06 October 2013

Anti-Heroes: Musings on the Concept + My Favorite Types of Fictional Male Anti-Heroes in Literature, Film and TV (*UPDATED*)

The fascination and mystique surrounding the anti-hero

There's the classic hero and the every man hero. The super hero, the comic hero and the tragic hero. And then there's the anti-hero.
They're always the ones everyone loves to hate or hates to love. The infuriating and interesting. The dark-souled that (almost) all the girls fall for. The tall, dark and handsome men; pensive, callous, rough, proud, passionate, magnetic etc. etc.. All the glooming, romantic, gothic and mythical traits that seems so appealing in the ambigiuous, selfish bad boy-character with the dangerous gleam in his eyes. The 'accidental hero'. The guilty pleasure. (Mind, we're not justifying violence or psychopaths here!).  Because we think/feel we can see through the façade of physical and emotional scars, apathetic bitterness and potential skeletons in the closet - and we believe that behind the rough exterior and sarcasm there is a heart of gold. A rough diamond that just needs some love. Which unfortunately isn't always so in real life. Actually, it really isn't all that fair that books and movies keep us dreaming about something that doesn't exist ... 

But then again, who cares? It's an (often welcomed) illusion that's hard to wear off, anyway - no matter how clichéd it gets. Well, we love them because of their imperfections, ambiguous moral qualms and their own self-ironic, more or less unwilling conciousness to this fact; that they're gifted as well as cursed. It's one heck of a charisma trigger! Especially, when they're well-spoken, witty and - did I forget to mention good-looking!? And even if they aren't the conventional handsome, catalogue blokes - who can be frightfully boring, by the way - these brooding characteristics have a way of making the person dangerously alluring and sexy-badass, all the same.

Admit it! The bad-boy-turned-good-through-true-love is practically unresistable (well, I'd like to see one try to resist!). Never mind  the "occasional" serious case of vindictiveness and cynicism, unscrupulous killer traits, needless egoism mixed with rebellious, self-destructive and violent tendencies, slick opportunism, unquestioning motivations often led by money, guilt or revenge, bad temper or robotic cold-bloodedness, intractable high-handedness, emotionally/socially handicap, not to speak of a blindly frustrating laconic/stone faced behaviour or unwanted, constant sarcastic, cheeky  and mocking remarks (borderline-insults) which follow this lack of basic human interaction skills. Oh, don't mistake me, they can 'interact', just not in the so-called normal way. It's the game, the bickering, the chase, the cat-and-dog life that really gets them on. Even better when it's sexually founded (huh, when isn't it..?). And it's  basically the same with those of us who are fascinated by them, isn't it?

Not that there aren't any female anti-heroes, yet somehow the characteristics of being brooding, moody, lazy and pessimistic is (unfortunately?) not something often mentioned along with the female sex and that of being a lady. That it's "more acceptable" or just more commonly known for men to be social outcasts and unproductive, lazy hypocrites than it is for women in our modern society. One could question the term for being rather gender stereotypical and only connected to men..?

Deeper into the characteristics

Some can't stand the over-cheekiness, over-grumpiness or over-sarcasm that surrounds the anti-heroes. And it's actually quite understandable, too. The anti-heroes are not only cruel towards those who are instinctly brave and good (and even mock them because of that), they also often play the coward-card themselves. They can be dishonest and disloyal and only have interest in themselves than any specific or righteous cause. Their cynic and dry humor even seems consciously underplayed in order to create sympathy or focus on their own self-pitying misery. A narcissistic pretence that can simply get out of hand in its 'simplicity'. That, in being or trying to be anything but predictable, impressionable or emotionally caring, they may end up  trying too hard and the effects backfire. That leaves these characters particularly vulnerable to mockery (their very own weapon), but of a different kind: Private, emotional mockery that can unexpectedly rip up old, burried wounds. This gives them once again even more reason to build up their defences.

And unfortunately, this misunderstanding has been even more simplified in the media and in the general attitude towards troubled, frustrated, pokerfaced men. The anti-hero is often seen being left with the dry, bitter and sarcastic inputs from the sidelines - only functioning as a static counteract - whenever the 'good hero' gets a bit too ahead of himself in all his 'goodness' and optimism. It's not always a fair role that gives enough credit or developement to the character. Perhaps because of this generalization the character ends up being too stereotypically, too predictable portrayed?

