Lightning. An incredibly powerful force of nature that has awed mankind since before the beginning of civilization.
Today we know this to be an atmospheric discharge of electricity, but to the people of the past, this phenomenon was an Act of God and a symbol of great power. So characters who happen to wield the power of this electric element can be very powerful indeed...and you know what they say about those with great power.
They have great responsibility?That's what you meant,right?
Enter the Psycho Electro.
A subtrope of Personality Powers, but one you have to do a bit of digging to make sense of. Lightning and Electricity related characters tend to be psychotic, sadistic, and/or just plain insane. Whether this is in a touchy and paranoid way or in a cold, unhinged manner is up to the writer, but mostly, they're marinated in A-1 crazy sauce.
But lightning is not associated with madness in folklore, mythology, or anything. Lightning is a regal and divine ability and in High Fantasy, they are attributed to knightly and chivalrous people. But when it comes to modern Speculative Fiction and especially Super Hero fiction, they're just plain nuts or incredibly sadistic, almost guaranteed to take delight in giving their victims some Electric Torture.
Perhaps it's because of the seeming disorder of thunderstorms. The songs of chaos sung by thunder and lightning, the loud, scary, booming sounds, the darkness that entails and the jagged appearance of lightning itself can make for
decent symbols of madness. Cue the electroshock therapy, which in this case just makes things worse.
Maybe it has to do with the idea that the brain is controlled by electrical impulses, and the electrical current running through them messes with their mind.
Or maybe it has nothing to do with lightning and all to do with electricity. Man-made electricity has allowed us to see it up close and witness its erratic patterns and behavior. Many associate electricity with pain and with good reason, thanks to the electric chair and the fact that electrocution (electrocution is electrical and execution) isn't a fun time for anyone. Whatever the reason, The Psycho Electro remains prominent in fiction. When it comes to crazy sadists with powers, nothing really expresses it better than the twitchy, destructive and unpredictable nature of lightning and electricity.
Or it could possibly relate the shocking sensation of electricity that would cause a person to twitch and how the typical psychotic person twitches. It's then just A+B=C+B=D
Despite this, it is not a case of Bad Powers, Bad People. There are still many heroes and good characters that have lightning abilities. It seems to be one of those "double-edged sword" powers where it can help people just as much as it can harm them, but the great potential for destruction is still there and may serve to enforce how careful they need to be.
Compare Pyro Maniac, Ride The Lightning.
The moral- and personality-neutral trope is Shock and Awe. Contrast An Ice Person and Playing with Fire, the other two elements that form the Fire, Ice, Lightning trio.
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Anime and Manga
Averted in Samurai Deeper Kyo with Sasuke, who, despite using lightning attacks, is one of the better-adjusted members of the team. Relatively speaking.
In One Piece, the user of the lightning-empowering "Rumble-Rumble" Devil Fruit is called Eneru and has the title of God. He wants to destroy an entire island of people to reach the moon.
Actually he doesn't even need to destroy the island, apparently he just likes to blow up his old island whenever he moves.
Get Backers: If electricity-user Ginji uses his powers too much or loses control of his emotions, he can convert to his Lightning Lord personality - a super-powerful and hugely destructive badass.
Both used and subverted in Gash Bell — Gash is about as gentle as you can imagine but his twin brother Zeon is extremely violent and vengeful (and is shown using Electric Torture in the manga).
Precia Testarossa from Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. Mage with an affinity to Lightning and more than a tad insane. Fate, her daughter and another Lightning user, makes it a point not to turn out like her.
Fate could actually be considered an inversion of this trope, considering just how much of an Stoic Woobie she is.
Atori from Noein nails this trope. Sadistic, insane and zapping everything in sight. Even if he did lose his sadism later on, he still kept the electricity and insanity.
Averted with Nue from Air Gear; while he does have a thing for the macabre (calling out Kogarasumaru in the middle of a graveyard, anyone?) he's far from being villainous, and he and his team members support Ikki and company later on in the story.
She doesn't actually have electrical powers, but Shion Sonozaki from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni might still count with her, um, enthusiastic taser usage.
If we are talking tazers then The World God Only Knows' Kanon Nakagawa should come to mind: As a result of her neurosis, she, in her early stages, zaps Keima when ever he crushes her little self-esteem by ignoring her. When she is that way she is amazingly creepy.
