Reviewed by John Glover, Reference Librarian for the Humanities
In this debut novel, Austin Grossman writes of the lives, loves, and traumas of superheroes. The story doesn't take place in the well-worn worlds of Marvel or DC, but the characters are all types (or combinations thereof) recognizable to anyone who knows comics: the near-invulnerable man, the mythological figure, the half-man/half-machine, the feral fighter, and so on. And what would a novel of heroes be without supervillains? The two viewpoint characters are Dr. Impossible, evil mastermind par excellence, and Fatale, a female cyborg with a cloudy past who has been asked to join The Champions, a super-group analogous to the JLA or the Avengers.
This rousing yet thoughtful novel is a beautiful counterpoint between the main characters. On one page the reader encounters Fatale's frustrations over not being able to sit in chairs that won't support her armor, and on the next Dr. Impossible is lamenting his tendency to leave crucial details of his doomsday devices unplanned until the last minute. Grossman plays his characters' agonies straight, exploring the psychology and lives of people set forever apart from the rest of humanity. Serious takes on the world of comics have been done before, in fiction and in comics themselves, but the author brings a deft hand at characterization to the project.
As much as this is a story about super-powered people, it's a story about humans in opposition, forced to live out their lives in circumstances they believe they don't deserve, or in other cases circumstances they believe is their due as the best of society. Grossman's style is economical and transparent, aside from occasional rhetorical flourishes that neatly match the action of the story. This novel will be a thrill for you if you enjoy comics and a fast-paced story that still takes time to explore the lives of its characters.