"I saw the misadjusted dials and the whirling gauges and the bubbling green fluid and the electricity arcing around, and a story laid out for me... I was going to declare war on the world, and I was going to lose."
A novel by Austin Grossman about a world where superheroes exist and have been around since World War II. The setting is an Affectionate Parody of both the Marvel Universe and The DCU, and like these two is decidedly in the realm of the Fantasy Kitchen Sink, with everything from magicians to aliens. Most of the characters are a Captain Ersatz or a pastiche of superheroes and superhero tropes.The story is told in alternating viewpoints between Fatale (a new recruit to an Avengers/Justice League analogue) and Doctor Impossible (a super villain who has fallen on hard times and is currently in jail for the 12th time). The great hero CoreFire is missing, and his Arch-Nemesis Doctor Impossible has escaped from prison. Coincidence? ...well, actually, yes, much to Impossible's annoyance. No matter, he has his own plans; it's just going to be harder to implement them now that the rest of the superhero world is trying to rescue the hero he doesn't have hostage.While the world is fairly insane, most of the characters act like regular people do, making them in effect Straight Men to the bizarre milieu they inhabit.Characters include:
Fatale: An ex-NSA cyborg whose implants come from a Super Soldier program that never really existed; became a candidate for that program after a near-fatal traffic accident in Brazil. She doesn't remember why she was there, or any of her previous life. Weighs about 500 pounds due to all the metal in her body.
Elphin: A literal fairy who has a magic spear and can control the weather. Fatale, for one, thinks her story is ridiculous for most of the book. Seems to be based loosely on characters like The Mighty Thor, who claim to be immortal mythical or religious beings, but people doubt their legitimacy.
Blackwolf: An ersatzBatman, whose Badass Normal demeanor comes from autism. He and Damsel were once married, until the widely publicized breakup of the original Champions.
Feral: A street-level hero who is a anthropomorphic tiger. Similar to Wolverine, although the fact he's an anthropomorphic tiger calls back to Mr Tawky Tawny of Captain Marvel fame.
Rainbow Triumph: Blackwolf's nominal Kid Sidekick, even though they don't get along very well. Has Super Strength and Super Speed thanks to implants keeping her alive, but must take medication every few hours or she'll die painfully. Corporate mascot for her father's biotech firm. Would remind one of any of several superheroes under the age of 15, with a little self-destructive child actor thrown in. Most particularly Carrie Kelly (Earth 31 Robin) and, somewhat presciently, Damian Wayne, the current earth 1 Robin (in that she requires cybernetic/transhuman augmentation from her wealthy parents' corporation to survive).
Mister Mystic: The resident magician, who is somewhat estranged from the team (he often just pops up when needed and later disappears into whatever magical realm or brownstone he inhabits). Something of a cross between Marvel's Doctor Strange and DC's Zatara and the Phantom Stranger, and a bit of Mandrake the Magician thrown in. Other than CoreFire himself, it can be argued that this is the guy Doctor Impossible hates the most, since Magic can't be explained by the science the Doc holds most dear. It's commented that depending on who you ask he's either the most powerful member of the team or a trick-based Badass Normal, reminiscent of Doing in the Wizard approaches to magical characters.
The Pharaoh: a Harmless Villain who claimed to be the reincarnation of Ramses and had a Thor-like hammer which made him invincible. Dr. Impossible expresses doubt on his backstory, after the Pharaoh is unable to decide which Ramses he was exactly. He serves as a parody of numerous badly realised comic book villains that were quickly phased out despite their powers, down to his grandiose backstory, silly costume, and accidental copying of an established hero's name. "He's an Egyptian!"
Galatea: A robotic woman who sacrificed herself to save the world. Said to have developed something like emotions. Similar to the Vision or the Red Tornado.
Baron Ether: The oldest supervillain known, having lived for possibly over a hundred years. Committed a plethora of crimes before being caught and put under house arrest by his archnemesis the Mechanist. He's resigned himself to his powerless status but is not above giving Doctor Impossible help when he calls on him. Loosely analogous to Fu Manchu or Ra's Al-Ghul in terms of agelessness, great intelligence, and esoteric nature.
