Thursday, December 9, 2010

We Can Be Heroes

"Look at what's happened to meeee....eee, I can't believe it myself!"

In my last blog entry, I talked about villains, so this time I thought I’d give their counterparts some equal time. As I said before, I tend to prefer the villains; they have way more fun, but nevertheless, I love me a well-written hero.

Last time, I came up with some possible categories for types of villains, so let's see if I can pull off the same feat for our heroes (the way I’m defining them, they don’t have to be the protagonist, just someone, to put it simply, 'on the side of good'), again, sticking somewhat, but not entirely to the sci-fi/fantasy genres.

Hero as the Perfect Person: This category was more common back in the day – especially in comic books and young adult literature. Superman, Nancy Drew, Aragorn (in fact, many of the characters in LOTR)… you get the idea. It’s harder to pull off today, because we 21st century denizens tend to like at least little darkness in our good guys (look at the majority of television drama protagonists these days).

I can think of a couple of exceptions, keeping in mind that these people have little moments of imperfection, but for the most part, it’s the outside forces in their lives that are messed up, not them:

Jack Bauer from 24 (I’ve only seen the first 2 seasons, so I can’t vouch for subsequent episodes) – the writers can afford to make him perfect, and by that I mean beyond smart, quick, capable, moral, brave, etc., because the whole season takes place over only 24 hours, and therefore everything moves very quickly. There’s no time for deep introspection or character development. In fact if our hero were flawed, it would get in the way of the action, and he’d be less fun to watch – part of the appeal of the show is that, no matter how dire things get, you know the hero is going to triumph in the end.

John Crichton from Farscape: Crichton is an earthling stuck in another part of the universe, far, far away. The big joke of the show is that he is the very best of humanity: he’s a genius (literally a rocket scientist), unbelievably brave, unfailingly moral, athletic, attractive, kind, funny, etc., but the aliens he encounters all think he’s about as evolved as a trilobite. (Okay, more accurately, an ape.) So, the writers have fun playing with everyone’s incredibly low expectations of him (his morality especially is seen as a weakness), and his constant struggle to prove himself, and gain the trust and love of these strangers.

Pretty much every main character in Star Trek: This is, in fact, one complaint that many people had about the shows; everyone's too perfect. At least we’ll always have Lt. Reginald Barclay.

The Superhero with a Couple of Flaws and/or Weaknesses: These folks are either literally super-powered in some way, or far superior to any living human being, and therefore might as well have super powers. Most modern comic book superheroes fit into this category, as does Sherlock Holmes. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Oh, man, she can kick some undead patookis, but put that girl in a romantic relationship, guaranteed it'll eventually fall apart, and then she’ll fall apart.

Veronica Mars: (Great show, by the way, go rent it if you haven’t seen it). Veronica is one of those not-really-superpowered-but-no-person-could-possibly-be-that-clever-in-real-life types. So fun to watch her big brain work, and she always gets her man, however, like Buffy, she acts a little screwy when it comes to the boys. More than that though, she’s itty bitty teeny tiny - pocket-sized, even, and not in the least bit kick-ass. Put her in physical danger, and she’s fairly helpless. Also, she's a little - vengeful, a little hard.

As a subcategory, I’d go so far as to say that most protagonists in Hollywood films fit this bill, sans the superhero part. (He’s great, but he: lacks self-confidence/doesn’t connect with his son/can’t commit to a relationship/can’t forgive himself for his wife’s death, etc. etc.).

Hero as Everyday Schmo: Pretty self-explanatory. In sci-fi/fantasy, this person is usually tossed into extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes they become great heroes (Luke Skywalker), sometimes they just survive (Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy). Who else? Frodo and Bilbo Baggins. Many of Neil Gaiman’s protagonists. Harry Potter (despite the magical powers, I’d put him here. Everyone in his world has magical powers, and he’s hardly exceptional). Simon from Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series: In fact, a lot of fantasy books use this type of hero.

Hero as Redeemed Rogue: Han Solo! Han Solo! One of my favorite types of heroes, they’re so fun to watch/read about, and for some reason are often quite sexy. Must be the bad boy/girl thing.

Of course, it all comes back to Buffy with me – and the show excelled at portraying the Redeemed Rogue - Spike, Angel and even Anya and Andrew fit this bill. Who else? Xena, Warrior Princess. Artemis Fowl. And one of the best: Severus Snape from Harry Potter.

A subcategory might be ‘Misunderstood hero’ – folks we think are bad, but actually turn out to be good. Serious Black springs to mind, as does Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice. For obvious reasons, though, these folks are almost never the main characters.

Hero as Seriously Damaged/Flawed Individual: This is a late addition, due to Jon's comment on my Batman neglect. I had thought of Mr. Batman, but didn't know where to put him... now it occurs to me that I was missing a category. Far from possessing "a couple of flaws," but not quite an antihero, these folks show up most often in ongoing series (otherwise they tend to end up a Redeemed Rogue), and they usually are extraordinary in some way, otherwise we wouldn't put up with their antics. Tony Stark (narcissistic, womanizing alcoholic), Batman (brooding vigilante), and House (jerk) all fit the bill.

Antiheros: I thought I’d give a nod to this type of character, even though they’re less ‘heroes’ and more ‘nasty protagonists’- your Taxi Drivers, Clockwork Oranges, Catchers in the Rye and the like. If they turn out to be actual heroes in the end, like Thomas Covenant (even though it takes a LOOOOOOONG time for him to shape up), they’d belong in the Redeemed Rogue category. I can think of two possible exceptions (you be the judge), and both are sociopaths:

Dexter: Sure he’s a psychopathic serial killer. But he DOES rid the world of bad guys.

