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Literature / Wearing the Cape

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"When you wear the cape, you do the job."
Atlas (and later Astra)

Wearing the Cape is the first of a series of superhero novels by Marion G. Harmon. Its world is much like our own until sometime in the late 90's, when the Event created an alternate history. (The actual Divergence Point has to predate the Event; the Vice President on Event Day doesn't correspond to anyone who's actually held the office.) The Event was a worldwide sensory blackout that lasted 3.2 seconds; everyone experienced those brief seconds of sensory deprivation, and when the world came back they found that the Event had also triggered a temporary but worldwide loss of power (known as the Blackout). Most importantly, however, the Event changed The Rules.

In the aftermath of the Event and the Blackout, as stalled and out-of-control cars and powerless planes turned freeways and cities into death-zones, a small percentage of people reacted to the trauma and danger by exhibiting superhuman powers. Called "breakthroughs", many of them exhibited powers similar to those of traditional comic-book superheroes, though others were patterned after older myths and some were just plain weird. The first recorded breakthrough, a Superman-knockoff who took the codename "Atlas", put on a jumpsuit and cape to do good in the days and weeks following the Event, setting the pattern for public-minded breakthroughs who followed. Much of the plot is driven by the separation between expectations and super-heroic reality as the main character, Hope Corrigan, gains superpowers and deals with all the changes in her life. Through her eyes, the reader sees the difference between media-driven stereotypes and the truth about the superhero profession.


The story takes place ten years after the Event, and an entire generation has grown up in a world of "superheroes." Unlike the heroes of the comics, however, Post-Event superheroes are certified, licensed, and regulated by state and local governments; most active heroes are members of Crisis Aid and Intervention teams and act as civilian contractors to city governments. While they do aid local police in responding to superhuman threats, mostly they act as Emergency Response Personnel. They also milk their own media-value for everything it's worth, using costumes and codenames to market their images (and sometimes to cover true secret identities). The presence of breakthrough powers is the only fantastic element in the Post-Event world, which strives to be a socially realistic setting, in that the story explores the political, legal, social, and personal issues created by the reality of people with superpowers. In general attitudes, the setting's superheroes resemble the more nuanced heroes of The Golden Age of Comic Books.


There are currently 7 novels and one short story.

  1. Wearing The Cape features the origin story of Hope, aka "Astra," after her breakthrough leaves her one of the most powerful individuals on the planet.
  2. Villains Inc. The first sequel, continues Hope's journey in the fallout of Wearing the Cape.
  3. Bite Me: Big Easy Nights, Starring Hope's best (vampire) friend Jacky, aka "Artemis," functions as something of an interquel or parallel novel, set between the first two novels.
  4. "Omega Night" is a short story set after Villains Inc.
  5. Young Sentinels is the next novel, set after "Omega Night", continues Astra's progress, and introduces several new heroes in the junior version of the Wt C universe JLA or Avengers.
  6. Small Town Heroes, the fifth book and the fourth in the Wearing the Cape series, features Hope and the Young Sentinels team as they work towards public acceptance.
  7. Ronin Games, the sixth book, takes Hope, Jackie, Shell, and Ozma to Japan to investigate Hope's increasingly complicated dreams stemming from her encounters in Villains Inc.
  8. Team-Ups and Crossovers, is the seventh book and has Hope transported across multiple alternate realities while her friends try to rescue her.
  9. Recursion, is the eighth book and has Hope seemingly travel back in time three years to the aftermath of Wearing the Cape.
  10. Repercussions, is the 9th book (8th novel) and Hope is now seeing what the future is shaping up to as the Big Book of Contingent Prophecies is passing into obsolescence.

Wearing The Cape The Roleplaying Game using the FATE system (used on games such as The Dresden Files) and written by Harmon, has been released.

This book contains examples of:

  • Action Girl: Any female cape with a physically-oriented powerset will be this. Astra, Artemis, and, eventually, Galatea are the most prominent.
  • Actually Not a Vampire: Vampire-type breakthroughs are technically just delusional breakthroughs with an odd mix of abilities and weaknesses. They only react to traditional vampire weaknesses because they believed, when they first gained their powers, that that was how vampires worked. Ironically, this means that Jackie (who was turned by one of the unspeakably rare master vampires) is one of the only "real" vampires, despite the fact that she finds vampire culture ridiculous on a good day.
  • Adaptive Ability: Brian Lucas is a transformed A-class Darwin-type (he "adapts" to his environment and opposition) who is potentially stronger than the strongest Ajax-type. Notably, in the Bad Future where he went on a rampage, he fought three squads of supersoldiers before being taken down, and the survivors noted that they're pretty sure that they only won because he had lost the will to live after his crimes.
  • Affably Evil: The Yakuza are more than just the Japanese version of The Mafia. They have business cards, a local office in the phonebook, and a public complaints department. They like to think of themselves as businessmen with an interest in the community, and they do reinvest a good amount of their proceeds into the neighborhoods they control. But they are still extremely dangerous criminals who should not be underestimated.
    Jacky: My date liked to brag—they even publicly support local charities and shrines, march in community festivals. He was in the last one, helped pull the family float.
  • A God Am I: The Ascendant believes that superhumans are gods meant to rule over and guide unpowered humanity, a belief he spreads through his organization "the Ascendancy." He is an interesting example in that he truly believes that they are supposed to be benevolent gods, and he tries to show mercy where he can. But the fact remains that he is perfectly willing to cause disasters that kill thousands of people just to get a handful of Breakthroughs.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Eight Excellent Protectors, Japan's premier all-female team. All of them are mega-pop idols, but whatever their individual power levels they've all gone through Training from Hell and have won their positions through The Spartan Way.
  • Amplifier Artifact: In the Land of Oz, Quadling Country's most valuable resource is radium. Not only does it enhance magic, many believe it has healthful properties and wear amulets of it on necklaces or bracelets. Thankfully, unlike Earth's radium it doesn't have any radioactive properties.
