by Judy

I'm not big on superheroes.  I mean, Superman is handsome and muscular and he can fly.  But the thing that irks me is that he doesn't have to really be a hero to be a hero.  Know what I mean?   Let me 'splain.

Something bad happens.  Out of the sky, faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings at a single bound, comes Superman.  If something opaque needs seeing through, he's got x-ray vision.  If something needs welding, he's got heat ray vision.  If something needs chasing, he can fly faster than the aforementioned speeding bullet and catch it.   He can fly in space and through the center of the Earth.  He can stay underwater indefinitely without breathing and hot lava can't even scorch his cape.  If something needs lifting or bending or smashing or trashing, his super strength takes care of the job.  No problems.

Big deal.  Not my version of a true hero.  Sorry.

Spidey's not much better.  Personally, I've never cared for spiders and the thought of a human-sized one crawling around and hanging upside down from a thread to kiss his girlfriend frankly creeps me out.  Yet, he's very popular with superhero fans.  Equipped with "Spider Sense," sticky-barbed fingers for climbing up walls and steel-strong strands of webbing that jet from his wrists, Spidey can "sense" when danger is near, hang upside down from the ceiling, catapult with super-thread from skyscraper to skyscraper and pretty much handle any crook or villain that comes along.  Ho-hum.  Makes for some good action scenes, but, again, falls sadly short of what I envision as true heroism.

My point is, if someone has a set of built-in powers that can tackle pretty much anything, how heroic is that?  The only way angst,  courage and struggle can be brought into the story is to create a super-villian that is equal or greater in power than the protagonist super-hero.  But if you are going to do that as an author, why trouble one's self with bringing in the supers at all?  Un-super folk can provide plenty of plot and heroics without going to all the bother with supers.

Now, for a moment, let's change the prefix and consider the anti-hero.  I know there is a strong, popular notion that an anti-hero is a good thing.  Darker graphic novels capitalize on this idea with characters like Batman and Wolverine and Hollywood adds its own characters like Mad Max, the leads in a number of Clint Eastwood movies and a whole string of more recent versions.  Right now, anti-heroes are the hottest thing out there.  Why, then, would I have a problem with them?  I'll tell you.

What is an anti-hero?  Basically, anti-heroes do bad things in order to do good.  This concept doesn't fly with me.  How can you be a hero if you commit acts of violence for sheer revenge?   That's evil, not heroic.   True heroes (those without a prefix) are too good for that.  They have a conscience, a basic code of ethics.  They refrain from doing bad things, even when their antagonists don't; even when, under certain points of view, the bad thing might be justified.  True heroes stay within the bounds of decency, even if it is to their disadvantage.  They become all the more heroic for being able to defeat evil without falling to its lure.

When I use the term, "true" or "real" in reference to a hero, I'm talking about a person rising above pain, despair, defeat, and injustice.  First there is an evil or tragedy that must be overcome.  Then comes the attempt to right the wrong which is initially met with failure or, even better, repeated failures.  But finally, after a hard-fought, self-sacrificing, soul-bearing, upright struggle, triumph comes at last; well-won; rightfully won.  Those are my kind of heroics.

My kind of hero arrives on the scene with nothing more than a noble portion of basic human biology: brains, heart and guts.

My kind of hero has brains.  He is smart and uses his noggin to take on the foe.  He's thrown into a dangerous situation.  His attempts to overcome involve a steep learning curve  and lots of mistakes.  He's up against unbeatable odds.   There's no quick solution.  He has to think outside the box.  The moment I adore is when the hero finally figures it out.  After so many defeats, his idea works.  I LOVE that part!  I love seeing brains used instead of brawn.  I love seeing a battle against an enemy fought not with freezing breath or steely muscles or spider silk but with ingenuity, resourcefulness and wit.  I love it when a haughty, overconfident villain goes down in  flames, outwitted by a humble but never-say-die intellectual. 

My kind of hero has heart.  He cares deeply about things.  He will fight for an ideal that needs defending.  He cares more about others than himself.   He will sacrifice his own comfort, safety and even his life for someone else.  That kind of heart isn't the type of power that pulls down walls or melts lead, but it is a hero's driving force.  It is stronger than any spider's silk.  A hero's heart is the thing that moves him to act; the thing that makes him larger than life; his inner armor.  He will die defending what his heart tells him is right.

My kind of hero has guts.  He takes risks.  He goes for it.  He has COURAGE.  Even if he knows that everything could go wrong.  When it's down to the wire, he puts his toe on the line and starts out swinging.  Even when it looks hopeless, even when he gets beaten down, he rises from the blood and dust and doesn't back down until he's done what he has to do.  Some people call it grit.  Some call it perseverance.  I call it heroism.

True heroes are needed in this world to show us normal humans the possibilities of believing:  If a normal human being (not one with superpowers) can overcome the impossible, maybe, so can I! True heroes inspire us to be like them; to be more than we are.

My point is, as writers, let's create true heroes.  The more books we have with true heroes in them, the better the world will be. 

Stories of true heroes stay with us.  Long after we've forgotten the latest superhero movie, we remember the story of someone who solved an overwhelming problem by thinking of a new way to use the resources at hand to outwit the enemy.  We carry with us for a lifetime the stories of people who have helped others at their own risk; who sacrificed everything for a greater good, protecting things like home, family, freedom.  Their examples affect us; we see their courage and find our own.  We face our next trial remembering their strength.  We think of a blind, young man climbing Everest, a defeated athlete coming back from an injury and finally winning the race, a father who sacrifices his life to save his child.  We realize some of life's challenges require that we keep a cool head and not give up thinking up potential solutions until we find one that works; that real-life trials must be faced with courage and perseverance; that many evils will not be defeated without personal sacrifice and that we are the one's who must make the sacrifice.  This is why we need heroes in literature, true heroes, because they can inspire us to be like them.

I'm all about UN-prefixed heroes.  They're all around us, not just in books or on the screen.  We see them every day, walking down the street, at the store, in school, at soccer practice or a play rehearsal, in hospitals and fire stations; even pulled over writing out a traffic ticket.  Just about anywhere there are people, there are un-prefixed heroes doing super things. 

So, fellow writers. what I'm saying is, if we can bring true heroes to life on the written page, we have created something really worthwhile.  Literature calls them "protagonists."  I call them the real power in a story--not the super power, the real power of a real hero!  Therefore, let us choose to create true heroes in our stories and give the world something it sorely needs.

Long live the un-prefixed hero!