On the other hand, the reservation towards the anti-heroes may be due to the fact that they're too complex, too real and lifelike and harder to get than the shining knights in armor? Or perhaps even too simple? Somehow, they encompass all the taboos and misfits of our society; those who don't do anything constructive for society, who are jobless, who have a bad health (smoking and drinking without constrictions), who compromise the young and innocent, who are neither for or against violence, who don't give a damn about authorities, politics or the law but live by their own agenda etc.. And they're not necessarily 'the-evil-guy-who-wants-world-domination'-type, because then they should have the traits of a leader or actually DO something..!

Is the anti-hero really just a man who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a bit like John McClane (the Die Hard film series)? They don't seem to have much luck in life in general - not with their wives, their kids, their bosses, their colleagues. Some often seem to have no other purpose or skill in life than to fight in some sort of way. Or they are thrown unwillingly into it because of unfortunate situations and forced to survive through bitter hardship that in the end makes a bitter man. A reality much more real, gritty and unfiltered than one cares to acknowledge. And then they'll have to try to deal with the consequences of these hardships but only 'till the next fight comes along.  They can't really seem to fit into society or any system unless they can be used capitalistically and in this, use their own skills to earn some sort of living whether it's working for the good guys...or the lesser good guys. As long as it's a living.

Oh well. It's not easy to label or generalize a whole group of characters who basically embody all the shameful, yet natural, human 'flaws' that we all share somehow. They can articulate the unsaid without necessarily giving any definite answers. Perhaps that's why they're so frustrating and at the same time fascinating? Because they're really a way to (maybe) understand and explore our own unexplored depth, shame, doubt and inconsistencies. And that, in the end, we can accept this and still be more than just our guilt and flaws.

Many questions, however, are still left unanswered regarding the anti-heroes:
  • Are they more real simply because they are more flawed?
  • Are they more interesting simply because they have more room to develop/change/realize their own flaws?
  • Are they destined to fail or do we want them to succeed?
  • Are the term more suited for men than for women?
  • Can anti-heroes even be classified as just ONE group or don't all types of (well-written) heroes - good or bad - share some of the same trademarks, somehow?

The classic definition

Although the general conception of an anti-hero spans all of the above, there're different kinds or more or less loose groupings of anti-heroes, categorized especially in literature. E.g. the Angry young men (a group of writers in England during the 1950-60s who passed their critical opinions and frustrations on to their protagonists) or the Byronic hero, where the latter - appearing during the late, gothic/romantic 1800s - typically exhibits several of the following traits/characteristics, besides the ones already mentioned:
  • Arrogant
  • Cunning and able to adapt
  • Cynical
  • Disrespectful of rank and privilege
  • Emotionally conflicted, bipolar, or moody
  • Having a distaste for social institutions and norms
  • Having a troubled past or suffering from an unnamed crime
  • Intelligent and perceptive
  • Jaded, world-weary
  • Mysterious, magnetic and charismatic
  • Rebellious
  • Seductive and sexually attractive
  • Self-critical and introspective
  • Self-destructive
  • Socially and sexually dominant
  • Sophisticated and educated
  • Struggling with integrity
  • Treated as an exile, outcast, or outlaw

Well, then. Now to the list. It was a hard task naming and classifying them all into groups - as it always is - but it was fun. Mind, there are no official classifications or categories, as these are my own "made-up" types and very personal selection of characters (some aren't even officially categorized as anti-heroes). I've stated my reasons for picking them under each photo, but you're welcome to judge (and comment) for yourself if you agree or not. BE AWARE: CHARACTER/STORY SPOILERS MAY OCCUR!

So, here are some of the dudes who somehow can't seem to get out of our heads (or is it really just my head?):

The Romantic Ones

From the classic to the Byronic to the opportunistic. There's not much more to say (oh shoot, I could talk for hours!) as they are by now so familiar and classic examples of ambiguous, male characters that you must know about.
They are simply the sh**! ;)

The Scoundrel
Rhett Butler in "Gone With The Wind"
Seemingly the cynical, charming cad, ladies' man and
blockader, experienced Rhett Butler meets his match in
the feisty, stubborn Scarlett O'Hara. However, the match
isn't as easily realized as one might hope.

The Proud
Mr. Darcy in "Pride and Prejudice"
Outwitted by the passionate Elizabeth, the proud,
stuck-up, anti-social Mr. Darcy slowly realizes his
own flaws and becomes a 'whole' man.

The Brooding
Mr. Rochester in "Jane Eyre"
Greatly troubled by his past and a terrible secret,
Mr. Rochester seems like a lost cause until the one day
where he meets innocence - incarnated in the
young, 'plain' Jane Eyre.

