Hyperion, 2007, 432 pages
Thom Creed is used to being on his own. Even as a high school basketball star, he has to keep his distance because of his father. Hal Creed had once been one of the greatest and most beloved superheroes of The League-until the Wilson Towers incident. After that Thom's mother disappeared and his proud father became an outcast.
The last thing in the world Thom would ever want is to disappoint his father. So Thom keeps two secrets from him: First is that he's gay. The second is that he has the power to heal people. Initially, Thom had trouble controlling his powers. But with trial and error he improves, until he gets so good that he catches the attention of the League and is asked to join. Even though he knows it would kill his dad, Thom can't resist. When he joins the League, he meets a motley crew of other heroes, including tough-talking Scarlett, who has the power of fire from growing up near a nuclear power plant; Typhoid Larry, who makes everyone sick by touching them, but is actually a really sweet guy; and wise Ruth, who has the power to see the future. Together these unlikely heroes become friends and begin to uncover a plot to kill the superheroes. Along the way, Thom falls in love, and discovers the difficult truth about his parents' past.
This is moving, funny, and wonderfully original novel shows that things are not always what they seem, and love can be found in the unlikeliest of places.
I am a superhero nerd. I don't really read comics anymore (okay, sometimes), but I will pick up any superhero novel that catches my eye.
I was a little leery of Hero, by Perry Moore. Moore reportedly decided to write this book after being upset by all the negative portrayals of gay characters in comic books, particularly the death of Northstar. I have no problem reading about a gay protagonist, but with the Lambda Award and the very, very obvious message being flashed right on the cover, I just don't feel like I'm the target audience for a novel-length It's okay to be Takei message. But if you deliver a solid superhero story with good characterization that happens to incorporate a positive social message, hey, I'm there. And Stan Lee wrote an intro for this book. That promised something in the way of a favorable superhero-action-to-existential-angst ratio. (Yes, I know superheroes are full of existential angst. That's why I was hesitant about getting a double-dose of it.)
The premise of Hero shares quite a bit with Carrie Vaughn's After the Golden Age: the first-person narrator, Thom Creed, is the son of two popular, well-known superheroes, and has trouble living up to their legacy. But whereas Carrie Vaughn's protagonist disappointed her parents by possessing no superpowers, Perry Moore's protagonist does have powers and has to hide them because his father, an embittered ex-hero, despises the new generation of superheroes.
And there's the gay thing. Thom's father (whose superhero name was "Major Might") is basically a right-wing working class Batman (think The Comedian but not as much of a psychopath) who gives young Thom a speech about how the only thing worse than these "powered" heroes are homosexuals, who are Darwinian failures.
Naturally, the poor kid grows up to be both super-powered and gay.
This has all the ingredients for what could be an engaging superhero novel with a feel-good message of acceptance and tolerance and so on and so forth. And it kinda delivers... But.
First of all, the writing, while not terrible, never rises above average. Moore is a lot more passionate about describing Thom's romantic and sexual stirrings than he is describing the superhero world he pasted together by throwing a thin coat of paint over the DC universe. The superhero action is okay, but the plot is pretty formulaic. We have embittered ex-sidekicks, secret-identities-within-secret-identiti
The heroes are basically DC characters with really awful names. ("Uberman," "Warrior Woman," "Golden Boy," "Right-Wing," etc.) Moore got a little more creative, but also a lot more campy, with some of the villains, particularly "Snaggletooth" (his power is, what, talking in a lisp and having a single fang?) and "Transvision Vamp."
Thom, who has healing powers, is recruited to join the
So, Moore put a lot of effort into making gay characters interesting, three-dimensional human beings, but not so much when it came to women.
I enjoyed Hero about as much as I'd enjoy a middling comic book: entertaining but mostly forgettable.
In the course of searching for book covers to use in this review, I did come across some nice fan art, though, by someone who obviously enjoyed the book more than I did: 'Hero' fan art.
(That is a seriously ugly background, though. Sometimes I consider moving to Tumblr, except half the Tumblr pages I've seen are like throwbacks to 1996 in terms of web design...)
Verdict: A well-intentioned effort but a mediocre one, as I fear any book written with the intention of promoting a message above promoting a story must be. I'm sure gay and gay-friendly teens will find Hero heartwarming, inspirational fun, but my well-read, coldly cynical, superhero fanboy-from-way-back-in-the-day self says, eh, it was okay, but neither original nor brilliant, or really even very funny. I think Stan Lee endorsed it for cookies, or maybe because Hero is basically what you'd expect if the superhero genre had not changed at all since 1965 except adding gay people.