Love me, love my characters

I was trying to summarize A Streetcar Named Desire to one of my best friends a couple of nights ago, and after my garbled synopsis (which went something like “High-strung and slightly batty southern belle is raped by brutish brother-in-law and goes cuckoo bonkers”) and my peanut-gallery critique of the movie (“Holy cow Marlon Brando was hot but his voice ohmigod HIS VOICE, he looked like Adonis but sounded like Bugs freakin’ Bunny”) was done with, he looked at me and said “It sounds like all the characters in that story are pretty awful people. *brief pause* So, you must’ve really liked it, right?”

I would’ve smacked him on the head for his insolence, but then his roommate distracted us and we dropped that line of conversation. However, I’ve been thinking some more about this issue, and to be fair, my friend has a point. Every time we talk about books, especially books that we think aren’t just Good, but Great Literature, I tend to drag up all these novels with sketchy characters.

See, the two of us have somewhat different criteria as to what constitutes a great book. One of the major elements my friend looks for is sympathetic characters who undergo some type of growth, especially moral development. I’m…hell, I don’t know what I’m looking for, but I know that many of my favorite books (Sacred Hunger, Perfume, Trainspotting, Mosquito Coast and Lolilta, just to name a few) feature characters who aren’t necessarily redeemed or redeemable. Sure, some of them come to a sticky end by the end of the story, thereby satisfying my sense of justice (and my punitive urges), but some of them don’t, and really, I’m not too bothered by it either way. Hell, I like the Flashman novels, and their schtick centers around a protagonist who’s constantly (albeit inadvertently) rewarded for being a complete asshole.

One thing is for sure: people who write about assholes—especially charismatic assholes—have their jobs cut out for them. Yes, assholes are interesting to read about, but the trick is to somehow make the readers care about them and what happens to them—make us root for them, or understand them, or feel sympathy, even, although we don’t want to.

However, there’s one glaring exception to my “don’t need to like the protagonists” attitude: romance novels.

It’s not that I want to be able to identify with the characters, or that I somehow place myself in the love stories. It’s just that in order for me to enjoy a romance novel, in addition to understanding and sympathizing with the hero and heroine, I have to like them. Love them, even. In order for the love story to work for me, I need to root for them, and be emotionally invested in their happiness.

So really, it’s related to the happily-ever-after ending coupled with my sense of justice. I can handle reading about villainous characters who enjoy material pleasures. The bad guy can have lots of money, fame, a high ranking in society, etc. etc., but at the end of the book, he can’t have found true love. I think ultimately, my sense of justice can’t stand the villain being happy; I can accept that wealth, fame and all the rest of it can’t bring happiness, but love actually can.

And that’s why I’m so squeamish about asshole heroes, especially heroes who rape. That’s not to say I don’t like dark heroes. I love heroes who are dark and angsty and on the edge, but they have to be every bit as hard on themselves—if not harder—than they are on the heroines. Laura Kinsale, Anne Stuart, Lisa Kleypas and Loretta Chase have written some wonderful heroes in that mold. (Justin Vallerand from Only With Your Love holds the “fucked-up hero I’d love to boink senseless but whose love would probably scare the shit out of me” spot in my heart.) But heroes who beat and brutalize the heroine, who rape her, who engage in emotionally abusive behaviors (quite a few romance novel heroes seem to follow the classic abuser model quite nicely, really) cross the line from “fucked up and interesting” to “fucked up and should have a restraining order taken out against him.”

It’s also why romance novels with awful heroes enrage me in a way few books can. Dude’s getting rewarded for his brutish behavior! Double you tee eff, mate? It’s not just my sense of aesthetic that’s getting a sound drubbing; my sense of justice is, too.

What about you? Where do you fall in the “must have sympathetic characters” spectrum? And how dark can a hero get before he’s beyond the pale?

