Hall of Heroes
By Dwip November 20, 2007, 8:05 pm Comments (10) RSS Feed for this post

With a nod to FR7.

Firstly, a couple of blog changes, namely:

1. The front page now displays the last three entries as opposed to the last two, to make easier times like this when I spam my blog.

2. Comments now open in a new window, although they do not do this properly, and I cannot for the life of me figure out WHY. But this at least half works.

Anyway. This post has a pretty lengthy and circuitous route to existance, being rooted in an almost post about great gaming moments. Then I got to thinking about the character of Jon Irenicus, and said “You know, I bet people would find a post about great characters more interesting.”

So here we are. I’m going to list ten of what I consider to be the best characters in things I’ve read, watched, or played. I’m attempting to go for characters that are cool in their own right, as opposed to characters that are cool because of the story they’re in (Aragorn, for example, or Lain). They are in no particular order, as that level of ranking would just be silly. As always, I encourage you to comment on my choices, and/or post your own lists.

1. Tachikoma (Ghost In the Shell: Stand Alone Complex series) – It’s no secret I love tachis, of course. And though the reasoning comes perilously close to breaking my story barrier, I love them because they’re like child philosophers, like taking Socrates and throwing him into the body of a robotic 4 year old. Motoko and Section 9 are awesome in their own rights, of course, but the tachis are the real soul of the show.

2. Lucius Cornelius Sulla (Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series) – Sulla’s a real villain, utterly debauched (his first scene involves waking up in bed between his mistress and stepmother after ditching them for sex with a boy) and completely ruthless. He kills four or five people inside of the first act just to get his start, and goes on to become an utterly ruthless dictator. And yet, such is his charisma that we can actually be on his side, understand why he does these things, and even root for him while he does it. And that’s really quite something.

Now, I know you’d all expect me to pick Marius, and I love Marius (obviously), but here’s the thing: Marius is the main hero (or at least he thinks he is until Caesar shows up), and for most of his run he’s a pretty likable sort of fellow, smart, ambitious, has good ideas. He’s great, but he’s not fascinating in the way that Sulla is fascinating. Knowing the real Sulla must have been an experience.

3. Rand al’Thor (Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series) – Rand gets a lot of hating in RJ fandom, and they’ve got a point, he’s kind of an idiot asshole, but he’s also this shepherd with pretty simple dreams of getting married to a good girl and running the farm, who is suddenly the most powerful man in the world, and going insane on top of it. He is not that typical hero who gains ultimate power and then kicks ass with it. He is flawed, often deeply. And watching him deal with these things is fascinating, the main reason why I like WoT as a series. Mat may be more fun (and he’s a great character in his own right), but Rand’s the interesting one.

4. Spike Spiegel (Cowboy Bebop) – Spike is awesome for two reasons: First, he kicks ass. He shows up, he wins without seeming to try. And he’s a lot more than that. We eventually discover that he’s actually amazingly deep, but he’s deep in some often understated ways. Watch for the subtle dialogue clues. The very subtle relationship he has with Faye (who is a great character in her own right). He’s not what you expect, and he’s great for it.

5. Drizzt Do’Urden (Various Forgotten Realms fiction) – I know, I know. He’s such a cliche. But there was a time when you read Homeland, and the idea of a kid who grows up in a society as evil as drow society is, and then despite all pressure to the contrary throws it all away and becomes almost the antithesis of everything that society stands for? Take your breath away. The whole Dark Elf trilogy is brilliant stuff, right up there among some of the best I’ve ever read, just because we get to watch that transformation.

6. Jon Irenicus (Baldur’s Gate 2: Shadows of Amn) – The guy who got me thinking about this whole thing. He’s the villain of the game, and he’s about as evil as you can possibly get. He tortured you. He tortured your sister, your friends. He kills people with casual ease, and his bodycount is, well, uncountable. He clones his former lover. He steals souls. He actually drives you to hate his guts. But you know? By the end of it, when you get a good handle on why he did the things he did? I feel sorry for him. I can’t hate him, but I pity him. And that’s an astonishing thing from a game character. And from a villain.

7. Vash the Stampede (Trigun) – The man with the best character concept ever, basically. He tries to do good things and help people, he carries a gun, but he doesn’t kill. And his life is a meditation on the complexities and absurdities and nobility of that ideal. And without spoiling the whole show, it’s pretty interesting stuff.

