Your Guide to Superhero Character Types

With The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, X-Men: Days of Future Past, and Guardians of the Galaxy all set to hit theaters in 2014, not to mention unending buzz from upcoming titles like Batman vs. Superman and Avengers: Age of Ultron, superhero saturation in pop culture has reached an all-time high. Love 'em or hate 'em, comic book characters are going to be around for a while, so we might as well start using shorthand to refer to them.

Utilizing the character alignment system introduced by Dungeons & Dragons and expanded into the geek world at large, here are nine different superhero (and supervillain) character types, with examples from recent film incarnations. Which are your favorite? Which are you sick of? Read on and decide below.

Our heroes.


paladin master race

The bright shining stereotype of the "superhero." Honest, earnest, forthright and noble, they fight because of a higher calling, often for abstract ideals like truth and justice. They're less concerned about their own personal lives than they are about humanity at large and upholding the values that they view as absolute and unwavering Right.

Lawful Good heroes tend to be leaders and usually, but not always, work in tandem with law enforcement or the government (but will crusade against them if they are corrupt) and are indeed viewed by the world that they live in as heroes and beloved paragons. They are fawned over, get medals and keys to the city, and are considered legends in-universe. If they were to die, the whole world, if not the whole multiverse, would mourn publicly for years. They usually have the dumbest costumes.

PROS: People whose favorite characters are Lawful Good might describe them as idealistic, protective, selfless, inspirational and truly heroic.

CONS: Those who dislike these characters would call them boring, corny, self-righteous, preachy, or stupid.

Examples: Captain America, Superman, Thor, Wonder Woman



These characters became heroes not because of some innate lifelong drive to do right, but usually because of a personal experience that affected them deeply. They help others just as much as Lawful Good crusaders do, but they are more "human" -- they care more about their own personal relationships and motivations and often mull over them. (Their inner monologues can be really long and conflicted.) Their battles are usually more intimate in scale and stakes (their family and friends can be very closely involved), and while they will work with authorities if they can, Neutral Good characters just as often do their own thing and sometimes find themselves on the wrong side of public opinion.

In contrast to their Lawful Good big brothers/sisters who were everywhere in the 1930's and 1940's but who are now so old-fashioned as to be quite rare, Neutral Good superheroes emerged in the Silver Age comics of the 60's to become the most common hero type of our day, especially in movies. A big reason is how versatile they are tonally: they can just as easily be earnest/campy or dark/gritty as the era, or director, dictates. OTHER HEROES ARE UNSUITABLE FOR THIS KIND OF TREATMENT, AHEM AHEM HINT.

PROS: Relatable, believable.
CONS: Angsty, self-absorbed.

Examples: Spider-Man, Batman, Iron Man, Daredevil



What might be called antiheroes. "Chaotic" superheroes are unquestionably heroic, using their awesome powers to help others without a promise of reward, but they do it in spite of the law, the government, and The Man, whom they usually view with scorn if not outright hostility. The feeling is mutual: authorities, and even society in general, often regard Chaotic Good characters as threats or criminals, which results in constant friction. As misunderstood outsiders and outcasts, Chaotic Good superheroes are especially popular with those who dislike or distrust authority. Linkin Park soundtrack is optional.

PROS: Subversive, cool.
CONS: Cynical, needlessly antagonistic, adolescent.

Examples: Wolverine, the X-Men in general, the Guardians of the Galaxy

These characters are difficult to call heroes or villains for whatever reason (which are usually not as interesting as you'd think). They're not really "the bad guys," but they're not really good guys, either.



They are the law. All that matters to these characters is the letter of the law, whether they're part of a government organization or following their own strictly delineated moral code. There's no room for exceptions, bribery, or even mercy: they'll kill if the lawbook says they should kill and protect if they're supposed to protect. Their own personal wants and needs are immaterial. Like most Neutral characters, they're rare. And not very interesting.

PROS: Tireless, impartial.
CONS: Single-minded, extremist, brutal.

Examples: Judge Dredd, the Punisher



The rarest character type in comic book movies. True Neutral characters, as their name suggests, do not take a side if they can help it and are not interested in fighting for either the heroes or the villains. Maybe they think they're above such things, maybe they're committed to not taking sides, maybe they're cowards who hate conflict.

While in theory this could be an intriguing balance to maintain, in practice True Neutral characters are often extremely frustrating for viewers, which is why they're rare. These guys are totally absorbed in their own issue(s), disconnected from the action, when we want to see a fight. Pick a side, assholes!

PROS: Neutral
CONS: Neutral

Examples: Dr. Manhattan, Namor



These bitches can't be tamed. True free spirits, they do what they want whenever they feel like it and have the most personal freedom of any character type. And they flaunt it.

Chaotic Neutral characters will help the hero (or villain) if it's in their own best interests, but they'll just as soon throw him off a building, too. They really don't give a fuck. Which sounds admirable, but since others DO give a fuck, Chaotic Neutral characters can find themselves unpopular with everyone, heroes and villains alike.

PROS: Independent, entertaining, unpredictable.
CONS: Disloyal, unreliable, obnoxious.

Examples: Catwoman, Deadpool

Oh shit, here come our supervillains!



The classic and quintessential supervillain and still by far the most common. These guys (and occasional girl) are frequently leaders, like their Lawful Good mirror counterparts. They usually have a remote and intimidating fortress, command underlings, and concoct various megalomaniacal plans which can be very complicated and not overly practical, e.g.: turning all of New York City into mutants via the Statue of Liberty; sharks with laser beams on their heads. A dumb costume is also common.

However, while tried-and-true, Lawful Evil villains are not necessarily silly. They are driven, focused antagonists and a serious threat. While they don't take joy from death and destruction for its own sake, they don't value others' life or liberty and won't hesitate to kill, often on a mass scale, if they think it's necessary. They'll often have some version of a personal code, such as a sense of responsibility to "their people," and will also punish perceived transgressions, such as betrayal, very severely. In general, they think in grand proportions and often believe that what they're doing is for the ultimate greater good.

PROS: Intimidating, formidable, badass.
CONS: Cliched, cheesy.

Examples: Magneto, Dr. Doom, General Zod, Lex Luthor


(the horrors I had to witness while googling this image, jfc)

A relatively modern development, Neutral Evil characters are villains who are driven primarily by self-interest, rather than any innate tyrannical drive. Most often loners, they'll team up with anyone who helps them with their objective and eliminate anyone who gets in their way, whether hero or villainous would-be ally. They have little to no morals. Their reasons for being antagonists are strictly personal and can range from past grudges to tragic backstories to brainwashing to pure unfettered selfishness, and their unpredictability makes them uniquely dangerous. They can also exhibit unexpected emotional tenderness at startling times, so the internet likes to woobify these guys.

PROS: Intriguing, complex.
CONS: Assholes.

Examples: Loki, Mystique, The Winter Soldier



As you might expect, the scariest character type tbh! And it many ways the least complicated. They hate order and life; they love killing, chaos, and mayhem. That's it. They also tend to have an absolute ball killing people and destroying shit. Even other villains are scared of them, which makes them laugh. They usually have a fantastic crazy-ass laugh.

PROS: Fun!

Examples: Joker, Green Goblin, Carnage, Dark Phoenix

Finally, for fun, here's Batman fitting every slot on the alignment chart (click to enlarge).

Source: My learnings, my friend with a 12-sided die

Where do your faves fit, ONTD?