Being a huge fan of Pro-Se Press “Sovereign City Universe”, especially books by Barry Reese I eagerly waited for this book ever since it’s author announced it is being written in the early 2015.
I mean, a crossover novel bringing together Lazarus Gray, The Peregrine and The Gravedigger for the first time, uniting them against a common treat? For a fan of Mr. Reese’s books it was something akin to the news about Marvel filming “Avengers”…
Today, after long months of waiting I was finally able to buy “Götterdämmerung”, and read it. And I have one thing to say: Wow. Just… wow.
It has all things I had expected, all things I wanted… and some stuff that I surely was not expecting. Spoiling it would be a heinous crime, but suffice to say, that events of this novel would send HUGE ripples around whole Sovereign Universe, and nothing would really be the same again.
But I am getting ahead of myself, let’s look at the plot:
It all starts in 1938.
After surprising events in the fifth volume of his adventures, enigmatic hero of Sovereign City, and leader of Assistance Unlimited, Lazarus Gray had finally admitted his feelings towards his on and off girlfriend, Kelly Emerson, finally ending their troubled whirlwind romance with marriage. Now the newlywed pair had returned from their honeymoon, only to discover that in his absence, Lazarus city had once again became a stage of bizarre and horrifying events.
Sovereign is plagued with a string of bizarre suicides committed by people claiming to experience terrible visions of the future. They claim that something truly monstrous would happen, something that would lead to incredible amount of death and suffering, and thus not being able to live with that knowledge, and gladly ending their own lives. Suspecting that it has something to do with the occult roots of the city, Lazarus decides to bring the expert to the case, and enlists one of his allies, Andre Thierry.
Despite his age, the man is a very powerful mage, being the latest Catalyst, The High Mage of Earth tasked with protecting humanity from outwordly treats. Unfortunately he died before his work had been completed, but his magic, and unbreakable will enabled him to return to life, albeit with greatly reduced powers, until a suitable successor of his position could be found. Still, even weakened, he is still one of the most powerful mystics of the world, and an invaluable ally for Assistance Unlimited.
Together with Gray they realize, that recent events are connected with the powerful artifact called Unnervum, that was supposedly created by a mage named Merlinus Caledonensis, who was an inspiration for the legend of Merlin. In the mid-1800’s, the object was brought to Sovereign by a spiritualist by the name of Helmut Lowenstein, also known as The Ghost Finder, who had hidden it somewhere, which had an unforeseen effect of amplifying negative energy in the city, changing it from a gleaming urban wonder, to a crime-ridden, corrupt place it is now.
Our heroes want to find the Unnervum, and get rid of the root of the problem, but it would be harder, than they expect…
Charity Grace, the mystically powered vigilante known as Gravedigger also has her hands full, trying to punish the wicked of Sovereign City.
After defeating Hiroshi Tamaki, insane Japanese aristocrat trying to use mind-control technology to make himself Emperor of America, and fighting immortal warrior Pandora, her own dark counterpart, Gravedigger returned to fighting street-level crime, leaving bigger, weirder cases to others, like Assistance Unlimited, or Doc Daye. Recently she dealt with a serial killer and rapist preying on Sovereign City’s prostitutes, while also trying to expand her net of agents.
While both Charity and her crew are all talented people with varied, and useful skills, neither of them really is a detective, or has experience with investigative work. So, newest Gravedigger decided to ask one of the city’s other vigilantes, sharp-dressed Dark Gentleman to join her team, but he has serious reservations about the offer.
Dark Gentleman, also known as Michael Groseclose, the only son of the rich publisher Theodore Groseclose, who after seeing decay, rampaging crime, and corruption of the city, as well as people like his father turning blind eye to it, he decided to drop out of college, and try doing something about it. But while he oversteps the boundaries of the law to get the job done, he does not kill, even in self-defense, and despite his nocturnal activities still believes that the judicial system would do it’s job, even if it needs a little help from the men like him from time to time.
