Whoever says middle grade novels don’t have moral and ethical complexity just hasn’t read them, have they? Especially not ones written by Matt Wallace. Supervillian’s Guide explores a relationship very close to radicalization. Max isn’t angry, not yet, but he’s done being pushed around. Reaching out to imprisoned supervillain Mastermind, he finds himself equipped to respond to his bullies. Of course Mastermind also has an agenda; the two characters are fellow travellers on similar paths, and they pass the upper hand back and forth. Max really needs a friend. So does Mastermind. Mastermind really needs to make the world better. He can start with Max.
Instead of steering into the black and white superhero moral equivalency that Max, and Wallace, both hate, Supervillian’s Guide spotlights the familiar moral complexity we all deal with. Max and his best friend Luca are the kids who are either invisible or targets. Many of the readers will have been the same way. Wallace, and this book, sees Max and Luca, and Mastermind, and more. It sees Max’s nemesis, Johnny Pro and his friend-who-is-a-girl Marina. Most of all, it sees its readers and the lesson it teaches is more powerful than anything Max is taught by Mastermind: empathy. To understand ourselves we have to understand each other, even if it hurts. Especially if it hurts.