Powerless (Again)

VillainousYears ago, when we read Matthew Cody’s terrific superhero novel Powerless, we never suspected that it was the first book in a planned trilogy. And yet here we are. Villainous crowns a three-book series about kids with super powers living in the weirdest town on earth.

Looking back, the author could easily have stopped after one book. The two follow-up efforts (including Super, the second novel) didn’t significantly expand on anything mentioned in the first book. But we know how things go. Certainly, Villainous leaves the door open for more superheroic adventures. We’re positive that Cody and his publisher would consider pumping out another novel if BookScan numbers were favorable.

To recap: Back in 1934, the town of Noble’s Green, Pa., experienced an “unclassified celestial phenomenon.” One night, according to first-hand reports, the stars above the town were obscured by storm clouds lit with a sallow greenish light. “It looked like the end of the world,” said one particular eyewitness cowering in an outhouse.

As a result, a handful of locals acquired god-like powers; including Johnny Noble, an “ignorant woodsman.” Noble, much to his chagrin became the world’s very first superhero. His reluctant adventures, serialized in a best-selling comic book, would inspire future generations of tiny titans.

These days Noble’s Green was famous for being superhero ground zero. Tourists came to the small Pennsylvania town to take pictures of all the flashy superheroes, including Kid Noble and the students of the Noble Academy for the Gifted. Mr. Madison, the floating (!) fire chief, was the town’s star resident.

But like Springfield, the home of Homer Simpson, Noble’s Green was haunted by a grumpy (and rich) old man. Herman Plunkett looked like Nosferatu the vampire, and terrorized the town’s people much like Charles Montgomery Burns — he even steepled his fingers ominously in the same manner (page 197). Plunkett is the vanquished villain in all three books. He returns over and over again but the super kids always figure out a way to squash him. He’s a persistent old bat, that’s for sure.

Plunkett is sufficiently evil, but Villainous is mostly about superhuman ennui. What kind of emotional toll must be paid to possess god-like perspicacity? And what happens when those powers go away? What’s it like, for instance, to soar over buildings on Sunday and be anchored to the sidewalk on Monday? “It’s not fair,” said Plunkett at one point. “A boy dreams his whole life of being Johnny Noble, only to wake up one day alone in the knowledge that he is something else entirely. He’s quite the opposite.”

[Villainous / By Matthew Cody / First Printing: August 2014 / ISBN: 9780385754897]

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