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Deconstructed Trope / Worm

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"Some of us wear the villain label with pride, because they want to rebel against the norms, because it's a harder, more rewarding road to travel, or because being a 'hero' often means so very little. But few people really want to see themselves as being bad or evil, whatever label they wear. I've done things I regret, I've done things I'm proud of, and I've walked the roads in between. The sliding scale is a fantasy. There's no simple answers."

Worm is effectively a deconstruction of the entire superhero genre, particularly the role that the appearance of superpowers would play in society at large.

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  • Adaptive Ability:
    • Aegis has the ability of a hyper-adaptive physiology. He can incorporate redundancies into his body allowing him to see through his skin when blinded or reattach limbs when dismembered. This, in combination with his slow healing factor, makes it near impossible to kill him. As a result, he is unaware of his upper limits and the first time he fights something he can't immediately adapt to is also the last time.
    • In addition to a Healing Factor fast enough to be near-instantaneous, Crawler has a potent adaption power. Unlike Aegis, Crawler gained the ability to permanently alter his body to respond to the last thing to hurt him. Outside of a few inviolable exceptions, no attack will ever work on him more than once. Over several years, this turns him into a giant bestial acid-spitting abomination covered in eyes and Nigh Invulnerable armor. Moreover, he becomes obsessed with finding anything still capable of hurting him, to the extent that he joins the Slaughterhouse Nine to maximize potential enemies.
  • Adults Are Useless: A significant number of Taylor's early hardships result from the adults in her life all being unwilling or unable to help her when she needs it. Between her teachers' Bystander Syndrome, Armsmaster's jerkassery, and her father's perpetual Locked Out of the Loop status, she begins to lose all faith in the reliability of authority figures. This plays a large part in her slight Control Freak tendencies and her near-pathological inability to follow orders (either as a villain or a hero).
  • Attack! Attack! Attack!: When Dragon sends seven of her automated suits to Brockton Bay in order to capture the Undersiders and the Travelers, she purposefully sends her auto-restoring suit to capture Bitch. Dragon does this predicting that the combination of Bitch’s attack-focused fighting style, the suit’s ability to rebuild itself into fighting condition upon taking any damage, and Bitch’s stubborn inability to walk away from a fight that she feels like “winning” means that she’ll inevitably tire herself out. It’s only Skitter’s intervention that prevents this strategy from succeeding.
  • The Beastmaster: Bitch has the ability to turn canines into giant beasts, but lacks the ability to automatically control her creatures the way that some other capes can. This is actually the primary reason for her wanted status: her trigger event led her to unwittingly kill her abusive foster family. In order to compensate, Bitch’s power altered her mind to increase her ability to understand and train dogs. This had the side-effects of making her largely unable to read facial expressions, incredibly aggressive in normal interactions, and more empathetic towards dogs than people.
  • Behemoth Battle: Lung is infamous for being one of two humans to ever drive off an Endbringer alone. In theory this would be great, if not for the fact that he decided to pursue and go for the kill. You see, Endbringers hold back, like a lot, to avoid destroying the earth. Though Lung is able to stay alive and keep up the fight once Leviathan gets serious, the same cannot be said for the spectators. In fact, by the time Lung’s transformation wears off, several million people have been killed in the crossfire and the entire island of Kyushu is lying underwater.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Dragon, the world's greatest Tinker and guardian of the Birdcage turns out to be the product of an AI Tinker. However, despite the fact that she was created to be one of the most naturally selfless heroes, her creator still feared her potential. His A.I. Is a Crapshoot-based concerns lead him to install several restrictions, which she considers invasive enough to be a violation: (1) she is forced to obey any government orders, no matter how illogical or cruel; (2) she has to value the lives of any human above her own; and (3) failsafes to shut her down are kept within a blind spot in her programming. Naturally these failsafes end up in the worst possible hands at the worst possible time.
    Dragon: Humans were somewhat skittish on the subject of artificial intelligences.

    She understood why. She read books and watched movies, rather enjoyed both. Fiction was rife with examples of corrupted or crazed artificial intelligences.

    It’s stupid, she thought. Her maker had watched too many movies, had been paranoid on the subject.
  • Big Damn Villains: The intermittent truce between the Protectorate and criminal parahumans means, outside of general psychopaths, most villains can turn up to fight any S-Class threat without worrying about being arrested. This also means when things are bad enough, sufficiently reliable villains can get a free pass to continue their activities unmolested. Coil, the Undersiders, and the Travelers are able to ally with the Brockton Bay Protectorate, even as they plan to take over the city, because the Merchants and the Slaughterhouse Nine are a more immediate threat.
  • Black and White Morality: Brandish, who works as a superhero and a lawyer, has a fairly binary approach to right and wrong. She raises her daughters, Glory Girl and Panacea to internalize these beliefs:
    • Glory Girl ends up becoming an Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy who engages in rampant brutality against her enemies, justifying her violence by claiming that criminals can’t be reasoned with. She only avoids prison because her sister can heal the damage.
    • Panacea, whose biological father was a supervillain, spends her life being kept at arm’s length since her adoptive mother believes villainy is her nature. In a Moment of Weakness, Panacea breaks one of her cardinal rules, so she writes herself off as a lost cause.
  • Brooding Boy, Gentle Girl: After experiencing Cold-Blooded Torture courtesy of Bonesaw, Brian is unable to cope with the resulting trauma and unwilling to get professional help. Taylor’s willingness to help him deal with the experience eventually led to Intimate Psychotherapy and Brian finally reciprocating her feelings. But since the foundation for their relationship comes more from the traumatic incident than a genuine romantic connection, they fall apart within a few months. Though Taylor is in love with Brian, he doesn’t see them together in the long-run, and gratitude for her emotional support just isn’t enough to change that.
