Archive for the 'Heroes' Category

May 15 2010

Heroes and Law & Order cancelled

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

NBC finally axed two excellent shows that kept going long after the stagecoach reverted into a pumpkin.

From season 2 on, Heroes was a fetid cesspool of contrivances, idiot plots, plot holes, gratuitously bad acting, wildly inconsistent characterization, no compelling villains besides Sylar and a cast that was probably twice as large as it needed to be and definitely twice as large as the writers could handle.  But unquestionably the biggest disappointment was how much the later seasons paled in comparison to season 1. It may be better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all, but you have a much better idea of what you’re missing.

Hopefully NBC’s next superhero program, The Cape, will do better.  An honest cop is framed for murder and becomes a superhero to get revenge.  (I suspect that he won’t actually have superpowers, though–among other things, NBC was concerned about Heroes’ large special budget).   The concept sounds forgettable, but I’m (irrationally) hopeful.  I’m excited that the protagonist is trained by a circus gang of bank-robbers.

As for Law and Order, I’m glad it got canceled.  The closest it got to long-term plot development was cast changes.  While that makes it easy to rerun old episodes (because it doesn’t matter whether viewers see the episodes in order), I think that serialized television allows for better character development and the excitement of cliffhangers from one episode to the next.  I think The Wire is an excellent example of that: the show is ridiculously addictive, but you pretty much have to see the episodes in order or you are screwed.

7 responses so far

Jan 29 2009

The Cardinals will win the Super Bowl because Kurt Warner is a superpowered killing machine

Published by under Comedy,Football,Heroes,Sports

I’ve noticed some uncanny similarities between Kurt Warner (Arizona’s quarterback) and Sylar from Heroes.

  1. One has spent the better part of a season mangling his enemies in spectacularly gruesome fashions.  The other is a serial killer.
  2. One wears white and red.  The other is white and usually spattered in red.
  3. Sylar has superpowers that allow him to avoid any lasting injuries. Warner doesn’t need superpowers.

How does Larry Fitzgerald make all those crazy catches? Because he knows that if he drops a pass, his head is gone.

One response so far

Jan 26 2009

“Ma’am, your son’s been murdered.”

CNN just did a piece on how cops break the news that someone’s loved one has been murdered.  I think the article is an especially useful resource for the authors of superhero stories because a lot of superheroes get so caught up in their superhero identities that regular people are essentially cut from the story.  For example, on Heroes normal people are sometimes used as props or plot devices, but they never get any important lines.   (Also, the characters haven’t had real jobs since season 1, and all of the recurring characters have superpowers now. Even Suresh and Ando!)

Although breaking tragic news to a spouse might get too angsty, I suspect that an author could play it quietly to add emotional depth to the superhero.  One of the things that annoyed me about Bruce Wayne/Batman is that he’s so socially retarded that it seems like he doesn’t care about anyone else.  Beating the hell out of bad guys is fine, but that’s just revenge for Batman.  If your hero is supposed to be likable, you might want to show that he’s at least trying to empathize with regular people.  I’d recommend having him stumble awkwardly in the conversation, though.  I think the scene depends on the awkwardness of the hero being thrust into a new role that’s hard even for professional chaplains.

What do you think?

2 responses so far

Oct 12 2008

Alaska Ethics Commission Reports: Palin Fired Matt Parkman!

The New York Times confirms that the Alaskan state trooper in “Troopergate” is actually Matt Parkman, a former police officer best known for his psychic abilities and contributing to the rampant power inflation in the second season of Heroes.  She probably had him fired after he tried to give her some of the African crazy-beans that he’s been gorging on for the last two episodes.  “They’ll let you see the future!”  Riiiiight.

One response so far

Sep 27 2008

Heroes’ season-premiere was worse than season 2

Published by under Heroes,TV Review

Apparently I’m not the only one that thinks it’s past its sell-by date.

Hoping that the show would overcome its second-season slump, I watched the third-season premiere.  It was ridiculously bad… even worse than last season.  Here are some spoiler-heavy observations…

Continue Reading »

6 responses so far

Sep 20 2008

Heroes jumps the shark… again

The creator of Heroes said

In the second season I think we had some interesting things happen. You can’t really plan for the audience’s reaction to things and one of the things we found out was that the audience did not want to start slowly and build.

First, the show has been going on for two seasons.  Why does an action show need so much time to develop a plot that is far less complicated than Battlestar Galactica or Eureka?  Second, after introducing 10+ recurring characters in the first season, did Heroes really need to introduce another 5-10 characters?  No.

Finally, it seems that what we’re building up to is what they already did last season: a loosely linked assortment of heroes has to save the world from Something Really Bad.  That’s a premise that doesn’t lend itself well to repeats and tweaks.  The coincidences and contrivances were strained enough the first time, but it only gets worse as more and more characters have to be drawn into a badly uncohesive plot.

