Top Five (Modern) Anti-Heroes

We’ve all seen and heard of women swooning at Erik, the Phantom of the Paris opera house, or being melted into a state indescribable as anything other than the word ‘goo’ by the brooding hero Heathcliff, self-appointed master of the manor at Wuthering Heights, or even wanting to soothe the fevered brow of Edmond Dantes, the Count of Monte Cristo. They are immortal characters, these red-blooded, dashing men who are very visceral and real in their weaknesses, and women in the millenia to come will continue the swooning phenomenon, I am confident.

However, the anti-heroes of modern day fiction and media are given short shrift in this nostalgic view of things, so here I will list my “top 5” of the best anti-heroes of the past 10 years. This is very obviously my personal set of choices, and 5 is a very limiting number (but one to which I will stick to preserve the integrity of the post). Also, being a heterosexual woman, this list is exclusively male. You are most welcome to add your views on Xena: Warrior Princess or Catwoman or whoever else in the comments.

One important little warning – here there be spoilers. People who see the character’s name and continue to read on will do so at their own peril.

In a very particular order:

5. Percival Ulysses Cox, M.D.

(From Scrubs, the TV series)

Dr. Cox is so tough, the only person who can whoop his ass (and admittedly, with help,) is the Janitor. Whose name is, er, Janitor. Or Jan Itor.

Dr. Perry Cox is a cast regular on the medical comedy Scrubs, which follows JD, Turk and Elliot as they enter Sacred Heart hospital as interns and mature into responsible doctors and people. Dr. Cox is their extremely unwilling mentor, with a caustic wit, a bullying streak and a tendency to launch into very long rants usually involving Hugh Jackman at some point. He has an on and off relationship with his ex wife Jordan Sullivan.

Reading all of that doesn’t convince you that he’s much of a good guy at all, right? But the fact remains – he always comes through for JD and the other interns, he ends up teaching JD valuable lessons even when calling him girly names and is a great father to his own kids, he has a softie side that only the bitch-nastiness of his ex-wife can get through to, and he is one protective alpha male when it comes to His family and His students.

Plus, you gotta see the man exercising – he’s in or near his forties and yet runs a mean couple of miles, stays in great shape and wipes the floor with the interns he mentors. Even Todd, the testosterone-overdosed high-five obsessed man-boy, who keeps in great shape, finds it hard to keep up with Perry.

The strength of this character is so great that he is on this list purely owing to his fictional character traits, and not at all due to the actor who played him (very well, might I add).

4. Spike, Vampire

(From Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the TV series)

Spike has some issues, not the least of which is being a soulless vampire with a wicked sense of humour.

Most of you might think his primary appeal comes from his English accent, and I admit that part of it does. But more than that, he’s a badass, once-evil-but-redeemed, super funny and super cool vampire. Not the stupid sparkly kind.

Spike has a twisted attraction for Buffy that borders on (actually, rather generously runs into) obsession. He once kept a Buffy-tron. Buffy occasionally uses him and tosses him aside, but he takes whatever little he gets. Ultimately, especially after the redeeming bit, he tries to get on her good side and helps save the world in a tear-jerker series finale.

He has a real dark side, and not just because he is from the dark side. He’s about as real and normal a person can get if they’re, you know, a fictitious vampire. He has his weakness – cowardliness, selfishness, did I mention the obsessiveness – but he rises above them like all of us strive to every day, and for that, this vampire man-boy gets a special spot on my list.

3. Darth Vader, Jedi Master

(From Star Wars, the movie, and other spin-offs, franchise)

Lord Vader’s Imperial theme is possibly the most famous in the movieworld. So instead, here’s a video of him taking his boss out.

Yes, he wears a black suit. It’s probably going to be very tough to, er, get your groove on with that between everything. But it keeps him alive, and gives him that mystery aura, wouldn’t you say?

Lord Vader started out at Anakin Skywalker, a wee boy who majorly crushed on Padme Amidala and eventually married her. He is corrupted by a father-figure and made to believe that he must embrace the dark side of the Force to save his wife, who is prophesised to die during childbirth. He majorly hates on everyone, including said wife, and is mutilated in a fight with his former Master. Despite horrific injuries, he survives and the evil boss puts him in that suit to keep him alive to serve his super evil ways – also, he tells him he killed his own wife, so poor emo Vader clings onto the Emperor’s, uh, nurturing ways.

Padme dies believing there is still good in Anakin, and she turns out to be right in the end. Anakin/Vader is considered by many to be more a tragic hero than an anti-hero, but his super sexy emo qualities got him onto this list. He’s extremely powerful, was super cute as a kid, is very smart and resourceful, and has a dark, vulnerable side to him that we all wish we could soothe away (we fantasise we will succeed where Padme failed, but we underestimate the power of the dark side!). His story is quite possibly the most tragic in all of movie history, and it just makes him all the more yummy to us willing acolytes. Err, fangirls.