Misaka WORST. Being the youngest (and at the same time oldest) Misaka clone, her older sisters maybe a Tsundere letting off a lot of steam, a network of tenthousand military trained Rei AyanamiClones and the most adorable Morality Pet that has crossed the screen since Rin, but she is so far the only one that managed to make Accelerator run away in fear, mind rape him and in general being an annoying trollnote just pretend Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking was hyperlinked there. You know that trope and that joke so well you probably already did. Her being a sort of cyborg enhanced under great pain and being the garbage bin of the networks negative emotions, she is probably closest of all the clones to being a real psychopath: little regard for rules and others as well as a plethora of desires and negative emotions, but unlike psychos and socios, she is able to feel emotions like affection, even if they are just .
Her older, but younger sister - and the original - Mikoto Misaka is in regards to main character Kamijou Touma very… zap-happy. Granted, it's because he can take nearly anything, but when you get improvised sand-saws, electro-shocks, railgun bullets and thunderstorms summoned upon you, you really start wondering if this is just Tsundere or manic obsession and sadism.
Kuroko Shirai. While not a villain, she has clearly the hots for her Onee-sama Mikoto and will put a few thousand volt up anyone's ass, who she thinks may get in the way between her and Mikoto, which is in most cases Touma, this poor S.O.B.
Similar to the above, taser-wielding "knight" and title character Ame Ochibana of Denpa Teki na Kanojo, who, while not malicious, clearly has a few screws loose.
Laxus from Fairy Tail is a Social Darwinist with the power to back it up. He even tries to take over the guild at one point, and it takes Natsu and Gajeel working together to bring him down...and that was after Mystogan softened him up a bit first.
In Dragon Ball, a Super Saiyan 2 has a small lightning aura along with their regular golden one. The first person to achieve it, Gohan, went absolutely batshit insane and kicked the crap out of Cell.
Averted in Soul Eater, where Harvar d'Eclair is one of the more stoical characters. Fellow lightning-related Weapon Marie Mjolnir, however, doesn't really count.
As her fight with Justin pointed out why she's a Death Scythe, Marie is more Lightning Bruiser, the lightning being related to speed rather than shocking people.
Though most of the other lightning-users seem to avert this, like the mostly stoic Kakashi and the hotheaded, but mostly good Raikage and his "brother" Killerbee.
Pikachu when possessed by the Blue Orb in the Pokémon anime.
Spooky Electric, one of the synthetic humans of the Towa Organization in Boogiepop Series has power over electricity. Aside from being able to taze people with touch, he can also control electronics and brainwash people by subtly altering their brainwaves.
Subverted with Ryuubi Gentoku from Ikki Tousen. She's normally a sweet and kind girl who would rather read a book than throw a punch. The only time she's ever psychotic is when she's under the control of her dragon spirit.
The Firesign Theatre's "The Electrician", most prominently featured in Hemlock Stones and the Tale of the Giant Rat of Sumatra, fits "electric crazy person" to a tee.
The Electro of Ultimate Spider-Man is very psychotic, unhinged, and paranoid, unlike his original Marvel counterpart where he was just your basic thug with electricity powers.
When he first appears in the Kingpin's employ, he's rather even-heeled, but being humiliated by Spider-Man so many times started to get to him. He can still be rational, until Spidey shows up. Then he fits this trope to a T.
The Electro of The Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon even further exemplifies this trope, essentially running around in a panic and discharging voltage uncontrollably. Before the accident he seemed like a decent guy, and right after it, although he was rude and snappish, he wasn't villainous so much as panicking and accidentally shocking things. But after encountering Spider-Man and being threatened by cops, he immediately became the spastic crazed type.
In the Playstation game Spider-Man 2: Enter Electro, the antagonist is hit with a jolt of power due to a mystical artifact, and becomes so strong that he is able to harness massive amounts of lightning. The final battle is held on top of a large industrial building, with Electro feeding off a power generator and smacking the hell out of the player until the generator is disabled.
Recently though, mainstream Electro sat on the electric chair to get his power back.
Which sounds insane, but in-context it was a well-reasoned (though insanely risky) gamble. I'd say mainstream Electro is a subversion of this trope, as he's fairly well-balanced. If anything, he's been shown more likely to fall into depression than to become psychotic.
Magneto. When he's a bad guy, his electromagnetic powers do have a tendency to mess with his brain chemistry. Unlike most examples, though, he's more of an Übermensch with a god complex than your usual twitchy lightning-throwing psychopath.