  • Cape Busters: The Parahuman Response Team is a multinational organization that is meant to work in tandem with the Protectorate to deal with villainous capes. Though they were originally meant to enforce government authority over capes, in practice, the PRT functions more like hero supervisors and have very limited crime-fighting influence. In fact, one of the few times the PRT is used to take on a powered threat, against Nilbog, they’re slaughtered in droves. Moreover, the existence of thinkers makes it near impossible to prevent infiltration by capes: both Alexandria and Coil become high-ranking officers while in their civilian identities, remaining undetected for decades.
  • Cardboard Prison: The existence of capes that can fly, control minds, and morph into monsters makes prolonged criminal detention impossible. The Birdcage was created as a way to keep the worst and most dangerous capes locked away. A prison, located in the hollowed-out interior of a mountain, with said interior turned into a near-endless void (through space manipulation technology) and surrounded by anti-gravity drones. Supplies are sent through airless pipes and there is one elevator that only goes down. This means that:
    • The prison can't have guards, as there would be no way to extract them, making the Birdcage essentially a penal colony. Most cell blocks are run by the most powerful inmates, with the remainder living in anarchy. Chances of survival largely depend on how useful you can make yourself to the big fish.
    • Anyone who gets sent to the Birdcage is there for life. Attempting escape is suicide, no exceptions. Moreover, being sent there is more dependent on the dangers your powers pose (or the feasibility of keeping you locked up) than the seriousness of your crime. First time offender, who happened to win the Superpower Lottery? Sucks to be you.
  • The Chessmaster: Accord’s Thinker power allows him to increase his intelligence in proportion to the size and scale of the problems he addresses: he’s able to devise a 150-page solution to world hunger in under a day. However, implementation of Accord’s ability is specifically tailored to behavior-based subjects like politics or psychology, making it less useful in reacting to less complex problems, like heat-of-the-moment fights. His power also has the side effect of requiring that everything around him goes according to his expectations. His Super OCD is so intense that things like his subordinate not calling him “sir” or one of his business meetings being interrupted has driven him to murderous rage.
  • Compelling Voice: Canary has the power to induce compulsions with her voice. When she ends up telling an ex-boyfriend to go fuck himself, he takes it literally. She ends up getting a life sentence solely due to public fear of a repeat performance.
  • Conveniently an Orphan: Flechette, a former foster kid, is usually at the top of the list for department transfers because she has no familial ties. However, this also leaves her Love Hungry and willing to perform a Face–Heel Turn to avoid being left behind when she falls for Parian.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: When facing Scion nearly every parahuman in existence has to combine forces to just barely defeat him. Even then, the short and long-term effects left more than one person wondering if it was all worth it. In order of decreasing scope:
    • Scion's rampage ensures that Earth Bet has been decimated beyond hope of repair and billions of people across multiple parallel earths have been slaughtered.
    • Humanity is spread sufficiently thin that villains are able to completely take over remote settlements, while heroes are too busy dealing with the logistics of reforming society to help in most cases.
    • Parahumans continue to gain powers even with Scion out of the picture. Without a control tower to ensure that fledgling abilities come with Required Secondary Powers, new triggers end up with abilities that immediately kill them (and anyone nearby).
    • Taylor could only obtain the power to defeat Scion by giving her passenger total control, overwriting her memories, her ability to understand speech, and even her sense of self. Not to mention, the Villain Override ability she used made Taylor too dangerous/terrifying to have any chance of a regular life, even if she went back to normal.
  • Disposable Superhero Maker: Cauldron exhibits how much effort would go into creating any halfway reliable superhero creation method. For every successful Super Serum vial, they first have to literally harvest the flesh from an Eldritch Abomination. After creating their sample formulas, they conduct tests on mortally injured or terminally ill people, many of whom are abducted. Around 60% of these guinea pigs end up dying in the process. Most of the remainder are horribly mutated. Once the specifics of the underlying process comes to light, Cauldron’s customers end up despised by a large percentage of cape society for their role in it.
  • Emotion Control: Heartbreaker used this ability to obtain a harem of sex slaves and a crew of parahuman children, keeping them under his control through the occasional wave of pants-shitting terror. One of his kids, Regent, was so over-exposed to this power that it effectively killed his capacity to feel emotions, turning him into The Sociopath.
    • This is further explored in the sequel, Ward. Heartbreaker's kids, collectively known as The Heartbroken, all have a variety of horrible mental issues related to how their father treated them. In nearly every case, they triggered as a result of him using his power to torture them, and nearly all of them also acquired powers related to emotions as well, which only exacerbate the trauma. Managing a volatile, unstable group of teens and preteens who could kill or Mind Rape somebody (or each other) on a whim is close to a full-time job for the remaining Undersiders.
  • The Fake Cutie: Bonesaw is a young girl with an aversion to swearing and a friendly disposition, whose primary interests are art, biology, and Cold-Blooded Torture. She treats her team, the Slaughterhouse Nine, as her surrogate family. However, her interlude shows that this persona is fabricated and has three sources: (1) Jack and the Nine recruited Riley by forcing her to repair mortal injuries to her family members over hours, if not days; (2) Her mother’s last words were telling Riley to “be a good girl”, instructions she became obsessed with following to the letter after she had her psychotic break; (3) It is made very clear that only S9 members who remain on the Jack and the Siberian’s good sides live long. Bonesaw’s cutesy traits are mostly the result of an attempt to play on any warped parental instincts the two monsters have note , with Riley Becoming the Mask over time. Once Contessa pulls this metaphorical thread, most of Riley’s Bonesaw personality falls apart.
