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Remaking a Classic – Heroes

Adventure is driven by the adventurous: the intrepid, the brave or the dutiful, who cast aside their lives of comfort to go and do something that straddles the line between brave and stupid, not because they want to, but because they must. When we think of heroes, we paint a fairly typical picture, often male, generally of a military or combative nature, and most of all blandly attractive but with such outward confidence that none can help but swoon. We can name them by type, the anti-hero, the unlikely hero, the tragic hero, and on and on…

But we like to stand out, we like to be different, and in a world filled to the brim with a variety of heroes and villains it can make it difficult to create something truly original, but there’s still some mould left to break. Though we’ve filled page after page with comic book heroes beyond number, plastered the screen with heroes of all shapes and sizes and elevated everyone until they feel like they can truly be special, there are always ways to freshen up and reinvigorate the same old tropes and put your personal mark upon them.

Becoming Heroic

Ahh backstory, a seemingly inexhaustible well of cliché. My [Insert relative(s) here] is/are dead, the only way their death can make any sense is if I go about making the world a better place. It’s a fact that marriages of comic book heroes never last (or at least rarely do) because a hero shouldn’t have too many more attachments to lose, or maybe they get a relationship only to have it snatched from them and begin the cycle all over again. Heroes are sometimes dragged into situations that force them to challenge themselves, by chance or by the design of others. Some may even choose the mantle of hero, only to fail, and learn heroism by rising again.

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Now, whether the challenge is physical, mental, or simply requires an extraordinary act of kindness, a hero can be called to make that decision at a moments notice that takes them from being just like anyone else, to being the one person who makes a difference. A hero can have done terrible things, but the ability to be the right person at the right time can make them heroic, even for a moment. Those moments can be the hardest of all to create, creating a circumstance in which the villain sees no recourse but to do something selfless and brave can be a real test of creative talent.

On the subject of villains, where the bad guy usually has some terrible weakness that can be exploited, our hero often over-comes his or her own. Fears, vulnerabilities, and character flaws not only make for more interesting people, but also give something personal to overcome, either as part of their story, or as the story itself.

Size and Shape

Let us never forget that many of our hearts were once broken by a brave little toaster.

Disney-Pixar and Dreamworks have gone through every possible permutation of hero that could be found, and here you may find yourself coming undone. Can a hero be ugly? Shrek. Can a hero be a monster? Shrek… and Sully from Monsters Inc. Can a hero be small? Antz/A Bugs Life. Can a hero be really old or really young? Up. Can a hero be fat? Shrek again, and Po.

You could take that as the big companies locking up every angle so that the smaller creators can’t do anything original, but if anything they’re setting precedent for you to play around with the concepts of what a hero can be. In last week’s Top 10 I told you about a book written from the perspective of Orcs, in which our hero is a brutish commander who’s only interest is to protect his people, but Commander Stryke is no less of a hero for being on the wrong side of fantasy. Stereotypes remain in place that heroes should be human, but that’s no reason not to colour outside the lines.

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Heroes come in all varieties, and there’s still plenty left that haven’t been accounted for. As the Dark Knight once noted, “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Make a hero in whatever form you choose, but remember that it will likely effect their form of heroism. Mike Wazowski is not lifting up cars any time soon, but he’s a fast talking, quick thinking and loyal friend to Sully, willing to risk it all to support a friend doing something dangerous and stupid because he believes that Sully believes. If your protagonist has been shown to be an idiot he’s not going to be the one who comes up with a plan; if she’s a coward she won’t be rushing headlong into danger without a damn good reason; if he’s abbrasive then no one is going to be wooed by a his heartwarming speach.

Mad Skills

Throughout creative history we have seen heroes ranging from mighty to pathetic, with a variety of laughable powers or tragic short-comings to match. Rincewind is a personal favourite, the failing wizard who only seeks peace, quiet and boredom, but is thrust against his will to be the “chosen one” of some sort or another and is presented with thrills, danger and excitement to flee from, and still somehow manages to save the day.

We battle through grim anti-heroes, all powerful god-like warriors, or even the terminally optimistic too much, and sometimes it’s nice to be presented with a cheeky burglar who steals a suit that makes him shrink to the size of an ant, or a being of impossible power who has trouble understanding the purpose of doors.

Here, as per usual, I present some of the ridiculous possibilities for protagonist-types that occurred to my sleep-addled brain for you to peruse.

  • The local school is terrorised by demons spilling from a hellgate in the town. Everyone knows the mild-mannered janitor keeps saving the day, but no one knows he has help from one terrifying little girl.
  • When posed with a problem of epic proportions, there can only be one woman for the job. She watches from the window, making sure all of the people stay the hell away from her front garden.
  • A superhero who’s powers are clown based: self replication when emerging from a car, impossible damage resistance, balloon animals and the like.
  • Squirrels have been taken already! Thanks Marvel.
  • A man sitting at a subway station on his regular commute who seems to be involved with an odd number of dramatic circumstances in which he is perfectly positioned to help.
  • Joseph Sadman has been bullied all his life for his speech impediment. Fate, circumstance, and a lifetime of misery gave him the power to make villains simply give up, go home and sink deep into depression, and he donned the title of … The Gwim Weaper!
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