Nov 15 2007

A Writer’s Review of Soon I Will Be Invincible

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

SIWBI is a first novel about a cyborg and her superhero team trying to stop a supervillain from taking over the world. Although it has redeeming qualities and the author is clearly very talented, I would recommend it only for writers.

Other reviews have been mixed. Here are some Amazon excerpts.

  • “This book reads more like a first draft than a published work.”
  • “This excellent novel reminds me more than anything of The Unforgiven in its deconstruction and reconstruction of its genre.”
  • “Most dismayingly, the two narrators sound remarkably similar, except that Fatale’s utterly flat sections lack the occasional moments of inspiration that sparingly pepper Dr. Impossible’s narrative.”
  • “Absolutely delightful.”
  • “The heroes don’t even take part in the fight that beats Impossible, yet the book wants you to feel like they’ve proved themselves at the end.”

SIWBI is not awful. It was, however, poorly executed and suffers from many flaws common to first novels.

Characterization

Within the first thirty pages we were introduced to nineteen named characters and three super-groups. Most of the characters parrot a popular comic book character but without any kind of new angle, sort of like fan-fiction but with new names. These characters are so thinly-developed that you can only differentiate them by remembering who’s a ripoff of Superman and who’s Batman. For example, let me run down the eight (!) main characters.

1) Fatale. She’s the main protagonist and one of the two narrators. She’s a female cyborg and former NSA assassin, very much like Black Widow. That wouldn’t have been a problem, if the author had provided any personal spin or commentary or improvement on BW. Without those, the best she could have been was BW fan-fiction. She didn’t even get that far. Instead, she does remarkably little throughout the story. Instead of affecting the plot and making things happen, she does a lot of watching and ruminating, but neither her perspective nor her voice are interesting.

2) Dr. Impossible. He’s the villain and the other narrator. He comes closer to parodying Dr. Doom, which is a plus. Early on, his voice was engaging. Nonetheless, he still wasn’t nearly developed enough to drive a story.

3) Blackwolf, one of Fatale’s teammates. He’s a millionaire (or billionaire?*) martial-artist without any superpowers. He’s a clumsy homage to Batman, but a Batman with a curious penchant for waiting around as things happen. Even Batman fan-fiction wouldn’t inflict that on us. Shouldn’t he be, umm… Solving crimes? Running down leads? Figuring out Lily’s secret identity? Epic fight scenes? Emotionally scarring Robin?
*Pages 20 and 61 disagree.

4) Corefire (Superman/Reed Richards). Corefire is dead at the book’s start and still affects the plot more than any of the other heroes. His death makes more things happen than most of the characters do while alive. No, really.

5) Damsel (Wonderwoman). I can’t remember her doing anything but throwing up. I don’t know why they have this character.

6) Feral is Beast, minus the intelligence. He sounds like every other character, bizarrely like a high school student. (“This is all geek stuff”). If anyone needed a distinct voice, I’d say it’d be the mutant lab experiment.

7-9) Mr. Mystic (any magical hero), Elphin (a female Sir Justin), and Rainbow Triumph (Dazzler).

Fatale’s group has eight characters, hardly any of whom do anything. You might wonder what does happen. We learn a lot about another supergroup that has literally no bearing on Dr. Impossible’s villainous plot. Dr. Impossible gets beat up by another supervillain, who just lets him go and then never shows up again.

Inexplicably, we learn the origin story of one of the other supergroup’s heroes. Incidentally, it’s an enjoyable and funny play on the Chronicles of Narnia. But the only reason the author could have possibly wanted to spend a chapter on that character is to set up a sequel. I think it was a significant misuse of space. There were eight main protagonists. Surely one of them deserved that space more than a character whose only purpose was to set up a sequel. One excellent way to set up a sequel—perhaps the best way—is to develop characters that are interesting enough that we want to see more. DC/Marvel fan-fiction? Not so much.

Lack of Originality and Flavor

SIWBI looked so promising. The title and cover are outlandishly fun. The first few chapters felt fresh. But the last 80% of the book is painfully bland.

The plot went like this.

  1. The villain starts his evil plot.
  2. The heroes try to stop him but fail.
  3. The villain raises the stakes.
  4. The heroes stop the villain in the final climax.

Isn’t there supposed to be something more? For example, the Incredibles and Spiderman had interesting themes about specialness and responsibility. The Matrix and X-Men 2 had great action. SIWBI had boring action scenes (even for a novel) and, if there were any notable themes, I missed them completely.

Perhaps most notably, the villain’s grand plan is just absolutely lame. At one point, Impossible teases us by musing about his past attempts to seize world power with armies of mushrooms and termites and stuff. Termite armies would have been epic compared to this.

It wasn’t just the villain’s plot and the action. Pretty much everything about this story’s world was forgettable. Generic. Me-too. If I could use an example, I think there are 4 ways for a superhero story to show (or not show) how its superheroes interact with the government.

Model 1: The government’s missing. The hero ties up criminals and presumably the cops come along later, but we never see them. Or maybe the story mentions that the government has deputized the heroes, which is a generic way to make the characters feel more sympathetic than vigilantes without getting bogged down in politics.

Model 2: The government is a mild antagonist, like the cops that get in Spiderman’s way. This gives the heroes an obstacle to overcome.

Model 3: The government is a villain, like in X-Men. This gives stories a more ideological edge, but can be interesting because it takes more finesse to handle a hostile government than a hostile villain. (You can’t just randomly stab cops, unless you’re Wolverine).

