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Alternative Character Interpretation: Comic Books

  • Reggie Mantle's jerkassery has become something of an Informed Attribute over the years, as his character has definitely softened and become more sympathetic while characters (including himself) still describe him as "Rotten Reggie". It's gotten to the point where many readers consider Reggie to be the everyman who represents teens as a whole instead of the Jerk Ass Proud Elite, and think of Archie as a milquetoast goodie-goodie who borders on being a Canon Sue instead of the everyman he's meant to be.
  • Is Cacofonix in Astérix truly a Dreadful Musician or is he The Rock Star Born in the Wrong Century, who, if he was living 2000 years later, would have been viewed as a genius instead of just a public nuisance? There are several scenes which imply this, such as when a fortune-teller tells him that voices like his would be very popular in the future (leading to him fantasising about a sell-out show in a modern concert hall), the fact that the characters who genuinely enjoy his music are trendy characters who are shown to be way ahead of their time, how he styles his hair like a modern rock star (and uses the mannerisms occasionally), how the songs he sings are all historically-themed parodies of well-known modern songs, and how he explicitly plays "heavy metal" at one point. The Disney Acid Sequence from the Animated Adaptation of The Big Fight depicts him as an 80s rock star, playing decent 80s-style rock music, to the disgust of the other characters. However, other stories suggest his singing is objectively off-key, and that he has a loud, penetrating voice that's just really painful to listen to. It's possible that blues-style singing could be interpreted as 'flat' by characters who have never heard it before, but whether his voice is objectively horrible is impossible to know.
  • Batman has been subject to numerous alternate canon interpretations. Some depict him as a noble crusader against crime; others make him a borderline psychopath barely removed from the lunatics he spends his life fighting.
    • His relationships have also come under examination; debates about his sexuality rage wildly. There are tons of easy targets for jokes about that last part.
    • The various interpretations of Batman are the inspiration behind this image merging Batman with Dungeons & Dragons Character Alignment.
    • One of the most raging questions about Batman concern civilian identity Bruce Wayne. Is he simply a mask that Batman wears during the day, a popular interpretion since The Dark Knight Returns? Or is Bruce a real person who's made the rational - within the DCU - decision to fight crime while dressed as a bat? The stories that most support the former view are those where Bruce most throws himself into the Rich Idiot with No Day Job act. When he tries to take an active role and takes up civic involvement in Gotham's problems, it shores up the latter interpretation.
    • This is strongly lampshaded in short story "Viewpoint", where newspaper publisher hires bunch of writers to give him their own interpretations of Batman in hope to make their common element - truth about Batman - more clear. He's very disappointed to find out that their visions have nothing in common.
    • This is also played with in Neil Gaiman's Whatever Happened to The Caped Crusader? in which different characters tell stories that show their contradictory interpretations of Batman.
      • Through they all have one thing in common - in all the stories told Batman dies because he refuses (or maybe cannot?) give up. When he finally dies for real, he is reborn on another Earth, as infant Bruce Wayne, to one day become Batman once again.
    • This is Lampshaded in an episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold that was directed at the show's Hatedom. In it, Bat-Mite lectures a group of fanboys about how many character shifts Batman has gone through since the Golden Age, and sums it all up by saying a Batman who goes on sci-fi adventures and cracks jokes is just as valid and true to the source material as a Batman who's a grim vigilante that slinks through alleyways while angrily screaming into the night.
  • When Colossus took the lethal Legacy Virus antidote that would kill its host body while releasing a cure into the atmosphere, thus curing anyone with the Legacy virus anywhere in the world, was it a Heroic Sacrifice to save the world? Or, given that he had lost his family and seen his former girlfriend move on with her life, was it a suicide gussied up to look noble?
    • And now, after Colossus had become new Juggernaut, new alternate interpretation surfaced - that he has a self-destructive messiah complex that forces him to always bear all the pain and suffering there is to bear.
  • Is Cyclops just a wuss who's occupying space until Wolverine can save the day, or is he the Marvel Comics equivalent of Batman with Eye Beams? Is his behavior since Joss Whedon's run a case of finally getting rid of Badass Decay and living up the the reputation of leader he was supposed to be or did he simply Took a Level in Jerkass? In a post AVX Marvel world, is he a tarnished hero seeking redemption, or just a big damn bigot who doesn't care who he hurts anymore?
  • Deadpool: a Chaotic Neutral Heroic Comedic Sociopath who tries to be a better person? Or a Chaotic Evil Villain Protagonist who can't change anything about himself?
    • Deadpool may be emoting the three freudian archetypes of the mind; Superego, Ego and ID. His white caption box is the most sensible one, and thus the Superego. The more out of touch yellow caption box is Ego, a less sensible one. His chaotic, random persona word balloons and occasional change to his POV are the ID, the no before or after thought.
