Thursday, December 21, 2006

Looking To The Stars - The Holiday Heroes Special

First of all, Happy Holidays to all of you Comics Nexus readers around the world.

Secondly, our deepest sympathies to the family and fiends of Hardin “Jack” Burnley, who passed away this week. Burnley was an artist for DC during the 1940’s - perhaps most famous for being the first artist to draw Superman and Batman together in a story as well as being the penciler for the daily Superman comic strip as well as an uncredited cover-artist for Action Comics.

He was also, although I’ve seen little mention of this in the obituaries regarding his work, the artistic creator of the Golden Age Starman.

Two Golden Age creators in a week. I think DC needs to do a very special tribute to both Jack and Mart Nodell every soon. They deserve it.

Finally, on a happier note – I have a little gift for those of you who are, like me, going Heroes withdrawal. I recently introduced several of my friends to the show and they had some questions. Questions they thought I, being the big comic book expert, I might have answers to. Well, I thought some of you might like to hear the answers.

If not, my apologies. And rest assured we will be back to trying to finish the Hellblazer Episode Guide next week. No, seriously.


It seems pretty well established at this point that we can accept a few basic truths about super powers.

1) They are based in the brain and written into genetic code.
2) They are passed along family lines and onto children, though the same power does not follow along a family line. For instance, Phaser DL Hawkin’s son Micha has a Mechanical Empathy power. Likewise, brothers Nathan and Peter Petrelli both have superpowers, but not the same one.
3) Most powers, with some exceptions, require a great deal of focus or stress to manifest. Hiro, for example, can only use his time-bending powers with a good deal of squinting and concentration. This also explains why most of the characters have had their powers activate accidentally (i.e. Nikki suddenly crushing a coffee mug in her hand with her super-strength) The only exceptions to this appear to be passive powers, such as Matt’s telepathy and Peter’s empathy.
4) All powers, with time and practice, can be brought to the level of a controlled reflex. Eden and The Haitian, for instance, are clearly operating at a higher level of ability than most of the other heroes.


That Peter Petrelli has the power to mimic the superpowers of others has been fairly well established by this point. What has not been explained, however, are the dream-like visions that have haunted him from the very first episode to the vision of his own explosive demise in the last one.

Given that the rules (as explained by Mr. Bennett) say that a person may only have one power without their DNA becoming unstable, it seems unlikely that Peter has both the powers of mimicry and precognitive dreams. So what could explain this power?

1) Extreme Empathy

One theory is that since Peter’s ability to copy the powers of others is empathic in nature, perhaps his visions are just a natural extension of his natural desire to see things through other people’s eyes. The only problem with this theory is that while it would explain why Peter’s visions have always seemed to have shown him in someone else’s shoes (flying from Nathan’s viewpoint, visualizing his brother/sister-in-law’s accident) it would not explain why he was visualizing the future.

2) Charles Deveaux

Quick flashback: what are the first words Peter says in the series and where is he when he says them?

Answer: “No, I just keep having these amazing dreams every time I close my eyes and uh- never mind.” And he says this as he is sitting next to Simone’s father while at his nursing job. The father who has lapsed into a coma.

The man who, several episodes later, would awaken for a bit before dying. The man who told his daughter Simone, who then told Peter, that he “had been flying all over the world but that it was a world he didn’t recognize. And there were so many people filled with pain – nobody looking out for each other - he worried for them... until you (Peter) told him everything would be okay.”

What Charles’ describes sounds like a fairly standard description of astral projection – the mind traveling outside the body. People who can project themselves in this manner describe the sensation as being very much like flying. And many astral projectors also have described seeing future events in their travels.

So imagine this – what if, after months of spending most ever day, for hours at a time, sitting next to Charles Deveaux, Peter wound up absorbing the old man’s ability to send his mind somewhere else? This would account for most of Peter’s visions of flying – the dreams he had talking with Mr. Deveaux (who also reported dreaming of Peter and seeing horrible things) and why Peter, even now a few days after his death, is having visions of the future.

Of course this theory assumes that Peter’s powers function in much the same way as a power tool – the longer on the charger, the longer the tool runs. Of course there must be some sort of permanency point (i.e. the point where the battery is fully charged) and Peter can no longer store up “more time” with that power. This begs the question of if Peter, like Rogue, is able to permanently capture a super-power.

The one problem with this theory is that Peter had his first vision six months earlier – when he saw Nathan’s car accident - before he took his job with the hospice where Charles Deveaux lived. This seems to confirm that Peter’s visions are an extension of his naturally empathic nature and not a borrowed power.


There seems to be some confusion still about exactly what powers Sylar (aka Garbriel Gray) has and might have taken. Thankfully, this is easily cleared up.

Originally, the man who would become Sylar only had one power – the ability to analyze and comprehend the imperfections and functions in a complex system. Or, to put it more simply, he can look at something and see how it works. This ability made him an expert watchmaker, able to analyze the flaw in a broken watch merely by the sound of one tick being slightly off from all the other ticks in his shop.

