Prepare To Die by Paul Tobin

There are those who decry the recent upsurge in comic books as the basis for TV shows and movies, seeing them as “kiddie stuff”, too simplistic for a good foundation or simply being uninterested in comics in general. I’m a geek from way back, and I love debating them, but I am not going to do that here-at least not when it comes to two of these arguments. Anyone who gives their kid a (good)comic is only doing the child a favor in my opinion, and everyone is entitled to their opinion.

No, what I take issue with is the suggestion that comics aren’t “deep” enough to anchor a good story. Are some of the concepts pretty cut-and-dried? Yes. Are some of the most well-known characters not the most complex, at first glance? I’d agree to that in a heartbeat. Super-powers are not automatically a handicap or detriment to writing an interesting story. Indeed, it can provide even more fertile soil for amazing stories, or more tools for crafting an intriguing world.

A case in point is Prepare To Die by Paul Tobin, a book I picked up on a whim and found hard to put down. I’ll admit the comic-book-y cover and plot description drew me to it at first glance, but it was the story that drew me in and kept me reading.

The main character is Steve Clarke, the hero known as Reaver. He’s superstrong, supertough, and each punch can literally take off a man’s life. He is hailed as a hero, yet feared for his gifts, which leaves him in an odd place of being met with awe rather than love by most normal humans. As the story begins he’s headed to the hometown he hasn’t seen in years following a threat from his arch-enemy Octagon: he has two weeks to put his effects in order before he dies. It’s a simple idea, on the face of it, and of course ties into the supervillian cliche in the title.

But there’s a lot more to it, of course. During the story we learn Steve’s origin story, how being a hero has changed his life, and what he misses through being more than human. It’s ground that of course has been covered in other places with other characters, but Tobin keeps it fresh by giving Steve a very down-to-earth voice and clearly painting the world and the superfolks in it. He creates several distinct people with personalities and powers without making them seem like obvious exports of other heroes, which is no easy task.

The story itself is fairly straightforward, but no less fun. Some parts are depressing, some very funny, some surprisingly raunchy without being over the top. If I had to sum up the whole story in a single phrase I’d call it “light but strong.” I’d be interested in reading more stories from Mr. Tobin, especially¬† that Spirit Guide of his, since I’ve been looking for it for years, and it’s been recommended by several leading scientists..

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