As such, Gravedigger making herself judge, jury and the executioner really clashes with his morals, in fact he considers her actions to be as criminal, as ones committed by those she kills. Not to mention his doubts about sanity of a person who claims she died, and was resurrected by a being that may, or may not be God…
But soon enough their differences would have to be set aside, as a great danger, too big to handle alone for both of them…
In the meantime an infamous vigilante Max Davies, better known as The Peregrine in the criminal underworld of Atlanta is faced with problems of his own.
Recently he emerged victorious from his clash with unnatural messenger of The Outer Gods known as Nyarlathotep, even fashioning a magical ring that burns the flesh of evildoers upon touching it, out of the monster’s hearth. Unfortunately, the immortal beast had promised Max that he would return, and placed a curse on our hero, claiming that The Peregrine would suffer, outliving all of his loved ones, which worries our hero, even if he tries to hide it.
Currently he has no time to ponder upon his uncertain future however, because his actions had caused the most powerful gangs of the city to unite themselves against the mercilessly efficient vigilante. But taking Max’s abilities into account, criminals decided not to take him on themselves, instead hiring a rather unusual mercenary to deal with their masked menace.
The man calling himself Nimrod is a professional assassin, but he only targets superheroes, and after killing several he had earned himself a reputation of “Mask Killer”. The Peregrine soon learns, that Nimrod’s reputation is well-earned, making him a really dangerous opponent. But then, Max experiences a vision of the future that causes him to forgot about “Mask Killer”…
He sees death and destruction on the untold scale, monsters out of this world roaming free, and flags on Third Reich on the White House. And apparently only him, Lazarus Gray, and The Gravedigger can stop it all, because their seemingly unconnected cases have more in common than they know.
As it turns out, German scientist Dieter Schneider, who works for Himmler’s top-secret Occult Forces Project, along with his daughter Sonya, and soldier tasked with defending them, Lars Hansel found something truly dangerous during their research trip. Profesor Schneider was a firm believer in the Norse mythology, believing that fabled Gates of Valhalla are hidden somewhere in the remote mountains, waiting for True Aryans to uncover them. Of course such a discovery would not only be a great propaganda success, but could also tip the favor in the upcoming war toward Third Reich.
As it turns out, Schneider was wrong, and the old documents he studied do not lead to Valhalla, and undefeated army of Odin’s greatest warriors. Oh, no… Accidentally he had found something infinitely more powerful than powers of Norse gods, something very different, and very, very dangerous. And now, those forces are allied with the Third Reich, endangering not only Europe, but whole world…
What can I say? A story that brings together three of Barry Reese’s most popular characters is just awesome in itself, and when coupled with fast-paced, action-filled plot it makes for a truly fantastic read, that I simply couldn’t put down before finishing it. And then started to read it again…
As I wrote above, the whole idea of those characters working together is really great, and Barry Reese uses this opportunity to showcase how different their methods, morals and ideas of justice are, despite being at the same side.
This informal alliance against the forces of evil had also lead to some unusual team-ups, for example pairing Gray and Eun Jiwon from Assistance Unlimited with Gravedigger’s teammates; Mitchell Williams and Li Yuchun, or The Peregrine and The Catalyst, with Samantha Grace and Morgan Watts, which is quite interesting for every fan of those characters to see them in such unusual situations.
Barry Reese also continues several plot points from his previous books, like for example Lazarus adjusting to the married life, Morgan’s self-doubt after his then-girlfriend became a follower of immortal Princess Femi, troubled relationship between Li Yuchun and her teammate Cedric Hendry, former Gravedigger named Mortimer Quinn running for mayor of Sovereign City etc, which gives us really nice sense of continuity.
Aside from our main characters we also get a plenty of cameos from other heroes populating Sovereign City, like The Peregrine’s frequent ally and close friend, “The Russian Superman” Leonid Kaslov, former District Attorney turned superpowered vigilante Tony Quinn/Black Bat, Bob Benson/Black Terror; the fearless crime fighter with artificially enhanced body, or the mysterious and sinister anti-hero known as The Darkling.
