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Nineties Anti-Hero
Everything that was wrong with comics in the '90s in one cover.note 
"Instead of serving as the deliciously targeted critique of fascist superheroics that it was, Rorschach got adopted as the iconic and default form of comic book vigilante for, basically, the next twenty years. The only major developments in the Rorschach concept were basically to add guns and robot arms."
Phil Sandifer on Watchmen

The Nineties Anti-Hero is a specific version of the Anti-Hero. Not all such characters were created during the 1990s, but that was the time when they were most common and most popular.

This guy is the polar opposite of your typical Silver Age superhero. Not only are they flawed, they may lack any heroic attributes. However, they're rarely ineffectual or pathetic (in the eyes of the writer, anyway), generally instead being totally committed to whatever they're doing at the moment. They have no compunction about killing villains, and indeed, this may extend to anyone who gets in their way; facing The Cape or any hero who does mind, they sneer at them as outdated. Their super-powers (if they have superpowers — many are Badass Normals) tend towards the lethal as well, and may include growing spikes out of one's body, the power to psychically boil blood, or turning any item into a gun. They are usually either demonic or technological in origin.

Male Nineties Anti-Heroes are ridiculously muscled, and often wear lots of pouches or bandoliers. There's a good chance he's either young and "hip", or middle aged with lots of long, grey hair, beard stubble, and scars. He also probably has at least one eye that looks fake, injured, or diseased and he carries a ludicrously oversized gun or sword that no human being could possibly carry.

Female Nineties Anti-Heroes, like most female superheroes, have large breasts and small waists, but unlike most female superheroes, this is often taken to disfiguring extremes courtesy of the ineptitude of the trope's pioneering artists. They don't tend to wear very much clothing (or if they do, it'll be typical superheroic barely-there "spandex" which showcases their exaggerated/inaccurate anatomy). But they still usually wear tights in some form. The ultimate extreme of the female version was the "bad girl" subgenre, featuring ludicrously buxom, near-naked Dark Action Girls, generally with some kind of supernatural nature or origin, hacking and pouting their way through plots designed solely to offer as much Gorn and Fanservice as possible.

Usually they'll have one word, gritty names that used to be reserved for villains, often creatively misspelled ('Shade' becomes 'Shayde', etc) to appear more dramatic or, because poor literacy is kewl, to make the character look radical. Never, of course, for trademark purposes.

In terms of characterization, they have four modes: brooding, sarcastic, Badass, or just plain psychotic. How much of any one side they show over the others is the main thing that sets them apart from each other.

Artist/writer Rob Liefeld is most prominently associated with Nineties Anti-Heroes (and pouches). Todd McFarlane and Jim Lee are also prominent artists from the period.

The origins of this trope extend at least to the mid-'80s; two critically praised comics, Watchmen and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns were both published in 1986. Both comics were influential in that they "deconstructed" traditional superheroic tropes, employing them for more sophisticated ends; Watchmen, after all, is considered by some to be the greatest comic of all time. The Nineties Anti-Hero was born when other writers connected the success of these series with their dark mood and overt violence, mixed their limited understanding of these works with tropes from the action movies of the time, and went from "heroes with flaws" to "characters constructed entirely of flaws". This may have been a natural progression - in his history of superheroes/autobiography Supergods, Grant Morrison says:
At the time, it was a dreadful setback for the idea of "grown-up" superhero comics. In hindsight, it was America's inevitable reaction to Watchmen, and the only response that could possibly be effective: Fuck realism, we just want our superheroes to look cool and kick ten thousand kinds of ass.

Speaking of action movies, an argument can also be made that the Nineties Anti-Hero came about more from the influence of the Action Hero archetype that was popular at around the same time than anything seen in Watchmen. Indeed, many nineties anti-heroes would spout one liners that would not at all be out of place in an Arnold Schwarzenegger or Steven Seagal movie.

Note that, in spite of the cynical-sounding write-up, this is not a bad trope, it's just very difficult to describe without making the whole premise sound inherently ridiculous. Much Darker and Edgier fiction tends to suffer from this problem. This can make sorting out the parodies a little tricky.

If one is replacing an older more optimistic hero, you have an example of an Anti-Hero Substitute.

Commonly paired with Superhero Packing Heat.

Generally these prominent figures are True Neutral or Chaotic Neutral in the Character Alignment.

