Thursday, October 11, 2007

That Sophomore Outing: ALIAS, HEROES, and MIDNIGHT REIGN

I’m in the middle of going over the galleys for MIDNIGHT REIGN. It’s the last time I’ll get to make corrections before the book goes to print, so I’m looking at every word, every concept very carefully. Since this is book two in a trilogy (and now a bigger series composed of trilogies), I started thinking about what makes a follow-up installment work and what doesn’t. Naturally, during a break, my mind even drifted to some of my favorite geek pursuits. It was unavoidable. ALIAS. HEROES.

But how did my fangirl musings apply to my galleys?

Well, these two shows both had/have sophomore seasons, just like Vampire Babylon, Book Two. But they developed in different ways, and I think (I hope) MIDNIGHT REIGN recalls the second season of ALIAS more than the emerging HEROES continuation.

What’s the difference between those follow-up installments for ALIAS and HEROES? Why did one please the fans while the other is causing all kinds of grumbling on a great number of message boards?

I think the big key here is that when we returned to ALIAS, the writers decided to concentrate on exploring Sydney’s character (and all the beloved returning ones) while HEROES has introduced new ones instead. Oftentimes, it even seems as if HEROES is trying to develop the old characters by seeing how they react to these unknown new forces instead of turning their gazes to what’s already been planted within. To me, this results in superficial character growth at best. With ALIAS, we delved deeper into Sydney’s family and what she’d been lacking all those years by having a “dead” mother and a distant father; in other words, the driving force of the series wasn’t spy games as much as it was Sydney coming to terms with how her rediscovered family fit into a life filled with spy games. (Oddly enough, on the surface, Dawn Madison, my Vampire Babylon heroine, is dealing with the same family dynamics, except her mom may or may not be a vampire and she can’t reconcile with her dad because he’s still missing.)

However, with HEROES, we get Hiro in Japan, interacting on a plot-only-level with those new characters. Now, as much as I love Kensei, how much are we really finding out about Hiro? Sure, he wants to kiss the princess, but I think the “romance” with Charlie from season one told us much more about what Hiro is willing to sacrifice. At the end of the last episode, when Hiro decided to stay in Japan, this introduced a possibility that we might be on a path to some character discovery. I hope. And, to be fair, we’re still at the start of season two, but with the addition of the Goo Twins (and the upcoming New Orleans characters), our time with our old favorites has been diluted, and the writers have so far made the choice to give us plot over characterization. (And I don’t want to hear that “It’s just a comic book! What do you expect?” Sorry, there are plenty of comics out there that balance characterization with plot. “Being a comic book” is no excuse.) The thing is, we know HEROES can do better. Remember “Company Man”? I do, and it gave Noah Bennet a well-rounded, very human composition. Better yet, it illuminated his family, too. There’s hope for Peter, with his “What’s in the box” identity mystery, but so far, all I know is that he’s had his shirt off most of the time.

So while I’m reading MIDNIGHT REIGN, I’m asking myself how my own sophomore outing is structured. There are new peripheral characters involved with a new mystery, but each book in the series uses a what-the-hell-is-happening prologue for its structure. Frank’s whereabouts, which some readers consider to be a main plot mystery of NIGHT RISING, wasn’t really “the big question of the book” in my view—that was Jesse Shane’s murder. Instead, I always saw the whereabouts of Dawn’s missing dad as more of a driving force for her character arc, and that’s something I strongly believe couldn’t be wrapped up in one book. Frank’s situation (which will be uncovered in MIDNIGHT REIGN) allows Dawn to keep growing; what she learns about herself by taking a closer look at him forces her to come to terms with the ugliness within herself. Although she’s trying very hard to do that, it’s a struggle. She’s developed behavior patterns over the years—defenses. Shedding them is an act of courage in itself.

But, in the end, I think that’s how Dawn will eventually become a hero, too….

No comments: