I happen to agree that Watchmen (the graphic novel, not the movie) deserves its slot in the canon as one of the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century. But Soon I Will Be Invincible uses language alone to take us into similar territory, which turns out to be an inspired choice. Removed from the inherent limitations of graphic representation (dialogue boxes, two-dimensionality) the super-powered characters of Grossman’s debut novel are free to become, paradoxically, even more vivid, but also more compellingly nuanced. It’s very much a balancing act, and brilliantly executed.
Watchmen descends to seriousness via its dystopian tropes, but Soon I Will Be Invincible embraces the mainstream comic-book universe in which Good unambiguously bitchslaps Evil. There’s a plot worthy of Stan Lee, complete with doomsday devices and The Hammer of Ra. The chapters are titled in deliberate cliches, like “Foiled Again” and “At Last We Meet”. But all this is subtext (supertext?)–the real story is told through two inevitably-converging arcs, that of a freshly-minted heroine and an escaped villain, rebooting his career from scratch. Both are wonderfully sympathetic, in their off-kilter way, and the book keeps tossing off little hand grenades of insight into our own times: the supergenius bad guy, for instance, is diagnosed with MHD (Malign Hypercognition Disorder). It’s funny, of course, but also–for a novel so thoroughly decked out in spandex–braver and more elegant than you’d expect.