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The last thing many henchmen see. Ever.
There is a common misconception that the use of fear and terror against one's enemies is a cowardly, evil method of fighting
. Not to these characters
. To them, targeting a foe's psyche is every bit as valid a tactic as more direct methods. To do this, they prey upon a villain's fears, attempting to break them, thus making them easy prey. Often times, said character is either an Anti-Hero
or someone who's a more clear cut hero but isn't particularly nice
. Can be a very effective weapon for those with a no-kill code
. Alternatively, a hero could just as easily exploit their frightening reputation as a means of scaring someone into submission. The terror hero (except type 5) typically tries to avoid direct combat unless no other options are present. In order to count (except type 5), the use of fear and morale breaking must be a standard tactic rather than something used once in a while.
There are five types of this kind of hero.
- Type 1: The Cowl:
The type made famous by Batman. Specializes in exploiting the primal fear of becoming prey. Uses a scary costume and ambush predator hunting tactics in the dark of night.
- Type 2: The mean Warrior Therapist:
This subtype is a hero that uses the dark side of the Warrior Therapist trope to break a villain by bringing up all of their insecurities and all their fears via a properly barbed Reason You Suck Speech. Good Is Not Soft applies heavily with this sub type. Exploits fears of being helpless.
- Type 3: Scare them with a display of force:
Uses a display of force designed to intimidate a foe into submission. This is a very popular Real Life tactic designed to prevent escalation to actual violence. Type 3 typically preys upon the fear of death or injury.
- Type 4: Supernatural methods:
This sub type uses spells (illusions mainly) and psychic assaults to reach into a villain's mind, pull out their fears, and turn them into whimpering, blubbering, terrified wrecks. More horrifying examples can be considered borderline low grade Mind Rape. Exploits the fear of the unknown and sometimes death.
- Type 5: "Oh Crap he's here":
This scare tactic relies on the hero having such a frightening reputation that his mere presence in a battlefield is enough to make bad guys void their bowels, drop their weapons and flee, be paralyzed with fear, etc. Exploits the fears of death and being helpless.
In terms of gameplay, characters who use fear are typically rogues or spell casters with specialization in illusions. Warrior types are typically limited to the use of types 2, 3, and 5. Note also that any of the other types can eventually evolve into type 5 if given enough time and myth-making
It should be noted that the origins of the misconception stem from the many hideously evil acts committed upon innocent people in the name of terror tactics (think rampaging maruaders, terrorists, and the like) as opposed to the restrained, targeted tactics used by honest cops and soldiers. Alas, the evil cases are the ones that get all the press.
Associated with Bad Powers, Good People
. A common tactic when Dark Is Not Evil
. Related to In-Universe Nightmare Fuel
for obvious reasons. Often causes a Mook Horror Show
. Can lead to Moral Dissonance
if used poorly. Compare and contrast with the Horrifying Hero
, who's horrifying to look at as opposed to the Terror Hero who is typically normal looking but uses tactics designed to turn their foes into blubbering, terrified wrecks. Related to the Guile Hero
who uses trickery, cunning, and misdirection to defeat his foes. Heroic counterpart to The Dreaded
. The Cowl
is a sub trope dealing with a specific scare tactic.
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Anime and Manga
- Ikki from Saint Seiya, his Phoenix Houou Guenma-Ken technique, allows him to make their opponents to see an nightmarish illusion. (Type 4)
- Ban Midou from Get Backers can also make their opponents to have hallucinations, however he usually uses this more as a distraction technique than as an offensive attack. (Type 4)
- From Naruto, the Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze, was so powerful and feared that the shinobi of Iwagakure during the Third War were ordered to cut and run if he was so much as spotted anywhere near the battlefield. (Type 5)
- Itachi Uchiha uses both type 3 and 4, since he generally starts any fight off by using illusions to take out his opponents, then uses as much force as necessary to end the fight without killing anyone.
- Vash the Stampede from Trigun is a type 3, acting like a gun crazed psycho to scare villains into submission. It fits given his policy of Thou Shall Not Kill. However, he only adopts this persona when his usual facade of idiocy fails.
- The Aureolus story arc in A Certain Magical Index ends this way. Upon realizing that Aureolus' true power is to change reality to fit his imagination, Touma begins to laugh maniacally and slowly walk toward the alchemist, even after having his arm torn off. His terrifying mannerisms causes Aureolus to picture him as an invincible monster, effectively turning his reality-bending powers against him in a type 4 example.
- In Bleach, there's Captain Retsu Unohana. We're not shown why, but discord tends to simply break off when she is near, and a team of Arrancar once retreated when she showed up, the only time they have ever done so. In the databooks, she's listed as the third most powerful captain, but for whatever reason people fear her more than the two above her. (Type 5)
- Said reasons have finally been revealed. She used to be a Blood Knight in her youth, as well as the first Kenpachi of Squad 11. Let's see what it brings.
