Thursday, February 5, 2009

I don't need a hero

Perry Moore's novel, Hero, has this dedication: For everyone. Apparently, I'm not part of everyone. Moore's novel, which is geared primarily toward young adults, falls short of expectations considering that it does have an atypical main character -- a gay teenager with superpowers. Having this protagonist, who is named Thom Creed, does not provide enough fuel to the plot of the novel.

Thom hides the fact that he has superpowers and that he daydreams of Uberman's strong and hairy thighs. He applies to the League of Superheroes and gets accepted as a probationary hero, being lumped with other superheroes-in-training (a boy who can make people sick, a girl who can make fire, an old woman who can see the future, and a man with super-speed powers). Unfortunately for Thom, this does not sit well with his father, a disgraced superhero himself who has shunned the League completely. A murder of a superhero becomes the pivotal point of the novel. Typical of superheroes, they band together to capture the murderers, and it is Thom's group that gets the suspect. Unfortunately, during the press conference, Thom announces that they've got the wrong suspect because Thom was "with him" that night. This confession outs Thom to the whole world and, more significantly, to his father.

Moore tries too hard to veer away from the conventions of a young adult novel and also from the stereotypes of a gay character. Thom is a star basketball player and has no mother figure at home. In fact, his mother's non-presence in Thom's life is due to two reasons. One, she left them without word one day, and, second, she's Invisible Lass, also a superhero. There are also cringe-inducing moments such as when father and son share cold beers every now and then.

What's paradoxical about these attempts to be a non-traditional YA novel is that Moore's Hero is a book of cliches used ineffectively. In a death scene, for example, the old woman whispers her enigmatic message to those around her; in her funeral, they bid their farewell to the dead woman one by one and then go their separate ways. Even the love angle is so contrived. When Thom and another boy are about to kiss, they hear an explosion cutting their brief romantic moment. Enough already! Even Thom's powers is a cliche: he can heal people.

Of course, one would argue that the flaws in Moore's novel can be attributed to the fact this is his first novel. His uses of allusions would probably get better with time. In Hero, Moore shamelessly makes parodies of the superheroes we've come to love. Justice, the symbolic head of the league, is from another planet, sent by his parents when his planet was about to explore. Warrior Woman, a minor character probably best left out of the book, is a demi-god from an island, and she has a magic lasso too.

In short, Hero is all over the place. And that is never a good thing since the plot is spread too thinly. You'd definitely be better off if you read graphic novels if you want to get your superhero fix. Gay readers would find little to relate to in this book. It's neither campy nor witty.

Read this book only if:
  1. You like your characters in spandex.
  2. You have an affinity for one-dimensional characters.
  3. You're partial to names like Major Might, Justice, Typhoid Larry, Golden Boy, and Silver Bullet.