What does it mean to be a superhero? That’s a big question for Reaver, the protagonist in Paul Tobin’s debut novel. Is it the smashing? The clobbering? The fragging? There are so many definitions. And they change day to day. Situation by situation.
As a teenager, Steve Clarke acquired superhuman powers when he was accidently doused with a mulligan’s stew of radioactive chemicals containing (among other things) embryonic fluid from sperm whales and stem cells from a resurrected Tasmanian tiger.
But then what? What exactly does it mean to be a superhero? The job doesn’t come with a training manual or anything like that. And furthermore: what happened to his stolen childhood? Once he became Reaver, Clarke was taken from his family and friends. Fighting bad guys, apparently, was more important than finishing high school or having a girlfriend or hanging out at the Mighty Convenient convenience store.
Tobin has written a textured novel that proffers insight and heartbreak in alternate measures. Clarke knows first-hand that being a superhero has its perks. He is three times faster than a normal person and a hundred times stronger. He can hold his breath for an hour, survive a fall from outer space, and take a bullet in the eye without blinking. He’s slept with famous models, Oscar winners, and an alien hottie. He’s even received a Presidential certificate for his patriotic duty. But despite all that, he’s still not very happy. Nobody, not even a star-spangled superhero, likes having their childhood taken away from them. That’s not cool.
When Clarke returns to his hometown as an adult, he’s got a list of eight things he wants to accomplish. The author, however, has some big surprises waiting for his hero. Prepare to Die! isn’t meant to be a Frank Capra movie (we think), but it does underscore the importance of love and family and how one individual can influence the lives of many people. It is also the story of a grown man who can’t figure out his place in the universe without a little nudge from his past.
The novel is sentimental and teary, but it is also wildly funny and a little bit naughty. And, of course, it’s filled with lots of superhero action too. Before the book ends, Steve Clarke comes to terms with his past and his future. And as a result he figures out what he needs to do in order to be a great superhero. The answer is simple. He lives.
[Prepare to Die! / By Paul Tobin / First Printing: May 2012 / ISBN: 9781597804202]