Naturalising the fantastic: comics archetypes and Heroes

Authors: Round, J. and Hipple, D.

Conference: ‘Reality, Reliability and Access’: Journeys Across Media 2008

Dates: 11 April 2008


This paper discusses the much-vaunted realism of the TV series Heroes in the context of comics history, proposing that many of the tropes and mechanisms used to achieve this realism are drawn from this source. It identifies the archetypes and motifs drawn from comics and analyses the ways in which they are presented in a new medium by the TV series. It seeks to define the evolution of the superhero tradition across media and in so doing addresses questions of medium specificity.

This paper initially examines the ways in which Heroes’ character types and attributes reference golden-age superhero archetypes; focusing on the ostensibly unpowered characters (HRG, Mohinder Suresh) and relating these to the Batman archetype.

It proceeds to identify the use made of silver-age motifs such as teenaged characters (Clare Bennet, Micah Sanders) and sidekicks (Ando). It expands this to address the ways in which Heroes’ characterisation draws on silver-age tenets such as the accidental (and pseudo-scientific) origin, the reluctant hero, and the superhero team-up. It moves to discuss the 1980s realism of environment in a similar manner. The paper then demonstrates the ways in which these realistic elements have converged in contemporary comics titles and identifies visual and textual parallels between these and Heroes.

Finally it analyses the construction of the superhero, where one half is often the antithesis of the other; relating this model to the character of Niki/Jessica Sanders, whose fragmented identity epitomises the duality underlying the superhero. It expands this notion to include the hero/villain analogy which became popular in the 1980s (Batman versus Joker) with reference to the parallels drawn between the characters of Peter Petrelli and Sylar.

It concludes by: summarising the similarities and differences of presentation of these elements across these two media, and situating Heroes firmly within the superhero tradition of comics.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Julia Round