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Random Musings

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  1. 1

    As much as I enjoy a good, dark hero now and then, I find them difficult to write.  When I’m thinking about the heroes in my books I always come back to this question: “Would I marry this man?  Would I want him to father and raise my children?”

    Maybe that makes my guys less “alpha” than some readers like, but I like them better.

    One of the things I enjoyed about Linda Howard’s hero in Cry No More was that you saw early on that while he could be a stone killer with the bad guys, he was good with kids, always buckled up in the car, and voted in every election.

    My kind of hero.[g]

  2. 2
    kiku says:

    V for Vendetta – some spoilers.

    I just saw V for Vendetta for the (millionth) time, having been a fan of the graphic novel. V is not exactly a romantic hero – which is probably why I can get behind him even after all he’s done. V is a violent terrorist/brave freedom fighter who is in no way above torturing people for an ideal – a better world. In my brain, I cannot get around that.

    Ev-ah.

    But something in his address, and beliefs, and most especially vocabulary totally gets to me. I love dark heroes (Sin City, Batman, the list goes on) in my literature and movies. Hades in Goddess of Spring by P.C. Cast is a good example – though he definately covers the ‘beats himself up more than he gives her shit about it’ aspect of hero.

    But I actually *date* sweet, lanky, nerdly guys who know more about graphic novels and obscure indie rock bands than me, who will leave me alone to read or knit for a while and go play a video game or write or play music. So the whole dark passion thing doesn’t attract in life.

  3. 3
    Miri says:

    An author needs to provide a ton of back story to explain why the hero is all dark and broody and assholy. Then I can root for him to reveal himself and for the heroine to make it all better. True love conquers all is a big theme with this kind of guy.
    But yes, i’d agree the abuse is the limit. The hero in The Conqueror (as mentioned in the rants section) was in my mind the posterboy for this kind “hero” And the heroine was just pitiful. She’s raped on her wedding night,pregnant by this unbearable shlub, then thrown in the dungeon, while her true love goes and gets his rocks off with her sister (his real wife) who is a masochistic freak show of a woman. Nice, oh I see … while reading this … this … book, I was rooting for heroine to cajole her husband (not the hero)to letting her out of the clink and waddling her preggers butt into the master chamber and murdleizing them both, taking back her castle and booting the French out of her land, having her baby and then congradulating herself on growing a backbone. Alas and very much alack of even the slightest bit of a story I could either relate to or enjoy. I only finished the silly waste of a good tree just to see if any of these things would go down. It was that very book that put me off of romance for a very long time.

  4. 4
    shaunee says:

    I try not to delve into a book with any expectations for my hero or heroine.  Later, if the book sucked because the hero displayed all the signs of a classic abuser, which made the heroine melt, then I scream and throw the book across the room.  But during the initial stages of book browsing, I give the writer the benefit of the doubt and pray that I’ll enjoy the world that she/he has created.

    A quick story:  For a long time the heroine of Jacqueline Carey’s fab fab fab Kushiel’s trilogy turned me off—a courtesan who has been touched by a god to find fulfillment in pain (oversimplified description, but whatever)?  Yuck.  So I avoided the first book, despite the many people telling me over and over how good it was, the incredible reviews, and its NYT bestselling status.  Then one day I had nothing to read and it was summer time so there was NOTHING to watch on La Television, not that there’s anything anyway, unless you love “reality” crap, so I decided “fuck it, I’ll buy the stupid book.” 

    The last line of the first chapter totally hooked me, “when love cast me out, it was cruelty who took pity on me.”  Naturally I ran right out and got the whole trilogy.  (I know there are lots of people who are very whatever about Jacqueline Carey, but, but damn it, I think that bitch can write her ass off.)  I was ready to despise this book based on my expectations of the heroine.

    Therefore, I say as long as the writing is drop dead gorgeous and can support a dark hero/heroine, then bring it.

