"I saw the misadjusted dials and the whirling gauges and the bubbling green fluid and the electricity arcing around, and a story laid out for me... I was going to declare war on the world, and I was going to lose."
A novel by Austin Grossman about a world where superheroes exist and have been around since World War II. The setting is an Affectionate Parody of both the Marvel Universe and The DCU, and like these two is decidedly in the realm of the Fantasy Kitchen Sink, with everything from magicians to aliens. Most of the characters are a Captain Ersatz or a pastiche of superheroes and superhero tropes.The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Fatale (a new recruit to Avengers/Justice League analogue the Champions) and Doctor Impossible (a super villain who has fallen on hard times and is currently in jail for the 12th time). The great hero CoreFire is missing, and his Arch-Nemesis Doctor Impossible has escaped from prison. Coincidence? ...well, actually, yes, much to Impossible's annoyance. No matter, he has his own plans; it's just going to be harder to implement them now that the rest of the superhero world is trying to rescue the hero he doesn't have hostage.While the world is fairly insane, most of the characters act like regular people do, making them in effect Straight Men to the bizarre milieu they inhabit.Characters include:
Fatale: An ex-NSA cyborg whose implants come from a Super Soldier program that never really existed; became a candidate for that program after a near-fatal traffic accident in Brazil. She doesn't remember why she was there, or any of her previous life. Weighs about 500 pounds due to all the metal in her body.
Elphin: A literal fairy who has a magic spear and can control the weather. Fatale, for one, thinks her story is false, for most of the book. Seems to be based loosely on characters like The Mighty Thor, who claim to be immortal mythical or religious beings, but people doubt their legitimacy.
Blackwolf: An ersatzBatman, whose Badass Normal demeanor comes from autism. He and Damsel were once married, until the widely publicized breakup of the original Champions.
Feral: A street-level hero who is a anthropomorphic tiger. Similar to Wolverine in violence, anger issues, and getting smacked around in fights, although the fact he's an anthropomorphic tiger calls back to Mr Tawky Tawny of Captain Marvel fame.
Rainbow Triumph: Blackwolf's nominal Kid Sidekick, even though they don't get along very well. Has Super Strength and Super Speed thanks to implants keeping her alive, but must take medication every few hours or she'll die painfully. Corporate mascot for her father's biotech firm. Would remind one of any of several superheroes under the age of 15, with a little self-destructive child actor thrown in. Most particularly Carrie Kelly (Earth-31 Robin) and, somewhat presciently, Damian Wayne, the current Earth-1 Robin (in that she requires cybernetic/transhuman augmentation from her wealthy parents' corporation to survive).
Mister Mystic: The resident magician, who is somewhat estranged from the team (he often just pops up when needed and later disappears into whatever magical realm or brownstone he inhabits). Something of a cross between Marvel's Doctor Strange and DC's Zatara and the Phantom Stranger, and a bit of Mandrake The Magician thrown in. Other than CoreFire himself, it can be argued that this is the guy Doctor Impossible hates the most, since Magic can't be explained by the science the Doc holds most dear. It's commented that depending on who you ask he's either the most powerful member of the team or a trick-based Badass Normal, reminiscent of Doing in the Wizard approaches to magical characters.
The Pharaoh: a Harmless Villain who claimed to be the reincarnation of Ramses and had a Thor-like hammer which made him invincible. Dr. Impossible expresses doubt on his backstory, after the Pharaoh is unable to decide which Ramses he was exactly. He serves as a parody of numerous badly realised comic book villains that were quickly phased out despite their powers, down to his grandiose backstory, silly costume, and accidental copying of an established hero's name. "He's an Egyptian!"
Galatea: A robotic woman who sacrificed herself to save the world. Said to have developed something like emotions. Similar to the Vision or the Red Tornado.
