|“For it is in passing that we achieve immortality. Through this, we become a paragon of virtue and glory to rise above all. Infinite in distance and unbound by death, I release your soul, and by my shoulder, protect thee.“|
It’s no secret if you’ve followed me for a while that I was originally a big fan of RWBY.
And that I’m still a fan of the first 3 volumes, at least. Possibly the 4-5 ones also.
I’m also a fan of the Justice League Animated show (and recently I watched the Snyder cut of the live action movie, and holy cow was it like watching a different film! One I actually lied. I think we should burn the theatrical cut and pretend it never happened.)
So I was talking to my sister about both these things and comparing the characters, and she specifically requested I blog about this topic.
So here we go:
What is a Paragon?
Let’s look at the web’s definition, though most weebs already know what it is, sort of:
“A paragon means someone or something that is the very best. The English noun paragon comes from the Italian word paragone, which is a touchstone, a black stone that is used to tell the quality of gold. You rub the gold on the touchstone and you can find out how good the gold is.” (vocabulary.com)
Most people acknowledge that the main character of any given kids show or movie is supposed to be the paragon. And if I name names, you’ll see a pattern.
Anime has a paragon almost as a requirement, with a few exceptions, like the Shield Hero.
Midoriya (My Hero Academia)
Tohru (Fruits Basket)
Natsu (Fairy Tale, Erza would also be one)
Hiro (Darling in the Franx)
Not all of these are perfect examples, the first two are the closest. But you know the characters who stand above the rest, who everyone wants to be like, who they trust to lead them, who they think has some moral insight that they don’t.
Outside of anime, the paragon is less worshiped, but still present.
Captain America (Avengers)
Xavier (X-men, often Logan also fulfills this role)
Mickey Mouse (any Micky Mouse media)
Aang (Avatar the Last Airbender)
So you see paragons are everywhere. That’s why it’s considered a trope.
For a better explanation of how it is used in a story and the pros and cons, I refer you to Overly Sarcastic Productions excellent video:
So, of course, the two paragons I wanted to talk about are Ruby, from the show RWBY, and Superman, from the DC Universe. Particularly his recent shows and movie renditions.
I’m going to argue that neither of these characters are good paragons, though they are treated like paragons by their writers and fellow characters, and the fans, by and large.
But my unpopular opinion is that they both suck at fulfilling this role, and that is because people lack understanding of what makes a paragon really work.
I think it goes back to our culture’s lack of understanding of what makes a righteous person to begin with.
(I’ve argued that Gaara should be the protagonist of Naruto also, and a protagonist and paragon do not have to be the same thing but they usually are in anime, however I think Gaara fulfills both roles better.)
It’s easy to see why Superman would be considered the best of the best, who can be better than Superman?
Yet, it’s interesting that in every version of the Justice League that’s written where they turn to the dark side, Superman is the first to fall.
I now the premise is that he is the only one holding the league together, so if he falls, they all fall.
I’m going to argue now that that is actually one of the signs of a bad paragon.
1. Instead of people being inspired by the paragon, they instead rely on them, both intellectually and physically.
Ruby is the bigger offender here, but so is Superman.
Lazy thinking is the bane of every group in real life, but it’s also one of the main things that kills fictional teams.
The whole team relies on thsi one person to know what’s right and to know what to do.
Yang from RWBY: “She (Ruby) always knows what to do, so I’m going to follow her.”
Flash from JL animated series: We don’t do that to our enemies.
Diana: Speak for yourself.
Flash: I was trying to speak for Superman.”
This is just one of many examples from the shows where the other characters rely on the example of the paragon…to a point where it seems they may not actually agree with them.
I’m against murder, of course, but Diana stopping herself only because Superman would say to, and not out of any mercy of her own, seems like a red flag.
And it’s made more poignant when we consider that both in the Justice Lords episode of this show, and in the video game and movie versions of the Dark Justice League, Diana goes dark once Superman has led the way. Implying she never had any root in herself and her own ideals to resist the pull of power.
Diana’s weakness is not thinking for herself. Flash, who we learn died before the League went full on power mad in the alternate world, would have been the only person to resist the corruption, and he is the only one to stop Diana in the regular timeline.
J’onn, the Maritian, also expresses how he wonders if they can still be a league, how many battles did they win just because Superman was there, he asks.
[I actually think he’s less necessary than they think based on the show at least, but not in the movies.]
On RWBY, Ruby is followed by her sister, Yang, but also by Ozpin, who insists that victory is in the simpler things. Even the theme song says ‘victory is in a simple soul.’
