As the movie industry spirals ever-further into creative redundancy, TV shows such as The West Wing, The Sopranos and Rescue Me have delivered world-class ensemble acting and increasingly complex plotting – so complex that one author recently suggested that modern TV is making us smarter – to an ever-more demanding audience. But in recent months, one show is going even further: touching on primal fears about political manipulation, the nature of good and evil and, perhaps most interestingly, quietly introducing sigil magic to an unsuspecting audience. Meet the ‘Heroes’.
On one level Heroes is a simple show – a slow-burn, character-driven drama tracking the evolution of a group of nascent superheroes, each gifted (or cursed) with an extraordinary ability. One can fly. One can walk through walls. One can regenerate. One can read minds. One can travel through space and time. And so on.
The show charts their discovery of their powers, the various shadowy factions jostling for supremacy in the background and the inexorable journey towards a collective who can ‘save the world’. So far, so X-men. With a bit of Lost thrown in for good measure. All in all, it’s an enjoyable, if ultimately silly romp through a hackneyed genre – re-born for the post 9/11 generation.
However, what sets Heroes apart from other mainstream American television is the refreshingly dark streak that runs through the show. There’s the artist who can paint the future – but only when he’s high on crack. There’s the serial-killer, Sylar, a ‘Hero’ who absorbs other powers by sawing off people’s skullcaps and eating their brains. There’s the cheerleader who can’t die – who wakes up on an autopsy table with her innards exposed. Episode after episode the show, visually and narratively, pushes the boundaries of its genre.
Take for example, the plotline which involves a group of elder ‘Heroes’ orchestrating a catastrophic explosion in the middle of New York in order to usher in a New World Order, or even the unseen ‘company’ who may be experimenting on cross-breeding genetically superior humans in an effort (we assume) to create a race of super-human children.
+Meet. Mr. Morrison+
But, perhaps Heroes’ most radical move is, through the story of the artist who can paint the future (whilst, shock! horror! high on drugs), to introduce an unsuspecting audience to the idea of ‘sigil magic’. And this, if you’ll forgive me, is where I get out of the way for a minute and hand you over to a much smarter man than me. Press play on the video below. When you’re done watching, skip down and start reading again.
+Hiros and Guides+
So, what does all of this have to do with Heroes? Hiro Nakamura, the time-travelling samurai, is guided along his hero’s journey, not by a Obi-Wan character as you might expect, but rather by a comic-book which he acquired during a brief trip to the future. The comic book was, of course, written by Issac Mendez – the same artist who paints the future. At one point Issac explains that he placed his visions of the future into comics ‘because no-one takes comics seriously’.
Issac’s comics could be an example of sigil magic at work, where in an attempt to ‘fight the future’, he attempts to ‘write the future’, much in the same way that Grant Morrison maintained his creation of the series ‘The Invisibles’ created his own future for him – including an incident where he claims he ended up in hospital with collapsed lungs, because his fictional comic-book self suffered the same fate.
+Wilson and Leary+
It’s worth noting that none of these ideas would have been possible without the work of Robert Anton Wilson, Timothy Leary or Austin Osman Spare. Three men who the American mainstream went to considerable lengths to ignore – the same mainstream media which now routinely borrows their ideas, spirits and wit to make mega-cash gathering franchises.
So then. Drug-induced nonsense? Re-discovered technology? Quantum mechanics gone tits-up? Nerd-paranoia masquerading as a morality play? Cynical appropriation of ‘counter-culture’ to make some filthy lucre? Whatever it is, Heroes still remains one of the most interesting television shows written in years. Here’s hoping they don’t jump the shark…
Video extract from the Disinformation TV show DVD
Heroes (NBC website)
Daev on Sex Magick (and Grant Morrison)