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Deconstructed Trope / Worm
aka: Ward

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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 an effective deconstruction of the entire superhero genre, particularly the role that the appearance of superpowers would play in society at large.

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"When I looked at her with my power, before, I called her the Worm. She spent some time being as low on the food chain as you can get while still being able to move under her own power. As low as someone can get while still having an identity of their own. But she's realized she's poisonous, dangerous in her own unique way.... The little worm found a nugget of self-worth, she just doesn't want to look too closely at what that nugget is made of."

  • Adaptive Ability:
    • Aegis's power gives him possession 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. Much like Aegis, the first time he gets hit with something he can't adapt to rapidly enough—in this case tinker-bombs with esoteric effects that the PRT had salvaged from Bakuda's stocks—it kills him.
  • 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).
  • All Your Powers Combined: The leader of the Teeth (also known as "the Butcher") is a legacy position that only transfers onto the murderer of the current Butcher. The holder is bestowed with a watered-down combination of all their predecessor's abilities, granting them a major powerup. However, the nature of this transfer requires the holder to carry the consciousness of all prior Butchers in Mind Hive form. It doesn't take very long for the various entities, at least one of which would have some Unfinished Business with their killer, to drive most holders of the title insane. Despite the impressive power, most consider becoming the Butcher a Fate Worse than Death, with good reason.
  • The Apocalypse Brings Out the Best in People: No, it does not. While many villains and heroes were willing to work together to take on the Endbringers, Gold Morning sees numerous villains decide to Let No Crisis Go to Waste over actually helping others. There are several reasons for this.
  • Assimilation Plot: Even without the Loss of Identity that results from removing all limitations on Taylor's passenger, it'd be an understatement to say that creating Khepri has some blatant downsides. For one, unlike emotion manipulators, Khepri only controls bodies, not minds. Since people generally aren't huge fans of giving up their faculties to a Mind Hive, capes that didn't intentionally submit themselves to Khepri's control are continuously Fighting from the Inside throughout the final fight. In Moord Nag's case, her desperation to get free literally ended up giving her a stroke mid-battle. Later, when Taylor temporarily loses access to Doormaker's power, an enraged Glaistig Uaine uses the opening to kill him, steal his power, and attempt to leave Taylor on an abandoned world to die.
    Khepri: I counted myself lucky that I’d made it even this far. That things hadn’t devolved into chaos the moment the leashes came off.
  • 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 she's "winning" means she'll inevitably tire herself out. It's only Skitter's intervention that prevents this strategy from succeeding.
  • Badass Decay: 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.
  • 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 Masters 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 in the fandom 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) she holds failsafes to shut her down 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.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: Cauldron has, on paper, an admirable motive: stop Scion from causing the end of the world. The problem with this is that they try to achieve this goal by following the plans laid out by Contessa's power, Path to Victory. This power does not account for morality, and Scion also happens to be one of said power's blind spots, meaning that they really don't have an accurate plan to face him. Their efforts to come up with a workable plan, while facing the possibility that the end of the world might be inevitable, causes them to cross so many lines that no one is willing to hear them out when things go to hell, in part due to their very actions to keep things stable.
  • 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.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: This ironically ends up being Scion's downfall - while his powers make him a borderline Invicible Villain, Scion has no real understanding of human morality and emotions. Which means that when he experiences genuine sorrow over being shown the form of his mate via Oliver's power, he can't manage the grief and goes catatonic, allowing Defiant the chance to finish him off.
  • Break Them by Talking: Tattletale insists on making monologues divulging the deductions of her power, regardless of how unwanted the information is. This frequently leads to violent responses from the targets of her speeches. Glory Girl dislocates her shoulder for blackmailing Panacea with her father's identity. Jack Slash cuts her face open after she exposes his treacherous subordinate (because he was looking forward to pulling a Diabolus ex Machina on their plot). Miss Militia threatens Tattletale with a kill order after pistol-whipping her for nearly revealing that the Triumvirate are Cauldron members (which would irrevocably damage the cape truce for S-Class threats). It's also suggested that the events surrounding Lisa's trigger push her to constantly prove she's the smartest person in the room.
  • 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 determination to help him deal with the experience eventually leads 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 genuinely 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.
  • Bystander Syndrome: Not getting help from anyone, classmate, or teacher, after an extremely vicious bullying campaign has driven Taylor into the arms of villainy. Taylor gets pissed off when one classmate thinks wanting to help makes up for doing nothing to help her when she was stuck in the locker.
  • 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 has 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 brutally slaughtered. 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, the implementation of Accord’s power 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 have 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.
  • Criminal Found Family: The Undersiders repeatedly prove that being loyal to the gang, having different variations of Dark and Troubled Past, and making efforts to befriend a bullied outcast, does not mean they're Neighborhood-Friendly Gangsters. They have no trouble harming people outside their group, even as they are fiercely protective of each other:
    • Morality Chain: Following the discovery of their role in Dinah Alcott's abduction, Taylor makes an impassioned plea to the others, asking them to help rescue the girl. This is seemingly building to an Everyone Has Standards moment where the Loveable Rogues pledge to help their friend and... it turns out they really don't give a shit. Taylor is struck pretty hard by the realization that the Undersiders won't compromise their meal ticket just because of their teammate having a crisis of conscience.
    • Attack on One Is an Attack on All: The closest Regent has a moral code comes from his hatred of Heartbreaker's brand of Stupid Evil hedonism, and it largely consists of (1) Look out for your comrades; and (2) Stick to Pragmatic Villainy where possible. Unfortunately, this leaves a lot of wiggle room for Pay Evil unto Evil. So when he gains control over Shadow Stalker, who had already tried to kill two of his teammates and drove Taylor to a mental breakdown, he takes things to extremes. For the record, this includes casually molesting her, pointing a crossbow at her mother, and threatening her with Psychic-Assisted Suicide. All under the justification of "it feels like I should."
