Dictionary.com’s Word of the Day back on the 5th of August was ‘antihero’, and I think by now we all know of antihero characters across fiction! The most obvious example I can think of would be the popular comic-book character Venom, who has gone from outright to villain, to a protagonist who operates largely out of self-interest, as opposed to malice, and will do good if it personally suits him.
This got me thinking. When most of us do something ‘heroic’, are we truly acting altruistically, or are we being good if it benefits us somehow? An over-arching notion is that when devout religious fundamentalists do good, are they doing so for the sake of it, or because of the promise of an eternal reward?
These might be topics best served for another prompt. In the meantime, swinging back to antiheroes, what makes so popular?! Consider how characters like Venom, and Black Adam, and to a lesser extent, Deadpool (I don’t know if Deadpool is truly an antihero), along with the likes of say, Magneto (who may be more of a villain, albeit one with sympathetic motivations) are quite beloved by their fanbases. They do not conduct themselves as honourable heroes, and their methods can be drawn into question, but they get the job done! It’s a case of ‘do the ends justify the means’? Someone like Venom would have no trouble slaughtering hordes of bad guys, whereas someone like Batman or Captain America might show mercy. Mercy is a quality that is perhaps rarely seen these days, and in my view that’s a pity, but at what point does mercy morph into a lack of conviction to get the job done, and at what point does conviction segue into cold cruelty?
Yet despite their abrasive natures, we love characters like the aforementioned ones. What can be accomplished when we throw off the shackles of restraint, and truly go for it? These characters do precisely that. We have all fantasied along such lines. We all imagine blurring that barrier between the truly heroic characters, and those who might be less noble. However, if we are conceiving of ourselves in those circumstances, we have to mindful that the fuzzy boundary between hero and villain where the antiheroes live is sometimes quite thin, and it is all too easy to cross that line.
Another bit of food for thought is what our motivations are. Let’s say someone destroys a villain’s outpost to stop a nefarious plan. We fete them as a hero. Let’s say someone destroys it out of an angry lust for revenge. The end result is the same, but do we reward the antihero in the same manner as the hero, given their motivation? Acting out of a desire for vengeance is generally frowned upon as being dangerous and destructive; do we look the other way if the result of that desire is beneficial to us? It’s very easy to do so.
You know, for what was sort of intended as a light-hearted prompt about superheroes, it’s gotten very deep!