Baron Ether: The oldest supervillain known, having lived for possibly over a hundred years. Committed a plethora of crimes before being caught and put under house arrest by his archnemesis the Mechanist. He's resigned himself to his powerless status but is not above giving Doctor Impossible help when he calls on him. Loosely analogous to Fu Manchu or Ra's Al-Ghul in terms of agelessness, great intelligence, and esoteric nature.
Action Girl: Fatale, Damsel, Lily... actually, every female superhero.
Alternative Character Interpretation: In-universe, as a running theme of the book is that the heroes and villains, despite defining each other's lives and fighting each other for years, really don't know or understand each other at all.
And This Is for...: Using the Pharaoh's hammer, Dr. Impossible fends off CoreFire and says that at least partly doing it to avenge the Pharaoh's death at CoreFire's hands.
Anti-Hero: Several examples, most notably when the superheroes go to the Bad-Guy Bar looking for information on Dr. Impossible and the collective reaction is one of "why can't you people just leave us alone?".
The Anti-Nihilist: Doctor Impossible's morphed into this sort of character when all's said and done. He knows trying to take over the world has, so far, been Sisyphean, only revealed that he's got a pretty empty hole in him (even when he finally gets his revenge on CoreFire, he's incredibly unhappy and jealous that CoreFire's beaten him every time - and that's before he finds out CoreFire doesn't recognize him at all, and they both get one-upped by their former girlfriend - Lily, AKA the girl they both dated in college, and doesn't have much allies around, but he says there's no option to just sit there and mope - "you keep fighting".
Anti-Villain: And how. Doctor Impossible's character is a Villain Protagonist with strong characteristics of the Anti-Villain. He is clearly and unapologetically a bad guy who's knocked small-time superheroes out of the game and can be a gigantic asshole when needed (although maybe just a little bit misunderstood), every inch an Evil Genius... but in spite of all of that, it's hard to not want him to win. Doctor Impossible's internal monologues paint him as a somewhat sympathetic character - although one could argue that his backstory is all just a Freudian Excuse. As he even says at one point, "Some days, you just don't feel all that evil."
It also has to do with the fact that once you get a good look into the life of a supervillain, you realise it's not easy to be one. It takes skill, wits, dedication and bravery. Villains have their own inner demons and face their own hardships. Villains too have to fight against impossible odds (Doctor Impossible spends most of the book fighting against impossible odds, in fact). In many ways, it appears being a villain is harder than being a hero. Strong with their public approval, heroes live a life of prestige and date movie stars while Doctor Impossible is rotting in prison, or maybe toiling away at some new doomsday device which he knows will probably be thwarted again, like they always do. But abandoning is not an option. "You keep going. You keep trying to take over the world."
The heroes of the story also show their imperfections. CoreFire is (allegedly) a Jerk Ass, Blackwolf is antisocial, Rainbow Triumph is very much like a Spoiled Brat, Damsel struggles with Becoming the Mask, Feral drinks, Elphin can't relate to human society, Fatale is somewhat of a mild Shrinking Violet among other things. The point is that they are all flawed characters, regardless of their "hero" or "villain" titles.
Ultimately Dr. Impossible comes off more sympathetic than the heroes (typified by CoreFire) because he can't choose not to be insane while they can chose not to act like jerks. It's obvious that Lily's sympathy lies more with the Doc, though CoreFire proves that he isn't a natural Jerk Ass so much as someone who started believing his own press.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Fatale believes that Mr. Mystic is really a magician, but is convinced that Elphin can't possibly be a real fairy. Dr. Impossible, meanwhile, flatly disbelieves in the existence of magic, despite the fact that part of his plan depends on exploiting a magical artifact (and it really bugs him to have to do that.).
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking – Doctor Impossible’s first rap sheet of crimes - Bank robbery, racketeering, blackmail, and countless zoning and regulatory violations.
Bad-Guy Bar: The Champions visit a low-end villain bar to squeeze the patrons for information. Later, Doctor Impossible goes another Bad-Guy Bar, held in a secret location that changes every so often to avoid the heroes - this time, it's an abandoned, half-completed strip mall somewhere in the Midwest.