Action Girl: Fatale, Damsel, Lilly, actually every female superhero.
Alternative Character Interpretation: In Universe actually. A running theme of the book is that the heroes and villains, despite defining each others lives and fighting each other for years, really don't know or understand each other at all.
Anti-Villain: And how. Doctor Impossible's character is a Villain Protagonist with strong characteristics of the Anti-Villain. He is clearly and unapologetically a bad guy (although maybe just a little bit misunderstood), every inch an Evil Genius... but in spite of all of that, it's hard to not want him to win. Doctor Impossible's internal monologues paint him as a somewhat sympathetic character - although one could argue that his backstory is all just a Freudian Excuse. As he even says at one point, "Some days, you just don't feel all that evil."
It also has to do with the fact that once you get a good look into the life of a supervillain, you realise it's not easy to be one. It takes skill, wits, dedication and bravery. Villains have their own inner demons and face their own hardships. Villains too have to fight against impossible odds (Doctor Impossible spends most of the book fighting against impossible odds, in fact). In many ways, it appears being a villain is harder than being a hero. Strong with their public approval, heroes live a life of prestige and date movie stars while Doctor Impossible is rotting in prison, or maybe toiling away at some new doomsday device which he knows will probably be thwarted again, like they always do. But abandoning is not an option. "You keep going. You keep trying to take over the world."
The heroes of the story also show their imperfections. CoreFire is (allegedly) a Jerk Ass, Blackwolf is antisocial, Rainbow Triumph is very much like a Spoiled Brat schoolyard bully, Damsel struggles with Becoming the Mask, Feral drinks, Elphin can't relate to human society, Fatale is somewhat of a mild Shrinking Violet among other things. The point is that they are all flawed characters, regardless of their "hero" or "villain" titles.
Arbitrary Skepticism: Fatale believes that Mr. Mystic is really a magician, but is convinced that Elphin can't possibly be a real fairy. Dr. Impossible, meanwhile, flatly disbelieves in the existence of magic, despite the fact that part of his plan depends on exploiting a magical artifact (and it really bugs him to have to do that.).
Bad Guy Bar: The Champions visit a super-powered villain lowlife bar to squeeze the patrons for information. Later, Doctor Impossible goes another Bad Guy Bar, held in a secret location that changes every so often to avoid the heroes.
Badass Normal: Blackwolf is pretty much the living embodiment of this, able to take down any other Super Hero despite the fact he has no powers.
Big Damn Heroes: for a moment, it seems like Corefire will pull this... but nope, Doctor Impossible utterly destroys him too. In the end, it's Lily who pulls a Big Damn Heroes when the Pharaoh's hammer power finally runs out.
But for Me, It Was Tuesday: Dr. Impossible created Fatale. He only realizes this when he finally recognizes his handiwork, and he spends the entire novel unable to remember her name. At the end, this is reversed: he's spent his entire life waiting for the moment when can triumphantly reveal to CoreFire that he is his nerdy classmate from high school. The big reveal comes...and CoreFire can't place him.
Interesting version of this occurs with Baron Ether, who is confined to supposedly isolated house arrest for the remainder of his life by his Arch-Nemesis the Mechanist. He never breaks out but people keep breaking in to talk to him. Lampshaded by him at one point:
"I don't know how you people keep getting in. I think the Mechanist must be a bit out of date."
Conqueror From The Future: Minor villain Polgar, the President of the United States in an alternate future, who comes back to take over when he is deposed. One of Blackwolf's theories about Dr. Impossible is that he is a past version of Polgar. This is probably a Shout Out to Kang the Conqueror, the Ur Example of this trope, who was previously (and erroneously) thought to be a future version of Doctor Doom.
Continuity Drift: There's a bit of this with the backstory. For example, Impossible mentions at one point that his Freak Lab Accident was in 1976, and he spent many years Walking the Earth before becoming a villain. So how did he and CoreFire have fights in the 1970s? And just when was CoreFire's lab accident? It was several years before Impossible's happened, so why wasn't CoreFire able to join the Super Squadron, which didn't break up until 1979? For that matter, how did Impossible hold the Squadron off "for years" if they'd already retired? Of course, it's entirely possible that all this is just a Stealth Parody of Comic Book Time and Unreliable Narrator.
