Entertainment Weekly has a fairly wide-ranging story what Heroes and its success means for Hollywood and comics.
There’s a bit of a flawed premise in the article, namely that superheroes are inherenly nerdy. While they’ve certainly gained a close association, they really aren’t, as a look at the history of the genre will tell you: Films like Spider-Man are huge hits, and the major franchises have great name recognition because almost everyone (men, anyway) has read comic books at some point in their lives. Superheroes are quite cool when they’re brought to us by Christian Bale or Sam Raimi. The nerdy part only comes into play with people who religiously collect every issue, throw hissy fits whenever a series is renumbered, or argue about whether Spider-Man and the Dallas Cowboys is in continuity.
It also touches on what made me lose interest in the show: It’s all been done before. The powers and themes are pretty old hat for comic books; Heroes might have been a revolutionary take on the genre 20 years ago, but by now I think I’ve seen it all. Average people gaining superpowers is hardly new; it’s practically become the genre standard over the past couple decades.
Part of that may come from creator Tim Kring’s take on the genre:
I really did approach [Heroes] from a place that nobody else had, in terms of looking at it as a real character-driven piece, and trying to veer away from the superpowers as much as I could. The powers play a part in the show, but they are not leading the storytelling. And so I think that in and of itself makes Heroes sort of different [from comics].
One might expect a guy with extensive comic book experience to produce a show that riffed on pre-existing conventions in the genre, or even specific books , stories or characters. But Kring has arrived at the same result by a different path: Kring apparently hasn’t read a comic in 20 or 30 years, and seems to have assumed that the superhero genre, never mind the entire medium, has not evolved at all.
I’m not one of those sad and pathetic souls who runs around insisting that superhero comics are all serious and mature, but Kring’s attitude shows a mix of ignorance and arrogance. It’s important in any writing to consider what’s come before — while you don’t want to rip others off (accidentally or not), you also don’t want to look foolish unveiling your great, original idea to an audience that’s seen it done a dozen times before over several decades.
The article also delves into the question that always seems to get asked whenever there’s a successful TV show or movie based on or inspired by a comic book: What will this mean for future media based on comics? The answer, of course, is very little. Matt Brady comments, and mostly gets it right:
As heretical as it may be for me to say this, there’s nothing ‘magic’ about Spider-Man, Superman, or Batman that can’t be captured and done by someone else, and even done better…. Frankly, I don’t know what studios are waiting for, as they’re reaching the second- and third-tier [comic book] characters to make movies out of. I mean, Ghost Rider [a Marvel comics character, soon to be a movie starring Nicolas Cage]… how many people do you think the actual [character] will attract, versus the number of people Dimension could’ve gotten to check out a flick about a demonic motorcycle rider who fights demons? Pay your legal team to make it dance clear of similarities to [Ghost Rider], gore it up (since you don’t have to follow anyone’s usage rules) to get some more butts in the seats, and DON’T pay for the license.
Once you get past the A-list characters, franchises have very little value in and of themselves. Ghost Rider, for example, has had exactly two successful series: his 1973 series lasted 81 issues, and the 1990 relaunch lasted 94. There were also about two dozen spinoffs and miniseries, but almost all of those were published over about three years in the mid-90s, so naturally they don’t count. At all. On any level. What value does Ghost Rider have to a movie studio when it’s only barely useful to a comic book publisher?
The obvious argument to this theory is Blade, but that also backs up Brady’s theory: What does Blade do that a studio couldn’t do all on its own without paying a licensing fee? Blade is even more worthless headling a comic book than Ghost Rider. He’s a guy that kills vampires – there are at least a dozen ways to write the character that don’t cross into copyright infringement.
Brady is wrong when it comes to the Big Guns, though: Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man do have value by virtue of their near-universal brand recognition. That’s not to say they can sell a movie all by themselves, but combining them with a solid production gets you added mileage. One could also consider that these characters have had books continuously in print for forty or fifty years – obviously, there’s a lot of fodder for stories, as well as an almost timeless appeal.
Joe Quesada naturally buys into this idea:
For every Heroes that’s successful, Hollywood is littered with failures. What [Heroes] proves is that when it’s done well, it does well, but when it’s anchored to something that’s a proven commodity, like Spider-Man and X-Men, you can expect something explosive. … Heroes is the exception as opposed to the norm.
Of course, he also inadvertently agrees with much of Brady’s point: Spider-Man and X-Men are proven commodities, but most others are not. And as much as Heroes may be the exception to “Create Your own Superhero” trend, you could make a similar observation about X-Men or Batman: for every Spider-Man, you’ve got an Elektra, Punisher, or Catwoman. The general rule is probably “most movies are crap and will fail,” but we probably knew that already.
Lastly, and tangenitally, I have to agree with one of Beau Smith’s observations: The cheerleader is a klutz. How did she not get permamently maimed or killed before her powers kicked in? People who stick their hands into garbage disposals are really supposed to be weeded out by natural selection. I think that was one of the things that turned me off about the show — it was just too obvious. But maybe I’ll come back to it on DVD.