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What does it take to kill this guy, he's only human, right? Right?
Assumptions are dangerous. You assume that your foe is mortal and limited, that there are certain things he cannot do or survive.
When these assumptions break down, in their panic many heroes or villains will ask, "What the hell are you?"
This panic can be triggered by the character having an unusual appearance or abilities, stunning the person who assumed he was normal and could be easily beaten.
See also Who Are You?
and Mugging the Monster
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Anime and Manga
- Frieza has a moment in Dragon Ball Z after he realizes what a Super Saiyan is capable of. Frieza blasts Goku, square in the face, with one of his beams, sending his head reeling backwards. But, Goku just slowly lowers his gaze back to normal like nothing happened. It's at that moment Frieza realizes just what he's dealing with.
Frieza: You... You... What are you?!
Vegeta: What... are you? I put everything I had into that attack. You should be dead!
- The Strawhats got this a lot early in One Piece, both from whoever they're fighting, or whoever happens to be watching.
- In Naruto, this is an equivalent of Oh, Crap, usually uttered when the speaker realises he has just attacked a demonhost.
- Said (in the English dub at least) by Luke Valentine to Alucard in Hellsing.
Luke Valentine: What are you? WHAT IN THE HELL ARE YOU?!
- Notably, this is coming from another vampire. Alucard's just that Crazy Awesome.
- Said once in Inuyasha, but surprisingly enough said to Kagome by Yura of the Hair. Her confusion came from the fact that every time she swung a sword at Kagome, it bounced off of Inuyasha's kimono rather than slicing off her limbs.
"What are you? Why don't you bleed?"
- In Ginga Densetsu Weed, Kamikiri and his dogs had nearly beaten Toube to death and leave his body there. But when Toube gets up, Kamikiri has a look of shock on his face, and he says this almost every word-for-word:
Kamikiri: What the hell is he?!?
- At the end of the first episode of Durarara!!, the last human trafficker screams this when he runs down Celty, knocks off her helmet, and notices she doesn't have a head.
- Nanoha Takamachi of Lyrical Nanoha has gotten this a couple of times, on account of basically being a human Gundam.
- Subverted in The Big O in the first encounter between Alan Gabriel and R. Dorothy Wayneright (in which Gabriel is serving Ms. Waynewright with a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown):
R. Dorothy Wayneright: What exactly are you? A human? An android just like me? I'm unable to determine what you are.
Alan Gabriel: I'm the boogeyman!
- After the above exchange, Dorothy, who is Three-Laws Compliant and couldn't have risked hurting a human, apparently concludes that Gabriel has just admitted to being non-human and ends him.
- In Yu-Gi-Oh!, after Bakura defeats Pegasus, he gloats that Pegasus didn't stand a chance against someone who has been playing Shadow Games for centuries. Terrified, Pegasus exclaims, "You've lived for centuries!? What sort of creature are you!?" Bakura replies, "Someone with great power, soon to be greater."
- Puella Magi Madoka Magica The Movie: Rebellion: Kyubey, friggin' KYUBEY, screams this in regards to Sayaka and Nagisa, who have just revealed themselves to be agents of the Law of Cycles.
I'm not going to kill you. I want you to do me a favor: I want you to tell all your friends about me. Nic: WHAT ARE YOU?! Batman: ...I'm Batman.
- The Dark Knight Saga:
John Daggett: I paid you a small fortune!
John Daggett: What is this?
Your money and infrastructure have been important... 'til now
John Daggett: You're pure evil!
Bane: I'm necessary evil. [breaks Daggett's neck]
- Men In Black: Agent J saw the Cephalopoid climb up a wall and has now cornered him at the edge of the roof.
Jay: What the hell are you?
- Jack Frost (1997) (the horror film): The title character is a serial killer transformed into a snowman.
Tommy: What the hell are you?
Jack Frost: The world's most pissed-off snow cone!
- Maniac Cop
Mugger 2: [to the title character] What the hell ARE you?
- Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator, after he's seen the eponymous character with his mask off.
