Wednesday, January 7, 2009

heroes vol. 1

No one can be more surprised than me that I was slightly disappointed with Heroes the Graphic Novel vol. 1. I had it on my wish list for awhile, so I’m actually rather glad I didn’t buy it. I don’t know why I was expecting a full-on retelling of all the events we saw in season 1 in graphic novel style—that would have frustrated the efforts of the artists and writers involved and probably insulted the main audience, a web-based one who was expecting a weekly comic of 5-6 pages (22 pages monthly). What is presented here are fill-ins—stories that happen before or during the events of season one. In some ways I guess the comics are to the TV show what the Virgin novels were to Doctor Who. Having not read the Virgin novels, I can’t say how they compare for sure. The artists have nothing to reproach themselves for, nor do the writers per se (though certain stories are stronger than others, naturally). There’s just something not right about the format. The stories are interspersed with Tim Sale’s covers of The 9th Wonder from the TV show, Isaac Mendez’s art in the fictional world, and while I’m happy to have a glimpse at the covers close up, they tend to detract from the action in the comics rather than enhance it. Masi Oka’s introduction, sadly, also brings little insight.

The talented artists include Michael Turner, Micah Gunnell, Marcus To, Travis and Jordan Kotzebue, Jason Badower, Staz Johnson, Michael Gaydos, Steven Lejeune, Adam Archer, and Tom Grunnett. However, did you see any women in that list? Nor do any women contribute to the writing. Oh well. A lot of the art reminds me of Fables, prompting me to wonder if some of the artists worked on both, which could certainly be the case. Some of the fill-ins are mildly interesting. “Monsters” shows how Mohinder got the cab driving job in New York (and features some very interesting art of a homicidal goddess Kali). “Snapshots” offers a bit more on D.L.’s story, always a bit thin as presented on TV. In “Bully,” Micah uses his powers to fight back against bullies long before it’s ever seen on screen. A particularly bloody story, “Roadkill,” shows how Sylar gets from point A to point B (killing Charlie). The art, by Jason Badower, is among the most distinctive in the book. Several of the stories, like ones for Parkman and Nathan, offers glimpses of the heroes doing, well, heroic things when no one’s looking. “Life Before Eden” tells us Eden’s back story, which was quite interesting (and yes, somewhat Fables-like), but ends tantalizingly too soon. One of my favorites is “Turning Point” by Christopher Zatta, Micah Gunnell and Marcus To. It pits Sylar and Audrey (Parkman’s partner) in a battle of wits. Another of my favorites is “Hell’s Angel,” which, despite the fact that Claude looks nothing like Christopher Eccleston, is beautifully drawn.

A large chunk of the novel is taken up by the story of Hana Gittelman, “Wireless.” I barely remember her from the TV show (it has been awhile since I saw season 1) but in the very best tradition of fill-ins, the comics give her a long legacy of freedom-fighting, starting with her grandmother in a concentration camp, her mother as one of Israel’s first female fighter plane pilots, etc. You almost sense Hana’s saga could inhabit an entire TV show of its own—in fact, in tone it feels somewhat different to a lot of the other material in the book. She’s drawn almost primarily by Micah Gunnell and written by Aron Eli Colete and Joe Pokaski, so at least the style is consistent. Her story also leads in to “War Buddies,” another large segment that traces how Nathan met Linderman (though I wonder if it’s all rendered non-canonical by season 3?). Since it’s set in Vietnam, it’s again got a different tone, but I think it’s fairly accomplished.

I’m certainly in no position to offer anything other than a friendly critique. Clearly there was a lot of pressure involved in getting the comics web-ready by increasingly frenetic deadlines, and working before the series had even gone out. Perhaps I’m just not fond of the overabundance of digital inking and coloring techniques; I’m a bit old-fashioned in that respect. I’m sure that if I picked up the next volume I would be more prepared for its format. There’s a good interview with Aron Eli Coleite and Joe Pokaski at the end, which gives the comics’ background, and gave this amusing nugget:

So ... are you comic book writers or graphic novelists? Remember, this is how you’ll be defined for the rest of your lives ...

Is there a third choice?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Ah, the Heroes graphic novels. I used to be such a devoted follower ...

The point behind these stories, is, as you pointed out, to fill in back stories and add to the over all narrative. Like you, I found the Wireless story to be quite satisfying. And a whole bunch of them unsatisfying too. But it was a great way to finally learn how to read a comic book, something I've never been good at.

One of the funniest episodes takes place in second season when we get to see Hiro,drawn as a tanuke or raccoon dog and in the Japanese comic style, and his adventures with Takezo Kensei. Too bad they didn't continue in that mode.