It's hard to think of a more iconic representation of American pop culture than the superhero—comics' characters and "KA-POW!" sound effects are familiar even to those who've never picked up a comic book. So if you're going to write about superheroes, you're guaranteed an audience—but you'd better have something new, clever, and interesting to say about them.

Fortunately, first-time novelist Austin Grossman is up to the challenge with Soon I Will Be Invincible. Grossman's two semi-reliable narrators are Fatale, a 27-year-old woman who—after "a random tourist mishap in São Paulo"—is now 57 percent machine, and the ingenious supervillain Doctor Impossible, who "tried to conquer the world and almost succeeded, 12 times and counting"—yet, at the novel's outset, is merely "a middle-aged man in prison overalls stuck in a metal chair." As Fatale joins a jaded team of superheroes, Doctor Impossible once again attempts to rule the world—despite knowing, from plenty of firsthand experience, that supervillains always lose.

Invincible might sound overly geeky and/or cutesy—and it would be, if it weren't for Grossman's tight grasp on his excellent characters. A poignant sense of melancholy stretches throughout, with the self-loathing (but hilarious) Doctor Impossible nevertheless making grand proclamations. ("Time for stage two of the doomsday plan, a three-stage plan not counting the actual doomsday.") Meanwhile, as the confused Fatale attempts to find her place in a world full of superheroes, we catch bursts of classic comic book action, the pages full of explosions, quips, and excitement.

Indeed, there are tons of comic book clichés here, with Grossman swiping all sorts of things from comics' rich, bright mythology—then admiring, examining, and twisting them into something both recognizable and new, offering plenty of witty observations along the way. With Soon I Will Be Invincible, Grossman pays tribute to comics' history and goofiness—and uses their intrinsically enjoyable qualities to craft a smart, funny, and fantastically entertaining novel of his own.