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. Ten years ago, people started gaining superpowers— but there are no superheroes. The supers are called Epics, and they are invariably evil, violent, and power-hungry. Because they can't be effectively resisted, the United States government has declared them officially above the law, and the fiefdoms of powerful Epics have replaced most of the territory of the US.Chicago is ruled by one of the worst Epics of them all, a tyrant who calls himself Steelheart. Imagine Superman as an Evil Overlord: he can fly, he is superhumanly strong, he shoots energy beams, he appears to be completely invulnerable, and he is a ruthless dictator who commits mass murder without qualm or hesitation.The only people who dare to fight back, anywhere, are a band of freedom fighters called the Reckoners. They study Epics, try to learn the weakness each one has, and assassinate them whenever possible.The protagonist, David, is an 18-year-old who has lived under Steelheart's tyranny since the beginning. For ten 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 David, alone out of all the people who were there, survived the incident, and was a witness to the only time that Steelheart showed that he also has a weakness. David has seen Steelheart 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.A short story, Mitosis (taking place between Steelheart and Firefight) is available for digital download from Sanderson's website.
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: Epics generally consider themselves superior to ordinary humans, and they aren't shy about talking about it. Steelheart takes things a step further by outright proclaiming himself to be a divinity, with every indication he believes 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 many of their powers, like the ability to kill people by pointing at them.
Beware the Superman: Every superpowered person is evil, with few arguable exceptions. Conflux and the Professor are the nicest ones in the book, and it's stated this is because they give away most of their power on a regular basis.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Averted. David is shocked when Steelheart instantly recognizes him ten years later, after never having spoken to him, nor even significantly interacted with him in the few moments 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.
Combo Platter Powers: Most of the higher level Epics have powers with no obvious connection to each other. Steelheart's invulnerable body and ability to transform non-living matter to steel are thematically parallel, but what about his wind control and energy beams? Or Conflux's electricity powers and his transference ability? Or Firefight's illusions and her self-resurrection ability? It is actually a plot point that one Epic doesn't have some weird unrelated power: the illusory Firefight is uncovered by David as a fake partly because he is "too generic" of a Fire Epic, using powers they generally tend to have, and no additions.
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.
Devil but No God: A variant. Every Epic is evil to some extent, effectively creating a non-religious variant of this trope.
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.
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, intentionally. He has the cape, the general appearance, the Lantern Jaw of Justice, the Flying Brick powerset. The only major difference is that Steelheart trades in Supes's secondary powers for energy blasts and the ability to transform objects to solid steel. Oh, and Steelheart is evil.
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.
Full-Circle Revolution: Prof is well aware of this trope, which is why he flat-out refuses to even consider the idea of taking over if they defeat Steelheart. Also, he's an Epic fighting his own megalomania. In the end, they help install a democratically elected mayor, and stay around as some sort of ill-defined police force to keep the city safe. Ill-defined in-universe, that is.
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.
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 likes to use people's own guns to kill them, but only bothers if they've impressed or annoyed him personally in some way. This comes back to bite him, when David rigs his own gun to activate explosives when Steelheart pulls the trigger; Steelheart is the only one left no longer afraid of himself, so he's the only one who can hurt him.
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.
Jumped at the Call: Taken one step further, as David actually hunted down the call and pestered the Reckoners into letting him join the gang.
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. The events of Mitosis imply that the origin of the weakness has something to do with who or what the Epic was before gaining powers, as Mitosis' weakness was music from a band he used to play in - as the only classically trained musician in the band, he despised the songs written by his colleagues, which basically consisted of four riffs and not much else.
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.
In addition, the fact that Edmund Sense prefers that name to his Epic name (Conflux) is the first hint that he's one of the very few (three so far) Epics with some degree of humanity.
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 an Epic from a normal human is to see how they act when 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.
Worthless Yellow Rocks: Inverted. Gold is one of the few commodities remaining (besides food) that still has value, because it's one of the few materials that Epics don't seem capable of creating out of thin air. Steel, for example, is literally worth less than dirt in Newcago due to Steelheart's transmutation ability.