Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Heroes - Unmasked?

As I sit here impatiently waiting for the next episode of Heroes, which I happen to think is the best thing on television, I can't help wondering: how many other people think the show could still be drastically improved by the addition of brightly colored spandex?

I'm a superhero fan from way back. I absolutely love the genre, and I guess I'm something of a purist. And so, while I have to say I love Heroes to death, I also have to say I simply don't understand why they think it's necessary to keep these guys in street clothes... not to mention denying them traditional superhero names.

Just what kind of a superhero (or even super agent) name is "Horn Rimmed Glasses", anyway? The fact that they've had an episode which gives the character a MUCH better name (Company Man!), yet the fans keep calling him HRG, drives me freakin' crazy.

Many people I've spoken to suggest that this is some sort of calculated ploy to attract viewers who aren't old-school superhero fans like me. And given the viewers' inability to recognize a better superhero name when they hear it, maybe there's some truth to that. But we've seen a steady stream of superhero films lately that have all done pretty well. Surely this is evidence that it's not really necessary to deny genre conventions to appeal to the average viewer. Mightn't it serve the viewers better to show them what the genre is really all about, rather then keeping them in ignorance out of a misguided fear that they can't handle it?

I'm holding out hope that the show's creators fully intend to develop their world into a more traditional (if not 4-color) superhero universe. They do seem to be slowly ratcheting up the power level and special effects, at least. But I have a poor track record about predicting these things. For years, I was convinced that Buffy's friends were going to take their place at her side in battle with their own fully developed sets of powers: Willow the Witch, Xander the weapons and military tactics guy, Oz the werewolf, and so on. But that apparently was never Whedon's intention.

So, I'm probably just as wrong as I sit here hoping for the scene where Flying Man puts together a "costume" to hide his identity (because he's a famous public figure) and protects him from high speed impacts (because those gravel landings in bare feet can be a bitch). The rest of the characters would follow suit (no pun intended) for their own reasons. None of the characters (except maybe Hiro) would ever need to say out loud that they need costumes "because that's how it's done in the comics". It would all just make sense - because believe it or not, superhero comics have an internal logic that actually works.

Oh, well. At the very least, Heroes is paving the way for the *next* superhero TV show. Hopefully, its creators will not feel so constrained.

9 Comments:

At 12:42 AM, Blogger UrbanBarbarian said...

I'm wondering the same thing but have come up with the same conclusion you have. Jeph Loeb, who writes a lot of comic books for DC ( and wrote movies like Teen Wolf... )must have a reason why he's shying away from such things.

 
At 10:43 AM, Blogger SkeleTony said...

I am actually glad they are staying away from spandex on Heroes. Don't get me wrong...I LOVE my four-color, spandex-clad superheroes who wear things that no rational argument can be made for wearing(in real life)! I do not ever want to see Justice League(or Living Legends for that matter ;)) getting all 'X-Men movie-ish'(then again I have not read any new comics, including Justice League in many years now so this might have already happened for all I know).
I can see why they shy away from bright costumes in movie adaptations and television superheroes. The audience is already being asked to suspend a great deal of disbelief with the premise and if you try to get them to buy into 'Dog Man' wearing a purple and orange jump suit with a bright yellow cape...you are heading for disaster. What works fine for the illustrated medium works less so on film IMO.

Heroes is different than say, Spiderman(a movie series where they can get away with goofy costumes). It has much stronger plotting and more complex characterization than the movie-Spiderman and does not rely so much on laughs and one liners.

 
At 3:35 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

TV viewers wouldn't need to suspend any more belief than comics readers do every day.

Maybe it *used to be* reasonable to argue that TV viewers contained insufficient numbers of people who'd already swallowed the costumed crimefighter premise by way of reading the actual comics. But the tremendous success of many superhero movies in recent years is proof, I think, that that argument is no longer valid.

Your point that "no rational argument can be made for wearing (spandex) in real life" is well taken, but honestly, that can be said of *any* fashion trend. That the wearing of tight, colorful costumes made fashion sense when the superhero phenomena first began in the 30's is sufficient justification to explain it continuing today. (Which is why making movies about invividual superheroes, in a vacuum that completely lacks the traditions that make them make sense, is completely stupid. But that's a rant for another day).

As far as I can tell, any remaining hesitancy to fully embrace the genre seems to stem from an outdated prejudice. No offense, but your intentionally silly "Dog Man wearing a purple and orange jump suit" example is a straw man that serves no purpose other than to perpetuate that prejudice. There *are* such things as *compelling* superhero concepts. I'm simply saying that there's no good reason not to use them.

I don't know quite what to say in response to your statement that Heroes "does not rely so much on laughs and one liners". There are all sorts of examples of stories about costumed superheroes that played completely straight. I can only recommend that you go seek them out.

Sorry about the rant. I don't mean to snap at you. It's nothing personal; your viewpoint represents the common wisdom, I just happen to be extremely annoyed by the common wisdom in this case, and you happened to be the one to voice it ;-)

 
At 2:56 AM, Blogger SkeleTony said...

