Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Hard Way, Final

by Lee Child
Delacorte Press / May 2006

Jack. For such a simple name, it seems to invoke a sense of power, of purpose, and somehow, of heroism. It’s the name of one of the most popular action heroes on television today - 24’s Jack Bauer. And it’s the name of the hero in Lee Child’s consistently impressive action thriller series – Jack Reacher. What is in a name exactly? As it turns out, these two heroes seem to have much more in common than a name. They certainly share a sense of ruthlessness. There are whole websites dedicated to the body count Jack Bauer rakes up in a single episode of 24. And towards the end of The Hard Way, the most recent installment of the series – although a new installment Bad Luck and Trouble is slated to be released in May – Child writes,

…the remorse gene was missing from his DNA. Entirely…Where some men might have retrospectively agonized over justification, he spent his energy figuring out where best to hide the bodies.

And they both have an old-fashioned sense of honor in that women, children, and all other vulnerable subjects must be protected and defended at all costs (unless of course, they’re trying to kill them) and they never give their word unless they intend to keep it. They both, too, hold to a very simplistic view of right and wrong; good and evil. Neither of them have any qualms about cold-bloodedly killing – or, in the case of Bauer, torturing – the bad guys because nothing they do is wrong if it’s done for the cause of what’s right. When an ex-FBI agent expresses doubts about taking out the bad guy, Reacher explains, “We splattered a thousand bugs on our windshield yesterday. A thousand more today. One extra won’t make any difference.” For them, the end always justify the means.

But Jack Bauer is very much a man of his time. He is, as many people enjoy pointing out, a post-9/11 hero equipped with the kind of fictional high-tech computers and programs Homeland Security only wishes they had. In this morally fuzzy world of “War on Terrorism” Jack Bauer is the “whatever it takes” kind of hero who, if he’d existed, surely would have prevented the day which instigated his birth, or so the creators of 24 would have you believe. The truth of the matter is that without 9/11, Bauer wouldn’t exist. There would be no context in which for us to understand, whether we cheer them or not, Bauer’s tactics.

Jack Reacher’s appeal on the other hand is that he’s a man outside of time – or past his time – living as a nomad loner on the outskirts of society. He’s so out of touch that it’s news to him that cells phones have developed text messaging. At another point Child informs us:
Silent phones made Reacher nervous. He came from a world where a sudden dive for a pocket was more likely to mean a gun than a phone. Every time it happened he had to endure a little burst of unrequited adrenaline.

Though it’s safe to assume that Bauer and Reacher are both very likely in their early 40s, Reacher somehow seems older than Bauer. Reacher’s old school. He isn’t chasing nuclear bombs with semi-automatics and saving whole cities with the help of the super counter-terrorism unit CTU. He’s so old school, he doesn’t need a watch to tell the time within a minute and instead using computers to break open his newest puzzle, he uses plain old brain-power – the kind that keeps him up at night and haunts him during his morning coffee.

Reacher isn’t interested in saving the world, he’s merely interested in righting wrongs wherever he sees them. He defends battered women, kidnapped children, and guiltily accused men. If Bauer’s the kind of hero you wish could save the world, then Reacher’s the kind of hero you’d want to save your life.