Andy Diggle, Mark Brooks, Andie Tong, Leinil Yu, Gerry Alanguilan and Mark Torres: these were the creators who sat on an STGCC mega-panel called Heroes and Villains, which I moderated on Sunday. It brought together some of the biggest names at the Singapore Toy Game and Comic Convention to talk about how heroes and villains have evolved over the years.
It turned into a lively discussion on how good guys and bad guys have evolved from the simplistic, solve-problems-by-hitting-people (Diggle’s words), paragons of virtue of the Golden Age, to the more nuanced, troubled and morally ambiguous characters of the modern era. Brooks perhaps summed it all up best: flaws in heroes are the very things that allow us to identify with them. But somehow, the biggest bone of contention turned out to be: is The Dark Knight Rises a bad movie? Here’s a quick summary of what was discussed.
The discussion really heated up when the subject of character motivation came up, and Diggle pointed out that Bane, the villain of The Dark Knight Rises, did not have a believable motive for wanting to destroy Gotham. He then brought the house down with a spot-on impersonation of Bane’s strangled accent to cheers from the crowd. Yu jumped right in, saying that TDKR was just a bad movie partially redeemed by the presence of Catwoman, which also drew cheers. This went on for a bit, leading Brooks to quip: “This has turned into a ‘Why Batman Sucks’ panel”. Fortunately, I managed to calm them down with my mutant powers of moderation. Which also accounted for the multiple pops when I spoke into the mike, as opposed to say, a terrible sound system.
Kick Ass: A Modern Day Hero?
My favourite moment came when Brooks and Diggle mock-threatened to throw down with each other over a disagreement about Mark Millar’s Kick Ass. I had put it to the panel that Kick Ass best represents a ‘hero’ of the modern era: a genuine desire to help, but motivated by an overwhelming desire for fame. Diggle disagreed, given his definition of heroism, and pointing out that Kick Ass is essentially a parody of superheroes. On his part, Brooks noted that Kick Ass was emblematic of the era of reality TV and the self-centred pursuit of fame. There were almost fisticuffs (well okay, not really), but the contrast between the two, equally valid viewpoints, was rather interesting.
What makes a hero/villain
Diggle had perhaps the best definition of heroism and villainy: selflessness and selfishness, respectively. Brooks concurred with Diggle that modern-day values have changed, with people preferring to idolise the fantastic instead of real heroes such as teachers or firemen. As a result, footballers and basketball players receive more adulation, even though they may hardly be role models. Though as Diggly dryly noted, “No one wants to see teachers vs Magneto”.
Who best represents heroism?
Torres’ choice was clear: “Batman. But I’m biased, because I love Batman.” Diggle went for the X-Men, noting that the initial metaphor of the characters as standing against all forms of bigotry has not changed. And in response to a question from the audience about their favourite female hero, Brooks said it had to be the Rogue of the 1980s: a “brawler” who would take on Juggernaut by herself. Diggle chose the hard-bitten Tara Chace of the British espionage series Queen & Country by Greg Rucka, one of my favourite female characters as well. Alanguilan went for Frank Miller’s Elektra, whom he said is one of the best representations of a heroine or villainess.
Character motivation and perception
The panelists agreed that motivation is the key to believable characters, whether good or evil, and shades of grey have made the very definitions of ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ difficult. Diggle noted that the bad guys, in their minds, are the heroes of their own stories. For example, Yu pointed out that the ‘villains’ of Joss Whedon’s Cabin In The Woods (2011) were actually trying to save the world, while Brooks noted that the likes of Doctor Doom do not perceive themselves as villains. There were cheers when Diggle noted that Loki in The Avengers was a far more nuanced villain than Bane, which probably accounted for the later request for the panelists to do an impression of Thor asking for another drink. They duly obliged.
Were you at the Heroes and Villains panel? What was your favourite moment? What did you agree or disagree with?