- And the Predator asks him the same question right back.
- In X-Men: First Class, we have the following conversation:
- The Other Guys
Terry: When you were a kid growing up, didn't you play Cops and Robbers?
Allen: I'll tell you what I did as a kid: I went to school, I made my bed, and at age 11, I audited my parents. Now believe me, there were some discrepancies. And I was grounded.
Terry: What the hell are you?
The Leprechaun: Is that me gold?
Tory: What the hell are you?
The Leprechaun: I'm a leprechaun, m'dear.
- Night At The Museum: Battle At The Smithsonian
Kahmunrah: What are you?
Larry: I'm the night guard. (shoves Kahmunrah into the underworld)
- In The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, one of the Fantom's Mooks unloads a submachinegun clip into Dorian Gray. Instead of dying, Dorian gives his formerly nice suit an annoyed look and proceeds to remove the Mook's plate armor with his sword. This conversation takes place.
Mook: (horrified) What are you?
Dorian Gray: (stabbing him, annoyed) I'm complicated.
- Shows up a few times in The Stormlight Archive in reaction to Szeth's and Kaladin's Surgebinding.
- Shows up in an awesome way in the Sweet Valley High series in book #100 The Evil Twin.
James: Who are you? What are you?
Margo: (Switch from an angry look to a sweet, innocent one) I'm exactly what I appear to be.
Live Action TV
- Smallville is rife with this. Clark gets this all the time, but more commonly "how did you do that?" as he is completely unafraid of using his powers in plain sight of villains.
- There are at least two examples directed towards other characters:
- Arctic: Brainiac thinks Chloe Sullivan is a normal human. When he pierces her head with his finger tendrils, she unleashes her healing powers in defense, weakening him to the point where he had difficultly burning through a fence with his heat vision. One of the very rare, if not the only, instances in which you see him staggering and panting.
Brainiac: What the hell are you?
- Phantom. Bizarro has just been rejuvenated from kryptonite instead of harmed, and knocks Lionel Luthor against a wall.
Clark Kent: What the hell are you?
Bizarro: I'm you, only a little more bizarre.
- The Crow: Stairway to Heaven episode "Solitude's Revenge"
Kessler: What the hell are you?
The Crow: Death without parole.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When Riley Finn discovers the little blonde college girl he's dating is a Badass demon fighter with Super Strength and Healing Factor, his first question (once he has a chance to ask one) is "What (not who) are you?" Buffy, picking up the What Measure Is a Non-Human? subtext, is not amused.
- In Doctor Who, the Doctor meets a woman named Oswin Oswald in a Dalek asylum in the far future, and she dies. Then he meets the same woman (now named Clara) in Victorian London, and she dies. Baffled as to how this could have happened, he seeks her out and encounters another incarnation of her in modern times, and adopts her as his new companion to figure this out. He avoids confronting her directly about this until several adventures in, when it seems they are both going to die. He demands to know just what the hell she actually is, but Clara is just a normal woman and has no idea what he's talking about. It later turns out that this Clara is a normal woman, and the "original"; she winds up entering the Doctor's personal timeline in order to thwart a villain who had done the same, causing multiple incarnations of her to appear throughout his life.
- In the new series, Donna Noble is suckered into rewriting part of her life. The ensuing alternate universe is already overkill, but it ends up nearly destroying the whole universe. The space gypsy who did it freaks out and uses this trope.
- Tomb Raider: Underworld
Lara Croft: Tell me this: what the hell are you?
Lara's Doppelganger: I am you with the flaws removed!
- Batman: Arkham Asylum: Scarecrow asks this of Batman after he has had ten times the normal dose of fear gas and is still alive and sane.
- From StarCraft, Zeratul to Duran: "Who... What are you?"
- Starcraft II expansion has everyone wondering just what the hell Kerrigan is. She was de-infested at the end of Wings of Liberty, and seems to have little-to-no memory of the time she spent infested, yet still can control the swarm and still has Zerg features about her. Is she really redeemed this time, or is she just trying to pull her Magnificent Bastard act again?