  5. 5
    Christine says:

    I was captivated the first time I read Jane Eyre, and it’s still one of my longstanding favorites. There were two suitors: Mr. Rochester – a man who was not traditionally attractive, and was cranky and dishonest, and definitely harboring a dark secret – and St. John Rivers- pious, handsome, and forthright man. What was fascinating to me was that the hero was actually the man who would have traditonally been the villain: Mr. Rochester. He was the hero because once he got to know Jane, he became a kind companion who worried about her safety and truly loved her as she was. St. John did not love Jane, and was manipulating her to marry him so that he would have a helper abroad, even though such a thing would endanger Jane’s health. (Mr. Rochester tried to manipulate her into marrying, as well, but out of love.)

    I think the thing is that the dark hero can have a shady past, and do questionable things, but when it comes to the heroine his motives (if not actions) must be based upon love and concern for the heroine, and his treatment of her must reflect that. He may try to trick her, but not into being raped, but into being willingly seduced. And he must know (if not then, but at some future point) that what he does is not quite right.

    However, I think the losing a hand and eye was a bit extreme. Poor Mr. Rochester.

  6. 6
    Cynthia says:

    For me, the dark hero needs to either feel repentant about his wicked past or else he needs to have some justification for what he did and feel conflicted over it. I want him to be asking himself, “Should I have really done this?” Without that, I can’t buy into his ability to truly love the heroine the way that I want him to.

    With that said, a dark hero attracts me because he holds the promise that some of his dark passions will cross over into his relationship with the herione. I anticipate that he’ll be more possessive of her and be much hotter and kinkier in bed than the run-of-the-mill hero.

    I’d love to hear from you guys about your favorite dark hero books. I’ll be sure to add them to my “to buy” list.

  7. 7
    Molly says:

    There’s nothing wrong with a dark hero, or even one who initially treats the heroine badly, but for me what’s missing from a lot of romances is the development of friendship aspect. Instant lust doesn’t replace relationship building. IMHO that’s more important than whether the characters are “good” or “bad”—whether I’m convinced that they’re good for each other.

  8. 8
    Tonda says:

    but for me what’s missing from a lot of romances is the development of friendship aspect

    I think this is why Heyer’s Venetia is still my all-time fav. He’s bad—pretty much always has been—but he’s her friend. And it just melts me every time.

  9. 9
    --E says:

    Francis Crawford of Lymond.

    I have lots of friends who had a hard time with the first book, where Francis is a complete asshole, but I loved him the whole time, because he’s so damn clever. Nothing amuses me more than a character who is mentally running rings around all the other characters.

    At the end of Game of Kings, when it becomes clear that Lymond always has a larger purpose for his assholery, most readers are able to like him thereafter (in the next 5 books), knowing that he may seem assholeish, but that will be explained, and the explanation will be sensible and morally acceptable (a baroque lesser of many evils, but morally acceptable).

  10. 10

    Funny you mentioned this. I’ve just finished reading a book whose main character was extremely dislikeable. I love a good anti-hero – Flashman’s an absolute classic. But this guy was a zombie-raising, conscienceless, serial-killing, psychopathic, wife-abusing, vicious, sprout-eating bastard (for those who recognise the sprout, yes it was Robert Rankin but not one of his better ones). None of this is necessarily problem behaviour for me in a book, but in this instance I found all the characters in this book uniformly unpleasant and hateful and I’ve been trying to figure out why.

    RR’s style can be a bit odd and flat, so you’re never going to get much in the way of in-depth character exploration. Because this book parodied film noir anti-heros, this tendancy was exaggerated. Also, he usually writes about characters who are more cheerfully amoral. In this case, they all lacked any sense of glee. Even worse, they weren’t always aware of their own actions.

    The latter had a lot to do with the plot (spoiler: all about alien beings controlling our minds from afar. Why do sci-fi plots always sound so dumb in brief?) but it’s a real sticking point for me. No awareness meant no explanation or motivation, even one I could reject. So I never managed to engage with the characters, on any level. At the very least I want to have the chance to figure out why. Humbert Humbert is someone I can approach this way. However appalling, what drives him is human emotion and thinking, however twisted. These characters had no humanity.

