The third season of the hugely popular show Heroes kicked off two days ago, much to my chagrin. I was mildly interested in this show back in 2006, mostly because I’m a big comic fan and it seemed like the producers had something better than Mutant X in mind. (See, that was my first mistake right there – thinking that this show about superheroes was targeted at comic fans.) There were some interesting reveals during the start of the first season of this show – Hiro’s chrono-kinetic ability was an interesting (although inconsistently applied) plot device, as was Peter power-mimickry. It had potential certainly, and I’ve faithfully watched each episode since s01e01 hoping to see it finally make something of itself.
Of course, as time went on, it became more and more obvious that the people writing this show were not really comicbook guys themselves. I know that comic veteran Jeph Loeb was involved at some point, but honestly it’s hard to see any of his influence in any of the corner-painting shenanigans that was the second – and now third – season of this show.
I have A Couple of Issues with Heroes, and I will attempt to expound on them without actually spoiling any plot points.
The first one is purely stylistic. Heroes has all the tongue-in-cheek dramatics, hokey dialogue and wooden characters of your average comic book (which is forgivable given its target audience), but it’s also such a cliffhanger-whore that it has become more of an annoyance than a pleasure to watch. The general pacing of the story is so heavily skewed into 44-minute increments that with enough practice you can pretty much predict how each episode is going to end (i.e., “and then the door opens and the dude who was dead last episode steps through and smiles!”) Now, I understand that this show needs ratings just like any other series, but there’s something to be said for moderation. Pull your signature trick too often and eventually people get sick of it, you know?
The second one is logical. Remember when I said that the show’s main writers probably aren’t comic guys? The reason why I know this is because no serious comic writer would ever have backed an extended story where you have both time-travellers and unkillables mixing it up. (And not just any “unkillables” either; unkillables who can make other previously-killable characters unkillable!) Why? Because comics at their core are essentially scenario stories, i.e., you give your heroes a problem, and the rest of the story is them solving it. The issue with time-travellers and unkillables is that you will quickly find that there are very few problems that you can throw at them that would have any kind of impact, because they are inherently built to cheat. There is no penalty for them screwing things up, so the whole scenario becomes pointless. And if your readers are paying attention, they will start to ask questions like, “Well, why didn’t he just go back in time and kill that dude when he was still in his mother’s womb?” or “But if he can’t die, then why is he allowing himself to be threatened?” or “Why is this unkillable time-traveller bothering to fight this other time-traveller when he could just skip backwards in time a few minutes and pull off this heist while the other one isn’t there yet?”
Left unchecked, the time-traveller character will transform your story into one that is wrapped almost completely around time travel, because the only interesting thing about time-travel is when you use it to open up alternate timelines all over the place (think Back to the Future, or countless story arcs in the X-men comics). This is essentially what’s going on in Heroes now, all because you’ve got a handfu of characters whose very nature change the rules of your story, and trivializes all of the other characters’ abilities.
If you look at mainstream comics these days, you will be hard-pressed to find any regularly recurring characters that are time-travellers or unkillables, because they make for boring, repetitive stories. Think about it: how many times over the past 3 dozen Heroes episodes has someone gone to, or come back from, a horrific, post-apocalyptic future? It’s about the only feasible plot that this show can throw at its time-travelling, unkillable characters, and it looks like Season 3 is more of the same.