Heroes and Shaggy Dogs

It’s no surprise that there’s talk, yet again, of a Watchmen film, when you consider the success of the US TV show Heroes. It’s true that there’s been quite a run of successful films based on superheroes of late, but Heroes is the one thing that could truly pave the way for a Watchmen film simply because it owes so much to Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s milestone comic — and not just in the way it presents a more realistic take on what it would mean to live in a world where people have superhuman powers. Nor is it just in the hint of upcoming metropolitan Armageddon, it’s in the very moment-by-moment style of the show — for instance in the way that a newspaper headline glimpsed in a scene belonging to one character’s story makes reference to an ongoing story about another character. Moore has several times spoken of how the density of information he and Gibbons presented in each panel of Watchmen was an attempt to do something in comics that couldn’t be done in film, so it’s interesting to see TV trying to do the same thing. It’ll never manage to equal the sheer weight of world-building information Moore and Gibbons provided in Watchmen, but this is a step closer.

heroes

The main difference between Heroes (I’ve only seen the first two episodes, on BBC2) andWatchmen is that Heroes starts at the point where its characters are just coming to realise they have superpowers, whereas Watchmen, in a very dark, 80s way, presented us with the same sort of characters past their point of decline, decadence, and downfall: in Watchmen, it’s all after the main event, when the sheen of heroism has long worn off and the rust and tarnish is all too evident; Heroes starts at the beginning of the road to that fairy-tale moment of self-discovery.

Having watched the first two episodes, I’m not quite sure whether I’m going to watch the rest. On the one hand, I really like these sorts of stories where people discover they have special powers — the first X-Men film, for instance, and the first Harry Potter book both got to me for just that reason — but on the other hand, there’s the whole beast of long TV drama series we’re seeing at the moment. The thing about commercial TV is that, because you don’t pay for it, it’s basically all about getting you to sit down in front of the box so you can watch adverts. So it’s in the programme-makers’ interest to, rather than provide a well-paced, well-told tale, string it out like a shaggy dog story for as long as possible, to keep you coming back each week. Lost was a prime example of this. I kept watching it while it was on terrestrial TV because I wanted to know the answer to its various mysteries, all the time knowing I was never going to actually get the answer to those mysteries, or if I was it was only going to be a half-answer followed by a whole new mystery, all the more intriguing than the last. It was how they kept you watching, but it began, more and more, to feel like the cynical trick it was, and I basically felt relieved when the show moved to Sky (or wherever it is now), so I didn’t feel the need to keep watching it. Heroes has a bit of the same feel to it. The first two episodes were full of hints about forthcoming plot-lines which sound intriguing — but are they ever going to be told, or are we just going to be strung along till the show starts to lose ratings and gets cancelled?

Story is one of the most powerful forces to act on (and come from) the human imagination. We live in a world full of stories — films, books, TV shows, news, anecdotes, jokes — but we’re still hungry for them. And why is that? Because real stories, told with style and at the right pace, with genuine skill and integrity, are still so rare. One of the reasons they’re rare is that, as soon as something with real value raises its head, the forces of commercialism jump on it and strangle it in an attempt to make as much money as they possibly can from it.

Money grabbing bastards! Leave those stories alone!