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'Heroes': strength in comic belief

Good characters and a good plot make the NBC drama a hit beyond comic book geek circles.

By ERIC DEGGANS
Published December 3, 2006


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As a recovering comic book geek, it is my greatest shame: I nearly missed the boat on Heroes.

For the uninitiated, Heroes is NBC’s involving new drama about a group of people who slowly realize they have extraordinary abilities and must use them to avert a crisis that could destroy New York City.

And though it sounds like a plot salvaged from an old X-Men script, the details make this premise work. Among them: endearing characters (teleporting, time-traveling Japanese office worker bee Hiro Nakamura is the show’s cuddly mascot), a surprising plot (the evil guy tracking our heroes may not be so bad) and a high-end production style.

It’s all come together in the potent new series which has become NBC’s most successful new drama in 12 years, a surprise home run that proves one thing.

We geeks who always figured comic books were a cool, exciting, adult form of storytelling had it right after all.

“They finally realized the way to do these is suspend your disbelief, believably,” said Stan Lee, the godfather of modern comics, who invented Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four and many more legendary characters. “You have to believe that somebody bitten by a spider can take its powers. But then everything other than the fantastic has to be realistic.”

Neal Adams, the renowned comic book artist who helped reinvent classic characters such as Batman, Green Lantern, the X-Men and Superman in the 1970s, said “the way it usually goes is that we’ve been 50 years ahead of the curve in comic books.”

“George Lucas originally wanted to do Flash Gordon; San Raimi (A Simple Plan, the Spider Man film trilogy) is a huge comic book fan,” added Adams. “All these filmmakers and TV producers in Hollywood are essentially comic book geeks.”

Nowhere is this more evident than on Heroes, which airs its last new episode in 2006 on Monday night (it returns to new episodes Jan. 22). Handed out early to critics last week, the new episode pulls together all the elements producers have expertly employed to build bridges between the average TV fan and those of us who are suckers for anything in tights and a cape.

SPOILER ALERT: With the hero serial killer Syler captured by our mysterious tracker of paranormals, known only as H.R.G. (for the horn-rimmed glasses he wears), danger seems past. But fate keeps pulling our heroes together: Isaac, the painter who can illustrate the future, finally meets Hiro and learns his predictive talent has expanded; Syler stages a jailbreak, taking the life of one hero in the process and the unexpected source of the nuclear blast which may level New York is finally revealed.

It’s almost too much for this fanboy to take. So let me now reveal the Five Things This Comic Geek Loves Most About Heroes:

1. It respects the comic book genre. In Heroes, the show’s storytelling flow mimics the style of comics, jumping back and forth through time and location. And the series, penned by some writers who also work in comics, also respects its roots.

There’s no pretending to hifalutin literary concepts to look cool (which is why the oedipal influences in the Hulk movie tanked, while the straight-on adaptation of the X-Men movies soared).

Even the series title admits its origins in pulp comics and fantasy literature. This is a genre forged in 100 years of development: Why wouldn’t you own up its influence?

2. The special effects are cool. Older comics fans remember watching bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno flex out of undersized shirts in the Hulk TV series, and wishing they could come up with something cooler. Now we have it — from a guy who stops time they way they do in those nifty GAP commercials to a political candidate who can fly.

3. Not everybody likes being super. Originally, this is what made me hate the Heroes pilot — everybody with powers was moping around like flying wasn’t the coolest ability you could ever have. But watching a cheerleader freaked out by her super healing ability and a guy who can tell the future only when strung out on heroin turned out to be far more interesting than tracking the guy you know is going to put on the blue tights and cape.

It’s a comic book maxim: A super guy solving ordinary problems is boring; an ordinary guy solving super problems is mesmerizing.

4. No tights and capes. The Matrix movies taught us that a super guy taking out baddies in a leather coat and sunglasses is way cooler — and more realistic — than a guy doing it in underwear and a cloak.

5. They waited until just the right moment to tell us the origin story. Every comic has to tell you how the super guy got super. And it can be the most boring part of a comic book or film.

But Heroes waited until last week’s episode to finally unveil how most of its characters, especially Sylar, learned of their unique abilities.

Sometimes the cool stuff seems even cooler when you have to wait for it.

Eric Deggans can be reached at deggans@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8521. See his blog at blogs.tampabay.com/media.

[Last modified December 2, 2006, 16:02:18]


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