  • Friendless Background: Taylor initially joins the Undersiders with the intent of being a double agent for the heroes. However, several months of a rather horrifying bullying campaign, throughout which Taylor had nobody besides her (unaware) father’s support, had left her desperate for companions. As Taylor goes through ordeal after ordeal with the Undersiders, it becomes evident that any long-term plans to inform on them are just Taylor lying to herself. She eventually comes to the depressing conclusion that she trusts her villain teammates more than any of the heroes.
  • Gathering Steam: Lung is a villain who gets stronger the longer he fights and increases his regeneration abilities proportionately. At his strongest level seen so far, he can take on an Endbringer solo. This means that no one with a brain is willing to let him get to that point. As a result, the few people who try to bring him down go for swift No Holds Barred Beatdowns or (nonpermanent) mutilation.
  • General Ripper: When the Simurgh initially appeared, her first attack included spreading a Hate Plague in the city of Lausanne, Switzerland. Future PRT Director James Tagg was stationed there over the course of two years, while all of the city inhabitants were either quarantined or killed. This led him to become a brutal and uncompromising force against those parahumans that he views as evil. When the Undersiders take over Brockton Bay, he undergoes a "war of attrition" against them, on Skitter in particular, which includes publically unmasking her, harassing her father, and calling in Alexandria to break her spirit via interrogation. What he doesn't realize is that antagonizing a violent villain until she reaches a Rage Breaking Point, while in an enclosed space with her, is an incredibly stupid idea. When Skitter cracks, both Tagg and Alexandria get to see just how deadly the bug girl can be. This was likely the Simurgh's plan all along.
  • Godzilla Threshold: Worm shows what happens when society collectively moves past this limit:
    • By the time of the series, several regions on the planet have been rendered uninhabitable, if not destroyed outright, by the Endbringers. As far as most people are concerned, they will end up ending the human race eventually. All humanity can hope for is to Go Out With A Bang, meaning no measure at delaying the inevitable is too extreme. Using villains as bait? Quarantining any cities the Simurgh attacks? Setting off a bomb capable of obliterating India? Tolerable sacrifices.
    • Cauldron has just one objective: preventing total extinction after The End of the World as We Know It. As a result, their leadership collectively becomes The Unfettered, committing themselves to create as many different parahumans as possible before Scion inevitably turns evil. To save the world, they have zero problem with imprisoning people from parallel earths to use as guinea pigs for their Super Serums. Concepts like free will, empathy, and morality become surprisingly valueless in the face of the apocalypse.
  • Heroic Host: It's repeatedly suggested that the source of parahuman abilities comes with an instinctual drive towards conflict. This theory is supported by the relatively low number of rogues: the number of capes that aren't current/retired heroes, villains, or mercenaries can probably be counted on one hand. It's eventually revealed that the power-granting entities subconsciously encourage capes to fight by rewarding them with a stronger connection to their abilities. They do this to learn and grow stronger as they propagate throughout the universe, destroying the worlds they leave behind.

    Why does virtually every parahuman ability have some application in confrontation and combat? Is this the nature of humans, to turn any progress to violent ends, be it science or superpower? Or is it by design, an individual’s hand at work?
    Professor, Parahumans 103

    A species needs to continue evolving....The most efficient route, achieving maximum amounts of conflict. By testing their own shards against one another, they gather information. The entity’s shards will fight among each other, and they will fight the counterpart’s, and they will steadily learn.
    Scion/The Warrior
  • Heroic Neutral: Parian, at the start of the series, is a rogue (neither hero nor villain) who uses her power for advertisement and fashion. After Brockton Bay is trashed by Leviathan, she becomes the unofficial protector of a neighborhood in exchange for food and shelter for her friends and family. Since she neither has the government support that Protectorate members have or the backing of one of the various gangs in the city, she is considered easy pickings. First, the Slaughterhouse Nine goes on a killing spree in her neighborhood. After that threat is dealt with Coil attempts to take over her territory. She eventually has to join the Undersiders to save herself from being killed.
  • Heroic Safe Mode: Whenever Taylor gets into a particularly dangerous situation she copes by entering this mindset, allowing her to approach frantic situations calmly and objectively. This has the positive effect of giving her Nerves of Steel when facing some of the most dangerous people in the world. However, it's also revealed that she does this by essentially dulling her emotional responses and increasing her bond to her shard. Notably the majority of her more unethical actions occur while in this state. Allowing your mind to be influenced by an alien consciousness predictably has a bit of an impact on your morals.
    Taylor: I was using my bugs to channel my feelings, even with my concerns about my passenger and how it might be merging with me. I was wearing that aura of indomitable calm, even though I wasn't sure I liked the Taylor of this past year and a half, who had been doing just that as a matter of both habit and necessity.
  • Hero Insurance: Because Endbringer devastation happens every few months, while damage from villain battles – though less expensive – is no small cost, spending large amounts on reconstruction is frequently impossible. In fact, outside major metropolises, rebuilding after these disasters is almost never an option; when areas like Kyushu, Newfoundland, and New Delhi are destroyed, mass evacuation is the primary response.
  • Heroism Won't Pay the Bills: Grue’s primary objective in becoming a cape is to earn enough money to be approved as his sister’s legal guardian once he turns 18. Though he considered joining the Wards, unfortunately, his current villain employer, Coil, pays far better than the PRT would.
  • Indy Ploy:
    • Trickster of the Travelers tends to take huge gambles whenever he’s backed into a corner. He does this without knowing he is being manipulated by the Simurgh, without having any real long-term planning skills, and without speaking to his friends. His teammates end up despising him for making spur-of-the-moment decisions that they all have to live with.
