I briefly considered not even bothering with Soon I Will Be Invincible, thinking two superhero books in one summer would be overkill. Thankfully, I enjoyed this one far more than From the Notebooks of Doctor Brain.
Whereas From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain was a hodgepodge of metaphor and allegory for everything from race relations to the fall of the Eastern Bloc (at the expense of being a boring and derivative narrative), Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible covers a much narrower scope, but with equally far-reaching meaning (and more more original writing—Grossman invents the vast majority of his characters out of wholecloth, instead of simply renaming the existing canon).
It’s really two stories intertwined: one is told from the perspective of Fatale, a female cyborg, newly arrived into the legion of superheroes, and the other is told from Dr. Impossible, a middle-aged, recidivistic supervillain with an IQ of 300. These narratives occur on the same timeline, after the escape of Dr. Impossible from the “metahuman” wing of a federal penitentiary (for the 12th time) and the mysterious disappearance of CoreFire, the leading superhero and perhaps the most powerful being on the planet.
There is one way that Grossman’s book is similar to …Doctor Brain, namely that the superhero mileau has become depressed in the post-boom years; one might even say “stale.” I called Dr. Impossible a recidivist, and with good reason: the mantra “Soon I will be invincible!” is repeated a number of times. One can only imagine that he said it during the events leading up to his previous twelve arrests, as well. And yet a genius of such scale as Dr. Impossible (or “Johnathon” as we learn from his backstory) fails each time to cope with the obvious: like The Matrix, this cat-and-mouse game of nemeses is destined to continue in perpetuity, with Impossible each time on the losing end.
It’s a larger critique of the absurdity of such roles, and the thin lines that divide them: if Dr. Impossible was the picked-upon nerd, and CoreFire was (and still is) an asshole jock, what does that say about our constructions of these binary roles for the superhero world? And what exactly does it mean to be human in a world full of fairy-folk, aliens, androids, cyborgs, and otherwise metahuman beings? These are the issues the heroes struggle with, and on a much more intimate and believable level than other “comic” novelizations1.
- I realize this is a relative qualification: Soon I Will Be Invincible is satire first and foremost, and Grossman never lets you forget that this entire novel is tongue-in-cheek[↩]