This ability to see how things function has enabled him, somehow, to mimic the powers of other super-powered people by “seeing what makes them tick”. He does this by looking at their brains although whether they need to be alive or dead at the time is unclear. What is clear is that the brain needs to be intact, so Eden was able to thwart his attempts to take her powers by shooting herself in the head before Sylar could study her brain.

We know that Sylar has had at least eight confirmed murders not counting the ones we have seen on screen. What powers he may have is unknown, but he has been shown to rely exclusively upon the telekinesis granted to him by his first victim. His method for analyzing brains, involves telepathically cutting their heads open and then examining how the brain works before altering his own brain to match the same pattern.

It is worth noting though that all of the other powers Sylar might have manifested (bullet-proof skin, enhanced speed, cold control) could explain be explained away by telekinesis, assuming he had the level of control needed to stop bullets before they could break his skin (telekinetic force field), increase his own speed or fly by telekinetically lifting his own weight or induce a complete stop of molecular motion, flash-freezing a person solid in moments.


The big abiding theory on Nikki from day one was that she had some form of MPD (Multiple-Personality Disorder) or DID (Disassociative-Identity Disorder) and that only her “other self” was able to access Nikki’s powers. To me, this seems highly unlikely.

I was a psychology student for a while and the honest truth is that we know very little about MPD and DID (indeed, there is an argument in professional circles as to whether there is any difference between the two) and what little we do know would disallow for the idea of a second personality gradually taking over the life of first, ala Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde.

Given how well versed the series has been in researching other areas (temporal physics and such), I can’t believe the writers would skimp on this area if they wanted to maintain a realistic continuity. Thankfully, there is one other theory that, in light of the last two episodes, would work perfectly: Possession.

Oh, stop snickering. I’ve seen you types on the message boards before. “Oh...Nikki’s possessed by her dead sister! That’s too unrealistic!” And yet you have no trouble with the concepts of artists who can see the future, politicians that can fly, Indian boys who can enter people’s dreams or women who spontaneously grow a weird tattoo on their shoulder whenever their multiple personality takes over?

From the storyteller’s viewpoint, it makes sense. There have been stories of twins who had a physical connection that defied explanation, Alexandre Dumas’ The Corsican Brothers being perhaps the best known. And even in the real world there are stories of twins who “just knew” when the other one was in danger.

All other things being equal, is it that much of a stretch to think that perhaps... just perhaps... a dying spirit might be able to attach herself to her twin sister? Or that maybe – if you really want to get into possible superpowers – maybe Jessica’s power was that she was telepathic and in the moment of stress when she died, she managed to psychically imprint herself in her sister? Or maybe she was able to take over people’s bodies without their permission? Or maybe Nikki’s power is that she’s really a medium and that she can talk to/be possessed by the dead? The possibilities are endless, really.

Of course if that were the case, why would Jessica have only just manifested within the last six months if she died in 1987?

I admit, this all seems unlikely. But no more so than Nikki, who obviously has some emotional problems (history with her dad, AA member) just now developing DID or MPD without any obvious warning signs in her past. Repressed childhood memories will only do so much.

Perhaps it isn’t an either/or statement. Nikki has problems; there’s no doubt of that. But could she be screwed up to the point that her superpowers only manifested through her Dissaociative-Identity? I think this is possible, but unlikely. Perhaps the stress in Nikki's life is what enabled Jessica to find a way to return to some limited facsimile of living. Whatever the case, Nikki/Jessica's existence is proof of Shakespeare's old line "There are more things in heaven and earth...Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."


We don’t have much direct information on this at all, apart from his offhand remark that “I’m not part of any organization that has Initials” and that whoever they are, they have a need for secrecy. That would rule out the FBI (whom Matt and Audrey are working for anyway), CIA, NSA and all of the other secretive organizations that we Americans love to blame for everything in our speculative fiction.

Given the fact that Mr. Bennett, The Haitan and Eden were working independent of recognized legal authority at a time when they almost certainly could have gained assistance if they were working for the government (i.e. most of the ‘Homecoming’ episode), I think we can safely assume that they don’t work for any recognized institution of the United States Government.

One thing we do know for certain is that the organization (and, by extension, its’ agents) seem to be more concerned with preserving life and studying metahumans than containing any threat posed by people with superpowers.
- When Mr. Bennett captured Matt, they were trying to conduct a medical test. (Collision)
- When they tried and failed to capture Nathan, Mr. Bennett had a gun drawn but at no point did he fire a shot or even threaten to shoot Nathan when he ran. (Hiros)
- In the one conversation we see Mr. Bennett having with his superiors, they seem to be more interested in studying Sylar despite the dangers Mr. Bennett tells them are inherent in keeping him alive. (Fallout)

This seems to suggest that the organization is corporate or medical in nature. And since a corporation would probably see little benefit in studying genetic anomalies or authorizing gun-carrying agents to kidnap people out of their homes (unless we descend into Generic Evil Corporation land), it seems most likely that Mr. Bennett is being employed by a non-profit health organization of some kind.

Which means he could be working for the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for all we know. Except they’re an organization with letters. Darn! Almost had it! :)


One of the bigger questions to come up regarding the show - and the powers displayed by Peter, Issac and Hiro in particular – is the degree to which fate and predestination play upon the physics of the world. This leads us to ask some basic questions.

