Apr 17, 2014

Protagonists People Think Are Heroes (Wrongly)

For all that we as a species have evolved in the last hundred thousand years, it still amazes me how pretty easily we're manipulated by titles and labels. And that happens a whole awful lot in fiction. We're told Peter Parker is responsible that we'll overlook all the times when he's not. We're told Superman's a patsy in The Dark Knight Returns, by Batman, that we overlook the fact that he saves lives and doesn't actually get beaten by Batman. And we're told someone's a hero and we just generally buy into it without thinking much about it.

So never fear, I'm here to set the record straight.

Protagonists People Think Are Heroes (Wrongly)
by Duy

5. Batman

Let's get one thing straight. I'm talking about this Batman.

Things go south, so he quits being Batman, then comes back when Bane shows up, does absolutely nothing for the entire third act that's not handed to him by someone else, either by advice or just plain being done for him, like having to be rescued, and then blows up a bomb right over the Gotham River, then fakes his death while leaving Gotham to the mercy of its criminals, all on the loose, and with the bridges blown up, leaving only Joseph Gordon-Levitt and the clearly incompetent Gotham cops who all decide that going altogether into a tunnel leaving no one outside for backup is a good move, all so he can retire in Europe and sleep with Anne Hathaway, so, you know, great.

And I'm sure that's the single longest sentence I've ever written for the Cube.

Anyway, absolutely not a hero or even a competent Batman, and I'm a little curious as to why Batman in Batman Forever gets flak for quitting in the middle of the movie while this one gets a pass for quitting twice.

4. Sandman

Even Neil Gaiman will tell you (and has, in The Sandman Companion) that the reason Desire looks like a villain in Sandman is because it's Dream's comic and that if it had been Desire Comics, Dream would look like the antagonist. But if you really look at Sandman, you'll see that among the several arcs is one where, quite simply, Dream learns how to be a good guy. Dream throughout most of the series is not above torture or unbelievably cruel punishments or his self-centered definition of justice. But the best example of Dream not being the hero that the title of the book would indicate he is occurs in the second long storyline, The Doll's House, where he chastises the Corinthian, a walking dream who's inspired a ton of serial killers...

....for not being scary enough.

Doesn't sound very heroic to me. That Dream takes him apart doesn't mean Dream's doing it for heroic reasons. He even recreates him (to be scarier) later on.

3. Rorschach

I love Watchmen, and the most enduring character from it is Rorschach, who's generally seen as a badass because of his great moral integrity and the fact that he's really violent. But the thing with Watchmen is that for all its strengths, it's a stacked deck that really makes Rorschach look cool because everyone else looks kinda lame, apathetic, or evil. The thing about Rorschach is that Alan Moore never wanted him to get as big as he was, and in fact wanted to show through him how disturbing vigilantes could be (which opens up a whole other can of worms about a trend of classism in Moore's works, but we won't go there).

But you know what? Forget about how incredibly disturbing, psychopathic, and how utterly without regret Rorschach is when he's murdering criminals without due process. The thing that strikes me about Rorschach really is that he's actually not very good at what he does. He spends most of Watchmen trying to solve a mystery, and when the time comes, it's actually Nite Owl who solves it, while Rorschach is prattling on about symbolism to make himself feel smart.

Do you want this guy in your foxhole? He'd probably break your fingers if he thinks you looked at him the wrong way.

Speaking of stacked decks....

2. V

V from V for Vendetta seems like a good guy, until you stop to consider for a little bit that he's fighting a bunch of fascists and just about anyone who hates them is going to look good in comparison when he's the lone guy standing up to that system. But...

V is a terrorist. He indiscriminately decides who gets to live and die. For him, anyone not standing up to the system is guilty; never mind the fact that they might not know any better, or that they have families to support. V believes he's right, in pure black and white terms, and that everyone who disagrees with him is wrong and should be punished or educated.

But forget the terrorist aspect for a bit. That's kind of the point of the book, after all — the man dresses up against a historically famous terrorist who tried to blow up Parliament, and no matter which side you're on, murder's murder. Let's just forget all that for a bit and see how V treats Evey Hammond, whom he claims to love.

I mean, it's great that it opened Evey's eyes and made her find herself, and don't get me wrong, I still read V every now and then and think things like "Yeah! Anarchy rules!", but at the end of the day, we're talking about a dude who used torture and physical and mental and emotional abuse in the name of love.

1. Superior Spider-Man

Now this, I just don't get at all. The others, I still get, but this one... no, not at all. Ever since Superior Spider-Man started, it was clearly a story of awesomeness by omission — showing how great a certain character is (in this case, Peter Parker) by replacing him (with Otto Octavius/Doctor Octopus in this case). Doc Ock was shown to have redeeming qualities, as he's been shown to have for a long time (he's been in love before, for example, and always had a soft spot for Aunt May), and really, the whole point was that Ock was a terrible Spider-Man. In short, Superior is the story of a villain. Even in his crusade against crime, he was employing villainous methods and was still out for himself.

I thought that was pretty clear, so how come we have reviewers saying things like "Otto Octavius' brain, Peter Parker's body, and doing the job better than ever"? I mean, that's disturbing, right? We're talking about a dude who brutalizes unnecessarily and is still out for himself.

But then these tweets exist as well:

And then there's this one, soon after Ock "permanently" wiped out Peter Parker:

Where did this "redemption" angle come from? I mean, as early as issue 5, Otto killed a villain named Massacre with this justification:

This is a man who, from the start, never believed a man could truly change. And at the end of it, down on his luck, he just gave up. That he genuinely loved someone at the end of it doesn't change the fact that he's a villain, and always was.

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