The OED defines a hero as:
“A man who exhibits extraordinary bravery, firmness, fortitude, or greatness of soul, in any course of action, or in connection with any pursuit, work, or enterprise; a man admired and venerated for his achievements and noble qualities” (“hero” OED).
This definition is pretty accurate when it comes to superheroes. Throughout my blog I have evidently tried to show that there really is no “true” definition of a hero, as there are many different types of traits and roles that qualify people and characters to be labelled as such. However, one thing most can agree on is that heroes do good. The stop evil and bad things from happening, or they do something to make us feel a little better about our world. What happens when that gets twisted? What happens when heroes make us question our morals, and where do we draw the line between right and wrong?
Let’s start with Batman. I love the films, but I’ve never been a huge comic book fan-so bear with me. In the comic The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Batman returns in order to protect Gotham City from a new type of villain called “mutants”. The regulars are back, Harvey Dent, James Gordon, and a new younger female Robin. My focus here is not so much on the plot of the book, but the role of Batman as a hero. Wonderfully enough, there seems to exist many parallels between the comic previously mentioned and the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises. For the sake of the media element of this entry, I used a promo from this movie to depict the story line.
Batman commits crime in order to stop crime, however, there is a sense of vengeance in his role. I always felt that Batman was fighting these villains for himself too (once again, keep in mind I’m going off of simply the films here). On top of this, he leads a double life as Bruce Wayne, the rich business man who inherited Wayne Enterprises after the death of his parents. He comes off as an arrogant jerk most of the time in his Bruce Wayne role and there is little sense of anything heroic about that man. Whether that is the point is beyond me, however as Batman one still gets the sense that Batman is above the law. This leads back to my question before-where do you draw the line between right and wrong? Is it okay for Batman (because he has the necessary abilities) to move above and beyond the law in order to do good, or does this create its own set of problems? Superman seems to think so. In The Dark Knight Returns he warns Batman that he should remain more of a “legend” than an actual acting personage. I would agree that the legend of Batman stands able to create a sense of peace, however that seems nearly impossible for Batman “the person”. This makes me question why Batman really desires to rescue Gotham City from its enemies. Does he live to be idolized-to be remembered and be “legendary”? As Professor Humphreys mentioned in class, Miller seems to think the true villain is the media in his comic. I would tend to agree with Mr. Miller, especially when you look at the time he was writing about (Ragan, The Cold War, etc.). How is Batman to defeat that by leading a double life as a millionaire benefiting from the media? The character of Batman really just leads me to ask a lot of questions-which leads me to my next topic.
The idea of “doing evil to stop evil” is continually represented in modern film and television. My favourite example of this is Dexter. Dexter Morgan is a serial killer of serial killers, following a strict code set down by his adoptive father Harry Morgan. Along with his sister Deb, he works for the Miami Metro Police Department as a blood spatter analyst. It is here that Dexter gains access to the files of serial killers that have either been over looked or are unable to be caught. Dexter is in no denial about why he kills. He refers to the desire inside him as his “dark passenger”, who needs to kill in order to properly function. The code however makes it so he only kills those who deserve to be killed. In order to kill them, he has to prove that they have killed and will again, and also needs to do so in a way that he will never be caught (he dumps bodies off of his boat). What I love about this show is that it constantly forces me to question my own moral code. You find yourself not only cheering for Dexter, but becoming angry when the law interferes with his code. Does this make me a bad person? Sometimes I wonder, but all I can think is that “Dexter is doing good! He’s eliminating the world of vermin and people who hurt other people! This is good!”-but is it? Dexter admits that his need to kill is satiated by killing these people, and because no one will miss most of them, he often avoids being caught by authorities. Dexter IS a serial killer himself, but can he still be a hero? He saves hundreds of lives by disposing of bad people, and doesn’t kill anyone that is good. He is brave as he risks his freedom to do this, he is strong and the definition about does say “in any course of action”…
What makes us become enchanted with these characters? I ask myself this often as I’m watching a film or movie. I see them as heroes personally, and the OED defines them as such, so what’s the problem? This is also a question to be answered personally, but I think I understand. These characters do things that we cannot imagine ourselves doing. Deep down, we want to see justice served, and despite the fact we as a society may have to readjust our moral code in order to watch it happen is beyond the fact. We also need to remember this is fiction. Any interference in the law in the real world would turn out in a massive manhunt to put down whoever dare assault the system.
This new genre of heroes is an interesting one to say the least. Frank Miller’s “Batman” has been around for a long time and is by no means new, but the ideas that started in Batman (and before him, an example being the story of Robin Hood) are becoming more and more common. Asking ourselves what is good and what is evil makes sense in the current world we live in, and with that comes the action of questioning who our heroes truly are. According to the OED, the spectrum is broad, as are our own personal definitions.
“Hero” OED Online. OED Online: Oxford University Press, 1, December, 2012. http://www.oed.com.cat1.lib.trentu.ca:8080/view/Entry/86297?rskey=UXZ4yK&result=1&isAdvanced=false
Humphreys, Sara. Lecture. November 2012.
Miller, Frank. The Dark Knight Returns. New York: DC Comics, 1986.
The Dark Knight Rises.Dir. Christopher Nolan. Perf. Christian Bale, Tom Hardy, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway and Michael Caine. Warner Brothers Pictures, 2012. Film.
Dexter. Writ. Jeff Lindsay and James Manos Jr. Dir. Steve Shill. Showtime Networks, 2006-2012.