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.