    • Though usually more successful than Trickster, Taylor also gets called out by her friends for her tendency to make on-the-spot decisions with long-term and/or life-threatening repercussions. It's implied that her self-worth issues motivate her to lean into her improvising ability so she can make the big last-second saves. This is arguably why she asks Panacea to jailbreak her powers.
      Brian: You’re smarter than average, so you count on your ability to think up solutions on the fly, you throw yourself into these reckless situations, push and vote for the risky plans because you know that’s a situation where you thrive, where you offer the most to the group.
  • Invincible Villain: Scion's rampage shows just how terrifying an Invincible Villain coupled with a Story-Breaker Power can be - by the end of it, multiple alternate Earths are no longer habitable.
  • Kid Hero: Following the deaths of Aegis, Browbeat, and Gallant facing Leviathan, the Brockton Bay Wards become much more cynical about their role in cape society. Their youth and comparative immaturity leaves them under-equipped to handle the many of the resulting stresses. Of the original BB Wards:
    • Kid Win's diagnosed dyscalculia and ADD negatively impact his Tinker ability, giving him major self-esteem issues that his poor fight record does little to help with. Moreover, a spur-of-the-moment attempt to bring an unlicensed weapon to a battle leads to massive property damage and the risk of jail time, rather than a tongue lashing.
    • Shadow Stalker's Sociopathic Hero traits come from underlying rage issues that may or may not be linked to her powers. Her Social Darwinist beliefs seem to be the result of an angry teen latching onto any ideology that helps justify her behavior. Even worse, the government protection that comes with Shadow Stalker's hero status gives her free reign to victimize other students (one in particular) to psychotic degrees.
    • Clockblocker's general rebelliousness and Friendly Enemy status with the Undersiders, Skitter most noticeably, leads his career to be torpedoed by rumors that he is Dating Catwoman and likely to switch sides. His initial cynicism also develops into borderline-misanthropy upon the mass reveal of corruption within the PRT, to the point he believes that the end of the world might be for the best.
    • A terrible home life combined indoctrination into a superhero career at the tender age of 11 causes Vista to identify more with her superhero persona than her civilian one. Additionally, watching multiple of her friends die leads to several comments, on the high chances of her being killed in the line of duty, that are both fatalistic and very unsettling.
  • Knight Templar Parent: One of the few things that can get Heartbreaker to exert any effort is keeping his legacy safe: he’s willing to do anything to keep his kids under his control. His controlling tendencies were so extensive that one of his kids had to change his identity when he ran away, while another felt safer joining a crew of superpowered mass-murderers than remaining with her own family.
  • Metamorphosis: A significant number of monstrous-looking parahumans result from Cauldron experiments or general power shenanigans. These capes experience widespread discrimination and, in some cases, are dangerous to be around because of Power Incontinence. Even among the Protectorate, some of the most courageous and competent heroes are kept in low-ranking roles because they are so horrifying.
  • The Needs of the Many: Cauldron has the rather noble goal of minimizing the deaths following the impending apocalypse. Moreover, Contessa's "Path to Victory" ability means that (with a few exceptions) Cauldron always knows the most effective steps to accomplish their objective. They spend the next few decades milking their Omniscient Morality License, rationalizing any atrocity that they commit (murder, kidnapping, human experimentation) as essential to save humanity. By the time of the series proper, Contessa, Doctor Mother, and even Alexandria have essentially lost every one of their ethical scruples, becoming universally despised once their crimes come to light. The only exception to this trend would be the Number Man, and considering he started out as a serial killer, Nominal Hero status is an upgrade.
  • Neurodiversity Is Supernatural: The public generally isn’t aware that some capes have powers that severely impact their mental states; as a result, capes like Accord, Bitch, and Labyrinth are feared or isolated, rather than empathized with. This rarely ends well.
  • Obstructive Code of Conduct: Despite many heroes seemingly winning the Superpower Lottery, concerns about branding and Protectorate regulations mean they have to hold back in fights, even with healers at their disposal. This results in Protectorate capes frequently losing against Combat Pragmatist villains. For the most part, they can only cut loose when facing S-class threats.
  • Oracular Urchin: Glaistig Uaine is one of the few people that understands the nature of the entities that grant powers. However, since she looks about 12-years-old, is a mass murderer, and refers to the entities as "faeries" instead of aliens, everyone thinks she's off her gourd until shit hits the fan.
  • Orcus on His Throne: Some villains like Nilbog, Heartbreaker, Moord Nag, and Sleeper, are powerful enough to carve out their own territories, remaining inactive enough that taking them out would be more trouble than it’s worth. As a result, heroes just write off their earlier atrocities and adopt the rule: “So long as they remain stagnant, leave them the hell alone.”
  • Revenge Before Reason: The Irregulars definitely have sufficient reason to despise Cauldron; after all, the organization kidnapped them from their home dimensions, turned them into monsters through experimenting with Super Serum, and kept thousands prisoner for observation (and disposal once they are no longer useful). The only issue is that the Case 53s waited to obtain their revenge until after the apocalypse had already started. This results in the top brass of Cauldron, some of the only people in the world with a plan to fight Scion (a plan decades in motion, no less), being killed or displaced at the worst possible time. Not to mention, the resulting riot ended up attracting Scion….
  • Samaritan Syndrome: Panacea seemingly has one of the most enviable abilities in the world, allowing her to heal nearly anything short of death with a touch. This also has the effect of turning her into a nervous wreck, who considers taking the smallest break from healing tantamount to Murder by Inaction. She eventually begins to despise her powers, as they make her feel personally responsible for all the sick or dying people she could theoretically help.
