2017’s Not Your Villain is the second installment in C. B. Lee’s Sidekick Squad series.
Bells Broussard has it made: his shapeshifting abilities have ensured a fast track entry to the Meta-Human Training Center and an eventual post with the Heroes’ League of Heroes. Those same abilities make it possible for Bells to attend under an assumed name, sparing his family unwanted attention and dodging inconvenient questions about how it can be that, in a world where all meta-humans come from known lineages, Bell is the exception.
Bells’ caution proves quite prudent.
The North American Collective rebuilt civilization after the great solar flare in 2028 EMPed the planet (and triggered a rash of superpowers). The solicitous nanny state provides its citizens with everything they need, from food to carefully curated newsfeeds. The Heroes’ League of Heroes is an important part of citizen care: it gives the common folk some garishly clad demi-gods to adore.
The League didn’t get where it was by relying on Meta-Human criminals to take up flamboyantly villainous lives all on their own. Instead, just as their school system sorts meta-humans into potential A‑listers and also-rans, so too does the League keep an eye out for people who can best serve the League as its enemies. Secretly running both the League and the United Villains’ Guild ensures that everything goes to plan.
Bells’ powers make him extremely useful to the League. Having a shapeshifter in their back pocket means never having to be disappointed by a supervillain who fails to show up on cue. Bells’ primary role for the League is as a stand-in, ensuring the League’s little plays go according to script.
Bells career as the Chameleon starts when his childhood friend Abby comes to him for help. Her parents are the Mischiefs, designated villains. For reasons that are unclear, Captain Orion, paramount superhero, has begun kidnapping villains. It turns out to be part of a secret research program so PR-unfriendly that even the League must distance itself from Orion when the details are revealed.
One might think helping to expose dark plots would endear Bells to the League. Alas, not so much. Bells soon discovers he has been moved from the hero column to the bad guy column and, unlike most black masks, he’s considered a bad guy for realsies. Just as well the League never had his real name.
Captain Orion may be disgraced but they are still on the loose and they still have plans, particularly for the kids who helped embarrass them…
I read this because I was reviewing the Mutants and Masterminds ruleset and wanted something spandexy. This was perhaps not the best choice I could have made.
In this setting, the powers-that-be are incompetent and the public is exceptionally gullible. Neither the League nor the Collective are any good at public relations. Captain Orion’s pretence of NOT being a power-mad schemer was perfunctory. As for the public .. the Resistance that eventually appears isn’t particularly good at secure communications (which is how our kids on the run manage to find them). The public doesn’t even notice that the latest robots are obviously killbots in paper-thin disguise.
I wish I could object to this worldbuilding as implausible. However, given that in real life so much of the world seems to be run by idiots ruling enthusiastically oblivious halfwits, I have to concede: yes, it could happen like that.
This book is a sequel to Not Your Sidekick (reviewed here). In fact, some of the events in this book overlap with the timeline of the previous book. Perhaps as a side effect, the pacing is … odd. There’s no real question as to whether or not Bells will make it into the League. Captain Orion’s fall seems rushed. This installment of the series seemed like an outline for a longer, better book. Ah, well.