Token Motivational Nemesis
You've seen it a dozen times since Batman in the 1930s: A villain traumatizes the hero in the opening pages of a comic book's first issue, possibly scarring him physically. Driving the hero to train him/herself into the very definition of a perfect warrior/detective/vigilante/wizard/whatever you will, this scumbag made the hero who s/he is today. One would think that a villain of such importance to the very mythos of the story would be a continue to be a source of character motivation and story importance... ...only that by the final pages of the first issue (or at the end of the first story arc), having served his purpose of making the hero the way he is today, he is unceremoniously disposed of, and almost invariably never mentioned henceforth. This phenomenon occurs in many retrospectively popular works, which like all fiction must compete in a market that does not give second chances. Particularly in the first productions of many comic and manga authors, one is encouraged to finish his story as soon as possible in case it proves to be unpopular, so the publishers can have an easier time cutting the losses. Only when the successful sales figures come in are the authors forced to bear the awkward responsibility of expanding a story beyond the scope of the now already-dead villain that has created it. Most Token Motivational Villains are Starter Villains, although that's not always the case. They are often left out of adaptations altogether to be replaced by the hero's real nemesis.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Shin, Kenshiro's romantic rival-turned-nemesis in Fist of the North Star, was the one who defeated him in combat, engraved the seven scars on his chest, and stole Yuria, the love of his life, away from him, leading Ken to his quest for revenge. Shin then goes on to amass a huge gang and declares war on Kenshiro...until he is defeated by the end of the manga's tenth chapter. The cover of the second Jump Comics volume doesn't even try to hide Shin's literal downfall.
- The TV series did give Shin a bigger role by arranging the order of events of the first few story arcs, placing the final battle between Kenshiro and Shin a bit later than it had originally occurred. As a result, Shin gets more henchmen besides Mr. Heart and the other three playing card themed thugs who worked for him in the manga and his pining over Yuria is given a bit more focus as well. He also gets one good fight scene on the episode before his battle with Ken.
- The original movie on the other hand, gave Shin even less things to do than what he did in the manga. After defeating Kenshiro, Shin spends almost all of the movie walking around in his castle and giving orders to his lackeys. When Kenshiro finally arrives at Southern Cross to confront Shin, he finds out that Shin has already been defeated by Raoh, his more iconic rival.
- Nakatsukasa Tsubaki's brother Masamune in Soul Eater.
- The Hiruma brothers of Rurouni Kenshin for Kamiya Kaoru, whose defaming of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu drove her Dojo where our heroes lived into financial destitute for the entire story and kicked off the franchise, were never mentioned or seen again after Himura Kenshin ran him out of town by the second chapter of the second volume of the manga (at least by Kenshin and Kaoru. Sanosuke runs into them briefly in volume 26). The anime makes them a single character but the result is exactly the same by the fifth episode.
- Higuma The Bear in One Piece. He didn't exactly fight anyone, but he nearly killed the then overconfident main character, only to be forgotten entirely at the end of the arc. The fact that he was eaten by a sea monster may have had something to do with it.
- Subverted in Itsuka Tenma no Kuro Usagi: Hinata seems to be one for Gekkou, setting up the latter's entire motivation to get to where he is today, only to be killed off at the end of the second episode. Yeah, not so much...
- In High School DXD, Issei's motivational nemesis is Reynalle, his ex-girlfriend fallen angel who killed him at the end of the first episode. He then avenges his and Asia's death when he punches Reynalle through a wall/through a window in the anime. Though Rias kills her, Issei still looks fondly back at the memories with him and Reynalle throughout their only date which traumatized him for a very long time when it comes to love.
- Naruto's first villain, the corrupt instructor Mizuki, is the one who tricks Naruto into stealing the scroll that taught him his Shadow Clone signature move and also revealed the secret about the tailed beast sealed inside him, plus allowed a moment where Naruto realized there was somebody in his life that cared for him when Iruka took a hit for him. And he never appears again, well, at least in the manga.
- Dragon Ball has Raditz, Son Goku's long lost older brother and the Starter Villain of the anime series Dragon Ball Z, who reveals Goku his true origins and that he's actually an alien. He dies along with Goku fighting him and Piccolo, and is mentioned as an afterthought in the arc he was introduced in, only getting a bit more characterization in a Frieza Saga anime filler flashback.
- Attack on Titan — The Smiling Titan who eats Eren's mom is what first motivated him to "Exterminate all the Titans".
