Sunday, March 24, 2013

The "Reformed" Bad Boys

A little over a week ago (sorry this post is late, but the acceptance of Red Moon was a wonderful surprise), I decided to focus my writer's brain on the hero commonly referred to as the "bad boy," albeit the unrepentant one. This week (as promised), my attention is firmly centered on what happens when a bad boy becomes reformed.

Fixed. Changed. Altered.

Yes, when he loses the edge that initially placed him in the bad boy category, but has occasional moments when he busts a move that reminds us just how bad-A he used to be. This doesn't mean he's not just as maddeningly attractive as he once was, it just means that he's changed himself for the heroine.

As opposed to last week's unrepentant bad boy, who does not change for said heroine. Perhaps I'm splitting hairs, but it makes a huge difference to me while reading.

Take, for instance, those rugged vampires of J.R. Ward's Black Dagger Brotherhood series. She has an incredibly complex world to work within, complete with specific rules and patterns that she has created. Her alpha heroes are the ultimate in bad-assery. They're a physically imposing, tightly knit group of warriors. That in and of itself makes most women go, "Ooooo..." but there's another thing that Ms. Ward has thrown into this heady mix.

When her men meet their perfect match, they are slammed with a biological imperative to protect and cherish (and mate...a lot).

This throws a pretty cool kink into their stories. Because when you're a bachelor, it's easy to go out and slay baddies and risk your life on a daily basis. There's no reason to change your habits, good or bad, because there's no one who expects anything different from you.

One of my favorite aspects of these books is that the women these warriors end up with are just as strong as their men. It's the women's code of ethics that help change the men into being the best versions of themselves possible. It's a mutually beneficial relationship for both parties, so the men don't lose out when they change their codes to meld with the women's. Definitely a more modern take on relationships, with both sides giving in order to reach common ground.

And, because I promised last week, two examples from modern media that I feel fall into this category would be Guy of Gisborne (played by the devilishly handsome Richard Armitage) for BBC's Robin Hood and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (played by James Marsters, who's one of the best audiobook narrators I have ever heard. Seriously, ever.).

Poor Guy...never fall in love with the hero's girl
Guy of Gisborne has a lot of baggage, and more got thrown at him as the show went into Seasons 2 and 3. He's got a lot of the alpha male traits: loyal (often to a fault), confident, hard working, believes in earning and maintaining the respect of those he cares about, and he's more than willing to make whatever sacrifices are necessary to achieve his ends. Unfortunately, this is also his weakness as a character, and the reason he never becomes a hero in the show. And when dealing with Marian, Guy constantly wrestles with the issue of changing himself for her, only to hate himself later on. The reason he never fully qualifies as a romantic hero is because he changes for the heroine, but can't handle the pressure that change brings, unlike the men in the Brotherhood books.
James Marsters

Spike from Joss Whedon's uber-popular Buffy the Vampire Slayer is similar. Love changes him to the point that he becomes a martyr to achieve Buffy's ends. Unfortunately, like Guy, this ends unhappily for Spike.

Unrequited love, sacrifice, and redemption. These are the key traits that seem link the "reformed bad boys," but it's rare for them to find a happy ending. I sometimes worry that by rooting for their characters I have signed their death warrant; there's no way they can survive in the same story that already has an established hero. Maybe that's why the Brotherhood works out...they are the heroes, so there's really no competition.

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