8. Toranaga (James Clavell’s Shogun) – Who is essentially Tokugawa Ieyasu masquerading as a fictional character. He’s a cold-hearted, manipulating, devious bastard who would run Machiavelli straight into the ground (or devise a plot to take over his stuff). And you kind of have to admire that. Also he happens to be the best depiction of such a character I’ve seen on page.

9. Darth Vader (Star Wars) – Now, we all love him in the first trilogy. I mean, who doesn’t? He looks badass, has a red lightsaber, and he kills people with his mind. But then come the prequels, and his story gets better, though the less we say about the acting and dialogue of his particular story, the better. I find him a compelling villain because he is, mechanical suit and all, a very human one. He’s evil because he tried to do good in the wrong way. He could’ve been a really great guy, except for one tiny little flaw.

10. Victor Steiner-Davion (Battletech) – I’ve got all of FR fandom hating on me for Drizzt, now let’s do the most hated character in all Battletech, Victor Steiner-Davion. Taking aside his ridiculous luck in a ‘mech, he’s fascinating because he’s the guy who was born to be king, didn’t necessarily want to be king, got made king anyway when he really wasn’t ready, fucked up so badly as king he got deposed by his own sister (who is a raging villain, but), then pretty much learns how to be king, but isn’t king, and transitions to being the guy behind the king because he can’t be king. He’s a guy that just wants to do the right thing, and doesn’t always do such a great job of it. And I like that in a character.

Lots of runners up, I might add. Aragorn. Lain. James Bond. Jahiera. Carth. Faye Valentine. Magua. Sparhawk. You’ll notice archetypes, here. I like flawed characters. Which isn’t to say I can’t enjoy heroes like Bond or Indy, but they’re not the ones I come away from the experience saying “Wow, that was heavy!” about. Too, while I’m as big a fan of Vicious or Goldfinger as anyone, the truly great villains to me are the ones where you can see in them the shreds, tattered though they may be, of their humanity. The great villains are the ones you can feel sorry for, maybe admire. Wish that maybe something had turned out just a little differently for them so they could’ve been happy.

Except then there wouldn’t be a plot, so maybe not so much. But y’know.

Battletech, Books, Computer Games - Baldur's Gate Series, Dungeons and Dragons, Movies and Television Comments (10) RSS Feed for this post
Comments on Hall of Heroes
avatar Comment by Suz #1
November 24, 2007 at 3:56 pm

Some good choices there. Only one problem (besides Rand being on the list)… it’s a freakin’ sausage fest! I know, I know, these genres are biased, but even your runners up are male.

Allow me to infuse some estrogen…

Morgaine, The Mists of Avalon
River Tam
Starbuck, Battlestar Galactica (new)
President Roslin, Battlestar Galactica (new)
Elphaba, Wicked
Trinity (greater than Neo)
Lucilla, Gladiator. I found her more interesting than Maximus
Sarah Connor, Terminator
Vala, Star Gate SG1
Jane Sagan, Old Man’s War

There. That’s just off the top of my head. With some Google for help with spelling.

avatar Comment by Dwip #2
November 25, 2007 at 12:53 am

Sarah agrees with you. In my defense, I did mention Faye, Lain, and Jahiera as runners up. Jahiera’s probably worthy of edging out say the tachikomas or Vash the Stampede. However:

1. Faye Valentine (Cowboy Bebop) – Like Spike, you might THINK she’s only got the one trick, but she’ll surprise you with a pretty astonishing backstory. Also she’s an awesome pistol shot.

2. Lain Iwakura (Serial Experiments: Lain) – About whom I can say very little so as not to ruin the plot of the series. Just that she’s deeper than I actually understand, and ever so interesting.

3. Jahiera (Baldur’s Gate series) – In BG1, Jahiera wasn’t much, just a sarcastic, bitchy druid who had her husband Khalid whipped to death and spouted lines like “Yes, O omnipresent authority figure.” In BG2, though, she came alive. The depth of her character is among the deepest in a game full of deep characters. More I cannot say without giving things away, but her romance is worth playing the game for.

Viconia and Aerie would also be good great characters. Hell, I could fill up a list just with great BG2 characters.

