A little while ago I talked about my favourite secondary characters and villains (and female villains). In the last of these I mentioned the term anti-hero.
It turns out the internet has a vast array of definitions for an anti-hero, but most state that they are a protagonist that doesn’t have traditional heroic traits.
For me, and the online Urban Dictionary, an anti-hero is an unpredictable ‘good guy’. A flawed protagonist that is capable of very bad things as well as the good.
The anti-hero is my favourite kind of hero. They’re much more interesting than the squeaky clean, can-do-no-wrong hero. For example, wasn’t Captain America (not an anti-hero) much more interesting in Avengers Assemble, when he argues with Tony Stark, than in The First Avenger, when he was the squeaky clean all-American war hero?
The anti-hero is also much more fun to write. Maybe because we’re good people, and the anti-hero allows us to live through them, being the hero that breaks the rules.
Here are some of my favourite anti-heroes:
The ultimate anti-hero, Logan/Wolverine is one of the X-Men, made mainstream by Hugh Jackman. I remember watching the X-Men cartoon as a child and first witnessing Wolverine. Who is this angry, short, hairy man in yellow? I thought. I love him!
Wolverine is stubborn, fiercely angry, older than old, violent and lover who will fight to the death to protect those he loves and cares about.
Bruce Banner/The Hulk
It seems to me that in most cases Dr Banner is seen as a hero but the Hulk can be a villain. Can be. Except when Bruce can control him. When Bruce has control, the Hulk is good, when he can’t, the Hulk is bad. As such, the Hulk is very unpredictable and you never really know what you’re going to get.
I mentioned Catwoman in my list of favourite female villains, but she also counts as an anti-hero, particularly in the latest The Dark Knight Rises movie, as portrayed by Anne Hathaway. Hathaway plays her as a sassy cat burglar who aids Batman as he races to save Gotham City from Bane. Hathaway’s Catwoman isn’t necessarily capable of evil or being a villain in a ‘Joker’ or ‘Penguin’ sense. But you never can be certain if she will come through for Batman, in any of the many versions of Catwoman.
Ok, hands up, I haven’t really watched Breaking Bad.
*Ducks as rotten vegetables are thrown*
But it seems to me that Walter White is a major anti-hero. A squeaky clean, perhaps too clean, chemistry teacher who is dragged to the edge by the world in general and turns into a violent drug dealer. He is violent, scary, living very much outside of the law and yet he’s our guy. He’s been forced into the man he becomes by the world, and who of us can’t understand that. He’s the guy we all root for, the guy we all want to succeed.
I’ve only seen a couple of episodes, but as a writer, Walter White fascinates me (I’ll watch it all one day).
From the First Law series by Joe Abercrombie, Logan is my favourite character in the whole Abercrombie universe (followed closely by Glokta). He is just, with a good heart and a man you want on your side, but when he gets angry he turns into the Bloody Nine and then it doesn’t really matter if you’re on his side or not.
I still haven’t read Red Country, and still hoping Logan makes a return sometime.
I tried to think of more literature examples but my mind has gone blank. I also tried hard to think of more women, and yes I am very aware that there’s only one on this list. There are a lot more female anti-heroes in the world, it’s just that I don’t know a lot about them. They’re not in the books I read or the films I watch, which maybe says something more about me than of an equality issue.
Just as the world needs more female villains, it also needs more female anti-heroes, as this article explains. Seeing as how much fun they are to write, I don’t think it should be too much of a problem. Getting them into the mainstream, so that girls everywhere are aware of them, that’s a different story.
And here is a compilation video I found of Wolverine, and just why he is so awesome: