Failstate: Nemesis – John Otte

Rob Laughlin is living the dream. If your dream is to be a licensed superhero, that is. High school student by day, criminal stopper by night. Back in the days of Failstate, that was a stressful and risky combination, but by his third full-length adventure (and two ebook only shorts), Rob’s got this superhero thing down to a science. He’s a got a hot girlfriend in Charlene; he’s made peace with his brother and fellow superhero, Gauntlet; and he has the support and mentorship of a number of other superheroes.

But there’d be no reason to write a book unless there was a problem. Rob’s family—and the memory of his father—falls apart when he discovers that, far from dying from a car crash, Rob’s father was actually a criminal who crossed the wrong people and was killed for it. But before he can process that information, he happens upon a more immediate threat: Abaddon is coming. And it’s Lux—the same Lux that died in Rob’s arms a year earlier—that’s delivering the message.

Who was Rob’s father? How is Lux alive? Is this even Lux? Who is Abaddon?—All those questions and mysteries seem insignificant when Abaddon shows, leaving death and carnage and destruction in his wake. Right now, the only question that matters is: How do we stop Abaddon? As the story rages on, the questions get deeper and the plot more complex. Otte skillfully dances from one scene to the next, carefully building each mystery until the great, grand point of reveal.

Man, I really just can’t say enough good things about this book. Comic book novels and the superhero genre can often be tropish…everything’s been done a dozen times at this point. And it’s true that back-from-the-dead, father-isn’t-who-you-thought, anti-superhero-girlfriend, and SPOILER-SPOILER-SPOILER aren’t exactly new and novel inventions. But Otte owns it, crafting the tropes in a way that brings out the archetypes—the thematic power that underlies why these are popular plot points.

You really feel for Rob and get that he’s in this awkward place of being New Chayton’s (and the world’s) savior and yet still being a high school kid. In the middle of all the trauma surrounding Abaddon, Otte weaves in a plotline where Rob’s girlfriend gets accepted to an out of state college and wants Rob to follow. That’s a real enough and hard enough problem without the added responsibility of being a city’s superhero.

The novel’s real strength lies in what I can’t talk about. I thought about doing it, but I won’t. Let’s just say the way in which the story comes together really brings about a deep thematic point that makes the book a thought-provoking read rather than just a fun and fast throwaway novel. I’ve been on the Failstate train since the very beginning and it’s been a fun ride the whole way, watching as Failstate grew as a superhero and Otte evolved as a writer. Failstate’s journey might be over (although, I’m not ready to call a definite on that yet…I’m certainly up for more Failstate stories), but I’m excited to see that Otte’s has only begun.

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Author: Josh Olds

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