Badass Bookworm: Doctor Impossible, who notes that, while his accident left him super-strong and superpowered, he tended to fight via gadgets and robots, and wishes to rule over the Earth with a major emphasis on science.
Badass Normal: Blackwolf is pretty much the living embodiment of this, able to take down any other Super Hero despite the fact he has no powers - just extreme autism.
Big Damn Heroes: For a moment, it seems like Corefire will pull this... but nope, Doctor Impossible utterly destroys him too. In the end, it's Lily who pulls a Big Damn Heroes when the Pharaoh's hammer power finally runs out.
Big Entrance: Spoofed when Dr. Impossible goes to an Abandoned Warehouse to meet other villains; he has to hide outside in the bushes while changing from his street clothes into cape and mask before entering.
Brown Bag Mask – To protect his secret identity, Doctor Impossible fashions a mask from a napkin and tape. Not exactly his most fantastic disguise.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Dr. Impossible created Fatale. He only realizes this when he finally recognizes his handiwork - and after spending most of the novel analyzing the team and barely glancing at the newest member, and he spends the entire novel unable to remember her name, and glosses over what his original purpose for her was. At the end, this is reversed: he's spent his entire life waiting for the moment when can triumphantly reveal to CoreFire that he is his nerdy classmate from high school. The big reveal comes...and CoreFire doesn't remember him at all, and initially thinks it's Dr. Impossible's old professor.
Corefire's entire life post-accident is this. He doesn't even remember his old girlfriend until she expressly reminds him she exists. It's not that he's a jackass, it's that his life is just that hectic and he tends to spend it moving from one emergency to another.
Captain Ersatz: Most characters, to some degree, though there's always at least one twist. The entire plot is essentially Superman vs. Lex Luthor... and the winner is a superpowered Lois Lane/Lana Lang.
In addition to others noted elsewhere on this page, minor character Regina's backstory appears to be a riff on The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.
Dr. Impossible starts the book in prison because of a play for world domination. This is at least his thirteenth spell inside.
An interesting version of this occurs with Baron Ether, who is confined to supposedly isolated house arrest for the remainder of his life by his Arch-Nemesis the Mechanist. He never breaks out but people keep breaking in to talk to him. Lampshaded by him at one point:
"I don't know how you people keep getting in. I think the Mechanist must be a bit out of date."
Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: Lily, a former supervillain accepted into the New Champions - and very warily, is constantly treated as if she'll eventually backstab the team, especially when she claims to not have seen Dr. Impossible at CoreFire's funeral and doesn't show up for the fight afterwards.
Conqueror From The Future: Minor villain Polgar, the President of the United States in an alternate future, who comes back to take over when he is deposed. One of Blackwolf's theories about Dr. Impossible is that he is a past version of Polgar. This is probably a Shout-Out to Kang the Conqueror, the Ur Example of this trope, who was previously (and erroneously) thought to be a future version of Doctor Doom. Lily's backstory is a variant - she came from a Bad Future to stop the apocalypse that wrecked Earth's ecosystem, then decided that she liked the quietness of the blighted earth better and missed everyone she grew up with in that timeline, and became a villain to Make Wrong What Once Went Right.
Continuity Drift: There's a bit of this with the backstory. For example, Impossible mentions at one point that his Freak Lab Accident was in 1976, and he spent many years Walking the Earth before becoming a villain. So how did he and CoreFire have fights in the 1970s? And just when was CoreFire's lab accident? It was several years before Impossible's happened, so why wasn't CoreFire able to join the Super Squadron, which didn't break up until 1979? For that matter, how did Impossible hold the Squadron off "for years" if they'd already retired? Of course, it's entirely possible that all this is just a Stealth Parody of Comic Book Time and Unreliable Narrator.
The Corruption: Baron Ether's experiments have left him with some increasingly inhuman mutations.
