Who is an anti-hero?
Have you ever watched a movie and described one of the characters as “not good enough but has the potential”, “Different from the others”, “Quirky but not over dramatic” and “The most relatable”? This is our antihero.
An antihero is one who lacks the qualities and drives of a hero or a villain. They lie in the middle of the good or bad scale. They usually don’t desire money, fame and power. If they do, they don’t have the means to achieve it and just accept their sorry fates. At most, there are small and practical acts of defiance. Nothing too big and fancy like a hero or a villain.
Take, for example, the classic story of our DC characters, the Joker and Batman. In this duo, Joker is the maniacal villain and Batman is the morally empowered hero. So who is our anti-hero in this story? Harley Quinn.
She is shown as this smart psychiatrist who was supposed to help the Joker heal but ends up falling in love with him and taking up his side. While initially, Harley Quinn is constantly on the Joker’s side, she doesn’t have any fixed ‘for’ and ‘against’ sides. In the subsequent comics after her breakup, she’s also seen fighting for social good. For Harley Quinn, the only drive that kept her going was to somehow ‘fix the Joker’ and ‘gain his love’. She was never ambitious to become the Joker but only worked for him.
How do I tell an Antihero from a hero or villain?
Heroes and villains have this craze of being extraordinary. They either want to “save the people” or “kill them all”. Antiheroes don't care. They care about surviving, living and getting through most of their problems without many issues.
Antiheroes act on a more self-interest level as compared to heroes and villains, who usually act on a large-scale social level. This means that antiheroes may try to get revenge, but only from a particular character. They will not unnecessarily wreak havoc in the society. The moment they do that, they turn into a villain. Similarly, they may only do a good deed when it means they are going to get something in return or to balance out their evil side. If they do it out of obligation, they turn into a hero.
Unlike heroes and villains, antiheroes balance their demonic and angelic sides. If they can be nefarious then they can also be benevolent. This is also why antiheroes are mostly more practical than heroes and villains.
So while heroes and villains may also have a justified backstory for being who they are, they earn their title by turning their acts into nature. At a point, what they do doesn’t require a justification. In fact, their title becomes their justification. They do good because they are a hero or do bad because they are a villain. Antiheroes on the other hand, like humans, justify and try to balance each of their acts.
Why does this person sound like me?
Loki from Norse Mythology - also adopted as a character in the Marvel Universe - is one of the most popular antiheroes in pop culture. For a brief backstory, Loki was the child of a frost giant, adopted by Odin, the God of war and death. While Loki was given a home by Odin, he was always mistrusted by him, kept isolated and disregarded as compared to Odin’s son by blood - Thor.
Loki is goofy, ambitious, and unfortunate but still hopeful. From this, we can deduce the most compelling reason for our relatability with antiheroes - they are more human than heroes and villains. The fact that they act in a balanced and relatively just way, makes more sense to
the human mind makes them our reflections on the screen.
Most antiheroes are also victims of problems like nepotism, favouritism, sexism, racism and so on. These are real-life problems that we all go through in our daily lives. When we see a character going through the same, we feel a sense of belonging.
Moreover, heroes and villains may start with an unfair advantage or unjustified means. A hero may be born into a family that already has inherent powers like Thor. Similarly, a villain’s sense of justice may be satisfied by brutally committing murders. Antiheroes have neither, like most humans.
Why are we obsessed with antiheroes?
History has always glorified the “good side”. We have been told by our parents to always try to be nice. This created pressure for us to “be a hero” - even when we disliked it or it was harmful to us. With the coming of antiheroes, there is more hope for being understood and
We all see a character who is a victim of their circumstance, fights practically, is hopeful of the future and is not overly dramatic with heroism or wickedness. How are we not supposed to feel seen?
Antiheroes depict the reality of a situation that becomes utopian or dystopian in the case of heroes and villains. It’s cool to be on the top of the world and have titles like “beacon of light” or “the master of evil”. But there are a whole lot of unrealistic expectations, advantages, powers and other things that most people don't have to be there. At most, heroes can be seen as an inspiration. It’ll be a bit weird if it’s villains to you, but no judgment. But imagine a world full of only heroes and villains, completely black or white. That’ll be boring.
We need antiheroes to make us feel - ‘it’s okay to be human and have our fair share of good and bad days. Your circumstances are not a disadvantage, they just make you as normal as a person can be. You can certainly have aspirations to be more but your reality is just as much
yours as your dreams.’ Antiheroes are that grey representation of humans which needs to be normalized.
So, while we can’t deny that being a hero or a villain has its appeal, our generation has found a new appreciation for antiheroes which are more relatable and cool. In a way, we may all want to be a hero or a villain but in reality, we are all an antihero in our stories.