Rule Of Escalating Threat
The inevitable problem with making everything you do into a Big Event is hitting a plateau of excessiveness. This is done to maintain a sense of urgency or, more likely, shock value via Plot Leveling
The problem occurs when the super-weapons
have to go from killing thousands to millions to billions
. Or the crazy villain
hits the artistic plateau of sin and, from then on, just becomes a mass murderer. There's also the good chance the writers will use the opportunity to pick some Throw-Away Country
to be the place where millions die, but that number is so huge that it becomes almost impossible to relate to, and the heroes' reactions just don't seem like enough. This runs counter to the superheroing
idea that any
number of people getting hurt is wrong; this makes the main characters seem ineffectual and induces apathy in the readers.
This also creates a paradox in Comic-Book Time
, where huge numbers of deaths have to start being overlooked to make any
The natural antidote to this is to use something other
than people being Stuffed into the Fridge
to convince the audience of the importance of the story.
May also happen at the top end of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil
. Leads to a condition where The World Is Always Doomed
. Related to A Million Is a Statistic
- In the DC Comics series 52, the entire population of Biyala (one of The DCU's Quracs) is killed in a single issue. Despite the horrified reactions of characters at the time, this had never been mentioned before (since 52 was a prequel), and the few times it was brought up again, it was "Dangit! Some people died!" rather than being a horrible, culture-breaking genocide.
- First, The Authority went up against a terrorist organization with the numbers and power to attack three major cities in the course of a few days. Then, they took on an enemy that had conquered an alternate reality Earth and turned an entire country into a rape camp. Then they took on God. Then...
- Over at Marvel Comics, meanwhile, the killer robot Ultron has wiped at least one entire country (of the Ruritania variety) off the map.
- Sinestro. With an army of Yellow Lanterns behind him. Plus Superboy Prime. Plus Hank Henshaw, who also has Superman's powers (and can't die no matter how much he wants to). Plus the motherfucking Anti-Monitor. After the Sinestro Corps War, what the hell can be considered a threat to the Green Lanterns? Satan? God? BATMAN!?
- Well, judging from the previews, it looks like the next big threat is the Sinestro Corps, plus two other equally evil Corps based off of Rage and Greed, and just to top it all off, an army of zombies with power rings drawing power from the Anti-Monitor's corpse. So yeah, that threat can be topped.
- The season finales of the new Doctor Who tend to play with this rule. Sometimes it's just the Doctor's life at stake, while other times the whole universe is threatened. The Big Bads for each story arc and what they threaten are as follows:
- The Daleks (Earth)
- The Daleks + Cybermen (Earth)
- The Master (Earth and the Galaxy)
- Davros (all of creation)
- The Time Lords (all of creation)
- The Silence (the Doctor's life + all of creation as an unforeseen side-effect)
- The Great Intelligence (the Doctor's life + all of creation)
- The Master again (Earth)
- Pretty much ditto for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Season one: The Master, a vampire lord. Season 2, Angleus, a possibly more vicious vampire, if not powerful, and, of course, a more personal threat, seeing as it was Buffy boyfriend having a Face-Heel Turn that Buffy herself was partly responsible for. Season 3, the Mayor, a century old sorcerer who can't be injured or killed, and is a Villain with Good Publicity. Season four was Adam, a demon/human/cyborg hybrid that was so strong, it took tapping into the primal forces of the Slayer to defeat him. Season five was Glorificus, a hell-god capable of destroying all reality. To top this, Buffy went with the "personal enemy" again, this time being her best friend, Willow, taking the Face-Heel Turn. In season seven, Buffy fought the personfication of all evil. Now in season eight, she has to deal with Twilight, a powerful... something that can easily beat her physically, and who has a massive cult behind him. Plus the United States military and the general public are against her. Oh, and a couple of rogue Slayers.
- Warhammer 40,000 has experienced this a fair few times. The relentless doom 'n' gloom of the setting starts getting tricky for Games Workshop to top. They constantly use "most world-shattering event in the history of humanity" type-language in order to make it look like this is really the big one; the gamers just shrug and go "yeah whatever, we've seen it all before". The 5th Edition re-boot attempted to get past this by saying "no seriously guys, everything's screwed". The fans were, by and large, not taken in. Status Quo Is God after all.
- Pokémon example: This fits the escalation of excessiveness till a plateau is hit. The villains of the first two sets of games were a criminal syndicate who did nothing much more than your standard criminal activities. Steal Pokémon here, take over a corporation there, yada yada. The next set of games have villains who wanted to use the legendary Pokémon of those locations to either wipe out all of the ocean or the land on earth, respectively. The most recent games had villains who wanted to wipe out the universe and reshape it to their will. What next!?
- The DCAU version of the Joker may be an exception, although this was largely mitigated by what broadcast standards allowed the show. Joker's plans tended to focus on his original trademark convoluted plots of many different types, everything from selling poisoned fish to just messing with someone's life, rather than outright murdering anyone in cold blood — thus explaining the rarity of his trademark non-wacky pistol. Nonetheless the direct-to-video Batman Beyond movie saw fit to censor a few disturbing bits.
- Ironically, his The Dark Knight version points out that this trope is why he doesn't want Batman to die; while he's around, the Joker can continue to threaten hundreds, if not thousands, of lives at once, instead of becoming the one-off petty crook he was before.