I wonder if I’ve ever written a real vigilante, but I don’t think I have. Windemere has laws, but adventuring is allowed and that covers a lot of the same ground. One could say the champions aren’t vigilantes because they were chosen by Gabriel the Destiny God and a major part of this archetype is that they take the law into their own hands. Cassidy and Lloyd Tenay are mercenaries in Bedlam, Ichabod Brooks is an adventurer for hire, and the Dawn Fangs have their own society in War of Nytefall. What I’m getting at here is that I haven’t really attempted the character type that I’m about to discuss.
First of all, the key point is that a vigilante is taking the law into their own hands. Either they think the law is too weak or they want to help by working outside the law, they are driven to fight injustice in some form. Many times, this is shown by the character being incredibly violent and playing judge, jury, and executioner. This turns them into an anti-hero, who is hunted by the very system he wishes to either help or strengthen. Punisher is a good example here. Others use non-lethal methods and stay out of the system to retain their freedom of action and hide their identity. This would be Batman. There are other variations, including the villainous type such as Scar from Fullmetal Alchemist, but the general idea is a character working outside the law.
There is a lot of debate on if these characters are good or bad. It’s a question of POV since that determines the narrator’s opinion. Imagine if the POV of the Batman comics was that of the Joker from the very beginning. You might see him as a true criminal even with his rationale, but you’d get a more negative view of Batman. The question of why he’s necessary would come up more often and the audience wouldn’t know better since this is how it started. Another example is the movie Death Wish. We know Charles Bronson was playing the hero because he was the focal point and we were made to feel connected to his journey. If you switched it to one of the gang members then it would change. In fact, it would be similar to I Know What You Did Last Summer where the characters are being killed for a past sin, but we’re made to think the punishment doesn’t fit the crime here.
Honestly, I’d love to give this character type a try in the future. I have one in my superhero world that would be closer to Spider-Man than Punisher since he’s non-lethal. Yet, that does bring in a challenge for vigilante heroes. How far do you have them go before you have to admit they’re now a villain? Can you have them kill indiscriminately and still pass them off as a true hero? The ‘freedom’ from the law that these characters have opens up new doors for the story, character development, and action scenes. Yet, many of those doors will lead to slides that put them closer to the darker side of heroism than the more noble one. Again, we find ourselves with a balancing act within our writing that we have to be careful of.
So, what do you think about the vigilante archetype? Does it have a place in fiction these days or has it fallen out of favor?