If everything in entertainment is derivative, why even bother trying to come up with something new? Scholars say that every dramatic story ever told can be categorized by one of seven basic plots. Yet, there’s been a hell of a lot more than seven works of fiction created by man. This means that originality ran out a long time ago. The best-selling screenwriting manifesto “Story” tells aspiring Hollywood screenwriters that the best way to write a winning screenplay is to examine what movies were successful and then rip them off. This is why we get films like The Fast and the Furious (a direct facsimile of Point Break) and why Hollywood churns out so many sequels for films that weren’t good in the first place. It’s way easier to play it safe and go with what works than to be experimental. This is obvious. However, delving deeper, what if all there is left are knock offs? Do ideas just run out?
I raise this question because the comic book industry is a breeding ground for the “knock-off”. I’m no comic book expert; I dabbled when I was younger, have enjpyed a couple graphic novels, but haven’t read or owned an actual comic book in over a decade. Comic books, to the best of my knowledge, have grown stagnant. What was the last new comic to achieve any modicum of mainstream success? Spawn? Those blockbuster comic book film adaptations we watch every summer are almost completely taken from the classics of the genre: your Supermans, Spidermans, and Batmans. It seemed that ideas for comics had run out and that fans were only getting slightly different versions of tired characters. That was, until Heroes came around.
Heroes is the first TV show (or film, for that matter) to be made in the image of a comic book. The pacing, the characters, the story, the mythology; combine all of it and you have yourselves an epic, idealistic attempt at creating a stand-alone comic book in a completely new venue. The comic book form suits television perfectly; it’s a soap opera with a lot of action and fantasy involved. It’s cliché, but true: there is something for everyone. Heroes is an incredible feat. To pull off the intricacies of character and story of a comic, repackage it in television form, and gain the support of a national viewing audience in the process is nothing short of staggering. Why has this not been attempted before?
As great as Batman and Superman are, the comic book culture deserves more stories, whatever form (film, print, TV) they may be. When Hollywood starts making movies based on comics like Elektra and Ghost Rider, then you know the well is running dry. There are only so many Spiderman sequels you can make. And, the funny thing is, films based on comic books aren’t like the comic books at all. Films can’t take there time when telling a story. The exposition has to be brutally fast and the characters need to be developed far different than they are on the page. Regardless of how entertaining Batman Begins or Superman Returns is, they will never be able to capture the essence of what it is to read a comic book.
Heroes, on the other hand, is in the perfect arena to capture exactly the things that make comic books beloved. The visuals, the plotting, the huge story arcs; it all works on serialized TV. Technology makes special effects easy and affordable. The internet allows for discussion/specualtion among fans. Everything a comic book fan could want.
The reason that a show like Heroes is only coming along now is that everyone has been so caught up in adapting comics, that no one stood up and said, “Why don’t we make our own?” The issue, then, is not the creativity in terms of conception, but in terms of pure execution and planning.
Heroes, like most anything, is derivative. X-Men is also about mutants with special powers who join forces to save the world. Of course, X-Men was symbolic of political issues and Heroes has shown no under-current of anything, as far as I can tell, but many of the mutant’s powers are similar. So, it may be a slight rip-off. It’s okay to admit this. It just means that Heroes and Tim Kring decided to be inspired by something great.
The ideas had nothing to do with why Heroes is the first-of-its-kind, or why there haven’t been more TV shows like it. It’s about the realization that Heroes has broken through into the mainstream and, with it, comic books as an whole. Batman and Superman are not perceived as comic book entities. Most people who love Batman and Superman have never read a comic in their life.
Heroes is an entirely different thing, a TV show that seems like it was stripped right off the comic book page. But it hasn’t been stripped off the page. It came from scratch, and it’s surprised a hell of a lot of people. While the show itself may not be entirely original, its form is, and that’s what’s important. So, maybe Heroes is using story lines and characters we’ve already seen, but if we subscribe to the “seven plots” theory, than so does everything else.
As Heroes unfolds, just take a look back at all the episodes and look at how much it feels like a series of individual comic books. If you’re a fan, you’ll realize that, yeah, this is it, the evolution of the comic book.
-Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer