Socialist Worker

Heroes: a superpowered science fiction take on the US today

by Ken Olende
Issue No. 2060

Class act: Nathan from Heroes

Class act: Nathan from Heroes

The new US drama series Heroes places people with extraordinary physical and mental powers in a relatively ordinary world.

They are as surprised as any of us would be when they suddenly find themselves dealing with time travel or invisibility.

At the beginning of the series one character finds himself transported briefly into the near future – where he witnesses an explosion that massacres millions in New York.

Through the rest of the series various characters try to find out what will cause the explosion and whether it can be prevented.

As with much recent US television, Heroes has an underlying concern with the 11 September 2001 attacks and their consequences.

Questions are raised in the wake of a disaster that appears to come out of the blue – and the answers offered are much more sophisticated than one might expect.

One central mystery is that if this is an “us and them” situation, then who is who? As the series progresses some politicians argue for the suppression of the superpowered people. Others want to recruit them as government agents.

In the late 1930s the first superhero comic told the story of Kal-El – a refugee who escapes from the violent destruction of his society to become Superman on Earth. It was created by two Jews, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, at the time when Jewish refugees were fleeing from Nazi persecution.

Ever since, superheroes have filled a mythic gap in popular culture, which can veer from leftist political satire to brutal right wing power fantasies.

Though the brightly coloured costumes are long gone, Heroes is very much aware of this history and these contradictions.

The multi-ethnic characters come from a range of class backgrounds. However it is the rich who are centre stage, and characters such as Nathan, with money and political ambitions, are depicted as the most untrustworthy.

Heroes is complex, entertaining television, with a large cast and a convoluted but engaging plot. It shows that television science fiction can raise issues about the state of the world.

BBC2, Wednesday 25 July, 9pm

Click here to subscribe to our daily morning email newsletter 'Breakfast in red'

Article information

Tue 17 Jul 2007, 19:46 BST
Issue No. 2060
Share this article

Mobile users! Don't forget to add Socialist Worker to your home screen.