Anti-Heroes. They're cool, and people seem to like them, but they are by no means meant to be idolized. That's what makes them "anti". You're free to like watching Henry Hill or Walter White or Rick Sanchez as much as you like, but you definitely shouldn't want to be anything like them in real life. And if you meet anybody who models themselves after anyone on this list, holy crap, run the other way as fast as possible.
10. Redmond (Conrad Paulson)
(Thief of Thieves, Image Comics)
I really like heist stories. Professional thieves getting one over on the world is kind of a favorite story-type for me. And so, when Thief of Thieves came around, I was more than excited for it.
Conrad Paulson was master thief Redmond, a criminal who avoided capture time and time again without incident. Until one day he gave it all up. Just walked away. And after that, he tried to keep his nose out of the business of crime.
But what could drag him back in? What could cause the best criminal of all time to relapse? His greed? His hubris? His family?
Thief of Thieves is damn good, owing mostly to the creative team. Robert Kirkman co-wrote the first three arcs with all-time great writers that included Nick Spencer, James Asmus, and Andy Diggle. Then he handed the book off to Diggle as sole writer.
On the other hand, artist Shawn Martinbrough has remained consistent. And consistently amazing.
9. Vigilante (Adrian Chase)
(Vigilante, DC Comics)
Adrian Chase was a hotshot DA who always got his man. He believed in the system. And then the system failed him, and his family was killed.
He decided that maybe the system wasn't the only way to solve things. Maybe he could solve things by dressing up in a costume and shooting bad guys.
Chase is one of my favorite lesser-known anti-heroes, because his activities really took a toll on him. His declining mental health is a huge part of his stories, and if you're into dark and gritty comic booking, you should seek out these comics. They just reprinted them recently in a nice big trade. Also, I love that costume. It's really good.
It's rare to see a character have a long term arc and (MAJOR SPOILERS PLEASE STOP READING IF YOU INTEND TO GO PICK UP THOSE OLD VIGILANTE ISSUES) a seemingly permanent death. But Adrian Chase has both. Good for him.
(Deadpool, Marvel Comics)
I like Deadpool. Not all the time, no, and I get why people don't like him.
I mean, he is deeply and profoundly over-exposed. If you lined up every Deadpool comic from this century alone, you could build a ladder to the moon, for Christ sakes. But Wade Wilson is a solid anti-hero.
He can be funny and fun and heroic, or he can be a murderous psycho, depending on your writer or plot. If you're looking for good Deadpool comics, and seek to understand why people like the character so much, here are two primers for you. One is the Joe Kelly/Ed McGuinness run, which is character-defining. Completely reinvented Deadpool from the ground up, that run. The issue where they reimagine Deadpool into Amazing Spider-Man #47 is a personal favorite.
The second run is Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn's take on the character, which is incredibly hilarious and heartfelt, and has some pitch perfect arcs and issues. The first arc involves zombie Teddy Roosevelt. How much better can you get?
7. Agent Venom (Flash Thompson)
(Venom, Secret Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy)
Most Venoms are not what you'd consider anti-heroes. They’re straight villains. But Flash Thompson was an exception.
Eugene Thompson earned the name Flash with his athletic prowess. Beaten by his father, Flash turned his anger on his classmates, particularly the nerdy Peter Parker. But Flash also greatly looked up to his hero: The Amazing Spider-Man. By the time they both entered college, Flash had matured, and he and Peter had become friends.
Desiring to be able to help people like his hero Spider-Man, Flash enlisted in the U.S. Military, and served one tour of duty. He turned to alcohol before cleaning up and getting his life back together. He reenlisted, serving another tour of duty in Iraq, during which he lost both his legs in combat. On the homefront, he was chosen to be the new host of the military-captured Venom symbiote, and used it for 48 hours at a time to fight for truth and justice as Agent Venom.
Flash fought with the Secret Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy before he was separated from the symbiote. But while they were bonded, Flash was a hero, through and through.
6. Dylan Cross
(Kill or be Killed, Image Comics)
I have talked about Kill or be Killed a lot. I mean, A LOT. It must be really, really good or something.
Ed Brubaker. Sean Phillips. What more do I have to say? What's that? I apparently have to say more than literally just that? Fiiiiine.
Dylan Cross wanted to kill himself. He wanted to, right up until the moment he stepped off the roof. And then he wanted to live. When he survived, it looked like a miracle from God. But it turned out that it had its origin a little more southward. So when a demon showed up and gave him an ultimatum, it was a less-than-welcome surprise. That ultimatum? Dylan had to kill one person for every month he wanted to stay alive. Fail to kill at least one person a month, and he’d drop dead himself.
But Dylan wasn't a monster. Well, not yet. So he decided to only kill people who deserved it. But at a certain point, was he doing it to survive? Or because he wanted to?
