Heroic Failure

June 16, 2010 at 5:30 am (Character, Thoughts on Writing) (, , , , , , , , , , )

I’ve previously looked at heroic traits and my favourite heroes but recently I’ve been thinking about why some heroes just don’t live up to their hype.

Personally, I have never liked Superman. I know, this is a terrible thing I am saying and many of you are staring daggers at the screen but I’ve just never really connected with Superman. Why? Because the man in the red cape and blue lycra has it far too easy. The only reason he’s ever in peril is if someone manages to get hold of one particular kind of rock (which is meant to be hard to find but there seems to be prolifically spread throughout the stories) and you just can’t care about someone who is mostly invincible. I did like Tarentino’s take on the Superman story as explained in Kill Bill 2. It may be a long winded scene and the story itself has very little connection to the story of the movie (there is a very loose tie-in at the end of the tale) but it is fascinating hearing Bill’s perception of the man of steel.

So where do other heroes fail and why do they fail? And is it actually failure or is just a matter of these heroes not being directed at the right audience?

Examining movies the obvious character to pull apart would seem to be Riddick (or at least it would be obvious if you were currently inside my head). Riddick was an incredibly interesting anti-hero in Pitch Black and his characterisation and development were smoothly executed, he had some of the best lines of the movie, and while he was the hero of the story at no stage did he make you want to gag because he didn’t have that sudden epiphany of “what have I been doing with my life”. He was who he was and his essential personality did not change.

Then we move on to Chronicles of Riddick and while it might seem a pointless exercise to attack Riddick’s character when the entire movie had issues, I’m going to do it anyway. To start with, the minor developments of character that he underwent in Pitch Black are gone and we seem to be back at the beginning of Riddick’s character development. In their haste to try to develop a back-story we have info-dumps all over the place that weigh our character down and don’t really help us to understand him any better. As a hero he fails to appease the audience because at no stage do we care if he succeeds at overcoming an incomprehensible ‘evil’ army. The worst thing about his character here is that he becomes less heroic and more unlikable by the minute in this film. Heroic failure – though feel free to disagree if you found some redeeming qualities in Riddick.

If I look to books then I start to think about Janelle from Ann Bishop’s Dark Jewel’s Trilogy. I love these books and the stories. Janelle’s character is fascinating and frightening and completely mesmerizing, but as a hero she doesn’t really do much for me. Her changeable nature from passive, to fragile, to furious in the blink of a few pages makes her an interesting character, but hard to support as the hero. The characters surrounding her are more what you could call traditionally heroic, but even they are deeply flawed individuals. Great story but hard to find the hero.

Does it matter? Do we need a ‘hero’? Do we have to like the hero for the story to be effective? Clearly in the case of Ann Bishop I didn’t like the hero on reflection and can see all the flaws in the other candidates and yet I still loved the story. In the case of Pitch Black, I liked the development of the anti-hero but found the break down of Riddick’s character in the sequel to be tiresome and boring which completely undermined the little story being told.

Your thoughts?

Who are the heroes that you never liked?

What makes a hero work for you?



  1. RBH said,

    I grew up reading comic books, and I would have to say, my least favorite was spider-man. He just seemed too wishy washy and whimpy. But on the other hand Batman has always been my favorite for the fact he’s cold and decisive.

    That’s what I like in a hero: a clear focus and unwielding determination that borders on criminal because he or she won’t let anything stop them.

  2. Alex Willging said,

    Hands down, my all-time favorite is and will always be the Dark Knight himself: Batman. His greatest weapons are his intellect and his refusal to give up, which have led to some interesting triumphs on his part. He’s exceptionally human in a world of more overtly-powered superheroes.

    A hero is someone who realizes what he or she stands for, whether it’s an ideal or just one person, and then puts everything he or she has into fighting for That One Thing Worth Living For. Maybe there’s a respect for human dignity to go with it, but the basic hero has something to cherish and will stand by it no matter what.

  3. David Cranmer said,

    Gary Cooper in HIGH NOON. The whole town is against him and yet, he still does the right thing to save the folks’ worthless hides. Heck, even his Quaker wife doesn’t want him to fight. But he does. Moral conflicts in a decent individual makes a hero for me.

    Never cared for Superman but dig Batman. Once again, an emotionally tattered hero.

  4. Barb said,

    (still catching up with older posts, but I will reply to this one immediately)
    Never liked any of the DC heroes myself (Superman & Batman, Wonder Woman et al), I preferred SOME Marvel heroes (read The Fantastic Four before John Byrne and liked Spiderman’s humor – again all this in the early 80s, my fave was Miss Marvel).
    Thing is – I don’t like heroes, ful stop. I don’t care about heroes since Hercules and Achilles. I don’t care about total goodness and total evil. I like the “hero” of the story to be human in all it’s shades of grey. That’s why I don’t like epic fantasy nor quests, nor good vs evil stories.
    I want someone to root for or to hate for a second and love the next, you know what I mean?