  • Second Super-Identity: Shortly after Colin Wallis (a.k.a. Armsmaster) escapes arrest for breaking the Endbringer truce, a new hero named Defiant arrives on the scene. The fact that this new hero has the exact same posture and powerset as Armsmaster means that absolutely no one is fooled. Although, since the law frowns on publically unmasking capes, no one can prove that Armsmaster and Defiant are the same person either. Moreover, his willingness to go on a manhunt for the Slaughterhouse Nine means Director Piggot has no problem giving him a pass. Multiple heroes call out the PRT for allowing Colin to brazenly escape any legal consequences for sending several of his enemies to their deaths.
  • Sherlock Scan: Tattletale’s powers mean that she can make very extensive deductions off of little evidence. But her inferences rely on the assumption that the underlying data is accurate. When she’s fed misinformation, minor mistakes can lead to major screw-ups.
  • The Social Darwinist: Shadow Stalker chose to be a hero for the excuse to indulge her violent, occasionally homicidal, tendencies with government protection. She justifies her cruelty, both in and out of costume, by claiming that the strong have the inherent right to prey on the weak. As villains appear further down the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, it becomes obvious that she’s a petty bully with delusions of grandeur. When she eventually pushes the Undersiders too far, their Token Evil Teammate decides she’s a great target for some of his worst tendencies. None of the other Wards really care because of what an asshole she is.
  • Story-Breaker Power: Eidolon is the most powerful parahuman in the world, with the ability to utilize any power he needs at a given moment. His sense of self-worth is so tied up into being the mightiest hero that, when he begins growing weaker, he responds by throwing himself into as much danger as possible, to either regain his waning strength or die while at his strongest.
  • Super Speed: Chuckles has the ability to perceive time at a fraction of the speed. Unlike most speedsters, he can't turn it off so he promptly (or slowly) loses his mind.
  • Supporting the Monster Loved One: Krouse’s loyalty to Noelle outweighs his concern for the rest of the world by far. This persists even after her power turns her into a cannibalistic rampaging abomination, destroys Noelle’s sense of self, and makes Krouse and his True Companions fugitives for protecting her. Even after it becomes obvious to everyone else that any hope of curing her is a Tragic Dream, Krouse’s love refuses to let him give up on Noelle. As this is not a love story, his dedication gets hundreds of people killed, before Krouse is arrested and Noelle dies anyway.
  • Terror Hero: The Undersiders originally invite Taylor to join them because they assume the girl fighting with an insect swarm couldn’t possibly be a hero. This is because sponsored heroes have to be image-conscious far more than rogues and villains, both for marketing reasons and to minimize public fear towards capes. Once Taylor joins the Protectorate, the combination of her record for Combat Pragmatism, her terrifying appearance, and her terrifying powers means she has to do a total overhaul in how she presents herself. She ends up having to change her motif from spiders to butterflies to compensate.
  • The Tokyo Fireball: Unlike in most stories, areas attacked by S-Class threats such as the Endbringers are not constantly rebuilt - the amount of damage makes this too expensive at times, to say nothing of how dangerous they've become due to said attacks. In some cases, cities have actually been condemned due to the after effects of whatever disaster hit them, such as areas that were occupied by the Simurgh.
  • Trapped in Another World: The Travelers are a group of friends who were sent from Earth Aleph to Earth Bet by the Simurgh with each of them gaining superpowers when they take Cauldron serums. Instead of leading to an amazing adventure, their struggles to return home and change Noelle back to normal end up irreparably destroying their friendship and ruining most of their lives.
  • Trapped in Villainy: Taylor ends up becoming a villain primarily because the heroes she trusted refused to return that trust, so she ultimately stops caring.
  • Traumatic Superpower Awakening: For the majority of capes, their power triggers by reaching a point of extreme stress via emotional or physical isolation. Needless to say, receiving powers by effectively experiencing a Despair Event Horizon leads to quite a lot of emotional scarring. As a result, heroes are far outnumbered by villains, with most recalling their “trigger event” as being their Cynicism Catalyst.
    Alexandria: We know that trigger events tend to produce damaged, disturbed and unbalanced individuals. Any traumatic event will do that, and a trauma punctuated by the acquisition of superpowers is going to leave a lasting impression.
  • The Unmasking:
    • In order to encourage greater accountability from heroes, the members of New Wave revealed their civilian identities. The resulting movement was stopped in its tracks when Fleur, one of their members, ended up being killed out-of-costume.
    • Coil decides to nationally out several members of the Empire 88, a group of superpowered white supremacists. One of their members, Purity, ends up having her daughter taken away by child services. Purity (who usually presents herself as more of a Noble Demon) loses her shit, ending up obliterating entire buildings and murdering people at random until she gets her child back. The entire affair is a stark reminder about how important the "unwritten rules" are in holding the worst of society back.
  • Villain Respect: Jack Slash, leader of the Slaughterhouse Nine, starts a friendly conversation with Theo Anders, while waiting for the best time to slaughter him and his half-sister Aster within full view of his stepmother. Since he is going to die anyway, Theo shares his goal of becoming a hero and tells Jack that, given half a chance, he would make sure to kill Jack and anyone like him. The psychopath thinks this sounds like a great idea, so he agrees to let Theo and Aster live on one condition: either Theo becomes a hero and kills him within two years, or Jack murders a thousand people, ending with Theo himself. This doesn’t end well for anyone involved. Sometimes impressing a Faux Affably Evil maniac is worse than becoming just another victim.
