Qualification: I have read only science fiction and fantasy for 50 years, except for bookclub books and about 10% miscellaneous. I have not read comics since 1970. So I am not qualified to evaluate this book within Superhero Fiction. This review is from my outsider's perspective, though I did read The Protectors a couple of weeks ago.
"What is a Hero?" is written in intense first person (you know only what Damson knows), which follows a well-blazed trail into my mind. This allows the author some licence to speak with Damson's voice, somewhat loosening the requirements for strict grammatical elegance; we are now listening not to the author, but to Damson, who is not so constrained. The diary presentation was largely unfamiliar to me, but I found this faded some way in and was thereafter firmly integrated to the gestalt of the reading experience.
This was a nicely-shaped story. Initially the diary format created the structure, but as the characters were insinuated and the plotlines developed, they took over and, as I noted above, the diary format faded into merely chapter headers. The main plot trunk bifurcates to include a thoroughly-researched interpretation of Arthurian legend (while Bradley's is from the females' perspective, Ewing's is from the dragons'). The two trunks are nicely reintegrated at the climax.
The Protectors' universe is mapped from the contemporary real world, and in this book includes many events from around Austin in 2011. For those who were directly involved in these events (firefighters, EMTs, street people and law enforcement), the addition of superhero activities is either plausible or fun, because of the speculative intimacy of a shared microverse/perspective. For the vast majority who knew of the events only from a distance, the plausibility is even stronger. For the rest of us outsiders, we learn about Austin. This universe is adjacent to our own, but could almost be identical; we know it is not largely because of remote mass-media (makes you think). And because of Science (but how many of our rather undereducated population does this apply to ?). Non-traditional aspects of the integration of superheroes into society are briefly explored as background.
Implicit in this explication of an adjacent universe with superheroes, supervillains and dragons is the consideration of how we know what we think is reality, and to what degree this can be, and is being, manipulated by those with power.
Gross mapping of the Protectors' universe onto ours begs some degree of allegorical comparison. In the reader's mind there are so many opportunities for this that it is tempting (and fun) to follow each idea for some distance. For me this is a natural consequence of having a universe which is close, but not identical, to the Real World. Whenever a difference manifests itself, one wonders whether this is Significant. For example, the casually acknowledged existence of superheroes ("Of course they exist - look ! Over there !) <=> "Wouldn't it be cool if superheroes were to exist ?". Unfortunately for this mapping, Balance must be maintained, and Supervillains also exist. Iain M Banks establishes that the Culture Universe is cool as a background, but boring because stories emerge naturally only when there is conflict to chew on.
Damson grows in several dimensions through the story. Relationships with each character evolve in concert in a natural way.
It is lucky that dragons are somewhat self-healing and that the Damson has both practical EMT knowledge and Draconic Healing Power. This allows more risk to be taken and therefore more Good to be achieved.
Several details of Damson's early flying experiences can be fully appreciated only by pilots of hang gliders or other foot-launched aerial conveyances.
Superheroes playing D&D !
What is a hero ? The willingness to take risks as much as being able to do The Right Thing.