What is an Antihero?

Hello interweb, Nate here.  So this question has been bugging me for quite some time now: what is an antihero?  Now based upon my understanding of the term, an antihero is a character who does villainous things for good intentions.  The best example is the Punisher who’s main shtick is to go around and kill bad guys.  Killing is obviously a villainous trait and most heroes (such as Spider-man, Batman, and Superman [well, when he’s not being directed by Zack Snyder]) refuse to do it, but since he’s doing it to protect the innocent from murderers and thieves he’s not considered a villain; thus he’s an antihero.  Many character easily fit this description such as Deadpool, Deathstroke (yes he’s usually shown as a villain but because he’s a mercenary he’s willing to help the good guys if they pay him enough.  Which is rare but it has happened before.), Spawn, Catwoman, etc. but there are a few characters that people have described as an antihero that has confused me in the past and that’s what I’m mostly curious about here.

Some characters that I’ve heard people describe as antiheroes includes Wolverine, Batman, Magneto, Hulk, and Sinestro.  These aren’t the only characters, but they’re the ones who caught my attention the most.  I mean, Wolverine, Batman, and Hulk are all superheroes, right?  And Magneto and Sinestro are both villains, right?  Is it possible to be both a hero and an antihero?  Or a villain and antihero?  How can that really be if an antihero is already kind of a cross between a hero and a villain?  What is it about these characters that blur the lines between good and evil?

Let start with the heroes.  Like I said, Wolverine, Batman, and Hulk are not the only superheroes that’ve been described by others as “antiheroes” but they’re the ones that caught my attention the most.  Wolverine I can kinda see as he kills people on a regular bases (them claws ain’t for show, bub), Batman I honestly have no idea, and Hulk I can see but it’s also kinda a stretch.  I mean, Hulk may be a hero but he has been known to attack innocents and even other heroes on occasion such as World War Hulk (another Marvel event where the heroes fight each other rather than the bad guys), but these are when he’s enraged to the point that he has lost all self control so does that even count?

Magneto and Sinestro are the two villains that stood out the most as being antiheroes which I kinda got curious on.  Magneto is considered an antihero because he wish to kill all of man kind but it’s so mutant kind can thrive.  The thing is while he wishes to save mutant kind, does this really count?  There are several villains who has similar goals that I haven’t seen people call an antihero.  Like Poison Ivy who has wanted to kill people in the past in the name of plants, or General Zod in Man of Steel as he wanted to replace all of man kind with Kryptonians (there’s probably more characters with similar goals but I can’t think of any off the top of my head).  Sinestro being an antihero is because while he may be an enemy of the Green Lantern Corpse, his main motivation is him wanting justice but taking more extreme measures to reach it.  In fact that’s why he left the Green Lantern Corpse to form the Sinestro Corpse in the first place!

My biggest confusions with all of these are if these characters are antiheroes, then why do most people still refer to them as villains or heroes?  And if we say characters like Magneto and Wolverine ate antiheroes, than why do we see one as the bad guy and the other as a hero?  And why is it that several characters fit this mold and I have never heard anyone refer to them as such.  Wonder Woman is willing to kill but she’s still a “superhero”, Doctor Doom may want to rule the world but it is for heroic reasons, and most superheroes constantly break the law anyways (vigilantism, child endangerment [sidekicks], breaking and entering, etc.) so is there really any character that is still a “superhero”?  Let me know what you guys think in the comments below, I’m curious on your answers!

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9 comments

  1. Short answer, I don’t believe in anti heroes and most are actually villains. Long answer will come by Wednesday. My computer broke so I can’t really reply til then. My mobile skillscare not up to par!

  2. You’re right, this is a confusing term that we should probably banish. Of course, the truth is no one is 100% hero or villain, so I guess we and they are all on a weird sliding scale of good vs evil.

    1. Thanks for commenting! I don’t know if banishing the term completely would end the confusion because that would raise questions on who is a hero and who is a villain. Like where would Punisher fit into those categories? He may count as a villain since he kills people, but then again he kills people to protect innocents so would he really be a villain?

  3. Whoops, my reply came a little later than expected. Well, my stance on Antiheroes is that there are no such things.The world isn’t in black and white, but the gray area of an anti hero is just a way for people to try and heroize villainous deeds without condemning the person. I feel that this is just a flawed outlook on the concept. Let’s take a look at the Punisher since he’s one of the biggest offenders. Basically, he kills as many villains as possible so that other heroes can live although he has no problem with killing a hero if he gets in the way.

    The Punisher lived long enough to see himself become the villain. No matter what the reason, killing is always morally wrong. He may save a lot of people that way, but he’s also ending a person’s life so that person can never have a chance to reform now. While not all villains will reform, some ultimately will. No matter the reason, this makes Punisher a villain. It’s similar to what a character said in a past show. “If I have to become a devil to save my friends, so be it!” The character admits that he will basically become a villain at that point and then he saves all of his friends. Is he still a hero? No, and by his own admission. Of course, you have to decide what is more important to you, doing the right thing or saving a person’s life. Sometimes, you will have to face that tough decision although hopefully never in real life. The problem is that Punisher kills all of the time, even when he doesn’t have too. He never even thinks about arresting someone so I’d say that he’s a complete villain. Say you murder someone in self defense of by accident. That won’t automatically make you a villain. Striking down a defenseless murderer who’s already broken and a threat to no one? That’s definitely villain behavior. I believe that no matter the reason, if you commit such acts, you become a villain. You can change your ways, but you really have to choose a side.

    1. Lol, no worries. Your response does make sense and I guess characters like Punisher, Deadpool, Deathstroke, Catwoman, etc. can all be classified as “villains” pretty easily. But I still see a few characters that can be a little tricky. How about Hulk? He has killed innocents and fought heroes in the past but that’s been where he’s Hulked out and lost control. Or Wolverine? Is a villain disguised as a hero? He kills quite a few people and yet he’s an X-Man and an Avenger. Or Captain America? He was part of WWII and thus probably killed people while defending the country.

      1. All right, let’s go into all of those. For the Hulk, I’d count him as a hero. He has made mistakes in the past. In the 60’s, he was constantly attacking the army (Never killing anyone though) and he has a long history of being mind controlled and tricked. At times, he would just become a mindless monster who would attack people. That being said, Bruce Banner is completely a hero and he typically has control. The Hulk is usually an animal in a sense so he doesn’t know right from wrong enough. The hulk from Planet Hulk got his intelligence, which did make him ultimately turn evil. So, for years he was evil and in Marvel Now he turned sinister again, but I believe the current Hulk to be a hero. It’s tricky as each writer has fun messing with the Hulk’s character, which is what makes it tougher than most characters. Still, on the whole, I believe he’s a hero who has just made a lot of mistakes. At the very least, he usually tries not to kill people even when he’s constantly being attacked.

        Captain America would also be a hero in my book…for the most part. Recently, they’ve been trying to portray him as racist against mutants for a while, which I thought was horrible writing and completely out of character. In WW II, he definitely destroyed some people off screen, but on panel he typically just knocked them out with the 1-2-3 punch. Although I’m sure that the newer comics would change that for grit. Still, killing someone in the middle of a firefight in war is a little different than just murdering someone. You’re still commiting the act of murder, which is wrong in and of itself, but it’s a complete last resort with everything that I’ve seen Cap in.

        Now, Wolverine…I’d basically call him a villain. He never has qualms about killing anyone and that’s just not right in a supposed hero. He still goes around killing people even though he’s mellowed out a little. So, I would call him a villain in disguise for sure!

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