A child with the name Austin Grossman will have a lot of problems in the schoolyard.
Children are never forgiving of Texan placename names.
However, Grossman appears to have overcome this namesakery stunting by by pulling off a genre master work in his superhero opus “Soon I Will Be Invincible!”. Grossman wisely avoids concentrating on any one plot-device doomsday-machine or last-minute save-the-day-strategy. Rather, “Soon I Will be Invincible” takes on the genre of superheroics, of the gold, silver, bronze ages, and takes in several other genres like Tom Swift’s American whiz-kids, Wellsian Victorian adventurers, etc.
The text alternates from the point of view of an old school supervillain and a new-school superheroine. The disappearance of the famed superhero CoreFire, the past of the supervillain Doctor Impossible and the efforts of the New Champions to hunt him down . . . this is a superhero story, but one with a panolpy of invented and referential ‘verse that dominates the text. There is drama, but not of any variety that usually presents in a vigilante vigil. The apex of the novel comes long before the day is saved and the villain defeated, (if he is at all – duh-duh-dum!), and the most interesting character examinations escape ‘villain’ and ‘hero’ terms; Not individually psychologically in depth as those in Watchmen – rather Grossman focuses, if that is the word, on the overall. It is the beautiful imagery, nerd factor 10, of the text shines through every moment, such as:
“Baron Ether is old. He lost an eye fighting Paragon and replaced with a mechanical device of his own construction. Whatever gave him his original superpowers has mostly faded, except the elongated shape of his skull and a coal-like glow behind his remaining eye. He’s an old man – no one knows really how old – and he’s been a villain a long, long time. He started out robbing railroads. He fought Victorian adventurers and American whiz-kids, wore a mustache and carried a trick cane whose jewelled head bulged with concealed gadgetry.
In the late 1940s, he came to America and founded the first League of Evil. He fought the Super Squadron long before I did, even cruised the timestream and fought the SS three thousand centuries from now . One time, he threw in with his own alternate-dimensional self to steal a fortune in gold, only to cheat his double out of the proceeds. Classic.
In the fifties, he blazed a trail of infamy. He did it all, robbed the Freedom Force of their memory, swapped bodies with them, cloned himself. Lost one set of powers and gained another, was set adrift in time and spent six years in the Cretaceous befre building his own time machine. He came back from that one twenty years younger, a side effect of the chronon particles.
In the sixties, he reinvented himself again as a Mephistophelian master of illusion, and stayed out of prison for a while. As recently 1978, they thought they’d seen the last of him, when a stolen space shuttle disappeared into the void, outbound from the plane of the eliptic at a perilous angle. But a year later he returned, only to be defeated again in the waning days of the Carter presidency. But he never lost his panache – by the end, he was using hardware with gears and bras fittings against mutants with fusion-powered hardware.”
Recently released in paperback, its an affordable beauty of its genre, and worth a read if thats what you’re into.
I make this point due to two reasons:
1 – This was the first book I read in one sitting for a while. Partially, that is because it is the first time in a long time that I have time to. But, also, it caused instant geekulation, as Mur Lafftery might define it.
2 – This is the product of recent events.
By ‘Recent events’, I mean the recent glut of superhero movies. Leading from Spiderman’s success, we’ve had DC and Marvel’s finest struting the screen. Related medias have seen similar influences – television, graphic novels and so forth. Novels are indeed Grossman’s work, but he is not the only one. There have been a lot of superhero novels, from published works like ‘Superheroes’, printed webcomics, like DJ Coffman’s ‘Hero By Night’, to podcast published ‘Playing For Keeps’ by Mur Lafftery and ‘Brave Men Run’ by Matthew Wayne Selznick.
All fine works in themselves, but there are two particular elements that cause interest:
1 – These are works that wouldn’t have gotten off agent’s shelves and slush piles without the superhero burst.
2 – This interest in some authors would have been formed in roughly the past five fiscal years.
That is, when I picked up one such recent text, the cover blurb detailed some college students, who received their superhero powers off of a case of bad beer, are about to go through a true test of their friendship and learn how “fragile they really are”. So the superhero genre has so flooded the market, its quite become a background setting rather than the crux of the plot, like being set in a hospital, or a police station or a tv show set.
I should probably be bemoaning the denigration of the genre, but fiscally I’m interested in whether:
(a) this will make a superheroic integration to modern culture,
(b) get superheroics rejected in five to eight years like a bad kidney.
Like any market oversaturation, particularly of increasingly low-quality or diluted nature, it might end up blowing the vigilante genre out of pop culture more effectively than the comic book code authority ever did.
That said, the reverse is true. New examinations of the genre, in everything from the tv show heroes to books like “Soon I Will Be Invincible”, rejuvenate as much so as works like Watchmen and Batman by Alan Moore and Frank Miller respectively did for the genre in the eighties, then-inventing many of the acrhetypes surfacing in Nolan’s Batman or Wachowski’s V for Vendetta.
So this could be the genre’s much needed archetypal enema, or the overdose that puts it in the ground for as while.
But, just like superheroes and supervillains, whatever the outcome, it will rise again. As the man said:“When your laboratory explodes, lacing your body with a super-charged 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.”