For those of you who have read the Watchmen comic book series, which did you enjoy more? The current timeline and story? The flashbacks to earlier fights between good guys and bad guys? Or was it the origin stories? I’m having a hard time deciding myself, so I guess I’ll take the easy way out and say I just can’t make up my mind. The popularity of the twelve-issue mini-series hasn’t wavered, and it’s set a high bar for other superhero stories over the years. If you’re in the market for a new superhero story that shoots for that high bar… something new, something non-DC/non-Marvel, something definitely adult-oriented… I’d like to point you in the direction of a new book from Paul Tobin — Prepare to Die!
Steve Clarke, aka Reaver, is having a very bad day. The villains of Eleventh Hour are giving him the beating of his life. Reaver’s partner and best friend, Paladin, is gone, and a number of heroes that would normally be fighting at his side have, for a variety of reasons (death, retirement, indifference), left it to Reaver and his indestructible nature to keep up the good fight. But Reaver’s only one man, and even though every punch he lands takes a year off a villain’s life, he’s simply overwhelmed. Arch villain Octagon, genius leader of Eleventh Hour, has a laser pistol to his head — even his super-healing abilities have their limits, and his brain is one of them. Hearing three words, prepare to die, Reaver is actually tired and ready for the end. But Reaver does something unusual that makes Octagon and the rest of his evil crew — Laser Beast, Siren, Tempest, Macabre, and a few more — pause. He asks for actual time to prepare. A month. Octagon gives him two weeks, knowing Reaver’s good for his word to return and take his punishment.
So Reaver… Steve… uses the time he has left to wrap up some matters. He does this by making a list. Eight items that he feels he has enough time to deal with before returning to Octagon. And so he returns home, to Greenway, Oregon, to close the book on a few important items, the most important being a relationship with Adele that he ended abruptly when he became Reaver. She warrants two of the eight items on his list.
The other items on the list all help round out the complete story that bounces back and forth between Steve’s current visit to Greenway, the origin stories of the various heroes and villains he has fought with and against, and flashbacks to various encounters, missions, fights, and rescues between these heroes and villains. There’s the villain organization, Eleventh Hour, of course. And the ultra-secret SRD base in Greenway — the Superhuman Research and Development facility, where many heroes and villains got their start. There’s a lot of descriptive sex thrown in — superhero sex, sex between heroes and villains, sex between heroes and heroes, sex between villains and villains…. you get the idea. This is not a kid’s comic book story by any means. There’s tons of violence, with some horrible flashbacks that clearly define who are the bad guys and who are the good. This is not a comic book world where heroes never die and villains’ plans of destruction never come to fruition. This is a world where the very limited number of super humans means there’s no coverage of every part of the globe, and villains can easily get away with acts of violence. This is a world where even the superheroes are flawed and can occasionally cross a line by eliminating a villain in the most painful and public manner.
As I said earlier, the story is broken up using three different elements — Reaver’s experiences in Greenway, Reaver’s flashbacks to previous fights and save-the-day moments, and Reaver’s recollection of the various first appearances and origins of the heroes and villains that fill his world.
Regarding Reaver’s return to Greenway, readers will discover the real Steve Clarke. He’s a complicated character, and it’s his interactions with his ex-girlfriend, his ex-best-friend’s parents, the SRD base, and the occasional villain who pops into Greenway in violation of Octagon’s strict ban on (and protection of) Reaver until the two weeks are up, that really get you inside his head and help you understand why he does what he does… or not. He’s got history in this small town, and quite a few secrets to spill. And speaking of secrets — this is my favorite part of the book. The surprises have surprises. And then those surprises get their own twists. And the the twists get twisted. There are enough didn’t-see-that-coming moments in this book to fill a good five years’ worth of actual comic books. I found myself grinning at quite a few revelations, shocked at a couple of the sexual escapades of the heroes, and absolutely loving the wrap-up ending.
And, just like many comic books, this story wraps up like a good one-shot series should. But I’m hoping that’s not the case. I’m really hoping that Tobin has more stories to tell in this universe he’s created. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but let’s just say that Tobin’s not afraid of death and destruction. He’s not afraid to kill characters off, so don’t say I didn’t warn you… but I’m also hoping he’s not afraid to create some new ones. Tobin really didn’t even scratch the surface of the SRD, and I simply refuse to believe that Eleventh Hour was the only villainous organization on the planet. He drops a few names of other heroes and villains here and there who don’t make an appearance, and one of the major villains (not Octagon) has a major reveal near the end of the book that begs to be investigated.
I absolutely loved Prepare to Die! And I cannot recommend it enough to those of you who like a good superhero/supervillain story. I can easily picture these characters in an actual comic book, but it’s two specific limitations of typical comic books — their short length and missing narration — that make this more suitable as a text-based tale. With Prepare to Die!, you get at least three, maybe four year’s worth — let’s say 48 issues — of origins, first appearances, battles, betrayals, revelations, and redemptions. Tobin’s also thrown in a mix of salty language, frank sexual encounters, and violence. Lots of violence. But since Reaver’s main power is his lose-a-year-of-life super-punch, you cannot go into this story expecting a Boy Scout. Because Reaver is having a bad day. But you’ll enjoy every minute of it.
I’d like to thank Liz at Night Shade Books for providing a digital review copy. (I’d also like to ask her to contract Paul Tobin immediately to provide a sequel.)