Will Graham:The Hero
I thought you might enjoy the challenge. Find out if you're smarter than the person I'm looking for. Hannibal Lecter:
Then, by implication, you think you're smarter than I am, since it was you who caught me. Will Graham:
No, I know I'm not smarter than you. Hannibal Lecter:
Then how did you catch me? Will Graham:
You had... disadvantages. Hannibal Lecter:
What disadvantages? Will Graham: You're insane
(or another important character) is cornered by the Ax-Crazy
villain, and there's no possible way out, except... this guy is crazy. The hero, and the Guile Hero
especially, has ample opportunity to distract or even incapacitate the villain by turning his own insanity against him.
Is the villain suffering from a Split Personality
? Well, turn the multiple personalties against each other, the villain will be completely ineffective as they squabble and fight for control. Is the villain's problem a Complexity Addiction
? Appeal to his ego; simply killing the hero with the pull of a trigger or a swing of an axe probably isn't grandiose enough for him. Is the villain a gambling addict
? Challenge him to a game of chance, he won't be able to resist. What about the remorseless, sadistic Psychopathic Manchild
who kills For the Evulz
? Even he will grovel sobbingly at the feet of the guy who hold his favorite teddy bear hostage.
On those rare occasions when an Ax-Crazy
villain becomes Bored With Insanity
and turns sane again, the new-found sanity may throw our heroes for a loop when they make their plans...
Compare Not Worth Killing
and The Blofeld Ploy
. Contrast Power Born of Madness
, where insanity has its advantages too.
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Anime & Manga
- Cowboy Bebop: Spike is cornered by Nigh Invulnerable Mad Pierrot, but is saved by Mad Pierrot's paralyzing fear of cats.
- A so-called "invincible technique" in Ranma ½, the Cat Fist, induces an Unstoppable Rage in its user that boosts speed and reflexes, as well as giving "ki claws" that can cut through anything... but since he acts and thinks like a kitten, he can be distracted by toys and games. Even Kunō figured out this weakness within seconds of witnessing the Cat Fist in action. Not only that, it takes considerable time for Ranma's fear to reach the necessary level, which means he (or she, as the case may be) is simply running around, completely open, unable to fight back until it kicks in... a perfect target for anyone who is aware of what's happening and has the skill to capitalize on it. In fact, the only time that the Cat Fist has been an actual advantage is the climax of the Phoenix Pill saga, where Ranma uses it to catch Cologne off-guard: most likely, as an Old Master who may well have been one of the people who proclaimed the Nekoken to be Harmful to Minors, she doubted anyone would be stupid enough to teach it in this day and age, nevermind the trainee actually being willing to use that training.
It's notable that teaching this technique involves covering the student in fish and throwing them in a hole with a buttload of cats. The book in which Genma found the technique even points out that the technique is effectively useless (because of all the reasons above) and was only included as a historical curiosity. If only Genma'd turned the page and read that part... In the manga the page with the insanity warning and how useless the Cat Fist is was stuck to another page, keeping Genma from noticing it.
- Johan on Monster is a frighteningly effective criminal even while insane. If he had been sane enough to not attempt to commit a perfect suicide by eliminating all evidence of his existence before goading someone into killing him, he probably would have been unstoppable. On the other hand he's still alive and apparently free.
- Used a few times in Black Lagoon. Though, it varies. Sawyer the Cleaner is defeated in her first appearance when she drops her Audiovox, causing her to drop into a near-catatonic depression. The Twins are absolutely brutal in combat, but due to their madness and bloodlust have absolutely no grasp of the bigger picture and are led into a trap that Bailailaka even comments a sane person would never have fallen for. On the other hand, when Revy snaps and goes into Whitman Fever mode, she becomes ruthlessly effective. However, she's easily distracted by a room full of unarmed, surrendering people, and won't stop until she killed everyone in her path, no matter what. Ruthless, yes, but a waste of ammunition and time while at the same time attracting unneeded attention, which is the reason Dutch calls her out on it.