The Strict
Captain von Trapp in "The Sound of Music"
Coming off as an insufferable, hard-headed father,
he runs his thick head against a brick wall when he
meets the young and light-hearted governess,
Maria (in a basically less gloomy musical version
of "Jane Eyre"). Yet, behind all the mourning-
widower-facade there hides a softie singer(!)

The Self-Deprecating
Eugene Wrayburn in "Our Mutual Friend"
Sharing many of the character flaws of his
 fellow nominees, Eugene Wrayburn is quite
the self-ironic and distant observer of life.
But, of course, one young lady brings
forth an entire new change in him.

The Lone Riders 

Or Lone Wolves, Drifters, Mavericks or whatever you'd like to call them since their names don't really matter. Or do they? After all, it's about the legend and mystique that follow these rootless, fast-shooting vagabonds of the desert who always end up riding towards the wide, dusty, sunburnt horisont.  They all have extraordinary, unexplainable  skills with a gun; a gift as well as a curse, 'cause in the end they don't necessarily end up with the girl, get a medal for heroism or escape completely unscathed. But all that doesn't really seem to be in their interest, anyway. Or what? These characters come and go as dark angels/knights or avenging ghosts, bringing their own moral scruples and end up as ambigious saviours of those in need.

The Vengeful
Django - here in the original "Django"
A skillful, mysterious gunman seeking revenge for the
murder of his wife, and in addition to that, 'accidentally'
saving a compromised woman and some smalltown
folks from the very man he's looking for.

The Desperate
El Mariachi/Manito - here in "Desperado"
The Spanish version of Django, more or less.
And with the typical, bloody Rodriguez touch.

The Opportunist
The Man with No Name/Joe/Manco/Blondie/The Stranger/
The Hunter/The Bounty Killer in Sergio Leone's "Dollars Trilogy"
All in all, he's 'The Man with A Lot of Names'; an opportunist
that adapts to the situation like a chameleon, never quite
revealing his intentions, motivations nor identity to anybody,
 not even the spectator. Rather a great con-artist, who's faster
 than his own shadow and always manages to get away in the end.

The Lazy
Trinity in "They Call Me Trinity" and "Trinity Is Still My Name"
A lazy vagabond perhaps but certainly not with a gun; giving
Trinity the supernatural ability of fast-drawing - akin to the above
listed fellas who are drifting the dry deserts with or without
a purpose. Yet, not without a carefree and witty attitude.

The Maverick
 Bret Maverick in "Maverick"
Cheeky, half-crazed, gunslinger and cardplayer, Maverick never
does anything if there isn't something in it for him. However, this
attitude is quickly challenged when he meets a feisty woman and
a seasoned older version of himself (ironically meta-represented
 by James Garner, who played the original Maverick
in the 1950s TV series).

The Guilt-Ridden
Gannicus in the Spartacus TV series
Gannicus stands a bit out from the crowd of 19th century gunslingers, 
being a gladiator of Rome BC. Yet, the difference sorta ends there.
Although portrayed as a selfish, cocky gladiator who only gains
for his own profit, preferring wine, women and a good fight, a 
personal tragic incident leaves Gannicus guilt-ridden. Yet, rather
than merely aggressive he acts contemplative, seeking atonement
 and justice while providing rational thought when it is needed the
most. His scepticism towards those in need of him continues, but
only as an outer, defensive shell, seemingly. Fate has other plans.

The Adventurous Ones

Captains of the sea, the sky or space, these men do not stray far from the characteristics of the lone riders above. They explore the world without a specifically named destination or goal and - seemingly - any moral code. However, their hearts are not made entirely out of stone, and though they've seen more than there is to see in this world (and other worlds too), everybody has a weak spot - even these unimpressed guys - whether it's a ship (in most cases), liquor, fear, pride or a certain personal relation.

The Stone-Faced
Corto Maltese in Hugo Pratt's comics of the same name
The laconic seafarer-adventurer with a dignified profile,
who carved his own fate line into his hand (which
pretty much says it all, right?). Though a captain
himself, he drifts from ship to ship, from continent to
continent, making dubious allies along the way, yet
staying sympathetic to the underdog.

The Reckless
Han Solo in the Star Wars universe
Initially a smuggler and skilled pilot who takes what
 he can get in order to get out of debt, Han Solo is by
 coincidence drawn into Luke Skywalker and co.'s quest
to bring down the Empire. The Star Wars universe
 simply wouldn't be the same without Han Solo's
cheeky wit and fearless flying skills in outer space.

