When the audience needs to be shown how physically dangerous an enemy
is, the creators invoke The Worf Effect
, or maybe they throw a Sacrificial Lamb
(or worse, a Sacrificial Lion
) in the path of the bad guy. But when the producers don't feel like killing one of their characters yet, but still need to show the audience just how dangerous the situation
is, they often resort to breaking the badass by having the hardest, coldest, roughest, toughest, most jaded and violent, seen-it-all character become shocked out of their wits by it.
When this is done to Villains
, it is often in the form of Even Evil Has Standards
. Related to Not so Above It All
and Sarcasm Failure
. Contrast Admiring the Abomination
, where scientific curiosity makes a character get excited (if still scared) at the sight of a monster.
Expect Oh Crap
or Mass "Oh, Crap!"
reactions. Can sometimes invoke Anyone Can Die
Anime & Manga
- In a chapter of Mahou Sensei Negima!, to show how unstoppable the old Big Bad was (he was the Final Boss), one of the Hot-Blooded (and otherwise invincible) characters was given an uncharacteristic fear of him, just to emphasize the point. Rakan was incapable of beating him due to the Lifemaker's power and got killed. He got better later, kind of.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: When Marik is about to summon his Sun God Ra, and all the characters present who are aware of the strength of it have eyes widened with shock.
- In Pokémon Special's FireRed & LeafGreen arc, Red suffers an almost uncharacteristic Heroic BSOD after losing a fight to Deoxys.
- In Fairy Tail, we have Acnologia, wo cost Gildarts An Arm and a Leg, which he revealed to Natsu when he came back. The guy is Fairy Tail's resident Person of Mass Destruction. Their town, Fiore was even rigged to make way for him so he doesn't accidentally destroy the town. And the dragon Curb Stomped him.
- Guts of Berserk isn't immune to this. Nosferatu Zodd did this by simply transforming into his Apostle form. When they meet again after the Eclipse, Guts is better prepared for it since he's fought many Apostles up to that point.
- In the Sailor Moon anime's last season, Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune pretend to defect from the Sailor Senshi and join Sailor Galaxia, which they prove by killing Sailor Pluto and Saturn. The two wait for a moment to attack Galaxia, and when they do, realize she doesn't have a Star Seed. The two completely break when they realize they murdered their friends and sold their souls for nothing.
- In Hunter × Hunter the Chimera Ant Royal Guard Neferpitou has a Nen aura so powerful and malicious that it terrifies almost everyone who sees it. Kaito immediately warns Killua and Gon to run when he realizes that Neferpitou is coming for him. Killua knocks out Gon and carries him away when he realizes that Gon is too furious about Kaito losing an arm to Neferpitou to run. Knov gets it the worst. The moment he senses Neferpitou's aura his hair turns white and he completely loses the will to fight.
- Knov didn't actually see Pitou's aura as she had to suppress it in order to heal the King at that time. What he sensed was Pouf's. It also worth mentioning that Knov was under a lot more pressure than Kaito, Gon or Killua when they had sensed Pitou's aura. He was in the middle of the enemy stronghold. He knew that at any time, Pitou could turn her En back on at which point he would be immediately caught, tortured for information and then killed. He was already at the edge when he saw Pouf's aura, which just pushed him over it.
- When the Martian Manhunter wants Guy Gardner to settle down during a JLA meeting, he accomplishes it via the threat: "I'll tell Batman."
- The only villain that the Incredible Hulk will admit to being scared of is the Sentry's evil alter ego, the Void.
- In one issue of Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner relates how Guy Gardner (a Green Lantern notable for not just being able to "overcome great fear", but being honest-to-God fearless) used to tell funny stories about some of the truly ridiculous villains Hal Jordan used to fight. But, Rayner notes, "Guy never told any funny stories about Sinestro", the one villain who ever scared the crap out of Gardner.
- In an early issue of X-Men, the X-Men had to fight the reality warper, Proteus. He was so terrifying that Wolverine was shaken by the first battle.
- In the animated series, the encounter doesn't just "shake" Wolverine, it leaves him huddled on his knees, sobbing.
- In Ultimate X-Men, Wolverine is briefly possessed by Proteus. Proteus' hatred towards his father Professor Xavier was so strong that it scared Wolverine.
- A DC Comics Crisis Crossover once noted that things had gotten really really bad by having one of the characters note that even The Joker had stopped laughing.
- In Underworld Unleashed, the Trickster comments that when villains want to scare each other, "They tell each other Joker stories."
