I love superheroes and I like them colorful, weird, larger than life, heroic and good, inspirational and insightful. I don't generally go for deconstructions of or dark takes on the genre. But I liked Vicious. A LOT. It strips down the idea that people with superpowers see themselves as above us mere mortals and it tears apart the whole Good vs Evil, black-and-white tradition of superheroes and supervillains, but it does it with compelling, charismatic characters and an exciting, enthralling plot.
Victor Vale and Eli Cardale are college roommates and best friends who become fascinated with the idea of people with extraordinary abilities and how people might get these powers. But when they get extraordinary powers of their own, it drives a wedge between them that grows into a dangerous, intense conflict. Their rivalry is reminiscent of Mr. Fantastic and Doctor Doom or Superman and Lex Luthor...if both "hero" and "villain" were self-righteous psychopaths capable of great and casual cruelty. There's no real good and evil here, no black and white, just varied shades of grey. In Vicious, none of the superpowered characters are someone to look up to, to be inspired by. And yet, the characters are all fascinating, especially Victor, who is painted as the villain of the piece at the beginning of the novel, but turns out to be much, much more. Actually, all of the characters turn out to be very complex and endearing in different ways.
Schwab also plays a tricky game of telling the story in a non-linear fashion, jumping back and forth in time, while also building the plot into a train that goes faster and faster, rushing to a thrilling, surprising climax. It's a masterful piece of work. And while Vicious consciously shouts out to superhero comics and messes with a lot of standard superhero tropes, it reads more like an urban occult story that should appeal to readers who don't typically go for superheroes.