The problem is, Ruby is not a simple soul.
Actually she is full of insecurities, questions, and later on, she resorts to deception and misleading her allies, just because she’s not sure what they will do with the truth, even though she was angry at Ozpin for doing the same thing.
Whereas Oscar, a much better character, is against ding this, but gets ignored because no one respects him.
And Superman, despite Flash’s well meaning optimism, is not the paragon of mercy Flash thinks he is.
Flash didn’t witness the two times Superman tried to kill Darkseid, a villain who humiliated him more than even Lex Luthor, who he just barely holds himself back from killing as it is. But Superman actually had zero hesitation to try to kill Darkseid, and was only stopped, one by Supergirl using reason, and once by Batman, who used brute force (sort of, he got lucky with a boom tube.)
The issue I have with both Supes and Ruby isn’t that they make these mistakes, while being the leaders, but it’s actually my second point:
2. The paragon lacks humility.
A good paragon has flaws, that’s not the problem. The problem is when they pretend that they don’t.
Ruby makes a crap ton of mistakes, but notably, she never once admits it.
As far back as volume 1, Weiss goes off on Ruby for being reckless and a show-off, but then admits that she herself can be a little ‘demanding’ and offers to compromise.
I might be missing something, but I don’t recall Ruby ever owning up to Weiss having a point. She’s just blindly confident that she’ll impress everyone with her skills. Which she does, but that doesn’t make her a good leader.
Weiss also complains that Ruby is the leader of their team, and offers some valid reasons, which in my mind were proven entirely right by Ruby herself several times, and then some, and while Weiss is hardly perfect, Ruby never tries to amend her actions to give Weiss more confidence in her, or acknowledge Weiss might have a point.
“I’m not perfect! Not yet, but I’m still a hundred times better than you.” Weiss, volume one. (I may have paraphrased slightly)
All the way up to Volumes 6-8, which were all horrible train wrecks, including the actual train wreck that happened in volume 6, where Ruby actually says she never needed her uncle’s help, after he saved her butt like 3 times just since his reintroduction in vol 4, and the other times people bailed her out.
Ruby, much like Naruto and Deku on their shows, doesn’t one off win nay fights on her own after volume 2, and that was a draw. Yet she has the idea that she’s independent somehow…why?
Let’s look at Superman for a moment.
In one of the worst episodes of the first JL show (but still far better than the last season of the Unlimited follow up show) Secret Society, Superman pisses off Flash and Hawk Girl by saying:
“At the end of the day, I’m the invulnerable one. Every hit I take is one someone else doesn’t have to.”
While they get mad at this, no one makes the pretty obvious come back: “Sure, until someone has Kryptonite or Red Sun Radiation.”
Something multiple people have had access to, in the show alone, and on his own show.
Superman may be tough, but everyone knows his weaknesses! He’s not invulnerable or invincible. Plus, even Lois Lane has had to save him, not once, but at least 2 or 3 times on his show, and the others saved him many times on the Justice League show.
So where does he get off suggesting that he’s somehow less subject to peril than they are? If he was less reckless about his own safety, they’d actually win their fights faster because they might employ this thing called strategy.
And this leads into point number 3
3. A paragon that never learns
Because of people worshiping them, and their big head, often bad paragons never learn anything from their mistakes.
The entire show of RWBY is proof of that for Ruby, but Superman is a little less obvious.
However, if we consider what happens in the Justice League show, it’s kind of unnerving.
One episode, Patriot Act, points out that after the League got called into question for having a weapon that was worse than a bomb would have been in their watchtower, and Cadmus has issues with them, instead of losing power, the League gains a second base on the earth, but doesn’t’ dismantle their watchtower.
And the only group that was capable of competing with them has been so publicly shamed that they are no longer a threat. Meaning the League is freer from criticism than ever.
Yet the League is still caught off guard by the villains unifying, and almost loses yet again to Darkseid. Superman, rather than show more caution, seems to be overly confident, and has to be saved, ultimately, by Lex Luthor, the most humiliating choice yet.
I can’t blame Superman entirely for that, but he didn’t really back off after the Cadmus incident. I don’t see how getting more power is learning his lesson about hubris and controlling things too much.
What really stands in the way of the League becoming the Justice Lords by the end of the show? Only Flash, anything could still happen to him. How have they learned and become stronger?
This is a problem with the show overall, but especially with Superman. Everyone else changes and evolves over time at least a little, but he stays the same. The same pride and anger under the surface, and willingness to compromise what he claims he upholds.
