I picked up Hero out of curiosity. This book is not the first publication to do a “gay superhero” story (some Wikipedia-ing about LGBT superheroes led me to the funniest graphic I have seen in a long time*), but probably one of the first, if not the first, to be aimed at tweens and younger teenagers. Much of the hype and talk about the book revolves around its existence. I think that Perry Moore has his heart in the right place, and it is certainly true that more books of this kind need to be published, but that does not change the fact that the book is flawed, varies wildly in tone, and ultimately could have used more work for it to live up to its hype.
Our titular hero is Thom Creed, a high school basketball star with a secret. Well, a couple of secrets. He lives in an America much like ours, but with the League of Superheroes, a quasi-governmental agency charged with training and overseeing the good guys with superhuman abilities who fight the bad guys. These superheroes are variations on familiar characters: Überman, The Dark Hero, Warrior Woman. Thom’s father, Hal Creed, was once a member of the League, before the rules were changed banning heroes without “powers” due to his involvment in the Wilson Towers disaster. This has left Hal bitter and scornful of anybody with superhuman abilities. Lucky for Thom, on top of everything else, he discovers that he has the power to heal in injuries. His life becomes a tightrope act between balancing his jobs, his League training and his father.
Oh, and did I mention that he’s gay? Another line he has to balance is between his homophobic father and his sexual and emotional desires. This comes to a head in a couple of funny scenes, including one where Hal demands to use the family’s shared computer while Thom is, um, indisposed. To the books credit, this aspect of Thom’s life is not the focus of the book. He does not become Rainbowman. It simply is another facet of a complex bildungsroman.
There is much to like about the book. My reservations about its quality aside, honestly, if this had book had been out six years ago, I probably would have liked it very much. I’d like to think that there are gay kids out there in Murnowheresvilleboro, KY, who find something special in the book. Also, props to Moore for showing a protagonist that has to work his way through life. It is exhausting simply following Thom’s summer of three jobs and no car, a situation that more kids share in America than heir to billions from dead parents and English butler.
That does not excuse however, the awkward pacing of the story; there are whole sections of a book that a ruthless editor would have cut out. Or the sometimes cringe-inducing heavy handedness of the message. Also, the book has a somewhat tongue in cheek nature, considering the thinly veiled cariactures of existing superheroes. That can be confusing when the tone shifts and the book wants to be taken seriously.
We will have to see where this book goes. Variety reports that Stan Lee is adapting the novel into a Showtime series. Perry Moore has stated that he has sequels in the works. We will have to see if the story translates better into different mediums.
* Some comic books feature gay robots or aliens: