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back, hero killer!
o, death! where is thy sting?
by russ carr (@DocOrlando70)
9.22.08
pop culture

The new season of Heroes starts tonight on NBC. Can I spoil one thing for you? Everyone's back.

Seriously, did you really expect otherwise? It's a fair bet that we'd have heard by now if Adrian Pasdar hadn't gotten a contract renewal, for instance. So all you Nathan Petrelli fans can unclench.

But that's the way it works with superheroes -- the popular ones, at least -- whether they're on the TV screen or in comic books. They fight. They die. They get better. There's always a healing factor, or a clone, or an amazingly realistic android stand-in, or a loophole in the space-time continuum that writers can trot out and restore the fallen warrior to life. Resurrection's become so matter-of-course that Marvel Comics even has one character -- Mr. Immortal -- whose entire deal is getting killed and coming back to life.

Before I started reading comic books, the only superheroes I knew were the ones on Saturday morning cartoons. That generally meant "Superfriends," which seen across 30+ years holds up not one bit. I mean, they didn't even HIT the bad guys, they usually just made makeshift jail cells out of lightposts or discarded tires, and that was enough to imprison the likes of Luthor and Bizarro.

If you wanted real violence -- I'm talking guys punching each other out -- you had to find an old Popeye cartoon. Riding a spinach high, Popeye thought nothing of smacking Bluto all over the place.

And as for death... that was limited to the ultraviolent world of Looney Tunes, or perhaps Tom and Jerry as well. I can remember more than a few cartoons where Bugs, Daffy, Elmer, or some other character would get beat up or blown up sufficient that their soul would float up to heaven, wings aflutter and clutching a harp. (Invariably, they'd screw up in heaven, too, and get kicked back to their body to suffer some more on Earth.)

But those were cartoons, and while ultimately comic book superheroes are no more grounded in reality than Wile E. Coyote, the spectacular stories do carry more gravitas than a Toon Town adventure.

Once upon a time, death meant something in the superhero genre. It was witnessing the murder of his parents that drove Bruce Wayne to become Batman. Realizing that his irresponsibility led to the murder of his Uncle Ben, Peter Parker became Spider-Man.

Of course, these were ordinary folks dying, not the heroes themselves. A hero die? Perish the thought! It wasn't until 1980, when Marvel's Phoenix took her own life in the pages of X-Men, that a superhero finally succumbed with finality. It was a staggering event; the extreme subject matter meant that the issue did not receive approval from the Comics Code Authority (CCA), the group set up in 1954 to protect kiddies from lurid, violent or otherwise debased content.

As the devious Angela Petrelli said in Heroes' season's finale last year, "You do know that you've now opened Pandora's Box."

DC, hot to get in on the action, killed off Supergirl and the Flash within a couple of months in 1985. Then they went one better and actually had a phone-in poll for readers to determine whether or not the Joker would beat Robin to death in an 1988 issue. (Robin died by 72 votes.) DC then played its trump card by killing Superman in 1992. Marvel bided its time for awhile, then killed off a handful of heroes in its 2004 "Avengers Disassembled" storyline. Their current bloodletting culminated in one of their own icons, Captain America, taking three in the chest last year.

Just about all of those dead heroes have since returned in some way shape or form. They simply can't stay gone too long. That's part of the timelessness of cartoon characters, animated or otherwise. They don't age too much. They don't die for long.

And, as the genre has evolved -- Marvel abandoned the CCA back in 2001, and DC only uses it for a fraction of their titles anymore -- it has, by necessity, changed to fit harder-edged readers for whom a world imperiled by the machinations of a mad scientist is not enough. The stakes are higher. Batman and Superman and Spider-Man may not kill... but there are plenty of "heroes" who will, and do, often and bloodily. The carnage wrought on enemies -- and the suffering and potential for death of the heroes -- are big selling points now, and there's not a whole lot of motivation to change that.

And that brings us back to Heroes again. The writers and producers have promised to redeem last season's missteps, with a new story arc that's dark and twisted, wherein "the good will die and evil will rise." We'll see, I guess. But they'd do well to follow the wisdom of their own hero, Hiro, when he backed down from delivering a fatal sword stroke to Sylar, the villain of the piece:

"Killing...should be hard."


ABOUT RUSS CARR

If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.

more about russ carr

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COMMENTS

alex b
9.22.08 @ 4:34p

No knocking the Adrian Pasdar fans. We're just a nicer, less noisier minority than any retard wearing Peter Is So My Hero T-shirts.

Killing is pretty easy these days in the comic book world. Hell, paralyzing people is even pretty good if writers want to mess with a character without killing them off (ie. Batman broken by Bane, Batgirl shot by Joker). Ideally, when you kill off a character, you'd better have a really good reason to do so.

Heck, Heroes has a lot of making up to do. (And I also disagree with killing off DL from Season 1, but watching Linderman die was pretty awesome).

maigen thomas
9.22.08 @ 4:43p

you shut your mouth! I LOVE PETER. But less because he's Peter Petrelli and more because I have a massive school-girl crush on Milo. His crooked smile is ... delightful.

Um...where were we?

russ carr
9.22.08 @ 10:34p

First Season Peter = Adam Sandler as Little Nicky. I stand by that. When he's not "saving the world" by having Nathan do the real work, he's probably sitting in his room listening to Nickelback in the dark. Emo heroes are as bad as dead ones.

As for the crooked smile: I commented about that to Kathy while we screened Season One: "Why is it that Milo Ventilatorshaft and Ali Larter both talk out of the side of their face? Did someone Botox their jaws?"

ken mohnkern
9.22.08 @ 11:51p

Tuned in halfway through the premiere after getting home from seeing Burn After Reading. Had to stop watching after ten minutes of horrid dialog.



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