Cosmic Irony: Impossible tracks down the joke-villain Pharaoh's hammer so he can fight off CoreFire, finding it (and the Pharaoh) at the centre of a spreading patch of ice in Costa Rica, from the CoreFire/Pharaoh battle. Later, Lily tells him that she once did go to the future and saw the world-destroying Blight of her fake backstory: it started at the hammer in Costa Rica, and by removing it for his evil plan, Doctor Impossible inadvertently saved the world.
Then again, he has Malign Hypercognition Disorder, which means: he's an evil genius. Apparently, being an evil genius is a mental disorder that inevitably comes with Impossible's level of intellect, so he can't help himself.
Played straight with the former Laserator, who turned his back on his supervillain career and became a successful legitimate scientist.
Damsel in Distress: Doctor Impossible complains about how kidnapping the same woman repeatedly gets kinda boring after a while. And she never realises who it is, which hurts.
Subverted: If you read carefully, especially near the end, it becomes clear that Erica (Lily) knows damn well who Doctor Impossible is - she just never admitted it.
Blackwolf's uber-planning and analytical skills are due to a form of autism.
Several of the other heroes are also shown to suffer adverse effects from their abnormal physiology (Feral's back problems, Damsel's digestive problems). "There's a fine line between superpowers and a chronic disease." Fatale notes that you have to live with these powers, the cyborg parts or half-human biology or whatever every day and not just when they come in handy.
The Documentary: "Titan Six", an unauthorized DVD which tells of the rise and fall of the first Champions team.
Doomsday Device: Discussed at length, as each of Dr. Impossible's previous plots always involved something that could end the world - if not the galaxy, if not the dimension, if not multiple dimensions... of course, his latest plan is no different, even if it's not very original.
Egopolis: Dr. Impossible's plans to rename New York City.
Everyone Went to School Together: Dr. Impossible, CoreFire, Damsel, Blackwolf, and even the character supposedly from the future, Lily. Impossible lampshades it, commenting that a surprisingly high percentage of his classmates ended up on one side or the other of the superheroics game. He's not sure if it was selection bias (the school was for highly intelligent and ambitious students) or there was just something strange about the place or what.
Evil Laugh: Well, of course. "...the error of opposing...Doctor Impossible! Ahahahaha hahahahahahahaaa!"
"He who laughs last laughs longest, and I happen to have a really good laugh."
Evil Plan: Obviously, Doctor Impossible is busy with this. He's tried many before, and tells us that this takes real brains. Anyone can smash it up.
Fantasy Kitchen Sink: There's a scene with a magician fighting space aliens with the help of a robot and a fairy.
Fight Clubbing: Supervillains and minor heroes have underground gladiator battles; Dr. Impossible got his start brawling in such a tournament in Bangkok, billed by barkers as Smartacus, Count Smackula (no relation to Count Spankulot) and other stage names.
Genius Bruiser: As a result of a science experiment Dr. Impossible is a good deal stronger and tougher than the average human. But he's still nowhere near as strong as any of the heroes who have superhuman strength as a main power and he only uses his super-strength when backed into a corner or caught by surprise; it's never part of his main plan. Presumably Dr. Impossible's strength is just one of the Required Secondary Powers to survive all the times he has been punched and thrown around by heroes.
Genre Savvy: Doctor Impossible is savvy enough to understand that villains never win. But he just can't help but try anyways. Over and over and over again.
Hidden in Plain Sight: Much of Doctor Impossible's angst is due to CoreFire never realizing who he is. Turned around, too, when Lily is revealed to be Erica Lowenstein, who he had been angsting about never getting attention from. Although she was almost completely transparent, so he had a good reason to not realize it. The latter is especially poignant, since it's what primarily motivated Impossible. (This doesn't stop him from going right back to plotting after The Reveal. Evil habits are hard to break.)