  • Defector from Decadence: Purity initially attempts to make a clean break from the Empire Eighty-Eight, a white supremacist gang in Brockton Bay, allegedly out of disgust at their extremes and concern for her infant daughter. However, despite claiming to be a hero, it's quickly shown that the lion's share of her issues with the Neo-Nazis come not from disgust at their violence towards minorities, but from personal dislike of their leader (and her ex-husband) Kaiser. The latter calls her out on her insincere attempts at a Heel–Face Turn, citing the facts that (1) she is very much not a Former Bigot, being just as much of a virulent racist as before; (2) she has no problem giving her old pals at E88 a complete pass for all their ongoing crimes; and (3) she spends most of her time as a hero/vigilante attacking the other gangs in the city, who were the Empire's enemies anyway. Kaiser has little trouble convincing Purity to return on the grounds that the only material change would be a paycheck.
  • Destructive Teleportation: ABB lieutenant Oni Lee teleports by making a duplicate of himself at his destination, while his initial self falls apart into dust a few seconds later. Lee uses these short-term clones to effectively become the world's only repeat suicide bomber. While he can perfectly clone his body, doing so is shown to "leave behind" more of his memory and personality every time. Each teleportation destroys a little more of himself until Lee is an Empty Shell who can only follow orders and do the bare minimum to keep himself alive.
  • 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 superhuman formula. 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.
  • Evil Is Easy: Weaver's famous "drugs are great" speech (made to at-risk teens) explains how the common assumption that villainy brings freedom and riches paints a very incomplete picture. While the strongest/smartest/luckiest capes can become kingpins, it's way more likely they end up dead. For one, villains already fight each other more frequently than they do heroes. Moreover, the "cops and robbers" setup only really influences hero-villain fights; so attempts at gaining territory, gang feuds, and double-crosses are generally away from the public eye and very brutal as a result. Finally, even if you make it to the top without being killed or arrested, almost every hero and villain in the city will be gunning to take you down at any sign of weakness.
  • 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 primarily results from three interwoven threads that Contessa is able to use in Defusing the Tyke-Bomb: (1) Jack Slash and the Nine tried to initiate (read: break) Riley by forcing her to repeatedly repair mortal injuries to her family members over the course of days, if not weeks; (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; and (3) It is made very clear that only S9 members who remain on 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.
  • Fake Kill Scare: After Skitter turns herself in to the PRT, Director Tagg calls in Alexandria to emotionally break her via interrogation. To do so, she begins "hunting" the Undersiders, using body doubles to convince Skitter that her only friends are being killed off. The heroine seemingly fails to realize that Skitter's power makes it almost impossible to read her emotional state; that emotional turmoil tends to amplify cape abilities; and that Skitter is The Dreaded for a reason. Hopefully, Alexandria had time to review her actions while being literally drowned in bugs.
  • Fiery Stoic: As Spitfire explains, when you have exclusively fire-based powers, most people fall into two categories: those who burn (making it very easy to accidently kill them) and those who don't (making your powers pretty much useless to begin with). Since the former make up the overwhelming majority of the population, unless you are a Pyromaniac like Burnscar, a hardened killer like Lung, or a cape with Combo Platter Powers like Crucible, you have to get pretty creative to be any kind of useful in a fight.
  • Freudian Excuse: Due to the fact that virtually all powers in this setting come with a Traumatic Superpower Awakening, pretty much every single villain has one of these, alongside most heroes. This means that most people are willing to declare that Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse if someone's crimes are bad enough...
  • Freudian Excuse Is No Excuse: However, the fact that literally every cape has a Freudian Excuse also means that many heroes and muggles are willing to write off people who legitimately have good reasons for being as screwed up as they are because everyone else also suffered to get powers. Case in point: Rachel Lindt, aka Bitch, is pointedly treated as a dangerous threat due to her powers resulting in the deaths of her foster parents and siblings. It's pointed out in-series that Rachel is at most guilty of manslaughter, but people being unwilling to try and bond with her not only exacerbated the problem, but is implied to have caused her to gain powers in the first place. Additionally, the refusal to treat her as anything but a villain effectively forced her to become one to survive.
  • 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.
    • Director Emily Piggot, Tagg's predecessor, also deconstructs this trope, albeit in a slightly more justified way. Her experiences as one of two PRT field agents that survived the failed mission to kill Nilbog are largely responsible for her unfettered approach to catching villains. Seeing the monstrosities that the psychopath could create showed her that parahumans exhibited some of the most savage traits of humanity; the fact that hero support immediately abandoned her team to die convinced her that most capes were just selfish cowards playing pretend; and the fact that the PRT covered up the entire clusterfuck, let Nilbog roam free, and promoted her to keep her quiet taught Piggot that legal barriers and moral scruples were a necessary sacrifice for the greater good. Even when the protagonists are the victims of her prejudice, they have trouble disputing her reasoning.
  • Give Me a Reason: After learning Skitter's true identity, the PRT initiates an attempt to corner her in a public place. Confused that they suddenly stop the assault, Skitter realizes they are banking on her usual response to being pushed into a corner (acts of incredible violence) to have the dual effect of: destroying most of the goodwill she's built upon in the city post-Leviathan; and giving the PRT cause to justify their breach of cape etiquette in attacking her out-of-costume. As Skitter has spent the past weeks providing protection from the Slaughterhouse Nine, dismantling the Merchants and Fenrir's Chosen, and providing desperately needed supplies to those in her territory, the surrounding people take some exception to the attempt at railroading her without cause. They eventually succeed in helping her escape capture via large-scale human shield and the PRT's reputation takes a pretty big hit.