- In Bleach, after Aizen fuses with the Hogyoku, he proclaims A God Am I and throws away all the tactics that had previously served him so well in favor of relying on raw power to crush his enemies. This trope comes into play when he finally comes across someone more powerful than he is- Ichigo after his latest bout of Training from Hell- at which point Aizen promptly gets curb stomped.
- Most of Batman's foes have done this at least once. You could argue it's The Riddler's whole gimmick.
- Given a little more depth and drama in some comic interpretations that demonstrate Riddler's shtick as an unstoppable compulsion, and all the problems this gives him. Played right, it's a tragically self-destructive compulsion: "You don't understand... I really didn't want to leave you any clues. I really planned never to go back to Arkham Asylum. But I left you a clue anyway. So I... I have to go back there. Because I might need help. I... I might actually be crazy."
- In fact, in one early story ('60s) the Riddler realises that he simply cannot commit crimes without leaving riddles. He tries to fix himself, but that doesn't work either...
- In the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Riddler's Reform", The Riddler actually goes straight and makes tons of money by designing puzzles for a toy company and licensing his likeness to market them. However, he just can't stop thinking about matching wits with Batman... so he decides that the only way he'll ever be secure enough in his new life to actually enjoy it is to kill Batman.
- The Riddler example was sent up by Exterminatus Now, which featured a joke about the Riddler leaving a nonsensical riddle, and three weeks later Batman is still working on it when the TV news reports that the Riddler has stolen the Moon. Here it is.
- The Riddler is now reformed and working as a private detective. Since Batman is also a detective, Riddler is now matching wits with him legally.
- And was hired by Nightwing in the Trinity series to look into why items related to Batman, Wonder Woman and Superman were being stolen and who was behind it. The other heroes think he's insane when Nightwing mentions where he obtained the information, but the series showed that the Riddler had an advantage that even Batman didn't: assorted lowlifes and ex-lowlife like the Penguin are willing to talk to him without having to be threatened.
- Aaaannnddd now he's back to his old game again, following a kind of reverse-nervous breakdown.
- Similarly, during the events of Knightfall, the Riddler is working alongside several random crooks to steal a large shipment of bonds that are passing through a post office. The crooks finally snap at Riddler after he forces them to delay the crime for weeks while he tries to get the police to pay attention to the riddles he's been mailing them (overshadowed by the breakout at Arkham and Gotham being all but completely put to flame). The Riddler flees, and the crooks go ahead with the crime...which goes pretty well. They follow the Riddler's actual plan (without the riddles) to the letter, and they're in and out in minutes. One even notes that if he weren't so hung up on his riddle-gimmick, he'd make a fortune, but another counters that it's probably that very same obsessive attention to unimportant details that lets him plan heists this well. Of course, it all comes to naught when they get taken down by the Huntress.
- Subverted in one episode of Batman: The Animated Series where the Joker develops a plan to kill Batman by lowering him into a tank of piranhas, but abandons the idea because piranhas' faces look like frowns rather than smiles. Harley decides to curry the Joker's favor, captures Batman for him and arranges it so Bats would be upside down, so the "frowns" look like smiles to him. The Joker is furious for being upstaged, but further outraged that she would create a "punchline" that has to be explained. So he lets Batman down and leaves but seconds later decides this is too good a chance to pass up and comes back to just shoot him.
- It's not Two-Face's fault that he has to let a coin flip make his decisions for him, so that, if you toss a ton of coins in as he flips, he can't make a choice anymore! Honest, it's not!! Naturally, Batman exploits this in an episode of Batman: The Animated Series where he replaces Two-Face's coin with a trick one that always lands on its side. The ploy backfires on Batman when the coin keeps bouncing towards the edge of the derelict skyscraper..
- This is further explored in the comic based on the series; Two-Face ends up with a weighted coin and commits a series of good deeds. However, this backfires, as his good acts not only start to get a little darker, but become suicidally dangerous.