    • Or maybye, as Uncanny X-Force writer Rick Remender suggest, Wade is a Sad Clown who just wants to be loved?
      • This theory is backed up by one story where Deadpool decides to kill off his entire fanbase so his comic can end and he can just die.
  • Doom from Marvel Universe has been portrayed as anything from a noble villain to pure evil, depending on who was writing the story at the time.
  • Doctor Strange during his time as a surgeon is always shown as the biggest, most selfish jerk possible. But Brian K. Vaughan's the Oath miniseries implied that maybe he was this way, because he couldn't cope with innability to save everybody and instead of getting emotionaly invested, he had choosen to distance himself from his patients, becoming greedy, uncaring jerk in the process.
    • As it was pointed out during his initial adventures Strange might have been the most rational of all Marvel superheroes, lacking irresponsibility constantly shown by Reed Richards and Bruce Banner during those days and not sending kids to fight his war, like Charles Xavier.
  • Fantastic Four
    • Is Reed Richards really such an arrogant, aloof guy. Or is he so superintelligent that he can't relate to other people. Or is he overcompensating for the guilt he still feels over getting his family transformed into freaks. Or, as suggested by Grant Morrison, does he have Asperger's syndrome?
  • In Gotham Central, Dr. Alchemy asks Det. Renee Montoya if she ever beats her girlfriend. Rather than immediately denying it, angrily or otherwise, she repeatedly avoids answering the question until he points out that she's evading the question, at which point she says, "Never in my life." Does she just refuse to answer at first because it's an outrageous and offensive question, or because she has in fact beaten her girlfriend, or maybe just thought about it? Or has she perhaps hit a different girlfriend? Later, in 52, we see her trade hits with an ex-girlfriend, Kate Kane, although, to be fair, Kate hits her first.
  • Irredeemable and Incorruptible:
    • The Plutonian - Narcissistic or insecure? Sad and lonely man because his powers drive others away in fear or Psychopathic Manchild because his powers lead him to drive himself away? Fed up with humans and their ungrateful attitude or just throwing a nuclear tantrum because he wants the whole universe to love him?
    • Max Damage - Always just wanted to have a normal life or using his power as a Freudian Excuse? When the shock of Plutonian slaughtering innocent people cause a Heel-Face Turn, he decides that he must be as incorruptible as the Plutonian was always thought to be. Was that because he was always secretly a Cape at heart but never considered actually doing it with Plutonian around? Or was it completely sudden and caused entirely by the sudden realisation that somebody needed to be the incorruptible shining star? Or, like he offers, Is he just doing the opposite of his long time enemy?
    • Survivor - is his Jerk Ass attitude a way he always wanted to act, but couldn't, because somebody had to take care of his reckless brother or is he trying to act like his brother, hoping to win Kadian's heart?
    • Quibit - Last idealist trying to find the way to stop Plutonian without killing him? Deluded? Just incapable of breaking his technical pacifism? In love with him?
  • A recent /co/ post has suggested the idea of J. Jonah Jameson as a Secret Secret Keeper who is tough on Spider-Man in order to motivate him to keep working harder in defending the city. Other interpretations:
    • Jameson is a huckster, and the Bugle is a borderline-tabloid, which he uses for his anti-Spidey crusade regardless of facts.
    • Jameson is the Butt Monkey, just there for comic relief.
    • Jameson is a good, honest newspaperman, and the Bugle is a good paper, he just happens to have a bug up his butt about Spidey.
    • Jameson is a psychopath who has commissioned the creation of lethal anti-Spidey robots, and he should be in jail.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac stomps on this frequently, so much so that the eponymous character doesn't even know the answer himself. Is he the last thin line between the Crapsack World he hates and Eldritch Abomination's behind his blood-spattered walls, or is he just an overdramatic artist prone to schizophrenic fugue states? Or is Johnny just a figment of Squee's imagination, a product of his obviously neglected childhood?
  • Speaking of Batman, there's his main enemy, The Joker. Though he started off dark and creepy, he spent most of the '40s, '50s, and '60s as a mostly harmless lawbreaking jester. Then, after Batman was remade into the dark and brooding hero he was originally, the Joker returns to his homicidal maniac origins; then we get to "The Killing Joke," in which he shoots Barbara Gordon (formerly Batgirl) through the spine, and then kidnaps and tortures Commissioner Gordon more or less for the hell of it. And then there was "Death in the Family" and countless other stories in which the Joker gets crazier as time goes on. Even in the movies, he has changed from one appearance to the next. The Movie of the 1966 series portrayed him as the madman crook. Jack Nicholson, famous creepy maniac, portrayed him as a former gangster turned creepy maniac making the best of his deformities by incorporating them into a costume. The Dark Knight's Heath Ledger appeared to be a suicidal nihilist out for nothing more thought out than causing chaos.
