Dread Star

To his friends and neighbors, young Joshua Dread was just an ordinary kid with ordinary parents. His mom was a horticulture professor at a local junior college and his dad was a daffy stay-at-home inventor. Ho-hum.

But unbeknownst to everyone, Joshua’s parents were actually two of the most diabolical supervillains on the face of the planet. Known as the Dread Duo, the evil couple was constantly concocting plans to destroy the world. In the past they released an army of zombies in Washington, D.C., and they even tried to vaporize the entire state of California. Most recently, they successfully manipulated global weather patterns to create a flood of Biblical proportions. In other words, there was absolutely nothing ordinary about Joshua and his loony family.

While his parents are at home hatching their evil schemes, Joshua is at school trying to navigate sixth grade. Life turns upside down for him when he discovers that he’s got the “gyft” of spontaneous combustion. “Basically I make stuff blow up,” he says. “I’m just like an overstuffed electrical socket.”

His parents are thrilled with his newly emerged superpower, but Joshua isn’t convinced he wants to follow in the family business (“What’s wrong with being a supervillain,” his father asks incredulously). To complicate matters further, he’s recently become friends at school with a girl named Sophie Smith. She’s cute and gyfted too.

But more importantly, Sophie is the daughter of Captain Justice, the world’s most famous superhero and the archrival of Joshua’s parents. As a rule, superhero kids don’t usually hang out with supervillain kids. And when they do, someone inevitably gets hurt.

In this case, however, Sophie and Joshua (and a guy named Milton) embark on an adventure that ultimately brings the two families together. Why not? When you think about it, superheroes and supervillains actually have a lot in common. It makes sense for them to socialize afterhours.

Joshua Dread is the first novel in a newly minted series and it’s a hoot. Funny from the first page and relentlessly inventive throughout, the book never lags or begs to be put down. Joshua is a great kid and his parents are a likable pair of criminals. Somehow the elder Dreads are able to successfully walk the line between doting parents and unrepentant evil masterminds.

Captain Justice is a great character too. True, he’s a sycophant and a media whore who pays his mortgage with an unending string of endorsement deals, but the author never turns him into a complete boob. In fact, the Captain is never less than 100 percent entertaining. At crime scenes he recites well-rehearsed superhero clichés while employing his “arsenal of badly named hologram weapons” (“Engage Heat Beam of Honesty!”). And afterward he never forgets to sign autographs and kiss babies. At home he’s an absent-minded single dad who would do anything to protect his daughter. By the end of the novel, he even agrees to carpool with the Dread Duo. All things considered, he’s a good egg. Normally in superhero novels we tend to root for the villain. But we admit, the charms of Captain Justice are hard to resist.

[Joshua Dread / By Lee Bacon / First Printing: September 2012 / ISBN: 9780385741859]

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