It must be nearly impossible to come up with a new spin on the superhero genre – certainly, the anti-hero movement begun with Batman Year One and The Watchmen is almost old hat now. But The Paybacks is a thoroughly modern but decidedly unique take on the everyman superhero. A four issue long ode to anarchy, it is interesting and yet oddly inert. Stronger characterizations would have gone a long way to actually caring about these people as they are casually killed one by one.
Story: Even superheroes need loans – and there is a mysterious satanic-like benefactor always ready to throw some money at them. But if they don’t pay back on time, they find themselves captured and indentured – forced to work off the money through deadly deeds. They are called the paybacks – and they spend most of their time tracking down other deadbeat superheroes – most of whom will do whatever it takes to not get caught. But there is one among their number with a hidden agenda – and that person isn’t afraid to start knocking off teammates from the inside to accomplish her goals.
On the surface, this is about a pretty amoral bunch of characters (several of whom are hinted as being altruistic before indenturing) whose reasons for going into debt aren’t really explained. They all also have rather odd and random ‘powers’ or weapons that also remain fairly undescribed. Obviously, the story was written to be callous and to only give us the barest surface observations of the teammates. But it makes for a very disaffecting story.
By the end, I was admittedly wishing that we had at least one strong POV and followed that through teammate transitions, deaths, and experiences. The narrative, illustrations, characters, and plot were just too nebulously defined. There needed to be a beating heart somewhere rather than the endless mayhem, deaths, and hopelessness.
So although this is definitely a unique take, it is also a very disenfranchising. Perhaps that is the statement the author/illustrator meant to achieve, though. 2015 through the lens of the detached and alienated reader. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.