Rant: Hero by Hilal Asyraf

WARNING: Long post, and spoilers!

I love to read. I read all kinds of books, preferably in languages I can understand. I confessed I like reading English or American literature more than Malay literature. Probably because most Malay books I can find at bookstores sell romance or puppy love stuffs that are really not my cup of tea. It is hard to find good Malay books around the town, unless one has the time to make a trip to Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

I like romance a lot when it is done right. But most of the time, romance books just tire and bore me. I used to read Ahadiat Akasyah's books, and despite my passionate hatred against the terrible uses of 'I' and 'you' in their conversation, I actually enjoyed Mr. Akasyah's writing. His stories were not really charming (to me), but his writing was interesting and easy to read. I like how he made his characters believable, and realistic as well as conflicted. My favorite novel from Ahadiat Akasyah was Balak Cun.

Up until now, I cannot forget the story of Balak Cun (which means beautiful man). Mr. Akasyah made the main character so sympathetic that it was easy for readers to feel and care for him. He portrayed the prejudice of the society against the transsexual community quite well, and even presented the dilemma of the main character with his religion in a substantive manner. He didn't outright condemn the main character for being transsexual, in opposed to what the media tends to do. Granted there was a flaw here and there in this story but still, this was a very good book.

So I've been giving some thought of picking up a Malay novel a week ago when visiting Popular bookstore with some friends. One of my friends said that buying a Malay book was a waste of the RM200 1Malaysia voucher. It was not that she didn't like Malay language, rather like me, she dislike most Malay novel's writing. But I really wanted to read one after so long. And choosing the right book was difficult. I didn't want to read anything lovey-dovey because I just DON'T LIKE ROMANCE. A little romance is good, but romance like the one in Lagenda Budak Setan and Ombak Rindu? *shake head*

I've found several favorable fantasy based books. But decided to buy one from Hilal Asyraf, titled Hero. Being a bit of a superhero fan, and having been disappointed by the cheesiness of Cicakman several years ago, I thought this book might have been a good choice.

Synopsis:

Hero. A crime-fighter that appeared in Angsana city two years ago, acting as guardian to the city which was built by ten Muslim billionaires.
Syaitan Bertopeng (Masked Devils), a crime organization in Angsana city is Hero's arch-enemy. Syaitan Bertopeng had killed six out of ten of the Muslim billionaires, but Hero could not find any proof to put them out for good.
Between the underlying problems, another mysterious antagonist, Akuma, emerged. Hero's conflicts were added up with his marriage to Afeefah Husna as Amir Faheem, his real identity. His marriage was to save his father's property. Amir Faheem was trapped since he is a heavy smoker, and one that does not pray.

And there you have it. The synopsis was pretty interesting. I bought the book without carefully checking out what it was actually about. I think it is important to note first that I'm a christian, but that does not mean I don't enjoy reading or watching non-christian movies or books. This novel is a Tarbiah novel. Therefore, I would recommend this to any avid Muslim readers. It got a lot of messages pertaining to Islam and this made me remember an ex-roommate of mine. I thought if we were still in one room, I would have given this novel to her gladly. She would have enjoyed this much more than me. As to my complains, it is not about how heavy it is with Islam messages. I only have problems with the writing, characters and the HEAVY comparisons between Hero and Batman.

First, the writing. Oh, the writing! It got too many complicated, or educational words that I think are unnecessary at some parts. Even the conversations sounded too formal. Never in my life do I hear people talking so formally to one another, with perfect formal Malay vocabularies. They sounded like robot instead of human, so I cannot feel the genuine meaning behind their words. Just a bunch of text-book pretty words instead of realistic everyday language. And this book got too much infodump.

Infodump is excessive information put into a story which really is useless as it does not move the plot at all. The novel Hero is guilty with this; every single thing about the people, places, fight, motives, crimes, technologies... EVERYTHING has gotta be explained in painful length. It is okay to just explain if briefly, but this novel explains too much. It takes about hundred pages to explain about the light versus dark hypothesis running rampant in the plot. I can exactly see the good vs bad from the start. Seriously, aren't all heroes story-line centers about good vs bad? So why the 'idiot lectures'? It is good that Mr. Asyraf wants to explain about the Islam religion, but there is no need to mention about good vs evil in every chapter of the book. Mention it once is enough, and mention it briefly is much better. Remind it too many times... I was beginning to wonder if Mr. Asyraf thought his readers are a forgetful bunch. This type of writing maybe works on motivational books, but it doesn't work on novel.