    What’s striking is that the more I try to work this one out, the more I realise that the whole book works on the level of parody and metaphor. So it’s not about identifying with the characters, but just observing them. If I re-read it, I’d probably find the book more enjoyable, but without any connection into the story, I’ll find it hard going.

    When it comes to romances, I have a deep-seated belief that couples will only stay together happily if they aren’t selfish with one another. Otherwise I don’t believe in them as a couple or their commitment to one another. Instead they’re just two people who live together and have hawt nookie. When total bastard heros treat the heroine like a manky hairball the cat vomited up on the carpet last week, I’m not prepared to believe that the old “traumatic past” excuse is enough. This sort of behaviour can stray over the line into total selfishness. While it can be vicarious fun or even cathartic to read about incredibly selfish behaviour, I’d never believe in it as the foundation for any lasting relationship so it just doesn’t work for me in romance.

    Dark heros are exciting because they’re unknown quantities. The boundaries of their behaviour aren’t fixed. But by the end, the heroine has to be his focus and he has to have true regard for her or else it just ain’t romantic. Leave out the regard, and it’s stalking.

    (Crap. Very long, again. I thought blogging might help with this logorrhea.)

  11. 11
    alau says:

    Theres’s a difference between dark heroes and abusers.  I like dark heroes in my novels, like Batman, but I can’t stand abusers who get their way by intimidating the heroine.  In fact,

    For me, the dark hero needs to either feel repentant about his wicked past or else he needs to have some justification for what he did and feel conflicted over it. I want him to be asking himself, “Should I have really done this?” Without that, I can’t buy into his ability to truly love the heroine the way that I want him to.

    I totally agree with this.  In fact a dark hero who doesn’t do this just kills the whole book for me, because usually it requires a heroine who will put up with the hero’s bs. Then I just end up getting annoyed at the heroine at being such a prissy wimp.  There’s nothing I can’t stand more than weak wispy heroines, and when I don’t like any of the protagonists, well I’ll just stop reading

  12. 12
    Jami says:

    I’m with Darlene – I love reading a dark hero, but I have a hard time writing them.  I try to write big, tough guys, but I worry sometimes that they are too easily brought down by Lurve.  Plus, I’m kind of sick of the “I was raised in foster homes, beaten by alcoholics, sold by my mommy so she could buy crack” heroes who are suddenly all well adjusted and great parent material.  That, for me, takes a great suspension of disbelief, and I tend to give my heroes relatively normal, emotionally healthy upbringings.

    That being said, my tolerance and love for asshole heroes runs very deep.  Case in point – one of my favorite books, one I read over and over when it came out in the mid eighties (and I was all of 14) was Stormfire by Christine Monson.  It starts with the hero kidnapping the heroine, the daughter of his enemy.  He proceeds to Napoli her with such brutality that the maid comments that it looks like he went after her with a stave.  Then he wipes up the blood and lurve juice and sends the rag to her father.  Then they fall in love a little bit.  Then he gets pissed at her again and cuts off her hair to mark her as a traitor and gives her to his men to gang rape. (she’s saved before they succeed.  Otherwise that might have pushed him over the edge for me.)  Then he imprisons her, causing her to miscarry and go batshit crazy from despair. This brings him back to his senses and he realized he loves her. When she regains her sanity, she’s so overwhelmed by his tender care and his bringing her back to herself that she forgives him.  But the hero doesn’t get off scott free – he does have a testicle cut off at some point by one of his enemies.

    Like I said, this was one of my favorites (and I remember all of this about the book, nearly 20 years later!).  But I wouldn’t today. However, I do still have a soft spot for the guy who can do and say very cruel things to the heroine and others(all properly motivated, of course!) and then begs forgiveness and totally redeems himself later. But these days I pretty much draw the line at physical abuse.  Even the forced rape in Whitney My Love, another big fave, makes me cringe now.