  • 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 exterminating 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 from 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 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, most notably, giving Noelle the Super Serum that turned her into a Humanoid Abomination. 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.
  • Inspirational Insult: While being transported to the Birdcage with Canary and Lung, Bakuda initiated a (failed) escape attempt. While she was able to easily threaten Canary into helping, Lung had been drugged into a docile state that prevented him from using his Playing with Fire ability. To get her boss sufficiently incensed, Bakuda gives him a quick and brutal "The Reason You Suck" Speech where she rubs in the fact that Lung received two separate defeats from Skitter, one of which literally castrated him. Once in the Birdcage, Lung's primary objective was to find someone to kill in order to avoid becoming someone's underling or bitch. Naturally, he picks the person who had not only just failed him, but openly disrespected him beforehand.
  • Invincible Villain: Scion is functionally one of these due to having every power in existence, to the strongest level possible. Unlike other stories where the heroes would want to keep fighting to the bitter end against him because it's the right thing to do, many of those who oppose him end up crossing the Despair Event Horizon and decide that letting him win might be a good idea. And while Taylor ultimately defeats him, it involves using a method that totally sidesteps his powers and would likely count as crossing the Moral Event Horizon in any other series.
  • Junkie Prophet: Dinah Alcott, a middle-schooler that is among the three strongest Thinkers in the world, has such potent precognitive abilities that she's abducted by Coil, a crime boss looking to capitalize. Although Dinah doesn't technically need drugs to use her powers, Coil, scumbag that he is, fosters a narcotic addiction in the kid after taking her prisoner. This has the dual benefit of assuaging the piercing migraines that result from overexertion and keeping the 12-year-old fully reliant on and subservient to him.
  • 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 leave them under-equipped to handle 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, an early 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 her classmates (one in particular) to psychotic degrees.
    • Clockblocker's general rebelliousness and Friendly Enemy status with the Undersiders, Skitter most notably, 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 with 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.
    • And the Wards in general show what can easily happen to kids who are forced by their powers to fight monsters: They die. By the end of Worm, Vista and Shadow Stalker are the only members of the Brockton Bay Wards from the beginning of the serial who haven't been killed in action.
  • 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.
  • Moral Pragmatist: Taylor's Heel–Face Turn was a fairly rational response to an offer by the Protectorate that would: successfully get the PRT off of the Undersiders' backs; prevent Taylor from getting sent to the Birdcage for killing one of the country's top heroes (under duress); and put her in a position where she can help stop the impending apocalypse. However, the heroes don't exactly roll out the welcome wagon for an infamously ruthless former warlord, much less one who had almost entirely escaped accountability for homicide by switching sides at a convenient time. Image overhaul alone requires a surprising amount of work, as the PRT takes on the task of converting her from the very creepy spider villain Skitter to not-as-creepy butterfly hero Weaver in the eyes of the public. Moreover, the PRT makes clear that they will come down hard at the first sign of trouble, and leave her to rot in prison as the world is destroyed. It's difficult to blame Taylor for ditching the Protectorate pretty much as soon as she can.
  • The Needs of the Many: Cauldron has the rather noble goal of developing an army capable of facing the 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.
  • Never Be Hurt Again: Emma's malice toward her former friend Taylor stems from an ABB attack that she experienced the summer before entering high school. The fact that the first hero on the scene, Shadow Stalker, was willing to stand idly by until Emma began to fight back, combined with the fear of ever feeling that powerless again, led her to adopt the hero's "prey or predator" philosophy. Moreover, she began to project all hatred of her past self onto Taylor, believing she embodied the weakness Emma intended to move past. Tormenting Taylor allowed her to feel powerful, and her victim's refusal to fight back only served as proof that she was justified.
  • Noble Top Enforcer: Skitter deconstructs this during her villain career, in terms of both motive and behavior. As the Undersiders take over Brockton Bay, she repeatedly tells herself that her crimes are done solely for Dinah's sake. After killing Coil and becoming one of the rulers of the city's underworld, she rationalizes her role as helping prevent a power vacuum and doing more immediate good than the PRT and the Protectorate. But several heroes call her out for both performing and enabling (in her True Companions, no less) some legitimately monstrous behavior, even if she claims good intentions. The fact that she does "the wrong thing for the right reasons," doesn't change the fact that taking over a city by force of arms has quite a few negative long-term effects that tunnel vision leads her to overlook. Effects that it's difficult to claim ignorance of when multiple people explain them to her face. By the tail end of Taylor's tenure as Skitter, even she has trouble blaming the heroes for not trusting her.
    Piggot: If you buy a favor from someone who [sells drugs], the Merchants, Coil, the Chosen, then you’re indirectly supporting that trade. Just like you’re supporting any number of evils every time you help a fellow villain. I’ve talked to homicide detectives who have dealt with the bodies in the wake of your shenanigans... Bakuda was injured by you in one altercation, and she attacked the city over the course of several days. Do you know how many people were harmed, then? Because you set her off?... Are you afraid facing that reality would shatter this nice little delusion you’re living under?... Where do you draw the line? When do you start taking responsibility? Or will you explain away every evil you’ve done and count only the actions you want?

