Heroes come in all shapes and sizes. Well, a lot of shapes anyway. They also fall all over the moral spectrum, from the earnest and righteous paladins, to the dark and brooding strangers. The bleaker end of the scale tends to bring us more compelling and dynamic characters, filled with conflict, unpredictable renegades with nothing to lose.
Come join us once again dear readers, as we plumb the depths of dark and brooding in this week’s Top 10 Anti-Heroes!
10) Guts, Berserk
“I’d rather fight for my life than live it.” Guts
One of the guys who tick all the boxes for the most brutal anime character, Guts is also one of the best anti-heroes in any media. For those who are unaware of the story of Guts, he was basically born and bad stuff happened to him from the get go. Rather gory stuff was in his life from when he was just an infant, that he grew up with very little in the way of a childhood. Instead, he fought and he killed from an early age.
Interestingly, whilst Guts is a true anti-hero who thinks mostly about fighting, he’s also one of the most compelling and complex, surprisingly human characters in the series. He fights because he wants to fight, but he does so and protects people he cares about in the process. He doesn’t do it for them, it does it for the thrill. His actions however speak way louder than his personality.
9) Richard B. Riddick
“You’re not afraid of the dark, are you? The light hurts my eyes…”
Vin Diesel’s “let me tell you about my character” character is a convicted murderer, triple-max security prison escapee, and assorted felon. He’s got a predatory mind-set, surgically modified eyes to help him see in the dark, and wicked reflexes coupled with criminal intellect. But when held up against the morally questionable bounty hunters who keep coming after him time and time again, there’s something refreshing about his directness and liberal standards.
Periodically he’s called up to save entire galaxies, or at the very least help a rag-tag band of innocents to safety through overwhelming odds, and while he’s predominantly interested only in saving himself something compels him to do the right thing. He’s also a total Mary-Sue, but he’s a loveable one.
8) Judge Dredd
If this is the future of law enforcement, you’d better know the law inside and out, because Judge Dredd certainly does. From a dystopian future, Joseph Dredd is a street judge who is able to arrest and even execute criminals as the law deems appropriate. Armed with his Lawgiver pistol, he’s an expert with his gun as well as unarmed combat.
The very core being of Judge Dredd is that of an anti-hero. He does many heroic deeds, saving people from peril where needs be, but really deep down he only cares about being the strong arm of the law. He always wears his helmet and as his writer John Wagner said: “It sums up the facelessness of justice − justice has no soul. So it isn’t necessary for readers to see Dredd’s face, and I don’t want you to”. Brutal.
The very existence of Judge Dredd actually brings up some very bleak, very real conversations about authoritarianism. Just when exactly does the law overreach its boundaries?
7) Arthas Menethil, Warcraft
The story of Arthas Menethil is one of the best transitions from hero to villain and along the way he upholds a lot of true anti-hero values. From the get go, Arthas was a Paladin who upholds the light and laws of the land. He was the prince of Lordaeron and wanted nothing more than to protect his people. In his never ending fight against the undead Scourge, Arthas becomes frustrated and angry at the constant barrage and the ravaging of his lands and people.
The hotheaded Arthas takes up Frostmourne, which contained the power of the Lich King. Thinking the powerful sword would be a valuable asset in the fight against the Scourge, ultimately the power of the Lich King takes over and Arthas ends up leading the Scourge against his own people. Converted from Paladin to Death Knight, all because Arthas was a hotheaded man who wanted nothing more than power against his enemy.
Humans can be corrupted and Arthas serves as a bleak reminder that power is dangerous in the wrong hands.
6) Kratos, God of War
The Ghost of Sparta, Kratos, is built up through the whole franchise as an anti-hero. Killing is in this mans DNA, a demigods DNA at that. He’s not exactly the sharpest tool in the box, but he certainly is the bluntest with his actions. He’s often doing some rather morally questionable stuff, mostly revolving around violence and killing, y’know, the typical demigod stuff. Plus, when you look like that, you’re never going to be rescuing princesses from castles are you? Besides, I bet he doesn’t even know how plumbing works.
The events of God of War revolve around Kratos greed. He’s bored of being a soldier for the gods and seeks out Ares, who has been ravaging the world for some time. He speaks to Athena, who asks him to kill Ares to earn the gods forgiveness. Whilst successful, it doesn’t mean much for him so wants to end his own life to get out of his misery and the nightmares he suffers… But these events leads to him becoming the God of War.
5) Han Solo, Star Wars
Han shot first! But that kind of commentary has no place in this Top 10 and honestly, I’m happy to believe either side of the fence on this matter. Han Solo is definitely amongst the most definitive anti-heroes of all time. When we first meet this man, we find out that he’s a smuggler who is looking for some work. He works for Jabba the Hutt, as a way to pay back the loss of some valuable goods.
Han is the type of hero who thinks about Han first and puts everyone after. When he first meets Princess Leia, he is crass enough to tell her he wasn’t helping her, but rather doing it for the money. He said he’d better be paid handsomely for the work he’s doing for them. A bit of a rogue, Han Solo eventually lightens up and becomes an actual hero later down the line, hence he is our midway point on this list – But damn, what a strong opening he has!