  • Wainscot Society: In order to prevent chaos resulting from the emergence of superpowers, cape society was constructed to be largely self-contained. This manifests itself through "unwritten rules" guiding cape behavior like "no guns" and "no sharing secret identities." For how much leeway capes are given, the government DOES have limits on how much they'll tolerate before they figure you're too dangerous and/or insufferable to be allowed to live anymore (this namely happens when dealing with hero killers or major threats). If someone does cross one too many lines or annoys the government too much, a kill order will be sent out. This means just about anyone capable and willing to kill you will be paid for doing so. Kill orders have a pretty big role in enforcing the unwritten rules and preventing cape problems from becoming everyone's problems. Even so, with few exceptions, only capes and Cape Busters are ever directly sent by the government to address supervillain-based problems, no matter how major.
    • Society reaches the point where teenagers are outright expected to face serial killers or world-threatening monsters, so long as powers are involved. Even despite the fact that most heroes would be orders of magnitude less effective in facing these threats than, say, heavy artillery.
    • This even becomes a plot-point in the S9 arc. Jack Slash's sensory abilities only working on other superpowered people went unnoticed for over 20 years. It’s implied this is because the only people who were ever sent to capture him were capes. This suggests that a single sniper could've been enough to take him out.
  • Weak, but Skilled: Armsmaster is one of the most competent tinkers and combatants in the entire Protectorate. However, the fact that he has to work near-constantly on training and improvements to his gear, just for gains that people like Dauntless can make with almost no effort, makes him very bitter. Eventually his drive to distinguish himself leads him to break the truce (between heroes and villains) used to fight the Endbringers.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: In order to accomplish his goal of ruling Brockton Bay, Coil facilitates the kidnapping of Dinah Alcott, one of the few legitimate precogs in the Wormverse. Skitter exchanges her service in helping Coil accomplish his goal for Dinah's eventual freedom. Once Coil rules the city, he promptly attempt to kill Skitter. But it was so obvious Coil wasn't going to keep his end of the bargain that Tattletale and Skitter co-opt the majority of his mercenaries in advance. Coil ends up getting his brains blown out as a cautionary tale against thinking you're the only Manipulative Bastard among a group of supervillains.

  • Ambiguously Human: Chris spends most of his time after leaving Breakthrough going out of his way to act like an asshole and look like a monster. After the reveal that he is actually the (human-ish) pseudoclone of a dead Mad Scientist, it becomes ovious that he is attempting to distinguish himself from Lab Rat, and humanity by extension. Seemingly to spite his creator, Chris constantly experiments on himself to change his appearance, while also pushing away anyone who evokes human feelings from him.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Lisa’s power to make connections from minor information is shown to have the majority of the blame for her significantly more acerbic behavior in Ward. In particular, it constantly reminds her of her brothers’ suicide, emphasizes that several of her teammates don’t like or care about her, and gives her killer headaches. Notably, while Lisa initially used Breaking Speeches specifically to throw off her enemies, the stress of her power has now made it her default means of interacting with people. Naturally, this makes people hate her even more, resulting in a feedback loop.
  • Backup Twin: After Swansong's death, most of Damsel’s increasingly erratic behavior is out of fear of being replaced by her clone “sister”. This is because the clones' shared shard allows memories from one to flow into the other intermittently, with the implication that one clone’s memories may be able to overwrite the other’s. Damsel interprets Breakthrough's request for help accessing the Shardspace as an excuse to replace her personality with Swansong’s. Even after that journey, Damsel goes out of her way to distinguish her behavior from Swansong’s, to the point that she repeatedly ignores rational suggestions solely because she thinks her "sister" would have agreed with them.
  • Baleful Polymorph: Amy turning Victoria into a nearly immobile pile of limbs for two years leaves the latter with more than a few issues over physical touch. Worse, the process of fixing her required the use of stray animals for biomass, adding even more self-image problems. At the start of the series being reminded of Amy, her physical make-up, or her time in the hospital is Vic's personal Trauma Button.
  • Biomanipulation: Amy’s power unfortunately enables her to show absolutely no respect for the agency of the people around her. In particular, she has no problem working on bodies and minds, without telling her patients what can happen when her power goes off the rails. And those instances of Body Horror and ego death are just what she does by accident. She’s also willing to mind control convicts into becoming “model” citizens and has created the odd Humanoid Abomination. Finally, she feels the constant temptation to use her ability to force Victoria to love her, while also considering the fact that she hasn’t engaged in Mind Rape (since the last time she engaged in Mind Rape) as proof that she’s a good person. The sheer power that she possesses makes her too much of an asset to the various factions for anyone to consider holding her accountable for these actions.
  • Cain and Abel: Victoria's intense, occasionally violent, hatred for Amy means that she tends to default to suggesting murder in response to the latter's most recent fuck-up. The fact that Vic isn't exactly eager to divulge the disfigurement, Mind Rape, and actual rape she suffered at her sister's hands causes Amy to receive the benefit of the doubt from Earth Shin, the Wardens, and their parents. Unfortunately, Victoria's very valid reluctance to reel back her hatred leaves her comments on Amy's poor decision-making skills to go unheeded.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: The new Earth Gimel has insufficient heroes/law enforcement to catch criminals, insufficient legal infrastructure to prosecute anything but the most serious crimes, and insufficient prisons to house those who are convicted. As a result, very few newly-pardoned villains still fear the consequences of not following the unwritten rules that used to guide their behavior. While there are the rare villains with ethical scruples (like Marquis or the Undersiders), far more are willing to engage in behavior like hurting children, attacking civilians, or mass-murder. The new world order has made very clear how many villains only had “standards” when they couldn’t get away with not following them.