And finally, one last point
4. A paragon who is only an example when everyone is looking or they have something to prove.
What I detest about both Ruby and Superman, not because I’d hate them as people if it was true, but because they are hailed as such paragons of virtue, is their lack of consideration for anyone else.
If no one is looking, Ruby never gives a crap about helping anyboyd but herself, if shes’ not playint he hor.
Ruby herself is helped both by Blake and Jaune just on her first day at Beacon Academy, but we see her help no one else, nor try to.
While others stand up to the racism against Faunus, Ruby does nothing.
And when Oscar gets beat on for unfair reasons later in the show, Ruby only steps in one time, and that’s when it’s someone who she’d not get much flack for calling out, but not when her uncle or sister also abuse Oscar.
Ruby is nice to Oscar, because she has a crush on him, and once or twice she is nice to Jaune. So she’s not the worst, but she never goes out of her way to help anybody. Nor is she ever more open-minded than anyone else in the team.
But Superman has to be even worse.
I was reading someone else’s post about Wonder Woman the other day, and they brought up a scene where Diana teaches a little girl how to fight to help her have confidence about playing with the boys. The author commented that she couldn’t see Superman or Batman doing this.
I think Batman actually does demonstrate compassion more often, in his own way, when he helps Ace, one of the villains Cadmus created, as well as Baby Doll, one of his sadder villains, and many others. Actually it’s why he and Diana are good together.
But I agree, I can’t see Superman doing it.
Superman is the type of guy who’d say he has to focus on the big problems, fly around and help people, and the little things aren’t ones he can afford to spend time on.
Yet those things are what make us the most human and help us to stay grounded. If you’d take time to help a kid, even if it’s just over something small, then you will remember what’s really important.
He keeps Lois, the closest relationship he has, at arm’s length. At the end of the show, she still doesn’t know his real identity, that we know of. She knows freaking Batman’s, but not his!
I’ve never seen Superman help a kid, outside of his old comics, and then it was to prove a point, that he was Superman…he still helped either way, and I’m not saying he wouldn’t have anyhow, but he got invested primarily for that reason.
Contrast it with Flash, who is a great guy on and off the job, based on how his coworkers treat him. And is a great guy even to the other League members.
Can you see Superman getting Hawk Girl a coffee and blanket? Or giving an old coot an actual fair chance to explain his magic crystal and have a job later? Or painting someone’s fence?
Me neither. The fact that I wouldn’t even imagine it says a lot.
Oh and RWBY has an example of this too. Pyrrha freaking Nikos!
And that’s the perfect cue for me to launch into why Pyrrha is a way better paragon than Ruby, and why many people would be a better one than Superman.
Ironically, almost any member of the 7 would be better than Superman, but most of them lack the leadership drive to be so.
Good Paragon traits
Basically just turn all the bad ones on thier head.
Let’s star twith the last one and work backwards.
Instead of only dong good when it’s beneficial for them also, good Paragons do good when no one thanks them for it.
On Naruto, Gaara sticks up for the rights of people to have life, and for the ideals of mercy, long before he gets made the leader of the army. He works for years to reform Sand Village, to the point where assassination attempt on him by the elders who think he’s crazy or wrong happen so often that his siblings no longer even react to having to save him and each other’s lives at any given moment.
On RWBY, Pyrrha sticks up for Faunus though it gets her little thanks from her classmates. She also helps Jaune with his problems, even when it would get her the opposite of what she wants, or when he gets mad at her.
But what I love is that she’s got bit of a temper too. When Jaune forsakes his team because Cardin blackmails him, instead of coming to them for help, she makes her sentiment clear until he finally apologizes, but she still bails him out of a tight spot.
Pyrrha helps Jaune for his own sake, even when she’s not getting anyth out of it.
She also is nice to team RWBY, paying for their meal and is generally kind and caring to everyone.
Jaune also is a decent paragon, he has more of the traits of pursuing excellence that they have in anime, but he also sticks up for his team and helps people even when he doesn’t have to, as I mentioned above.
Turning back to Justice League, Wonder Woman is far more compassionate than Superman, and Batman is less arrogant. Flash however is the best example, since he combines both those traits at the same time.
Often the traits of a good paragon would be better if they rested on two or three character’s instead of just one, since few people are that virtuous, but if we want to find who’d be a better starting point, those are our choices.
Hawk Girl has the most integrity of everyone in the League, but lacks the confidence to lead, or she might make the better choice.
Point number 2, all of these other characters learn more than the actual paragon characters do.
