Rating: 4 stars
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Once Vereint Georges realized he had superpowers, he dreamed of the day he would become a superhero and help save the world. He would be adored, famous, and hopefully wealthy. But the reality was far different than he ever could have imagined. Vereint didn’t like sewing his costumes and he had to keep his day job in order to live. Then his first rescue as the superhero Starburst went horribly wrong. The person he rescued was badly burned by his superpowers and Vereint threw up in front of the cameras. To make it worse, his superhero name reminded everyone of the candy and not a hero. In fact, there were so many superheroes that he was ridiculed by the very people he was supposed to save and mocked by the other superheroes who wouldn’t accept him, especially the superhero Blue Ice. Vereint hated being a superhero, but what else could he do?
Well, he could become a villain, and soon Darkstar was born. Vereint found it incredibly freeing and lucrative to be evil. He was even good at it! Soon the populace of Megacity feared and idolized him. Darkstar even had people wanting to be his minions. Vereint as Darkstar had finally made it and life was outstanding.
Blue Ice, aka Warrick Tobias, hated Darkstar. He hated him when he was Starburst and hated him worse now that he was supervillain Darkstar. Darkstar was all Warrick could think about. It was almost like he was obsessing over him. Of course, Darkstar was impossibly gorgeous with that black hair and mesmerizing blue eyes. Darkstar even invaded his dreams, so what is a superhero to do?
When Darkstar and Blue Ice’s clashes turn amorous, it leaves both metahumans confused and maybe even hopeful. A superhero and a supervillain falling in love? Is that even possible? It’s time for Darkstar and Blue Ice to find out.
I throughly enjoyed this book. I didn’t know what to expect from the blurb, but the reality of the story was so much better than I expected. In fact, I felt as though I got two books for the price of one. Heroes and Villains is the story of two metahumans who live in the metropolis of Megacity (of course). Harper Kingsley starts off the story in a setting than any reader of comic books would recognize. Those anonymous buildings populated by typical humans going about their business, even as superheroes and villains clash in the streets and air all around them. Disasters and super battles are commonplace and there is such a surfeit of superheroes and supervillains that each has a council to keep them organized. For the superheroes, it is the League of Superheroes and for villains it is the League of Ultimate Evil. There is the Police Commissioner and his Code Black that will summon the superheroes when needed. It’s all there and accounted for, everything we have come to expect, love, and maybe even giggle at when we think of superheroes, supervillains, and the cities they live in. As I was reading, all I could think of was how much fun Kingsley must have had writing this story.
From the names to the costumes and superpowers, Kingsley takes our superhero characters and has fun with them, starting with the position that the reality of being a superhero isn’t what it is cracked up to be. What if, when a fire happens, not one hero shows up but twenty? And some are great and others? Not so much? What happens when the superhero isn’t wealthy but just getting by in a Dilbert-like desk job? How do they account for the time they must take away from their jobs to save people and put out the fires? Like Vereint, they must come close to getting fired because they have used up all their vacation days. Plus they might not be able to pay their rent on time because they have to spend their money replacing costumes. It’s a great parody and I loved it.
Kingsley works magic here with the superhero trope. With their arrogance and position in society, the author’s superheroes act more like a group of mean girls than heroes. Blue Ice, in fact, is a legacy superhero (five generations of his family have been in the business), and he feels weighed down by the responsibilities he has shouldered since the age of 14. He lives in the penthouse of Tobias Towers, naturally, and secretly despises the humans he is supposed to protect. He also resents the adulation and lifestyle that is Darkstar’s, while also being envious of his freedom. I loved all the details Kingsley brings to the character of Blue Ice. It’s not only funny, but it also rings with authencity. Warrick Tobias as Blue Ice really dislikes his job and is in denial about so many things about himself, including his sexuality. So how does he handle it? By being a bully. He is as responsible for Vereint becoming Darkstar than anyone else because of his constant mocking and demoralizing actions towards Starburst. Warrick is also in his 30s and now has to follow a Heart Healthy diet. Here is a taste of Warrick Tobias:
It wasn’t like Warrick didn’t understand that he was acting completely insane, but he just couldn’t seem to help himself. There was something about the whole Darkstar situation that just drove him to the verge and maybe a little bit over. The fact that he didn’t really know why he cared that much just made it even worse because the mystery itself was eating away at him.