- A running theme among henchmen as well; whenever you see henchman engage in small talk, invariably the Joker will come up.
- Marv in Sin City only seems to be afraid of the woods. This makes sense considering he was tied up to a tree as a child and left overnight.
- In Watchmen, when The Comedian (a guy who shoots a Vietnamese woman who was pregnant with his child, possibly assassinated Kennedy, and killed other heroes to repay long past slights) discovers the main antagonist's plan, he completely breaks down, and shows up at the home of one of his old enemies drunk out of his mind, praying for help, sobbing with horror and demanding to know how anyone can come up with such a thing.
- Rorschach's final speech also qualifies.
- Batman is one of the most famous badasses in comics. When he discovers that an ancient conspiracy — the Court of Owls — has been living in Gotham for hundreds of years, he's a little alarmed. When he discovers that they've never acted against Batman until now because they never even considered him to be a threat, he's a little more alarmed. But when he's captured, drugged and psychologically tortured in a vast labyrinth beneath Gotham City and nearly driven to madness and hopelessness, that's when the readers start to feel the horrors really sinking in. Being Batman, he manages to escape. It's still a chilling sequence, however.
- On the topic of Batman, the miniseries The Cult centers around this.
- The one who did it more successfully, was The Joker, during his brief stint as Emperor Joker. Killing even the toughest Badass over and over while forcing him to see the atrocities only the Joker's mind could come up with in a reality made of bubblegum would break anyone, though.
- During the Tamers Forever Series, Renamon desperately tries to warn the Tamers to run when she sees Chaos Biomerging
Rika: Renamon, if I didn't know you, I'd think you were frightened.
Renamon: Rika, I'm TERRIFIED!
- The Lord of the Rings: "A Balrog. A demon of the ancient world. This foe is beyond any of you. RUN!"
- The book version had Legolas, who is old enough to remember the Balrogs, freaking out.
- A minor example from Gandalf again is his giving a rousing speech to the men of Gondor that whatever comes through that door, they can fight it. His expression at the giant armored battle trolls that smash through is priceless.
- The Dark Knight: Harvey Dent, who goes from a pretty thoroughgoing idealist to the villain Two-Face, due to the Joker killing his girlfriend, destroying his appearance, and giving him a truly brutal speech.
- The Hunger Games: Mockingjay shows the jaded Action Girl Johanna Mason, who describes herself offhandedly as unbreakable because "there's no one left I love" without seeming affected by these losses at all, return from her imprisonment in the Capitol (including quite a lot of Cold-Blooded Torture) completely traumatized. Katniss even mentions how, without her normal Bad Ass attitude, she looks like nothing more than another Broken Bird.
- In World War Z narrator Todd Wainio describes how one of his fellow soldiers, a former wrestler, "an ogre with a two-g body count", who once tore off a ghoul's arm and bashed its skull in with it, broke down crying and had to be carried off on a stretcher when he came across a jackknifed big rig filled with broken bottles of cheap perfume that reminded him of someone he lost.
- In The Dresden Files novel Turn Coat, Harry breaks down when Madeline Raith turns him in to the White Council for shielding Morgan, to the point where it crosses into a Heroic BSOD. Murphy snaps him out of it by point out that (a), he's a badass, man up, and (b) bureaucracies take time to get things done; he has time, man up. Also segues into an awesome scene where Murphy takes Harry to task for his inaccurate self image of an unpredictable lone ranger.
- Even more so in Changes when he breaks his back. He gets better, but he was so morose that he ended up committing assisted suicide.
- This last needs a bit more explanation. The aforementioned decision to commit assisted suicide was not directly caused by his feelings about his broken back. Rather, it was an attempt at dealing with the consequences of what he was forced to do after. Dresden's enemies had kidnapped his daughter, who they planned to ritually sacrifice, and with his back broken Dresden had no way of stopping it from happening. To save his child and himself, he makes a Deal with the Devil with Queen Mab to heal his injuries and give him power, at the price of his service to her once his task is complete. However, fearing that Mab would turn him into a monster once he was in her service, he calls up an assassin he knows and hires the guy to kill him as soon as his daughter is safe. Of course, it later turns out that Harry was psychically manipulated into taking this course of action...
- Tessa shooting Michael. The Denarians torturing Ivy. The Denarians killing Shiro. The Denarians like this trope - it makes them stronger.
