Modern Heroes – A World of Abs and Biceps

Thor without his shirt on

Not all heroes are created equal.

Except, in today’s entertainment environment, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

More and more, I’m noticing a trend when it comes to heroes, especially in science fiction, fantasy, and superhero stories.

The Muscle Man Hero

You know what I’m talking about. The guy with the bulging shoulders, popping biceps, and train-track abs who needs at least one scene with his shirt off because hey, let’s admit it, he’s a looker.

This type of hero is as prevalent as fireworks on the 4th of July.

  • Thor
  • Captain America
  • Wolverine
  • Oliver Queen/Arrow
  • Batman
  • Superman

It almost seems that in order to cut it in today’s hero market, a guy has to be ripped.

(This also goes for romance. Have you seen any book covers? It’s as if they don’t know how to have a guy without his shirt off.)

There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s starting to become redundant and annoying. I can appreciate their perfectly toned muscles—and suffer from occasional stabs of jealousy—but since when did that become the definition of a hero, as it seems is becoming the case?

Heroic qualities used to focus on personality, not physical ripped-ness (yes, I just made that up, but I’m a writer—that’s what I do). It was the intangibles that made them heroic:

  • Courage
  • Mental strength
  • Loyalty
  • Selflessness
  • Honesty

Yeah, it’s the Hollywood influence. I get it. But that’s no excuse. If the only attribute needed to qualify as a hero is how hot a guy looks with his shirt off, something’s wrong. Even if their muscularity isn’t what defines them as a hero, people expect them to look the part.

In a weird sort of way, we need misfit heroes to save us from the stereotype of the modern hero. We need something that goes against the model.

A Different Type of Hero

Again, I’m not complaining about a hero who has an amazing physique. Captain America is my favorite superhero, and Thor and Batman are beyond awesome. Arrow’s screwed up in pretty much every way possible, but I won’t go down that road now.

All the same, it’s refreshing to see something different. Anything, if overdone, becomes dull. That’s why heroes who are unexpectedly skinny or lacking an abundance of physical strength are so refreshing.

  • Frodo, who’s about as far away from the stereotype as possible
  • Harry Potter
  • Doctor Who

Frodo and Harry are two of the most well-known and loved heroes of all time, and maybe it’s because they don’t fit the mold. Not only do they provide a refreshing addition to the ranks of heroes, they’re ordinary in most ways, and that makes them more relatable.

Will the Trend Last?

I don’t know. It doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon, especially if superhero movies continue to grow in popularity.

That’s fine by me, as long as it doesn’t became an expectation. I can only see so many abs and biceps before I start wanting something new. How about a skinny hero or a shrimp who saves the day with his wits instead of his strength?

Come back on Wednesday for the female edition: Modern Heroines—Chicks Who Can Fight

Is the muscle man hero overdone? Do you think it’s driven by our culture, and what would cause that to change? I would love to hear your thoughts.


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