“What the hell do you care for the people of this planet?” a powerful savior-turned-villain bellows at Thom Creed, the eponymous teenage superhero in Perry Moore’s Lambda Award-winning novel, Hero. “They hate you, they call you names and they’re ashamed of you,” the bad guy says as he prepares to unleash a terrifying monster known as the Planet Eater. “You know I’m telling the truth. You’re all so stupid, and you’re killing this world anyway. I’m just giving you a little nudge, a gentle push.” Perhaps it’s not giving too much away to reveal that Thom, a young gay man whose sexuality is only one of several special gifts, manages to save the Earth and find true love by the novel’s last pages.
That dramatic arc may be unremarkable in a story where a boy-hero wins the heart of his ladylove, but as the scion of a literary genre—comic books—in which gay characters tend to meet a gruesome end, Hero is nothing short of revolutionary. And as Moore puts the finishing touches on the serialized small-screen adaptation of his novel for Showtime, it appears that the revolution will indeed be televised.
“Look at these tent-pole gay movies like Milk and Brokeback that straight people get behind,” Moore said in a telephone interview from his home in New York City. “The heroes die terrible deaths or endure terrible tragedies. And the characters like us that we see on TV are often the gay version of the Stepin Fetchit stereotype. Mine will be the first show where the gay character is a true hero and he isn’t doomed.”
Moore’s novel, a “Best of 2008” selection by the young-adult division of the American Library Association, is part of an impressive array of fiction for queer youth that has appeared since the beginning of the decade. Boy Meets Boy and Wide Awake by David Levithan, Brent Hartinger’s Russel Middlebrook novels and Rainbow Boys and The God Box by Alex Sanchez are some of the most popular entries in this cohort, and all have benefited from the high production values and marketing budgets that come with contracts from the likes of Knopf and HarperCollins.
But for Moore, an ardent Christian who is also executive producer for the ongoing series of film adaptations of C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, there’s more at stake in the appeal of young Thom Creed than simply a royalty check and a green-light from Showtime.
“I feel the Spirit with me if I’m really disciplined,” Moore said. “When I was writing the book, I tapped into that, and I’ve definitely felt Him with me as I write this Showtime series. I’ve learned to be very respectful and humble and let these characters tell their stories through me.”
If Moore’s spiritual passion enlivens his storytelling, then the narrative forms that have captivated him since childhood—comic books and Lewis’ multilayered mythology—provide the framework in which Hero’s story takes shape.
“The novel’s largely an allegory of me growing up with my father,” Moore said. “It’s about a father and son who don’t fit in for obvious reasons but who long to find their place in the universe.”
Moore said his father, a veteran of the war in Vietnam, was as traumatized by the hostility that greeted him when he returned from the front, as he was by the brutality of the conflict in Southeast Asia. Hal Creed, Thom’s father in the novel, is a disgraced superhero who was blamed for the deaths of the thousands who died the first time the dreaded Planet Eater threatened the Earth.
And just as the 36-year-old Moore did when he began his coming-out process two decades ago, Thom must struggle to honor both his distinctive way of being the world and his deep connection to a damaged but loving father.
“Hal Creed is just a heartbreaking figure,” Moore said. “He’s angry and confused about what’s happening with his son, but the truth is Thom has a ton in common with his father.”
Father and son have a tough time finding those commonalities, but their path to reconciliation leads them—and the reader—through a quirkily re-imagined American landscape that includes a special training program for would-be superheroes who can fly, peer into the future or heal at a touch. Though it may initially strike the reader as odd that being gay would still be a big deal in a place brimming with such queer creatures, Moore’s appreciation for allegory allows him to use that conceit as a mirror for our own reality.
Is it any less absurd that prejudice of any kind persists in a world where the only constants are endless variety and ceaseless evolution?
“I know what it’s like for people to distrust you because of your differences,” the alien leader of the League of Superheroes says after Thom chooses to reveal his sexuality rather than allow one of the League’s adversaries to be punished for a crime he didn’t commit. “That happens when you’re from outer space, too.”
“God has a really big mission for me,” says Moore, who’s producing the Showtime series with Stan Lee, the former head of Marvel Comics who has supervised the development of successful crossover storylines like Spider-Man, the X-Men, Iron Man and the Hulk. “A younger generation needs to supplant the older generation of bigots—that’s why Thom’s story is important.”
Moore won’t say when the TV version of his novel is likely to premier—shooting for Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the next film adaptation from the Chronicles of Narnia, starts next summer, and the casting strategy for the series is still in the early stages.
“I would love for the two leads”—in the roles of Thom and his superhero boyfriend—“to be gay,” said Moore, who sees that prospect a necessary corrective to Hollywood’s reluctance to venture beyond tragic gay characters played by decidedly straight actors. “We need to put an end to this industry of fear. None of us was put on God’s great Earth to ride in the back of the bus.”