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Literature / Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain

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"Sick of the same old heroes? Try a villain."
— the Project Wonderful ad

As the child of two world-famous superheroes, Penelope Akk figured becoming a hero herself was just a matter of time. Along with her best friends, Claire Lutra and Ray Viles, they see heroes and villains battling almost daily. And just as a bad penny always turns up, super powers soon strike all three. But after a run-in with the sidekick of a local hero, they find themselves labeled as supervillains instead of superheroes.

Still struggling to master the powers of her own mad science, Penny has to figure out how the trio will redeem themselves before her mom and dad find out. The catch: Penny turns out to be really good at villainy and being Bad turns out to be a lot more fun than being a champion.

The sequels are Please Don't Tell My Parents I Blew Up the Moon, Please Don't Tell My Parents I've Got Henchmen, Please Don't Tell My Parents I Have a Nemesis, and finally Please Don't Tell My Parents You Believe Her. There is also a prequel side story (from Goodnight's POV), I Did NOT Give That Spider Superhuman Intelligence!.


This book provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adults Are Useless: More to the effect that almost no one in either the hero or villain community are able to take the Inscrutable Machine seriously. It takes them breaking into Mech's home and trashing his Powered Armor to establish themselves as something other than children playing a game.
  • Affably Evil: Most of the villains.
  • Affectionate Parody: Of the whole superhero/villain genre thing.
  • Agent Peacock: While not full-on girly, Ray is definitely fashionable. He drools over nice shoes and offers to design outfits for the girls. Very skimpy outfits, of course.
  • Alpha Bitch: Marcia, the head cheerleader, teases the main characters and constantly announces her own superiority. According to Penny, the Popular Girls are popular only amongst themselves.
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  • Artifact of Doom: All over the place. Apparently LA has been a hotspot of supernatural activity for so long that no one blinks an eye at these. Penny chooses a random middle school to attack, chooses a random semi-rare material (jade) to steal, and ends up with a stupidly powerful magical artifact guarded by an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Artificial Intelligence: A basic staple of Mad Science, after all.
    • The Machine can take and understand orders, though it can't actually communicate and doesn't seem to be sentient.
    • The in-story comic universe Sentient Life gives us Vera the computer program who pretends to be human.
    • Vera the pseudo-Conqueror orb, however, is self-motivated and exceeds her maker in certain areas.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Implied to be Penny's mother's Charles Atlas Superpower.
  • Axe-Crazy: Jagged Bones, one of the villains hired by the Council of Seven and A Half to teach the Inscrutable Machine a lesson. His response to Claire's super-cuteness was to decide he wants to own her skeleton.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Reviled.
  • Badass Normal: Loads.
    • Cybermancer figured out how magic interacts with chemistry, letting him make explosives valued by both villains and heroes.
    • The Original, who Penny hasn't met yet, "is one of the toughest, fastest, smartest men around."
    • Miss A is the Original's sidekick, well trained in combat and able to hold her own against Reviled's super-strength, speed, and agility. At least, for his first fight ever with superpowers. It takes him about five minutes to work out how she fights the second time, and take her down.
    • Witch Hunter seems to be a sword-slinging, knife-flinging normal as well.
    • The Audit, aka Penny's mom. She's taken down serious badasses such as Bull with merely human strength and advanced planning.
  • Bad Powers, Good People: Mourning Dove is a hero, but she is also some sort of extremely dangerous zombie construct, and created at least one ghost when an innocent bystander got caught in the crossfire. Supervillains who refuse to play by the rules tend to "accidentally" get killed in fights with her.
  • Because I'm Good at It: Penny realizes that she's actually pretty good at being a supervillain.
  • Biblical Bad Guy: Lucyfar, who may or may not be Satan.
  • Cape Punk: A Lighter and Softer example. Much attention is paid to explaining how superheroes and supervillains can co-exist long enough to form their longstanding rivalries. A series of rules exist to keep things reasonably civil and those supervillains who cross the line are "dealt with" by an antihero vigilante.
  • Cardboard Prison: It takes very little effort for the Inscrutable Machine to break Chimera out of prison.
