I get the feeling we’re in a weird transitional period with the heroic archetype.
Specifically on the level of violence they’re allowed.
I think we’re hitting a strange stratum in terms of what violence is okay for heroes to use. I think the whole matter has become very situational depending on the circumstances of when and where the story is set but even more so that the heroic protagonist must always at some point arrive at a negative outlook towards violence, even to the point of regarding it as a means to an end.
I’ve gone on record that I think Thrall from the Warcraft is one of the best characters I’ve ever found that overcomes this problem. Well, at least he did until Blizzard decided to completely shit on his character design during World Of Warcraft.
You see, prior that that Thrall was a leader and a heroic character that had no problem with violence despite having entirely peaceful goals. How was this achieved? Well first of all Thrall is an Orc, a species that is associated with an inherently violent nature. So, from the outset we know we have a character whose first impulse isn’t hugging a problem out. Second, Thrall is always depicted as an intelligent warrior, seeing cruelty as pointless.
You see, Thrall was probably executed at exactly the right time for exactly the right purpose. When Thrall came about the Orc Horde was left broken and most of its people were stuck in internment camps. Thrall, himself was raised as a pit fighter by humans and taught human tactics along with compassion giving him a well-rounded dual nature as a fighter.
After learning about the nature of his people’s internment and the secret behind their use of dark sorcery he set himself to restoring the Horde to its roots as a shamanistic people, warlike yes but reflecting the same duality in nature being both in balance but killing to survive. Plus, throughout his entire story Thrall is always set simply trying to gather his people together and find them a home; making peaceful alliances when he can and destroying enemy forces because… well the alternative is a quick death on the battlefield or a slow death as slaves.
My point is that in the original games Thrall never, ever had a problem putting a hammer into the skull of whoever threatened his people. Hell, even if they were family of allies. He’d calmly tell them that he didn’t have a choice then beat them with Doomhammer like gold coins would fly from the impact. He always showed mercy when he won and in the games especially it never felt like preaching. In fact, it was kind of justified since most of his men were prone to blood frenzy and his oath to not sack and pillage might have been the only thing to save a conquered enemy.
This is a bigger problem with other heroes and especially superheroes. I know that there’s this standard that heroes must be examples of kids but the standards are so damn wobbly from adaptation to adaptation. I mean, in Captain America Cap openly shoots Hydra agents. So… what is it only okay if they’re Nazi? Actually, I don’t think Marvel has a problem with their heroes killing people, especially since you know Hulk probably killed a few US soldiers in his movie. In post 9/11 no less. Let’s see Michael Bay have those kinds of balls.
Meanwhile Christopher Nolan’s Batman has him letting Ra’s Al Gul die on a tram despite having a no kill policy. Yes I know he has a justifying line but it’s still stupid. Oh and never mind the men he probably killed in the League of Shadows headquarters when he blew it up. The other movies get a bit more consistent about this but it’s an existing a problem.
Maybe it’s because I read so many books, especially adventure fantasy and we always have a young male protagonist hero that constantly drops into this overly dramatic moment every time he picks up a sword and has to mount up and kill. I mean, Luke didn’t have this problem! He straight up shot over seven stormtroopers on the Death Star. Lord knows how many TIE fighters he aced while he was at it. I know there is a lot of fundamental psychology behind killing for the first time, the problem is that it’s always the same thing, the same dialogue, the same thought process “Am I becoming my enemy, Have I tainted myself, this is a tragedy of human life” all that crap.
And when everyone does it to the point you expect it then the effort becomes meaningless. There has to be a better way to let warriors and I mean heroes who fight in a war (fictitious one that is) become capable of killing without using development that weakens the character.
It can be done! We can make young protagonists bad asses!
And so too does this work exist.