Anti-Heroes: More Realistic Than Classic Superheroes

Superheroes provide hope, and idea to strive towards. They’re someone you can always look up to and can trust that no matter what is facing them, they will do the right thing. While this is an admirable stance to take, even if it’s not very realistic. Finding someone who is good for the sake of being good is a one in a million chance. Most people like to think that they are good at heart but when the chips are down and their back is against the wall they will do whatever it takes to win, even if it is sometimes a very morally grey area. I’m not trying to say that I think people are evil, they’re not. People are just people and each person has a breaking point. A point where self preservation takes the driver’s seat and everything else takes a side seat. Some people can reach this point very quickly, while others take quite some time to get there.

If any of you have seen the movie American Sniper, you’re probably familiar with the little speech Chris’ father gives him after saving his brother from a bully. “There are 3 kinds of people in this world, there’s wolves, sheep, and sheep dogs. Wolves try to hurt the sheep and it’s the sheep dogs job to protect them, so are you a wolf or a sheep dog?” I’m paraphrasing the speech, but that’s what it boils down to. This little tid bit is actually taken from a book by LTC retired Dave Grossman titled “On Killing”, the books is quite extensive and dives deeper into the comparison of sheep, wolves and sheep dogs. There is also a quote from Heraclitus that goes like this…

“Out of every one hundred men, ten shouldn’t even be there, eighty are just targets, nine are the real fighters, and we are lucky to have them, for they make the battle. Ah, but the one, one is a warrior, and he will bring the others back”

To bring this back to my main point if Superheroes are the sheep dogs then anti-heroes are like wild dogs. They may attack the sheep on occasion but for the most part they only go after the wolves. There are quite a few heroes that fall into both categories (Wolverine, Ghost Rider, Arsenal), there are also quite a few that stay far past the line (Punisher, Grifter, Deadpool, Red Hood). While superheroes tend to have tragic backstories, anti-heroes tend to have a backstory so caked in violence and blood that it’s amazing they didn’t turn into a villain themselves. Three of my favourite anti-heroes are Deadpool, Red Hood, and Punisher, because of everything that happened to them they still somehow come through in the end (even if just barely).

One of the defining traits that all anti-heroes seem to possess is the innate knowledge that no matter how hard you try, you can’t save everyone every time. This also goes hand in hand with the belief that sometimes in order to save someone you need to use lethal force. One of my favourite lines comes from MarvelNow! Punisher: War Zone, wherein Frank Castle (Punisher) has pissed off the Avengers for the last time. Before the final showdown with the Avengers, Wolverine is approached by Captain America. Cap basically tells Wolverine that because of his close relationship with Frank that he will have to sit this one out. They banter back and forth and the final line comes from Wolverine when he says ” The difference between guys like us and guys like you Cap… is that we understand sometimes… people have to die”. This one line perfectly illustrates what makes anti-heroes so much more relatable than clean cut superheroes, they understand that some people are just bad and they will continue to be bad until they are stopped.

Batman once said “If you kill a killer , the number of killers in this world remains the same”.  While this philosophy might work for Batman and potentially other heroes like him (Superman, Flash, Captain America, Spider-Man, etc) one has to ask how many people died because they refused to do what was necessary. There is a quote from Wonder Woman on her New 52 run that goes like this ” There’s a reason why I don’t have a list of enemies as long as yours, or Bruce’s or even Barry’s, because when i deal with them.. I DEAL with them”. Wonder Woman is one of the few clean cut superheroes who takes lives, but she also doesn’t do it willy nilly. She heavily weighs the cost of her actions against whether or not it’s for the greater good. If the greater good wins she acts, there have been a few exceptions (Maxwell Lord pre Infinite Crisis) for example, where her emotions got the better of her, but they are few and far between.