What I liked about the first season was the development of Hiro from a scarcely comprehensible desk-jockey into someone that could almost be confused for a badass geek.  Now Hiro has disappeared 500+ years into the past and we’re left with Peter (who makes Keanu Reeves look like a thespian) and a bunch of characters that have added virtually nothing to what the show has already done.   Add the crazy contrivances that Davis listed here and you get a show that’s at least half a season past watchable.  Unfortunately, it looks like the creator doesn’t have a clue what’s wrong.

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Sep 05 2008

John August on Coincidences in Fiction

John August did a post on writing a plot that isn’t contrived.  He focused on the role of coincidence. I found it highly useful…

Given a choice, try to find cause and effect. One event happens because of something else we’ve seen — ideally, something the hero himself has done.

Instead of having the hero accidentally overhear a key conversation, get him actively trying to listen. Or have an interested third party steer him in that direction — perhaps for his own reasons. At every juncture where a reader could ask “Why did that happen?”, try to have an answer that isn’t, “just because.”

CADET DAVIS ADDS: The most contrived plot I can think of is Heroes season 2.  Please consider the following…

  1. In the last two minutes of the first season, Sylar is nearly killed by a crowd of ten heroes but somehow slinks away into a sewer.  No one, including a psychopathic MPD victim or the police officer who was seriously wounded by Sylar, thinks to make sure that he’s dead or otherwise accounted for.
  2. The Company captures Sylar and keeps the formerly-superpowered serial killer in a zero-security facility with a single attendant that is tasked with restoring Sylar’s powers. There’s no reason to suspect that Sylar would have made a good employee under any circumstances, but how were they hoping that this would turn out?
  3. Sylar kills the attendant and walks out of the facility.  He tries to return to the US to find Suresh, but he drops of famine along the side of the road.  The first person to come across him is Maya, another superpowered person that’s looking for Dr. Suresh’s father.  What a lucky break!  Sure, why not come along?
  4. In spite of being wanted for murder and presumably not wanting to attract suspicion, Maya and her brother take Sylar along.  Do not pay attention to the gringo in the back seat!
  5. Peter’s failure to consider the possibility that Adam is evil starts out as implausible and gets so unbelievable that it strains the suspension of disbelief.  Peter knows the following facts:  The Company has held the virus for 30+ years without using it.  Shortly after Adam escapes, the virus is unleashed.  If you’re wondering whether Adam’s escape is related to the release of the virus, you’re already 5 episodes smarter than Peter.

2 responses so far

Jan 29 2008

Heroes got sued

Published by under Commentary,Heroes

The gist of the lawsuit is that Heroes supposedly ripped off a preexisting plotline that where an artist painted the future and included the (possible) destruction of two New York City landmarks.

If this lawsuit works out, I’m going to sue every romance publisher because they’ve all ripped off a story I wrote last year where a guy and a girl struggle through adversity and finally get together.

(Wait a minute…)

I’m not sure I can think of a superhero story set in the real world where a New York landmark isn’t endangered. In fact, superhero stories are probably more likely to endanger NYC landmarks than romances are to show guys and girls getting together, because some romances are tragedies).

As as for the supposed ripping-off of a superpower (painting the future), again pretty much every superpower is a direct and blatant ripoff of something that’s already been used. Some of the superpowers used on Heroes are…

  1. Superstrength

  2. Regeneration

  3. Flying

  4. Mind-reading

  5. Time-travel

Groundbreaking stuff there!

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Nov 28 2007

The truth about “superheroes”

The International Society of Supervillains has the dirt on “superheroes” that are really tools. Reed Richards, Namor and Superman take the cake.

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Nov 16 2007

New Sidebar Category: Writing Case Studies

Hello. In addition to my normal articles on writing, I now have Writing Case Studies.  Each entry will review a book and then describe what writers should take away from what worked and what didn’t from the book.

This makes it a bit easier to describe problems/successes in characterization and plotting that might otherwise be abstract.

So far I have:

I’d really appreciate if you’d like to suggest any novels, particularly ones with superheroes or high fantasy generally.  I focus on those kinds of novels because they often have the same challenges and audience expectations as Superhero Nation.

  • Creating a world more or less by scratch
  • Making a fantastic world serious enough that people won’t hear your premise and groan
  • Combining action and non-action components into a workable whole.

