HEROES returns this Monday and I for one can’t wait. Reading the blogosphere the past few days, I can’t help but wonder if I’m alone in this.
I’ve read more than a few blogposts involving HEROES in the past few weeks. Some, such as a statement made by one man (“Not even comics have managed to shove so many women into so many fridges in a single storyline.”) made me wonder just how many comics they read to think that statement is even close to accurate.
Some, such as Hourly Bookseller‘s statistical analysis which shows how very little conversation occurs solely between female characters on the show, gave me something to think about though I question the accuracy of any statistics that draw upon a pool that features only 2 female characters in a sample size of 13.
I even read one comment on someone else’s review of the HEROES DVDs (which I can’t find now, else I’d link to it) by someone who freely admitted to having never seen the show but how she “knew” it was without merit because Jeph Loeb was a writer on it.
Now before I get accused of being an apologist fanboy, let me make one thing plain right now – I agree that that HEROES has indulged in more than a few sexist cliches of genre writing. Too many female characters, such as Simone Deveaux and Charlie Andrews, have no independent purpose in the story. Simone has no value other than as a dramatic wedge between the uneasy heroic alliance between Peter and Isaac and Charlie has no reason to exist other than to give Hiro the kick in the pants he needs to see heroism as a serious matter and not an adventure.
Even the two major female characters, Claire Bennet and Niki Sanders, are often defined by a role rather than their personality – Niki is a mother, Claire is a cheerleader. And even if they don’t fit that stereotype over the course of the story, it’s still a disturbing thing to think about even as a subtext to the narrative.
However, I think that the quality in other areas of writing as well as the great performances of a stellar ensemble cast have mitigated a lot of these cliches. In short, the good outweighs the bad.
That’s why I’m writing this right now; because I can’t abide the thought of people refusing to watch a good show after taking advice from critics who are passing judgement on something that they haven’t watched and only know about by having read someone else’s critique or because of bad statistics. That’s why I’m going to count the actual number of male and female deaths in the series relative to The Official WiR and MiR lists on HeroesWiki.
DEFINITION OF TERMS
These lists cover both the Heroes TV series and the on-line comic series but for the purposes of this analysis, we will limit ourselves to events that happen in the show.
Deaths will include any “fake deaths” (i.e. any time Peter or Claire physically “die” but are later restored by their powers) that occur as well as deaths that occur in alternate timelines, such as Future Claire’s death at the hands of Future Sylar.
Minor characters are defined as any character with a non-speaking part (such as James Walker and his wife, who appear only as murder victims) or characters who have speaking parts in no more than three episodes, such as Charlie Andrews.
# of women who are subjected to physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual violence according to the WiR list: 17
# of men who are subjected to physical, psychological, emotional, or sexual violence according to the MiR list: 23
# of total women’s deaths (including multiple deaths): 11
These women are:
* Claire Bennet (once by Brody Mitchum during attempted rape, once by Sylar in alternate future)
* Charlie Andrews (killed by Sylar)
* Simone Deveaux (accidentally shot by Isaac)
* Virginia Gray (accidentally killed by Sylar)
* Eden McCain (suicide, inspired by need to stop Sylar from stealing her powers)
* Dale Smither (killed by Sylar)
* Karen Sprague (indirectly killed by husband Ted’s radiation powers)
* Mrs. Walker (killed by Sylar)
* Jackie Wilcox (killed by Sylar)
* Candice Wilmer (killed by Sylar in alternate future)
# of total men’s deaths (including multiple deaths): 18
These men are:
* Noah Bennet (killed by Matt Parkman in alternate future)
* Brian Davis (killed by Sylar)
* Charles Deveaux (dies from illness)
* D.L. Hawkins (killed by Sylar in alternate future)
* The Haitian (killed by Mohinder Suresh in alternate future)
* Mr. Linderman (killed by D.L. Hawkins)
* Aron Malsky (killed by Jessica)
* Isaac Mendez (killed by Sylar)
* Hiro Nakamura (killed by Matt Parkman in alternate future)
* Nathan Petrelli (killed by Sylar in alternate future)
* Peter Petrelli (once after getting pushed off a roof by Claude Raines, twice by Sylar)
* Micah Sanders (killed in alternate future by The Explosion)
* Theodore Sprague (killed by Sylar)
* Chandra Suresh (killed by Sylar)
* Zane Taylor (killed by Sylar)
* James Walker (killed by Sylar)
# of women who die violent deaths: 9
# of men who die violent deaths: 17
# of women who die violently in the main continuity: 8
# of men who die violently in the main continuity: 12
# of women whose deaths occur off-camera or whose bodies are not ever seen on camera: 1
These women are:
Candice Wilmer (whose death in an alternate future is presumed since Sylar possess her illusion powers)
# of men whose deaths occur off-camera or whose bodies are not ever seen on camera:: 4
* Charles Deveaux (whose death from illness we hear described by his daughter Simone)
* D.L. Hawkins (whose death in an alternate future is presumed since Sylar possess his phasing powers)
* Nathan Petrelli (whose death in an alternate future is confirmed when Sylar uses his flight powers and confesses to the murder)
* Micah Sanders (whose death in The Explosion of New York is mentioned by Peter in an alternate future)
# of minor female characters who die: 5
# of minor male characters who die: 6
# of minor female characters who die violently: 4
# of minor male characters who die violently: 5
# of female characters who die peacefully: 1 (Karen Sprague)
# of male characters who die peacefully: 1 (Charles Deveaux)
# of female characters forced into a unwanted sexual situation: 3
# of incidents of a female character forced into a unwanted sexual situation: 5
These incidents are:
* Claire Bennet is nearly raped by Brody Mitchum.
