Perry Moor,
(Hyperion, 2007)

The premise is certainly very intriguing. High-schooler Thom Creed is trying to come to terms with two life-altering changes: the development of his superpowers and his emerging sexuality. It's not easy being a teen superhero, but being a gay teen superhero is an extra helping of angst. Add to that the fact that Thom's father Hal is a disgraced former hero with a troubled past he won't discuss with his son. This sets the stage for one of the more interesting hybrids -- or rather, what should have been one of the more interesting hybrids -- to emerge in the superhero genre in the last few years.

As stories go, it's interesting in places, but about halfway through, Hero begins to fall short of its own expectations before dissolving into hazy mess of borrowed plot lines and a total loss of empathy for the lead character, who seems to do little more than muddle through life at the complete mercy of events.

The narrative may seem action-packed to a reader unfamiliar with comics, but anyone who has watched the show Heroes will recognize about half the subplots in the book as coming almost straight from the show, not to mention other sources like the movies Sky High and Mystery Men and many, many memorable comic-book stories. It hardly matters, since several of those subplots fizzle out without very much resolution. The backstories -- involving his father being shunted from the League of Heroes, and Thom's mother walking out on her husband and young son some years before -- are very poorly explained. The League of Heroes itself is a thinly veiled borrowing of some of DC's pantheon, so much so that it feels more like an idea that was tacked on as opposed to an original creation.

To make matters worse, the melodrama is cranked up to almost unbearable levels. Moore seems intent on making a martyr out of Thom, but it's overwritten. While it is sadly true that homosexuals suffer more than their fair share of oppression, I did not feel that Thom's problems were placed in any sort of realistic context. It was crudely drawn bathos rather than well-described pathos, and after a while I lost sympathy for Thom altogether.

Another odd detail is the way Moore has a tendency to focus on describing side characters or bystanders as being overweight or pudgy in a manner I could charitably call denigrating. Not everyone has zero body fat. Why punish them with such condescension?

At the story's close, Warrior Woman takes off for her island, unable to deal with man's world. If I'd been called "Ilsa, the Nazi," a "bitch" and a "pushy broad," especially by a gay author who should, in theory, be a bit more understanding about prejudice, I would have taken off, too. If her portrayal is meant to be a pun, a satiric inversion of the DC heroes, then all I can say is that it's a pun that left me wondering when Wonder Woman, in any shape or form she takes, is ever going to get any respect.

The other female characters all smoke, drink, cuss and devour junk food like there's no tomorrow, but there is no real variation between them. Ruth, the older woman who can see the future, Thom's mother, the former Invisible Lass and Scarlett, the hero with Human Torch powers, are all exactly the same. I'm sure Moore meant to create women he thought were real ballbusters, who are as tough as the difficult lives they have led. Instead, they come across as angry, sad and two-dimensional. I was deeply disappointed in the flat portrayal of Thom's mother, who gave up her career for a man and then gave up her life with that man when the going got tough. When she turns up after an absence of several years, she never offers a convincing enough reason for why she left.

It feels as though Moore is taking on too much. I applaud the subject matter but have to say that the writing just falls short. It's not a bad read. Moore's got a decent sense of humor. The relationship between Thom and his father is quite believable and well thought out. In fact, it's the part of the book that's easiest to relate to.

Hero has its charms. I am sure that many reading this will find it quite good on the basis of its being rather different than the ordinary run of superhero stuff. Other readers may find the thinly written characters, the melodrama, the plot twists that can be seen from a mile off and the overused-to-the-point-of-stale storylines to be rather tedious. Hero is adequate, but not spectacular. Perry Moore certainly knows his superheroes but hasn't shown yet that, apart from introducing a gay superhero to the mainstream literary press, he actually knows how to place that idea in a better setting.

review by
Mary Harvey

7 November 2009

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