Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Dr. K Reviews Heroes, Volume 2

After the Halloween Countdown marathon, I decided to take a couple of days off from the blog to recover, get ahead of some work, and enjoy Election Day. In the meantime, however, pal Kevin Church sent me his review copy of the second volume of collected comics stories from the Heroes TV series. As you can see, though, before sending it, Kevin used the book as a coaster for one of his giant alcoholic drinks that he always seems to have in his hands, and it left a huge ringed stain on the book. Thanks a lot, Kevin.

The book collects the comics stories published online at NBC's website, mainly during the strike-shortened season 2 of the show. The webcomics serve primarily to reinforce the show's base fans by giving them additional supplementary content to the series, much like Lost's alternate-reality games have done for that show.

The book, therefore, is not designed as an entrance point for new fans who might be curious about the show; instead, it's more like a series of easter eggs for the hardcore fan. I watched all of seasons 1 and 2 (I have since bailed on season 3), yet I had a hard time figuring out who some of the more obscure characters were or remembering when in the season a particular story fit (this confusion is not helped by the fact that some of the art is dramatically off model, and even recurring characters like Peter Petrelli are unrecognizable without context clues). And some of the shorter 4-6 page stories seem little more than deleted scenes from a specific episode, like the 6 pages of Molly's dream that she has while in a coma, or the 4 pages on a boy who witnesses one of Maya's mass killings. These are so slight that it's difficult to call them actual "stories."

The few longer stories that open the collection are the best, and they tend to emphasize what a missed opportunity the collection is. For all its failings, Heroes has created a rich world and mythology with enormous potential for interesting stories. Joe Kelly's origin story for the Haitian, which opens the collection, is a fascinating exploration of a character who serves mostly as a plot device on the series, used to temporarily depower a character or conveniently wipe someone's memory. Here, Kelly tells the story of how his powers manifested at the worst possible moment. Another origin story, this time for Candice, Linderman's shape-shifting assistant, also works well. Clearly, the collection works best when the stories explore origins and other tangents that the series doesn't deal with on the show, but which can exist independently from the show as well. However, other stories fail to live up to their potential. For example, the series could get a lot of mileage out of telling stories about Adam Munroe's immortal existence after Hiro leaves him in feudal Japan, yet the ones here are bland and underdeveloped. Similarly, a story that tries to establish Ben Franklin as an early hero is just dull and unnecessary, when it could be a lot of fun.

In the end, I have to wonder what purpose such a collection serves. Too many of the chapters are temporally connected to a particular episode in the series, requiring the reader to read them in conjunction with the episodes in question, preferably at the time the episode originally aired. That purpose may serve the webcomic well, but it doesn't serve a print collection that should be able to exist on its own and have a life beyond the cancellation of the series (which may be on the horizon as we speak). I am not, I should say, one to completely hate on Heroes. I liked the first season a lot, and I wasn't completely disappointed in the second season. Much of what kept me coming back, however, what the show's potential--the series was weaving an intricate, multigenerational history that, I thought, could be sustained through multiple seasons and ancillary projects like these comics. And there is potential here to develop complete, independent stories around the many characters in the series, or to create new characters that are exclusive to the comics and hover around the fringes of the show. The TV series itself is sorely lacking in consistency or sustained character development in its repetitive focus on big, cataclysmic stories, so the comic could be used to fill that gap, as Joe Kelly's Haitian story does particularly well.

This review is of an advanced copy received by the author. The book will be released on November 25.

No comments: