Another capepunk novel for your reading enjoyment!
Deconstructions and parodies are nothing new to the genre but they tend toward the dark and gritty. This novel, by contrast, is light and breezy. It doesn't take the conflict between superheroes and supervillains very seriously, instead treating them as two groups more interested in showing off than anything else. Despite this, their conflicts are fun and colorful. This is a book which reflects a more innocent worldview, more Sky High than Watchmen, and I quite liked it.
The premise is Penny Akk, daughter of the superhero Brainy Akk, is thirteen-years-old and waiting impatiently for the arrival of her expected super-science powers. Friends with a laid back boy named Ray Viles and a girl named Claire Lutra, she finds her powers finally do come and at an accelerated rate.
Accidentally activating Claire's superpowers inherited from her retired supervillain mother and giving Captain America-esque Super Soldier abilities to Ray, they get caught up in the latter's attempt to wreck the Science Fair out of revenge for Penny getting disqualified. It makes sense in context (i.e. thirteen year old boys do stupid things to impress girls).
Attacked by the precious sidekick of a Batman-equivalent, Penny discovers to her horror that she and her friends have been labeled pre-teen supervillains. Through a series of bad mistakes and the illicit thrills which come from rebelling against your parents, Penny and her company proceed to adopt the supervillainous moniker of "The Inscrutable Machine."
The superhero and supervillain community are both thrown by how good they are at being bad, too, with attempts to manipulate them turning out disastrously wrong for everyone but the child heroes. Their lifelong friendship and familiarity with the superhero world means they are able to succeed where more seasoned criminals don't--and it's hilarious.
The children antiheroes are ridiculously cute, one even having the ability to appear harmlessly adorable as one of her superpowers. It helps the supervillains of this world operate under similar rules to the Venture Brothers' Guild of Calamitous Intent which prevents them from harming superheroes or their families without difficulty. These rules are enforced by a grim and sinister hero who has difficulty bringing in rule-breakers alive.
Nice bit of world-building there.
I also am very fond of the numerous other heroes and villains the author populates his world with. My favorite is undoubtedly Lucyfar who may or may not be the Devil but, either way, acts like a teenage girl. The Council of Seven and a Half, Gabriel, Generic Girl, and the Librarian all make the characters pop out from the page. The stakes are reasonably low for much of the book but keep raising at a steady but reasonable pace.
I don't think the book is perfect. Sometimes it's a little too cutesy. Also, it would have been nice for the book to acknowledge when the stakes have reached a serious level like when the antiheroes are blackmailed into trashing a local Iron Man-equivalent's office. Still, I can't be too hard on a book which has a legion of zombie rag-dolls which spread by biting cloth.
In conclusion, if you love adorable superhero stories and don't take them too seriously then this is probably your book. If you have a low tolerance for sugar and spice and everything nice, then this book will probably give you diabetes.