    • Though he's traditionally portrayed as chaotic and capable of adapting on the fly to any situation, Grant Morrison's Batman & Robin run has suggested that, in fact, the opposite is true: as Axe Crazy as he is, he's been able to survive confrontations with Batman for so long because he's Crazy-Prepared and already has a plan for everything. And the Monster Clown persona is a facade that lets him channel his homicidal urges. At heart, he's not a Monster Clown....he's just a monster.
    • Also, does the Joker break the fourth wall for comedic effect at the whim of the writers, in which case anything he says while Breaking the Fourth Wall is barely canon? Or is his suggested "super sanity" giving him canonical awareness of the reality of comic books? In either case, does this extend to the other adaptations? Did Nicholson's mobster-Joker go insane because of his accident causing deformity or because it let him know that we're watching his misery for entertainment?
      • If he knows that he's in a comic book, then his behavior might have been hand-waved in his own mind because his victims only exist to be his victims. Even the Gordon family and other named victims are not actual people in our level of reality. Maybe the only reason he keeps committing crimes and going up against Batman is because he doesn't want the comics to end. Because then it would be like he ceased to exist. And he doesn't want to die.
      • In fact, Joker might even be said to be committing horrible crimes to get Batman involved because otherwise the entire world he exists in would cease! Joker is forced to murder, rob and prank people to save the entire universe. He's not the hero Gotham wants, but he's the villain Gotham needs.
    • Does the Joker believe in the nihilist sayings he prattles on about every so often, or are they all meaningless words to him, another part of the joke intended solely to screw with the minds of the sane?
    • Batman: Black And White - Case Study by Paul Dini puts forth a particularly brilliant alternative; the Joker is completely sane. Back before the chemical vat incident, he was a crime boss who played his anonymity to the hilt in order to do whatever he wanted. Afterward, he knew that was no longer possible, so he created the "Clown Prince Of Crime" persona of Obfuscating Insanity solely so he would be sent to Arkham whenever he was caught - he purposefully invented Joker Immunity! The doctors are ecstatic when they discover an old report claiming this - and then orderlies drag Harley Quinn past, and she comments that she wrote that report before she started counseling the Joker. The Joker drove Quinn insane to invalidate her findings once he realized that she had figured out his scheme. And he left the report where it would be found just so he could Yank the Dog's Chain.
  • Lex Luthor: Pure evil? A hero striving to show the human race that it has some worth when set against the impossible, unreachable ideal that is Superman, rejecting no act that would prove his point as worth it to the greater good? A tragic figure who's actions are ruled by obsession based in deep insecurities unearthed by Superman's mere presence? A titan of industry and politics driven mad by a world that truly can't appreciate his genius nor see the threat Superman poses? A petty dick who'll stoop to any level of crime, including stealing forty cakes, which is as many as four tens And That's Terrible?
  • What is the nature of Scrooge McDuck's infamous "between the legs" line in The Prisoner of White Agony Creek?
  • Magneto: A guy who wants to take over the world because he can? A Holocaust survivor trying to protect his race? A mass murdering drug addict barely understanding what he does? An ironic echo of what he hates most? That's not even a full list of canonical interpretations.
  • Canon Example: Moon Knight. Obsessive Abraham Van Helsing style werewolf hunter, Costumed vigilante, Batman parody, agent of a spirit of vengeance, super hero, mercenary looking for redemption, just a puppet of khonshu, and schizophrenic sadist are just some of his many possible variants, all of whom are canon personalities.
  • Preacher is full of this. The morality of almost everybody does have at least one alternate interpretation. God must be punished...or Jesse is just a Jerk Ass drunk who has suddenly been confirmation of God's existence and the power to do something about it. The Saint of Killers has been screwed over by God and Satan, only reluctantly hunting Jesse and ends up siding with him, killing God and his angelic host, then replacing him as an ironically more benevolent God.
  • The Punisher. Older comics tend to portray him as being just a jaded, cynical man who wants to make absolutely, positively sure that the criminals he stops aren't going to wind up in a Cardboard Prison to break out again and commit crimes like the one that killed his family. Some newer interpretations paint him closer to a Serial Killer who's using the death of his family as an excuse to vent his bloodlust; these see his actions as more like bloody murder than vigilantism. The second interpretation greatly pleases some fans and infuriates others to no end.
    • He could be both. It's been over 30 years (which is about 7 years in Comic Book Time) since his family was killed. He might have been just cynical back then; but after so long, he's bound to be a little crazy.
