Monday, September 24, 2007

Review: Hero (a novel)

Perry Moore is several things. He is a producer, having produced The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. He is a director, having worked with Sissy Spacek on the upcoming Lake City. He is an author, having recently published the novel Hero. And he is also openly gay.

It is a sad truth that the vast majority of characters in superhero comics are white, anglo-saxon, protestant men who are straight. This has been changing as time goes by, but not nearly as rapidly as it should be to have our heroes reflect our population.

Moore tackles that in this novel, as we follow the story of Thom - a young man who is the son of Major Might. His father was an unpowered hero, in the vein of Batman, until the fateful day that he "failed" to stop a world-eating alien menance from destroying a large chunk of the city. (He stopped the monster from eating the planet, but people weren't interested in this detail.) This failure also crippled his father's hand, and the combined failure and injury led to his father's retirement. Thom grew up in a house where one didn't mention superheroes and one certainly didn't mention the superpowered ones. Thom's mother left them both when Thom was younger, leaving Thom alone with his dad. Thom's father is also a homophobe.

This leads Thom to a problem. See, he has superpowers. And he's gay.

Hero is about Thom gaining acceptance and finding his place in the world. Both with his family, his teammates, and the world at large. It's the quest of a young man who knows that he wants to make the world a better place, even if he isn't quite sure how he's going to accomplish that.

Moore creates a fascinating cast of characters; Thom, his father, his rival and possibly friend Goran, the members of the League including Uberman, Justice and Warrior Woman, and his teammates - among them, Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone ill, Ruth, the octagenarian precog, Golden Boy, kid-speedster, and Scarlett, the flaming pizza-delivery girl. Every character we meet has secrets, many just as deep as the ones which Thom keeps.

The novel focuses on themes of loss and sacrifice, and the toll that keeping secrets can take. Ultimately, all works out for the best, but not until each and every dark secret has been laid bare.

If I have any complaints about the novel, it would be the extent to which Thom's homosexuality is rejected by the world at large. Not being gay myself, I will admit that I can't know exactly what level of prejudice homosexuals encounter on a daily basis - but in Moore's novel it seems that either you are homosexual, or you reject it violently. The only person who seems able to accept Thom's sexual orientation without it being an issue, or being gay themselves, is Ruth.

Still, this is a minor quibble. While I thought the message was a bit heavy-handed, it doesn't distract from what is otherwise a great read. Thom is likable and engaging, while still possessing human frailties that the audience can identify with. I have seen some reviewers describe this as a "young-adult" novel, or a novel "aimed at gay teens, struggling with accepting their sexuality". And they're not mistaken - the novel certainly is that. But the novel is also a story about heroism and being a human being struggling to find love and acceptance, which is something which any reader can identify with.

4 and a half masks out of 5

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Blogger Matt said...

Sounds like a good read. I'll have to check it out.

3:42 PM  

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