The Temperamental
Captain Haddock in "The Adventures of Tintin"
A grumpy, alcoholic captain who easily gets
carried away by his own temper if something or
someone irritates or insults him (much like Donald
 Duck). Yet, his colorful vocabulary and incredulous
 character - not to mention loyal sense of friendship
 - remain the constant source of entertainment
thorughout the series.

The Dazed
Captain Jack Sparrow in the "Pirates of the Caribbean"
film series
The infamous pirate who needs no introduction. Except, of
course, always with a "Captain ..." added.

The Daring
Sinbad in (here) "Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas"
Perhaps one of the first infamous, seafaring adventurers, 
Sinbad happens to stumple across practically all mythological
creatures and phenomens in the world - from Greek, Asian, Nordic
etc.. And - as Captain Sparrow - he always seems to
 have a spare life and a cheeky attitude in his pocket.

The Rough-and-Ready
Charlie Allnut in "The African Queen"
When talkative, heavy-drinking and -smoking, Charlie
Allnut, proud captain of The African Queen, is teamed up
with a fine, composed and pious Englishwoman, who
throws his beloved gin overboard, he has a hard time
keeping his temper. However, he's soon surprised by her
uncompromising and brave spirits which rub off on him.

The Classic
Captain Hook/Killian Jones in "Once Upon a Time" (TV series)
The classic fairy tale pirate captain - with an upgrade.
Deviating a bit from the original story as we know it, Hook has
got more scruples and lady friends, not to mention constantly
 shifting sides. From the beginning he proves himself to be
suspicious and untrustworthy, yet there are sparks of humanity
 and decency every now and then, which develop over time
 and make him all the worthwhile.

Illustrative quote from Once Upon a Time, season 3, episode 12 ("New York Serenade"):
      • Prince Charming: Where are you going?
      • Hook: Listen, mate. The Enchanted Forest is your home. Mine is the Jolly Roger.
      • Prince Charming: Hook, you don’t even know, if it’s - 
      • Hook: Regina told me how that bloody thing worked. It returned all of our belongings to this land as well as us. It means that somewhere out there is my ship. All I have to do is find her.
      • Prince Charming: And what if you can’t?
      • Hook: I'll just have to take another one, then, won't I? That's what pirates do. 
      • Prince Charming: Huh. And here I thought you’re gone and changed.
      • Hook: I tried the hero thing. Didn’t take.
      • Snow White: So, that’s it? Emma’s gone. You’re gonna go back to be a pirate?
      • Hook: Back, my lady? I’ve always been a pirate.

The Obscure Drivers

Just as rootless as the lone riders and captains above, these characters have exchanged the horse and the ship with a car; the dry, empty desert and the untamed, never-ending ocean with a dirty, noisy city; drifting the streets with hidden pangs of conscience, an occasional and violent temper (close to truly scary borderline cases), an unknown amount of skeletons in the closet, and getting by through hole-and-corner jobs. They try to conform their fractured selves to the rest of the world, with a desperate hope to do the right thing among all the bad stuff which they've already experienced first hand despite their young ages.

The Stunt Man
The Driver in "Drive"
 This laconic, anonymous man works as a stunt man and at an
 auto repair shop in the daytime, but gets his big score by
doing obscure nightwork; as a getaway driver for robbers.
His secluded, non-meddling anonymity is, however, interrupted
when he meets and helps a young woman and her little son,
which soon comes with a great deal of other kinds of trouble.

The Transporter
Frank Martin in "The Transporter" film series
Besides The Driver above, Frank is basically the modern reinvention
of The Man With No Name. This taciturn, stone-faced man has various
 hidden abilities; combining some James Bond survival tricks and
 driving skills with some Bruce Lee kicks. He's the guy who doesn't
 wanna get mixed up in anything. He just transports, following three
 self-given rules: Never change the deal, no names, never open the
 package. However, as always, it never goes as planned.

The Veteran
Travis Bickle in "Taxi Driver"
Travis Bickle trembles on the frustrating edge between the need
 of human company and the secluded battles with a war-effected
 mind. Hoping - or thinking - he's righteous in his actions that
follow, e.g. trying to save a child prostitute from a cruel fate,
he's also dangerously close to not knowing what is right and
what is wrong. But then again, he makes us question the same ...

The Ex-Cop
Rick Deckard in "Blade Runner"
Although he's being driven around by someone else, Rick
Deckard is as much a drifter in the big city as the others.
A reluctant, dilemma-bound man/android in a dystopian
world that has a hard time distinguishing between true and
false. Deckard must now decide for himself what is
worth saving and what is needed of 'retiring'.