  • Catchphrase: Penny likes to swear by Nikola Tesla. Another mad scientist, The Expert, does this as well.
  • The Cheerleader: Marcia. Claire is a cheerleader too, but a nice one. Evil, but nice.
  • The Chessmaster: Spider, the supervillain who lords over Chinatown. She's also an actual spider.
  • Chivalrous Pervert:
    • Ray, after he gains powers. Penny admits to liking his "leering charm".
    • Marvelous explains that most of the supervillains she fought were this; her old costume got some teasing, but nothing worse. Civilians were the reason she changed.
  • Clear My Name: Subverted, for the most part. The protagonists are accidentally labeled supervillains and it initially looks like they want to clear their names. Instead, they end up committing real crimes that are much worse than the initial incident, and have a great time doing so.
  • Co-Dragons: Ray and Claire to Penny.
  • Cool Bike: Penny's light bike
  • Confess to a Lesser Crime: Penny decides to say she is sneaking out to go on a date when she is actually sneaking out to be evil.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: Ray leases Penny's bubblegum machine to pay for his shopping spree. Later, Penny sells another invention to a villain for a thousand dollars. Penny directly acknowledges that she could make money legitimately, but being a villain is more fun.
  • Daddy Had a Good Reason for Abandoning You: Bull is separated from his family because he doesn't want his daughter to grow up with a supervillain for a father. Penny and the others insist that she'd prefer a supervillain father to none at all, and that she'll need help if she gets powers of her own.
  • Dating Catwoman:
    • Lucyfar insists she and Gabriel are dating. Gabriel insists they're not, but doesn't protest too much when she glomps him.
    • Bull and the hero Goodnight have dated at some point.
  • Den of Iniquity: Chinatown is a popular hangout for villains. Heroes stay away by truce.
  • Don't Tell Mama: Right there in the title.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Claire's mom, a former villain, encourages her daughter to do what makes her happy, even if that means super-villainy. She gives the protagonists advice on how to be the best villains they can.
  • Deus Exit Machina: Penny gives Vera to the Apparition during the climax.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The guardian of the jade statue the Inscrutable Machine steals.
  • Energy Ball: Penny designs a pair of gloves that can generate these for Ray.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Many examples.
    • It is implied that harm towards children is frowned upon by the mainstream villain community. Both Lucyfar and the Bull react negatively when Claire is threatened by Jagged Bones.
    • The head of the villain community, Spider, is known for her strict adherence to the rules of conduct between superheroes and supervillains.
    • The Apparition is firmly against turning the Inscrutable Machine over to the Council Of Seven And A Half's thugs on the grounds that the former are her friends.
    • It's known that Chinatown is one of the two worst places in the city for drug dealers and muggers (the other being the neighborhood around Penny's school, which a lot of superheroes' children seem to attend).
  • Evil Genius: Penny, natch
  • Evil Laugh: Penny has one even before she becomes evil. Guess it comes with being a Mad Scientist.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: The Bull. Claire's mom, to a certain extent, mainly because she thinks it will make it easier for Claire to be happy.
  • Evil Versus Oblivion: It's understood that in any battle between Earth and the Conquerors, Spider will side with Earth. Helps explain the No Kill Policy taken by nearly all of the heroes.
  • "Fawlty Towers" Plot: Every crime that the Inscrutable Machine commits just digs them deeper and forces them to commit more crimes to divert attention from their civilian identities.
  • Flash Step: Penny's teleporter rings allow her to do this.
  • Flying Brick: Generic Girl
  • Gadgeteer Genius: Cybermancer isn't a super genius, just highly above average.
  • Galactic Conqueror: The mentioned but not seen Conquerors seem to be an entire race of these.
  • Giggling Villain: Claire. What do you expect from a villain cheerleader?
  • The Gimmick: What makes Penny possibly the greatest Mad Scientist ever is that she doesn't have one, but instead keeps switching.
  • Glamour: Claire's power is "super-cuteness".