The Corruption: Baron Ether's experiments have left him with some increasingly inhuman mutations.
Cosmic Irony: Impossible tracks down the joke-villain Pharaoh's hammer so he can fight off CoreFire, finding it (and the Pharaoh) at the centre of a spreading patch of ice in Costa Rica, from the CoreFire/Pharaoh battle. Later, Lily tells him that she once did go to the future and saw the world-destroying Blight of her fake backstory: it started at the hammer in Costa Rica, and by removing it for his evil plan, Doctor Impossible inadvertently saved the world.
Then again, he has Malign Hypercognition Disorder, which means: he's an EVIL genius. Apparently, being an evil genius is a mental disorder that inevitably comes with Impossible's level of intellect, so he can't help himself.
Played straight with the former Laserator, who turned his back on his supervillain career and became a successful legitimate scientist.
Damsel in Distress: Doctor Impossible complains about how kidnapping the same woman repeatedly gets kinda boring after a while. And she never realises who it is, which hurts.
Subverted: If you read carefully, especially near the end, it becomes clear that Lilly knows damn well who Doctor Impossible is - she just never admitted it.
Diabolical Mastermind: Dr. Impossible. Less so than he used to be, but he can still make a few phone calls and have a sniper with a Ray Gun assassinate someone in Russia.
Disability Superpower: Blackwolf's uber-planning and analytical skills are due to a form of autism. Several of the other heroes are also shown to suffer adverse effects from their abnormal physiology (Feral's back problems, Damsel's digestive problems). "There's a fine line between superpowers and a chronic disease." Fatale notes that you have to live with these powers, the cyborg parts or half-human biology or whatever every day and not just when they come in handy.
Egopolis: Dr. Impossible's plans to rename New York City.
Everyone Went To School Together: Dr. Impossible, CoreFire, Damsel, Blackwolf, and even the character supposedly from the future, Lily. Impossible lampshades it, commenting that a surprisingly high percentage of his classmates ended up on one side or the other of the superheroics game. He's not sure if it was selection bias (the school was for highly intelligent and ambitious students) or there was just something strange about the place or what.
Genius Bruiser: As a result of a science experiment Dr. Impossible is a good deal stronger and tougher than the average human. But he's still nowhere near as strong as any of the heroes who have superhuman strength as a main power and he only uses his super-strength when backed into a corner or caught by surprise; it's never part of his main plan. Presumably Dr. Impossible's strength is just one of the Required Secondary Powers to survive all the times he has been punched and thrown around by heroes.
Genre Savvy: Doctor Impossible is savvy enough to understand that villains never win. But he just can't help but try anyways. Over and over and over again.
Hidden in Plain Sight: Much of Doctor Impossible's angst is due to CoreFire never realizing who he is. Turned around, too, when Lily is revealed to be Erica Lowenstein, who he had been angsting about never getting attention from. Although she was almost completely transparent, so he had a good reason to not realize it. The latter is especially poignant, since it's what primarily motivated Impossible. (This doesn't stop him from going right back to plotting after The Reveal. Evil habits are hard to break.)
Hope Spot: Dr. Impossible comes so very close to winning, but he still lost in the end. Dammit.
Immune to Bullets: Impossible takes several shots and just shrugs them off. Lily has nothing but a small scratch... from a depleted uranium chain gun round. Subverted by Fatale; her armored parts are rated against depleted uranium rounds, but the rest of her is normal flesh, and she realizes that a bullet in the wrong place can still kill her.
The Jailer: Silver Age hero The Mechanist does this to his nemesis Baron Ether. Apparently, the Mechanist was so concentrated on keeping Ether from getting OUT, his systems are not very effective in keeping Dr. Impossible and others from getting IN.
