In a world of superpowers, if you could choose to be hero or villain, which would you pick? Or is this a question with no easy answer... can we be both heroic and villainous, kind and mean spirited? Wouldn't surviving high school make us both?
Okay the last question is kinda silly. But reading The Rise of Renegade X by Chelsea M. Campbell left me wondering about many things, which is a sign that the author managed to capture something important with words.
The book is the story of Damien Locke, a boy with a nasty sense of humor and the perfect comeback ready on his lips (the latter reminded me of Spiderman's taunts). He is the son of a famous supervillain and, with his sixteenth birthday imminent, he expects to learn his superpower and enroll in an academy for aspiring malefactors.
Morality, in this comic book-themed world of capes and ray guns and heists, is determined by genetics. A viral effect of heroic DNA is an H on the thumb; villains sport a prominent V. On ultra-rare cases, when a hero and villain fool around (*gasp*), the kid will find an X on his thumb, indicating he has free will and can become either a hero or a villain.
Guess what Damien discovers on his thumb when he turns 16? Yep. And this starts one horrible discovery after another. Bad enough that his mother did it with a hero, but which lame dork is his father? And can he even go to villain school with an X on his thumb?
Damien wants to rebel against his genetics--and though he has free will to choose his destiny like few others, the decisions he will face are not easy ones. Especially with a girlfriend who is a villain-to-be and a sidekick who wants to reform him.
If only Campbell spent half the energy and imagination she invested in Damien with the rest of the world. Golden City, the setting, seems very... small. And a bit 1950s. Heroes and villains live very suburban lives as if their powers and morality weren't often important. Damien's mother is supposedly an infamous villain and yet there's no sense that the populace of Golden City fears her or is interested in jailing her. Villainy in the book is very much of the "Moo-ha-ha" school of mustache-twirling and petty schemes. Heroics are rescuing people from fires and cats in trees.
That said, the book is filled with plenty of comic moments and the emotional angst Damien faces reads honest. All of us sport Xs, all of us can make the choice to be good or bad. Part of life is learning that the world is not one of absolutes, that we need to see in shades of gray.