Real Heroes #1

There are some stories you read for the characters; there are some you read for the concept; and there are some you read for the craft -- like Bryan Hitch's creator-owned "Real Heroes" #1.

The premise of this series has been most succinctly pitched as "the cast of the Avengers does the Galaxy Quest thing," and it's a promising enough idea. The actors in the world's most famous superhero franchise discover that everything they've been acting out has actually occurred in another world's New York City. In execution, however, it's noticeably generic. The cast is standard, and the dialogue is heavy on the info dumps. The only treat here is watching Hitch's visual storytelling.

When he gives himself space, he knows how to make a story move. He's often described as having a cinematic feel to his work, and it's true that the eight pages of in-movie panels are larger than life. They include some very obvious parallels/parodies of "The Avengers" franchise, from the design of The Patriot's costume to the explicit comparison of one character to Robert Downey Jr. That said, this book isn't boring enough to go for straight parody. (After all, this version has two women! And a black man! Real-life Hollywood would never be so bold.)

There are some less smooth movements in the non-action sequences, however. Much of the issue is taken up with a Hollywood movie premiere, and all those talking heads and crowds eventually feel cluttered. Hitch does his best, switching angle and scope in just about every panel, but it's still clear this isn't his comfort zone. Luckily, the last third of the story picks right up. The final two-page spread is just about perfect: wide scope, varied faces, doomsday-meets-dawn lighting from Laura Martin, and smart lettering on that last line from Chris Eliopoulos.

While the movie premiere didn't work for me, I did like it thematically. This is a story about the fictional becoming real, and Hitch amps up the question of fantasy versus reality by incorporating a great deal of television narration into the story. It emphasizes how many modern experiences are in a way 'scripted' by an overarching media narrative. All of the trauma in this issue is narrated by TV newscasters, who are by definition providing not just facts but also, in some way, entertainment.

Even the opening page plays on the audience's expectations for the superhero genre. It begins with a disaster sequence that many would assume is another fictional city under attack, but it quickly becomes apparent that it's about the very real and very devastating events of 9/11. (The appropriateness or not of incorporating 9/11 is a worthy topic of discussion, but probably best left to another day and a longer piece.) Similarly, when villains attack the movie premiere, the entire event is carried through by CNN Live summary.

My chief complaint is on the writing front. I'm a character reader by nature, and the characters introduced here are painted in very broad strokes - aside from the women, who aren't even given that much personality. Much of the problem comes from a lack of editing. Hitch actually drops a fair amount of information about these characters - their causes, their diets, their acting careers - but none of it tells the audience anything about them as people. The TV approach unfortunately lends itself to a whole lot of telling and almost no showing, and as a result the issue is wordy without any payoff.

In the end, Hitch shows that he can make a story work on the page. But he needs to make it work in the reader's head for this series to be a success.

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