I've seen Steelheart bleed. And I will see him bleed again.
The Reckoners Trilogy is a series by Brandon Sanderson, set not in his usual universe (The Cosmere), but Twenty Minutes into the Future in a devastated Earth where people can gain superpowers... but there are no superheroes. Only evil people gain powers—or perhaps the powers make their wielders evil. The US government has officially declared the Epics, as they're known, to be above the law, because they can't be effectively resisted, and their fiefdoms have effectively replaced most of the U.S.In Chicago lives one of the worst Epics of all: Steelheart. Imagine Superman as an Evil Overlord: he can fly, he's Nigh Invulnerable, he shoots energy beams... and he's a ruthless dictator who kills without mercy or hesitation.Only a few people dare to fight back: the Reckoners. A group of freedom fighters who study Epics, learn their weaknesses (every Epic has one), and assassinate them. The protagonist, David, is an 18-year-old who has lived under Steelheart's tyranny since the beginning, for ten long years. And for ten long years, since the day Steelheart murdered his father, he has studied Epics, plotted revenge, and searched for a way to join up with the Reckoners.Because he, alone out of all the people who were there, survived the incident, the only time that Steelheart has shown that he, too, has a weakness. He has seen the self-styled Emperor bleed...The first book, Steelheart, was released in September 2013. The second book, Firefight, will be released in Fall 2014. The third and final book, Calamity, will be released sometime after the third book of The Stormlight Archive.
This series contains examples of the following tropes:
After the End: By the time the first book proper takes place, Epics have rendered the world barely recognizable. Portland, Oregon, is a wasteland due to infighting between Epics, and numerous little fiefdoms have been carved out of the world.
A God Am I: All well, almost all Epics consider themselves superior to ordinary humans and aren't exactly shy about talking about it. Steelheart takes things a step further by outright proclaiming himself to be a divinity, with every indication he believes in it.
Always a Bigger Fish: Steelheart opens with an Epic named Deathpoint robbing a bank and generally wreaking havoc. What with his ability to kill people by pointing at them, he seems an extremely formidable guy. Then Steelheart (who is basically an evil version of Superman, except maybe even more powerful) shows up, and suddenly Deathpoint doesn't look so scary after all...
Awesome McCoolname: All the Epics seem to pick out their own descriptive names. Most of them are literally descriptive of them or their powers (Deathpoint, Nightwielder), though some of them have a bit of fun with it, such as the Irish Epic with gun-related powers who goes by the name... Rick O'Shea.
Bad Powers, Bad People: Even given that Epics are pretty much all Bad People, it's hard to come up with benevolent uses for being able to murder people by pointing at them. Or for fear-based invulnerability, for that matter.
Beware the Superman: Every superpowered person is evil, with the arguable exceptions of the Professor (Leader of the Reckoners) and Conflux, (who is a very nice man enslaved and used as a power source by other Epics) given that they discharge most of their power on a regular basis. It is heavily implied that Epic powers cause this.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Averted. David is shocked when Steelheart near instantly recognizes him after ten years despite having been only a boy of eight at the time and never having spoken to, nor really interacted with him in the brief minutes they were in the same room. It's likely Steelheart's memories of that day were as sharp as David's, since that day was the only time Steelheart was ever injured.
Cape Busters: The plot revolves around the Reckoners, who are trying to defeat the evil superhumans.
Casting a Shadow: Half of Nightwielder's powers. He blocks out all natural light (except that of Calamity) 24/7 throughout Newcago, and can use solid shadows as weapons to kill with.
Co-Dragons: Nightwielder, Conflux, and Firefight are Steelheart's Dragons. Well, Nightwielder and Firefight are. Conflux is actually a captive, little better than a slave forced to use his energy-boosting powers to fuel the city. And not only is Firefight just an illusion cast by an illusionist epic, but the illusionist happens to a Double Reverse Quadruple Agent and the hero's love interest.
Cue the Sun: When David kills Nightwielder, it allows the sun to finally rise.