    • The Punisher presents a special problem: The arguments for his being in the moral right (killing some people to save many) require him to live in a world where his logic is true. Unfortunately, he lives in a world where other ways of solving things constantly show up. Naturally, he seems a little crazy.
      • Case in point — he's portrayed as a lunatic more commonly when he's co-starring with other heroes like Daredevil. In his own book, he's shown in a more positive light.
      • His more extreme stories in "Punisher Max" are not canonical with the main Marvel Universe.
    • Even writers started to pick ups sides in this one - Greg Rucka has repeatedly stated that he dislikes interpretation of Frank as crazy because somebody not sane in his situation would have break down long time ago.
  • Red Hood and the Outlaws: Jason is trying too hard to copy Bruce by wearing his symbol and forming a team which is a knock-off of the Outsiders. At the same time, he's using an identity that belonged to the Joker, and his teammates are his surrogate brother's friend and ex-girlfriend. Jason is trying too hard to make up for, or rather, hide, the fact that he has absolutely nothing in his life except his rage and resentment by taking things and friends that belong to other people. Does he honestly give a damn about Starfire and Roy, or is just using them because he considers Roy to be nothing more than a pathetic hanger on and Starfire as an emotionally devoid alien powerhouse with a skewed sense of memory and a warped physical perception of human beings. The fact that he only included the two on his team because he washed up on Starfire's island and learned Roy was about to be executed adds to the credence that his team was only put together through half-assed improvisation.
  • The Riddler: Insufferable Genius who's obsessed with proving his superiority over Batman, or a seriously ill criminal whose compulsion to tell the truth is what drives him to leave riddles?
  • Some people believe that Death is a bitch. Sure, she is supposed to be kind, but there are hints of wanton cruelty and schadenfreude underneath it. Particularly striking is the scene in Endless Nights where she casually strolls through a time-frozen party, telling everyone how they really died and watching them do so, including the children. Sure, it may have been an homage to The Masque of the Red Death; but it did seem unnecessarily vindictive to do it in that way, especially considering her expression the whole time.
    • This was from the distant past. All of the Endless' characterizations have moved on since then. How far in the past? Back then, Dream still liked Desire, the first Despair was still alive, and Delirium was still Delight. It's possible that Death hadn't started her "one day as mortal a century" yet, either, which would explain why she was acting the way she did.
    • Death doesn't decide when people die or how. She just states the fact to people who are trying to deny it and takes pleasure for a frustrating job finally getting done. Also, in this world, death is not the end.
    • The party took place long, long after she changed her ways. And they were dead already. They would have died anyway by the time she finally got in to take them.
    • Neil Gaiman himself has said that there's a perfectly valid story to be told about how Dream was an insufferable jerk and Desire's actions were entirely justified. It's just not the one he told.
  • The League of Ramona's Evil Ex-Boyfriends in Scott Pilgrim could be just a group therapy comprising emotionally destroyed people who loved Ramona Flowers. She broke all their hearts in the worst ways possible, and she didn't care how messed up they became. Gideon could be half evil and half broken; the rest just want to keep Ramona from doing it all over again and are messed up in thinking that beating her new potential love interests (Scott, for example) will break the cycle.
    • Done on purpose for the film adaptation, where if it was about Stephan and his band trying to make it big but Scott accidentally screws up by being strung on Ramona and they only get successful without him, just like his own ex-girlfriend.
  • Spider-Man: Battle-hardened self-taught warrior using a combination of wit, intelligence, strength, and bitter experience to become a dangerous foe? Or young, inexperienced, naive newbie who can't keep his mouth shut? Even the writers aren't sure.
    • In his review of One More Day, Linkara paints a chilling picture of Spidey as an irresponsible hypocrite who suffers from a severe case of Aesop Amnesia, hurts his friends and love ones under the guise of "something more important came up as Spider-Man" and making excuses for himself, never taking the time to make any long term plans in life (he has no life insurance for starters) and never made any plans to help his family if the very real possibility of him getting killed in action were to occur. (In fairness, Linkara does bring up that a huge part of the problem stems from how the writers and Marvel editorial seem to adamantly refuse to let Peter Parker grow up and act his age, and part of his rant is his own personal jaded perspective.)
    • Just... take a look at this series of essays on Goblin...
  • Superboy Prime: An Omnicidal Maniac who destroys anything he doesn't like, or a kid who's been given incredible power and thrust into a situation he was in no way ready to handle? Or a deliberate parody designed to screw with the fans heads with lines like "I'll kill you to death!" Or maybe he's just dumb?
    • Fanwank personified?
    • Incidentally, are his lines really that stupid? Could you do better after having the equivalent of a nuke explode in your face? Or would you also scream the first thing that came to your mind, even if it made no sense?
