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Perry Moore
Cover design by Chip Kidd
Hyperion Books

Review by Joe Palmer
Perry Moore’s debut novel HERO is the story of a young teen coming to terms with world around him. In this it is not unique. What sets this story apart from other prose work is the fictional world that Thom Creed lives in is one filled with superheroes.

Basketball star, all around athlete, student mentor, hard working kid with a lanky build and good looks. Thom Creed could be the proverbial boy next door, except he isn’t. The house Thom and his father live in is the worst in the neighborhood. Thom’s father, a disgraced superhero, is a social pariah while his mother left without a word As if the cards weren’t stacked well enough against Thom, the teenager has two secrets that he fears will forever ruin him in his father’s eyes: he’s gay and he has the power to spontaneously heal living things.

Losing his father’s love is the last thing Thom wants to happen, and he finds it impossible to deny his often intertwined desires to be a superhero and be true to himself.  This seemingly impossible dilemma is at the crux of the story and fuels the dynamic that sets the Hero’s Journey in motion for Thom. Granted, this passage is not as epic or complex as The Iliad but it is a very personal initiation into manhood.

Thom’s journey begins with a rocky start. Having scored the winning basket against the arch rival Tuckahoe Trojans team, Thom should be on top of the world except his coach kicked him off the team after a comment from an opposing team member confirms suspicions about his sexuality. A surprise interruption at home from his father creates a situation for Thom. Running away seems to be his only option, but not before Thom discovers a carefully hidden message written long ago by his mother – To my son. Know yourself.

Many adventures have an inauspicious start and Thom’s is no different. It begins when a trio of D-list supervillains (Transvision Vamp, Snaggletooth, and Ssnake) randomly attacks the bus he’s leaving town on. It’s a harrowing fight for Thom and a mysterious hero who appears from nowhere until members of the League show up to rescue them. His bravery and performance earns him a heart-felt thank you from idol Uberman and an invitation to join the League. How could he run away from home now?

Thom learns first hand that appearances can be deceiving. The façade of an abandoned warehouse hides the League’s high tech headquarters. The invitation that Thom drooled over earns him a spot on a try out squad with what seems like the lamest of the lame superpowered people in the waiting room. There’s Typhoid Larry, who transmits a variety of diseases; tough talking Miss Scarlett who controls fire and smells of pepperoni from her pizza delivery job; Ruth, an archetypal cranky, tell-it-like-it-is old woman whose power to see the future isn’t obscured by her chain smoking or drinking; and squad leader Golden Boy who’s been demoted from the A-list team for some negligence on his part during the bus rescue with Thom. He isn’t happy about it and makes certain Thom knows it, too.

From his first try out exercises to the first “Danger Room” style test to the squad’s less than stellar first mission against the Wrecking Balls, Thom learns the meanings of teamwork, belonging, and most importantly, trust. When a few League members are mysteriously murdered, Thom steps forward with information providing a surprise alibi for the criminal, while honoring his mother’s advice.

A surprise attack leads Thom and his squad to an unexpected team up with his father. The odds are stacked against them in a fight against a legion of mind-controlled superheroes. Amidst the carnage Thom and his father come to terms with one another and devise a plan. The strategy culminates in a heroic sacrifice leaving Thom forever changed.

Moore decided to write HERO after reading Mark Millar’s Wolverine arc in which Northstar is killed and resurrected by cabal du jour The Hand, who uses the mutant as a super-powered killing machine. It was, at best, used as a plot device rather than an opportunity at character development. Moore accomplishes something that is difficult to achieve with LGBT characters in mainstream comics: a good balance between heroic deeds and sexual identity. Thom spends a good deal of time worrying over his gayness being exposed, especially to his father. While Thom agonizes about being outed, Moore also gives him romantic and sexual fantasies, both about Uberman and rival basketball player Goran, a memorable first kiss, and by the book’s end, a relationship. How many years has it been since the debut of Northstar (not the Ultimate version) and the character has yet to have a romantic interest?

HERO is about relationships; the primary example of this is Thom and his father. Another pair involves Thom and one of my favorite characters, Ruth. Her real role is as Thom’s mentor and friend, helping him not only to see beyond his own immediate concerns and fears, and to feel compassion. Ruth once had the great luck and misfortune of finding the love of her life, a young African American man, when segregation was still entrenched. Forbidden by her powerful, banker father, Ruth severed family ties and started a checkered life. Ruth’s story mirrors the adage “love is love” regardless numerous and irrelevant differences people contrive and install into a basic human urge. It’s at her urging that Thom is able to reach past his own needs to become friends with Miss Scarlett and to fully accept himself and the mutual love between father and son.

I have a couple of minor quibbles with the book. I believe the superhero names are mostly intended as an endearing reference to Silver Age heroes. Whether it’s correct or not, many of the code names simply don’t work for me. The scene in which Thom follows his dad to work and spies on him, and accidentally learning a secret seems contrived. It left me thinking that a simpler scene – perhaps Thom listening to a message from his father’s employer left on an answering machine – wouldn’t have been a more effective way to convey the sacrifice Thom’s father made on behalf of his son.

Moore plans more novels featuring Creed and his fellow superheroes. Here’s to future installments featuring Thom and his tall, strong, and dark boyfriend and fellow hero!

[Alas, Perry Moore died after this review was written.]
March 7, 2015
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