Soon I Will Be Invincible - Austin Grossman

How do you take over the world? I've tried everything. Doomsday devices of every kind, nuclear, thermonuclear, nanotechnological, gadgets that fit in a shoe box and that were visible from space. I've tried mass mind control; I've stolen the gold reserves in Fort Knox, only to lose them again. I've traveled backward in time to change history, forward in time to escape it; I've stopped time altogether to live in a world of statues. I've commanded robot armies, insect armies, and dinosaur armies. Fungus armies. Army of fish. Of rodents. Alien invasion. Interdimensional alien invasion. Alien god invasion. Even a corporate takeover, Impossible Industries, LLC. Each time, it ended the same way. I've been to jail twelve times.

Doctor Impossible, the smartest man in the world, is in jail. Despite being an evil genius, he always gets stopped by his nemesis, CoreFire. But that doesn't stop him. After all, when life gives you lemons, he makes an acid poison and flings it in your eyes.

Fatale is a cyborg woman, snatched from death and upgraded into a fighting machine. She's just been asked to join the Champions, the recently reunited superhero team, a much better gig than listening to police scanners.

These two take turns narrating the book, and it's a wild romp through all of the comic-book cliches I've grown to love. Even the chapter headings are one-liners: "Foiled Again," "Welcome to My Island," "Maybe We Are Not So Different, You and I," "But Before I Kill You." The story is set in a world with a rich history of superpowers. They started really cropping up after World War II, but nobody really knows what caused that. It's in a similar vein as Watchmen, getting into some of the nitty gritty aspects of superhero-dom, a place where there's a high probability of psychological instability. It's not quite as deep as Watchmen; Grossman is going for more laughs, but he still makes some good points and it's a clever book.

He needs both points of view to tell the entire story, but the Doctor Impossible chapters are really the best ones. The portrait of an evil genius is done well, tracing the steps he took, the inevitability of his life of crime.

There's a little bit of mystery-solving thrown in: CoreFire, the world's best superhero, has vanished, and everyone suspects Doctor Impossible despite the fact that he's been in prison. Meanwhile, he's got another scheme for conquering the world that he hints at. The origin stories of various characters are told in little measured doses, and it's fun to piece things together.

I had a blast reading it despite a little unevenness in parts. It's harder to say whether non-comic-book folks will get it, because Grossman is both making fun of and perpetuating the cliches. Still, if you're at all familiar with superheroes and supervillains, it's worth checking out.

7/22/2007 Upon reflection, I decided that maybe this book is less like Watchmen and more like an adult prose version of "The Incredibles." In Watchmen, there's really only one character who has superpowers; all the others are simply costumed crime-fighters. And, as I mentioned above, it's a serious book about Cold War-era tension, nuclear countdowns, etc. Like "The Incredibles," the villain here is a brainy guy who invents things, and has felt snubbed by the good guys his whole life. There are all sorts of people with superpowers, good and bad, with all sorts of crazy origin stories. I suppose it still suffers from the comparison because it's not nearly as whiz-bang zany as the movie, but it is a little more grown-up and a little darker. Plus you can carry it with you.

2/26/2009 I just re-read this for the second time, and I think I enjoyed it even more this time around. Doctor Impossible is still a wonderful character and the other characters are a well-balanced cast. I did find Fatale's story a little more interesting this time around. Still one of my favorites and a great take on the superhero/supervillain genre.

Fed to jonathan's brain | July 19, 2007 | Comments (0)


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