justice-league-22-superman-wonderwoman-1

One of the questions I get asked quite a bit when explaining comics to people is “Why doesn’t Batman just kill the Joker?”. Without going into a HUGE debate on the psychology of the two of them there really is no right answer. Batman doesn’t kill the Joker because then Joker wins, but Joker won’t stop until Batman kills him, it’s a catch 22. The animated film Under the Red Hood actually introduced a lot of people to the Red Hood for the first time. Jason Todd (Robin #2) was beat with a crowbar to near death and then blown up by the Joker. Feeling guilty for having brought Joker into it Ra’as Al Ghul revived Jason using a Lazarus Pit. Jason came back but was pretty insane and fled for several years. He begins taking over the Gotham underworld until the final confrontation with Batman and the Joker. The final confrontation has a particular line that hits the issue to the core ” Why is he still alive? Ignoring the friends he’s crippled the graveyards he’s filled…”; Jason delivers that line while pointing at the Joker. Batman tells him that if he kills the Joker he will never stop killing. This is what draws me to Batman as much as other characters like Punisher and Ghost Rider, he is a Superhero, but he is barely past the line between anti-hero and superhero and on several occasions he has crossed that line.

The 2008 film Punisher: War Zone showed us just how gritty and brutal a Punisher film could be if done right. I stand by Thomas Jane and the 2004 film with John Travolta, but Ray Stevenson just looked the part. It also brought a great line from a police detective who tried to “stop” the Punisher. When talking with Detective Soap, he basically says that the reason the Punisher hasn’t been caught is because the police don’t want him to be caught. He gets to do to those guys (mob families and criminals) what cops only dream of getting to do. While this train of thought might extend to superheroes as well normally the police forces of the comic worlds are stuck behind red tape and can’t act on someone they know is guilty. anti-heroes don’t care. They will find out if you’re guilty and they will make you pay.

antihero

I realize it seems like I’m saying anti-heroes don’t have a conscience, but that is very wrong. while some like Punisher and Red Hood have become so jaded they no longer care, some like Deadpool use humour to cover up their true feelings, and sometimes they don’t cover them at all. In Deadpool’s brief stint on the X-Force he quickly came to butt heads with Wolverine. They were tasked with killing the reincarnated Apocalypse, the only problem was that he was reincarnated into a kid named Evan who was still in primary school. Wade immediately objected and voiced his objections, Wolverine and the rest of X-Force knew what a full grown Apocalypse could do and were resigned to killing Evan. Wolverine and Deadpool had some words and Wolverine called Deadpool “…a soulless, spineless, money grubbing mercenary”; as Wade turned to walk away he responded with ” Ya. But I never killed a kid”. This altercation caused Fantomex to regret his decision and clone Evan (it’s get weird just go with it) and teach Evan right from wrong enough to get Evan enlisted in Xavier’s school for Gifted Youngsters.

Superheroes come in all shapes, sizes and abilities; they can be star spangled awesome like Captain America, the big blue boy scout like Superman, or a tortured human like Batman. No matter who they are, superheroes give us something to strive toward. They provide us with a direction to orient ourselves towards, a light to find our way in the darkness. But sometimes the darkness is fought with darkness, while superheroes are the light, anti-heroes are the shade. The grey area between the darkness and the light, not fully dark themselves but not fully light either. They’re willing to plunge their hands in the filth so that others can keep their clean. While most of us strive to be an incorruptible and perfect hero we know that sometimes we’re not perfect. We can’t all be sheep dogs after all, but we’ll be damned if we’re going to become wolves.

Wonder Woman – What the DCEU Should Have Started With

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know that this past week the third installment for the DCEU, Wonder Woman, was released in theatres. Wonder Woman stands as the first female led superhero movie to ever have been made, and boy did it knock it out of the park! The following will be a spoiler free review of the movie.

 

Background

The movie opens up to show Diana working at the Louvre and receiving the original copy of the photo from Batman V. Superman, along with a note from Bruce requesting the story behind the photo, cue a trip back in time.

Wonder Woman is an Amazon from the mythical Island of Themyscira which has been hidden away from the world for thousands of years. The Amazons were direct descendants from the Olympain Gods and made to guard the world of men. After they were enslaved by man their queen, Hippolyta, led them to freedom and they vanished onto their island. Depending on which continuity you follow, Wonder Woman was either sculpted from clay and struck by lightning from Zeus in the classic continuity, or in the New 52 she was birthed the old fashioned way with no knowledge of who her father is (she was still told the story about the clay and lightning). When an American pilot crashes on the island, Diana saves him and he urges the Amazons to rejoin the world. Diana leaves the island and goes with the pilot, Steve Trevor, to join the world of man. Shenanigans occur and she meets the other major DC heroes and becomes a founding member of the Justice League.

