Whilst making a comment about Batman's and other hero's refusal to use lethal force it got me thinking about those who do. Granted they are usually called 'anti-heros', which I like to define as people who work towards a heroic end with un-heroic means. This is a look at them, as well as some of the other kinds of anti-hero's in comics
It is strange that I would have an issue with hero's refusing to take life as I personally am strongly against the death penalty. I believe the difference is that these are not real lives, and yes they may be real lives to the hero's who take them but I often find the refusal to take life stems almost more from a simple desire to have the most popular villains return rather than the morals of the hero. And as such it often rings false and simply annoying to the cynic in me. A hero should have a good personal reason for the decision not to take life, here I use Batman as a positive example, his parents murder at gunpoint and as such he refuses to use guns or lethal force. Superman's upbringing in Smallville taught him a strong moral core.
Does this make the hero's who will kill less honourable. Looking again at Batman, and Batman from Flashpoint we have two opposites. Bruce and then Thomas Wayne. Here we have a Batman who clearly will not kill and one who has and will again. Thomas Wayne seems even more brooding then his son, this is understand as loosing your parents at a young age can be traumatic, but it is a death that as an adult you learn probably would have happened anyway. A parent is not expected to outlive their children. Does his unhappiness stem simply from his loss or the emptiness that revenge has left him with. A general distinction between the two would be the word 'revenge' compared to 'justice'. The key difference being in the morals that motivate the actions, Thomas Wayne appears to act from a desire to punish those who killed is son and wife (granted I have only read the first of three issues) while Bruce seems more motivated to make sure no one goes through the pain that he went through. The lack of Robin in Batman Flashpoint I think is the real evidence of this. Say what you want about the boy wonder but he really was meant to represent the 'heart' of you were of Batman, the evidence of his real motivation being not revenge but justice and the benefit of society.
Thomas Wayne is a fairly typical example of an anti-hero, but he's not the best example because he is going to be compared to Batman, one of the best comic super hero's. A different good example is the hero Frankenstein from the mini series Flashpoint- Frankenstein and the Creatures of the Unknown. I've already written a lot about him in my views on the D.C. reboot, but suffice to say he is a hero who does kill. In fact he kills Hitler. Which is awesome. I would say that this is because while Frankenstein is strong, and in many respects immortal he doesn't have the power of someone like say Superman, who generally has the ability to stop criminals without using lethal force. Hero's who have less power find themselves in need of taking every opportunity to end a fight, even if it may mean the death of the villain.
Hero's who have a large popular following can get away with killing it seems, Wolverine's attitudes make him a excellent example of an anti-hero. At least in his origins, people often complain that there is too much continuity to follow to jump on to new comics. That said, it is mostly just continuity in terms of relationships and previous enemies that changes, personalities rarely do. I've only just started to read X-men comics and yet the personalities are exactly what I expected based on my knowledge of the movies, and animated series. The amount of time that Wolverine has spent with the X-men, his relationships with the female members and mentoring roles to others should have helped to turn him more into a leader rather than the 'lone wolf' personality that is so iconic to him. This is not really a complaint so much as an observation. There does not seem to be a member of the X-men team to compare Wolverine too as I do not believe there is a member who has not at one point or another used lethal force. Those more acquainted with the Marvel universe please feel free to correct me. So in this case to ascertain the value of the anti-hero compared to the hero we look to a different Marvel hero, Captain America. Captain America is a hero very similar to Superman in many respects, it is his more limited power that I think makes him more accessible to people.
Is Wolverine more popular than Captain America, at least in the main stream non-comic crowd, as possibly even in the comic readers themselves, because of his attitude. He is just more enjoyable to read, he treats people in authority the way we want to respond to the authority figures in our life.
A different kind of anti-hero, at least in the style of comic would be V from V for Vendetta, who has the increadible Hugo Weaving's voice.
Where does the line stand between hero, anti-hero and villain. Well our final two examples are easily considered in the villain line and yet have some thing special about them. First off we have Selina Kyle, Catwoman. Catwoman is considered a 'harmless' villain, I in no way intend to minimise her abilities as an ass-kicker, I mean that her crimes tend not to hurt people. She only really steals from the wealthy because they are the only people to have the jewelery and gems she is interested in and doesn't kill. She will even help the hero's stop worse villains as long as it doesn't inconvenience herself too much. This kind of villain allows for an interesting relationship with the hero, especially in the case of gender opposites such as Batman and Catwoman. This is probably one of my favorite kinds of anti-hero, while most breeds of anti-hero are brooding hero's these ones are fun and enjoyable cheeky characters who play off more serious hero's.
The final example is one who has funny crossed the line into villain, and in my humble opinion is a villain with one of the best back stories and motivations. Magneto will kill, he has in the past and will kill again. Unlike some villains such as the Joker who kill for pleasure or say Dr. Doom who does for power Magneto believes in his cause. He believes that humans and mutants cannot coexist and that Mutants are the next form of evolution. Magneto doesn't believe this without cause, he has seen mankind at their worst over and over again. What is especially interesting about this villain is that he has actually been a hero in the past. There was a run of X-men that had Charles Xavier killed and Magneto decided to follow his friends lead, and despite his own personal views he lives to a higher standard of morals and from what I've heard from my friends this was a fantastic run. Magneto was really good as a hero, and ignoring the horrible way in which that was ended it is because of his real motivations, and capacity for good that I consider Magneto in the realms of the anti-hero as well as the villain.
This all ended up becoming more of a tangent then the planned study of the idea of anti-hero's it was meant to be. So I'll now try to compose the thoughts into the main points.
1. Anti-hero's do things that are morally wrong. Frankly wolverine only really just makes it into the anti-hero, hero's with attitude problems really should be their own sub set of hero.
2. They generally need a tragic past to explain their actions, it for this reason that Batman is often called a anti-hero, but I don't frankly think his occasional bad cop action of scaring people, he never kills and his actions are only really bad when compared to boy scouts such as Superman and Captain America.
The most important question I asked is an anti-hero less heroic then a hero. First as a hero. If we take the idea that hero's of comics are real then who would we want to be protecting us. The boy scout perfect hero's who will take the time to save a cat from a tree whilst protecting the world from Darkseid. As a role model however, as a fictional character for us to follow, the anti-hero is easier for us to identify with and can make for a stronger read. They are easier for us to identify with and their problems and also more with their decisions, after all even though I am against the death penalty if I had come up against the Joker that many times I can't say that I wouldn't have gently knocked him off a tall ledge by now.
As such I am unwilling to throw away the more archetypal hero's such as Superman, or Captain Marvel. It can be argued that it is harder to write a compelling story about them as their powers do raise them far above humanity, as do their moral cores. Both anti-hero's and hero's have their important place in fiction. They work against each other as contrasts. And I don't believe that one is better than the other.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.