This is the other character, besides Dr. Cox, that is here purely on the fictional character’s strengths. In fact, I will go so far as to admit that I didn’t much like Hayden Christiansen as the younger Anakin. I didn’t think much of his acting or his looks, and all my feeling stems simply from the pure emo-ness of the character Darth Vader. (He would Force-choke me if he read that.)

2. Captain Jack Sparrow, Pirate

(From Pirates Of The Caribbean, the film series)

Jack finds that the rum is always gone. Why, he laments, is the rum gone?

Well, well. This character wouldn’t have turned out nearly as interesting if Johnny Depp hadn’t broken the rules and played him like he did. A half-crazy, rum-and-gold-crazed selfish, immoral pirate, Captain Jack Sparrow is charming in his apparent ineptitude and eventual surprised-you-with-how-smart-I-was-didn’t-I tactics. He appears to be boffing his way around yet somehow comes out on top every time.

His swarthy, sun-bathed complexion, his swagger, charm, sexy voice and infernal good looks take him to no. 2 on this list despite a deplorable sense of personal hygiene common to most pirates in this movie series. What makes him especially cool enough despite his lack of brooding-Byronic-hero status is his way with words. That drunken voice coupled with multi=syllabic quick-witted fast-paced dialogue makes him smarmily appealing and, unfortunately for the ladies, irresistible. However, there are enough women in the movie slapping him about and putting him in his place, so we can rest knowing we don’t have to feel too guilty about it.

1. Severus Snape, Potions Master

(From Harry Potter, book and film series, and other franchises)

Harry’s first ever Potions lesson at Hogwarts doesn’t go as planned. But listen to that voice!

It’s usually quite difficult to get my head out of the clouds when it comes to talking about Severus Snape. Please keep the warning about the spoilers in mind.

He is dark and troubled enough in the books to make a girl’s knees go weak. But with the casting of Alan Rickman in the movies, this is any woman’s catnip! That man, that wonderful actor, has the best voice in the world, and is the greatest ever casting decision made in all of movie history. In my humble opinion.

Severus Snape came from a poor family and befriended Lily Potter as a child. For complicated reasons, she distanced herself from him while he fell more and more in love with her. He turned to the Dark Arts and joined Voldemort’s Death Eaters, and realised only too late that he’d taken a really wrong turn. Poor Lily dies, leaving her baby Harry an orphan, and Snape swears to Dumbledore he will protect the boy. For Lily, always.

He ends up having to kill Dumbledore, for complicated reasons, and these are discovered only after his death, through memories he gives to Harry. His last words are, “Look at me,” to Harry. Why? Because he has his mother’s eyes, and Snape wanted to die gazing at them, at her.

Another tragic hero? Perhaps, but he’s conflicted and a bit of a bastard enough to count as an anti-hero. He is a very closed-off man – not once has he been seen smiling. He undertakes dangerous missions for the Order of the Phoenix and for Dumbledore, and does the bravest and most life-threatening thing in the wizarding world – he keeps Voldemort convinced that he is his most loyal follower. Skilled in the mental arts of Occlumency and Legilimency, highly talented at duelling and potions, a rapier wit and a scholastic disposition – which woman can honestly say she didn’t find him attractive, despite multiple descriptions of his ugly face, his humongous schnozz and his greasy hair? Does it add a sense of mystery that he is reported to have the ability to fly without a broomstick? (Although most women would love a ride on his broomstick, I suppose. Ahem.)

When he is vindicated at the end of the series, you feel a sense of bereftness, that a great injustice has been done to one of the bravest men in the world. And then you tell yourself he is fictional, and try to move on. And feel a little guilty about envying Lily Potter, the woman he’s secretly loved for over 20 years.

I’ve probably rambled on a bit here, but the fact remains that I think a lot of Rowling’s characters were a bit cardboard-ish, and that Severus Snape redeems the entire series by being the greatest, fully fleshed out supporting character in recent fictional history.

I know I’ve not done as great a job of this as I’d hoped to, so if you do finish reading this and you want to point out things I’ve missed, please do add them in the comments.

On a concluding note, I would like to observe here that while these characters offer up many possibilities for a young girl’s fantasies, the fact remains that in real life, tragic, troubled and emo men usually require professional help of some sort. Or, at the very least, a strong and patient woman who will be stretched to the very limits of her abilities in trying to manage him, or her life around his. But hey, that’s what fantasies are for, right?

Addendum: I know a lot of you are probably thinking, “Where the hell is Christian Bale as Batman?” I agree that he should be here, and realistically speaking he sort of trumps Darth Vader. But – many people have played the Batman role, and not nearly as darkly, and that has sort of tainted the character for me. I am attempting to populate this list with characters here on their own merit, after all, and not that of the actor’s. Most of the time. (Sorry, Batman, but I think Jack Sparrow is wicked cool even when not taking Johnny Depp into consideration.)

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One comment

  1. Great list! I love Cap’n Jack Sparrow, felt sorry for Snape, and Darth Vader just sounds cool! LOL

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