An “antihero” is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “a main character in a book, play, movie, etc., who does not have the usual good qualities that are expected in a hero.” That is, these are characters with good qualities like compassion, respect for the law and placing justice above revenge. Antiheroes are often amoral, or are guided by a personal sense of honor unique to themselves.
Antiheroes can serve the greater good, of course — protecting innocents, thwarting criminal plots, stopping terrorists, even saving the world — but many often do so by being just as dirty as the bad guys, if not worse. Some don’t care to help anyone other than themselves, or won’t without the promise of a payoff. Then again, many are just as murderous as any nogoodnik, with body counts to match. With all of that in mind, CBR proudly presents our favorite antiheroes in comics.
Where other antiheroes are grim and humorless, the adventures of Deadpool — Marvel’s “Merc with a Mouth” — are leavened with gallows humor. Deadpool has moved from being an outright villain to being a multifaceted character who is mentally unstable, prone to act on impulse, but no less deadly for it. Wade Wilson joined the military to escape a dysfunctional home life and soon became a mercenary… and then a cancer survivor. Experiments to cure his cancer in the Canadian government’s “Weapon X” program gave him the benefit of a healing factor that matches (and in some ways even surpasses) Wolverine’s, with the drawback of disfiguring his body and destroying his mind.
Deadpool’s healing factor makes him nearly indestructible and nearly immortal, able to regenerate lost limbs and recover from otherwise fatal head wounds. He’s also chatty and routinely breaks the fourth wall with irreverent asides to the readers. In other words, he’s fully aware of being a comic book character, though sometimes less so of being a “hero.”
Catwoman is one of the longest-running characters in the DC Universe, first appearing as “The Cat” in 1940’s “Batman” #1. Through the years, she has been a master cat burglar, and both a foil and romantic partner for Batman. Catwoman also possesses gymnastic ability, natural cunning, and is an adept martial artist and streetfighter.
Catwoman often takes the view that there are rotten people in this world who shouldn’t have their expensive things — so it’s only right that she should be the one to relieve them of those baubles. This often gets her into troubles that she has to get out of with her skills and wiles. Larceny aside, Catwoman also has been a defender of Gotham’s East End, and an antagonist to other Gotham crime figures such as The Penguin. Catwoman has found herself in alliances with crime families, and even on a version of the Justice League, but she’s primarily a loner who goes her own way — with sticky fingers.
13. Jesse Custer (Preacher)
A small-town preacher who overcame a horrible childhood, Jesse Custer is on a quest to find God — and confront him over quitting his post. Custer’s tortured travails, chronicled in Vertigo’s “Preacher,” took him across the Southwest, committing thefts, killings and other crimes until he settled in the Texas town of Annville, becoming a preacher with a Bible close to one hand and a liquor bottle near the other.
After a drunken Saturday night in which he precipitated a bar brawl by telling all of his congregation’s secrets, Custer was possessed by a half-angel, half-demon entity called Genesis during his sermon the next day. Genesis gives Custer the power of The Word of God — which compels anyone to do his bidding, to the letter. Custer, accompanied by his ladylove Tulip O’Hare and vampire frenemy Proinsias Cassidy, and pursued by the Saint of Killers, struggles with loyalty and betrayal, as he seeks to hold God to account for abandoning Heaven.
Deadshot went from being a minor, forgotten Batman villain to being a major player in the DC Universe, in the comics and in film. In his first appearance in 1950, Deadshot was a dandy who used pistols to fight Gotham criminals, but after Batman defeated him, this was revealed as a ruse for him to become a secret crimelord himself.
Deadshot was reintroduced in 1977 in “Detective Comics” #474 as an assassin for hire, now sporting wrist-mounted automatic pistols and a combat jumpsuit instead of top hat, tie and tails, and was again defeated by Batman. Once placed in the Suicide Squad, Deadshot became a mainstay of the team, with an I-don’t-give-a-crap attitude about life — his or anyone else’s. Over various incarnations of the Squad, Deadshot has racked up numerous kills, serving as field leader, team cynic and enforcer. He is a top hand-to-hand combatant, an expert marksman who never misses… and a man with an unfulfilled death wish.
Wolverine rocketed to popularity in “X-Men” as a brash brawler willing to kill his foes, which startled and shocked both his teammates and readers alike. With enhanced strength, agility, an adamantium-laced skeleton and adamantium claws that pop out of his hands, Wolverine makes his kills very personal. His healing factor also makes him nearly impossible to kill, but it doesn’t make him impervious to pain, which he lives with… constantly.
From his beginnings in 1880’s Canada, revealed in the “Wolverine: The Origin” miniseries, life for him has been one struggle after another — to curb his murderous impulses, to learn about his past, to shake off outside control, to fit in with his teammates, to survive. The loner found family and stability with the X-Men, and survive he did — until 2014’s “Death of Wolverine” storyline. In it, he was covered in the same adamantium that lines his bones and suffocated. He’s since been replaced by both a clone and an alternate future version of himself, but it’s hard to believe the the original Wolverine will be out of the picture for too long.