- In DC One Million, it's mentioned that a future Batman eventually cured a future Two-Face by convincing him that, coin toss for coin toss, he'd made more good decisions than bad ones.
- In his first appearance, Batman slipped him a coin weighed to land on its side and when he said, "Heads I'll let you go, tails I'll kill you" got him to agree to turn himself in and submit to all necessary plastic surgery and psychotherapy. It worked — but meant the end of Two-Face.
- The one-shot Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth has Arkham therapists trying to treat Two-Face by expanding his mind to the number of possibilities in each action, by replacing the coin with a deck of cards, eventually planning to work him up to the I Ching. This has a downside, as it means that Two-Face cannot decide whether or not to go to the bathroom.
- In Batman Forever, Two-Face has Batman on the ropes, about to shoot, when Batman reminds him to flip his coin. When he does, Batman throws out a dozen or so similar coins. Two-Face tries to catch them all, and falls to his death. In the Peter David novelization, Bats blindly throws a Batarang, hoping to knock the coin away and stymie Two-Face. It works, but Two-Face just leaps to catch the coin and falls two yards onto a girder, with the equivalent of "nice try". Then Robin calls him out on never using the coin on himself. He looks at the coin, and just lets go. Robin says he didn't actually mean to kill him, and Batman says that maybe Two-Face just made his first real choice in a long time.
- The Batman villain Cluemaster began as a cheap Riddler imitation, who used non-verbal clues in the same kind of compulsion. The later writers decided to play with the trope a bit, and had the Arkham psychiatrists cure him of his mania. Now, he's a criminal mastermind who doesn't leave clues behind. "Gee, thanks, Arkham," says Robin.
- Though this is also what prompted his daughter Stephanie Brown to become The Spoiler—she would just spoil his schemes anyways.
- All of the above notwithstanding, the Joker largely benefits from being insane, since it has the advantage of making him completely unpredictable, which is handy when his nemesis' primary skill is being Crazy-Prepared. It's also the only thing that has kept him from getting the Death Penalty dozens of times over.
- One of the major advantages Spider-Man has over his Rogues Gallery is that most of them are rather crazy and Spider-Man, editorially-mandated Deal with the Devil notwithstanding, isn't. None of them illustrate this better than his Arch-Enemy Norman Osborn a.k.a. the Green Goblin. Norman is a manipulative sociopath on a good day. The rest of the time he's an Ax-Crazy monster in a garish outfit riding a hoverglider throwing pumpkin bombs. No matter how well he manipulates, schemes, and kills his way into power, Osborn always ultimately loses because he's too crazy to keep it together once he reaches the top.
- In one early Spirou and Fantasio adventure, they have to stop a Mad Scientist from launching a device that will set fire to the Earth's atmosphere. They fail. They say their goodbyes... only to discover that the Mad Scientist was, well, mad and his doomsday device was mostly made out of old shoes.
- Zot!'s archenemy, Dekko the cyborg Mad Artist, tends to get beaten by his own self-destructing insanity at least as much as by the hero's actual efforts.
- In The Search, a sequel comic to Avatar: The Last Airbender, insanity fails for Azula again, when she tries to run away from the Gaang when they get close enough to Hira'a. She stops running to argue with another imagined reflection of her mother long enough for Zuko and Katara to capture her again... and she also attracts the attention of an enormous, angry wolf spirit.
- Trapped by a vampire? Throw some rice/beads/knotted bits of string at it! They have to stop and count it. Ah ah ah!
- Beautifully done in The Rashomon episode of The X-Files.
- And subverted multiple times in Discworld's Carpe Jugulum, where this is one of many traditional vampire weaknesses the Magpyr clan had overcome.
- It's inverted right back when, under the stress of having their plan spontaneously collapse when Granny Weatherwax "borrows" their blood, the Magpyr's conditioning starts to fail. Since the Magpyr's conditioning involved knowing the root cause of every traditional weakness and countering that, the resulting collapse added a form of hypochondria of sorts. So, for example, they're no longer immune to religious symbols... and they've memorized so many that they see religious symbols everywhere.
