Steve Clarke was just a typical teenage boy who happened to be doused with toxic chemicals and was turned into a superhero along with his best friend Greg in Paul Tobin’s Prepare to Die! Granted super-healing, super strength and punches that can take years off people’s lives (literally), he becomes the Reaver, a superhero. A superhero that is now in the middle of a sort of mid-life crisis, slowly giving up as he watches friends either die or turn to the dark side. After being beaten by the villainous group the Eleventh Hour, and their leader Octogon saying the famous words “prepare to die” Steve has been granted two weeks to put his life in order. This includes visiting his hometown, revealing his shocking secret (gasp!) and reconnecting with the love of his life.
Comics are a very visual medium. Sometimes, great literature, such as Maus, can come in comic book or graphic novel form. Moving comic book panels of superhero stories back to strictly prose can have it’s own series of problems, which is why I tend to be alternatively drawn (no pun intended) and put off by books about superheroes. Seeing Superman stop a bullet: awesome. Reading twelve paragraphs about how it makes him feel: not always as awesome. But I was pleasantly surprised by Prepare to Die!, which balanced comic action with a legitimate story about a man looking back to his past.
The Reaver/Steve Clarke is an interesting character. He already has a terrible burden: part of his powers take a year off people’s lives. So get into a bar fight? Yeah that guy loses a year of his life. This is added to the fact that many of his friends have disappeared, died, or turned to evil... he’s feeling alone. He’s directionless, facing that age-old question we all have to face from time to time: what happens next? Where do we go from here? So it’s believable when Octogon points a laser at his head and says, “Prepare to die!” Steve will only meekly reply, “give me some time to put my affairs in order.” You get the impression that he’s been dealing with a lot over the years.
Tobin also creates a vast superhero world while keeping it simple enough for anyone to understand, even non-superhero fans. This isn’t easy. Comic books have long complicated backstories and histories that can make things difficult for newcomers. (Ask someone why Marvel comics is set on Earth 616.) But Tobin just has a way of writing about it like it’s no big deal. Yeah, we find out about Siren or Mistress Mary or Octogon or Laserbeast without getting a long backstory, or at least a backstory that is worth reading an helps add to the idea that Reaver really has had enough.
However, there are a few places where the book falls short, and it’s extra disappointing because of the potential. One are the twists. There are three big twists in the book (Or at least I feel they are twists). One is awesome, it’s shocking and it sent me looking back through the book so I can see all of the places I missed the clues that are pretty obvious in hindsight. One twist is kinda hidden. It comes out of the blue, but it’s hinted at through the book, and while I hated how it came about, I loved that it was in there. It’s just a piece of superhero secret origins that you don’t think about. The third... the third uses my least favorite literary device on the planet. I don’t know there’s an official name for it. But I call it the Talkaround.
The Talkaround is pretty much any time there’s a secret or a twist that one or more character knows about, but they want to keep it secret from the audience. Not the other characters, they have this knowledge, but the audience. We know there’s a big twist, because they keep talking about SOME SECRET THING THAT WILL BLOW YOUR MIND. And it never does. because by the time they get to it, you’ve stopped caring. When it got to the fourth or fifth reference, I actually started flipping ahead to see if I could find the big secret. I couldn’t find it because after all the well written, detailed flashbacks about Steve’s sex life with various superheroes and super villains, as well as his secret origins, this one was about a page, despite the fact that it ties everything together as part of the 1-2 punch where Steve has given up.
The other part that really started to get to me is all the sex that’s in the book. I’m no prude. I love me a good sex scene from time to time. (Especially if it can involve Megan Fox or Natalie Portman.) But it really felt like all of the characters were obsessed with sex. If it were just the one character, then sure, that’s the character. But it really seemed like all of them were. Steve goes into detail about the various superheroines and super villainesses that he gets into bed. Steve’s love Adel has a sister who’s a lesbian who likes walking around topless. And if you miss it the first twelve times she walks around topless or mentions she’s into girls, don’t worry, she’ll mention it again. I understand wanting to look at the sex lives of superheroes... but at some point we have to talk about something else, we have to focus on some other aspect of interaction.
And the problem is that some of this can take away from what is otherwise a great book. It goes into the psyche of not just a superhero, but the pressures that come along with being a superhero. It is told through first person perspective, so when someone says how much they look up to this superhero, Tobin can go into how that alternatively enjoys the attention but worries about the pressure. The real problem is when that’s interrupted by a topless lesbian. (words I never thought I’d type.)
Should you read it? Yes, despite it’s flaws, you should check it out, for all of the other words that I’ve mentioned. This is a unique book and that’s the best thing about it. It could use more focus on the introspection and a little more action, but overall I think reading it will have you thinking about some of the different aspects of superheroing that you may not have considered.