A few months ago I visited Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. It was the same trip in which I finally got to visit Steven Smith Teamakers. After filling up on tea, my friends and I went to Powell’s. It was my first time there, and it was awesome. As I browsed the shelves in the YA section, one book stood out at me: Perry Moore’s HERO.
The setup: Thom Creed has superpowers. He can heal pretty much anyone he touches (it even works on plants sometimes). He’s the son of Major Might, a superhero who nevertheless didn’t have superpowers, and who, after an epic fall from grace, has made it clear he disapproves of superheroes all around.
Thom has to keep his powers hidden from his dad.
He also has to hide the fact that he’s gay.
HERO was written in 2007, but it reads just as fresh almost ten years later. Thom is stuck in that place where he both craves his father’s approval and wants to break free of his shadow, and that’s a place that is universal. He can’t decide if he wants to run away or not, if he wants to come out or not.
When Thom does try running away, he winds up on a bus that gets attacked by supervillains—and for the first time, his powers get noticed. He gets an invitation to try out for The League, the world’s organized superhero team, but he also runs across Dark Hero, a Batman-esque loner.
Thom was one of the most compelling narrators I’ve read in a while; he struck a perfect mixture of sensitivity, humor, self-deprecation, and, occasionally, badassery. It was really hard to put down HERO. The supporting cast, Thom’s fellow heroes-in-training, were great, though maybe a little clichéd. The wise old lady (who was also prophetic); the sarcastic, fiery girl (who was possessed of some sort of radioactive power); the glib speedster who had no patience for Thom; Typhoid Larry, who could get people sick, but couldn’t touch anyone.
I enjoyed the team, but I would have liked to see them subverted a little bit. The Tick is one of my favorite cartoons ever. I could have used more of that tongue-in-cheek humor.
Thom’s father, on the other hand, felt like something new and fresh: a powerless superhero, washed out and reviled by the world he used to protect, determined to shelter his son while at the same time carelessly shaming Thom into staying in the closet. Thom’s dad had a lot of problems, but he felt fully-formed and real.
Thom met Goran, his basketball rival, in a total foot-in-mouth situation. Their relationship changes, though, when Thom heals Goran after an injury, and things change even more when Thom starts playing one-on-one with Goran. Thom develops a heavy crush pretty quickly, and it’s heartbreaking to see, because he’s not sure if Goran is gay or not. This part of the novel felt the most grounded, the most real, to me. There's one particular scene when Goran casually mentions how a teammate accused him of stealing someone's girlfriend, and the way Thom's heart was crushed at that moment is a feeling I know all too well.
I figured out most of the secrets of HERO fairly early in the novel, but then again, I’ve been reading comics since I was eight, so I’m pretty familiar with the genre. Suspecting what was coming did not diminish my enjoyment of it.
My one qualm with HERO was that it pulled its punches. It reminded me of a screenplay. In a film, you can write “Their eyes meet” and the actors will create a world of meaning from it. But in a novel, if you write, “Our eyes meet” and then leave it at that, you’re leaving out the emotional payoff. How does it feel? What do you do after? That's what I wanted so badly.
That’s not to say there was no emotional payoff; HERO got its shots in. But I would have liked to see some of the conflicts taken further, the resolutions done bigger and bolder. Some things felt unfinished to me.
All in all, I enjoyed HERO. It was a fun read with endearing characters. I wish there was a sequel. Unfortunately, Perry Moore passed away back in 2011. Either way, I'm glad he finished HERO.