"Save the cheerleader, save the world."
That phrase was the hook for the 2006 hit TV series Heroes, which combined comic-book plots and powers with soap-opera characters and situations. It launched the career of actor Zachary Quinto and, closer to home, inspired Toronto writer Steven Bereznai to write a novel giving it a gay spin. Queeroes was published by Lethe Press in 2010, and now its cast of heroic homos is back in a sequel."I always knew I wanted to do this as a series," Bereznai says, "so I ended Queeroes with a tantalizing hint that more mayhem was on the way."
He's not kidding: the new novel opens with a super-villain assault on a gay fraternity that quickly puts the high-school heroes of the first book in jeopardy. This time, however, they're in as much danger from themselves as they are from the villains, as their own insecurities, fears and jealousies threaten to tear the group apart as they deal with new friends, new foes, new loves and new powers.
"I wanted the powers to be challenging for each of the characters to adapt to," Bereznai explains, "and to reveal something about themselves. Essentially, it’s some part of themselves that they’ve repressed which then expresses itself through their super-ability. The teleporter, for instance, likes to run away from his problems, but the teleporting keeps bringing him back to places and people he’s looking to escape. Awkward!"
Bereznai's group is less Justice League and more Misfits as he constantly contrasts their personal crises and neuroses with their physical perfection. Troy, the group's leader, works in a thinly disguised Abercrombie & Fitch store, no less, and the book enjoys tweaking the chain's image of youthful perfection while simultaneously devoting purple prose to its heroes' square jaws, bulging biceps and rippling abs. One of the characters even finds his body-image issues manifesting in a severe and physical way — a metaphor for Bereznai's own conflicts, perhaps?
"You know me too well!" he laughs. "I grew up getting hard-ons flipping through Muscle & Fitness magazines from a very young age. When I discovered comic books, it was in part an extension of that desire. Now abs are everywhere! In shows like The Vampire Diaries, the physical perfection is ridiculous, but these hot guys keep pretending they are into women. I wanted Queeroes to balance that out."
If all this Abercrombie & Fitching sounds like one big boys' club, the most surprising thing in Queeroes 2 is its pack of villains: a team of hot, resourceful and ruthless lesbians out to take sisterhood to a frightening new level. While having fun with stereotypes, does the book risk pissing off the wrong dykes?
"So far no death threats," Bereznai jokes, "but coming from me, it’s a huge nod of respect. Darth Vader was super badass and so are the lesbians in Queeroes 2. Credit goes to the lesbians I came out with in Guelph. They were the ones who joked about a group of lesbians with very strong views on how a lesbian should dress and cut her hair, and they called them the Borg because they were out to assimilate. Ever since then, I wanted to do a story where a bunch of lesbians form an actual cyborg collective."
With so many characters and crises, there are times when this comic-book-inspired novel cries out for the same visual format.
"I would love for Patrick Fillion or someone like that to bring these characters to life in graphic novel format," Bereznai says. "No plans for it at the moment, though." He's already planning a third novel with some fresh characters, a natural extension from the first two in the series. If the first book was about the pain of being in the closet, Queeroes 2 is preoccupied with the lies we tell ourselves. Is honesty the ultimate superpower?
"That’s so cheesy! I love it," Bereznai says. "Just remember, with great power comes great responsibility. Sometimes people use the line 'I’m just being honest' to just be cruel. Despite our inherent flaws, or because of them, we all need to challenge ourselves to be better than that."
Lethe Press, $18.95
Available at Glad Day Bookshop and other fine bookstores
Launch party on Sat, Oct 19, 8:30pm
Club120, 120 Church St