Champagne Wishes, Caviar Dreams, Mud-pie Reality.
Reality TV. Turn on your television and pick a random channel, and the chances are fairly high that you’ll be watching some sort of reality television show. The Bachelor, Joe Millionaire, Anything for Love, American Idol and dozens more purport to give you a peek into the private lives of so-called “normal” people. The major networks are stumbling over themselves trying to come up with the next innovative idea, the next reality TV darling, the next salacious and sexy hit. It seems that nothing is out of bounds. Heck, there’s even a realty TV show based on the Cirque du Soleil.
With the ratings that reality TV shows generate, it was only a matter of time before other media started trying to get a little piece of the pie. That’s where DC Comics’ new series H-E-R-O by writer Will Pfiefer and artist Kano comes in.
Of course, technically, it isn’t “Reality TV” or “Reality Comics”. H-E-R-O takes the old Dial H for HERO concept and updates it for the 21st century. The premise is simple: The “HERO Device” has the power to turn its owner into one of any number of super-powered beings. Simply dial “H-E-R-O” and you could be able to fly like Superman, run as fast as The Flash, or have the strength of The Hulk.
Seems like a dream come true, right?
The first four issues follow Jerry, a 20-something slacker stuck in a dead-end job in the town of Heaton, PA, a run-down town built around a closed auto plant. The defining moment in Jerry’s life is his one brush with greatness, the day he saw Superman. But all it has done is to convince Jerry even more fully that he is, and always will be, a loser. If Superman is the ideal, then where does a lowly soda-jerk lie on the scale of greatness?
Sure, a comic book about superheroes is about as far from “real” as it gets, but Jerry’s situation is probably pretty familiar to a lot of readers. We’ve all got our idols, the great artists, athletes, musicians, and leaders that we look up to. What young, aspiring basketball player hasn’t once said to him- or herself, “I’m never going to be as good as MJ.” What artist hasn’t looked at a masterpiece of Picasso’s and said, “How will I ever manage to be as creative as him?” Sometimes great works and great people can truly inspire us, but sometimes they can make us feel truly low.
When Jerry finds the HERO Device, he figures it will finally be his chance to do something worthwhile with his life, but of course, things don’t go anything like he’d planned. The device took things from bad to much, much worse, and soon enough Jerry is in a phone booth calling a suicide hotline.
The HERO Device could have just as well been the lottery. They say that most people who win the lottery are worse off in a few years than before they won. The problem is that the lottery, or the Device, doesn’t fix your problems, it just makes them worse. As Stan Lee said, “With great power comes great responsibility.” If you aren’t OK with yourself, if you aren’t ready to handle the responsibility of power and money, then it’ll only hurt you.
And that’s where the reality TV comparison comes in. People today are obsessed with celebrities. Obsessed with stalking them, obsessed with knowing all their dirty little secrets, but most of all, obsessed with becoming one. As the tryouts for American Idol showed, people are willing to do anything for their 15 minutes. Why else would people subject themselves to the kind of public degradation and invasion of privacy that all these shows entail?
It seems our society, especially the younger generations, is suffering from a massive inferiority complex, and quick fame looks to many like the easy cure. But is it? Do you really think that Joe Millionaire is any happier today than he was before he was selected for that show? Sure, he got that money at the end, but as the lottery shows, that can be more trouble than it’s worth. Or what about the cast of Survivor? Or The Real World? Are any of them any better off because of that show? Not likely (except, of course, for Judd, who currently writes for DC Comics). “Fame” doesn’t make your life better. You have to do it yourself.
And that’s the lesson that Jerry learns. It’s no real spoiler to tell you that there’s a happy ending, but it comes after a fairly dark journey. Pfiefer and Kano have managed to tap into the very strong current of dissatisfaction that exists amongst the youth of today, and they’ve done so with a very simple base structure. H-E-R-O is, for all intents and purposes, just an elaboration on the old moral “Be careful what you wish for.” The question now becomes if and how Pfiefer and Kano can mine that theme for enough material for an ongoing monthly series.
No one knows at this point what the shelf-life of this series is, if it will be 15 minutes, or more. But that’s really up to the creators. They are the big stars now. We’ll have to wait and see if they can handle their fame and turn it into something real, or if they’ll just be forgotten once readers decide to change the channel.