Dark, with a twist
by Sharon Ashwood on November 5th, 2008

Why do some dark heroes attract us more than others? What keeps their brooding selves from being just plain nasty?

Here’s my take on things: My favourites may be a little twisted as well as dark, but there’s always some line they won’t cross, and it’s that restraint that divides these edgier heroes from the villains. Still, a little envelope-pushing keeps things interesting. A good example of this is the old tried and true comparison of Angel and Spike.

Both were good looking in their own way, both had their good and evil moments, and both were capable of thinking as well as fighting. They had that all-important sense of humour. I liked the two characters and enjoyed watching how they developed through the television series.

Still, what made them different in my mind was that Spike was more complex. Whereas Angel was either good or evil (the evil Angel arguably the more interesting of the two), Spike was unapologetically bad, vain, self-aware, selfish and capable of good all in the same breath. He made huge mistakes but kept a whisker away from irredeemable evil. By the end of the series, he chose self-sacrifice knowing there was ultimately no hope that he would ever be with Buffy. Yet, despite his long, long journey toward heroism, he was still himself. Spike would never be sunshine and fluffy kittens.

In other words, a really good dark hero has the capacity to go both ways—plus, he’s fully aware that he could fall off the wagon at any time. His essential dark nature doesn’t change even though he ultimately makes the right choices. He knows exactly what he’s doing, what he’s giving up, and why.

And, he does it for love. The woman of his dreams inspires that choice for good.

For me, the best kind of dark hero has to earn his way into the light, and the price he pays for his happy ever after is high. This kind of hero doesn’t find love easy or comfortable. He has to earn it, and it takes a very strong heroine to stand up to him. She has to understand that darkness isn’t the same thing as evil. It helps if she has shadows of her own—at least enough to appreciate a walk on the wild side.

And she’ll need a sense of humour. Especially if he’s a vampire. I mean, really. Too busy skulking to take out the garbage or do the dishes? Won’t mow the lawn ‘cause it’s daylight? Ran the HDTV right into the coffin and suddenly can’t get around to painting the kitchen cupboards?

Yeah, right. Tell me another one, Mr. Tall, Dark, and Broody.

But at least he’s never boring.

9 comments to “Dark, with a twist”

  1. 1

    She has to understand that darkness isn’t the same thing as evil.

    Exactly! I have a mythology based Tarot deck that I like because there is no reversal reading. Every card has its light and shadow meaning, just like every hero — every human — has his light and shadow side.


  2. 2

    Dark Angel was much more intriguing of a character than Good Angel, but in the end, Spike beat them both — because of his layers. You nailed that one on the head. And a heroine like Buffy needs a good dark hero because of her own issues. Anyone remember Riley? Mr Clean-cut, all-American, I kill bad guys in my spare time? Great guy, boring hero! He simply had no ‘deepness’ to him.


  3. 3

    First guy that comes to mind is Cole on Charmed. :twisted: Bad to the bone, with a soft side.


  4. 4

    I have to admit I loved both these guys. But I think what makes Spike so amazing is how hard he fought to be the man he thought Buffy deserved, and his willingness to endure absolutely anything for her.

    I really wanted to shake that girl sometimes!


  5. 5

    Spike was definitely the deeper dark hero. Angel was a more interesting character in the first season when he was an unknown and potentially more dangerous.

    Sharon, I love your notion that the best dark hero must earn his way into the light and pay a high price. So true of all my favorite stories!


  6. 6

    Ooh, I remember Cole from Charmed. He was a really interesting character. Not too many of their beaux stick in my mind, but he sure did.

    As for Riley – he always seemed more of an action figure than a real guy. I never liked him. I did see the actor in something else and he was very good. I kind of felt relieved on his behalf that he wasn’t actually Rileyish.


  7. 7

    Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about Riley. What a… nice guy. Did you fantasize about all the ways he could be romantically and tragically and FINALLY, preferably QUICKLY, killed off? :grin:

    Allison, you’re right about wanting to shake the heroines sometimes. I also felt that way about Jenny the witch in Barbra Hambly’s Dragonsbane; she didn’t run away with the suave, sophisticated, dangerous dragon and I could never understand why.

    Um, other than the interspecies conflict thing, of course.


  8. 8

    I think you’re exactly right – someone with that potentially fatal flaw, who has to struggle to do right, is always much more interesting (and way sexier) than someone who just is.

    For me this goes all the way back to Ivanhoe (Sir Walter Scott): the title character and his love are never capable of surprising us; when they inevitably make the right choice, I don’t really care because they are incapable of doing anything else. Very flat. The Templar and his love interest (who is good but not meant to be the ideal woman*) leave them in the dust in every scene. But the Templar never does cross that line, and I agree that that’s very important.

    I think there is something especially sexy about a bad guy (or girl) being redeemed by love, just like Spike, whereas a bad guy who loves intensely but crosses those lines is just a creepy stalker. We might be attracted to the dangerous guy, but only if we can retain our self-determination.

    *which is ironic, because she’s smart, resourceful, and moral. Pretty much my ideal.


  9. 9

    Yeah, I’m down with the Ivanhoe analysis. Walter Scott always did really well with the secondary characters but not so much with the main ones. I’ve read literary criticism that blames the taste of the times, but I don’t think that’s absolutely true. After all, his contemporaries include Victor Hugo (Les Mis, Hunchback of Notre Dame), Dumas (Count of Monte Cristo, 3 Musketeers) early Dickens, Jane Austen, and the Brontes. Just like today, it was all about the conflicted souls. The most interesting Musketeer was Athos, who was a drunk who killed his wife and spent his time in self-imposed service to atone.
    And that’s a pretty good transition into our next blogger, who I believe is going to do the historical dark hero ….


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