I’ll go ahead and ask forgiveness for my first profane word in a blog article, and I’ll respectfully invite any reader that can provide a synonym for “Badass.” Meaning, another word for a character that will mow down other characters without letting little details like honor and justice getting in the way; vigilante is a close description, but placing the law into one’s on hands is vigilance; doing it well is badass. For this article, I'm keeping "Badass" for protagonist characters.
Once a fan mentions “Badass” the interpretation is almost instantaneous in fiction: Martial arts, big guns (BFG 9000 in the game “Doom” anyone?), or other “wicked skilz” as a fan of my books mentioned in a review. Badasses defeat the bad guys and make no apologies as they make our dreams come true as we read fiction; we want the A-hole bad guys to pay and pay BIG. So let’s “kick-butt” and rub them out.
So for some analysis on these popular characters: One “Badass” is not equal. Meaning, these characters often have more depth than a zest for being a killing machine. Some have lost friends/family important to him/her to the antagonist; so revenge is an important and popular motivator for the Badass. What else can create a Badass? What’s so terrible about a character that finds murderers a bit more distasteful than the justice system and jailing isn’t enough? How about child soldiers, as in my Badass character Shevata’s case? She was raised to kill lawbreakers by death orders; so rubbing out killers is business as usual for her. How about a Badass that’s just so tough there’s not alternative? My example would be the cartoon “The Tick” hilarious when he found the ocean not so bad, just a bit “sharky.”
I see criticisms of Badasses. Some say they’re cliché, over-used, chick girls kick butt need depth, but really? OK, maybe cliché sometimes, I’ll give the critics that. But even Badasses can have weak spots, which can be compelling drivers of a story’s plot. Somewhere along the way, most Badasses I’ve seen or read about get kicked down by the antagonist usually, and find their way back to smear the bad guy into the ground.
Writers, if you have Badasses in your story, I think for the most part readers want is to make them feel. Give them a human element, or make them grow into it. If you give them a bit of substance, the action will go a long way. Action and/or strong plot turning is what every reader expects of a Badass.