Model 4: Very rarely, the government is a protagonist. The Hood uses two minor FBI agents and The Taxman Must Die rocks out with an IRS agent transferred to a super-crime unit.

SIWBI goes for option 1, mentioning that the government’s okay with the heroes doing their thing. That’s fine, if generic. Maybe no one else cares about the government!  But it feels like every aspect of SIWBI is the equivalent of option 1 writing, an easy and conventional way to build a comic book world. You can’t develop every aspect of your world, but no aspect of this world is notable.

Narration and Voice
Each chapter was narrated by either Fatale or Dr. Impossible. They monologue a lot. Sometimes SIWBI’s monologues parody comic books, but usually they felt like weak storytelling. More importantly, Fatale is a poor choice for a narrator.

  1. Her back-story is cliché. She’s an injury victim-turned-cyborg, concerned about remaining human despite having mechanical parts. Boohoohoo.
  2. She’s new and doesn’t know what’s going on. That wouldn’t be a problem if introducing her to the world immersed us at the same time. It worked much better for Harry Potter and Frodo.
  3. She has no unique impact on the plot. Except for her inexperience, she brings literally nothing to the plot that other characters couldn’t replace.
  4. Even though she’s a cyborg superheroine, her voice was frequently hard to distinguish from a male megalomaniac supervillain. These characters should not have sounded at all alike.

There were a few chapters where I read through a page or two and found that I had actually mistaken the identity of the narrator. In one case, it took five pages.

Your readers should know quickly and without any doubt who is narrating each chapter. My rule of thumb would be that it shouldn’t take more than two paragraphs.

For example, here are a few ways to help readers keep the narrators apart.

  1. Write the narrator’s name right below the chapter title. This is 100% effective, though unsubtle.
  2. Use demographic cues. If the narrator mentions how her arm reminds her of a 1950s radiator, we can guess she’s a cyborg rather than a supervillain. If his tail swishes, we know he’s not human. Readers might miss these cues, but they draw the reader into the story more.
  3. Give them distinct voices! Making your characters sound different is definitely doable. It’s difficult, but it gets past the symptoms of voice confusion and addresses the problem, that your characterization and voice need work.

SIWBI attempted to identify the narrator by putting a graphic about the size of a gumball at each chapter’s start, a laser pistol for Impossible and an eye for Fatale. These graphics were too small to notice and I’m not sure why I would associate a laser pistol with a supervillain instead of a cyborg, or an eye with a cyborg instead of a villain.

All of the characters tended to sound alike. Here’s a multiple choice test: Who delivers these quotes from Soon I Will Be Invincible? Your choices are A) a mutant cat created in a lab accident, B) a genius millionaire gymnast-turned-businessman, and C) a whiny teen idol. (This should be easy, right?)

  • “Maybe you should be at work, then. Spend some time on the streets.”
  • “He always looks fine. I know you two kept in touch.”
  • “Darkness? Crime, you mean.”
  • “This is all geek stuff.”
  • “You honestly think there’s something behind this.”
  • “We haven’t seen a serious threat for almost a year. I’m almost bored.”

The first four are A and the last two are B. If you’re wondering why a mutated cat would use phrases like “geek stuff,” you’re not the only one. Notice that none of these lines actually came from the whiny teen idol, but pretty much all of them could have come from her.

Bloated Cast

I would recommend bringing in only as many characters as necessary. Each extra character is a liability.

  1. Each new character makes it harder for readers to keep track of the other characters.
  2. You have less time and space to develop each character.
  3. Adding characters leads quickly to superficial and underdeveloped relationships.
  4. Bloated casts ruin fight scenes. A book’s fight scenes are hard enough to visualize with two fighters, let alone SIWBI’s 7. (If you want to write epic fight scenes with many extras, could I suggest screenwriting?)

To paraphrase, redundant characters are reader kryptonite and should be removed. But how do we identify those characters? Generally, any character whose function/role in the plot can be performed by other characters can be axed.

SIWBI hit readers with eight characters whose only purpose was to represent a superhero archetype. For example, Mystic is the magical superhero and Feral is the mutated animal superhero. That’s not enough reason to add characters! Even if these characters were used well for parody/commentary– and they certainly were not– extra characters dilute every other character. If you absolutely needed characters like Feral or Elphin or Mr. Mystic to parody their respective archetypes, then it would make more sense to mention them as bit characters once or twice, rather than as Fatale’s teammates. That would have saved space for the few characters that did affect the plot.

I think SIWBI would have been much smoother and more coherent with only 3-4 characters on the superhero team.

  1. Fatale (or your favorite narrator; I prefer Lily).
  2. Someone to represent life before Fatale showed up (probably Damsel)
  3. Someone that can develop the narrator, usually by playing the foil or providing comic relief.

That leaves us with a core of three protagonists: the main character, status quo, and the foil. That’s elegant and flexible. You can go Harry-Hermione-Ron or Laurence-British society-Temeraire, for example. Three is easy, but a “core” of eight protagonists is completely unworkable. Depending on how you define “character” (such as minimum number of lines), I don’t know if His Majesty’s Dragon even has eight characters.

