Here is a hint for anyone who’s planning to write a piece of fiction: entirely heroic figures are a waste of time. Figures like Superman, a character that is undeniably and entirely “good” without question, were really only appropriate during the forties. This was, of course, when the world could very easily end at any minute and people needed utter escapism into a powerful figure. No one questions why you’re killing Germans when it’s Captain America doing it, due to circular superhero logic. Er, that wants clarity.
Think of it this way. Why is Superman good? It is because he fights against “baddies” like Lex Luthor, a character that is undeniably “evil”. How do we know that Lex Luthor is evil? Well, it is because he’s Superman’s enemy. Do you see the fault in that logic?
Monsieur Luthor leads us into the problem with complete heroes: they need utter villains. In order to remain the pinnacle of “good”, the must fight a baddie that is so undeniably evil that it probably eats babies for every meal. However, let’s replace Luthor with a Robin Hood-esque figure. He steals from the rich, who clearly would never feel the theft, to open a soup kitchen. However, the lawful-good Superman must still lay down the smack-down on the thief because stealing is bad. However, Superman’s position is called into question since Hood exists in a moral grey area.
We have invented “dark sides” to our superheroes to counter this. Batman is a good example, he really plays the “dark, brooding” persona well. Of course you knew that already since Batman has brooded himself into a position where he is more famous than God.
However, the developers behind Batman could not risk him slipping away from the hero spotlight, so they had to make his villains even more evil. While most of the earlier comic book villains were happy enough knocking over banks, Batman’s enemies are batshit (see what I did there?) insane. There is a reason why every villain is kept in Arkham Asylum. They might rip off a bank every now and then, but that is only because they need the money to fulfill their plan to inject Ebola into every child in the city, simple because they can. They shifted the hero a little bit farther away from pure light, but in return they forced the baddies off the evil deep end entirely. Thus, Batman and others like him still suffer from the curse of Superman and Captain America, just in an altered way.
You might ask “Silly Cat, isn’t the purpose of a hero to give you someone to support, a person to back up as s/he punches out the bad guys”? Well… yes but:
- Thinking of someone as purely good is entirely naïve and unbelievable. The only people who pretend to be without fault are politicians and religious leaders. Yet they are caught repeatedly with their pants down, figuratively and literally. This has conditioned the populace to be weary of anyone who tries to say that they are perfect. So when you make a character you must put some metaphorical skeletons in its closet or no one will connect with the hero.
- Stories are based around the reader sympathizing with the character. You cannot sympathize with a perfect person.
- Good is BORING. No one wants to hear about your damn soup kitchen unless you’re also running a cathouse out of the back of it.
All three lead to problems with the perfect man. Let me put it this way: Name your favorite Batman character. Grading: If you picked anyone other than Batman, read on. If you picked Batman, then close your browser, reopen this page, and try to answer that question again without lying. Having a main character that you cannot sympathize with leads the reader to feel for the villain, which is undeniably not the purpose of the comic. Personally, I adore Scarecrow, on the by. Look at Watchmen’s Rorschach. That character was supposed to be something of a pseudo-villain, but everyone adores him! Why? It is because he is the slightest bit believable. Even Night Owl has internal conflict and he’s the clear hero-figure in the story.
The logical route would then be to make the villain the hero. I love the antihero, let’s just get that out. Well, it’s partially because I’m a cynical misanthrope but shut up I’m trying to make a point here. A prime example of this is Dr. Horrible of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Here is a hero with “evil” intentions, but a viewer can sympathize with him because he’s (somewhat) believable. Frankly, half the time these antiheroes are simply pragmatists who think that the only way to fix the world is to break it first. Yes, it may be a little bit insane, but at least they are well-intentioned. Hell, look at the incredibly sexy Mal from Firefly or the debatably sexier Han Solo. They are both clearly ruthless criminals, but they are simply doing what must be done for the colonies/Rebels to survive. They are heroes. And villains. And much better than Superman.