- The Naagloshi is also fueled by this trope. It gains power by killing wizards (and a bit from one-trick-ponies like the Alphas). However, it gets crowning mention for what it did to Thomas.
- Harry essentially became a hero by having these moments, and then thinking and acting instead of despairing. The thinking started a bit later, though, so his reputation as a magical thug isn't unfounded.
- One in particular would be seeing Stan killed so casually in his flashback in Ghost Story. In a moment that's both heartbreaking and badass, Harry snaps out of it and blows up the assailant, He Who Walks Behind, the foremost warrior of the immune-to-magic Outsiders.
- Discworld: Vetinari does this to Vimes by accident. He would often obstruct Vimes' investigation, knowing it would make him try even harder. Each time, Vimes punches the wall of Vetinari's office on the way out. Except one time he doesn't, and Vetinari realizes later that it means he's finally found Vimes's limit.
- The advent of the appearance of the Balrog in The Lord of the Rings has Gimli (gruff and tough dwarf warrior) stunned and shaking, Legolas (Elf prince, fearsome archer, and tends to be either The Stoic or Mr. Sunshine) freaking out, and Gandalf (one of the most powerful beings inhabiting Middle Earth) actually afraid.
- In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, the game over sequence is plenty scary, being such a wonderful failure, but what makes it downright terrifying is the realization (sometimes Fridge Logic) that Raidou, normally very cool, collected, and poker-faced, looks horrified, and is very visibly panicking.
- Knights of the Old Republic I: There is one particular dark side act which will make Canderous tell you you've overstepped the limit. Only one. Mind-controlling Zaalbar into choking his teenage friend, a girl who trusts and respects you and believes that you can still be saved, to death.
- Team Fortress 2's cast is a Badass Army of Thieves and Whores, each of them managing to deliver hilarious amounts of destruction, but they're united in one thing: their sheer and unadulterated fear of The Pyro.
- Halo: This is shown to have happened to the Master Chief by the time Halo 4 rolls around. The strain of a long war and the loss of many people who were close to him (especially Cortana) has had a detrimental effect on the Chief. The opening cutscene even has Halsey's interrogator pointing that Spartans are so psychologically damaged they can't interact very well with ordinary people, inferring that John had to be broken to become the badass he became.
- The signs were visible even before that, as there are several moments in the game where the Chief just sounds... Tired.
- Dark Souls: Artorias in the backstory ( and DLC). Solaire around the time he gets to Lost Izalith, possibly fatally.
- In Girl Genius the moment the Dreen shows up, the reaction of a Jager General is "Doze tings is unschtoppable! Vorse - dey's scary!"
- In Homestuck, Jack Noir is established as a nigh-omnipotent, destructive, murderous Reality Warper, the cancer of a universe made manifest, against whom absolutely nothing could stand in a direct fight (up to the arrival of PM with the ring, anyway), and half the story is about finding a way to defeat him... is positively shocked when he discovers what Lord English can do.
- Red vs. Blue: Tex is one of the best fighters in the series, easily able to kick almost everyone's butt single-handedly, as well as being nigh-unkillable because she's a ghost and AI. Omega is her former AI, fresh off an attempt to take over the entire galaxy, who Body Surfs and takes over people's minds, including Tex's a long time before. While it happens offscreen, by all accounts both freak out and desperately try to escape when the Meta shows up and ultimately takes down both.
- This happened with The Venture Bros.' Brock Samson at one point. Dr. Venture responded along the lines of, "I've seen you yank a man's eyes out of their sockets with the veins still attached and dance him around like a marionette, but THIS shocks you?!"
- In Transformers: The Movie Autobot veteran Kup has Seen It All and is unfazed by everything. Enter Unicron eating one of Cybertron's moons: "...I've never seen anything like it."
- In The Legend of Korra, Amon does this to Korra herself. She was already scared witless into becoming uncharacteristically hesitant and seemingly-stoic after witnessing Amon's ability. Her first personal encounter with him, when his Equalists ambush and restrain her in seconds and he himself promises that he will destroy her utterly and personally once the time is right, leaves her crying into Tenzin's arms, admitting she had never felt so helpless and afraid. And considering the entire sequence was played as if she was about to be raped, we believe it.
- TRON: Uprising: Part of the reason we know Dyson is bad news is everyone's reaction to him. Tessler is visibly shaken just looking at the guy. And then we find out that Dyson broke the badass by torturing Tron within a micron of de-rez, an act that sends Tron on a murderous rampage where Beck's attempt to talk Tron down almost get the younger Program killed...