54 responses so far

54 Responses to “A Writer’s Review of Soon I Will Be Invincible”

  1. […] Our review noted that characters like a mutant tiger and a billionaire mogul tended to use uncharacteristic phrases like “this is all geek stuff” and “we haven’t seen a serious threat for almost a year– I’m almost bored.” […]

  2. Dforceon 12 Mar 2009 at 12:34 pm

    Hmm… After reading this, I began to wonder: Can you give some specific tips on how to develop characters (other than the seemingly-broad and generic ones you already have)? (Please note that “seemingly-broad” and “generic” is how I interpret them, and probably not how others may read them).

    If not, it’s fine; but the whole “developing characters” seems to be an escaping concept to me regardless of how many times I read it. (That gets really annoying sometimes).

  3. B. Macon 12 Mar 2009 at 5:16 pm

    Hmm, have you read our article on creating interesting characters by trait?

    Other than that, I’d offer these sorts of tips. (Hopefully they’re specific enough, but I don’t know much about your characters, so this will have to be a bit general).
    –Cut the chatter. If all of the characters in a scene are chatting comfortably, there is no story.
    –Try to remove scenes where the character acts the same way 90% or more of the population would. Those scenes are usually not effective at establishing distinct or memorable characters.
    –Accentuate the differences between your characters. Have scenes where one character would act differently than another, and have them conflict over the difference. Hold characters accountable for the choices they make.
    –Every major character, but particularly the main character, needs a noteworthy flaw. I recommend against using overprotective, perfectionist, too moral, etc. The flaw should be something that leads the character to make mistakes once in a while.

  4. Dforceon 12 Mar 2009 at 5:34 pm

    Hmm… I was referring to that article when I wrote the post. Thank you for your time.

  5. S.V.T.on 01 May 2009 at 2:05 pm

    Hey, B.Mac, what’s the max number of characters that can be in a superhero team?

  6. Ragged Boyon 01 May 2009 at 2:36 pm

    I think 4-5 is managable (personally, I’m fond of trios). Groups wih many members like the X-Men or Justice League worked because they were around for a long time and most of the heroes are well known.

  7. Tomon 01 May 2009 at 2:48 pm

    The Five Man Band seems to be pretty good:
    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FiveManBand

    But yeah, normally don’t go for more than five, unless you have a good reason for adding more. Basically, as many as you think is necessary.

  8. Davidon 01 May 2009 at 3:12 pm

    but be carfull that in fight sceans chraters dont “dissaper” thats happend to me

  9. Wingson 01 May 2009 at 4:57 pm

    Well I have a Six Man Band, although technically Pierce is only on the good side for the final battle.

    -Wings

  10. B. Macon 01 May 2009 at 6:44 pm

    I don’t have a set limit, but I’d feel most comfortable publishing a story with four or fewer. If there are 5+ characters, I think it will be hard to develop and use them. As Ragged Boy points out, most stories that successfully use vast casts (like Justice League and X-Men) accumulate them over years. It’s much easier for Justice League to introduce seven characters that are mostly known to the readers than it is for a new novelist.

    Also, as you add more characters, it becomes exponentially harder to develop the relationships. For example, let’s say you have a cast of 3 main characters, like Harry Potter. There are only 3 different relationships there.

    1. Harry-Hermione
    2. Harry-Ron
    3. Hermione-Ron

    If you had a fourth character, the amount of relationships increases to six. That’s a lot, but remotely doable. For example, on TMNT we have…

    1. Leonardo-Raphael
    2. Leonardo-Michelangelo
    3. Leo-Don
    4. Raph-Mikey
    5. Raph-Don
    6. Mikey-Don

    If we add a fifth character, there are 10 relationships. If we add a sixth character, we get to 15. A seventh character takes us to 21. Needless to say, giving yourself a big cast will force you to make painful choices about which of the few relationships to focus on and which ones to neglect.

  11. ikaruson 01 May 2009 at 7:57 pm

    On the plus side, Soon I Will Be Invincible has an awesome title. Next time I get in an argument, I’ll say that for dramatic effect.

  12. B. Macon 01 May 2009 at 8:19 pm

    The title and cover were excellent. When I saw that the premise looked kind of fresh– a superhero story mostly from the perspective of the villain– buying it was almost a foregone conclusion for me.

    Also, the chapters were all named, so the table of contents was also a plus. For example, chapter 19 is titled “But Before I Kill You” and the final chapter is titled “No Prison Can Hold Me.” Both of these successfully foreshadow what the villain is like.

    Finally, the opening chapters (particularly Dr. Impossible’s) were much better than the later chapters. Early on, it’s not clear that the doctor’s plot is kind of disappointing. And the problems with Fatale don’t become evident until later.

    Yeah, Fatale (allegedly the main hero) is a total non-factor*. I think Austin Grossman was going for an “epic chronicle” story that puts us in the point-of-view of a minor character to explore a much bigger story. It’s a very difficult approach, and I don’t think that it works out very well for him. (If you’re interested in this sort of story, I’d recommend The Great Gatsby and All The King’s Men instead).

    *I’m sorry to keep bagging on Fatale. Austin sometimes reads my stuff and I don’t want to discourage him or other first-novelists from trying new kinds of characters. But Fatale was about 75% of what was keeping this novel from being excellent. (The other 25% was mostly Lily and the ending). Austin has so much promise and talent that it’s surprising that this book turned out so forgettable.

  13. S.V.T.on 02 May 2009 at 5:24 am

    Thanks for the advice.

