D.M. Haight

When thinking of super heroes, we consider their powers. What makes them special? For some it’s a radioactive accident that results in the growth of additional limbs, or animalistic abilities courtesy of the creepy crawlies. For others their power lies within themselves and their circumstances. Superman happens to live on a planet where his power is not only amplified, but transformed into something that makes him unique, almost perfect. Then you have the Batmans of the world. They’re super rich, incredibly resourceful, and have a short fuse (Understandable when we consider they’re orphaned, live in a city that’s corrupted up the whazoo, and have only one competent butler). But the Batmans of the world give us a secondary way by which we can categorize the super hero: intentions.

Now, Superman is driven by what he perceives as “right”. Batman is driven by law and order. Ironman is driven by personal ambition (And I think it’s about time we found ourselves a super female to insert into these conversations about film, but that’s for another day). These characters have their rules, their boundaries, and they have codes to live by. And there is another super hero that somehow gets overlooked in media. Of course that super hero is a mass murdering serial killer; but who are we to judge?

Dexter, the Showtime Original, has, for the last eight years, followed the life and transgressions of one Dexter Moser, also known as Dexter Morgan, a serial killer who only kills those who deserve it. With the series being wrapped up and finished, it seems only right to pen this article (Type it?) to make the case for Dexter’s canonization into the super hero fraternity.

ONE

When the series began (And yes, there will be spoilers for those who have not watched) we found Dexter driving down the streets of Miami, discussing his “Dark Passenger”: his inability to feel even simple emotions. He hid from the world behind a mask of kindness, generosity, and even a bit of awkwardness. Hiding from the world is what Dexter does best (for a while), and his ability to hide can perhaps be traced to his origin as a serial killer.

When he was only two years old, Dexter witnessed the brutal murder of his mother. He sat in a pool of her blood until the police, and Det. Harry Morgan, arrived at the grisly scene to take him in and protect him. Upon the adoption of Dexter into the Morgan family, Harry began to notice that there was a distinct difference in the way Dexter reacted to certain things. The young boy was inquisitive when it came to murder, blood, and everything macabre. Harry knew that whatever Dexter saw in that shipping container when his mother was murdered had stuck with him, and in the worse way.

The result of the murder and trauma would have to be squelched by something stronger, something more useful to Dexter’s survival if he could not contain his urge to kill as an adult. Thus, the orphan and the adopted father worked on developing a code, a rule system by which Dexter should act by: no innocents, only wrong doers; never get caught; and never break outside the code. Of course, Dexter ends up imposing his own methods and rules later on as his skills and needs develop. He begins to use plastic wrap to restrain his victims, starts stabbing them in the heart in a ritualistic manner, and he forces them to look at the photographs of those they have killed, or raped, to make them relive the events of their transgressions, in order to confirm their guilt, make them feel remorse, or torture them in a psychological sense.

If we remember this happens a lot in the super hero films we see today. In Batman Begins, we see a resourceful, orphaned Bruce Wayne tackle the injustices of a city, with self-imposed rules of engagement when it comes to handling the criminal masses: Never kill, always capture and leave with the police, instill fear in the criminals, never give up, never get caught. And even in the Marvel Hulk films we watch as a man restrains a monster that hides beneath the surface of his outer persona. The Hulk is in fact infected, resulting in his condition of turning into a rage-filled monstrosity, and if he does not train it and control it, then it is unleashed with a vengeance. The same is true of Dexter, who has to release his inner demon, courtesy of a different kind of psychological infection. If he does not, then he grows agitated, snaps, and dates sexy British women who like fire way too much.

So here we can see that the death of his family, the trauma of the horrific event, and the surrogate father figure all come together to create an efficient machine. A monster, no doubt. But a monstrous being who we can sympathize with. A monster that takes out the trash, much like Batman, just with a little less flair.