Their roles are not really that big, as it’s a story primarily about the trinity of Barry Reese’s most popular characters, but it is nevertheless nice to see them once again.
Of course our heroes need worthy opponents to fight, and as always, Barry Reese gives us villains that are very easy to hate, but somehow remain interesting.
In “Götterdämmerung” we have several interesting bad guys, mainly the powerful followers of Dark Gods, some Nazis including Heinrich Himmler himself, and hero-hunter Nimrod mentioned before, but in my humble opinion, the one who steals the whole show is a OFP operative known as Mr. Death.
He is introduced as a Nazi scientist named Otto Luther, a cruel and bitter man, who raised through ranks of Occult Forces Project through stealing ideas of his rivals, and his unusual sadism in tortur… I mean, in experimenting on the enemies of the Reich.
Then, one day, when testing a powerful mutagen of supernatural origin, he decides to test it on himself, to “become special”. As a result he is transformed into a grotesque living skeleton with a nearly indestructible body, and a monstrous strength. The problem is, that his “rebirth” had shattered already dubious sanity of Mr. Luther, changing him into an unpredictable madman.
Newly christened Mr. Death really has no agenda aside from murder and chaos, seeing himself as an avatar of anarchy, and feeling nothing aside from bloodlust, and desire to fight someone strong, like Lazarus Gray, or The Peregrine.
Yes, he works for Third Reich, but really only because they give him resources he needs, no longer feeling attachment to the ideals of Aryan superiority. He is an ultimate loose cannon, and because of that, as well as his power, even Himmler himself is a bit nervous around Mr. Death…
If I had to compare this villain to anyone, I would say, that he is quite similar to Batman’s arch-enemy Joker, particularly his interpretation by Heath Ledger from “The Dark Knight”, but with actual superpowers, which makes him even more dangerous.
Just like Clown Prince of Crime, Mr. Death erratic, childish behavior is also darkly humorous, despite his frightening visage, and violent methods, which coupled together gives us a character who practically steals every scene he is in.
“Götterdämmerung” is also a very strong book for another reason: Barry Reese is not afraid to not only shake the status quo of his universe, but outright shatter it. It’s no joke, the events we observe here would undoubtedly change Sovereign City, and it’s heroes in unexpected ways.
It is quite unusual, as both Pulp and New Pulp are rather bound by status quo, and not that eager to change anything. Sure, our protagonists go on the new and exciting adventures, and defeat different villains, but at their core they remain unchanged.
Something like, Doc Savage getting crippled in the line of duty and giving the leadership of his Magnificent Seven to his cousin Pat, or Green Lama shunning his faith and hunting criminals with a gun would be not only impossible, but also unthinkable.
But here, we get something of similar magnitude.
Of course Barry Reese was teasing his readers about planning to do something shocking in his then unnamed “crossover novel” for months, dropping little hints here and there, but I (And probably most of his fans…) did not believed that he would do something like… that.
Yet, he did, and now we are left wondering “What now?”. And I am very eager to get answers…
Because of the events I alluded to, this particular book is a lot darker in atmosphere, than most of Mr. Reese’s works. Granted it is not “Rabbit Heart”, and we saw many dark, and disturbing things during previous adventures of The Peregrine, Gravedigger, or Assistance Unlimited, but here those things somehow feel… heavier than before.
Don’t get me wrong, it reads great, as I mentioned before, but we kind of expect that something important, and terrible is going to happen because of it’s atmosphere.
It’s really hard to write why I think it is great without revealing some crucial parts of the plot, so I would end here, but believe me, it is really good, and leaves You yearning for more after flipping the last page.
So, if you are a fan of Barry Reese… Then You probably already bought that book, and enjoyed it as much, as I did. If not, do it now, you can thank me later 🙂
Thanks for the incredibly kind words! Trust me when I say that future books will pick up on this story’s aftermath and build upon it.
Glad you liked it!