Heroes and Villains

Superman by Alex Ross

Superman/Clark Kent by Alex Ross in Superman: Peace on Earth. ©1998 DC Comics.

When people ask me what I write, it’s not easy for me to give a simple answer. I’m a writer, and I write short stories, novels and even a little poetry.

I’ve written in a number of genres, including contemporary fiction. And though most of my writing falls into the fantasy genre, most people upon hearing the word “fantasy” immediately think I write stories of wizards and dragons — which I never have done.

I could explain that my current work-in-progress is in the fantasy superhero sub-genre, but that almost always leads people to think I write comic books. (I wish. I’ve often dreamed of getting a shot at writing a Superman story — finding the perfect blend of action and drama.)

I’ve been reading superhero stories for over 30 years. In part, I always enjoyed collecting comic books. But it was more than that. I liked superheroes because they boiled down stories to their essence: good guys saving people from bad guys doing evil.

The superhero takes the idea of the legendary hero and magnifies it. Superheroes are our versions of ancient heroes like Gilgamesh or Samson; the mythological gods and demi-gods like Atlas and Hercules; the legends of King Arthur and Robin Hood; Western heroes like Zorro and the Lone Ranger; or the pulp heroes like The Shadow and the Green Hornet.

Maybe I read too many comic books from the Golden Age of the 1940s and ’50s. I prefer stories where there is a clear line between the heroes and villains. I demand clean-cut heroes who never kill. I prefer optimism over cynicism. Give me Captain America, Superman, or Shazam over Wolverine or the Punisher any day.

I’ve always had a profound sense of right and wrong. And though I’m far from perfect, I’ve always aspired to follow that voice inside me that champions the underdog and tells me to help others. Call it my inner-Superman, if you will.

As a writer, I understand characters can’t be too simplistic. Heroes can’t be perfect. And villains can’t be evil for the sake of being evil, either. However, I believe that heroes and villains can be complex without muddying the water between them.

I write heroes who always aspire to do good, despite their faults. And I uncover the motivation in villains, to make them believable without making them too sympathetic.

I may be in the minority, but I believe we still need heroes. We need someone to emulate. We need someone who stands above us — not looking down, but helping us to look up.

Kevin Wohler is a copywriter and novelist living in Lawrence, Kansas. During the day, he works at a digital marketing agency in the Kansas City area. When time remains, he likes to tell stories of the weird and bizarre. And sometimes, he writes them down for others to read.

4 Comments

  • Gary Elsbernd says:

    Can you expound a bit on your opinion of anti-heroes like Neo in The Matrix?

    • Kevin Wohler says:

      For those who don’t know, this is a long-standing argument between Gary and I. If you’ve seen The Matrix, you know there’s a scene where Neo and Trinity storm into a building looking for the captured Morpheus. They are heavily armed, and — in one of the most violent scenes in the film — they kill everyone in sight.

      As I remember, I took the position that Neo’s killing of security guards was outweighed by the importance of his objective. Gary said that if Neo were really a hero, he wouldn’t have killed innocent people.

      However, I believed (and still believe) that because Agent Smith could utilize anyone within the matrix to battle Neo, Neo was justified in killing everyone he saw. I’m not saying I condone killing innocent people, but within the structure of the narrative it was justified.

      • Gary Elsbernd says:

        And I still believe that a true hero is able (as illustrated in countless comic books and PG comic book movies) to disable people who are mind-controlled without killing them. Did he have to take a frontal assault, or could he have used his abilities in the matrix to be more subtle? His disregard for human life left me without compassion for his character. It’s a good thing they never made a sequel (no, don’t tell me, I refuse to acknowledge the other two).

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