Archive for Superhero Prose Fiction

So Who Gets the Girl?

Nobody Gets the Girl by James Maxey

It’s not a comic book! It’s a novel about superheroes! We’re seeing more and more of these lately, so here’s one I got to read a few months back.

This was written by a guy named James Maxey and published back in 2003. The main character is a guy named Richard Rogers who has a pretty normal life in a mostly normal world (except for the giant dome cities that’ve started to spring up and the terrorist attacks by a giant robot baby with a gun for a head). He is living with a wife he’s not sure he loves and spending his nights off doing stand-up in comedy clubs. And then one morning, he wakes up and finds out that new people are living in his house, no one can see or hear him, and his family doesn’t remember him anymore.

But wait — one person can see him — Dr. Knowbokov, a benevolent mad scientist who, while on a trip into the past to battle his archenemy Rex Monday, accidentally erased Richard from existence. To make up for that error, Knowbokov brings Richard to his HQ on a tropical island paradise, introduces him to his beautiful, superpowered daughters, dubs him “Nobody,” and sends him out to fight supervillains.

Well, you know Richard couldn’t have it that good, right? Sure, Rex Monday is a psychotic loon who employs other psychotic loons to casually murder thousands of innocent people. But Knowbokov is no angel either — he kidnaps death-row prisoners to use them as brain-drained biocomputers, and he’s completely indifferent to anything that doesn’t involve him killing Rex Monday, including ordering Richard to allow a school bus full of children to be killed rather than deviate from a mission.

And his daughters have plenty of problems, too. The Thrill is a world-famous celebrity who can fly and get anyone to do what she wants just by asking, but she’s an unapologetic thief — she can ask for anything, and the owner will just hand it over. And Rail Blade, a metal manipulator who can pull knives out of thin air and roller-skate anywhere she wants in a matter of minutes, has some serious mental stability issues.

And Richard is, frankly, over his head. Sure, he’s invisible, but because he’s been displaced in time, he basically doesn’t exist unless someone believes he’s there. That makes it hard for him to do very much to help out. What’s a see-through man to do in a shades-of-gray world?

Verdict: Thumbs up. Very well done characters — even when you don’t agree with what they’re doing, you understand why they’re doing it. I also dug the moral quandries Richard has to deal with — Knowbokov and Rex Monday are both ruthless authoritarian bastiches, so who does Richard choose to work with? Can he find a third way out of the situation?

And the superhero action is pretty darn good, too. The fights are frantic but well planned-out, and the violence is as terrifying as you’d expect from people who can do such outlandish things.

Really, my only complaint is that there aren’t enough superheroes and villains — just one group of each — and the ones we saw were enough fun that I wanted to see what other characters Maxey could create.

Not the best superhero prose novel out there, but it’s certainly worth reading. Go pick it up.

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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.

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