TWO

As mentioned above, Dexter lives by a code. Like his predecessor superheroes, he has to live by this code to preserve not only himself, but also those around him. It’s a system of rules that he made up, or were rather had made up for him. He has a system by which he inflicts his justice, and it involves a ton of plastic wrap, lots of photos, and a few sharp instruments. When these three things are put into a room, we see a ritual ensue. Dexter wraps his prey up tight, goes over why they’re there, why they need to be strapped down, and then he does what he does best: kills.

But when he kills he has to make sure there is no evidence left behind. Always wear latex gloves, long-sleeve shirts, never be seen, always dump the bodies where the current will dispose of them for you (Learned that one the hard way), and always abide by the rules.Dexter is incredibly thorough, and it shows when he goes eight seasons without getting caught by Miami Metro. His code left him working in a forensics unit for the police. He literally lives in the Lion’s Den. He has to abide by his code, sans morals, just to maintain his survival, and to keep his ability to satisfy his inner demon. It’s simple stuff, but every hero needs it. Otherwise, what’s the point?

THREE

Dexter’s secret identity has serious crossovers into the real world his alter ego lives in. Dexter Morgan doesn’t actually exist for a long time. It’s the Dark Passenger. So when Dexter starts running into Doakes, who really always smelled something fishy coming from Dexter, it’s not hard to see how his secret identity could get compromised. Staring down his nose, past that pencil mustache, Doakes always had an eye on Dexter, and it’s no surprise that Doakes met an explosive ending when he got WAY to close to the truth. Then there were the countless killers who came into Miami Metro who happened to have crossed paths with Dexter once or twice.

He finds people like himself, and because of his moral code, he must put an end to their existences. Dexter represents a reigned in evil, and those who are like him, no matter how they themselves began their descent into darkness, need to be dealt with. Dexter’s brother, the Ice Truck Killer, was born in blood just as much as Dexter was, but Dexter had to put him down for the greater good.

In season 4 we saw one we assumed was very much like Dexter in terms of hunting habits, killing techniques, and in terms of publicity. Arthur Mitchell, better known as Trinity, was an unassuming man who worked to bring homes to people who needed them, had a seemingly perfect family, and lived a perfectly normal life. Dexter even admired the man. But of course nothing was perfect in paradise. Trinity was an abusive father and husband, and was an emotionally unstable and psychologically diluted individual who killed innocent boys. Dexter had to deal with him. But dealing with serial killers doesn’t normally end well. Dexter lost Rita, the mother of his son Harrison, his estranged wife, and anchor in the realm of normalcy. Serial killers don’t play nice, they don’t understand defeat, and unlike Dexter, they let their Dark Passenger out a little more often than is socially acceptable.

FOUR

He has a combat training background. He can manhandle anyone, keep quite and act swiftly. He has light feet, quick wits, and has an arsenal of tranquilizers at his disposal. Not to mention he keeps fit, and can take down individuals much larger than himself when he needs to. Little Chino for instance. ‘Nuff said..

FIVE

Dexter is a master of technology. He has the ability to hunt through databases, and hack computers, and simulate how deaths occurred. He is an amazing detective because of this. He uses the advanced computer systems he has at his disposal to hunt his prey more effectively, under the guise of forensic work. From a simple location in the center of a room, he can deduce where a single droplet of blood could have come from, how it could have gotten there, and even have an idea of who did it. He’s like Batman, but a little more murdery.

SIX

Everyone he cares for is destroyed by his secret identity. Brian Moser (Dexter’s brother), Harry, Deb, Rita, Vogel. Everyone who helped to create him, shape him, and loved him ended up dying because of him. Of course, he killed his brother, Harry killed himself because he couldn’t live with the knowledge that his son was a killer who took pleasure in killing, Rita was murdered by Trinity, one of Dexter’s greatest rivals. Deb is murdered, in part, by Saxon, who was out to get Dexter, Vogel was also killed by Saxon, as well Dexter’s would-be protégé, Zach Hamilton, had his head sawed open and a portion of his brain removed by Saxon. Essentially, just like a super hero who lets their identity slip, the loved ones of said hero are the ones who face the full force of the hero’s actions. In a sad twist of fate, those deaths actually help Dexter come to grips with his monstrous humanity.

