Holiday Gift Bag: Soon I Will Be Invincible

Is it a comic book without pictures? Is it a superhero spoof? Is it a postmodern critique of modern American mythologies and media? Is it a cyberpunk re-imagining of popular power fantasies?

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a novel by a guy named Austin Grossman, published in 2007, about a world where superheroes and supervillains exist and behave pretty similar to how they do in the comics. The bad guys try to conquer the world, the good guys try to save it. Our main characters are Dr. Impossible, a megalomaniacal super-genius who suffers from Malign Hypercognition Disorder, and Fatale, a cybernetic fighting machine who is the newest member of the New Champions, Earth’s most powerful superteam. Will Dr. Impossible’s latest scheme finally succeed where so many others have failed? Does Fatale have what it takes to be a superhero?

I know some comic fans who really don’t like this book much, but I thought it was great fun. The action sequences are fairly few and far between, but when they hit, they’re very, very good. Dr. Impossible’s scheme is appropriately byzantine and complicated, too. The real fun in this one is the characters. They’re simultaneously cliches and intriguingly unfamiliar. Reading about them, what they do, and what makes them tick is a lot of fun.

Let’s take a look at a couple quick excerpts. First, Dr. Impossible reminisces about his own origin:

There are moments in life you just can’t take back. In the terrible slowness of the accident, I got halfway across the room before realizing what I’d done. I had time to look back and read the controls, to see the glass begin to bulge and craze before it shattered, time to notice the sound of my foot scuffing on the floor, and an urgent musical whine from one of the generators sliding up the scale.

A dozen people have gotten themselves killed trying to replicate the effects of that explosion. I turned and saw my future crystallizing out of a volatile green compound, written out in invisible ink. All my life, I’d been waiting for something to happen to me, and now, before I was ready for it, it was. I saw the misadjusted dials and the whirling gauges and the bubbling green fluid and the electricity arcing around, and a story laid out for me, my sorry self alchemically transmuted into power and robots and fortresses and orbital platforms and costumes and alien kings. I was going to declare war on the world, and I was going to lose.

And second, Fatale meets the members of the Champions for the first time:

“We’ve got some new faces here, so let’s make some introductions. I’m Damsel.” The famous face is carefully neutral behind the mask.

They all know one another, but we go around the room anyway. I can’t help but feel it’s a courtesy to me.

“Feral.” It comes out as a breathy cough.

“Blackwolf.” He nods, looking just like his GQ cover. In costume, his black bodysuit shows up that perfect musculature. Almost forty, he looks twenty-five. Genetically perfect.

“Rainbow Triumph.” Rainbow Triumph’s is a bright chirpy cartoon of a voice.

“Mister Mystic.” Mystic’s is baritone perfection, crisp and resonant. I wonder if he used to be a professional actor.

“Elphin.” A child’s whisper but somehow ageless; the voice that once lured naive young knights to their doom.

“Lily.” The glass woman. Her name brings an unmistakable tension into the room. She worked the other side of things for a long, long time. She’s stronger than almost anyone here, and some of them know that firsthand. Now she’s come through the looking glass, into the hero world. I wonder how she got here.

When it gets to me, Damsel says a few polite words about my work on the sniper killings. No mention of the NSA. I stand awkwardly to say my code name, conscious of my height.

“Fatale.” There’s a digital buzz at the back of my voice that the techs never managed to erase. When I sit back down, one armored elbow clacks noisily against the marble tabletop. I don’t wear a mask, but I fight the urge to hide my new face behind the silver hair they gave me. Most of it’s nylon.

It’s a good story, a fun read, and a nice gift for comic fans with a taste for new and interesting prose.

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman. Go pick it up.

No Comments

  1. Sado Said,

    December 9, 2008 @ 7:39 am

    There are parts of the book that I really enjoyed, but there were some parts that really made me facepalm. Sometimes what should have been an homage turned into…something else. Lazy writing, I think.

    There’s also the lifting of a certain Caped Crusader’s line about criminals being a superstitious and cowardly lot. It’s appropriate when Batman says it, because he’s playing the superstition angle to the hilt, but when Fatale says it, it means nothing.

    The best parts belong to Dr. Impossible, as it should. He’s both intensely human, and sometimes rather intensely annoying (speaking of himself in the third person, like a certain Latverian dictator, making grandiose non sequiturs, etc).

    I just had a feeling afterwards that it should have been a comic instead of prose.

  2. Scott Slemmons Said,

    December 9, 2008 @ 9:51 am

    Seems like it is awfully hard for writers to break in to comics. The industry seems to be dominated by either longtime comics writers or novelists. New writers seem to need an established artist working on their material before they can get a foot in the door…

    Also, did ya notice that almost all of Dr. Impossible’s spoken dialogue is Doom-style ranting? I wondered if his “Malign Hypercognition Disorder” took his mostly-normal thought processes and warped them into the arrogant “Who dares?!” pronouncements.

  3. Sado Said,

    December 10, 2008 @ 7:01 am

    I did! That’s part of Impossible’s charm. I always had a soft spot for Doom.

    I found that MHD thing to be…not unreasonable, I suppose. I mean, one minute Dr. Impossible seems like a normalish, if completely f-ed up guy, with normal guy problems, until he starts getting agitated (or works himself up) into a frenzy of Doom-like pronouncements.

    I think the parts that turned me off were purely the Fatale-oriented/narrated parts of the book. Unfortunately, that’s roughly half…

  4. Scott Slemmons Said,

    December 10, 2008 @ 7:11 am

    Aw, I liked Fatale. She and Impossible made excellent viewpoint characters for both sides of the villain/hero equation. Goodness knows, Fatale was the least messed-up of any of the New Champions… 🙂

  5. Hero Sandwich » The Sick Day Lit List Said,

    March 25, 2009 @ 6:09 am

    […] 7. What is the best book you’ve read in the past year? I got a lot of joy out of “Soon I Will Be Invincible” by Austin Grossman. […]