  • Anyone Can Die:
    • Wearing the Cape begins with a terrorist attack that leaves bodies all over, the Sentinels are shown to have lost several members before the story begins, the murder of a street-level hero is casually alluded to, and finally, in the attack on Whittier Base no less than three Sentinels die—including two main characters.
    • Most of the rest of the series has few named deaths... until Repercussions, which involves multiple terrorist attacks across the globe. Multiple minor named characters die, as well as major character Rush.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: The Post-Event World is filling up with strangeness. Superheroes. Vampires. Sorcerers. Aliens. Gods and Goddesses. Ozma, Empress of Oz. When encountering an "emissary from Ganymede" or a Hermetic Magician who claims to have had an encounter with the fundamental Source of Reality, the reaction of many if not most citizens of the Western nations is "meh." Because obviously, whatever they may think they are, they're all just breakthroughs and some are more delusional than others, right? This is what lets the world's scientists sleep at not, but there's a great deal of Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane going on, and it's implied that at least a few of these supernaturals are not actually delusional after all.
  • Armor-Piercing Attack: Ki Manipulation breakthroughs (quite common in Asia) can mostly ignore the durability of Atlas and Ajax-types.
  • Artificial Limbs: Rush's first prosthetic hand was a simple cosmetic one, but when Vulcan joined the team he offered to replace it with a fully functional cybernetic one.
  • Bald of Awesome: In Ronin Games, Hope meets three Heroes Without Borders workers who are all bald.
  • Balkanize Me: Happened to China as a result of a messy post-Event civil war, and several other nations suffered the same; Russia was split in half, with both sides insisting the other is just a rogue state. The future files make it clear that it's possible that this will happen to the United States... and some people in the government think this might be the best of a whole bunch of bad options.
  • Better as Friends: Hope and Seven. They have a "now or never" style kiss in "Omega Night" and some Ship Tease afterwards, but Hope eventually decides not to pursue him.
  • Beware the Nice Ones:
    • Hope Corrigan, who at the age of 18 stands less than 5 feet tall and is self-described as an "underdeveloped teenage Tinkerbell", is one of the strongest superheroes on the planet (in the top 10%, anyway). Also, though she spends a good deal of time worrying about accidentally hurting anyone, she opens an alarming can of Whupass at the end of the first book. In a later book, Megaton mentions that the media team is very good at maintaining Hope's image as a golden girl, so people don't often remember that she killed a large number of enemy supersoldiers in an invasion. In Small Town Heroes she nearly beats a supervillain to death with her bare hands after he pisses her off, and in Ronin Games she kills a dragon and later a ki-martial artist.
    • And then there's Ozma, supposedly the Empress of Oz whom the books were written about. She is unfailingly polite at all times and prefers to solve problems by serving tea. She is also an accomplished Sorcerous Overlord who ruled the Land of Oz (which is apparently far darker than the books portrayed) for over a hundred years. Her go-to method of eliminating threats is to turn them into a hat (the most disturbing part is that her victims enjoy being a hat while transformed, less so when they're turned back), but she's not shy about resorting to more lethal methods. She also animated a doll for the sole purpose of acting as her spy and assassin, and secured Grendel's services by promising vengeance against the person who killed Grendel's family, and then once she found that person she immediately provided Grendel every tool she could to kill him.
    • Grendel is a fairly calm, stoic, controlled fellow. But when the fighting begins, he can whip himself into an animalistic fury so terrible that Hope is hesitant to get close, and he can alter his body to become even tougher and stronger than her.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Although the Sentinels beat the Big Bad, Wearing the Cape ends with a state funeral for close to half the team. The rest of the books tend to end on a more upbeat note, with the heroes usually saving the day and at least foiling the Big Bad's plot.
  • Blue Blood: Hope's mother. There was a bit of a scandal when she married Hope's father, a Self-Made Man who had not yet finished making himself.
  • Born Lucky: Seven got this as his power.
    Seven: I walk through firefights and the guns jam, misfire, come apart, get dropped, or just plain miss. Bombs don't go off when I'm in the blast zone or if they do, I'm in a blast shadow. The world's greatest martial artist would trip and break his neck if he tried to hit me. If I need a ride, a taxi or obliging fan just happens to be there.
  • Bouncing Battler: Harlequin can run faster by "bouncing" along.
  • Boxing Lessons for Superman: Hope gains the Atlas-type power set, enabling her to outfly jets, bench-press buses, and take direct hits from military ordinance. So the first thing she does is go into intensive, fight-club style training so she has a chance against all the other Atlas-types out there.
  • Brain Uploading: The Teatime Anarchist copied Shelly's mind onto a quantum supercomputer from the twenty-second century, turning her into a quantum AI with unrivalred hacking and computational abilities. It's emphasized several times that she's a copy, not the original Shelly, but the distinction is difficult to identify.
  • The Cape: In the Post-Event world the more powerful and photogenic superheroes are major media celebrities, who often publicly play to the Golden Age Hero stereotype and have whole marketing campaigns and PR departments to back them up.
  • Cape Busters: The Department of Superhuman Affairs is the federal agency tasked with assessing superhuman threats to national security and assisting local authorities who can't deal with their superhuman problems. The DSA, with ties to the Secret Service, FBI, and US Marshals Service, and run by former US President Kayle—the man who created it—has a shadowy reputation and is every conspiracy theorist's Holy Grail.
  • Cape Punk: An example of the Reconstruction variety.
  • Casting a Shadow: The lead drummer for Freakzone Blackout is a "supervillain" breakthrough capable of generating and controlling clouds of dark particles. He can concentrate these particles to create insubstantial shapes of pure darkness, or spread them wide to create vast clouds of obscuring mist.
  • Catchphrase: Rush is known for his trademark phrase "What's the rush?"
  • The Chessmaster: Presented as a simple anti-government terrorist at the beginning of Wearing the Cape, The Teatime Anarchist turns out to be oh so much more. The full extent of his interference is apparently revealed at the end of the book, but more facets emerge in the later books, showing just how deep his influence went.