Legion of Super-Heroes villain Mekt Ranzz, a.k.a. Lightning Lord, is nearly always evil and is frequently insane as well. In the post-Zero Hour version of the book, his brother Garth was convinced that the lightning had made him crazy and would do the same to Garth and his sister Ayla; Ayla convinced him that the lightning wasn't responsible, just Mekt's natural instability. Surprisingly subverted very well in the animated adaptation, in which Mekt reforms and helps Garth save Ayla.
In the Threeboot Legion, Mekt is still crazy, but this time it's because, being a solo birth on a planet of twins, he's missing out on a bond shared by everyone else he knows, and this naturally leads to depression. He gets over it when he realizes he owes it to the Wanderers not to die, but he's still got anger issues.
And Storm Boy, whose non-natural powers kept him from being accepted into the Legion. He's since had over 75 separate operations to increase the voltage of his bolts and also to see what they can do with his face.
Prison revolves around an electrically charged ghost who wants revenge.
In a more satirical vein, the chief psychologist in The Ruling Class attempts to cure Peter O Toole's protagonist - under the delusion that he is God - by introducing him to another crazed man calling himself the "AC-DC Messiah."
Parricidal Luke from Duumvirate is less flashy than most examples on this page. It's the speed, strength, and raw hatred that make him so horribly dangerous.
In Kunoichi this is implied to be Lin Peng's only power. Or the only power of the majority of the Magical Girls...
The Rakasha in Roger Zelazny's Lord of Light are pure energy beings represented by constantly shifting pillars of lightning. They are also arrogant, egocentric, and pathological gamblers.
The Electro-priests which show up in the Warhammer 40,000 novel Soul Drinker. They're techpriests who have their entire bodies covered in electoos (basically, tattooed circuits layed under a person's skin). They chant litanies before going into battle to drive themselves into a Berseker Mode and turn into living fonts of electricity. They actually slice the hands clean off of a fully-armored Space Marine. With their bare hands.
Elaine is probably one of the least stable human characters in the Dresden Files, and she most of her battle magic is electric. Possibly justified that it tends to be more targeted than fire, (thus requiring less energy,) and fire is the favorite of combat wizards with more power than technique, such as Harry. In a subversion, Harry is suitably impressed by her technique, and mimics some of her electricity-storing gadgets, though he continues to fight with air and fire.
In the very first book, the Entropy Curses that are ripping peoples' hearts out are powered by the energy in thunderstorms. And sex.
Live Action TV
Elle Bishop from Heroes. Once she started indulging in electric sadomasochism with imprisoned pretty-boy Peter, it was clear she wasn't exactly right in the head. It's implied to be the result of years of being a test subject who's been denied a normal childhood.
As well, though arguably psychotic to begin with, once Sylar copies Elle's power, using it somehow manages to make him seem even more unhinged.
Gwen Raiden from Angel. Not exactly Ax-Crazy, and she's a good guy in most of her appearances, but she's still very chaotic and possibly a little unhinged from her problems with Power Incontinence, which have kept her from ever being directly touched (and which have caused at least one accidental death).
The X-Files episode DPO. If you mess with DPO's arcade game, he will call down the lightning and fry your ass.
Nikola Tesla in Sanctuary, a gleefully sociopathic vampire who fell asleep in Edison's electric chair. Yes, really.
In the Doctor Who episode The End of Time, the imperfectly-revived Master gains the ability to generate and control electricity, an appropriate elemental complement to his already-established personality and mental state.
Colonel Volgin in Metal Gear Solid 3. There is actually a scene of him casually using Electric Torture and he is described to be a sadist. Don't believe it? Check out the medical records of his Honey Trap sometime. Yeeeeaah...
It's debatable whether he gets that violent towards Raikov, though. We get a couple good long looks at him scantily clad and he seems just fine. She just manages to piss him off.
Still, there's a reason his boss music is named: "Clash With Evil Personified." Hell, halfway through the game he takes one of his own people he believes to be a traitor and rather than interrogate him, stuffs him in an oil drum and beats him death while he's inside it.
Averted in Mortal Kombat. You'd expect this to happen to Raiden, The Obi-Wan of the series, when he becomes Darker and Edgier after blowing himself up, but he's much more calculated and intelligent than your usual Electro-villain.
Well, there's the whole "defend Earthrealm or I'm going to fucking kill you" shtick he adopts...
Tales of Symphonia: Sheena Fujibayashi failed to form a pact with the summon spirit of Lightning in her backstory and it flips out and causes much destruction, as opposed to the other elemental summon spirits who just didn't give you the pact and left.
