LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & Heros & r & & r & (Mondays, 9 pm, NBC) & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & ne day, a cheerleader in Texas learns she's indestructible. A Manhattan comic artist realizes he can paint the future. A bored Japanese flack accidentally begins teleporting and, later, controlling time. Heroes began with a series of normal, unconnected people across the world, discovering extraordinary powers. It will end its first season, though, with Peter Petrelli -- gifted with the power to absorb other powers -- blowing up the world.
Or, at least, that's what the comic artist, Isaac Mendez (Santiago Cabrera), has foreseen. He's dead now, though. A rogue sociopath named Sylar (Zachary Quinto) lopped off his brain-pan with telekinesis last week and poked about inside his brain, quite literally looking for the secret to his clairvoyance. He found it. God help us.
Sylar is obviously a bad guy. Mr. Linderman (Malcolm McDowell), whom we've just met, is less obviously so. Though a mobster, he heals with touch, after all, and was the creator of a hippie-ish commune of first-generation mutants who sought world harmony. (The show doesn't call them mutants, but that's what they are.) Trouble is, Linderman wants to achieve that harmony by helping facilitate Petrelli's power overload, destroying New York and shocking the world into unity. Petrelli, being the hospice nurse and generally nice guy he is, would prefer not to be blown up. And so we are at an impasse.
Heroes is heavy on mythos but light on allegory. For a show this indebted to comics (especially X-Men) that's a good thing. The perennial allegories of long-running comics (commonly jingoism, fear, identity, alienation) tend to either disappear beneath dozens of issues of violence, robots and tangled love, or else to become so drawn-out and ponderous that they quash the medium's easiest sells: thrills and kinetic sensationalism.
With dense characterization and decent acting (though Hayden Panettiere, who plays the cheerleader, is truly bad), the roots of a rich, fabulistic story are there. They're just waiting to be cultivated.
Comics are storytelling's longest form, developing over decades and often not hitting their stride for years. The Heroes team has borrowed everything from comics -- to their credit, nothing less than an understanding of the interplay between quick-paced action and slow maturation of characters and symbols. For Season One at least, they've rightly chosen to excite first and ask questions later.
Since it began chronicling the pre-super life of Superman, Smallville has mined the aspect of comics that most other superhero shows avoid -- cloying, teenage melodrama. Only one episode left before the Season Six finale. (CW, Thursdays, 8 pm)
In the course of Season One (on ABC Family, y'all), Kyle went from being a non-communicative teenage savant with no belly button wandering naked in a Seattle-area forest to being a status-quo-questioning emergent superhero. Season Two doesn't begin until June, but series neophytes will want to catch up with reruns, which the Fam broadcasts religiously. (ABC Family, Mondays, 8 pm)
Though the title oozes all sorts of post-apocalyptic comic book and sci-fi potential, this one's about good ol' terrorism. Two grad-school homies are made scapegoats in a library bombing by their classmate Will Traveler, who, upon further inspection, appears never to have existed. Originally slotted for a fall debut with 13 episodes, then moved to May and cut back to eight, the show still has considerable buzz. (ABC, Thursday, May 10, at 10 pm)