Twelve years ago, the red star of Calamity appeared in the sky. A year later the Epics arrived. People began to develop super powers and the world began to believe that the time of the superhero was upon them. Unfortunately the heroes never came and the world was divided up amongst the villains, as those Epics strong enough to rule did so with an iron fist.
David was young when this happened, but he was there the day that an immensely powerful epic named Steelheart declared himself Emperor of Chicago. He was eight at the time and had gone with his father to the bank. It was here he saw the invulnerable Steelheart bleed and he alone survived the devastation that Steelheart used to cover up his weakness, killing David’s father in the process.
Every Epic has a weakness, something that makes them into ordinary humans again, if only briefly. Something about that day triggered Steelheart’s weakness, allowing his skin to be pierced and bleed and David vowed that he would bleed again.
The story continues ten years later when David is 18. Now orphaned David grew up in a shelter in Newcago, working with making (and practicing with) firearms. During this time he furtively gathered all the information he could about the Epics in and around Steelheart’s city. The renamed city of Chicago bears little resemblance to the old city. Steelheart’s powers transformed most of the city into solid steel, and his lieutenant Nightwielder blotted out the sky, plunging the city into perpetual darkness.
On one of his reconnaissance and Epic compiling excursions David witnesses a Reckoner operation. The Reckoners are one of the few resistance groups still fighting the Epics. They discover their weaknesses and take them out and are exactly who David has always dreamed of meeting. David interferes in their mission targeting low priority Epic. Fearing that he may be a spy they bring him along for questioning. David is introduced to the members of the Reckoners, Jonathan Phaedrus, who goes by “Prof”, Tia, Abraham, Cody and Megan, their newest recruit. They soon realize that David is no threat to them and make way to leave him. Before leaving David uses this opportunity to convince them to help him bring down Steelheart, stating that he has seen him bleed.
A plan is created to lure Steelheart out by staging attacks on his empire and attributing them to a new Epic challenging his rule who they dub Limelight. This is made possible due to advanced technology that the Reckoners possess, namely armor that projects protective shielding, the Harmsway which allows for rapid healing and the gloves called “Tensors” which allow them to dissolve and tunnel through matter.
To do this they target the power plant that supplies Newcago with electricity as well as the Epic Conflux who powers the plant. They succeed in sabotaging the plant and kidnapping Conflux, who turns out to be a captive of Steelheart with the ability to gift his electrical powers to others. But there are setbacks as this operation costs Meagan her life.
An enraged Steelheart accepts the challenge and the Reckoners prepare their field of battle, a large football stadium. Here they plan on testing out the different theories on Steelheart’s weakness and hope to find it before he kills them. They are able to try all but one theory, unfortunately none of them pan out. Prof, the most skilled with the Reckoners technology, engages Steelheart to buy them some time. Meanwhile Steelheart’s lieutenants, Nightwielder and Firefight, are set upon David. David is able to kill Nightwielder but is shocked to discover that Firefight is non-other than Megan who has illusionary and reincarnation powers. Having spent so much time with the Reckoners has however meant that Meagan hasn’t been using her powers recently, and because of this the darkness that overtakes Epics hasn’t yet caught up with her. Because of the feelings between her and David she allows him to escape.
David rejoins Prof and tests the final theory, but to no avail. Steelheart kills Prof and sets his eyes on David. But David finally figures out Steelhearts weakness, that he can only be harmed by someone who doesn’t fear him. Realizing this David tricks Steelheart into blowing himself and David up, killing him.
David is surprised to find himself protected by an energy field and after the battle discovers that Prof had healed and is responsible for saving David. It is revealed that Prof is an Epic and like Conflux he can gift his powers to others and avoid the darkness by not using them himself. In reality the technology used by the Reckoners was Prof’s powers all along. Megan’s memory is scrambled after her reincarnation and she is unsure of her place. David tries to convince her to stay with them, but in the end she leaves.
Finally, David reflects that the Reckoners battle is far from over and that they will have to protect Newcago from the Epics who will rise and try to claim Steelheart’s throne.