NBC created the show Heroes and immediately seemed to know that it would be a hit. Their marketing reflected this and, as a matter of fact, it’s now the most popular new show on television. Why did this happen? Would this have been possible in the 90’s? Why has it taken this long for a show like Heroes to get on TV? Comic book films are all the vogue, if you hadn’t noticed. They have become, by themselves, the obvious choices for annual Summer blockbusters. They have the largest budgets, the biggest stars and, inevitably, make a lot of money. This trend was begun when, in 2000, a little movie called “X-Men” was released by a skeptical studio. “X-Men” was not allowed the type of budget it probably should have been, but, nonetheless, Bryan Singer helmed the project and created the template for how comic book films were supposed to look and feel in the new millennium.
Bryan Singer (“The Usual Suspects”) was the first real “auteur” to lead a comic book film, and this really came about by accident. Studios had not given proper respect to the comic book/super hero industry and, therefore, did not understand the huge potential of those films. In the past, comic book franchises had been treated with kid gloves, given small budgets and handed off to hack directors, these components combining to produce a string of comic book films that can only be described as abominations. Where the studios misinterpreted the failure of previous comic book films as the content’s fault, it was really the way they treated the material. As with most things in the creative field, execution is exponentially more important than concept. Now, with Singer blazing the path and proving what exactly could be done on the big screen with this material, big name directors like Ang Lee and Sam Raimi threw their hats into the comic book ring, taking the reigns of the “Hulk” and “Spiderman” franchises, respectively. Six years have passed since “X-Men” and the landscape of comic book-to-film adaptations is unrecognizable from where it was in 2000. The “Batman” and “Superman” franchises have been re-booted with acclaimed directors in charge (Christopher Nolan and Bryan Singer). Graphic novels have started getting the big-budget treatment (“V for Vendetta” and “Sin City”). The next logical step was television. The vast field of super heroes has been mined to the point where film studios are making big-budget adaptations of two-bit heroes like “Daredevil” and “Catwoman”. The inevitable evolution here is the creation of new, original superheroes. This, on the big screen at least, hasn’t occurred successfully yet. Now, with Heroes on NBC, we have the very first successful evolution of comic books. M. Night Shymalan’s “Unbreakable” was a noble attempt at creating a hero compatible with the modern world, but one movie isn’t long enough to establish a mythology (Although, to be fair, Shymalan had planned to make a trilogy out of that story, something that middling profits made impossible). The reason comic book films can be successful, critically, is that they enter the film with an established mythology. The depth is inherent. Creating new superheroes from scratch doesn’t allow for this. Heroes, on NBC, is the first enterprise that understands why comic books are successful and has built their own mythology based on this. Heroes, in case you don’t know, is part “X-Men”, part “The Watchmen”. It has modernized the comic book mentality: the characters don’t have costumes, but they also kind of do. The cheerleader (who is impervious to injury) tends to exclusively wear her cheerleading outfit. And so on. Heroes is serial in nature, as real comic books are. This is important for actual comic book fans. Heroes has taken its time to tell its story, has produced a massive cast, has created both an evil villain (Sylar) and an apocalyptic scenario (New York exploding) for its Heroes to thwart. Mystery abounds and connections between characters are slow to reveal themselves. The writers and producers of Heroes have gone to great pains to have their story play out exactly how a series of comic books would. Ten years ago, NBC would have laughed creator Tim Kring out of the building if he pitched them the idea for Heroes. Who would have believed that a) comic books had such wide commercial appeal and, b) that audiences would have the patience to allow a complex, mysterious story to play out in a methodical manner? Heroes is the evolution of super hero entertainment and, frankly, a better medium for the former comic book storytellers to spin their yarns. I wouldn’t be surprised to seem more “new” comic books spring to life on television within the next few years. Heroes does not need to have a monopoly on super heroes on TV. The best part about storytelling on television is the sheer amount of time given to the creators. Just look at Lost and 24. Those concepts would only work on TV. Heroes is the same. Have we seen the beginning of a comic book revolution, or is Heroes just an aberration? I’m beginning to look at Heroes as an instigator. It won’t be long before we look back on this as the turning point in comic book television. Heroes is just the beginning. -Oscar Dahl, BuddyTV Senior Writer

Oscar Dahl

Senior Writer, BuddyTV