Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman

It would be an oversimplification to say this book is Watchmen-lite. In a lot of ways, it would be a disservice to this novel and a complete misunderstanding of everything that made Watchmen work. There’s a fundamental difference, aside from the obvious that this is a novel and Watchmen is a graphic novel. Where Watchmen is a complete deconstruction of the superhero formula, turning our brightly-colored saviors into normal people like you or me, Soon I Will Be Invincible carries a different ideal at its core. In Watchmen, there is only one superpowered hero, who is no longer even in touch with what’s left of his humanity. In Soon I Will Be Invincible, there is only one hero who is unpowered. The rest carry the burden of responsibility of who they are and where they came from, whether they are aliens, genetic grafts, reconstructed cyborgs, or supernatural beings. The message is that even though they are different, they are still (mostly) human too, and with great power comes great dysfunctionality, which they must overcome if they are to battle the mastermind Doctor Impossible.

This is one where the audio version adds that extra punch. There are two narrators who alternate turns as Doctor Impossible and Fatale, as the book is told alternatingly from their differing perspectives. For Doctor impossible, everything is old hat. He’s been defeated time and again for inexplicable reasons, and he will finally beat the heroes. For Fatale, as the junior member of the superteam, everything is fresh and new, and not quite what she imagined or hoped for. We meet Doctor Impossible first, and this first chapter is quite possibly the funniest thing I’ve ever been exposed to in the superhero genre, with the possible exception of perhaps Ben Edlund’s The Tick. It sets the tone for the rest of the story, and sucks you right in. Aided with the voice of the narrator, who sounds surprisingly like Maurice LaMarche, Doctor Impossible comes across as an interesting mix of Ozymandias and The Brain. Offering counterpoint to this viewpoint is the character Fatale, essentially a female version of RoboCop, who has become a superhero when the government funding needed to keep her running has come to an end. Again, the narrator for Fatale’s story is perfectly-chosen, offering a mix of strength and vulnerability.

As the story goes along, you get a concise and human (where possible) origin story for every character in the book, turning this into something every bit as complex as Watchmen on the character level. Some would say that on the literary level, it perhaps lacks the social relevance of Watchmen. Just the reverse, I think a story like this isolates exactly how alone and isolated the average comic book fan can feel at times, and why these kinds of archetypal characters resonate with audiences across decades. I won’t say it’s “as good” as Watchmen. Rather, I will say that Soon I Will Be Invincible is a great companion and counterpoint to Watchmen in most respects. It offers character development, all the classic bits with a fresh perspective, and a little something that Watchmen doesn’t have in abundance: hope. These characters, regardless of their backstories and inner turmoil, challenge us and themselves to rise to a higher level.

As one who used to collect comics heavily and then basically became jaded by the industry in the past decade, this book is a reminder of every reason of why I still love superheroes. It appeals to me on so many levels, and I think anyone who appreciates something more than the brooding, armor-clad killjoy characters will find something to enjoy here. Books like this bring back the fun to a genre that’s taken itself way too seriously since the closing days of the last century.

5 stars

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