The Vigilantes

Sure, Iron Man, Batman, Hulk, Wolverine and even Spider-Man are the best known comic book superheroes to have certain anti-heroic traits, yet they've already become outworn as subjects, in my opinion, given all the recent movie franchises. Once again, it's the faceless and much more reclusive vigilantes, keen to keep to the shadows of the city, that hold my interest - and which are marvellously (no pun intended) portrayed on film.

The Articulate
V in "V for Vendetta"
 Orwell's 1984 is everywhere in this adaptation of Alan Moore's
graphic novel. Er, perhaps except for the 'superhuman'
rescuer in the cloaked shape of a Guy Fawkes masked vigilante who
speaks funnily and never reveals himself.. Well, I for one love it, and
though the film may or may not match the graphic novel, I find its
mood very gripping.

The Tough
Walter Kovacs/Rorschach in "Watchmen"
Once again, Alan Moore's creation (of course).
Well, he isn't exactly the prime example of a hero, but Rorschach
just captures your attention with that ever-changing and genius
mask of his (in stead of all that silly spandex we otherwise have
 to watch) as well as his rugged exterior and personality underneath
 it. His black-and-white view on crime makes him one of the most
disturbing, justice-seeking vigilantes I've seen.

The Cynic
John Constantine in "Hellblazer" and "Constantine" (comics) and
the TV series "Constantine"

Oh, stop it, Alan Moore! You've got too many terrific anti-heroes!
I couldn't describe him much better in one sentence than good ol' Wiki:

"Constantine is a working class magician, occult detective and con man
 stationed in London. He is known for his endless cynicism, deadpan
 snarking, ruthless cunning and constant chain smoking, but is also
 a passionate humanist driven by a heartfelt desire to do some good
 in his life." Bam!

The Impertinent School Boys 

Perhaps not typically represented as anti-heroes, yet in these cases, I would make exceptions. I always had a very ambivalent relationship to these characters as a kid, going from being seriously irritated to becoming a softie with minor crushes, and I still hold much affection for them because of their flaws combined with their strengths; in the end overcoming themselves, despite all the obstacles:

The Pessimistic (though later Pensive)
Edmund Pevensie in the Chronicles of Narnia "The Lion,
The Witch and The Wardrobe", both book and film
Destined to always be 'the second one' after his big brother,
and lacking the attention of a father figure, Edmund almost
 naturally grew into a jealous and spiteful kid. Although
 his behavior was rather childish and self-centered, not to
mention traitorous, he was also just a frightened and ignored
boy, who in the end, proved his bravery.

The Whiny (though later Valorous)
Eustace Scrubb in "The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of
the Dawn Treader", both book and film, plus following books
"The Silver Chair" and "The Last Battle"
Starting out as a 'new Edmund' (and much to an older Edmund's
irritation), Eustace is not only pessimistic, but also incredibly
whiny, selfish and a real spoilsport. Yet, an unexpected journey
and literal, magic transformation makes him realize the meaning
of friendship and prove his own worth and bravery.

The Rebel
John Bender in "The Breakfast Club"
The typical rebel with a tough family background and one foot
in a criminal career, John Bender is the lost - yet basically
misunderstood - cause of the school. However, one saturday
after-school detention with a bunch of very different (and then
again not so different) kids perhaps proves to be a turning
 point in his life.

The Outsider
Patrick Verona in "10 Things I Hate About You" (above: TV series 
below: film)
Based on Shakespeare's famous play "The Taming of the Shrew",
Patrick is the modern high school version of Petruchio, the male
lead, dared to tame the 'fair' Kate, initially on a bet/deal (the louse!)
but eventually comes around and regrets his motive.
Patrick is not only the infamous and anarchistic outsider of
school, he's also a very entertaining counterpart - and match - for
defiant and wilful Kate who too has her flaws to be dealt with
 (despite her own denial of this). And apparently, he's the
 only one up for the task.

The 'Villians'

When the supposed villian turns out to be the good guy, it's always a big and welcomed surprise among fans - who did or didn't see it coming to begin with. Sometimes it's due to a slow developement and many obstacles or just the right people - or a special and unexpected situation where the 'villian' must face himself and his true values in life... Yeah, it sounds pretty cheesy, but boy don't we love it when they choose to sacrifice themselves  - or do something completely stupid and genius - for the greater good and leave it to the hero to make it to the finish line (and basically take the credit)!? Sure, they were utter jerks in the beginning, being really downright nasty, bullying and snide at times, but at least their 'cruelty' were often reasoned to some extent and they weren't afraid of fighting for a cause, even putting their lives at risks or playing double agents if necessary.

The Surprise
Severus Snape in the Harry Potter book and film series
I bet no one saw it coming! The snarky, spooky and often
even devious Professor Snape turning out to be the
ultimative, good-hearted (anti)hero in the end...! A jaw-dropping
moment in my case, anyway, but somehow it all made sense,
(although it almost seemed to be too good to be true that Lily
Potter could affect the hearts and minds of so many men -
even long past her death... Oh, well, we loved it, right?)

The Atypical
Megamind in "Megamind"
Stereotypical villain turns atypical hero without even asking for it?! Well,
that's a synopsis that says something, right?

The Banished
Prince Zuko in "Avatar: The Last Airbender"
Zuko has some serious father-son-issues, at first only wanting
back his right for the throne by capturing the Avatar, but
ends up conflicted on which side he should fight for.

The Mask
Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker in the "Star Wars" series
Speaking of father-son-issues...
Alright, alright, Vader IS bad for the most of the time, but isn't
those last moments with Luke all the more telling of his true
character? Or is it just because he's dying and wants forgiveness?
Anyway, judge for yourselves. And as for the pre-
Vader years? Well, we all know what that led to.

The Shady Vampires

In a time where one can hardly watch television without bumping into the term 'vampire' - or hear it mentioned in some fangirling context, this category had to come too. If there's anything that shouts sexy, badass anti-heroes, it's vampires. It's fairly good to say that good ol' Nosferatu has taken an U-turn appearence-wise and become a high school heartthrob with a softie conscience. I find it rather interesting that a phenomenon that should represent all the grotesque, murderous, deathly things in the world - all in all, a dehumanized version of the human; a walking dead, part cannibal - suddenly has turned the beast into a dark prince - or should we say Calvin Klein model? Maybe is it a way to make them look more like us and more relatable; a reference to the every-man-looking psychopath among us, or just even more sexier and thus more saleable? However, by making the vampires look human, non-beastly or beastly sexy supergods, doesn't this affect what vampires basically represent? Have we become easier forgiving of their evil traits, continuing murder-rapages and lack of human consideration as long as it comes with a smirk, a wink and a naked torso?

The Viking
Eric Northman in "True Blood"
Seductive, scary Swedish Viking-vampire, Eric Northman,
has all what a true predator should have - except the girl
(which of course isn't just any girl). While battling with
what's left of his moral humanity, he's often the one who's
left incredibly unimpressed whatever the situation, not to
mention, the one (almost) everyone apparently seems to
automatically obey. His whole being simply exudes power.

The Brit
Spike in "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel"
Eric Northman isn't the first dangerously handsome, blondie-
baddie-vampire to grace our TV screen: Spike wasn't just
 the bad boy-punk-vampire with a soul, sexy British accent
 and sarcastic remarks. At times, he also showed true human
aspects and insights that not even the humans were able to
follow. Although, most would claim Angel was more of an
 anti-hero, I find Spike far more complex and interesting
 in that matter.

The Brother
Damon Salvatore in "The Vampire Diaries"
Damon Salvatore is the typical dark, selfish, no-do-good
brother with the smug remarks; the seemingly alter-ego
 of his seemingly oh-so-good-and-just brother, Stefan,
 and in the end, the one that doesn't seem to stand a
chance, when they both fall for the same girl.
 But Damon proves to be more than what he seems.

Illustrative quote from The Vampire Diaries, season 4 episode 12 (“A View to Kill”):

      • Klaus: Ah, yes, for the love of Elena. How is it that she manages to overlook every horrific thing you’ve ever done? Is it willful ignorance, or perhaps something more pathological?
      • Damon: Some people are just more capable of forgiveness than others. Bet you score a negative 500 in that realm.
      • Klaus: Come on. There must be a secret. It can’t just be the sire bond. What is it? Compulsion? Manipulation? What is it you say to her?
      • Damon: I think this has something to do with a certain blonde vampire. I think you murdered Carol Lockwood and I think you’re worried that Caroline’s never going to forgive you.
      • Klaus: You’ve done worse.
      • Damon: Debatable. See, I don’t mind being the bad guy, because somebody has to fill that role and get things done. You do bad things for no reason. You do them to be a dick.
      • Klaus: Debatable.
      • Damon: If you’re gonna be bad, be bad with a purpose. Otherwise, you’re just not worth forgiving.

The Thiefs, Smugglers and Conmen

The cheeky-smug-streetwise guys, rascals and cads are most often the rule-breakers. But what can I say? They're still somehow irresistibly lovable, aren't they? (Mind, both Rhett Butler and Han Solo are serving as smugglers for the rebels during their respective wars, but alas, they can't be in every category).

The Brazen
Eugene 'Flynn Rider' Fitzherbert in "Tangled"
So darn smug it hurts - but very charming and entertaining,
I must admit. Especially when he teams up with Maximus
the horse, which causes some hilarious bantering moments. 

The Bold
Aladdin in "Aladdin"
Maybe Aladdin is the least anti-heroic of them all but
he still seeks fortune and fame first of all, believing it's the
only way to impress the princess and everyone else around...
which  makes him kind of a opportunistic gold-digger. (Of
course) things change as 'unexpected' events come
crashing down.

The Conman
Dimitri in "Anastasia"
At first, Dimitri's motives for earning a living is really downright
 shabby and manipulative, guided by a silver tongue and lots of
charm. But when he realizes his own mistakes, he soon wants
to do penance for his misdeed - even without demanding
anything in return.

The Smuggler
Jack T. Colton in "Romancing the Stone" and "The Jewel of the Nile"
Just as much an opportunist and survivor as the rest, Jack is all
in for the money when he stumbles upon bewildered Joan Wilder
 (in the middle of the jungle) who hires him to help her. Their 'professional'
relationship has a rocky start but soon the two start to fall in love.

Illustrative quote from Romancing the Stone:

      • Joan: I knew it would happen.
      • Jack: You knew what would happen?
      • Joan: All you care about is yourself, isn’t it? I knew that from the first moment I laid eyes on you.
      • Jack: Was that the first moment when I saved your ass?
      • Joan: You see? There you go. You have no finesse. No style. A real man doesn’t have to draw attention to his actions. You’re just … You’re a mondo-dizmo.
      • Jack: I’m - What am I?
      • Joan: You’re a man who takes money from stranded women. A real man is – is honest … and forthright and trustworthy.

The Fantastical Creatures

Fairy tales cannot be without them, even if they do place themselves between the genre-typical good vs. bad categories, but anti-heroes somehow always fit into the category in the matter of character development. That is, e.g., a development from a secluded loner and temperamental beast with a bit of a vanity complex (to put it mildly) to a loving, self-sacrificing, selfless human being. Literally as well as figuratively. The question of the man, the human inside, is always a biggie and it often takes a female, compassionate character to get to their hearts through all the [onion] layers of fur, feathers and stubbornness. Call it cheesy, but those 'ugly' guys sure are fascinating.

The Cursed
The Beast/Prince Adam in "Beauty and the Beast"
One of the earliest examples of an antihero-type (alright, basically
Greek mythology was there first), the Beast does a real good job
by starting out as a vain, beautiful prince, getting his punishment
from a witch for being shallow; turned into a hideous beast, trapped
in his spooky castle with true love as his only redemption. However,
his self-pity sorta takes over, thinking no one will ever love him
because of his beastliness so he gets defensive and tries to
 scare everyone away. It works OK, until a certain lady
happens to come his way.

The Vain
Howl in "Howl's Moving Castle"
A hot prince with magical powers at day; a scary war-machine-
bird-creature at night (or is it in some other dimension?).
Not far from The Beast above, he too can show sparks of
kindness and love beneath his (handsome) exterior of vanity,
hate, aggression and self-pity. It is not until a certain lady -
okay, you get the picture by now, right?

The Troll
Shrek in the Shrek film series
Shrek wouldn't have become the success he is if he hadn't had
all his flaws and qualities gathered into ONE misunderstood
fairy tale being. One would never expect a troll to have
compassion, right?

The Devious
Rumpelstiltskin/The Beast/The Crocodile/Mr. Gold in "Once
Upon a Time" (TV series)
Some would call him an evil, little sadist and narcissist, others
one of the most interesting villians in classic fairy tale telling.
However he plays a many-dual role throughout these series, thus
only adding several skeletons to his closet. When he finds
humanity and love, he suddenly struggles with his past and in
the end his own self. Because who and what is he really?

Arguably The Ultimate Anti-Hero/The Borderline Case

James Bond inhabits almost all of the above mentioned traits and categories. He's one hell of a charmer with the ladies, he's skilled with a gun and at a game of cards, he's officially a Royal Naval Reserve Commander, not to mention, an excellent driver. He can be a school boy or a rascal, a con man or a killer, an avenger or a beast, and he's never afraid of throwing himself into another adventure. Although he is not immediately perceived as the most romantic type, more the careless ladies' man, he's a bit more complex with the whole sexy-tough-guy-thing going on. On the one hand, he's a workaholic and more or less bound to the agent system and M's orders. On the other hand, he can be a vigilante  and a rebel and is notorious for mixing business with pleasure - on HIS terms, that is to say. He often displays serious psychotic behaviour when he switch to his notorious, almost natural killer instinct. Yet, mind, James Bond is supposed to be a professional agent and soldier, who kills his the enemies and does his job in order to save the world (not that I condone his methods) while keeping his head cool. However, not entirely without battling with consequences or ethic scruples. He's human, after all, and has his flaws (though it might not always seem so).

