Marc Alan Fishman: Babyface, Heel, or Tweener?
In the pro-wrestling world, you are either a babyface, a heel, or a tweener. If you’re not down with the lingo and you’re suck at contextual clues: babyfaces are the heroes, heels are the villains, and tweeners straddle the line between the two. It’s always clearcut amongst the older generations that the lines between good and evil should be black and white.
In the golden era of comic books (and wrestling, while we’re at it), good guys were lantern-jawed and stood for the righteous. Villains sported crooked smiles, and completed acts of tyranny for no more purpose than the love of chaos. But with the modern era came the shades of grey. Personally, I live for those shades.
My favorite wrestler is CM Punk, a tumultuous canvas of ashen tones, made into a grappler. In his infamous pipe bomb promo (feel free to watch the entire brilliant tirade if you have an hour to kill here) Punk crossed the line between his then heel persona by breaking the fourth wall harder then it’d ever been broken before in the WWE. Through a scathing set of brutally honest speeches, the WWE Universe (the fans) soon learned that the straight edge superstar was more than a set of catchphrases and lack-of-merchandise. Amidst a hot crowd of vicious booing, Punk made his point: he wasn’t an out-and-out heel, he was a human being capable of good and bad. Eventually Punk got everything he wanted, including becoming a bonafide tweener where even if he completed acts of depravity, it was accepted as being a part of a bigger whole. It’s a theme that occurs elsewhere outside the squared circle.
The Punisher, Wolverine, Venom, dare I even say GrimJack, et al… the venerable anti-heroes. Good guys that do bad things, and we love them for it. They cross the line where Batman, Superman, or Professor X grit their teeth and shake their heads. As an audience, we respect, and even love that those heroes are forced to make the hard choices. But the devils that sit on our shoulders whisper sweet nothings to us – we want to see the villains pay the ultimate price. We want to see that the means justify the ends. We need to see that villains can’t always get away with murder, rape, and the like. And yes, we love it when those good men do bad things, because wish fulfillment is a vice we can all enjoy. Ask every Tarantino character immortalized in celluloid.
Most recently I’ve found a love for NBC’s Hannibal, which seeks heavily to relish in the subtle pathways between the light and dark sides of man. Dr. Lecter is a monster – a veritable Satan if ever there was one – but in his defense, he tends to only eat the rude. Humorous perhaps, but we as the audience are made to feel a wisp of compassion every now and again for the man-monster that Hannibal is. Much like Bret Easton Ellis makes us root for sociopathic serial killer in American Psycho. Never before had I read a novel where I’m rooting for a man to feed an ATM a kitten before. But there, Ellis shaped the world as such to make me see that beyond the pure chaos that Patrick Bateman represented, was a man living as a metaphor for the facade that existed in the go-go eighties. Can’t get that reservation at Dorsia? Well, that’d drive you to murder too, when you know that missing that squid-ink carpaccio is akin to you just being a failure in everything at life! Get my meaning?
And let’s get a little spoilery, if we can, eh? Seen Days of Future Past yet? If not, skip down a paragraph. For the rest of you, what did you think? I thought “Wow! They really played up the notion that these were actual human beings capable of an array of emotions!” Now I know that’s a bit of a complicated thought coming from a movie that was mostly made as an apology for The Last Stand, but I digress. Of all the things that made the movie enjoyable to me, was the fact that characters like Professor Xavier, Raven, and Eric Lehnsherr were allowed to respond from a place of emotion and thought, rather than because of a plot dictating them to do what’s right or wrong. In one of the best set pieces of the film (barring the whole Quicksilver sequence which was just fun as all get-out) came when Magneto decided that he was done being a pawn in a greater plan. With Bolivar Trask not murdered, the future was in flux, and Magneto, freed of his concrete and plastic prison stole a baseball stadium, rewired the Sentinels, and attempted to stage a bit of a coup. And when he lost? His best friend didn’t do the right thing; he let him go because he still cared for his troubled friend.
Therein lay the heart of my love for the tweening of fiction. When authors (me included) allow characters to be more than the sum of the plot and story beats, the audience is better for it. While there is a time and a place for white and black, I implore you to look beyond the simple. Complexity breeds intelligence. Intelligence allows for a deeper enjoyment of a piece of art. It’s sure fun when Al, Kung Fu Monkey Master of the Samurnauts clocks the evil pirate Blackstar with his bo-staff because it’s clear he’s the good guy… it’s a nice beat. But the true fans will enjoy the moment further because they know that when Al makes the critical strike, it’s make because of the torturous acts Blackstar used on former Samurnauts in the name of chaos. The blow is beyond justified – it is struck with anger, hatred, and desire for pain. Those shades of grey elevate what would be good defeating evil, into a personal vendetta.
At the end of the day, aren’t we all better people when the world is depicted in three dimensions?