See also: Designated Hero and Byronic Hero. Should not be confused with the Heroic Comedic Sociopath, who is blatantly evil and Played for Laughs. Many, but certainly not all, Nineties Anti-Heroes are Nominal Heroes.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime And Manga 
  • Guts from Berserk. He has a gritty but simple name, doesn't care about hurting people who get in his way, is ridiculously muscle-toned, has too many bags on his person, a Badass with angst and sarcasm to boot, and has a ludicrous BFS. Being from 1988, he's also a forerunner in weapon choice.
    • However, back in the Golden Age arc, he was a more sympathetic guy.
  • Revy from Black Lagoon. Rough but cool name, nihilistic outlook, stripperiffic outfit, sizable... tracts of land and a gun in every hand. To top it all off, the story is set in the mid-nineties.
  • Black★Rock Shooter: The eponymous heroine has the idiosyncratic name spelling, skimpy clothing, Badass Longcoat, fights without uttering a word with her humongous, morphing cannon and black katana and fights to kill. Add the ability to shrug off lethal wounds without blinking and a blue flame around her left eye. She's only missing one thing: The Most Common Superpower.
  • Killy from Blame! is this trope - minus the "hip" clothing and ridiculous muscle mass. The series was even created in the mid-90's.
  • Accelerator from A Certain Magical Index. Rough but cool name, rough outlook and oversized power.
  • Digimon is full of non-human examples (though many look humanoid), especially the early generations created during the nineties, reaching from Badass Furries to Hollywood Cyborg dinosaurs.
  • Vegeta of DragonBall Z started off as just another psychotic villain, but evolves into this trope during the Frieza and Cell sagas. Even after becoming a full-on good guy in the fight against Buu, he still retains a shred of his former badassery, such as punching out his opponent for mouthing off to him at the World Martial Art Tournament.
  • The general characterization of Kurei from Flame of Recca after the Tournament Arc. Despite separating himself and his loyal followers from the Uruha, and pursuing the same quarry as Recca and his allies, his vicious and ruthless nature remains unchanged, even until the end of the series.
  • Depending on continuity, the protagonists from Getter Robo may be portrayed as such. The early cartoons tried to remove this aspect, but it's back in newer adaptations.
  • Alucard from Hellsing - minus the ridiculous muscle mass. Not to mention, he was born in the nineties.
  • MD Geist, despite being from the 80's.
  • Rurouni Kenshin: Saito Hajime is basically what The Punisher (mentioned below under Comics) would be if he were a late Nineteenth century Japanese Sword wielding policeman. While he does not have the physical appearance of this archetype, his philosophy of "Swift Death to Evil" certainly fits.
  • In Tiger & Bunny, the inhabitants of Sternbild City are introduced to the concept of the Nineties Anti-Hero with Lunatic, a menacing vigilante who unhesitatingly kills criminals, racks up the property damage like nobody's business, and mocks the established superheroes for their idealistic 'weakness'. Given what end of the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism the show occupies, he serves as both a villain and a Knight of Cerebus during his introduction. Though later episodes in the series put him in a more sympathetic light.
  • Violence Jack: Jack is possibly the oldest example having been created in 1973.
  • Ogami Itto from Lone Wolf and Cub has to be older, being first published in 1970. If you think about it he has all the tropes of the typical dark age anti-hero. His Katana is heavier and more ungainly than others since it was designed for cutting the heads of people who committed Seppuku, thus qualifying it as a BFS. He pushes around a babycart bristling with weaponry, including but not limited to: a Naginata, James Bond style wheel-blades, and (at least in the movies) a freaking makeshift cannon! Framed for a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to commit Seppuku, he is rebelling against authority by his mere existence. He's constantly brooding and frowning and he will kill anyone who gets in his way without a moments notice. In fact, since he makes a living as an Assassin he will kill anyone who DOESN'T get in his way also, if the money is right.
  • The main character of the Witchblade anime is more of a subversion than in the comic book. She may be an extremely scantily-clad woman who's fight scenes are the epitome of Orgasmic Combat, but out of costume she's a very amiable single mom.
  • YuYu Hakusho: Hiei, originally a one-off villain, was more or less this being a demon with a jigon eye who doesn't just use any fire but with Hell Fire, could care less what happened to humanity as long as it didn't involve him, and won't hesitate to cut anyone deep who was in the way of his goals. Though unlike most of the examples on this page, he prefers speed over brute force. He also has a soft spot for his younger sister Yukina, but that is more of a reminder of why one shouldn't get on his bad side.

