Soon I Will Be Invincible - Austin Grossman
As I may have mentioned once or twice before, I really love stories written from the bad guy's viewpoint. This is a particularly fine example - in a world full of superheroes, we get the perspective of aging supervillain Doctor Impossible, newly escaped from prison and making his latest plans for world domination. The band of heroic do-gooders, the Champions, had split up some years previously in unfortunate circumstances, and their reunion is fraught with internal politics and the loss of some of their members. Doctor Impossible has been defeated by them many times before, but this time he thinks his evil plan might just work...
It sounds terribly cheesy, but there is in fact a quite touching and human centre among the glorious technicolour superhero action. Because there's none of this evolved-humanity nonsense from X-Men or Heroes - the superhumans here all gained their powers in the traditional manner from lab accidents, aliens, mystic artefacts and ancient gods - they all have personalities affected by their origins, and often some sad and poignant tales as well. Doctor Impossible has the classic tale of a misfit trying to get even, but we also get the viewpoint of rookie superhero Fatale, newly admitted to the ranks of the Champions, and a misfit trying to fit in. The Champions themselves are superstars as well as superheroes, and act rather like the clique of prom queens and jocks, but even they have interesting back-stories, full of tragedies, messy divorces, and the pressure of trying to live up to their superhero predecessors; the whole book is full of these neat little character sketches.
One of the book's greatest joys is putting these characters against a backdrop where superheroes are just a matter-of-fact part of life, and yet have them maintain their campy tights-and-cape comic-book ways. There are some great moments here, for example the Champions "documentary" that Fatale watches, which strongly resembles a normal superhero TV series; I was also very fond of the side-character The Pharoah, a pathetic villain who pretends to be Egyptian, and shares a name with a more famous hero who can't even be bothered to enforce the copyright issue. It's not laugh-out-loud funny all the way through, but then it's not really supposed to be; instead, it's an entertaining, feelgood story with a real affection for its source material, and if it weren't for a couple of plot holes, I'd be awarding full marks. Highly recommended.