  • The Goggles Do Nothing: Penny gets a pair of goggles in Chinatown from the other mad scientists, but she's already got a helmet, so she just wears them like a necklace. All of the other mad scientists she meets in Chinatown wear them, but most of them don't wear them over their eyes. Penny speculates that Evil Eye can't even fit hers over her large fake eye.
  • Gratuitous German: The German Grenade is a particularly weird and gratuitous example. It's odd and surreal even by the standards of Penny's inventions.
  • Half-Truth: How Penny gets around telling her parents about her supervillainous activities.
  • Heart Is an Awesome Power: Claire's super-cuteness and whatever Penny's mom's power is.
  • Hero Antagonist: Generic Girl and Miss A are the only ones that come after the Inscrutable Machine on their own initiative. Mech, Ifrit and Marvelous all show up at different points to disrupt their supervillainy activities.
  • Hidden Agenda Villain: Spider tends to have ulterior motives for any job she assigns villains to.
  • Homemade Inventions: All of Penny's inventions.
  • Hover Skates: Claire accomplishes this with ground-repelling shoe inserts.
  • Incest Subtext: Lucyfar claims that Gabriel is her brother (which he denies). She also claims they're dating (which he also denies).
  • It's Personal: A key part of the super community is keeping things from getting personal. If you break the rules, expect to get "accidentally" killed by the other side's more dangerous members. This is one of the reasons that Penny doesn't have to worry too much about her secret identity as long as she takes some basic precautions. Sure, any of the Awesomeness by Analysis supers (including her own mother) could figure out who she is in about an hour, but the other supervillains would get mad. Spider is the only one who actively tries to discover their identities, much less something as blatant as blackmail them with that information.
  • Kid Sidekick: Miss A to the Original.
  • Kneel Before Zod: When The Inscrutable Machine hits a middle school to distract from their true identities, Penny gets all hammy and demands everyone on the playground kneel before her.
  • Lightning Bruiser: Ray to a certain extent. Combined with Flying Brick and Generic Girl fits the bill even better.
  • Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Or Quadratic Mad Scientists anyway. Most supers are stuck with what ever power they've got, increasing in power only as a result of becoming more skilled. Not so for the mad scientists, who can essentially give themselves and others new powers. Mad Scientists tend to be the leaders of villain groups.
  • Louis Cypher: Lucyfar, of course!
  • Love Potion: Penny's power begins to create one before she realizes what is happening and suppresses it.
  • Love Triangle: Penny likes Ray and Ray likes Claire. Or at least so she believes. In the end, it turns out Ray likes her back and she was just totally oblivious.
  • Mad Scientist: Penny is a classic Mad Scientist, complete with evil laughter.
  • Static Electricity: Penny makes gloves that shoot static electricity. Originally made to stick objects to walls, but works just as well on people and monsters. Eventually gifted to Claire.
  • Make Me Wanna Shout: Echo.
  • Man Behind the Man: Because of their youth and the odd pattern of their attacks, the heroes believe that someone is directing The Inscrutable Machine, when in fact they're just attacking randomly. Played straight later when Spider blackmails them into helping her.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Evolution was a massively powerful shapeshifter who spent his first week as a tree before he got a hold on his powers. It is theorized that the huge amounts of pollen he released during that time are the cause for the sudden surge in super powers; apparently every human on the planet has traces of his DNA in their system.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Penny's dad maintains that magic is just Sufficiently Advanced Technology, others aren't so sure, and it's never established one way or the other. For her part Penny's just fine with calling it magic even if it is just another form of technology.
  • "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name: The preview for the fourth book reveals that this is literal truth. Penelope's middle name actually is Justice, which she lampshades. Crosses over into Embarrassing Middle Name, of course.
  • Mini Dress Of Power: On Miss A. A pink sparkly one, no less!
  • Motive Misidentification: Everyone assumes there's an elaborate plan behind everything The Inscrutable Machine does. They are wrong.
  • Mundane Utility: Penny uses a custom smart phone designed by one of the smartest people on the planet as a calculator.
  • Mysterious Past: Gabriel, an angelic hero with six wings, has a blog, but refuses to speak of his past or where he got his powers. Lucyfar claims that he is the Archangel Gabriel (and she, as the Archangel Lucifer, is his sister), and while he definitely hasn't confirmed that, he hasn't gone to too much effort to deny it, either.