    Clockblocker: How does a supervillain warlord react to that sort of news, by the way? Finding out a heroine tried to hang herself?... You do stuff, you have reasons, like your apparent feeling that, oh, it's okay because [Shadow Stalker] was a violent personality, but you don’t pay attention to the ending, to everything that comes after. A whole lot of people have been screwed up and hurt in your wake, Skitter.
  • 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.”
  • Psycho for Hire: The Slaughterhouse Nine is probably the most insane, bloodthirsty gang in the country, to the extent that basically all neighboring villains will immediately be considered A Lighter Shade of Black by the heroes of any town they arrive to. Nevertheless, in the past, some brilliant capes have attempted to hire the bastards to kill off their enemies. They did so seemingly unaware that, if you plan to hire someone that loves killing so much they'll disregard the substantial leeway granted by cape society, you should be damn sure their bloodlust is outweighed by something like a code of honor, Mask of Sanity, or Money Fetish so you can control them. As it stands, if you're lucky (like the Teeth), the Nine will turn on you after the job's done and kill you quickly For the Evulz. If you're unlucky (like Ravager), they will betray you immediately, find your intended target, and hand you both off to Bonesaw to be forcibly spliced together into an unholy abomination/pet while still conscious.
  • Raised by Rival: Panacea is revealed to have been adopted as a child by the heroes Brandish and Flashbang after New Wave sent her biological father, the villain Marquis, to the Birdcage. Once Marquis told them his daughter would be attacked by his enemies if left to foster care, the couple very reluctantly adopted her. Panacea's relationship to Brandish's Arch-Enemy meant that she was constantly treated with neglect or suspicion growing up. Worse, when Panacea realizes why, her self-worth reaches rock bottom and she becomes overcome with fear that she will end up like Marquis.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge:
    • Perdition puts his personal vendetta over the defense effort against Behemoth. He ends up not only killing his enemy, Accord, but attacks the people trying to prevent the murder of one of their top strategists. His attack puts both Tattletale (their other top strategist) and Chevalier (acting Protectorate leader) on the brink of death. While few would blame him for wanting revenge, Cody's impulsiveness is definitely responsible for a fair number of dead capes that day.
    • 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 were 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 ends up attracting Scion...
  • Rookie Red Ranger: While Weld is an experienced fighter and quickly acclimates to field leadership of the Wards, he faces a fair number of interpersonal difficulties from his first command position being over a team that he doesn't know, in a city overrun with gangs, after being briefed on the former two situations minutes before starting. It's explained that what might look like he was Promoted to Scapegoat is actually... pretty much that, but for an ostensibly good reason. Weld's status as one of the few Case 53s that isn't a public danger or Horrifying Hero, made him the best choice to be the face of the acceptance movement for monstrous capes. Being thrust into a trial by fire was a test to see if Weld deal with the pressure and become a successful enough hero to be the Protectorate's Flawless Token.
  • 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.
  • Screw the Rules, I Make Them!: Considering the state monopoly on violence is a thing of the past, maintaining good PR with the cape community (including villains) is a constant consideration for the Protectorate. For example, the Endbringers (and subsequently the Endbringer truce) mean living capes are valuable enough that kill orders can only be brought out only as an absolute last resort. While it's technically possible to use necessity or secrecy to get away with breaking the unwritten rules, the PRT's success rate at appeals to force leaves a lot to be desired.
  • 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, the PRT has plausible deniability to feign ignorance of Armsmaster and Defiant being the same person, while no outside parties have the right to explicitly challenge it. 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.
  • Semantic Superpower: Leet shows how much of a double-edged sword this can be if the source of your power interprets its limits as narrowly as metaphysically possible. While his tinker limitation (allowing him to build anything once) could be very useful, inventions too similar to something he has made before have much higher chances of explosions and/or destructive misfire. As Leet used up most of his creative ideas when starting out, his creations fail spectacularly on a regular basis. This causes him to play things even safer, and has led to his passenger actively sabotaging him (e.g. his teleporter failing depending on the intended destination) to get him killed so it can find a new host.
  • 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.
  • Socially Awkward Hero: Weld's courage and selflessness make him a natural-born hero and leader, but his slight social ineptitude occasionally leads him to overlook the feelings of his subordinates until called out. His Chilly Reception from the Brockton Bay Wards team, for instance, occurs because his introduction skips over the fact that three members of the team had been violently killed by Leviathan only weeks before. This tendency continues when he becomes the leader of the Irregulars, as he fails to realize that the Case 53s under his command didn't really care if the members of Cauldron faced justice, they were mainly looking for a chance at brutal revenge.
  • Stealing the Credit: Armsmaster offers to take credit for Skitter's (and the Undersiders') takedown of Lung, believing that her refusal to join the Wards would leave Skitter open to retribution from the ABB. However, the former's Glory Seeker tendencies mean he is just as motivated by the career boost such a high-profile collar would bring. Unfortunately, he was unaware that Skitter's desperation required her to use lethal force to overwhelm the villain's Healing Factor. Leaving Armsmaster to explain why Lung had been injected with enough venom to nearly kill him. Armsmaster ends up being investigated for excessive force and is demoted from his leadership position; the resulting hostility he holds towards Skitter plays a large part in him essentially becoming her Arch-Enemy.
  • Stumbled Into the Plot: Saint's interlude reveals that, rather than being an expert hacker capable of outsmarting the world's top Tinker, the leader of the Dragonslayers is a normal unpowered guy who found Andrew Richter's failsafe while scavenging in post-Leviathan Newfoundland. Rather than hand this information off to a hero, he exploits Dragon's code to steal multiple suits of Powered Armor that he proceeds to use for petty theft and mercenary work. Moreover, to even decipher her code, he depends on (and is eventually addicted to) temporary superintelligence granted by Teacher, a Manipulative Bastard supervillain. Unfortunately, even after showing he's the last person that should be policing anyone, he persists in appointing himself Dragon's watchman. Multiple people point out that his zeal for a role he is totally unqualified for, despite Dragon only ever showing herself to be an Ideal Hero, results from a sad combination of cape envy, Fantastic Racism, and a desire to feel important.