    Comic Books 
  • Rorschach and The Comedian of Watchmen are probably the joint Trope Codifiers. Unfortunately, nearly everyone failed to realize that they weren't supposed to be sympathetic characters, and things just deteriorated from there.
  • The Chase Lawlyer version of Manhunter from DC and Nightwatch from Marvel, both of whom were rather shameless rip-offs of Spawn.
  • There have been some comparisons of The New 52 with the early days of Image Comics, which may be something to be expected when you've got Image co-founders Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld working for you.
    • In particular, Superman is far more angsty and brooding than he was in the old continuity, and most of the superheroes seem to be far more violent as well.
    • During Grant Morrison's run on Action Comics, in one alternate universe a group created a device that would allow the user to create a super powered Tulpa. They wanted to create The Cape, however the executives thought this trope would have more wide-market appeal, and deliberately attempted to invoke it. It didn't go quite right though.
  • Superman and Batman got Anti-Hero Substitutes. For Superman, it was the Eradicator, one of the four replacement Supermen who appeared after he died. For Batman, it was Jean-Paul Valley, the man formerly (at the time), known as Azrael, who replaced him after Bane broke his back. Nightwing chewed Bruce out over it and Bruce himself admits it was one of his worse mistakes.
  • Superman himself became this in the Else World story Superman at Earth's End.
  • Image Comics specialized in these for as long as the fad lasted:
    • Spawn, quite possibly the most popular Nineties Anti-Hero. Edgy one-word name, grim-n-gritty backstory (an assassinated mercenary damned to Hell and sent back as a soldier of Satan), killing bad guys who were slightly worse than him, and written and drawn by Todd McFarlane.
      • Spawn is a very interesting example, as a lot of effort is put into humanizing him and he comes off as a far better character than the average Nineties Anti-Hero. But then, being around for a while tends to do that.
      • The first issue of Spawn also had a little parody of the tropes common appearance. Entertainment TV Talking Heads commenting that while the spikes and chains are "totally gauche", trying to bring back capes is a bad idea.
    • The Darkness and Witchblade both exemplified this trope. The former is a former mafia hitman who becomes a living vessel of the world's dark energies, complete with an army of flippant, happy-go-lucky demons who delight in every opportunity to torture someone; the second is a pornolicious detective with powers both lethal and which rip her clothes off whenever she uses them.
      • The former, however, is a Reconstruction of this trope, since he's much more subtle and complex than many other examples.
    • Youngblood, Rob Liefeld's Magnum Opus. What this implies about Liefeld's abilities is for the reader to decide.
  • The second-tier Marvel superheroes Darkhawk and Sleepwalker, both of whom had their heyday in the early 1990s, are arguably subversions of this trope. While they have strange and bizarre appearances, neither one was especially dark in their tone, at least compared to titles like Spawn, or the other characters that exemplify the Nineties Anti Hero. Darkhawk was about a kid who followed in his policeman father's footsteps by fighting crime with the mysterious alien armor he had obtained, while simultaneously keeping his Nuclear Family from falling apart. Sleepwalker was about an alien from another dimension that became trapped in a human's mind and manifested to fight crime while he was asleep, carrying on the similar role he had carried in his home world. There were, both in the letter columns of the old Sleepwalker comics and more recent web postings, positive responses from fans who liked the fact that Sleepwalker wasn't a violent antihero.
    • Darkhawk is actually an interesting case of this, as he at one point finds a journal of his father's, the last entry stopping with him and his partner preparing to go in pursuit of a hit-and-run driver before seeking medical attention for his victim. Chris refers back to this several times to remind himself to take a harder edge, before discovering the journal had a stuck page, in which his father hesitates, calls an ambulance, and makes sure the old woman who was hit survives.
  • Valiant Comics had a number of Nineties Anti Heroes.
    • Bloodshot: Mobster Angelo Mortalli was framed by the Carboni crime family, forcing him to become a witness for the state. While under Federal protection, Mortalli was betrayed by his protectors and sold to Hideyoshi Iwatsu to become a test subject for Project Rising Spirit.
    • H.A.R.D. Corps: A group of Vietnam veterans who where revived from comas by a corporation who fits them with brain implants that give them psionic powers, and explodes if they're killed, or caught. One of them dies in every other issue, so they're always being replaced.
  • Aquaman became a version of this in The Nineties and lasting until Infinite Crisis. He grew his beard out to adopt a Father Neptune look, and lost one of his hands and had it replaced first by a hook and then by a form-changing magical water-hand. He also adopted a more aggressive attitude on behalf of Atlantis. These changes were actually very well-received by much of the DCU's fanbase, and is considered an implementation of this trope that actually worked, as the goal of Peter David's revamp was to essentially rescue Aquaman from the scrappy heap that Super Friends had left him in. Unfortunately, years later much of the general public is still unaware of the revamp, and still picture poor Arthur as he was in Super Friends.
  • Pretty much everyone in Dark Age arc of Astro City, as one might expect in a deconstruction of The Dark Age of Comic Books. There is also lampshading aplenty. There is a notable subversion in the character of Hellhound who, despite having the demonic background, monstrous appearance, torn leather and chains costume and "edgy" name, is actually a Noble Demon, and a respected ally of the local Captain America and Spider-Man expies.
  • The Authority represent an entire Justice League of Nineties Anti-Heroes. They are, however, unusually idealistic for their kind, as part of their remit is to "make the world a better place". Their methods, however, seem to involve copious amounts of ultra-graphic violence (no Thou Shalt Not Kill for them), ruthless cynicism towards their enemies, and disdain for opposing points of view — they once overthrew the government of the United States.
  • During the early '90s, Bloodlines, one of the most loathed Crisis Crossover to hit The DCU, produced a glut of Nineties Anti Heroes, few of whom lasted more than a couple years, including Gunfire, Mongrel, Razorsharp, etc., etc. Probably the only one to be remembered fondly is Hitman, a, well, super-powered hitman, who alternated between being a paragon of the trope and a clever send-up.
    • Hitman also blatantly parodies this trope when Tommy encounters Nightfist, a Batman ripoff who takes out drug dealers with a pair of giant metal fists (which he wears over his normal fists) and then steals their drugs.
  • Joe Martin did a Deconstructive Parody of this in the one-shot comic book, Boffo in Hell, starring the two main characters from his newspaper comic strip, Mister Boffo (although everyone and everything except these two were drawn in a more-realistic, superhero style); the title was a reference to Spawn. In it, the government suspects that people are mean and violent because of self-esteem issues. As an experiment, they take a bunch of psychotics, give them a bunch of super-powers so that they'll feel "special" and then have them do community service among the public. Needless to say, it doesn't go as they planned. Earl Boffo, the dim-witted title character, winds up gaining super-powers of his own (with a Spawn-like appearance to match) and - completely by accident - manages to subdue and kill the murderous anti-heroes.
  • Cable, of the New Mutants, X-Force, and the X-Men was a major Trope Codifier. Tragic and mysterious past? Check. BFGs coming out the ass? Check. A "Badass" look that used to be reserved for villains? Check. His first appearance was even in 1990, Over time, though, he's been developed into a more complex character, somewhere between Messianic Archetype and A God Am I.
    • According to the rec.arts.comics.marvel.xbooks FAQ, Rob Liefeld originally designed him as a villain, but later reused the original design when he was asked to create a "New Leader".
    • Cable's leadership was also a catalyst in giving the existing members of the New Mutants a 90's Anti-Hero look, even though many of them did not have the personality traits.
    • Not long after Cable's introduction, Liefeld followed up with Feral and Shatterstar, who were basically 90's Anti-Hero expies of Wolfsbane and Longshot respectively.
  • Cyclops, of the X-Men, had his personality largely unchanged, but despite having been nicknamed "Slim" his whole life suddenly developed a chest that pro wrestlers would find intimidating.
    • His personality has changed later though. During Grant Morrison's New X-Men and especially after he became pretty much Nineties Anti-Hero despite the fact that it started in 2003.
  • Deadpool (created by none other than Liefeld himself) started out as a villain, then moved into Anti-Hero territory, and when a non-Liefield writer got a hold of him became more of an Affectionate Parody.
  • A strange example is Deathlok the Demolisher, who was created well over two decades before the heyday of the trope. Each of the various version of Deathlok have very 90's Anti-Hero traits to them: he is always a dead man resurrected as a cyborg (cyborgs being common in 90's comics), and turned into an unliving cybernetic weapon that uses huge guns as it's primary method of offense. Usually however the plot often involves Deathlok's unwillingness to succumb to his programming and kill wantonly, instead struggling to non-lethally dispatch his foes.
  • In 1994, DC turned Doctor Fate into an Anti-Hero named Fate who was a grave robber and had melted Dr. Fate's helmet into a knife.
