Look up gay superheroes on the internet and for the past six months all you would find was Stan Lee heralded as creator of the world’s first gay superhero for TV. Lee is the pioneering writer behind Spider-Man, The X-Men, Fantastic Four and The Avengers. With the full power of Lee’s POW Entertainment the legendary creator is producing the story of Thom Creed in Hero coming to Showcase as a live action series debuting in the fall of 2009, if all goes according to plan. The news was headlined by the London Telegraph before spreading to the other major news outlets online. When you look past the headlines, however, you discover a key name absent from the hype.
Producer, writer and former White House intern Perry Moore is actually the creator of Hero, the young adult novel about gay teen Thom Creed, whose character struggles with his sexuality while also training to become a hero in the shadow of his father. Moore’s role was somehow overlooked by the media at large. “Stan called me up right away,” says Moore, cheerfully. “We’re talking a lot as we write the pilot and he said, ‘Perry, first let me apologize about these articles that make it sound like I’ve invented your character.’ I said, ‘Stan, no apology necessary.’”
Moore shrugs off the media mixup; working with Lee, a personal hero, is a dream come true. “I think it was about two years agoStan Lee called me up. And I thought, ‘Yeah right, it’s Stan Lee.’ I picked up the phone, wondering which friend was pulling my leg. And I was shocked — it really was the Stan Lee. He’d read the book and said he wanted to produce it.
“He’s been so kind and generous,” says Moore. “When we pitched the project he would carry this gravitas and at the same time this infectious energy — how could you not get excited about the project? Then he would praise the work, the pitch and series we’d worked up. I’ve been going back and forth to Hollywood for pitches for years. I have hated 98 percent of it; the two percent that I absolutely loved was the week we spent pitching with Stan Lee.”
Now 35, Moore grew up in Virginia Beach, was an Echols Scholar at the University of Virginia, worked as an intern for Bill Clinton before starting a career in talent and development with MTV and VH1. He boasts being an original member of the production team for The Rosie O’Donnell Show before joining Walden Media where he branched out as an executive producer for projects including the Chronicles of Narnia films. He now lives in New York City and has been with the same man for more than 10 years. He’s been named one of People magazine’s sexiest men of the week. And within it all he’s managed to craft a novel that is his answer to the perceived homophobia of mainstream superhero’s major medium — comic books.
The novel Hero, published by Hyperion, is a personal story cloaked in superhero action psychedelics. “I’ve been carrying this story around with me since I was kid,” says Moore. “My father, who I based the disgraced superhero Hal Creed on, was always a Vietnam Vet ever since he’s been my dad. As a kid I’d assumed everyone’s dad went to Vietnam. It wasn’t until I was much, much older that I understood the stigma attached with it. And then growing up with it, so close to his return… for me, and my older sister, Dad was a much different person. And none of those vets talked about it. So it was always the elephant in the room.
“So there’s the father component of Hero gestating within me for years. And then my love of comics — X-Men, Teen Titans, Legion of Superheroes — all with basically the same theme. Although the times didn’t permit any outright gay characters the subtext was clear to us legion of fans that whatever things about you that made you different were immutable traits, [in other words] not a choice, but who you are. And once you embraced them, you had the ability to fulfill your true potential and then you had this whole wonderful family of people in the same boat that you could support and that could support you.
“And then I always knew I liked hot men, not boys, but men, rugged types. Take a GQ magazine from back then and you’ll see what I’m talking about: big barrel-chested men. I’m sure plenty of them were gay, and not all femmey, androgynous pretty-boy WB types that all blend together. Give me prime Clint Eastwood over any fashion model any day of the week.”
The first novel in a planned series, Hero came out in August 2007 garnering a wide range of media and critical attention, including a Lambda Award. “I was really nervous about the book. I knew it was pioneering, to say the least, and I knew I wanted this story to be told. I just had no idea there were so many people who wanted it told too.” Moore has received numerous letters from fans of the book, both straight and gay, who were looking for something more than the handful of gay characters scattered within mainstream superhero comics, many tainted by slanted characterizations.
The mainstream treatment of all minorities is a constant bone of contention for Moore. “Would you call Superman a straight hero? Better yet, would you call Storm a black hero or a hero for blacks?” Then there was Marvel’s decision to have Wolverine kill off Northstar, the first out gay male hero. “That last one burned me up, because you take Marvel’s most popular mutant and have him kill Marvel’s most popular gay male hero at the time, and what does that say? Plus that was part of Northstar being killed three different times in three different realities — in one month…. And how about Freedom Ring, a gay guy who carried a purse and was so bad at being a superhero that a bad Iron Man (another ultra-popular Marvel character) skewered him to death over 30 times? To top it off this was the guy that the head of Marvel had just touted as Marvel’s open door policy for LGBT characters. If there weren’t so many good antidotes that younger generations embrace then it would be awfully hard to stomach.”
“The new generation wants so much more,” says Moore. “The old folks at the comic book companies know this and it scares the shit out of them. But I love it. When you grow up in the South you learn that the older generation, well, they like to flaunt their power, but that’s because it’s dying. They’ll all be dead soon and their backward ways with them. It’s the new generations that are important. And you never speak down to your readers. I wrote Hero for everyone.
“The fact that it’s a young adult book is wonderful. I love it because it doesn’t speak down to readers. That was something I learned from studying so much CS Lewis. He said it was the kiss of death, and I agree. Young people are so much more than just a demographic on spreadsheets for marketing jeans and iPods. These folks are going to dream so big that they’re going to save our asses in the future. And I love the responsibility of being someone who can help inspire them. It’s my favourite and most unexpected part of the job. I love keeping in touch with people who read Hero and write to me on my website. Trust me, there are a lot of heroes that will be coming out of that amazing group.”
Though Thom Creed isn’t the first gay superhero, he’s the first to have his story told from his point-of-view from the pen of someone pouring his real experiences into the mix.
“I’m well aware that I’m no Kafka or Margaret Atwood, but I’m a true populist at heart. I really have to feel it when I write. I have to create the characters and then they have to take over…. Being gay is not the centrepiece and the only defining trait of who Thom is. It’s one of many things Thom wrestles with it but by no means is it the only thing. He has so much more to do to accept himself: his background, his upbringing, his heritage, his resolve for being a hero, for forgiveness, for so many things. I think most people, after reading the sensationalized premise, were shocked at the emotional truth and depth of the book.
“I named him Thom Creed so there was room for him to grow as a character. His powers evolve, and he’s finally able to become the A-list hero — and no one gives a shit about his sexual orientation at that point — because he’s embraced who he is. And that last part is the most important part about becoming a hero. Embrace who you are and contribute, make the world a better place. No woe-is-I excuses.”
“I believe it’s a story that’s just so long overdue. I can’t believe I had the chance to write Hero first. I’m still in awe of it.”