Top positive review
Evil villains with twisted motivations hatch their insidious plans in this fascinating anthology!
Reviewed in the United States 🇺🇸 on May 18, 2019
This anthology demonstrates a different side of supervillains, the darker side of the superhero universe. For every heroic deed, there is also a dastardly villain whom they must test their mettle against. In that way, a hero is defined by the strength of the villains they face.
The focus of this anthology is the bad guy. It’s been said that being a bad guy is much more fun than being the hero, with wanton acts of destruction, a lack of morals and malice in their dark hearts. These themes are amply demonstrated in the short stories in this volume. Some of the villainy on display here is truly deplorable, while others are those who straddle (and even blur) the line between hero and villain with their behavior. All of them are engaging enough to compel readers to explore each one.
Featuring a thoughtful and fun foreword by author Rysa Walker exploring why she enjoyed the Batman television show from the 1960's and why villains are so fascinating, read the eleven short stories in this volume and enjoy. Here are the ones that were the best of the best in this volume and why:
Jessica West’s “Villainous Origins” - When a young woman with a troubled past is walking home from work, she’s accosted by a malicious mugger and then she’s saved by a strange woman whom she calls Justice. But this isn’t the first time she’s met Justice and as we learn more about both of their pasts, we take a twisted tumble into the origin of a villain who commits troubling acts in the name of good.
It’s a fantastic and disturbing take on what a villain really is, especially in comparison to whom she metes out her justice! I was repulsed and saddened by what I read here, especially when I learned Justice’s dark history. This author, whom I’ve read before, writes not just dark stories but Dark stories that redefine what dark means. This story is quite twisted and yet, draws me in with compelling characters and imaginative storytelling.
Hank Garner’s “Dreamer” – A young adult has strange but vivid dreams about crimes being committed downtown by a man in a hoodie and when he wakes up, he finds that they’ve come true! But who is this mysterious robber and why is our protagonist seeing things before they happen? It’s a conundrum that involved me deeply as the mysteries piled up and his state of mind became more frantic whenever he tried to solve the problem.
I enjoyed the little clues, got frustrated when the plans to catch the man in the hoodie failed and how the dilemma got worse until I got blindsided by the final few pages. All of this plays out in a folksy small town that the author excels at writing and then fills this town with a compelling narrative. The main character is someone whose shoes you walk a mile in and then feel the strange and bizarre occurrences that he does but in our own mind’s eye.
Ed Gosney’s “Now Comes the Bringer of Blight” – Coby is a seventeen-year-old whose best friend Zach has secretly gained superpowers but he’s using them to go on a crime spree! As Zach’s greed grows and the crimes continue, Coby can’t find a way to stop him as he’s afraid for his life. Until the day he figures out what to do. What happens next is so surprising and unexpected, my jaw dropped through the floor when all was revealed!
This is a slice of life story about two friends who grow in different directions, what happens when someone gets superpowers and how that impacts their friendship in all sorts of ways. Comic book heroes also inhabit the background as the characters use their love of comics as a point of comparison to their current circumstances. It’s a tale of small-town Americana made large as a friendship implodes with hideous consequences. The most fascinating part of all was how people slide down a slippery slope of justifications of their actions and the resulting fallout made me look at the story with new eyes and a fresh perspective that just percolates in your mind long after you read it.
Christopher J. Valin’s “The Arch-Nemesis” – Supervillain Battlegear, otherwise known as Eric, gets confronted by his girlfriend Jocelyn after she discovers his secret identity. But when superhero Eaglestar comes in to save the day, Eric is brought to the police station for his crimes. But the story takes a shocking left turn and Eric has a chance to change his life. Will he take it?
As usual, the author, whose breezy style and hilarious hijinks continue to impress me, tells a story that takes the superhero tropes, turns them upside down and pokes fun at them. By doing so, it makes the story refreshing, different and never predictable. The dialogue is crisp, full of personality and whimsy, especially in the final sections of this story where Eric is talking to others. I continued to giggle and laugh my way through this tale from beginning to end. It’s also a breath of humorous fresh air amidst some of the dark doom and gloom in this collection.
I’ve read and seen a lot of superhero stories over the years and seen a lot of different types of villains, from the lame to the despicable. So, when I pick up an anthology about villains, I’m looking for stories that not only show me new and exciting bad guys, I’m also looking for stories I haven’t read before.
I’m pleased to say that for the most part, these are original takes on being a bad guy, what motivates them and why they do what they do. I even came to feel something for them (I know!) because they had depth, nuanced personalities and complicated motivations for their actions. Some of those motivations were even sympathetic (!) and explored new ground for villains in a way I haven’t seen before. Those shades of gray in a story make for thought-provoking storytelling that I really enjoyed due to their fresh take on the theme and the unpredictability of their actions.
Some great examples of that are protagonists that don’t want to be villains but turn out that way because, from their point of view, they are righteous in their beliefs. There are also others who transform themselves due to their life experiences. Others become one by accident or are taken to task for not being responsible enough. How a villain is defined by their actions, from dark to conflicted, is put through its paces, making for noteworthy bad guys who are not only attention-grabbing but unpredictable and exciting.
You certainly get the evil, the despicable and the amoral here as well, as they are all types of bad guys that are thoroughly explored here and with gusto. There is the mustache-twirling villain, the villains who have grand (and sometimes really sneaky) plans to take out superheroes. There are also some amazing powers on display here being used in remarkable ways, like the power of persuasion, but I haven’t seen it used in quite this way before. But there are also those who seek redemption and are trying to atone for their past actions.
The key thing is remembering that the villain is the hero of their own story. And in this anthology, their own stories prove to be just as worthy as those of the heroes they fight and, in some cases, even more interesting than those of their heroic counterparts. I shook my head at the complex justifications some of them had for their actions as well as their moral quandaries and the horrific results of those acts.
I was also sad about their life circumstances and what brought them to be who they are and why. When you feel something for the bad guy and you root for them anyway when you learn why they do what they do, that is a hallmark of a stimulating tale and the story has done its job well. And when someone is engaging in heinous acts you don’t agree with, you want to see them get their comeuppance in the worst way.
There was one story that belabored its point a little too much while retreading the same ground over and over, making it overly long and dragging in the middle. While for another story, you could see the ending come from a mile away. In those ways, it brings my rating down a little, as it was disappointing to see this in an anthology filled with such innovation.
Ultimately, this anthology is full of multifaceted bad guys and engaging stories that explore moral dilemmas in thoughtful ways while also showing how good stories about bad guys can be.
This anthology is one of five created by the same publisher and producers, focusing on the supervillains. They also published a companion volume to this one called “It’s A Bird! It’s A Plane!: A Superhero Anthology”. They are united only in their theme of celebrating colorful comic book archetypes in exciting ways while also sharing a couple of authors in both collections, writing from the other side of the supervillain coin.