- Ichigo would seem to be a type five for the Quincies. Unlike the other shinigami, the Quincy can't steal his bankai, and his speed and power makes it so they can't properly use their abilities against him. In fact, as soon as their leader finds out that Ichigo has come to their base in Hueco Mundo, he decides that that's the best time to invade the Soul Society.
- Subverted. The Quincies do respect his power, but their leader wants to recruit Ichigo into their ranks because of his Quincy heritage.
- In his backstory, Raoh intended to be this as a combination of types 3 and 5. The rest of the series portrays him as a plain villain and a tyrant, however.
- Monkey D. Luffy of One Piece is slowly turning more and more into a type 5 as his infamy and bounty increases over the course of the series.
- Hayate Yagami of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise have become a type 5 after Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. It's bad enough that she's the "Living Lost Logia" who had fused with an infamous Artifact of Doom, but she's also the one who stopped the Saint's Cradle, which had threatened the very existence of the Administration Bureau. Demonstrated in Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force when a group of Big Bad Wannabes with Anti-Magic planning to escape their captors immediately dropped all plans of doing so when they discovered that she was the commanding officer.
- Batman can be considered the Trope Codifier, especially given his quote about superstitious criminals. (Type 1 and 5)
- Trauma from Avengers The Initiative. (Type 4)
- Ghost Rider. Both a Type 4 and a Type 5: His powers are supernatural in nature and specifically meant to horrify and traumatize evil doers. His Penance Stare makes a criminal experience all the pain and suffering he's inflicted on the innocent: the worse you are, the more you are left a drooling vegetable by it. He is also horrifying to behold.
- Despite being The Cape, Superman often has the Type 5 effect. In one instance, when Lois Lane was unintentionally wounded in a battle she was covering between the US military and a foreign nation, he arrived to get her to safety. His mere presence caused the other side to begin surrendering, as they assumed he was there to fight them.
- Spider-Man is a Type 5, as well. Just seeing him can be enough to get a generic robber or mugger to surrender; in one instance several criminals were in a shootout with police but instantly surrendered when he swung over the street, even though he was on his way somewhere else and wasn't trying to intervene.
- Most of this is because, although Spidey isn't Marvel's most powerful or intimidating hero, he's much stronger than petty thugs and yet still spends a lot of his time dealing with them, as well as being the only major superhero who deals with the criminal underworld, plus having the reputation of going toe-to-toe with various crime lords such as Silvermane and the Kingpin, probably helped.
- Eddie Brock as Anti-Venom thinks he's a Type V, but is both a Type 1 and Type III, with his Lovecraftian Superpowers, monstrous appearance, and tendency to show up seemingly out of nowhere.
- Dr. Manhattan had a type 5 effect when he was deployed to Vietnam and quickly ended the war, with North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops surrendering to him personally.
- Silver Surfer is also a Type 5. In a 90's crossover with Superman, he made– without a word or even a movement– a Skrull fleet retreat and give up their plans to invade a planet. Just seeing the Surfer was enough to make them flee. This is justified for more reasons than just the Surfer's (immense) power; he's also a Herald of Galactus, the guy ate the Skrull homeworld.
- On the Discworld, there is Lu-Tze, who usually avoids conflict by reminding people of "Rule One", to wit: "Never act incautiously when facing a small wrinkly bald smiling old man!" This causes some chagrin when he ventures to those parts of the Disc where Rule One is not known, but he is well capable of backing it up. (Types 5 and 3)
- Then there is Granny Weatherwax, who the Trolls call "She Who Must Be Avoided". The Dwarfs have a similar name for her: "Go Around the Other Side of the Mountain." When her reputation fails, she resorts to hoodoo, or "headology" as she calls it, and if that's not enough, she is perfectly capable of clearing the field by magical means. (Types 5, 3 and 4)
- Meanwhile in the Watch books, Ankh-Morpork criminals consider Sergeant Detritus to be this. Justified since he carries as a hand weapon a ballista that would put a bazooka to shame and has chronic trouble with Mister Safety Catch, and on top of this he has been known to nail drug dealers to the wall by their ears. Apparently small riots can be cleared by shouting that Detritus is on his way. (Type 3)
- Also, Commander Sam Vimes. The criminal underworld is so afraid of him that when he leaves town on a diplomatic mission, the crime rate goes down. Why? Because if things fall apart while he's gone, when he gets back, he will not be pleased. "And when Sam Vimes is unhappy, he tends to spread it around with a big shovel." (3 and 5)
- The Princess Bride: The whole concept of "The Dread Pirate Roberts" relies on this trope. The current Dread Pirate Roberts is usually quite nice and may not have killed anyone at all. (Type 5)
- Aral Vorkosigan didn't earn his title as The Butcher of Komarr but he— and occasionally Miles— play with the sinister public perception to get things to go their way. (Type 5)
- Friend and Mentor to Harry Potter, Dumbledore seems to be this to Voldemort and his followers, and with good reason. It is outright stated that Dumbledore is the only wizard that Voldemort ever feared and during their duel Voldemort ultimately fled rather than try to fight him any longer. Prior to this, when Dumbledore arrived in the Department of Mysteries, none of the Death Eaters even bothered to try and stop him. They just ran. (5 and maybe 3)
- Harry Dresden never meant to be one of these (Type 3), but because he's an extremely powerful wizard, is extremely protective of his city, and has a tendency toward chronic heroism, especially when a woman is involved, most of the small-time supernatural threats steer clear of Chicago as a matter of course. This is especially clear in Ghost Story when, due to Harry's apparent death, the city is suddenly swarmed with competing beasties of varying strengths. Molly then invokes this trope, taking on the persona of the Rag Lady in order to try and scare the city straight, using Type 4 tactics mostly, though to particularly lethal ends whenever the Leanansidhe is helping by taking a shift as the Rag Lady.