Depower: This is the result of a Transference Epic taking his or her powers back after giving them to someone. Conflux does this to all of the power he was giving out in Newcago, effectively shutting down most of the city and the Enforcement.
Dissimile: David is painfully bad with analogies, and well aware of it.
Distracted by the Sexy: Fortuity's weakness. He's normally impossible to surprise thanks to his extremely powerful precognitive abilities, but if he's sexually attracted to a person it scrambles his precognition to a certain extent.
The Dreaded: Steelheart goes to considerable effort to be this, as he can only be harmed by someone who isn't afraid of him.
Exactly What It Says on the Tin: Deathpoint can... kill people by pointing at them. Even he admits the name isn't that creative, but hey, it gets the idea across.
Expy: Steelheart to Superman in oh so many ways. The cape, the tall, broad appearance, the Lantern Jaw of Justice, the Flying Brick powerset... the only major difference is that Steelheart trades in Supes's secondary powers for hand-projected energy blasts and the ability to transform objects to solid steel with his rage... and Steelheart's Complete Monster status.
Fail O'Suckyname: Some Epics chose the stupidest names. As David puts it, "Incredible cosmic powers do not equate with high IQ... or even a sense of what is dramatically appropriate." Examples include the Pink Pinkness (say it five times fast), Insulation, and El Bullish Brass Dude.
Faux Affably Evil: Deathpoint is a rather cheery fellow, chatting and bantering with the customers and staff at the bank he's robbing, while casually talking about the fact that he is there to rob it and disintegrating anyone who strikes his fancy.
Cody mentions that the other members of his police force in Nashville became even worse when they stayed on while he left. This foreshadows the fact that Epic powers, even when Gifted, have a high probability of causing the same arrogant amorality in other people when used by them instead, much like how David nearly believes that the Reckoners should take over the infrastructure of Newcago for what would surely be a Full-Circle Revolution.
Megan can't use any of the technologies of the Reckoners, which, combined with Conflux's reveal of the fact that Epics can't be Gifted powers by Transference Epics, foreshadows that she is in fact an Epic herself.
Functional Magic: It's repeatedly pointed out that Epic powers have little to no relation to the laws of physics as science knows them.
Guns Akimbo: How Megan kills Fortuity, by "Checkmating" him between a rifle in one hand and a handgun in the other. Repeated by David when killing Nightwielder, holding a UV flashlight-equipped, stripped rifle in one hand and his father's borrowed gun in the other. The similarity in the kills is what lets Megan remember who he is.
Hoist by His Own Petard: Steelheart, both by the fact that he is the only person left alive who isn't scared of him, and likes to use people's own guns to kill them.
I'm Not Afraid of You: Steelheart can only be harmed by someone who does not fear him. Unfortunately, thanks to his campaign of terror and propaganda, there's only one person left in the world who fits that description.
Intangible Man: The other half of Nightwielder's powers. Sunlight forces him to solidify, but other than that no physical attack can touch him.
Kryptonite Factor: Every Epic is said to have one, though it's not always clear what they are, nor are they necessarily easy to exploit. David is the only person who has even a clue about Steelheart's, because Steelheart murdered everyone else who witnessed the one time he was injured.
Magic Feather: The Tensors, the Reckoner Jackets, and the Harmsway. All of these "devices" are simply nonfunctional electronics, used to hide the fact that the matter disintegration, energy shields, and healing abilities are powers that Prof, a Transferrence Epic, shares with the Reckoners.
Magic Is Evil: There is not a single case where an Epic is heroic. It is implied that this is literal. While Gifters can give out their powers in small doses safely, they experience the effects when they use the powers themselves. Keeping from using Epic powers for a time allows the Epic to regain their original personalities, which are not always evil. It is unclear why this happens, but the effect is instantaneous, and lasts for some time depending on how the powers are used.
Magic Powered Pseudoscience: One of the Reckoner's greatest assets are a handful of mysterious gadgets apparently based on Epic powers. Specifically, we have the tensors, glove-like objects which can destroy non-living matter; the jackets, which project a sort of force-field to protect their wearers, and the harmsway, which grants you a temporary Healing Factor. Turns out the devices don't actually do anything. Prof is an Epic, and he manages to control his power and maintain his sanity by giving bits of it to the rest of the team.