One response so far

Oct 24 2007

Pun Explanations

Hello.  A few of my readers asked me about the chapter titles.  Did I mean ____ as a pun on ____? The answer is probably yes.  I’ll go through a few…

Gotta Kill ‘Em All! is a dark play on Pokemon’s slogan, “Gotta Catch ‘Em All.”  The popular children’s cartoon series, Hegemon, plays a prominent role in this chapter.  A related pun…  in politics, a hegemon is a completely dominant nation.  Since the end of the Cold War, “the hegemon” has always referred to the United States.  After all, what story about superheroes could be complete without a superpower?

How Many F’s are there in Katastrofy? (Win a Pulitzer in 20 Minutes a Day!) is a play on the latest Superman movie, where a supposedly Pulitzer-calibre journalist (Lois Lane) wonders how many F’s are in “catastrophe.”  Katastrophy is the name of the Hegemon that’s clearly based on Mewtwo (he’s in the header).  For reasons that I will hopefully be able to reveal by the end of 2007, the real-world incarnation of said character decides to go by “Catastrophe” because you’d have to be a complete idiot to spell it “Katastrofy.”

National Catastrophe is a phrase.  In a book that already has a character named Catastrophe and Nation in the title, how could I resist?

Dr.  Berkeley’s name is actually a reference to George Berkeley, an 18th century philosopher who claimed that anything we perceive is necessarily real.  (Mirages and The Matrix are both perceivable things that probably aren’t real).  The more obvious Berkeley association features a certain university in California, but that wasn’t my main objective.

What Do We Do About Berkeley? This time the reference actually IS to the university.  Governor Ronald Reagan (R-CA) had been advised by his gubernatorial staff not to hit on the counterculture of UC-Berkeley.  Reagan responded: “Look, I don’t care if I’m [campaigning] in the mountains, the desert, the biggest cities of this state, the first question [I get is]: ‘What are you going to do about Berkeley?’ And each time the question itself would get applause.”  I amended the phrase to “What do we do…”  rather than “What are you going to do…”  because the title is already a bit long.

Forget Who’s Watching the Watch-Man…  Don’t Leave Yourself Alone with Him is a play on the phrase “but who watches the watchman,” and of course the comic book series The Watchmen, but most prominently Syler from Heroes.  You definitely wouldn’t want to find yourself alone with THAT watch-man.

The Empire State Strikes Back is an obvious play on Star Wars…  not too tricky.

Gods and Supermen at Yale is a reference to God and Man at Yale, conservative William Buckley’s seminal work on the relationship between faith and scholarship.  In the context of Superhero Nation, the “Gods” are researchers…  well, I shouldn’t spoil a chapter I haven’t written, right?

The Crisis of Infinite OSIs is a play on DC Comic’s seminal series, The Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Really, really devoted students of US government might know there is a separate Office of Special Investigations within the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the Air Force, and the legislative Government Accountability Office.

It Takes a Child to Raze a Village  the original is liberal Hillary Clinton’s quote, “it takes a village to raise a child.”  I can’t say any more without hopelessly spoiling the chapter.  Suffice it to say that I hope you won’t miss Greenwich.  (Heh.  A red herring, I assure you).

The First Draft of History is a reference to the quote that “journalism is the first draft of history.” 

Hegemonic Instability Theory.  Maybe you’ve heard of “hegemonic stability theory,” the theory that particularly strong nations contribute to world peace.  Well, mental instability appears to be more relevant to the plot (and creation) of this novel, so I thought that was more appropriate.   It’s also a play on the Hegemon angle, if you’ve been paying attention.   (Additionally, Orson Scott Card wrote a book called “Shadow of the Hegemon,” which  I might turn into something like “Shadowing the Hegemon”)

The Last Oorah.  Oorah” is a Marine concept…  hell, a way of life! Its origin probably derives from “heard, understood and acknowledged” (HUA), a general expression of enthusiasm (ahem…  anything and everything but no“).  At one point, I had the chapter called The Last Huah because I wasn’t sure whether the character that dies is a Marine or an [Army] soldier.

The pun is that there’s a novel called The Last Hurrah, which is also a stage in Star Fox 64.  (Wow, I am such a nerd).

A few of the chapters (Agents of Change, Agents of Destruction, etc.) play on the double meaning of “agent” as a federal employee (IRS agent, OSI agent) and a causative factor.  The Free Agent plays on a sports-term for someone who currently has no employer.

Yep, that’s most of it.  I should add– well, it should be obvious that– a title that has to be explained is probably not working.  So hopefully titles like A Free Agent or What Are We Going to do about Berkeley? work even if the reader isn’t familiar with the inside joke.  If they don’t, then the author has needlessly alienated a lot of his readers.  I think the titles would be effective even if the reader didn’t know.

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Oct 23 2007

How I Would Rewrite Heroes

I like the show Heroes a lot.  However, I think that it’s generally pretty poorly-written, at least flabbier than most shows I enjoy.  So many characters are thrown at us that take up an episode but have no bearing on the plot.  Like the woman that’s able to access the Internet remotely…  she was so insignificant that no one noticed that it looks like the writers forgot about her after her first episode.