Apart from that, there was too many telling, but too little showing. Read a bit about SHOW, DON'T TELL. This novel is a lengthy 481 pages, but little of those pages are left for imagination. We were told the Hero was sad and unfulfilled rather than being shown about it. We were told he was conflicted. We were told that Datuk Amir Muiz was a kind man. We were told that Mr. Umayer was a genius. We were told that Tengku Amiri was a badass dude. We were told that Akuma was a crazy guy. We were told that Akuma laughed like this "Ha ha ha, hi hi hi, hu hu hu". It was nerve-wrecking, having to read Akuma going "ha ha ha, hi hi hi, hu hu hu" every time he made an appearance. What's wrong with just saying he laughed? Wouldn't it be better if we interpret that Akuma was crazy just by showing his actions and mannerisms? But we knew Akuma was deranged by the writer plain out saying ".. Akuma is a mad man". That was after the "ha ha ha, hi hi hi, hu hu hu". You guys know what? I laugh like this, "ho ho ho, hua hua hua, he he he". Literally.

Then the characters! They're not human! They're cardboard cutouts! Why, you asked me? Because they're either the bad guy or the good guy. That's all. Firstly the main character, Amir Faheem or Hero. He was a heavy smoker, a religion hater, and a loner. Those characteristics were merely reference labels. As with the other characters. Afeefah Husna was a religious woman, highly educated and a charitable person. Religious? One-dimensionally yes. Highly educated? Sadly, only told but not shown except for the blogging which was a lame excuse of being educated. Charitable? She joined charities! Akuma was a crazy guy because he laughed like a crazy guy. Eljurano Demase was a maniac because he keeps thinking about destroying the world. Pak Arbi was a kind man because he was nice to everyone. Mr. Umayer was a genius because he invented everything way sophisticated than anything. Inspector Ikhwan was a man of justice because he was not corrupted. yadda yadda yadda. None of them, except Hero, got through a nice character development. Akuma especially changed from being a ridiculous bad guy to a ridiculous good guy in one chapter. Wow. Hero changed after 15 or 16 chapters. Akuma just needed one chapter. Fast-forward! Ya get what I mean?

Last but not least, the Batman copycats. Mr. Asyraf said he wanted to create a Hero that does not resemble like Batman or Superman at all because *gasp* those guys are not religious missionaries! So, he totally created an original hero, with an underground operational cave place where he got gigantic screens to monitor stuffs, he got a butler- I mean- servant named Pak Arbi who mend his wounds and serve him diligently, he placed his Hero suits in glass tubes, he got a shield-like mantel and stuffs. He lost both his parents to villains. Not like Batman at all, I tell you. Akuma was not a pathetic imitation of the Joker. Not at all. Seriously. Oh, and there was a conversation between those two:

Hero: Ya. Aku boleh nampak yang itu. Kau mati-matian hendak membunuh aku. (Yes. I can see that. You want to kill me so badly.) 
Akuma: Bunuh? Hahaha. Apa yang aku boleh dapat dengan membunuh kau? Kaulah yang menyempurnakan aku. (Kill? Hahaha. What will I gain from killing you? You complete me.) ~ from Hero (page 272)  
Remember, this is just a coincidence!

Batman: Then, why do you want to kill me?
Joker: [laughs] I don't want to kill you! What would I do without you? Go back to ripping off mob dealers? No, no, NO! No. You... you... complete me. ~from The Dark Knight (2008)
I think Mr. Asyraf forgot to mention he was going to reference Batman in his Hero. This is not good because you know, a Batman's fan like me can easily detect the details and immediately nit pick. By first saying how no goody-goody Batman is to the readers and then go copycat on Bob Kane's famous character, it is ironic. I think it is good Mr. Asyraf wants to help explain his religion to his fellow brethren. His intention of using the hero medium is to easily connect with the younger readers. I myself see glowing reviews for the messages of this book on some bloggers' pages. It is good that he wants to create a hero not as an idol for the reader, but as the readers themselves. I think his perspective is great. But he lacks the originality into his own story and purpose, therefore making it hard for me to like this book.

This is the longest post ever, but I felt I need to make a point as an avid reader. And as one who would like local writers to not be influenced too much with western character archetypes when coming out of the romance-themed novel boxes. That is all.