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Literature / Velveteen vs.

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A sidekick is a child soldier.

Velveteen vs. (2000) is a short story series by Seanan McGuire about a former superheroine named Velma "Velveteen" Martinez who was one of the young heroes "adopted" by The Super Patriots, Inc. On reaching legal adulthood she decided to walk away from the superhero life, but the Marketing Department wants her back, and are willing to do a great many things to get her.

The series is available to be read off the author's site as well as more recent updates on her LiveJournal. There are also three published compilations, Velveteen vs. the Junior Super Patriots, Velveteen vs. the Multiverse, and Velveteen vs. the Seasons.


Velveteen vs. provides examples of:

  • Adults Are Useless: From Velma's point of view, the adults are either borderline abusive, or Marketing (which is essentially the same thing but worse).
  • An Aesop: Child labor laws exist for a very good reason.
  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The official power level scale was invented by a group of government workers while on a drinking binge, and has never been revised. This makes some of the key classification criteria rather vague.
  • Alternate Universe: Velveteen finds herself in an alternate universe where her rival quit the Super Patriots and she co-leads the team. She also gets a close look at what happens in other AUs.
  • Almighty Janitor: In Velveteen vs. The Junior Super Patriots, West Coast Division, it's pointed out that Velma is ranked as a support hero "at best" (on the official "power level" scale, she is apparently rated at 2 out of 5). This does not stop her from wiping the floor with the nine-hero team sent at her, a whole three of which officially rank at the highest power level, 5. Elsewhere in the same chapter, the narration states that her real demonstrated power level would be 4, and that she had yet to fully reach her limits. Some have even theorized that if somebody managed to put a large enough pair of googly eye glasses on it, she could shift the orbit of the moon.
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  • Amplified Animal Aptitude: in Princess's case, her animal companions can do anything a Disney princess's can do, and more.
    Princess: I can have a team of SWAT trained raccoons here in under a minute.
  • And the Adventure Continues: Inverted. The second book ends with Princess declaring that the story DOES end here. And then the sequel came out.
  • Animal-Themed Superbeing: Claw, of the animal abilities sub-variety.
    • The Beastmaster: One of Claw's powers is to command the loyalty of crustaceasns.
  • Animate Dead: The power of Roadkill, an Alternate Universe version of Velma who went full supervillain.
    • Velveteen herself is also capable of the same trick, as seen with her keeping Tag alive after his death.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: Several, including many associated with seasonal holidays.
  • Anxiety Dreams: Of forgetting to be Velma
  • Applied Phlebotinum: Starting with irradiated maple syrup and going from there with one bizarre origin story after another. Velveteen's powers came from a latent mutation that was activated when she slept with a radioactive bunny plushy while suffering from an exotic strain of chicken pox.
  • Armoured Closet Gay: Sparkle Bright. The alternate universe version Polychrome is out of the closet.
  • Art Attacker / Art Initiates Life: Tag's power is to give his pictures form and solidity.
  • Back from the Dead: Jory. Victory Anna and possibly Tag, at some point in the future.
  • Beard of Evil: The villain in the first story.
  • Big Bad: Supermodel, CEO of Super Patriots, Inc.
  • Bluebird of Happiness: Trained in salon styling and cosmetology, courtesy of the Princess.
  • Brainwashed: All the people in SPI with mind control powers are used to brainwash the official heroes of SPI during their "counseling sessions". Velveteen managed to break free because her trips to the worlds of Autumn and Winter with Hailey and Jackie, and the fact that time flows differently there, meant that she spent more time between sessions than SPI's higher ups thought, so it wore off. Tag broke free because he kept creating graffiti doppelgangers to attend the sessions for him.
  • Bullying a Dragon: Unlike many examples, the Marketing department is fully aware that the people whose lives they ruin for pleasure/prophet are fully capable of wiping them, painfully, off the face of existence. They get away with it by using brainwashing and blackmail. It should therefore be noted that most so-called "Super Villains" are just people who refused to put up with Super Patriot's Inc. continuing to run their lives.
  • Bunny Tropes: While she is not an actual rabbit, Velveteen, due to her costume being setup with bunny ears and cotton tail, ends up heir to several of the tropes.
    • Bunnies for Cuteness: Part of why Marketing set up Velma as Velveteen. She was a little girl who could bring toys to life.
    • Hair-Raising Hare: Near the end of the series, Velveteen shows that rabbits can be fierce.
    • Playboy Bunny: Some of Velveteen's grown-up costumes approach or riff off this.
    • Righteous Rabbit: Velveteen is the center of the eventual battle against Super Patriots, Inc., at which time people realize they're not the wholesome and unimpeachable force for good they present themselves.
  • Came Back Wrong: Alternate universe Marionette. Also Tag.
    • An interesting example, in that they are MENTALLY fine...they just need energy.
