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July 30, 2007

Filed under: fiction»reviews»grossman

Book review: Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman

There's a fine line between satire of genre fiction and the fiction itself. Soon I Will Be Invincible wobbles back and forth on that line more than a few times. As a superhero book, it's pretty weak. As a satire, it's much stronger. I just wish it spent more time there.

Invincible is divided into two plotlines, told in alternating chapters. Odd-numbered chapters are narrated by Doctor Impossible, a super-intelligent inventor and villain, who begins the novel locked up in a foolproof jail cell. The other chapters follow a rookie hero who calls herself "Fatale" after leaving a Brazilian super-soldier program, and finds herself joining the world-renowned Champions (the equivalent, I think, to the Justice League). Impossible's chapters are usually everything that you could hope from a supervillain: wry observations about evil plans, weary complaints about the difficulty of disposing toxic waste, and contempt for the goody-two-shoes superheros.

Fatale's half of the story, on the other hand, is really less than captivating. She spends much of her time uncovering mysteries that the reader sees coming from a mile away, or opening up the sordid past for the Champions (which is much less sordid or interesting than it could have been). Grossman may have been trying to create flawed heroes through Fatale's detective work, but it comes across as standard comic-book soap operatics. When this bleeds over into Impossible's story as the book goes on, it begins to wear thin.

At the start of Invincible, Doctor Invincible poses the question of why so many of the most intelligent supers go bad--why does he do the things he does, even though he's clearly aware of the cliches that surround him? The book eventually concludes that it's just high-school politics writ large. This isn't necessarily a bad place to take the genre, since it's recognizable in both the psyches and stereotypes of comic fans and writers, but it's not terribly original either, and it's been done better. In the end, I stayed with the book not for the message, but for the moments of sly genre deconstruction: Batman as autistic, the lists of failed plans for world conquest, or underground super fighting rings. Invincible does these moments very well, even if its broader themes are clumsy. There have, I think, been really very few non-comic works that really examined the ideology of comics well, and I was disappointed to find that Soon I Will Be Invincible does not change that. This book is a fun, fast read, but I wouldn't hold high expectations for it.

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