August 6, 2011

Off the Shelf: Confessions of a D-List Supervillain

Title: Confessions of a D-List Supervillain
Author: Jim Bernheimer
Publisher: EJB
Cover: Fiona Hsieh

It seems that with the rise of the Kindle Renaissance, the superhero genre is no longer exclusively bound to comic books. Books like Wearing the Cape, Ex-Heroes, and Charlotte Powers: Power Down take the cape and spandex heroes and put them into prose form. And of course, some books showcase villains as well, such as the aptly titled Confessions of a D-List Supervillain.

In case you haven’t guessed right off the bat by its title and cover, Confessions of a D-List Supervillain is a comedy. And a somewhat lighthearted comedy at that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s a kiddy or watered down supervillain story. There’s plenty of “serious” action, and even some profanity going on. But it’s more tongue in cheek material that’s almost pulpish with modern styling.

And the plot is a bit on the pulp side, too. I don’t want to give away all of the interesting twists and turns and characters, so I’ll just do a quick little plot line about the beginning of it. The world’s greatest villain, Ultraweapon, uses mind controlling and addictive bugs to control every hero and person on Earth; and now it’s up to the world’s joke villain and brilliant engineer, Calvin Matthew Stringel, to detox the heroes and unite them to put an end to the mad man’s scheme. In comic lingo, think of it as if Norman Osbourne brainwashed everyone with addictive parasites, and now the original Stilt-Man must detox some of the Avengers and lead them against Osbourne. So the plot has its familiarities, but there’s definitely enough uniqueness for it to be its own story. Which is a good thing, because judging by the title, I was afraid it was going to be another “Ha! It’s a superhero satire folks. Superhero satire. Check out these golden age losers” kind of farce.

The characters are also unique, at least in the sense that they have some personality and aren’t a Superman, Batman, Joker, etc. mold. There are a lot of fascinating characters, such as Aphrodite (yes, the mythology kind), who definitely has one of the best character developments I’ve seen in a while. But of course, the main character is Calvin Matthew Stringel, who narrates the story in first person. For a supervillain, Stringel seems to be a fairly balanced, sane, and decent person. Especially considering the circumstances and pressure he’s under. So think about him as an anti-hero or anti-villain, your choice. And if you want a comic character analogy, think of him as a d-list supervillain (duh!) like Stilt-Man or Crazy Quilt.

You can have cool characters, but if you want the extra pizazz, then you’ll need some spiffy dialog. Fortunately, the dialog isn’t horrible like some bad fan-fic or that awkward, stiff dialog you get in some humor books. It’s easy to tell that Jim Bernheimer has some experience under his belt and knows what he’s doing. His style (in this book at least) tends to be a more fun, breezy, pulpy kind of dialog, that usually revolves around the plot and/or action. Personally, I’d sometimes like a bit more natural kind of dialog. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it’s bad, it’s just that I prefer casual conversation dialog like Elmore Leonard. But of course, your mileage may vary.

And since we’re on the topic of dialog, I don’t know why most of the harsher dialog during the detox scenes is censored by Stringel. Just as they are about to scream some rant, he usually cuts it off along the lines of, “she said some things that I won’t mention.” Why not mention them? Since other profanities such as “shit” are used, why not occasionally hear what they have to scream? Don’t get me wrong here, I have nothing against the line being used once or twice to stir the imagination. But one time too many can get to be an annoyance.

The only other major complaint I have, is that the beginning started out at a break neck speed. We’re thrust right into the action without any preparation as to who or what is going on. It’s completely disorienting to say the least. However, after you get past the first chapter, things start to settle down and we can get a grip on this intriguing world. If most books start at a very slow pace and get more interesting as they speed up, then Confessions of a D-List Supervillain starts very fast and gets more interesting as it slows down.

Complaints aside, I did find Confessions of a D-List Supervillain to be an entertaining read. More importantly, Bernheimer has proven that literature does have a rightful place in the superhero genre. That it can be unique and doesn’t have to be enslaved to the endless novelization and Superman/Superfamily spoofs. And if you want a superherovillain novel without it being a DC or Marvel cliché, then this might be the book for you.

If you would like to buy and download Confessions of a D-List Supervillain, you can do so here, or for a physical copy, buy it here.

Andrew Hudson

Review copy provided by Jim Bernheimer



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