Problem was that Volt didn't speak English. Or Tethe'allan. But mainly English. Volt speaks a language few other characters speak in the game and interprets nearly everything as a threat.
There's also Kvar, the electricity-based Grand Cardinal, who is the most sadistic of the lot and also responsible for the death of Lloyd's mother.
And the other lightning-user, Yuan, while not exactly crazy per se, tends toward the cold and somewhat erratic.
There's also Elec Man, Spark Man, Cloud Man, (arguably) Flash Man and Bright Man, and *shudder* Clown Man from the Mega Man series. As well as Spark Mandrill, Volt Catfish, and other Mavericks from the Mega Man X series.
Psymon Stark of the SSX series, who was electrocuted on power lines, leading to long-term mental health issues, noticeable tics, and a generally erratic and unpredictable personality.
Robo-Ky of the Guilty Gear series has some...idiosyncratic mannerisms. To be frank, he seems to be constantly malfunctioning. Ironically, he has lightning abilities because the original Ky Kiske has them, not because he's a robot.
This trope is subverted by Ky Kiske himself. He's a very disciplined knight who's mastery of lightning magic is a sign of his skill. Other issues aside, he's not a psycho electro but can be consider sort of the opposite.
As the article quote implies, Heroes of Might and Magic use this trope in the fourth game, with Lightning spells being within the domain of Chaos magic, the "hey, let's burn the world to ashes" spell school.
Which is an association inherited from Magic: The Gathering, as the schools in Heroes IV are equivalent to the five colors in Magic. Master of Magic has the same thing (with lightning spells coming, again, from the Chaos school) with both Master of Magic and Heroes IV also subverting the trope by having the lightning-using creatures belonging to each game's equivalent to M:TG's blue magic.
The users of Tesla weapons in the Command & Conquer series. Especially the Shock Trooper from the original Red Alert, who would declaim deranged Bond One-Liner catchphrases such as "Extra crispy!", "Lights out!" and "Fully charged!"
Soviet commander Moskvin from Red Alert 3 is a former Tesla Trooper, and tends to be very aggressive and erratic, with unpredictable mood swings.
Then there's Gant somehow striking himself with lightning when he's losing.
The imagery returns in T&T, when Dahlia Hawthorne kills her ex-boyfriend with, of all things, a high-voltage wire.
Normally Shermie from The King of Fighters is a bubbly, giggly, flirty lady. When she turns into Orochi Shermie though (appropriately named Orochi Shermie of the Insanely Violent Lightning as her full title) she becomes much more serious and darker, spouting the end of humans. Oh and in 2002, her skin gets tanned.
Cole McGrath from inFAMOUS can be played good or evil. And evil Cole has blood-red electricity instead of blue, and a less healthy-looking complexion ala Emperor Palpatine as well as gaining what is pretty much Force Lightning and clusterbombs for his grenades. If he chooses to commit a Moral Event Horizon at the end his lightning will turn black.
Partly subverted by Horace Gage from The Suffering. Out of all the ghosts and creatures on Carnate Island, Horace is by far the most stable, though he's still unhinged from the decades he's spent frying in the electric chair that killed him to begin with. He's also the ghost for the Good alignment, not wanting Torque to become corrupted by prison life and the supernatural taint of Carnate, as he was.
Subverted in Street Fighter. Crimson Viper, an electrified agent of the nefarious Shadaloo organization, presents a cold and villainous front (her presence is even accompanied by an ominous Ethereal Choir-ridden theme song), but her in-game ending reveals that she is actually a CIA double-agent working to take down Shadaloo.
This is how Tsukihime villain Michael Roa Valdamjong is portrayed in Melty Blood: Actress Again. It's somewhat subverted though as he's a lot more calm than most psychopaths.
The midget torturer in Wet is pretty clearly one of these, given his choice of torture equipment, and it's apparently not his only "issue"...after capturing Rubi, Sorrell orders him to "finish her off...then you can do whatever you want with her."
The Matron, one of your henchmen in Evil Genius, is a sweet, grandmotherly old lady with a morning-star and a penchant for electroshock therapy. During her time as a 'carer' in a Swiss mental institute, she'd administrate her torture until either the fuses were about to blow or the arthritis in her hands started to flare up. It was only uncovered when the electricity board decided to check on why a small village in the mountains was sucking up more juice than Zurich.
Shock Treatment. Electric, all around crazy, and at least once she will turn on you seemingly against her will. As her name implies, an excess of shock therapy was the source of her powers. She was technically crazy before the powers, now she's crazy with them.
