As much as comic books and superheroes are historically tightly associated, comic books sans superhero pop up all the time these days. But what you don’t see very often is superhero sans comic book, which makes Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible a bit of a novelty.
The book tells the tale of a super-villain who breaks out of jail and tries to take over the world via an elaborate and cunning plan, and the team of superheroes who try to stop him. It’s a first-person narration, split between the supervillain himself, and a second-tier hero who’s recently made the big time and joined the team. I expected the book to be self-aware, wink-and-nudge metafiction, and there was certainly a solid amount of that; but what’s remarkable is that, along with all the meta stuff, Grossman ultimately is telling a straight-up story about a super-villain trying to take over the world. That’s unexpectedly nifty.
That said, I can’t bring myself to rave about the book. It’s apparently Grossman’s first novel, and it shows. There are some awkward patches of dialogue where it’s not clear who’s saying what; there’s a lot of meandering and repetitive reflection that throws off the pacing and gives the impression of an incomplete revision; and some of the thematic stuff just doesn’t quite work, all setup and no payoff.
Ultimately, my verdict is that if you loved Watchmen, you’ll like this. It’s doing a lot of the same stuff Moore did, but not as well (though admittedly with more comedic verve, which is never really Moore’s strong point). Good, but not great.