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A 'Heroes' Welcome

Comic-book fans have been salivating over NBC's "Heroes" since it was previewed at July's Comic-Con. The network will feature a series of online comics related to the show on its web site, and there's even a print comic that plays a role in the on-screen story.

Yet for all that, the show's creator, Tim Kring, has never been an avid comics reader. Which, he says, may end up being an advantage.

"I've heard several people who are in the comic book world talk about how they've always wanted to see a show like this," says Kring, who also created "Crossing Jordan" for NBC. "But they felt that nobody who had a very strong background in comic books could have come up with it in the same way as somebody who didn't."

What Kring has crafted is a mysterious, ambitious series that follows a number of people discovering they have extraordinary powers, ranging from flight to reading people's thoughts to the ability to manipulate time and space. The show's cast, some of whom won't be introduced until after Monday's premiere, includes Milo Ventimiglia ("Gilmore Girls"), Greg Grunberg ("Alias"), Ali Larter ("Final Destination 2"), Masi Oka ("Scrubs") and Hayden Panettiere ("The Book of Daniel").

For the most part, the characters aren't thrilled to have their new powers (the show posits they're the result of a leap in human evolution). Only Oka's Hiro, a Tokyo office worker, fully embraces his newfound abilities.

"He's a big comic-book enthusiast," Oka says of the character. "He learns that he can bend time and space ... and he's just absolutely exhilarated with the fact that he can. It's been his dream all along, so he's finally vindicated."

Grunberg plays an L.A. cop named Matt Parkman who starts hearing other people's thoughts. He's with Kring in thinking that suddenly being imbued with extraordinary abilities might be a little hard to take.

"The way Tim is writing this character all these characters is in a real personal way and what would actually happen if you woke up and you had this superpower," says Grunberg, who makes his first appearance in the series' second episode. "It wouldn't necessarily just be an incredible thing. It would also be something very difficult to deal with."

The suggestion that the heroes (and villains) of "Heroes" have somehow evolved differently from other humans brings to mind the X-Men, but Kring says the characters won't all be brought together in a super-team. They will, however, cross paths with one another.

"These characters do start to cross in sort of interesting and coincidental and unexpected ways, which is one of the things that I was most kind of fascinated with," he says. "I think the audience is going to be really fascinated with participating in trying to guess and predict how these characters are going to cross paths."

Although Kring himself is not a big comic-book guy -- in part, he says, because he has a reading disorder that makes it tough for him to process the way a comic's story is presented -- "Heroes" nonetheless has its genre bona fides. Its staff includes avowed fanboys like "Alias" veteran Jesse Alexander and Jeph Loeb, a comic-book author ("Batman: The Long Halloween") and former writer-producer on "Smallville."

Kring, too, has taken a "crash course" in comics, though he tries not to dig too deeply for fear that his own take on the superhero genre will become too derivative of others'.

"One of the things that I found was I kept reinventing the wheel," he says. "And I finally decided that well, this has been done 90 times already, and I can either not do it or just try to do it in my own way. So I chose the latter."

Among the things Kring has adopted from comics, though, is a storytelling style that allows for good-sized revelations in each episode -- although they tend to raise as many questions as they answer -- and frequent cliffhangers of varying size.

"For us as writers, these twists and turns are actually the engine that's allowing us to generate even more story. So it's a very exciting way to tell stories," he says. "... We try to set out to do a show where we were going to make a different kind of pact with the audience that if you watch our show, something is actually going to happen each week. And so far, we've really been able to do it."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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