Monday, December 6, 2010

Vignettes In Pointlessness: Heroes Volume 1 Graphic Novel Disappoints.

The Good: Moments of interesting storytelling, A few frames of artwork
The Bad: Fragmented, Not a cohesive story, Artwork is wildly variable (most of it poor)
The Basics: Poor artwork compounds the very specific nature of the stories told in this graphic novel, which fail to come together to make a cohesive book.

Because of the power of graphic novels in today's cinema, I have begun picking up a few different graphic novels. Appropriately enough, most of them so far have been based upon television shows, I have enjoyed like the graphic novel Serenity: Those Left Behind which bridged the television series with the movie Serenity. And I eagerly read Angel: After The Fall to see what happened to my favorite characters from the television show Angel ended. But largely, I have been unimpressed with what I've found, at least I was when I read Heroes Volume 1.

Unfortunately, Heroes Volume 1 does not change my feeling that most graphic novels are not the supposedly great literature they are touted as. Moreover, as someone who once used to read a number of comic books (albeit Star Trek), the pages of Heroes Volume 1 are hardly even noteworthy.

Heroes Volume 1 is the first physically published form of the Heroes on-line comics. Instead of collecting together a number of previously printed comics, the way the Knightfall graphic novels did, Heroes Volume 1 collected the stories that were previously only printed on the world wide web. The strength, I suppose, of being an on-line comic, is that there are very few costs associated with it and the demands of a publishing industry might not enter into it. Unfortunately, in this instance, this is used as an excuse to create something that is sloppy and pretty terrible.

Set during the first season of the television show Heroes (click here for my review!), Heroes Volume 1 fills in the blanks of elements of many of the characters' lives. So, for example, we are treated to Mohinder's arrival in New York City and how he gets hired with the Chelsea Cab Company, Hiro folding paper cranes to honor his dead grandfather, Nathan Petrelli flying up to rescue a woman trapped in a burning building and Claire climbing out of the car she crashed to menace her would-be rapist. The comics illustrate D.L. escaping from prison, Matt utilizing his mind-reading talent to take down a speeding criminal, and Isaac's first encounter with someone he painted a horrible end for.

It all reads like a series of deleted scenes from Heroes, and that makes it both a fast read and one that is incredibly insubstantial as a book. At best, the graphic novel fills in the past of Eden, who was killed by Sylar after manipulating Mohinder for most of the season, and tells a much more complete story of Hana Gitelman. Who is Hana Gitelman? Die-hard fans of Heroes might remember her for her two appearances in the first season wherein she manipulates Ted Sprague (the exploding man) to try to expose the Company. She essentially appeared with the somewhat pointless and ridiculous talent of being able to act like computer with a wireless modem. Okay, it's not entirely a lame talent, but essentially she was a woman who could send e-mails, text messages and the like with only her mind and similarly decrypt things like that.

Hana Gitelman pops up in the latter half of the book and her story (finally!) begins to dominate the graphic novel. In those chapters, which include how she was found by the Company and how she escaped them. She investigates the company and in those chapters, the Linderman/Petrelli connection is made explicit and she is killed off as well. Given that the graphic novel's contents were made under the direction of NBC, it's fairly easy to consider these stories cannon.

As such, we might feel fortunate that we were not subjected to some of the more inane ones. Micah takes on a bully, Mr. Bennet avenges Eden to her abusive father, and an especially witless dream of Peter when he was in the coma is presented. Many of these add up to little or nothing and they do not so much enhance what was shown in the first season as make explicit things that were mentioned.

Indeed, the best possible chance for the graphic novel to answer one of the questions from the first season is annoyingly sidestepped. The future Hiro Nakamura, the one who returned to the past to tell Peter Petrelli to "save the cheerleader, save the world" finds himself baffled that when Peter succeeds, his world is not altered. In the television series, this makes no real sense because if Sylar never stole Claire's powers, he could not have resisted Hiro's deadly attack. But even more problematic, Sylar was credited with destroying New York City, which means that he was the exploding man; in the future Sylar exhibits no trace of Ted Sprague's powers and he blames Peter for exploding. All of this, then, makes those who actually think about this sort of thing ask, "Are we truly meant to believe that if Ted Sprague did not get killed by Sylar, he would have managed to lay low and not explode for five years?!" Because unless Ted escaped and simply blew himself up in the Nevada desert, one has to figure that either he blew up New York City (in which case, it makes no sense that Peter would be blamed by Sylar) or a second city got blown up by Ted. Because, let's face it, fans of the television series will pretty much universally acknowledge that Ted Sprague was not the most stable guy in the world!

If this seems like a whole lot of mulling about things that only have tangential relation to Heroes Volume 1, you're missing the point I am attempting to make; Heroes Volume One is a series of vignettes with tangential relation to Heroes Season One. In other words, this graphic novel truly operates only as a supplement to the television series, much the way deleted scenes do. Without the context, this is a collection of vague allusions to events not presented in the actual book.

Even more problematic than the stories that are told, save the Hana Gitelman chronicles, is the artwork. The artwork ranges from looking like something from the Sunday comics (like Micah's story about the bully) to a ridiculously few panels that look almost like paintings (some of those pop up in the future with Hiro Nakamura of the future and they are very cool). But by and large, the animation is sloppy and it's hard to get excited about shelling out $15 - $30 (depending on whether one gets it in trade paperback or hardcover) for animation that looks like it was done in such a hurry. Several of the characters are utterly unrecognizable and that severely diminishes the stories being told about them. Audrey, for example, the normal human detective who has been hunting Sylar pops up for a five page story ("Turning Point") wherein she chases Sylar and is duped by him. Audrey is drawn like an anime character (as Hana, rather tragically, is at times) and looks like she's a twelve year-old wielding a pistol.

As well, it becomes clear in the earliest pages that the graphic novel was written, at some points, preceding events that occurred on the show. So, for example, Mohinder's father is shown and it is using artwork from the pilot episode, before Eric Avari was cast in the role. I understand the television show being unable to reshoot such things after the show started airing, but that could easily have been fixed for this graphic novel, especially considering the first printing long followed Avari's casting. Similarly, the brief appearance of a younger Linderman is bothersome because he does not look anything like a younger Malcolm McDonald. Fixing that would have taken a lot of work, but it would have illustrated a care on the part of the producers that proved they wanted to get this book right.

It's a shame when something that has an inherent quality to it is bastardized for commercial purposes, but outside the Hana Gitelman stories (only about a third of the book), these bits seem like attempts to capitalize on the success of Heroes without putting any actual effort or creative thought into it. And as interesting as the Gitelman stories might be, it's not enough to justify purchasing this graphic novel.

Seriously, the best analogy is that this is like reading a book of deleted scenes.

For other Heroes related reviews and graphic novel tie-in reviews, please check out:
Heroes: Saving Charlie
The A-Team: War Stories
Legion: Prophets


For other graphic novel reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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