 of the series, was published three years before book #1. But temporal paradoxes aside, let’s listen in on Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, by Jim Bernheimer.
“Being a supervillain means never having to say you’re sorry … Unless it’s to the judge or the parole board. Even then, you don’t really have to. It’s not like it’s going to change the outcome or anything.”
Those are the words of Calvin Matthew Stringel, better known as Mechani-Cal. He’s a sarcastic, down on his luck armored villain. Follow his exploits as he gets swept up in a world domination scheme gone wrong and ends up working for this weak willed, mercy loving heroes. Immerse yourself in his epic battles and see what it’s like to be an outsider looking in at a world that few have ever experienced.
Climb into Cal’s battlesuit and join him on his journey. Will he avoid selling out his principles for a paycheck and a pardon? Can he resist the camaraderie of being on a super team? Does he fall prey to the ample charms of the beautiful Olympian Aphrodite? How will he survive the jealous schemes of Ultraweapon, who wears armor so powerful it makes Cal’s look like a museum piece?
See the world of “righteous do-gooders” through the eyes of someone who doesn’t particularly care for them.
And remember – Losing an argument with a group of rioters isn’t a good excuse to start lobbing tear gas indiscriminately at them. You’ve only got so many rounds and it’s going to be a long day, so make sure you get as many as possible with each one.
Even though this book was retroactively declared number 2 in the series, it’s the one which came out first and which I read first, so it’s the one I’m going to be reviewing first.
I think the way this book begins is a mistake. It starts off with the world in peril: most of the population has been dominated by mind-controlling insects, including all of the Earth’s mightiest heroes, and the world now faces destruction. Except… this our first introduction to this world. We haven’t yet gotten invested in it or in the characters. It’s notable that all of the subsequent fights in the book will have technically lesser stakes – when you start with 1.5 billion people being killed by bugs, it’s pretty hard to up things any further without transition from the superhero genre into full Mad Max post-apocalyptic hellscape – and yet they’ll feel far more dramatic. Because by that point, we’ll have developed a connection to the characters and care what happens to them. Additionally, Cal is supposed to be a supervillain, so it’s strange that he’s introduced in the role of a hero: the last free man fighting to liberate the rest of the world from mind control. When I think “D-list supervillain”, that’s not really the image that comes to mind.
Fortunately, after the awkward introduction, the book starts to get good. Really, Cal saving the world from the bugs is just the inciting incident for the real story: the heroes offer Cal a chance to reform and become a hero rather than a villain, and Cal’s not sure whether or not he wants to commit to it. He feels a responsibility to pre-mindwipe Aphrodite, to live up to the potential for good that she saw in him; but he’s not sure if he can work with a bunch of people he fought against in the past, who openly mock and distrust him. And the ethical concerns go both ways: just as the superheroes view Cal as either a double-agent, a con man working an angle, or a bad seed sure to turn on them as soon as he sees something in it for him, Cal sees the superheroes as hypocrites who are all too happy to smash the faces of those they deem villains but are willing to overlook even the most heinous acts committed by their own members. And I kind of have to side with Cal on this one. How the hell is Ultraweapon able to mindwipe one of his own teammates – who had just played an instrumental role in saving the world – for petty personal reasons and not get punished? I mean, after seeing him walk away with nothing more than a slap on the wrist for that, is it any wonder that Mindover figured nobody would care if he went full Kilgrave and just enslaved and raped and murdered anyone he pleased? Someone get Jessica Jones in here to explain why screwing around in someone’s skull is a violation akin to rape and not something to be just brushed off.
While I liked the story a lot, the writing style took a bit of getting used to. My first impression was that it came off as extremely awkward. For instance:
Concentrated blast! Got her! Sorry, beautiful. Twelve percent! Maybe if I sprint to her hover-sled? Dodge left! Phew! That was close. Aw crap, she’s getting back up; I didn’t even do that right.
– Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, Chapter One
I think it’s supposed to represent Cal’s internal monologue during the fight, but it really doesn’t let me get any kind of mental picture of the action. When I read a fight scene, I want an actual scene, not just a bunch of disconnected exclamations. Speaking of which, there are far too many exclamation points being used outside of quotations – what are you yelling at ME for?
But even if it isn’t the most polished story, I still found it an enjoyable read. It’s the author’s first book, position as #2 in the series notwithstanding, and so some allowances can be made. It’s gotten me interested enough in the universe to want to check out the sequels/prequels is my point, and the author’s writing skills may well improve with time.
Final Rating: 3/5