  13. 13
    Keziah Hill says:

    I was only thinking last night about Lolita and why it is such a great book, particularly since Nabokov wrote it in English which was his second language. Playboy recetly included in among their 25 Sexiest books
    http://www.playboy.com/features/features/25novels/
    which is remarkable since it’s about a paedophile who’s a monster. But it is sexy. But I digress…

    Like others I think the dark hero has to go through a process of redemption. If he doesn’t, the logic of the relationship between the hero and heroine doesn’t work.

  14. 14
    Candy says:

    EAP: Have you SEEN the length of some of my comments on this blog? Trust me, blogging doesn’t help with logorrhea.

    That said, I think you’ve pinpointed something that’s crucial to my enjoyment of asshole protagonists in literature: the importance of some sort of understandable motivation. Whether it’s physiological addiction, psychological pathology, or his daddy touched his pee-pee when he was a young ‘un, I would like to see WHY the asshole is an asshole, and not just HOW.

    Also, the rest of you who noted that the redemption and remose of the asshole hero are essential elements make an excellent point, because that’s important for me, too. The asshole romance novel hero has to at some point realize he’s been an asshole, and he needs to grovel. The worse he’s hurt the heroine, the worse he has to feel and suffer. I’m kind of sadistic that way.

  15. 15
    Meljean says:

    The friendship aspect goes a long way toward helping me like a hero, even if he’s dark and totally effed up. If, at the end of the book, he’s still just as likely to kill a puppy—but he absolutely loves the heroine and I can see the friendship between them—I can handle it.

    Well, that and by the end, he probably wouldn’t kill the puppy because it would make the heroine unhappy.

    As for knowing why—part of me does want to see it (without the description of his birth and early years, Perfume would never have worked for me…but as it is, I love that book) but I also hate it when it’s used as an excuse: my whore mother cheated on my father so I will treat you like a whore! I think I actually have to see the scene from the character’s history for it to work for me, too (LORD OF SCOUNDRELS would never have worked for me if Dain’s early years hadn’t been included, or if he’d just referenced them later).

  16. 16
    sleeky says:

    “Justin Vallerand from Only With Your Love holds the “fucked-up hero I’d love to boink senseless but whose love would probably scare the shit out of me” spot in my heart”

    Spike. Spike Spike Spike Spike Spike. Spike. (sigh….)

  17. 17
    Zoe Archer says:

    As a reader, it troubled me when I could not find a reason why the hero and heroine should love each other.  There was always the inevitable excess of blood to the nether regions, but would that sustain the HEA once the book has been closed?  It never seemed to be the case.  I suppose I’ve always been a beta lover (though, perhaps, in alpha packaging), both in what I read, what I write, and what I live. 

    When I read some contemporary novels that feature a hero who’s some form of trained killer, (be he a SEAL, a member of an elite black ops fighting team, or some other variant), I understand the primitive desire for and allure of a man who can protect his woman, yet I can’t help but wonder if, some time down the road, I wouldn’t find a piece in the paper about a murder-suicide.  For me, ultra-alphas can be a bit frightening, and not necessarily in a contained fantasy kind of way. 

    Similarly, I avoid heroes, particularly those in historicals, who nurse an old grudge and completely out-Byron Byron when it comes to the darkness and the brooding and the what have you.  I like emotionally mature heroes who can, to a certain extent, heal themselves.  Obviously, the heroine must play some role in his character arc and growth, but a guy who sleeps with married women, debases virgins, sneers and gambles and generally acts like a crotch because of some withholding parent, then I says to him, I says, “Grow up, asshat.”  If *I* don’t want to be with a man like that, why should the heroine?

    For me, it’s essential to show the whys and wherefores of a relationship, and that means establishing connection beyond the siren call of genitalia.  When a hero is excessively assholish, regardless of the circumstances which produced said asshole, it becomes difficult for me to feel much joy in the union.

