Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Novel: Four Color in Black and White

Soon I Will Be Invincible by Austin Grossman, Pantheon, 2007

This is a bit weird - not the book itself, it is pretty traditional pop lit that attempts to straddle the domain between Real Literature and Comic Book Heroes, but the way that it has heaved up on my horizon, and all the pieces that fit into it.

So first I saw this book on Scalzi's site. Literally saw it - he posted a picture of books he is reading at the moment. Then Bill and Mi'ko had a copy, and I borrowed it from them. Then when preparing this review, I discovered the author was the brother of Lev Grossman, who wrote Codex, which I reviewed here. And Lev Grossman's name popped up in a comment from Sacnoth for an article he wrote on Harry Potter.

Small world, eh?

OK, the book. I have seen it pitched as a "funny" take on funny book heroes, but it is not, despite a relatively light tone. I mean, you're competing with FUNNY funny books, and mere text ain't going to be able to surpass the physical humor of a Plastic Man comic. Soon... a little wry, a little learned, and a little mocking of the tropes and traditions of the comic book universes. You know, origins (everyone has one), arch enemies, secret IDs, Headquarters and super teams. The chapter headings pull from the full plethora of catch phrases in use. I wouldn't say it was funny, but I would say it amuses.

The book alternates between narration by Doctor Impossible (archcriminal and perennial punching bag for the good guys) and Fatale (Cyborg without a past and newbie on the Justice League-ish super team). Doctor Impossible seeks to take over the world while ruminating on why he does what he does. Fatale goes behind the looking glass to see that her heroes (Batman-clone, Superman-Clone, Wonder Woman-clone. etc ...) are not what they appear to be to the common man.

It is all very neatly done, but it has been done before, in the comic books, in the 80s and 90s. Astro City is probably the best example of the "grounding" of the supermen, but even in print with have Wild Cards, and both of these go deeper into the psyches of their targets. Soon ... embraces without question many of the tropes that it purportedly satirizes (all the superpowers seem to have gone to the same high school, evil geniuses are evil geniuses because ... they are evil geniuses (following along the idea that "knowledge is bad")).

The book bounces along nicely though, except for two chapters where the author seems to say magic is a fraud, and with it the magic of comic books, but these moments pass and we move to a four-color conclusion. I guessed the second-act reveal but not the third-act, which makes sense if you think about it, but only if you stop and think about it. But style works, and works best when Doctor Impossible has the podium, both recognizing his weaknesses and lockstepping his way to his next defeat.

Its amusing, lacking the hard edges of Watchmen or the deep background of Cavalier and Clay, but its something to curl up with on the back porch and read while drinking a frozen rum punch.

More later,