Podcast: What is an ANTI-HERO? Batman… Deadpool… Daryl Dixon?

What is an ANTI-HERO? On today’s podcast, Anthony Holdier (from The Story Cauldron podcast) joins Daryl and Jay to define what an ANTI-HERO is and determine which characters fit that mold. It’s not as easy as you might think…

Defining ANTI-HERO on today’s The Story Geeks podcast!

Podcast audio:

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This week on the Patreon-exclusive Aftercast… Daryl and Jay review the latest geek film to hit theaters… VENOM. Is it as bad as everyone says it is? Find out on Patreon!

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The Story Geeks blogger Ashley Pauls responds with an additional perspective on this week’s podcast topic. Want to share your own take? Join the conversation in The Story Geeks Facebook group!

1. What is your high-level definition of an anti-hero?

So I’ve been thinking about the question “What is an anti-hero?” ever since putting together my list of top five anti-heroes for last week’s podcast, and I still feel like it’s a tricky question to answer. There are certain characters that I hear about and immediately think, “Oh yeah, they’re definitely an anti-hero!” — even though I’m having a hard time defining the term.

I’ve always thought of anti-heroes as operating in the gray area between “hero” and “villain.” They lean more towards the hero side, of course, but their personal moral code isn’t black and white.

I guess I could say that’s my definition of an anti-hero: they’re a character that falls in the middle ground between hero and villain, whose actions and motivations are too complicated to classify as simply “good” or “bad.”

2. What is an anti-hero’s core motivation? How does it differ from that of a traditional hero? How does it differ from that of a villain?

A lot of times, heroes in fiction have these broad, overarching goals and philosophies (i.e. the hero in a story wants to stand up to corruption and make the world a better place). They want to fight injustice for the sake of fighting injustice, as it were.

Many anti-heroes have a narrower focus, such as the Punisher, who wants to get revenge on the people who killed his family. He’s not necessarily looking to benefit society as a whole, even though he is addressing corruption as part of his quest for vengeance.

What keeps an anti-hero from crossing the line and becoming a villain is that they still follow a moral code, even if it’s their own private moral code and not the more traditional code the hero follows (see: the conflict between Daredevil and the Punisher in Marvel/Netflix’s “Daredevil” season 2).

Anti-heroes are still “good guys”— or at least, they want to be good guys in the end. However, they may be willing to take morally questionable actions in order to get there…actions a more stereotypical hero would outright reject.

3. Does killing automatically make a character an anti-hero?

Not necessarily. We’ve seen Captain America take on bad guys, and Captain America is definitely not an anti-hero (although now that I think about it, one could make the case that maybe post-“Civil War” Cap is an anti-hero — this is why talking about anti-heroes is so tricky!). 😉

Captain America kills as a last resort, to stop villains who are evil and want to hurt others. Heroes don’t kill for the sake of revenge.

I feel like I keep relying on the Punisher as I talk about anti-heroes, but he really is the perfect example of this archetype (at least to me!). The Punisher’s actions come from a darker place, which is why he’s not classified as a “hero” like Captain America, who is more altruistically motivated.

The Punisher veers closer to “the dark side,” to borrow a concept from Star Wars. The darkness that tinges his actions threatens to pull him closer to the label of “villain.”

4. Most anti-heroes are associated with pushing or crossing the boundaries of law or decency. Are there are any anti-heroes who don’t do this?

Breaking laws and society’s standard moral code is a large part of what makes an anti-hero an anti-hero, I feel. They get far closer to being labeled a villain than a hero type character ever does.

Anti-heroes are, by nature, boundary pushers, and they’re so fascinating because they give fans so much room for debate. Is the anti-hero justified in their actions? How far is too far? What would it take for them to become a full-fledged hero, or a full-fledged villain?

5. Let’s talk about some of the most notable anti-heroes in geek culture. What are the unique characteristics of these anti-heroes? Are they even actually anti-heroes in your opinion?
a. Venom
b. The Punisher
c. Deadpool
d. Daryl Dixon (“The Walking Dead”)
e. Batman

I must confess, I’ve never watched “The Walking Dead” so I don’t know a lot about Daryl Dixon, other than that he seems to be really popular. Based on what I’ve heard, I think he’s a character I’d like. And I also don’t know a lot about Venom aside from the fact that he was in the third Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie, except I think he was a villain in that one? 😉

But the Punisher is definitely the most “anti-hero” anti-hero on this list; I’ve talked about him quite a bit in this blog so far, but I can always find more stuff to say since I really loved “The Punisher” show on Netflix. 😉 I’m really curious to see where they take the character in the second season.

I would say Deadpool is also an anti-hero, based on his appearance in his two solo films. Although he’s definitely no Captain America, Deadpool cares more about doing “the right thing” and helping people than he’d like to admit. Once you strip away his wacky and rather edgy sense of humor, he’s actually a bit of a softie!

As for Batman…that’s a more challenging one, and I feel like it really depends on which version of Batman you’re looking at. The Batman in Christopher Nolan’s films is definitely a hero. He contrasts strongly with each of the villains in his three films — Ra’s Al Ghul, the Joker, and Bane. He’s a vigilante, but he’s got a pretty strong moral compass, even if he does lose his way a time or two.

However, Ben Affleck definitely plays his version ofBatman as more of an anti-hero. I think they could have leaned even harder into the anti-hero aspects of the character in the DC Cinematic Universe films, and it’s a real shame that we may not get to see Affleck in a solo film for the character.

6. Obviously the list goes on and on. What other characters help inform your view of anti-heroes? What other characters do you think get a bad rap and don’t deserve the title?

So it wasn’t until Jay listed Rocket Racoon as one of his favorite anti-heroes on the top 5 anti-heroes podcast that I realized I should have put this character in my own top five. In fact, Rocket probably would have taken over the top spot (sorry, Loki — you know I still love you!). In a way, all the Guardians of the Galaxy characters are anti-heroes, or at least have some anti-hero traits.

They’re definitely less “noble” than the Avengers, though certainly not as dark as the Punisher. They do care about each other, but they’re still very willing to break the rules. The Avengers care very much about protecting the Earth and stopping evil. The Guardians (mostly) care about the fate of the galaxy…but they also wouldn’t mind profiting from it too.

Many of the characters on Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” could also qualify as anti-heroes, as well as a number of the characters in “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (particularly Cassian Andor).

There are also plenty of anti-heroes to be found in the CW/DC show “Legends of Tomorrow.” My two favorite characters are Sara Lance/White Canary and Mick Rory/Heat Wave.

I don’t think there are as many female anti-heroes in fiction, which is why Sara stands out to me. I definitely hope Hollywood gives us more complex female anti-heroes in the future.

One character that I have seen show up on anti-hero lists is Han Solo, but I actually think he’s just a reluctant hero. Han Solo doesn’t really have the darkness that I normally associate with anti-heroes, and even though he pretends to be a scoundrel and a loner, he really does have a big heart and would do anything for his friends.

Solo does make some bad choices, and when we meet up with him again in “The Force Awakens,” he is running from his problems. But he knows all along what the right thing to do is, and his final scene in the film is a poignant and powerful act of sacrifice, one that will (I hope!) lead to his son’s redemption in Episode IX.