  • Chest Insignia: In Hope's world they are called "crests" and are adopted and copyrighted by superheroes for marketing purposes, even if their crests appear nowhere on their actual costumes. They are mentioned most often on Dispatch maps, as markers to denote their positions on the field.
  • Chronic Hero Syndrome: Hope just cannot stop saving people. Shelly and Jacky comment on it several times. Jacky, in particular, grumbles that Hope would save the murderous villains if she could, and so Jacky tends to carefully avoid asking Hope for permission for certain things.
  • City of Adventure: Chicago is the post-Event Metropolis, with good reason. Atlas and the Sentinels created the template for superheroes and superhero teams, and with the Sentinels and the Guardian teams, the city has more superheroes per capita than any other city. Chicago is also the center of the Villain-Rap culture, which means the place is crawling with street-villains and fashion-villains. The Sentinels' reputation is also creating a problem, in that supervillain-terrorists and thrill-villains who want to make their reputations may target them and the city they protect (it has been noted that Chicago was the only freshwater port to get a godzilla attack).
  • Cliché Storm: Jacky in Bite Me: Big Easy Nights intentionally invokes as many vampire tropes as she can, sleeping in a coffin on native soil, wearing lots of black and goth-like clothes, even studying to become a private detective, so that she go undercover in the local "vampire" culture. Jacky finds it all stupid, but since Vampire-type breakthroughs get their powers by being incredibly obsessed with vampires, it's otherwise universal.
  • Code Name:
    • Most superheroes have codenames that are descriptive of their power or just cool-sounding. Atlas gives Hope the temporary codename "Astra", which he says is Latin for star. She keeps it, despite later finding out it's the plural form—star(s).
    • Heroes Without Borders takes it to an extreme as part of their organizational culture. Everyone who works for them uses a codename, powered or not.
  • Combat Medic: In Ronin Games, Astra meets the priest Ren Li-Kai. As the younger and more rebellious son, he went off and became a doctor before he fell into the study of Daoism and returned to his family's way.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Atlas tries to teach Astra this lesson on both a tactical and strategic level, telling her that you have to do whatever you can to go for the win. She's not sure she agrees with him at the time, but she racks up a shocking number of kills, including stabbing one of the most dangerous superhumans alive with his own sword. In her fight with Heavenly Dragon (an actual Chinese dragon) over a plane full of vaccines, she ducked under his attack, grabbed hold, and carved her way through his belly to his spine.
  • Combat Tentacles: Twist has a spool of heavy carbon-weave cable attached to each arm that he projects up to thirty feet and manipulates like whips.
  • The Commissioner Gordon:
    • Max Fisher, the senior detective in the Chicago Police Department's superhuman-crimes division. Astra soon discovers that he has a secret of his own—he's a fictional character. Someone wrote a series of noir detective novels about hard-smoking, hard-drinking Max Fisher, grumpy and incorruptible detective. One day Max woke up, sitting in the role, and only realized anything was wrong when he "died" and then was suddenly alive again.
    • In Repercussions, we find out that the government invoked this. When a fan of the series (one of the only fans the series had) broke through, he turned into a copy of Max Fisher, but was in fugue because his environment didn't match his backstory. The DSA got him the job with faked credentials, and once he was in place he came out of his fugue and started acting normally. The DSA were ecstatic to have a skilled, immortal, incorruptible police detective on their side.
  • Cool Guns: Vulcan invents variable-projectile electromagnetic guns, basically mini railguns, for Jacky. He names them "Vulcans," which she finds silly.
  • Cult:
    • The Fellowship of Awakened Theosophy is a pro-Breakthrough cult that believes superhumans are a higher state of being, and once enough people have awakened then the rest of humanity will all gain superpowers at once. They offer meditation and counseling sessions which have an extremely low but still notable chance of causing a "soft" Breakthrough, without the horrific trauma most have to go through. Unfortunately, the Fellowship is just the front for the Ascendancy, which thinks all the meditation is too slow, and causes disasters to make Breakthroughs the normal way.
    • One government cape was part of a Christian offshoot cult with elements of Buddhism and emphasis on the "light of life." He broke through and gained powers based on these beliefs, letting him manipulate life energy in a variety of powerful ways... and was promptly exiled by the cult leader for being a threat. He's an atheist now, but his powers haven't changed.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Astra nearly loses in her first hero/villain fight against Brick, a superstrong gang-banger supervillain—partly due to inexperience, but also due to being handicapped by an intruding second supervillain. Later she gets a rematch and the fight is so one-sided Brick doesn't land a single hit, as a dramatic way of showing how much she's progressed.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Artemis is a vampire superhero who is happy to wear black, a dark hood, and show her fangs as much as possible in order to terrify the criminal underworld. She is very much a hero, however, and even before Hope started pushing her to be merciful she was already a saint by vampire standards.
  • Dating Catwoman: As of Ronin Games, Hope's relationship with Kitsune.
  • Die or Fly: The usual way for breakthroughs to occur. Tends to follow a pattern of allowing one to fight the danger, escape the danger, or become immune to the danger.
  • Differently Powered Individual: Capes are referred to as Powers in Japan.
  • Distaff Counterpart: The Nine Accomplished Heroes are the male counterparts of the Eight Excellent Protectors.
  • Domino Mask: Dominoes or their equivalent are often worn by superheroes whose civilian identities are already publicly known. It's an expected part of the costume, but is also useful for making them unrecognizable to anyone who doesn't know them personally, allowing them a measure of privacy in public—a humorous inversion of movie-stars tendency to don baseball caps and sunglasses to go to Starbucks.
  • Deus ex Machina: Exploited in the Omega Night. when Seven picks the one live nuclear warhead from 25 decoys, even though they are not aimed at him. Astra correctly guessed that his power would work because he had a personal stake in choosing correctly.
  • Doesn't Like Guns: Atlas which is why the Sentinels utilize a Lightning Gun
  • Dreaming the Truth: At one point, Astra realizes in a dream that a villain's actions show he's not trying to hide from the Sentinels anymore.
  • Dream Walker: Kitsune is able to invade dreams.
  • Elemental Embodiment: Raiju is a man-shaped weasel made of lightning.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Atlas didn't like his superhero name because it was based off of the Dumb Muscle Greek titan
  • Everyone Is Armed: Chicago has become this in one of the universes Astra tumbles through during Team-Ups and Crossovers, with every civilian in sight carrying handguns. It turns out that this is the aftermath of what would have happened if she hadn't stopped the missile in Omega Night.
  • Extradimensional Power Source: A Verne Type built a zero-point energy generator.
  • Extra-ore-dinary: Carl Mueler aka the Tin Man. can animate anything metal, but only one thing at a time.
  • Family Extermination: Grendel lost his family when the Ascendant exposed several thousand victims to a psychotropic gas which triggered hallucinations, rampages, and several psychotic breaks and breakthroughs.
  • Fantastic Drug: Having a Vampire-Type drink your blood is extremely addictive and enjoyable. Jacky mind-wipes her "dates" so that she doesn't create a string of addicts.
  • Fantastic Racism: The Paladins call themselves patriots "preparing against the day that superhumans attempt to take over the country, steal America from its freedom-loving citizens, etc.," but there is a deeply racist streak to their worldview. Since Mal's Accidental Murder involved a regular human being Murder Is the Best Solution to them.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Supernatural-type breakthroughs encompassing basically every kind of story, myth, folklore, or religion exist, ranging from the superhero types, to Hermetic magicians, Native American medicine men, European druids, and more.
  • For Halloween Iam Going As Myself: During the crossover volume Hope (in costume) winds up in the world of Grrl Power where Sentinels is a TV show so Hope infiltrates a convention as an Astra cosplayer.
  • Forbidden Chekhov's Gun: Astra specifically uses one maneuver Atlas had carefully warned her against, even thinking at the time of his warning that an attack like a missile — well, you never reuse missiles.
  • Gale-Force Sound: The first supervillain, dubbed Aftershock by the media, is a Chicago gang member who gained the power to project brick and steel-shattering sound waves.
  • Good Costume Switch: Averted with Riptide. Even after switching to the side of the angels, he still likes villain fashion.
  • Girl Posse: Hope/Astra belongs to a much nicer version than usual of this trope. According to Hope the three girls of the popular clique at school adopted her after her best friend Shelly died origin seeking.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Max Fisher dies twice in his first book with Astra. In Repercussions, they exploit this to determine exactly how a modified strain of Rabies will work.
  • Green Thumb: The aptly named Green Man makes his first appearance in Young Sentinels. An eco terrorist with the ability to make plants grow at enormous speeds. In Repercussions, "he" turns out to be Ceres, a heroine with the Hollywood Knights who had largely retired.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Riptide was a superpowered gangbanger who was caught in the California earthquake and was technically the first responder on the scene because he immediately started helping trapped civilians. When the Sentinels arrive, he is quick to cooperate, he helps during the Whittier Base attack, and has officially joined the Sentinels by the second book. Though he still dresses like a villain.
  • Hero Killer: The serious hardcore supervillains don't believe you are one of them until you've killed a hero. Villains who get onscreen kills include the Sword of the Faith, the Ascendant, and Astra's nemesis from Repercussions.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Villains Inc. finds Astra going through a bit of this. Sure she helped save the President of the United States and took down a big bad super-terrorist, but she's also accused in the sensational media of being underage and having an affair with a much-older Atlas (her mentor and the setting's version of Superman). Add to this that she publicly opposes superhuman registration—a popular cause after a supervillain-triggered earthquake leveled southern California—and she's not the media-darling that she was.
  • Heroic Bystander: A bartender is ready to be one in Small Town Heroes, causing Hope much worry because he's just getting in the way of their plan.
  • Heroic Build: Atlas wears a sculpted muscle-suit that mimics a Mister Atlas body. Elsewhere, Hope notes that not all superheroes can get away with spandex, and the Hollywood Knights are chosen not just for their powers but also for their physiques (often the result of personal trainers and plastic surgeons).
  • Honorary Aunt: Atifa uses "Aunt Hope" and "Aunt Jacky". A future quantum-ghost version of her uses this to reveal her identity to Hope.
  • I Have Your Wife: Prior to Hope's breakthrough, a mobster murdered a superhero and his family with a car bomb. Shortly after that, several members of the mob family were found brutally murdered by an unknown breakthrough. Since then, organized crime figures in Chicago have an unspoken arrangement to not target any superhero's family.
  • I Just Want to Be Special:
    • Since Breakthroughs are a case of Traumatic Superpower Awakening, some people deliberately put themselves in dangerous situations in the hopes of getting a superpower. "Origin chasers" are generally a statistic listed next to the suicides. Hope's best friend Shelly jumped off a building a few years before the start of the series. She did not get a superpower. However, a time traveler (who can't change the past) used future technology to make a quantum AI copy of her in order to give Hope an ally and advisor.
    • In Small-Town Heroes, a D-Class superpowered character joins the villains because his own Breakthrough makes him barely tougher and stronger than a normal human, and that's just not good enough for him. The villains have a variety of power-boosting tricks, and it seems that a number of their recruits joined due to an obsession to be stronger, for whatever reason. Eric Ludlow, for example, believes that normal humans will eventually try to exterminate superhumans, so while he's a respectable B-class he is attracted to a cult that preaches the strength and importance of superpowers.
  • Jack-of-All-Trades: The Harlequin is a trained martial artist and marksman, and is also the Sentinels' field medic, publicity, and marketing coordinator, which she does with Alex Chandler.
  • Japanese Delinquents: This is essentially what Ronin are. Whether supervillains or vigilante mystery men of the American variety, most ronin are regarded as antisocial and unpatriotic criminals by most right-thinking Japanese.
