The Vindico is a decidedly and deliberately different take on superhero mythology, and on the “origin story” in particular.
In Wesley King’s debut, the newspapers are full of stories about the League of Heroes and its ongoing battle with its nemesis, the Vindico. Crucial events, like the Night of Ashes, during which several members of the League and a number of civilians were killed, shape the culture. Kids have posters of their favourite heroes on their walls, similar to Olympic athletes or professional hockey players in our world.
The members of the Vindico are getting older and, in a desperate attempt to beat the League once and for all, they kidnap five seemingly average teens. They imprison the group in an isolated mansion and begin a program of training, psychological and physical torture, and indoctrination. They also reveal a truth hidden from the general public: members of the League aren’t quite the good guys they seem, and their Vindico counterparts aren’t unalloyed villains.
The Vindico is an acute, smart novel that creates a complex, morally ambiguous, and genuinely thoughtful story. There are battles aplenty, but the novel is more concerned with relationships and the shaping of personalities. For some of the kids, the mansion is an improvement over their dysfunctional family lives; for others, becoming a villain provides them with an opportunity to find strength they have lacked.
It’s not a perfect book. In the early stages, there are more shortcuts and stereotypes than development. By the time the novel is in full swing, however, the characters are well realized, and the decisions they make seem natural and supported by the narrative. While the novel is completely self-contained, there is much potential here for a sequel.