Only one street light breaks the intense darkness on the desolate city street. A sharp scream pierces through the illusion of tranquility. A woman runs, desperate for help or even a shred of hope. Behind her the sound of pursuing footsteps changes to the sounds of a struggle. She chances a glance behind her to see a masked figure grappling with her would be attacker. Terror is replaced with hope that this unknown vigilante may be her salvation.
That should be a familiar scene, a cinematic and literary cliché. People love their fictional heroes. Action heroes, super heroes and even anti-heroes. They make great entertainment. And I’m one of those hero loving people. Cliché or not, I love them. And all of my favorite heroic characters have on thing in comment, they are flawed.
Lets face it, (obviousness alert) perfection is boring. My husband and I were discussing how flaws make heroes more interesting and he brought up a good point. What creates a good story is the protagonist overcoming obstacles. If a hero has to overcome his or her own shortcomings as well as external conflict it adds more dynamic to the story. A part of me has to love Superman because, well, he’s Superman. He’s the original super hero. However (sorry Superman fans) he has the problem of being too perfect. He’s totally invincible and rarely has internal struggles. They had to introduce Kryptonite to give him vulnerability. He either has to be working to save someone who isn’t invincible (Lois Lane anyone?) or fight someone who has powers that rival his own. Batman on the other hand is only human (with cool gadgets and lots if training) and is pretty much a writhing mess of internal struggle. Superman is loved as an icon but Batman is more popular (according to Comic Resources). It’s not just in the DC universe. I mean who likes Cyclops better than Wolverine? Others have to overcome insecurities about their outward appearances, like Beast or The Thing. Still others have physical disabilities to balance their powers as in Daredevil’s blindness. Others look hideous and are completely insane, oh no wait, that’s just Deadpool (more of an anti-hero I know). It’s not confined to super heroes either. Action movies are filled with rogue cops and revenge seeking badasses.
Part of why people love heroes so much is because we like to envision ourselves as heroes. Just look at the popularity of cosplay and it’s obvious that people enjoy a respite from the real world into the fictional. Who hasn’t thought about what super powers they would have if given the choice. (I’d be able to turn into any animal, while keeping my human intelligence. Then I could fly, become nearly invisible, swim to the bottom of the ocean and kick butt as a bear or lion). It’s simply harder to relate to a flawless hero. Vulnerability not only make characters more interesting it also makes them more accessible.
Robocop aside, nobody wants to watch a crime fighting automaton. When a character is robotic or lacking humanity it usually becomes part of their journey to learn humanity. One of the most notable examples of this is Data on Star Trek (and really Spock before him). This brings me to my next point, if a character’s already infallible they have nowhere to progress. Character growth is important to good storytelling. The Buffy of first season is very different from the Buffy of seventh season (and I was starting to think I could get through this whole post and not mention my biggest hero). This growth is often most apparent in anti-heroes. Han Solo wouldn’t have been very popular if he’d been like “yes! I totally want to dedicate myself to making the galaxy a better place by joining the rebel alliance! I love self-sacrifice!” from the get go. We want to see that scruffy-looking nerd herder evolve from self-centered smuggler to self-sacrificing hero. We love to see a character and think “sure they seem gruff but I bet they’re actually good on the inside.” It goes without saying that we don’t want to see our anti-hero lose his or her quirky rogueness, we just want to see growth. That’s often a problem with TV shows in general, they get stuck not wanting to change the character too much but just end up with a stagnant boring character everyone has lost interest in.
I’ve just spent an entire post saying that heroes are interesting when they have room to grow and obstacles to overcome. I suppose that falls in the realm of obvious but I like evaluating it anyways. The point is the perfect hero is really imperfect (see what I did there). I also like my villains with a little good in them but that’s a post for another day.
Yup, I totally just put a picture of my dog in a cape (I think it’s a vampire cape) to get people’s attention.
*It didn’t work. This has been by far my lowest viewed post.