- Charby the Vampirate subverts it in one early strip. He is compelled to count a handful of beans his intended victim throws at him, but does it by determining the average weight of a bean, weighing the pile, and extrapolating how many there are from that.
- Subverted in the sequel to Dracula 2001, when a vampire accurately counts thousands of grains of rice before they even hit the ground.
- In Supernatural, it's leprechauns that have this problem, not vampires. In "Clap your hands if you believe", Sam gets knocked around by the leprechaun before pulling his container of salt out of his pocket and emptying it onto the ground, to a This Is Gonna Suck from his opponent. He then banishes it at his leisure.
- Likewise, the kappa of Japanese folklore. Its Weaksauce Weakness is that its power is derived from a pool of water carried in a dent in the top of its head. Not only does it have to avoid spilling the water in an attack, but it is also supremely polite: if you bow to it, it will bow back to the same degree as you do. All a human victim has to do is bend over and offer a polite greeting, and the kappa will be obligated to return the salutation, despite the fact that it deliberately spills the water it requires.
- The page quote is a near-exact adaptation of a scene from Red Dragon, although Graham's original explanation is "Passion. And you're insane." Lecter abruptly changes the subject.
- This is what allows Tavi in Codex Alera to defeat an Ax-Crazy but vastly superior opponent. He uses her name and reputation to start psychoanalyzing her in the middle of their Duel to the Death, and watches her reactions to give a Hannibal Lecture that drives her into making a mistake due to screaming, psychotic rage.
- In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Gentleman could have killed the magicians at any time, but as the book explains fairies have a greater capacity for magic, but much less of one for reason. Instead he spends years watching them and coming up with plans to destroy them while doing nothing, under the belief that these plans wouldn't work. And the actions he does eventually take backfire on him in the end.
- In Brisingr of the Inheritance Cycle, Brom hints to Eragon in a memory that Galbatorix's insanity is something that he should use to his advantage when it finally comes time to face him. "Whatever you do, you must remain nimble in your thinking. Do not become so attached to any one belief that you cannot see past it to another possibility. Galbatorix is mad and therefore unpredictable, but he also has gaps in his reasoning that an ordinary person would not. If you can find those, Eragon, then perhaps you and Saphira can defeat him." Galbatorix has no empathy, so Eragon gives him some - for all of the lives the mad king ruined - and it drives Galbatorix to commit suicide.
- In the backstory of the Vorkosigan Saga, Mad Emperor Yuri decided that his relatives were plotting to overthrow him, so he ordered the assassinations of anyone with enough Royal Blood to claim the throne. This meant he ordered the maternal side of Aral Vorkosigan's family assassinated, but since the Vorkoisigan side didn't have a strong claim to the empire, he left them alive. If he'd been sane, it might have occurred to him that Aral's father (Who happened to be the most talented general on the planet) would be upset about his wife and children being brutally murdered. This leads directly to Yuri's overthrow, making his fear a Self-Fulfilling Prophecy.
- In Harry Potter, it's repeatedly alluded to that Voldemort's egomania is keeping him from being a much more effective villain by compelling him to keep the Villain Ball on his person constantly. He starts juggling it in the final book, and becomes much more dangerous. Probably the best example is the horcruxes themselvse. Harry observes that had he made them innocuous items and hid them in plain sight, it would be impossible to find them. Fortunately, as Dumbledore explains, Voldemort's obsessive nature focuses on trophies and rituals, so he needs them to be special items, hidden in special places, which makes them easier to track. Although in truth it's not so much Voldemort's obsessive nature that makes him choose grandiose objects for his horcruxes; it's his pride. Said hubris is behind pretty much every mistake he makes — look at how he decides straight-off that Harry, rather than the pure-blooded Neville is the Chosen One, just because Harry is a half-blood like himself.