  18. 18
    Valerie says:

    The beauty of reading about the dark hero is this: You can enjoy the bad boy for a couple of hours and then put his ass back on the shelf. He is’t there in real life to smother you with his assholish ways

  19. 19
    Doug Hoffman says:

    I’m thinking of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. She made us root for a sociopath! That was quite the feat.

  20. 20
    Tam says:

    What I mind is when the hero goes out of his way to deliberately humiliate the heroine.  I stopped reading Catherine Coulter because I couldn’t stand those ghastly loss-of-virginity scenes where he plunders her raw and bleeding flesh etc etc, and worse, the spanking of the naughty, naughty girl which followed.  And don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the Kushiel’s Dart series… but there’s just something about the way Coulter’s heroes spank their women.  They break them in in every sense of the word, and it makes for an unpleasant read.

  21. 21
    Bella says:

    gotta tell ya, i love the anti-hero. i root for Snape, for Spike, for Mr. Rochester, and many more. he can be rude, mean, snarly, broody, tortured, even evil. But. i draw the line when he’s physically or psychologically abusive to the heroine.

    it may a fine line between villan and anti-hero, but when an author crosses it, we know. gnashing of teeth, eye rolling, shouts of “stupid bitch!” and “oh, for god’s sake” follow closely behind.

  22. 22
    LFL says:

    Spike did try to rape Buffy at one point, though I thought it was a cheesy plot contrivance to make him get a soul, and not something his character would really do.

    In a choice between Spike and Justin Vallerand, much as I love Justin, I have to go with Spike.  Spike Spike Spike.

  23. 23
    LFL says:

    I’m going to be controversial here and say that I don’t draw the line even at abusiveness.  Yes. 

    My favorite hero in the romance genre is Sebsastian Verlaine from Patricia Gaffney’s To Have and to Hold, and I would certainly call his behavior in the first half of the book abusive.  The reason I love him is that Gaffney does such a brilliant job of portraying Sebastian’s internal struggle, between doing the right thing and keeping his selfish, decadent life.  Rachel is a kind of test he gives to himself, but I think the reason he’s drawn to her from the beginning is that her numbness mirrors his own, and that he can’t stand to see her sent back to prison, though he won’t admit that to himself.

    Gaffney pulls Sebastian off because he admits his wrongdoing and doesn’t make excuses for himself, and also because, in the second half of the book, he changes drastically yet convincingly, and does so much to help Rachel heal from the wounds of her past.

    And what about Adrian de Lancey from Mary Jo Putney’s Uncommon Vows?  I’m bringing him up partly to question your statement, Candy, since I know you love Adrian too, but I think that his behavior could be called abusive as well, though probably not quite to the same degree as Sebastian’s.  As much as I loved Adrian for the internal struggle he was having with his conscience (again, one of the big reasons that the character works for me), I completely understood why Meriel was so resistant to his offer to make her his mistress and later to his marriage proposal.  As with Sebastian, it’s Adrian’s behavior in the second half of the book that makes me believe he would never harm a hair on Meriel’s head again.

    Another reason these books are successful for me is that the heroes really meet their match in the heroines, who don’t fall in love with them despite their abusiveness.

    It’s really a matter of the author’s degree of skill and of how well she balances a variety of elements, but especially of how well she layers the characters and gives them sufficient depth. .I don’t rule anything out.

    I also think that morally ambiguous characters can make for a really rich reading experience for me because they allow me to explore my own values, and also because if they are convincingly redeemed, the books they appear in can make believe in my own ability to change and grow.

  24. 24
    Watercolorz says:

    “Dark heros are exciting because they’re unknown quantities. The boundaries of their behaviour aren’t fixed.”-EvilAuntiePeril

    My love of dark heroes started with comic books.

