This article presents the full, detailed rules and Frequently Asked Questions that have been built up painstakingly over months by the Complete Monster cleanup topic in the forums. We present this as a distinct article in the Administrivia namespace to keep the main article free of messy details that would distract readers.
What is a Complete Monster?
A Complete Monster is the most awful villain in a story, with no positive attributes (including redemption or motives) whatsoever. This character must possess all of the following traits. Read further on for additional detail.
- They must be an individual: groups cannot collectively qualify, even if individual members do.
- They must commit, or attempt to commit, heinous actions, both objectively and by the standards of the setting.
- Their actions must be visible to the audience, either directly or via their results.
- Their actions must be irredeemable by the standards of the work.
- They must be as heinous as they could be given their resources; they hold nothing back.
- They must be exceptional: that is, they must stand out compared to other characters in the work and/or genre.
- They must express no remorse or regret for their actions. They must not seek redemption, and they must not demonstrate love, caring, or compassion.
- They must possess agency: that is, they are capable of exercising moral choice.
- They must not have a backstory or moral justification that the audience sympathizes with sufficiently to excuse their actions.
- They must have defined motives that allow the audience to understand why they are acting as they do.
Can you explain each of these in more detail?
Sure. Expand each folder to learn more.
Note that the consensus has occasionally permitted examples where a group of two or three distinct individuals is written up together because they function as a team.
One reason we adopt this principle is that some people will offer candidates from works intended for children with the justification that, "Kids consider these sorts of things heinous." The thing is that what we consider heinous changes over time, as do people themselves. Someone could be an awful bully in elementary school but grow out of it, and what was once traumatizing be accepted and/or forgiven. Plus, there's a certain absurdity in the implicit comparison of a character from, say, My Little Pony with a character from Saw. Kicking kids' balls over fences and murdering them are pretty far apart.
Similarly, we may get candidates from extraordinarily violent and dark genres, like horror, with the explanation that, obviously, mass murder, torture, and rape are terrible crimes and the villains rarely seek or are capable of forgiveness. The problem here is multifold. First, horror killers are seldom given any kind of meaningful backstory or motives (see the "Defined Motives" folder below). Second, when an entire genre is defined by making villains as sadistic, psychopathic, and brutal as possible, it becomes very difficult for any one to clearly stand, head and shoulders, over others (see the "Exceptionalism" folder). Third, audiences go to horror films with the expectation that they will be shocked by brutal violence, so there's nothing extraordinary about it.
That said, if we see some of their crimes in the work, and they are established as a pattern (e.g., a Serial Killer), then we can count their other crimes against them even if we don't directly witness them.
There's also a problem for works with Negative Continuity, because there are rarely any enduring effects of any villainous actions. If Mistress Misery burned down an orphanage last episode, but it's back in the next without explanation, is it really something that can be said to have had meaningful consequences?
Note that this axiomatically excludes works that make a point of having all villains be redeemable, and indeed if a villain's arc is left incomplete in such a work, it's usually premature to judge them as a Complete Monster. Exceptions occur, but are rare.
It doesn't matter if the character can or would be forgiven: if they show compassion, love, or remorse, they can't be this trope. This is another reason why we like to see a character's story arc completed, since even the worst villains will sometimes express regret in their Final Speech.
- An animal acts on instinct and learned behavior. No matter how vicious it may be, it's not truly responsible in a moral sense for what it does.
- Children, for the most part, lack developed moral judgment, so they can't be held fully responsible for their actions. Obviously, there are some notable exceptions.
- Someone who is under the effects of Mind Control, Brainwashing, or who was programmed from birth is also not responsible for their actions, unless we learn later that it was More Than Mind Control and they merely used it as an excuse to do what they'd wanted all along. The person who controlled them, however...
- Someone who is clinically insane might not be held criminally responsible for their actions, and the same standard applies to this trope. If they would be judged "not guilty by reason of insanity", then they can't be a Complete Monster.
- Elemental forces of evil, like devils and demons, may be compelled by their nature to act as they do, and thus lack the capacity to choose a different path. This can vary by work, of course.
- Robots and other automata, such as The Undead, are essentially pre-programmed, and so are not making choices. Robots or undead that are intelligent/free-willed enough to exercise choice may qualify, though.
In a nutshell: is the character aware of the morality of their actions, are they in control of their own behavior, and could they choose to act other than they do?
