My most recent television fascination has been the series Heroes, which ran from 2006 to 2010 and which I binge-watched over the past couple months (thanks Netflix). A show about “ordinary people with extraordinary powers”, Heroes began before the MCU reinvented and reinvigorated the comic book movie genre (2 years before Iron Man). Though the work of grounding superheroes in the real world began with Bryan Singer’s X-Men movies (beginning in 2000) and Nolan’s 2005 Batman Begins (and Dark Knight in 2008, fuck TDKR), Heroes was on the front line of this evolution, contributing a large ensemble of original characters to explore the superhero genre with a kind of neo-noir flavor. The show employs the hero and villain roles quite literally – hell, there’s even a guy named Hiro, obsessed with his destiny as a Hero. Painting in a tone dark and mysterious enough not to be campy but dripping with comic book ink, it explores the interlocking struggle between the two, what divides them, and how one can become the other. Hiro Nakamura addresses the topic most directly, always aiming to adhere to the Hero Code that he’s learned from his comic books in order to save the world (twice) and fulfill his destiny.
The show’s large ensemble is one of its greatest strengths and a pitfall to critics. What begins as separate, unrelated events by people with chance connections becomes a series of interwoven plot lines and by Season 2 many of the characters are commonly entwined. It makes for layered storytelling with character growth and plot twists but it is also where the writers can miss the mark, rushing subplots like Peter’s Irish girlfriend (whom he simply left in the bad alternate future) and sometimes trying to keep too many balls in the air at once. For my money, though, I’ll take a show that shoots big and sometimes misses over a lazy one any day.
The show’s self-reflective tone is grand, with recurring symbols and themes, foreshadowing, and even slight self-mockery by the end (Quantum Leap joke anyone? Stupidest and most awesome of the series). Internet fans have expounded on the recurrence of the helix, and the 9th Wonders! comic books (along with the number 9 itself) are a constant source of reference, even contributing plot-wise such as when Hiro loses his ability in episode Episode 3.12, “Our Father”. In their pursuit of such nuances the writers have worked to create a cohesive world behind their stories, achieving a particular type of depth widely enjoyed by their fans. Something that the show’s creators have in common with the MCU or a show like Lost is the development of a mythology, taking the basic tenets of the show and continuing to build on them in both organic and fantastic ways. More than any other superhero entity, Heroes explores the nature of powers, how they manifest, how isolating that can feel, and the iterations and levels that certain abilities can possess. For instance, the characters Sylar, Peter Petrelli, and Arthur Petrelli all possess versions of the same power, though manifested and administered in slightly different ways. Fans of the show know that a family connection is held to explanation for this and it is a subtle nuance that makes the show ahead of its time. And though the ability absorption is common to the previous characters and invulnerability is shared by Claire Bennet and Adam Monroe, throughout the show very few powers repeat, making for a wide array of abilities, each one interesting in its own right. Abilities like Samuel’s in Season 4 are well-crafted to the character, with relevant implications- greater mass = greater gravity, he holds the power of the earth, thus his increased power due to a large number of assembled powered people makes an awesome kind of sense. The Haitian and Damian possess iterations of a similar memory power and it’s my theory that an unspoken piece of the mythology is that they are father and son. When Ando finally receives his ability it is one perfectly suited, though tragically unexplored, to the eternal sidekick. But my favorite power conceived by the show’s creators definitely has to be Sylar’s. Gifted with the power to understand how things work, the viewer knows it to be the source of his ability-stealing power but doesn’t understand it until he cuts open Claire’s head. Like the gears of a clock he is able to study the workings of the brains with those with abilities, stealing them for his very own. In a comic book world full of villains with common dysfunctions and similar origins Sylar’s story is unique. This is then compounded by his continual struggle to become a Hero, to fight the murderous hunger that comes with his gift. At some point soon I’ll make a Top 10 Villain list and Sylar will certainly be on it, complicated in nature, ruthless in his hunger, unforgettably portrayed by Zachary Quinto.
Heroes is a complicated show and I can understand why some can critically pan it but its struggle with ratings during its original run really does leave me curious. Has the cultural craze of the past seven years created a more fertile environment and opened up a wider audience for Heroes Reborn?
Though as a viewer the original series’ end (i.e. no fifth season) was irksome, Reborn does have a convenient pickup point in Claire’s going public. The natural enemy of those with abilities are those of us without and our fear of danger these “specials” might hold. It is a classic comic book trope and a cornerstone of the original series. The new series will delve deeper into this concept, beginning in the conditions that the original series’ characters were always trying to prevent. For those looking forward to the new series the Heroes Reborn app has a six-part miniseries that provides a picture of what’s gone on in the two years since the events in the original series’ finale. Mini-spoiler: I especially liked the videos of kids emulating Claire’s “attempt” videos as they display their emerging abilities. Though there is a whole new main cast, including Zachary Levi and Rya Kihlstedt, most of the original cast is also listed so hopefully fans are getting what they want, a continuation of the original series and not a spinoff. Heroes Reborn will premiere Thursday, September 24 on NBC.