  • The Doctor Who Magazine comic introduced a full-blown Nineties Anti Hero to the Doctor Who universe in the shape of Abslom Daak, Dalek Killer. He's a "chainsword"-loving professional criminal and multiple murderer who was exiled by a future Earth society to a Dalek-occupied world to kill as many Daleks as possible before his inevitable death (although he turned out to be Badass enough to survive).
  • Doom has the Doomguy going around and punching and/or shooting things...just because. He's also borderline psychopathic.
  • Around 1994, Guy Gardner, a roughnecked, "macho" member of the Green Lantern Corps, was reinvented as "Warrior," with ridiculously huge muscles, tattoos all over his body, and the ability to form his arms into any kind of weapon he could think of, mainly gargantuan guns. Rumor has it that the reinvention was the result of writer Beau Smith writing the pitch as a joke and accidentally having it approved. He eventually reverted to his old (but still roughnecked) Green Lantern persona after the fad played itself out.
  • Johnny the Homicidal Maniac parodied both the male and female versions of this trope in one of its "Meanwhile" stories.
  • Kingdom Come, by Mark Waid and Alex Ross, was in part a savage denouncement of Nineties Anti Heroes, and was one of the things that caused the changeover from the Dark Age to the Modern Age. One of the themes of the comic was the classic generation of superheroes fighting the violent "modern" heroes. Of course, the "classic" heroes shared some of the blame as well; many became just-as-violent Knight Templars attempting to deal with it. The "face" of the anti-heroes, Magog, is practically every Dark Age stereotype rolled into one cybernetic, sacrilegious package (though Waid and Ross admitted a certain fondness for him due to how over-the-top he was). In a brilliant twist of idealism, Magog realizes how screwed up he is, turns himself in, renounces violence, and is one of the people left alive at the end; in the prose novelization of the story, he becomes the Dean of Students at Paradise Island!
    • Magog himself was able to pull a Canon Immigrant, and was introduced in the Main DCU in a JSA storyline. In 2009 he got his own solo series, which is something of an Affectionate Parody of the old school Nineties Anti-Hero. His Rogues Gallery includes an insane homeless man with mind control powers and a silver haired woman who talks like a 1980s valley girl.
  • Lady Death: She is a Stripperific Dark Action Girl with a BFS who coincidentally first appeared in print in 1991.
  • Lobo was created to parody this sort of character.
  • Marshal Law is an Anti-Hero who specializes in hunting heroes, though as he always says, "I haven't found any yet."
  • At the end of the "Omega Effect" The Punisher/Daredevil crossover, Daredevil defies and deconstructs this to Frank Castle's partner, Rachel Cole.
    Rachel: You know what gives me strength? My loss. We're alike that way, I imagine. Admit it: nobody who's a stranger to that particular pain could ever be as driven as us.
    Matt: Never... *throws one of his sticks at a wall so hard behind her it plants in it* ... Don't you ever say that to me again. That is a repellent statement. It is a vomitous insult to every cop — every fireman — every soldier alive who steps up to fight for those who can't! I am sorry for your loss! But if you genuinely believe that only the death of a loved one can motivate a human being to take up a cause... then get your pathetic, cynical ass out of my way so I can do my job!
  • Penance in the Marvel Universe, originally the happy-go-lucky character Speedball, is a strange version of this. After believing himself responsible for the death of 612 people in Civil War, he designs a costume in dark colors designed to give himself constant pain with 612 spikes. This was intended seriously, but having happened long after the 1990s, is treated like a parody in most of his appearances outside Thunderbolts.
  • Speaking of The Punisher, he definitely fits this trope when written by certain authors. He's vacillated between a somewhat reasonable vigilante fully willing to abide by other heroes no-killing rules during team-ups, to an frothing lunatic who'll murder jaywalkers (retconned into being due to drugs he was exposed to without his knowledge), to being a serial killer who uses his family's deaths as a justification for the endless war he wages to sate his bloodlust.
  • Shadowhawk was a Image Comics title about a successful, scrupulously honest African-American attorney who refused to fix a case for an organized crime outfit and, in revenge, was kidnapped by them and dumped after being given an injection of the AIDS virus... which prompted him, in a fit of rage and desire to try and make some sense out of the world, to don exoskeletal armor and start brutalizing thugs as a vaguely Batmanish vigilante. The suits got more and more elaborate as the disease took its toll, to help compensate for his weakness, but he ended up dying of the disease anyway.
    • Apparently even series creator Jim Valentino hated the character, and killed him off purely out of spite. Why he even bothered with the whole affair in the first place is anyone's guess.
      • That may be why the second Shadowhawk ended up so... different.
  • Spider-Girl has April Parker, that is simply a jerk version of main protagonist with powers of Venom. She fits this trope perfectly, right to the point that woman she once saved from bandits run away, because she was more violent that they. Oh, and she killed Tombstone too.
  • One of Spider-Man's lesser villains, Cardiac, was one of these.
  • Supreme, who eventually moved from a Nineties Anti-Hero ripoff of Superman into an affectionate homage to the Silver Age Superman (largely because Alan Moore took control of the character).
  • The late eighties and early nineties had the Teen Titans sister team, the "Team Titans," who were this to the point that one of them took to calling himself Deathwing.
  • Likewise, in The DCU, Jason Todd (Batman's second Robin) has been a Nineties Anti Hero type ever since he came Back from the Dead. Amusingly, he was absent for the entire decade.
  • After Dark Empire revealed that Boba Fett survived falling into the Sarlacc, Fett was given various one-shots and miniseries and basically acted like the Star Wars equivalent of this.
  • The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were originally like this: later versions made them more unambigiously heroic and less feral.
  • Venom. First there was the "black suit" Spider-man, basically a Nineties Anti-Hero before his time, caused by an alien symbiote bonding to him. He later removes the symbiote, and it bonds to another man, becoming Venom, basically an Evil Spider-man. That would have all been well and good, except Venom proved to be something of an Ensemble Dark Horse, and entered his peak of popularity during the peak of the Nineties Anti-Hero's popularity, and thus Venom was given his own Comic and re-worked into one. Then they have Venom's Symbiote give birth to a second one, which bonded with a Serial Killer to become Carnage, an evil(er) Venom. This opened the floodgates. Venom's symbiote gave birth to 4 more Symbiotes, but these fused into a single one which bonded with a police officer to become another Nineties Anti-Hero Hybrid, meanwhile Carnage's Symbiote gives birth to yet another symbiote which bonded with another police officer to become yet another Nineties Anti-Hero called Toxin.
    • Kaine. Seriously, just look at him. (At least he was salvaged in Spider-Girl.)
      • And in the 2012 Scarlet Spider comic series written by Chris Yost, Kaine is now trying to be more of a traditional super-hero and move away from the Nineties Anti Hero motif altogether.
    • Morbius. Edgy leather gimp suit, magical demonic powers, slaughtering bad guys by the dozen, less moping and more badass-itude and even more exaggerated 90's villains to fight with... Only aversion might be that the 90's comic made him more generic handsome.
    • The entire plot of Superior Spider-Man sees Doc Ock stealing Peter Parker's body and using it to become a darker, more "badass" version of Spidey. He even has a black and red costume that was originally designed by Alex Ross for the first movie (since Movie Superheroes Wear Black). The entire thing is a bit of an Idiot Plot, since it requires all of Spider-Man's friends and teammates somehow not realizing that Peter Parker has been replaced.
  • Warrior Nun Areala: "Shotgun" Mary Delacroix, who was created specifically to complement the protagonist Shannon Masters. Though Delacroix is a downplayed example over all.
  • The "Winter Soldier" mega-arc by Ed Brubaker in Captain America subverts a lot of these tropes. When Cap's sidekick Bucky turned out to be Not Quite Dead after all, he was revived as a brainwashed assassin with a cyborg arm; it could have been really stupid, but it wasn't. Then, when Bucky took over as Captain America, he seemed poised to be a Grim And Gritty alternative to the more traditional model, with much made of him carrying a gun — however, Bucky almost never uses the gun, and in fact tries overcome his past and be a more traditional superhero.
  • Wolverine went from being a complicated, interesting character in the 80's to "stabby stabby stabby!" in the 90's. It took "Enemy of the State" and "Wolverine: Origin" stories to restore his former glory.
  • In the Dark Horse Comics superhero line Comics Greatest World, X filled this role. He was at least willing to give you one warning, a vertical slash across the face. If the X across your face or an image of your face was completed, however, he killed you. No exceptions. He was willing to do whatever it took to cleanse the city of Arcadia of its crime and corruption.
  • There's an obscure X-Men character named "Random", who started out as a recurring character for the second incarnation of X-Factor and can turn his arm into a gun. In Generation Hope #15, Pixie calls him "Johnny '90s". What's generally forgotten in later appearances is that Random is a shapeshifter who was actually a 13-year-old kid when first introduced, and took the form of a muscular giant with gun-arms because it's what he thought a badass was supposed to look like.

