Hyperion — Hardcover / September 2007 / 432 pages / ISBN 978-1423101956 / $16.99
IN BRIEF: Imaginative queer take on superheroes, by the late Perry Moore.
IN REMEMBRANCE: Since I first published this review, in 2007, Perry Moore has passed, on February 17, 2011.
Perry Moore’s first novel, Hero, is an enjoyable beginning to a projected series about a gay teenage superhero with the power to heal.
Moore is an openly gay film producer, screenwriter, and director. City Hill, co-written and -directed by Moore and his life, and production, partner Hunter Hill, is due in 2008; he, Hill and Spike Jonze (Adaptation) are also making a documentary about legendary children’s book author/illustrator Maurice Sendak. Moore is best known as the executive producer of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005) from Disney, which also published Hero through its Hyperion imprint, and Walden Media, where Moore serves as an executive. (Walden Media is owned by billionaire Phillip Anschutz, who has long bankrolled anti-gay, anti-choice and “intelligent design” causes.)
There is a wealth of information about Moore at his site, Perry Moore Stories, including a biography, interview, and a fascinating essay, “Who Cares About the Death of a Gay Superhero Anyway?,” on the sorry fate of out GLBT characters in comics, most of whom have been humiliated, killed or both. Clearly Moore, with a prodigious command of comic book history, cares, and his eye-opening article — detailing dozens of characters — will highlight this issue for a growing number of readers. On one level, Hero is an action-packed corrective to comics’ marginalization, and worse, of gay characters.
In his biographical sketch, Moore attributes the inspiration for Hero, the first volume in a projected series, both to the experiences of his father, a decorated Vietnam War veteran, and comic books: “I wrote Hero with the sincere and passionate intention of telling the traditional hero’s journey, and turning it on its ear by creating a hero unlike any we’ve ever seen before. I wanted to write a book that I wish I’d had to read when I was young….” The legendary Stan Lee, guiding force behind Marvel Comics and now its motion picture franchises (Spider-Man, X-Men), is developing Hero as a feature film.
Here is an introduction to Hero, from Moore’s site. Central character “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 a devastating] 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 has 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.”
I enjoyed Hero, which was fast-paced and engaging. It’s told from the first-person viewpoint of Thom, the likable teenage superhero-in-training. He was vividly drawn, and his special power, the ability to heal, is made poignant by the physical suffering that he has to endure every time he uses it. Hopefully the other characters, especially the broodingly romantic Goran, will be better fleshed out as the saga progresses.
Moore’s writing was crisp, and he has an uncanny knack for finding hundreds of small details that brought this world — identical to our own, except that there are actual superheroes and villains flying around — to life.
Gay issues, such as coming out and homophobia, arise in the story naturally because they affect Thom, the focal character.
For all of its strengths, the novel lacks a compelling action sequence at the mid-point, to take us from the opening’s day-to-day portrait of Thom to the rousing special-effects-intensive climax. This could easily have been fixed by, say, beefing up a training mission, for Thom and his fellow fledgling superhero cohorts who are “on probation” before being allowed to join The League. Such a sequence could also have served as a better set-up for the apocalyptic finale than what we have now: one character’s lengthy monologue that is transparently expository.
Still, there is much to enjoy and admire in this novel.
Reviewed November 16, 2007 / Revised October 20, 2020