I recently read the infamous essay “Mary Sue, what are you?” from the Tumblr Adventures of Comic Book Girl (the site is no longer up, but she has a blog here). This made the rounds on the interwebs a year ago, giving rise to a lot of debate, though the argument that Batman, or any other wish-fulfillment hero, would be highly criticized if cast as a woman has a ring of truth to it.
Of course, even heroines (or sheroes if you will) that are decidedly not Mary Sues, who have flaws and struggle with real problems, are often criticized for these facets of their characterization. Buffy the Vampire Slayer experienced a lot of fan backlash during season 6 when Buffy suffered from depression and engaged in self-destructive behaviors.
This also occassionally happens with male characters. Prior to the publication of Deathly Hallows, I knew many Harry Potter fans who said that Order of the Phoenix was their least favorite book because of Harry’s angst. Nevermind the fact that the boy clearly has PTSD and most teenagers go through a moody period even when they aren’t orphans being stalked by a sinister dark lord and recently witnessed the brutal death of a classmate. Moody Harry is annoying.
I decided to create two Venn Diagrams, one of Batman and one of Buffy, to demonstrate the difference in characterization:
As a clarification, “people” refers to other characters in the series, though it also parallels viewer/reader reactions with the exception of Han Solo. Viewers love it when Han Solo is douchy. Just think of the Han shot first debate.