    Anyway, I read the SIWBI and one of the major problems I found with it was something you only devoted 2 sentences to. The characters are notorious for monologues. I mean, I found myself skipping pages because they had to tell the full-length origin stories of nearly every single character (even Regina, who didn’t have a big part in the book). You know how you said if your backstory (The Super Squadron) is more interesting than your actual story (The New Champions), then you’re writing the wrong story. That’s my diagnosis.

  14. B. Macon 03 May 2009 at 1:14 am

    In many ways, it felt like SIWBI was being written to prepare a sequel. That’s the only way I can begin to understand how AG convinced his editor to let him keep that Regina tangent. Or why he put it in to start with.

    Then again, it seems like at least 50% of the plot was incidental to Fatale and her new teammates capturing Dr. Impossible. If the editor had laid down the law and forced AG to remove all the padding, the remainder wouldn’t have been long enough to publish.

    I agree that the Super Squadron in general was a major distraction. It would have been much more effective to move them from backstory to frontstory. For example, perhaps they’re competing against the New Champions to get Dr. Impossible first. It might have made them more relevant and interesting.

  15. C. S. Marloweon 06 May 2009 at 12:00 pm

    I’m a little concerned about my story. It’s not a superhero story, but my worry isn’t about superheroes, it’s about character groups. In the first book, the ‘core team’ so to speak, is three, and easily manageable. But, so far, it seems like the second book may end up having six characters. I can probably cut it to five if necessary, but that still feels like too much. Any thoughts?

  16. Holliequon 06 May 2009 at 12:13 pm

    Hmm. If this is six across the whole book, you could probably get around it by introducing different characters at different times. Cutting it to five would probably be a good idea. Less would probably help. Is there a character who is only important at certain parts of the story? Would it be possible to replace that character’s role in that part? Alternatively, would it be possible to have him/her come into the story only when neccesary?

    Without much knowledge of your story, that’s about the best advice I can give. I will say that five characters is probably managable, although difficult.

  17. C. S. Marloweon 06 May 2009 at 12:20 pm

    The story’s about rebel vampires fighting against an evil empire (in a nutshell). The original core three are vamps, obviously, with two of them being a couple and the third being a boy that the woman vampire persuades to come with her. (Loneliness, and also because she wants a guide.) In the second book they run across two brothers, and to stop the elder one committing suicide (yes, he has some issues) the woman vamp steals a young child and gives her to him as a present. I can probably cut the younger brother, as he’s not that integral. It would be hard to cut some others, but maybe possible, I’m not sure.

  18. Holliequon 06 May 2009 at 12:27 pm

    Hmm. What about the woman’s partner? She seems to be the most active of the two (this is just from the examples above, mind). I agree with cutting the younger brother. I think the boy from the original three could serve in a younger-brother role if neccesary.

  19. B. Macon 06 May 2009 at 12:30 pm

    I agree that five characters would be better than six. I don’t think you will have much trouble introducing five characters over the course of two novels*.

    *Erm, at least I assume these are novels. If you’re talking about comic books, I’d recommend cutting it down further.

  20. C. S. Marloweon 06 May 2009 at 12:32 pm

    The woman’s partner would be sort of difficult to cut… he’s involved with the rebels, and he’s also her main motivation for breaking out of the prison she’s placed in. When I said the boy is a guide, I meant that he’s a guide to London, because she knows her partner is there somewhere, but she doesn’t know the place well. Mm… it would feel a bit strange, but there’s another possibility. The woman gives the child to the elder brother because he lost a daughter, and she means him to view the child as a replacement daughter, but I suppose it might be possible to twist it around so that it’s the boy who’s feeling lonely and wants a friend. That would cut it down to four in total.

  21. C. S. Marloweon 06 May 2009 at 12:33 pm

    “Erm, at least I assume these are novels. If you’re talking about comic books, I’d recommend cutting it down further.”

    Yeah, just to clarify, these are novels I’m writing.

  22. Marissaon 11 May 2009 at 8:30 pm

    I’ve picked up my library’s copy of this book so I can add my input here. Just felt like I’d let you guys know to expect my two cents. 😀

  23. Marissaon 11 May 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Okay, finished chapter one now, and I already have some thoughts.

    Good:
    — I like that the very first chapter is from the supervillain’s point of view.
    — I like that he’s actually in jail and contained rather than on the loose. That gives it a different feel, in my mind, though I’m not sure how to describe it.

    Bad:
    — He needs to suck it up. Seriously. I’m not sure if I’m just having a really insensitive day, but he seems to whine way too much. While bragging way too much at the same time. Still, points for the fact that I was still interested enough despite that.
    — Tangents everywhere. I understand that he (the author and/or Dr. Impossible, either one applies) may have had perfectly good reasons for including all the stuff it did, but the chapter had no sense of organization whatsoever.
    — He… really doesn’t seem too smart? Like, alright, he told us how he ‘froze the Supreme Court, impersonated the Pope, and held the Moon hostage’, but then he says things like ‘the slowness of the accident’. ‘Slowness’ isn’t exactly an intelligent choice of words, is it? Considering it isn’t really a word.
    — The names in this book already bug me. Dr. Impossible is fine enough, but if I see the ‘f’ in ‘CoreFire’ capitalized one more time, I’m going to punch something. >_> ‘Damsel’ and ‘Stormcloud’ really aren’t the best either. Damsel is alright, I can see it being used with style, but Stormcloud? Thankfully, this guy’s only Damsel’s father. I hope Dr. Impossible is just namedropping so I don’t have to take Stormcloud seriously.

