Citadel is a Superhero School tale with a militaristic tone. The story switches POV often but primarily follows a class of superpowered operatives in training as they adjust to their new role, deal with the Combat Pragmatist mentality of their instructors and come to terms with the kind of decisions they’ll have to make on a day to day basis once their training is complete.
Details and elements of world building are scattered throughout, both in terms of the trainees’ lectures, their own interactions and frequent shifts in POV.
Citadel contains examples of:
- And I Must Scream: Describes the daily life of Jenny Awesome, made worse by the fact that almost no one she interacts with has a clue that she’s anything other than the happy, peppy girl she appears to be.
- Appeal to Force: Forms the basis of society in the Battlegrounds, large regions of North America that have had normal government overthrown by a series of superpowered individuals or gangs, only to have the new rulers overthrown in turn, etc…
- Ascended Meme:
- Several scenes during the Origins chapter were the direct result of readers’ questions, solicited by the author.
- Monster is referred to as a murder hobo during a meeting after being called that in the comments.
- Beard of Evil: During a Q&A session with the class, William Power tells of a man whose superpower unwittingly created incompetent, evil duplicates of popular heroes. Every one of them had a goatee, including the females.
- Boxing Lessons for Superman: More or less the entire purpose of the Citadel program. The first month of combat classes for the trainees consist of one on one, no powers allowed sparring. Add to that, Isaac is one of the most powerful Strong types in the world and a former amateur boxer.
- Break Them by Talking:
- Attempted by Hector in his first match against Isaac. It goes poorly for him.
- Done successfully by Jenny in Isaac’s next match, though so subtly that he doesn’t recognize it. Given the nature of her power, it likely isn’t on purpose.
- Canon Discontinuity: Unillustrated maintains a section in the chapter list called Deleted Scenes. Everything there was originally posted as canon plus one Christmas scene that may or may not have been meant as canon.
- Cell Phones Are Useless: During the Interruption chapter, an out of control Turing type shuts down the electrical grid as well as disrupting many forms of modern technology, including cell phones.
- Chest Insignia: Citadel members wear the organization’s insignia over their hearts, a stylized white tower on a black circle. The colors are reversed for trainees.
- Code Name: The last name of Operatives and Trainees is often a direct allusion to their power. To name but a few: Drew Stasis can stop time, Hector Hive controls and duplicates himself, and Samantha Soar flies.
- Crapsack World: The central part of the US is a gang ruled war-zone, a significant part of the Upper Hemisphere was frozen solid, the entirety of Europe is under the complete mental control of Tyrant, and the Citadel itself admits to striving more towards brutal efficiency than actual justice.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Duncan Nightmare versus Achala Juggernaut. Duncan Nightmare versus Bruce Richards. Despite being described as one of the more powerful members of the class, the poor guy loses every fight the reader sees him in for at least the first fourteen chapters.
- The Dreaded: Monster, to the point that even the setting’s most acclaimed hero, William Power, shudders at the thought of facing him.
- Entertainingly Wrong: Isaac spends the first few chapters growing increasingly concerned that his male roommate, Kelly, is skipping training. Kelly, a gender-fluid shapeshifter, spends that same time wondering what she did to offend Isaac, since he barely acknowledges her when they cross paths outside their shared house.
- Fate Worse than Death: During his rampage, Chemo spread a cloud of parasites around himself. Everyone exposed lived in constant pain, including Achala Juggernaut and Hector’s mother. William Power was exposed, and suffered for a time, but recovered after Chemo was killed. This exception is probably the result of his regeneration or power nullification abilities.
- Greater-Scope Villain: Tyrant and the King in Winter. One holds the population of Europe in mental thrall while the other is responsible for freezing a large chunk of the Northern Hemisphere.
- Imagination-Based Superpower: Kerry's power effectively lets her turn into one of a number of dragons.
- The Juggernaut: Coach Achala Juggernaut isn't actually unstoppable. However, any object he sets in motion is. When he's taking a fight seriously, he wears a uniform that covers every inch of his skin so that, as long as he doesn't stop moving, he's nearly invulnerable. More than once, he's literally run through his opponents.
- Punch Catch: When Duncan challenged Coach Achala, Achala caught one of his punches and Duncan's whole arm broke.
- Spare a Messenger: This is how Monster got his name. He murdered an entire studio full of people, one by one with a knife, making it extra painful if they tried to fight. Then he gestured for the last survivor to point a camera at him and said:Killer in motorcycle gear: A man who does this... what do you call such a man?
"Monster": [nods thoughtfully and leaves]
- Superpower Russian Roulette: Really a defining trope for the series. If you become one of the empowered you could gain the ability to fly, throw cars, or short out all power on a continental level. The distribution and scale is equal parts varied and unpredictable; as a result the Citadel faces each newly powered unsure if this is the day that they can't save.