Admittedly, this is one of the more subjective aspects of a Complete Monster: what is sympathetic to one person may be insufficient to another, and that's one reason we vote on candidates instead of checking them off on a list. It's possible for a character's behavior in the present to be grossly disproportionate to whatever they suffered in their backstory, and/or their actions so heinous, so unforgiveable, that no amount of tragedy can possibly justify them.
They might be unrepentant; they might have moral agency, but we can't tell, so we don't include them.
Related to this is the occasional candidate from darkfics, creepypastas, and similar fan works whose objective is to take a canonical character and make them as awful as possible. Rarely is any logical or coherent reason given for this sudden turn to monstrous behavior, and as such, we tend to throw out those submissions. "Oh, look, Mario just exterminated everyone in the Mushroom Kingdom. Why? Who cares, it's shocking." No, thanks.
Procedures for Nominating a Complete Monster
Okay, so now I understand what makes a candidate qualify, so how do I propose one? Step up, troper, and listen.
- How does the process work?: Well, someone brings up a possible candidate and the work in which they appear. After initial appraisal, someone will make what we call an "effort post". This takes the form of a lengthy post describing the four important aspects of the nomination: the setting, to establish the general standard of heinousness; the character, to list what they do in the story; the motivation, so we can see why they do what they do and whether they have any redeeming traits; and a conclusion that summarizes the case for or against their inclusion.
The character is then discussed in terms of their merits and flaws and how they relate to the trope. After review, the various participants give their vote. A clear majority will cause a particular action to take place. Roughly tied votes will generally result in no action taken until a majority develops.
- So, how do I suggest an example, either to be removed or to be added?: Just post the candidate and where they are from, along with your arguments for or against their inclusion. If few people have responded, bring it up again politely after a couple of days. We're busy folks; we sometimes miss things.
- Dude, we gotta add this example from last night's episode of...: Okay, we will automatically table all discussion on a character from an ongoing series. For one, it's very easy to get caught up in the excitement of something that was just enjoyed. For another, we don't know what the writers are going to do until everything is over. We don't want to put up an example just to have to take it down when the example turns out to be much less monstrous than it first appeared.
- What about this film/book/game/show that was just released? Can I add its villain pretty please?: Hold your horses. Not everyone will have had the chance to see it yet. Further, people who do plan to see it will be very annoyed with you for posting spoilers. Allow two weeks past a work's official release date for people to catch up before proposing an example.
- Is there a calendar listing what days I can talk about an upcoming film/show/game/book's villain(s), in case I forget?: Yes, there is. The calendar in question is also where users can volunteer to open a discussion on said villain two weeks after said film or movie, etc., airs. The calendar can be found here, listed as Complete Monster Discussion Dates.
- There's this film/book/game/show coming up and I think its villain will qualify.: That's nice, but we don't speculate about who might be a Complete Monster before the work is even out. No, not even if you have Super Sekrit advance information. Also, see above about spoiling works that are just released.
Additional Frequently Asked Questions
- Why is this trope No Real Life Examples, Please!?: Because as the strongest Evil Trope, it's also the most controversial. Calling a real person evil is just asking for trouble, and there is no such thing as a 100% evil person or thing in real life. Not even Hitler.
- What tropes do not go in Complete Monster?: You Monster! is a statement of an individual character's standards, not the story's. Nightmare Fuel and The Scrappy are about "scary" and "disliked", not "heinous". Moral Event Horizon indicates when a character commits an action so heinous that they can never seek redemption, but it does not mean the character is totally evil.
- But what if Word of God declares the character a Complete Monster?: That is insufficient. While the author may have intended the character to qualify, this does not mean that they presented the character as a Complete Monster successfully.
- Then what good are statements in-canon or by the creator about their Complete Monster status?: Statements such as these are suggestions that we may have a Complete Monster candidate on our hands, but they cannot be offered as proof. We essentially take them as nominations, but we let their deeds speak for themselves.
- What do audience reactions mean for this trope? What if the character is also listed as The Woobie or The Scrappy or has Narm or some other Audience Reaction listed?: They don't mean much. The trope concerns itself only with in-story portrayal, and audience responses at variance with portrayal do happen rather frequently. An example which gets compassion or laughter or other normally incompatible audience responses will require extra scrutiny, though.
- Can a Laughably Evil villain be a Complete Monster? Yes, as long as their actions are taken seriously in the story. Take The Joker: He manages to be funny and horrifying at the same time, sometimes in the same scene; see the mob meeting and "magic trick" for an example.