  • Superman Substitute: Scion is an exhaustive illustration on the feasibility of the Superman archetype: a man-like alien from a Dying Race landing on earth, using their multitude of abilities to become The Cape, and foreshadowing the appearance of other superhumans (while remaining the most powerful being on earth).
    • First, Scion is an example of the kind of Blue-and-Orange Morality that an alien with no connection to humanity or capacity for selflessness would have. He only becomes a hero because it was the first suggestion that he received while aimlessly wandering the world. Kevin Norton, Scion's Jimmy Olsen counterpart, is a man that he listened to at random, who suggested that Scion could experience some fulfillment by trying to help people. However, the fact that Scion cares around as much about humanity as we might for ants caused him to take this advice as literally as possible: leading him to do things like fighting house fires while thousands are killed in an Endbringer attack. Eventually, Jack Slash suggests that he might have more fun engaging in mass-murder for kicks. Scion gives it a try by destroying Great Britain and finds it much more entertaining.
    • Second, Scion isn't just a coincidental Human Alien that arrived on earth right before powers began popping up. He's their (primary) source. Meaning not only can he nullify any power used against him, he has all the powers. In reality, the only reason humanity wasn't wiped out of the multiverse in a day was that he wanted to give himself a handicap to stretch out the fun. If that wasn't bad enough, Scion is actually the human avatar of a planet-sized Sufficiently Advanced Alien hidden in a dimension humanity can't even access. Making him almost entirely unkillable, even for those few even capable of conceivably hurting him. Beware The Supeman indeed.
  • 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.
  • Token Evil Teammate:
    • Although Regent possesses qualities that reconstruct this trope, he also shows how much ambivalence would come with being the teammate of a loyal, yet dangerous, sociopath. In fact, multiple people call out Skitter and the Undersiders for having an unrepentant murderer and rapist in their crew and his continued membership is usually the first reason heroes give not to trust them. Additionally, just because Alec is pretty unambiguously evil doesn't mean he goes around openly tempting his teammates to Kick the Dog. To avoid losing his friends, Alec keeps both his dark past and Lack of Empathy to himself as long as possible. When he puts Shadow Stalker through a vicious Humiliation Conga via People Puppets, he actually goes pretty far out of his way to make sure his teammates don't find out about it. Raising the question of how often he decides to indulge when the others aren't with him.
    • Bitch also applies in a slightly different manner. Her hot temper and tendency to respond with brutal violence to anything that upsets her (whether justified or not) has pushed away potential allies (like Spitfire) while making multiple unneeded enemies (like Hookwolf). She's also very aware that the team only tolerates her because of her combat effectiveness; this is capitalized on when the Slaughterhouse Nine play on her feelings of exclusion and make threats to encourage Rachel to kill the Undersiders and join them. She even considers agreeing, albeit only for a moment. Lastly, the rest of the team is collectively held responsible for some of her worse actions, most notably, "gaining territory" by violently assaulting everyone residing within a certain radius until they vacate. This is another one of the points that the PRT latches onto when concluding that the Undersiders should not be compromised with.
    • On the heroes' side, there's Shadow Stalker. Her bullying of Taylor out of costume was directly responsible for torpedoing any chance of a peaceful resolution after Taylor accidentally unmasked her, which in turn led to a confrontation ending in Armsmaster's arrest and subsequent nomination for a spot on the Slaughterhouse 9. Her later attempts to sneak off and murder villains when her teammates weren't around results in her walking into a trap set by the Undersiders, who hand her over to Regent.
  • 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. Assuming he will die anyway, Theo stares down one of the most feared men in the country and tells him that, given half a chance, he would become a hero and 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.
  • Villainous Parental Instinct: Considering protecting his daughter was the sole reason Marquis was captured in the first place, he predictably latches onto the opportunity to reconnect once Amy is sent to the Birdcage as well. However, Marquis's reputation as a badass cell-block leader crumbles as he goes out of his way to care for the borderline-catatonic Amy. In particular, the knowledge that Marquis has such a blatant vulnerability nearly ends with him being overthrown by his more ambitious underlings.
  • Villainous Rescue: The intermittent truce between the Protectorate and criminal parahumans means, outside of legitimate 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.
  • 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 that 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.
  • Welcome Back, Traitor: Skitter has relatively little trouble rejoining the Undersiders even after her initial deceptions are revealed by Armsmaster. That said, she's largely accepted because Tattletale vouches for her, Skitter gives up her pay for the foreseeable future, and the others reluctantly admit her abilities carry major benefits. Even then, the Undersiders' resulting distrust and occasional hostility makes winning back their camaraderie an arduous process:
    • For one, Rachel's burgeoning friendship with Taylor had led her to sacrifice most of her Canine Companions against Leviathan, all to rescue an apparent traitor. She was left feeling pretty raw about the betrayal and is leaning more towards the "throw her out on her ass after I kick her teeth in" option. So the next time the group finds themselves in a skin-of-their-teeth escape, Bitch gets revenge by intentionally leaving Skitter behind to be arrested.