- Harry's got a some of Type 5 going on as well, particularly in later books. The reader doesn't see it as much because many of the beings he's seen dealing with by the time his reputation grows enough are either powerful enough to be considered minor gods (in which case he's a serious threat but not terror-inducing) or just haven't realized who they're dealing with until he starts blowing things up. He's come across the stuff of nightmares a few times, and seen them scream and run away just upon realizing who he was. Even the people on his side who don't know him personally tend give him a wide berth (though this has something to do with the fact that it deserves a special mention whenever something is on fire and he didn't cause it).
Harry Dresden: And then it hit me. They were dealing with something far more dangerous than me, Harry Dresden, whose battered old Volkswagen was currently in the city impound. They were dealing with the potential demonic dark lord nightmare warlock they'd been busy fearing since I turned sixteen. They were dealing with the wizard who had faced the Heirs of Kemmler riding a zombie dinosaur, and emerged victorious from a fight that had flattened Morgan and Captain Luccio before they had even reached it. They were dealing with a man who had dropped a challenge to the entire Senior Council, and who had then actually showed, apparently willing to fight - on the shores of an entirely too creepy island in the middle of a freshwater sea.
- At one point he comes face-to-face with a blood-sucking, demonically-strong vampire... which screams in terror and runs away.
- Word Of God says Harry is one of the few, if only, non-Knights Nicodemus, leader of those possessing fallen angels, has been around for roughly 2000 years, nigh-immortal human, fears. All because Harry realized that noose he wears, the noose that killed Judas and gives Nick his healing powers, is the only thing that can kill him by being strangled with it.
- In just the last two books, Harry took out the entire Red Court of Vampires, including several beings like low level gods in one go, came back from the dead, and became the Winter Knight. That's a lot of Type 5.
- Elva talked several enemy soldiers into insanity and suicide. Simultaneously. Despite the fact that she looks like she's 6 and actually much younger. Type 2.
- The Keldara from Paladin Of Shadows are Type 5s. In Unto the Breach, a Chechen leader notes that even the Spetznaz were only hated, not feared... but the Keldara are feared, and now even more so due to being trained by American special forces who are a double trouble of fear to the muj.
- This is one of Polgara's favorite tactics in The Belgariad. In one of the prequels she explains that she reaches into her target's mind and shows them their biggest fears (type IV), and is quite amused when one of her targets turns out to fear her father, Belgarath.
- In Another Fine Myth, Aahz claims to be a Type 5 when masquerading as a fellow demon hunter to the knight Quigley.
- In the backstory of The Lord of the Rings there is Helm Hammerhand, the Rohirrim king after whom Helm's Deep is named. When said fortress was besieged, he would ride out at night and kill foes with his bare hands, and they were too terrified to gang up on him. One night he did not return, and was found the next morning dead on his feet, frozen to death, surrounded by enemies still too scared to touch him.
- From the Nightside, there's Suzie Shooter aka Shotgun Suzie aka "Oh Christ, it's her! Run!" John Taylor also has this reputation, as befits a man with the power to find your greatest weakness and use it with extreme prejudice.
- The Anla'Shok of Babylon 5 fame were known to train their warriors to use this tactic. (Type 3 and type 5)
- Buffy is this to the forces of evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. It helps that she's a Legacy Hero whose mantle has existed since around the Bronze Age. It also helps that she has a lot more staying power than the average Slayer, and personally takes down many big-name demons. Then she becomes the leader of an entire army of Slayers, and in the Series Finale she thwarts the Anthropomorphic Personification of evil.
