Monday, April 19, 2010

Tales From the Slushpile—Soon I Will be Invincible, by Austin Grossman

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2010 at 4:53 PM

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There is a bookcase in the BW office overflowing with so many review copies that tourists could easily mistake the office for a shut-in's lair. We're sent manuscripts self-published, hand-written, unproofed, university-pressed and sometimes even starched. Occasionally, we even get books that might go on to sell dozens of copies! And when we're truly-bored looking for undiscovered gems, we yank one down for a read.

I picked Soon I Will be Invincible on strength of cover alone, a tactic which has served me well and badly in the past. And in this case, the book, was every bit as good as the cover. Score one for disproving old sayings.

The book jumps back and forth between first-person narration from two main characters.

The first is super-villain and self-proclaimed smartest man in the world Dr. Impossible, who is on the run after being falsely accused of the murder of his nemesis, Corefire, a nearly invincible man who got his powers from Dr. Impossible, and who repaid Impossible by consistently putting him in jail.

Trying to find Dr. Impossible is Fatale, a cyborg with no knowledge of her past, other than that she ended up this way after she was run down by a taxi in Brazil. Fatale has been asked to join reformed supergroup, The Champions, as the replacement tech guru for the robot Galatea, who saved Earth by self-detonating on a moon of Saturn to destroy an invading alien army. Despite being heavily armored and having worked for the NSA, he doubts herself constantly in the presence of such legendary heroes and having to fill such big shoes. She drives herself to find Impossible and her place in the world.

Add to all that a fantastic array of side characters, each with detailed backstories, and a deeply imagined world including historical references to alternate timelines and it all fits together perfectly.

The story uses many tried and true themes of the super-hero oeuvre, (a genius mad scientist bent on world domination, his invincible nemesis, a team of super-heroes who aren't getting along very well, etc...) but in a prose format rather than as a graphic novel, which allows for a depth of characterization rare with such content and a poignantly self-aware balance to the comical and occasionally absurd events. Even while the villain Dr. Impossible, is cackling about the inevitability of his victory and the futility of opposing him, he wonders why he's driven to do such things, such evil things, knowing full-well that it isn't earning him the respect and acknowledgment he so craves. While he is hard at work constructing his robot army, instead of despising him, you almost feel sorry for the sad sack, because after Corefire ransacked his private island, the doctor is forced to work from a crummy motel in Jersey. Following Fatale's attempts to uncover her past, while simultaneously saving the world and crushing on her teammate Blackwolf, feels eerily similar to the roles us non-cyborgs have to juggle, and is much easier to identify with than such material seems like it should be.

Overall, Soon I Will be Invincible was a breezy read, never bogging one down in thick passages of prose or exposition. Always moving. Always engaging. It is in turn funny, sad, bizarre and insightful, despite never straying too far from established themes, instead using the prose format to push them further. It's not satire, but it's born of the same stuff. And though it's an engaging enough read that anyone could pick it up and have a great time, it's going to appeal most to those already familiar with the established tropes, who can really appreciate the depth Grossman has managed to imbue them with, in the same way Alan Moore and Ben Edlund did with The Watchmen, or The Tick.

Will Soon I Will be Invincible change the medium? Or the world? Probably not. But you'll have a great time reading it.

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