    …So yeah, there’s my response to the first chapter. 😀

  24. B. Macon 11 May 2009 at 11:47 pm

    The name-dropping really bugged the hell out of me. The first two chapters named 28 characters.

    Of the 28 characters, I think that 19 are introduced in a way that the reader has to try to keep track of them because it’s not immediately clear whether they are important or not. That was an absolutely overwhelming feat for me.

    Dr. Impossible– page 3. (The story begins on page 3; pages 1-2 are the table of contents).
    CoreFire—page 3.
    Lily. 6
    Steve—the therapist. 7.
    Something-tron. (Protheon or Positron, perhaps?) 12.
    Dr. Mendelson. 14.
    The Pharaoh. 14.
    Damsel. 16.
    Stormcloud. 16. (He comes up again on 21).
    Fatale. 17.
    Protheon. 19. Possibly introduced on page 12.
    Galatea. 20.
    Feral. 21.
    Rainbow Triumph. 21.
    Elphin. 21. (Feral, RT and Elphin were introduced in the same sentence… ick).
    Blackwolf. 21.
    Mr. Mystic. 22.
    Go-Man. 23.
    Regina. 23.

    In addition, we get another 9 characters that are clearly throwaway props. It’s immediately clear to the reader that these characters don’t need to be remembered.
    The Elemental– 5
    Rocking Horse– 5
    Dr. Stonehenge—5
    Dreadstar. 25.
    Calliope. 25.
    Argonaut. 25.
    The Breach. 25.
    Impkin. 27.
    Theodore Bear. 27.

  25. Marissaon 12 May 2009 at 12:07 am

    I finished the second chapter now…

    Good:
    — Even if it does read like a fashion magazine at times, I’ve not seen the ‘superheroes as moviestar celebrities’ angle done before. It probably has been, but this is the first I’ve seen it where they’re not hiding their identities and such.
    — Again with the ‘angle I haven’t seen’ is the fact that they’re no longer a team, but are coming back together now.

    Bad:
    — Fatale is so so so whiny and negative, especially at first.
    — Wow. So many names, so many identical characters. o.o
    — Rainbow Triumph. How did the author get published, with a character named Rainbow Triumph? Mister Mystic is hardly any better.
    — Elphin goes from ‘a child’s whisper’ and ‘wide-eyed’ to ‘the voice of an amazonian warrior’ with no warning whatsoever. What’s the deal with that? Plus, if this counts for anything, it took me five pages since she was mentioned before I realized her gender.
    — I’m not sure what I’m supposed to think of Blackwolf. He’s got this strange gay-fighter-techie vibe going on, which I never thought could be possible. He calls Damsel ‘honey’, which I would have let slide if he were still married to her but they’re clearly on the rocks as far as their divorce, then he’s twirling a knife and playing with his Blackberry at once. Oh, and he’s autistic. What?
    — The namedropping is ridiculous. There have been something like twenty one names mentioned in the first few pages.
    — The whole chapter in general, or at least the parts that involved character interaction, seemed really… awkward. Not awkward in the story, but it was written awkwardly.

  26. B. Macon 12 May 2009 at 12:29 am

    “The whole chapter in general, or at least the parts that involved character interaction, seemed really… awkward. Not awkward in the story, but it was written awkwardly.” I think it would help if the cast were smaller and more distinct. Also, I think it would help if we had been introduced to Fatale before seeing her talking with her new team.

    For example, that might have gone something like this.
    1. Dr. Impossible introduces himself.
    2. Fatale is running down a lead on her own that somehow ties into Dr. Impossible. He’s in prison at this point, but it’s clear that he’s orchestrating something big from his cell.
    3. Dr. Impossible breaks out.
    4. The Champions bring Fatale on board because she has some leads on Impossible that might be useful.



    I think that Fatale, more than Dr. Impossible, has major problems with telling rather than showing. She tells us a lot about her backstory and it doesn’t seem very interesting to me.

    She doesn’t seem to have any distinct personality traits, and the closest she gets to a distinct voice is that she uses profanity from time to time.



    What about Blackwolf gave off gay vibes? I would have figured that having a wife suggests that he’s straight. 😉

  27. Marissaon 12 May 2009 at 1:13 am

    Well, I get a distinct personality from Fatale, but it’s not a good one. =/ So far, I’ve gotten ‘fangirl’ vibes (how she was all over how the superheroes around her were on magazines and she’d recognize them anywhere) and whining-teenager vibes (whenever she talks about her backstory).

    Oh, I know he’s straight, I just… think it’s odd that he throws ‘honey’ around, and he’s playing with his fancy cell phone… I’m not sure about that one. Mostly the ‘honey’ comment. Maybe not gay, but more… metro? Hahah, I don’t know.

  28. B. Macon 12 May 2009 at 3:57 am

    I’ll agree that Fatale sounds unusually young. In fact, most of the characters sound like they’re in high school, particularly when they talk about geeks and jocks.

  29. Holliequon 12 May 2009 at 8:49 am

    “Elphin goes from ‘a child’s whisper’ and ‘wide-eyed’ to ‘the voice of an amazonian warrior’ with no warning whatsoever. What’s the deal with that? Plus, if this counts for anything, it took me five pages since she was mentioned before I realized her gender.”

