The Nature of a Hero

Image of Batman and Robin shadows on a sign. Image used under Creative Commons.

Just before our daughter joined us a couple of months ago, I finished Part I of the novel that began brewing in my head during a train ride about two years ago. It began as an interesting idea about a dystopian future scenario, and blossomed from there for a year or so, percolating slowly in the back of my head before it became a workable idea. Then came the mind-map. Then the plot outline. And, finally, I finished the rough draft of Part I this Fall. If all goes according to plan, now that I’ve let it sit for a while and I have an idea of what adjustments I need to make to the overall plot, I’ll pick the manuscript up again next week.

I was procrastinating picking it up again, though, I have to be honest, because the weight of the project feels overwhelming at times. Sometimes, when a project begins to feel that way, you have to shelve it temporarily until you can re-discover what made you passionate about it originally. I have managed to re-discover that, fortunately, a couple of times over the last week or so.

Its no secret that I tend to be a sucker for police procedural dramas. Probably because I’m convinced that I could never write in that genre, and so I respect those who do that much more. Karen and I watch The Closer together, and were just finishing the second disc of season 6 late last week. In one episode, Brenda is forced to give a suspected murderer immunity for his confession in order to catch another murderer. During the confession, the first suspect admits to a brutal double homicide, but Brenda and her team have to release him because of the immunity agreement. At the end of the episode, Brenda finds a loophole in the immunity agreement clause about police protection for the suspect. She and her team drive him to his home, a notorious neighborhood for gangs. The other gang members know that the suspect has broken their rules by the murders he committed. Brenda and her team leave the suspect alone with the gang members, who are obviously about to administer their own form of justice.

This sparked conversation with Karen and myself. Initially, I commented that I didn’t think I had a problem with it, because the suspect was unrepentant of committing the worst of crimes (one of his victims had been a little boy), and thus justice was being carried out, despite the system.

However…

Over the weekend, Karen was watching an episode of CSI (who knows which sub-series…this isn’t one I watch with her). She expressed that she was troubled by one of the characters, because that character had an opportunity to save a criminal from falling to his demise in an episode, but let the criminal fall instead. She expressed that this was done with a similar motivation as Brenda had in leaving her suspect behind in the episode of the Closer. Justice, in its most succinct and complete form, was done. The law, however, was not upheld. This bothered her.

I remember the Batman being confronted with the chance to let the Joker fall to his death in the Dark Knight. Despite knowing that the Joker was the most terrifying and calloused of homicidal maniacs, Batman tried to keep him from falling.

Of the three examples, Batman seems more the legitimate hero to me, because he acted under the assumption that any life, even that of the Joker, is worth saving. This presupposes that no human being is beyond redemption…that we all deserve one more chance. As noted elsewhere by my fellow-blogger Katherine, Batman frequently acts under this presupposition, at the expense of himself and his own reputation (hence his decision at the end of the Dark Knight, in which he tells Gordon that he can be whatever Gotham needs him to be). This is acting counter to heroes who are functioning more as anti-heroes, such as Moore’s The Watchmen. Early in that graphic novel, Rorschach imagines a scenario in which the depraved public beneath his watchful gaze will look to him and cry for help, to which he decides, “…and I’ll whisper, ‘no.'” Rorschach has taken on the role of administering justice himself.

It seems that being a hero involves giving grace, acting beyond what normal individuals can do to preserve all life, trusting that the system will judge, and not taking it upon oneself to administer justice. That is the difference between a hero and an antihero, a self-sacrificial, mysterious savior and a vigilante.

The reason that this connects with my novel is that the nature of a hero is what I’m attempting to explore. Its a complicated question, but one that I’m passionate about, and, with these discussion points having been brought to my attention over the last few days, I’m ready to launch back into the manuscript now.

Being excited is a good thing.

Photo Attribution: Brett Jordan

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