The term “antihero” gets thrown around a lot. Everyone seems to have a different definition, and they bring up every character from Severus Snape (who was most definitely not one) to Han Solo (also not an antihero. Lando in Empire Strikes Back maybe, but not Solo.)
A true antihero is not a hero who does bad things, but rather a character who is truly, deeply morally ambiguous, but who you root for anyway. Here are five of my favorites, though this is far from a comprehensive list.
1. The Dark Tower Series – Roland
All things serve the beam, and Roland serves the Dark Tower. For all that he might be a gunslinger of Gilead and the scion of a noble bloodline, he values his quest above all else, and is willing to sacrifice anything to achieve it. Does this make him a hero, or something darker? Hold off judgement until you read the books and see exactly what it is he’s willing to lose.
2. The Force – Denny Malone
All Denny Malone wanted to be was a good cop. But somewhere along the way things got twisted, and the mean streets of New York worked their way into his soul. He’s a dirty cop, for sure, but at the same time, you spend the entire book hoping there is some kind of redemption for him. Whether there is or not, I’m not going to say. You’ll just have to read the book.
3. Vicious – Victor Vale
In another life, Victor Vale would be the bad guy. But I found something about him deeply compelling, and not just because the other guy is worse. He does the right thing for the wrong reasons, but I get the feeling that even if he were doing the wrong thing, I’d still root for him.
4. Certain Dark Things – Atl
Atl is a badass Aztec vampire trying to survive in Mexico City. She’ll do what it takes, and kill without mercy if she must. Think Lestat but cooler. However, she finds she has one weakness, a young man named Domingo. She’s a deeply compelling character with the capacity both to murder and to sacrifice for someone she cares about.
5. The Water Knife – Angel
In a dystopian future where the American Southwest is experiencing a massive drought, Angel is a water knife. He goes out to people who own land and through coercion or force, acquires their water rights, so his boss can divert as much water as possible to a paradise she’s building in Las Vegas for the very wealthy. Angel is remorseless and ruthless, but when it comes right down to it, there’s a lot more to him than just that.
So there you have it, five of my favorite antiheroes. They bend the rules of conventional morality, live in the shades of gray, and are utterly fascinating.
I’d also like to submit my own book, Dark City, for an honorable mention on this list. It’s about a man who is a remorseless killer, but his other half is capable of great tenderness and love. It’s my own love song to an antihero inspired by all of these characters and many more. Check it out.