I am a weird person. A very, VERY weird person. Something about me makes me dislike most main protagonists. And it is not even a case of me preferring anti-heroes since I tend to dislike them even more. I guess I could say that wanting to make my own hero was a major influence for me starting Breaxer. But enough of my shameless self promoting. To me, the ideal hero must have these three pillars: Spirit, Altruism, and Personality. The heroes you see in the picture have traits that I admire the most when written well, but when written by less… how should I say, stellar? Yeah. When written by less than stellar writers, they also have the traits I despise the most in heroes.
Pillar I: Spirit
While physical strength is nice and all, strength of will is much more meaningful to me. I love it when a character keeps standing up when they are beaten down (I’m not a sadist). The courage to keep going, even when the road ahead is treacherous is something that we all must take a page from. But even with an intense will, it isn’t useful when it is not directed. That is why the dedication displayed by Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man, even with pain in their hearts, is so glorious, However, I must say that I feel Spider-Man exemplifies in this category the most. That is not to say that the others don’t have amazingly strong spirits. With Batman, he pushes his human body to its physical and mental limits. And that isn’t even touching upon the trauma he still feels from his parents’ death. Superman’s restraint is a show of strength too. Just because you can do something does not mean you should, and we are frequently shown that Superman can easily become a dictator in the name of peace. The reason why I pick Spider-Man is admittedly more of a bias. One of my gripes about the other two is that they were not born “normal”. They both were born with privileges, with Superman being born with his powers, and Batman having inherited his wealth. My personal most beloved trait of Spider-Man is that he has a lack of a special lineage, and he had to better himself through hard work. Even though he was not born great, and although it could have been anyone that got bitten, Peter rose to the challenge.
Pillar II: Altruism
Superman automatically wins in this area, because he’s Superman. He is pretty much the poster boy of goodness and heroism. Hell, he even has the word “super” in his name. It is not a matter of preference, since he is honestly one of my least favorite superheroes. It is more of the fact that his altruism is simple and pure. Too often these days do I see anti-heroes protecting those they care about as being a redeeming factor. In my admittedly cynical view, it is hardly a positive trait since it is coming more from a place of selfishness. Even the most heinous of real world criminals had something or someone they cared about, so it is neither a unique nor original trait to give a character to make them appear better. To care about people you don’t even know is a much more heroic characteristic. Superman unselfishly cares about and protects all people, even the villains. This is the same with Batman, but to a much more aggressive degree. Sure, he may bash heads into each other, but Batman does not kill, and everything he does is to make sure that another person does not have to experience what he did. With Spider-Man, he is a hero because of how he feels that it is his duty to help since he has the power and capability to, even when most of the public hate him for it.
Pillar III: Personality
By the process of elimination, everyone’s favorite brooder is the winner for the personality pillar. Now I know what you are thinking; “How can Batman of all people win in this area?” Yeah I know, Superman’s outwardly friendly mannerisms is great, and Spider-Man’s penchant for snarking is amusing, but I like some brooding. Sue me. But seriously, like with the other two pillars, they all have aspects that I like. It is just that since I have a perpetually angry face, and that I am usually serious, I like seeing these types of characters, especially when they have some sort of trauma. And double that if they are the type to hold it in, because that right there is extremely interesting. And face it, he would probably go into a corner and brood til the sun comes up if he didn’t win somehow.
You beautiful people remember when I said that these characters can represent characteristics that I loathe the most? You do? Congratulations on that. But seriously though, while what I am going to say can apply to them when written at their worst, I will speak more broadly in terms of the archetypes that they influenced. For the archetype that I call the “Paragon of Morality”, often times they can be naive and/or idiotic at times. They will go all preachy against all of the “bad” people, and my biggest problem is that this type of character probably with never experienced tragedy, never had to work all that hard to get to where they are, or never felt some sort of temptation. That last part is especially important because it is always easier to be high and mighty when you have never felt the same way someone else has. To quote Paarthurnax from Skyrim. “What is better? To be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?”. For the “Super Angst Mean McSadpants”, it mostly speaks speaks for itself. While personal angst can be intriguing, there is the possibility of going to far with it. It is a balancing act, so while there is no straight concise answer, the angst a character has must be equivalent to the pain they suffered. The same goes for being a jerk, or being antisocial. If you want to destroy the world all because your father left you, then I will not feel bad. And now for the last one, and this one has a few variants, but they all serve the same purpose. My mortal enemy, the “Escapist Everyman”. This character will either be bland in terms appearance, personality, and pretty much everything, or represent the stereotypical idealization of what either a woman/man should be. With the first one, I am constantly trying to figure out why anything is happening to them, like getting a bunch of love interests, and accomplishing anything at all. Too often will they have “being kind” as a trait, but it is not. With the idealized variation, it is more of me not being able to relate to them, mostly because I tend to find the constant attempts to look cool (such as constant smug remarks) grating. Yes, escapism is great and all, but it should not have to come at the expense of creating an actual character instead of a self-insert, or “cool” character.
But aside from my little mini rant, I love the concepts of heroes. It is a bit unfortunate to me that they have seen a very sharp decline, but I want to reinvigorate the interest in heroic characters.