Hollywood Autism: Blackwolf is just about the most social and well-balanced autistic you could hope to meet.
Hope Spot: Dr. Impossible comes so very close to winning, but he still lost in the end. Dammit.
Ignored Epiphany: Dr Impossible realises that getting everything he wanted doesn't make him feel any better, but at the end of the book is plotting his escape and the continuation of his schemes.
I Just Want to Be Loved: Dr. Impossible kept kidnapping Erica in part to get at CoreFire but largely in the hope that she'd eventually figure out his true identity and finally reciprocate his unrequited love.
Immune to Bullets: Impossible takes several shots and just shrugs them off. Lily has nothing but a small scratch... from a depleted uranium chain gun round. Subverted by Fatale; her armored parts are rated against depleted uranium rounds, but the rest of her is normal flesh, and she realizes that a bullet in the wrong place can still kill her.
For all his genius and resources, Doctor Impossible is a comic book evil mastermind played dead straight, his cape and boots, his robot minions and his deathtraps faintly ridiculous in the cold light of day. And, since Status Quo Is God, the heroes always win, making him quite literally a loser.
Also his fellow villain the Pharaoh, whose inconsistent Origin Story and silly costume makes him a complete joke to the heroes and to other villains, despite being virtually invincible.
Jerk Jock: CoreFire, even before his empowerment. At least according to Doctor Impossible. Blackwolf says "CoreFire was a jerk" at one point, and Damsel calls him a "Fucking racist." It is implied that he broke up with her when he found out she was only half human. It's a bit more complicated than that: Dr. Impossible actually, though grudgingly, admits that when they did talk, CoreFire did come across as an okay guy. Impossible describes him not as a bully, but one of many people who went with the crowd, and if the crowd didn't like someone, he went with it. Fatale says he's surprisingly shy, though she notes that it might be because he just got his ass kicked by Impossible after getting his ass kicked by a two-bit joke of a supervillain, AND got rescued and mocked by his ignored journalist "girlfriend". However, he did help start the story's plot by getting sent into a coma by trying to show off to Lily by essentially picking on a retired supervillain... who had a hammer that seemed to be CoreFire's weakness.
Karma Houdini: Lily gives Doctor Impossible the coordinates to the Pharaoh’s hammer. Telling a known felon where he can find a weapon generally is frowned on, but the New Champions decide to just let it go.
Large Ham: Doctor Impossible seems compelled to put on one hell of a show for the cowering public. His internal narration is a lot more subdued. In fact, at some points he seems almost annoyed at having to trot out the stock hammy phrases when he's fighting the superheroes.
Legion of Doom: Doctor Impossible notes that the more powerful and dangerous a supervillain gets, the more trouble he has working with other villains. He remembers an attempt of the world's greatest villains to form a team to stand in opposition to the Champions; they can't even pick a name before they break down into in-fighting.
Lethal Joke Character: The Pharaoh looked ridiculous and wasn't very smart, but with the hammer, he was at the level of CoreFire and Damsel in terms of invulnerability.
Love Hurts: Fatale notes a lot of tension in the team, especially after the two leaders - who still work together - publicly broke up, which caused the dissolution of the previous incarnation of the New Champions. Impossible has a lot of unrequited and what-if love for his partner-in-crime, Lily - and it turns out she's actuallyCoreFire's high school sweetheart and Impossible's one time crush and the Lois Lane to both of them after their empowering events. The entire plot is basically Lily's way of getting back at the both of them for being such pompous jerks who treated her more like a prize than a person.
Mad Scientist: Doctor Impossible, of course. Also, his mentor Baron Ether.
"I remember those nights, planning technologies that didn't exist yet, outsider science, futurist dreaming, half-magical. The things I could do outside the university setting, now that I didn't have to wait for the pompous fools at the college! I was building another science, my science, wild science, robots and lasers and disembodied brains. A science that buzzed and glowed; it wanted to do things. It could get up and walk, fly, fight, sprout garish glowing creations in the remotest parts of the world, domes and towers and architectural fever dreams. And it was angry. It was mad science."
Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Doctor Impossible, duh! Though he does have a regular doctorate. He was a post-doc grad student when he had his little accident. He was just a laughing stock because of the whole Zeta beam thing, so he couldn't do anything other than minor research.
My Greatest Failure: In his first of all those failed attempts to access the power of the Zeta Dimension, Dr. Impossible actually created his own arch-nemesis.
Never Live It Down: In-universe, Doctor Impossible's Battle Blimp; "No-one ever lets me forget that thing." Still, it got everyone's attention and put the Doctor "on the map".
Also before he got his own superpowers, he was only known as the "Zeta Beam Guy" whose Disastrous Demonstration created CoreFire.
New Powers as the Plot Demands: Dr. Impossible's Power Staff. What can't it do? It can fire energy, absorb energy, reflect energy, make him fly, make him invisible to cameras, neutralize laser tripwires, spray knockout gas... At one point, he bemoans that he's never mastered the art of building things small, but he does himself a disservice. He has a massive arsenal built into something the size of an umbrella.
This is more justified than in most cases of the trope. Dr. Impossible knew exactly who he was fighting and their limitations and what defenses to expect. It isn't a surprise he knew exactly what he would need to build into the staff for it to be the most useful based on previous encounters.
Doctor Impossible's complaint about never mastering the art of making small things was a complaint about his personal lack of subtlety, not ineptitude. He could and did make lots of very small, precise things. His issue was that he tended to build 40 foot tall robots and similar oversized items which got a lot of attention, which tended to lead to his defeat.
New Superpower: Damsel, near the end of the story, suddenly gains water powers, thanks to the radiation and sunlight from her mother's world further developing her. Afterthe world has already been saved.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Dr. Impossible unwittingly saves the world by taking the Pharaoh's hammer away from where it was warping the local landscape, and would have created "the Blight" of Lily's (supposed) future.
Noodle Incident: Many of Doctor Impossible's previous Evil Plans, "The Meta-meta Virus. Army of fish. Army of fungus." In keeping with the comic book theme of past arcs, continuity nods, and mythology gags that a reader just picking up an issue wouldn't catch, there are thousands of these scattered through the books - an alien gladiator coming to challenge CoreFire, a cthon invasion of Chicago, several alien invasions, personal threats to each member of the Champions (such as a fairy curse for Elphin and a demon Mister Mystic humiliated far too many times), named superheroes who are only named and aren't expounded on further, breaches into other dimensions, worlds, and timelines...
Much more darkly, whatever the hell happened to Elphin and the hunters who found her. It wasn't pretty.
Nothing Can Stop Us Now: Doctor Impossible realises saying things like that are just Tempting Fate, but at the denouement, with everything going his way "It feels so good, I just have to say it." Needless to say, it's all downhill from there.
NSA: Fatale worked for the NSA, as muscle in missions.
Oblivious to Love: Oh, so many. Fatale glosses over Blackwolf's subtle suggestions and hints until their sexual tension comes to a boil when Fatale strips nearly naked for one of Blackwolf's scans to see what's installed in her.
One Steve Limit: Averted. There are 2 characters named Pharaoh, and Dr. Impossible notes that people keep confusing the two, as the supervillain named Pharaoh was treated as a walking joke.
Our Vampires Are Different: "Bloodstryke", a supervillain who used to be an accountant, until his father's death made him realize his bloodline had a curse. The appendix notes that he's not actually a vampire - it's the armor he wears that makes him think he's one.
Out of Focus: Mainly due to Fatale's POV and her main interactions, most of the Champions don't really get much more than a skimmed over backstory and a few lines throughout the entire story.
Phlebotinum Rebel: Fatale, who was apparently reconstructed as part of some scheme of Doctor Impossible's, though it's never revealed to what ends. Dr. Impossible says he'd have gone through with it, but the software engineer who helped him ratted him out to the cops, so he quickly wiped every evidence, but kept her alive.