4. Jane Sagan (Old Man’s War series) – My total bad for forgetting Jane. In particular, Scalzi’s The Sagan Diary is a fascinating look into her mind, and I think easily the best thing he’s written by leaps and bounds. Alien, yet very human.

5. Kimiko (Megatokyo) – Because she’s fascinatingly real, in a way that most comic, even serious comic characters, aren’t much. Because she’s the only one of these people I’d feel comfortable having coffee with.

Honorable mention to Miho, who will totally make the list if she lives up to the hype. Chances are good.

6. Sephrenia (The Elenium and Tamuli series) – A woman who manages to combine mysterious sorceress, mother figure, and very damaged child in one package. Her getting some of the best lines in the series doesn’t hurt either.

7. Moiraine Damodred (The Wheel of Time series) – Insofar as she’s the best of, and one of the most complex of, Robert Jordan’s women. She’s mysterious and scheming, yet rather nice and kindly, often at the same time and in the same sentence. Her lack of a predisposition towards arms-under-breasting, sniffing, snorting, and stamping of feet is also a major plus. As is her almost total lack of a love subplot forcing her to act like a fool.

8. Eliza (The Baroque Cycle) – whose various exploits and complexities cannot and should not be revealed. Suffice it to say that she’s the second most interesting character in the whole series, except for Half-cocked Jack Shaftoe, the King of the Vagabonds, whose exclusion from my original list I can only excuse by saying that prodigous quantities of chocolate obscured my books.

9. Sarah Conner (Terminator series) – The first thought on the subject was that, no, the Terminator in T2 is the best one in the series. Then I thought about it, and realized that everybody’s great in that series, including Sarah, and definitely including John Conner.

But of course, since Terminator 2 is really one of the Great Movies Of Our Time, that’s sort of to be expected.

10. Mariko (Shogun) – Let’s see. What doesn’t Mariko have? Love! Sex! Betrayal! Jealous lovers! Conflicts of duty! Shogun readers, back me up here.

John Blackthorne should probably also be on this list, or Vasco Rodriguez, especially as ably depicted by John Rhys-Davies in the miniseries.

A couple of quibbles with Suzanne’s list, namely:

1. I hate Trinity, and can’t really free myself of that, especially because I, you know, bought into Neo and like his character. Plus, you know, that whole third movie. I just dunno.

2. Lucilla was pretty great, in a way, but the real show stealer of that movie was of course Commodus. Maximus? He’s there to kill dudes and be vengeful. Commodus? He’s friggin’ whacked, man. Probably belongs as a great character in his own right.

Also crazy and belonging on the list? Tyler Durden. He’s the sort of guy that starts at crazy, and just keeps right on going at 90 down the characterization freeway.

I have no actual knowledge of the rest of that list.

And two people I wish could be on the list but can’t because they’re really just plot devices:

1. William Wallace (Braveheart) – Because if he WERE on the list, he’d consume the other people with fireballs from his eyes and bolts of lightning from his arse.

2. Aleksander & Nicholas Kerensky (Battletech) – One of whom gets credit for being That Great Statesman who wins the Cincinnatus award for winning the biggest war ever fought and then taking the whole military that won it and fleeing the bad factional politics; the other of whom gets credit for being a total nut and taking what dear old dad built, turning it on its head, and creating the Clans, who are a deeply fascinating sort of society.

avatar Comment by Dwip #3
November 25, 2007 at 1:08 am

Probably should’ve mentioned Asuka and/or Rei from Neon Genesis Evangelion, too, actually. Especially Rei. Shinji wants to, but it’s hard to admire a character you actively want to reach through the screen and throttle. Throttling him may be too good for him, actually. But Rei and Asuka are cool.

avatar Comment by Clyos #4
November 25, 2007 at 8:28 am

I feel that Souske Sagara from Full Metal Panic! needs to be mentioned here if not for his ass kicking abilities and comical situations.

avatar Comment by Suz #5
November 25, 2007 at 7:04 pm

I forgot to add Susannah from Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. That author does love him the Male Hero character, but when he does write women, they’re rarely cardboards cutouts.

~Trinity rocks. Matrix 2 & 3 (like Star Wars 1-3) don’t exist.

~Moiraine is simply the lesser of many evils in that series.

