I have been fascinated with the concept of antiheroes since I was ten years old and Han Solo shot first. Good guys are not supposed to do bad things; good guys are supposed to be just and noble and always do what is right, yet Han Solo far and away was the much cooler character than Luke Skywalker.
According to dictionary.com, an antihero is “characterized by a lack of traditional heroic qualities, such as idealism or courage.” What makes them so popular, I think, is they are more relatable than most heroes. Like us, the antihero is flawed, so we can identify with them, even sympathize with them.
But mostly it is because we like seeing them be bad and get away with it.
I composed the list below by factoring in several elements: character longevity, popularity, success in crossing over into other mediums, inspiration on other characters, and a certain “cool” factor. It is, of course, highly subjective.
Love him or hate him, the “merc with a mouth” has proven to have legs. Marvel has milked the one-note villain for all he’s worth and just when you think the writers have run out of ways to use him, someone else comes along with a fresh twist to keep the money rolling in.
She started off as a member of Batman’s rogues gallery, whose only remarkable feature was her gender. Yet, over the years Selina’s motivations have grown from simple cat-inspired crimes to something more complex, graduating from villain to vigilante and antihero.
Wolverine is a mutant killing machine that racks up an implausibly high body count wherever he goes. He would rank higher on this list, except Wolverine is too much the team player. Seriously, he is on at least two X-Men teams as well as The Avengers, not to mention the guest appearance of the week.
7. The Hulk
Bruce Banner was belted by gamma rays and thus his monstrous alter ego was born, a creature formed as much by his subconscious fears and rage as he was by a world intent on destroying him.
6. The Sub-Mariner
Namor The-Sub Mariner first appeared in the spring of ‘39 and proved to be a complex character in a four-color world and may very well be the first comic book antihero, setting the standard for complex villains such as Magneto, for example.
5. John Constantine
A man who faces demons, both inner and real, John Constantine is a supernatural warrior willing to pay almost any price to keep the darkest evil at bay. In recent times, Constantine has gotten rid of the guilt and self-loathing plaguing him by magically giving it the physical form of a baby and throwing it off a cliff.
4. Iron Man
Tony Stark is very much a self-made man with a host of flaws. An alcoholic unable to maintain a steady relationship with a woman, he is a control freak willing to do anything to forward his personal agenda. It is only fortunate for the Marvel universe his agenda usually coincides with that of most heroes.
Alan Moore’s dark creation was just one of many outstanding characters introduced during the landmark “Watchmen” series, but he is far and away the most popular and fascinating. Uncompromising in his principles, Rorschach is a paranoid reactionary more than willing to break a man’s fingers for a scrap of information.
2. The Punisher
Frank Castle is an unstoppable vigilante, fueled by an unquenchable desire to murder each and every piece of criminal scum on the planet. Never mind that he has probably already killed the men who killed his wife and children, for him, the war has become an end in itself, a way of life this soldier is unable to give up.
Conan is the oldest and most enduring character on this list and is the quintessential antihero: mercenary, thief, and adventurer. Men want to be him and women want to belong to him. The smoldering-eyed Cimmerian may have his own code of honor, but it does not get in the way of heavy drinking, womanizing and making sure his sword (or dagger, or fists, or whatever weapon is handy) is soaked in some poor bastard’s blood. While other vigilantes may have a higher body count, none can match Conan’s sheer savagery and courage.
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