16 May 2007

Jack Reacher, action hero

Just finished the first three Lee Child "Jack Reacher" books. (Thanks NOC, they helped me pass the re-hab time!) EC Comics used to run a series of action stories back in the '50's subtitled "he-man adventures." You don't hear the term "he-man" much anymore. Like Tom Clancy's John Clark, or Don Pendleton's Mack Bolan, Jack Reacher is a modern he-man, that is, an action hero. Jack Bauer (Keifer Sutherland) of TV's 24 and John McClane (Bruce Willis) of the Die Hard film franchise give you a few other examples. An action hero is skilled in both armed an unarmed combat, mostly due to his previous military and/or law enforcement background. He is also an expert in surveillance and interrogation techniques, again having experience in some "legitimate" service. The action hero, most importantly, is a "he-man," that is, unusual strength and stamina are de rigeur. These guys are bad-asses, way tougher and more determined than your average Joe. They have to take on terrorists, neo-nazis, gangbangers, hit men, psycho-killers and all the other creeps and violence freaks the world throws at them. They are hard-boiled. They aren't enamored of the usual rewards like wealth, comfort, or fame. In fact, they shun these things, and just want their cup of coffee at their desk the next morning after they save the damsel in distress (or the world). They are cynical, but not so disillusioned that they cross into noir territory. The action hero is usually a quiet patriot. The hard-boiled "anti-hero" is perhaps less so, but is distinctly apolitical. The noir protagonist is outside the entire scope of "heroic." He may perform deeds of great courage and bravery (part and parcel of the action hero milieu), but they are for immediate, short-term consequences. The noir protagonist (Robert Mitchum in the wonderful film Out of the Past) is a man adrift from the normal social ties, an intuitive existentialist. Jack Reacher is a drifter, and even a loner. But his long military background binds him tightly to the fabric of America, and the risks he takes for love (of his brother, of his mentor's daughter, etc.) are heroic. He puts the larger ideals of society above his personal gain. That separates him from the characters that populate the stories of Jim Thompson, David Goodis, Cornell Woolrich, and many others.
(a.d. XVII Kal. Iun.; that is, ante diem septimus decimum Kalends Iunius, or 17 days--inclusive-- before the Kalends of June)

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