Granted, not that much, in Batman’s case.
But Batman has a healthy respect for people with different qualities than himself, whereas Superman doesn’t.
Pyrrha is not given the chance to learn much since she (SPOILER ALERT) dies before she really can. But based on her overall humility, it seems like she would have.
Jaune we see does learn from his mistakes and improve, becoming more of a peacemaker in the group and a protector.
And of course, that includes having humility.
One of my favorite things about Pyrrha’s character, as I got more mature about looking at her, was that she isn’t above improving. She has a power that makes it easy for her to win fights by hardly doing anything, but only uses it to give her a bit of an edge, she still trains like crazy to hone her skills. She still thinks she needs to practice. Shes’ willing to team up with less skilled people like Jaune just because she likes his attitude, and to take orders from him despite his lack of experience, unlike Weiss’s attitude towards Ruby.
Pyrrha could roll her eyes😒at Jaune, but instead she builds him up. And he becomes the kind of leader she believed in, as he even acknowledges in vole 5 when he said she told him something once, and he believed her.
Pyrrha could win more on a different team, or if she asserted herself over Juane, but she doesn’t. Instead she embraces being treated like a normal person by him, and doesn’t see herself as the invincible, untouchable warrior.
And last bu not least, back to point 1.
A good paragon is not worshiped, they are imitated and respected.
Perhaps this is where Pyrrha, Flash, and the others I mentioned shine most clearly beyond their competition of the canon paragons.
While people talk about imitating Ruby, or Superman, no one actually does it. Or when they do, it’s usually the worst parts of them. Because people always copy your underlying attitude more than your professed one.
Flash copies Superman’s reckless actions more than his selfless ones, the Flash is selfless on his own, that’s why he can take that out of Superman’s example, but Superman never really has any interaction with Flash about this, nor do we see any one moment where Flash is inspired by him to be selfless when he’s actually there.
In contrast, Batman is moved by Flash’es compassion towards his foe the Trickster, in the episode about Flash. And tells Orion that he does not understand him.
Batman actually never talks Flash down, notably, and hes’ shown to be a closet fan of the Flash even in other renditions of the League.
So Flash inspires respect from people it’s worthwhile to earn the respect of, and he is looked up to by kids and regular citizens also just for being so good hearted.
Even if not everyone imitates Flash, they respect his heart.
Pyrrha on the other hand has admiration from her peers and superiors alike, but it’s interesting that in her closet ring of friends, she doesn’t inspire the hero worship that Ruby does.
People don’t look up to Pyrrha to lead them, they want to be like her, because she follows the right thing not just in her words, but in her actions.
Ruby and Superman tell people what the right thing is, Pyrrha and Flash show them what it is.
This doesn’t even mean that I’m arguing for Pyrrha and Flash to be the leader of their teams, I don’t think either of them are suited to that, in fact I thin paragons often don’t make good leaders because of their lack of putting themselves first. A leader ha to have some self confidence.
But like Jaune, and like Batman, the best leaders are the ones who are following the example of a paragon who isn’t the leader, but isn’t a blind follower either, who makes their own choices, but i willing to work with others also.
Pyrrha never turns down help, and Flash is the first to ask for it again after the League breaks up.
Every leader I know of who is also a paragon is the most boring and frustrating kind of protagonist, the most engaging leaders are the ones who learn from paragons as they go.
Like the show My Little Pony’s MC Twilight, who has to learn from all her friends in order to become the Princess of Friendship.
Pyrrha’s influence is felt in volume 4 and 6 especially when we see that Juane, as well as her other teammates, all want to be more like her, they do not say that about Ruby.
Ruby can lead, but she can not exemplify. That’s the problem.
Like Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, Luke might be the leader, but he’s following Obi Wan’s example.
Once in a great while, a paragon may make a good protagonist, Twilight Sparkle sort of grows into being a paragon by the end of MLP, usually it’s done best when it’s like that, one character growing into being one over time.
Which is where Pyrrha having struggles and an arc in volume 3 made her much more like a protagonist than Ruby has ever been, fight me.
A paragon can also become a protagonist over time, it’s usually very satisfying to see that actually.
But the starting point has to be them working together, or it just doesn’t feel right, at least to me, it feels fake.
We are all protagonists in our own lives, but we all should want to be paragons, and if we find people looking up to us like ones, we should never forget to be protagonists also, always able to learn from others.
But when you divorce these two characters from helping each other, your story falls apart, because that’s not real life.
And with that, I think I’ll end this post, until next time–Natasha.