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Gray heroes and why we love Malcolm Reynolds

Sunday 16 August 2009, by Webmaster

Batman, Iron Man and Malcolm Reynolds all have two things in common. One is that they are not squeaky-clean heroes. The other is that fans love them. For most fans, these characters wouldn’t be the same if they followed the “Superman” mold. They would lack something special that we can relate to.

Moral conflict is what makes these characters interesting. For Firefly’s, Malcolm Reynolds there is a “powerful need to eat” that drives him to be a criminal. In order to keep his ship in the sky and his crew fed he’s willing to break the law. His prejudice against the Alliance makes it easier to break their laws, but he is always well aware of the potential consequences of his choices. When the reward is great enough to outweigh the risks, he will break the law. Yet, he manages to maintain his status as a “good guy” by making the right decisions when it comes to protecting the characters that we meet on screen. He always seems to protect the weak that have been neglected or abused by the strong. As a modern day Robin Hood we love Malcolm Reynolds because he’s true to his heart and loyal to his crew and is willing to make the tough calls in order to do so.

Flawed men are real men. Tony Stark is the stereotypical playboy. He drinks, smokes and breaks hearts on a nightly basis. If you met Tony Stark in the real world you’d think of him as a jerk. In the movie we are able to love him because he’s driven to fix his wrongs. If he’d paid more attention to his company then his weapons wouldn’t have been used by terrorists. He develops the Iron Man persona to allow him to correct his errors. This massive effort to right those wrongs make his flaws endearing. We love him because he is the flawed hero, the real man doing heroic things.

Batman is the scarred hero. He’s the person who suffered tragedy and overcame, using it as motivation to make the world a better place. Batman is more than a little off his rocker, and he’s certainly not a sunny short of superhero. Instead, he lives in the shadows of Gotham City. Batman is gritty, brutal and dirty even if he is not a killer. He serves the public by bringing criminals to justice when the government system can’t or won’t. He’s willing to push the limits of morality to reach his goals. In the end, he’s even willing to give up the thing he loves most to save his city. Batman is willing to be the villain, if that is what he has to do. For this gray hero, Bruce Wayne is the mask and Batman is the soul beneath.

We love them because they are dark, because they are flawed, and most of all we love them because they are real. They are the heroes of the Greek mold complete with flaws, and differ dramatically from Superman and Captain America. They aren’t boy scouts but we love them because of this rather than in spite of it. Good guys can wear black hats, and they can wear them well.