Friday, July 29, 2016
Book 53: "Superheroes," you say? Why, I'm not sure such a concept would be popular at all, sir.
The book is told in alternating chapters narrated by Dr. Impossible and Fatale, a former special-ops cyborg who has been recruited to join "The New Champions," a reconstituted superhero group formed to look for Earth's greatest hero (in this novel, anyway), CoreFire, as well as find the newly-escaped Dr. Impossible.
There's really nothing new in the book: CoreFire is a Superman, there's a Black Wolf character filling in as a thinly-disguised Batman, and Dr. Impossible is every evil genius from Lex Luthor on; there are island lairs and robot armies and multi-hero fights; what makes the book worth reading is the spirit Grossman puts into it, for lack of a better word: the book is fun the way comic books can be fun even when they deal with (semi)serious issues. Grossman's writing is smooth, the characters are interesting, the plot rolls along, and there are enough twists and fights and puzzles to keep everyone happy.
Dr. Impossible is really a great character: an evil supergenius who constantly reminds us he is one, the book unveils his history and persona layer by layer, back to when he was in school with the man who would become CoreFire after an accident caused by Dr. Impossible when he was just a lab assistant, and then forward through his time in prison and another accident that gave Impossible his own bit of superpowers. His running monologue is at times poignant and at other times hilarious; his showdown at the end of the book -- there had to be a showdown, for a book like this -- is one of the most weirdly touching moments I can recall in a book. Impossible has a keen sense of humor as well as for the necessities of his position: when he is found by accident in New York when he doesn't have his costume with him, he tapes a napkin over his face so cameras can't get a picture of his face. At another point, he uses his blaster on a hero despite knowing it won't work, more or less for old time's sake.
The only other character with any depth is the cyborg, Fatale, and while she's kind of interesting, it's Dr. Impossible's show; the chapters told from Fatale's perspective drag a bit and tend to be mopey, but even then they're still a lot of fun.
The background characters in the book are interesting, though: Grossman really goes all out on the mythology; he's got Golden Age heroes, faeries, aliens, robots, an invasion on Saturn, pretty much everything you could imagine from a longrunning comic series. It's all so detailed and neat that it makes me with there was a comic series (or just a series of more prose books) with more of these heroes and adventures. I can't really understand why that hasn't happened, since superheroes are so big these days. (My guess, though, is it has to do with money: it costs a lot to make any TV show or movie, and the special effects' costs for a superhero film would make it even more expensive, so trying to start a whole new superhero movie franchise without 50 years of built-in fanbase is probably prohibitively expensive, but even if that's true it doesn't explain why there's at least not a comic series or sequel to this book.)
If you like superhero movies or comics, odds are you'll enjoy the book. You should give it a try: this book deserves to be a bigger deal than it apparently is.