Superhero novels and few and far between, especially original ones, so I was quite pleased when I stumbled across Kevin Rau‘s ebook series H.E.R.O. H.E.R.O.: Metamorphosis, the first book in the series, is a quick and fun read that provides its own take on the classic superhero origin story, as well as several classic superhero powers.
The story follows three friends, Lance, Stephanie, and Rael, who each have a parent who is a “super”, someone with a superpower granted to them by a meteor shower years earlier. When another meteor shower hits, each of the characters receives superpowers of their own, although the change is quite painful. The rest of the novel covers the events of their first few days as supers and how they adjust to their new powers. All three decide to join the H.E.R.O. (Homeland Extraordinary Response Organization) program, a group of government-sanctioned superheroes, and end up on the trail of a group of mutants intent on taking over the city.
While some of it does feel familiar and more than a bit comic booky, Rau does pull off some interesting twists on classic superhero tropes. The best example is perhaps the different powers of the main characters. We’ve seen characters with super strength and telepathy before, and even feline mutants are nothing new. However, the novel format allows for a deeper exploration of each of the different powers. For instance, Lance has a great deal of difficulty with everyday tasks after receiving his super strength, and it quickly becomes a source of humour. Stephanie’s telepathy is perhaps the most unique, and the rotating first person narrative allows an exploration of what it’s like to hear others’ thoughts as well as to have your own thoughts heard. The way Stephanie experiences the thoughts is also completely new, seeing them like TV screens hovering over the person’s head. While it sounds like a cool power at first, Stephanie soon finds that it difficult to control. The fact that all the powers have these negative side effects makes the characters very relatable and saves them from comic book two-dimensionality.
Another aspect that stuck out to me is that unlike almost every other superhero, each of the main characters completely expected to one day become a superhero. This allows Rau to completely skip over the decision process behind it; their parents were superheroes, so as soon as they get their powers, all that’s really left to do is sign up with H.E.R.O. and make themselves official. They’ve already taken the necessary classes, had the necessary training. It almost feels backwards, but it works, and helps speed the action along so that the heroes can get to heroing.
As clever as the story is, the writing does occasionally slow it down, getting hung up on minute details that could have been elided for the sake of pacing. The heroes explain their powers several times, and reading the same explanation for the third or fourth time can become a bit tedious. In addition, much time is spent on describing the heroes’ costumes where again, once is enough. That said, however, Rau clearly has a good idea of what the characters look like, as the H.E.R.O. Facebook page has hundreds of character images created by Rau. I have to give him credit for managing to come up with so many unique costume looks in this age where we’ve been a bit saturated in spandex.
Rau’s attention to detail does pay off during the action scenes, which the book is full of. I especially enjoyed the battles at the hospital, where each of the characters learns their own limits on the fly while fending off a variety of vicious mutants. Rau’s style keeps us right in the center of the action and by the end, we have a much better understanding of what happened than any of the individual characters.
VERDICT: While sometimes overly concerned with minor details, Rau ultimately succeeds in creating an exciting new world filled with action, romance, and superheroes.
You can find out more information about H.E.R.O. – Metamorphosis as well as the rest of the H.E.R.O. series at www.KevinRau.com.