Maybe it was the tights, but something about superheroes fascinated me when I was a little boy. I certainly wasn’t alone in this interest. My friends and I used to play with our Superman, Spiderman and He-Man dolls — er, action figures — all the time. But at what point did I realize that while my friends dreamed of being superheroes, I longed to be with one?
Having left the comic-book world behind as I grew older, it wasn’t until the first X-Men movie did I realize the undeniable connections that the superhero world holds with the gay community. So it was probably inevitable that someone pen a gay superhero novel. With expectations high, the first author to tackle this challenge would be forced to do the literary equivalent of jumping tall buildings and stopping a speeding bullet.
Fortunately, Perry Moore does. His novel, Hero (), is a wonderful combination of reality and fantasy. Heroes exist, but cancer still kills. Being gay in high school can suck, but sometimes friends stick by you through thick and thin.
For Thom, being the star of the basketball team isn’t enough to make him popular. In fact, life is pretty hard: His father is a fallen hero who is reviled by the world; he’s without a car because of uncontrollable seizures; and outside his home he’s widely known as the local homo. All this and he still hasn’t gotten his first man-on-man kiss.
Thom’s life starts to look up when his heroic healing touch starts to emerge. When his hands start to flame, he can heal anything from cuts to laser holes. Suddenly Thom’s hopes to join the League — the ultimate cool club of superheroes — are real. But what kind of gift is healing? That’s what Thom has to figure out.
Moore creates a rich and vibrant world for Thom to inhabit, a place where superheroes are commonplace. In fact, joining the League comes complete with a salary, health benefits and even a human-resources department. Superheroes are just an accepted part of the world. Gays, however, are a whole other story. Prejudice is alive and well and living right in Thom’s home, embodied by his father, the king of all outcasts. Sadly, being the victim of pointless discrimination does nothing to open Hal’s own mind to his son’s individuality.
The most magical element to Moore’s world is how real it really is. Whether it is his first clandestine trip to the gay bar or almost getting caught looking at porn on his father’s computer, Thom’s lustful yearnings are pitch-perfect. And finding love — either familial or romantic — can hurt so much you wonder if it’s really worth the trouble.
Hero is hardly infallible. Moore borrows heavily from common superhero lore, modeling his supporting characters on those we know and love. While it’s fun to see the Wonder Woman equivalent be a complete bitch, other times it comes off as a cop out. Find something more creative than a rock from the bad guy’s home planet that cripples him. Kryptonite is so passÃ©.
It’s also pretty easy to figure out the identity of the mysterious stranger who’s following Thom’s every move, but what that storyline lacks in surprise, it more than makes up in anticipation: When is Thom going to get the guy?
What may turn off most readers is that Moore’s book is shelved in the young-adult section. However, this genre has certainly changed since I was a teenager. Hero rivals the last Harry Potter in death count — no one is safe these days — and needless to say there weren’t any gay characters in my day. The plot may seem juvenile, but there’s more going on than meets the eye. There are so many serious coming-out stories out there, it’s a relief to have one that involves flying and crime-fighting. No matter how hard coming out may be, it’s a celebration too. Enjoy it.
Unlike the recently outed Dumbledore, Thom has the integrity and bravery to come out and live his life honestly. If that’s not the sign of a true hero, I don’t know what is. The superpowers are just a cool bonus.