When Heroes first screened in 2006 it was a phenomenon; both hugely popular and an instant critical hit. Its first episode in the United States drew in 14.6 million viewers and peaked at 16.9 million by episode nine. The show’s ratings remained high during the first two seasons, as well as garnering a host of nominations for awards ranging from the Emmys to the BAFTAs. However, viewing figures plummeted over the third and fourth series, resulting in the shows cancellation in 2010.
For cinema and TV alike, this has been the millennium of the superhero. Modern special effects have turned today’s superhero films into spectaculars, awe-inspiring set pieces that you would think would be too huge to be believed. We can watch, with mouths agape as Superman and Zod clash, destroying half a cityscape. We gawk, unblinking, with popcorn falling from our mouths as The Avengers battle an army of alien invaders across the New York skyline. These battles are depicted with such clarity and imagination that we, the audience, can easily suspend our disbelief.
However, it was in the early 2000s that the current superhero explosion began. This can be seen from the rebirth of Bryan Singer’s X-Men into a full-blown, big-budget extravaganza in 2000, Sam Raimi’s origin of Spiderman in 2002 or Ang Lee’s reimagining of Hulk in 2003. Even the travesty of the turgid Ben Affleck vehicle that was Daredevil demonstrated the return of the superhero in mainstream cinema culture. Aside from Marvel’s burgeoning empire, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy raised standards and brought The Caped Crusader back to respectability, after Joel Schumacher’s gaudy attempt at killing off the franchise in the nineties.
Heroes, from the start, built its world in a similar way to a comic book. It took its time to bring its ensemble cast forward, drip feeding snippets of their awakening abilities while fleshing out their home lives and situations. It begins in a way that the X-Men film franchise didn’t; subtly. There was not a large, bombastic opening, just measured quantities of character development and parallel story progression, with growing hints of an upcoming threat.
This approach borrowed more from the adult focus developed in graphic novel titles such as V for Vendetta and Watchmen, which brought a more cynical, world-weary approach to the advent of superheroes. The gradual introduction of Sylar, the brain-stealing killer and initial supervillain of the series, embodies this. His character, which was the making of actor Zachary Quinto, is genuinely sinister and quite scary, however the complexities of his past and the reasoning behind his actions continue to develop as the series continues.
Heroes built its story from the foundation upwards, introducing new characters and flashbacks as and when they were required to progress the plot. The series creator, Tim Kring created the show’s world patiently and dynamically, very quickly establishing a rich and vast history that stretched back to include the parents of the modern day heroes, as well as a lavish back story spanning throughout history, within which the writers could move backward and forward. Unfortunately, the third and fourth seasons suffered from delays and unplanned plot changes due to the Writers Guild of America strikes in 2007-8. Season four ended with the cliffhanger of Claire the cheerleader revealing the existence of mutants to the world. And then it was cancelled.
I hope that Heroes Reborn does prove to be a return to form for Tim Kring. I loved how the first season began and although the ongoing decay of the series was disappointing, it was less so than its eventual cancellation. If they are able to create any of the tension and suspense that the show began with back in 2006, then the reinvigoration of the Heroes franchise would be welcome. In these days of the infinite reboot, where Spiderman will begin again and be reborn every three or four films, should the writers deign to wrap up or continue their outstanding plots, then that would make a pleasant, and surprising, change.
However, whether rebooted or reborn, delivered with cinematic subtlety or jaw-dropping spectacle, let us hope that Tim Kring can manage to rebuild the world he began in 2006 and, who knows, perhaps create something Heroic once again.