The Manny Files, the gay-positive theme of Perry Moore's Hero offers a librarian a lifeline in her search for books for readers not interested in suicide or other angsty topics but who want to see themselves in books. Well, I guess the superhero world of Hero doesn't really qualify as a place to find reality, but certainly Thom Creed and his story can ring true to any teen searching for his or her place in the world.
Thom and his father live in a world where superheroes with X-Men-type mutant powers live openly but masked among those they save every day from a raft of evil geniuses. Thom's father -- sporting a maimed left hand -- used to be a member of The League, but he was drummed out some years ago. Thom's mother left the family around the same time. Thom and his dad don't talk about any of this, but his dad has no trouble sharing his antipathy towards gays.
Now that he's nearing 18, Thom's having trouble denying his sexual attraction to men (he's got a serious crush on the glamorpuss Überman) while marveling at a growing ability to heal with his touch. When he finds himself helping The League prevent a tragic bus crash (engineered by the bad guys), he's invited to try out for membership. But because of his dad's failed career, he's lumped with a band of misfits as his probationary team. It's your typical ragtag crew: A prickly girl, a nerdy boy whose power is to make everyone sick, an old lady with a nicotine habit and their reluctant trainer, stuck with them because he mouthed off to The League's leader, Justice.
I hope it comes as no surprise to learn that Thom saves the day and finds true love, with a mysterious dark stranger (who's not a stranger ... I had him pegged very early on).
I enjoyed this, but it's a pretty ordinary book. Even the gay angle is kind of predictable. The superhero stuff is very derivative (the mutant powers, the Superman story of Justice including a form of Kryptonite) and the story -- which has been fairly leisurely in its careful depiction of Thom's world -- wraps up furiously and with a couple gaping holes (although it does wrap up definitively).
Michael Urie. From the picture posted at his website, he looks like a bit of a lightweight not capable of the diverse voicing he gives the novel. (The Internet informs me that he excelled in a one-person show earlier this year.) His first-person narration of Thom is straightforward, with a nice edge of desperation and sadness. He can go deep for the older men, Thom's dad and Justice, as well as female without being swishy. The disease-spreading hero is suitable nasal. There's an eastern European character, Goran, that Urie pulls off with a passable accent. But mostly I like his characterization of Ruth, the old lady hero candidate. Her cigarette-infused growl brought back wonderful memories of Jeff Woodman's Sydelle Pulaski from The Westing Game, one of the first audiobooks I ever listened to.
Hero was published in 2007, but the audiobook didn't come out until 2010, the year before Moore died. It comes with a introduction read by Stan Lee who juicily, enthusiastically lauds its revolutionary approach to heroism. Lee is making/has made a video version (movie or TV?) of the story, but this news is pretty old. Since Moore was a movie producer, it's not surprising to think of the book as something that would easily translate to the screen.
[The statue of Justice atop the London criminal courts building, the Old Bailey,was taken as part of the Geograph Project by Colin Smith and was retrieved from Wikimedia Commons.]
Hero by Perry Moore
Narrated by Michael Urie
Brilliance Audio, 2010. 11:21