It's the Holy Grail of comics conversations....get at least two comics fans in the same room,
and the conversation will eventually turn to revolve around this key question:
"What if....people with super powers really existed in the real world?"
In short, there have been several attempts in comics to deal with this question. Watchmen dealt with the sociopolitical ramifications...but only had one super-powered character. (We'll leave it to Jim Kakalios, who often gives presentations on the science of super powers, and who wrote an excellent book on the subject). Astro City turns that premise on its head and asked, "What if...real people existed in the comic book world?" The Authority deals with that premise in terms of having heroes becoming proactively involved in sociopolitical situations.
But the breakout hit that deals with this question is Heroes, the hit NBC show that seemed to come out of nowhere. Amongst similar shows that had a continuing storyline (like Jericho and Lost, it took an outstanding lead and received both critical and popular acclaim. Although I was not on board initially, I was hooked after catching up midseason.
(OK, I admit it, I started watching it when Christopher Eccleston guest-starred. I'm a Doctor Who fanboy, what can I say?)
What made it great - and what helped it break out of the pack - was that it dealt with heroism not in terms of powers...but in terms of lifestyle.
Take away the fantastic element from that first season, and look at the stories that were presented: a single mom attempting to take care of her child. A prominent family dealing with a politically ambitious son...and a black sheep. A cheerleader attempting to make it in the world of high school. An artist dealing with the loss of a relationship. A young man dealing with his father's disappointment and his fantasy-driven life....all of these storylines would fuel even the most amateurish soap opera. However, Heroes injected just as much (if not more) drama in these everyday stories as it did in the more fantasy-driven elements. Even the "big bad" of Sylar - I don't like serial killers, even super powered ones, as villains - it's too cliche. Yet, Heroes managed to flip the script, making Sylar one of the more intriguing characters ever created.
Even in its handling of fantasy, Heroes grounds it in real-world behavior - it feels absolutely real. Although many have chided it for cribbing from Watchmen....the "big crisis that should be averted" is a storytelling engine that comes straight from myth. (Can you say, "Herculean labors"? Or "Minotaur"?) Others have compared it unfavorably to X-Men, which is also unfortunate - although X-Men is a much more "political" message about heroes, it is tough to divorce the "outcast-due-to-abilities" concept from their inhabiting a world with a former WW2 hero, a man in iron armor, another who can crawl walls and shoot webbing...although Heroes isn't perfect, its primary strength is that the characters, and not the unusual abilities, drive the stories forward.
This year, however, it was a little tough to get into - yes, Kristen Bell helped provide the kind of friendly menace which she brought to Veronica Mars. (And who else thinks Rob Thomas should write Supergirl for DC? Oh...it's just me). Even creator Tim Kring admitted that they were slow going, that audiences wanted adrenalin over being reintroduced to this world...which is noble. At a time where Lost reupped the ante for serialized drama, Heroes chose the safer - and slightly less appealing - route of moving things slowly. Hopefully, the next arc of the show will kick into high gear.
With the WGA strike in full swing, it is hard to say how Heroes can proceed - in fact, there was a slight tease at the end of this mini-season. (No, I won't spoil it for you). But ultimately, the show will continue on its mission - as the best comics and pop culture do - that great acts of heroism can be found not in the fantastic, but in the every day and the common place.
But don't just take my word for it - I want to hear your thoughts. Maybe even have some debates. So to that end, please feel free to join in at the TV Party Forums. Or read my thoughts on issues other than comics at my blog. Until next time, thanks for reading!
For more of Gordon's writings, insights, and
general information, please visit his blog at blogthispal.blogspot.com.
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