Dark heroes wanted: Wimps need not apply
by Jessa Slade on April 13th, 2009

Warning: Some of the following may cross the line into slight snark and spoiler territory.

Currently working on: Judging the 2009 Prism contest
Mood: Happily awash in books

joss-archerIt’s tough being a dark hero.  Sure, you’re sexy, powerful, sexy, and possess a seemingly endless supply of black leather jackets. 

But you’re also tortured.  The forces of evil are arrayed against you in ways that most cowboys, architects and veterinarians just don’t have to deal with.  Even billionaire sheiks wouldn’t put up with the brooding shadows that haunt your eyes when you’re a dark hero.

I know last week I said I was in love with my brooding hero.  But – oh fickle heart of mine — my loves only last about 400 pages, and then I’m on to a new love. 

joss2This week, I’m enamored with this hottie:

If you don’t recognize him, that’s Joss Whedon, the creative genius behind Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, Firefly, and — most recently — Dollhouse.  Sure, “creative genius” is overused, but I don’t think I’m overstating the case to say that Buffy and Angel helped crack the floodgates for today’s feast of paranromal and urban fantasy romances.

While Whedon is most often lauded for his strong heroines, I think he does a smashing dark hero.  Emphasis on smashing.

joss-angel2Angel, of course, was the first.  (I’m skipping the movie version of Buffy, because apparently creative genius goes through a crawling stage before it can fly.)  The vampire with a soul, poor Angel had to pay endlessly (or at least through the five seasons of his own show) for his sins.  Love was granted him — with the absolutely wrong person, naturellement, a vampire slayer – then torn away (repeatedly).  He even lost his soul on occasion.

But he portrayed one of the important lessons of a dark hero: Redemption is so often a path, not simply a destination.


In contrast (the hair, if not so much the black leather), Spike was the unrepentant dark hero.  Reveling in his badness, he offered a delightful foil for the self-flagellating Angel.  

In Spike’s human past as a minor Victorian poet with a penchant for tearing up — and that’s tearing as in crying as opposed to shredding – we see another vital aspect of the dark hero: Vulnerability must be hidden from the world. 

Until, of course, the heroine rips you wide open.  Being a dark hero is sooo much more difficult when there’ s a heroine out there with your name stenciled on her love bullets.


Which is not to say that torture, remorse and vulnerability has to get a man down.  Whedon does the wounded warrior with a light hand, like the wise-cracking Captain Mal from the criminally cancelled, one-season space-opera Firefly and its movie sequel, Serenity.

Mal lives one of the dark hero’s most deeply cherished credos:  That which does not kill me gives me a right fine opportunity for target practice. 

joss-horrible21Even when the hero is a villain (and, hey, villains are the heroes of their own stories), Whedon delivers a character of such depth that you can only hope a heroine comes along to set him back on that path of redemption.  (I will not spoil Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog for those who have not seen it — and why haven’t you? — but those who have know I am being very snide with that last sentence.)

Dr. Horrible taught us: It’s okay for a dark hero to sing.

joss-ballard2All of this (except for that last example, which is probably undermining my efforts) is a thinly veiled attempt to interest you in Whedon’s work because I am thoroughly enjoying his latest, Dollhouse, and I’m fatalistically convinced it won’t survive the season. 

We’re only now beginning to unravel the layers of Whedonesque plotting, but already the dark-hero-in-the-making FBI Agent Ballard is suffering nicely.  He needs to be roasted a little longer to be truly dark, so I’m hoping more people find the show.  Soon.  I need my Whedon fix since he seems to know: Dark heroes, like dark chocolate, are good for the heart.

Any fellow Browncoats in the house?  And speaking of brown coats, will someone please tell me what’ s sexier than a black leather jacket?  No, srsly, I need something sexier than a black leather jacket.

16 comments to “Dark heroes wanted: Wimps need not apply”

  1. 1

    Are the Prisms for futuristic fiction?

  2. 2

    Ooooh. I love all of these heroes … probably because I’m a Joss Whedon fangrrl. I confess I haven’t seen Dollhouse yet, though. I tend to discover great shows via DVD instead of the regular way. It allows for major glomming.

  3. 3

    I heard a rumor that Dollhouse has been cancelled, but haven’t got around to verifying. All the more reason to get the DVD and catch up on the unaired episodes.

    I think sometimes his subtle twists are a bit lost on the network decision-makers.

  4. 4

    Tez, the Prism is the published contest for the RWA special interest Futuristic, Fantasy and Paranormal Chapter. Their finalist list makes a handy shopping list when I’m off to the book store :)

    The sister contest for unpublished writers is On The Far Side.

  5. 5

    Black leather PANTS! But that’s just me ol’ opinion. :grin:

  6. 6

    Hmm, sexier than a black leather jacket? I’m thinking no jacket at all! Or how about those heavy canvas dusters cowboys used to wear. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden wears one of those–very nice. And you really can’t go wrong with a Levi’s jean jacket in either black or blue. :grin:

  7. 7

    Zita, you must’ve read my mind. Book 2 hero has a verra nice duster. Book 3 hero is straightlaced so I should make him go bare chested.

  8. 8

    Brown coat here! The duster is sexy as hell. The brown leather bomber jacket, circa WWII, also sexy as hell. Beat up jean jacket over a plain white t-shirt. Yeah…sexy as hell. Are they *sexier* than the standard black leather? Maybe not. On the right guy, though, definitely *as* sexy. :lol:

  9. 9

    Give me a tee that the hero bought at Baby Gap (2 sizes too small), a rock hard torso with all the fixin’s in the right places, some frayed and much-loved denim jeans and boots. Any kind of boots. And make it really, really HOT so he has to occasionally remove said-shirt. :shock:

    I think I just put myself into a lucious coma! Great blog, Jessa Slade!

  10. 10

    I’m going w/ much loved denim & nothing else (there’s something about him walking around barefoot & shirtless).

    As for Whedonlove, I’m right there with you! Get out the word on Dollhouse. The show is finally kicking it into gear, and who doesn’t love a sexy Agent Ballard?

  11. 11

    Awesome recap of Joss’s heroes! You’re right about all the fits in the dark hero archetype, but it seems to me they all have a different way of getting there, which is half the fun. :)

    Also: more appealing to me than a black leather coat? A *BROWN* leather coat, of course. I have two in my closet.

  12. 12

    (And hopefully the sexy works on the ladies’ end of the spectrum, too. I think Pauline did a nice rundown of the men’s side. *g*)

  13. 13

    Firefly is one of the TV Series that was created by Joss Whedon. I love Firefly so much but it does not have Season 2.”`,

  14. 14

    joss whedon should have continued the Firefly series on TV, it was a nice sci-fi series-:”

  15. 15

    geez, Firefly is the best sci-fi TV series. i just hope that Joss Whedon revives that`-~

  16. 16

    of all the sci-fi directors on cinemas, Joss Whedon is my all time favorite because he has great concept ‘”"

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