A recent medical study found that 70 percent of Americans are merrily ingesting at least one prescription drug. Of this percentage, more than half of us are taking two or more pills at a time – with antibiotics, antidepressants, antianxiety drugs, opioids, high blood pressure medications, and vaccines making up the bulk of the prescriptions. Most troubling is that a third of all these drugs are toxic to humans, with side effects worse than the affliction being medicated.
Clearly we’re gradually becoming more and more dependent on drugs. Whatever our problems may be there’s inevitably a handy proton energy pill waiting for us at the friendly neighborhood Roger Ramjet Drugstore.
So it seems reasonable to assume that it’s only a matter of time before evolution makes a leap forward and humans start exhibiting permanent drug-inspired side effects. Some people, like the characters in S.G. Browne’s new book, have already jumped to the top of Darwin’s short list. Lloyd Prescott and his pals for instance.
They’re professional guinea pigs. They get paid to take generic painkillers, heart medications, and other probationary drugs being developed and tested for consumer use. By volunteering for clinical trials and taking experimental drugs for the past five years, they’ve all developed some kind of mutated superpower.
“We’re genetic mutants, freaks of science,” says Lloyd. “We’ve become drug-reaction crimefighters. Side-effect superheroes, using our pharmaceutically enhanced abilities to teach criminals a lesson.”
With a collection of powers that give people rashes and erections, or make them fall asleep, gain weight, vomit, and go into convulsions, Lloyd and his slacker mutant squad decide to rid Manhattan of litterbugs, smokers, and loud talkers.
Less Than Hero is filled with social commentary on the proliferation of pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S. But it’s also a story about figuring out what it is you’re supposed to do with your life. Take Lloyd for example. Growing up, his shortlist of dream jobs included professional golfer, travel writer, general manager of the Mets (or Yankees), and photographer for Playboy. But he never had much imagination or ambition to begin with. He just sort of drifted along and got older, waiting for something interesting to happen. Becoming a superhero was a way for him to escape his own inertia.
Things get hairy for the Super Six when two pharmaceutically enhanced guinea pigs decide to pursue careers in villainy. On one hand, the novel’s inevitable superhero/supervillain clash follows a predicable conclusion. But also, it underscores the author’s point. Which is: In life, we must all find our unique path.
“Some people might say we’re being stupid by living a childish comic book fantasy,” says Lloyd. But he knows that common sense takes a backseat when you’ve been given the opportunity to be something greater than you ever imagined. “We’re not ready to take on Doctor Doom or Magneto,” he says, “but at least we’re able to make a difference for those who can’t stand up for themselves. Just because we’re not from the planet Krypton and we weren’t bitten by a radioactive spider doesn’t mean we can’t be superheroes.”
[Less Than Hero / By S.G. Browne / First Printing: March 2015 / ISBN: 9781476711744]