    Superman, well on Krypton he was just the boy next door, average Joe type; he only became “super” when he came to earth. His disguise, that of a mortal nerd, which is pretty arrogant if you think about it.

    For some reason with Superman I imagine jackrabbit sex at “super” speed and I, right or wrong, equate big muscles with small dicks…that is the yuck combo of deal breakers! I always liked Lex Luther better anyway, he’s got that bald, hot evil-guy thing going and much better dialogue.

    Cute, poor, shy and awkward Peter Parker. Okay, he becomes glib-and-sexy-in-a-quirky-kind-of-way, Spiderman.  But do you really want to bend it over and back it up for a guy in blue and red tights?

    I’ll admit the upside down kiss was sexy and I suppose there are all those neat positions he could get into, so while he has his merits, Spidy doesn’t make you breathless (in a non-aerobic way) or wet.

    Aquaman… gay. I mean REALLY gay.

    Wolverine… want to risk foreplay with that guy? When I look at him he’s got that ferral thing going… nice, and he’s played by Hugh Jackman… really nice… But how does he keep his nails clean?

    But Batman, now for me was ALWAYS the ultimate dark fantasy guy… rich and crazy. They didn’t call him the Dark Knight for nothing, he is the man that makes you defy convention and common sense.

    While I may wonder what kind of father/husband Superman or Spiderman might make, with Batman my only initial thought is getting fcuked really hard and really well.

    Isn’t that at the heart of what alpha romantic heroes are, a man with unlimited resources and plenty of issues, throw in good looks, not too pretty though and you got all the ladies taking off their undies.

    There is something undeniable about brooding, masculine energy that is so decidedly sexual. I think it is so different from what we experience as women, it becomes compelling and attractive. It is the thing that responds to something primitive within yourself. You are drawn in and “forced” to submitt to the role of “woman”… now that’s HOT!!!

    You always have to wait for the backstory, and that is where you will find what makes the man complex and gives him humanity. That’s when you fall in love.

    It’s not about violence or abuse, but it is about walking that line until you get to love. ~W

  25. 25
    Candy says:

    Hey LFL,

    Hell yeah I love both Sebastian Verlaine and Adrian de Lancey. I’ll even throw in Devon, the hero of The Windflower. However, I think they also fall under the “are as hard—if not harder—on themselves as the heroines” category. Yes, they mis-treat the heroine, but they work, and work well, precisely because of all the reasons you state. Most importantly, none of them cross the line into hitting or raping the heroine, which tends to be my cut-off line. Though I might be equivocating between “forced seduction” and “rape,” since many people point out that the differences are tenuous and that forced seduction is a fictional construct.

  26. 26
    Laura V says:

    >There is something undeniable about brooding, masculine energy that is so decidedly sexual. I think it is so different from what we experience as women, it becomes compelling and attractive. It is the thing that responds to something primitive within yourself. You are drawn in and “forced” to submitt to the role of “woman”… now that’s HOT!!!<

    I think the female equivalent is a ‘femme fatale’ or vamp. She’s emotionally distant, possibly very sexually experienced, she can have sex and not get involved, she can suddenly and arbitrarily break off the relationship, she’s no doubt got lots of issues, she’s a challenge, she’s brooding (‘I want to be alone!’). And clearly she’s hard to resist. There are sometimes romance heroines like this, though for it to be a romance she has to not be fatal to the hero, obviously, and she has to stop brooding.

  27. 27
    Heather says:

    I’m with Watercolorz.  Bats has always been my favorite, too.  Superman always seemed (please don’t kill me for this) a bit wimpy.  I say this because, unless under the influence of red kryptonite, the man is always so darned “good”.  That gets a little old. 

    Batman, on the other hand, only likes about ten people in the entire world.  He respects others, but likes them?  No.  He doesn’t even try to hide it and treats pretty much everyone with the same level of disdain.  Any superhero fantasies I ever have feature him.

