Heroes and badasses (#SFWApro)

This discussion of Gail Godot, the Wonder Woman for Superman vs. Batman, had the best description I’ve come across of the difference between a tough character and a badass character: “badass is to tough as kewl is to cool. Badass is kind of like a caricature of true toughness and strength. I believe Wonder Woman was traditionally strong, indomitable, skilled, resilient, dominating, powerful, and warriorlike, but not “badass.” Even Batman wasn’t consistently “badass” until post-Frank Miller except.for maybe the first year of his existence. Captain America is tough. Wolverine is badass. The Hulk and Spider-Man are tough. The Punisher and Lobo are badass. John Wayne is tough. Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry is badass.”
I think that about fits (and I don’t think Wonder Woman should really be badass, despite the current trend to show her as a violent femme). Except I’d add that “badass character” also frequently applies to characters who are amoral, violent bad guys, but are supposed to be cool because they don’t take shit, because they’re amoral, or because they get off some snarky one-liners.
And that made me think of this article about good guy heroes and the assumption they’re boring, bland, unrealistic, etc. They have no moral ambiguity. They don’t fight dirty. They’re not cool. They’re (shudder) nice. They’re not tormented or edgy. As Kevin Smith once said, if Superman has any angst it’s that he’s not able to do even more to help people.
Where Dirty Harry and the Punisher present the system as an obstacle (obvious criminals walk through legal loopholes and that Bill of Rights stuff!) Superman and Cap are out to support the best parts of the system. As in Captain America: Winter Soldier, where Cap comes down in favor of the Bill of Rights and against summary execution without trail.
As noted at the Daily Dot article, none of this makes them flawless characters or perfectly happy. It just makes them good guys. But for some people, being a good guy is indeed bland and uninteresting. And it’s assumed to be toxic to audiences who are too cool/sophisticated/cynical to take that seriously.
Of course, the success of Winter Soldier shows that can work (despite complaints Cap would be a better character if he were a dick). I agree with comics writer Joe Kelly that Superman is interesting precisely because with all his power, he does the right thing (discussed here), similar to the point writer Elliott Maggin made in the novel Miracle Monday
Warner Brothers, however, can’t seem to let go of the idea Superman should be dark and angsty. Hence Man of Steel, where Superman kills in combat, makes little attempt to save bystanders during the fight, and allows Pa Kent to die (plus Pa Kent telling Clark it’s not worth saving people if it exposes your identity).
Part of this is the assumption that grit and darkness are more adult, more mature, more realistic than heroes fueled by idealism. Being good is shallow, being cynical is smart. Only with dark stories this frequently slides into equal unrealism: it’s not that injustice exists, it’s that justice doesn’t, not that people die of cancer but everyone’s dying of cancer. For example numerous Chris Claremont X-Men stories that assert not only is their bigotry against mutants but no humans outside of his supporting cast are capable of overcoming it.
And of course part of it is just marketing. Christopher Nolan’s Bat-films were a massive hit, so Warners assumes the same approach will work for Superman. One disgruntled comics fan described it as Batman being the only character the company (which owns DC) can do well, so they assume that’s the way to do all characters (Flash and Green Lantern in current continuity were both driven by the death of a parent).
A light, life-affirming noble Superman has, after all, fueled four live-action TV shows, multiple cartoons and a long-running radio show. Assuming he can’t work any more is selling the audience short.
(All rights to image with current holders)


Filed under Comics, Writing

3 responses to “Heroes and badasses (#SFWApro)

  1. Pingback: Comics reviews: Okay,I’m not completely a cranky old man (#SFWApro) | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  2. Pingback: Badass villains: The War of Jokes and Riddles | Fraser Sherman's Blog

  3. Pingback: How could you hate my protagonist? She’s so awesome! | Fraser Sherman's Blog

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