    Her gender?! I’ve been following this article thinking it was a he. D:

  30. Marissaon 12 May 2009 at 11:22 am

    Hollie, you have nothing but the utmost sympathy from me. I’m clearly a veteran of the same exact mistake. xD

  31. Beccaon 22 May 2009 at 8:03 pm

    About what Marissa mentioned, about Blackwolf randomly being “autistic”: a person cannot be considered autistic in the slightest if they’ve been married/been in a meaningful, loving relationship. It’s just a direct counter to the definition of autism. This strikes me as being an unresearched trait just thrown onto the character in an attempt to make him more distinct.

    Another thing that bothered me was how nothing was abbreviated, like “Mister Mystic” instead of “Mr Mystic” or “Doctor Impossible” instead of “Dr Impossible”. To me it makes the names feel dragged out and less succinct, not quite as snappy as superhero/villain names should be.

  32. Mike (or Gerbilman)on 16 Jul 2010 at 6:18 am

    Blackwolf is autistic? That makes no sense. When I first saw him being described as autistic, I thought I’d misread at first. He doesn’t act autistic in the slightest! If anything, I thought he was just a preppy dweeb who happens to be a better crime-fighter than Nocturnal-Winged-Flying-Mammal-Man.

  33. B. Macon 16 Jul 2010 at 9:03 am

    “He was just a preppy dweeb who happens to be a better crime-fighter than Nocturnal-Winged-Flying-Mammal-Man.” Yeah, I got a “Batman without the style” vibe from him. He probably could have been an interesting character, but I think it might have been easier to develop him if the cast had been smaller.

    Also, I don’t remember him doing anything that showed off his intelligence. (Except for maybe the fight with Feral, where he learns how to anticipate Feral’s strikes by watching his tail). Then again, I read the book a few years ago, so it might just be my memory.

  34. Mikeon 16 Jul 2010 at 3:06 pm

    I didn’t see anything that showed off his intelligence either, and I finished it a few days ago.

  35. S.V.T.on 09 Nov 2010 at 2:26 pm

    The one thing, and I mean, ONE thing I liked about this story was that it tried to involve as many different superhero archetypes into the main team as possible. I think I want to incorporate that into my story, but with only three main characters, I may need a little help picking the right archetypes.

  36. B. Macon 09 Nov 2010 at 7:42 pm

    I sorta think it might have been more interesting if there had been fewer characters, so that they might have interacted (and been developed) more. For example, I think Elphin (the elfin warrior) and Mr. Mystic (the magician) could easily have been merged to avoid redundancy/overlap. Alternately, if these characters are both necessary, have them interact more.

    I think Rainbow Triumph (the teen idol) would have been more interesting if rounded off with aspects of Blackwolf (the Batman) or Feral (the dumb animal). For example, I think Beast from the X-Men is a bit more interesting than Feral because he mixes two unexpected archetypes: the animal and the scientist, whereas Feral doesn’t get beyond the animal at all. In my own work, I try to use Agent Orange as a combination of the Michaelangelo (the whimsical clown) and a gung-ho soldier.

    Alternately, Blackwolf (purportedly) is autistic, but that’s only something we’re told and not something we really see in action. I think it would have been interesting to mix something like Bruce Wayne, a master at pretty much every human endeavor, and some recurring mental obstacles. (Well, Bruce Wayne HAS mental obstacles, but they’re usually related to social skills and don’t much impact his abilities as a crime-fighter. “What are you, retarded or something?”).

    Which archetypes are you looking at?

  37. S.V.T.on 10 Nov 2010 at 3:57 pm

    I liked the ones Grossman picked for his novel, except for the omnipotent archetype (CoreFire), the reformed supervillain (Lily), the boring cyborg (Fatale), and whatever Elphin is supposed to be. I also want to combine a few. I think I could combine Blackwolf, Damsel, and Feral, as I only need one brute fighter on the team. I think that should work.

  38. Janon 14 Jul 2012 at 5:40 pm

    I just got the book from library and read it. It was awful. I always knew who was talking, but Fatale and Dr. Impossible sounded exactly the same as each other and everyone else. Except Ephin or however you spell her name. The plot twist was mediocre at best. The superheroes were too many.
    Batm—er, Blackwolf, Damsel, Fatale and Lilly would’ve made a fine team. There was no reason for everyone else, AND the Chaos Pact (which sounds like a supervillian team) and the Super Squardron.
    Then by the end the book starts spouting nonsense. Everyone randomly starts confessing in their cells while they languish in dungeons. WHY? We don’t care is Damsel’s an alien princess, or Ephin or whatever’s a fairy. No one developed their characters enough for me to care.

  39. B. McKenzieon 14 Jul 2012 at 7:16 pm

    “I always knew who was talking, but Fatale and Dr. Impossible sounded exactly the same as each other and everyone else.” For authors struggling in this regard, I would recommend checking out Wild Cards and Batman: The Animated Series (especially the episodes Almost Got ‘Im* and A Bullet for Bullock).

    *In particular, the way that Penguin dumbs down his speech for Killer Croc (e.g. Aviary of Doom –> Big Birdhouse) and berates the other villains for their lack of drama is memorable.

  40. Elecon 05 Jan 2013 at 2:11 am

    Do you think having a team of 12, bearing in mind that they were selected out of approximately 1 500 people is acceptable? In my plot, it is very rare for them to all go off and do something together, anyway. In the main battle/fight scene, only around half of them are actually present. The others are off on the other side of the ocean. Do you feel that this concept is acceptable? If not, how would I improve it?

