Review – ‘Wearing the Cape: Villains Inc.’ by Marion G. Harmon
A while back, I did a review for Wearing the Cape, a YA superhero novel by Marion G. Harmon. To sum up the review, the first book was a solid time; although the reading was a bit rough at certain moments tied directly to the main character’s age, those moments were balanced with plenty of interesting concepts, a solid time-travel-utilizing plot, and some genuinely epic scenes and events. And all of that was tempered by a reminder that when young teen protagonist Astra flexed her teen spirit muscle, it happened because you were reading a YA novel with a young teen protagonist—and really, what do you expect? Ultimately, the end product was a thumbs up, which left me interested for the sequel, Villains Inc.
The premise sounded interesting enough; our returning protagonist Astra finds herself and her team, the Sentinels, in a brewing war with the elusive Villains Inc., which is made more interesting with the mystery / thriller approach to figuring out the evil syndicate. But really, I was more in it to see more growth from the characters; I was excited to see what would come of the events from the end of the first book and how they would affect Astra in particular. But I was also looking for an evolution of the world (and its interesting, hyper-realistic and regimented take on heroes), which I expected to face more of the insane tragedies that happened in the first book—the elements that perhaps intrigued me most about the first installment.
So, the question becomes, “Did Villains Inc. elevate the series into something that absolutely anybody could read? Or did it drift into undeniably teen pop fiction?”
The answer is a very solid, “Iiiiii dunno.”
This is usually the part where I split my review into “What It Did Right” and “What It Did Wrong,” but ultimately, I think there are pluses and minuses across the board in each topic, so I’m going to forgo the divide.
Astra’s All Grown Up… -ish - One of the things I appreciated was a more adult tone in this sequel. Sometimes cleverly disguised (like the smirk evoking “Charlie Foxtrot”) and sometimes right out in the open, the characters have a more relaxed approach to cursing and more adult conversations. None of this gets out of hand or obnoxious—it’s just enough to make long portions palatable for older readers who aren’t totally okay with toting around a superhero YA book to experience more of its unique world setting.
Of course, this is balanced by Astra’s still being Astra. She is, of course, the young, teen protagonist for this YA series, so you can’t expect her to change, but you can still expect the occasional scene focused on shopping. To be fair, these scenes don’t happen often—probably less than they happened in the first book—but the absence of very serious drama in Astra’s life this time around makes her a protagonist that your average comic book nerd will have a hard time relating to.
Well, at the very least, this poor, Hispanic, male nerd of moderate width realized this time through that he had nothing in common with this tiny, hyper-privileged, teen superstar. To put it in the best light, there’s definitely a target audience for this book. Unfortunately, aside from the tasteful shifts in tone to “More Adult,” there’s not much to draw anyone who doesn’t fit the mold back into the fray.
The World’s Still Cool… Back There - And that’s possibly because although the world is still really cool and there’s still a solid, interesting approach to the hero phenomenon throughout, there’s also a much looser focus on the new ideas that are introduced. It was a bit upsetting to me because a lot of those new ideas (Orb in particular was an incredibly intriguing character) are so cool but serve as background characters to other characters that serve as background characters to Astra. In the end, there are a lot of great ideas, and although some of those concepts and characters make it to the forefront, others honestly disappear halfway through the ride.
In a series where the world and approach is so strong, I can’t help feeling that a party book approach would do wonders if only because there are a lot of great characters and ideas here that could totally shine with more attention.
Villains Inc. Is Also Interesting… Back There - The premise starts off really well and definitely sinks its teeth in early on as a good mystery should, but ultimately, the most interesting part of the twist is sadly dropped in almost as an afterthought, making a moment that could have been epic fall flat and leaving one of the most potentially interesting characters (I’m not naming names here) out to dry.
The ultimate battle that’s built up for the entirety of the book fares no better, ending in a single chapter brawl much like the others throughout the book. While those brawls are still very cool, you wind up expecting / hoping for something as epic as, say, Astra sonic-booming from the sky into a giant, flaming angel breakthrough.
The Final Word
What you definitely get a lot of in this book is Astra. I enjoyed her so much in WtC that I was content to just find out what was happening in her hero career. However, what I found was an emotional retcon (not at all in the way you’d expect) that left me unable to connect with her and nothing besides her, from WtC’s unique world, to really draw me into Villains Inc. In the end, if you really enjoy Astra—if she’s a character you can relate to—and you’re on-board for a bit more of the awesome concepts you found in the world of Wearing the Cape, then Villains Inc. is definitely for you.