How to Be a Supervillain: How to Be a Supervillain, Book 1

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
How to Be a Supervillain: How to Be a Supervillain, Book 1 Book Poster Image
Silly, sweet, but slight send-up of heroes and villains.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Shows the value of a mentoring relationship.

Positive Messages

Distinguishing good from bad (or simply boring) can be surprisingly complicated. Trying to control and manage every aspect of human interaction can backfire, limiting the ability to respond to inevitable unexpected developments. Shows how prejudice hurts. Sometimes it takes a villain to make a hero.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Victor is initially dismissive of the Smear as a "lame" villain, but he changes his opinion as he sees the Smear in action -- and as the Smear coaches him with patience, wisdom, and affection. Both hero and villain parents want the best for their children and are willing to check their own assumptions and change their behavior for the sake of the family.

Violence & Scariness

Cartoonish battles between heroes and villains portrayed for comic effect, with punches and kicks along with goofy superpowers like laser elbow catapults. Staged fights are major part of the plot, but there also are real attacks with real weapons.

Language

Mention of "butt."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that How to Be a Supervillain is the start of a goofy graphic novel series by Michael Fry (Over the Hedge comic strip, The Naughty List) about a good kid born to bad parents who mean well. There's plenty of cartoonish violence played to absurd extremes (a mentor's superpower is staining people; another villain wields smelly feet) and a complicated relationship with a mentor whose motives and loyalties aren't always clear. Much of the humor is derived from depicting villains and heroes as everyday working people, with a fair amount of gross and goofy jokes (a ridiculous pair of underwear features prominently in the plot).

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What's the story?

HOW TO BE A SUPERVILLAIN stars Victor Spoil, who's the only child of supervillains the Spoil Sports but is so naturally good, he can't not eat peas. His parents, dismayed by his unfailing politeness and cautious nature, apprentice him to the Smear, a down-and-out villain trying to get back in the game. And it is just a game: Ever since the truce, fights have been staged and the winners -- always the superheroes -- predetermined. The Smear (who stains his foes) starts showing Victor the ropes, but Victor grows concerned as a mysterious attacker pursues them and the Smear keeps going off script. As battles escalate, Victor worries the truce will be broken or all the supers will be purged to space -- or one supervillain could take over the world.

Is it any good?

Michael Fry gets in on the "superheroes as working stiffs" genre with this giddy romp about a sweet boy raised by adoring parents who worry he isn't evil enough and send him off for villain training. How to Be a Supervillain is set in a world where heroes and villains have been reduced to has-been, semiretired pro wrestlers jeered as freaks but followed by eccentric fans.

Fry seems less interested in reining in the meandering plot than he is in having fun with superhero and villain conventions and cracking jokes about monologuing and ridiculous superpowers. He tries to give the story some moral depth with muddy philosophizing on good and evil, but the intended lesson is lost in the explosions, dust clouds, and messy stains of the action. It's superficial and slight but a fast and fun read for kids who like their humor super silly.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the blurry line between good and bad in How to Be a Supervillain. Do you find it difficult sometimes to decide whether someone or something is good or bad?

  • What does the Smear mean when he says sometimes it takes a villain to make a hero?

  • Why are funny takes on superhero stories so popular?

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