- Subverted later though, as the Smiling Titan shows up again later and kills Hannes, and indirectly causes Eren to realize that he is the Coordinate when he unintentionally sets a horde of Titans on the smiling Titan. Needless to say, this was a rather big moment.
- Joe Chill, the mugger who murdered Bruce Wayne's parents, is possibly the most well known example of this trope. While Batman's origin story was first shown in Detective Comics #33 (published November 1939, a few months after his debut), the true identity of the mugger was not revealed until Batman #47 (June 1948, almost ten years later), where he was unceremoniously killed by his very own henchmen when they learned he was indirectly responsible for the birth of Batman. In the post-Zero Hour continuity, the writers at DC made the identity of the mugger unclear, with the rationalization that since Batman never found out his parents' murderer, any criminal he catches might as well be the one who did it. However, the Infinite Crisis storyline retconned the mugger's identity back to being Joe Chill.
- This story was the basis for the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Chill in the Night". The episode borrowed much from #33, but upped the ante. The Spectre and the Phantom Stranger had a bet for Batman's soul over whether or not Batman would break his one rule and serve vengeance, or keep it and serve justice. Present-day Joe was now an arms dealer auctioning weapons on the black market, His henchmen were replaced with Batman's Rogues Gallery (who were attending the auction), and ended with The Spectre finishing Chill after Batman wouldn't, dropping a ceiling on him.
- Deconstructed in Batman Begins. Joe Chill is killed by a mob hit before Bruce can take his revenge. Being denied vengeance motivates him to become Batman, with the added bonus of Rachel guilting him into swearing off guns.
- To an extent Chill is replaced in this regard by Carmine Falcone, the gang lord who ordered Chill's death. However, as soon as Batman has dealt with Falcone halfway through, he only appears once more in prison, as Batman moves on to the far more dangerous Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul.
- The Tim Burton film version turned Jack Napier, the man who would become Joker, into the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents, presumably to add more chemistry to the Batman/Joker rivalry. However, the Joker got killed in the first film and never appeared in any of Burton's or Schumacher's sequels.
- In some ways, having the mugger who murdered Bruce's parents be anonymous and not show up again might make it more powerful of a scene, since it shows to young Bruce (as well as the audience) that evil doesn't necessarily come wearing a clown mask or with a freeze ray, it can be as simple as a random chance mugging. One anonymous man steps up, ruins three lives, and then leaves, not knowing or understanding the relevance of this one action. Batman proves that one man, acting alone (or with the Batfamily, or the Justice League, or other heroes...) can change the world, but this random mugger proves that even through acts of evil we can also change the world.
- Mr. Carradine, the thief who murdered Peter Parker's uncle Ben Parker. He came back for a second appearance in the seventies, and died of a heart attack when Spidey revealed his identity.
- And he did not even get a name until the 1990s, when his daughter appeared in a storyline that involved her with Ben Reilly during the Clone Saga.
- In the third movie, Uncle Ben's murderer was actually Sandman, a member of Spidey's Rogues Gallery in the original comics. However, the killing was accidentally provoked by the burglar originally thought to had been Uncle Ben's murderer, who was the Sandman's lackey.
- And in The Spectacular Spider-Man he's the Cat Burglar, father of recurring villain/partner/love interest Black Cat. This version turns out to have never intended to kill anybody, and guilt has made him repent in prison.
- Similarly, The Fixer who turned Matt Murdock into Daredevil dies of a heart-attack by the end of the first volume.
- The Movie replaced him with the Kingpin, doing a routine hit on his way to the top.
- Frank Miller's re-telling of Daredevil's origin, entitled "The Man Without Fear," has The Fixer ordering the Kingpin (at that point, his main enforcer) to kill Matt Murdock's father. Later in the miniseries, Kingpin takes control by killing the Fixer.
- Marie L'Angelle in Preacher, Jesse Custer's grandmother who made his childhood a living hell, is introduced in the beginning of the second volume but dies halfway through the book. Her influence, however, radiates on a while longer - her nephew is Allfather D'aronique.
- In the original run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Shredder, the evil ninja who would serve as the Turtles' archenemy in later versions of the saga, turned out to be this, being killed by the Turtles in the first issue, though he was resurrected and used as a villain (And then killed permanently) in later arcs.
- And these later arcs came after the first cartoon and the comics based on it made Shredder the Big Bad. The writers have said more than once that the Shredder was never intended to be the Turtles' Darth Vader, and he really isn't missed in the comicverse.
- Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger in the Iron Man movie; he is revealed as the movie progress to be the one who hired the Ten Rings to kill Tony Stark, such indirectly causing the incident that changed Stark's vision over life and led him to become Iron Man. Despite this, he doesn't survives the first movie, and is never mentionned again in the second Opus. Ironically enough, this version of him led the character to be promoted in the fans' eyes, and he is made part of the Big Bad Ensemble in Iron Man: Armored Adventures.
- Magneto did away with his Not So Different nemesis Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class, but never mentioned him in the Twenty Minutes into the Future trilogy that preceded it. We're talking about the man who killed Magneto's mother and whose role Magneto assumed after killing him. Of course, the writers of the trilogy couldn't have predicted the future (in fact, Shaw doesn't look very dead, or old enough to have been an adult in The Forties, in his television appearance in X2.) And it doesn't matter, as Days of Future Past removes the trilogy from existence.
- What was left of police officer Alex Murphy after he was brutally murdered by a gang was turned into RoboCop. His memory was erased, but key memories resurfaced, including Murphy's murder. Robocop killed Murphy's killers at the end of the first film and they were never mentioned in either of the two sequels, even though the first of those explored Robocop's identity or lack thereof and to what extent he is Alex Murphy.
- Ernst Stavro Blofeld was James Bond's nemesis for nearly twenty real life years, starting from the second film in the franchise From Russia with Love and ending with For Your Eyes Only. He killed Bond's wife in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond took his revenge two films later in For Your Eyes Only, but for legal reasons Blofeld's name was never spoken in that film, nor was the character ever mentioned in any subsequent film other than the non-canon Never Say Never Again.
Live Action Television
- From Xena: Warrior Princess: The warlord that attacked Xena's village and killed her brother was the preliminary cause of her Face-Heel Turn and Sliding Down The Slippery Slope progress. He was dealt with for good in a season one episode, and played as so ridiculously campy and over-the-top, that the writers wisely decided never to bring him back. For the villain who was essentially the reason for Xena becoming the way she was, he ended up barely relevant.
- The first episode of Blake's 7 features Dev Tarrant, the undercover Federation agent who arranged the massacre of Blake's original followers and inspires him to become a rebel again by arranging a similar massacre. Despite still being at large and infiltrating the resistance as the episode closes, he is never seen or mentioned again, with the role of Blake's nemesis quickly being assigned to Travis, the officer who actually carried out the original massacre.
- It wasn't revealed until the final season of Heroes that Noah Bennett had a wife who was killed by "one of them" named Richard and was recruited by The Company after killing a special he encountered in his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. He never actually found Richard (as far as we know), but the man was the catalyst for Bennett's entire origin story and you'd think Bennett would have told Sandra, Claire and Lyle about him and the whole other life he destroyed when he told them who he was really was earlier in the series. This is lampshaded by a very unimpressed Claire when the truth is revealed to her and the audience through a vision.
- Manfred von Karma from the first Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game, whose murder of Gregory Edgeworth 15 years earlier turned pretty much all of the recurring cast's lives around, be it directly or indirectly. He is only mentioned a few times in the second and third games. He does appear in a flashback episode in Ace Attorney Investigations, but his role there is little more than a cameo for the purpose of Continuity Porn.
- Though he did appear with significant importance in another Whole Episode Flashback in Investigations 2, which shows the buildup to Gregory's death. His daughter Franziska is also a reoccurring character, and both she and Edgeworth are clearly damaged from his raising them. Franziska especially has difficulty getting over the "von Karma perfection" he drilled into her.
- Similarly, Redd White from the same game. He kills Mia Fey, an act that is responsible for many characters' first meetings and is the main reason Maya chooses to participate in the series at all. Phoenix gets him arrested, and everyone promptly forgets he ever existed. Even when the third game introduces a new character whose entire characterization is based around that murder, he barely acknowledges the murderer.
- Hideo Kojima didn't expect the original Metal Gear Solid to be as successful as it was, so the first game ends with Solid Snake's evil twin, Liquid Snake, dying from a heart attack. He proved so popular that the sequels sort of maybe but not really kind of brought him back. Nobody's really sure.
- Mr. Fixx killed Terry McGinnis's father and then died in the first episode... maybe. However, Derek Powers ordered the hit, and was still around to be the target of Terry's vengeance. However, Powers disappears at the end of Season 1 and never returned in any of the following seasons, despite the possibility being left open.
- Hakon, who massacred Goliath's clan in Gargoyles is killed in the second episode of the series and rarely mentioned again. He does return as a ghost in two later episodes but in the first the focus is mostly on the Captain of the Guard and the second is a comedic Breather Episode with little overall importance to the series.