Book Review: Soon I Will Be Invincible

Invincible
in·vin·ci·ble
/in-ˈvin-sə-bəl/ adjective
1. impossible to defeat or overcome
2. incapable of being conquered, overcome, or subdued

What would you do if you were invincible? Would you save the world? Or would you destroy it? Would you be a “good guy,” or a “bad guy”?

I wasn’t even into the first fifty pages of Soon I Will Be Invincible, and I began asking myself, “Why am I rooting for the villain?” As the story unfolds further, the reason why becomes clearer. Sure, Doctor Impossible wants to take over the world (or destroy it, not sure it really matters to him), but once we get to the root of why he wants to exert total world domination, it’s easy to feel for the guy. Shunned, ignored, and at times bullied as a child genius, he perhaps comes across as the most human character among a cast of super-powered misfits (trust me, they’re all misfits, no matter which side they are playing for).

I can hear you saying, “But superheroes are for comic books, not novels!” Author Austin Grossman easily proves that notion false. His engaging prose grabs you almost immediately and doesn’t let go until the end. The story is full of wit and is an absolute riot — sprinkled with clever nods and tributes to the Golden and Silver ages of American comic books throughout.

The narrative bounces back and forth between supervillain Doctor Impossible, fresh out of prison and on a mission to take over the world (again), and superhero Fatale, a female super-cyborg who is the latest recruit of a group of young heroes (think Justice League). It’s easy to see Grossman’s inspiration for many of the characters, especially Blackwolf, who, unless I am completely missing something, is a tribute to Batman.

The interesting thing about the story is that Grossman explores the human side of the heroes and villains, most pointedly Doctor Impossible and Fatale. What’s it really feel like to be invited to join the most elite super team in the known universe? Self-conscious superheroes? Yup. What’s it really feel like to be the smartest human being in the world, only to be ignored by said world? How do you respond to that? You try to take over the world, time and time again, that’s how you respond. And even though you are foiled every time, you keep trying. In this case, attempts at world domination are really just a cry for attention.

Superherodom brings with it a celebrity status. Supervillaindom, on the other hand… well, that’s another story. I mean, when you attempt to take over the world about a dozen times, you’d expect at least someone to recognize you on the street. Sadly, Doctor Impossible is just a poor shmuck who wants some attention.

I’m trying to resist a comparison to Alan Moore’s Watchmen here, but I can’t help myself. Similar to Watchmen, Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible explores the personal struggles and human emotions of super-powered beings – beings that are portrayed as God-like in most traditional comic books of the past. Turns out, heroes and villains have real-life feelings and real-life problems just like the rest of us. Who knew? But unlike Watchmen, a dark and twisted tale, Grossman’s story comes off as a playful tribute to the history of American comic books. Not to mention the ending of Soon I Will Be Invincible makes a lot more sense than Watchmen’s ending. (Don’t get me wrong, I loved Watchmen, but 25 years later I still can’t quite figure out what the heck Moore was trying to say with that ending.)

One other interesting thing to note is that the cover was designed by Chip Kidd. Many of you probably know that Kidd is a highly celebrated graphic designer known for his striking book covers (USA Today called him a “rock star” of graphic design)… oh, and he just happens to be a huge comic book fan himself.

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