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Sunday, October 5, 2008

Soon I Will Be Invincible

If the comic book artists and writers were right, we would be living in a world of secret government programs to create super soldiers, aliens and mutants where superheroes and villains would hang out in bars together and either plot to take over or plan to save the world. With wry wit, Austin Grossman's humorous novel takes us into this world of science gone mad, time travel, aliens, impossible scenarios and brightly-costumed metahumans with supernatural powers. He uses Dr. Impossible, he-who-would-be-invincible, and Fatale, a dreadfully-injured young woman turned human cyborg and novice super hero, to tell the story, but it is really Dr. Impossible's story.

Dr. Impossible is a scarily-intelligent, geeky loner who never fit in, not even with his family. On one level, it's the usual story of teenage angst, unfulfilled love and clumsy genius. All he really wants is acknowledgement and love, same as anyone else, but he's spent his life being overlooked and underrated. So, what's left for "the smartest man in the world" to do? Take over the world, of course. Show them all. And even though he freely admits he is going to lose, he never stops trying to become the emperor of everything.

His persistence and our sympathy with his desire for recognition make him an endearing villain. He notes that wearing a cape doesn't do much for one's social life and the images of him changing into and out of his costume behind bushes, wearing sunglasses and lurking in alleys behind garbage dumpsters until he is ready to make the grand entrance demonstrate some of the unglamorous aspects of having a super identity. But, he also builds cool gadgets and awesome robots with junk he mostly gets from Radio Shack. He has visions of grandeur, but he's not quite evil enough to want to destroy the world. Really, submission will do, and then he promises to be magnanimous. He enjoys the brief, but glorious hours when he has the world's attention, always knowing the moment will come when someone will come along, pound him into submission, and haul him back off to jail. You've got to admire his guts. He wants to win. Who doesn't?

Maybe I should have been a hero. I'm not stupid, you know, I do think of these things. Maybe I should have just gone with the program, joined up with the winning team, and perhaps I would have, had I been asked. But I have the feeling they wouldn't have wanted someone like me. They'd turn up their nose or just never quite notice me. I knew some of them in high school, so I know.

Observations about himself:
The cape is pure melodrama, a coup de thèâtre, useless in a fight but indispensable in making an entrance, worth minutes of tedious oration. No one who sees that broad crimson swath billowing behind me as I step through the breach I've made in their perimeter is going to ask too many silly questions. A simple half mask is enough to keep my identity from public knowledge and fold me into the public persona.

In street clothes, I'd just be a criminal. Which I am, of course, but in the costume I'm something more. I wear the flag of a country that never existed and the uniform of its glorious army, spreading forth the dominion of the invincible empire of me. Doctor Impossible.

Observations about his enemies:
It's always chancy, facing down one of these people. No matter who it is, you're going to be dealing with the end product of a long, improbable story, of a person so strange and powerful that he or she broke the rules of what is ordinarily possible. Whoever you're facing is guaranteed to be special––an Olympic wrestler, a radioactive freak, the fated son of somebody. They're winners. Taking a red arrow or a sea horse or the letter G as their symbol, they sally forth to make your life difficult.

Fatale, the young woman who agrees to become a cyborg rather than die or be left horribly disabled and disfigured after being run down by a dump truck in Brazil, offers astute observations on members of The New Champions, the super hero squad that opposes Dr. Impossible. Her conversion includes a lot of metal components (she now weighs 500 lbs.), onboard computers, a mini-nuclear reactor in her vaginal area, ruling out child-bearing, but also the reason she no longer has to worry about getting her period. She's good-hearted, and wants to prove herself as the new kid in the squad, but is also lonely and curious about her fellow heroes. She knows she's in when she finds a New Champions costume on her bed
I stop and look at myself in the full-length mirror, a machine-woman hybrid in a leotard. Female cyborgs are supposed to be wasp-waisted pleasure machines, but the fact is, it takes a lot of structural metal to carry a miniature reactor and this much hardware. I'm six four, taller than most men, with long thighs and broad shoulders. Even with my silver hair down, the impression is a bit more fearsome than traditionally beautiful.

I run a hand down my flank, feeling the cool metal and then the real flesh, thinking of how long it's been. Not since the accident and how long before that? I don't even know. I only know I'm not a virgin. That's all.

I look again, to see Fatale of the Champions. It's hard not to be a little proud of myself. I flip the hair back and do a Fatale pose for an imaginary photo shoot.

Click on the title of this post to go to the author's website. I got a kick out of the safety tips for children:
Saftey Tips for Kids
Be Smart! If there is a metahuman conflict in your neighborhood, do not attempt to intevene.

Be Alert! If your friends or classmates show signs of Malign Hypercognition Disorder ("evil genius" syndrome), ask them to seek help.

Signs include:
-extreme intelligence
-secretive behavior
-impatience with assigned classwork

Dr. Impossible says that getting super powers makes you find out who you really are, a villain or a hero. You can find out, too. The Department of Metahuman Affairs (DMA) is screening applicants for the Champions Reserve Force. Take the quiz, come up with your superhero or villain identity name, and receive an I.D. card.

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