    • Super-Boy Prime is us. That's all. People on all of the other earths are just different from people on Earth-Prime. When someone on New Earth or somewhere gets random superpowers, they run around, fight evil, and make more or less the right decisions for the big picture. Because of their superpowers, they are essentially good people. There are another caste, supervillians, that have excuses such as Well-Intentioned Extremist or insanity. Whatever their reason, they are evil. Permanent Heel Face Turns are uncommon. But what happens when you give a normal, Earth Prime kid the powers of a god? Consult your psychology textbook: He doesn't know what to do with himself. He has problems, he makes stupid decisions thinking they're the right ones, and he says random things in the middle of a fight. Other superheroes have no problem making big flowery speeches beating somebody up. Other superheroes will be able to make the right decision. Supervillians will always know what they want. But Superboy Prime? He just wants to go home.
    • Another way of looking at Superboy-Prime: He grew up in a world where all these people were fictional characters. Deep down, he still doesn't see them as real. If he kills them all and then creates a world where he didn't, he hasn't really killed anyone, any more than Geoff Johns has. To him, the whole thing is no different from playing Grand Theft Auto, he's not killing anyone because nobody's really alive. And so long as nobody's getting hurt, isn't it much more fun to play the villain than the hero? After all, Evil Is Cool.
    • Maybe he never killed anyone. No really, In the real world (Earth-Prime) its been implied that the DC team controls everything! So who's to say that they couldn't just write everything Superboy's done away? If they wanted to, they could simply teleport him back here, bring back everyone he killed and reset the mind of all the DC characters that hate him. Prime's not even the real threat to DC, its the Writers.
      • In fact several of the people he's killed have come back since then. Given that he's seen them do that time and again from his prison, it's possible he's at least subconsciously aware none of his victims will stay dead forever.
  • The debate has raged for years over who is the real personality, Superman or Clark Kent?
    • Pre-Crisis Superman was very much the dominant personality, with Clark Kent as mask he puts on in order to "hide." He noticeably wasn't very committed to it, as the Clark Kenting trope is quick to point out, and several times tried to just give up on the persona and be Superman 24/7
    • The idea that Superman was the dominant personality was theorized by Jules Feiffer, whose words were paraphrased by Bill the Snakecharmer in Kill Bill Vol 2.
      • While that was the case in The Silver Age of Comic Books, several Bronze Age stories, most notably the "Mr. Xavier Saga" (no relation), came to the conclusion that he valued both identities equally, and felt miserable and stressed whenever he was forced to neglect either for an extended period of time. Without Clark, he had no way to ever relax; and without Superman, he couldn't help people in danger.note .
      • One good story involved a pair of gambling aliens separating Clark and Superman. All that happened was that there was two Supermans, and that when one of them was Clark the other felt compelled to be Superman, and vice versa.
    • Michael Fleischer once suggested that if Krypton had not exploded and Kal-El had grown up there, he might have been so overshadowed by his brilliant father that he might have been more like shy, mild-mannered Clark.
    • Post-Crisis is the opposite, Clark is the dominant personality with no knowledge or memories of Krypton until well into his adult years and after he started operating as a super hero. This means that Clark comes off as a far more assertive and aggressive person than the Pre-Crisis "wimp." This makes Superman come off as stiff and artificial because, as Clark puts it, "Clark is who I am, Superman is what I can do."
      • To a certain extent this is how George Reeves played Clark. He was easygoing, but could be assertive if there was an emergency. There were times when Reeves' Clark seemed to forget he wasn't supposed to be Superman.
    • Modern writers now suggest that there are actually three personalities, the first is Clark at home, who is a decent, normal guy like any other. Then there is Clark at the Daily Planet, still a nice guy if occasionally clumsy and a little goofy, likes to play things safe but also an ace reporter and Deadpan Snarker par excellence. Finally there is Superman, who is every inch The Cape and honestly believes in Truth and Justice, almost to a fault. He sees Krypton as his birthright, but not his home and tries to bring the best of that society to Earth while trying to steer away from its shortcomings.
      • It has been implied that, similarly, there are three personalities; Clark Kent, the mild mannered, calm and somewhat geeky dude. Superman, the superhero, who fights for Justice and Freedom and wants to inspire the world to be good. And Kal-El, a merge of both personalities and who he really is for those who are closest to him.
    • Superman is typically portrayed as an eager hero, happy to save everyone else. Five For Fighting's song about him, also called "Superman," portrays him as "a man in a silly red sheet" who's aware that he's not as special or heroic as everyone else thinks he is, and who struggles under the pressure of being the person everyone looks up to.
    • More importantly, Superman was originally a hard-nosed bruiser who went after not just criminals, but businessmen and lawmakers who he perceived as screwing people over.