Kate Mallory: She’s a cop from a wonderfully suspenseful series of books by Carol O’Connell, and although she’s a diagnosed sociopath, she does right in the end because of a code set up for her by her adopted cop father and his wife. (Sound familiar, Dexter?)

So then. There’s a bit of Hero sandwich for you to chew on. What are your favorite types of heroes? Name your favorite all time heroes!....GO!


Jon said...

Excellent, this makes me want to watch Buffy and Farscape again. And Veronica Mars. Good shows.

I'm surprised you didn't mention Batman.

Qlaudie said...

Thanks to you, I have now added another category for Batman and his ilk.

Jon said...

Very nice.

Jon said...

The Rogue has alwaays been my favorite. In fact, I've modeled my life on the teachings of Han Solo:

"Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no substitute for a good blaster at your side."

Right? Words to live by.

Top 10 Favorite heroes (sci-fi/fantasy):
1. Han Solo/Indiana Jones
2. Captain America
3. Buffy Summers
4. Malcolm Reynolds
5. King Allias (from Jack Vance's Lyonesse)
6. Ellen Ripley
7. Takeshi Kovacs (from Richard K. Morgan's books)
8. Perseus
9. John Crichton
10. Taran Wanderer (from Lloyd Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain)

I think that's about right, although, like always, I feel like I'm forgetting someone...

Surprised by Witches said...

Love it! I've enjoyed watching or reading about characters from nearly all of these categories. My list is very Joss Whedon-heavy. He writes some of the best characters out there. So I'll just make that number 1. The others aren't necessarily in order.

1. Buffy, Spike, Angel, Mal, Giles, Dr. Horrible
2. Elizabeth Bennett
3. Athos, from the 3 Musketeers
4. Han Solo
5. Veronica Mars, Logan Ecchols
6. David Tennant's Dr. Who
7. Harry Potter and Severus Snape
8. Batman and Spiderman
9. Jean Valjean
10. Lucy Peverell

As for Kathy Mallory, I wish I could wipe those books from my mind. I hope the author is getting the therapy she obviously needs. They're wonderfully written but SO disturbing. I will never, ever, watch Dexter.

So I guess sociopath is not one of the categories I enjoy.

Mark Teats said...

I'm much more of an antihero kinda guy--which is where I would file my character, BLACKHEART.

Some of my fav antihero characters, in no particular order:
• Batman
• Swampthing
• The Punisher
• Marv, from Frank Miller's "Sin City"
• Conan
• Hannibal Lecter*
• Lucifer*
• Dexter (seen every season I could get a hold of)

*seems like the line between villain and hero really can be stretched pretty far with some antiheros

Shawn Enderlin said...

How can you possibly call Lucifer a hero, or even an anti-hero?

Shawn Enderlin said...

Yah, I'm calling you out!

Mark Teats said...

Antiheroes are often flawed with human imperfections and qualities often associated with villains. Sounds like the Devil to me.

Lucifer is depicted in many works of literature as a sympathetic character--not necessarily a villain despite his evil doings. I guess the stories I'm thinking of are those like "Job, a comedy of justice" (Heinlein) where Satan comes across as a kinder figure (in my opinion) than God (who is the one dicking with Job's life). Or in one of the Sandman comics where Lucifer gives up his reign just wishing to have a peaceful existence (it's been a while since I've read that one, so hope my recollection is OK).

When well written I think the lines blur between hero, villain and antihero. This is a movie reference, but the Devil in a couple of my favorite movies--"Prophecy" (the one with angels) and "Constantine" end up helping the main character in a positive way (vs. the "good" angels).

More Devlish references, just because:

Oh, and in your face :-P


Shawn Enderlin said...

Hmmm... that's a skeptical hmmm...

I have bigger fish to fry right now, like beer, but mark my words, this isn't over! ;-)

Mark Teats said...

Shawn: Hope the beer is sitting better with you than the martinis I had to deal with….

Just to clarify, Satan is on my list of VILLAINS as the biggest bad there is. BUT, in some books and stories out there I find plenty of reasons to lump him in with the antiheroes. To be banished from heaven for all eternity (and maybe just for disagreeing with the boss-man) is a backstory I can sympathize with.

An aside: Last night my wife and I were at my holiday work party—dinner theatre—where in one of the musical numbers (Devil in Disguise) there were sexy, red-clad lady devils fighting onstage with nerdy, robed, male angels. It looked like a lot more fun to be on the sinner’s side of things.

Antiheroes: I omitted Frankenstein’s monster from my list. One of my fav’s too.

Q: Another great topic choice you posted here. Keep it up!

Qlaudie said...

Wow. Neat! Discussion and everything! And great choices, everyone. I agree with Mark in re: The Devil as depicted in certain works of fiction (Sandman is a great example.)
Elizabeth Bennet is near the top of my list, too, Ms. Witches. No one employs wit better.
And TARAN, Jon! I haven't read those books in years. I adored them as a child.

Qlaudie said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! Dr. Horrible would be an antihero.

Shawn Enderlin said...

Oh, I think I get it. Lucifer is just misunderstood! Riiiight....

Here's my problem with that theory. Whether we are talking about hard-core fantasy or science, every force has an opposite force. Light and dark. Entropy and order. Good and evil. Action and reaction.

Lucifer, Satan, whatever you want to call him/it is God's / The Goddess' polar opposite. This makes him, by definition, bad. A villain.

So say we all!

Jon said...

I loved those books too, and I just realized I don't have them anymore, so I'm going to re-buy them.

Jon said...

And as Captain Hammer has reminded us all... we're ALL heroes... in our own not that heroic way.