Thursday, July 8, 2010


Hey all!
Hope everything is going well in the interwebs!
Today I will be reviewing Austin Grossman's Soon I will Be Invincible - a bloody brilliant superhero book I got off audible! Brilliant, seriously.
May be some spoilers - just fyi. And onto the review!

First off, here is the synopsis from Amazon:
The realm of comic book heroes and villains gets a dose of realism in this whimsical debut from game design consultant Grossman. The story shifts between the perspectives of Doctor Impossible, a brilliant scientist turned world's greatest menace, and Fatale, a lonely cyborg and the newest addition to the venerable group of heroes known as the Champions. Though he's been out of commission for a while, Doctor Impossible hatches a scheme to knock the planet out of orbit ("As the Earth grows colder, my power becomes apparent, and the nations submit," he reasons).

Meanwhile, Champions leader Corefire goes missing, and Fatale has to learn the ropes of superherodom as the conventional climactic showdown (at Doctor Impossible's secret lair) draws near. However fantastical, the characters (including a "genetic metahuman" and "an elite fairy guard") are thoughtfully portrayed, with Fatale—stuck in a perpetual existential crisis—bemused over the Champions' purpose, and Doctor Impossible wondering "whether the smartest man in the world has done the smartest thing he could with his life." Grossman dabbles in a host of themes—power, greed, fame, the pitfalls of ego—in this engrossing page-turner, broadening the appeal of an already inviting scenario.
As you can probably determine - it is a story pitting superheroes against supervillains - in all their masked and costumed glory. And it does it in such a dry, humourous way, you can forgive and even relish the cliches.

The story is told from two perspectives - the super Dr. Impossible - sarcastic and intelligent, hopelessly bent on world domination; and Fatale (Fay-tall) the cyborg who has no memory of her human life, or how she became a cyborg in the first place.

They are two very different but also very similar characters. Dr. Impossible is resolutely evil - he hates the Champions and he hatches schemes to fell them in his quest to take over the world, destory his nemesis Corefire (Jason) and become invincible. However, he is obsessed with the Champions. In his past recollections of college and his past attempts to beat the Champions, what comes out very strongly is how in tune he is to the Champions' world: he knows the top 3's identities - remembers when they went to school together, how they acted, what the they did, who they hung out with; he remembers details - like Damsel's weaknesses due to her mother's side, and Elven's faerie weaknesses shown the dungeon scene, marriages and dating and breakups and interviews; he cannot go more then a paragraph without mentioning one of them.

Similarly, Fatale is obsessed with being a Superhero, but worships the Champions, shown most predominantly in her stopping at the trophy room, and her idolization of certain members while insulting herself for thinking she was good enough to joint hem.

Both characters are outsiders looking in, and what this does is create an enviroment ripe with speculation and good analysis of the genre, but more importantly, it backhands our own culture and the way we look at things.

One example of the latter is Malign Hypercognition Disorder ("evil genius" syndrome). At first it seems like a gag - a name for something that kind of pokes fun at the genre - how there are so many "evil geniuses" out there looking for a fight. Then as Dr. Impossible goes on about it, it hit me: it's a thinly veiled critique on something that irks me, too - the over labelization of symptoms we don't understand. Like how fifty years ago there were hyper kids. Now they aren't hyper, they are OCD or ADD or HdAD, etc. The over labelization of this is mirrored by the over labelization of this superhero world: the whitecoats have "diagnosed" Dr. Impossible with MHD to make it easier to classify him - to make it easier, then, to discriminate against him. And it also carries this idea of medicating and rehabillitation - if he's labelle at MHD then there must be a way to treat him. And that, to me, anyway, reflects society's inability to take care of its own problems, and to compensate for this guilt, they medicate it. Let me explain: Instead of recognizing that Dr. Impossible's "condition" is merely actions he has chosen as a result of the experiences he's had throughout his life (shown in eerily well done flashbacks), society diagnosis him with something that naturally springs forth from him. Society is so uncomfortable with the idea that Dr. Impossible can choose to be the way he is, and so unresponsive to its own participation in this choice, that instead it chooses to ignore this and medicate the issue with bogus diagnosis and incarceration.

It's an interesting theory, and I like the delivery of it.

Another interesting theory I stumbled upon during one of my internet "research anything" hours, was the notion that Dr. Impossible is existing in an existentialist's dilemma - that is, his analytical assessment of his own futile efforts of world domination (i.e. this time it will be different ...) echo Sartre's "bad faith" in that he is deluding himself out of his own happy ending. Basically, it means he's not being honest with himself. It echoes the stories we've all heard from Abused Wives to Recovering addicts - it's an interesting parallel to draw in a supervillain - someone who is supposed to be all self assured and evil. The other prong in the existentialist bend is the idea that he is not a being-in-himself, but rather defines himself based on his own infamy - something that is adjudged by other people. At the same time, he claims this is unfair. Further to this, he looks at the heroes and defines them through their own hero-ness, forgetting that they have pasts like him, and that he may not know their whole story.

It's an interesting thought process.

Another aspect of this book I really liked was Fatale's moderate discussion eluding to the comic world "ages" (see, bronze, iron, gold) and the idea that everything with a metal age must also have a rust age. That was such a logical (albeit pessimist) next step that it dumbfounded me for a few seconds, before I continued onwards. It acts, I think, as a sort of Gotterdammerung ( that is, it echoes the stories of Hesiod and other such pessimists, that we as humanity have fallen from grace and kep falling - an infinite regress. In this context it is meant, I think, to imply that everything good comes to an end, and so does everything bad. And in fact, this fluctuation is meant to be, and will be forever, and the players in these ages are only remembered for a brief moment in time. Something about the long and drawn out way Fatale addresses this has me bent on that type of an interpretation.

There are other characters in the book that equally as good and the real genius of the writing comes through by way of how the characters interact, and all the questions are left at the end. They are left to make you think. Do so.

All in all, this book was amazing! I recommend it whole-heartedly! It was excellent! It is a little deadpan and it has some funny but mildly strange lines - so be cautioned - it's for us nerds who get humour, but do not be alarmed! It will have parts for everyone!

Cheers! :D

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