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The Impostor #1: Half a Hero by Richard Lee Byers

Posted by travizzt on September 3, 2011

Matt Brown assumes the identity of the deceased hero called Dr. Umbra. But can he be an impostor hero?

The Impostor #1: Half a Hero by Richard Lee Byers

The Impostor #1: Half a Hero is the first issue of an upcoming post-apocalyptic superhero series only available as an e-book. It was released in July 2011. Richard Lee Byers has written a number of books, mostly focused on the horror genre; Deathward, Fright Line, The Vampire’s Apprentice, Dark Fortune, Dead Time, a novel based of Nickelodeon’s Are You Afraid of the Dark? series titled The Tale of Terrible Toys, and a co-wrote Werewolf: The Apocalypse: Tribe novel titled Children of Gaia and Uktena with Stefan Petrucha. He has two collections titled Dark Kingdoms and The Q Word: And Other Stories. He has also contributed a number of stories to other series including; a few novels in Nightmare Club (Joyride, Warlock Games, and Party Til You Drop), a few World of Darkness novels (Caravan of Shadows, Netherworld: Vampire, On a Darkling Plane, and Wraith: The Ebon Mask), a X-Men novel titled Soul Killer, and a Warhammer novel titled The Enemy Within. He’s also written a trilogy for the Scarred Lands called Dead God trilogy (Forsaken, Forsworn, and Forbidden). He has written a number of Forgotten Realms novels as well; he wrote The Shattered Mask which is a part of the Sembia: Gateway to the Realms series as well as a short story in The Halls of Stormweather, he wrote the first book in R. A. Salvatore’s War of the Spider Queen series titled Dissolution, a stand-alone novel in The Rogues series titled The Black Bouquet, The Year of the Rogue Dragons trilogy (The Rage, The Rite, and The Ruin), a stand-alone novel in The Priest series titled Queen of the Depths, The Haunted Lands trilogy (Unclean, Undead, and Unholy), and The Brotherhood of the Griffon series (The Captive Flame, Whisper of Venom, The Spectral Blaze, and The Masked Witches) which is due out February 2012). He’s also contributed a vast amount of short stories to various anthologies. The Impostor #1: Half a Hero is told through a few comic book vignettes. This was released July 2011 and available as an e-book on various sites.

“Suiting Up”
Matt Brown was your ordinary twenty-something, but that all changed when insect-like creatures attacked Jackson City. In the chaos of the attack, two of the city’s superheroes, Red Bear and Dr. Umbra, arrive to get the citizens to safety and take care of the aliens. However, things don’t go according to plan and Matt wakes up in some unknown place where he finds the bodies of Red Bear and Dr. Umbra dissected. Not knowing what else to do, Matt spots the heroes equipment and decides that it would be better if he takes it, and not leave it in the hands of the aliens. Knowing that Red Bear’s strength may not get him out, he dons Dr. Umbra’s equipment and finds himself blending into the shadows, knowing that Dr. Umbra’s powers will help him escape. But before that can happen, he runs across other prisoners and has to make a tough decision.
Criticism:
1) World. It was somewhat hard to immerse yourself into this superhero filled world, at first. It took a while to really understand what was happening. The beginning of the story felt rather alien. You don’t know who the superheroes were and it was rather hard to keep focused. It felt like something was lacking. It was hard to picture this world existing.
Praises:
1) Origin. The way “Suiting Up” introduced the reader to the hero felt different. Instead of having a world where superheroes don’t normally exist, this is a world that really seems to embrace their superheroes. Then you have how Matt receives his ‘powers’, which isn’t something you normally see in an origin story. It’s rather dark and somewhat depressing, but that’s what makes it different. There is also Matt’s inner conflict of him actually taking Dr. Umbra and using his persona that is rather interesting. Having Matt take the powers, instead of them being given to him, felt very different. This is just an interesting way to have an origin.
2) Ending. The ending of the story was really good and satisfying. It’s not a very happy ending, but how it ends the story, it works rather well. It really continues this feeling of doom that is constantly present. It also leaves the reader wanting more. You want to know what happens next and you couldn’t ask for more than that.
Side Note: You can download this story for free off of Smashwords.com or by clicking this link here.
Overall: 4/5
Final Thoughts:
“Suiting Up” is a very good origin story but has a rocky beginning. It’s hard to really picture the world that the story takes place in because it seems like you, the reader, should know who Red Bear and Dr. Umbra are. It’s slightly awkward, but it’s easy to go over. Thankfully, this doesn’t detract from the very dark and relatively unique way that Matt gains Dr. Umbra’s ‘powers’. It’s not a ‘normal’ way someone receives them and the way Matt acts after getting them is also something different. His moral struggle is rather interesting and really makes Matt into a deep character early on. Then you have a very satisfying ending. It doesn’t paint a wonderful picture for the future and really continues with the darker tones of the novel. There doesn’t seem to be any hope for the future, and while this may feel like a downer of an ending, it just leaves you wanting more.