* Lori Tremmel, a former cheerleader, was raped by Brody Mitchum
* Niki Saunders is forced by circumstance to take a job as a stripper to pay the bills.
* Niki Saunders is forced to strip by Linderman’s thugs.
* Niki Saunders is forced to seduce Nathan Petrelli in order to pay her debts to Linderman
# of male characters forced into an unwanted sexual situation: 1
# of incidents of a male character forced into a unwanted sexual situation: 1
These incidents are:
* Isaac Mendez, who is seduced by Eden McCain’s persuasion powers as well as her sex appeal into taking heroin against his will.
As a matter of course, the number of murders between genders on average does seem to be fairly balance.
* Of all the women on the show to undergo some kind of trauma
47% were killed violently in the main storyline.
* Of all the men on the show to undergo some kind of trauma, 52.2% were murdered in the main storyline.
If you include alternate timelines, these numbers skew much higher in favor of the men.
* Of all the women on the show to undergo some kind of trauma including alternate futures, 52.9% of the women were killed violently.
* Of all the men on the show to undergo some kind of trauma including alternate futures, 73.9% of the men were killed violently.
However, if one limits this study to minor characters, a disturbing trend emerges.
* 44.4% of the women on the show who die violently are minor characters .
* 29.4% of the men on the show who die violently are minor characters.
Interestingly, every single minor character in the show who is killed in a violent manner, male or female, dies at the hands of the super-power stealing serial-killer Sylar with one exception; Aron Malsky, who was killed by super-strong assassin Jessica.
Another interesting note; except for characters killed before the introduction of the character in the second episode, every character killed by Sylar can be identifided by name. With the exception of Aron Malsky, none of the characters killed by Jessica during her murderous rampages have ever been identified by name.
Of course it goes without saying that more women over the course of the show experience a sexual assault of some kind. What is surprising and disturbing is that of the three female characters who undergo some form of sexual assault, two of them are core female protagonists – Niki and Claire – and one of them accounts for 60% of the incidents of sexual assault in the show. Compare that to the one male character who is sexually assaualted and even then the circumstances of his assault are less cut-and-dry since superpowers are being used with seduction in order to secure a non-sexual end.
With the exception of one episode that doesn’t count in the main continuity, there appears to be a fair balance of violent acts against male and female characters on HEROES. The one exception to this balance is that a greater relative percentage of minor female characters die than male characters. However, I believe the smaller female cast of the show skews these numbers somewhat and that a larger ensemble of female characters is needed to provide greater statistical balance.
There is a heavy imbalance of sexual assault against female characters in the show, but this is to be expected given the staggering high numbers of female sexual assaults compared to male sexual assaults in real life. What is not to be expectd, however, is that most of these assualts should come from the background of one character.
And yet, despite this, I cannot find it in myself to condemm HEROES completely. While there are many female characters who exist only to prop up a male protagonist, there are just as many male characters who do little other than promote a female character. This is particularly evident in the Niki Sanders storyline where husband D.L. spends most of the later half of the season proving to be an incapable parent without his wife’s support.
Indeed, while Niki’s background reads like a checklist of female superhero cliches (abused child, recovering alcoholic, possible mental illness) it cannot be denied that she is the star of her storyline and that in The Book of Life, her husband and son are her supporting cast. How many comic books about a married woman with superpowers can say that? None that I can think of. And while Niki’s journey through the first season is a primarily selfish one (she’s not trying to save the world, she just wants her family back), at the end, when it comes to a choice of running away with her family or fighting a greater evil, she’s ready to fight with the parking meter of justice.
Claire too is a surprisingly original creation. She isn’t a typical cheerleader and despite her protests of how “being a freak” could ruin her life, she is still the first character to use her powers for a totally selfless reason in the first episode- saving the life of a fireman trapped in a train-car.
Indeed, Claire is one of the most selfless characters in the show and one of the few who does good things purely because it is the right thing to do. Peter wants to do good but is also trying to find his place in the world and prove himself to his family. Hiro wants to save people but doesn’t really appreciate what that means at first and treats his quest like a video game. Even Isaac, the first character to say “I’m going to be a hero” outloud, is trying to find redemption for his drug use and win-back his girlfriend.
And despite having the old standby “I fight so nobody will suffer like me” background in how she is inspired to further heroism after surviving a rape attempt & accidental murder because of her healing powers, Claire doesn’t act like your typical victimized crime fighter. She has an attitude. And while most of the adults in her life are manipulating her in some form or fashion, Claire is defiant against any attempts to control her destiny.
Does HEROES indulged in some cliches? Of course. What comic book, opera or epic tale doesn’t? But I urge all of you reading this who haven’t given HEROES a chance yet to watch it for yourself. Forget the numbers. Forget the statistics. Just watch and feel. That’s what a good story is supposed to be about, right?
Tune in next week! Same Matt Time! Same Matt Website!
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