An Author's "Must Do" ListBy Matthew R. Horn
What makes a hero great; anonymity, a broken past, power? Once you've got your hero, what makes him or her the best? In modern writing few heroes come from a blessed background. If they do they're often seen as weak or soft. Heroes hailing from backgrounds of loss or failure are seen as tough, strong, persistent. So why do we find ourselves wishing we were them? Who dreams of being a guy that watched his parents be gunned down right in front of him when he was a boy? Of course I'm talking about Bob Kane and Bill Finger's Batman, the quintessential tragic or broken hero. Maybe, however, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's Superman had it worse than Batman. His whole planet, parents and all, was destroyed leaving him the last of an entire civilization. This all happened when he was a child who was too young to know his family. He never truly knew what he missed. Maybe the question of "who had it harder" is one for the reader to decide.
The more interesting question for me is what is the 'best kind' of hero? Using a sampling of my followers on Twitter, I asked this question and monitored the results. Answers seemed to vary about how or why a hero does what he or she does, but a majority of the responses did have a central theme. A hero is one that does not try to cash-in on his actions; a person who doesn't contemplate the after-affects of being a hero, but instead acts without thought of reward. My memory takes me to visions of the Three Amigos. "Our reward is that justice has been done," says Ned Nederlander as he throws the bag of money back to the innocent villagers.
What about all the other thousands of characteristics that make up heroes? Could someone that was gifted with strength or speed still be a hero if he used his skills only for reward? What about Mel Gibson's character in the movie Payback? He was a thief and killed people to get his money back. He also went out of his way to save his girl, and oddly he took nothing that hadn't been taken from him already. It wasn't a reward.
I think the answer is no. The underlying theme that makes a hero great is that in the end his goals were something other than reward for himself. In my new book, Nothing Good is Free, Jeff Scott is a vigilante in Chicago. He can fight, he's smart, and he has an advantage of being lucky, or blessed depending on your point of view. However, he's also a mid-twenties kid with a job and a girlfriend. He does what he does without any thought of rewarding himself. It's almost a requirement in order to be considered the best kind of hero.