    I have to admit that Wolverine would be my next choice, followed by Gambit.  Gotta love the crooked gambler who reluctantly plays it straight…sorta. 

    Spidey just annoys me.  Go after MaryJane already and stop whining!

    LOL.  I had actually wanted to post about a dark “hero” I hated.  I’m with you guys who like them.  And whoever mentioned the bit about putting them back on the shelf after we’re done.  If you liked the 80’s sort where the so-called hero treats the lady like rotten meat and she begs for more, read “Tender is the Knight”, by Jackie Ivie.  I finished it only because it was like a train wreck.  I had to see how it ended and if the heroine would (please, please, please) tell the “hero” to take a long walk off a short pier when he finally forgives her and such for making him feel bad and ride off into the sunset with the hero’s best pal – who actually was nice to her.

    Unfortunately, she didn’t.

    Incidentally, the whole story takes place in 1876 and the hero is a highland laird, not a knight.  The publishing company really dropped the ball on tha title.

  28. 28
    Letitia LeStrange says:

    I’m going to have to go with Wolverine. He can get all feral on me anytime. Besides, he would protect the kids at any cost and that gives him extra points in my book.
    I can’t get behind the physical/emotional abusive type though. Its just too difficult for me to get around it, so how can our intrepid heroine?

  29. 29
    Watercolorz says:

    I say this because, unless under the influence of red kryptonite, the man is always so darned “good”.-Heather

    Geek check and jinx… I was sooo going to write about the red kryptonite but I thought it would expose me for the comic book nerd that I am.

    I wonder if for girls we morph into romance in all its various sub-genre because we still want too swoon over that first crush superhero.

    I think the female equivalent is a ‘femme fatale’ or vamp. -Laura V

    I’m glad you brought this up, because I am also noir fan and I love vamps. I have often wondered why the male version is the dark hero and the female version the tragic villain.

    It takes a lot more than redemption to make her into a heroine. It seems as if the character is to assume the heroine role she must become something other than a vamp, no longer allowed to enjoy and indulge that side of her personality.

    I can’t get behind the physical/emotional abusive type though. Its just too difficult for me to get around it, so how can our intrepid heroine?
    -Letitia LeStrange

    I agree… I think that there is a perception that women who are attracted to a traditional alpha male deserve to be punished. Well I should say that is the vibe that I get when I read certain authors.

    It seems as if the author is sneering, and contemptuous of the alpha male fantasy. Rape and torture, then love… sounds more like Stockholm syndrome to me.

    Like LFL and Bella I am a fellow Buffy fan.

    Now let me just put this out there… I HATED Angel.

    Why… because he was only “nice” as the result of the curse. He was an asshole before he was immortalized and it seemed that given his druthers he preferred being a jerk. He was abusive and cruel, for no other reason than it amused him and he could be.

    Contrast that with Spike. Sure he has killed slayers before and fought Buffy with every intention to destroy her, but that was business. Spike showed humanity on numerous occasion without his soul… one of my favorites was stopping Drew and Angel from destroying the world because would miss football and those brilliant blooming onion things…

    Now that’s HOT! ~W

  30. 30
    Heather says:

    If superheroes are your thing, try Julie Kenner’s Aphrodite series.  There are no real broody alpha dudes, but they’re certainly funny.

    I haven’t really seen any other superhero-based books.  Anybody else know any?

    I think the funniest part about our “love” of the alpha male is the choice we actually make in our real-life mates.  I love my alphas but if any of my boyfriends ever treated me like some of them that I’ve read treat their ladies, I’d be filing for a PFA!  (Although, I still would go for Batman/Bruce any day!)

    Some of the erotica/romantica I’ve read take it a bit far.  They tend to be the books I never reread unless there is one hell of a good reason for his behavior.  And, like all of you said, he had better really redeem himself in the end.  Groveling, flowers everyday for the rest of her life, puts his socks in the hamper religiously, does the dishes, etc.

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