"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!