Hello Jeff. No offense taken as I have argued much the same thing(almost word-for-word really) at one point or another so I think I understand where you are coming from.

However...

1)My comment about TV viewers not being as apt to suspend quit as much disbelief on this one aspect was solely about the way these two mediums present what they do. Even WITH today's CGI effects, film(live action as opposed to animation) tends to 'set the table'(so to speak) in the viewer's mind that he is about to be a part of, or at least be witness to something grounded in reality. Comic-books are closer to animation in that they immediately evoke a sense of "unreality" or "other reality" that seems to trigger in most people's minds a switch that says "Ah...if that guy pulls out a lasso and throws it around the moon, I won't bat an eye.".
This is most evident in things like Warner Bros. cartoons. If we were watching a live action t.v. show and a coyote were to suddenly pull a wooden sign from his arse that read "YIKES!" before being run over by a train in the middle of the dessert, we would be shell shocked and ask "WTF is going on?!". But if we see the same thing happen in a comic strip or cartoon, we do not question this at all. We laugh and wait for the next sight gag.

It is not at all that television/film is somehow superior(quite the opposite IMO) to comic books, just that they are different mediums.

Throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s I was pushing copies of the Watchmen, Miller's Batman stuff, the Crow, Faust: Love of the Damned, Hero Alliance, Power Factor etc. into the hands of just about anyone I met, in an attempt to dispel notions that comic books were all silly camp which could not be a vehicle for serious storytelling. And I stand by that to this day
There is some truth to what you say that, to an extent, movie audiences can suspend disbelief/turn off their rational thinking processes to enjoy things like Batman Begins without dwelling on the logistical nightmares of dressing up as a bat with a cumbersome cape and such, even without the overt humor/lighthearted adventure of a 'Spiderman' offering. It all depends on the story being told and the specific characters within that story.
Something like Mike Baron's The Badger could pull off the costume in a comics-to-film adaptation without a hitch for a number of reasons.
Road to perdition was tailor-made to be a great film.

But put Tom Hanks in yellow and blue spandex and you have a bad movie, no matter who scripted it, directed it or starred in it. It is just the wrong story and media for such a thing.

Heroes also, in my contention, is just not right for spandex and superhero names. While it pays homage to comic books, Tim Kring was not himself a reader of comics and never intended to do a "superhero" show. His intention from the very beginning was to do 'real life + super powers'. Sort of Unbreakable with more characters. In real life, no matter how much we as comic-book superhero fans would like to believe that a buffed out dude in blue and grey spandex,could look cool fighting crime and taking a dramatic moniker like "Street Knight" or "The Obliterator" or some such, this simply will not fly.

In comics, being the medium that it is, we can read a straightforward, non-humorous, dramatic story about the Blue Beetle or even Spiderman and not have any reservations or depreciation for what we have read. It is even POSSIBLE that someone could pull this off on the big screen or small screen.

But Heroes is not THAT type of story.

 
At 5:29 PM, Blogger Donald said...

So, Jeff, if you got a super power, like the ability to fly, would you dress up in brightly-colored spandex?

 
At 9:34 PM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

Yes, of course I would.

 
At 4:40 PM, Blogger Joel Hardin said...

Though I have not watched television in some eleven years or more, I was recently lured back by Heroes. I absolutely love the premise. It somewhat mirrors Marvel’s equally brilliant, though poorly executed, concept for the New Universe back in the eighties. I fear that, while I am a fan of the genre, I am also in favor of a more gritty realistic approach over the traditional superhero look. I would go so far as to reproach the writers for not being realistic enough in how they present the characters and the story. As much as I enjoy the series, I am afraid I do find the writing somewhat less than inspiring at times, and it often seems that the heroes accept the whole “saving the world“ a tad to readily. I do, however, find the plot compelling and, for the most part, the characters have no small amount of depth. My reasons for rejecting the traditional spandex look is purely a matter of realism. Also, I think that the costumes serve to somewhat dehumanize the characters and to present them in a one-dimensional light. Much as traditional westerns tend to portray the good guys wearing white hats and the bad guys wearing black. That said, it would be nice if the genre were fully embraced, and it is nice to see films such as the X-men and Spiderman being made and made well. I eagerly await the forthcoming Watchmen movie and feel that it will further the cause of the caped, spandex clad crusaders.

 
At 8:20 AM, Blogger Jeff Dee said...

I was pleased to see them start to toy with the idea of having one of their characters overtly fight crime in a "costume" (even if the costume was nothing more than a dark swaeter and hood). It's too bad the writer's strike cut the series short - I'm dying to see how far they have the balls to go with that. But on the other hand, the rights of the writers pretty much trump my own personal preferences. Go, writers!

 
At 9:34 AM, Blogger Ant said...

Heh, heh, heh. Just saw S03E14 (the first episode of Volume 4) and I can't help but think the writers were personally answering you (with regard to why they don't have brightly coloured Spandex on the show) ...well, at least why they haven't had it so far. They could just be easing the audience into the idea very slowly (the 2nd episode had no Spandex in it either).

 

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