We hear a lot from the villain’s point of view these days, it seems. Megamind, for instance, is another misunderstood supervillain battling a strong but not-so-bright superhero. Before that we had Dr. Horrible (and the strangely similar picture book Baron von Baddie and the Ice Ray Incident). And before that, one of my favorite supervillain point-of-view books: Soon I Will be Invincible.
There’s a new evil mastermind on the block.
Archvillain by Barry Lyga is the first book in a new series for middle-grade kids, and while it (like many of the others) relies on a lot of comic book superhero tropes, it’s still a fun read and does a pretty good job on the origin story of an archvillain.
Kyle Camden has a big secret. He was the only resident of Bouring (“The U Makes It Exciting!”) who was present when the strange plasma curtain fell on the middle school football field. He’s the only one who knows that Mike, the amnesiac kid who was found wandering around the field later, isn’t from anywhere around here. And when Mike suddenly exhibits superpowers, gets the nickname “Mighty Mike” and becomes the darling of the town — including his best friend Mairi — Kyle wants to tell everyone the truth.
Of course, he can’t — because the reason he was out on the football field was to set up a big prank.
Kyle’s other secret, though, is that the same plasma energies that brought Mike to earth also gave Kyle some interesting abilities. He doesn’t have all of Mighty Mike’s powers, but he can fly, he has speed and strength and his already keen intellect got a bit of a boost.
In order to expose Mighty Mike for the alien fraud that he is, Kyle makes himself into the Azure Avenger (wearing a cape because everyone knows that capes are ridiculous and Kyle would never be seen in one) and concocts a clever plan. Unfortunately, things go wrong. The town of Bouring thinks Kyle is the bad guy. Worse yet, they start calling him the Blue Freak.
What sets Archvillain apart is that — at least in this first book — Kyle never thinks of himself as the bad guy. He doesn’t get his powers and think, hey, I could become a supervillain. The whole time, he thinks he’s doing something that needs to be done — and it’s only because people can’t see things from his perspective that they think he’s some criminal mastermind. There are some scenes that are like a comedy of errors, particularly the climactic battle towards the end of the book.
Like I said, the book borrows a lot from other sources — Mighty Mike is certainly an analog of Superman; Kyle himself might be a bit like Lex Luthor, but with powers. And, in true Stan Lee fashion, nearly everyone in Bouring has a double-M name: Mairi MacTaggert, Maxwell Monroe, Melissa Masterson.
Archvillain is intended for around ages 10-13, and I think kids who are into superheroes would probably get a kick out of it, and if you’re trying to encourage a comic-book reader to also read some more prose, this might be a good place to start. Lyga is certainly playing to the geek crowd: Kyle is not only the smartest kid in school but — until the arrival of Mighty Mike — was also the most popular. I will say that it’s easy to see what’s going to happen in some places long before you get there, and older teens may find it a bit too predictable. It’s not a very long book, either.
But for the right audience, I think Archvillain sets up the series nicely and it’ll be fun to see where Lyga takes Kyle and Mighty Mike next.
Wired: A misunderstood middle-schooler with a boosted intellect = lots of fun hearing from the villain’s point of view.
Tired: The book clearly states that his costume has a mask to cover his face. Why couldn’t they get the cover art right?
Disclosure: GeekDad received a review copy of the book.