The vogue for pop-friendly re-narrations that spawned Wicked has caught up, inevitably, with DC and Marvel, and the result is Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, a novel told largely from the perspective of a supervillain. Everything about the concept and marketing, right down to the bold primary colors of Chip Kidd's irresistible jacket design, is predictable. But who knew that the book would be so singularly winning? The premise's wink-wink irony melts away as the story progresses, revealing a page-turning confrontation that's pure super-team suspense. For adults who were once Justice League or Avengers fans—or even for adolescents currently nuts for the X-Men—Grossman's thrilling first-person rendition of a comic-book world will stimulate and deepen the superhero sensibility.
The novel's chapters alternate between the nefarious plotting of the villain, Doctor Impossible, and the tentative entrance of a young heroine named Fatale into the legendary Champions team. While most of the revisionist laughs come from Impossible's reminiscences about past world-domination schemes (giant airships always lend a touch of the dramatic) and grumbles about post-penitentiary slumming with third-rate henchmen in abandoned strip malls, Fatale's narrative slowly accumulates real tension and emotion. She's a cyborg super-soldier assembled from cutting-edge technology after an accident. When the Champions reform under the leadership of celebrity superheroine Damsel after the death of CoreFire, Impossible's nuclear nemesis, Fatale gets an invitation to join. At first, she's overawed by her newama teammates—Elphin (a real fairy), Feral (a human-sized cat), and the mysterious Lily (formerly Doctor Impossible's girlfriend). But as she musters up her courage to talk to Blackwolf (a Wolverine pastiche who's Damsel's ex-husband), she also starts down a road that will answer questions about her own creation.
If it were all postmodern snark, Soon I Will Be Invincible would be a one-season wonder, fluffy fun for the geeky set. Not that humor is lacking; when Impossible breaks into a stop-and-shop and heists an ATM with his super-strength, he recounts, "I carried it into the back parking lot and tore it apart; then I ran as fast as I could. Not my finest scheme, but these are trying times." But Grossman has created something far more affecting: a loving prose recreation of superhero-team dynamics shaded by the never-ending tragedy of supervillaindom. He embraces his pulp plot and his original caped creations without hip attitude, and that's the secret origin of a terrific book.