So, yeah, it looks like in my category of bad-guys who aren’t bad-guys, I like the ones who believe strongly in their purpose, don’t kick puppies, and provide the reasoning behind the actions of otherwise unsympathetic actors in the universe. These characters aren’t heroic in the conventional sense, though they do have strong beliefs that bring them into conflict with their own side. In fact, villains who just do whatever they want when they want usually aren’t that interesting.
This conflicts with my pettiness point somewhat. Sure Lex, wants to kill Superman and he doesn’t ever say, “I can’t kill Superman this way; it would destroy this orphanage.” In the trailers for the DC Universe Online, he wrecks the world (or at least Metropolis) just to kill the Justice League just to kill Superman. I suppose there’s a difference between pettiness of means and pettiness of ends. While Chaplain Action, He-Man of The Cloth and Victoria Hand have fairly high-minded goals and means, Lex and Doom have very petty ends and very highbrow means. Minor criminals have tiny goals and pathetic means. I suppose they’re called petty criminals for a reason.
Reasoning from that, great heroism is pulled from heroic means towards heroic ends. I’ve talked about this briefly, but it’s important to expand on this idea. While a hero doesn’t necessarily (ever) get their ends, it’s important that those ends are noble. Yes, there are occasions where a hero pursues something less than noble and learns about nobility on the way there or ends up doing something more noble in the end, but generally, it’s hard to be a good hero if your plan is to eviscerate the evil general in front of his wife and present his entrails to his daughter in the form of a holiday garland. That shit rarely gets turned into your next great hero.
So while the means is largely the determining factor, ends are important as well. The greatest heroes often have a very simple ends (helping people) mixed with complicated and varied ends (usually, something along the lines of “don’t kill people”). There can be more complicated variations (Wolverine, despite his proclivity for slicing people up, gets billed as a hero fairly often and consider the cooly murderous Authority versus the increasingly lethal X-Men, whose desire for mutants and humans to live in peace often takes them to the least peaceful intersections of those two groups.).
Perhaps my own reckoning of heroism isn’t an unwillingness to kill, but the adherence to a set of rules the hero sets out for themselves; their ability to stick to their own convictions. That makes it a pretty hard sell for Spider-Man and Superman. Superman, as I’ve mentioned before is just the inner ‘good’ so many people have. How much adherence does that take? Superman’s dealings with Manchester Black (who certainly isn’t a mad, telepathic Jenny Sparks who exists only to create moral dilemmas for Superman) tell us that even when things go tragically wrong, Superman sticks to his guns. Spider-Man is more problematic; he’s a bit wishy-washy at times, though he does tend to side whole-heartedly with whatever he’s chosen to thrown in with lately. Perhaps his problem is deciding which direction is best. Maybe his myopic-morality just isn’t as acute of that of other superheroes. He is worried about doing wrong, perhaps more than he is of doing nothing (which I have a hard time reconciling, given his origin story). If he does tend to overthink his options and worry about which one is best, then I don’t think it’s a moral failing. I think that he’s just fine at committing to his methods of doing good; he simply has a problem choosing when a major change arises. I don’t think it’s unheroic. I think it’s just dramatic.
Alright, so to recap: heroes lack pettiness, have sound methods and ends, and are just, iconic, selfless, uncompromising, humble, and responsible (or are mostly these things). Now, that’s a long list, but I plan on revisiting it as I start making this top ten heroes list in earnest. For the basis, I’m going to use my list of favorites as a base.
The Midnighter(Warren Ellis/Mark Millar)
Jenny Sparks(Warren Eillis/Mark Millar)
Booster Gold (Geoff Johns)
Steve Rogers(Ultimates Vol 1 & 2)
Cloud 9 (Dan Slott)
Deadpool (Cable & Deadpool)
Alright, a lot of guys are on this list because they have a lot of room to grow. Damian, Booster Gold, and Deadpool are right off because they may one day be iconic heroes, but there’s a big fat chance of that happening and they’re not even fucking close right now (Also, I’m taking Grant Morrison’s name off of Damian because his new appearance in Teen Titans—the one where he cold-cocks the troubled, super-powered teen that Raven was trying to calm down—is just indescribably awesome!).
Also out are Midnighter and Ultimate Cap. While Ultimate Cap will occasionally jump on someone for cursing and while beating up a wifebeater and cutting an alien in half with a shield probably don’t break any moral codes (the alien got better…until Hulk ate it), he’s still a bit of a fucker and being a fucker just isn’t heroic. Badass is great, but it’s not heroic.