5. John Constantine
Constantine was a classic magical trickster. Like Loki (the Norse one, not the Marvel Comics one), he bounced around, getting in and out of scrapes with a smirk on his face.
But he was also a dude (or bloke, if you'd prefer) who sold his soul to the devil three times over to get his lung cancer cured. And then, after having lung cancer and curing it, he continued smoking. I mean, that's someone with so little care for his well-being that it comes right around to being badass. That's called the "#Stabbed" theory, by the way. John was not your typical comic book protagonist.
He was a jerk, a smoker, a drinker, bi, and angry, but there's one thing he has in common with your typical costume clad super: He's very bad at keeping his friends alive. John suffers tragedy after tragedy, and hardship after hardship. In the end, that made him a deeply enduring protagonist.
Well, that, and Alan Moore and Garth Ennis both wrote him. That probably helped, too.
(Watchmen, DC Comics)
I almost left Rorschach off this list. I really considered it. But that wouldn't have been fair to the character. I wasn't leaving Rorschach off because of the character, I was leaving it off because of the fanbase.
Rorschach was an excellent anti-hero, but a terrible superhero. He wasn’t meant to be idolized or looked up to. He was meant to be, in order, funny for the first third of Watchmen, scary for the second third, and sad for the final act. And THAT was what made him a great character.
He was designed to at first appear cool and badass. But like a Rorschach test itself, Moore showed you another angle to the picture, and changed how you see it. He showed you Walter Kovacs, the sad broken man who got by through dealing out violence. He showed you what made him that way, and you pitied him. Rorschach didn't go out like a cool guy, he died like a sad man who couldn't fit into the world anymore and begged to be taken out of it, lest he do something to break it.
It's sad and good, and that's why Rorschach is great.
3. Ghost Rider (Danny Ketch)
(Ghost Rider, Marvel Comics)
Look, all of the Ghost Riders were technically anti-heroes, but picking all of them would be cheating, so I'm settling on the most ’90s anti-hero of them all: Danny Ketch.
One night in Brooklyn, Daniel and his sister Barbara ran into Deathwatch and his gang of crime ninjas. Hiding in a junkyard, Danny noticed that a nearby motorcycle had started to glow. The glow was emanating from the gas cap, and when Danny touched it, he was transformed into the brand new Ghost Rider. He fought off Deathwatch, but his sister was left comatose for the trouble.
Danny would go on to be a main addition to the Marvel Universe, serving on the New Fantastic Four, cameo-ing in Marvels, and even partnering with Captain America to fight The Scarecrow. No, the other one.
Danny has sadly been knocked out of favor since his Rider days, with the also really great Robbie Reyes as the new "new" Ghost Rider and Johnny Blaze as Ghost Rider Classic. Where's that Ketch love, you guys?
2. Tommy Monaghan
(Hitman, DC Comics)
For me, Tommy Monaghan is an all-time top ten favorite DC character.
He was funny, he had heart, he was written by Garth friggin' Ennis. What's not to love? Tommy was a Gulf War Veteran living in The Cauldron, the only neighborhood in Gotham so bad that not even Batman bothers to go there. He served out his days doing jobs as a hitman for whoever would foot the bill.
But on one occasion, he ran into an alien parasite named Glonth, who bit into his spine and drank from him like a silly straw. Afterward, Tommy woke up with superpowers. He had limited telepathy and x-ray vision. In his subsequent solo series, Tommy used the powers almost never. He mostly just shot people. He was pretty good at that.
Hitman the comic was a dark comic masterpiece. To be honest, you could eliminate the words “dark” and “comic” from that previous sentiment, and it would still be true.
1. The Punisher
(Punisher, Marvel Comics)
I mean, yeah, duh. Like, who else was I gonna pick, Daimon Hellstrom?
Frank Castle was a Vietnam vet who was broken by the horrors of war. Something dark started to emerge in him, but he stuffed it down on behalf of his family, and became a cop in New York. But then his wife and children were killed in a criminal crossfire, and Frank completely snapped. The man that emerged was no longer a man; he was a force of nature. A weapon against crime. Here is the thing about Punisher comics that you probably don't know: They are weeeeiiiiirrrrrd.
Especially in the ’80s. Sure, those Ennis/Dillon issues were dark and gritty, but half of those comics were about Punisher being like a substitute teacher, or his skin darkening…or renting a jet ski because he was afraid of water. All three of those were real. And real-ly worth your money.
So there you go, the best anti-heroes I could find, some obvious choices, some lesser known ones, all worth delving into if you want good anti-heroing. Oh, and why isn't Wolverine on this list? Come on guys, that dude wears yellow spandex, fights ninjas, and serves on the friggin' X-Men. He's just a superhero, ain't nothing "anti" about him.