I’ve had big love for big heroes for most of my life. Last year, on superhero day, I realized my favorite superhero was no longer Spiderman. I’ve had many favorites, but a new hero has taken over my heart. Dean Winchester, in his imperfection, is the very definition of flawed hero. Following in the footsteps of the father he idolized, Dean has had a long journey to becoming his own man. In that time, he has metamorphosized from a boy who kills monsters into a hero of epic proportions. His fierce devotion to family, both his biggest strength and greatest weakness, makes you want to be within his inner circle. And when he stops the apocalypse (again) and saves the world, you are. In growing beyond his father, he has become more than a man and stepped into the world of the superheroes. He is the greatest of them.
When I was five, I had a pair of red galoshes which, I probably don’t have to tell you, were my Wonder Woman boots. I cut my teeth on Adam West’s Batman and Lou Ferrigno’s Hulk. Spiderman’s smart mouth inspired my own. As a culture, we love superheroes. I’m no different, and my favorite of favorites is the flawed hero. The Han Solo’s of the universe. Of course you cheer for Luke, but it’s Han you really love. Captain America is a hero you can idolize, but when Tony Stark walks into the room, all whiskey smoke and bravado, your heart is crushed with love. Dean Winchester combines all these qualities, with the unfortunate exception of the fantastic red boots. He has the lion’s heart of gold you expect from a hero, but it’s wrapped in bacon and dipped in beer. He drives too fast and likes his women the same way. He drinks too much, and he steals and hustles to make money. But he drives fast to save people and he hustles so he can feed himself and his little brother. Where someone sees flaws, I see the reasons behind them. It’s like filling in a scar line with powder. It looks terrible and twisted, but once you can follow the path it takes across the skin, you see while it might be twisted it’s only because the skin grew back over the new heart that saved it. And that makes it beautiful. So when you see Dean’s flaws, you see the heart that saved him.
And such a heart. Tugging on the holster strap of his dad for all his childhood, he grew up faster than he should have. Cooking for his kid brother, hunting unspeakable horrors with his dad, going to – and skipping – a new school every week. He didn’t have much to go on in those early years, but he always made the best of it. And when his father left everything to him, he hefted it onto his shoulders and went forward. It could even be argued that he does more than his dad did. John Winchester was a man obsessed. He searched for decades for his wife’s killer, dragging his two boys along with him from town to town. He saved people along the way, absolutely, but once he found the monster that killed their mom, he abandoned his children so he could go and fight it. Leaving them to save the people, while he went off to slay the beast. And when he failed, well guess who took care of it for him? That’s right, the hunter who grew up in his shadow and became twice the man he ever thought of being. I submit that saving people and hunting things is not the family business, but it is Dean’s business. As has been revealed, it was in his blood all along. But John Winchester, he was no savior. He was a man on a mission of revenge. Dean took that mission and made it his own, deciding that saving life was more important than living his own.
And isn’t that what makes a hero great? When his own life is forfeit so that others may live happy and healthy long lives. This extends first and foremost to his most treasured person, his brother Sam. He will do, and has done, anything to save not only Sam’s life, but his soul as well. He has gone to hell and back for him, asking nothing in return but that Sam live a happy life. The lengths to which he goes for his family are beyond compare in this world. He has killed demons, ghosts, and angels. He has made deals for his own soul in exchange for more time with his family. If he could have, he would have traded places with his own father, the man who was supposed to protect him. This singular devotion is enviable, and when you witness it you wish you were part of the family. But when he goes about vanquishing yet another horrific fiend, he protects the life of the innocent victims with his own. Often, it’s his own life and limb that he puts in danger, rather than have someone else die. And when he chose to stop the apocalypse, perhaps even at the expense of Sam’s soul, the whole world became his family. He knew stopping the angels hell-bent on destruction was a long shot, but he also knew that everyone on the planet deserved to live. To that end, he chose to put everything he loved on the line. When it looked like Sam might have to go into oblivion alone, he came even then, unable to let his baby brother go into the darkness without love. Without a thought to personal safety, he saved his brother’s soul and the planet in one fell swoop.
And that’s kind of what he does, isn’t it? When I look at Dean, I see in him a deep longing and a profound sense of sadness. All he ever wanted was a normal life, with a yard to mow and a mom to kiss the boo-boo’s. Instead he got a distant father and hotel kitchenette’s. Even after Sam was lost to the pit and Dean put his life back into gear in suburbia, he couldn’t let go of the hunt. He knows it’ll always be a part of him, and he can no more stop saving people than he can stop breathing. He killed the monster that murdered his mother almost a decade ago. For him, it was never really about revenge. For him, it was always about love. Love of his inadequate father, love of his innocent kid brother, love of anyone who needs his help. If that’s not the definition of a superhero, I don’t know what is. And all this he does without any superpowers, save being a Winchester. All he has are his guns and knives, his knowledge of the arcane, and a can-do attitude.
This is where he becomes my favorite superhero. At the intersection of powerlessness and will. He’s only human, but saving people is what he does. That will never change. He was raised to do this, even if it’s not the lesson his dad was trying to teach. In growing beyond what John was and becoming the hero that he is today, Dean’s journey has never been easy. That’s just one more thing that makes him heroic, one more thing to love, one more thing that makes him my favorite. He has room in his heart for the entire planet of people, and he will save them all one at a time if that’s what it takes.