My love for superhero movies was one of my early hints that I could really love comics, if I could get my hands on them. But when I finally did, the famous capes of DC and Marvel just didn’t do it for me the way I expected them to.
There were many reasons for this, but in large part, the white-and-black morality of these heroes simply fell flat for me. Instead, I quickly gravitated to stranger, darker series, most of which came from smaller presses and niche imprints. What did I love so much more about what I found there? To be honest, the characters I love most are truly messed up individuals.
Antiheroes can make some of the very juiciest protagonists … and if you ask me, the more terrible they are, the better. The kind that make you wonder if they really will step up and save the day, or let everything go to ruin.
Fortunately, if a truly terrible, dark antihero is what you’re looking for, I can’t think of a better place to turn than comic books. Here are some of the very worst (read: best) antiheroes of comics:
Preacher Jesse Custer has fallen from his faith, only to find that he has been possessed by the supernatural creature Genesis, a creature of both pure good and pure evil. As a result, Custer becomes extremely powerful, even against God’s greatest and most terrible creations.
In a hunt to find God Himself, Custer gets tangled into the middle of a supernatural war, along with his ex-girlfriend and an alcoholic Irish vampire (don’t ask, just read it). Created by writer Garth Ennis and artist Steve Dillon, Preacher explores a twisted mix of city punk, the trashiest of white trash, and Dogma-level strangeness that goes way beyond sacrilege … and that’s a description that applies equally well to the plot and the protagonist.
Nothing is scarier than a man with mental issues, the physical strength to do whatever the hell he deems necessary, and a self-assigned mission. Can you say, “loose cannon”?
Marv is Sin City’s own “Dark Knight” of sorts, with a special talent for violence and no end of “just” causes to fight for—usually a woman. Worse, this classic Frank Miller character can never remember when he last took his medication, and sporadically guzzles dubious pills by the dozen between brawls.
Because not all terrible people are men—equal opportunity amoralism!
Lady Killer, created by Joelle Jones and Jamie S. Rich, is set in the 1960s. Schuller is a homemaker with two beautiful kids and a husband—who also moonlights as an assassin. When balancing the two sides of her double life becomes a challenge and her career is on the fritz, her employer puts her in a quandary where she must choose between her job and her principles.
Without giving too much away, season two (releasing in early 2016) finds Schuller’s family relocating. Now without an employer, Schuller takes her special set of skills freelance rather than throw in the towel.
All of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’s Watchmen crew easily classify as antiheroes, but Rorschach really gives that “anti” some oomph.
While his black-and-white morality could make him less interesting, his rigid interpretations of that morality often land him in sketchy situations—like torturing a long-retired nemesis dying from cancer for information he doesn’t even have.
It just wouldn’t be right to close out a list of antiheroes without mentioning Marvel’s latest darling Deadpool, originally created by Fabian Nicieza and Rob Liefeld.
For anyone who hasn’t heard the full backstory yet: Wade Wilson wasn’t the greatest of guys even before he became Deadpool. His mother died young, and Wilson took to typical teen deviancy to spite his abusive father. Following a stint in the military, Wade worked as an assassin, taking jobs only against those he felt deserved it.
And then he was pushed off the deep end by a cancer diagnosis and an experimental and torturous treatment regimen. Or at least, that’s the simple version. (For an in-depth look at Wilson’s past, this is supposed to be a good starting point.)
Come to the Dark Side
If you ask me, traditional heroes can just be kind of boring. Antiheroes, with their contradictions, rationalizations, weaknesses, and rich dark sides, are just so much more fun.
You always know Captain America is going to choose the right path … but what happens when your protagonist’s moral compass fails to point north? I’m always a sucker to keep reading and find out.