1) Is it possible to change the past/future?

Obviously, this is possible to some degree. The Hiro from the future wouldn’t have bothered to come back to talk to Peter and tell him to “save the cheerleader, save the world” in the present otherwise.

It also doesn’t make sense from a writing standpoint. Why bother allowing a person the ability to see the future or travel in time in the first place? In terms of story, there’s no heroic emotional pay-off to be found in a person who can see the future but is powerless to change it. Likewise with a time-traveler.

To borrow a phrase from Piers Anthony, Issac and Hiro’s powers would be “spot on the wall” magic if they didn’t have some ability to initiate change – they can magically put spots on the wall, but what real use would it be?

2) Does Issac draw what WILL happen or what MIGHT happen?

So far, everything we’ve seen Issac draw has happened, as pictured. It’s what we don’t see in the moments in between “frames” that make the pictures confusing. For instance, we saw a picture of a dead blonde cheerleader. There still was a dead blonde cheerleader – it just wasn’t Claire.

3) Future Hiro referred to “risking a rift”. What is a rift?

Rift is used alternatively as a term for a) a portal in time and space allowing people to travel across great distances and across time instantly and b) a hole in the fabric of space-time caused by a complication or paradox.

It seems that Future Hiro is using the latter meaning of this word as a temporal rift would indeed be something a time traveler would try to avoid creating.

4) Is there a higher power or plan involved in just when and where time can be changed?

It does seem like there is something that stops Hiro from doing things that would create a paradox – a conflict in the continuity of the time stream. Whether this is the laws of the universe, a subconscious-reflex that brings Hiro back to where he should be automatically or some higher power directly influencing Hiro is unclear.

Consider how Hiro goes back in time to try and save Charlie. Logically, if he does stop her from going to work that day and being killed by Sylar, then he’ll never have a reason to go back in time, which means he never have gone back to have saved her...

Perhaps this is why Hiro is unable to go back to that period again after being kicked back to present-day Japan right before kissing Charlie – the paradox he almost created made a “rift” that prevents him from going back to that point in time. This seems to be backed up by Hiro’s Blog, in which he states that it took him “many months to get back to where I came from and the only way was by a bus.”

There’s no logical reason why Hiro couldn’t have used his powers to directly return back to Ando in the present unless there was some kind of temporal interference. It would also explain why Future Hiro goes to Peter and sets him in motion to save Claire, since his powers will not allow him to get to Midland at the right time because of the rift he created earlier.

This is all just my personal theory, of course. But I like it better than the rather endless parade of theories I have heard involving grandfather paradoxes and God Almighty refusing to let Hiro get laid.

5) Is there any sign of predestination at work in the series?

None at all, really.

One might argue that Hiro’s attempts to save Charlie were stopped because of her death being predestined. The problem with that theory is that if her death was predestined, than Hiro’s journey into the past to save her was also predestined. Either everything is set in stone or nothing is.

This means that Hiro’s trip to the past was always meant to have happened, then everyone in the diner should have known who Hiro was the first time he walked in with Andro. Nobody, not even Charlie, knew who Hiro was despite his working there for several months in the past!


One thing I have not seen anyone discuss so far regarding Heroes is the constant recurring theme of Logic/Emotion. Of course most conflict is, in some part, based upon this exchange. But in Heroes, the conflict is more physical than metaphysical. To give some examples…

Nikki/Jessica – logically, the best thing for Nikki probably would be for her to leave her criminal husband and run away somewhere with Micha. But she doesn’t, because despite everything, she does love DL and wants to raise their child with him. This conflicts with the more logical Jessica living inside her and leads to Jessica taking over to give Nikki what Jessica thinks is best for her.

Peter/Nathan – is there anything that personifies conflict better than older sibling/younger sibling? I think not. But apart from the obvious personal conflicts between the two characters, there is a higher conflict between the impulses of “I think” and “I feel”. Nathan is a thinker. Peter is a feeler. Nathan looks at how things are. Peter imagines how they might be.

Ando/Hiro – another thinker/feeler pairing.

Peter/Sylar – Both characters have a capacity to mimic the abilities of others but they go about this in completely different ways. Sylar’s power allows him to mimic the powers of others through analysis of how things work – pure, cold logic. Peter’s powers allow him to copy the abilities of others empathically – pure, warm emotional goodness. This seems to be the big conflict the show is building toward for the end of the season but it is also the biggest metaphysical conflict regarding the Thought Versus Feeling paradigm.

Tune in next week. Same Matt time. Same Matt website.


  1. Actually the Nikki being possessed/powered by her dead sister's ghost has a precedent in the DC hero Captain Triumph...

  2. Yes, I know. I've mentioned that on one of the forums where I've been fielding questions on the series.
    Thing is - you ever try and get a modern comics fan to believe ANYTHING you tell them about The Golden Age? I still can't get some of my friends to believe Madame Fatale was a real character concept.

  3. Sadly 90% of my knowledge of Golden Age characters comes from Robinson's Golden Age and Starman, The remaining 10% comes from comics blogs where there seems to be a lot of Golden Age and Silver Age fandom...