Why don't we like "practical" heroes?

It’s one of my oldest gripes: the villain is defeated, but we and the hero know that they will see him again, and that no matter what punishment he faces, it will not be enough. Why not just shoot him down before he draws the hidden gun or pull out your knife and stab him during the fistfight? The “code of honor” thing I get, but it seems like it’s something the hero must have or they’re afraid that he won’t be liked.

Do you get what I mean? I can see why they do it, but the fact that they keep doing it irks me. Would killing an enemy that’s a clear and present danger really be so unheroic?

We want the sequel.

Seriously. A hero is only as good as his villains are. We don’t want one and done. We don’t want another villain who isn’t quite as good as the first villain and then a third who isn’t quite as good as the first two, on and on ad nauseam. (Example: the four Batman movies.) If they don’t return over and over, the hero is lessened.

Same with the villain. The real question is not why the good guy doesn’t take on the role of judge and jury, but why the villain puts the hero in an elaborate death trap rather than just shooting the guy when he’s unconscious or from a distance.

They need each other. They have no existence except for one another. And more seriously than that, because there is nothing more serious than the bottom line, they have no audience without one another.

If you don’t like that, try this one:
They are idealized battles between good and evil. The Norse understood that the ultimate victory of one over the other is the end of the world. Evil is constantly reappearing in the world; so good must constantly engage it. The battle is continuous but each side must be precisely defined. That’s the essence of mythology.

One more:
American exceptionalism. We are better than all other countries, as proved by the fact that the inhabitants of other countries all want to come here and we don’t want to leave for elsewhere. We are so good and pure than we can afford to have ideals and even express ideals that would be disastrous anyplace else. We can show mercy, we can give the other side the first strike, we can allow a deadly enemy to live because we will always conquer in the end. We are the only people that have never been defeated, and never will be. Heroes are a symbolic reference to that.

I got a million of 'em. All of the above are true, BTW. There’s no one answer.

I haven’t seen the type of ending described in the OP in a number of years. This was pretty big in 80s actions films and Lethal Weapon had just such an ending. Is this kind of ending still common these days?


Hot damn, if only that money-shot of Spidey in Spiderman three could be slowed down a bit, this would be the perfect voice-over! :stuck_out_tongue:

ETA: OP, consider the popularity of characters like Mal in Firefly and every other righteous bastard hero out there. Han Solo. Conan. Morally questionable heroes. And far more interesting.

Jingoistic super-heroes serve a purpose; they enable jingoistic, one-sided villains. Consider the last Batman movie, for instance; as we saw Batman dragged down to a human level of greyscales, so were his villains. I mostly think truly irredeemable villains and - as such - truly impeccable heroes are a thing of the past.

Maybe it’s just simply an actual flaw?

There’s a good example of this in Buffy the Vampire slayer. At the end of season five, Glory, the seasons’ Big Villain, lies helpless on the ground, beaten senseless, at least for now. She assumes the shape of her friendly alter ego, a young men named Ben, to make it harder to kill her. Buffy, indeed, walks away, not wanting to kill Ben. But then Giles sneaks up to Ben, and smothers him, so Glory’s way back is cut off for good. Giles remarks to a dying Ben, that Buffy can’t kill him “because she’s a hero, you see. But I am not.”

[spoiler]Buffy didn’t do any walking, because she was busy being dead at that point.

But she got better.[/spoiler]

Actually, she was still alive when Giles finished Glory/Ben off - she was on her way to the top of the Crazy Person Tower to save Dawn from Demonic Joel Grey.

By golly.

Do you mean “like” as in “idolize, and respect,” or “like” as in “keep buying the comic/movie ticket”?

As for the latter, at least, I might add…star power. A good villain can be just as much a draw as a good hero. And you don’t have to invent a new one and tease out development and backstory every time you need a foe to get punched.

