Breakdown of a hero, pt 1

If you’ve been around me for any length of time, you’ll know that I love Batman.  And Indiana Jones.

Even with one-legged Batman and faceless Indy, they could easily win against Nazi Joker.

There’s one more action hero I’ll throw into the mix: Jason Bourne. My idea of a good night is a cheesecake, bottle of wine, and Bourne movie marathon.  Fortunately I caught one this past weekend.  And it left me thinking about what these three men have in common, why I like them so much, and what I can take away for my own heroes.

Part 1: Who the heroes are
Part 2, to follow eventually: How my own characters compare

There are several reasons Batman is my favorite superhero. 

  • He has no superpowers; he can’t fly like Superman, or use a magic ring like the Green Lantern, or shoot laser beams from his eyes like Cyclops.  He has to rely on his wits, his extreme intelligence, and his gadgets.
  • He’s smart.  Really, really, really smart.  He uses his intelligence to out-think his opponents, anticipating their moves before they do.  He keeps kryptonite around just in case Superman gets out of hand.  He studies his opponents and knows all their weaknesses, just in case.  He’s a team player, but not because he needs to be.
  • He never kills anyone.  If you’re not familiar with his background, as a child he witnessed his parents’ murder, and basically vowed not to kill anyone if he could avoid it.  He doesn’t carry a gun, unlike Ironman (whom I won’t even get started on).
  • He has a great sense of dark humor and enjoys sarcasm.  

I read a great book this summer, Batman and Philosophy edited by Mark D. White and Robert Arp, which made me reflect more deeply on Batman’s nature.  Although technically he’s just a sexy character in a cartoon or movie or comic book, he’s been around enough to seem real.  As a writer, I want my characters, especially in a novel, to have that same depth, that same realness.

Batman’s goal is to stop crime in Gotham City.  He forgoes everything else to achieve this, including relationships (for example, with Selina Kyle aka Catwoman).  You could argue it’s because he doesn’t want those close to him to get hurt because of who he is and what he does.

Now, contrast this with the next guy.

Jason Bourne
I’ll admit that I’ve only seen the movies and not read the books.  But from just the movies, this is why I love him:

  • Like Batman, he’s good at everything: languages, martial arts, general bad-assery in chase scenes, etc.
  • Once he figures out who he was, he realizes he’s not evil.  He goes around apologizing to everyone he’s hurt.  You know he wants to atone for what he did.
  • He’s awesome at game theory, always staying one step ahead of his opponent.  Compared to Batman, Bourne’s playing chess while the Caped Crusader is still on checkers.

Where the two differ, however, is their motivation.  While Batman’s loyalties lie with a promise he made to his parents to stop crime, and to Gotham City, Bourne isn’t tied to any organization or noble cause.  Instead, he focuses on actual people.  When the CIA killed his girlfriend, Bourne took down the CIA.  When they tried to kill agent Nicky Parsons, who’d helped him out, he went after her would-be assassin.

The lesson we learn from Bourne: friends and loved ones matter, more than the mission.  In fact, avenging his friends and loved ones often becomes the mission.

Considering all these points, we come to my final favorite.

Indiana Jones
Indy is a synthesis of both Batman and Bourne.

  • He’s very smart, even though it often gets him into stickier situations.
  • Like Batman, he’s fighting for a good cause – either to stop Nazis, or to save village children (I refuse to acknowledge the existence of The Crystal Skull).  And, most importantly, knowledge for the sake of knowledge.  For example, he doesn’t want the Ark in order to take over the world; he wants to put it in a museum so it can one day melt off Shia LaBeouf’s face.
  • But like Bourne, he’ll stop his mission to save the ones he loves.  Take The Last Crusade.  Even though Elsa turns out to be a Nazi, he still tries to save her at the end.  He willingly gives up the Grail, something he’d been pursuing forever, in exchange for her life.

Indy is more than Batman and Bourne, however.  Indy is human.  He makes mistakes and takes them in stride, unlike Batman, who broods over them.  He gets injured – a lot – and he complains about it.  He’ll kill if he has to, but unlike Bourne and Batman he tries to work through the proper channels first, going to the authorities if he needs to.  And his flaws just add to his overall appeal: he’s a likable guy, fighting for what’s right.

So, you have three action heroes with similar goals, but with three different ways of reaching them. 

  • Batman, with his serious trust issues, works alone to fight crime and honor a promise to his parents, keeping potential partners at a distance.
  • Bourne wants a normal life, but if you mess with someone he cares about he’ll destroy you.
  • Indy values knowledge and fights for what he believes is right, but puts the people he cares about first.

Which heroes are your favorites?  What are their goals, and how do they reach them?


  1. Yep, Batman and Indy have always hit the top of my list. My other favorite is McGyver (not sure I spelled that right). A stick of gum and a rubber band go a long way!

  2. MacGyver (I had to look that up) was a lot of fun, but he was just too farfetched to be one of my favorites.

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