Doctor Impossible is at it again; he’s broken out of prison and is trying to assemble yet another doomsday device. To make matters worse, CoreFire, that invincible do-gooder, is missing, and the other superheroes are starting to get nervous. Will the task of cracking the connection between these two events fall to Fatale, a cyborg of unknown black-ops origin and the newest member of the reformed Champions?
Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible both wants to be a genre novel and wants to be more than one. Any fool can tell a superhero story, I suppose (and many do), but Grossman is also trying to write a deconstruction of the superhero story, one that winks at the conventions and explores the emotional underpinnings of the archetypes. Watchmen nailed it; The Incredibles nailed it; Grossman almost nails it.
Doctor Impossible is just too appealing a character. The narration switches between him and Fatale in alternate chapters, and his are funnier and more effective. He has that supervillain arrogance, that supervillain wit, a history of hilariously over-the-top doomsday devices and assault blimps, and a backstory about being a picked-on, unpopular nerd. The trouble is that only towards the end does he feel at all like a villain. You root for him; you want his device to work, you want him to defeat the Champions, you want him to do everything up to but not including enslaving the world. When, in the big showdown, Grossman reasserts the narrative conventions of the genre to produce what ought to be a satisfying conclusion, it’s too late—the reader’s heart isn’t quite in the right place anymore.
I can see the reasoning behind every major decision that went into this novel. I can see why there’s a large and humorous pantheon of heroes and villains, all quite plausible: Psychic Prime, Kosmic Klaw, The Pharaoh, Damsel, Baron Ether. I can see why he turned the narration over to Doctor Impossible. I can see why he made this a novel about motivations: why do heroes and villains get up each day and battle each other? I can see why the novel has a recurring tone of wistful reflection on the classic exploits of yesteryear. And I can see why it ends with the twist it does. It’s just that when you put them all together, the result is a novel that’s neither quite a satisfying superhero story nor quite a satisfying satire of one.
Definitely worth reading if you appreciate the comic potential of regular digressions about the impracticality of proper sueprvillain attire, but not especially memorable.