No masks. No powers. No heroics. Those are the rules that grace the front door to the superheroes-only bar called The Fortress. Guarded by Thundermonkey, the bouncer whose ability to summon monkeys in as little as forty-five minutes is one of the few authorized for use in the pub where superheroes come to unwind in “No Heroics,” the British television series created by Drew Pearce.
“No Heroics” follows the lives of The Hotness (with heat-based powers), Timebomb (who can see into the future), Electroclash (who controls electronics), and She-Force (super-strength) as they deal with friendship, sex, failure, and the fact that everybody wants to be famous nowadays, something that encroaches terrifyingly on their territory. In a world where costumed characters are increasingly commonplace, the crew ceaselessly bickers and argues about how to maintain their tenuous status as icons. The show ends its first series with episode six October 23 on Britain’s ITV, and CBR News caught up with creator Drew Pearce to talk with him about the cult favorite show.
Pearce has been a fan of comics since he was a kid, and like many U.K. children started with a love of “2000 A.D.” “Though I was never really into Judge Dredd,” he told CBR. “I wanted to be Chopper, not some lame-ass judge! I loved Rogue Trooper and Strontium Dog and, of course, Zenith. Ãƒ‘€šÃ‚Â That character and his world of eighties UK superheroes are still one of my favourite ever comics, and ‘No Heroics’ is definitely the product of that and everything that I've loved since then.”
Other comics Pearce credits with influencing “No Heroics” include works by Alan Moore, Briand Michael Bendis, Mark Millar, Chris Claremont, John Byrne, Brian K. Vaughan, Kurt Busiek, Dan Slott and Warren Ellis. “It was amazing when [Ellis] said he actually liked the show,” Pearce remarked.
The “No Heroics” creator also found inspiration for the show by drawing from his own life experiences as a musician. “In some ways, the feel of the show is based on my time playing in terrible, no-mark indie bands,” he explained. “We'd basically rehearse for an hour, then go for the pub for five hours, where we'd sit around the ‘NME’ bitching about other people's reviews and the fact that we're not as famous as everyone else. Just like the heroes do in the show. However, nobody in my bands had superpowers (as far as I was aware), but somewhere in my brain, the loser superhero and loser band experiences must have fused, and the Brundlefly that popped out was called ‘No Heroics.’”
Every week, the opening credits of “No Heroics” are modified to show different heroes in normal situations, like the Blue Beetle-esque Praying Mantis mowing the lawn. Pearce admits this motif is a reiteration of “The Simpsons” blackboard joke, but says it’s also a way to showcase characters you would not normally see in costume. “I wanted to give a sense that there's an actual universe of heroes in ‘No Heroics,’ that they weave in and out of the stories like in a comics universe, and the opening is a good place to see them,” Pearce said. “All of the opening characters - Valhalla, Gloryvixen, Microid, Praying Mantis, Astroburn - have bigger or smaller parts elsewhere in the series. Some of them are featured comedy actors - like Tony Way as Praying Mantis and Dan Clark as Astroburn in the superhero therapy of episode five. But sometimes they're more subtle, or just part of the universe.”
The opening credits also allow Pearce to advance the story of some minor characters in the “No Heroics” universe. “So the Gloryvixen sex tape mentioned in episode one leads to that character barging past Alex (out of costume) in the opening Fortress scene,” he explained. “Later in the series, we see Gloryvixen pushing a baby buggy in one of the pre-titles, then in therapy. And all of those characters are seen in The Fortress, dressed in their off-duty clothes, throughout the whole run of the show. The irony, of course, is that I may well be the only person who gives a shit about any of it.”
Those minor characters like Thundermonkey, played by Jim Howick, have developed their own cult following, as Pearce quickly found out. “I'm loving that he's already turned into the Boba Fett of ‘No Heroics,’ but probably my favourite minor character is Mister Ish in episode four,” Pearce remarked. “He's basically an annoying magic-based superhero who tries to steal some red wine using an incantation at the start of an episode. Ben the director picked a guy called Steve from the extras agency to play Mister Ish, and then on the morning of his scenes, I met him, took him to wardrobe and make-up to whip him into sorcerory shape, and we chatted a bit then got on with the rest of our day. After lunch, one of the crew came up to us to say that someone had drawn a picture for us.
“And it was such a pleasure and a surprise to see someone go that quickly from stranger to fan of the show, and then to being part of its creative mythos. Because, obviously, from then on Mister Ish got upgraded to being in loads of scenes. In fact, Steve a.k.a. Mister Ish just sent me a second bit of ‘No Heroics’ art which is on my MySpace. It's basically the biggest complement someone can pay you, and one of the joys of an unfolding universe of characters.”
“No Heroics” fans will be surprised to learn the main characters were envisioned much differently than they eventually appeared in the finished pilot episode. “In various versions of the show, the group of friends have been bigger, smaller, more superhero-y, more real, and even, at one point, a superhero team themselves,” Pearce explained. “In fact, at one point they were going to fight together as a team called The Influence. But a lot of that stuff ends up getting chucked out, as you realize you're trying to find characters that give you jokes and funny situations and a bit of reality.”