Warrick spooned up his last bite of maple and brown sugar oatmeal before picking up the plump yellow banana he’d chosen for his breakfast. He squeezed it gently between his fingers, seeing that it didn’t have a single brown spot. It was a singularly beautiful piece of fruit.
As he’d resigned himself to the idea that he was in his thirties— his early thirties, but his thirties nonetheless— he’d had to make a few dietary changes in his life. He’d had to cut back on the sugars, the trans fats, the delicious carbs, and basically everything else that he loved so that he didn’t end up bulging out of his supersuit. He couldn’t have a greasy breakfast of bacon, eggs, and hash browns at his favorite diner anymore, and if he did go there, he had to pick things off the Heart Healthy menu.
I hate egg white omelets and turkey bacon. I want to eat fatty pork bacon and scrambled eggs covered in melted cheese. I bet Darkstar doesn’t have to worry about anything. His super metabolism probably …
“Dammit!” Warrick shouted, flinging the hapless banana across the room to splatter against the wall. Everything in his head came back to Darkstar and he just couldn’t help himself. It wasn’t like he was obsessed or anything. Except that it really seemed like he was obsessed, and not even the self-knowledge that he was out of control helped any.
And Vereint Georges is just as nuanced and believable character as Warrick. His character changes from a naive, hopeful young superhero, to someone who gradually becomes disenchanted with the harsh reality of his dreams. Nothing measures up. He’s the new boy, the young “dorky, loser” as the popular kids, nee superheroes, call him. Always on the outside, never has the cool clothes, trying to hard to fit in, and perpetually disdained for his efforts. And when he has finally had enough, we are with him 100 percent.
He couldn’t really understand why no one could take him seriously. He tried just as hard as every other hero, so why didn’t he get any kind of respect?
If it was just Blue Ice treating him badly, he might have been able to ignore it, but it was everyone acting like it was a crime that he wanted to save them. They made fun of his name, his ideals, everything about him.
What do I feel about the way everyone treats me?
The answer came in a surprisingly cold voice: I’m angry.
And of course, they won’t like him when he is angry.
Clenching his hands into fists at his sides, he gritted his teeth and tried to bury his anger deep inside him. He almost had himself back under control and relaxed a little, sure he wasn’t going to completely lose it.
“You know, you’ve got a hole in your shirt,” Blue Ice said, pointing.
“THAT … IS … IT! I have had enough of all this crap.”
Filled with rage, Starburst could feel himself trembling uncontrollably. Violet color began rising around his body and he felt his hair shifting in an unfelt breeze. His eyes felt hot all of a sudden and he was afraid of what was going to happen, but he couldn’t stop it. He was just so frustrated and angry.
Thus Darkstar is born. But there is so much more to come. There is the physical attraction both men feel for each other, poseurs who want Darkstar’s attention, more mega explosions and evil doings galore.
Right up until the halfway mark, the story still has the feel of a parody about it. Then it changes. An evil deed by Darkstar has profound affects upon his thinking and the story starts to become darker with more real emotions and events that will play with the reader’s empathy and affections. There were elements of cruelty before, but now it fully comes out to play. All the metahumans really don’t like the regular human beings very much. They regard them as so much sheep and their actions reflect that.
Kingsley also starts to concentrate on the growing relationship between Warrick and Vereint, the changes in their characters and all the outside influences that affect their lives and potential future. From the somewhat gentle lampooning of the genre, the author takes this satire to a darker level, bringing a certain amount of grit to the characters and the scenes. Not everyone will appreciate the loss of the humor and cartoonish takeoff that the first part of the book represents. I liked this element, but also understand its lack of appeal to some readers.
I also felt that the story, especially the epilogue, was a little long. It certainly could have been shortened without harm to the narrative. Still, I can say that I really liked Heroes and Villains. It is one of the more unusual stories that I have read recently and I throughly appreciated that. From every aspect of this novel, the attention to detail, to the inclusion of all the expected comic book elements, to the terrific characterizations, I highly recommend this book to all. Let me know what you think.
Cover designed by Aisha Akeju. I am not sure what I make of this cover. I appreciate the pointillism of the graphics that convey a sense of comic book similarity but I wish it had taken that element a little further in design.