The Tournament of Supervillainy by C.T. Phipps (Book Review)
Warning: this review may contain spoilers!
“Gary, you’re the Jason Todd of my Bat Team”
If this line means anything to you, then Charles Phipps’ Tournament Of Supervillainy will become your new favorite book.
I’ve been singing the praises of this series for a long time. Phipps’ multi volume story about Gary Karkofsky’s life as “Merciless”, the world’s worst supervillain, is perhaps one of the more brilliant and profound collections of writing out there.
Yes, superhero and comic book fans NEED to devour this series. Yes, much of the overall plot points of this latest volume parody Avengers: Infinity War, Back To The Future, and just about every Marvel and DC retcon/reboot that’s ever existed, with a healthy dose of Mortal Kombat. But if you are looking for a book where there are set rules to a world that make complete sense, this is not the place to start.
Phipps has created a multiverse in Tournament of Supervillainy, which is in danger of being destroyed by Entropicus, a massive conquering supervillain (think Thanos) who has set up a Multiversal Tournament in which only his victor can offset his plans for world domination/destruction. In creating this massive tournament, Phipps has brought in some great Easter Eggs from his other series, by having Jane Doe, Cassius and Agent G act as major players in the story that in fact interact with Gary and his own co-stars.
The puns are ever present and brilliantly timed. The pop culture references are hilarious, and the keen social observations which are always prominent in a Phipps novel are ramped up even further. Tournament of Supervillainy might possibly be the funniest book I’ve ever read. At many points I was laughing to the point of tears. If there has ever been a book that cements my feelings about Charles Phipps as a comedic genius, this is it.
With all that said, Tournament of Supervillainy is far from definable as straight comedy. Phipps has in actuality created one of the most real, most tragic, and most profound pieces of writing I’ve read in years. Much of the novel focuses on the concept of relationships. Why they work, and why they don’t. He examines the power of love, and what it truly means. Yes, Gary has a wife, a mistress, and an old flame that he kinda still loves, but Phipps treats all of his characters with such a great deal of love and respect that he allows us to accept these outlandish concepts, as well as Gary’s relationships with each one without making us hate him in the process. The fact that Gary is so good hearted, yet so profoundly simple, motivated by a tragic back story to be a super villain, yet in some ways a carbon copy hero, makes him one of the best characters in modern fiction. Throughout these five novels we watch Gary grow, and come to terms with his entire self concept. In essence we see the birth of a hero.
By using metaphorical concepts involving the meaning of death and timelines in comics, Phipps beautifully engages us in thinking about what death means. There is a huge existential conflict at the core of the novel’s central theme, that Phipps is quite transparent about and much of the novel breaks the fourth wall in such an obvious manner that we feel the author’s thoughts and presence as he talks to us about life and and all of its nuances.
Charles Phipps is without a doubt one of the most unique multi-genre fiction writers in the field today. Upon completing Tournament of Supervillainy, I found myself wondering how he came up with it, and how he managed to make me laugh, cry and think so deeply all in one relatively short book. I would follow Gary, Cindy and the entire Supervillainy crew anywhere their creator wants to take them, but conceptually, and from a pure enjoyment standpoint, this one will be hard to beat. One of my top reads of all time.