Tuesday, June 10, 2014

My Top 5 Favourite Superheroes of All-Time (and definitely not just from the last few months)

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, this is the big one. As you well know I'm something of a connoisseur for the tales of those who wear capes in the never-ending pursuit for truth and justice. Over the course of the four years I've written for this blog (remember - I started this back when blogs were still a thing that people cared about), throughout the drastic fluctuations of quality and writing style, I think my love of superheroes has remained consistent. I now feel qualified to present the cream of the crop, the very best superheroes in comics, television or film I've encountered in my days as an armchair critic. 

Please note that this list is in no way influenced by the fact that I have spent the last three months watching the entirety of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel".

5. Spike from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

In at number 5 is Spike from the TV show 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. Some might find this an odd choice as he probably wouldn't be the first person you'd think of when you think of a superhero, in fact he spends roughly half the series as a villain. But he does eventually become a heroic character and a fan of spicy chicken wings and teen soaps. I think he deserves a place on this list.

4. Spike from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

At number 4 is William Pratt, or 'William the Bloody' best known as Spike from the action/adventure series 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' that ran from 1997-2003. Spike isn't your typical superhero, but he is visually very distinctive, rarely seen without his appropriately ill-fitting leather duster.

3. Batman.

At number 3 is Batman, best known for once knocking out a Green Lantern with one punch, and drilling a guy into a wall in twenty seconds.

2. Spike from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

I know it's probably unusual to see Spike rate so highly on a list like this, especially when he didn't even originate from a comic, but he is undoubtedly a hero, having helped save the world on a variety of occasions, including one very significant one. In many ways, he's a stronger character than Wolverine who spends a lot of time brooding about his dark past despite not really having a lot to be sorry for. In the case of Spike, we actually learn of his nightmarish acts of evil spanning the course of an entire century and we see the cause of and the result of his road to redemption. In one of the most ridiculously badass moments in the series, Spike fights a demon with flaming fists so that he can get his soul back. Explain to me how this isn't the coolest thing you've ever heard.

1. Spike from 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'

Pretty much every time I watch an action/adventure genre show, I find myself saying “I wish they’d explore this character more,” or “I wish they’d develop this plot point more,” or “I wish these two things would cross over with each other,” – almost every time across the entire series of 'Buffy: The Vampire Slayer', it satisfied these idle requests…there was a period during the third season akin to a kind of pure televisual joy I’ve rarely experienced before. They just do everything you want, and so much more. “The Zeppo” and “The Wish” are two of the best episodes of the series in exploring amazing ‘What If?’ scenarios usually reserved for abstract feelings of missed opportunity at best, or fanfiction at worst. It's not just a great action/adventure show, it's oddly a great examination of adolescence and how no matter how bad things seem - ultimately life will always throw something more annoying at you, whether it's a mystical demon or having to get a part-time job at a fast-food restaurant. It is the best superhero show ever (I would say with great certainty and no fears of exaggeration that it is a million times better than 'Arrow', a series on the same American network, using a very similar formula).

I mean, in terms of the overall quality of the production, the acting, the writing and the general artistic merit of the programme - it's by no means better than the likes of say Breaking Bad or The Wire, but there are more than a number of times throughout the series where I find myself wondering if it isn't at least as good.

Few elements introduced in the show were more successful than the development of Spike. Even during the occasional migrations into mediocrity that the series suffered in the final season, Spike saved the day by being one of the most interesting characters I've ever encountered in fiction. It's worth prefacing that I knew going into the series how Spike progressed from villainy to heroism and I was convinced that it would be off-putting and maudlin - there was no way I'd ever fully buy Spike as a good guy, let alone root for a romance between him and Buffy. I was convinced it would come across as forced - a product of executive tampering for the sake of shipping fan-favourite characters together. Nope.

