Antiheroes in Graphic Novels
Next year two films will be hitting the big screen with leads that do not fit the typical superhero mold. Deadpool, from Marvel comics, will be featuring the lone character as the star and Suicide Squad features a rogues gallery of villains and vigilantes from the DC Comics world. These well-known comic book characters are usually referred to as antiheroes, people who often work outside of the law and depending on the situation may be friend or foe to someone in distress.
So what is an antihero? The term has been used for hundreds of years in literature and can be dated as far back as the 1700s. The term refers to a character in a story or movie that lack the characteristics of a conventional hero such as morality, selflessness, courage and generosity. Many times when they do good it's for personal gain, and they often have no problem going outside the law as a means to an end. Characters such as this appear often in comic book stories where the world is not always black and white when it comes to making ethical decisions.
The Suicide Squad (formerly known as Task Force X) is comprised of villains and vigilantes forced to do the bidding of Amanda Waller. Waller is the head of a government organization called A.R.G.U.S who is willing to do whatever it takes to save humanity. Most of the missions involve questionable actions so the Suicide Squad was created from some of the most notorious prisoners at Belle Reve. Belle Reve is a federal penitentiary and sanitarium in the DC comic universe that houses meta humans and other super villains but also serves as the headquarters for Suicide Squad operations. If those who are recruited don't do what they're told, they will be killed via devices implanted in their necks but if they comply, time will be taken off of their prison sentence. Needless to say with limited options most go along for the ride which leads many of these former villains to become antiheroes.
So you learned what the Suicide Squad is, but who are its members? They have changed over the years but the current rotating members are: Harley Quinn, King Shark, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, El Diablo, Deathstroke, Reverse-Flash, Black Manta, Enchantress, Slipknot, Katana, Rick Flag and Killer Croc to name a few. If you want to know more about any of the members just click on their name.
These are only a few of the antiheroes in the comic book world. Below you will find a list of other well known characters with this persona.
Catwoman is known as one of Batman's many nemeses. While she is a burglar and a thief, her heart is often in the right place when it comes to helping people. Like many comic book characters she has seen many changes over the years. Her backstory is usually one with an unhappy home life where she ends up having to fend for herself (hence her skills at thievery). She has alternated between villain and hero, falling somewhere in between. Her current incarnation is good, for now.
John Constantine has the job from hell, literally. His character is an occult detective and professional sorcerer from England. His antisocial behavior, brutal attitude, penchant for foul language, and chain smoking make him a titular antihero figure. He is also willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done which sometimes means putting others in danger. Despite his behavior Constantine does care about people, and is constantly putting himself in the crosshairs of the battle between Heaven and Hell for humanity's collective souls.
Joseph Dredd is an American law enforcement officer (although a British creation), or street judge as they are called, in a dystopian future. He exists in a world where crime runs rampant so officers have been given clearance to invoke the law as they see fit. They are allowed to convict, sentence and execute on sight. While his duty holds priority over everything his devotion is not blind. There were times when the character resigned from the force based on his principles but he inevitably returned. On several occasions he has saved his city where he works and even saved the world during World War 4, but Dredd is the personification of The Law and as such cannot be bought or reasoned with. If he feels he is in the right he will enact justice.
The Incredible Hulk
The Incredible Hulk is one of Marvel's most popular characters. He is also known as Bruce Banner, a scientist who was caught in a gamma bomb explosion. His alter ego is hard for him to control and comes out when he gets angry. The angrier Hulk gets the stronger he becomes. Banner is not always able to control himself when he becomes Hulk and many times in the comics they are written as completely separate beings despite inhabiting the same body. It is this split personality and issue with anger (which sometimes makes him unable to be reasoned with) that make Hulk an atypical hero.
Venom is a symbiote, a sentient alien life form that must bond to a host in order to live. After bonding the alien bestows his powers and abilities on the host. When it attaches itself to a human, it calls itself Venom. The character has been housed in a few bodies but his most well known is that of Eddie Brock. Brock was a journalist who accused the wrong man of being a serial killer and Spiderman found the real one. Disgraced, Brock comes into contact with the symbiote Spiderman rejected (once he realized what it was capable of) and bonds with it becoming Venom. Although usually at odds with Spiderman, Brock's Venom does attempt to do right by saving people he believes to be innocent.
Natasha Romanova, codename Black Widow, is a former Russian spy. As an extremely well trained assassin Romanova was often pitted against some very well known heroes including Iron Man and the Avengers. At some point she develops a relationship with Hawkeye, another dubious hero. When she realizes she has been brainwashed, she fights against it and joins the ranks of the Avengers. Before defecting, Black Widow goes through many twists and turns, both working for and against the good guys. Eventually she chooses the side of good and even at one point works solo as a vigilante. Working outside of the prescribed justice system, even if it is for good, and her past as a Russian spy all add to Romanova's place in comic history as an anithero.
The Punisher is a no holds barred antihero who will do literally anything, including assault, kidnapping ,extortion and of course murder to name a few, in his war on crime. Motivated by the murder of his wife and kids during a mob related shoot out, Castle goes on a rampage against the mafia and other criminal organizations in New York. Even after he murders those that took away his family Castle continues his fight against organized crime. Despite the violence he employs, Castle only uses it against those he knows are involved in criminal activity.
Some might not consider Wolverine an antihero because he works with the X-Men, a group of mutants that are inherently good and yearn for acceptance by humans. But while he does help others, it is his surly attitude and use of deadly force when necessary that make him less mainstream than other members of the group. Wolverine was born with superhuman senses and the ability to heal from most wounds. As a young man, he was kidnapped by a secret organization and had an unbreakable skeleton and claws placed inside his body. Treated as less than human he still harbors anger over what was done to him and while it took years for him to learn how to control himself, (with the help of Professor Xavier, the leader of the X-Men) he still loses himself at times.
Think there are characters missing from this list? Comment below with your suggestions of even more comic antiheroes.
- Comicvine List of Antiheroes in Comics
- Top Ten Comic Book AntiHeroes (see how many of our choices made the list!)
- Comic Love of Antiheroes (as discussed at WonderCon 2015 among Marvel and DC creators)
- The Atlantic: Escape Claws: Why Wolverine Had to Die for the Sake of Marvel Comics
- DC Heroes That Deserve Their Own Movies
- 10 Great Comic Book Babyface Turns
- DC Comics Database Wiki
- Marvel Comics Database Wiki