A few years ago, basically as a thought exercise while I was running, I put together a team of seven heroes to handle any kind of mission in my head. It was a fun puzzle to worry away at while studiously not thinking about how many more kilometers I had to go, and the results are here if you want them. I still pretty much stand by them.
One of my friends responded with a list of anti-heroes, and it’s fair to say that I had Issues. So I’ve been working away on that one ever since. It was a tougher problem because I didn’t find it as easy to come up with a team that has a diversity of skills. ‘Anti-hero’, as a category, tends to skew pretty heavily towards ‘lethal killing machine’. But, just yesterday (out running again) I thought of another addition to the team and discovered I have seven. So, here it is.
Same ground rules as before: no-one with actual super powers, because once you start picking those you don’t pick anyone else. No-one who does actual magic, because again, that tends to marginalize anyone else.
Here we go. Feel free to yell at me in the comments.
Molly Millions (Neuromancer): I almost took her on my hero team, but didn’t in the end and upon reflection she fits better here anyway. We’re starting off strong with someone who will cut your face off with razor blade fingernails and/or shoot you in the eye with a shellfish toxin dart, but will also outmanoeuvre a lunatic plutocrat in a decades-long power struggle. Of course it helps that she’s from one of my very favourite books ever, but Molly is a wonderful sharp-edged tool to aim at our enemies.
The Marquis de Carabas (Neverwhere): For pick two we’ll diversify a bit and go for someone who isn’t much of a fighter, but knows the ins and outs of the underbelly of urban society (both fantastic and real), can cut us a deal and run us a scam, and honestly anyone who is willing to have themselves tortured to death to pick up a key piece of information is the kind of thinker we need. de Carabas knows all your secrets, and if he doesn’t yet, by god he will find out.
Max Rockatansky (Mad Max series): Sooner or later, there’s gonna be a car chase, so we need a driver. For my hero team, I took Furiosa, here I’m grabbing Mad Max. Max is dangerously close (for the purposes of this) to ticking over into being a hero, but his core impulse by the end of the first movie, and onwards, is just to survive. He has his moments where redemption starts to look pretty good, but in the end, he’s always out back on the road, living only in our dreams. Max can drive cars, trucks, wagons pulled by camels, and he can do it across a radioactive wasteland. He’s also got like a million weapons on him. I have no idea if he and Molly can avoid killing each other.
Ker Avon (Blake’s 7): If you’re a frequent reader of this blog, you should have seen this one coming. Avon is another of my most beloved characters, and he’s going to be huge for our team. He can fly spaceships (which is sure to come up), he’s good with computers, and then that gets generalized to ‘all kinds of science’ as a certain type of SFF tends to do. But perhaps more valuable, he’s a schemer and a plotter and great at seeing the worst in other people and acting accordingly. He and de Carabas will be a dangerous team. I’m not sure if Avon will be relieved to be on a team that isn’t full of people with noble goals or if he’ll perhaps miss it, but he’ll drop some lethal zingers on everyone either way.
Samantha ‘Root’ Groves (Person of Interest): While we’re dealing with tech, let’s add another, possibly even greater computer genius. Computers make more sense to Root than people, and in the course of the series she never meets her match with making tech do what she wants, and figuring out how to use it against her enemies. Who are hopefully now our enemies. Also, we just may get a superintelligent AI on our side this way, and perhaps also government assassin Sameen Shaw to help take out our enemies. Whether we get the package deal or not, between Root and Avon, our IT department is the best/worst.
Snake Plissken (Escape from New York): Back to a more blunt instrument now, and another character I have huge affection for. Sure, he’s a gunfighter, yes he can outfight a giant in a gladiatorial deathmatch, but ultimately, Snake is another survivor. From Cold War military engagements to near-future dystopias and the custody of totalitarian police forces, Snake grinds his way through. He’s also got a rep among the poor and the desperate (ok fine also criminals) that we can probably leverage.
Crisjen Avasarala (The Expanse TV series): I mean as soon as you can have the Secretary-General of the United Nations on your team, you’re doing quite well, and in Avasarala we’re getting a savvy politician and expert negotiator/manipulator. Also someone with an endearingly foul mouth, for added style points. I’m not entirely sure we’re meant to take Avasarala as an anti-hero, but when we first meet her she’s remorselessly torturing someone, and soon after she’s manipulating a dear family friend to score information on Mars, and not long after she’s strongarming someone’s mom for information about something else. I think she fits, and between her, Avon, and de Carabas, my only worry would be how long I could stay more than nominally in charge of this bunch.
Didn’t Make the Cut:
Judge Dredd is one of your more obvious choices in the antihero realm, but between Snake, Molly, and Max, we’ve got plenty of lethal force options, and he honestly wouldn’t play well with many of the others anyway.
The Punisher is another very famous anti-hero, but he’s real close to breaking the ‘no superpower’ rule and anyway the character has never grabbed me. I’ve got better shootists, anyway.
Leda Clone Helena also just got cut from the hero team, so she’ll be super pissed, but I’m honestly not sure she works as an anti-hero by the end of Orphan Black, and so even though there’s an off chance we might get all the Leda clones on board adding her, I think it’s not a great fit and – as much as I love her unique brand of threat – we have other people who can fight our fights.
Don’t Even With
Here’s where I get grumpy about how the concept of ‘anti-hero’ seems to have been broadened, recently, to include anyone who isn’t happy go lucky and unfailingly kind. You can be a grumpy jerk and still be a hero. An antihero is someone who is the protagonist in our story, and may do heroic things, but doesn’t do it out of any sense of right or wrong, or (put a little more melodramatically) out of nobility of spirit. They do things out of self-interest, or sometimes according to *their own sense* of what’s right, but that doesn’t generally line up with society good/bad standards.
Thus, although they come up a lot as examples of antiheroes, do not come in here with
Indiana Jones, who we do think differently of these days regarding his life mission to travel the globe obtaining priceless cultural artifacts and hauling them back to an American museum, but I still argue caution is required. We do not, today, approve of Indy’s goals, although ‘that belongs in a museum’ is perhaps still better than something ending up the private possession of some millionaire jerkwad. Moreover, it’s clear from the framing of the movies that we’re at least supposed to think Indy is doing the right thing (morality here has shifted in the direction of justice). My final point, though, is that no-one whose most famous tagline is ‘Nazis! I hate these guys’ belongs on the anti-hero list.
Even moreso with Han Solo, who is so unambiguously an enormous softie trying very hard to hide it that I can’t believe anyone interprets him any differently. When we first (well, originally first?) met him in A New Hope, he’s scrambling desperately to survive, but at really the first possible opportunity he Does The Right Thing and never stops up until he gives his life trying to help his son in Force Awakens. Not even close.
I hesitate to even mention Batman, since he kind of breaks the ‘no superhero’ rule anyway, but I keep seeing him on lists of anti-heroes and it’s silly. Yes, again, if you view his mission as ‘rich guy beating up poor people’, it looks rough, but then in the comics he spends virtually no time actually doing that and almost all his time grappling with superpowered terrorists and murderers. The message of many Batman stories re: mental illness is not great, but I’d argue you have to generalize that criticism over superhero comics overall. In sum, I tend to agree with Superman’s assessment of Batman in Kingdom Come, that if you scrape everything else away from the character, you’re left with someone who doesn’t want to see anyone die. That’s a hero, come on now.
Anyway, there you have it, for whatever it may be worth. Let me know why I absolutely got it wrong, and thank you for reading.