“The Enemy of My Enemy”
After escaping the hive-like alien ship, Matt Brown, now under the identity of Dr. Umbra, is scouting out the remaining ships in the city. After a brief attack by a stealthy wasp-alien, Matt notices flashes in the distance and realizes that there must be a battle going on. Once he arrives, he sees a gang of super villains trying to take down a few of the aliens. Making a rash decision, Matt decides to reveal himself and offer up an alliance with the gang. Didn’t anyone tell Matt that it’s not smart to trust the word of a super villain?
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Villains. The WMD’s, the gang’s name, were incredibly interesting. While some of the villains, Freakmaker and Svergr, did feel little underdeveloped and not all that engaging, the other three definitely were interesting. Death Metal is a very vile villain, but he does come off as strangely likable and there is no real reason for you to like him. Sweet Lady Q is surprisingly sympathetic and very likable for all the right reasons. With her you can see something deeper in her motivations and you do become more invested in her character as the story goes on. Finally, Zhang Sanfeng just is a cool character and you like him. Just being introduced to these interesting characters does improve the overall story.
2) Plot. While the plot for this vignette is rather predictable, it’s still good. Everyone knows that a villain’s word isn’t to be trusted, but it plays it off very well. It’s unbelievable, while still being predictable. Then there’s another predictable twist, but it still feels natural and really is enjoyable. Even with the predictability of this story, it still keeps all the fun.
Overall: 5/5
“The Enemy of My Enemy” really has nothing wrong with it. It introduces some very interesting characters, along with immersing you into the world more. The villains really do add a lot to this story and really carry it. Matt is still good, but without some other defining personalities driving this story, it would have been a bland vignette. The plot is good, but predictable. Surprisingly, the predictability really enhances this story. You know what’s going to happen but it’s still a fun ride while you see it unfold. This is just a good vignette and introduces some very interesting and intriguing characters.

“The Trade”
Trying to make a name for themselves, the WMD’s and Dr. Umbra decide to try to take down a monster called Greenclaws in hopes to prove that the former villains have turned a new leaf. But what they find isn’t something they expected and the creature makes them an offer for a trade. However, with the Dr. Umbra persona being a superhero, Matt finds that the terms aren’t something he can allow.
Criticisms:
1) Gwen. Truth be told, she didn’t seem to make that much of an impact in this vignette. Gwen is a journalist, the only known surviving one, that the group of supers find and force into their service. She seemed like an interesting character, but never really materialized into anything other than a distraction. Maybe in the future she plays a bigger role, but in this vignette, she felt wasted and unimportant.
Praises:
1) Matt. Matt’s character really shines in this story. He’s learning more about how Dr. Umbra used to act and really does seem to become more of a hero. The choices he makes in this story are rather interesting and help in rounding out his character a little more. He really does feel like a superhero who is forced to work with the bad guys than he did in the previous vignette.
2) Battle. The fight at the end of this vignette was very exciting. It’s one of those controlled chaos situations that really do work well in fight scenes. You don’t know what’s going to happen and the action is a mess, but an understandable mess. It adds to the excitement and leaves you wondering who is going to make it and how they are going to get out of this situation.
Overall: 4/5
Thoughts:
“The Trade” is a good filler story. While the subplot of Gwen seemed to be rather unimportant, it does feel like she is going to become a bigger character later on. But unfortunately, she seems to just be filler here. Matt does shine in this vignette though. You really see him start to take more heroic actions and because of that, you do start to like him more. Then you have the chaotic, yet enjoyable fight scene at the end of this entry. It’s a lot of fun and it was very exciting.

“Adaptation”
Matt learns that he can’t be friends with the villainous group WMD’s and try to help other survivors while being Dr. Umbra. Thankfully, he has Red Bear’s wristbands and hopes that by putting them on, he can be  either hero when he needs to be. However, the computer in Dr. Umbra’s suit warns Matt that putting the wristbands on may be dangerous and offers Matt the chance to enter the superhero hideout. But other dangers lurk in the shadows and Matt may not be up to facing them.
Criticisms:
None.
Praises:
1) Solomon. It was nice to see the computer program, referred to as Solomon, get a bit of development. This character is an interesting idea. It helped Matt in the past, but it finally comes to the forefront in this vignette and it really shines here.
2) Ending. This was a good way to end this book. It ends on a cliffhanger, but in the style of a comic book. It really makes you wonder what’s going to happen next.
Overall: 5/5
Thoughts:
“Adaptation” was a great way to end this series of stories. It gives another character, in the computerized Solomon, some development. Solomon is an interesting idea and it makes you wonder where it’s going to go from here. Also the vignette ends on a good comic book cliffhanger. It makes you want to know what is going to happen next while without it feeling forced on the reader. It’s just a good way to end this.

“Vets”
This short story is just an added bonus and has nothing to do with the previous stories. This story is about the stresses a superhero faces when being one for years. It’s an interesting little story.

Overall Grade: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
The Impostor #1: Half a Hero is interesting to me. I don’t normally read superhero novels and for the longest time I haven’t picked up a comic book, so this was hard for me to really review. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a great series of stories, but it was something that I found hard to really look at critically. It’s enjoyable and it succeeds in that, and really, that’s all I wanted out of a book like this. I wanted to be entertained and I was. I tried to review each story, or as I see them vignettes, like I normally do. However, when writing them, I found it increasingly hard to really look at in that way. But if I do look at it through a critical eye as a whole, I really do think that The Impostor #1: Half a Hero succeeds in everything that it was trying to accomplish. It was entertaining, had interesting and likable characters, an intriguing story and world, and leaves you wanting more. It’s something that I can see myself following as more of this series comes out. It’s definitely worth checking out.

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