4) Rorschach, Watchmen
Black and white, absolutism, is a powerful method with which to judge good from bad. Rorschach believes there can be no grey areas in his beliefs, so he dons a mask to become a vigilante, in fact the last of his kind. He isn’t afraid to take matters into his own hands, when he feels that grave injustice has been met. He is well trained in many different kinds of martial arts as well as boxing, making him a dangerous individual.
He often offers out his services to those who he feels needs his help. A compelling character, made more compelling as he lives in a world that doesn’t want his vigilantism. To respond to this, he kills a man who is wanted for many crimes, leaving the corpse outside of their cities police station, with a note that simply said “neveR!” This is one hero who isn’t afraid to be brutal and to the point, so long as his ideology is adhered to.
3) Garrett – Thief
What is locked… can be opened…
What is hidden… can be found…
What is yours… can be mine.
Without special Keeper training and the augmented eye, Garrett would probably be merely very good at theft, burglary and pickpocketing. With it, he’s a shadow, able to pick a mark clean with greater efficiency than a vulture. The only downside is that the Keepers occasionally ask for help, which frankly gets a little intrusive, interrupting a busy life of pillaging churches for wondrous relics or ancient crypts for forgotten artifacts.
It’s not his fault he’s wrapped up in about a dozen prophesies and that the fate of the world often depends upon him. Still, no world, nothing to steal. Ultimately the important thing is that tomorrow is just as profitable as yesterday, so head down, do the job, then get back to doing whatever he feels like.
Sterling Archer, the world’s most dangerous spy. I’d say secret agent, but he really couldn’t keep a secret to save thousands of lives. He’s the protagonist of the series of the same name, but he’s really not what you’d call the “good guy”, he’s more of an alcoholic gun for hire, also a questionable father, lousy co-worker and as a boss he is far, far worse.
Without him though, the world would be a lot more dangerous. He’s taken down drug-lords, ended insurrections and resolved major terrorist threats single handedly. Not to mention the fact that he probably has more experience than anyone in man-vs.-machine fights with crazy cyborgs, including two heads of the KGB (three if you include Other-Barry). And Pam, Pam’s pretty dangerous.
1) The Punisher – Marvel
Frank Castle lost everything in a rather over-the-top assassination attempt that wiped out his entire family and his sense of morality. His subsequent vengeful rampage may have wiped a substantial number of criminals off the face of the planet but didn’t fill the hole in his heart.
And so the rampage spread to the rest of the criminal populous of the world. No matter the cost, no matter the means, no matter the blood that must be shed (or whose), the worst of the worst must be killed utterly. It’s the only way to be sure. It’s an attitude that has kept him at more than arms length from the rest of the Marvel Super-Societies, and nearly got him killed by Captain America during a dramatic moment in Civil-War (probably won’t happen in the film).
The Punisher has trodden a fine line over the years, even threatening to kill other heroes with questionable pasts. There’s no doubt that his ends are worthy, but he cares very little about the means.
The word doesn’t mean anything to us any more. It’s a hard world out there, and if the bad guys aren’t playing by the rules we can’t win without breaking a few of our own.
These are mentions I suppose, it’s more than they can expect from this world that’s given them nothing, though they’ve poured their heart and soul into saving it. A footnote in the running narrative of life…
It’s a very simple process really. Point the noisy end of a gun at the person you want gone and pull the stick thing on the handle! Failing that, there’s swords, and bombs, and more guns, bigger guns! Then collect the money at the end.
The merc with a mouth has helped save the world more often than anyone else on the list. Skrull invasions aren’t all that effective when Deadpool is proven to be un-copy-able! He’s also killed everybody. Literally everybody! That’s kind of good, right? Nobody fighting any more…
Not much more to say on the subject of Deadpool, he is what he is. The real hero here is Ryan Reynolds!
Rincewind – The Discworld
“Hero” is a complicated term. Rincewind has inadvertently saved the world from certain peril in his desperate efforts to flee from that peril. A few continents owe Rincewind everything, but frankly he’d rather just leave it be if it’s all the same to everyone else. Extradimensional travels? Done ’em. Hurled from the beginning of time to the end with a few stops along the way? No ta. Stare death in the face and tell him exactly what you think? He knows, they’ve spoken, often in fact.
Rincewind is one of those heroes of inconvenience. Right place, right time, wrong Wizzard. He’d probably be dead by now if it weren’t for the fact that Fate, Luck, and a homicidal box are determined to see him live to see tomorrow, a chance to not die another day. Honestly, it’s all just a lot of bother that would be better dealt with by one of those “legendary” types.
Heroic deeds don’t always have to be all polite and lovely, as we’ve seen through our list today. Not all heroes are keen to do everything in the name of all that is good and lovely, some taking extreme, drastic measures to gain an upper hand against their enemies and the enemies of those they love. Thankfully, there will always be people out there to put our anti-heroes in check, making sure they don’t step over that line from hero to villain. Unless they’re Arthas, I guess.
What did you think of this weeks list? Did we miss out any really good anti-heroes who you think deserves at least a mention? Did we get our list order the correct? As always, please don’t forget to leave us a comment below, or over on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Don’t forget to get involved with our future articles by voting on the poll for next weeks’ Top 10!