The Big Idea: Lexie Dunne
Posted on August 7, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 13 Comments
So, your favorite superhero? Yeah, Lexie Dunne’s novel Supervillains Anonymous isn’t about them. Or your second favorite superhero. Or your third. Maybe your fifth? or seventh? Yup, that’s about right.
Gail Godwin is what I like to call mid-sized. Not physically—she’s so small that I’ve chucked every short joke in the book at her and will keep going until my editor tells me to stop—but power-wise. Superheroes Anonymous was Gail’s origin story, moving her from the villains’ favorite whipping girl to a hero in her own right. That was fun; I can understand why Hollywood’s rebooted Spider-man 47 times now. It’s addictive! But after the origin story, what if the hero you’re left with isn’t the bottom rung or the top level? What if she’s decidedly middle of the line? This was the fun playing field I got to discover in Supervillains Anonymous, my new sequel.
Caped crusaders come with some super-evident truths: heroes with great chins and an even greater thirst for justice, “smart” villains that somehow take nine steps when four would have been fine, loved ones kept in the dark for their own safety. And it’s not any different in the world of Superheroes– and Supervillains Anonymous, which has its own Gawker-like site to track superpowered social activity. In superhero fiction, you’re either the underdog or you’re the alpha dog. That’s why we have seventeen or eighteen different Bats-man (Batmen?) comics and movies all going at the same time. We like ourselves a good Batman.
But when you put Gail on a team, she’s neither. Her powers are strong enough to make her dangerous, but not deadly. Somebody on her level gets one or two jazz hands moments in a battle and then is relegated to watching the main hero’s back. She’s not the Slayer—she’s a Scooby (but a cool Scooby like Willow, not like Xander). In an ensemble work, these mid-sized characters add great flavor, but it’s not often we’re put in their shoes for longer than the moment it takes to release an outstanding quip and make the money shot. I, on the other hand, found myself writing an entire book in this “moment.”
I would call it an accident, but it’s probably fate. In movies, I’m always more fascinated by the background of the shots than I am by the principal actors. My favorite characters show up for a couple of chapters around page 47 and leave with some hint of mystery still clinging to them. I wonder at the actuaries and cleaning crew that have to assess the rubble after the dust has settled. It’s viewing what’s typically a macro-level world with megalomaniacal villains through a micro lens, and it’s always been a favorite hobby. So Gail’s a perfect fit for me.
Aided by the super-element Mobium, she runs faster, hits harder, and banters more mightily than your average human, but she can’t fly and she’s not invincible. Definitely mid-sized, especially when you consider everybody around her. Her boyfriend can fly. Her mentor decimates buildings and breaks the speed of sound. If Gail wants to get across town in a single bound, it’s either be carried or give in and take the El. I discovered early on in my outlining stage that there was no feasible way for her to be the one fighting to the death atop a building, not with the calibre of villains I’d created for the world.
Her place is on the ground, surrounded by dirt and with pebbles wedged in her boots. She takes out the mooks. Luckily, for the sadist in me, what mooks lack in quality, they make up for in quantity. So the stakes might be considerably smaller, but they still exist (and they’re just as likely to vaporize her). She’s still got challenges facing her and she’s still enhanced. This is especially great for me because I really like beating her up and now I can do that even harder. And with great enhancements come a great chance of having a front row seat for the important bits of the final battle.
When I was coming up with this series, it would have been easily to level Gail up and make her one of the heavy hitters. Instead of instincts and honed muscles, the Mobium could have made her invincible, light as a feather, faster than a speeding train. But honestly, where’s the fun in that? We’ve got enough Supermen watching the earth from space. Give me more mid-sized heroes, outclassed by everybody around them, doing what they can to help. I want to spend more time in the trenches, looking up.
After all, that’s what you do with superheroes, isn’t it? You’re always looking up.
Supervillains Anonymous: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Powell’s
Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site. Follow her on Twitter.
There’s a really good idea here, but reading the book really made me mad – Gail does something inexplicably stupid for reasons of plot, and frankly the book’s ‘conclusion’ was anything but. Lexie Dunne is definitely someone to watch, but this book is simply annoying at the end.
John, would you be so kind as to mallet my comments here? I confused the title of this book with Lexie’s SuperHEROs book. I didn’t read this one, and my comments aren’t right for it.
“She’s not the Slayer—she’s a Scooby (but a cool Scooby like Willow, not like Xander).”
Oh, *NO* you didn’t!
