Austin Grossman’s novel Soon I Will Be Invincible is an adventure novel of a different stripe. Once upon a time, comic books were considered a very lowbrow form of entertainment. Thin plots were often called “comic book plots” by literary, theater and movie critics.
However, comic books have tried their hardest to grow out of their stigma. To some extent, they have succeeded. Grossman’s book is one example of that success. The plot revolves around supervillain Dr. Impossible and the superheroes who try to catch and imprison him in the absence of his archrival, CoreFire.
Grossman takes great pains to sketch his characters are real, believable people rather than the cardboard cutouts that are so often associate with comic books, fairly or unfairly. The result is a superhero story with a great deal of believable characters, if not a whole lot of believable wardrobe. Not that that’s a pet peeve of mine or anything.*
Invincible focuses on two characters, Dr. Impossible, the “villain” and the “hero” Fatale, a part of the superhero alliance dedicated to brining the good doctor down. Both characters are more a ball of psychoses than functional humans but, as Grossman points out, the events that bring them their abilities almost demand that.
While Soon I Will Be Invincible makes great strides towards believable characters it does suffer some from its close attention to comic book tropes. For one thing, high magic, high technology and even stranger powers all exist together with little attempt at a rational for their existence or function. For the most part that’s forgivable, because all fantasy and sci-fi rationalizations eventually boil down to just so stories. As Ben Aaronovitch puts it, “pixie dust, or quantum entanglement, which is the same thing except with quantum in it.”
Perhaps a bigger difficulty is the constant intrusion of back story into the book. Modern comic books are frequently based on characters that have been around for four or five decades, if not more, with immense backstories that readers are often expected to be fairly familiar with. Grossman tries to duplicate that feel by building a great deal of backstory into even minor characters, unfortunately sometimes it makes the plot drag a bit. Since the long life span of modern comic book characters is now one of the biggest barriers to entry into the medium, I’m not really sure why it would be something one would want to duplicate.
On the whole, though, Soon I Will Be Invincible does a great job of combining the fun of comic books with the realistic characters of hardcover fiction. Further, it has served for a sort of template for some of my own writing. And that makes it this weeks cool thing.
*Edna Mode fans unite!