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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

Life Lessons to be Learned from Superheroes

I want to start this off by saying I love superheroes. I think that is a little obvious given my topic choice for the blog, but the main reason i care so much for superheroes and their stories, are the lessons they can teach. Whether it’s about standing by your friends, standing up for the weak, taking responsibility for your actions, or even just admitting when you’re wrong; superheroes can deliver these lessons time and time again.  Batman, Captain America, Spider-Man, Vision, Superman, Aquaman, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, they all can demonstrate important values that should be emulated in everyday life. Take for example Steve Rogers aka Captain America, the scrawny kid from Brooklyn who became a household name around the world.

When Steve Rogers decided to enlist all he wanted to do was serve his country. He was rejected. Time and time again he would try and he got rejected every time based on his size and medical conditions. He persevered, until one last try when he met Dr. Erskine; and his whole world changed. In Captain America: The Fist Avenger, Dr. Erskine takes an interest in Rogers for the super soldier project due to his commitment. He asks him if he wants to enlist to kill Nazis, Steve responds with ” I don’t want to kill anybody, I don’t like bullies, I don’t care where they’re from”. Dr. Erskine gave Rogers a chance and beyond everyone else’s wildest dreams he was chosen for the project. The reasoning, ” A strong man who has always known power will lose respect for that power, but a weak man knows the value of strength and knows compassion”, this quote was delivered by Dr. Erskine when he was asked by Steve why he had chosen him. Captain America has carried this with him his entire life and it continues to be a large part of his character (up until he is revealed to be a secret hydra agent?) we’ll just forget about that part. Another great lesson that Captain America has taught us is to never give up. You could argue that every hero embodies this trait but hear me out first. During Infinity War, Thanos got the infinity gauntlet. Thanos is powerful enough as is, but give him the gauntlet with all the infinity stones and he become unstoppable. This is shown when all the heroes across the universe band together to stop him… and he mops the floor with them in 30 seconds flat. With the heroes strewn across the ground Thanos triumphantly declares himself the victor, and then something happened. Despite the loss of his shield, his team mates laid out on the ground before him, defeat staring him in the face, Captain America stood up. He stood in front of Thanos and declared that “as long as one man stands against you, you’ll never claim victory”.  Thanos mocks him by saying “Noble sentiments from one who is about to die”. Captain America stands, resolute, staring Thanos in the eyes and replies with ” I’ve lived my life by those words. They’re well worth dying for”. Bottom line is that Captain America stands for the impact one good man can have on history regardless of the odds stacked against him. Captain America is just one of many that stand as an inspiration for many, Peter Parker aka Spider-Man is another great example.

Peter Parker, brilliant, determined, courageous, nerd. Peter grew up in Queens and lived with his Aunt May and Uncle Ben due to the death of his parents at a very young age. He was very gifted in science but not so much in the athletic department. One day while on a trip to a science lab he was bitten by a radioactive spider. This spider bite re-wrote sections of his DNA giving him amazing spider like powers.  His origin is tragic and remains as one of the best backstories in comics today. Once bitten by the spider he was performing in a circus as an act to earn some extra cash (some relaunches change this to fighting in a wrestling ring to earn money). One night after performing a criminal was racing towards the elevator located behind Peter and a security officer shouted for Peter to stop the criminal. Peter side stepped allowing the criminal to pass and told the security that it wasn’t his problem. The criminal then went on to shoot Peter’s uncle Ben, the closest thing he had to a father after his natural father’s death. Peter arrived just in time to witness his uncle’s death. He vowed to hunt down the man responsible for Ben’s death and to make him pay. One of the last things his uncle had said to him was “With great power, comes great responsibility”, this mantra is known by every Spider-Man fan and is uttered by the character many times over his run in comics and mass media. When Peter hunts down the man responsible for killing his uncle Ben he hesitates and ends up letting the criminal go because he knew vengeance was not the answer. He decided at that moment to don the Spider-Man persona and fight crime so that what happened to his uncle would never happen to anyone else. One of the worst tragedies to befall Peter was during Amazing Spider-man #121, when Green Goblin had kidnapped Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy. In an effort to force Spider-Man to make a difficult decision, to stop Goblin or save Gwen, Goblin throws Gwen off of a bridge. Peter quickly shoots a web line catching Gwen around her middle and pulls to stop her fall. When Peter pulls Gwen up he realizes that the force from him pulling her to stop her fall had snapped her neck. Peter is distraught over the whole ordeal and it stands as his single greatest failure. Peter blames himself for what happened to Gwen, which further cements what his uncle Ben told him, with great power comes great responsibility. Peter is a shining example that if you have the ability to do something you have the responsibility to do it and to own it if it doesn’t work out. Moving over to the DC comics side of things, a hero who stands as a symbol for many, Batman.

Bruce Wayne was born into one of the richest families in the world, the Waynes. Their fortune was made primarily on various technological innovations along with some weapon and medical advancement. When he was 8 years old he and his parents had gone to see the Mark of Zorro at the Monarch Theater in Park Row also known as Crime Alley. It started to rain so the family decided to cut through an alley and everything changed. A man (later revealed to be Joe Chill) was waiting in the alley and shot Thomas and Martha Wayne over a wallet and a pearl necklace. Young Bruce watched his parents die in front of him forever scarring him and changing him into the boy who would eventually become Batman. Bruce travels the world for many years learning every form of martial arts and detective skills. He returns to Gotham taking up the mantle of Batman and beginning his crusade against the criminals of the city. One of the coolest aspects of Batman is that he stands as an ideal rather than a physical person. Yes, he is a physical person in the sense of someone has to be out there in the skin tight armour fighting the good fight, but it doesn’t always have to be Bruce. In both, Battle for the Cowl and Knightfall, Bruce was incapacitated in one form or another. This opened the gates for other worthy successors to become Batman. Azrael took the mantle up in Knightfall while Bruce healed, and while he fought his way back through time after Final Crisis, Dick had taken up the cowl because there always has to be a Batman in Gotham.  One of the reasons Batman is so relatable is that while he is considered a superhero, he has no actual powers to speak of. For all intents and purposes Batman is just a man, a man with billions of dollars of gadgets and gear, and trained to peak human perfection, but just a man none the less. He stands as a testament to what you can become if you set your mind to something and are determined to see it through.

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Never Give Up

These heroes remain as some of the greatest teaching utensils of core values and consequences. Whether it’s being a good person, taking responsibility for your abilities or becoming who you want to be through determination, I (and many others) have learned plenty from our heroes. I would wager that for most people aged 18 -30, we learned more about being a good person from fictional characters than we ever did in a classroom.