Imagine a world that combines elements of The Incredibles, Discworld, and Marvel. That’s what you get in Forging Hephaestus (Villains’ Code Book 1). I really enjoyed this combination, and I really, really hope the series continues for at least a few more volumes.
The basic premise is that the world contains meta-humans, those with special powers, and such people often become either heroes and join the Alliance of Heroic Champions, or a villain who joins the guild of villains. The organization and bureaucratization of crime and justice is the Discworld element and it’s just about as well done, although here it’s played more for action than socio-political satire.
The Marvel part come from meta-humans being created by accident, born, or influenced by magical ‘confluences’. Meta-humans are sort of an accepted part of the world, but also seen as suspect, even when they are heroes. They largely have to police themselves, but that’s why the two organizations exist. The AHC in particular seems more interested in creating public images for the members, who have image consultants who even do polls on possible hero names, and set up debuts for new members who include a programmer who can create items out of video games in real life and a guy who mutated into a combination of a tiger and who-knows-what-else. The villains on the other hand like to stay out of public view, but they are equally invested in training and setting up their recruits, who in this story include a girl who can turn into a variety of dragons, a spell-caster, and bug-controller.
The series concentrates mostly on Tori, a villain in training, who is apprenticed to Ivan. Ivan was once one of the most feared villains ever, named Fornax (after a black hole) now presumed dead, who now lives as a mild-mannered middle manager at some kind of tech firm who gets to see his beloved children every other weekend. Tori, who can turn herself completely into sentient fire, was a thief with dreams of creating her own super-suit, finds herself made an offer she can’t really refuse: either train and join the villains, or be eliminated.
The sheer range of characters among both organizations is pretty amazing, and they’re all interesting and fun to watch. Where else would you find a robot who was created as a sex toy, but whose AI was too smart and became self-aware, and sued for recognition as a being with rights etc (and wins), or a hero who has over 1,000 different voices/personalities in his head (aptly named Quorum). There’s definitely some irony in the fact that several of the villains are more complex and likeable than some of the heroes, like Apollo who definitely has a sneaky quality to him (he does end up fighting for the right thing in the end though).
Basically, the plot follows the trainees on both sides, and eventually has them graduate just in time for a major clash between villains and heroes set up by the mysterious (probably villainous) entity Nexus who can pass through different versions of reality, and happens to be especially interested in this one because it has some elements that exist in none of the other multi-verses.
The only problem is that this book was only recently released, so who knows how long I’m going to have to wait for the sequel.