“Like a Hero” by Michael J. Bowler

“Like a Hero” by Michael J. Bowler 683 1024 Reader Views Kids

Like a Hero

Michael J. Bowler
Independently Published (2022)
ISBN: 978-0990306399
Reviewed by Terri Stepek for Reader Views (06/2023)

“Like a Hero: Courage Can be Costly” by Michael J. Bowler is the first book of The Invictus Chronicles. This genre-busting superhero novel defies succinct description. Probably the best way to describe this creative work is to call it a graphic novel without graphics. But that sounds like I’m selling this story short. In fact, I’m giving high praise to the author for producing such a stunning effect in my brain as I read this story, that my mind created the scenes in graphic novel style. Normally when I read a book, my mind provides live-action-style scenes like sections of “video” in my head as the action evolves in print. Instead, as I read this immersive novel, it was as though a high-quality graphic novelist had free rein in my brain. Amazing.

This novel focuses on two young brothers, 21-year-old Vincent and 14-year-old Dennis. Their parents were tragically killed, and the brothers now live alone in the family home, watched over by neighbors James and Linda, who love them as their own. James was also the long-time partner of the boys’ father as they served together in the local police department.

Vincent is a good student, strong, organized, and a loving big brother. Dennis was cut from different cloth. Dennis is highly creative, a poet with strong emotions, and dreams of becoming a graphic novelist. Dennis creates Invictus, a superhero modeled in many ways after his big bro, whom he idolizes. This is where the fun comes in. The character, Invictus, has no actual superpowers. He’s more like Batman, relying on wit, strength, and great gadgets. He’s also excellent at martial arts. In the way only a younger sibling could convince an older, wiser one, Dennis persuades Vincent to become Invictus.

This was when I knew I was in the presence of a great work. Dennis titled his superhero after the poem, Invictus by William Ernest Henley. Invictus, Latin for unconquered, defines the best attributes of these young men. The adversity they faced does not rule them; they have no desire to lie down and become victims of society. They will keep their heads unbowed, as the poem proudly states:

My head is bloody, but unbowed….

I am the master of my fate;

I am the captain of my soul.

These young men are undefeated by their circumstances, and they will not allow that mindset to overtake them. 

Wow.

I could write pages more about how inspiring Dennis and Vincent are. But there’s so much more to share. The boys are not the only amazing characters here. James and Linda provide strength, stability, wisdom, and positivity to the brothers in their roles as “foster parents.”  Then there are the people Vincent meets as he patrols the streets as Invictus. He’s looking for crimes to stop and criminals to catch. But what and who Invictus finds on the street is much more than he expected. He meets the homeless, hungry, poor, and disenfranchised. He develops a warm friendship with two young boys. Joe sells himself on the street to survive. He prefers to live in this manner rather than face the abuse he previously suffered. Franky is a little guy who goes out into the street to buy drugs for his mother. He’s also addicted thanks to his mom. Many nights, Franky sleeps on the street because it’s safer than home. 

These characters and others wrapped me up in their world completely. The storyline the author unravels through these personalities is intense, raw, heart-breaking, and gritty. It’s also tender, sweet, thought-provoking, and astounding. As the plot builds steam and heads toward a mind-numbing conclusion, the reader is completely caught in the maelstrom. How do you make a difference when there’s so much evil, and even some of the good guys are against you?

Invictus, with the help of Dennis coordinating from home with a police scanner, begins to make a difference on the streets. But not everyone is happy. The police want to stop Invictus, who they believe is endangering the lives of others with his “vigilante justice.”  The drug dealers want to stop him because he’s killing their profits. James and Linda want to stop him because they’re appropriately terrified for him. Even Vincent himself reaches a point where he’s ready to give up the Invictus concept. He’s discovered courage can be costly. 

As I struggled with the dilemmas presented to the boys, I also struggled with more mundane issues. My “mom voice” kept uttering in the background— things like, “this is a bad concept for young minds to consider” and “why does there have to be cussing in a YA book?”  I kept thinking that I loved the story but had genuine concerns. By the time I reached the end, all my worries were vanquished. Yes, it’s graphic, raw, and violent. It has some coarse language. It feels real. It also deals with big issues in adult ways.

This story does have the feel of a graphic novel. The characters do some amazing things that are outside the bounds of plausible sometimes. For a graphic novel, that’s acceptable. If it bothers you as a reader, however, please consider that when choosing this book.

Fans of superhero novels, good-vs-evil stories, and action/adventure books will find much to love in “Like a Hero: Courage Can be Costly” by Michael J. Bowler. So will readers of graphic novels. This book isn’t just for teen/young adult readers in my mind. I loved this story and heartily recommend it for adults as well.

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