Monday, February 28, 2011

The Appeal of the Imperfect Hero

“I’m Batman.” A low gritty voice, hooded eyes, and a strong, sensual mouth--what’s not to love about a guy running around in a costume, saving the city?

I love superheroes. Yes, there’s something to be said about the everyday kind of heroes who really do change the world, but as a society, we revere the independent spirit, the one who chooses to set things right, the one who sacrifices for the greater good--in other words, the unrealistic ideal. But why? What is it about the hero that draws us in and makes us keep coming back for more?

Batman is a good character study for a couple different reasons. Along with Superman, Batman has been a comic book, television series, cartoon, and movie subject that many have followed through many changes. But what makes him a superhero? Unlike many other superheroes, he doesn’t have any actual super powers. Instead, he uses his considerable wealth to buy crime fighting gadgets of the dark and dangerous kind. And spends his free time, saving the criminal-magnet city of Gotham from its many threats. Unlimited money and time would seem to be an advantage for a superhero, but it certainly isn’t what appeals to audiences, in my opinion.

The truth is, even if he is a heroic figure, he is far from perfect. And in that is the true appeal. His need to protect the city and right the wrongs is selfishly motivated. His parents’ deaths and the rise in crime in Gotham prompted his initial desire to don the costume and make a difference. He wanted revenge. What kind of hero is motivated by revenge? But it is the imperfect hero that we truly love to love. Batman embodies the imperfect hero that we can’t help but watch and want a happily ever after for at least once.

I personally struggle with creating imperfect heroes, but I am working on this part of my characterization. I am drawing on movies, mentor books, television shows, news stories, and real life problems of the people around me (can you say “name change“) to make my heroes more appealing in their imperfections, so I have long conversations with my hero and his family and friends until they tell me exactly what it is that will make readers really want to know him and really want to root for him.  It is a work in progress, and I am constantly discovering new characteristics and tweaking my imperfect hero.

Now, look at the following portrayals of the caped crusader and comment on who you believe played him best:
 Adam West        

 Michael Keaton        

  Val Kilmer   

  George Clooney   

  Christian Bale   

No fair going for the shirtless guy just because (okay, it is Christian Bale) of the hotness factor.

Happy writing!


  1. Sherry,

    Good topic and one that I need to learn more about myself. I tend to write my men too perfect, so I need to roughen them up a bit. With my latest hero, JAKE, I'm learning that time is of the essence. Mainly b/c he doesn't want to listen to me, but later on in the story the readers will learn that he had a darker past than most of his peers. Hopefully he goes along with my plans! :)

    But about Batman.......well, I will just say this, I'm VERY GLAD they got Christian Bale to play the new caped crusader. He embodies the role and does it with relish. With his deep voice, steady stare and mysterious air how can you NOT want to know what is going on behind those eyes of his?

    When I was in my early teens they released the one with Micheal Keaton and I remember my mother stating how she LOVED his lips. I remember looking at her and going..."His lips?? Why his lips??" Needless to say I now understand her fascination... :) And they are a well formed pair of lips indeed.


  2. Good morning Sherry! I love the topic and yes I will pick the shirtless guy- mostly because Christian Bale does an incredible job of giving us the most realistic, believable Batman, to date.

    Handsome as the other men are who have been the caped crusader, Christian embodies the darker reality of Batman's dual existence, balancing between being the city's savior from criminals and being angry over his very personal losses.

    The other movies were hit and miss, with their very "comic" portrayals of this imperfect hero. Christian has finally given Batman more volatility and made him a favorite superhero in my book.

    Great Post!

  3. Thanks for stopping by, Taryn. So true, IMO, that Christian Bale plays the most well-rounded portrayal.

  4. Wonderful topic, Sherry! Yes, creating heroes who have those flaws can be daunting. I continually have to say to myself, 'Nobody's perfect!' The funny part is that we may tell oursevelves that having the perfect man or hero would be fabulous but the truth of the matter is, we'd find ourselves bored to tears if that were the case. We don't want to be bored when we read and we most definitley do not want our readers bored either. We want them finishing our books with eagerness and sitting on pins and needles as they deal with the emotional turmoil just as our hero and heroine does too.

    I love George Clooney but I do believe Christian Bale takes the role of Batman with real grit and deep emotions. He shows Batman's vulnerabilities and portrays him as a 'realistic' superhero. One who hurts, hates, and loves as anyone else.

    Great post, sweetie!

    JD :)

  5. I personally love Val Kilmer so he's my choice but Christian Bale comes in second! Love his bod but I think his voice to the character is a bit forced but then I think that about most of Christian's acting...

    I love taking a character and then asking the question posed by Val Kilmer's character in THE SAINT "Who are you?" I love giving my characters problems they need to overcome or things that force them to self-reflect. No one is perfect and a hero shouldn't be either.
    I love your take on the Batman hero, Sherry - he becomes a hero by default. He didn't set out to be the good guy, but ended up that way on his quest for revenge!

  6. Sherry,

    I love Batman! I've adways admired him because he's not the traditional hero. He doesn't have power, but has to rely on his grit, quick thinking and hard work. That made him all the more indearing because it didn't come easy for him, even with all his money.

    I agree with the rest of the ladies, Christian Bale does portray him most realistically. Dark, haunted and in pain.

    Great Post!

  7. Great post and so relevant to creating our own hero's/villains. Besides, who says the hero can't also be the villain? Now, there is an interesting idea. Aren't we all attracted to the bad boy on some level?

  8. So true, Sylvia! And a hero also as a villain? poses some interesting questions on how to pull that off, but hey - anything is possible!

  9. Hey sherry! Great post, and yes, I love Christian bale in anything
    since I saw him as a child in Empire of the Sun. What talent. I fell I'm love
    with in Newsies...that dance was adorable! As Batman, he's brought a
    whole new level of sexy to the role! Yummm!