With some (plot irrelevant, but interesting) foreshadowing thrown in for good measure. When she first joined the New Champions, there were obvious parallels between Galatea and Fatale, including the fact that she was given Galatea's old room. Once she discovers that she's Doctor Impossible's creation, Baron Ether's disjointed ramblings reveal that Galatea was his creation, also turned Good.
Rape as Backstory: Implied to be Elphin's case. A band of hunters found her after she wandered through the woods in a daze. Whatever they did to her, someone found her covered in their blood as she was found walking down a highway later, nude.
Reed Richards Is Useless: Played with— there are mad-science super-technologies that can save human lives, but they come with dreadful side effects and they're mostly in the hands of supervillains anyway. It's stated that Blackwolf funds his superhero antics and corporation by gleaning off of supervillain tech salvaged or learned from fights, and patents them for mass production.
Retired Monster: Baron Ether, now too old and too mutated to really conquer the world, kept in check by his old nemesis. Regardless of his retirement status, he helps Dr. Impossible with his plans. The Pharaoh was assumed to be this, having just disappeared off the map.
Robot Girl: Galatea, a heroine of unknown origin, Rainbow Triumph, a highly advanced cyborg given augmentations to save her life from a degenerative disease, and Fatale, a military cyborg with amnesia.
Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up: According to Doctor Impossible (and complaints from Blackwolf), CoreFire. Of course, since their perceptions are colored by later experience it's a bit more nuanced than that, with Impossible admitting that CoreFire wasn't that bad.
Science-Related Memetic Disorder: Doctor Impossible and several other supervillains are diagnosed with Malign Hypercognition Disorder, which strikes the very brightest minds on Earth, compelling them to become Mad Scientists and try to Take Over the World. As Doctor Impossible says in the narration, it's not known why being in the top 0.001% of brains makes you evil, but it's inevitably going to make you unusual.
Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Lily's backstory is that she was sent back from a Bad Future to do this, succeeded, then decided that she preferred the Bad Future and is now trying to Make Wrong What Once Went Right. None of it's true, of course. The story of the future apocalypse is true, but Lily turns out to be contemporary, not future-born, and Lily prevents it easily by way of having Corefire and the Pharaoh fight. It's all a ruse to keep up her supervillain antics. It's also a deconstruction of the genre's tendency to constantly retcon origin stories.
Shaggy Dog Story: It seems like the book is setting up a final showdown between Fatale (the rookie member of the superteam) and Dr. Impossible (the Evil Genius so powerful that his crimes are tried in the World Court). After all, they're the two viewpoint characters. Instead, Impossible takes her down almost instantly (with a remote control, no less!), and she and the rest of the team spends the climax of the book in a prison cell. In fact, examination reveals that her absence from the plot would have changed more or less nothing. Her actual role in the book was to provide an "outsider" perspective on the superteam, and thus prevent both Continuity Lockout and As You Know.
Smug Super: CoreFire, according to Blackwolf, Damsel, and Dr. Impossible. Damsel's father, who comes in to admonish the Champions for not being able to track down Dr. Impossible, and according to Blackwolf, really hates people who aren't flying bricks.
Soaperizing: Much of the story is built around Fatale and Impossible's rumination on superheroics and supervillainy behind the scenes - the day-to-day lives, the emotional voids, the little stories that never make it to the public, the in-fights, the daily rituals...
Stock Phrases: Doctor Impossible is full of them, and seems pathologically incapable of not using them while in public. His internal narration, on the other hand, is perfectly normal and constantly asks why he's always belting off cliche liners.
Superhero Origin: Virtually everyone, including the villainous Doctor Impossible. Talking to heroes and villains in this world is high risk.
"I’ve spent enough time around superheroes to recognize the look on her face. She’s going to tell me her origin."