Averted however with the signature character Synapse. Although rather hyper (the electric powers also gave him super speed), he seems quite sane. Interestingly, he got his powers in pretty much the same way as Shock Treatment.
Rosenkreuzstilette brings us Iris Sepperin, who uses lightning attacks. And she gets crazy and starts Laughing Mad when she finally realizes that Spiritia is actually Rosenkreuz's other reincarnation, the "Blade of Rosenkreuz".
Lord Deus from Asura's Wrath was probably the Regal version of a lightning user like this, like in Actual Folklore. Upon becoming the Big Bad, however, He shows his real colors by acting like this to some extent, electrocuting Asura to death and throwing him out of heaven to Earth.
It's a lighter case but you could count Kanji from Persona 4. He's rather hotheaded and was known for very destructive behavior before you saved him from the TV world. His Persona uses electric powers, seems to reflect his personality well.
Akihiko of Persona 3 could also be seen as a reverse. He uses the same element but he's a far more stable person and learns a lot of support and stat effect moves instead of attack focused techniques.
Electricity is a common weapon in Girl Genius, but Anevka Sturmvoraus is borderline this. After frying her father with enough electricity to both kill him in an instant and set her clothes on fire, her only reaction is to complain about the loss of her dress. And then there's Bang, who, while having no ability to generate electricity on her own, is all too happy to use the defibrillator-like electrical device Gil built on anyone who gets close enough as a killing/interrogation method, as Abner unfortunately found out.
Dominic Deegan has The Maestro, who isn't insane exactly but is a bit eccentric and probably not someone you want to annoy.
Raque, from Dubious Company, though her insanity is connected more with her heart than her electricity magic. After her attempt to seduce Elly fails miserably, she beats him to the ground and storms out of the room, locking and electrifying the door behind her. She later electrocutes him in an attempt to unbraid his hair.
Romeo in No Songs For The Dead has a very destructive personality, though it's more due to his rather rough life and the loss of his wife, than the powers messing with his mind. Despite all his anger, he is not without a softer side.
Imperious, in the webfiction Whateley Universe. He thinks he's the reincarnation (or something) of Zeus, and he treats mere mortals and super-powered mortals accordingly. There is still the possibility that he's right...
"Lightning-bending" is the secondary ability of Firebenders in Avatar: The Last Airbender. It requires a kind of emotional clarity and detachment (which can be calmness, such as with Iroh, or cold-heartedness, as with Azula and Ozai) which allows one to seperate and focus the necessary energies. Azula's ability to continue shooting lightning even after her Villainous Breakdown is probably due to a combination of familiarity, the significant power boost provided by Sozin's Comet, and having great clarity in terms of really wanting to kill Zuko and Katara.
This is subverted in the Legend Of Korra, where bending lightning has become commonplace. There are even factories where lightningbenders can work to provide electricity for utilities.
The appropriately named "Lightning" (along with his sound-based brother "Thunder"), from Teen Titans, though he comes across more as a Psychopathic Manchild since wasn't aware of the destruction he caused.
In the comic books, Thunder and Lightning deluded themselves into believing they were gods.
Then there's the villain Overload, who's just a great big sentient ball of electricity with a floppy disk for a face.
Maxie Zeus is a minor Batman villain who thinks he is the Greek god Zeus, best remembered in the comics for running into a tree and falling unconscious while escaping Arkham Asylum in Knightfall. He was revamped in The Batman as a Corrupt Corporate Executive—who still believes he's Zeus and demands worship—who builds a giant aircraft with a private army and outfits himself with a suit that shoots lightning bolts.
Sparky from Lilo & Stitch: The Series is a subversion of this trope- although he starts out as a destruction-happy monster, he is rehabilitated and put to constructive ends, such as powering an abandoned lighthouse.
In W.I.T.C.H. Quintessence manifests itself as lightning, and Nerissa, wielder of this power since her days as a Guardian, went corrupted by her power and insane, in contrast to Will, her successor as a Guardian and wielder of the same power who does her utmost to NOT end like her.
A result of the widespread belief that taser is a harmless device that does no real damage. As it turns out, while less lethal than a firearm, it's still a dangerous weapon to be only used at utmost need.
Possibly originated with Nikola Tesla, famous for his studies of electricity and for pioneering mad science as we know it today.
Take a look at this picture◊ and you might want to reconsider that "possibly" part.