  • Kid Sidekick: Hope (18 years old) becomes Atlas' sidekick in order to learn the butt-kicking ways of Atlas-type heroes. The whole mentor/sidekick angle is played up for the media (her costume is even color-coordinated to match his), but it's clearly understood to be a temporary arrangement, more like an apprenticeship. This is not an uncommon practice for newbie superheroes.
  • Ki Manipulation: Eastern martial artist Breakthroughs often gain the ability to control chi (or ki, or qi, or life force). It's much more rare in the west.
  • Knight Templar: The Dark Anarchist's goal is to keep the human race alive in the face of a crapton of wars, supernatural events and natural disasters, but his idea of how to do this is to create a police state that practices Fantastic Racism against people with powers.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: During Ronin Games, Astra has a strict rule in place: If they face a Japanese Defensenet team, they were to break away and disappear. If that was impossible they were to surrender.
  • Law of Inverse Recoil: A gunshop owner thinks Artemis doesn't get it, but is impressed that she can pull off shooting a gun despite recoil and the position she chooses.
  • Legion of Doom: Supervillain teams are not uncommon, mostly of the street gang variety. The Chicago Outfit maintains their own more traditional example, Villains, Inc., as a deterrent against both heroes and non-affiliated villains. The Sentinels shut down the original Villains, Inc. years ago, but in the book named for them, they come back - and go rogue.
  • Little Miss Badass: Hope/Astra. She wears armor and carries a 100lb titanium maul, partially to raise her game but mostly because without it she doesn't look threatening at all.
  • Living Lie Detector:
    • A government agent with the code-name Veritas knows if anything (spoken, written, recorded etc) is true or not. This proves invaluable when Hope has to determine if she can afford to trust a certain person.
    • Though it later turns out that that he can only tell if the speaker/writer/etc. believes it is a lie. While this was a weakness he was aware of, it allowed him to be co-opted by the Dark Anarchist, who believed that what he was doing was the only way to protect humanity.
  • Logical Weakness: Since the elaser burns a path of ionized air to guide the stunning high-voltage, low-current electrical discharge, it doesn't work in the rain or in environments where there is a lot of water in the air.
  • Make Them Rot: Hope was hit with a devastating attack where her bones the tissue her left deltoid and trapezius muscles were, shredded by exploding ki-force from the inside essentially leaving part of her dead. Further more not only would the necrotic tissue will continue to poison her body if she wasn't operated own but it negated her Healing Factor.
  • Making a Splash: Riptide, found hard at work in the aftermath of the earthquake fighting fires; later he purifies drinking water.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Called simply The Event. For 3.2 seconds everyone on the planet simultaneously suffered from total sensory deprivation. Still no explanation for what caused it though, or how this was connected to people developing superpowers.
  • May–December Romance: Kitsune is believed to be Yoshi Miyamoto, an old man who disappeared from an elderly care center in Osaka Prefecture.
  • Meaningful Name: While superheroic codenames are usually deliberately meaningful, the Teatime Anarchist's name was chosen for him by the media and is accidentally meaningful. They don't know he's a time traveler.
    • Hope's given name also turns out to be descriptive, both of her determinedly optimistic personality and the revelation that she may be responsible for saving the world—or at least a large part of it—in the future.
  • The Mentor:
    • Blackstone was a retired US Marine when he had his breakthrough and became one of the founders of the Sentinels. Ten years later, as the last surviving and active Sentinel of the original five, he is both the spiritual mentor to the newer Sentinels and the team leader.
    • Sifu is another one; mentoring Crash, Rush's new speedster-sidekick, it is hoped that he will balance Rush's more impulsive influence.
  • Me's a Crowd: Ninja Dude a dark-suited yakuza boy who can split into multiple sword-wielding attackers
  • Military Superhero: Blackstone, a superhero/stage-magician, is a former US Marine; he mustered out and began his stage-magic career some time after a battlefield injury rendered him incapable of field operations. He appears to have worked in military intelligence, and is the security/intelligence specialist of the Sentinels.
    • Platoon and Watchman are also former military. The US military has several squads consisting entirely of superhumans, such as the Tinman squad - A collection of low-grade Ajax types equipped with Verne-tech Power Armour.
  • Mind over Matter:
    • Twist has Tactile Telekinesis. While he's a powerful telekinetic, he's got zero range, so he uses his TK to support his armor so that it works like military-grade Power Armor.
    • Balz has more run of the mill TK abilities, but uses them to maintain a cloud of flying softball-sized spheres around himself that have a range of different abilities.
  • Most Common Super Power: Hope/Astra, a Flying Brick, has a stuffed bra built into her costume to make her look older and much more well-endowed. Elsewhere she comments that the practice of incorporating wonderbras into superheroine's costumes is almost universal.
  • Mrs. Robinson: Mal's neighbor had been paying him to clean her yard since middle school... until one day she invited him inside and dropped her robe. He freaked out and ran as fast as he could.
  • Mundane Utility: Grendel's teeth grow into fangs for fights — and eating meat.
  • My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Jacky/Artemis can't stand most other vampires, and most classic vampire tropes. Considering her backstory- being stalked, nearly brainwashed, and forcibly turned by the Vampire Vannabe-turned-real-deal who murdered her parents - it's hard to blame her.
  • New Powers as the Plot Demands: In Villains Inc. an encounter grants Astra the ability to sense magic, allowing her to make several observations key to the plot. It ends up being temporary though.
  • Nigh-Invulnerability: The Harlequin's skin is the texture of latex, her bones the density of hard rubber, and she is almost immune to direct kinetic damage. She will bend and bounce back under an impact, whether from a fall or bullets or a hit from Astra, which would injure or kill a normal person.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Michael Jackson is implied to have become a light-based breakthrough.
  • Non-Indicative Name: The Dark Anarchist doesn't use darkness as a motif and isn't an anarchist (he wants to create a totalitarian government). Astra gave him the nickname to reflect his status as Evil Twin of the Teatime Anarchist. A general complains that now some of the most important, top-secret briefings in the world sound ridiculous because he has to talk about a "Dark Anarchist," and inevitably take a few moments to explain the origin of the name.