  41. B. McKenzieon 05 Jan 2013 at 11:58 am

    “Do you think having a team of 12, bearing in mind that they were selected out of approximately 1 500 people is acceptable?” While I like the idea of having only some of them present for the final battle, I think 12 would still be hard to work with. Any space/time you spend on the second group of 6 characters will probably take away from the first set of 6 people. And even 6 is more than I’d recommend for a first-time author–I think having 3-4 characters on the main team would probably make for better character development. (Keep in mind that most larger teams, like the X-Men and Justice League, launched with relatively few characters and only gradually built up their rosters).

  42. Elecon 06 Jan 2013 at 12:26 am

    Okay then, that sounds like a better idea. I have already thought of two characters that I can easily remove from the team, and there is probably a few more I can get rid of (at this stage, I really have only mentioned the names of most of the characters). I think I just really had this idea of the team (because they are selected from over one thousand people every year, and have been around for over fifty years) being something similar to the ‘first team’ in school sports. Thanks for your help though, B. Mac.

  43. B. McKenzieon 06 Jan 2013 at 2:30 am

    “I think I just really had this idea of the team… being something similar to the ‘first team’ in school sports.” I see where you’re coming from. For example, in a cop or military story, we’re probably only looking at one squad or one unit rather than the entire department or regiment. I think it probably wouldn’t be an issue if your superhero organization had more (or even many more) superheroes off-camera, but I’d recommend spending the large majority of your time on a small unit and perhaps a few secondary characters from other units who have the most impact on the first unit.

  44. Elecon 07 Jan 2013 at 1:04 am

    Yeah, that’s exactly what I had in mind! The team has a sort of ‘reserves’ which comprises of maybe 50-20 people, but none of the characters in the reserves are really mentioned or named. I did manage to condense the team down to nine, one of which is more of a ‘tech support’ person, who stays back at base when the other eight go out to fight. Do you think that I have made the team manageable enough?

  45. B. McKenzieon 07 Jan 2013 at 1:48 am

    I think you’ll see fewer 30-second rejections with 8-9 protagonists rather than 12. But developing 8-9 protagonists would still be challenging, fight scenes with 8 protagonists will probably be unwieldy*, and I’m not yet seeing the benefit(s) of a large cast here.

    When you’re writing your synopsis/proposal, I’d recommend making it REALLY clear what the characters contribute, because I think this could be a huge hangup with publishers. Are you burying your interesting characters in not-so-interesting characters? Are all 8-9 of these characters effective enough to justify their time/space? Will even 50% of your readers be able to keep all of the characters apart?

    *One potential solution: not using all of the characters in a particular fight (e.g. the team splits up into smaller units and we only see a few of the characters at a time).

  46. Elecon 14 Jan 2013 at 12:38 am

    Thanks B. Mac. The potential solution that you mentioned is exactly what I am using. when my MC is first introduced to the team as a whole, he only meets 6 out of 9 people, who are investigating the robbery of three experimental nuclear submarines at a military base. They don’t really succeed, and so meet up with the MC later at their first “official” meeting. I am later planning to remove them from the final fight scene by them finding some new information on the submarines, which will bring the final group down to 5 (the tech support guy will get cut of from them by an EMP or something), and I could probably come up with another excuse to get rid of 1 guy (maybe the 3 who went to investigate the subs need extra support). What do you think of this?

  47. B. McKenzieon 14 Jan 2013 at 2:11 am

    “I could probably come up with another excuse to get rid of one guy (maybe the 3 who went to investigate the subs need extra support).” That sounds workable. Alternately, perhaps it’s 5 guys on the strike team, and one of them gets badly wounded early on, and the team leader makes the snap decision to have the tech guy stay with the casualty to prevent him from bleeding out. The main advantage I see is that it’d give the leader more personality (e.g. he/she is willing to risk the mission to save an individual member) and would raise the stakes on failure (you’ve shown that you’re willing to seriously injure a character that makes a mistake).

  48. Elecon 17 Jan 2013 at 2:44 am

    Yeah, the tech support guy stays back at base, so i could have transmissions with him cut off or something. I like the injuring idea, i can see how I could make that work. Thanks!

  49. Phasma Felison 10 Mar 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Hi, all! I was sort of bemused by the review, as I just finished the book and really liked it. Not much point in starting an argument over a five-year-old review, though. Different strokes, etc.

    I’d like to address some of the comments, though, especially Becca’s, who said:

    “About what Marissa mentioned, about Blackwolf randomly being “autistic”: a person cannot be considered autistic in the slightest if they’ve been married/been in a meaningful, loving relationship. It’s just a direct counter to the definition of autism. This strikes me as being an unresearched trait just thrown onto the character in an attempt to make him more distinct.”

    I’m doing my best to stay civil and not just post a long string of curses. Have you ever known an autistic person? Does your entire knowledge of the condition come, perhaps, from Rain Man? Or maybe you’ve known a couple of mentally disabled grade-schoolers and think they represent the entirety of the condition?

    You have *no idea* what autism is. I’m 34, I have a bachelor’s in computer science, a fulfilling job at a major university, satisfying friendships, and, yes, I’ve been in more than one meaningful, loving relationship. A dear friend of mine will soon be celebrating her 10th year of marriage. We are both autistic. Autism is a broad spectrum, with certain traits seen across the breadth of it–daily rituals, difficulty understanding social norms, difficulty filtering sensory input, just to name a few–but these traits cover a huge range of intensity, and there are many thousands of autistics who can, with dedication and treatment, overcome our disadvantages and be happy, healthy, functional members of society.