  • Flashback Nightmare: Rain’s cluster has a Shared Dream of the circumstances surrounding their trigger event every night, from the perspective of each of the four members. The trigger was an arson attack, committed by the Fallen, taking away everything that three of the members held dear. The fact that Rain is one of Fallen members who perpetrated the attack makes him The Scapegoat for the rest of the cluster. After a few years of being unable to move past their collective Despair Event Horizon, Rain is overcome with remorse and self-loathing, while the others decide to target their revenge efforts towards him exclusively. This is despite the fact that he was only a miscellaneous Fallen mook at the time, since it’s his actions that’ve been seared into their memory.
  • Ineffectual Loner: Chris is consistently shown to be aloof, private, and withdrawn from the rest of the group. Nevertheless, in order to use his Tinker ability to its full potential, he needs to interact with other powers/people. Over time it becomes clear that he cares about Breakthrough (even after leaving the group) despite acting like they don’t matter to him. Although Breakthrough realizes that his constant Jerkass behavior is meant to emotionally distance himself from the team, they still consider him too much of an ass to deal with. Turns out it doesn’t matter if you like someone deep down when you insist on treating them like crap.
  • Like Goes with Like: At the start of Ward, Weld and Sveta are a seemingly happy couple; the only issue is their inability to be physically intimate due to Sveta's lack of a body. Having the typical sexual urges of a teenager despite his metal body, Weld starts to have doubts about their relationship as time goes on. However, being a Case 53 is such a large part of his identity that he doesn't feel like he has the right to break up with Sveta, especially not for her greatest insecurity. This leads him to remain in the relationship even though he concludes there are No Sparks. When Slician makes a move on Weld, their relationship falls apart shortly after.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Even if her patients weren’t Persons Of Mass Destruction, Jessica Yamada would be a prime example of how emotionally exhausting this position can be. But having to constantly put her patients first to prevent the deadly consequences of a mental break takes an even bigger toll. Then things go from bad to worse when she’s part of a majority-parahuman group forcibly stranded on a deserted planet. Spending months keeping Retired Monsters like Riley and Nilbog in check makes her stressed and paranoid to the point that she physically attacks the former. Considering Riley’s past, the fact that this only torpedoed her trust in Yamada, instead of causing a genocidal Face–Heel Turn is a miracle.
    The Red Queen: The goodness in you is still there. But you’ve worked so hard you’ve hit the point you don’t always care. If I’m guessing right, you’re probably at the point where you can do the day to day stuff, but when that late night phone call comes and they ask for extra effort or a needy patient needs you extra, you resent them a little.
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Though cluster members have the benefit of Combo Platter Powers, their shared power source carry glaring downsides. First, the shards of the component members are all connected, allowing the personality traits of cluster members transfer between members of the same cluster. And second, killing one member of your cluster allows the other members to become more powerful; at the upper level one person can harness the full power of multiple sources, making them into a One-Man Army (one example was able to take over a world). These two factors make obsession, psychosis, and/or mass-murder a fairly frequent outcome for clusters.
    Clusters have a 40% chance of one member murdering another, rising to a 50% chance when including attempted murder, 25% chance of a partnership forming, and a 10% incidence of partnership and murder coinciding. The term partnership is used for romantic pairings in instances where sexuality and gender allow, and close friendship or formed teams with members in other cases. In some (10% of) cases of close partnerships forming, the romantic pairing occurred despite one’s typical sexuality.
    Glow-worm P.4
  • Minion with an F in Evil: Colt is a heavily depressing analysis on what would drive a normal teen to become a criminal, while also showing where someone like that would rank on the pecking order. She initially joins the Hollow Point villains as a henchman to get away from a home implied to be abusive. Following several failures, she eventually realizes that the only reason she hasn’t been killed for incompetence is that her boss, Love Lost, Wouldn't Hurt a Child. Regardless, the fact that she was disowned by her parents leaves her with nowhere to go. When one attempt to show her reliability (after being given drugs to help with nerves) gets her within spitting distance of a Fate Worse than Death, she triggers. She eventually gets convicted for three years once her group Jumps Off The Slippery Slope.
  • Must Make Amends: Most of Amy’s attempts to make up for her past are done with the purpose of gaining Victoria's forgiveness, something the latter makes clear will never happen. Sveta, Jessica Yamada and Victoria herself try to inform Amy that even the slightest respect for her sister’s mental health would make her keep her distance. Unfortunately the former’s obsession, entitlement, and short-sightedness means that Amy genuinely can’t fathom the fact that she can’t make up for turning her sister into a monstrous love-slave. She even begins convince herself that it’s Victoria’s unwillingness to move past it that’s the problem. Chris eventually tells her to just cut out the middleman and either brainwash or make a clone of Victoria to tell her whatever she wants to hear.
  • The Pardon: Following the defeat of Scion, the Wardens and other hero groups established an amnesty for every cape that fought during Golden Morning. The fact that the unpowered weren’t consulted before hundreds of superpowered criminals, warlords, and serial killers got off scott-free is a major source of anti-parahuman hostility. This leads to several attacks on those reformed capes considered too Easily Forgiven, like Fume Hood (a hero whose past crimes accidentally led a pregnant woman to miscarry).
  • Playful Hacker: Kenzie regularly shows the kind of unwitting damage these skills can do in the hands a socially-maladjusted child. Though incredibly friendly, repeated rejection from others and difficulty with understanding boundaries causes her to invade her friends’ personal space whenever she thinks it will impart information on how to keep them around. Ironically her obsessive behavior ends up driving even more people away. Additionally, her effectiveness when it comes to information gathering means that Breakthrough alternates between chastising her for invading the privacy of others (and overworking herself) and enabling her when the stakes are high enough.
