I didn’t know what to expect when I picked up Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible.” Would it be a tongue in cheek superhero book? Would it be played straight like a comic book or a graphic novel? There are so many ways to mess something like this up. Anyone who has read fan fiction or books written in an established science fiction universe knows this. What I got was a balance of humor and action that fits in the comic book genre the same way “The Watchmen” does. In fact, while it is not a graphic novel like Watchmen, it might just be better. It is a comic book novel for adults that’s both well written and entertaining.
The narrative is first person from a super villain (“Doctor Impossible”) (who has a lot of Lex Luthor in him) and from a neophyte cyborg-gal (“Fatale”) on the hero team. There is so much back story that is told rather than shown, one imagines that Grossman has built an entire comic book universe in his head. You can also tell that he has studied books. There are many subtle (and perhaps no so subtle) references to English literature. In one minor plot line we hear about a story that sounds an awful lot like “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” and we have a main character who is a fairy, formerly in the service of Titania. Lewis and Shakespeare (and Dante later) are good company to keep.
The plot is essentially straightforward, although the allusions and back stories add a lot of intrigue. Doctor Impossible’s purpose in life is to try to take over the world. The book recounts his latest attempt. Mind you, these are not Pinky and the Brain escapades. Doctor I is the 4th most dangerous man in the world! The New Champions are out to stop him.
One of my favorite lines in the book occurs when Doctor Impossible meets up with an informal gathering of other non-heroes. He describes them as: “Losers and geniuses and Olympic-class athletes, with nothing much in common except the preference above all else to reign in his or her personal hell.” Haven’t we all been there?
All of the characters evoke some level of sympathy. The heroes and villains are deliberately close in terms of morality. At least twice, the villains even accidentally save the world. One of the chapter titles illustrates this: “Maybe We Are Not So Different, You and I.” In fact, all of the chapter titles are a send up of expressions associated with the comic book mythos.
I enjoyed this book. I hope Grossman writes a sequel or if not that, another book set in his universe. If you have any geeky tendencies at all or if you read comic books in your youth, you’ll want to pick this up. If you’re a Hollywood producer, given the popularity of comic book movies these days, you’ll want to buy the rights.