- Do they have to succeed at what they try to do in order to count?: No, success is not a component of Complete Monster. After all, heroes succeed in fiction more often than not. What they consciously attempt to do is what matters.
- What if they do something that they didn't intend?: Generally, this doesn't count. What was done by accident is not enough. However, if the character finds out what they did by accident and is shown to be pleased at what happened, they may still qualify for that action.
- Can there be more than one Complete Monster per work?: Yes. However, each candidate must stand out in terms of kind or degree of villainy. A CM is always remarkable in some way, and second place doesn't count if both characters are in the same race.
- What about characters with different levels of resources?: As long as they are as bad as they can be with what they have, they can count. This allows the likes of Darkseid and Vandal Savage to qualify, while also allowing for the likes of Black Manta and Dr. Psycho.
- Okay, so the thread voted to keep a particular example off of the Complete Monster pages. Can it still go on the work pages?: No. This is against wiki policy for any trope - it either belongs on all appropriate pages, or it belongs on none of them.
- Sheesh, the policy is kind of draconian. What if the example is put up with an acknowledgement that it's only arguably an example?: No. Examples Are Not Arguable is also wiki policy on every page, not just this one.
- Alright, point made. What about an Alternate Character Interpretation that isn't explicitly refuted in the work itself?: No. The arguments for inclusion do not involve possibilities. We are only judging based on what's in-canon.
- In-canon? So what about a version of the character in an Alternate Continuity?: If the character qualifies in one particular continuity, then they will be included, but the write-up will specify which continuity or continuities that they qualify in. Similarly, they only get listed for Complete Monster on the trope page for the continuity in which they act as one.
- In that case, how do you handle Depending on the Writer?: We cite under which writers the character is a Complete Monster, similar to the above - and we make sure to note when Retcon rears its ugly head in such cases (or not, in a couple rare cases like The Joker).
- What about when the movie version is more evil than the book version of the same character?: We treat the movie-verse as a very-close-but-subtly-different Alternate Universe. As such, if a character only qualifies for one particular adaptation, they will be listed on the appropriate page only for said adaptation.
- Then what about Historical Domain Characters? Fictional portrayals of real people can qualify as long as they meet every other criterion, but it has to be made clear that we're troping the fictional portrayal, regardless of whether it's a Historical Villain Upgrade or Truth in Television.
- So, just who decides which characters are put on the page?: Well, any troper that participates in the cleanup effort. Feel free to join, if it interests you.
- What about fanworks, in particular creepypastas and darkfics, that seek to portray canonical characters as monsters?: We are exceedingly skeptical towards these. Partly it's because they are non-canon, and partly it's because contributors to this thread don't feel like subjecting themselves to those sorts of works in order to evaluate a candidate. We have established a few baseline rules for fics:
- No "schlock-shlock." If a fan work has a character committing gross and disgusting atrocities for no other reason than to have gratuitous gross and disgusting atrocities? It's right out. Nobody wants to have to deal with these.
- No demonization of canon characters without a viable reason as to why they would turn evil.
- The fan work must be at least somewhat conducive with the original of the setting. If it pushes the standard of the setting too far to a point where it's ridiculous, we won't allow. It's a burden of proof for the OP to demonstrate the legitimacy of the fanfic and the example. We do, however, allow exceptions for alternate universes that completely overhaul the setting (e.g. There Will Be Brawl) and present a new standard to be weighed by; furthermore, if the fanfic features a crossover between two works, we generally judge candidates by the work with the higher heinous standard.
- I just saw this Torture Porn work that was so sick! The villain here is an easy keeper!: OK, there's one thing you need to consider: Does the film have a substantive plot? By this, we mean a plot that's more than "depraved person tortures people For the Evulz."
- May I nominate characters from my own work?: In a word, no. You're biased. Get someone to read your work and let them propose the candidate if they feel it's appropriate.
- I don't want to be redundant - how can I tell if my example was already discussed? This is a cleanup thread that's over a hundred pages long.: Search for your example's name with "complete monster" in the "Google Site Search" field. If the example was already discussed, it'll be in the first page or two.
