How Far Can an Anti-Hero Go?

Constantine and Doctor Fate

In War of Nytefall, I had to change mental gears because the Dawn Fangs aren’t exactly heroes.  They could be considered that by their own species, but they’re still fairly monstrous in that they kill and destroy a lot.  I considered them to be antiheroes because of their violence, but there were moments where I wondered if that was still the case.  I remember reading stories with heroes like Punisher and Venom, but they had limits to what they would do.  Clyde and the Dawn Fangs don’t always have those in regards to mortals.  So, I’ve been thinking a lot about antiheroes and the fine line between them an villains.

Reading up on the character type, I can see how Clyde fits in since he isn’t your typical hero.  When compared to Luke Callindor, he’s fairly monstrous and selfish and gives in to violence very easily.  Yet, he does care about his gang, so he isn’t all bad.   I tried hard to make him somewhat human without removing the predator and monster sides of his persona.  It’s really the massacres that he unleashes that has me wondering about how far he’s gone.  The other Dawn Fangs are slightly better even though they all seem to have a very cavalier attitude towards death.  Simply put, they have very little problem unleashing such a thing.

Entirely possible that I’m overthinking this too.  The basic definition of antihero is one who doesn’t fit into the standard categories.  Once you go beyond that, it becomes fairly subjective.  Some people will consider cursing a big sign of antiheroes while others wait until the character amasses a high body count.  I have a rather high tolerance for what a hero will do, which might be why I have Clyde meet those top levels.  Yet, I consider that readers might expect more heroics than I do.  On the other hand, these are vampires, so you can only expect so much.  Here we find that my mind keeps going in circles and this post is probably not going to create a conclusion.

So, how far do you think antiheroes can go before they cross a line into non-heroes or villains?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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38 Responses to How Far Can an Anti-Hero Go?

  1. L. Marie says:

    Interesting that you mentioned this topic. The other day I had a conversation with a guy about whether or not Thanos and a character in Black Panther (and yes I won’t name the character due to spoilers) are antiheroes .

    The paths of characters like Queen Trinity and Han Solo are easier to discuss, since we can clearly see their turn toward the heroic. But it’s all a matter of perspective. For Clyde’s gang, he is a hero. But for humans, he is a villain.

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    • Never thought of Thanos or the character I assume you’re talking about (didn’t see the movie) being antiheroes. Since they’re in the role of villain, I would say that’s where they stay for those stories. They can emerge as antiheroes if given the proper storyline and enough time though. In the comics, Thanos helped out Adam Warlock once or twice.

      Clyde might be skirting the edge a lot and it’s only him being the focus of the series that will save him. Switching the perspective to a non-vampire would paint him in a different light, which makes this fairly interesting to do.

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  2. This is an interesting question Charles. In one of my manuscripts I have an anti-hero, who I don’t think crosses any lines he shouldn’t.

    But this is a very good question. How far can we let them go? Perhaps as long as he is combating someone or something more eveil than he, we can get away with a lot. What do you think?

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  3. I think an excellent anti-hero can do whatever needs to be done to those who are obviously evil. Good idea to have regular contact with a kid, dog, or pretty woman so that he can demonstrate a caring heart.

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  4. I don’t view antiheroes by the same lines as you do. I use the moniker when they actually do the right thing, even in the wrong way. My favorite example is the old Bronson movie(s) Death Wish. He didn’t make citizen’s arrests and bring them in. He stalked and killed the bad guys. I’m looking forward to the Bruce Willis remake. I never watched one called Dexter, but I see him fitting my definition too. I think they can be brutal as hell, so long as there is a lens where the reader can see the right thing being done. (It can be a dirty cracked lens, and maybe not the only lens in the box, but it needs to be there.)

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    • That’s actually a great example of an antihero, but wouldn’t the stalking and killing of other people be a crossed line? Same thing with Dexter. They may have killed bad guys, but it’s still murder. In reality, they would be taken in by the same justice system as those they are killing. It is funny how we seem to accept fictional characters killing those that are labeled as villains. Reminds me of a line from ‘True Lies’ when Schwarzenegger is asked if he’s killed anyone: “Yes, but they were all bad.”

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  5. Okay, not a lot of additional conversation here, so here is another movie for you. The Untouchables is such a good film for authors to pick apart. It has a villain and a monster, which we discussed last week. Think about Elliot Ness on the roof of the court house and Frank Nitty surrendering. Ness throws Nitty off the building. That was an antihero move.

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    • Have to admit that I’ve never seen ‘The Untouchables’. Never had an interest in gangster/crime movies. Still, I do see a common trend here. These are good guys killing the bad guys, which we tend to accept. It also tends to be an endgame scenario or at the very least taking out minions. I’m wondering more about the lines crossed to get there. I’m actually thinking of a recent NCIS episode. An FBI agent lied about evidence to put a man away for murder. The man was released after this was exposed, but it turns out he had really done it anyway. The agent was fired and the characters sought a way to put the killer back in jail. Yet, the agent broke the law and crossed a line to get to that end result. This is a fairly mild example, but it does bring up the question of how far an anti-hero is allowed to go for their victory. I think we’ve established that killing bad guys is okay and taking out civilians is not. Yet, what about heroes who don’t care about collateral damage?

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      • I think the whole collateral damage thing works in history or future settings. We nuked Japan and many civilians paid the price. Today we take great care to avoid such things. I think it could work in a futuristic setting too, but you’d have to build some of it up front. Also depends on how much control your main character has. Maybe Truman was an anti-hero, but what about the pilot who was following orders?

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      • An empty hero? I do wonder if you can consider a hero who simply acts under orders as a full hero. I mean, they are doing good, but it’s not really by personal choice or creed. This brings in a load of gray zones as well as personal definitions.

        Fantasy tends to have a lot of collateral damage too. Mostly because the action takes place in cities that don’t exist in our world.

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      • I think grey zones might be where the best character evolutions come from.

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  6. For me, the divide between an anti-hero and a villain lies in their awareness of the lines. An anti-hero knows they’re crossing a line but believes they must for a higher purpose. A villain scoffs at the line.

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  7. I don’t really have anything to add to the conversation (Craig stole all of my thoughts, which means it’s probably time for me to wear the tinfoil hat again); I just wanted to say how I loved that Constantine strip (and Constantine in general, of course)!

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