- In Doctor Who, the Doctor (at least in the new series) frequently uses the type 5 version of this as one of his typical Guile Hero tricks, although many of the bad guys are genuinely terrified of him.
Elliot: Are you scared of [monsters]?
The Doctor: No. They're scared of me!
- The Eleventh Doctor in particular is a Type 5, as best shown in "The Eleventh Hour";
The Doctor: Hello, I'm the Doctor. Basically... run!
- Nick Burkhardt didn't mean to be a Type 5, but all but the most dangerous Wesen (creatures) are terrified of Grimms, who historically hunted them. Nick isn't that happy that people keep responding to him like he's a serial killer, but eventually he starts to expect and sometimes exploit their panicked reactions. And then there's the the time he responded to two Reapers trying to kill him by mailing back their severed heads.
- Warhammer 40000:
- The Salamanders chapter is one of the nicest out there, but they're fond of exploiting their borderline demonic appearance (uber dark skin plus glowing red eyes) to terrify rebels into submission. (Type 1 and 5)
- All Space Marines are capable of terrorizing with their mere presence, but the Space Wolves get special mention for being a bunch of Space Vikings with slight werewolf tendencies when they get sufficiently furious. After their response to the Administratum's handling of the First War for Armageddon, even the Inquisition is wary of upsetting the Space Wolves. (Type 5)
- The Primarch Konrad Curze (better known as the Night Haunter) began his life as a completely ruthless and murderous vigilante who used terror and violence to cow his home world Nostramo into submission. He's said to have had left corpses as an unrecognizable pulp from his bare fists, left heavily mutilated bodies nailed outside their homes, and had a high enough body count to clog entire sewer systems. Then he and his legion went renegade... (Type 3 and 5 to the logical extreme).
- The Raven Guard are stealth and infiltration specialists able to sneak up on enemies despite being power-armored giants. A successful campaign leaves their enemies huddled around light sources, mortally afraid of the dark. (Type 5)
- The Scary Marines, who are in some ways the loyalist equivalent of the Night Lords, but they rely less on savagery and more on being eight foot tall experts in subtle psychological warfare.
- Any spell caster who specializes in illusions in Dungeons & Dragons can play as a terror hero with the right spells. (type 4) Some rogue and ranger builds can allow for similar fear tactics (type 1), as well as frequent usage of intimidate. (type 3)
- This is the whole rationale of the Autumn Court from Changeling: The Lost. All types possible, but they tend to focus on supernatural methods primarily.
- Ciem is sometimes a Type I, but will resort to actual violence on enemies who are too reckless or desperate to care. Develops a reputation as a bad omen over time. She also is reluctant to ever actually kill anyone; but is not above tricking them into bringing about their own demise.
- Extirpon, part of the expanded universe, has resorted to being all five types. It helps that the entire Break the Haughty concept is what fuels his Reality Warper powers. The worse you are, the easier it is for him to crush you under ex-nihlo giant anvils, or make you cough up venomous snakes, or even outright make your ribcage explode in a fiery blaze. Or grant temporary god-mode to your normal adversaries for extra humiliation—if there's time.
- Raven from Teen Titans is very skilled at breaking people with scare tactics with her dark powers. (type 4)
- After exposing him to the unholy terrors of her home, Dr. Light was so traumatized that in future encounters he will surrender at the very sight of Raven.
- Darkwing Duck is an affectionate parody of type 1. His ego makes him a joke— that is, until he says his Catch Phrase: "Let's Get Dangerous!"
- Malu, airbending character from the Trading Card Game, used Type 4 strategy to keep Fire Nation soldiers away from her mountain. She constantly attacked them and then disappeared suddenly, finally leading firebenders to believe their attacker to be the "ghost witch of the mountain".
- Brock Samson from The Venture Brothers. This exchange from the first episode pretty much sums him up.
Number 24: Brock Samson got a hold of him, and—
The Monarch: Samson! Oh, jeez, say no more. Poor little guy. He was this close to getting his wings, too.
- As mentioned in the description, police will attempt to scare a suspect into submission as a way to eliminate a threat without resorting to force. (type 3)
- The point of dropping leaflets is to break morale and bring about surrender. (type 2)
- Most military tactics are based on this to some degree, at least in land warfare (sea warfare is different as running is difficult).
- Many self-defense courses will try and aim for a Type 3 effect, where merely showing the confidence that you can kick someone's ass is sufficient to get them to back down.
- One of Muhammad Ali's opponents had spent time in prison, so Ali exploited the fears he'd picked up in prison by pretending to be Ax Crazy. It worked. (Type 2)