    • Even after Skitter wins back their collective loyalty, it's clear that her past actions are Forgiven, but Not Forgotten. Coil even capitalizes on any lingering mistrust when he tries to dispose of Skitter, using a body double to frame her for a second betrayal. Considering the Undersiders are not only convinced but fall back on trying to brutally murder Skitter in response, they were likely holding onto a bit of a grudge.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist:
    • Taylor turns to villainy because legitimate institutions have spent several years shitting on her just for existing. Her best friend lead a bullying campaign that almost ended up kiling Taylor, her teachers knew about this but let it happen, her first outing as a Cape sees one of her heroes strong-arm her into letting him steal credit for her defeating a villain and then gets mad at her due to not knowing how Taylor subdued the villain, resulting in his popularity tanking, and she later learns that one of her bullies was a member of the Wards. Thus, it is completely understandable why she turns to villainy.
    • Accord originally wanted to use his powers to solve world hunger via legitimate means. Not only was he laughed at for his plans, but his powers give him Super OCD, which makes him react violently to any deviations from plans.
    • Cauldron has the noble goal of preventing The End of the World as We Know It, and even has a Seer who can help them plan for this. The problem is that said seer has a couple of blind spots, including the one being who needs to be defeated to save the world. This has made them extremely desperate to work out a solution to defeat said being, Scion, which makes them willing to forgo morals for the sake of saving everyone, which is exacerbated by how their seer's power doesn't factor in morals to begin with. this bites them in the ass when many of the people they screwed over break into their base - Doctor Mother, who turned several of them into Case 53 Capes (giving them monstrous appearances), tries to appeal to logic, and promptly gets killed because those Capes are still angry for being turned into monsters.
  • 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 attempts 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.

"Parahumans took the world from us. They took the sky.... Our greatest hero turned out to be the greatest monster, and we don’t get any answers about why. Haven’t we been giving you chances from the beginning? How much worse do things have to get?"

  • 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.
  • Alternate Universe: After uncovering a way to make portals between parallel earths prior to Gold Morning, the people of Earth Bet find that the newly discovered multiverse carries its own dangers.
    • While some of the planets are inhabited, there are sufficient historical, linguistic, and cultural differences among their dimensional neighbors that even making contact can be risky. By the start of Ward, Earth Aleph has sealed itself off to avoid the billions of refugees looking for a home, Earth Shin seems more interested in cape genocide than diplomacy, and Earth Cheit's religious extremists are earnest to initiate a multiversal holy war.
    • The majority of those displaced by Gold Morning end up settling on planets that have little-to-no advanced life. However, most of the more remote worlds like Earths Nun and Zayin are conquered by villains, while others like Earth Achatnote  are essentially uninhabitable. And that's before getting into the fact that some deserted worlds are even used as impromptu Prison Dimensions, with superpowered repeat offenders being forced to live out the remainder of their lives in total isolation.
  • 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 obvious 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.
  • Apocalyptic Logistics: Prior to the end of the world, the Fallen were largely considered a "church" in only the barest sense, including various settlements of Endbringer-worshippers, violent terrorists, neo-nazis, and miscellaneous Lower Class Louts looking for any excuse to cause mayhem. Post-Gold Morning, the combination of their preparation for the end of days, targeted recruitment of refugees, and the occasional kidnapping turns them into a large-scale Apocalypse Cult Colony. Limited alternative infrastructure leaves isolated individuals desperate for reliable sources of food and shelter, making them willing to join anyone who's capable of providing it, insane zealots or not.
  • Arson, Murder, and Lifesaving: When Breakthrough and the Undersiders (and Damsel) make their foray into the Shardspace against Defiant's explicit orders, they inadvertently throw a wrench into Teacher's plans by attacking his shard. Operating off of instinct, they are able to shut down the source Teacher's powers and free his thousands of Slave Mooks. Regardless, once they are out of Shardspace, they are faced with a livid Defiant. Specifically, the fact that they were messing around with forces capable of ending the human race was an insane enough risk that freeing Teacher's slaves is basically an afterthought. The group doesn't get a pass for their half-cocked plan somehow having a positive result when they weren't even sure that it wouldn't accidentally kill the thralls. The closest thing to a reward they get is just being put on probation and having their tinkertech confiscated, rather than being put in jail.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: Bianca/Goddess is able to successfully take over Earth Shin through using her fairly broken alignment power. Since the ability only works on parahumans, capes made up the majority of her Shin forces, essentially creating a caste system with capes at the top. 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 world of very cape-hostile people behind. Let's just say being a cape in Shin wasn't super fun after that.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: Lisa’s power to make connections from minor information is shown to be the main cause 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.
  • Bad Powers, Good People:
    • Tritium's Flying Brick powers allowed her to become a top-tier cape that can survive almost any conflict. However, she was unaware of the radioactive result of using her abilities, which ends up killing her family, friends, teammates, and rescuees. Short of the Godzilla Threshold, she's just too dangerous to have on the battlefield.
    • Facing the Titans leads to the reveal that Parian's true ability is the manipulation of dead tissue. The invasive nature of her power obviously disgusts her, but sheer necessity requires her to go around asking people to make flesh golems from their loved ones' corpses and Parian ends up both traumatized and estranged from her girlfriend by the experience.
    • 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.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: Mortari, led by Citrine and the Number Man, is intended to function as a replacement organization to Cauldron, applying plans made by Accord to the post-Gold Morning recovery efforts. In fairness, they have tried to turn over a new leaf: notably cutting out that whole "abduction & experimentation" thing and actually working to establish law and order. Nevertheless, to get in the position to enact these changes, they immediately start undermining the democratic process to install Citrine as mayor over the largest city on Gimel. Unfortunately, Cauldron's Fatal Flaws (assuming that having Thinkers to implement your plans means no blind spots; believing that unpowered humans are unworthy of being consulted on your designs; deceitfully implementing your members into positions of power) have definitely been inherited by their successor. Not to mention, once this gets out to the anti-parahuman crowd, it's clear the Muggles have had more than enough of parahuman bids for control.
