Anti-heroes, the ones that happily tap-dance along that line between hero and villain. I recently did a piece on villains, and what makes a good one, but now I’m doing one on anti-heroes. Why not heroes? Because that’s just too easy.
Besides, I like anti-heroes. They interest me a great deal. They don’t have to follow the same set of rules that heroes do. Hell, they don’t even have to follow the same ‘rules’ that a villain does. They can do their own thing, their own way, and damn whatever the heroes and villains might think about it.
Lots more fun to write, in my humble opinion. Now, I’ll give you a list of what I consider to be good anti-heroes, and what makes them anti-heroes.
I recently did a post on the Batman Animated Series from 1992, and the dark undertones it has. I’m not going to go back to that, instead focusing on other mediums that the Dark Knight has appeared in, though it should be noted that I don’t personally consider Batman a true anti-hero, despite his penchant for being ruthless against criminals and using fear as a weapon (not as literally as the Scarecrow, but that’s a whole other kettle of fish).
Yes, Batman is seen by many as ruthless, cold, utterly without humanity when it comes to criminals.
This is entirely wrong. Batman may place himself above the law in that he actively hunts down criminals, be they common thugs or psychopaths like the Joker, but he cares a great deal about people, even some of his enemies.
Take this scene from the aforementioned 90s cartoon (okay so I am going back to it a couple of times, so sue me) where he talks to a captured Harley Quinn:
“I had a bad day too, once.”
Batman isn’t a monster, he’s not some lunatic in a bat costume. He’s hard on criminals, he’s an anti-hero at the most basic level, but he never lets himself go too far. There are times, however, when he’s tempted to cross that line, to badly hurt, maim, or kill his enemies. Another scene from the 90s cartoon below shows this…
Batman saves even his enemies, but this man, this… Sewer King (or whatever his name was, I don’t think they said it) crossed a line. He hurt and basically enslaved children. Batman would never harm a child, even under orders from the government. The final part of this section will be closed off with this simple video, and a statement:
I will close off this section of this post with three words, and I apologise for the profanity but I truly hate this character.
Fuck. Amanda. Waller. She is willing to murder a child for the crime of having power she cannot properly control. Batman refused to go that route. He chose to sit with this child, changed forever by the very government that tried to murder her, until her young life came to an end.
This is why I don’t think Batman is a true anti-hero, but a hero. He’s ruthless, yes. He can lack mercy for certain people, but those people deserve no mercy aside from being allowed to live, for Batman made an oath to never take a life.
But…Batman is human, driven by loss and a single promise: “No child will ever have to suffer through what I suffered again.” That is the promise that drives Batman to fight, that is what makes him a hero. That is what puts him on the level of the likes of Superman and Wonder Woman.
That is why I love Batman as a character.
Oh hai Dragon Ball Z and Super, been a while since I’ve thought about you. Vegeta is the Prince of the Saiyans. Driven by pride that often veers into arrogance, he starts out a villain and swings into anti-heroism and fatherhood. Of course, he starts out being more than willing to murder fallen foes to avoid complications later, much to Goku’s horror…
Exhibit A, Vegeta being an ass to Bulma and friends: “I don’t care about the people of Earth, but I will defeat Cell!”
Vegeta wanted to kill Cell to prove his strength. Saving Earth wasn’t even a distant second thought. The thing is, he and Bulma end up in a heated relationship and she gives him a son. He tries not to give a damn, to only care about his training and strength, but fast forward to the later part of Dragon Ball Z, and we get this scene:
Vegeta displays a true anti-hero streak. He fights only for his own reasons, pretends not to care about his family, but in the end? His family becomes his driving force. He took Trunks to the park even though his son failed to land a hit on him. He’s a damn good father, but an utter crap person otherwise.
So, yes, Vegeta grows heavily into his anti-heroism. He only cares about Earth because his family is there. If they weren’t, it could burn for all he cares. Also? This is what happens when you hurt Bulma in front of him:
Vegeta is a better father and husband than Goku. That’s all I’ll say on this matter.
Yuri freaking Lowell, the protagonist so obviously dark that my younger brother took one look at him and assumed he was the bad guy. To be fair…he was close. Yuri isn’t a bad person, but he also isn’t willing to let the rich get away with literal murder just because they can buy their freedom. This man outright murders three people on screen in cutscenes, just because they would have used their money and influence to get away with their malicious, evil actions. Exhibit A – politicians aren’t above his justice:
Nobody was sorry to see Ragou die, trust me. The man fed people to monsters for fun. Exhibit B – knight captains aren’t above his justice either:
Cumore was scum. He used his noble status to gain command over knights that looked down on common folk, and sent said common folk into the desert to risk death to search for a monster that wasn’t actually a monster. It’s complicated. Point is, Cumore and Ragou thought themselves above the law. Yuri disagreed and bloodied his own hands to rectify it.
Yuri knows he’s a dark person, a murderer. No matter his justifications, he knows that he should face justice himself. This will not stop him from doing what he thinks is right, and damn the laws that say he can’t because somebody is born a ‘higher class’ than him, or they have money and influence enough to get out of any consequences they should face.
The Merc with the Mouth, from Marvel comics, is, at his best, an anti-hero. At his worst, he’s a psychopath that locks blind old ladies in trap-filled boxes for the crime of making friends without permission.
90s Deadpool was not nice, okay?
Anyway, Deadpool. A lot of people know of him, either from his comics or the frankly amazing Deadpool movie that Ryan Reynolds starred in. He’s a mercenary with cancer-fueled regeneration, a smart mouth, lots of weapons, and the ability to see past the fourth wall. He will kill almost anybody for the right amount of money, but also wants to be all heroic.
He’s a hot mess in his head, too. Hello little yellow boxes of the comics that should somehow make it into the movies. However, despite his insanity, his love of fighting and blood…Deadpool loves children. Just like Batman, it’s a bad idea to hurt children and let Deadpool hear about it.
The difference? Deadpool will murder you over it. Gladly. I don’t have any videos or even pictures that prove it, but trust me, they’re out there. Hell, one time he got himself an appointment with a psychologist and started babbling, like usual…and ended up confessing that he knew what the man did to his sixteen year old female patient.
That doctor ended up very dead and the world was better off for it. Don’t hurt kids near Deadpool, he’ll slaughter you for it.
Okay, having no images to show off how Deadpool is an anti-hero that loves kids to the point of literally killing people that hurt them is getting me nowhere. Next!
Of course he’s here. It’s the freakin’ Punisher. Frank Castle, the man that lost his family to mob violence and swears to spend the rest of his life in a war against any and all criminals. He kills them. No argument, no debate, no negotiations. He just kills them. Even in prison.
And no, he does not have any super powers. He is a man with military training. That is it. The Punisher is a great example of an anti-hero that truly doesn’t care about man’s laws if they protect criminals. He will hunt down and kill any and all criminals he can, until he dies.
He’s been caught and imprisoned before, and he always escapes to continue his war. His long, bloody, bloody war against the criminals that took his family away from him.
Really, anti-heroes are some of my favourites to write about, and to read about. When the world screws you, but you don’t want to become evil over it? Screw the world back and get your revenge.
Without killing innocent people, of course. Because that would turn you into a villain.