ASH: Derek Radner's Private Journal #9 - Heroism

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at
Sat Jul 20 23:52:49 PDT 2013

[Private Journal of Derek Radner - November 23, 2017]

     Ah, irony.  A month after writing down my musings on what constitutes
villainy, one of my classes assigns a paper on the topic of heroism.  Okay,
not TOO ironic, we've gotten similar assignments pretty much every year, and
I'm certain they feed our essays into some rubric to figure out which of us
are getting it and which need to have tracking devices implanted before it's
too late.  

     Anyway, while I have no intention of fitting into their desired mold as
a hero, I should probably clarify what I think of the matter in private
before working on this year's I can put in just enough truth that
they don't suspect me of simply lying.  Always lie complicatedly, and the
best lies include truths that might reflect badly on you.  After all, they
expect lies that make you look better.

     Since a hero is almost by definition, revisiting my thoughs from last
month's entry.

     (Note in margin) Oh, right, I referred to last year's essay on heroism
for that.  So gonna be kinda circular.

(underlined)Victims of Societal Conditioning

     I think the parallel here with "Victims of Circumstance" villains is
more than a cute's the same basic sort of person.  A decent
enough person, but without the courage of their convictions.  Or much
conviction in the first place.  If they end up accidentally on the wrong side
of the law, they have trouble getting back.  But as long as nothing goes
wrong, they'll probably put on a costume and go beat up muggers or whatever,
because they grew up on hero stories and figure it's what they're supposed to
be doing. 
     This is a particularly tepid sort of hero.  Even if they never screw up
and end up on the wrong side of the law, they're really just doing the hero
thing until something convinces them to stop.  Maybe they get crippled and
hang up the cape.  Maybe they find they can make more money selling
themselves to some corporate backer.  To give the Academy credit, they worked
pretty hard to weed these people out at the high school level: they don't
want to put someone in the field who's going to fold when the first hard
moral choice comes along.
     The really bad cases of this are the ones who have bought into the
heroic myth so hard that they convince others that they're really dedicated
heroes.  They can get through things like the Academy or a career as a hero
for years, and then hit their first real moral crisis and find that the
cliches offer no guidance.  

     (Note in margin) If facing one of these guys, try to force the most
embarrassing moral crisis possible.  It should be fun to watch 'em crumble!

(underlined)Gilt with Guilt

     If some criminals do what they do because of failings, a lot of heroes
put on the cape because of guilt over past failings.  (scribbled over)They're
no more(end scribble) They have no more solid a core than the ones in the
previous group, but they've had their moral crisis and been stung by it.
Maybe it was after becoming heroes, maybe it's why they became heroes.  A lot
of heroes get their start because they didn't use their powers responsibly,
and something horrible happened.  Death of a loved one, whatever.
     Where these people are different from the previous group is that they're
a lot more dedicated.  Until they can work through their guilt feelings,
they're not going to give up.  And they're remarkably good at rationalizing
everything they do in the pursuit of expunging that guilt.
     It's reallllly easy for guilt-driven heroes to become the "Misguided
Idealist/Crusader" sort of badguy.

(underlined)Legal Thuggery

     Sometimes motivation is pretty simple: a powered person like the rush of
beating on people with their powers.  The stupid ones become criminals with a
long strong of aggravated assault charges.  The slightly less stupid ones
just make sure they have social approval for their punchemups.  While cops
have stringent rules about Police Brutality (not always enforced, but there's
something in place, at least), superheroes often have no real accountability
so long as they stick to beating on supervillains and their minions.  And if
the villain can take a lot of punishment before going down, so much the
     This is a very specific and very common paraphilia, now that I think
about it.  Oh, the thug may not get off SEXUALLY when he kicks someone's
teeth into orbit, but he definitely enjoys it.  
     Needless to say, this kind of hero is no hero at all, and most of them
eventually end up in the "Personal Failings" villain category when they go
over the line once too often and find themselves on the list of people it's
acceptable to beat up.

     (Note in margin)Would I rather expose these when I find them so they can
become available as minions, or leave them in place to tar the reputation of
fellow heroes who I'm actually worried about?


     What happens when someone not only buys into the superhero fairy tale,
but actually believes the morality at the core of it?  Sanctimonous assholes,
usually, but they're pretty effective heroes.  These guys have drunk the kool
aid, as it were.  They're what the Academy wants to turn out: superhumans who
understand and fully embrace a moral code that's both strong enough and
flexible enough to stand up out in the real world.
     Really, that's the important point here.  They're enforcing someone
else's ideals, running about on someone else's crusade.  Maybe it's the
general social order, maybe they've got marching orders from a mentor of some
kind, but these people are tools.  Well-honed and powerful tools, sure.  But
they're no more truly heroes than a rampaging monster is truly a villain.
     Society needs this kind of "hero".  Because society is invested in
keeping itself running, maintaining the status quo.  Idealistic heroes fight
threats to their ideals, and act to spread those ideals to societies that
don't currently embrace them.  Yeah, it can be a fine line between idealistic
hero and misguided idealist villain, and a lot depends on what side of the
line you happen to be on.  When America Guy shows up in Iran and starts
promoting American Values, he's probably going to look an awful lot like a

(underlined)True Heroes

     If supporting someone else's ethos disqualifies you from being a true
hero, then naturally the mark of a true hero would be to follow your own
ethos.  It can align well with society's mores, of course, but it comes from
within rather than without.  It can be a very subtle distinction, and
sometimes a true hero can wobble back and forth between himself and external
drives, as if a character in a story written by many authors, not all of whom
get it.  It's a hard state to maintain, holding beliefs that parallel those
of everyone else while still being your own.
     When that happens, does the hero surrender their true nature and just
become a tool of society, or does he re-examine his beliefs and find places
where he doesn't actually agree with society after all?  And what happens if
he does that?
     Well, the line between a true hero and a true villain may not exist at

            This has been a Conclave of Super-Villains Special:
   ( )                Derek Radner's Private Journal                 ( )
    I           An Academy of Super-Heroes Universe Comic             I
    I               copyright 2013 by Dave Van Domelen                I
                              #9 - Heroism 

Author's Notes:

     Another short piece inspired by discussion on RACC.  But not directly.
The topic was classification of nemeses, something I think Radner has talked
about in-story as well as some of the other journals.  But the fact the
discussion on RACC focused on villains as they relate to heroes made me
consider how to do it the other way around, and classify heroes as they
relate to villains.  Which led, eventually, to the piece above.


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