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In Praise of the Anti-Hero
by Mike Thomas

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At Least He's Not Pointing It At You

At Least He's Not Pointing It At You

Everybody loves the Hero. Square-Jaw, piercing eyes, arms akimbo, always standing with his feet four feet apart (it's a Jack Kirby rule). His (or Her) moral compass unwaveringly points to Truth and Justice, and the Terran Way (I may have international readers - yeah, right..). The hero will never take a life, even risking their own to save their sworn enemy, and will always turn the Villain over to The Authorities. The hero, the basic staple in any morality play, is the one you turn to as the role model and the person who will always to the right thing.

Makes you want to gag.

Very early in literature, writers discovered that there occasionally needed to be a third player, someone outside the straight and narrow, but not fully embracing the Dark Side. They do heroic things, when they have to, but are not above bending, breaking, or decimating the law when they need to. They don't save the day, they don't get the girl (or the guy), and they're sometimes hunted and hated, even when they have just put their own lives on the line to save another.

These are the Anti-Heroes.

Whereas heroes are characters you should aspire to be, the anti-hero is the character you want to be. They have their own moral compass, and each has their personal agenda that may help save the day, but if they have to crack a few heads or take a life to do it - oh, well!

Recently, this writer has been personally exposed to the world of the anti-hero. A new movie coming out, CHICAGO OVERCOAT, paints a ruthless hit man as a sympathetic character who wants to disappear once and for all, but not before his remaining family is taken care of and his "family" is taken care of. In short, the cold-blooded hit-man is the hero. Or anti-hero.

One of the most famous anti-heroes in films today is The Incredible Hulk. Created as a result of a Gamma Bomb explosion (I read the comic book - it was a Gamma BOMB), this super-strong creature wishes only to be left alone, but he is obsessively hunted by his Ahab, General Thunderbolt Ross, and along the way manages to save mankind over and over again.

Another anti-hero on the far side of the law is
Save Me?

Save Me?
Marv from SIN CITY. Not much is known of his past, but he was framed for the murder of a prostitute, then goes on a brutal, murderous rampage to avenge her death. You actually root for him when he cracks a skull, or drags a henchman alongside a speeding car, or murders a cardinal. In his, and the audience's mind, what he's doing is right. He dies, satisfied that his life, in the end, was a redemption, and that he helped destroy a great Evil.

Britt Reid, weathy newspaper mogul, on the death of his father, assumes the guise of The Green Hornet, a good guy posing as a villain, and despite the abominable movie that came out his year, is pretty unique concept in the super-hero world. Little bit of trivia: Britt Reid is supposedly a direct decendent of The Lone Ranger. Though it is popularly thought that The Lone Ranger's real name was John Reid, his real name has never been fully revealed. He has survived radio, earlier movies, a televison series, and popular buzz says that a sequel is in the works.

If we want to get medieval on your, uh, rear, the original anti-hero, Robin Hood, has been in the public eye since 1422, and is showing no signs of slowing down. His rob from the Rich and give to the Poor has been romanticized almost to the level of religious canon. From last count, over 35 films have been devoted to the original scoundrel, and Hollywood's not done with him yet.

The DEVIL'S DISCIPLE is a classic anti-hero type, the bastard that does all the wrong things for the right reasons. Kirk Douglas sets the mold as Richard Dudgeon, a questionably moral man who almost sacrifices his life, to save The Rev. Anthony Anderson, (Burt Lancaster), a more honorable man and his "adversary" throughout the entire movie - and quite frankly, this writer also thinks he did it just to chesse Anderson off, to get the last laugh.

Detectives make good anti-heroes. They know the law, and they know just how far they can bend it, and how to break it without getting caught. They work the
The Original Anti-Hero

The Original Anti-Hero
law, tip-toeing around it or side-stepping it to get the job done. From Sam Spade in The MALTESE FALCON to ACE VENTURA: PET DETECTIVE, these gumshoes stay a hair's breath within the law to earn their client's fee.

An unlikely, but popular anti-hero type is the Everyman who is forced to perform a series of marginally or completely immoral and unlawful acts, in order to accomplish a mission of another, more evil antogonist. This is embodied in movies like Johnny Depp Thriller, NICK of TIME, or the high-tech action thriller, EAGLE EYE. As the anti-hero, these characters are put in extreme peril, and must not only steal, maim, even kill to save themselves or a loved one, but must survive at least until the final credits.

Another "type" of anti-hero is the villain-turned-hero. You see this type of anti-hero mainly in television. In "Xena: Warrior Princess," the aforementioned antagonist was the most feared warlord (warlady?) in all of ancient Greece, but was turned to Good by Hercules (in the series "Hercules: the Legendary Journeys"), and for five seasons tried to redeem herself from her former past by slaughtering all whom she formerly had allied with. "Angel," the spin-off of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer," chronicles the adventures of the vampire - with a soul - and his quest to atone for the centuries of evil and suffering he inflicted upon mankind, and to prevent Armageddon. And my last example, one of my current favorite shows, "Leverage," bands a group of criminals - the best in their fields - to help the Little Man from a factor that had done them wrong. The show is very reminiscent of "Mission: Impossible" (the series, not the movie), where those specialists would help right a wrong for the United States Government, working just barely within the law to preserve it. I loved watching "Mission: Impossible," especially at the end, when the Impossible Mission Force would leave their mission, and behind them you would hear gunfire - of life-long friends and allies shooting each other.

The anti-hero type that is always a
Matchflick's Newest Anti-Superhero!

Matchflick's Newest Anti-Superhero!
crowd-pleaser is the character who has had a great wrong done to them and is now out for revenge. From DEATH WISH to The BRAVE ONE, there are just too many examples of this sub-genre to give an adequate representation, but every other genre, from animation to Westerns, and everything in between, can claim the revenge genre as their own.

Lastly, one of our Matchflickers, and the inspiration for this column, Mike O'Dea, is in the process of creating his own anti-hero, or as he refers to it as his anti-superhero, GHOSTMAN. His film revolves around "The greatest thief in the world." The film is currently a work in progress, and you can catch up with him on his Facebook page and his indie film page IndieGoGo

The anti-hero movie poses the question, "How far would you go to do what needs to be done?" The Hero has boundaries set by the laws of morality. The Anti-Hero has a different set of laws - their own. Marv was not above letting his enemy get eaten alive by wolves, but felt badly when he had to hurt that same wolf when it attacked him. Blade, Vampire Hunter often crossed the line in his life-long battle against his own kind. The anti-hero is a watchable character, because he/she is unpredictable. You don't know what will happen or what the anti-hero will do in any given situation.

That's why they're so much fun to watch!


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Science Fiction, Double Feature
Every other Sunday

This column will explore my taste in film. I watch all kinds of movies - all kinds - but likes science fiction/fantasy - action, animated, funny, even stupid. He will speak of his experience and his encounters with science fiction and the way it colors his - and our - everyday life.


Other Columns
Other columns by Mike Thomas:

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Adieu

Joker Smackdown

Kids in Peril

Twenty Questions with Michael Bonomo

Twenty Questions with Scott Wheeler

All Columns


Mike Thomas
Mike Thomas was introduced to science fiction when he first watched 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY, and was hooked ever since. But he doesn't just watch the gee-whiz, gollee-gee special effects. He watches the costumes quirks, evaluates the musical scores, even identifies favorite actors of directors. He collected comic book, but has moved on to weapons: he currently owns the Mj?llnir - the Hammer of Thor, Electra's Ninja Sai's, Mace Windu's Light Saber, and a couple of Batarangs.




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If you have a comment, question, or suggestion, you can send a message to Mike Thomas by clicking here.


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