Superheroes have become a big part of today’s pop culture. Not only do these supernatural beings wear the fun colorful garb and represent honor and justice like the heroes of the 20th century, but they are also developing deeper meaning. People everywhere, whether readers, viewers, gamers, etc., are witnessing superheroes dealing with inner conflicts, not always being able to save the day, and even, sometimes, dying. But aren’t superheroes not supposed to fail? Aren’t they always supposed to fly in, beat the villain, and save the day? Jeffrey Allen Mays has taken this concept and has written a philosophical masterpiece that really makes readers think about what it means to be a true hero in his debut novel: The Former Hero.
The story follows four main characters. Mary is a mother who is addicted to alcohol and anti-depressants and has her six year old daughter taken from her. Angus is a man who is living day to day with no home and no job. Lieutenant McCarthy is a man who has served as a detective for years and is haunted by the ghost of his disapproving father. Omni-man is a superhero who has lost his powers and, with no recollection of how he lost them or if he will ever get them back, is forced to live like every other person. All of these characters face a harsh life, yet will find their lives intertwined with one another’s to try and bring down a dictator who rules a city using fear and runs a sex trade involving children.
Just from a brief synopsis, this story seems dark; however, it is a story that should not be overlooked. Through the pain and the suffering Mays’ story conveys, he could not be closer to the truth. What truth? The truth of what reality is really like and how disturbing humanity really is. The stories of superheroes always saving the day and nothing bad ever happening, well, that is just what they are… stories. There are no superheroes in reality. Mays created a world that is more non-fiction than fantasy. The setting is a city that was taken over by a mayor who rules more like a dictator, a police force that is unreliable and feared by all, and citizens who cower in daily fear, afraid to take one step out of bounds just to save themselves. Life is cruel and people do everything in their power to just survive.
Darkness will always be present, but there is also always light. There is always hope and there will always be a hero when needed. What makes a true hero? A hero is one who is still standing after the fight is over. The fight of good versus evil, light versus dark has spanned since the beginning of time: God versus Satan. Mays stresses how this battle defines all battles on Earth. Satan manipulates people to do his bidding that always ends in terrible tragedies. God, however, is on Satan’s tail. He speaks to others and tells them to fight the evil and to never give up until it is gone.
It is difficult to describe all that this story entails without giving any important plot points away. It is a story that makes one truly think about the world. And no, good will not always win and a hero will not always be around to save the day. Satan will always be around to spread darkness, but God will always be around to shed light. One must look past the tragedy and see the good in the world and, in return, do good.