JL_Wonder_Woman

Thoughts on the Movie

It was amazing. Honestly the film DC should have used to kick off their expanded universe instead of the abysmal assault of Batman V. Superman ( Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor? Really?). That being said there are obviously going to be knit picky things that some die hard fans are going to find fault with, but this movie has very few of those. Patty Jenkins did an amazing job as director and the story keeps you on your toes for the whole film. One of the better aspects of the movie is that the colour really pops at you. I love Zack Snyder’s movies, but he has a very specific style with his colour selection that doesn’t work for lighter toned superheroes like Wonder Woman and Superman. If he had directed a Batman movie the way he had directed Watchmen, I think it would compare to Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight, but that’s just me personal opinion.

Patty Jenkins used her keen eye to blend humour, loss, action, and love seamlessly to illustrate just how awesome a superhero movie can be when done right. What makes this movie stand out from the rest is that it doesn’t follow the cookie cutter formula that most movies have fallen into. Marvel has become notorious for their cookie cutter origin movies and when asked about it, Kevin Feige had this to say “… we make these movies for the heroes not the villains, we’re all about hero growth rather than villain growth…”; I’m obviously paraphrasing, but the point is made regardless. When you go see a Marvel movie you get a great story but every other character that isn’t the main hero feels very under developed.  The supporting cast of Wonder Woman from Queen Hippolyta, General Antiope, Steve Trevor and General Ludendorff, are all developed even in the short screen time they get next to Diana.

The time frame that the movie is set in works really well for the character progression of Diana as well. Being set during WWI allowed for the characterization of Diana to expand more than it maybe could have had it been set in modern times. Keep in mind that Amazons were taught from a young age that they were created to safe guard the world of man and by placing this movie during the Great War aka The War to End All Wars, provided Diana with a concrete reason to leave the island. It also provides for some great interaction with Diana as she is continuously learning about man’s world as she leaves the island; from fashion, to social customs, and even ice cream, Jenkins takes you into the time frame and makes you feel like you are with Diana learning all of these things for the first time.

The supporting cast also really shine in their own right. Chris Pine does an excellent job as Steve Trevor and Robin Wright as General Antiope is just amazing. I don’t want to talk about the other characters because who they are and what they do is a big part of the plot of the movie and I said this would be spoiler free.

The villains. The villains were awesome. With the movie being set in WWI it obviously shows that the villains would be the Germans, because Germans are always the villains in any historical war movie right? That being said it also shows you a new take on why the war happened and what the driving forces are behind it. I will say this that the character of Dr. Poison I was not a big fan of and once you see the movie, you may agree with me or you may not as one of my best friends did (there was a heated debate and tempers flared but it’s all good now). Ludendorff is great as the typical villain but you can’t help but sympathize with him because of what he wants, which is what a lot of people wanted back then. The Third act of the film brings to heel all the themes of the movie and really hammers home the core aspect of the movie.

The overall theme of the movie is that mankind is easily corrupted, whether by each other or by other forces, mankind cannot exist without being in conflict. This is explored through the corruption and the dialogue from some of the side characters on the topic of the War. But the them Diana brings to the movie is that, while man might not deserve to be saved, they need to be saved. This theme is hammered into Diana’s core from the moment you first see her on screen. Diana truly believes that mankind can be good if given the chance and she will fight to ensure that they will get that chance, which helps to speak to her character as a person as well as a superhero. She never gives up, even when everyone is telling her she can’t do anything she finds a way to stand her ground and do what she thinks is right. During her scenes as Wonder Woman she has a magnetism about her that you haven’t really seen since Captain America first came to our screens. The magnetism that urges you to fight for them, that you want to fight for them because you know they’re doing right, it’s a compelling aspect of her persona and it is felt by numerous characters throughout the movie.

