Guys. I just got back from seeing Captain America: The First Avenger last night. It was great—fabulous. Go see it, and go see it now. I know you’ll enjoy it. (You should, anyway. It’s like my favorite movie in the world.)
Because—well, we might as well get straight to the point here. I am hopelessly, piteously, rapturously and pathetically in love with Captain America.
Those of you who might not know me as well as others are saying, “What? But he’s fake.”
Those of you who do know me well are saying, “What? Again?” (Perhaps you know me a little too well, eh?)
Yeah, he’s got a super cool shiny shield made of vibranium or something that is pretty much the best thing ever. And yeah, he’s got super strength and speed and a super high metabolism and eternal energy. And yeah, he’s dang gorgeous. And yeah, he’s like, really really dang gorgeous.
AND HIS NAME IS STEVE ROGERS, GUYS. STEEEEVEEEEEEEEEEE. *cue fangirl die*
But the thing I loved most about Captain America? (Well, maybe it was a tie between this and his name. You guys do know how much I love the name Steven, right? And Steve and Stephen and Stefan and Stefano and every variation of that name possible? Yeah, with love everlasting. Seriously. It’s a great name. (This opinion may or may not have been formed solely as a result of copious amounts of Blue’s Clues as a child. Just sayin’.))
I loved that Captain America was a hero I could really look up to.
I mean, yeah, he’s a superhero. He’s supposed to be someone we can look up to. And I may be rather new to the world of superhero movies (I’ve only started watching some of them recently) perhaps I’m not the best judge-- but from what I’ve heard about some of the other Marvel superheroes, they’re just not that super, guys. They’re womanizers, they’re arrogant, or they’re just plain mean. (And Thor looked like a blonde version of Jesus. I couldn’t get past that—I was rooting for Loki the whole movie just because of Thor’s hair. I mean, come on! Who has hair like that if he’s not Jesus? Yeah, nobody. I know you’re supposed to be ‘Son of Odin’ and all that, but seriously. Lose the Messiah locks, okay, Thor dear? They’re just not working for you.)
But Captain America was different. He rooted for the underdog, because he used to *be* an underdog. He persevered through pain and through impossibilities and he prevailed. He never stopped trying. He never stopped looking out for others. He fought for justice, with loyalty and devotion, and acted with respect. He wasn’t afraid to take a hit for what he believed in. He was a good man.
I think that’s what draws me to his kind of character. He’s not perfect, but he acts in his strengths. He’s a good guy because he does good things, because he’s moral and he fights for those beliefs. We could root for him because he was intrinsically good.
And when I realized this, it gave me pause. You see, I don’t have characters like that. My protagonists are mostly anti-heroes—having negative sides to them that are so strong they usually outweigh the good side. That’s why I can have such a hard time rooting for my heroes. I mean, Nikola is a thief with no moral convictions at all. I don’t want to be on her side. But when I’m writing and she’s the only protagonist there is, I’m forcing my audience to side with someone they don’t agree with. No matter how much my reader likes the character, if they don’t agree with who the character is, there’s nothing compelling the reader to love the character wholeheartedly. It disrupts the flow. Nobody likes a bad guy pretending to be a good guy. It’s backwards. It’s uncomfortable. It’s wrong.
Should protagonists be perfect? The only answer to this is a strong, resounding, NO. If we’re sticking with examples from Marvel movies, Thor’s weakness was his arrogance and bull-headedness—but he still wanted to protect his people and do the right thing. (I’m sure Captain America had faults. I know he did. But they’re just not coming to mind right now… He’s elevated to the level of a minor deity in my brain and it just seems wrong to be pinning faults on him, if you know what I mean. I apologize for the complete undermining of this point that causes.)
Weaknesses make our characters real. They make them believable. But too many weaknesses and faults don’t make a good hero… they make an antagonist into the central character. No one wants to cheer for the one who’s wrong. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.
I feel like seeing Captain America has challenged me to make my characters better. They can have traits we want to look up to-- they can be better than us. The hero can get away with being more than an average man, because in being so he encourages us all to be better men in return. (And women. Us too.)
What about you? Do you have any characters with roles you need to reconsider now? Goodness knows I do. :]
Looking forward to May 2012,