Sinner & Saint, Hero & Antihero

Suicide Squad Mural
DC Comics's "Suicide Squad," in theaters starting on August 5th

For at least a month now I’ve had concrete plans to attend D.C. Comics’s Suicide Squad. To be honest though, I’ve been talking about Suicide Squad since the beginning of this year. I’m excited for its release because it seems to fall into the vein of movies and series I’ve enjoyed lately: Marvel’s Daredevil, Marvel’s Jessica Jones, Captain America: Civil War, Deadpool, and even Batman vs. Superman.

While these shows and movies look like plain superhero movies, they aren’t. During a conversation about these movies and characters a friend asked me,“These aren’t heroes or models, so what’s the appeal?”

These characters are not heroes in the traditional sense, and to be honest some of them are a bit raw or overly violent. Daredevil has had me actually wince at points from violence, and while watching Deadpool there were several moments I immediately blushed or covered my mouth in response to the off-color humor. And yet, there is still some strange appeal these characters.

These shows are not about heroes but rather antiheroes. By definition a hero offers a model, demonstrates heroic characteristics, displays courage and selflessness, or stands firmly on the moral high ground. These characters definitely do not. Antiheroes lack traditional heroic qualities and may not even be morally good. Yet, despite this, they are the protagonist of the narrative; they are the ones we follow and cheer for. They aren’t villains in a sense of being evil or antagonistic to good. Even if they struggle the entire series or movie, in the end—despite their lack of heroic character traits—they act for good as a hero. But their appeal is not simply in their end choice at the conclusion of their story, their entire journey has some strange appeal.

Let’s consider:

  • Daredevil, who agonizes in deciding whether legal or vigilante means are needed to address evil in his world. In the midst of being torn in searching for his boundaries, he lashes out and alienates his friends.
  • Jessica Jones, who struggles with either accepting or running from her past. All the while, she drowns her shame and self-loathing with her aggression and constant drinking.
  • Deadpool, who hides his struggle with anger and guilt behind his sarcasm and cynicism. He spends the entire movie distracting himself with revenge rather than seeking the woman he loves.
  • To a lesser extent, even Batman vs. Superman and Captain America: Civil War display normally good characters combatting different understandings of what to do. Because of their pride and stubbornness, they turn on each other and lose their way, falling from their clear distinction as heroes.

These characters are definitely not models, but their journey captures my attention. I want them to make that final, redeeming choice. Their choice at the climax of the story: to be the champion of good, even if just for a moment. The journey and their choice relate to my own in some small way.

I find it hard to relate to the perfect hero, the one who never struggles with doing the right thing. Certainly, a Superman-like hero should definitely be my model. But to me, the world feels less obviously “truth-and-justice vs. evil” and more complicated and messy. I want to see the character struggling to recognize the right thing and how to do it, because that seems more like my own narrative. Even if they continue to make mistakes in their struggle, their journey is one of redemption and hope. They may begin as sinners and antiheroes, but eventually they battle their way towards becoming the heroes and saints. The journey of the antihero mirrors our own.

So as I sit down with friends to watch the Suicide Squad, what I’m hoping to see is a group of bad guys (or at least people who aren’t perfect) journey toward becoming good. I’m hoping to see sinners working to become saints. I’m hoping to see a journey which mirrors each of our own struggles towards redemption and hope.

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Cover image courtesy FlickrCC user CC Chapman, found here.

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