    And believe me, it makes our lives *much* harder when jackasses like you tell us that we couldn’t *possibly* be *real* autistics, and deny our experiences and our need for treatment and understanding, just because we can hold a conversation and not shit ourselves in public. This is about as offensive as telling a person who needs crutches to walk that they’re not really disabled because they’re not in a wheelchair.

    When Fatale mentioned that Blackwolf was “diagnosed mildly autistic,” I was delighted. It made so much sense! What neurotypical person would be able, every waking moment, to obsessively size up everyone in the room, checking for weaknesses and planning how to take them out if he had to, without ever getting distracted or sick of it? That’s autistic right to the bone, and I was so happy that Austin Grossman understood us well enough to see that.

  50. Keziaon 19 Nov 2013 at 8:39 pm

    While I was reading the part about how Fatale is all depressed and stuff about her cyborg-ness. I had an idea about a guy who, while part of a superhero family, doesn’t manifest any superpowers and is relegated to being an unnecessary Mission Control. To get back at his family, villains ambush their HQ and attack him causing him to lose an arm, and in the process, manifest his inventor powers, which he uses to make a Swiss Army Knife-esque gadget-stuffed cyborg arm. However, he becomes so taken with his new capabilities and his family’s new attitude towards him that he starts to chop himself up and replace larger and larger amounts of his body with cybernetics. Becomes an antagonist in the future.

  51. B. McKenzieon 19 Nov 2013 at 10:13 pm

    “However, he becomes so taken with his new capabilities and his family’s new attitude towards him that he starts to chop himself up and replace larger and larger amounts of his body with cybernetics.” Whoa, that took a seriously dark turn. On the one hand, I really like the idea that there’s a lot more to life than the approval of others.* And the source of his powers is, ahem, much more memorable because it’s his choice rather than something he lucked out into.

    However, self-mutilation may be a bit creepy even for an (eventual) villain. One possible suggestion — and I’m not sure this would be an improvement, particularly if you intend the mood to be very dark — would be something along the lines of a gradual addiction to a serum which has highly negative side-effects. I think that would be a bit less creepy than him chopping off parts of his body without changing the substance of the plot much.

    *I’m generally seriously annoyed by universally adored superheroes. Writers, please don’t abandon protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict.

  52. Keziaon 20 Nov 2013 at 7:38 pm

    Your right that self-mutilation part is really dark and I’m definitely going to tone that down, but maybe instead of the gradual addiction to a serum the negative side effects could actually come from his powers? (Maybe his powers show him how to improve something but only through the lens of his warped thinking?). Also, about your comment about protagonist-vs-protagonist conflict, let’s just say that the character’s Face-Heel Turn is started by the less than pleased reaction his family when they find out the true extent and nature of his “improvements.”

  53. B. McKenzieon 20 Nov 2013 at 11:19 pm

    “let’s just say that the character’s Face-Heel Turn is started by the less than pleased reaction his family when they find out the true extent and nature of his “improvements.”” That sounds believable and promising.

    Some other potential points of conflict:

    –Perhaps he becomes bitter that they feel THEIR powers are legitimate / worthy but his are not, especially if they looked down on him before he had any superpowers. An argument which sounds like “You just have to accept you’re a second-class citizen and can’t do the things we do” is liable to blow up.

    –Based on how quickly he acts during a crisis (to replace his own arm with cybernetics as the base is being attacked), he strikes me as an extremely determined survivor. He may reason (flawed or not, and perhaps skewed through negative side effects of his powers) that making himself better/stronger will increase his chances of survival as well as his chances of minimizing harm to innocents and teammates. When they oppose his decision, he may conclude that they don’t care much about his survival/wellbeing.

    –“Let me get this straight. It’s okay if I replace my right arm after it was savagely ripped off by a serial killer. But it’s NOT okay if I surgically replace my left arm without waiting for someone to rip it off first? What’s wrong with you people?”

    –It sounds like he’s been on the outside of the family for a long time (e.g. he’s been doing mission control while they’ve been out working as a team, so they probably have years of field experience together whereas he’s new to this side of the operation). His inexperience may result in conflict (e.g. if he makes a rookie mistake in a life-or-death field like superheroics, it’d be believable if one of his teammates reacted a bit severely). Also, any sort of team response (even a pretty gentle one) to a potentially fatal issue might strike him as harsh and perhaps set off his paranoia. For example, if a guy on a superhero team has shown that he’s having real difficulty handling (say) stealth missions, they might assign him to guard the escape vehicle because that doesn’t take much stealth skills*. If they’ve already looked down on him because he was handling a safe and unglorious job, I imagine that telling him to guard the plane would go over rather poorly (e.g. perhaps he’d decide to take part in the stealth mission even though he’d be directly disobeying orders — he hides the extent of the cybernetics he’s done on himself, so it’s believable that he might try to secretly disobey on this as well).

    *When both sides have a believable, reasonable position, the conflict tends to be more three-dimensional. In this case, the person that assigned him to the plane might have genuinely planned on bringing him on stealth missions as soon as he had had enough time to practice in safe simulations or whatever. (However, the cyborg might have gotten mixed messages — maybe not everyone was that receptive to having him in an active role).

  54. Keziaon 21 Nov 2013 at 6:16 pm

    You’ve definitely given me a lot to mull over B. McKenzie, thanks a lot!

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