This article has major spoilers for Heroes.
For the last couple of weeks I have been toying with an editorial called “Heroes Is the Most Compellingly Bad Show on Television.” The basic concept was to explain why I tune in to Heroes (or, more accurately, why I TiVo it) even though I think the show is poorly plotted, written and acted. It was all going to come down to the kind of ironic appreciation that is hard to come by today when all the B-movies know they’re B-movies and keep their tongues firmly planted in cheek. Heroes has no idea it’s terrible, and it takes itself so incredibly seriously that it’s a hoot – it’s weekly Ed Wood with production values.
That editorial fell to the wayside after I read a report from this week’s Paley Fest in Los Angeles. The big Heroes panel was preceded by an episode of the show and a clip from the night when it returns on April 23. The clip they showed was actually surprisingly spoiler-filled – it picks up with Nathan “Flying Brother” Petrelli having a talk with Linderman, the mysterious gangster and casino owner played by Malcolm McDowell. In the clip, Linderman is giving Petrelli some deep background on superheroes. It turns out that he has powers, and he had friends with powers (probably George Takei and Petrelli’s mom, among others); together they fought evil. Things changed over time, though, and Linderman came up with a new plan, one that would call for some shady seeming actions. The culmination of that plan is the explosion in New York City that the show has been flashing forward to all season. Linderman is engineering the explosion as a way to create world peace.
People who have read Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s classic superhero deconstruction Watchmen will feel some déjà vu… as this is the exact storyline behind that comic. In that book Ozymandias, a former superhero who becomes wealthy, fakes an alien attack on New York City that kills millions so as to end the Cold War before it leads to Armageddon. Obviously the methods are different, but the story is exactly 100% the same.
Comic fans watching Heroes realize that originality isn’t the show’s strong suit, and Watchmen fans will have already noted that Sylar’s origin, with him repairing watches, strongly echoed Dr. Manhattan’s past. Some of the things that seemed swiped could be written off as the show’s creators just tapping into the general superhero zeitgeist or, in the case of the watch repair, an homage. But this storyline isn’t homage – it’s plain old theft. And while creator Tim Kring continues his façade of ‘I never read a comic book even though every one of my concepts can be traced to a comic issue or character,’ there’s no excuse for people like Jeph Loeb – who is a professional comic book writer – to not know they are wholesale ripping off the single best comic book yet.
I’m going to cross my fingers and hope that the clip shown at Paley Fest was a foiler – a bit of fake dialogue cooked up to sow confusion on the internet. I really doubt it was, though, and that means this show has gone from being wonderfully terrible to despicable. I knew that the show was the creation of people who are modestly talented – at best – but I never imagined they were this morally bankrupt.