V Is for Villain

It’s unfortunate that the title tells so much about where the book is going, since I’d rather have been more surprised.

Brad Baron is the younger brother of a well-known, powerful superhero, but Brad’s only power is enhanced intelligence (an ability he doesn’t seem to make much use of when he mouths off to teachers). Brad’s attending a private high school for superheroes-in-training, but he’s shunted off to the “losers” class of alternates after he’s almost paralyzed in a sport event. The tough guy who targeted him gets praised for his skills, of course, and Brad is reprimanded for getting in his way. It’s a classic “jocks vs. nerds” setup, only with superpowers.

In spite of the “might makes right” world in this young adult novel, Brad’s new friends and teachers encourage him to think for himself, whether it comes to analyzing public battles where the Justice Force unthinkingly destroy their deformed villains, handicapped by their attempts to gain powers, or making his own choices. Power and appearance are valued, but Brad’s group realizes that there’s more than one kind of power, and they set out to make themselves and their ideas known.

V Is for Villain is Sky High with a twist and more politics, basically. To make up for the lack of images that a movie or comic would have, we spend a lot of time in Brad’s head as he works through his decisions and, perhaps not coincidentally, falls more in love with the telepath Layla. I found it particularly interesting that instead of encouraging the teen reader to identify with the superhero, here, the protagonist is seen as heroic for making up his own mind instead of being a corporate or government tool, even if that puts him in conflict with the “good guys”. It’s an interesting choice to play into adolescent feelings, making the most of not fitting in. (The publisher provided a review copy.)

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