It had to happen eventually.
I love urban fantasy, I really do. But there are some archetypes that keep resurfacing again and again. Not in every work, and they aren’t always done badly. But in the great majority of the genre, certain tropes will come off as both repetitive and shallow. And I really want this genre to gain breadth and depth. One of these often mishandled archetypes is the alpha male.
To me, the worst parts about this archetype is the overly controlling, aggressive, domineering behavior (especially towards their significant other, since that’s where we see them the most in this genre). And possibly that so many of these characters come off as exactly the same. Note: There are, amazingly enough, a few minority alpha male characters that are actually well done, and at some point in the future, I’ll make sure to mention them, too.
So, in honor of this concept, I’ve decided to come up with a list of male characters (from any genre or medium) that I absolutely love, who actually (gasp) have a different personality than the quintessential macho guy. In no particular order:
1. Tybalt from Rosemary and Rue (urban fantasy): He’s technically the King of the Cats, but I can’t really consider him as an alpha archetype. Maybe a warped one, I don’t know. For one, he’s got better things to do than bother the main protagonist all the time. For another, he doesn’t do the controlling/interfering thing. Most of his interactions with our heroine include them just being very sarcastic at each other. They come off as allies with a history that argue a lot. But Tybalt doesn’t hand out commands to our main protagonist–she isn’t one of his subjects.
2. Peeta from The Hunger Games (dystopia): Not that Katniss spent most of her time caring about her love life, which was definitely a refreshing perspective. But nonetheless, Peeta is one of the more compelling characters in the series, despite being the charismatic good guy to Gale’s moderately extremist persona. He definitely got way more development and much more of a character journey than his rival. Speaking of character journeys, his was pretty awesome, which makes me glad that the actor they’ve got playing him is fantastic. I think he’ll do a good job with the psychological stuff down the line.
3. Cyrus from “Rogue Elements” (urban fantasy): It’s a shame that this is a series of short stories/novellas rather than a series of novels, because the Lia and Cyrus stories are a lot of fun. But this author is putting out a lot of awesome stuff, so I shouldn’t complain. Despite being a literal werewolf, Cyrus doesn’t really do the alpha male thing. Given the way his girlfriend is, it probably wouldn’t work anyway. They feel like something closer to a partnership.
In fact, if anyone is overstepping and making decisions for the other person, it’s Lia. Not in a confrontational way–she just makes sure that he’s unconscious whenever she goes to face danger. She should really stop doing that–even if he is a werewolf warrior, I have to disapprove of her knocking out her boyfriend. Wrong thing to do. Anyway, if I absolutely had to pick a favorite Badass Couple, which I would only do under extreme duress, but if I did, they would be in the running.
4. Loup from Santa Olivia (post-apocalyptic): I’m totally cheating here, because both sides of the main couple are girls, and the alpha male character is generally associated with guys, but so what? Under most other writers, a character like Loup might have been more brash and aggressive–as she was born without the ability to feel fear. Instead, Jacqueline Carey’s portrayal of her is much more nuanced and thought out. Loup is a surprisingly gentle character, given the premise. It’s her earnestness that makes her so compelling, rather than her abilities. In fact, I’ve read the Kushiel and Naamah books from Carey as well, and there isn’t an alpha male character to be found, not by my standards.
5. Kyon from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (unclassifiable genre): This show is interesting in that, if anything, the female protagonist is the alpha male character (who is slowly learning to be less of a jerk–very slowly). And the male protagonist is the very sardonic beleaguered minion who cleans after her chaos. His characterization is especially fascinating with the absolutely perfect way Crispin Freeman voices him in the English dub (the Japanese is good too, don’t throw things at me). Oh, the sarcasm. Kyon gets through life by being dragged into things he doesn’t want to be dragged into and snarking about it.
6. Po from Graceling (YA fantasy): I love this character. He had the whole at-peace-with-himself thing going at first, and I was impressed by his level of maturity. No domineering here, ever. He was the rock in the relationship initially, the one who was there for the other. And then he goes through something later that shakes him out of his more stable state, and tips the balance. Over the course of the book, I feel like he and Katsa end up having a very balanced relationship–not in any one moment, but overall.
7. Gil from Girl Genius (steampunk): Gil is the son of a mad scientist dictator, but he doesn’t even have a death ray. He’s a little too nice for a future evil dictator. Come to think, he’s a little too nice, even when compared with a lot of the protagonists… Note that this does not diminish his badassery even a little.
8. Lucas from Dime Store Magic/Industrial Magic (urban fantasy): Lucas is an intellectual who cares quite a bit about doing the right thing. He comes from a very manipulative family, however, and as such doesn’t tend to shirk at being manipulative himself. Not if it’s for a good cause. Personality-wise, he’s probably one of the least alpha male type guy on this list–however, in terms of what he’s actually done, he skirts the overly controlling aspect of the alpha male with his manipulation, if not his force. Still. He comes off as a genuinely good person who’s maybe had a little bit of a ruthless upbringing that isn’t quite buried.
9. Jonas from The Phoenix Requiem (romantic historical fantasy?): A very eccentric character, and one who’s potentially crazy. But not pushy at all. He mostly handles the trails of his life through the application of a good sense of humor. Of course, maybe that’s the only way to handle the massive amount of stuff on his plate. He’s also a kind character, who despite his own problems, doesn’t really want to hurt anyone.
10. Will from Bayou Moon (urban fantasy): He’s surprisingly reasonable for a werewolf special ops type character. Well, mostly he’s just confused. It doesn’t help that his instincts don’t always lend themselves to understanding other people, but he mostly tries to lay low and do what he can. His relationship mostly functions as a partnership.
The Painter from The Birth of Venus: This isn’t genre, it’s historical fiction, but I had to bring it up. Mostly because the romantic hero is an artist who’s a crazy genius with no common sense who’s never been around women before. It goes about as well as you can imagine.
Otonashi from Angel Beats! (urban fantasy): Way nicer than the average guy, Otonashi wanted to be a doctor before he died. He just can’t help himself from helping others, and will put himself in all kinds of trouble to do it.
Opinions? Disagreements? Suggestions for other good non-alpha male characters?