Those fans who saw the “No Heroics” set visit on YouTube were surprised by the attention to detail and the level of comic book “easter eggs” to be found. “It was in the show all along,” Pearce said. “From the beginning, I knew I wanted ‘No Heroics’ to work entirely on a non-parody level — as long as you understood the basic tenets of a superhero universe, you could move past that pretty quickly, I think, and enjoy the comedy of a bunch of mates bickering and jostling for success. But with the existence of nearly a century's worth of superhero lore, and as an enormous comic book fan myself, it seemed stupid and sacrilegious to ignore the legacy. So I had the idea of a second tier of visual imagery, which we lovingly called Geek Detail, that’s there for me and you and the other millions of people who do actually care about superhero culture. Then, all of my crappy puns like Shazamstell and Gin City were superbly rendered by an amazing art team led by Dick Lunn (‘Spaced,’ ‘Hot Fuzz,’ etc). So they make my stupid ideas look good.”
As for Pearce’s favorite reference, it would probably be the bottle of alcohol marked “Logan’s Rum.” ”I'm a big Wolverine fan and fan of the film ‘Logan's Run,” Pearce said, “So it works as a double pun. Or it's twice as crappy, depending on how you look at it.”
Between the easter eggs in the set design and the healthy back-story for even the most minor of characters, one would think the “No Heroics” series “bible” would be quite lengthy — and they would be correct. “The ‘No Heroics’ show bible is huge,” Pearce confirmed. “And like all bibles, it contradicts itself on every other page, has lots of rules that no one in the show actually follows, but is hopefully the basis for loads of really cracking stories. However, there are probably more gay blowjobs in the ‘No Heroics’ bible than in most other similar works.”
With such a huge bible, the show seems ripe for webisodes and graphic novel tie-ins much like those associated with “Heroes” or “Battlestar Galactica.” “Unsurprisingly, it's the kind of thing I think about all the time,” Pearce said. “And if we get a second series, it'll open up chances to do a lot of universe expansion that we didn't have the resources for this time. There are loads of characters - Fusebox, Doomball, Astroburn, Tidalwave to name a few - who'd perfectly suit little webisodes, just a chance to catch up with those characters. And of course, I’d love to do a graphic novel to tie-in, and we’re talking to some interesting people about ‘No Heroics’ in comic form, so fingers crossed. I'm really excited to show some of the ‘front of house’ action that goes on in the ‘No Heroics’ world.
“The dark history of Timebomb's badassery is a rich seam I'm keen to mine, for example. In black ops, Don used to pull off the kind of shit that would give the Punisher panic attacks. And Excelsor is a character whose powers we never get to see in the show, partly because it maintains the mystery of him, but partly because I don't have the hundreds of thousands of pounds that demonstrating his awesome powers would entail onscreen. But in a comic, we could really see what Excelsor, the most famous cape in ‘No Heroics’ land and by his own admission ‘a diamond-tipped thermonuclear fuckhammer,’ can really do. I'd buy that, even if I wrote it myself.”
While the show has received considerable critical acclaim, Pearce is unsure as to whether or not “No Heroics” will come back for a second series. “The reviews have been amazing, particularly for a first series of a comedy in the UK, where people tend to go in pretty nasty right from the go-get,” he said. “I think we're officially the best reviewed new comedy this year in the UK (whatever the fuck that means). So that's been a lovely surprise. The figures have been solid cable fare, and have started to rise, which is also really positive.”
Helping to earn that praise from viewers and critics is the “No Heroics” cast. “You finally get to put the show on tape, and suddenly you have this amazing group of actors,” Pearce said. “So when you come to write the series, you can mold the characters based on what you know of the people playing them. I mean, I adore Timebomb on the page, but what James Lance does with him on screen is amazing. And the whole point about Excelsior is that nobody other than Pat Baladi could make the things he says broadcastable, let alone charming. Then you have Nick Burns, Rebekah Staton, Claire Keelan - I mean, they're an amazing cast, and I'm bloody lucky to have them in my little show.”
The last episode of the first series of “No Heroics” airs this Thursday, October 23 on ITV, and is the last chance for fans to tune in and have their voices be heard. “If people like the show, I'd urge them to watch it and talk about it on their blogs, and tell as many people about it as possible,” Pearce said. “Because it's a UK series, we only get six episodes to prove ourselves before they decide whether we go again. And it takes time to fall in love with a TV show, particularly when you're purposefully spiky like ours is, but hopefully now some people have, and I'd love the chance to really stretch our legs with a second series.”
Not all “No Heroics” fans are in the United Kingdom, as word of mouth and the internet have carried the show worldwide. “If BitTorrents were viewing figures, we'd have been commissioned for a ten-year run by now,” Pearce remarked. “Unfortunately, that's not really the way the world works. Though I have appreciated the opportunity to see the word ‘hate-fuck’ translated into Spanish.”
What can non-British fans do to support the show? It's simple, just keep talking about it. “Just spread the word,” Pearce said. ”If you like the show, let people know (that's not meant to be some lame rhyme). Do drawings, make ludicrous pronouncements, record folk songs, do special virility dances to the gods of TV. Because I think in the bad old days, shows would just be judged on ratings alone, and god knows, every show needs ratings of some kind if it can get them. But I think the geek community - which I'd consider myself a humble part of - is as powerful as any mainstream demographic these days. I mean, just look at ‘The Dark Knight!’ It's our fucking world right now! So we should just keep doing what we've always done - loving things to the point of mania, then boring everyone stupid who hasn't about them yet. It's what we do, and we do it oh so well. And I for one would love to see ‘No Heroics’ in the US.”