- Cave Story: After the second fight against Balrog, as Balrog is retreating:
Balrog: What ARE you?
- Devil May Cry: This exchange in DMC 3, after Dante beats Cerberus (paraphrased from memory):
Cerberus: You're not human, are you?
Dante: Who knows? To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure myself!
Phantom: You, you're not just any ordinary human. What are you?
Dante says nothing, but Phantom briefly sees an image of Sparda in Dante's place
Dante: Close. I'm his son!
- Dissidia: Final Fantasy: Firion to Sephiroth at the start of a fight.
Firion: You make me shiver... What are you!?
- In Heroes of Might and Magic V, Nicolai asks this of Agrael when the demon lord resists the power of Nicolai's Amulet that has the power to send demons back to Sheogh. This is the first hint that Agrael isn't actually a demon. He's really a Dark Elf.
- In Mass Effect, after Commander Shepard defeated Sovereign, it's implied that part of the reason the Reapers turned their attention to Humanity is due to desperately trying to understand how an average species with no special mental or physical attributes, somehow managed to produce a single individual who is so incredibly disruptive to their plans?
- In the Leviathan DLC, even the Leviathan have this reaction to Shepard, referring to them as "An Anomaly" that has never manifested before in any previous Cycle. They too are very curious why Shepard is the first thing that the Reapers have ever shown fear towards.
- In Dragon Age II, Knight-Commander Meredith has this reaction towards a Mage!Hawke for taking down the Arishok in honourable single-combat, which leads to the rest of the Qunari peacefully leaving and ends the siege of Kirkwall without further incident.
- Fenris will also act this way towards Flemeth, remarking that he has met abominations, demons, and blood mages before, and Flemeth is none of those things. Anders is similarly perturbed that even Justice doesn't know what she is!
- A non-villainous example in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky: in the Bonus Episode detailing Wigglytuff's origins, as an Igglybuff, he was taken under the wing of a local recluse and former explorer Armaldo. As the two progress through one particular dungeon, Armaldo points out all the traps in the area, including the concealed pit, spiked walls, and numerous other traps waiting to deter hopeful explorers. Igglybuff ignores all this, and just uses his unknown power to break the door down. This leaves Armaldo wondering:
What in the world IS this kid?!
- Ghirahim is very surprised that you actually managed to beat him. This doesn't deter him from taunting you later, though.
- Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance: When Senator Armstrong steps up to the plate and reveals his full power, both Raiden and Jetstream Sam ask him this word-for-word.
- Mark Of The Ninja: When the player character terrorizes the Mook guards, one of things they'll mutter as they stumble backwards is "What is this guy...?"
- Persona 4 has Yosuke saying this line after his attempt to unmask Teddie shows there's nothing inside.
- Eternal Darkness: A cutscene combines it with Glamour Failure when the "liche" Pius Augustus posing as a warlord confronts a defeated enemy.
Soldier: Who are you?
Pius Augustus: I am your lord and conqueror!
Soldier: What manner of forsaken being are you?
Pius Augustus (shifts to his skeletal form): So, you can see me in my true form...
- In Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, after Zexion barely escapes from Riku, he screams, "What is he? No one's ever worn the darkness the way he does. It's impossible!"
- From The Legend of Korra: Tarrlok asks this of Amon after he powers through Tarrlok's bloodbending, a technique that has rendered two different Avatars helpless. The answer he gets is "I am the solution." He's actually Tarrlok's older brother Noatak, an even more powerful Bloodbender.
- In Batman Beyond, when Batman meets Spellbinder for the first time, he's shocked by Spellbinder's unusual appearance (he wears an orange suit that seamlessly covers his entire body, even his face) and asks, "What the heck are you!?"
- Zig-zag: The Devil himself asks Yosemite Sam "Who the hell are you?" when he lands in Hell in the cartoon "Satan's Waitin'."
- In Teen Titans, Robin asks "What are you?" to Slade when Slade's mask comes off to reveal a Skull for a Head.