As X-Men: Days of Future Past gets ever closer, let’s turn our thoughts to the TV series that borrowed many ideas from the classic X-Men story and yet managed to add a number of other dimensions, namely a bunch of regular people who suddenly find themselves with superpowers, but with no idea how they got them. Added to that, one simple goal: “Save the cheerleader, save the world”.
It’s important to mention that this article looks at Season One; we will not discuss the writer’s-strike-hit reduced episodes of Season 2, where plot got completely lost, nor the attempt to regain it in Season 3, nor the final Season 4 where audiences had all but deserted the series (although 6.5m viewers still seems pretty good numbers these days) and NBC finally decided to pull the plug without resolving anything in terms of story and plot.
When Tim Kring’s Heroes debuted back in 2006, we saw a series that took its form from comics and also played nicely with the hero’s journey (something that time travelling Hiro Nakamura often reminded his sidekick Ando of in relation to what their purpose was). The story was straightforward: Isaac Mendez a comic book artist, and creator of “9th Wonders!”, with the power to paint pictures that predict the future creates an image that reveals that New York will be destroyed by a bomb and in other paintings we see that the only way to stop the tragedy and a dark future is by saving a cheerleader, who can heal her wounds, called Claire Bennet, from a grisly death at the hands of the villain of the piece Sylar, (a pre Star Trek Zachary Quinto).
Heroes Season One (or “Genesis”) begins with group of people realising that they have special powers, their journeys being how they deal with this new reality (the classic “with great power must come great responsibility”), investigating the origins and extent of these abilities, before all being drawn together in the final showdown at Kirby Plaza (a tribute to Jack Kirby). Into this mix comes the old government led control/conspiracy (the story type that eventually killed The X-Files and various other TV shows).
Heroes saw multi-thread story telling. Geneticist Mohinder Suresh investigating the work of his murdered (by Sylar) father; Peter Petrelli, nurse and conscience of his family who can mimic the powers of others, his morally ambiguous Senator brother Nathan who can fly, and conspiracy involved mother Angela; cheerleader Claire Bennet and her company man father Noah; mind reading LAPD officer Matt Parkman; Niki/Jessica Sanders, stripper with split personality and super strength, her husband DL Hawkins, able to pass through solid matter, and Micah their son who can control computers; and time travelling Hiro Nakamura. All were neatly and cleverly weaved together.
Season One worked due it being 23 episodes in length, allowing the series to take its time to properly establish both characters and story. Promoted with an online webseries and graphic novels, Heroes played with, and was respectful to, the comics it clearly adored, plus it delivered solid characters played by good actors. There was also a decent budget, allowing for FX that looked impressive for the time (another factor that diminished as the seasons went on). The artwork of Isaac Mendez was done by comic book artists Tim Sale (best known for “Batman: The Long Halloween”) and Alex Maleev (best known for his work on “Daredevil” volume 2), providing comic book fans with another connection to the series and an impressive visual element to the show, as did the story device of using Volumes within each season.
Heroes Season One worked on a number of levels. The characters were people that we were prepared to invest in. Watching them struggle with their powers as well as their real lives became a rewarding experience as a viewer. Plus they were up against a seriously bad ass villain in Sylar: “Okay, ‘technically’ I’m a serial killer”. How many other villains get to open your head and steal your brain? Sylar was a threat. A regular person who discovers his abilities before his psychotic nature took over and one power simply wasn’t enough. Most of all it was a series that engaged comic book fans.
Rewatching Season One on blu ray recently, the first time I’d watched it since the show premiered back in 2006, I was sceptical whether it would stand the test of brief time. It did. It’s been said that if they’d only made one season, Heroes would have gone down in TV history as one of the best shows ever made. If you discount the epilogue of Hiro appearing in feudal Japan, you can view Season One as a complete story and leave it at that. It’s the fact that the show is judged by the four seasons which becomes problematic. The introduction of new and lesser characters, lack of progression story wise, and generally a show (like The Walking Dead now and The X-Files and Lost before it) that simply didn’t seem to know where it was going and seemed to be made up anew each week as it went along. But Heroes Season One has remained an appealing work of fiction, with rumours still strong that MSN may revive the series, but with new characters. Perhaps just a finale resolving the original series would be enough, but it’s probably too late for that. Maybe it’s best just to leave it and hold on to the happy memory of Season One.
Some people are born to be extraordinary.
What did you think of Heroes? Was it a graceful tribute to its comic inspirations or a shameful knock-off? Should they have simply stopped after Season One? Is there anything redeemable in the latter seasons? Sound off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Twitter!