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November 24, 2008 |

By Dustin Rowles | Books | November 24, 2008 |

There have been many attempts in both film and literature to explore the normal lives of superheroes, and honestly, there’s only really been one that seemed realistic to me. Crazy, right? Realism and superheroes, not really a pairing you’d think to look for, but I feel like there’s certainly plenty to work with there. What do you do when you spend half your life as one person, and half as another? If you have x-ray vision…does that turn off? Can you have a martini if you have super strength, or do you just snap glass stems all the damn time?

Most of the time, it seems like the tendency is to paint superheroes as very regular people, like they’re really just these totally mundane folks, and the humor comes from how damn boring they are when they take off the cape. That just rings false to me. There are two components not being addressed here; first, the psychological effects of superherodom, and secondly, the physiological effects. If your job has become — for whatever reason — smashing people around, you’re going to have some feelings about that. What would those feelings be like? Plus, think about the states that some of us wind up in as we age, even with just average activity. Imagine the stresses on superhero bodies — if I can jack up my knees with just some sporatic running, what the hell happens to someone who’s lifting freight trains?

The film I felt came closest to portraying the real-life superhero existance was The Incredibles, which…seriously you guys, if you have not seen it, you need to get your ass out and get on it. It’s just wonderful to look out, and it’s so damn smart. I guarantee that you will just love the hell out of it. Soon I Will Be Invincible comes close, but I think it might just be trying to cover too much ground in what could easily be two separate books if expanded in either direction. The story splits between two main characters, each who narrate their respective chapters. The first character is a supervillan, Doctor Impossible, and the second is a human/robot hybrid named Fatale. Like The Impossibles, Grossman dispenses with any attempts to pretend superpowered people can simply set aside their powers to lead bland lives. The characters that populate the story have lived out their lives in headlines and in front of the public … they are known and regulated and studied.

Fatale is joining a resurrected superhero team called the New Champions (guess what the old version of the team was called) on the eve of Doctor Impossible’s most recent escape from prison. She’s struggled to fit in, for the obvious reasons, and so too has Doctor Impossible. Had their struggles been slightly more similar, the comparison would have been a lot more compelling, but as it is, it falls short of its potential. Instead, it can be used as a commentary on the nature vs. nurture debate, which is less interesting and not as well suited to the characters and story. That’s kind of the story of this story … it comes close to executing some cool social commentary, but winds up not quite getting there.

That all being said, it’s a very enjoyable read, and Grossman has created some really fun characters. It’s always interesting to see someone screw around with aged tropes and stereotypes, and the author here does have a real knack for it. The flaws of these superheroes aren’t overwrought, nor are they too minor to really make you question the nature of superherodom. Grossman strikes a great balance here in showing some FAIRLY human characters who are motivated by wide variety of reasons towards the same end. While I wish Grossman had split the book into two parts (or two books) and unpacked Doctor Impossible and Fatale a little more, this is certainly worth your time and will get you thinking about how you view the people you work with and the people all around us; what makes us us? What makes us do what we do?

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. Details are here and the growing number of participants and their blogs are here. And check here for more of Josie Brown’s reviews.

Cannonball Read / Josie Brown

Books | November 24, 2008 |

Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here or follow him on Twitter.

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