I admit I have a fascination for stories about superhumans and I’m always on the lookout for new novels featuring super-powered characters. This fascination stems from all the potential inherent in such stories, from examining the roles super-powered people might play in human society to the effect that super-powers can have on one’s psyche—a great example of the latter is the ongoing Extrahuman Series by Susan Jane Bigelow. Of course, navigating this subgenre of SFF can be a minefield; often, the bad (and the ugly) stories overpower the good ones.

Case in point... Prepare to Die! by veteran comics writer Paul Tobin.

Steve Clarke AKA the Reaver is one of the world’s greatest superheroes. As the story opens, Steve has lost a fight against his nemesis and is given two weeks to prepare for death. He returns home to win back the girl of his dreams and childhood sweetheart, Adele, whom he has not seen in a decade—ever since he became a superhero after The Accident.

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Prepare to Die! features everything that can possibly go wrong in superhuman fiction: ridiculous clichés, the objectification of female characters, a juvenile obsession with sex and the glorification of the male gaze. It is also badly written with terrible, stilted dialogue, liberal info-dumping and mind-numbing repetition. The fact that Steve can do stuff three times faster than the regular person was mentioned every three pages or so.

As the hero prepares to die, readers are rewarded with several chapters of exposition as he describes the origin stories of all superheroes and supervillains in this universe. Steve also regales us with the amazing story of how he goes off to save the world multiple times and his ensuing sexual exploits: he has bedded models, Oscar winners, heroines and villainesses alike. And the girl he left behind? The greatest love of his life? Has remained celibate, incapable of experiencing good sex. And completely obsessed with hero, to the point of becoming a writer so she can write several books about him.

But that’s not the extent of the book’s childish, abhorrent treatment of its female characters. For example, take the two main female supervillains. One of them fights naked, the other has, literally, the power of sex. There is also a promiscuous lesbian character that—randomly—walks into scenes, topless.

I am not making this up. And I can hardly believe someone has actually made this shit up in the year 2012.

I mean, in retrospect I should have known. On page ONE, the hero describes a woman whose life he is about to save as she is been beaten to death by a criminal: “Too overweight to be considered as pretty.”

At such an early point in the story, I had hoped that this was one of those books in which the main character’s abhorrent sexism would be the author’s platform to offer clever social commentary on how sexism is harmful. But alas, no. There is no clever commentary here; Prepare to Die! only offers the unchecked glorification of an idiotic character in a world where women exist solely as objects of desire and/or function as cheerleaders for the male protagonist. Even the one female character who is nearly invincible and whose power makes her literally the smartest person on the planet comes up with a plan in which this hero saves the world and becomes the face of superheroism. Because apparently not even the most intelligent and invincible woman on the planet could possibly come up with a plan in which a girl (such as herself) becomes the face of superheroism.

There is absolutely nothing here to make me recommend this book. In Book Smugglerish: 1 out 10.

RUN! Run three times faster than the normal human away from this book!

Thea James and Ana Grilo are The Book Smugglers, a website for speculative fiction and YA. You can find also find them at Twitter.