In Praise of the Anti-hero

I think this the logo for a skateboard company. But it's so cool, I just have to use it.
I think this the logo for a skateboard company. But it’s so cool, I just have to use it.

Regular readers here at the Progressive Redneck are probably aware that I’m a bit of a nerd. Not necessarily a classical nerd; I was never a member of the Pocket Protector Alliance and the endless arguments over the best gaming system don’t interest me in the least. If I had to categorize myself, I’d have to say I’m a book nerd. I love the written word; every bit of it, from Shakespeare to the most ridiculous science fiction novel. And, that includes comic books

When I was a kid, after every doctor visit, my mom would stop at the drug store in Pleasant Garden, NC to fill whatever prescription the doctor had written. Every time we walked in the door, I would make a beeline for the comic books and spent the entire visit perusing the selection. This inspection was crucial because, as a reward for not being too much of a pain in the ass, Mama would allow me to pick out one book. I haven’t been in that store for 40 years or more, but this memory is just as vivid as if it happened yesterday.

Comic books have changed since I was kid; they’re darker and more complex. But, a lot of the heroes I remember from those days are still around: Batman, Superman, Captain American, Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, etc. Growing up, Batman was probably my favorite, something about a guy who dressed like a bat to operate as a vigilante appealed to me. I’ve never cared much for Superman; he’s too perfect. Even with all that teen angst bullshit, Spiderman was way more interesting to me.

You may have figured this out already, but I like my heroes just a little…, broken. I guess that’s why I’ve always preferred Marvel over DC, Batman over Superman. In fact, I believe one of the best comic book series ever published is Vertigo’s Hellblazer featuring John Constantine. A sorcerer with a smart mouth and a rather ambiguous moral code, Constantine is the essential anti-hero. And, one of the most interesting characters put to ink in a long time.

I feel the same way about biblical heroes, too. Don’t get me wrong, I love Jesus and all that, but I can’t really relate to the guy. With all the bullshit he had to contend with, he only got mad twice. TWICE. If I had to put up with all the bullshit he did, I’d have been in a constant homocidal rage. Fortunately, there are other characters that are more on my level. Like David, for instance.

David is one of the most human characters in the Bible. He constantly fucks up, from allying with his people’s most implacable enemy, the Philistines, to raping Bathsheba and murdering her husband; we’re talking about one fucked up dude. But, it’s that brokenness makes him so relatable. Every time I read David’s story, I think, “Hey, if this guy can stay in God’s good graces, maybe there’s hope for me.”

Then, there’s Jacob, who could’ve been the model for Deadpool. The guy is an aggravating smart ass with an over developed sense of self-worth and a very flexible morality. He cheated his brother out of his inheritance and skipped town hours ahead of a monumental ass-kicking. Then, he cheated his father-in-law, Laban, on several deals over livestock (to be fair, Laban was just as crooked). But, for some reason, God chose him as patriarch of God’s Chosen People.

Lest you think all the screw ups are in the Old Testament, allow me to present Peter, the disciple who, in the words of my friend, Michael Usey, “starts fast and finishes last”. Peter went from believing that he could walk on water because his rabbi said he could, to denying that he even knew Jesus when the chips were down. But, eventually, he came around. And, it only took his head catching on fire for it to happen.

Iconic heroes are boring. I mean, you always know that Superman is going to do the right thing and save the day. And, guys like Tony Stark/Ironman and Deadpool will, too…, eventually. But, their path won’t be anywhere near as straight as Superman’s. And, it will probably fuck a lot of stuff up. But, I guarantee you, it will be much, much more interesting. And, if we have to go there anyway, why not be entertained along the way?