I can’t tell what the remaining episodes in this season will look like, so it’s hard to tell which characters will become interesting and serve to drive the main plot, but I think that from the first four episodes we can start to tell which characters aren’t working.

In the first season, we had several main clusters of characters.  There’s a lot of overlap.  If one character could fit in several clusters, I tried to place him in the cluster that would be most affected by his removal from the script.

  • Peter and Nathan Patrelli (and their family)
  • The painter and his girlfriend
  • Hiro/Ando
  • Claire/Mr. Bennet and the other Bennets.
  • The Haitian and The Company employees
  • Linderman and his guys
  • Nicky, her kid and her husband
  • The L.A. cop, his family and the hot FBI partner.  I’d also probably put the nuclear guy and the remote control woman here.
  • Suresh
  • Syler

(I probably missed some people.  Heroes has an enormous cast).  Please forgive me for having a bad memory.

A few thoughts about the different clusters.

  • Peter was the main character– supposedly!  But he does very little.  He matters a lot more in terms of what he doesn’t do, namely destroying New York.
    • Well, he’s instrumental in saving Claire from Syler.  But that doesn’t matter very much, does it?  Remember the episode that looks at five years in the future after Syler survives the stabbing (because he had Claire’s regenerative powers)?  At the end of that episode, five years after he survives the stabbing, Syler kills Claire and takes her powers.  Most people didn’t notice that glaring plot-hole, probably because saving the cheerleader didn’t seem like a major element of the plot (because it wasn’t).
  • I would give Peter a more prominent role in the fight against Syler.  If he doesn’t tie into that fight more directly, he should probably be removed from the plot entirely.  His quest, to prevent NYC from getting nuked, really has nothing to do with Syler.
  • Syler is probably the character I enjoyed the most.  “This is usually the point where people start screaming” is one of my all-time favorite TV quotes.  As far as supervillains go, he has an interesting modus operandi and origin story.
  • I would, however, remove the scene where he kills his mother.  It wasn’t any MORE gruesome than anything else he did over the first season, but it just came out of the blue.  Why did he kill his mother again?  How did that advance the story?  We already KNEW he was damn creepy and violent.
  • I’d remove the Nicky/son/husband cluster entirely.  That ENTIRE cluster amounts to two relevant plot points: the device by which Petrelli is going to win the election and Nicky making a ridiculous cameo in the climactic fight against Syler.  As far as supervillain plots go, trying to rig an election with a wunderkind hacker is stupid and ill-conceived.
    • Let’s see… a candidate al0ready under federal investigation for mob ties moves from a 4-way dead heat to a “landslide” victory on the strength of bajillions of electronic votes.  Wouldn’t anyone get suspicious that precincts that presumably turned out pretty close in paper-voting produced enormous Petrelli majorities?
  • I like the Company, but it’s never quite clear (to me, at least) why they’re tracking the special people and what their eventual goal is.   How does Linderman tie into the Company’s goals?  I assume that they aren’t related.  If so, what IS the Company trying to accomplish?  Why does it attempt to take in Syler after it knows he’s a serial killer?  etc.  Critiques of Superhero Nation frequently offer some variation of “I don’t get the distinction between the Office of Special Investigations and the Social Justice League.”  I’d say that the Company-Linderman distinction is way hazier.
  • Suresh is OK, but do we really have to hear him narrate every episode?
  • I love the LA cop, but his role in the plot serves mainly to show what the law enforcement authorities are doing to stop Syler (not much, apparently).  He also makes an almost-cameo in the climactic fight against Syler.  I like this character a lot, but I would deemphasize his personal life– which is kind of trite– and emphasize the Syler connection.
    • The writers shot themselves in the foot with his hot partner.  The writers REALLY want this to be a world where no one really knows about people having superpowers.  To some extent, this suggests that the FBI is comically incompetent, but we’d have to believe that his partner is WILDLY stupid.
      1. She knows that he can read minds.  Ahem, he read HER mind and she knows that he is able to get all sorts of #$^# out of interrogatees.  She eventually shrugs that off with a few lines that are so painful that I can’t imagine they were written with a straight face.
      2. Syler’s kill scenes are distinctly unnatural.  Stuff like a building being iced over is par for the course.  Heads lopped off, etc.
      3. Mr. Radioactive produces radioactivity without any logical scientific explanation.  THEN Mr. Radioactive and his Homeland Security convoy are eliminated by something that threw the van down without leaving explosive residue or a collision impact.

    The easiest way to resolve all of this would be to remove the scene where the cop (Parkman) exposes his ESP secret to his partner.

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