I have seen the first hour of the two-hour premiere of the new season of “Heroes,” and I’d just like to dispel a rumor that’s been floating around the ‘net: the episode does not begin with Sylar standing in the shower, assuring Claire that Season 2 was just a bad dream.

Poor Tim Kring. He’s spent the last year having to deal with non-stop comments about how the second season of “Heroes” didn’t live up to the expectations that had been set by the first season, so much so that he felt obliged to go on the record with Entertainment Weekly and apologize to the fans. But don’t feel too badly for him: Kring’s reputation is already on the mend, courtesy of this first hour of Season 3 (subtitled “Villains”), of which the producers of “Heroes” were so proud that they debuted it at Comic-Con way back in July.

Our man Jason Zingale was on the scene at the time…yes, that’s right, he saw it before I did, the bastard…but sadly for those who love their spoilers, he was willing to say precious little about what he’d witnessed.

“I’d like to talk more about what I saw, but I simply don’t want to ruin the experience,” he said, in his original blog entry. “All I’ll say for now is that it is mind-blowing, and it’s exactly what the series needs after season two was interrupted by the strike. Some cliffhangers are explained and others aren’t. New characters with powers are introduced, while older characters reveal new powers of their own. And perhaps most importantly, it’s all done with a comic flair that was sorely missing from last year’s mini-season.”

Having now seen it for myself, I have no arguments with any of his statements. It really does feel like a return to form for the series…though, of course, let’s be honest: given how long it’s been since we last saw a new episode of the show – can you believe the last one aired on Dec. 3, 2007? – isn’t it possible that our desire for more “Heroes” might be making us a little bit more forgiving than we might otherwise be?

Sure, it’s possible…but when you see it for yourself on Monday, I’m pretty sure you, too, will agree that the series hasn’t been this much like a live-action comic book since Season 1.

As you’ve probably already heard, NBC is beginning Monday night with a one-hour recap of the first two seasons of “Heroes,” in order to make sure everybody’s caught up on all the goings-on before they jump headlong into Season 3, so there’s no point in wasting too much of your time here when you’re probably going to watch that, anyway. (Plus, if you’re really that desperate, you can always bounce right over here to see my blogs for every previous episode of the series.) But if you want just a quick refresher of how Season 2 ended, here are your bullet points:

* Peter and Hiro defeated Adam, stopped him for releasing the virus, and Hiro left Adam trapped in a coffin, buried alive.
* Niki may or may not have died in the explosion that Monica and Monica barely escaped from.
* Noah Bennett, a.k.a. HRG, is working for The Company again, and Claire – who was on the verge of exposing the organization to the world – probably isn’t real thrilled about it, even if she and her family do get yet another shot at a normal life.
* Maya narrowly survived an attack by Sylar, and Sylar narrowly escaped capture by Elle, but Elle ended up a hero nonetheless, having saved the lives of Maya, Mohinder, and Molly.
* Nathan, on the verge of publicly revealing his ability to fly, was shot by an unseen assailant, an event which inspires his mother to basically say, “Eh, had to happen eventually.”

Now, I’m not going to lavish you with spoilers for what you’ll see after the recap, because…okay, I know it’s a total cop-out, but as far as what unfolds, you really ought to experience it for yourself. But in case you’re on the fence about tuning in, I will at least let you know that the names “George Takei,” “Malcolm McDowell,” and “Stephen Tobolowsky” both appear in the credits, and long-rumored guest-stars Bruce Boxleitner and William Katt will also pop up before your 11 PM local newscast.

Sold yet…?

Thought so.

Catch the back-to-back first two episodes of Season 3 – “The Second Coming” and “The Butterfly Effect” on Monday night, starting at 9 PM, and meet me back here a little bit later, so we can discuss our respective thoughts on what we’ve seen.