    Tattletale: New Cauldron, same as the old Cauldron...Doing things that everyone should be unambiguously on board for and making every enemy possible along the way.
  • 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.
  • Break-Up/Make-Up Scenario: Multiple points in Ward suggest that Victoria will not be at peace until she comes to an understanding with her sister. After all, two estranged individuals being repeatedly drawn together by circumstance has to be a recipe for reconciliation, right? Wrong. In fact, being reunited with her abuser almost always results in her mental health backsliding and her hatred for Amy increasing.
    • Unwanted Assistance: In an alleged attempt to help her daughter, Brandish invites Amy to a family gathering, claiming that the statement "I invited everyone" was enough forewarning to justify her actions. Victoria nearly has a panic attack at the thought of seeing Amy and is outraged and horrified that her mother would do something like that while aware of her ongoing trauma. Victoria loses nearly all her trust in her parents and ends up estranged from them for quite some time afterwards.
    • Relationship-Salvaging Disaster: To deal with the threat that Teacher poses, Amy puts Goddess in contact with Team Breakthrough, hoping for the chance to speak with Victoria. This backfires pretty much immediately when Victoria shares that even being around Amy is psychological torture and that Vic will never be comfortable around her again. Additionally, once Goddess double-crosses the team via More than Mind Control, Amy quickly attempts to deprogram Victoria and free her. Unfortunately, she does so by trying to biologically alter Victoria's mind, literally the exact thing that led to the Mind Rape and Body Horror that traumatized her to begin with. Victoria immediately goes ballistic at the thought of Amy mucking around inside her head again and gets within inches of violently splattering her sister. At this point, Amy seems to realize how much Victoria despises her until...
    • Locked in a Room: While imprisoned on Earth Shin, Victoria gets hurt in a prison riot; the event allows Amy to get close enough to knock Victoria out for treatment. Victoria wakes up in a room with an armed guard, where Amy wants to force them to address their issues. Instead, Victoria responds with a scathing "The Reason You Suck" Speech, later acquiescing to a short conversation in exchange for Amy finally getting psychological help. The conversation mostly consists of slightly less scathing Armor Piercing Questions to run down the clock.
      Amy: I want to talk.
      Victoria: I want you to die. I guess neither of us are getting what we want.
  • 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 frequent fuck-ups. 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 consistently receive the benefit of the doubt from Earth Shin, the Wardens, and even 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.
  • Duplicate Divergence: The clones of Ashley Stillons (Damsel of Distress) and Kurt Wynn (Harbinger/the Number Man) experience a fair amount of tension with their respective "siblings" following the onset of heavy Character Development.
    • As Ashley Swan (Swansong) takes a level in kindness during her months spent with Breakthrough, she becomes much less interested in becoming a high-level Card-Carrying Villain than her predecessor. This estranges Swan from her twin Ashley Black (Damsel), who blames Swansong "going soft" on The Power of Friendship. Damsel responds by doubling down on evil, losing the few moral standards she had left, and violently rejecting any attempt at camaraderie out of fear of going the same way.
    • Once Harbinger V actually interacts with some of the Case 53s, Sveta in particular, he begins feeling the faintest inklings of guilt over the human rights abuses the Number Man and Cauldron engaged in. Since the Harbingers take even more pride in being completely indistinguishable from each other than the Damsels, they don't react well to one of their own becoming irrationally emotional. They later attempt to remedy this behavior by murdering Sveta and end up disowning V when he foils them.
  • 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, Palanquin, or the Undersiders), far more are willing to engage in behavior like hurting child heroes, attacking civilians, or ambushing secret identities. 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 the Fallen members who perpetrated the attack makes him The Scapegoat for the rest of the cluster. After a few months 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 memories.
  • Forced Transformation : 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.
  • Guile Hero: Victoria's socially aware and analytical personality is generally a huge help when it comes to identifying and de-escalating conflict, as well as dealing with the various issues of Team Breakthrough. However, it ends up biting her when Teacher attempts to avoid capture by the Wardens through driving wedges between and within the various hero teams. The hackers that the villain has at his disposal are able to fabricate conflict by successfully framing heroes for all manner of messed-up behavior. In Victoria's case, they plant falsified diary entries on her computer and spin her as a Manipulative Bastard that uses her social expertise and the various traumas and quirks of her teammates to gain their trust and exploit them for personal gain. When they follow this up by alerting Dragon, most of her credibility with the Wardens is ruined and Jessica Yamada (who had entrusted Victoria with helping Breakthrough in the first place) ends up ghosting her until she proves her innocence.
  • I Just Want to Be Loved: Growing up friendless and with abusive birth parents, Kenzie's efforts to avoid being abandoned by her loved ones unfortunately do way more harm than good to her familial, platonic, and romantic relationships.
    • Kenzie was separated from her caring foster dads when she unwittingly follows instructions from an online search on 'how to show someone you love them'; whatever act she performed while they were sleeping led child services to conclude sexual abuse. Following Gold Morning, she willingly returns to her birth parents, who Kenzie tries to blackmail into taking better care of her. They attempt to discreetly kill their daughter several times before Victoria uncovers the immensely screwed-up situation.
    • She obsessively monitors her friends so that she can learn what would make them happy. This happened to the degree that Kenzie's former Ward teammates are outright terrified of being around her. While Breakthrough is able to establish solid boundaries, they still worry that her eager-to-please behavior is a magnet for abusers and cultists. She's even created chatbots to function as her friends when she's online.
