20080815

Year of the Lonely Hero

This past summer has given us many heroes, all of whom appear to be totally alone in their struggles.

The Incredible Hulk gave us a Dr. Banner who begins an isolated expatriate in South America, and returns to America to only to be hunted by the government. Banner is completely alone even when he’s with the woman he loves, because once his heart rate gets above a certain point, he risks become a physical manifestation of rage. His life’s mission has been to find a way to become normal and lead then lead a normal life. The government however, plans to use his “discovery” as a weapon.

Batman is not only a loner-type but also the means by which Bruce Wayne gets to be alone. In the Dark Knight, wealthy socialite Wayne uses the mantle of the bat to escape the pressure of being a public figure that appears to be of little use to public at large. Indeed, as Batman, Wayne is indispensable to the public as a symbol of hope in addition to his actions as vigilante. The film imagines a sort of male Paris Hilton, whose uselessness and attitude is a front so no one would dare believe he is, in fact, a selfless hero fueled a limitless well of rage. At the end of the film he even accepts even further alienation from the people he protects in order to secure their faith in a better tomorrow.

Tony Stark is an equally useless-to-the-public person, and arguably he does far more damage, because no mere playboy, he is in fact a weapons designer and dealer selling ways and means of killing on such a massive scale who knows the number of deaths that he could be responsible for. Stark has more money than Bill Gates and yet he is an empty character initially, deriving little joy from his life and not really sure why. Then comes his kidnapping and near death at the hands of the very people who would be targeted by his weapons, and who, indeed, want to use his weapons for the purpose they were intended: wiping out their “enemies.” Stark initially puts his genius to use to save himself, and then realizes he could go further, and save others. He then transforms his celebrity from something useless to society, to something society won’t dare say it can live without: a hero.

Hancock, the most unorthodox of all the summer heroes, is subjugated by his abilities. He has no life outside of being a hero, and no concept of himself outside of public perception, so his entire sense of self-worth is based upon the reaction of the public, which is often so negative that he feels compelled to drink himself into oblivion when he isn’t effectively yet carelessly, fighting crime. The true revelation of Hancock, when the character finds out he is, in fact, a demi-god that must remain at a great distance from the only other demi-god in the world, is that a true hero is alone. He is the only one who can do his job, and the more good he does, the more good he will be expected to do, so the heroism will consume his life into infinite.

Each one of these stories speaks to the isolation of heroism, and how it affects the person who does as much as it helps society. These heroes are both augmented and limited by their abilities. They have near limitless physical capability, but are boxed in by their social contracts. A figure with god-like power that cares nothing for well being of the world is but one thing in these methods of story-telling: a villain.

Each of these heroes, more so than other forms of story telling, was defined by their villains.

The Incredible Hulk had the Abomination, with the same abilities but with a much lesser regard to the people around him. While the Hulk risked his life to save his lady-love, the emotions of Banner clearly bled into the Green beast, the Abomination cares little for collateral damage and in his attempts to defeat the Hulk, destroys the entire battle field in their climatic battle.

The Joker of Batman is certainly a contrast, but they are both working for a goal that can only defined as “Because I want it that way.” Batman wants order and peace and safety for reasons rooted in a bad childhood. The Joker wants chaos and war and fear because it is merely what he wants. While Batman operates on a seemingly limitless budget using the latest technology, the Joker is of “simple tastes” using dynamite, gasoline and cell-phones for his improvised explosive devices.

Iron Man’s foe is Obidiah Stain, who would utilize the same technology as Stark to make a mint for no other reason than he can. Stain is essentially Stark before his revelation of needing to be a champion, coupled with a desire for power that far exceeds anything reasonable. The two men are different sides of the coin of economic development, and what its rewards can be. Stain is the complete self-benefit and Stark is the society benefit. One will attempt to rule the world, and the other to protect it.

Hancock is the most complicated of all these, where his villain is defined by the fact it is not another all-powerful villain or chaos driven terror-monger, but rather an anonymous veteran. A man with no public persona until he crosses Hancock, and when Hancock brings full force to bear, this anonymous man is clearly no toe-to-toe match for him.

However, the less obvious motif of all of these films, is this: Heroes create new villains even as they defeat the old ones, if for no other reason than calling attention to themselves.

The Abomination is created solely to combat that Hulk. When Batman triumphs over The Scarecrow and the mobsters of the first film, he rises to a level of prominence that attracts the attention of the Joker. Starks technological marvel awakens a perhaps dormant lust for power in Stain. When defeated once, Hancock’s villain regroups and rallies other people who have borne the force of the heroes power and they nearly succeed.

This is final way in which the heroes are rendered as loners, because in the very act of doing what they feel they must, the become targets as does everyone around them.

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