6. Solid Snake
Solid Snake isn’t technically a comic book hero, given that he finds his origin in the video game “Metal Gear,” released on the NES in 1987. A character that was heavily influenced by James Bond and John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York,” Snake would go on to star in the “Metal Gear Solid” franchise, one that helped revolutionize the way a story gets told in a video game. My first encounter with Solid Snake was when “Metal Gear Solid” was released for the Playstation in 1998. The game had an awesome, cinematic opening the likes of which I had never seen in a game, unique, specialized villains, and gameplay mechanics that emphasized stealth and smarts over guns and fighting, another revolutionary approach that I appreciated even back then.
Snake was genetically engineered, along with his two twin brothers, by the US government in an attempt to recreate the greatest soldier in the history of the armed forces. Just how successful this experiment was is a subject of debate, and probably will be until conversation about this story ceases entirely, worldwide. In any case, Snake’s life and career path were chosen for him from the moment of his birth, and war was the only thing he knew. It could be argued that his greatest accomplishment was the defeat of his (genetic) father, the aforementioned “greatest soldier” who had never warmed to the idea of clones of himself being out in the world and used as tools by the government, and never took an interest in any of his three “sons.” Snake’s greatest enemies were his family and friends, other people who had in some way been controlled and manipulated by the self-propagating war machine that his brothers would later swear to bring down, as their father had before them. Having already saved the world from nuclear catastrophe on more than one occasion, Snake retired young and dedicated the rest of his short life to…saving the world from nuclear catastrophe.
Fortunately for all of us, Snake turned out to be the right man for that particular job. That alone should be enough to land him on a list of super heroes, but it was really the person he turned out to be that puts him here. Despite being created specifically for a devised and pre-determined purpose by very flawed people, he found a way to separate what matters in life from what doesn’t and hold onto the minuscule bit of humanity that he was afforded between his time spent sneaking into heavily fortified military complexes and sneaking back out. He was an endearingly gruff individual who didn’t usually say much and had absolutely no quit in him. In terms of sheer toughness, both emotional and physical, Snake probably beats out everyone else on this list. Time and experience turned this guy, human by all measurable standards, into granite. Like all legitimate heroes, he was willing to give you everything–even if it meant more tragedy in a life already filled with it.
For me, Snake is unique to this list because he’s one of the few characters who I loved immediately, and the passage of time has done nothing to change my view of him. Of course, he gets extra points for being a hero of that caliber while not having any actual super powers, but I always felt that one of the greatest things about Snake was the fact that he tended not to think in terms of “right” or “wrong.” Things were black and white for him only insofar as his mission parameters demanded it. Now, in the wrong hands, this point of view can be disastrous. But when it’s adopted by a guy who always hopes he’s doing the right thing, it doesn’t turn out so badly. The absence of right and wrong didn’t render him an amoral killing machine, it kept him grounded in a world that is embarrassingly sure of itself and its value system. Snake knew better than to be too sure of himself, because while he spent his life averting nuclear war, he also spent that life getting played like a violin by people with grander plans than he could process. That single-minded approach to the task at hand was one of his greatest attributes, but it was also his greatest weakness, making it easy for people with big schemes to use him as the central pawn in their complex bid for world domination. When you add it all up, though, it becomes clear that Snake was the hero that his world needed, and a better man than it deserved.