Prepare to Die!
by Paul Tobin
Review by Drew Bittner
Night Shade Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9781597804202
Date: 29 May 2012 List Price $26.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Links: Author's Website / Show Official Info /
This is the story of how a superhero faces his mortality, redeems the "might have beens" in his life, and learns—after being in the game for years—how to be a hero.
In Prepare to Die! by Paul Tobin, an entire superheroic universe is established in the space of a single novel. Boyhood friends Steve Clarke and Greg Barrows are typical dumb teenagers, doing reckless stuff and skirting trouble with the law, until a fateful accident with a truck full of mystery sludge endows them with amazing powers.
While his friend Greg becomes the much-beloved Paladin, Steve becomes the Reaver, whose punch steals a year from whomever it hits. His power makes him less loved than feared, but he still works for the greater good--and his greatest enemy is Octagon, whose superscience and armored form strike terror into the hearts of millions. The two battle over and over, with neither able to gain a decisive victory, until the day Paladin falls and the Reaver is unleashed. In preparation for what looks like their last battle, Octagon gathers a villain team that brutally pummels Reaver, pushing his self-healing power to its limits, before putting a gun to his head and preparing to pull the trigger.
Which is when Reaver changes the game. He tells the villain that he's sick of all of it--and that he wants time to say his goodbyes. He'll meet Octagon and face his end, but on his terms. Octagon is amazed… and agrees.
So Reaver heads home, foiling minor crimes along the way, and reconnects with Adele, the girl who was his high school crush. Things take some surprising turns at this point, particularly when an impatient supervillain named the Macabre turns up to end the Reaver's grace period a bit early. There are further surprises awaiting the Reaver, including some unsuspected truths about his past...and his future.
Paul Tobin, who's earned a name for himself writing for Marvel Comics, takes on some big picture issues in this novel. He does it with real love and respect for those who put on a costume just to help make the world a better place. The Reaver is just an ordinary guy who's been given extraordinary powers, and chose to do his best to help where he could. Some of his judgment calls might be questionable (he punches a criminal fourteen times to redress a heinous wrong, for instance) but his moral compass is generally pointing north. His strong friendship with the virtuous Paladin likewise helps keep him on the straight and narrow--but Paladin's loss remains a terrible hurt that time hasn't yet eased.
Similarly, Octagon's agenda might be familiar to comic book readers, but Tobin throws in a major deviation along the way. The best laid plans of mice and men, so to speak.
Although there are certainly adult themes and elements in this story (including quite a bit about Adele's lesbian sister Lauren and her girlfriend Apple), there is nothing prurient or gratuitous; the Reaver's journey toward his last day is by turns poignant, funny, exasperating (for him) and ultimately fulfilling. Readers will find this hero's journey to be rewarding indeed.