    Film 
  • Hakaider from the anime/tokusatsu series Kikaider becomes this in the movie Mechanical Violator Hakaider.
  • Mr. Furious in the movie Mystery Men is a parody and subversion of these kinds of characters; he would very much like to be one, and tries his hardest to come up with a back story fitting this mold (with most of his proposed names being some combination of 'Phoenix', 'Dark', 'Dirk' and 'Steel'), but is in fact ultimately a rather shy, gentle and meek man called Roy. In fact, the realization that he's not one of these types is enough to prompt a moment of Heroic BSOD for him.
  • Riddick from Pitch Black and its sequels. He's a morally ambiguous mass murderer who will kill anyone who gets in his path and is only good in comparison to the enemies he faces.
  • The Suffocator of Sins: This film, directed and starring "Diggity" Dave Aragon of Pimp My Ride fame, was to feature a Darker and Edgier Batman-like vigilante who, based on trailers that were released for it is strongly implied to be this trope, uses firearms and mercilessly kills criminals while hunting down a Neo-Nazi Villain. The film now seems to be in limbo following the 2012 Aurora Theatre Massacre, whose perpetrator, James Holmes, seemed to have been inspired by this film.
  • The Terminator: More specifically the one from 1991's Terminator 2: Judgment Day who is a Muscle bound, Leather clad cyborg with no hesitation against destroying anyone who got in the way of his directive until he was ordered by John Connor not to kill anyone.

