I’ve just finished reading Soon I Will Be Invincible, by Austin Grossman. It was an enjoyable read, but it left me disappointed.
Soon I Will Be Invincible is a superhero story which is packed with clichés of the genre, and proud of it. It has Batman (Blackwolf), Superman (CoreFire), and many other characters who are not exact copies of better-known heroes from other fictions, but nevertheless feel like they aren’t breaking any molds. The world Grossman creates runs on ridiculous comic book logic, a close parallel to what I know of Marvel’s universe and probably DC’s, as well: soap operas with superpowers, aliens, robots, and more. Some of the reviews on Amazon have called it unimaginative, but it’s obvious that this is intentional. Grossman set out to create a universe with all the antics that go on in the more well-known superhero continuities, and has succeeded admirably. It is a universe of gods and demons battling among us, where no one is ever really hurt, and only robots ever die. But in the end I just have to ask, why?
We’re given a story which is presented from the point of view of the villain (Doctor Impossible) and also that of a new hero (Fatale). The viewpoints alternate chapter by chapter, with the first being from that of the villain. This is an interesting idea, but it feels like it doesn’t pay off; the villain viewpoint up front had me siding a little bit with Doctor Impossible. But while superhero clichés and stereotypes are flaunted like the crown jewels of some long forgotten kingdom, so much so that it seems there must be some intended humor to it, the story itself does nothing to avoid them. I suppose there is some slight attempt, with the minor twist at the end, but it really doesn’t change anything.
Doctor Impossible was probably the most interesting character, but really seemed unable to decide who he was. His first-person narrative voice sometimes comes off as fairly intelligent, troubled, and human, even recognizing and lambasting the stereotypes himself, but at other times, including almost every time he actually speaks, he jumps right into the standard villain role and plays his part, sometimes not even realizing he is doing so. The preposterous superhero tropes ultimately make it more difficult to relate to the characters, who only look human and live in a world that only resembles Earth. There is also at its heart the story of rejected schoolkids, the outsiders and the cliques, but I don’t think it quite works; the outsiders don’t get their happy ending, despite the sense that the whole world is encased in bubble wrap and there’s never any real danger at all. I want for Doctor Impossible something better than world domination (what would he really do with that anyway?), but because he is bullish on the villain angle, that is all he ever wants for himself, and so he can never have anything at all.
Ultimately, I don’t really understand why this story exists. The villain point of view, the apparent digs at superhero stereotypes, and the attempts to show humanity in the heroes foreshadow a depth that never actually materializes. It could be that I’m spoiled by having only recently read Watchmen, but I had hoped for something more thought provoking.