  • Cast from Hit Points: How Velveteen's powers work; sustaining an animation takes energy from Vel. A little for things like animating a plush toy to get her a Diet Coke from the fridge, a LOT for reanimating her boyfriend for two months solid.
  • Catchphrase: Marketing helps heroes working for them come up with memorable ones.
    • Velveteen has one that's pretty much only muttered to herself: "Fucked up times (number)."
      • Escalatingly increasing number, in the chronological order chapters. She hits Infinity at the end of book one, and doesn't go down till the second chapter of Book two.
  • Celeb Crush: Marketing encourages these.
  • Children Are Innocent: The downside of fighting the Junior Super Patriots when you aren't really a villain.
  • Child Soldiers: All of the Junior Super Patriots. It is also shown that the Super Patriots deliberately recruit kids young so that they will be more controllable.
  • Cleavage Window: Velveteen's costume shows a lot of cleavage. Superheroines often do this as a way of keeping people from paying to much attention to their faces.
  • Comes Great Responsibility: Alluded to while discussing her origin.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: Apparently applies to animus supers, so Supermodel murdering every animus other than Vel and Tag in their generation is part of the reason why Vel is so powerful.
  • Contractual Genre Blindness: SPI offers classes in "Advanced Going Into the Big Spooky House at the Top of the Hill" to young superheroes: "you had to study to be that pig-headedly stupid."
  • Corporate-Sponsored Superhero / Heroes "R" Us: Super Patriots Inc straddles the line between the two.
  • Crush Blush: When Aaron first spoke to Velma.
    • Yelena blushes bright blue when asked if she has a crush; it's revealed later that the crush is on Velma.
  • Cure Your Gays: What Super Patriots Inc promised Yelena's parents they would do.
  • Cynicism Catalyst: The Governor of Oregon had an older sister who was taken in by Super Patriots Inc and died fighting a supervillain she was nowhere near ready to fight... at the age of twelve. This is why she's willing to grant sanctuary to supers who try to break away from SPI.
  • Deal with the Devil: Vel makes one with Santa Claus...a rare sentence.
  • Deep Sleep: One night at a motel, for Velma.
  • Detect Evil: Or rather, naughty.
  • Domino Mask: Part of the superhero costume in many cases, starting with Velma/Velveteen's costume.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The first couple of stories imply that Velma and Yelena never got along; after that it's made clear that they were close friends before their Marketing-engineered blowup in their late teens.
  • Emergency Transformation: Claw's father changed him into what he is now to save his life from an unspecified illness.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Hailey Ween, who has been after Velveteen to take her place for years, is disgusted by Trick and Treat siding with the Super Patriots despite all the horrible things they do and were doing to their kid.
  • Everything's Better with Rainbows: Yelena's powers.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: One of Princess's powers.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Played straight, subverted, playing with. . . .
  • Fanservice: Velveteen vs. The Fright Night Sorority House Massacre Sleepover Camp. The girls spend the entire chapter running around in sexy underwear. Except the Princess, who's protected by her PG rated power source.
  • Flashback: sometimes told in the form of Dream Sequence.
  • Flying Brick: One of the more common power sets, apparently caused by a batch of irradiated maple syrup (just go with it). Given examples include Majesty, Action Dude, and Super Cool.
  • A Friend in Need: Velma to Yelena, as children.
  • Frivolous Lawsuit: Vel's parents sue her for financial support. A lawyer provided by the Governor of Oregon gets the case thrown out, stating that the contract (Which was made when Vel was eleven, and thus not old enough to sign legally binding contracts) specified that her family was entitled to a percentage of her income while she worked for SPI, not while she was a superhero, and Velveteen now worked for the State of Oregon, not Super Patriots, Incorporated.
  • Genre Savvy: Several characters exhibit this:
    • Velveteen, extremely so. She realizes early on in her career that a lot of the stock drama and superhero tropes around her are actively engineered by Marketing. And, in a nice meta example, she closely follows fan forums for inspiration (and possible strategies) on how to use her powers effectively.
    • Scaredy Cat coaching Velma in Halloween.
  • Gondor Calls for Aid: Velveteen builds up an army of people who have been screwed over by Super Patriots, Inc. and their Marketing department.
  • Heroic Build: Action Dude
  • Heroic Sacrifice: How alter-Velveteen ended up causing Velveteen-prime to reality hop.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Velveteen, and pretty much anyone who leaves SPI under bad terms, is declared either a washout or a super-villain by SPI, and therefore, by the media as well.
  • Hide Your Gays: Subverted in some cases, and an in-universe case played straight with Sparkle Bright.
  • Hospitality for Heroes: A mechanic doesn't take Vel's money after she saves his town from a cult of evil baristas.