10. John Constantine
Instead of being a suave, dapper master of the mystic arts, John Constantine is scruffy, decidedly working class, thoroughly cynical and just as likely to use his gift of gab as he is to weave a spell.
Constantine is a low-rent supernatural detective who uses his knowledge of the occult to accomplish his ends, along with his considerable innate talents as a manipulator and con artist to get into — and out of — jams of his own making. Only John Constantine would be devious enough to sell his soul to not one, but two demons after being targeted as an enemy of the First of the Fallen — giving all three of them an incentive to cure his lung cancer and keep him alive rather than battle each other were he to die.
Introduced in 1985’s “Saga of the Swamp Thing” #37, Constantine was switched over to the Vertigo Universe after it was established, and was brought back to the DC Universe during the “Brightest Day” crossover. Vertigo’s Constantine, however, ages in real time, making him significantly older.
9. Jonah Hex
“He was a hero to some, a villain to others… and wherever he rode people spoke his name in whispers. He had no friends, this Jonah Hex, but he did have two companions: one was death itself… the other, the acrid smell of gunsmoke.”
Introduced with those words in his classic series, Jonah Hex is a man of many contradictions: a White man in the 1800s who grew up with an Apache tribe; a Confederate soldier who deserted because he couldn’t stomach supporting slavery; a bounty hunter with a moral code who has racked up hundreds of kills. First appearing in 1972’s “All-Star Western” Vol. 2 #10, Hex is a grim, relentless tracker with a disfigured visage, generating fear and disgust even in the people who hire him.
Only his wife Mei Ling saw him as the man he could be, but his killing ways cost Hex him that marriage. Hex, above all, is a survivor in any era. The series “Hex” put him in a “Mad Max”-like West 300 years in his future. More recently, in “All-Star Western,” The New 52 had Hex in modern times, even getting plastic surgery that restored his face after a motorcycle crash.
8. Judge Dredd
Most antiheroes are lone vigilantes working outside the legal system, sometimes at risk of arrest… but Judge Dredd? Dredd isn’t afraid of the law: “I AM THE LAW!” he often bellows.
Dredd is a “Street Judge” in the futuristic U.S. metropolis Mega-City One, which covers much of the east coast of North America. Mega-City One is run by a totalitarian government with a zero-tolerance policy against crime, which is rampant in the region. The Street Judges, each of whom is a police officer, judge, jury — and, if they so deem, executioner — just barely keep things in check.
Dredd is foremost among the judges — tireless, implacable and incorruptible. He has no life outside the job, spurning romantic attachments and even refusing a promotion to Chief Judge that would have taken him off the streets. First appearing in 1977’s “2000 AD” No. 2, Dredd has aged in real time, with 50 years of crime-busting under the helmet that he is never seen without… except in that one movie… of which we do not speak.
7. Marv (Sin City)
“Sin City’s” Marv is a hulking 7-foot-tall bruiser who batters and bashes his way through life, and has scars all over his body to prove it. Between stints in prison and trying to keep his post-traumatic stress disorder under control, Marv survives on the outside by breaking heads and taking what he needs from other thugs. He is also an informal bouncer at Kadee’s Saloon and protector of one of the dancers, Nancy Callahan.
Marv’s tenderest moment — a night of passion with a lady of the evening named Goldie — turns into a quest for redemption when he wakes up and finds Goldie dead, and police officers coming to arrest him. Bursting through the phalanx of lawmen, Marv prowls the streets to find Goldie’s killer and clear his name. He does find the killer, but in so doing, Marv gets the blame for his foul deeds, including Goldie’s murder, and pays the ultimate price.
6. Ogami Ittō (Lone Wolf and Cub)
Ogami Ittō, the protagonist of the sprawling saga “Lone Wolf and Cub,” may or may not be a candidate for “Father of the Year.” On the one hand, he carries his baby son Daigorō across Japan wherever he goes, but he does so on a mission to seek revenge on the clan that murdered his wife and ruined his reputation.
Ittō was the chief executioner for the Shogun, a high-ranking position in the government. The rival Yagyu clan, which coveted his position, raided Ittō’s home, inadvertently leaving 1-year-old Daigorō as the sole survivor. Furthermore, the clan planted evidence falsely indicating that Ittō wished for the shogun’s death, forcing him to flee. Ittō reached a deal with the Yagyu clan to stay away from his home territory in exchange for his life — a deal Ittō broke, spending the next two years methodically killing the Yagyu clan members in revenge. Supporting himself as an assassin for hire, Ittō, with Daigorō, travels with a baby’s pram that’s tricked out with an arsenal of hidden weapons. Baby Daigorō also ages over the series, becoming a helper, killer and antihero in his own right.
