I am a huge fan of Drew Hayes’ writing, particularly his VILLAINS CODE series. As a fellow writer of superhero prose fiction, I have to bow to the master and admit his worlds are just plain awesome. Generally, people think of his SUPER POWERED series as the better of the two but I’m going to go against the grain and say that I prefer VC. Why? The world-building is stronger and the stakes feel significantly higher. I also liked the characters more. However, the books are thick doorstopper-esque novels and we’ve only gotten too with Forging Hephaestus and Bones of the Past.
I was very pleased by the fact that Drew Hayes decided to release an anthology of superhero stories (or villain in this case) stories that expand on his world. So, I immediately picked up VILLAINS’ VIGNETTE VOLUME ONE when it came out. Much to my surprise, it turned out to be mostly novellas about our (anti)heroes versus the collection of short stories I expected. They also mostly star Ivan (Fornax) and Tori (Hephaestus) as well as the original cast. I don’t dislike this but I kind of wish we had gotten some more development for preexisting superheroes and villains.
The book contains the following stories anl each of them have a lot of appealing ideas to them for long-term fans of the series. I have a few complaints about a few but nothing that lowers my score of the collection as a whole. So, if you want my opinion on the whole book, it’s, “Great for fans of the series. Probably not a good fit for newcomers wondering if they should check out the first book.”
“A Night in Hallowville” is about a town in Iowa being taken over by a Halloween goddess named Spooky Trudi. It actually transforms it into something similar to Marble Gate Dungeon or an MMORPG where it’s more like a game show or obstacle course than actual threat. I really enjoyed this oddball quirk of Halloween in the setting and especially the villain, the Fashionistador, who can steal powers from pieces of superhero costumes. I actually liked the latter so much that I felt they were too harsh on him and I hope he appears in future installments as a redeemed character.
I especially liked the element that putting on a costume of a superhero or villain in Hallowville will give you a diluted version of their powers. However, the powers go up the more synchronous you are with them. A super science genius will get more out of a Doctor Quantum or Doctor Mechanical costume than, say, Glinda the Good Witch. Weirdly, The Wizard of Oz is established as not existing in the setting as well even though superpowers only appeared in the 1950s.
“The Priestess and the Peril” is a dip into high fantasy as Fornax is summoned to a Medieval world being overrun by demons. Ivan’s weird morality is on full display as he feels no desire to rescue the planet from oblivion but does want to avenge a friend of his that lived there. It’s an interesting commentary on the nature of violence and his Light Side Sith-like morality (something that only exists in Bioware RPGs notably). Specifically, Ivan thinks, “Kill someone for a person and they’ll be safe for a day. Teach a person to kill and they’ll be safe for a lifetime.”
A warning about this story, though, in that ends on a cliffhanger. I’m not sure if it’ll be continued, though this being a “volume one” indicates that’s very likely. However, I fully expected the story to be self-contained like the others, so it was a surprise when it ended the way it did. Fair warning for readers.
“A Very Villainous Christmas” is another holiday-themed story and Fornax is summoned to the North Pole alongside Tori in order to save Christmas.We get a lot of fun holiday bits and pieces here like Lodestar (Superman/Supergirl) doesn’t get along with Santa at all. Also, she did an educational rap in the Nineties that is, by far, her greatest regret. The only regret is our heroes don’t do something truly dastardly and load it to the internet. Should Drew Hayes have included the lyrics to the rap? Yes, absolutely, but leaving it to the imagination is also a valid artistic choice. I also appreciated the vision of a bunch of D-list supervillains playing Santa for kids because that felt surprisingly real.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed Villains’ Vignettes vol. 1. It’s by no means necessary to read if you’re a fan of Villain’s Code but there’s plenty to enjoy if you are. I hope it’s a sign we’ll be getting the third book, though.