Zigzagged with Firefight. One of Steelheart's Dragons is a powerful fire Epic who actually doesn't exist, being an elaborate hoax. The actual Firefight is an illusionist who creates the image of the fire Epic. However, as the climax shows, an illusionist is just as dangerous -possibility more so- than a fire wielder, just in a different way.
Played straight with Conflux, who despite his reputation as the mysterious and feared head of Steelheart's enforcers, is actually a mild-mannered little man who is basically Steelheart's slave/living battery.
Meaningful Rename: Every Epic gets one. Most of them seen don't even go by their given name at all, nor is it stated.
Muggle Power: Mostly subverted. Humans are treated as second-class citizens of the world, and the Capitulation Act of the US Government even mandates that there is no reason nor way to fight against Epics. Part of the reason why the Reckoners exist is to prove them wrong.
Nigh-Invulnerability: Several of the most powerful Epics are said to have "prime invincibility"; that is, they can't be killed by ordinary means. Steelheart has the classic "bulletproof" form. Fortuity's precognition lets him anticipate and avoid attacks. Nightwielder is intangible and most attacks simply pass through him. Firefight (Megan) reincarnates after death, sans her most recent memories.
Reign of Terror: Steelheart holds Newcago under one, and the majority of Epics do the same to the whole world. Steelheart's is deliberate and necessary, as he is only mortal to those who do not fear him.
Secret Test of Character: One of the theories about the Epics is that they were sent to see how mankind would weather the storm. Megan wonders about it from another direction, to see how humans would react to being given supreme power. The fact that she looks at it from the Epic point of view foreshadows the fact that she is an Epic herself.
Shout-Out: As expected in a work about super-powered beings, there are references to their roots.
Smug Super: Every Epic; an easy way to tell who is one versus who isn't is to see how they act if they are in charge of everything. This is a symptom of using Epic powers. Megan shows less of it when she doesn't use her power, and more when she does; the same is true of Prof.
What happens to the victims of Deathpoint's eponymous power.
Happens to Steelheart in the end; the only remains left behind are a stripped skeleton made of solid steel.
Super Empowering: Transference Epics, or "Gifters", are able to give their powers and their addictive, insanity-inducing effects to others. However, as revealed by Conflux, these cannot be given to other Epics, only to normal humans.
Super Villain: A basic part of the premise is that there are supervillains a plenty, but not super heroes to counter them.
The Mole: The complexity of the plan is not the only reason the Reckoners find it much harder than previous adventures. Nobody would suspect Megan.
The Trains Run On Time: Steelheart may be a brutal dictator, but he also provides more stability and order in his little empire than most of the rest of the world has. Because of this, not everyone (even among the Reckoners) believes he deserves to die. On the other hand, others see it as part of the problem:
Prof: Everyone talks about how great Newcago is. But it's not great; it's good by comparison only! Yes, there are worse places, but so long as this hellhole is considered the ideal, we'll never get anywhere. We cannot let them convince us this is normal!
Token Good Teammate: "Gifters", or Epics who can transfer part of their power to someone else, are implied to be able to avoid the psychotic side-effects of Epic power by spreading their power among multiple people. If they make extensive use of their powers, though, the mental effects come back quite quickly.
Weaksauce Weakness: Some Epics have fairly unimpressive weaknesses. The minor Epic Refractionary, for example, can create illusions and turn herself invisible, but her powers are canceled by... any kind of smoke.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Some of the Reckoners, especially Abraham, don't consider the Epics human. However, in an inversion, this is because they have more power, not less.
With Great Power Comes Great Insanity: One of the theories as to why all Epics are evil is that the powers themselves do something to your mind. Strongly implied to be true by The Reveal. Prof's personality visibly changes when he has been using his powers, and David reports finding the secondhand power of the tensors mildly addictive. Also, Megan becomes angry and hateful when hiding herself and David in the elevator chute.