Echoes of various superhero stories flickered through my mind as I read the expanded and reissued edition of Vicious by V.E. Schwab, the first novel in her Villians series.
The classic Fantastic Four origin of Doctor Doom and Reed Richards is the most relevant to Vicious, the tale of two college scientists who ideas go, well, horribly wrong.
Sure, Reed received his stretchy powers from that doomed space flight, but long before that, the genius scientist was friends in college with one Victor Von Doom, a man so arrogant he refused to take safety precautions for an experiment and thus permanently injured himself.
Reed went in one direction, eventually as a hero.
Victor Von Doom, always teetering on the edge of villainy, delved into the dark arts and science to become Doctor Doom. (And began to refer to himself in the third person, presumably because he likes saying “Doom.”)
It’s impossible for a comic book fan, I think, not to compare Victor Vale to Victor Von Doom.
But the similarities soon fall to the wayside because Schwab’s Victor Vale is clearly his own person. He’s not even a villain, per se. Well, sorta. More of an anti-hero, though it could be argued that every now and then, he does villainous things. Yes, he’s vicious. What’s clear, however, is that Victor has more remaining morals than Eli Ever, the Reed Richards equivalent, who believes he’s doing God’s work but is absolutely a villain: vicious, ruthless, and without mercy.
The conflict between Victor/Eli, once friends, college rivals for the same woman, and similarly obsessed with gaining ExtraOrdinary powers, drive Vicious. The book was first published in 2013 and became a sensation, so popular that there is still a fan-collaborative community site for the Villains universe, hosted on Schwab’s website.
With the coming publication of the sequel, Vengeful, on September 25, Vicious has been reissued to include the prequel novella in the Villains Universe, Warm Up, which was published on Tor.com a month before the original novel.
My review copy of Vicious arrived complete with coffin, a play on the life and death events in the story. That’s because Victor and Eli, in their quest for powers, discover that it’s death or near-death experiences that create superpowers. Naturally, because they are obsessed with proving their theory, they have to try this for themselves. Eli, because he must know, and Victor because he wants to do everything better than Eli.
To say their experiments do not go the way they plan is putting it mildly and the aftermath of their experiments, and their powers, transform them, not for the good. To the world, Victor seems the villain, Eli the hero. But Eli uses his cover to commit atrocities that would never occur to Victor.
Perhaps the difference in their villainy is where it’s directed. Victor has all his rage directed at Eli, while Eli (while unconsciously enraged at himself), directs his rage outward in unexpected directions. Victor has enough morals/conscience left to make a friend in prison and, once out, is driven by a good impulse to help Rachel, a teenager who is possessed of a power she barely understands and that has brought her nothing but betrayal.
Vicious is an immersive book, though sometimes the way it’s told via flashbacks frustrated me (I am not a big fan of flashbacks). Like all good superhero stories, its themes are about good, evil, and how the choices we make, rather than our abilities, determine the course of our lives.
I’ll be grabbing the sequel, Vengeful, as soon as it’s available. It is, of course, already available for pre-order at most retailers.