I'm a big fan of the D-List Supervillain series. It's one of my top three Capepunk series along with Wearing the Cape and Ex-Heroes. The premise, for those unfamiliar with the books, are the (mis)adventures of Cal Stringel a.k.a Mechani-Cal. Cal is an armored supervillain, loosely based on longtime Spiderman foe and sometimes-hero, the Beetle.
In the previous two volumes, we watched (in anachronistic order), Cal go from being a petty criminal with some high-tech weaponry to a man who saves the world. Unfortunately, Cal doesn't have the moral fortitude to be a superhero so he fakes his death and goes back to working on his technology. There's an entire year missing from this timeline, surrounding Cal's death and return, which this book chooses to cover. The book also contains a number of "present" scenes, which give us a sense of what he's doing in the lead-up for Book 4# in the series.
So what is Cal up to?
Mostly, it's Cal sorting through his problems.
Cal Stringer has gone through quite the character arc in the past two books and he needs to solve the question which dogged the Incredible Hulk during his early years: Is he hero? Villain? Or both? In the end, Cal is too selfish to be a hero but not evil enough to be a villain. This book is about him figuring out what sort of happy medium he can achieve within those confines.
Secrets of a D-List Supervillain borrows from Marvel's Civil War event as a backdrop with the government choosing to crack down hard on superheroes in the wake of the Earth's near-destruction during Confessions. The heroes of this world aren't all a bunch of true-blue boyscouts so plenty are onboard with the government's oppression as long as it continues them drawing a paycheck. Unlike Marvel's Civil War, this is more of a hassle rather than an epic fight between heroes. It's also more of a backdrop to Mechani-Cal's journey of self-discovery than a real plotline.
The Confessions series is always at its best when it's attempting to deal with the absurdities of a superhero world in a semi-realistic manner. Cal finds the majority of superheroes to be irritations and he's not about to give up his criminal associations, so he ends up being something of an outside observer on both sides. Some truly ridiculous situations result where neither side really knows whether he's on their side of not.
Cal could answer that.
He's on his side.
Several relationships established in previous books get developed better in Secrets. This includes an expanded focus on the Aphrodite/Mechani-Cal relationship, a in-depth look at ingenue superheroine Whirl-Wendy, and his ex-supervillain cronies. Quite a few of the latter would be willing to come over to the other side, simply because being good can pay better if you know the right people. Watching Cal slowly develop a family out of these oddballs is the best part of the book and well worth the price of admission.
The book is flawed, however, by the fact Jim Bernheimer doesn't take a time to catch new readers up with who is who and how they relate to Cal. It's been a couple of years since I read Confessions of a D-List Supervillain so some of the intricacies were lost on me. Taking the time to throw in a paragraph for each of the characters to bring everyone up to speed would have been nice. Also, and this is just a personal preference, the book loses points for the fact it focuses so much on the Aphrodite/Mechani-Cal relationship.
While I don't hate Aphrodite, her relationship with Cal, is about as enjoyable as watching paint dry. They have a lot of sex and both fight supervillains but I'm not sure what else the two have in common. Do they have any shared interests? What do they talk about aside from work? They seem to be in love just because they're in love. The most honest moments are when Aphrodite talks about how Cal pushes her to be someone different and her unease about the fact everyone thinks she's a moron but him. I'd prefer WhirlWendy and Cal to give it another go but the author actually makes fun of fans who support this ship (in a gentle way) so I think that's not happening.
In conclusion, this is a great but flawed book. It took awhile for me to get back into the swing of things but I came to enjoy it quite a bit. The use of continuity and past characters is well-handled and I've started to develop "favorites" amongst the cast. I'm torn between an 8.5 and a 9 but the book rebounded from a somewhat confusing start and landed on an interesting note.