    Literature 
  • Ace became one of these in the Doctor Who New Adventures. On TV, she had been a rather messed up but still rather bubbly and exuberant school-girl with a taste for explosives and chemistry. In the books, she became a hardened and gritty Blood Knight space marine. It was relatively mild compared to some examples of the time, but it was this trope nonetheless.
  • Parodied in The Man in the Ceiling by Jules Feiffer. Jimmy's friend Charley Beemer (who doesn't like capes) commissions him to draw his idea of a comic, which would feature a superhero named Bullethead, a weapon of death who drills through his enemies with his head, with lots of severed bodily parts to be drawn in detail (which the author refuses to show, since it's written for children).

    Live Action TV 
  • An episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? featured a comic book nerd becoming obsessed with a violent Nineties Anti-Hero type comic character who he thinks is the coolest thing ever. That is until this character comes to life, and he comes to realize just how uncool violence really is.
  • The obscure 90s comedy series Bob!, starring Bob Newhart, focused on a comic book creator of a Silver Age hero named "Mad-Dog", who was forced by his new employers in the 90s to reinvent his character into a hero of this fashion.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Faith. Also an Anti-Hero Substitute. Unlike virginal Buffy, she drank, swore, and had sex. She's also more ruthless as a Slayer than Buffy, and she wound up Jumping Off the Slippery Slope after an Accidental Murder and went on a Face-Heel Turn.
    • Spike came as close to a televised version of Lobo as you could get. He rode a bike, lived for battle, hated all forms of authority, smoked ciggies and listened to rock n' roll. His Popularity Power ensured the heroes would never kill him off, and Buffy eventually fell in love with him.
    • Wishverse Buffy is what Buffy might be like had Todd Mc Farlane or Mark Millar gotten their hands on her.
  • Parodied in Community with "Kickpuncher", a series of D-grade Robocop-style movies that main characters Abed and Troy watch primarily to make fun of it.
  • An episode of Criminal Minds has a comic book artist create a character named "True Night" who seems to be one of these. It has plot significance because the ways Night kills the other characters in the comic reflect murders the artist is committing in real life. In fact, if one looks at the episode a certain way, it can be viewed as a brutal deconstruction of this trope and Dark Age comics in general.
  • An episode of Dexter features a comic book character (The Dark Defender) based on Dexter's Serial-Killer Killer self that is a perfect 90s Anti-Hero; "Stalker of the night, his blade of vengeance turns wrong into right..." The "real" Dark Defender, upon seeing a pin-up of the character, has the most satisfied smile on his face for all of three seconds before he shakes it off as absurd not for any moral reasons (Dex is a Poetic Serial Killer and proud of it), but because, "Miami's too hot for all that leather". He does later have an Indulgent Fantasy Segue where he crashes the key moment of his "Super Hero Origin", kills the bad guys and saves his mother from being hacked to gibbets with a chainsaw. In leather.
  • The Ninth Doctor from Doctor Who. Though he came much later he still follows the formula perfectly, dark past, broods a lot, has no problem with killing his enemies in violent ways (unlike many other incarnations of the Doctor), makes sarcastic one liners frequently and he dresses in a black leather coat.
  • Heroes: Sylar, the Big Bad of the first season, is this from Season 2 onwards.
  • Hikonin Sentai Akibaranger has an episode that parodies Power Rangers, with an image of a comic book cover depecting the head of the "Powerful Rangers" as an overmuscled character drawn in the style of the 90's anti-hero.
  • Similar to the Criminal Minds example, was a serial of Kamen Rider Double. The Cockroach Dopant runs a website where people list those that have wronged them for him to assassinate. While basically a glorified contract killer, he considers himself this trope, calls himself "Roachstar" and "the Dark Exterminator", and even has and draws his own manga in-universe.
  • Smallville lampshades this by having a comic-geek-turned-supervillain threatening to push Chloe off a tall building and that it is "big in the nineties".
  • Iron Enforcer represented this type of "super hero" in the first season of Who Wants to Be a Superhero?. Unfortunately for him, Stan Lee is not fond of this archetype. So he made him a villain instead.
  • Xena: Warrior Princess. It's all there; stripperiffic costume, a dark, violent past, a name that is spelt with an "X", a distinct lack of compunction about killing her enemies, frequent brooding, sarcasm and extreme badassery.

     Newspaper Comics 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Late 90s WWF saw most of the babyfaces in this era act as such, with the charge being led by acts such as "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, and D-Generation X.
    • This was the direct result of having to compete with WCW, who hit on this concept with the New World Order, however the nWo were essentially just popular villains, albeit not entirely heelish ones, at least until the Wolfpac formed. The most successful aspects of the WWF's Attitude Era were directly inspired by the nWo. In fact, the Austin vs. McMahon feud, almost universally considered the key to the WWF's resurgence, is the nWo vs. WCW with the roles reversed.
      • In some ways, it was more a reaction to the growing underground success of ECW, and fueled by a number of wrestlers who developed grittier gimmicks in ECW and later brought them to WWF.
      • The concept may have been inspired by the underground success of ECW, but the need to change was a result of WCW's runaway success with the nWo angle.
  • The ongoing success of MMA (UFC in particular) in 2010 has seen a partial revival of this trope in WWE with the resurgence of the newly-turned Randy Orton (especially when compared to his Hoganesque counterpart John Cena).

