FIRST, BEWARE THAT spoilers lurk here. Second, we’re going to gaze into the rear view a tad: two decades ago, in a review of the Clint Eastwood film In the Line of Fire, the LA Weekly noted that only in America could you have a political thriller bereft of politics. I paraphrase since it’s been so long, but the observation has always stuck with me — especially when I was reading Hero, Mike Lupica’s young adult thriller, which grew out of his well-regarded sports books for young readers. In the Eastwood movie, John Malkovich is an assassin out to get the President, and Eastwood is the repentant JFK-era agent who gets a second chance at saving the country. But the Malkovich character doesn’t have any particular agenda in the movie — he just wants to kill the President because he’s, well, bad. And this is the main problem with Hero.
Now, I’m a Lupica fan when it comes to his oeuvre; I have enjoyed, in particular, some good nights reading his baseball saga Heat aloud to my own in-house Little Leaguer. Indeed, Lupica comes to novel-wrangling from an already illustrious trajectory as a sports columnist and ESPN commentator, and his new tale starts out promisingly enough. Tom Harriman, the narrator and father of our eventual titular hero, Zach, is in Eastern Europe, nabbing a Radovan Karadzic/Slobodan Milosevic war criminal for trial — one guesses — in the West.
In this prologue — think a James Bond pre-title sequence — we learn that Tom has certain “powers.” He’s not quite Superman, but he seems to be a tad more than Batman, based on his ability to leap multi-story distances and to somehow transport himself across rooms, as needed, in close combat situations; a kind of localized teleportation.
Like Batman, though, he’s still mortal, and the plane he pilots back with War Prisoner on board is scarcely indestructible: he never makes it home to his family’s Manhattan co-op. And then we switch to third person, and we meet Zach, understandably grieving for the loss of his father.
Zach was unclear about what, exactly, his father did — other than work as a special operative for the President. But what kind of President? And what kind of operations? The President has a cranky, secretive vice president, but we’re never quite allowed to know his politics, or the actual worldview of the current administration. What sort of operation did Zach’s father give his life for?
As Zach ponders these questions, he finds a growing power within himself. Not to move on in spite of great loss — though that’s there, too — but literal “powers,” like the kind his dad had. Apparently, these powers come “online” when they’re passed on, bequeathed, or when the recipient is fully into adolescence.
Zach has time for such pondering and exploration because his father shared another trait with Batman, or at least, Bruce Wayne: Great wealth. And so, the bully Zach encounters is at a fairly tony private school, his weekend afternoon getaways consist of courtside tickets to the Knicks, and when needed, there are even private cars.
Batman is one of my favorite mythic heroes, and his easy wealth never got in the way of a good story; we could overlook questions like: “Why didn’t young Bruce wind up in an orphanage?”
In fact, Zach’s father was a...read more