If you Google the definition of an antihero, you will get the following result:
“A central character in a story, movie, or drama who lacks conventional heroic attributes.”
The antihero is making a comeback in modern storytelling. I am amongst the legion of fans who have seen Deadpool multiple times. The mutant with an attitude is probably the most popular depiction of an antihero in modern storytelling, though he is far from the only one. And the modern era is not the only place where antiheroes have been a part of stories. There are examples of these morally-ambiguous characters since the time of antiquity, like Thersites in Homer’s Iliad. In classic literature, Huckleberry Finn is an antihero. Think about when he saved Jim from slavery - it seems like a thing a hero would do today, but back in the day it was a morally incorrect thing to do, and Finn even accepts that he will go to Hell because of it. Today, antiheroes are most popular in comic books, however that is not the only medium that they occupy. I’ve compiled a list of my ten favourite antiheroes that have been popular in the last few years or so, and some of them may surprise you! Also, this list is in no particular order, as each has their own special place in media.
Deadpool - As I already mentioned, Deadpool took the world by storm when the movie was released at the start of this year. The character was already insanely popular online and in the Marvel and X-Men fandoms, but, as with all comic book movies, the film brought the crude, violent character to the mainstream. And that’s exactly why he is so popular; he is crass, never serious, always making jokes but kicking butt at the same time. It gives the primal part of our brains the over-the-top action we crave, but keeps it lighthearted as well. And he is a fellow Canadian, so I can’t help but give him a shoutout.
Wolverine - Deadpool would be happy to see me put his crush next to him on this list. Wolverine is a hero by many standards - despite trying to hide it, he has strong morals that usually save the day for the good guys. However, he is an antihero insofar that most of his morals are quite grey. Unlike a lot of his superhero counterparts, Wolverine has no qualms putting his iconic blades to lethal work for the greater good. Couple that with his badboy attitude, and you have one of the most popular antiheroes of all time. With Hugh Jackman’s last portrayal of Wolverine coming up in Logan, there will definitely be some teary eyes the next time we see him on the big screen.
John Constantine - Switching comic book universes, Constantine is a Vertigo (DC) character who is the pinnacle of snide remarks and cynicism. His deadpan humour is usually used to mask how deeply he does care for others, but he does a great job in hiding that. Constantly struggling against both Heaven and Hell, Constantine faces supernatural forces in a constant attempt to do good, and fuel his insatiable hunger for danger at the same time. Constantine recently had a half-season on television before being cancelled, which was incredibly unfortunate. The show was quickly becoming one of my favourites, enough to get me to pick up a few issues of the Hellblazer comics that he starred in.
Dexter Morgan - Veering away from comicbooks, let’s take a look at some other antiheroes. Dexter Morgan, from the series Dexter and the stories that inspired it, is a serial killer who tries to satisfy his psychopathic urges by only killing those who deserve it. Devoid of any kind of emotion, Dexter understands that what he does is wrong, but cannot help it. So he tries to channel it in a better way. The only drawback to Dexter’s character is the utter disappointment that was the end of that series. However, Dexter shows us an antihero that isn’t defined by crude humour or grey morals. His morals are as dark as they come, and his heroism is usually driven more by survival than anything else.
Riddick - Portrayed by Vin Diesel, Riddick is a criminal - a killer no less - than straddles the line between taking lives and saving them. Usually the former is more prevalent, however Riddick usually shows a soft side in the films. That soft side might sometimes only extend to a dog-like creature, but it is there nonetheless! Riddick is on this list because he leans into the much darker spectrum, putting self-preservation above all else, but still managing to be a good guy (sort of).
John WIck - I love Keanu Reeves. He is a combination of weird and mysterious, and a fantastic actor to boot. Technically he shows up twice on this list (he portrayed Constantine in the 2005 film, though that was not a true depiction of the comic character), but his role as John Wick is the most recent, and most memorable. With a sequel on the way, it will be interesting to see what exactly spurs Mr. Wick into action this time. An ex-mob enforcer and killer, John Wick was living a peaceful, albeit lonely life, when a kid from that same mob breaks into his house and kills his dog. John makes this list because he is the strong, silent antihero in a detailed, interesting world. And because I love dogs.
Gregory House - Although it has been over for a few years now, House goes down as one of my favourite series of all time. Unlike Dexter, its series finale was well done. House is a brilliant doctor that saves lives almost every episode. However, he is arrogant, rude, and belligerent. His humour is dry and inappropriate, he has a general disregard for ethics, and he is a drug addict. Still, House makes this list because he is a complex, masterful character, and one that - unlike almost all members of this list - is not violent. It goes to show that you can have a successful antihero without the violence and gore of Deadpool.
Jax Teller - Sons of Anarchy is another series that has wrapped up, and one that has received critical and general praise from almost everywhere. The series focuses on a motorcycle club, the Sons of Anarchy, and their president Jax. Jax and his club are criminals - murderers, gun-runners, occasional drug dealers - and spend plenty of time in prison in the series. Even their legitimate business, filming pornography and running a brothel, is taboo for some. Still, the part that makes Jax such a strong antihero is his desire to stay within his moral code, to do what is best for his club and, most of all, for his family. Frequently this makes him fallible, but it is that tendency to fail that makes him so genuine and relatable.
Severus Snape - While I am not the biggest fan of the Harry Potter series (don’t freak out, I still like the series, I just can’t recite it line for line), J.K. Rowling’s big surprise with Snape tugged at heartstrings and tear ducts worldwide. That moment when you read or heard “Always”, your world was changed. Snape is the unique antihero in that we genuinely thought he was a villain until that word. Snape was a hero in his own way, but a hero nonetheless. And since we lost Alan Rickman this year, the brilliant actor who portrayed Snape on the big screen, it was only fitting that he hold a place on this list.
Sandman Slim - Every single time Richard Kadrey releases a new Sandman Slim novel, I can’t help but devour it in one sitting. James Stark - aka Sandman Slim - has literally been to Hell and back, and has a fiery attitude to match the brimstone down below. The devil-may-care attitude is prevalent in the series, and Stark has said more than once that he cares more about an individual than the entire world. That doesn’t mean he hasn’t saved the world (more than once), but his moral compass rarely points true north. Sandman Slim holds a special place for me, since it inspired me to write an antihero, urban fantasy of my own…
Nightshade - So I gave you ten, give me the eleventh. I can’t help but put my own creation on this list of my favourite antiheroes. If she wasn’t on here, then we would have a problem! I love Nightshade because it gives me creative freedom in a colloquial, laissez-faire style of prose. Unlike Archangel or my other stories, writing Nightshade is more relaxed, with less inhibitions and less rules. By no means is it easier or of lower quality than my other work. It is just a different beast, and writing a Nightshade story can be refreshing when everything else is so serious.
So there you have it, my favourite ten (plus one) antiheroes of the modern day. Do you agree or disagree with who is on here? What are some of your favourite antiheroes, past or present? What is it about antiheroes that you like? I am always on the lookout for inspiration, role models, and fresh material, so feel free to point me in the direction of some good antiheroes!