“Hulk want seat…Hulk disabled. Hulk no want smash puny commuter.”
Okay, this is not entirely true. But, it’s pretty close.
Here’s the deal: I love to read. I’m always reading something. I can’t walk into a bookstore without walking out with something. As soon as I read the last sentence of one book, I immediately read the first sentence of another. But, when I was a kid, I hated to read. Hated it. Hated. If I had to write a book report in elementary school, I’d read the back cover and skim the first and last chapters to get a vague idea of what the book was about.
What the hell happened? you ask.
I was a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I recall seeing a handful of episodes from the original series on Saturday afternoons as a kid, but TNG was what really introduced me to the Trek universe. So, imagine my surprise when I came across this book. A novel. About the crew of the Enterprise. Holy shit, right? I devoured it, followed by several other ST:TNG novels. I was a reader…and it was all thanks to the media tie-in novel. (Okay, I think the Sherlock Holmes stories probably came first…but, otherwise I stand by the previous statements.)
From then on, if someone wrote a book based on a show or movie I liked, I’d usually check it out. I’ve read books based on The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, various iterations of Star Trek, Farscape, Star Wars, and Indiana Jones. I’ve read books based on comic books, too. The medium doesn’t always translate well to straight prose…but, Andrew Vachss’ Batman: The Ultimate Evil stands out as being an excellent example of literature of any genre. On my bookshelves at the moment, I have tie-in novels of Bones and Criminal Minds waiting for me. I’m tempted to check out the novels based on Monk, Psych, and Burn Notice. I’d kill for novels based on the new Abrams-verse Star Trek or Leverage.
Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know…maybe because I can.
There’s really no good way for me to ease into this, so I’m just going to come out and say it: Vampires, at least many modern interpretations of vampires, are little more than Mary Sues.
Until recently, I wasn’t familiar with the concept of the Mary Sue, even though it’s fairly common in the world of fanfiction, a corner of fandom that I have never really had any interest in visiting. Anyway, in brief, a Mary Sue is an overly idealized, hackneyed character who functions as a kind of wish-fulfillment for the author or the reader. A Mary Sue can be either male or female and, despite originating in the realm of fanfiction, several canonical characters can be considered Mary Sues (Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation and The X-Men‘s Kitty Pryde have both been classified as Mary Sues in the past). There’s a pretty good explanation of the Mary Sue phenomenon here.
So, where do I get off calling vampires the Mary Sues of film, TV, and literature? Well, I think the prevailing depiction of vampires in fiction leans heavily on the “overly idealized” and “wish-fulfillment”parts of the definition. When I was growing up, vampires were monsters. They were evil, bad. They hung out in castles and abandoned crypts, killing and feeding on people. Then, somewhere along the line, an author by the name of Anne Rice showed up (perhaps you’ve heard of her?), and vampires experienced a thematic shift. (Disclaimer: I’m not saying Rice was the one who created the new, Mary Sue-ish vampires–in fact, I’m pretty sure she isn’t–but, she’s probably the writer who is most associated with the Sue-pires.) No longer were they monsters to be feared, hunted, and killed in the name of humanity. No. Now, they were to be pitied. And, in most cases, fucked. This is where the Mary Sue bit comes in. These new vampires were bad boys…but, bad boys who felt soooooo tortured by what they’ve done, that all they need is the love of the right mortal woman to put them on the path to righteousness and redemption. In the real world–y’know, the place we all live; the place we keep our stuff–guys who spend their time killing people probably don’t give a shit about redemption. No, they’re more likely to beat the crap out of you or throw you down a flight of stairs.
Now, I’m not knocking the whole “bad boy” thing. I get it. Bad boys can be wicked cool. Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, John Wayne: they all played a variation of the bad boy. Wolverine? Jayne Cobb? Logan Echolls? Yeah…they’re all awesome. I also understand because I suffer from the male version of the Bad Boy Fixation–the Crazy Girl Dilemma. River? Parker? Kara? Faith? Yes, please. I understand the draw, the excitement of never knowing what’s going to happen next. The truth is, in real life, both the bad boy and the crazy girl would fuck your shit up as soon as look at you. However, in the world of Mary Sue-pires, the tortured, immortal bad boy is easily tamed by the mortal woman, thereby providing the reader (and, possibly, the writer) with the best of both worlds: they get their bad boy who is dark, mysterious, and brooding, but all of the danger that would come with a real bad boy has been safely removed: “He may be a vampire, but he’ll never hurt me. He feels bad about all the killing and will never do it again.”
In closing, while I may not like the current crop of emo, metrosexual vampires plaguing modern fiction (don’t even get me started on the sparkly ones), that doesn’t mean I think you shouldn’t. In fact, I insist. If you like something, by all means enjoy it…drink from the well of entertainment ’til your thirst is slaked. But, I think you should realize (and accept) that the tortured vampire bad boy is complete and total wish-fulfillment. In reality, this guy would be the abusive boyfriend, the rapist, or the wife beater.