- Would you follow this link to see what I'm talking about?: Only under very specific, limited circumstances. You may use a weblink to bolster your case, or to illustrate a particular scene under discussion. You may not use one instead of arguing your case yourself. You may not use one instead of a full effortpost, or instead of a full write-up of an approved character. For one, Weblinks Are Not Examples, which is for the third time against wiki policy. For another, the point of this thread is to craft the best entries possible for the trope pages. This means writing a concise and insightful entry that fully describes the character in question. Relying on links to others does not provide insight - it just passes the buck.
- What about [other site] that insists this character is a CM?: We don't care what other sites think. We judge this trope by our own criteria. Repeatedly attempting to bring up other sites will earn a suspension.
- Why even bother with all of this? Why not just Cut List the trope?: We get this way more often than we like. Several reasons.
- This is one of the wiki's top attractions outside of the site. We do like keeping all those inbound links.
- It's a legitimate trope, and one of the oldest ones out there to boot.
- There are plenty of people who like working on projects like this.
- This is doing much better than it used to be. Seriously.
It might be taking time, but it is getting better. We appreciate all the help anyone can give on the effort.
Please do not bring up characters that have already been discussed. It wastes our time. Any discussion that has been concluded is permanently shelved unless:
- A new work in the same continuity is released featuring said character (alternate continuities don't count as they are treated as separate characters. This also means that if the discussion on Character from Universe A is closed, it doesn't apply to the same character in universe B, C or D).
- The person bringing up the discussion again proves that there was evidence that was not brought up in the discussion before. If people don't use the Search Function to see if it was brought up they get a warning to start with, repeated offenses result in suspension.
- The character reappears.
This rule especially applies to the characters on following list, which will be edited as needed and may include characters judged to be a CM or not to be a CM:
- The Joker: His portrayal is a case of Depending on the Writer. In some incarnations, he's a Complete Monster and in others not. We've discussed this extensively already.
Definitely a CM
- Berserk: Griffith/Femto (He was selfish even before getting tortured, none of his crimes are treated as justified by said torture, and he has shown no indication that he can be redeemed, even himself admitting he feels no regret for anything. Any other interpretation relies on Alternative Character Interpretation, which isn't relevant to being a Complete Monster.)
- Fullmetal Alchemist: Shou Tucker (Passes the heinous standard easily as, despite having fewer resources than other villains, he subjected his 4 year old daughter and wife to a Fate Worse than Death, an action which was treated in-universe with horror.)
- Infinite Crisis: Superboy-Prime (As it stands now, he has been definitively shown as a CM.)
- Harry Potter: Bellatrix (Her relationship with Voldemort isn't love, thus not disqualified. She doesn't love Voldemort himself, she views him as the embodiment of her own Fantastic Racism).
- Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater: Volgin (His "love" for Raikov is nothing but possessive desire, and does not disqualify him.)
- Naruto: Hidan (Makes the most of his relatively limited resources; notably sadistic; Naruto as a whole doesn't have such a high standard to prevent Hidan from counting.)
- Toy Story 3: Lots-o'-Huggin' Bear (Lotso is proven to be a Manipulative Bastard and his Freudian Excuse does not justify his crimes during the movie. Also, Woody states that his former owner didn't abandon Lotso so much as Lotso abandoning her.)
Definitely not a CM
- The Bible: Satan (Offscreen Villainy. There's also a valid argument that he's Made of Evil and thus fails the moral agency test.)
- A Bug's Life: Hopper (Disqualified for redeeming feature: making a promise to his mother on her death bed and actually keeping it.)
- Family Guy and South Park: Most evil actions are Played for Laughs, and the ones that aren't fail the heinousness standard.
- Jurassic Park series: No human (including Eli Mills and Ken Wheatley) exceeds the baseline heinous standard, while no dinosaur (including the Indominus rex) has sapience.
- Meet the Robinsons: DOR-15 (Fails the baseline heinous standard, especially when compared to similar works.)
- Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker: Hot Coldman (Disqualified for being a Well-Intentioned Extremist and for failing the truly heinous standard compared to Volgin.)
- Pokémon Black and White: Ghetsis (Relies too much on Fridge Horror to pass the heinous standard enough to be a CM, especially for the game series.)
- Samurai Jack: Aku (Even disregarding the fact that he's not always taken seriously by the narrative, he is Made of Evil.)
- The Nightmare Before Christmas: Oogie Boogie (Fails the baseline heinous standard, even when taking into consideration both video games.)
- Wreck-It Ralph: Turbo (Insufficiently heinous.)