The real lives of superheroes has become a well-worn trope in recent years and while Soon I Will Be Invincible isn’t on a par with Watchmen or the Incredibles, it manages to flesh out its characters well enough. Usually, authors seeking to comment on superheroes either tend to make them too campy or too dysfunctional, but Grossman manages to strike a reasonable balance. Despite this, there was something that bothered me about the cast of Soon I Will Be Invincible and it wasn’t until I read the author bio that I pinpointed what it is.
Austin Grossman graduated from Harvard University in 1991 and became a video game designer at Looking Glass studios. He is currently a freelance game design consultant and is studying for a Ph.D in English Literature. He lives in Berkeley.
And with that little bit of the author’s history, the focus of the novel snapped into place. You see, all the main characters in the novel went to Harvard, be they heroes or villains (although I seem to recall that Doctor Impossible didn’t graduate). What’s more, they all seemed to know each other while studying and when the time came to form allegiances, they relied on their alma mater for suitable connections. While there are characters in the book that didn’t attend Ivy League schools, they tend to be relegated to the roles of underdogs and also-rans. The intrinsic notion that of course the bravest and the boldest would originate from Cambridge, Massachusetts seems to speak volumes about the entitlement that education at such an establishment gives you. (That and the fact that you mention an institution you attended 20 years ago as the first line of your bio.)
It’s interesting in this context specifically because it runs against one of the central principles of the superhero genre, namely that anyone from a immature paperboy to a millionaire playboy can find themselves in a cape and a mask if the right set of circumstances dictate it. What Soon I Will Be Invincible does is undercut this notion and suggest that, no, it’s actually going to be the privileged, well-funded and overachieving bright young things of America’s academic elite that will take on the capes. The occasional schlub might get a lucky break and be hit by a truck of radioactive waste, but generally the Justice League and the Ivy League will be pretty much synonymous. When this became clear, I started thinking about the parallels to The Social Network and it struck me that most of the heroes seemed distinctly Winkelvossian – born into privilege, with enormous resources at their disposal and genetic advantages that their competitors can’t hope to emulate. Doctor Impossible, by contrast, has all the smarts but none of the connections and spends his life trying to reconnect with the girl that got away. He’s the Zuckerberg, with one big difference.
He doesn’t win at the end.