  • An Ice Person: Jackie Frost.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Chapters are usually named "Velveteen vs. <Something>", unless she doesn't appear in that chapter, in which case the name is "Velveteen Presents <Focus Character> vs. <Something>".
  • Incompatible Orientation: Velma and Yelena
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, roughly half of all Junior Super Patriots don't live to get an offer to become full Super Patriots (who have an average lifespan of 35). Part of the reason Vel wanted out was having to attend the funerals of half a dozen teammates.
  • Informed Judaism: Action Dude was raised Jewish before developing Flying Brick powers, but Marketing decided that he'd look better to the public as a Christian, so they forced him to not do any culturally Jewish actions while in public.
  • Killed Off for Real: Subverted with Tag.
  • Last of His Kind:
    • Vel and Tag are the only supers with animus powers in their generation, because Supermodel murdered all the others. They were spared because the inherent limits to their powers (Vel can only control inanimate objects that have faces, Tag can only create objects from things he painted) made them appear too weak to be a threat.
    • Victory Anna (a refugee from a distant and now-destroyed alternate universe) has no multi-verse counterparts. When the team walks through the Hall of Mirrors, while everyone else sees the people they could have been had their lives turned out differently in the mirrors, she just sees her reflection.
  • Light 'em Up: Sparkle Bright's base power.
  • Mad Scientist: Many, including Dr Darwin and Victory Anna.
  • Making a Splash: Lake Ponchartrain and Mississippi Queen, for starters.
  • Maybe Ever After: Vel does NOT revive Tad in the ending, though she makes it clear she'll try when she feels she's able to.
  • Marionette Master: Velveteen's power
  • Mega-Corp: Super Patriots Inc, crossing over into Law Enforcement, Inc..
  • Men Don't Cry: Aaron carefully waits for Velma to leave before he wipes his eyes.
  • Merchandise-Driven: SPI
  • Minor Injury Overreaction: Supermodel's Start of Darkness. She had spent years as the super who represented the embodiment of physical beauty, so acquiring a barely noticeable facial scar caused her to snap.
  • Mutant Draft Board: SPI
  • Nice to the Waiter: Velveteen looks for toys that volunteer.
  • No More for Me: Something a river rat would swear after seeing amassed crayfish.
  • Oh Crap, There Are Fanfics of Us!: Velveteen is disgusted by some of hers.
    "After the fifth piece of pornographic fan art and the real-person slash fanfic novella where she liked to "do it like a rabbit," she figured the strategy tips were sort of like protection money: as long as they stayed semi-useful, she wouldn't feel compelled to wipe them off the face of the planet."
    • Les Yay: A lot of that porn paired her with her teammate Sparkle Bright, who actually is gay and really did have a crush on Vel when they were teammates.
  • Painted-On Pants: The costumes designed by Marketing tend to be form-fitting, forcing the people who wear them to adhere to strict diets.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Velveteen's parents were abusive when she lived with them, and only cared about her as a meal ticket once her powers manifested.
    • Velveteen's team of the Junior Super Patriots West Coast Division was, except for the Claw, composed of kids who were sold by their parents to Super Patriots Inc.
    • The Princess was forced into it; once her powers manifested, the universe insisted that she not have parents, so she cut all ties with them rather than see them have an "accident".
    • After Jackie got hit with a Cosmic Retcon that turned her into Jack Claus, her parents retroactively decided that they weren't capable of caring for a child, and gave her to Santa for adoption when she was an infant.
  • Pirate: Jolly Roger's power
  • The Power of Love: Princess can invoke it at will, with her fairy tale powers.
    • Love is about the only thing that can allow a fully indoctrinated super hero to resist their conditioning.
  • Powers as Programs: The character profiles in the book state that Super Patriots Inc. tried to switch Velveteen and Sparkle Bright's powers to "stabilize" the team, but it didn't work.
  • The Promise: Scaredy Cat warns Velma about the importance of getting this.
  • Propaganda Machine: Marketing
  • Rag Tag Bunch Of Misfits: Team Velveteen is composed of Velveteen herself (declared a supervillain by SPI), Tag (who washed out of training), Victory Anna (trans-dimensional refugee), Princess (untouchable by SPI due to other contractual obligations), Jackie Frost (the naughty daughter of Winter).
  • Ret-Gone: Jackie acts against her nature to help Vel survive her year of service in Winter, and ends up getting rewritten, becoming Jacqueline Claus, adopted daughter of Santa.
  • Second Love: Tag for Velveteen. Also Sparkle Bright and Victory Anna for each other.
  • Secret Identity: One of Super Patriots Inc's few redeeming qualities is its thorough protection of its under-age superheroes' identities.
    • Also a part of superhero courtship, since so many start in-costume.