    • Is Clark Kent an exaggerated disguise Superman takes to fake everyone out? Or is Superman a projection of Clark's desire to help others? Or, does Kal-El struggle to balance the nerdy reporter with the macho crimefighter? Before 1986, the answer was clearly the former, but between that point and about 2003, it was the later. From that point forward, it's been somewhat opened to interpretation, but in 2011, the New 52 pretty much got rid of the exaggerated nerd angle once again.
      • This is NOT counting appearances in film, western animation or live-action TV, but only comic books. For the record, the exaggerated nerd appeared in most cinematic interpretations, but not Man of Steel or Superman & the Mole Men whereas of the four live-action shows, he only played the exaggerated nerd in Superboy. Animation has tended to follow whatever interpretation the comics were going with at the time.
    • The writer of The Screamsheet has had a love/hate relationship with Superman over many years, resulting in a number of different interpretations, from a cynical dick to a desperate outcast wanting acceptance to a straight-up awesome guy.
  • Speaking of Superman's Rogues Gallery, consider Mr Mxyzptlk. Is he merely a Jerkass Reality Warper who tests the Man of Steel's patience, or a more benevolent Trickster encouraging Superman to use his brain and to think and use his powers in unconventional ways? He may well be a big Superman fan who loves seeing what he can do!
  • Terra. A sociopath who could not be helped, or a broken little girl who got mixed up with the wrong people and let her emotions get the better of her? Did she truly think the Teen Titans were her friends, even a little bit? Did she have feelings for Garfield? Terra 2, and her Black Lantern version, seems to have supported the alternate views. Also, was she hoisted by her own petard by accident, or did she commit suicide with the intention of doing so? Was she evil at heart, or did she just hate the hypocritical "goody two-shoes" nature of the Titans? Was her death fueled by drugs, contaminated drinking water, or was it natural?
    • This is also another instance where the ambiguity only came later. Terra's evilness was the whole point of her character, and the narration during her death says, in no uncertain terms, that no one taught her to hate but herself.
      • Just prior to Final Crisis, there was a one-shot published that seemed to insinuate that Terra's psychotic behavior was the result of being drugged by Deathstroke (ala his kidnapping and brainwashing of Cassandra Cain).
  • Depending on who you ask, Tintin is either a good reporter who gets into sticky situations... Or a heartless, greedy, selfish, racist psychopath who couldn't care less about anyone else except those whom he sees as friends. He once went nearer a petrol truck so that the trail of gas (which was flaming because he pissed off the guy he stole it from) would blow the truck up instead of him. (It didn't work.)
  • Two-Face. Tradition states that the two halves of his face represent his split personality. Normally, they have the non-scarred side represent Harvey Dent and the scarred side represent Two-Face; they give us scenes where he has a perfectly reasonable dialogue shown only in his non-scarred profile, only to flip out into ultraviolence shot entirely from his scarred side. But some writers claim the opposite is true: the non-scarred side is Two-Face, the monster with a face of an angel. The scarred side represents Harvey Dent, the wounded hero who lies crushed beneath.
    • Supported in spirit by the non-canon The Dark Knight Returns, in which Harvey has his face restored to full normal- and proceeds to go completely evil; scratching both sides of his coins as if he has been "consumed by his dark side." At least both sides match.
    • Moreover, prior to the 1980s Two-Face was not portrayed as a man with multiple personalities, just as someone who rejected moral responsibility and let random chance in the form of his coin make his choices for him. The multiple personalities first showed up when he got a new Post-Crisis origin. The idea of Dent having two personalities caught on so well it's completely erased the character's first 40 years. Ironically, his appearance in The Dark Knight caused some protest when it was closer to his original portrayal.
  • Watchmen: Are the masks just self-gratifying vigilantes, or misunderstood heroes who were then prosecuted for keeping the population safe? Or some of each? That is not even starting on Rorschach... or the Comedian...
    • Ozymandias. Interpretations of him vary from a mass-murdering psychopath to the savior of the world and its best hope for the future. These depend largely on whether the person interpreting believes his plan would work.
      • Rorschach . A psychopathic, alienated, misogynistic killer? Or an intelligent, uncompromising man trying to save humanity from evil and corruption and bring loyalty and morality back into the world?
    • Eddie Blake/The Comedian in particular. When he found out about Adrian's plan, he has such a breakdown he asked for forgiveness in front of his old enemy, Moloch, in tears and tried to justify what horrible things he did. But pretty much every other time we see him in the movie, he's cheerfully crossing the Moral Event Horizon and keeping on going - murdering a woman carrying his child, assassinating Kennedy, and attempting to rape one of his teammates. We never see him do anything remotely heroic, despite having been on a superhero team. So, is he a really dark antihero?
    • Is Doctor Manhattan truly unable to alter the future or is he just so much of a fatalist that he won't even make the effort?