Buffy and Angel didn't ask to be heroes - they were chosen and had to learn to embrace the destinies they were given. Spike, starts out as pure evil, a boyish vampire who rolls into town one day and kills Buffy's greatest enemy, purely because 'the annoying one' (as he so affectionately puts it) is trying to bring about some dreadful prophecy of doom rooted in ancient rites and scrolls and destinies - whereas Spike just wants to have fun killing people - he's not terribly unlike the Joker in this sense. Pure chaos personified. The scene where he kills The Anointed One is very similar to a later scene in The Dark Knight when the Joker rolls in to the gang meeting and kills one of them with his ‘magic trick’. He doesn’t care about structures or prophecies or The Done Thing – he just wants to enjoy himself.

This puts Spike at odds with Angelus, Angel’s evil alter-ego who causes havoc throughout Season Two – Angelus is aaall about traditions and scriptures and prophecies, and tries to bring about the Apocalypse, much to Spike’s dismay. Here the unthinkable happens, when Spike teams up with Buffy for the first time - it's an uneasy alliance and the two can't wait to be rid of each other. Buffy even states quite firmly that she hates him.

Because of a series of unfortunate events, Spike finds himself reluctantly becoming the castrated comic relief when in Season Four, he is suddenly unable to hurt humans. Much to his chagrin he joins with the heroes building up an uneasy rapport with them and Buffy, whose company he can't stand, whose very presence fills him with disgust and dread and who he can't bear to be around until suddenly he realises that in fact he can't bear to be away from her. From this initial puppy love, Spike evolves into more of an anti-hero - still dreaming of the dread and destruction he once relished in, but yearning for the everlasting company of his beloved. The problem is that Spike is still ultimately an evil being, unwilling and incapable to understand a world that doesn't revolve around him and his wishes. A fact which Buffy frequently has to remind him - as much as he may think otherwise, is that he is truly incapable of love - at least the mutually fulfilling, caring, human love Buffy is referring to. When Spike's attempts finally well and truly backfire after he attempts to rape Buffy (a very difficult moment to watch), he appears defeated and seemingly places his focus on returning to his wicked ways - he visits a demon in Brazil who promises to "restore him to what he once was" (we assume the demon is going to somehow remove Spike's inhibitor chip). Spike endures a series of hellish trials, barely escaping with his life when we learn the true purpose of his quest - to restore his soul - to be the better kind of man that Buffy deserves.

His road to redemption isn't easy and his fractured mind is taunted and manipulated by The First Evil. But Spike's determination proves indomitable to the point where Buffy assures him that he has become the better man he has sought to be. In my favourite moment of the entire series, The First (posing as Spike's ex Drusilla) asks of him:

"And what makes you think you have a choice? What makes you think you'll be any good at all in this world?"

"She does. Because she believes in me."

He’s basically facing pure evil in the eye and saying 'No'. The series makes one of its boldest statements here, that even pure chaotic evil can be tamed, controlled and mastered if love should demand it. Unlike the star-crossed dynamic of Buffy and Angel, the relationship of Spike and Buffy is much more akin to real relationships - they don't make you content or bubbly or even necessarily happy all of the time and they can even be destructive and damaging, but they fill you with a drive, a confidence, a determination to be a better person - the person you want to be (even if the relationship itself might not be that great an idea in the long-run). Because it's not just some abstract notion of ambition anymore - it's a tangible, real concept that someone else believes in too. Like Buffy, Willow and even Xander – Spike proves that friendship and love will help you become the person you want to be. It sounds cheesy and maudlin and suffocating, but it works. Even if you have to drag yourself through the mud of your past evils and come face to face with all of the horrible, lazy, stupid things you used to do - you can be a better person. You can find your soul and save the world.

He's a good character and I feel he deserves a place on this list.

1 comment:

  1. I agree 100% with this, Spike all the way! He definitely didn't think he would ever be a hero, but his love drove him to be that hero that he created himself to be. His relationship with Buffy, to me was full of passion and obsession (every girl's dream), was actually damaging to the both of them since they couldn't give each other what they wanted. At the end of the day Spike was a good guy and definitely the hero every person needs in their life.