I really, really wanted to like Minister Faust’s new book, From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain, but I had to give up about a third of the way through. It’s too bad – Faust is one of the most dazzling writers I know of, and his first novel, The Coyote Kings of the Space-Age Bachelor Pad, is the very height of uber-cool geek lit. His writing includes constant and repeated references to every element of American counterculture in the last thirty years: role-playing games, comic books, science-fiction television, old school hip-hop, blaxploitation movies, and dozens upon dozens of others. When I heard his new novel was about a psychotherapist taking on a group of costumed superheroes, I thought it was going to be right in my wheelhouse.
The book was witty as hell, and fun to read, but the schtick of deconstructing people who wear spandex and can juggle Buicks is a tired one. Even though superheroics are doing well at the multiplex, most fans know the films on the silver screen are telling stories that are at least a generation old; for the past ten years or so, superheroes have been going through a crisis of postmodernism. Writers like Kurt Busiek and Warren Ellis have created stories looking back at the superhero genre, trying to reframe and redefine the past. Peter David was bringing the Hulk and the X-Men into the shrink’s office back in the early 1990s. What Faust is doing with From the Notebooks of Dr. Brain has already been done and will be instantly familiar to anyone who travels in the geek culture.
All that said, it still makes for a good read: Faust does a great job with the aw-shucks drawl of Omnipotent Man, the brooding and darkly fascist Flying Squirrel, the hip-hop jokester Brotherfly, and the bubblegum-snapping Power Grrrl, more interested in her album sales than saving the world. It’s all great fun. However, I was just looking for something more.