Confessions of a D-List Supervillain is one of the first novels I reviewed here on the United Federation of Charles (here). It's the story of Cal Stringel a.k.a Mechani-Cal, who goes on to save the world from a series of disasters caused by the dysfunction of a major superhero. I liked Confessions but was rather annoyed we never got to actually see what being a supervillain was like for Cal.
Origins corrects that flaw by showing us how Cal got involved in supervillainy, what he did while he was Mechani-Cal, and what he was thinking during it. Even better, we get an idea of how supervillains "operate" in the Confessions world. Jim Bernheimer puts a great deal of thought into how supervillains acquire their toys, network, and operate. We even get a look into things like prison life and how they launder their money.
This book presents a sleazy underbelly to the world of bright costumes and wacky devices, which is an interesting choice. Supervillains are, at heart, petty criminals who just happen to have a bit of theatricality going for them. They spend their money at strip clubs, bars, and on drugs with the remainder going to pay for bigger crimes. It's a reflection of real-life criminal mentality and helps explain why they're always pulling off bigger heists.
Cal gets a less sympathetic portrayal here than in the prior volume, where he seemed to be a villain-in-name-only. Here, it's made clear Cal's excuses for his criminal behavior are just that. He markets high-tech weapons to very dangerous people and hurts a lot of people who are only peripherally involved in his vendetta against Ultraweapon. I liked this because it makes Cal's redemption arc actually a redemption arc.
Origins expands on the number of supervillains and superheroes in the setting too. Previously, there was just the Pantheon and a couple of extra superheroes but this novel hints at potentially hundreds of good guys and bad guys duking it out across the globe. It's bad enough they have a Super-Max prison entirely for supervillains.
There's a decent bit of satire re: the American prison system with the author illustrating how it transformed Cal from an amateur bank robber into a full-blown criminal mastermind. Of course, that may just be showing the prison system as how it is versus any attempt at satire. Cal joining up with outfits like General Devious and the Evil Overlord's is only a slight exaggeration as to how many ex-cons end up in real-life criminal networks.
I liked the supporting cast with Vicky, General Devious, the Biloxi Bugler, and Joseph being the standouts. I was very fond of lesbian character, Maxine Velocity, and am kind of sad her story went the way it did. Confessions characters Aphrodite and Wendy don't play a major role in the book but get referenced enough to let you know they exist. Cal's romance with Vicky is doomed to fail since we know he gets with Aphrodite in future volumes but it's still sweet. Besides, I rather like her as she reminds me of my favored ship in the series (Wendy/Cal).
In conclusion, Origins is a great example of superhero prose. It's objectively better than Confessions and something all fans of the original novel should check out. Indeed, I recommend they read it beforehand.