  • Named by Democracy: The Inscrutable Machine is the name Penny came up with for herself, but she eventually ended up with Bad Penny, with the trio as a whole as The Inscrutable Machine. Generic Girl didn't pick the name for herself either, as she's all business and doesn't take the time to chat.
  • Nice Hat: Ray wears one as Reviled.
  • No-Sell: Magic doesn't work on Lucyfar.
    Lucyfar: I don't know if I've mentioned this, but I am the morning star, the fallen one, the first and most damned child of creation. Magic is the power of creation, children. It cannot harm me.
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. This series has a few names which are used for multiple characters, including Polly (Polly Icarus and Polly Vinyl Chloride), Claire (Claire Lutra and Claire Winter), and Penny (Penny Akk, Robot Penny, and Evil Penny). However, in each case there is little confusion; the two Pollys are never seen together, Penny internally refers to Claire Winter as "The Other Claire" to prevent confusion, and the Pennys use nicknames (Robot Penny calls the original "Meatbag Penny").
  • One-Winged Angel: Normally, Lucyfar's powers manifest merely as a number of levitating black knives. When she gets serious, she grows blade-tipped skeletal wings, an elegant black dress, and a crown of black fire.
  • Open-Minded Parent: Claire's mom, being a former villain herself, fully supports the trio's activities, just as long as they don't get in over their heads.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: True dragons are intelligent and act as natural guardians of the world's magic. They don't like humans much, and are extremely rare. However, it's quite common for run of the mill monsters to disguise themselves as dragons.
  • Overly Long Name: Who wouldn't want to go to Northeast West Hollywood Middle School?
  • Parental Obliviousness: Despite both being world renowned super-geniuses neither of Penny's parents connect her and her friends to The Inscrutable Machine.
  • The Password Is Always "Swordfish": The password to Mech's lab is "Beebee" (Penny's mom's nickname). Penny's not sure if this means Mech has a crush on her mother, or if it means her father designed the security system and Mech never changed the default. She prefers the latter.
  • Perky Female Minion: Claire, especially when's laying on the cuteness.
  • Perpetual Frowner: Generic Girl aka Claudia always sounds tired and unhappy, not fitting in with heroes, villains, or middle schoolers.
  • Powered Armor: Mech's primary schtick.
  • Powers via Possession: Among the Apparition's powers.
  • Punch-Clock Hero/Punch-Clock Villain: Penny's parents imply that most supers on both sides are just in it for the brawl, rather than an actual desire to do good or evil. Lucyfar, especially, is noted to switch between hero and villain on the fly.
  • Punny Name: Penny's biology teacher Mrs. Golgi.
  • Reality Warper: The Librarian apparently. Her powers are never really explained in depth, but the kids note that all the estimations they saw online were seriously underselling her.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: Played with throughout the series. Most Mad Scientist inventions are leaps and bounds ahead of 'Normal' Science but are often impossible to understand or replicate if you're not a Mad Scientist and sometimes (such as with Penny) even the Mad Scientist themselves don't know how their creation works. That said, some of the later books establish that there are entire organizations dedicated to understanding and adapting Mad Science for real world problems such as water filtration and medical applications outside of the Superhuman community.
  • Refuge in Audacity: One of the main factors in keeping the secret identities of the Inscrutable Machine secret is the incredibly low probability that they are who they are.
  • Rollerblade Good: Claire's movement is frequently described as skating, though she actually wears ground-repelling shoe inserts.
  • Running Gag: Similar to a Swear Jar, Penny keeps two Jars for her father: Pumpkin and Princess. Both are well funded.
  • Secret Keeper: Claire's mom, a former villain herself, keeps the kids identities safe.
  • Shock and Awe: Penny designs some electro-glove things that causes people it zaps to stick to the next surface they touch, usually the ground.
  • Show Some Leg: Claire uses her super-cuteness powers to distract the enemies of the Inscrutable Machine.
  • The Spark of Genius: Penny's powers allow her to create all kinds of crazy shit, which she's not always aware of doing, and can't readily replicate.