Jerk Jock: CoreFire, even before his empowerment. At least according to Doctor Impossible. Blackwolf says "CoreFire was a jerk" at one point, and Damsel calls him a "Fucking racist." It is implied that he broke up with her when he found out she was only half human.
Then again, Dr. Impossible actually, though grudgingly, admits that when they did talk, CoreFire did come across as an okay guy. Impossible describes him not as a bully, but one of the many people who allow it.
Large Ham: Doctor Impossible seems compelled to put on one hell of a show for the cowering public. His internal narration is a lot more subdued. In fact, at some points he seems almost annoyed at having to trot out the stock hammy phrases when he's fighting the superheroes.
Legion of Doom: Doctor Impossible notes that the more powerful and dangerous a supervillain gets, the more trouble he has working with other villains. He remembers an attempt of the world's greatest villains to form a team to stand in opposition to the Champions; they can't even pick a name before they break down into in-fighting.
Lethal Joke Character: The Pharaoh looked ridiculous and wasn't very smart, but with the hammer, he was at the level of CoreFire and Damsel in terms of invulnerability.
Mad Scientist: Doctor Impossible, of course. Also, his mentor Baron Ether.
"I remember those nights, planning technologies that didn't exist yet, outsider science, futurist dreaming, half-magical. The things I could do outside the university setting, now that I didn't have to wait for the pompous fools at the college! I was building another science, my science, wild science, robots and lasers and disembodied brains. A science that buzzed and glowed; it wanted to do things. It could get up and walk, fly, fight, sprout garish glowing creations in the remotest parts of the world, domes and towers and architectural fever dreams. And it was angry. It was mad science."
Morally Ambiguous Doctorate: Doctor Impossible, duh! Though he does have a regular doctorate. He was a post-doc grad student when he had his little accident. He was just a laughing stock because of the whole Zeta beam thing, so he couldn't do anything other than minor research.
My Greatest Failure: In his first of all those failed attempts to access the power of the Zeta Dimension, Dr. Impossible actually created his own arch-nemesis.
Never Live It Down: In-universe, Doctor Impossible's Battle Blimp; "No-one ever lets me forget that thing." Still, it got everyone's attention and put the Doctor "on the map".
New Powers as the Plot Demands: Dr. Impossible's Power Staff. What can't it do? It can fire energy, absorb energy, reflect energy, make him fly, make him invisible to cameras, neutralize laser tripwires, spray knockout gas... At one point, he bemoans that he's never mastered the art of building things small, but he does himself a disservice. He has a massive arsenal built into something the size of an umbrella.
This is more justified than in most cases of the trope. Dr. Impossible knew exactly who he was fighting and their limitations and what defenses to expect. It isn't a surprise he knew exactly what he would need to build into the staff for it to be the most useful based on previous encounters.
Doctor Impossible's complaint about never mastering the art of making small things was a complaint about his personal lack of subtlety, not ineptitude. He could and did make lots of very small, precise things. His issue was that he tended to build 40 foot tall robots and similar oversized items which got a lot of attention, which tended to lead to his defeat.
New Superpower: Damsel, near the end of the story, suddenly gains water powers. Afterthe world has already been saved.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: Dr. Impossible unwittingly saves the world by taking the Pharaoh's hammer away from where it was warping the local landscape, and would have created "the Blight" of Lily's future.
Nothing Can Stop Us Now: Doctor Impossible realises saying things like that are just Tempting Fate, but at the denouement, with everything going his way "It feels so good, I just have to say it." Needless to say, it's all downhill from there.
Out of Focus: Mainly due to Fatale's POV and her main interactions, most of the Champions don't really get much more than a skimmed over backstory and a few lines throughout the entire story.
Phlebotinum Rebel: Fatale, who was apparently reconstructed as part of some scheme of Doctor Impossible's, though it's never revealed to what ends.
With some (plot irrelevant, but interesting) foreshadowing thrown in for good measure. When she first joined the New Champions, there were obvious parallels between Galatea and Fatale, including the fact that she was given Galatea's old room. Once she discovers that she's Doctor Impossible's creation, Baron Ether's disjointed ramblings reveal that Galatea was his creation, also turned Good.