  • Apocalypse: A mutant tyrant that has no desire but to kill everyone he deems inferior to him? A misguided man with incredible powers and a broken heart still using a creed that should've died out 5,000 years ago? A villain who wants to destroy society so that it can start over with strong leadership so that they can avert the ''real'' Apocalypse together?
  • The Trust from 100 Bullets can be regarded as inadvertent heroes. Sure, they've controlled all the crime in the country since before it was founded. But, by keeping the kingdoms of Europe from dividing America up into lots of tiny territories, they have made America remarkably free of war compared to Europe, and they have allowed it to act as the Arsenal of Democracy in both World Wars. True, they only did that great thing because a united America is easier to exploit. But in the long run, the freedom from the devastation of war probably more than makes up for all the stuff they've stolen.
  • Comic book characters in general are subject to this since they tend to go through multiple writers over the years and, in the case of a character that has been around at least a decade, may need to be updated to occupy the same relative position against new cultural norms or alternately they aren't updated and what was once a trendy character becomes a character with a distinctive set of affectations.
    • An example of the latter would be Jimmy Olsen wearing a sweater vest and a bowtie. At one point this made him normal and a conformist. At times the look has been dropped to make Jimmy current but then its brought back to make him look like an ironic hipster (as seen in All-Star Superman) or just odd.

Newspaper Comics
  • Calvin and Hobbes has plenty of food for thought, especially in the nature of Hobbes, who appears as a Funny Animal to Calvin and a stuffed tiger to everyone else. But the Toy Ship of Calvin and Susie becomes interesting when you consider that Susie seems to like Hobbes more. Inversely, Hobbes frequently shows interest in Susie, which Calvin attempts to rebuff. Are we looking at some kind of projection, or a weird Love Triangle?
    • This makes the comparisons to Fight Club more interesting...
    • That could be a sign that Susie was more attracted to Calvin's nice side that he displays through Hobbes, rather than the asshole he fronts himself as.
    • Cartoonist Bill Watterson has supported the ambiguity of Hobbes' existence by occasionally making strips which are difficult, but not quite impossible, to explain if Hobbes was not an independent and physical entity, by having him do such things as cut Calvin's hair, help him climb trees, and on one famous occasion, tie him to a chair. A popular third take on this paradox is the theory that Calvin is a Reality Warper, and that the things he imagines really do happen, as long as no one else is looking.
    • Calvin's parents can get some of this. Calvin's mother in particular can come off as harshly authoritarian at times, in contrast to his father who tends to be a bit more lenient. She rarely smiles at her son, and has a knee-jerk reaction of trying to suppress whatever he's engaged in (granted, she often turns out to be right to do so). Considering Calvin has many of the standard symptoms of ADHD and doesn't appear to be getting any treatment, this does have more than a few mildly abusive/negligent overtones. Watterson himself later lamented that he regrets that the strips often showed Calvin's mom in a bad mood, since most of her appearances show her reacting to Calvin's latest misbehavior.
  • The author's viewpoint in For Better or for Worse is that Therese is a cold, calculating shrew with severe and unreasonable jealousy problems who, despite Anthony's being a loving and supportive spouse, distanced herself from him and their child, cheated on him, and cruelly divorced him. But it's possible to make a solid case that Anthony was manipulative and overbearing, pushing Therese towards things she didn't want (a house in the suburbs, a baby) and being a whiny little bitch when she insisted on doing what she'd planned to do, such as go back to work after Francoise was born. There's textual evidence to support the thesis that Therese's "distance" was postpartum depression which Anthony did nothing about. Additionally, Anthony was emotionally unfaithful to Therese from the get-go, pining after his ex-girlfriend Liz for his entire marriage. Anthony and Liz's wedding occurs at the end of the strip's run and would seem to justify Therese's jealousy.
    • Word of God is that childless career women are cold, selfish, self-centered wastes of space and that the only women who matter are full-time wives and mothers. The character of Connie (Lawrence's mother) was originally created to show this, but the author soon saw her in a sympathetic way and abandoned her plan - only to revive it with evil, evil Therese. Therese may also be evil because she is French-Canadian and attractive.
    • Similarly, Anthony is seen by other characters as steadfast, loyal, and unfailingly devoted to Elizabeth. Since he maintained that loyalty and devotion to Elizabeth throughout his engagement and marriage to Therese, those traits aren't quite as admirable as they sound.
    • Is Elly Patterson a long-suffering mother who never receives due praise for holding her home and family together, or does she deliberately make things more difficult for herself because she has a martyr complex? Are her children completely uncontrollable brats, or is she too self-absorbed and caught up in self-pity to tend to their emotional needs? Is she a complete Control Freak, a pillar of negativity and hatred imposing her twisted vision of what's 'good, true and right' on everyone around her? Or is she the Only Sane Man and a true gift to her community? Did she raise her family well, or cause them to turn out as nasty and self-centered as she? Sympathetic Sue, or Villain Protagonist?
