Look! Up in the Sky. It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's…Peter??

I’m re-watching the season premiere of Heroes, and something occurred to me.  Something I didn’t really notice last season (mainly because I was probably too busy noticing how much last season sucked).  That something is this: Peter Petrelli is Superman.

Now, before you all get your capes in an uproar, I’m not saying that Mama Petrelli’s baby boy has the same iconic status as Superman.  That would be stupid.  Supes has been around for seventy years.  He’s a mass media darling.  He’s been through World War II, the Cold War, and the near-collapse of the comic industry in the ’90s.  Peter Petrelli is a nurse with bitchin’ bangs.  So, what exactly am I driving at?  Simple.  Both Superman and Peter Petrelli provide similar obstacles and stumbling blocks to storytellers.

There’s a reason why the world has Kryptonite.  First invented for the Superman radio series in 1943, the deadly element was carried over into the comic series six years later, as a way of making the Superman stories a bit more dramatic.  Think about it: a story with an unstoppable protagonist who is impervious to everything and can do anything is boring.  Enter the little green rocks.  A weakened Superman is an interesting Superman.  I’m sure this is also why the Big Blue Boy Scout is vulnerable to magic and magic-based attacks.

This brings me back (finally) to Peter Petrelli.  Peter’s pretty much been set up as “the most powerful” character in the Heroes-verse.  In a world where people can walk through walls, stop time, or shoot lightning bolts from their fingertips, the dude who can do all of it is pretty high up the ladder.  Sure, there’s Sylar, but he has an inherent handicap–he needs to be more…umm…hands-on than Peter.  Sylar needs to identify, isolate, and lobotomize folks to get their powers.  Peter just needs to be standing in line at Starbucks with someone to get theirs.  So, as the writers and producers of Heroes, how do you deal with a character like Peter?  What do you do to keep the “drama” in this one-hour drama?  The answer is obvious: you need some kind of Kryptonite–in this case, it’s narrative Kryptonite.

Everything started off okay.  In season one of Heroes, Peter was still trying to figure his powers out.  He didn’t even know what he could do at first.  Then, when he finally realized that he could mimic the powers of others, he couldn’t do it unless his “donors” were nearby.  By the end of the season, Peter more or less figured out how to draw upon the powers of anyone he’s come into contact with.  Then he blew up–luckily, thanks to his niece Claire, Peter has the ability to regenerate.  See what’s happening here?  No one was worried for a second that ol’ Petey was going to die in the season one finale.  To paraphrase the musical episode of Buffy, he’d already “died twice” that season.  No threat.  No drama.

That brings us to season two.  What were the producers going to do about a character who could almost single-handedly deal with any threat they came up with?  They needed to find a way to tie Peter’s hands, metaphorically speaking.  Their solution: drop him in Ireland and give him a nasty bit of amnesia.  I might not have been a fan of the idea, but I can appreciate where it came from.  They’d pretty much painted themselves into a corner with Peter’s abilities, and needed to figure out how to keep the drama and tension cranked to 11.  It’s the exact same reason that Kryptonite was invented.

Now, season three is upon us, and the producers had to come up with yet another way to rein in Peter’s powers.  This time, they decided to have “Future Peter”–who has a scar, so we know he’s really bad-ass–come back to the present and take our Peter’s place.  While FP is masquerading as OP, OP finds himself trapped in the body of one of the villains from Level 5 (played by Veronica Mars‘ Weevil, you just gotta love that casting!).  It’s too early to know how long this current status quo will last, or what–if any–effect being in another body will have on OP’s abilities…I just think it’s funny that the producers find themselves jumping through hoops of their own making.

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14 responses to “Look! Up in the Sky. It's a Bird. It's a Plane. It's…Peter??

  1. Well that is the dilemma in any super hero drama. If it is too easy for the super hero to win, that spells no tension no suspense no drama. Oops. So there has to be someone who is a bigger bad ass than the super hero or who can at least put the super hero down in a way that undermines the super hero’s powers so there is a chance the opposition will win. Otherwise, it is just like watching the Lions run an end zone past a troup of boyscouts and unless you really hate boyscouts that is just not fun.

    [Okay, I am aberrant, it might be fun, sorry, tangent there. Anyway.]

    I do not think that is Heroes problem though. I think Heroes has so many plot holes you just have to really love the characters a lot to stick with it in spite of them and… I do not so it lost me after the first season.

    [Now I will be blackballed in Hollywood and never work again, oh the humanity.]

  2. You’re right about the plot holes, Max. But, for the most part, I like the characters enough to ignore them. However, I think the whole Peter thing is just really funny. It’s a little bit like the first season of Buffy, where the Master was trapped underground to explain why this all-powerful super-vampire could be repeatedly beaten by Buffy and still be thought of as a Big Bad. Kinda like that, but a lot more obvious.

    Montgomery: cool podcast. Do you do it each week?

  3. I only watched the first few episodes of the first season, and the show didn’t really stick with me. However, a very similar show (suspiciously so, to me) is The 4400, which despite its flaws, did stick with me. I’m not sure why one worked for me and the other didn’t…maybe I need to give Heroes another chance. Have you seen The 4400?

  4. I loved The 4400–how could I not love a show where a freak like Jeffrey Combs gets to date the radiant Summer Glau?–and was pretty bummed when I heard that it was canceled.

  5. Okay, so as a Heroes viewer, does it seem like that show is ripping off The 4400? Will I be disappointed with Heroes on that basis?

    Ahhh yes…Summer and the Combs-man…a good/weird combo.

  6. Ripping off? I don’t think so. Sure, they’re both shows about people with super-powers, but The 4400 was doing its own thing entirely, while Heroes is taking a very “comic book” oriented path.

    I think there’s room for both.

  7. The basic premises are very different. In Heroes, the premise is characters with powers are the next step in an evolutionary process. In 4400, the premise is people abducted and later returned have been altered by their experience. Heroes is much closer to X Men in premise than it is to 4400.

  8. Okay, that’s interesting…so based on a few commercial spots I’ve seen for Heroes recently, it appeared they were mining the same territory, in that superpowers could be given to a normal person through taking a “shot”. Is this my misconception then, because it’s a central premise of The 4400. (But I agree, Max, that another important element of The 4400 is the whole abduction by the future thingy…)

  9. In the two seasons of Heroes I watched, people with powers were born with powers that appeared and developed as they grew into adulthood. They may have expanded on that in the time I have not been watching but that was the base premise.

  10. In season 2 of Heroes, there was talk of finding a “cure” for the people with powers. This season, the cure has become a way of giving ordinary people powers (but it doesn’t look like it works that well).

    In this respect, it’s similar to the Promicin shots from The 4400.

    But, that kind of trope has been around in comics for decades, so it’s kind of a chicken and egg argument.

  11. Right…that’s making sense to me. I agree with you that these are old themes in comics, but I will make a somewhat meek assertion that in The 4400, the sequence of discoveries was that the Promicin Inhibitor (i.e., “a cure”) was discovered first as well, and then people started distilling and injecting Promicin itself to develop abilities. Sounds suspiciously similar to me, but I will withhold any final judgment until I catch up on Heroes.

  12. It is suspiciously similar…but, I’m willing to chalk it up as coincidence. I love The 4400, but it was pretty below the radar for most people, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the Heroes folks were unaware of the similarities.

  13. Fair enough…I’ll catch-up…

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