The Supervillainy Saga
The Rules of Supervillainy by C. T. Phipps
What a difference four years makes. When I first read this book back in 2017, I enjoyed it a lot, but I only gave it 3 stars. I went on to read the next two and always intended to go back and read the rest, but it wasn’t until recently that I decided to act on it—this time in audio format. Perhaps it’s the narrator, but this opening novel in the series struck me as much better than I thought it was the first time around. It’s just so dang well thought out—a tribute-through-parody to the superhero comics I’ve loved all my life.
Gary gets a package in the mail that turns out to be the magical cloak of the recently deceased superhero, Nightwalker. Gary dons it and instantly decides to fulfill his lifelong dream of being a supervillain. He names himself Merciless—which really proves to be a terrible name because Gary is filled with mercy and concern for those around him even as he pretends not to care.
As one would suspect of a superhero story, Gary’s life is filled with melodrama and bizarre coincidences. His brother was a “c-grade” retired supervillain murdered by one of the new “tougher” heroes, starting Gary down his “villainous” road. Apparently every woman he’s ever dated is on the path to being a supervillain or superhero as well—and of course he runs into all of them. He’s constantly stuck between his desire to be “evil” and his hatred of the idea that the innocent get hurt which leads him to become what he calls an anti-villain with hilarious results.
Hilarious is a good word to describe the whole series. Many of the villains feel like they could fit in well on the set of the 1960s Batman series. The cloak is sentient and talks to him. His henchwoman (ex-girlfriend) thinks he’s the best boss in the world because he doesn’t want sexual favors. (Gary is happily married to a woman who wants to be a superhero.) His henchman and villainous mentor is a strangely honorable Satanist. And it gets weirder and weirder from there.
What comes through most clearly as you read or listen to this novel is how much C.T. Phipps knows about the superhero genre and how important it is to him. If good parody truly comes from love of your subject, I think Phipps has been engaged in a torrid romance with superhero comics for the last forty or fifty years.
The Games of Supervilliainy by C.T. Phipps
Merciless returns to earth after a month on the moon to discover that the zombie apocalypse has overrun his home city. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, his beloved wife has been kidnapped by a rival supervillain who is challenging him to a showdown to decide which of them gets to be top dog in their town. And that’s just the opening chapter. A sorceress cult is looking to bring about the end of the world (and the zombie apocalypse suggests they are succeeding) and death (yes, the grim reaper herself) wants Merciless to come be her henchmen. And that’s still not everything that’s happening.
Whereas the first book was very much a supervillain versus superhero novel, this one is all about the black magic. There are zombies, sorcerers, death, a Cthulhu-like being, vampires, and need I go on? The series takes a dark turn in this novel, but it never loses its peculiar sense of humor. The only real question is how a bright guy like Merciless can still argue with a straight face that he’s a villain, not a hero.
C.T. Phipps’ knowledge of the superhero genre was quite impressive in the first book of this series. Now he dives in deep to the magical side of the genre, managing to both parody the medium while still producing an exciting plot with characters you love.
The Secrets of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps
Phipps obviously adores superhero comics and this series is a loving satirical homage to them. In this third installment, Merciless is trying to find a way to bring his wife’s soul back into her vampiric body while dealing with the hilarious mess of his life. To make matters worse, a massive conspiracy to take over the world is underway and the conspirators have decided they need to take Merciless out first. Naturally Merciless, who insists he’s not a hero, is coming up with reasons to stop the bad guys.
Merciless’ growing frustration at his inability to save his wife is an insight into one of the ways true villains are made. We feel his pain and Phipps expertly makes use of this throughout the story, so much so that I think the story wouldn’t have worked without it.
All of that being said, that wasn’t even my favorite part of the novel. That comes in the form of one of the principal villains—the President of the United States. Think about that for a moment. How do you fight a president who is secretly planning to take over the world when you plan to keep living (mostly publicly) in those same United States? It’s a great dilemma, and a great novel.
4 The Science of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps
I really like this series. Phipps combines an incredibly in-depth understanding of the superhero genre with a light-hearted tone filled with geeky pop-culture references that simply makes the series a delight to read. This time, in the aftermath of last book’s titanic battle against a time-traveling foe who got himself elected to be president of the United States, Gary has to take on his most awesome opponent yet—himself. Yes, Gary has to battle a Gary from another universe who has centuries more experience than he has and who is absolutely wonderfully crazy.
Throw in that he’s been imprisoned by said bad guy for five years and that everything in his hometown has changed as a result—including his girlfriend giving birth to Gary’s daughter opening up a whole new range of superhero plotlines for Phipps to satirize. It doesn’t take a genius to see that this is going to be a ton of fun.
5 The Tournament of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps
Phipps takes a sidestep away from satirizing the superhero genre to poke some fun at fight games (and movies) like Street Fighter. Champions from across the multiverse are gathered to fight it out to see who is top dog with the prize being ultimate power. Unfortunately, this didn’t work as well for me as the other books did. I never really felt like Gary was in this power league. Gary is great for a one liner and he often thinks of very clever things to do, but this came down to a raw power match and that really isn’t Merciless—except that somehow he keeps finding the raw power to win.
The best part of this story is actually the introduction into this series of Jane Doe from Phipps other series that starts with I Was a Teenage Weredeer. I absolutely love that series and it was nice to see her again. Write some more Bright Falls Mysteries Mr. Phipps.
6 The Future of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps
This time Gary goes to the center of the earth to fight Tom Terror and his Nazis. It’s nonstop action as Gary indulges in his favorite pastime—i.e. killing Nazis. There’s also a lot of classic center of the earth problems like dinosaurs everywhere you look. Oh, and did I forget to mention that he’s down at the center of the earth trying to rescue all the superheroes? This is another fun one!
7 The Horror of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps
Phipps continues his homage to the superhero genre, this time taking on the horror aspects—not that there has been a shortage of them in earlier books. His wife is a vampire after all. This time the focus is Dracula, but the problems with Gary’s wife and his first henchman, Diabloman, feature widely too. I’m always impressed by Phipps deep understanding of the genre and his ability to make the comic comical. There’s always plenty of action and plenty of laughs.