    • April Patterson: bratty teen, or remarkably well-behaved girl whose biggest sin is being too young to move out when her parents want to retire? Also, some blame her for Farley's death by drowning when she fell into the flooded creek. Others blame her parents for being almost criminally negligent, leaving a four-year-old unattended while they chatted with friends about their recent vacation. One could call her the Only Sane Man because she was the only one who seemed to think that Anthony and Liz were being unfaithful.
    • Is Michael a delicate genius, or a spoiled brat who uses his work as an excuse to avoid any contact with his children? Is he in love with his friend Weed? Did Deanna make a mistake with her contraceptives, or did she do it deliberately to keep Michael from going on a trip?
    • As you can see, the Hatedom has taken this trope and run with it, inventing various interpretations of all the different characters. For instance, one Fanon theory claims that Elizabeth was constantly making Deanna refit the wedding dress because she was trying to hide a baby bump.
  • Garfield Minus Garfield depicts Jon Arbuckle as "an isolated young everyman [fighting] a losing battle against loneliness and depression in a quiet American suburb," with Garfield the cat being little more than a depressing hallucination. Oddly, Jim Davis, the series creator, seems to support a variation of the interpretation; he's stated in interviews that Garfield cannot speak and Jon cannot read his cat's thoughts.
  • Get Fuzzy has Rob Wilco. Is he the Only Sane Man patiently suffering through his life with two nutty pets or is he almost as mean as Bucky but with a better understanding of how the world works. Many of the things he says to his cat seem to qualify as emotional abuse. Yelling, "For the last time, Take the Tuna Out of the Can First!" when multiple microwave ovens have been destroyed seems justified. Repeatedly calling your anthropomorphic pet an idiot or a 'fuzzy little fascist' does not. Satchel may be infinitely more likeable but Rob's blatant favouritism seems heavy-handed at times. Satchel can have friends over but Bucky can't. Bucky has to hold his hand on the subway but Satchel does not. They are both adult animals so the argument that one of them is 'mature' and the other is not doesn't really hold weight. Also, it may have been Bucky's choice to sleep in the closet but Rob doesn't do anything to make it more livable. The Unfavourite is sleeping on towels in the linen closet while the favourite has a nice room with beanbag chairs and posters. In any argument or fight he has a tendency to take Satchel's side before he even sees the evidence. Once Bucky even phones a telephone psychic, tells the woman that he is going through a rough time at home, he sleeps in the closet while the dog has its own room...and sometimes he goes through the trash at night so he doesn't go to sleep hungry. The woman is completely sympathetic until she finds out he is a cat. Bucky's still the personification of Cats Are Mean but you have to at least feel sorry for him.
  • Mark Trail is about a man that cannot understand humans and can only empathise with animals on an emotional level. Therefore all of his interactions with humans invariably end with violence. It's kind of tragic really.
  • Marmaduke is an asshole. Or is he just a big dog that was not properly trained by his owners?
    • More recently, the same guy decided that Marmaduke is actually an avenging angel sent by an angry god to punish the family for their sins. Oh, and the owner guy with the moustache doesn't just look like Hitler...
  • Peanuts
    • Peppermint Patty and Marcie. Both of them are quite tomboyish, and they have a very close...friendship, including Marcie calling Patty "sir". On the other hand, perhaps Marcie had a one-way crush on Peppermint Patty, who despite her butchness is interested in Charlie Brown (though Marcie has also said that she would marry Charlie Brown, if he asked her). Wouldn't it make a cute One True Threesome, anyways?
      • Word of God has it that supposedly Patty is "seriously interested" in Charlie Brown. But all the characters are about 9 or 10, so it could just be, you know, innocent.
  • Winnie the Pooh newspaper comics run on alternative interpretation of eloved Disney character. However, fans are divided whenever they potray Pooh as well-meaning idiot who doesn't realize things he says are rude or a complete asshole.
    • If you consider newspaper strips to be in one canon with infamous Nintendo Hard Winnie the Pooh Homerun Derby game, then you can use one to explain the other. Are everybody in game giving Pooh such hard time for his behavior in comics? Or is he acting the way he does in the strips, because events of the game broke him?
  • The Comics Curmudgeon loves playing this trope with print comics characters. For example, Marmaduke is a carnivorous hellhound, Mary Worth is a meddlesome she-devil, Beetle Bailey is in love with Sgt. Snorkel, and The Family Circus is a bunch of fundamentalist Stepford Smilers.

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