Thursday, June 2, 2016

Please Don't Tell my Parents I'm a Supervillain, by Richard Roberts

This week we're taking another look at superhero parodies, my favorite kind of superhero stories, with the somewhat lengthy titled, Please Don't Tell my Parents I'm a Supervillain, by Richard Roberts. There is also a sequel titled Please Don't Tell my Parents I Blew Up the Moon which was different enough to intrigue me into investigating this series.

Our story focuses around twelve year old Penelope Akk, daughter of retired superheroes Brian and Barbara Akk. While Barbara, a.k.a. The Audit, is a regular, ordinary human with an incredibly uncanny knack for calculations which allowed her to constantly outthink criminals and supervillains, her father Brian ''Brainy Akk" is a full-blown superhuman with an ability to design and create technology well beyond what modern scientists or engineers are able to understand, much less replicate. With such an auspicious heritage, Penny is eager for her own powers to develop and eventually join the superhero community, as are her friends Claire Luta and Ray Vile. Much to her surprise, Penny manages to achieve a breakthrough in her powers and is soon developing all manner of super-science wizardry to help her and her friends. The title, though, comes from an initial misunderstanding where Penny and her friends end up picking a fight with a superhero sidekick, also a student at their school, which results in them being branded as a team of supervillain, much to Penny's dismay. And despite her repeated attempts to switch to the side of the good guys, Penny keeps ending up confirmed more and more as a villain. And with two of the smartest superheroes in existence as her parents, this is certainly not a pleasant situation to be in!

I kind of have mixed feelings about this book in general. On the one hand, I do like superhero parodies, which this is very much in the vein of. Although I get the feeling it plays most of the tropes straight more than it subverts or parodies, but I'm okay with that. Superhero stories are supposed to be fun, after all. Furthermore Roberts does a lot of world-building in the story, making it seem like the most logical thing in the world that superheroes and supervillains could coexist peacefully when they're not having epic battles in the streets.

Roberts also includes a lot of things that aren't fully explained, references to people or events which are important to the world but we don't always know what they are. When this is done improperly it can be super frustrating because you feel like the author isn't explaining enough and they've got this super-cool backstory that they've decided not to tell you about to be vague and mysterious. (Of course you can also go in the direction of too much information, which results in you using an encyclopedia to understand all the things included in the story. Looking at you, Tolkien and Herbert.) But in this case, Roberts manages to strike a good balance between explaining what's necessary, and leaving a certain number of things to the reader's imagination, resulting in a world that feels as deep and complicated as our own.

My reservations, however, center on the fact that despite Penny's protests  that she really doesn't want to be a supervillain, she doesn't seem to try terribly hard to get out of it once she starts. In fact, I was shouting at Penny at one point because it's very clear that Ray and Claire are responsible for dragging her deeper into the supervillain life, telling her to just focus on the science and let them focus on the morality. Which left me feeling like they weren't terribly good friends because they're letting you get into very serious trouble instead of helping you. I feel like it would have been much simpler for Penny to go to her parents to ask for help instead of continuing this charade, but of course what twelve-year old likes admitting to her parents that she needs help? So in a way it makes sense, but I'm not thrilled about it.

There's also a moment that took a very dark turn in my opinion, and it's when Penny and friends get put in very real danger by a security guard with a gun, which they were not prepared for in the least. It may be because I'm overly sensitive to this considering the number of items in the news lately about shootings here in the United States, but I feel like pulling a gun on what are very obviously twelve-year old children crosses a line somewhere. A line that I am intensely uncomfortable with. Yes, they are supervillains, but they're also still just children. It's something that left a bad taste in my mouth.

Overall this book is okay. It was at least interesting enough that it made me want to read the second book and see what happens. Penny isn't a bad person, she just unfortunately gets wrapped up in the ''fun'' of being a supervillain and all that it entails. I do like her as a character and she does bear some passing similarities with Agatha Heterodyne of Girl Genius, another mad scientist who I'm rather fond of.  I kind of wish that she'd been able to talk to her parents about it, but that'd just remove the conflict and then we wouldn't have a story, would we? If you like superheroes and the fun of superhero stories, then this one's definitely a good read.

- Kalpar

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