Why is every character suddenly an ‘antihero’ now?
The original poster, who eventually took their posts and account down due to backlash, inadvertently kicked off yet another round of debate across multiple subreddits about the ethics of cosplaying as a character as despicable as Homelander, who is a violent racist sociopath and, ostensibly, the villain of the show.
In space, no one can hear you scream — but that doesn’t stop an evil-doer from trying. This week, Polygon celebrates all forms of sci-fi villainy because someone has to (or else).
Not only do we have three movies exploring Darth Vader’s early years as a hero and his fall to the dark, we now have an Obi-Wan Kenobi show that documents his own middle years between movies spent as a gritty wanderer trying, and often failing, to do the right thing.
We, as audiences, are told that this makes these characters more dynamic. It’s a sort of postmodern reinterpretation of what a hero or a villain is, in an effort to create more complex stories.
If no one in your story plays by the rules, can you even claim to have any in the first place? But antiheroes, it seems, can stream forever.
According to Erik Voss, the host of the New Rockstars YouTube channel and someone who has as close as you can get to a god’s-eye view of all of fandom, you can see the market value of an antihero acutely with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s Black Adam movie.
“I think The Rock understands that him coming into Black Adam as the antihero — he’s really [tried to] put that entire title, and the whole DC Universe, on his shoulders,” Voss tells Polygon.
“And I think he looked at this as well like, You know, if I’m an antihero, it gives me an option to come in as a hero and a villain — however the universe chooses to use me in the future and whoever they want to match up against or team up with.”
“My theory behind it, at least, is that it’s a product of studios wanting to build spinoffs and franchises and sequels off of every title,” Voss says.
“Like every title is really a trailer for some future title. And they want the option and the opportunity to spin off a character into a sequel.”
But as versatile as antiheroes are for studios to churn into endless content streams, they’ve proven somewhat confusing for fans, to put it nicely.
And, shortly afterward, the subreddit began arguing again about whether or not Stormfront, a character revealed to be a neo-Nazi and one literally named after the oldest neo-Nazi message board on the internet, was an “antihero” or not.
“Those fans will attack, attack, attack,” he says.
“They are the most toxic fans in the fandom.”
“They’re the worst people in all the Buffy groups. They attack everyone,” he says.
“And these are mostly younger fans, and most of the accounts that are attacking or getting mad about that stuff are like, in their bio, it says they’re 20 or 21.”
Others say it goes back further with the character of Thersites, who appears in multiple Greek epics from Homer. Captain America is a hero; Iron Man is an antihero.
And as these entertainment universes go on, the more characters get a chance at being redeemed or turn evil.
“If you’re trying to do something really interesting in an oversaturated space, one of the ways to do that is to kind of lean into this antihero effect that creates more conversation,” writes Julia Alexander, director of strategy for the audience-demand tracker group Parrot Analytics, over email.
“Versus trying to do the black-and-white good person/bad person storyline, which is kind of almost overdone in the genre space.”
“We saw this in the early-to-late 2010s, when all of a sudden every TV show was based on an antihero,” Alexander says.
“You had Breaking Bad, you had Mad Men — starting with The Sopranos. And we’ve kind of moved away from that a little bit on the TV front. On the film side, what you’re getting, what you’re seeing happening is, a genre once considered juvenile is entering this moment of adulthood.”
“I think what he’s saying is that he wants to be able to play a superhero that’s, at its core, a fundamentally human figure,” Alexander says.
“And he has not been able to do that. That would be my bet on what he’s saying with that.”