- Played with in the Hercule Poirot book, Lord Edgeware Dies, in which Poirot admits that what he really needs to catch criminals is a sane partner, so he can observe what conclusions the criminal expected a sane man would draw from his misdirection.
- In The Belgariad, the king of Cthol Murgos is mentioned as having been a great warrior once, but by the time he appears his insanity had grown to the point that when he meets his archenemy in battle, he's so focused on killing him that he doesn't bother defending himself. He dies still screaming for the man to come back and fight him.
- Invoked by the character Zane in the second Mistborn book. He is legitimately Ax-Crazy, but is quite self-aware about that fact, considering the fact that he hears a voice in his head that goads him to kill everyone he meets to be personal flaw that he must work to overcome if he's to reach his full potential. Of course, being Ax-Crazy, when this plan falls apart he doesn't take it well, but the (sane) Action Girl who he tries to take it out on succeeds in killing him, thereby proving the trope.
- The only way Crown Prince Alaric was able to defeat Gaithim in The Quest of the Unaligned was because Gaithim's Ax-Crazy nature made him make two fatal errors. In the first fight, he had Alaric completely at his mercy, but instead of killing him quickly, he began to torture him, which bought time for The Cavalry to show up, in the form of Nahruahn and Laeshana. In the second, he shielded himself against any form of magic, but completely forgot that he was still vulnerable to mundane knives.
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, this is pretty much Joffrey's and later, Cersei's main weakness. Joffrey only knows how to be as cruel as his imagination can allow him to be, and nothing else. It's his execution of Eddard Stark, done for no reason other than petty cruelty, that basically guarantees that the war between the Starks and the Lannisters has no possibility of a peaceful conclusion, and when Tyrion is appointed as acting Hand, most of his job consists of trying to minimize the damage done by Joffrey's insanity. Cersei's is slightly different, as most of her mistakes result from her mind-blowing level of paranoia, thinking that everyone who doesn't constantly kiss her ass and do absolutely everything she asks is trying to sabotage her, so she makes sure everyone around her is nothing more than a yes-man, and has everyone who's competent removed. This bites her right in the ass, and fast when she reinstitutes the Faith Millitant, which promplty arrests her for treason and adultery.
- In Unknown Armies all magicians are insane, to the point that several of the most powerful NPCs are completely mundane, and players without powers often have significant advantages over those with, and various examples of possible mundane parties are discussed in the Global level of the sourcebook. One of them is even a bunch of stage magicians who pretend to have real powers. In the New Inquisition sourcebook, they explicitly address this trope, pointing out that by virtue of not having any magical powers, the head of the conspiracy is sane, his vision unclouded, and capable of everything a multi-billionaire with few ethical scruples can do. Which is quite a lot.
- Betrayal at House on the Hill has the Sanity stat, which often determines whether or not your investigator will keep their wits about them... or simply stay alive.
- Exalted: Most antagonists come with some form of insanity-related dysfunction which will lead them to make drastic, exploitably bad decisions. Examples include other Creation-based Exalts, who are usually blinded by the towering hubris of the Great Curse; the Yozis, who come with a heavy paradigm blindfold that leads to them interpreting nearly everything in terms of their own fundamental concepts; apostate Alchemicals, who are compelled by their condition to become less and less stable as time goes on until the killing starts; and ghosts and Deathlords, who naturally default to melodramatic passion plays rather than the organic behaviour of humans. (Should you be coming up against a high-Essence sane Alchemical, who will likely have a decent Clarity rating, you might actually have to invert this trope by making seemingly illogical moves to catch it unawares.)
- Genius: The Transgression - a fan supplement for the New World of Darkness - on the surface averts this trope, until fully playing it straight. The Inspired can create Wonders, powerful "scientific" artifacts powered by their own madness. But this gift comes with the unfortunate side effect of horribly limiting their options, in addition to the obvious disadvantages of being insane. Mad Science is the only career path an Inspired individual can pursue, because their madness prevents them from pursuing regular scientific research, and it prevents them from holding down any kind of regular job. It's no wonder most Mad Scientists live in perpetual poverty (though the prohibitive costs to build their Wonders doesn't help).