    Video Games 
  • Tombstone from Freedom Force vs The Third Reich, a series that is an homage to the high Silver Age of comic books, is a Nineties Anti-Hero. And he still fits into the game, because his overblown "dark and tormented" act makes him just as laughable as the rest of the cast.
    Alchemiss: [sarcastically] So how did you spend your sabbatical, Tombstone? Performing in musical theater? Raising puppies?
    Tombstone: animals wither in my presence.
  • Shadow the Hedgehog is not actually an example but he was heavily marketed as one for his spinoff game where he swore, used guns, and rode motorcycles to fight an alien invasion. This resulted in him becoming a controversial character among the fanbase.
  • In the later 90s, Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy VIII came out.
    • In later installments of VII, Cloud Strife is played completely straight this way, but in the original game itself, he was a rather cheerful (if at first apathetic) fellow with some backstory problems and memory issues, but mostly averted this. Following his appearances in the Kingdom Hearts games and Advent Children, he could be the poster boy for this trope. He certainly looks the part in the first Kingdom Hearts.
    • Squall Leonhart, however, plays this completely straight, but is given a Freudian Excuse in that he's been raised as a Child Soldier from the age of about 5 or 6. He, too, appears in Kingdom Hearts, quiet and snarky as ever, but he seems to have opened up quite a bit (at least to Yuffie and Aerith). His disposition does improve greatly in Kingdom Hearts II, where he's mellowed out (getting to return to your once-doomed home world and rebuild it is likely to do that) and acts as a Big Brother Mentor to Sora.
  • City of Heroes lets you make these with all the Spikes of Villainy costume pieces that are equally available to heroes. Though there's no real representative of them in-game (it has more of a Silver Age flavor), the closest could be Hardcase, an Anti-Villain Sue and one of the most loathed contacts in the game.
  • Champions Online has many player characters fitting this trope, and also a few amongst its NPC cast:
    • The Drifter. Got retconed from a mystic cowboy into a Cable-esque cyborg cowboy.
    • Black Mask (the 10th) is a female example. Her costume is the single most revealing of all heroes, and her power is carrying a big gun.
    • The PRIMUS Recognition Vendors, mainly to display the 90's style costume unlocks they are selling.
    • The Bag Vendor! Because what kind of character would know more about pouches?
    • The default costumes for the Scourge, the Blade and the Specialist archetypes, being based on Spawn, Deathstroke and Deadpool respectively.
      • The costumes for the Marksman, Soldier, Impulse and Unleashed also kind of.
    • While not exactly antiheroes, quite a few villains get at least the look right. Amongst those are Hard Target, Leathal, Drago and the ascended fan creation Devana Hawke.
  • Duke Nukem. A sex obsessed, mirrorshade wearing Action Hero wannabe who hangs out in sleazy biker bars and strip clubs, with a Lantern Jaw of Justice and blond flattop haircut. He's armed to the teeth with BFGs (as it's a FPS and all), addicted to steroids (or whatever those pills are) and loves to spew one liners like "I've got balls of steel", "Some mutated son of a bitch is gonna pay!" and of course the immortal "It's time to kick ass and chew bubble gum. And I'm all out of gum." And his games were big in the early 90s. Duke is generally accepted as being a full parody of the 80s/90s action hero rather than actually being one. He's no exception to the fact that most parodies and extreme cases of this are deeply entrenched in Poe's Law though.
  • By the standards of JRPGs, Caim from Drakengard is a Nineties Anti-Hero, bordering on straight-edge Villain Protagonist if not for the happy side effect that the people he happens to be on a genocidal rampage against want to destroy the world.
  • Renegade!Shepard in the Mass Effect series: a ruthless and pragmatic person, willing to take the morally grey (or outright black) actions to get the job done. Basically, s/he is out to save the galaxy, but doesn't much care who or what s/he tramples to get there. Some of the Renegade choices available (particularly in the first game) can paint Ren!Shep as uncaring, incredibly xenophobic and a human supremacist with near sociopathic levels of disregard towards others.
  • Asshole!Warden in Dragon Age: Origins has a tendency to wander through Ferelden, kicking ass and taking names, while slaughtering whatever unconscious wounded soldiers or small children get in the way, condemning a significant number of elves, men, and dwarves to And I Must Scream fates for the sole purpose of getting cooler-looking allies during the final battle, and slaughtering the entire Denerim Circle of Magi for the sake of convenience.
  • The Legacy of Kain series gives us an 2 interesting examples. While Kain is more or less a straight example character wise, Raziel is a much more heroic/noble character, however, his character design positivly drips of it. The reason for this is because the game Dev team outsourced the concept art to Top Cow (a comic studio that broke off from Image, responsible for such works as The Darkness and Witchblade). The reason for this is because of complex corporate politics behind the creation of Soul Reaver, which was being made at the same time as Eidos was having Top Cow publish the Tomb Raider comic.
    • Kain himself is an odd example: while certain an incredibly anti-heroic person, is remarkably sophisticated whereas most examples of this trope are noticeably (and unfortunately) somwhat more crude, and though arrogant and callous in the extreme his ultimate goals are fairly noble, even if his motivations are selfish. Meanwhile Raziel is far more outright heroic, often trying to do the "right" thing in any given situation, except his attempts nobility often leads to even worse things then he attempted to prevent. It might be said that Kain is an outright Villain Protagonist while Raziel is a true Anti-Hero as Raziel ATTEMPTS to be good but his imperfections cause him to fail, whereas Kain doesn't bother to try at all and ends up helping the world anyway as a side effect.
  • Immortal Souls:
    • John Turner is a subversion of the trope. He certainly looks the part, with his black leather coat, dark jeans, Guns Akimbo and baseball bat, incredibly muscular build, and gritty hardcore fighting style. He even is a vampire and a former street racer, to boot. But personality-wise he's pretty much a softie Dork Knight who cares about helping innocents when nobody else will, with his only flaw being that he wishes somebody else would do so, so he doesn't have to.
    • Raven, on the other hand, is a much more played straight example, who both looks and acts the part (albeit more conservatively dressed than average). She even got herself turned into a vampire specifically so she could hunt down and enact Blood Knight-fueled revenge on the monsters in question.
  • Prototype has Alex Mercer. Mercer intends to stop a bioweapon outbreak and the military unit willing to destroy New York to contain it, mainly by murdering his way through both. Mercer, being a shapeshifter, can transform himself into a clawed, bladed abomination. Players also regenerate health by violently killing and consuming people and monsters, including civilians. This leads to some Gameplay and Story Segregation, where the gameplay gleefully embraces player's darker tendencies, while the cutscenes try to make the main character sympathetic.
    • Prototype 2 replaces Mercer as the protagonist with James Heller, making Alex the villain in the process. Heller broods substantially less than Mercer, but makes up for it in being always angry, all the time. They tried to make him a bit more sympathetic than Mercer; jury's out on whether they succeeded, as many fans of the first didn't like the change in Mercer's characterization to accommodate Heller as a protagonist, and the game still tries it's best to stoke its players' sadistic tendencies.
  • One of the criticisms levelled at DmC Devil May Cry is that it tries to take a light-hearted series and give it the full Nineties treatment, leaving it overwrought with attempted edginess and shallow satire. This is exemplified by the reimagining of Dante, who is a few pouches and a bucket of steroids away from leaping off a Liefeld cover.