  • Start of Darkness: For The Inscrutable Machine, culminating in the Then Let Me Be Evil moment below.
  • Steampunk: The Machine is actually a wind-up device, not an electric gadget. There is a battery but this seems to be just so the Machine can eat energy.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero:
    • Penny = Bad Penny.
    • Ray Viles = Reviled
    • Marcia = Miss A
  • Super Hero Trophy Shelf: Mech keeps a trophy room in his home.
  • Super Serum: Penny designs one to get Claire into shape. Ray drinks a whole lot of it and manages to get Super Strength and Super Speed.
  • Super Villain: Take a guess.
  • Super Wrist-Gadget: The Machine, an all purpose materials recycling thing.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: Chimera was kept in one.
  • Then Let Me Be Evil: Penny, at the end of the story, gives up on being a hero. Ah ha ha ha ha!
  • Time Bomb: Subverted. Penny sets a time bomb up in the school yard with a hundred second countdown as a distraction, but tells Claire and Ray that nothing will actually happen when the timer reaches zero.
  • Trapped in Villainy: The Inscrutable Machine's later acts of villainy in this book are orchestrated by Spider, with the implied threat of their secret identities being exposed should they refuse to cooperate.
  • Truce Zone: Chinatown, which perhaps not coincidentally is where Spider, head of the supervillain community, makes her home.
  • Two Girls and a Guy: Penny, Claire and Ray.
  • Unfortunate Names: E-Claire and Bad Penny are disappointed in the supernames they ended up with.
  • Unusually Uninteresting Sight: L.A. is so full of superheros and supervillains that when Lucyfar, Bad Penny and Reviled start a supervillain fight in the middle of downtown, people just walk around them. Also, no one makes any comment about the Inscrutable Machine riding a subway in full supervillain costume.
  • Villain Ball Magnet: Despite Penny's firm desire to switch to the side of good things just never seem to work out that way, as even when they manage to do good, people just continue to assume The Inscrutable Machine are supervillains. By the end they get tired of correcting them and just roll with it.
  • Villains Out Shopping: Every weekend the villains shut down Chinatown to throw a huge party.
  • Villain Protagonist: Well, duh.
  • Villains Act, Heroes React: The villain protagonists do things on their own and the heroes try to stop them.
  • Villain Teleportation: Well, Villain Protagonist Teleportation, anyway. Penny's teleport rings. They were actually designed for Ray, but he doesn't use them.
  • Wake Up, Go to School, Save the World: Miss A, who is actually a cheerleader in Penny's school.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?:
    • The origins of the jade statue are never explained, particularly not why it's guarded by an Eldritch Abomination. Penny maintains that it's super dangerous but this is never elaborated on and she later uses pennies to transfer its curse to other people (hence, Bad Penny) without any indication of the aforementioned danger.
    • Miss A disappears completely after the second fight, never to be mentioned again. Everyone else (from Ifrit to Sharky) shows up later, or at least gets mentioned.
    • Note that both are handled in later books.
  • What Kind of Lame Power Is Heart, Anyway?: Claire's super-cuteness is initially considered awesome, but when the Inscrutable Machine starts going against serious heroes they find her the least useful member of the team. It's more useful as a distraction than anything, so Penny sets her up with static gloves and zero-friction shoe inserts. Oh, and a zombie ragdoll army powered by Claire.
  • Wild Card: Lucyfar, who switches between hero and villain as suits her on any given day. The Inscrutable Machine as well.
  • Worthy Opponent:
    • Supervillains are careful to cultivate this reputation with superheroes. That way, when they inevitably retire, they'll be treated well instead of hunted down in revenge. Villains who get too violent (especially against children) find themselves fighting Mourning Dove, who is notoriously bad at bringing in opponents alive.
    • At the end, Spider apologizes to Penny for treating the Inscrutable Machine like children, and congratulates them on foiling her plans. Sure, she still got what she wanted, but that was just luck.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The most adorable one ever, as one of Penny's inventions is a zombie ragdoll that eats cloth to make new zombie ragdolls.


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