Heroes <> Watchmen

As Watchmen nears release -- and Heroes/Villains approaches its season debut -- I've heard a lot of stink about the later ripping off the former. Sure, they're both studies in the reasons for and results of vigilanteism. But they approach the topic from opposite directions. Where all the Watchmen (save Dr. Manhattan) are just people in costume, the Heroes all have powers that set them apart from the rest of the world. Heroes explores the pain and suffering superpowers bring as they force their benefactors into vigilanteism -- a classic (if slightly more focused in Heroes) comic viewpoint. Watchmen explores what wanting to be a savior does to normal people.

In the (bent for my purpose) words of Douglas Adams, anyone who wants to be a superhero is ipso facto totally unqualified for the job. Watchmen provides ample evidence for this. The Watchmen wllingly put on their costumes, built their toys, and love what they do. (Or at least love to hate what they do. Or do it out of the need to satisfy some neurotic need from a spoiled childhood. Or because they hate everyone. You get the idea.)

"Classic" superheros like Peter Parker, for example, have their great power (and responsibility) thrust upon them. Parker's humanity remains, which stages an ongoing fight between his needs and the needs of society. Heroes follows a similar path, but focuses on how everyone has a different view on what comprises society's "needs."

And yes, this "master plan" focus does approximate the "master plan" in Watchmen. (I'm being intentionally vague to avoid spoilers for those who haven't read it and/or plan to see the flick.) But I can say this: I personally believe that the "master plan" in Watchmen isn't the point of the book -- not to mention that the "master plan" concept is far from unique to Watchmen.

Anyway, if you'd like to engage further in this discussion, it came up recently in the Watchmen group read thread in the GWC Forum. Watchmen is this month's GWC Book of the Month.

3 Responses to "Heroes <> Watchmen"
  1. Armando says:

    You know, Chuck, I’m with you. I don’t think the master plan is ultimately the point of Watchmen. It really is a sort of McGuffin that gets the plot moving and brings everything to a head. That story is much more about the characters and, as you say, what drives someone to want to be a “savior” (or, more allegorically, serve their country/culture. We could think of the Watchmen as soldiers rather than vigilantes–this is certainly true of at least one character in the book) as well as the political clahses between conflicting views of the savior role.

    Heroes has always seemed much more about the characters as human beings to me. It’s a much more human drama and less so about grand themes drawn in a grand canvas (this may be why I didn’t mind the ending of season one as much as others have, since I saw it as ultimately true to the show and its characters). Part of the flaw with season two, other than the fact that it was severely cut short by the writers’ strike (I really think that, had we gotten all 23 episodes, critics would NOT have been complaining as loudly about the season by the end of it as they were at its start), was its attempt to move into a grander world. (Actually, I should say that I didn’t think that was problematic, as season two seems very much transitional to me in the larger arc of the series as a whole. Rather, the problems that many critics and fans cited in season two I think come from this transitional nature of the series. Again, had it been allowed to go the full episode order I think this would have become more obvious.)

    Finally, so one story borrows from another. What’s the problem with that? Watchmen is perhaps THE most influential superhero comic book of the past 25-30 years and ushered in the modern interpretation of the genre. One would expect that such a book, with the impact it has had on the culture, would influence a number of other works, so it’s hardly surprising to hear that Heroes: Villains is drawing some elements from that story. Originality is important, but originality seldom reflects a totally blank creative slate.

  2. hard binger says:

    stink?…stink? If there’s anything that would make me submit myself to the daunting suspension of disbelief and gaping plot holes of “Heroes”, it’s any comparison to the great Allan Moore graphic novel.

    I agree about the approach from opposite directions, but I remember a line from young Michah last season. He asks,”why don’t we just make suits and be super heroes?”


  3. femmephoenix says:

    I realize I’m a little late on this one, but I just caught up on my podcasts and the mention of Heroes vs. Watchmen grabbed me (in the T1 podcast, I believe).

    Here’s my two cents:

    The first season of Heroes, in my opinion, does a fantastic job of nodding its head towards the gritty and catastrophic feel of the Watchmen. Yes, there are similarities between the scenarios of mass-destruction and their purposes, but unfortunately this is a fairly universal concept. Destruction, in theory, can bring about change – or guide society in the proper (or, decided) direction. We have war because as humans, we know and embrace the power of destruction. Heroes and the Watchmen simply both deal with situations that involve a larger scope, and therefore create the larger destructive nature of these stories.

    That being said, the fundamental difference between Watchmen and Heroes in my opinion is societal. The characters of Watchmen were born from society, nurtured and developed by society, and then shunned by it. Without the world’s creation of their vigilanteism, they would not exist to ultimately attempt a solution to the world’s problems.

    Heroes, on the other hand, deals with characters emerging from society at random. It deals with individuals and their roles as such – human beings, dealing with the concept of being different in a very extreme way. Heroes creates a scenario where society may have impact on the decisions of the individuals, and their actions may create ripples within it; however, society is largely unaware of them. Thus they operate autonomously, and removed from the influences and agenda of society as a whole. They may prove to alter the world they live in, but for now that world simply has no clue that they exist – and no direct influence on their personal choices.

    That’s my two (or maybe more like 59) cents. Thanks for being awesome, GWC always makes my day!

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