Heroes Need to be Less Heroic

Lawful good is as good as good can be.
Spoiler Warning
Lamentation by Ken Scholes
Planetes by Makoto Yukimura

I just finished reading a rather crappy book, Lamentation, by Ken Scholes.  It kind of embodied everything I dread about fantasy (a shame because I’d just come off reading Brandon Sanderson’s excellent Warbreaker.)

You know what pissed me off most about it (besides some of the silly names, the city of Glimmerglam being the worst offender)?  Towards the end, one of the heroes identified the manipulative bastard who ruined his life in order to groom him to be a hero.  When he confronted this puppet master he was prepared to kill him and exact revenge for the murders of his parents, newborn brother, and best friend.  He relented at the last minute, however, when he realized the bastard loved his own kids. Instead, he let the schemer finish covering his tracks and run off to hiding, swearing that if they ever crossed paths again he would be killed.

Mind you, this is a hero who previously in the book had no qualms about killing, well, anyone who got in his way or in sending one of the other villains to be tortured for a month or so.

Similarly, in the excellent manga series Planetes, the hero came face-to-face with a terrorist who had killed numerous of his colleagues and been actively trying to kill the hero.  Faced with the opportunity to shoot him dead (or at least incapacitate him and turn him over to the authorities) the hero listened to a speech from the terrorist about how he felt he’d made his point, missed his family and wanted to go home quietly.  So the hero let him go.  At least in this case, the hero had never killed someone or been shown to be particularly bloodthirsty.

Still, what’s the deal with heroes being so damned heroic.  Where’s the justice?  Where’s the damn gumption.  Sure, engaging in a little cold-hearted (or is that hot-blooded) vengeance may not seem exactly heroic, but it’s a matter of having the protagonist mete out the villain’s just-desserts.  What could be more heroic than that?  If the writer’s point is that the good guy is just such a good guy that he wouldn’t allow himself to engage in such vigilantism then, well, you had better not make him anything other than the most milquetoast of heroes from the start. Frankly, having a hero who might be willing to do something he could regret in the future would result in more interesting story telling.

Or maybe this is all the result of editorial dictate?  Would a hero who, when presented with the opportunity to kill his enemy does so, just not be as acceptable to audiences?

Well, there’s always Wolverine.  While Batman doesn’t murder in the modern comics, he wouldn’t hesitate to bring someone to justice.


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