Hello again readers! Today, I plan to take a look at a special kind of hero that has been appearing more frequently lately: the anti-hero. Come with me as I discuss a few of my favorites, and what makes them so popular. What is it about an anti-hero that is so appealing to the masses? I believe that people relate a lot better to anti-heroes. They do not follow the same black and white, clear cut guidelines as regular heroes. They are not afraid to get their hands dirty if it is for the greater good. Generally, they have a dark, horrific past that is driving them to action, not just a desire to do good. Many find this more appealing than just doing good for the sake of it. Let us take a look at some of the most popular anti-heroes and try to see what makes them stand out among the rest.
There are many different ways anti-heroes come into existence. For Alex Mercer, the lead role in Prototype, his body has been genetically altered by a virus. Alex Mercer, also known as The Prototype or by his code name ZUES, was the lead researcher of the Project Blacklight for a company known as Gentek. Once word reaches Alex that everyone working on his project is being eliminated one by one, he decides to flee with a vial of the virus he has been working on. Cornered at Penn Station, he has no choice but to drop the vial, releasing the contents and infecting everyone on Manhattan Island. Shortly after this happens, Alex wakes up in a Gentek facility with no recollection of his past. he escapes the building and quickly discovers his newfound powers granted by the virus he released. Quickly Alex begins to make use of his new powers to track down every person responsible for the virus, hoping to gain back his memory and make them pay for their mistakes.
Alex Mercer is a special case as an anti-hero in that he has no recollection of his dark past when his journey begins. He also has many decisions to make (made by the player) that either shape him as a hero or a villain as his story is uncovered. A vast majority of his time is still spent killing soldiers or just generally causing mayhem as he runs through the streets of New York. The key ingredients to an anti-hero are all here. A dark, and in this case mysterious past, betrayal by someone he thought he could trust, and a need for revenge or redemption. Add in a few monstrous super powers and you have a tasty anti-hero pie.
Sometimes, being an anti-hero is destiny. When an oracle predicted the fall of Olympus would come, not at the hands of the titans, but at the hands of a “marked warrior”. The Olympians obviously could not stand for this, and so tracked down the man they believed to be this warrior. Ares and Zuess believed it to be Deimos, due to his strange birthmark: a red mark over his eye. Ares interupts Deimos while he is training with his little brother, Kratos. Kratos tries to stop Ares from taking his brother, but is tossed aside like dirty laundry and left with a scar over his right eye. Deimos is then dragged down to Hades and tortured for many years by Thanatos, the god of death. Eventually, Kratos becomes the youngest captain of Sparta’s army. With an insatiable lust for power he leads his men into death and victory time and time again. Facing defeat at the hands of the barbarian horde, Kratos calls upon Ares, who grants him the Blades of Chaos. Kratos follows Ares blindly from this point on, killing many in his name until Ares tricks him into killing his own wife and daughter. Kratos is shocked out of his blind faith and revokes his service to Ares. As the temple where he killed his family burns, a local oracle curses him to bear the mark of his sins. The ashes of his family cover his skin, making him look sickly pale and earning him the nickname “Ghost of Sparta”.
Kratos from God of War follows another classic anti-hero design. He loses his whole family to the gods, giving him the perfect reason to hunt for revenge. Through years of hard training, and the assistance of Athena, he is the strongest warrior of his time. Match that up with his lust for blood and need for revenge and you have the makings of a great, albeit messy anti-hero. He is also a classic example of what happens when revenge gets out of control. After Kratos kills Ares, his blood lust and need for revenge drives him even further, leading him to tear a veritable mudhole in all of creation and bring down the throne of all of the gods with not a care as to the affect this will have on the world.
Some characters are not super in any way, but are still faced with the trials and tribulations that bring out the anti-hero within. Such is the case for Kazuma Kiryu. Born and raised during the 70’s in the Sunflower Orphanage with his best friend Akira Nishiki and his sister Yuko, his parents were killed when he was a small child by Shintaro Kazama, a lieutenant in the Dojima family of the Yakuza. Kazama becomes a father figure to Kiryu, supporting him within the Family. Kiryu rose up the ranks in the Family and earned the nickname “The Dragon of Dojima” because of the dragon tattoo on his back. His dreams of starting his own branch in the family are cut tragically short when he takes the blame for the murder of his boss, Sohei Dojima. Because of this, he ends up in prison for ten years. Upon his release, the entire Yakuza community wants his head, and he must prove himself yet again, immersing himself in the underworld once more.
Kiryu from the Yakuza series is the perfect example of an anti-hero searching for redemption. He is not motivated by revenge, nor does he have any desire for power. His ties to the Yakuza mark him as a criminal, yet he is a good man at heart, going to prison to protect his friend and eventually even running the orphanage he grew up at. Still, because of the affiliations he has with the Family and the deeds he does to protect those he loves, he certainly cannot be considered a hero.
Now, there are many, many more excellent examples of anti-heroes in video games. More and more games seem to be dropping the image of a nice, perfect hero who never does any wrong and adopting the easier to relate to designs of the anti-hero. Keep in mind, these are not necessarily even the best examples, just my favorites. From my very first Spawn comic book up through the more recent Assassin’s Creed games, I have always been a big fan of the concept of a less than perfect hero, often forced into the role of savior by circumstances beyond their control. To the readers, I pose a question. Who are the best anti-heroes? Is this a formula that really works? Should we embrace anti-heroes or stick with the traditional design of heroes we are so familiar with? On that note I will bring a close to this tragic tale of revenge and woe. Until next time Lusitards!