Bookworm Wednesday: The Deconstruction of Heroism with Bad vs Worse

I’ve read Vicious a few years back, but with its sequel Vengeful now in my hands, I decided to reread and rediscover what made this book such an incredible read. This post doesn’t contain spoilers, nor is it really a review. It’s an appreciation and a deeper look at a narrative that invites the darkness in superhero stories to finally have a say.

Vicious is more than just a revenge story and more than a super power story.
As a lover of comic books and comic book movies, I’ll admit that there’s nothing spectacularly groundbreaking about the superhero narrative. When you boil everything down to its bare bones, it’s another hero story of good guys versus bad guys, and if it’s a franchise, it’s a cyclical story of good vs bad over and over. For some reason or another, superhero movies are exciting to us! We root for one of the teams (rooting for the villains is sometimes necessary when the characterization is great) and we go along for the ride.

V.E. Schwab saw this formula and was like, “I see what we have here, and it’s great, but hold on, let me…let me show you all something,” and she gracefully took an axe and swung it through the word ‘heroism.’ She then grabbed the tattered ribbons, tied them into a bow, stuck that bow on pandora’s godforsaken box itself, smiled at us, and gifted to us one of the greatest stories about superheroes we could have asked for.

Some authors are heavy handed with their use of archetypal characters. Victoria Schwab took the archetype of the villain and hoisted it open like a rusty toolbox and gleefully worked to construct this narrative that I can only call Bad vs Worse.
There are no good guys in this story, and even then, ‘good’ quickly becomes something that’s subjective. Vicious seems to ask its readers, “What is the concept of good in a world dyed in blood and anguish?”
Yes, that character just hoisted that other character up onto a wall with nothing but a knife, but that other character adopted a holier-than-thou complex and is set on murdering anyone deemed unrighteous.
It’s like a game of cat and mouse, if the cat and the mouse were equal experts in nuclear warfare.

Vicious by VE
Different covers/publication of Vicious. (Photo credit: @printedalphabet on Instagram)

But this story isn’t just about people with superpowers doing bad things, that would be too simple. No, this book is tastefully created by exploring the depths of darkness within people. That corner of their mind that, if they don’t tread carefully, could result in very big, very dire circumstances.
Yes, the title is Vicious, but there’s more to it than viciousness, there’s an artful vendetta blossoming in a city of sin. It’s amazing. Marvel comics usually have even their darkest of stories told by characters with sad backstories that make you root for them. DC comics, known for their darker take on villainy with morally gray backstories, doesn’t always supply the sadistic, almost predatory victory between the good guys and the bad. Merit City is definitely not a reputable city like Gotham, or Marvel’s version of New York City. Merit City, the fictional backdrop of Schwab’s superhero affair, is treated more like a battleground with an attractive pulse, calling all dark and violent people because that is what all people are in this world, no matter how big or how small the desire is to get what they want.

So if this story was so sinister and bloody, why did I enjoy it so much? Because, with V.E. Schwab’s storytelling, you don’t feel sorry for Victor and Eli, the two ExtraOrdinaries (people with super powers) going head to head. You don’t feel sorry, but yet, you learn about each of their group, who follows them, and why. You look towards the alliances and how they’re formed and you get a clearer picture what’s at stake.
That in itself is a major reason why I loved this book so much. In this abysmal narrative with dark characters, it matters whom is allied to whom, and for what reasons, and for how long. One of the more remarkable effects of a narration like this is reading and waiting to see if these allies can form a friendship and how thick can a friendship last through all the blood and pain. If anything, the story is used as cautionary tale, one that makes you think twice about whether you would want to live in a world of super powers, and what exactly would that mean with people being as they are.

The most incredible thing however is not this sinister and sadistic take on superheroes, but how fashionable Victoria Schwab made Merit City seem, even with all the sin. Maybe, in that way, we understand why our main players have found themselves in that city? There’s an insidious pull there to stay…and to watch what might happen next.
Maybe we are all vicious about something, and in a world where everyone is like that, maybe that’s okay.

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