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The Versatile Antihero

This morning I read a blog post on antiheroes. I was excited to read about the topic, but disappointed in the execution. The author gave a very narrow definition of antiheroes, and he seemed to imply that there's only one "proper" kind: the kind that's in a tough situation with no clear "right answer," who believes he's doing what needs to be done. But right off the top of my head, there are many other variations of antiheroes. Antiheroes that don't necessarily think they're stronger than other people, who may actually choose "the wrong answer" on purpose. Here are some variants that spring to mind.

Vendetta-Obsessed Antiheroes

Antiheroes can have vendettas against true villains that they're willing to fulfill at all costs. Example: The villain of the Korean drama Ghost. In the beginning he seems to be a straight-up cold-blooded killer playing games of cat-and-mouse with the heroic police. But ten years ago, the police were bribed into framing his father for illegal political contributions he never made. The shame and crushing realization that the "justice" system had conspired to destroy him and his family drove him to commit suicide right in front of his son. High-ranking politicians, "truth-seeking" journalists, respectable police officers...turns out there isn't a "good guy" out there that isn't hiding a corrupt little secret.

Tyranny-Toppling Antiheroes

Some antiheroes use questionable means to save The People from villains in power. Examples:

  • Robin Hood in all his international forms. Every culture has at least one folk hero who robs from the rich to give to the poor.
  • Lisbeth Salander. She does all sorts of despicable things to unseat an establishment that quietly endorses prison rape and treats psychiatric patients like animals (technically she wasn't in prison, but you get the idea).
  • Lelouch from Code Geass crosses the ethics line in every episode of his rebellion against the powerful empire of Britannia, which has a bad habit of conquering innocent countries like Japan and stripping citizens of their basic rights. (Kind of like Japan did during WWII, but no matter).
  • Ocelot from the Metal Gear Solid series. Ocelot goes to ridiculous lengths to battle The Patriots (a group secretly pulling the strings behind a global war economy), including stealing military-grade weapons, forcing who knows how many nanomachine-controlled soldiers to kill each other, and hypnotizing himself into believing he's Solid Snake's evil dead brother.

"The Count of Monte Cristo" Antiheroes

There are endless variations on The Count of Monte Cristo. You have the original, in which a man is wrongfully imprisoned, and when he finally escapes, he impersonates a rich noble and ruins the lives of everyone associated with the villains who framed him. You have the ABC Show "Revenge" in which the heroine does something similar to avenge her father, who was set up by his wealthy lover and her husband to be imprisoned for funding terrorists. Or there's the Korean version of City Hunter. In the 1980s, a group of military officials, including the future president of South Korea, secretly sent a team of their best marines across the border to North Korea to take out a group that had bombed a meeting of diplomats at a peace conference. Then, to cover their tracks, they had them all sniped as they were swimming home and threw them under the bus as "rogues." Except for one, who managed to survive and raise the son of his best friend as an expert assassin. Enter City Hunter, who rids the world of corruption one dirty politician at a time.

Antiheroes with Troubled Pasts

This kind of antihero isn't in a moral gray area of revenge and greater good. Some simply act out because they've suffered in ways that the "good" privileged characters could never imagine. Cinderella stories turned on their heads usually go this way: the "evil" stepsister was poor and abused, while Cinderella was always treated like a princess for being rich and pretty. She sees the heroine as a spoiled brat (which she may well be) who needs to be put in her place. Dr. House is a jerk because his father beat him, he lives in constant physical pain from a dying muscle in his leg, and he's clinically addicted to Vicodin. And Becky Sharp is a shameless social climber who doesn't give a damn about anyone else's lives because society has trampled all over hers since her lowly birth.

People might say that some of these antiheroes crossed the line to "villain." But from my perspective, there's no such distinction: the only difference between a hero and a villain is who you happen to sympathize with. Sweetie bought and played through an RPG, The Last Story, recently, and I was tremendously disappointed in the ending because the writers didn't seem to realize this. They tried to cast the best-friend-turned-traitor as a straight-up villain, with everyone saying things like, "What he did was unforgivable," but he was impossible to hate if your moral compass was larger than a five-year-old's. He was only a villain because he sided with the nation that hadn't exiled an entire race to a barren continent to starve by pointing a giant nuke at them. How easy it would have been to turn him into an antihero instead. There was so much potential, and the voice actor was amazing—all it would have taken was a short speech pointing out that he was no worse than the "heroes."

"How are you any different? You blather about peace and harmony, but you've slaughtered hundreds to build your idea of the perfect world. You call me a villain because I killed your precious general, but yourself a savior for killing my king. And he didn't even burn your village to the ground!"

But maybe they thought pointing out the irreconcilable hypocrisy would disturb the kiddos too much, so they hoped no one would notice.


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