Not Quite Invincible

Austin Grossman’s novel, “Soon I Will Be Invincible,” is a prose distillation of the world of superheroes, taking the heavy hitters, absurd plot twists, and insane plans of comic book lore and condensing them into a single narrative. Extradimensional energies and stray magic wands bestow powers and take them away; a supervillain endeavors to pull the planet out of orbit; and Batman, Wonder Woman, Doctor Strange and Superman all weigh in via slightly flawed homologues.

Grossman offers an internalization of the medium, one that’s hard to achieve on the illustrated page. Half of the proceedings—the better half—is dedicated to Lex Luthor stand-in Dr. Impossible rationalizing his motivations as he walks us through his latest evil scheme, assuring us, constantly, of his genius. “I often wonder what Einstein would have done in my position,” he ponders at one point. “Einstein was smart, maybe even as smart as Laserator, but he played it way too safe. Then again, nobody even threw a grappling hook at Einstein.”

The other half of the novel is presented through the eyes of Fatale, a former government operative and full-time cyborg who has received her big break: the Champions, the world’s reigning superhero squad, is in need of someone technical, and she fits the bill.

I could picture the conversation that led to my selection.

“So who can we get? Somebody who does machines.”



“Calliope? Argonaut? The Breach?”

Chorus of shouts: “Not the fucking Breach!”

“Who, then? We’ve got no psychics, nobody technical…”

“Please, just find us somebody who’s not going to be a total disaster. Have the computer give us a list.”

They’d looked at my schematics, and my references had checked out, and Damsel was dispatched.

The narrative alternates chapters from the heroes’ and villains’ perspectives, breaking down the world of heroes and villains to opposing cliques. In Grossman’s view, the good guys are the overachievers and the bad guys are the outcasts that never fit in. Both groups remain vulnerable to the lingering insecurities of their roots, and the book enjoys exploring the dichotomy between public image and private lives, using its insider’s narrative to show us how even the world’s most-accomplished powers fail to live up to the image they’ve imagined for themselves.
As Dr. Impossible points out, it can be a lonely life:

My style of work takes a lot of preparation. I build things and test them out. I have to order parts or cast them myself. I have to pull all-nighters to debug my robots’ pathfinding routines before an invasion. It isn’t that interesting to other people.

While pathos has its place in the story, Grossman also has a lot of funny lines exploring the absurdities of the lifestyle. As he puts his grand scheme into action, Dr. Impossible observes:

I laugh, but the mechanics of total world conquest are enormously vexed. You’ll notice that if you ever try it. Conventional house-to-house and nation-to-nation pacification is unwieldy, to say the least. It’s particularly hard to keep track of all the islands. There’s mind control, if you’ve got the means, but it’s awkward. There’s no fun in waking everybody up in the morning, every day, and telling them to brush their teeth.

Ironically, though, the book seems to lose steam as it works its way toward its action-packed conclusion. The self-pity of the heroes and villains becomes weary as it repeatedly treads the same emotional ground. Dr. Impossible’s pathologies may be rooted in the past, but the details seem to be explored ad nauseum. Grossman has a strange tic of repeating past revelations as if we’ve forgotten the details of 50 pages ago; this quirk frequently robs the plot of its momentum. Throw in the deus ex machina of Lily, a former villain/reformed superhero who aligns her allegiances with whatever the plot requires, and you have a story that sputters before it reaches its end.

Still, you also have a story with some good laugh lines, a suitable maniacal plot, and a nice undercurrent of bitterness and rage. Superhero fans may enjoy giving it a look (although they’d be well-served by first reading Robert Mayer’s “Superfolks,” a better book exploring similar themes), but those that aren’t steeped in longbox lore can probably pass it by.