  • Really Gets Around: Chastity's promiscuity is one of the unfortunate results of being raised by Heartbreaker and his harem of sex slaves. Worse, her mother was cast out by Heartbreaker (who also emotionally shattered the poor woman For the Evulz) once she grew too old. This left Chastity to equate her self-worth with her ability to attract men.
  • Sharing a Body: Arc 9 shows how nightmarish this can be from the perspective of the Vera brothers. Their relationship was already contentious before having to alternate control of their merged body: Tristain’s more assertive personality made him overbearing, while Byron’s subdued personality prevented him from confronting his brother until he reached the (violent) breaking point. After being fused together, Tristain’s overbearing nature worsened over time, making him feel entitled to control their body as much as possible, while Byron’s frustration over the situation even led to occasional self-harm (that his brother couldn’t help but feel). Tristain ends up faking Byron’s death to take over their body, leaving Byron trapped inside, unable to communicate for months.
  • Some Kind of Force Field: The Wretch shows that an invisible, super strong forcefield can be as dangerous to allies as enemies. A high-stress situation causes Victoria to hesitate for one second too long in cutting off her power, resulting in her mother getting her head and spine almost completely crushed by the pressure.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: As the only remaining parahuman with the "Administrator" shard, Aiden is essentially Tattletale's last bond to Taylor. She decides to take on the responsibility of raising/training him but Survivor's Guilt over her best friend's death leads to a good amount of over-protectiveness and some ambiguity over whether she considers Aiden a Replacement Goldfish.
  • Stage Mom:
    • Carol Dallon's past experiences as a former teen mom, a top lawyer, and a superhero gives her impossibly high standards for her daughter. Most significantly, she encourages responding to emotional difficulties by throwing yourself into your work. This has a heavy impact on Victoria's difficulty expressing weakness to most people and her inability to sit on the sidelines of a conflict, even when ordered to.
    • March's mother is a slightly different take. Her smothering nature causes her to force music into every aspect of March's life to the point that when she's hit by a train, all March feels is relief.
  • Sudden Principled Stand: It eventually revealed that pre-Golden Morning, the Irregulars had tasked Sveta with getting Weld on board with their revenge plot. When Weld takes exception to their plan at the last second, and Sveta sides with him, it's taken as a major betrayal. The fact that (1) her change of heart happened at the last possible second; (2) multiple Irregulars died as a result of the time-wasting, intra-group conflict; and (3) Sveta's Power Incontinence killed the person they planned to interrogate/lynch anyway, makes Sveta even more of a pariah among Case 53s than Weld himself.
  • Super Supremacist / Asskicking Equals Authority: Bianca is able to take over Earth Shin, primarily through using her alignment power. Since the ability only works on parahumans, they made up the majority of her forces, essentially creating a caste system with capes at the top. Additionally, the fact that she prioritizes badass powers in her underlings instead of actual ruling competence means that her new world order collapses once she's out of the picture. Leaving a bunch of very cape-hostile people behind. Let's just say being a cape in Shin wasn't super fun after that.
  • 10-Minute Retirement: Following Scion’s defeat, Contessa attempts to stop using Path to Victory, a power which (among other things) operates as a Danger Sense. In order to take advantage of her Story-Breaker Power, Teacher has her kidnapped inside of two days. Contessa’s overpowered abilities meant that any sign of vulnerability was too good to pass up for her enemies.
  • Troubled Sympathetic Bigot: Gary Nieves and the rest of the anti-parahuman movement gain an increasing amount of traction largely because their distrust of parahumans isn't exactly unfounded. Nieves is correct that Muggle Power is only really accepted when parahumans deem it convenient. Moreover, the shards do push parahumans towards conflict, generally making them the most violent members of society. Even Victoria openly says that parahumans should be less concerned with the demands of the unpowered. This general dissatisfaction with the status quo allows the worst and most hostile anti-parahumans to get lost in the crowd. As a result, the change from fed-up civilians to violent extremists seems to come out of nowhere.
  • Unflinching Walk: March's preoccupation with looking cool leads her to walk away before confirming that she kills Vista, assuming her power finished the job. This directly leads to her own death.
  • Who Needs Their Whole Body?: After scanning Disjoint, Cradle is able to create a device that can cut up his target without any long-term damage. This being Cradle he begins using it for threats and torture, relying on the ability to disfigure his enemies while skirting one of the few cape-rules left. Since (1) most people considering being sliced to pieces while still conscious worse than dying; (2) he has no problem using his weapon on kid heroes; and (3) a good amount of the mercenaries he hires are Loveable Rogues or Noble Demons, pretty much everyone turns against him as soon as possible.
  • Xanatos Gambit: After being freed from Teacher, Contessa agrees to help bring down her former captor. However, too much time has passed for her Path to Victory to conceive of a way to take down Teacher without drawbacks. With the knowledge that whatever plan is chosen will effectively go off without a hitch, Contessa leaves it to Breakthrough and the Undersiders to decide whether they want to prioritize capturing Teacher, saving lives, or minimizing hero deaths. The groups' differing opinions on which of the three objectives to prioritize (at the expense of the other two, in the short or long-term), leads to a lengthy conflict.
  • Your Soul Is Mine: Valkyrie’s ability to summon the spirits of dead parahumans makes her come across far creepier than other Trumps like Eidolon or Spright. In fact, she regularly gets called out on the morality of her ability despite the fact that it makes her worth a hundred normal capes. This is probably the primary reason for her outcast status among the heroes, not her Face–Heel Turn.

Alternative Title(s): Ward


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