— Fatale, on her meeting with Regina, Crusader of Elfland
"[I] built a whole new class of defenses to deal with his ability - trip wires, gases, immobilizing foams, areas of the complex that could seal instantly if I even suspected he was inside them. Then I'd pour everything I could think of - poisons, sonic vibrations, mutant bees - until something worked, until he fell unconscious and stopped moving, precipitated out of the air like a spirit."
This is an important part of how the world of Heroes and Villains plays out. What was, for Dr. Impossible, a narrow escape calling on all his resources after he was jumped in the street, is a humiliating defeat at the hands of a collected and hyper-competent enemy to the supers and a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown of the heroes to the media.
Swiss Cheese Security: Dr Impossible actually steals a Plot Coupon out of the New Champions headquarters. He reflects on the lousy security, saying it's because heroes rely on their own reputation to keep villains away. If someone gets in anyway it'll just mean a fight — as most heroes are Blood Knight types they've no objection.
Taking the Bullet: Jason became CoreFire after throwing himself in the path of the Zeta Beam to save Erica. This Heroic Sacrifice at what was supposed to be a moment of triumph when the nerdy college kid would finally outshine the Jerk Jock only increases Impossible's hatred for CoreFire.
Time Travel: Besides Lily, Baron Ether accidentally got stuck in the Cretaceous period for some time, and Dr. Impossible once travelled back to the Third Punic War to help the Carthaginians win (but the Champions travelled back too and stopped him).
Title Drop: The penultimate paragraph of the book, giving it a surprisingly upbeat ending.
Too Clever by Half: Dr. Impossible, and he's aware of it, narrating about it from the start.
Troperiffic: It's basically a catalog of superhero comic tropes.
Twisted Ankle: Lampshaded in Erica's tale of how she became Lily — she ran and stumbled "like I always did" and fell into a vat of chemicals instead of just being caught by the villains as always.
Unknown Rival: Doctor Impossible's lifelong dream is to finally defeat CoreFire and reveal himself to be none other than the inoffensive little science geek who CoreFire was sort of friends with in high school, and whose Love Interest he stole. He finally gets the chance towards the end of the book, resulting in... a blank stare, and sheepish admission from CoreFire that he has no idea who he is.
On a broader level, neither Dr. Impossible nor CoreFire manage to figure out who Lily actually is and totally fail to even recognize how completely she's played them both.
Fatale with Damsel, especially after she becomes attracted to Blackwolf. Fatale worries constantly over what Damsel is thinking about her, when it's likely she's oblivious to Fatale snogging her ex and has more important things to worry about, being team leader.
Unreliable Narrator: Impossible's emotions and prejudices often color his perceptions and recollections, though to what degree is unknown; for example, he often thinks of CoreFire as an "imbecile", even though in a high school for the gifted, they both were at the top of their science class and competed for the same awards.
Villainous Friendship: Doctor Impossible and the Pharaoh's relationship is somewhere between being the best of friends and Vitriolic Best Buds, and a pair who mostly tolerate each others' company because it's them against the world. Yes, the Pharaoh is an absolute idiot, but he's still Impossible's friend, and he seems as eager to make the Champions respect the Pharaoh as to make them respect himself.
Dr Impossible reflects on how villains prefer research and planning, while heroes have little patience for this, preferring to just slug their way out of a crisis. After he uses the Hammer of Ra to pound on CoreFire who's got past all his clever defences, Impossible reflects that maybe there's something to the hero approach after all.
Villains Out Shopping: A street-levelling fight breaks out after Blackwolf spots Doctor Impossible relaxing at a coffee shop. Just before, the Doctor thinks, "Some days, you just don't feel all that evil."
We Can Rebuild Him: Fatale's and Rainbow Triumph's origins - Fatale was an NSA snoop in South America who was hit by a garbage truck, and Rainbow Triumph was born with a degenerative disease that would have killed her, if not for the fact her parents owned a major cybernetics corporation.