Gal-Gadot-Wonder-Woman-Poster

The combat scenes in the movie were on point and had a fluidity that is rarely seen in such a grand scale. One of the coolest scenes comes almost directly in the middle of the movie when Diana decides she has had enough of being told to wait. The scene where she goes “over the top” as shown in the featured image of the article illustrates the point i mad earlier about her magnetism on the battlefield.  The scene immediately following that is the first time you hear her theme song from Batman V. Superman and it followed with the shots and choreography will make the hair on your neck stand on end.

Overall this movie was amazing, I would wager probably one of the best ever made, not just for DC but ever. My top (with interchangeability) are The Dark Knight, Avengers 1, and now Wonder Woman. If you haven’t seen it already or at least gotten your tickets to see it soon I would highly recommend you do it; Gal Gadot delivers a stunning performance as Diana and truly shows how she has embraced the character of Wonder Woman. This is the movie that DC should have released first. It would’ve set the tone for the DCEU on a much lighter note and shown just how awesome superheroes can really be.

Greatest Strength of Superheroes

I know what you’re thinking, the title of this post is going to incite disagreement and discord among many, and you might be right. The thing is though, that for all of their powers: flight, super strength, super speed, enhanced senses, impossibly large amounts of money, perfect accuracy, etc; a superheroes greatest strength is their compassion and their ability to inspire. Whether they’re Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Thor, Hulk, Green Arrow, Green Lantern or even Deadpool, at the end of the day it is their humanity and compassion that will win them the fight. There have been many times throughout comics and other media where the compassion and ability to inspire prevailed through all odds: Avengers Assemble Season 2, Infinity, Batman the Animated Series, and Infinity War are just a few of the examples of this type of victory.

Avengers Assemble from DisneyXD is the unofficial sequel series to Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, and their second season includes one of the finest examples of victory through inspiration I have ever seen. The second season starts off with the introduction of the Infinity Stones. Red Skull is fleeing Thanos and crashes to Earth with the Power Stone, causing the Avengers to confront him and the drones pursuing him. Tony had constructed an AI named Arsenal that was the last creation of his father before his passing. This AI allowed them to defeat Thanos in their initial encounter and contain the Power Stone. Throughout the season they are vexed by the Squadron Supreme and eventually Thanos and the Black Order. The culmination of the season ends with the Avengers on Earth fighting Thanos and the Black Order. Thanos has the Infinity Gauntlet, and he is swatting the Avengers left right and center. With the Avengers laid around him beaten Thanos declares himself as victor over Earth.  As he shouts that he is the victor, a brick is thrown by a resident of New York and strikes Thanos on his face. The man shouts ” You’ll never win because we will never stop fighting! We will never submit to you!”, soon a veritable mob begins throwing debris and trash at Thanos and the Black Order in protest while others are assisting the Avengers to their feet. This allowed Black Widow the time she needed to enact their plan and blast Thanos with a death ray from space ( seriously watch the episode, it explains it way better… Season 2 Episode 26 Avengers World). It was during this moment when the people of New York rallied behind them, that they realized they were more than just a team of superheroes, they were an ideal, a banner to rally behind… they could inspire people and that made them unstoppable. This is the starting point behind the Hickman run with Avengers in the Marvel Now! printing, Iron Man and Captain America agreeing that the world should become an Avengers World. They take this concept and run with it in the Infinity event. This is the event in which the Avengers go cosmic and become a fighting force for countless worlds across the universe inspiring the natives of each planet to become Avengers in their own right. This is just one example of the ability heroes have to inspire people. When the chosen heroes of their world had been beaten, the people united and rallied behind them in face of overwhelming odds.  This is the best characteristic a team of heroes could have, you can take the best fighter or team of fighters and they will win the fight, but you take one person who can inspire and they can do more damage than one fighter ever could. This is what sets the Avengers apart from other teams of superheroes, they can fight and they can throw down, but at the end of the day, when the chips are all down if they can inspire others to fight for themselves then their job is done. Avengers World

 