  • N-Word Privileges: Cape is used as both a familiar and derogatory term for superheroes, who often casually refer to themselves as capes but generally consider it a demeaning term when applied to them by the press.
  • One Super One Powerset: Due to the way powers are obtained, this is almost universal. People "break through" when in an incredibly stressful and life-threatening situation, and receive powers to deal with the situation, based on what they consider an appropriate response, plus whatever they need to survive their new powers. Therefore, powers generally follow some very clear types and trends. One of the easiest ways to prove you're not a shapeshifter is to demonstrate a power besides shapeshifting—shapeshifters with anything like Super Strength or Playing with Fire are so rare as to be functionally nonexistent.
  • Otaku: Akihabara is the center of media-driven cape-fandom and cape fans are power-otaku. East Shinjuku has become the center of the ronin-otaku subculture.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: Breakthroughs are often shaped by the beliefs of the individual person. A person who became a werewolf may be a Loup-Garou, which is sort of a French bogeyman, or a Benendanti, a more benign creature from Italian folklore that fights evil witches. Or just a non-delusional Breakthrough with the power to turn into a wolf.
  • Our Souls Are Different: One supernatural describes a breakthrough as nothing more than an awakened soul, a monad that has deepened its connection with the universal oversoul. There is no proof that he's right... but there's no proof that he's wrong, either. Most magic is like that.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Hope's friends and Shelly's mom immediately recognize that she's Astra. It's pointed out that no one who really knows her would be fooled by a domino mask. Indeed, it's been mentioned that it's relatively easy to figure out who's behind a mask, so most really just use them as part of the costume. When Ozma invents Anonymity Specs (letting even Grendel walk around without being recognized), they find it rather amusing that the disguise consists of nothing but a pair of glasses.
  • Personality Powers: The psychological component of breakthroughs means that the powers of new-minted superhumans are seldom at odds with their personality types. Aggressive breakthroughs gain offensive powers, non-violent breakthroughs gain defensive powers, and so on.
  • Power at a Price: Ozma's Wishing Pills exact pain in proportion to the difficulty of the wish. The bigger the wish, the more pain. It will keep going until the wish is granted... or until you give up and wish you never took the pill in the first place, at which point it will reappear in your hand, ready to be used.
  • Privateer: A bizarre modern version. In Repercussions, after Astra has been given an honorable discharge for defying orders to save a foreign country from a supervillain attack, America discovers the identity and location of the perpetrators. The president issues Astra a Letter of Marque to hunt them down and bring them in, giving America plausible deniability over the fact that they're hiding in a foreign nation; it's only not an act of war by the slimmest of technicalities. Shell specifically points out that while Letters of Marque are still legal, they fell out of favor on the world stage in the 1800's, and America hasn't issued any since the War of 1812.
    Shell: This will probably be the last one we ever see. Or, who knows, maybe they'll become common again.
  • Psychic Static: The trick to dealing with a mind reader is to let them see and hear only what you want them to with a mental soundtrack. Hope's is Conquer or Die by Have No Fear.
  • Randomly Gifted: The vast majority of superhumans are randomly gifted through the unpredictable survival mechanism of the Breakthrough. There are no publicly known exceptions. Children of breakthroughs are slightly more likely than the average person to also experience a breakthrough (although the odds of getting struck by lightning are still better). It should be noted that this does not mean the child inherits the parent's powers, as this also applies to children born before the Event.
  • Reality Ensues:
    • Hope/Astra is given a lesson in momentum and force and why it's a good idea to know how tough something is before you fly yourself into it like a missile. The book is actually full of little reality-checks, like superheroes getting warrants before going after supervillains, villains whose lawyers get the charges dropped, and strangers committing random acts of badness.
    • In Small Town Heroes, Blackstone points out that heroes fighting other heroes is extremely rare, no matter what you see in the movies. Two CAI teams going head to head at the start of that book is not only a full-on PR disaster that calls in a massive internal affairs investigation, but also a deliberately engineered plot by one of the teams to get boosted ratings for their reality show.
    • Speedsters regularly utilize vehicles, as being able to accelerate their own personal time doesn't mean they want to run for miles.
    • Super strength still has to obey the laws of physics; Hope is tiny, so she just doesn't have the mass to move a three-hundred pound bruiser without a lot of leverage or force behind her swing. However, as an Atlas-type she does have a lot of leverage in the form of her Flight; she used it to stay rooted far more sturdily than her weight would normally allow. Though this turns out to be a Cover-Blowing Superpower, as there aren't that many Atlas-types of her power and size around.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: Judge Halder was concerned with allowing Artemis, a former vigilante, to join the Sentinels, but ultimately just wanted her to obey the law.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless:
    • Verne-types (gadgeteers) are superhumans who can create impossible Weird Science stuff, like powersuits and antigravity pods—but only for themselves; nothing can be mass-produced from the designs and formulas they create. If anyone else tries to build their designs, they won't work. In the second book, the team's Verne-type is said to be creating custom prosthesis for veterans and children in his spare time, so while they're not completely useless, they're of limited utility.
    • Japan gets around the limit of Verne-tech simply by drafting all their Verne-types and putting them to work on national defense. Sure, they can't produce enough Powered Armor and Humongous Mecha to give to civilians, but the first time a Kaiju crawled over the wall and got shot by a few hundred remote-piloted mechs, they proved their worth. They also have defenses against more exotic things such as Hope's quantum link with Shell, and other nations suspect they have the ability to detect supers entering their country.
    • On the other hand, a benevolent time traveler mentions that he's been speeding up technological progress, especially in medicine. He travels to various potential futures and brings back things that will improve current technology by a few years at a time. Non-lethal weapons are far more advanced than they should be, and it's implied that Hope only survived her childhood brush with cancer because of advancements he brought back.
