Thursday, March 19, 2015

Soon I Will Be Invincible review


    Soon I Will Be Invincible is more or less the father of modern superhero literature, specifically that new category of storytelling: capepunk. Capepunk stories are those tales which dissect the nitty-gritty storytelling of superhero stories and ask what they'd be like in the real world.

    Some capepunk stories are quite optimistic like Wearing the Cape, others pessimistic like Sad Wings of Destiny, and a few are a mix like Confessions of a D-List Supervillain. Soon I Will Be Invincible is one of the latter. It presents a world exactly like the kind in comic books but pulls back the curtain to reveal how much goes on to make the stories in superhero stories tick.

    Half of the book is from the perspective of Doctor Impossible, an aging middle-aged supervillain who is halfway between Lex Luthor and Doctor Doom. The world's smartest man, he suffers Malign Hyper-Cognition Disorder (i.e. he's an evil genius), which compels him to try and take over the world. He's aware, on some level, all of his plans are going to fail but is compelled by his ridiculously potent intellect that he must try anyway. It's, in a weird way, one of the more authentic portrayals of mental illness I've encountered in fiction as it is treated with sympathy and care despite the utter ridiculousness of the condition.

    The book gives a sympathetic take to its lead even if it never shies away from the fact his actions are self-destructive and foolhardy. He doesn't even have anything he wants to do once he takes over the world, it's merely something which he must do. This, of course, is part of the book's delightful out-of-universe subtext.

    Doctor Impossible tries to take over the world because he is a comic-book villain and that is what comic-book villains do. In existentialist terms, he is a Sisyphian figure compelled to ever push a boulder up the side of a mountain only for it to roll back down again. It's kind of fascinating, especially when you note this time Doctor Impossible might actually succeed. Having such an unrepentant but tragically sympathetic nutter trapped in such a situation where you want him to win is an interesting premise for a book.

    The book lampshades many of the time-honored tropes of comic books from the Silver Age and how they've changed as we move closer to the modern age. Doctor Impossible is a relic of a bygone era but the modern superheroes, with their sleek chrome cybernetics as well as badass weaponry, aren't nearly as potent as the ones of old. The only one who has ever stood a snowball's chance in hell of standing up against Doctor Impossible, despite his eternal loser status, is Corefire (a transparent stand-in for Superman).

    And Corefire is missing, presumed dead.

    Without him, can Doctor Impossible win?

    Would he even want to?

    Contrasting against Doctor Impossible is Fatale, the newest member of the Champions. Awed by her recent invitation to join the Justice League/Avengers of her world, she struggles to fit in despite being a relatively new heroes. Furthermore, her awe turns to dismay as she gets to know the various heroes and their many-many flaws. I liked Fatale less than Doctor Impossible but am glad we got an insider's look into the superheroes. Understanding them is every bit as important as getting Doctor Impossible's perspective on things.

    The Champions, themselves, are an interesting collection of damaged individuals. On the surface they have it all with wealth, fame, and costumes which fit in all the right places. Underneath it, they have all of the angst and struggles which post-Spiderman superheroes are cursed with. It turns out for all of Doctor Impossible's apparent harmlessness to the readers, he's a pretty terrifying figure to heroes and struggling against his schemes leave lasting scars. That's in addition to what it takes to devote yourself to 24/7 to devoting world-ending schemes.

    I especially like how the author chose to handle action in the book. Conflicts are theatrical, beautiful, colorful, and full of emotion. Doctor Impossible's attempt to escape from prison, a throw-down battle at a coffee bar, and the final confrontation are all delightful. I think readers will get a kick out of them. Seeing the battles from the perspective of Doctor Impossible and then from his opponents lends vastly different perspectives on what happened.

    The ending falls somewhat flat because it doesn't attempt to break the mold with its universe. This is about giving insight into Doctor Impossible's mindset rather than about how he learns a valuable life-lesson. I will say, there are a great number of twists which include one which left me positively gobsmacked. Check this out when you have the time.

    This is a book with great world-building, characterization, and countless in-jokes for those who are even peripherally interested in comics.

10/10

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