The Avengers may be able to inspire but there’s one hero who’s compassion and humanity are what make him the force he is, and that is Batman.  Now some people may think that as the Dark Knight there is no way that Batman has compassion or the ability to inspire, but you would be dead wrong. Batman’s inspiration is felt in every comic when he encounters some young vigilante that he take sunder his wing and trains into a badass fighter. But the one thing that Batman can trump anyone is his compassion, especially for children.  One of the best examples of Batman’s compassion comes from Batman the Animated Series (technically it’s Batman Beyond, but it is drawn in the style of the animated series). In this flashback, told by Amanda Waller, Batman and several members of the Justice League are called to stop Ace and her Royal Flush Gang. In this instance Ace was a young girl with powerful psychic abilities ( think Omega level mutant) and she was able to warp reality. Argus had abducted Ace many years before and had performed experiments on her to turn her into a weapon. This accelerated the degeneration of her brain to the point where she would suffer from a lethal stroke. After the Royal Flush Gang was beaten Waller provided Batman with a device that she said would end the problem once and for all. Batman took the device and ran off to find Ace. Through the twisted and terrifying world she had created, Ace was found in a quiet little garden on a swing set. Batman sat beside her and she could tell he was there to stop her. She remarked that Batman wouldn’t use Waller’s device on her and he agreed, sitting down on the swing beside her. She recounted experiments conducted on her and then said “… they got their weapon, I got cheated out of my childhood”.

the rest of the exchange goes like this:

B- I know what that’s like..

A – You do, don’t you? I’m going to die aren’t I?

B- Yes.

A- Soon.

B- Yes.

A- I’m scared… I don’t want to die. Will you hold my hand?

Batman + Ace

Batman extended his hand and held Ace’s while she waited for the aneurysm that would kill her. The world reverted back to normal and the Justice League members along with Waller and the Argus agents looked over to find Batman walking towards them, cradling Ace’s lifeless body in his arms. This one moment shows that through all the turmoil and Anger that Batman has covered himself with since that fateful night in Crime Alley, he is still a child who understands what it’s like to have your entire world taken away. This compassion is what sets him apart from the other members of the league. Batman, for all his bluster and his gadgets and training, is still just a man, he is not super. He has no powers. But he still continues to fight every night so that no other child will have to endure the things he did at such a young age. This compassion and humanity make him one of the best heroes there ever was.

Infinity War is the comic event that inspired the upcoming Avengers movies. In this run Thanos gets a hold of the Infinity Gauntlet with all the Infinity Stones. When he first gets the stones, Thanos uses them coupled with the gauntlet to promptly wipe out half of the life in the universe. The remaining Heroes and aliens band together in an attempt to stop Thanos. It’s an epic clash between the heroes of Earth and Thanos which ends with the heroes getting clobbered. Literally. In like 30 seconds flat, Thanos mops the floor with all the heroes of Earth and claims himself as victor. Captain America takes a look at his team mates and allies laid about him and he marches over to stand in front of Thanos, he looks him in the eye and says “As long as one man stands against you, you can never claim victory”. This line personifies everything that the Avengers stand for. Cap’s stand against Thanos in the face of overwhelming defeat rallied the rest of the heroes and eventually Adam Warlock swooped in to save the day. This instance goes hand in hand with Tony Stark’s speech from the first Avengers movie when he addresses Loki before the Chitauri invade.

Captain America is the figurehead of the team and he stands for truth, justice and fighting the good fight (let’s just pretend Secret Empire never happened).  This panel stands as one of the crowning moments that make Captain America one of the greatest heroes ever made. He will always find a way to win and he has a magnetism that will draw others to him. He can inspire people who thought they were nothing, who have no idea of the person they could become as long as they believe in themselves and never compromise who they are.

cap-vs-thanos

Heroes can show us compassion, strength and humility but above all, heroes can inspire. Whether they’re fictional like Batman, Captain America or Superman or flesh and blood people like Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi heroes have a way of inspiring others to be better people. Compassion and inspiration, qualities many admire and qualities few people possess, it’s hard to find someone who personifies what it means to be a hero, but when they are found, they make their impact on history whether its fictional or not.