It’s like a comic book – a comic book book, you might say. That’s the first thing you’d probably think about Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible, but in reality it isn’t. It’s much, much more.
Well, okay, maybe it’s not that much more and Grossman’s debut novel does deliberately play on comic book imagery and clichés with its roster of caped crusaders and evil villains – but by doing so through sheer prose rather than sheer artistry, the novel achieves so much more.
The story itself starts off in a rather sterile little jail cell where a meta-human called Doctor Impossible is whiling away the hours and plotting his next escape. He’s already tried to take over the world seventeen or so times – but he’s sure he’s got it cracked this time and the convenient disappearance of CoreFire, the novel’s version of Superman, gives him ample opportunity.
At the start of the next chapter, though, the narrative shifts over to the other side of the fence and introduces Fatale, the cyborg superhero who’s been asked to join up with the premier crimefighting outfit in the world, The Champions. Unsure of exactly why she’s been chosen and how she can fit into the roster of invulnerable avengers, she contrasts brilliantly with Impossible’s scathing confidence and the book falls into a pattern of alternating between the two protagonists.
The actual plot of this literal comic book is fairly predictable, obviously, with the Impossible’s villainesque allusions to his master plan being a touch too obvious to preserve the suspense. When he finally does unveil his role in CoreFire’s existence and what his ultimate goal is, then the shock has long since worn off.
Not that that really impacts on the fun of it al,l though, as Soon I Will Be Invincible‘s strength isn’t the story it’s trying to tell, but the depth of the characters and the thoroughness with which Grossman explores his fictional world. Histories are given on all the main characters, with Fatale and Impossible both positioning themselves to reap a certain sympathy from readers.
Fatale’s metallic exterior and death-ray implants are balanced out by her lacking a proper place in the world, which is something pretty much everyone can identify with. Likewise, Impossible comes across as a benevolent dictator who is just trying to get the girl through a slightly unconventional route.
Not that you can really blame him either – it’s not his fault he suffers from Malign Hypercognitive Syndrome (a.k.a Evil Genius Disease), is it?
Running through the core of it all, though, is an irreverent sense of parody, with nearly all the main characters being an obvious mirror of either a Marvel or DC superhero; Impossible is the Lex Luthor to CoreFire’s Superman, while Damsel and Blackwolf are obvious takes on Wonder Woman and Batman. Even the lesser-known Dr. Strange gets a mirror in the theatrical Mister Mystic, while one of the background characters is borrowed from the Chronicles Of Narnia.
The result of all this is a book which weaves together all the most beloved elements of geeklore, without spoiling a single ingredient or watering everything down with too many clichés and bad puns.
It’s a simply excellent comic book story woven into a different medium, culminating in one of the most excellent superhero fights to have ever graced a page. The geek-pleasing factor of it all is only strengthened by the fact that the author also worked on some of the best computer games ever, from Thief and Tomb Raider to System Shock and Deus Ex.
Plus, not only is the book excellent and entertaining in its own rights, but it’ll serve as a useful handbook for anyone planning on building their own underground fortress or war blimp. We can’t be the only ones with long-term career plans, can we?