You do not get to disparage Xander and get away with it. The whole point of Xander is that he doesn’t have incredible powers, he doesn’t have the awesome powers, magic, artefacts or reference libraries that Willow, Buffy and Giles have.
He’s just this ordinary guy, and is the heart of the team, in spite of that, or perhaps because of it.
Either way, you do not get to disparage him or his role in the Scoobys.
I read superheroes autonomous and loved it! can’t wait to read this one. Leaving on a cliffhanger, how rude! ;)
And besides learning to fight, she needs to learn to play politics, or someone is going to hoodwink her. Again. Wouldn’t Hostage Girl know about that kind of thing? why did she forget when she became super-powered? Her mentor has a lot to answer for.
Note on the cover (which the author has no control over, I know) I notice that she has an actual waistline. Was a real human used as a model? She wears thigh high leather boots – good to prevent scrapes & small cuts – with high heels – good to um, run in? fight in? are those steel caps on the toes? *is disappointed*
Seems like it takes on some of the same themes as wildbow’s fantastic (and ginormous) web serial Worm: the idea of mid-level heros/villains using ingenuity and tenacity to do what they can, sometimes outclassing more powerful characters by sheer wit and will.
“Oh, *NO* you didn’t!
You do not get to disparage Xander and get away with it. ”
Preach it! That’s basically all I came to say, but you said it better.
Though I will point out that the non-cool Xander was the one who saved the world when oh-so-cool Willow decided to murder billions of innocent people because she was sad.
As for the actual book being discussed, haven’t read it yet, but I’ve been meaning to read the first one and I’ll probably pick it up soon since the world sounds interesting.
You are *so* going to get slammed for making fun of Xander. He may not be a “cool” Scooby – but he is the Zeppo! And, as pointed out upthread, he’s saved the world once or twice without Willow’s magic or Buffy’s powers.
And that would make a wonderful third book in this series. Tell us what it is like to be an ordinary average person trying to make your way in a world where a typical day includes alien invasions and magical attacks. (Marvel did a limited serries like this back in the 1980s with a humorous slant; it was pretty darn good.)
“Either way, you do not get to disparage him or his role in the Scoobys.”
Ha! I knew dissing Xander would get somebody. I stand by my right to dislike him for letting his horrible insecurities screw Anya over on their wedding day! Muahaha. I mean, every one of them had their own issues. I just found Xander’s the least interesting or tolerable after what he did. He did save the world a couple of times and he was a valuable team member, but that doesn’t mean I have to like him.
@tziviaeadler I really need to write a book called Superheroes Autonomous, wherein I completely get rid of Davenport and let the superheroes run free. That actually sounds fun. I’m going to email my editor right now.
@Matt – Ooh, I’ll check that out!
@JohnD – I have a draft very similar to your idea sitting in my “someday” file, actually. I love the idea of the regular people in the superhero world, which was where these books originally came from. It’s just for the plot to happen and for her to stay alive with her truly boneheaded nature (I am the last person that will defend her intelligence), I had to give Gail superpowers.
Just jumping in to say that I’m on board for being not-a-fan of Xander – especially early Xander, lies-to-his-friends ‘kick-his-ass’ ‘I-don’t-remember-being-a-hyena-and-trying-to-rape-you’ ‘my-lifelong-friend-Jesse-isn’t-worth-remembering’ Xander. The ‘Nice Guy’ from whom so many more have spawned.
And that’s not even to mention the whole ‘hooked up with lil’ Dawnie in the comics’ thing.
Her mentor decimates buildings and breaks the speed of sound. I can understand the utility of super speed in fighting crime, but how does destroying 1/10 of a building help?
If it’s the bottom tenth, the rest follows.
I read this, bought both books, and enjoyed them greatly. Excellent reads, and I don’t mind her half baked plans – thinking on your feet doesn’t usually lead to great plans, but ones that are good enough to work.
Too funny, I just got back from vacation where I read both of these books. I loved the first one because Gail was just soo real. She had a crappy job that she kept because of the insurance, and a boyfriend more into video games then her. I totally didn’t like her boyfriend and was so psyched to realize who Blaze really was. I ordered the second book and read it within five minutes of finishing the first one because it was so good. One of my favorite parts was how the scary villain mom was still trying to take care of her family eve if it did almost kill Gail. Everyone who loves comic superheroes will love these books. Please write more!
P.S. Xander is a realistic guy who makes LOTS of mistakes and tries to be a good guy. But ya, I still hold a grudge for Anya’s sake too.