Repost from March 26, 2012:
I don’t know about the rest of you, but I love nothing better than a real, honest-to-goodness hero. There is just something about a larger-than-life, two-fisted, rootin’ tootin’ good guy who beats up the baddies and rescues the girl that appeals to me on a primal level. I’ve got my favorite heroes from film, television, and literature and there are several qualities they all have in common.
My favorite heroes are men who follow their own star. While some, like Indiana Jones, may superficially appear to conform to societal standards (Archaeology Professor) they have a rebellious streak. You realize that, while they appear to conform, they have found their own way to gain acceptance within the system while operating outside its constraints. Another favorite hero who fit into this mold was Fox Mulder from the X-Files. He was a brilliant FBI profiler whose obsession with the paranormal landed him in the basement of the J.Edgar Hoover Building.
Others openly flout convention, like Daniel Day-Lewis’s Hawkeye from Last of the Mohicans. He is the adopted son of Chingachgook, and though white, he eschews the ways of the white settlers in favor of living off the land like his father’s people. Paul Newman and Robert Redford brilliantly portrayed this kind of hero in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Still others are forced from their conventional lives, like Errol Flynn’s Peter Blood in Captain Blood, or Robin Hood, or Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, or the Science Fiction icons Han Solo (Star Wars) and Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly). These heroes are usually princes among thieves, men of honor and integrity who are forced into a society devoid of these things, and as such, they rise above their circumstances, holding to their own code and earning the respect (and often animosity) of those around them.
Which brings me to the next quality of a Big Damn Hero…
No matter the mores of the society in which they operate, the Hero will always hold to his own code of ethics which is often in conflict with that of his society, but inviolate. Once the hero decides that something is “wrong” it’s wrong and nothing can force him to compromise his values. This often keeps the hero from finding success by the standards of his society, but he measures success differently.
It only goes to reason that the unconventional man with integrity tends to be self-reliant and not in need of validation from others.
One of my favorite things about the Big Damn Hero is the creative ways he finds to save the day. I don’t care if it’s reprogramming the Kobiyashi Moru, raising an army of the dead, using himself as a diversion, floating away with the garbage, or setting his ship to self-destruct while he and his crew make their getaway in the bad guy’s War Bird, the hero is clever under fire. He is ready to sacrifice himself, and the things that mean the most to him, in order to save the day.
Okay, maybe not really invincible, because Superman leaves me cold. It’s more the attitude than the actual invincibility that I love. One of my favorite lines comes from Galaxy Quest. “Never give up, never surrender.” That’s the attitude of a hero. No matter how bad things get, the Big Damn Hero never sees failure as an option. He’ll rescue the girl, save the world, stop the bad guy or die trying. I think that’s why I never saw Luke Skywalker as a true hero. He gave up too easily. Han Solo was the one who never stopped looking for a solution, a way out of whatever intergalactic pickle he’d landed in.
That’s one of the draws of Doctor Who for me. The Doctor isn’t invincible, but he is clever and resourceful and he never stops looking for the solution. He knows it’s there, he just has to find it before he runs out of time.
Impeccable Sense of Timing
The Big Damn Hero doesn’t save the day when trouble starts. He shines at the darkest moment when all hope is fading. The swashbuckling hero will burst onto the scene, swinging in on a rope from the rigging, swooping in from out of nowhere, with guns blazing and a heroic fanfare with lots of staccato strings and the entire brass and woodwinds section of the London Symphony Orchestra.
He’s got a determined glint in his eye and a crooked smile that asks the audience, “Did you miss me?” As he so handily manages the bad guys and the disaster with a quip and a flourish, I usually feel like batting my eyelashes, clasping my hands together. “My HERO!”