SEVEN

His greatest enemies are ones he admires, or even admire him. Of course his brother admired him, that’s a given; family ties don’t break, even when you kill your older brother to stop him from marrying your adopted sister, who doesn’t know your brother chops people up and drains their blood, all in an attempt to say hi to you. Those ties are like iron, man. And it’s a no brainer that Dexter thought his brother’s technique was intriguing and damn awe-inspiring. And then there’s Miguel Prado, the Assistant DA who took a particular liking to Dexter’s work. He himself wasn’t all that great, just bloodthirsty. But when he saw Dexter work he couldn’t help but admire the rules, the delicacy, the precision, and the ritual. Kind of scary to have that kind of fanboy running around, to be honest.

And then we get Hannah McKay, who’s like Dexter’s Catwoman. She’s smart, sexy, and deadly. Most guys would kill to be with her, and she’d kill them for trying. She liked to poison people, drug them, and pretty much enjoyed cooking for her man, Dexter. He found her insanely attractive, and honestly, no one could blame him. But the thing we loved the most about Hannah was that she loved him in return. Even after he turned her in to the cops that one time we keep trying to forget…At least she is less of an enabler than Lila. Wow. She thought Dexter’s “addiction” to killing was sexy. Of course, she thought burning down houses was sexy. But those two were a unique item. Both were unstable, both had terrible habits, and both of them wanted more out of life. This odd partnership, sparked by a mutual interest in the passions the both of them displayed while dealing with their respective conditions, didn’t go very far, but there was mad respect on both sides.

EIGHT

The hunter is hunted for acting outside of the official law. Dexter enacts his own brand of justice as a means of coping with the greater burden of bloodlust. He does not take a great deal of morality into account; in fact, it could be argued that he doesn’t really have a morality. He does what he does the way he does it because it was how he was taught to hide, how he was taught to deal with the urges he would have, how he was taught to keep the monster at bay. He goes so far as to steal some of the cases from the police, such as Trinity, because has a desire to prove himself the better, like most serial killers do. But above all else, he just wants to keep himself in the shadows as much as possible.

Of course, this is impossible for a super hero to do. During the case of the Doomsday Killer, Dexter is on the verge of destroying Travis Marshall, a man who believes he’s divined by God to bring about judgment and set down the signs of the apocalypse. When Dexter has his adversary on a table, ready to be killed in the ritualistic fashion Dexter usually employs (Knife to the heart while the victim is strapped down), a certain someone happens to walk in on him. Deb makes an unfortunate discovery in that instance, and it’s not one that can be explained away. Deb finds Dexter’s knife deep in a perp. You can’t get out of that one…

His morality is ambiguous, and even when Deb finds him like that, she eventually has to face the facts that what he does, no matter how sick, has helped people. He’s an oddity of the vigilante world, a serial killer who kills killers. He does a public good, is a hero, and even Dexter himself has fantasies about being a hero to the people of Miami. But the circumstances behind his morally ambiguous heroics leave him out as a monster of the society, which results in a deep chasm between him and the rest of the world.

But overall, like most super heroes, Dexter just wants to be normal, or wanted to be. In the final episode he acts out of revenge and kills Oliver Saxon. He finally commits his own personal justice aside from the rules Harry and Vogel created for him. He euthanizes Deb out of love. He finally manages to commit to humanity, to break from his horrors and he learns to be something other than that monster Harry knew he’d never beat. He found love in Harrison. He found love in Hanna. And to save them, to protect them, he destroyed his former self, his own hope. He became a monster in a terrible act of humanity, and he became a human through a terrible kindness not many of us would give. Dexter, the super hero serial killer, set himself apart from humanity: to control his urges, and to isolate the monster that still lurks within. He killed Dexter Morgan in a storm. Who he is now doesn’t matter. The hero lives as super heroes often do: in silence, with regret, out of love.

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