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In my opinion superstrength should not be considered a true super power. What good is it against all the other guys who have it too? I’ve decided instead that superstrength is a given (or should be) and is only really a super power if partnered with say, super speed, force fields or lazers, X ray vision, mind control or flying capabilities.

As a young girl my first infatuation was, not surprisingly, with superstrength. Because really, what power does a small female child have less of in today’s (or -I guess – yesterday’s) world? My childhood heroes were Hefty Smurf (was he really endowed with special powers or did he just work out a lot? Either way he could perform super Smurfian feats) and Popeye (my mother could only convince me to eat spinach – which I still hate – by telling me my biceps would grow that big. Sadly, they didn’t).

Over the years, I’ve moved past the mere consideration of super strength. Super genius now tops the list. I’m also a bit obsessed with telekinesis. In general I flatter myself in thinking that my super power philosophies have evolved a bit since I was five years old, when I was impressed if someone merely lifted a stationwagon.

Of course that assumes that the discussion of super powers can be considered mature. I believe it can be, as I’m sure Jesse and Devin would agree. The desire for super powers is, I think, one of the few things that most people can agree on. We all want to be greater than we are and it’s fun (and not to mention revealing) to imagine what powers would enhance us. We may want to be smarter, stronger, or more beautiful. Or maybe we just want to be able to walk through walls or move metal with our minds (another of my personal favorites).

Still there is an element in the ridiculous to super heroes that goes way beyond the flashy spandex suits, masks and oftentimes silly names (I dare to say it – Mr. Fantastic?? Come on!). In Soon I Will Be Invincible Austin Grossman gives the appropriate winks and nods to such silliness. His main character is Doctor Impossible who sadly, yearns for his unfinished doctorate (which would seem to make him simply Mr. Impossible). He’s an evil genius. He can’t help it – it’s a disease you see – Malign Hypercoginition Disorder. His foil is Fatale, a superhero cyborg created by the government and recently hired by The Champions (there is a hilarious scene where she gets her offer letter from admin@champions.com). She continually laments having to sound out her code name she chose from a list her creators gave her. No one says it right (as in femme fatale). Why couldn’t I have chosen Cybergirl? It was at the top of the list, she complains. I have to admit that, despite knowing better, in my head she was Fatal-ee, like she’s Italian, so I appreciated the clarification.

Despite these little jokes and choice elbow nudgings, Grossman is clearly a super hero fan. He’s spot on when it comes to the genre. So much so that if he chose to make it a serious superhero work, he surely would have succeeded. But I’m quite glad he chose instead to offer a friendly mockery. It has all the earmarks of a debut novel, but it’s so endearing I didn’t even notice (until someone else pointed it out). Nothing an editor couldn’t fix (where is Lois Lane when you need her proofreading skills??).

A theme of this book is that super heroes are more than just heroes. They are a brand. Personality sells. And Grossman’s main characters have dynamic personalities and more. I’ve never seen a more hilarious, snarky or sympathetic super villain than Doctor Impossible. I sided with him immediately (who doesn’t want to be an evil genius, even if you don’t act on it? Or is that just me?). He is certainly more engaging and more self-aware than the (ironically) obsessively introspective (and perhaps depressive) super hero Fatale – I blame it on her machine parts.

It’s his geekiness that got to me. Underneath his super speed and super strength, he’s still an awkward, friendless kid genius who aims to please and longs to fit in (somehow failing to do both). His most important weapon is his science.

Which brings me to my other thought about super heroes. It’s clear that heroes have certain qualities: good looks, popularity, eviable physiques. In other words, they are the cool kids. They’re hot, everyone likes them and they only hang with other cool kids. They’re the “in” crowd.

Supervillians are not just super heroes gone bad (or as Dr. Impossible likes to ponder, heroes that never turned good). They lack those qualities that make a hero a hero. They’re incredibly smart, have few or no friends (ever notice that villians are almost always fighting alone against a group of heroes?) and rely on machinery or other devices for power. Even their superstrength is no match for a hero’s well practiced athleticism.

I’ve always sided with the villians (those heroes, except for surly, loner Wolverine are pompous and annoying), which makes me think that the creators of comics were, like me, the nerdy kids in school. They doodled in class because it was too easy. They sat silently scoffing at their more popular classmates and imagining ways to defeat them. And hence a genre is born.

For people like them (and me) Dr. Impossible is a dream come true.

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