    • In Team-Ups and Crossovers, Hope visits a post-apocalyptic reality where the team's Verne-type has set himself up as a benevolent overlord of a large city with his inventions. When she hears about all the stuff he invented that made him so powerful, she mentions that he invented all that in her reality too—and while it's made him rich, it's not as newsworthy in a world that hasn't been knocked back to the Dark Ages due to a giant EMP.
  • Regular Caller: Crisis Aid and Intervention heroes (the setting's city superteams) aren't patrolling freelance crimefighters. Instead they are special services contractors tied into a city's emergency-response department, and most of Hope/Astra's action-scenes start with a summons from Dispatch.
  • Religious Bruiser: Seif-al-Din believed his powers were given to him by Allah, and was strong enough to fight and even kill Atlas.
  • Required Secondary Powers:
    • In Young Sentinels, new character Mal gains the ability to generate explosions he can use like a rocket. During his subsequent medical test, his Super Toughness and Healing Factor are tested; the doctor had known he must have something, because otherwise his rocket feet would have killed him the first time he used them.
    • Because of the way Breakthroughs work, this is very common. Basically, someone in a terrible situation gets the power they need to escape it (based on what they think is the best way to escape), plus whatever they need to survive their new powers. Super Strength almost always comes with Super Toughness and a Healing Factor, Shock and Awe powers are usually only a side effect of becoming immune to electricity, so on and so on.
    • The Time Stands Still of speedster types. The sense of sight depends on photons striking the photo-receptor cells of the eyes—but light photons cannot move where there is no time for them to move in. Nor is there any reason for a speedster to be able to affect the air-molecules around him (as he does whenever he moves) any more than he can affect a door. The apparent explanation is that the speedster brings an envelope of time with him, and that this time-field extends beyond his body to interact with the environment around him. Though this isn't perfectly consistent, as a speedster can stand in one place while breathing indefinitely, and energy projection attacks do freeze even though they are just organized patterns of small-scale objects. In other words, Hypertime only appears to be time-frozen; the reality is far more complex, and there is no explanation for why large-scale objects (doors) are frozen where small-scale objects (oxygen atoms and light photons) are not.
  • Rent-a-Zilla: Someone decided that unleashing Kaiju upon the world was a good idea. They appear worldwide, but mostly attack Japan, who responded by forming superhero teams, as well as grabbing every Verne-type in reach and having them build mecha.
  • Ridiculously Human Robot: Galatea is a chrome gynoid (female android) robot creation of Vulcan's. She is variously a low-sentience AI and a drone shell for Shelly to "pilot." Her configuration is subject to change and she has various modular add-ons like micro-missile racks and boot and pack jets, and she has been destroyed several times. The public generally just thinks of her as a humanoid drone, and fans endlessly debate who her pilot is.
  • Rōnin: Historically, a masterless samurai (lit., a wave-man). Outside the political power-structure, ronin lived as mercenaries and bodyguards, or as outlaws and robbers when work could not be found. In Post-Event Japan "ronin" is slang for Active Non-Government Powers (ANG Ps), freelance superhumans, criminal or otherwise, who use their powers without government sanction.
  • Rubber Man: The Harlequin's body was permanently transformed to a rubber-like substance after an accident when she was an acrobat and aerialist in the Cirque du Soliel.
  • Samaritan Syndrome:
    • In the post-Event world there seems to be enough super powered heroes to go around; there are even "reservist" heroes who live normal lives unless called upon for help in cases of extreme disasters. That said, some superhumans (like Hope) feel the need to Use Their Powers For Good deeply enough to force them to put on a costume and fight crime when they would really rather be doing something else.
    • Some super-teams, such as the Hollywood Knights, are unionized and have a maximum number of hours they can work before they have to "clock out". As Seven explains to Astra, it's a necessary evil because otherwise, superheros can get exhausted and start making costly mistakes. Astra notes that when you're an Atlas-type, you're always operating heavy equipment, and they definitely can't be allowed to do so while exhausted.
  • Secret Identity:
    • Secret identities are optional and a lot of superheroes don't bother with them. Some have undergone physical transformations that make secret identities impossible, but many also had public breakthroughs that "outed" them from the start. Others just find them too much of a pain in the butt to maintain for the few benefits they give. One variation on traditional secret identities is a legal second identity, established with the help of the government, much like that of witnesses in the Witness Protection Program.
    • It's mentioned that the Paper-Thin Disguise most heroes use wouldn't stand up to even basic investigation but that media outlets don't make a practice of finding out what their civilian identities are because one that did would immediately find themselves frozen out from contact with all the other heroes, even the ones with no secret identity. In a world where superheroes are major media stars, this could have serious financial implications.
  • Self-Duplication: Redux type superhumans. Examples include Platoon, who duplicates himself permanently on a regular basis (there are dozens, if not hundreds of him, all of whom share memories), and the supervillain Flash Mob, who can make 20 or so temporary duplicates.
  • Single-Power Superheroes: A significant percentage of breakthroughs are single-power types, loosely or tightly defined. Blackstone practices "stage magic" (illusions, levitation, teleportation), The Harlequin is bouncy to the point of physical invulnerability, Rush is "fast", etc.
  • Spandex, Latex, or Leather: Post-Event superheroes use all three plus other materials. Choice depends on body-type (latex and leather can "hold in" bulges spandex can't), gender, attitude, and superhero personae. Many male heroes wear cotton or leather bodysuits much like race-car driver's outfits, for example. One female character wears a spandex catsuit under a tailored kevlar vest-skirt.
  • Steel Ear Drums: Artemis refuses ear protection in the gunshop range because she actually has these.
  • Stuffed into the Fridge: Played with. Early in Villains Inc., Astra is presented with a superhuman murder where the victim was reduced to soup-in-a-box. Then she learns that Blackstone, one of her teammates and mentors, was killed in the same fashion in a potential future. The threat is very motivating.
  • Stripperiffic: Played with. Superhero costumes are flamboyant but the field. It has been mentioned that many young and fashionable superheroes have much less practical club-versions of their costumes for partying, and superhero-cosplayers dress much more stripperiffically.
