By Brittni Lynn
With his foul mouth, mental instability, and complete opposite of Hollywood good looks, Wade Wilson is not exactly a traditional hero. But the main character of the upcoming film Deadpool is the latest in a proud - or at least, popular - tradition of anti-heroes. Defined by their lack of traditionally heroic qualities, anti-heroes have been a staple of literature since the days of Homer in ancient Greece. In today's movie and television landscape, they are standout characters for audiences to root both for and against.
Anti-heroes can fall on a scale from just an unlikely hero to a character who is just a hair away from being an outright villain. Mostly, they all share a similarity: they are flawed. They are usually selfish, occasionally vulnerable, and are almost always fan-favorites for their relatability. Superman may be the ideal hero, but Batman may be everyone else’s favorite. Superman is almost a god; Batman is a flawed and self-doubting human.
And then there's Catwoman, who is more of a pure anti-hero in that she is motivated almost purely by greed. She is not alone in this motivation - Deadpool himself is a mercenary, and Han Solo spends most of his first appearance in the Star Wars series insisting that he's only there for the money. Indiana Jones may not be outright motivated by money, but his reckless need to get priceless artifacts is certainly a greed of its own.
Some anti-heroes are in it for power and fame. Don Draper of Mad Men is charming, but lies and sleeps his way across the 1960s in order to build himself a better life than the one he came from. Frank and Claire Underwood of House of Cards are a power couple who will destroy lives and careers in their political machinations. Walter White's rise from a meek teacher with cancer to a terrifying drug kingpin would make him a bad guy in any show other than Breaking Bad. Michael Corleone of the Godfather trilogy orders countless murders, including that of his own brother, while solidifying his mafia power.
And yet, audiences still love these complicated and flawed human beings. For all that Deadpool is an amoral mercenary who is prone to violence, he's funny and points out the ridiculousness of his situation. Even characters like Dexter, the serial killer from Showtime's Dexter, had a moral code that kept the audience on his side.
During and after times of conflict, they seem to rise to the top again and again. Philip Marlowe after World War II, Travis Bickle after the Vietnam War, and Tyrion Lannister during current political troubles - they and more are the heroes of their times. Audiences who see a more traditional hero may feel cynical, and watching an anti-hero may feel more truthful. Additionally, there is a school of thought that audiences may fantasize more through anti-heroes. An audience member may find it easier to relate to the flawed Don Draper than a Superman.
Whatever the reason, audiences love a hero that is flawed, broken and ultimately relatable, and the Deadpool marketing team is certainly playing on this in their unconventional and hilarious ads. Television shows and films like Catwoman featuring these anti-heroes who came before the red and black costumed mercenary can still be seen on cable TV and streaming online (more info here and here) if you want something to whet your appetite. When Deadpool joins their ranks, it's certain that he'll do it as only he can: unconventionally.