5. Max Damage
Mark Waid’s “Irredeemable” gave us a hero gone mad: the Plutonian, an alien being with Superman-level power and no compunctions against using all of his abilities to punish, maim and kill anyone on a whim, be they enemies, friends or innocents. Determined to stop Plutonian was his arch-nemesis, Max Damage. Max possessed superstrength and invulnerability that increase the longer he stays awake; however, the longer he stays awake, the more his tactile senses diminish and the more he suffers the effects of sleep deprivation.
Embittered at his inability to enjoy life’s pleasures, Max stole a plague, but Plutonian interrupted him before he could unleash it on the world. Max was startled when Plutonian did not apprehend him, instead killing millions of other people and leaving Max alone. With that, Max resolved to reform and take on the hero mantle that Plutonian had abandoned, in the companion series “Incorruptible.” Max’s reforms included destroying his ill-gotten gains, going celibate — much to the consternation of his underage girlfriend — and forming an alliance with police detective Louis Armadale as he tries to clean up his hometown of Coalville.
4. The Punisher
The Punisher is one of Marvel’s foremost vigilantes, fighting a one-man war on crime since 1974’s “Amazing Spider-Man” #129. A highly decorated combat veteran, Frank Castle uses his Marine training and skills as a sniper, scout and hand-to-hand combatant to hunt and kill the urban enemy.
Castle turned from being a good Marine to being a grim vigilante after he, his wife and two children went on an outing in New York’s Central Park and accidentally witnessed a mob killing. To eliminate all witnesses, the mobsters attacked the family, but Castle survived. After he recovered, Castle took up his guise as The Punisher, striking the mobsters first and then, over the years, fighting — and killing — criminals engaged in drug trafficking, gun running, terrorism, prostitution and more. Castle has even indulged in his killing ways during stints in prison, coldly reminding his antagonists that they would be even less safe sharing their confines with him.
Elektra is a ninja, assassin and former love of Daredevil, whose turbulent nature means she cannot walk his more altruistic and heroic path. Introduced in “Daredevil” Vol. 1, #168, Elektra is daughter of the Greek ambassador to the United States and a college love of Matt Murdock’s. But after she and her father are taken hostage and he is killed by police gunfire in the rescue attempt, an embittered Elektra breaks away, eventually joining the ninja clan The Hand and later becoming an assassin for hire.
In Daredevil #181, she is murdered by Bullseye as punishment for not following The Kingpin’s order to kill Foggy Nelson. Later, The Hand takes Elektra’s body to revive her. Daredevil tries to stop it and fails, but his intervention cleanses her spirit, and Hand leader Stone completes the process. Since then, Elektra has gone her own way, battling The Hand, being an assassin for hire for groups as varied as SHIELD and Heroes for Hire, and was impersonated by a Skrull during Secret Invasion. She will also get a new ongoing series in February 2017.
2. The Comedian
An adventurer, assassin and soldier of fortune, The Comedian bears his “superhero” name from his cynical view that life is a joke. Edward Blake is introduced in the first issue of “Watchmen,” and we learn over the course of the series that he has a litany of bad deeds in his career, including being a brutal vigilante in the 1940s, the attempted sexual assault of fellow Minutemen team member Silk Spectre, and dubious service in the Vietnam War as a covert operative.
The “Before Watchmen: The Comedian” prequel series tells us more of his time in the ’60s, including the murder of one of John F. Kennedy’s paramours at the behest of Jacqueline Kennedy. Invited to join The Crimebusters in 1966, The Comedian insults the idea as pointless in a world under the threat of nuclear annihilation, thus squelching the effort before it begins. One of the story’s surprises in the series is of course the relationship he has with Silk Spectre, and her daughter… who is revealed to be his daughter as well.
1. Amanda Waller
The most uncivil civil servant, Amanda Waller is a force of nature; a government spook who safeguards the nation from enemies foreign and domestic by sending hardened criminals to battle them. If they survive, she’ll get them time off their prison sentences. If they get caught, she’ll disavow them. And if they die? Well, then they’re no longer her problem.
Waller was introduced in 1986 in the “Legends” crossover miniseries that helped explain the rebooted DC Universe following the events of “Crisis On Infinite Earths.” From the start, she was a stern taskmaster and a master manipulator, seeing little difference between the threats to the nation and threats to her hold on power. In her mind, absolutely everyone is expendable — as she demonstrated in the “Suicide Squad” movie by personally shooting to death a room full of computer technicians after they erased the computer files that documented the Squad’s operation. If that’s not someone who will commit horrible acts for some or another perceieved “greater good — i.e., an antihero — then we don’t know what is!
Who is your favorite antihero from comics? Let us know in the comments section!
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