Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman
I love io9. (I’ve applied to be an intern twice, I love it so much.) Before I began reading it, I used to be a bit concerned it might focus more on science than I’d like, and the cyborg elf that is its logo is not so reassuring. But luckily, I did—and almost better than the blog itself is the commentators. Over the holidays, one comment thread turned into book recommendations, and a commentator recommended Soon I Will Be Invincible, which I’d encountered at the bookstore before. It sounded worth a shot, so I picked it up when I came back to school. I was pleasantly surprised.
Soon I Will Be Invincible follows the infamous Doctor Impossible, a supervillain of the highest degree, and Fatale, a cyborg and newly minted member of the New Champions. When Doctor Impossible escapes from prison (again), the New Champions band together to stop him—but CoreFire, their most powerful member, is missing in action. As Fatale ponders her missing past (and the legacy she has to live up to in Galatea, the robot who sacrificed herself for humanity), Doctor Impossible pieces together a doomsday device while brooding over the path that led him to this.
Grossman’s writing reminds me of Suzanne Collins’s writing—light, clear, and swift. While Soon I Will Be Invincible isn’t marketed towards young adults (as far as I can tell; deconstructions rarely are), I think young adult comic book aficionados will certainly appreciate it. What Grossman has over Collins, however, is his sense of humor; Doctor Impossible, especially, has several great lines that make you wonder if he’s being sarcastic or not; towards the end, he laments, “no one sees anything I do, not until it’s hovering over Chicago” (254). While Grossman is writing a kind of story that’s rarely dealt with in novel form, he’s clearly on home turf; in fact, several of the supers attended Harvard, which Grossman himself attended. As anyone can attest to, comic books are a byzantine medium that can be hard to get into, but Grossman keeps his references light and, if they’re obscure, subtle. For instance, the superheroes CoreFire, Blackwolf, and Damsel are clearly patterned after Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, but they’re clearly their own characters. But there’s also a reference to this moment from Batman Beyond that someone can easily miss.
Grossman’s characters are believable but a touch outlandish—as they need to be, in a universe like this. Doctor Impossible is perpetuating a petty rivalry on a universal scale, and everyone has their reasons for fighting crime. Fatale doesn’t know what she was saved for, Blackwolf is avenging his siblings (typical!), and Feral… “just really hates crime” (81), as Fatale points out at one point. But my particular favorite was Lily, Doctor Impossible’s ex-girlfriend and new member of the New Champions, having recently turned to the side of good. While I was entertained by Doctor Impossible and felt sympathetic for Fatale, she’s the most unique and interesting character in this novel, whose motives are as mysterious as she is. Perhaps I’ll go back and revisit them in audiobook format someday, considering the ending. (This reminds me of Alice in The Magicians, the work of Grossman’s twin brother, Lev Grossman—I found the love interest more interesting than the protagonist.)
But I have to confess that I don’t know why Soon I Will Be Invincible is being marketed as a deconstruction for fans of Watchmen. I love speculative fiction deconstruction. (The Sundering, anyone?) But deconstructions can be unrelentingly dark, stripping away its source material until there’s nothing left. While Grossman bases his characters on familiar characters, he doesn’t seem to be deconstructing anything; instead, he simply explores his characters’ motivations. While some of their stories are certainly sad and a little dark, such as the backstory of Elphin, a fairy superhero, this is all stuff I regularly see in comic books. Perhaps it’s because I tend to focus on Harley Quinn, a character whose psychological issues can’t be ignored (without incurring my wrath), but I feel that the grimness in comic books that Don Rosa complained about in the ‘90s is darker than this supposed deconstruction. This isn’t to say that it isn’t good; I couldn’t put it down. However, anyone assuming it’s a deconstruction will be disappointed that it doesn’t go very far down that path, if at all. The novel is, ultimately, a light, enjoyable romp that doesn’t dismiss its characters’ deeper issues—but it’s not a deconstruction of the genre by any means.
Bottom line: A light, funny, and enjoyable romp that takes its characters and their psychological issues seriously—but I have to wonder why it’s marketed as a deconstruction; while it does explore the motivation of Doctor Impossible, a relentless supervillain, it doesn’t seem to deconstruct the genre at all. Still, it’s definitely worth a shot for anyone who likes caped crusaders.
I rented this book from the public library.
- Grossman, Austin. Soon I Will Be Invincible. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007. Print.