Soon I Will Be Invincible
is a novel
about the day-to-day life of both superhero
es and supervillain
s, anchored around a particular crisis situation and its resolution. It takes place in a recognizable Earth, differing from ours in the same way that the worlds depicted in comic books do - there are mutant
s, robots, evil geniuses, alien wars, magic, faerie
s, and all the myriad other tropes that make up a superhero comic. This book, however, is a standard novel; all the pictures are left to your imagination, with just enough hinting by the author to allow you to paint vivid, primary-colored vistas in your head.
There are two protagonists of the novel. The first is a supervillain, initially confined in a maximum-security facility. He is a mad science evil genius, and his name is Doctor Impossible. His sentence will be interrupted, however, because his nemesis CoreFire, a member of the superteam The Champions, has gone missing - and he is the logical suspect. A newly-minted super, Fatale (victim of an horrific accident whose missing thirty percent of her bodymass was replaced with a fusion reactor and cyborg technology) is recruited to the Champions' new incarnation to help with the search for CoreFire.
The book reminds me vividly of the graphic novel series Powers, written by Brian Michael Bendis and illustrated by Michael Avon Oeming. That, too, is a vivid look at the way 'Powers', or superpowered individuals, interact with the 'civilian world.' In Soon..., we are treated to almost laconic descriptions of the actual business of hero- and villain-ing, with specific observations on (for example) what it feels like to be in a superpower standoff, or in a superfight. We're given much more imagery (and it's well written prose, deliberately vivid in comic style) of situations such as the evening hangouts at the superteam headquarters; the interpersonal relationship dramas of a superteam; where supervillains hang out, or retire. One of the best scenes (in my opinion) involves the members of the New Champions walking through an old island fortress of Doctor Impossible looking for clues to his current plans or whereabouts - complete with reminiscences of the battle that unseated him the last time, when he was prized from this Fortress through force and skill. Smashed robots (he likes armies of robots, and lasers, and Zeta Beams; he's a SCIENTIST, damn it) and nearly-intact but wrecked supercomputers litter the collapsing lab dome. Rain and intruding vegetation is moving into the once-spotless Grand Throne Room.
The comics never really used to go into the details of what happened to these battlefields once the Powers were gone, unless they needed to revisit them, and then mostly as backdrops. The Authority is one exception, with detailed examinations of the impact of superfights on the locations and population in their immediate vicinity both immediate and years later. Soon... makes you think about these scenarios in order to properly imagine them, and that is its power.
References fly thick and fast. If you've ever read superhero comics, you'll find characters that are tantalizingly close to those you know well, but aren't quite identical. You'll see references to Power Objects whose histories, from those alternate comic universes, you'll recognize. Pure fan service is thrown in constantly, with background or aside mentions. Villains monologue compulsively, even as they know it's going to get them in trouble; heroes banter just as involuntarily.
This book falls down slightly on the plot, but that, too, is almost tangibly deliberate. After reading it, I found myself thinking about the relative cookie-cutter simplicity of the story, apart from the descriptions and characterizations; however, I realized almost immediately that that was probably the point! The plot, itself, is a reference to the story arcs of your favorite pulp mag, simplified and stretched to evenly fit into six handy episodes without requiring much thought or memory in between.
It felt, oddly, like a book written about the 'other side' of Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay - a book about the exploits of the heros that exist so powerfully in that story, despite the fact that they're all figments of the characters' imaginations. I recommend the book if you like comics, or are just interested in the mechanics and tropes of one of the United States' (and now the world's) most widespread and complex imaginary universes.
Soon I Will Be Invincible
by Austin Grossman
336 pp. English language paperback
published by Vintage Books on June 10, 2008.
Book website: http://sooniwillbeinvincible.com