I fully intended to read and review Mark Lawrence’s Red Sister for my next book, but… I decided I wanted to write a superhero book, so I went where the winds of my imagination took me.
And that’s how I ended up shipwrecked on this little superhero novel island. I’m not going to wax lyrical about superheroes and their origins in visual media and how that doesn’t entirely translate over to a non-visual format if following comic book tropes too closely. I’m sure I will one day. I’ll cross-reference things. I’ll have a bibliography. It’ll be an astounding piece of work, and an amazing dissection that will floor the literary world.
But for now, some random redditor mentioned the novel “Soon I Will Be Invincible” by Austin Grossman in a thread I started over on r/fantasy, and that was enough to get me into it. He hadn’t even told me what it was about, so I went in blind, as I enjoy doing.
Now, this isn’t the very first superhero novel I’ve read. I’ve read one of the Velveteen books half a decade ago, but that’s it. I have never read a superhero comic, either. I have, however, been pretty well versed in superhero movies – since before this recent Marvel barrage we’ve been enduring. On a sidenote, does anyone else feel that Watchmen has aged really well as a movie? I think it hit a few years before its time, honestly. If they released it now, updated the action scenes a smidge, I think it would be a big hit. Right, book review, sorry.
We open with our main protagonist, Doctor Impossible, telling us he’s a supervillain and locked up in jail. He’s going to be wheeled out and put on show for some visitors of the prison. He’s talking to the reader, monologuing about how he’s the greatest supervillain, and that he remembered his fights with his nemesis, CoreFire (the greatest superhero in the world, completely invincible), very fondly. It does seem like a common trope for two nemesis to secretly need each other. It’s a fun dynamic, but a touch overused, perhaps? More thoughts for a genre dissection, not a review. He references several completely ridiculous world ending death machines, so we know that this isn’t a “serious” world, per se. Basically, Grossman is setting up that just because there isn’t a “Superman” or “Iron Man” it is effectively still the same world, where crazy things can happen, alternate timelines exist, timetravel is a thing, and there are superheroes that are offbrand-Superman. It’s fanfic, but some names have been changed. I’d love to be snarky about that, but… as someone new to the superhero novel genre, this is exactly what I expected and wanted! Maybe the second time I come across this fanfic issue, I’ll sarcasm it so hard it’ll… have zero effect on the books sales, so who cares.
Doctor Impossible also gives us his origin story! I’ll summarise for you: “I was bullied in school”. In the America of superheroes, bullied kids become supervillains instead of school shooters.
Rather confusingly, he gives us his origin story two more times throughout the book.
After this classical villain monologue, we meet our second point of view. Fatale. I am undecided on how this should be pronounced. Am I just saying Fatal? Fa-tale? Or is it more like fay-tale? The world of superhero names is a challenging one. Fatale has just upgraded to the big leagues of superheroism, and she’s been invited to a meeting of Champions, the biggest superteam. CoreFire has gone missing! We learn that this team of superheroes has, for some reason, not met in the last nine years. There was some falling out, and tensions between them were frayed. Fatale, and one other new member have been called in to replace the two team members that have died in those nine years. The other super brought in being Lily. Doctor Impossible’s ex girlfriend, from an alternate timeline. She’s extremely powerful according to the good Doctor. And, on a side note, it is not mentioned that she’s almost completely transparent until 50% of the way through the book. Odd.
We also get Fatale’s origin story! I’ll summarise for you: “I was in an accident, scientists rebuilt me, now I’m mainly robot parts”. Now, I’m not experienced enough to know if expositioning an origin story within the first chapter of meeting a Super is normal, or if this is a kind of tongue in cheek poke at the stereotypes, or if it’s just poor writing. I’m surprised Grossman didn’t add a prologue just before the exposition dump chapters. What I’m saying is… I’m torn.
Fuck subtlety, right? No need to leave us guessing, lead us on a merry chase, slowly revealing clues and building up to it. Nah. Just get it out there.
Okay, so, the plot. CoreFire has gone missing, as mentioned. Doctor Impossible, beginning his journey in prison, is visited by two random superheroes who try to torture him into giving up information. As CoreFire’s arch nemesis, he must know, is the theory, and of course prison is no obstacle to a Doctor of his power, and they assume he is still commanding things while incarcerated. Needless to say, these superheroes, one of them seeming a bit unhinged, rough Doctor Impossible up, and then… he escapes.
Aaaand that’s pretty much all I can give you without spoiling much past the blurb.
So. Is it worth your time?
I’ve got to say, I really enjoyed reading this book. As my first official outing in superhero tropes in recent memory, this was great. It had a light tone to everything thanks to the ridiculousness of Doctor Impossible. I mean, he regularly tries to take over the world (ridiculos in itself) and has tried it with an army of fish. So… you know that things aren’t going to be entirely serious and grimdark here, and that’s perfect for me.
Keeping in mind that I was really craving a superhero theme, and this book hit just the right tone for me, I was able to forgive a lot. For example, the previously mentioned origin story exposition? I actually didn’t mind at all. I had zero issues with reading them. Now, I actually found them kind of boring, but that has nothing to do with the timing of the info dump. They were just boring origin stories. Fatale’s was slightly better, but neither of them grabbed me. Which, you know, doesn’t really matter. But, as the story progressed, there are a lot of superheroes that will monologue for several pages regarding their origin story. It’s a thing. Grossman is making fun of the trope. It’s tongue in cheek. I get that, yet, I’m still not really enjoying the origin stories I was given.
There is a bit of fun contrast with unreliable narrators. We’re seeing how a supervillain, someone that has failed his plans twelve times already and is constantly beaten by the superheroes manages to keep his megalomaniac view of “I am the best and can beat all of them”. We also get to see what Dr. Impossible is actually doing when the heroes see what they think he’s doing, and how they manage to track him down, and him then not knowing they’ve tracked him down.
If you want a not-entirely-serious-but-presented-as-serious superhero book, then, as someone that has only ever read one not-entirely-serious-but-presented-as-serious superhero book, I can thoroughly recommend Soon I Will Be Invincible!
Also, Doctor Impossible, his ex Lily, and Corefire?
Rating: 3 / 5 (58%)
Favourite character: Doctor Impossible
Favourite quote: “When your laboratory explodes, lacing your body with a supercharged elixir, what do you do? You don’t just lie there. You crawl out of the rubble, hideously scarred, and swear vengeance on the world. You keep going. You keep trying to take over the world”