17 October 2013

Review: The Midlife Crisis of Commander Invincible

The Midlife Crisis of Commander Invincible
The Midlife Crisis of Commander Invincible by Neil O Connelly

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Probably closer to a 2.5 for me.

There's a mixed history for me with prose superhero stories. Some, like Austin Grossman's Soon I Shall Be Invincible, work within the framework of the stories it is trying to ape in prose to come up with a good story. Some, like Brandon Sanderson's Steelheart, subvert those tropes in a way that speaks to the stories it is mimicking, but with a good twist. The Midlife Crisis of Commander Invincible tries to be the latter more than the former, but with a slightly different twist to it. While it tries, in a sense, to be a character study of an older, aging superhero (think an adult version of Mr Incredible from The Incredibles), the book comes across more like a McSweeney's-fication of the superhero prose genre than anything else, and it doesn't always work.

The story is pretty basic in the regards that Commander Invincible is older now, and a lot of the threats that he's accustomed to are gone. Yes, superheroes are still a thing, but supervillains not so much. Plus, home life isn't so great for the Commander, with his wife possibly seeking something different and his kids feeling detached. Commander Invincible chooses the path of trying to reassert his relevance while balancing everything else going on in his world.

On the surface, this is really less a book about superheroes than it is a book about getting old within a superhero universe. In that aspect, it does succeed to a point, as it does the one thing that many superhero stories in general do not attempt, and that's bring a level of humanity to the heroes themselves. The problem is that this book overplays its hand more than a little bit in trying to subvert the genre in favor of the narrative it has drawn. There's a significant "get on with it" feel to the entire story that exists throughout the whole thing, choosing to be a deeper character study than a story. It's a choice that doesn't always work, and (especially when it comes to a genre like this) almost feels like false advertising.

When I say it's like "the McSweeney's-fication" of the trope, I mean it in that it feels like it's intentionally throwing a curveball with a wink and a nod to a more literary audience even though everything else suggests people who are looking for a funnier take on an existing idea. Sometimes that works, but this, unfortunately, did not. If you're looking for superhero stories that don't do the same thing over and over, there are a few out there worth noting. If you're looking for coming of age and superheroes, there are probably better comic books that figure this out as well. As for this, it's a good shot that simply didn't work for me at all.

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