Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Review: Soon I Will Be Invincible by Justin Grossman

For many of us, the world of comics is a strange and wonderful place filled with garishly beautiful pictures of muscular men and robust young women battling behemoths or vanquishing villains. In spite of its glorious technicolor, comic books and the entirety of the super-hero genre, seems somehow to be locked into a somewhat black and white mentality. Heroes are always the wunderkind who will save the world, or the damsel, from the manic machinations of morally-bankrupt megalomaniacs. The question is, who will save us from the overly formulaic super-story? Enter Justin Grossman.

Soon I Will Be Invincible is a study in contrasts. Told in alternating points of view, the novel follows budding New Champion member Fatale, a cyborg with some nifty gadgets, and Dr. Impossible, the world's smartest super-villain. Grossman does a great job shading in the shades of grey with these two unlikely protagonists, and the humor of the book cannot be denied, but what is it that sets Soon I Will Be Invincible apart from the other super-hero novels that have hit the stands in the last few years? Well, the answer is as complicated as the Rube Goldbergian super-science weapons that Dr. Impossible usesto try to take over the world, but it can simply be boiled down to the following: This is not a Villain Apologist piece.

What exactly do I mean by that, though? Well, in John Gardner's novel Grendel, for example, we are made to feel sympathy for the poor, misunderstood monster. This is what I mean by a Villain Apologist piece (Jaws wasn't evil, he was just hungry and it is a shark's nature to stalk lonely swimmers... right). At any rate, Grossman does not go out of his way to paint Dr. Impossible as a tragic figure (in fact, Dr. Impossible beats himself up and constantly second-guesses his decision to be a villain), and the fact that he is so smugly superior, obnoxious, and blinded by his own personal issues really keeps you from feeling that this is a misunderstood genius. Part of what makes this so much fun is the fact that you spend the entire book thinking that Dr. Impossible is the biggest stereotypical jerk villain on Earth, but he is just so interesting that you never want his sections to end.

On the flip side, you have Fatale. Now here is a character that starts off as fairly dull and uninteresting, and starts to shine mainly because the alleged super-heroes around her are an even bigger batch of jerks than Dr. Impossible on his worst day. The massive egos battling amongst themselves in the New Champions make for some entertaining fodder, but the simple fact that Fatale, the newest and least experienced of the lot, is the smartest, most observant, and generally most diplomatic person in the group makes for an interesting story.

OK, so here you have the two protagonists, each plagued by doubts and worries, wondering what it all means, and set up on opposite sides. The question is: how is it all going to work out? The answer is the one person that ties the whole story together Lily. The transparent woman from the future acts like a combination shepherd and traffic cop through the story, bridging the gap between heroes and villains, and her ultimate revelations at the end of the book put everything into perspectiveon both sides of the aisle. The question we must ask now is why? You will need to read the book, because I am certainly not answering that one here!

With all that said, most of you are asking, "Will I like this?" The answer, my friends, is that if you have ever thought that a super-hero film or comic book was silly or unrealistic, wondered why the villain was so predictable, wanted to watch the hero get his butt kicked, or just wanted a laugh at a super-hero's expense, then you will probably like this. Whether you love or hate comic books, this story will flat out knock your socks off with its zeta radiated goodness.

THAC0: 5

*Note: I am grading things based on the old system of 'To Hit Armor Class 0' or THAC0 from the old Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. The idea is that the lower the number, the lower you need to roll to score a hit. In terms of my grade, the THAC0 is the number I believe, on a scale of 1-20, that I think this will be a hit with you, the reader. 1 means that I think that pretty much everyone will love this book/movie/show and 20 means that almost nobody will like it.