  • Secret Test of Character: Velveteen's first experience with an Alternate Universe was one set up by Santa Claus. She was shown a world where she had the life she had dreamed of back when she was a Junior Super Patriot, and all she had to do in order to keep it was write off an old friend who she had thought of as an enemy for years. But she insisted on finding her way back to her home reality.
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: SPI claims that people with non-trivial powers who don't have "proper guidance" (Which in essence means bing owned by SPI) tend to go supervillain. They try not to mention that most of their examples only qualify because SPI harassed them until they were Driven to Villainy in self-defense.
  • Slasher Movie: One of the enemies Velveteen faces can generate the thematic for a slasher flick as his powerset.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: Essentially the main crime which Super Patriots Inc. has gotten away with for decades. They buy children from their (admittedly abusive) parents, brainwash and manipulate them all their lives, and sabotages any idea of personal freedom they make for themselves until they die. Which is usually pretty young. Relatedly...
    • Slave to PR: SPI forces their heroes to live their lives to maximize their marketability. Thus Action Dude was forced to hide his faith because Marketing didn't think a Jewish superhero would sell action figures. Yelena was forced to pretend to a different sexuality for similar reasons, and Velveteen was forced to break up with her first boyfriend because Marketing ruled that support heroes weren't allowed to date front-liners.
  • Spot of Tea: Victory Anna as part of her quasi-Victorian thing.
  • Steampunk: Victory Anna's whole motif.
  • Steven Ulysses Perhero: Several of the characters in the series, starting with Velma Martinez herself.
  • Stock Superpowers
  • Subject 101: Heroing 101
  • Super Registration Act: After SPI's leadership is taken down, the government passes a law requiring all supers with animus powers to register, claiming that SPI's CEO being an animus is why the company was able to get away with its criminal actions for so long. Nobody objected because there were only three known animus supers, one of whom was dead and the other two missing. Then the government slowly started expanding the legal definition of an animus...
  • Tap on the Head: In the first story — though it only knocks her down.
  • Technopath: Mechamation.
    • Velma's powers can touch on technopathy. Her specific power is to animate anything that looks like a lifelike representation, and that includes things like animatronic dinosaurs as well as plush animals.
  • The One Guy: Tag is the only guy on Vel's team.
  • There Are No Therapists: Sort of. There are therapists for heroes, supplied and paid for by Super Patriots inc. They're just all evil, brainwashing bastards with no compunctions about subjugating and enslaving children.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Played with. Heroes will kill if absolutely necessary, but they generally only do so if the villains escalate things to the point where lethal force is necessary first. SPI loses the moral high ground during the climax of the second book when they use lethal force first.
  • Timey-Wimey Ball: After learning that spending three years repaying her debt to the seasons, Vel returns to discover that the government was taking over all of America's supers, and it was too late to stop them. So she finds a way to contact some supers in an alternate dimension with the power to alter time to rewrite history so that those three years in Season Country only lasted six days in Calendar Country, so she could try to stop it when it first began.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Not even going to mention the stupidity of binding supers with contracts and blackmail. See Bullying a Dragon above. This is to mark the indescribable stupidity of adding a clause in said contract that allows the aforementioned supers to rebel against SPI "if they have reason to believe they have been compromised by a super villain". They may as well have been intentionally looking for an uprising.
  • Torches and Pitchforks: The amassed crayfish have the mood, if not the objects.
  • Transgender: When asked their real names, one of Velveteen's friends announces the name their parents called them is differently genderered from the one by which we currently know them.
  • True Love's Kiss: What will wake Tad from his enchanted sleep; Vel just isn't sure if she qualifies.
  • Trust Password: Teams are required to come up with one to check if they've ended up in an alternate dimension. Then Action Dude ends up in one where his counterpart isn't allergic to blueberries, and thus his wife in that dimension didn't understand that his asking for some was a password.
  • Undercover as Lovers/The Beard: Action Dude and Sparkle Bright.
  • Up to Eleven: The superhero power scale goes from one to five. Time control is level ten.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Arron, currently the most powerful hero in the Super Patriots, is allergic to blueberries.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: We never learn what job Velma wanted to interview for in Portland, after she misses her interview.
  • When the Clock Strikes Twelve: The Midnight Coffee Society
  • Wicked Witch: How Halloween's problems started.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Perks: Some supers have abilities that are mainly only of use in mundane tasks, like being impossibly good bakers and gardeners, and as such are able to pass unnoticed by SPI.
  • With Us or Against Us: SPI has managed to get virtually every non-SPI super classified as a supervillain, often for no grounds other than the fact that they don't work for SPI.
  • World of Pun: Many of the cast have names that fall into pun territory: Jack O'Lope, Victory Anna and Dairy Keen, for starters. It wouldn't be so bad, if some of these were people who are NOT named by Marketing.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Princess, Jackie, and Velveteen.
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: Time in Seasons Country doesn't always flow the same way as in Calendar Country (i.e. the normal world).


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