  • Superhero Packing Heat: Discouraged; it's a (mostly) unspoken rule that capes wield "classical" weapons, high-tech weapons, and/or their own powers, not conventional firearms. Artemis uses guns, but after joining the Sentinels she switches over to high-tech stun guns when on actual team business. Though this goes out the window when the chips are down, like during the Whittier base attack.
  • Super Registration Act: Breakthroughs are required to be registered in some states and nations, such as New York and Japan.
  • Superhero School: In Japan all children and teens that experience powerful breakthroughs go to one of the government academies. They are rigorously educated and trained, and continuously tested and ranked; they are also heavily indoctrinated in the duty they owe to their nation. Adults are sent to training facilities for the same treatment over a more intense three to six-month course.
  • Superhero Speciation: The Sentinels' power-sets are extremely diverse, and it is implied that most other Crisis Aid and Intervention teams are as well. The openly stated rationale is that superhuman combat is paper-scissors-rock, so you'd better have a mix on your team to cover any weaknesses. Also, power-duplication doesn't always play well in the media...
  • Superheroes Wear Tights: Atlas's identity was public from the beginning, but he donned a uniform, a mask, and a code name, so that people would slot him in the cubbyhole "superhero" and not be so unnerved. Others followed suit. Post-Event superheroes consciously model themselves after comic-book heroes, and this extends to their wardrobes, so tights are common among heroes with the physiques to wear them. But in the Sentinels alone, Astra starts with a shorts-and-vest costume, then a skirt, and finally in Villains Inc. a reinforced Leotard of Power (which she complains makes her feel like she has a permanent wedgie) and tights, Atlas wears a leather jumpsuit, Blackstone wears a tuxedo, Chakra wears a tribal dancer outfit, Ajax wears body-armor, etc. The only Sentinel in tights throughout is The Harlequin, because that's part of a traditional harlequin costume.
  • Synchronization: Mind Reading is more this then a Mind Probe that allows you to rifle through someone's memories like a computer file index. It's like planting cameras in a room and then watching remotely as the room's occupants put on a show.
  • Take a Third Option: In the wake of The Event, most countries had either adopted some variant of the American Model—where cities and states hired superhumans as contractors—or outright drafted tactically useful superhumans into military and government service. The second option hadn't worked out too well for most places that tried it, but Japan had created its own third option a Super Registration Act. Mandatory registration and training, but voluntary government service
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Astra dreams of cherry blossoms and a talking fox when Kitsune wants to communicate.
  • Temporal Paradox: The Teatime Anarchist doesn't produce these by an rather unusual rule: not all times are equal. There is a Past, which is fixed and can't be changed, a Future, which is only possible, and the Present, which is where real actions are taken and become permanent.
  • Thou Shalt Not Kill: Hope's expectation is that superheroes follow the Golden Age superhero code, and this is strengthened by Ajax' statement that "heroes don't use guns." But in her first fight she discovers that Atlas is perfectly willing to let the bad guys kill each other, and in the surprise-attack on Whittier Base half the team breaks out automatic pistols, the better to cap their attackers. In the same attack, Hope herself kills an unspecified number of terrorists along with the Big Bad in the heat of combat, then kills two heroes in the Dark Anarchist's secret base.
  • Time Stands Still: Speedster types like Rush don't actually have Super Speed, but the ability to accelerate their own personal time in relation to the time experienced by the rest of the universe. This ability is subject to an apparent speed-limit of ten experiential seconds per second of "Real Time." Beyond this, some speedsters can step into a world of frozen time, in which the only "time" is what they have brought with them. Speedsters in Hypertime can move through this time-frozen world, but not affect it. They can run (or ride) across town but not open doors; they can dodge bullets, but not take the gun from the shooter's hand (or strike the shooter with any effect). And so Hypertime has been described as a parallel reality lacking the dimension of time.
  • Theme Naming: The Eight Excellent Protectors, Japan's female super team, uses atmospheric symbolism, and all their code names reflect that: Kaminari, Kochi, Seifu, Kitakaze, Minamikaze, Raitoningu, Taifu, and Arashi. They mean thunder, the east, west, north, and south winds, lightning, typhoon, and storm. Shell notes that these names have nothing to do with their powers, and snarks that a few of the names are clearly a stretch.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: How people usually get their powers.
  • Vampire Detective Series: While Artemis/Jacky seems to display all of the outward tropes of a vampire detective in the Big Easy, she 1.) Has no drama related to her sire ( she staked him, burned him to ash, and scattered him on Lake Michigan the first chance she got), 2) Has acquired no unrequited love interest ( unless you count the Master of Ceremonies, who may be pursuing her), and 3.) Has only displayed one flashback so far—a post-rape trauma induced one, and she later killed the man who induced it. Rather than becoming a PI as some sort of atonement, she seems to revel in the opportunity it provides to "stick it" to other vampires and supernaturals who step out of line.
  • Warrior Monk: Ren Li-kai's family are the hereditary priests of a temple to Guanyin Dashi.
  • Weapon for Intimidation: Astra starts carrying Ajax' huge battle-maul. Partly because it really does help her hit harder, but mostly because a five-foot-nothing girl who doesn't weigh 100lbs soaking wet looks more intimidating when carrying a weapon that weighs more than she does.
  • Winged Humanoid: Ten has razor sharp wings and can fly at near-invisible speeds.
  • With Great Power Comes Great Perks: Most superhumans who can make a career out of their powers, and even the superheroes are working for big paychecks. The more successful ones are idolized, with their own merchandise lines, fan-clubs, and even TV shows fictionalizing their adventures. This doesn't mean they're all in it for the perks—just that a superhero career can be financially rewarding.
  • Zerg Rush: The supervillain Flashmob can quickly produce temporary duplicates that appear with all of his equipment, weapons and ammo. The duplicates can make duplicates as well, up to a maximum of about twenty. Individually, they are just normal humans with guns who pop out of existence if you inflict serious damage to them. Collectively, they are a constantly regenerating twenty-man tactical team with absolutely no sense of self-preservation.


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