Fear in Comics: Make Us Care About Your Characters II

Content notes: blood

Hey, if this is your first time joining us, why not take a quick look at some of our previous episodes?

  1. Fear in Comics: An Introduction 
  2. Fear in Comics: Gaming the Format
  3. Fear in Comics: Make Us Care About Your Characters I

That said, let’s get right to it.

The Seduction of the Badass

(NEW MEN by Murewa Ayodele and Dotun Akande)


I once heard a filmmaker say that your characters may be despicable monsters, but at least make them good at their jobs. And this is a trait I’ve noticed in lots of beloved characters ranging from Batman to Rick Sanchez. I’m not exactly sure why, but as humans, we enjoy competence. It’s extremely seductive. Even more so when the competent person reached this peak capacity by working harder than anyone else for it. Audience members want to be around them. Heck, audience members want to be them.

(Batman: Joker War by James Tynion IV and Jorge Jimenez)


Listed below are a few examples of badass characters. 

  • Wall-E from Wall-E
  • Batman from DC Comics
  • Saitama from One-Punch Man
  • Walter White from Breaking Bad
  • Raya from Raya and the Last Dragon
  • Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty 
  • Iron Man from Marvel Comics
  • Summerset from Se7en
  • Michael Sullivan from Road to Perdition


Notice extremely popular, competent, and capable characters like Superman and Captain Marvel aren’t on the list (although it is a pretty short list)? Well, it’s because they are false badasses. Badass characters (in the context of this write-up) usually have a huge flaw to them. No, I don’t mean kryptonite or she-loves-cats-too-much. The character flaw must be birthed from the fact that they are so good at their jobs. Summerset has solved too many grizzly crimes he has lost all optimism. Rick Sanchez is depressed and lonely – one of the reasons being he is an unmatched god. Iron Man and Batman are obsessive planners, so much so, it ruins their personal lives. In God Country, it’s a little more literal. Emmet becomes a badass when he holds the sword, Valofax. When he stops holding it, he immediately turns into an old man suffering from Alzheimer’s. And holding unto the sword keeps getting him in more and more trouble until it takes his life.

(Daredevil by Chip Zdarsky and Marco Checchetto)


Once your badass’ primary flaw is birthed from their strengths as badasses, you have a strong foundation to build your beautiful character on. 


Please, don’t be intimidated by the examples I gave. Your badass characters can be as low-concept as prettiest-girl-in-the-grade or as high-concept as killer-of-gods.


The Hypnotic

(Negan Lives! by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard)


As creators, these characters can often be the most difficult to create. Their potency usually depends largely on what a group of people (the audience) finds mesmerizing at a particular point in time. They can often be mistaken for the badass characters, but their appeal isn’t necessarily based on their competence but on a quirk (or multiple quirks) they have that we can’t but enjoy watching them act on it. 

SpongeBob is so exceptionally naive we can’t but stare and wonder what goes on in his head. We love how Jules Winnfield talks and quotes the scriptures before he blasts some fool in Pulp Fiction. Wood Man from Hilda is just so… well, Wood Man. You love every scene he is in instantly. What about Rorschach? The costume, the mask, and the way he talks… you could listen to an hour podcast of him just going on and on about corruption and dirty politicians. Some more examples are…

    • Sheldon from Big Bang Theory
    • Barney from How I Met Your Mother
    • James Carter from Rush Hour
    • Anton Chigurh from No Country for Old Men
    • Beavis and Butt-Head from Beavis and Butt-Head
    • James Gordon from Harley Quinn (Animated Series)
    • Lobo from DC Comics
    • Michelangelo from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
    • Negan from The Walking Dead
    • Charmy from Black Clover


These characters usually need almost like an opposite character to bounce off of to work. We could read tons of comics with just Michelangelo and Raphael in a room together. SpongeBob and Squidward, James Carter and Inspector Lee, Wood Man and Hilda & Mom, etc. But this isn’t always necessary as some characters can be mesmerizing solo like Lou from Nightcrawler


Scream Bloody Vengeance

(Little Bird by Darcy Van Poelgeest and Ian Bertram)


Making your character a kid who is constantly made fun of in school because of his weird haircut doesn’t mean we’ll care about that character. Comedy stories make us laugh by bringing constant misfortune on their characters, so why do you think by bringing misfortune on your characters we will take them any more seriously?

(Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin by Kevin Eastman, et al.)


Why then are characters like John Wick from John Wick, Hutch from Nobody, and Maximus from Gladiator so compelling? Well, it’s because their misfortune is born from their good doing. John Wick is punished for loving the dog his dead wife left him, Hutch is punished for trying to be a good old regular dad, and Maximus is punished for being loyal to Rome. Your character doesn’t have to be a badass soldier or something like that for it to work. In It, despite being sick, Billy makes a beautiful boat for his younger brother. What he gets as a reward is his younger brother getting eaten by a clown that lives in the sewers. In Get Out, Chris knows that no matter how weird things get his girlfriend has his back. He doesn’t assume that just because she is related or shares the same skin colour as some sketchy individuals, she is sketchy too. When he (and the audience) finds out his girlfriend is actually in cahoots with her body-snatching racist family, the audience gets probably the most intense emotional reaction in the entire movie.

The unfairly treated protagonist gets us riled up screaming bloody vengeance and demanding swift justice on their behalf. They are one of the most, if not the most, effective at eliciting empathy from the audience. So, in your stories, don’t just punish your characters needlessly. Rather, punish them for doing good, and you’ll see your audience get riled up on their behalf.



These aren’t all the possible types of characters we love rooting for, but these are a good jumping-off point. As you research and consume more stories, you’ll discover more character types. I’m sure you’ll notice very quickly that some creators even combine different character types into one character or make their character change character type mid-story. 

Bakugo from My Hero Academia started as a badass antagonist. He became an underdog protagonist of a subplot the first time he saw Todoroki use his powers, and as at the writing of this article, is a badass ally to the protagonist. Hutch from Nobody, Walter White from Breaking Bad, and Uhtred from The Last Kingdom are badasses and unfairly treated – Uhtred being the most intense of the combination. So, feel free to experiment with character types to figure out what would be best for your story and what would engage your audience best.

(Plunge by Joe Hill and Stuart Immonen)


When you finally have your characters, you’ll want to give them goals we can be invested in, redeeming qualities, and prices to pay along the way. We’ll discuss more on those next week before we move on to our next topic, Fear in Comics: Strength in Subtlety


Comic Suggestion

This week’s reading suggestion is Infidel by Pornsak Pichetshote and Aaron Campbell.

Murewa Ayodele

Murewa Ayodele is a Nigerian comic book enthusiast and NOMMO-nominated comic book writer. His recent works include the sci-fi thriller, NEW MEN, and the action adventure series, My Grandfather Was A God.