Soon I Will Be Invincible

Book image cover for Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman.

Maybe it’s best to start by saying that Austin Grossman’s debut novel, Soon I Will Be Invincible, feels like a labor of love.

The book is a riff on comic books and the modern superhero obsessions.  Just past the cover, you’ll find all the classic superhero tropes and cliches, including cyborgs, supervillains, appropriately long monologues, and more.

At the same time, it’s a story that’s somehow simultaneously reminiscent of both Marvel/DC and Alan Moore’s Watchmen. Many of the characters have dark backstories and interesting origin stories, and there’s a unique relationship dynamic between the supers that you wouldn’t see on the glossy magazine covers.

And yet, despite all the goofy cliches and the (admittedly) over-the-top main characters, this novel will suck you into its vortex and keep you until the last chapter.

Here’s a closer look.

Details

TitleSoon I Will Be Invincible
SeriesStandalone
AuthorAustin Grossman
PublisherPantheon Books, 2007
GenreScience fiction
Intended Audience16+
Rating9 of 10
Will I read the next one?N/A

What to expect

Soon I Will Be Invincible brings a lot to the table for readers. The benefit of translating superheroes from comics into a novel format is that the character development is deeper than thought and speech bubbles. There’s a lot of internalization going on here.

  • Superheroes!
  • Complex human relationships.
  • (Almost) over-the-top superhero tropes.

As I mention later in the review, this book is full of superhero tropes, and it often toes the line between outright parody and just poking fun at its own subject matter. Readers won’t need to know all of these tropes to get the jokes, but that second layer of subtext is there for genre fans.

Warnings

Is this series done?Yes.  This was a one-off.
Any graphical content?Here and there.   This story delves into the human side of superheroes.
Some characters come equipped with a dark past.
While there’s nothing as dark as what you’d read in Watchmen or in some of the grittier Batman series reboots, there are still some semi-adult themes involved. 
How long is this book?On the shorter side.  It goes quick.

Recommendation

Like superhero stories?  This book is aimed squarely at you.  

It’s also a good fit for readers who want something that digs a little deeper than your typical action-packed superhero series.  Grossman does a pretty good job of keeping these high-powered heroes remarkably human, which is always a plus.

Overview (minor spoilers)

CoreFire (ahem, Superman), former leader of the now-defunct Champions (ahem, Avengers), and the world’s greatest superhero has gone missing.

Of course, Doctor Impossible is probably to blame.  They are archnemeses, after all.  At least, that’s how the rest of the hero-verse sees it.  And even if they aren’t, everyone knows that Doctor Impossible will rule the world without CoreFire around.

Good thing he’s in prison and not on the loose, plotting world domination!  Oh, wait!

Without CoreFire around, the supers need to band together to solve this maniacal mystery!  They form the New Champions and  Fortunately, Fatale, a super-soldier-turned-cyborg and newcomer to the team is on the case.

But will our estimable superheroes be able to conquer the evil genius and locate CoreFire before it’s too late?

What works

In addition to having an awesome book title with a catchphrase that may at one point be uttered by Dr. Impossible himself, Soon I Will Be Invincible gets a lot of things right.

While some of the characters are clear stand-ins for some of the more classic superheroes (Blackwolf as Batman, Mr. Mystic as Dr. Strange, etc.) Grossman’s unique take on the superteam and their history puts a new spin on what it takes to be superhuman.

Personally, I enjoyed the aspect of fraternity that Grossman presents in the book.  All of these heroes are major players on the world stage — and they all know each other.

That’s not something often explored in comics, whether on the big screen or in the series.  Sure, we know that Superman knows Batman or Spider-Man’s secret identity really isn’t so secret in the comics, especially as the series progresses.  But we don’t often see the nuance of those interactions and associations.

In many ways, Grossman follows in Alan Moore’s footsteps by providing context, backstory, and deep relationships.  This goes farther than the usual one-sided character mechanic you see in classic comics, where Aunt May is just the doddering old woman with a heart condition or Lois Lane is always a damsel in need of saving.

Instead, Grossman gives these characters a history that goes back years.  They all know each other — deeply — and they all wear the scars of their time in the spotlight differently.  The Champions dissolved under tragic circumstances. Doctor Impossible is, in many ways, directly responsible for his own demise at his repeated losses to CoreFire.

The one exception to this camaraderie is Fatale, who serves as both a newcomer and point-of-view character to get the reader inside the superteam’s inner circle.  But even she has a troubled past.  Fatale has no memory of how she became a cyborg.  Aside from a few flashbacks of an accident during her time in Brazil, she’s got nothing.  That haunts her and serves as a great motive to push her own storyline forward.

All of this serves to move the story along, to keep the pages turning, and to make the heroes more than just the cardboard characters that are so common in superhero culture.

What doesn’t

Despite high marks for character development, the story definitely isn’t perfect.  In some places, the world almost feels too full.

There’s a scene about halfway through the book where Fatale and Lily, Doctor Impossible’s former girlfriend-turned superhero (long story), are exploring what broke up the original Champions.  The scene, while compelling, feels way overlong and like something of a waste if you’re not heavily committed to the lore behind the characters.

There are also strange foibles that you typically see on the part of the bad guys.  Doctor Horrible deals in magic and technology, working with everything from sci-fi-esque doomsday devices all the way to magic hammers.

Of course, the world’s smartest man has to go up against a superhero team that includes an ancient fairy (Elphin), a Wonder Woman stand-in (Damsel), a Black Panther substitute (Feral), and others.

The result feels a little bit too on the nose, even for this story.

And this, to me, is where Soon I Will Be Invincible sometimes falls short.  This novel is best when it’s turning the superhero genre on its head and at its worst when it’s trying to play the traditional superhero motif straight to the hilt.

To that point, this sort of novel feels like it doesn’t really have a choice to walk that tightrope.  Unless there’s a sequel, we won’t see these characters again, so the novel has to unpack everything in one shot.

Plus, because the tale borders on parody and spends most of its time focusing on the more human elements of the heroes, the novel sometimes feels like it’s trying to make up its mind about what it wants to do.

After all, the only thing that makes the novel stand out from a traditional comic book is its own willingness to poke fun at the very thing that it pretends to be.

It’s a fine line to walk, and the novel gets it mostly right.  But there are a few times where it falls off the wagon.

The rest of the series

As much as I wish there was a sequel, there isn’t right now.  This is a one-off, and one that I very much enjoyed.

I’d love to see a follow-up where we explore some of the deeper cuts that we see in the novel, like the Malign Hypercognition Disorder that Grossman uses to excuse Doctor Impossible’s evil nature.

I’d also love to see new superpowers, new superheroes, and new settings, especially since this book launched just before the MCU really got its sea legs and changed the public perception of superheroes forever.

With so much that’s changed in the genre, it seems like it would be ripe for a sequel.

And if that happens, I’m here for it.

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