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      yeah – the all good or all evil thing has just been done to death.

  5. Lua said,

    Ok, confession time- I never really liked superman either! Never truly identified with him for the obvious reason, it’s hard to identify with someone who has the word “super” in his name…:)
    I like heroes who are flawed. Who struggles, who has grudges, who gets jealous and losses his/her temper, gets carried away with the power… I like ‘super’ heroes who are still ‘human’ 🙂

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I know – the whole super thing really is slightly egotistical. It does make it hard to like him.

  6. Jemi Fraser said,

    I think I like it best when regular-type folks have heroic moments. All hero all the time can be a little dull 🙂

  7. Lynn Rush said,

    OMG…didn’t like superman? I’ve never heard that before! LOL. Yeah, I liked him.
    Oh, but RIDDICK is WAY better. I’ve always loved the reluctant hero, or the hero with a streak of bad in them. . . like, it’s almost an effort to do good. 🙂

    Great post.

  8. Carol Kilgore said,

    I have to like the hero or I close the book. I guess I’m hardwired that way.

  9. Kyle said,

    I was never able to stand Superman either for the same reasons, but an interesting fact is, DC comics has brought the capitol from Krypton, or some other very large city, back to life, so now there are thousands of beings with the exact same powers as Superman. This makes him not as special, and also means that he can get into trouble depending on what these other Kryptonians do. I think DC just got tired of people bitching about Superman.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Seems like a quick fix really and not an effective one. Given I already dislike Superman , seeing him get beaten up by other alien life forms is unlikely to endear me to him.

  10. catwoods said,

    LOL, this is a hilarious post. I never really cared for any of the super heroe, except maybe Batman.

    I think it was Jemi who stated my sentiment. I don’t like heroes. I like heroic moments. Normal people going out of their way.

    I like my heroes to have faults and my villains to have virtues.

  11. Stephen Tremp said,

    I never like any of the DC heroes. I was a Marvel Comics kid. Marvel ruled. DC characters like The Flas, Superman, Aquaman, etc…. were boring to me.

    Stephen Tremp

  12. AlexJ said,

    Never big on Superman. Batman is a better hero, because he has so many hangups. Hellboy is a great hero – now there’s someone with issues and vulnerable spots.
    And I just pretend Chronicles never happened…

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      You can’t make Chronicles go away – you can try but it just sits there in the back of your mind while you watch pitch black. Actually, I use Chronicles as my feel good movie. Whenever I need to watch something so bad it makes me feel better about everything, this is the movie to watch.
      Have to agree on Hellboy being kind of awesome as far as heroes go.

  13. Miss Rosemary said,

    Never liked Superman either. far too cliche for me.

  14. Maribeth said,

    I liked Wonder Woman. There was something about her that made me want to be able to work a lasso.
    I did love Batman as well. When I was young and would watch the Saturday morning cartoons, I adored the Wonder Twins.

    Great food for thought.


  15. Southpaw said,

    I don’t have to like a hero outright but there should be something about him/her I enjoy. I hate whinny hero, but like whinny villains.

  16. Koreen said,

    Doesn’t like Superman. Hmmm. I can see your point, but I have to say the reason I like Superman is because he has to overcome the ultimate weakness everyday–temptation. He could rob, cheat, bully, but he avoids it all, gives up things he wants in his life to be a better person. Sure I like the flawed hero. Riddick was cool (although I agree about some of the flaws in his development), but even he was extraordinary, super in his way.

    At the end of the story, people want characters that they’ll remember. They have to be either drastically heroic, resourceful, smart and/or wicked. If a character is just ordinary, in an ordinary world, no one will remember him. Whether we will admit it or not, I think we all want a hero.

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      I have to agree with some of the earlier comments here – ordinary people with a mix of flaws and strengths doing extraordinary things can make for some amazing stories. I think we connect better with them because we have the hope that maybe we could rise to the occasion.

  17. Smander said,

    I totally agree with your comments on Superman. Never really did understand the hype myself. I love heroes who are the underdogs succeeding despite all the odds. By far my favourite hero is Samwise. Some might argue that Frodo is the real hero of the Lord of the Rings but without Sam he just couldn’t have saved Middle Earth!!!!

    • Cassandra Jade said,

      Frodo was overrated and Samwise had far more depth. I really would like to see someone rewrite the story from Sam’s perspective. I think we’d end up with a better tale.

  18. Sunday Spotlight « The Black Sheep said,

    […] Cassandra Jade discusses comics, heroics, and what it takes to make a protagonist worthwhile in Heroic Failure. […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: