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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Friday, March 28, 2014


The term "antihero," which dates back to 1714, is defined thusly on Wikipedia:

 a leading character in a film, book or play who lacks the traditional heroic qualities

My concept of the "demihero" will probably never supplant this better-known formulation, but in my essays I've tried to show that "heroic qualities" can appear in all four of my persona-types, as can "unheroic qualities"-- which in this case would probably parallel other paired concepts in my system, ranging from "life-affirming forces/life-denying forces," "glory/persistence," or "idealizing will/existential will." In THE COMPLICATIONS OF COMEDY PT. 2 I noted the intermixing of the "positive" and the "negative" in Marvel's "unheroic hero," The Punisher:

It's less typical for focal heroes to have negative manifestations.  Marvel Comics' Punisher would probably be one example, in that his obsession to eradicate crime, though certainly larger-than-life, is rooted in his personal animus rather than in concern for life.  The Punisher does end up supporting the forces of life, but he's not always admired for his persistence, so that he ends up becoming a quasi-villain in the features of other Marvel heroes like Daredevil and Captain America, or getting beat up by Batman in a throwaway scene of JLA/AVENGERS.

An even better example of this intermixed quality appears in a novel I recently reviewed on my book-and-comics review site OUROBOROS DREAMS: the character of Hell Tanner, the hero of Roger Zelazny's 1969 DAMNATION ALLEY. In part I wrote:

Zelazny isn't simply glorifying the type of antihero that became fashionable in the 1960s.  Although Hell is a son of a bitch, he begins to have a very unsentimental appreciation for the magnitude of his task...

This appreciation appears in this excerpt from Hell Tanner's thoughts about his mission:

 Nobody had ever asked him to do anything important before, and he hoped that nobody ever would again. Now, though, he was taken by the feeling that he could do it. He wanted to do it. Damnation Alley lay all about him, burning, fuming, shaking, and if he could not run it, then half the world would die, and the chances would be doubled that one day all the world would be part of the Alley.

Now, going by the Wikipedia definition-- and by the generally lax way that the term "antihero" is tossed around-- one could judge Hell Tanner to be an "antihero," simply because he "lacks the traditional heroic qualities." Indeed, I have seen two online reviews of the novel that use the term. However, I think that even though Tanner has any number of negative aspects, his heroic ones dominate the unheroic (or demiheroic) ones.  The passage cited above is not the sort of thought one would find in the heads of characters usually out only for themselves, indicating to me that author Zelazny wanted to delve into deeper waters. He seems to have wanted to put a vicious son-of-a-bitch in the position of acting heroically even though he has no sentimental regard for society or its members. Like the Punisher, Tanner is a hero who affirms life even though he may choose at any time to kill or maim anyone he doesn't like. 

The reverse is seen in the case of the cinematic Rick Deckard of Ridley Scott's 1982 BLADE RUNNER. In this essay I gave my reasons for regarding this Deckard as a combative demihero. Through a Google search I've seen many online sources regard Deckard as an "antihero," but in my opinion the use of this term blurs a crucial distinction between Deckard and Tanner: that the former is motivated only by the quality of "persistence"-- that is, of making sure that he and his immediate loved ones can survive-- while the latter is motivated by the quality of "glory," that of doing something great even though it defies the logic of survival.

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