Granted, this can have it’s drawbacks…suspension of disbelief can start to suffer, eventually, especially if the heroes would basically have to go out of their way not to win. I mean, I could buy that G.I. Joe could fight Cobra for years without completely wiping them out. I can see why Captain Kirk would keep running into the Klingons. But one (super) man can’t permanently put down one other (super) man?

And, personally, it starts to negatively effect the appeal of the work—especially if the villain can kill, but the hero won’t. If that’s the case…think about it, the bodies pile up on the villain’s side, but what can the good guys do to counter that? Breed more? It’s like Lot’s family—no matter how much you rebuild, things will never be completely back to where they were. Something is diminished, permanently lost. All the hero is managing to do is lose more slowly…the whole bloody thing becomes a long, slow process of attrition.

Actually, I think the audience DOES like “practical” heroes. The “never ever kill” hero is a dying breed, and IMHO was more a portrayal of what we were “supposed” to like, not what we really like. And was largely restricted in genre as well; mainly comics and their derivatives. Added to that is the unwillingness to give up a cool villain. But that only applies to the cool villains, not Nameless Mook # 327.

And it undercuts the whole moral underpinning of the hero, if he’s willing to sacrifice that many people on the altar of not personally killing. It’s not like the real world, where escapes from prisons & asylums are a rarity; in the real world, the Joker would be unlikely to escape once. Much less again and again and again. In the real world, not killing convicted criminals is perfectly reasonable, because the nonlethal alternatives tend to work.

Did Buffy ever find out about that?

A true hero must not only spare, but save the villain.

I know you didn’t mean it like this, but all I can see now is Dan Ackroyd in an apron, yelling, “Save the liver!”…

This has a lot to do with it. Comic Heroes followed the comics code for nearly 30 years and so Americans became use to “do not kill” supers. Early on Superheros did kill before the code. Batman was a true vigilante. Dime store Cowboy Heroes not only killed but took pride in shooting first.

So in order to avoid congressional oversight, the industry policed itself and changed the way Americans expect hero to act.

The vigilante Superman and Batman era lasted no more than about a year. As soon as the characters became popular, the editors stepped in and made them Americanly Noble. This happened by 1940, fourteen years before the Code. The Code never truly affected Batman or Superman because they were as pure as Disney comics for years before the Code was ever thought of.

The Code that had an affect on heroes was the Hays Code in Hollywood that started cleaning up the movies in 1934. (Before the nitpickers come in, the Hays Code was adopted in 1930, but the Production Code Authority didn’t really start censoring film scripts until 1934.)

Thanks, I originally type “for nearly 50 years”, but I could not cite the reason. That nicely explains the discrepancy.


You, Mr. Mapcase, are a cultural deconstructionist of the first rank. You put into words things we all understand as pre-conscious intuition. Keep on demystifyin’.

Thank you. Thank you very much.

You know, for some time now, I’ve suspected that Dr. Frederic Wertham will turn out to have had a hand in the decline and fall of western civilization, in the long run.

I dunno. Maybe, just maybe, if EC Comics had been able to stay in business a couple more decades, we wouldn’t have so much…I really hate to use the term “pussification,” but it sure seems like newer generations get too easily traumatized these days. *

*I can’t tell if I should put a smiley face there or not. very tired. I sleep now.

But we love Mal!

Mal: Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance. You bring it back to him. Tell him the job didn’t work out. We’re not thieves. But we are thieves. Point is, we’re not takin’ what’s his. Now we’ll stay out of his way as best we can from here on in. You explain that’s best for everyone, okay?
Crow: Keep the money. Use it to buy a funeral. It doesn’t matter where you go or how far you fly. I will hunt you down, and the last thing you see will be my blade.
Mal: Darn.
[Kicks Crow through running engines. Next bad guy is brought forward]
Mal: Now, this is all the money Niska gave us in advance…
One of Niska’s Soldiers: Oh, I get it! I’m good. Best thing for everyone. I’m right there with ya.

How much more practical can you get?