- In Dungeons & Dragons cosmology, it is often stressed that this is why the Blood War has been in a stalemate for eons, despite the fact that the demons of the Abyss outnumber the infernal armies of Hell by almost a hundred to one. The devils are a well-disciplined army of war mongers that lives by planning and strategy, while the strategy of the chaotic hordes of the Abyss can be explained in three words: "Scream and charge". If the demons ever did become sane and orderly, their superior numbers could let them eradicate the forces of Hell in less than a day... but if they became sane and orderly, the whole chaos-vs-order basis for the war would collapse.
- In Warhammer 40,000 we have daemonic walkers with amazing statlines and low costs, but their insanity rules means that they are unreliable and have decent chances of attacking their own troops. Daemonic transports has a chance to EAT one of the soldiers they are supposed to carry. Kharn the Betrayer is more capable, but still have a 18% chance to strike an ally during CC.
- In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Black Spiral Dancers' greatest liability is their insanity. All Black Spiral Dancer characters have at least one derangment, which can potentially interfere with social interaction, perception, and decision-making.
- Aladdin: The Series
- An episode featured a (non-villainous, though the heroes did not realize that at the time) reality-altering ("more powerful than a palace full of genies") catlike creature who was the Anthropomorphic Personification of Chaos, who shrunk Jasmine and then changed her back just because nobody was expecting it.
- There was also Mechanicles, self-professed "Greatest of the Great Greek Geniuses". Tends to have a gigantic array of inventions and/or clockwork robots at his beck and call and probably would have conquered the world twice over if not for his Neat Freak tendencies and obsessive list compilation that would make Monk look slovenly; he was once defeated by the heroes getting oil on his tunic as a distraction.
- One episode of ReBoot, where Hexadecimal had gotten "The Medusa Bug", which was turning everything in Mainframe to virtual stone. Bob (being immune) went and talked to her, mentioning casually how nice and orderly everything would be from now on. Naturally, Hexadecimal was the epitome of chaos, so she immediately undid it.
- Played with on Darkwing Duck, during Megavolt's introduction in "Duck Blind".
Darkwing: Fortunately, we have a psychological advantage.
Launchpad: Because, uh, we're sane and he's not?
- In the Futurama episode "Insane in the Mainframe", Roberto's hostage situation ends when, convinced that Fry really is a battle-droid, he has a Freak Out and jumps out the window.
- Let's face it: How many times would Invader Zim have conquered or annihilated the Earth if he wasn't completely out of his Irken mind?
- A non-villain example happens to Ben 10: Alien Force's Doctor Who expy Paradox. He claims to have been driven mad after a eon of being woven through the fabric of time and space until, as he says himself, he grew bored with insanity. This let him comprehend the incomprehensible and somehow get time travel powers.
- In Generator Rex, Breach is an incredibly powerful teleporter capable of transporting anyone or anything anywhere with little apparent effort. If she put herself to it, she could be a bigger threat then her boss Van Kleiss. But her insanity and crippling OCD keeps her as a minor villain.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender the climax features an Agni Kai between Zuko and Azula where Zuko intended to take an advantage of his sister's crumbling sanity. It was working perfectly until she threw out the rules of the duel and shot lightning at Katara. Then it started working again when her normal hyper-awareness and genre-savviness was suppressed by her derangement and charged right into Katara's trap.
- Phantom Limb from The Venture Bros. spent the third season insane but becomes a true menace again once he regains his sanity and builds the Revenge Society into a true supervillain alliance.
- In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Terry struggles in the final fight until he realizes the Joker's irrational fixation on Batman is his ultimate weakness, and proceeds to taunt him mercilessly about it. This causes the Joker to make a critical error that ends the fight in Terry's favor.