~Amen to Commodus being the best part of Gladiator. Lucilla would get more love if she weren’t overshadowed by his craziness.

~Also: yay, Tyler Durden

~You remind me of things I need to read. Like Shogun. And the Baroque Cycle. And the Sagan Diary. Sigh. So many books, so little time…

avatar Comment by Suz #6
November 25, 2007 at 7:07 pm

And really, ALL of the main characters from the new Battlestar Galactica should be on the list. Because it is the best Sci-fi show since Firefly.

There. I said it.

avatar Comment by Whir #7
November 26, 2007 at 10:12 am

Okay, I’m with Suz on Mograine and Iria (assuming we’re both talking about Iria from Zeiram: the Animation).

Mograine for reasons that are pretty and overwhelmingly obvious if you’ve ever managed to get through Mists of Avalon (something I should get around to doing again now that I’m fifteen years older and will probably pick up on more stuff).

Iria, I have to unfortunately relay, still assuming we’re talking about the same one, Dwip couldn’t deal with. And unfortunately I can only half agree at all because what they didn’t do was get far into developing her character. Yes, she kicks ass, yes she’s compassionate, but other than an intense love for her brother, and the ability to win all the time, what do we actually know about her? I would be putty in the hands of the original author writing either some prequel or sequel to the OVAs.

If there’s some other Iria you know of, then disregard all of that.

avatar Comment by Whir #8
November 26, 2007 at 10:13 am

Yes, I realize it’s Morgaine and not Mograine, I’ve been writing all day and my brain could probably be likened to the consistency of porridge presently.

avatar Comment by Dwip #9
November 26, 2007 at 1:23 pm


If I were rewriting my original list, I’d probably drop Tachikoma and Jon Irenicus for Jane Sagan and Jahiera. And Vash for Tyler Durden. The 15-long version adds Jane, Jahiera, Tyler Durden, Lain, and Rand al’Thor.

Star Wars 1-3 exist, or at least the plots do. The only one that’s actually watchable is Revenge of the Sith, which actually IS a good movie.

The problem with making Matrix 2 and 3 not exist, however, is that you take Trinity, who’s already kind of a cardboard Neo fangirl who sometimes kicks ass, and make her that much worse by eliminating most of her interesting plot points, especially the Merovingian and motorcycle scenes in 2. Among others.

Also, Morpheus is probably the most interesting character in that series, or at least comes close.

It IS hard to come up with a decent female character in Jordan, because, well, holy shit are they all bad, but I have a soft spot in my heart for Moiraine. I think it may be because she spends less of her time being a girl, with all the idiocy that implies in Jordan, and spends her time actually doing smart things.

Also, Rand al’Thor seriously is a great character, as annoying as he can sometimes be, which is often why. As a study of providing random guys off the street with ultimate power, I find him pretty interesting. He speaks to me, in ways. About the only thing tweaks me about him is the whole harem thing, which is more Jordan being himself than anything that’s really Rand’s fault.

I honestly really don’t see why Lucilla’s all that great, too. Leaving aside Commodus winning all over town, Lucilla’s got a lot of things (backstory with Maximus, creepy relationship with Commodus, son, relationship with Senate) that COULD be interesting if they had a chance, but they don’t. Great? No. Wasted potential, yes.

Or maybe not. Gladiator was a pretty good film as it was. She kind of was what she needed to be, and that’s that.

And a further meditation of where I was going with this list, and the gender roles on it. Most of my picks (8 of 10 or 12 of 15) are male. Two reasons for that. One is because I’m a guy, and the guys usually speak more to me. Two is because IME, the girls are either written worse, or written in a such a way as to not speak to me, and let us remember our criteria – must not be plot devices, must do more than just kick ass, and must, on some level, speak to me as a person and make me want to be them or help them or whatever.

That aside, another candidate: Paksenarion, who now that I think about it clearly needs a big spot on my list somewhere.

I can’t decide if Duncan MacLeod is a true candidate for the list, or is a huge plot device. He may have issues with there being ten instead of one in any event.

Iria’s series bored me. But I should pick up Mists. And I probably have no chance against my eventual watching of Firefly, and should make my time.

avatar Comment by Whir #10
November 26, 2007 at 8:31 pm

Firefly is worth watching just because it’s Whedon, really.