  • Blazblue has this in Ragna the Bloodedge. Not only does his name sound like something right out of the Dark Age of Supernames, he's also ill-tempered, has Too Many Belts, a BFS that unfolds into a scythe (fittingly called "Blood-Scythe") is motivated by Revenge, and has no problems with harming anyone who gets in his way. To top it all off, his powers consist of draining the life out of others by using the power of darkness in the form of summoning parts of an Eldritch Abomination. He does have a soft spot however.
  • Jack Cayman of Madworld and Anarchy Reigns. Well muscled? Check. Chained by Fashion? Check. "Edgy" weapon in the form of a chainsaw? Check. No compunctions about killing people? Check.
  • Varik, the protagonist of The Halloween Hack, is made to look like this, what with being a brooding, alcoholic bounty hunter with a Dark and Mysterious Past. We quickly find out this is not played straight at all - his stats suck, and he's honestly scared of the undead monsters.
  • The Prince started to go this route in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, where he became more dark and smouldering with generic rage (to the point of growling angrily while smashing pottery) thanks to being hunted relentlessly by the Dahaka after his actions in the previous game.
  • It's hard to tell who's supposed to be a hero in Blood Storm and who's a villain. They all have menacing one-word names, are all capable of ultra-violence, all look positively Liefeldian and almost all of them are dicks with selfish motives and no care for others (Tremor manages to at least buck this trait by being the only unambiguously good character in the game.)
  • God of War: If Kratos' muscle-bound and grizzled appearance combined with his multitude of oversized weapons don't convince you, then his lethal and very brutal methods and HIS MONOLOGUES IN WHICH HE DECLARES THAT HE WILL KILL THE GODS!!! may show otherwise.
  • K' from The King of Fighters. Given life at the end of the decade but still fits in with the trope. Abrupt and harsh name ("Kay-Dash"), cold-hearted SOB who only cooperates when it suits his end (his victory pose has him saying he's good enough to fight your whole team), and has a laser-like focus on his objective (stamping out the NESTS organization and anyone associated with it). However, he does move away from this a bit as time goes on.
  • Mortal Kombat: Scorpion is an undead, fire wielding Ninja who is a Wild Card who will assist which ever side is most convenient to his own agenda. Though the latest released game as of this posting possibly may set him up to be a more of an out right evil, though Anti-villainous, character in the future.
  • Twisted Metal: Needles Kane (AKA Sweet Tooth), who debuted in the first game released in 1995 and was created by David Jaffe (also the director for the God of War series), is a highly sociopathic Blood Knight who has no compunction to killing anyone in his way to getting to at Calyspo.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Spoofed in an episode of The Fairly OddParents, where Timmy called upon the help of several different versions of the Crimson Chin to defeat an escaped supervillain, including a bandoleer-wearing, gun-toting "edgy" version of the Chin from the eighties. He was apparently the only version that ever got away with profanity, but was canceled because of it anyway.
  • Spoofed in The Tick with Big Shot, a Punisheresque character who shoots up inanimate objects while tears run down his face. After running out of bullets, he says "Why didn't you love me, Mom?" and collapses, sobbing, on Arthur.
    • He's someone so obviously messed-up that the Tick tells him to 'seek professional help'— the Tick!
      • He actually does seek professional help between episodes. When next seen in "The Tick vs. The Tick," he's relatively well-adjusted and tries to convince the Tick and Barry to discuss their problems rationally.
      • With emphasis on 'relatively' well adjusted. He starts foaming at the mouth when he mentions how he used to solve all his problems with... violence, and gives a rather, um, passionate outcry for Barry to "put it in the happy box!". In his final appearance in the show on "The Tick vs. Neil and Dot's Wedding", Big Shot goes on a shooting spree... With a camera, having channelled his enthusiasm for firearms into flash photography.
    • He was originally introduced as a one-off character in the comic as someone hanging out at the vigilante table in the superhero club. While other vigilantes had complicated backstories, Big Shot's reasons for being a gun-wielding vigilante? "I just like to kill people."
  • When the Powerpuff Girls briefly decide to split up as separate superheroines, with Blossom taking on a Wonder Woman-ish persona and Bubbles dressing up as a cute bunny girl, the sullen and quick-tempered Buttercup reinvents herself as "Mange", a brooding, shadowy character with glowing green eyes who only emerges at night. Unfortunately for Townsville, this means she has to wait until nightfall to stop a monster attack in the middle of the day: she spends the hours beforehand just brooding awkwardly in the living room.
    • Or watching TV, that part was never quite clear.
  • The Life and Times of Juniper Lee also spoofed it with Boomfist, who battles an idiot Mad Scientist in a futuristic Crapsack World and delivers family unfriendly Aesops. Although he does respect Juniper's abilities and makes a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • While not exactly a superhero, Matrix in ReBoot is pretty much this trope to a T, as a foil to Bob's idealistic Silver Age-ish personality.
    • Matrix also serves as a partial deconstruction of this type of hero. The events that made him this way left him an emotional wreck and he has difficulty adjusting to peace.
  • The Pack was an (in-universe) live action example in Gargoyles. The actors eventually turned into supervillains through a series of literal Xanatos Gambits, complete with actual powers and an even more Dark-Age-ish look.
  • While developed after the 1990s, Brock Sampson is a semi-affectionate parody of this trope.
  • Darkwing Duck became one of these in an alternate future where Gosalyn disappeared (because she had been sucked through time into that alternate future).
    • He might've been this earlier on, but by the time Gosalyn ran into him he had long ago crossed the line and was solidly in the Knight Templar category.
  • Parodied in Ben 10: Omniverse with this
  • Deconstructed in Beast Wars: an episode saw Optimus Primal's aggression turned way up by a computer virus- to the point he tries to kill someone and orders himself locked up. He ultimately storms off to retrieve the anti virus, saying that making a plan first is cowardly. While he's certainly more than capable in battle, to the point Megatron comments on it, he also takes on severe damage as a result, and it's only through the cunning of his normal persona and the plan of his allies that he survives. Interestingly enough, Dinobot ultimately decries this trope and provides the best commentary applicable to it, calling Optimus' altered mindset a "berzerker" and this line, when Cheetor tries to emulate this approach:
    Dinobot: There is no strategy, just blind aggression!
  • Captain Sturdy, a Pilot for a proposed series that aired as part of What A Cartoon, presents an inversion and parody of this archetype. The eponymous character, an aging Silver Age era superhero, watches as a Nineties anti hero type character demonstrates how a hero should approach criminals, but then threatens to tear off a hypothetical criminals arms. When the character is told "what if he has no arms?", the hero then does a 180 and begins to mope about the hypothetical criminal's misfortunates. Captain Sturdy already didn't have a high opinion of the Nineties anti hero character, but after this he especially became disillusioned with how the Union of Super Heroes are more concerned about avoiding offending people than doing what is necessary and pragmatic for the common good.


Never Be a HeroSuperhero TropesNon-Powered Costumed Hero
Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus CynicismCyclic TropeSmoking Is Cool
Anti-HeroCynicism TropesAt Least I Admit It
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