The Merciless
Ian Fleming's James Bond - here in "Dr. No"
In general, he seems and acts like a cold-hearted
bastard and womanizer, but it kinda comes with the
rather dangerous job as an secret agent. Luckily,
he isn't all machine and despite the obvious male
chauvinism, he can be terribly fascinating, intelligent
 and cheeky.

HOWEVER, one could argue that Sherlock Holmes is the most quintessential archetype of a modern anti-hero, given his - just as Bond - remarkable adaptability to the modern age way of life and thinking - albeit a bit eccentric, but that is all his own, the good Mr. Holmes. He has come in all sizes and shapes on screen - almost as many as Bond - and have endured remarkably over time, probably because the man is a riddle himself and still serves as a character worth re-analyzing, re-interpreting and discussing. Not only his brilliant, almost mystical mind and intellect is worth admiring, but his wit and eccentricity too; the way he dives into his own world of remarkable deduction, as well as his dry, quick wit and unique skills in all sorts of detective work. However, though the deductive mastermind has a way of seeing through human endeavors in crime and deception and solving mysteries like no other, he is far from the social animal himself. Well, the man is insufferable at his best - not to mention, a loner and steadfast drug-user - alienating practically everyone around him by his absent-minded, enigmatic and, on the surface, rather uncaring or carefree demeanor, while he finds (almost) no mind equaling his own among his fellow human beings. One could go as far as to call him borderline-autistic at times or, at least, somewhat lacking in empathy and sympathy in some aspects. Or maybe people just don't understand him. 

But it is here that his unique (and arguably only true) friendship with Dr. Watson becomes all the more interesting. Watson is practically the only one who ever comes close enough to Holmes (besides Arthur Conan Doyle, himself) - or to say, whom Holmes mutually allows to come close. Whereas Bond practically can call himself friendless for most of his life and career - if we don't regard either Miss Moneypenny, Q nor Felix Leiter as more than friendly acquaintances - Holmes has at least a steady companion and friend throughout his run. True, they are more or less each other's opposites, but nonetheless serve as ying and yang, as a supportive feature to one another - although their relationship is complex as much as it is intense. There have been arguments that it is an unhealthy relationship, where Holmes, at times, can act rather neglecting, dismissive and even abusive - verbally and mentally - towards Watson and their friendship. Watson can even give the air of a sidekick, as Holmes do take the focus of the narrative with his brilliance and eccentric behavior. 

Nonetheless, Sherlock Holmes serves as an interesting character to the anti-hero spectrum and is always worth discussing in that regard, because could one even talk about him as anti-heroic with a moral tie to his character development? Sure, at one point, there is one woman who proves an equal mind to his and whom he comes to respect, but she never becomes more than that in the original story and thus remains fairly absent in his character arch. Holmes remains enigmatic in his love life and is thus not given the archetypal chance of redemption or change of character from a romantic aspect as many of the above-mentioned nominees have at some point. Even Bond has been through it. Irene Adler becomes the only female influence strong and poignant enough to challenge him and leave a mark - regarded by Holmes as "the woman", romantic or not - but this relationship has, of course, been taken up to value and further developed in the various screen adaptations afterwards. For what is a hero - or anti-hero - without a female counterpart, after all? Or at least a sidekick of opposite character? But why must he (or she) necessarily have a counterpart, romantic or not? Is it so he can mirror/reflect himself and his actions and consequences in the other person? Or is it that it provides a subjective narrative for the reader so that we - the readers - have an outside perspective into the character?

Arthur Conan Doyle (upper left corner), the man behind
the man, Sherlock Holmes, here also seen in some of his various
portrayals on screen throughout time. Image from fanpop.

Well, then. That's it.

But these are just my favorites. An even greater list of fictional anti-heroes can be found here, as well, and a further definition/discussion on the subject here. I'm also very open for a discussion of my various definitions of the above mentioned characters, as I'm not an expert on every single subject, and I'm sure not everyone out there agree with everything I've written. Please write me a comment or two. I would very much like to hear what you think.

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