Played with: Dr. Impossible's plan involving Fatale is long abandoned and forgotten and only recognizes her as a product of his technology.
Reed Richards Is Useless: played with— there are mad-science super-technologies that can save human lives, but they come with dreadful side effects and they're mostly in the hands of supervillains anyway.
Science-Related Memetic Disorder: Doctor Impossible and several other supervillains are diagnosed with Malign Hypercognition Disorder, which strikes the very brightest minds on Earth, compelling them to become Mad Scientists and try to Take Over the World. As Doctor Impossible says in the narration, it's not known why being in the top 0.001% of brains makes you evil, but it's inevitably going to make you unusual.
Set Right What Once Went Wrong: Lily's backstory is that she was sent back from the future to do this, succeeded, then decided that she preferred her original future and is now trying to "set wrong what once went right". None of it's true, of course.
The main goal is true, and she did indeed go into the future. But certain details, such as her backstory (her being raised as a supersoldier and what not) are not true.
Shaggy Dog Story: It seems like the book is setting up a final showdown between Fatale (the rookie member of the superteam) and Dr. Impossible (the Evil Genius so powerful that his crimes are tried in the World Court). After all, they're the two viewpoint characters. Instead, Impossible takes her down in less than five seconds (by remote control, no less!), and she spends the climax of the book in a prison cell. In fact, examination reveals that her absence from the plot would have changed more or less nothing. Her actual role in the book was to provide an "outsider" perspective on the superteam, and thus prevent both Continuity Lockout and As You Know.
"[I] built a whole new class of defenses to deal with his ability - trip wires, gases, immobilizing foams, areas of the complex that could seal instantly if I even suspected he was inside them. Then I'd pour everything I could think of - poisons, sonic vibrations, mutant bees - until something worked, until he fell unconscious and stopped moving, precipitated out of the air like a spirit."
This is an important part of how the world of Heroes and Villains plays out. What was, for Dr. Impossible, a narrow escape calling on all his resources after he was jumped in the street, is a humiliating defeat at the hands of a collected and hyper-competent enemy to the supers and a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown of the heroes to the media.
Time Travel: Besides Lily, Baron Ether accidentally got stuck in the Cretaceous period for some time, and Dr. Impossible once travelled back to the Third Punic War to help the Carthaginians win (but the Champions travelled back too and stopped him).
Troperiffic: It's basically a catalog of superhero comic tropes.
Unknown Rival: Doctor Impossible's lifelong dream is to finally defeat CoreFire and reveal himself to be none other than the inoffensive little science geek who CoreFire was sort of friends with in high school, and whose Love Interest he stole. He finally gets the chance towards the end of the book, resulting in... a blank stare, and sheepish admission from CoreFire that he has no idea who he is.
On a broader level, neither Dr. Impossible nor CoreFire manage to figure out who Lilly actually is and both totally fail to even recognize how completely she's played them both.
Unreliable Narrator: Impossible's emotions and prejudices often color his perceptions and recollections, though to what degree is unknown; for example, he often thinks of CoreFire as an "imbecile", even though in a high school for the gifted, they both were at the top of their science class and competed for the same awards.
Ur Example: In-universe, Baron Ether was the first known supervillain. He made his villainous debut in Victorian Britain, and finally retired in 1979.
Villainous Friendship: Type I with shades of Type IV in Doctor Impossible and the Pharaoh's relationship. Yes, the Pharaoh is an absolute idiot, but he's still Impossible's friend, and he seems as eager to make the Champions respect the Pharaoh as to make them respect himself.
Villains Out Shopping: A street-levelling fight breaks out after Blackwolf spots Doctor Impossible relaxing at a coffee shop. Just before, the Doctor thinks, "Some days, you just don't feel all that evil."
You Can't Thwart Stage One: Dr. Impossible has a few encounters with the Champions, together or individually before while he's still trying to put his Evil Plan together, but the final battle doesn't happen until he's in his lair with his Doomsday Device, having announced his intentions to the world.
Also when the Champions attack Doctor Impossible's lair, he's ready for them and manages to capture them all. It doesn't last.