Apr 02 2008

Storyboarding Soon I Will Be Invincible: Part II of the Structural Review

Published by at 12:21 am under Book Review,SIWBI,Soon I Will Be Invincible.

You can read part I of this chapter-by-chapter review of Soon I Will Be Invincible here.

Chapter 4: Superfriends

This is actually one of my favorite Fatale chapters (admittedly, a low bar). The style is distinctly better than chapter 2’s, but it still suffers from major characterization problems. The author arbitrarily makes his characters more or less intelligent than they were in previous chapters.

For example, is Feral (the mutated cat-thing) intelligent like Beast or dumb/frenzied like Reptile? In chapter 2, his dialogue suggested he was at least as intelligent as any of the other characters. For example, he used phrases like “He always looks fine. I know you two kept in touch.” That suggests that he’s not just a solid English speaker, but also in command of distinctly human faculties like empathy and social reasoning (like understanding relationships).

In this chapter, the author has apparently changed his mind about how intelligent he is.

“Fresh meat!” barks Feral, his fangs mangling the consonants… “Welcome to the show, primate!”

Then Feral gets smart again.

“I owed them a favor. I’ve worked with them before; I thought they were up to it. The Doctor was a little much for them.”

The author also changes Blackwolf’s characteristics. The narrator describes him as a billionaire on 60, instead of a millionaire on 21. He also becomes significantly smarter. Instead of being a pretty regular guy, with lines like “you honestly think there’s something behind this,” his language becomes a lot more technical.

“Yes, let’s have a look at you… He’s solved robotics problems, materials problems that no one else has ever touched.”

The major plot development this chapter is a set of duels between Fatale/Elphin and Feral/Blackwolf. Unfortunately, it reads a lot more like a movie script than a novel; the action fails to characterize any of them and, like most novel action scenes, isn’t really gripping.

We also get a page or two where the author begrudgingly moves along the main plot, describing how Dr. Impossible escaped and what the heroes are doing to find him.

Chapter 5– Free at Last

Impossible describes some of the zany schemes he’s tried in the past, reminding me why I kept reading past chapters 2 and 4.

I’ve commanded robot armies, insect armies, and dinosaur armies. Fungus army. Army of fish. Of rodents. Alien invasion. Interdimensional alien invasion. Alien god invasion. Even a corporate takeover… the battle-blimp was an expensive gamble, but there’s no doubt it put me on the map. I didn’t just want their money. I wanted them to look into the sky and see me– something extraordinary, something menacing and grand. I built the air sack to collapse in a matter of hours and fit inside a shipping container, so I could appear and disappear virtually without warning. No one knew when I would be looming above them at the wheel of a colossal airship, laughing maniacally through a loudspeaker.

Dr. Impossible gives us a bit of his origin-story, how he became super and first tried to make it. His description of fighting in Bangkok cage matches is OK, but I loved his first heist in the United States.

“I went on shouting. I screamed, although I don’t know what I said to them. I declared myself Emperor of Manhattan, America, the world.”

This chapter also comes tantalizingly close to genuine character development, the sort that makes you actually care about the character. Dr. Impossible describes his uncertainty after carrying off the heist, as it dawns on him that he can turn himself in and give back the money and go on to a normal and happy life after a year or two of prison. Or he can face guys that can fly and see through stuff. Of course, he decides the latter. “If you’re different, you always know it, and you can’t fix it even if you want to.”

Chapter 6: The Game is Afoot

The heroes pursue a lead related to Dr. Impossible: the police are holding a Chicago villain who claims to know where Impossible is. The villain says that he’ll help them if they let him go. The next paragraph does a pretty good job of characterizing the “superheroes” as singularly unlikeable.

“Do it. We’ll walk him out,” [says Damsel.] She’s impatient. “The cops are going to be pissed off is all,” [says Fatale.] We do it. The police sergeant starts to say something, but Damsel gives him a look. He’s playing out of his league and he knows it. But I can’t help feeling the gaze of those marksmen on the back of my head. I’m not like Damsel– a bullet in the right place will finish me off. Damsel doesn’t seem to care. She’s been a superhero all her life, and it’s obvious she couldn’t care less what the civilian police think.

SIWBI consistently portrays superheroes– unintentionally, I think– as boorish, stupid and arrogant. I think this passage does all three. If I had been the author, I probably would have had Damsel attempt to justify to the police why letting the supervillain go was the lesser of two evils. If they had to browbeat the police after that, fine, but the heroes should at least pretend to care about what mere mortals think.

We also get a bit of such contemptuousness (mixed in with jock-loathing) from a decidedly unexpected source: Feral, the mutant cat. “This is all geek stuff,” he says. This is the first of many references to characters as geeks or jocks in SWIBI. I still can’t think of any reason why a mutant cat would use the word “geek.” In fact, I don’t even think it’s plausible for anyone out of high school to use “geek.”

The heroes go to a bar where they accomplish nothing except meet a few more named extras (bringing our named character count to over 20).

Chapter 7: Enemy of my Enemy
Like the last chapter, this one is a throwaway. Dr. Impossible is looking for information on possible comrades, so he goes to an abandoned mall where supervillains hang out. One small continuity problem, though. He says that “thirty or forty of us were milling around” on page 91. According to his exposition on page 1, there only are 441 supervillains on Earth, a figure that includes those in captivity or otherwise not likely to go to a mall/hideout (like the Sphinx). So I think that this is inconsistent with page 1.

That’s a pretty minor point, though. I’m considerably more sensitive to the mis-characterization of Dr. Impossible in this chapter. Dr. Impossible, a supergenius with over a 300 IQ, uses phrases like “basically OK” with reckless abandon.

He gets beat on by another extra for no apparent reason. Nothing comes of it and the supervillain just lets him go, never to be heard from again. He doesn’t learn anything useful at the hideout, either.

The chapter ends with him meeting a retired supervillain who’s being held in house arrest. Apparently, though, the supervillain isn’t actually being monitored by anything that would mention that, uhh, he has a visitor that’s currently the world’s most wanted man. I think that meeting the villain in person is another strike against the supposed intelligence of Dr. Impossible– he couldn’t use a robot or something to contact him?

Chapter 8: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes
Back to Fatale. This is one of the worst chapters so far, I think. The first three pages describe her new uniform. The next fourteen pages describe in excruciating detail the backstory of Fatale’s supergroup. Essentially, they broke up after an alien war killed one of their members. There are some allusions to bad feelings between the members. If I were editing this book, I would have removed this chapter entirely.

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