    • Her crush on Chris allows her to look past not only his general jerkassery towards her, but also his betrayal of Breakthrough (and later the entire human race). While her feelings for Candy are more healthy (and seemingly mutual), Kenzie unfortunately confesses at a time of peak emotional turmoil. When Candy rejects her, in a surprisingly genuine case of It's Not You, It's Me, Kenzie responds by attempting to force a relationship through blackmail.
  • 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.
  • Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain:
    • The original Ashley Stillons shows how embarrassing being pitied for your criminal failings would feel, as well as how combative this type of villain would become to compensate. First, having some of the most extreme control issues of any cape causes Ashley frustration that produces further Power Incontinence, leading to a harsh cycle. Second, her attempts to gain respect among villains during the Boston Games end up alienating most of her peers by virtue of how aggressive they are, leaving her even more insecure. Third, when people like PRT Director Armstrong and heroes Edict and Licit attempt to reach out due to sympathy, she reacts with rage rather than appreciation. Lastly, the alienation she feels at her failed ambitions attracts the Slaughterhouse Nine, who forcibly enlist her as Cannon Fodder.
    • Etna's insistence on remaining a Punch-Clock Villain when her peers start crossing the line makes it a lot harder on Victoria to give her the benefit of the doubt, especially since Etna's garbage-tier control over her powers actually causes her to circle back around to being legitimately dangerous. Most notably when her inability to aim nearly gives her a reputation as someone who Would Hurt a Child, hitting a projection of Kenzie even while trying to miss. As a result, by the time she goes so far as to work for Cradle, all of her goodwill officially runs out. Attempts to bank on the old rules of engagement when lives are at stake end with Breakthrough standing by as she nearly drowns. When she pursues the heroes even beyond that, Victoria briefly takes off the kid gloves and uses a Human Hammer-Throw to send her flying into a hilltop. At which point she finally gets a clue and switches careers.
  • Invincible Hero: Contessa's Path to Victory allows her to instantaneously achieve any goal she sets her mind to, playing a substantial role in preventing mankind's extinction in Worm. However, since Path to Victory feeds her whatever she needs to know, Contessa can only remember making five legitimate choices for herself post-trigger event. In essence, she's been living pretty much on autopilot since childhood and, for all her amazing power, Contessa's shown to be emotionally stunted as a result. For the most part, she even defers to her allies on deciding on what questions to ask her power (out of wariness over people blaming her for the results). Considering that Breakthrough and the Undersiders nearly implode under the pressure when given the chance, one can hardly blame her for not wanting that responsibility on her head.
  • Karma Houdini: There are several examples of this.
    • Worm showed that Taylor's bullies were constantly and blatantly allowed to get away with their shitty behavior by Winslow High School. However, despite the fact that the school only let them off the hook because of their connections, the lack of consequences only emboldened them and gave them a sense of entitlement. So they end up bullying a disabled girl during a photoshoot with Brockton Bay’s heroes... only to be furiously told off by Victoria and ignored by the other heroes who have no reason to let their behavior slide. By the time of Glow-worm Madison is forced to accept how awful her behavior was, and is crushed by the knowledge that she helped turn Taylor into a supervillain.
    • The rebuilding of society is off to a bad start due to the sheer quantity of villains who were freed after the mass pardon. Most significantly, this is because nobody is going to trust a system that lets so many people get away with horrible crimes (especially a system keeping people in the dark on why).
  • 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 twenty-something 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.
    • Imp's "self-imposed obligation" to care for the siblings of her late friend, Regent, similarly shows how taxing this position can be, especially for someone untrained in mental health. Taking custody over a group of kids/teens two to ten years younger than you would be tough enough if the kids weren't superpowered tykebombs. Considering their upbringing, the Heartbroken ended up severely traumatized at best, psychopathic at worst; something which put a serious responsibility on Imp to imbue them with some sense of morality. After Samuel dies she spends the majority of her time unseen and unheard by her charges, in order to observe and psychologically condition them into not becoming menaces to society (with mixed results).
  • Mass Super-Empowering Event: Though cluster members have the benefit of Combo Platter Powers, their shared power source carries glaring downsides, especially for the Mall Cluster (consisting of Rain, Snag, Love Lost, and Cradle). First, the shards of the component members are all connected, allowing personality traits to transfer between members of the same cluster. And second, weakening one member of your cluster will generally allow the other members to become more powerful; at the upper level, one person can harness the full power of multiple different shards, 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.
  • Mr. Vice Guy: Drillbit's struggle with addiction is so very incompatible with his efforts to be a hero. Specifically, his dependence on illicit substances leads him to target dealers to feed his addictions; his frequent intoxication means he has been repeatedly arrested for DUI; and his inability to handle withdrawal while incarcerated drives him to use his powers to escape prison (freeing other criminals in the process). By the time of Ward he reaches the Despair Event Horizon and willingly sends himself to a deserted planet so he can't cause any more inadvertent harm.
  • Multiple-Choice Future: 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 that only ends when Sveta tells Contessa to just predict how they would eventually vote.
  • 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 demand that she 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 to 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 Gold Morning. The fact that the unpowered weren’t consulted before hundreds of superpowered criminals, warlords, and serial killers got off scot-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).
  • Perception Filter: Imp's Stranger ability allows her to become an expert at sabotage, reconnaissance, and the occasional assassination. However, because her power has to be deliberately turned off, she is automatically invisible to almost everyone unless she concentrates. This is unwittingly dangerous since, if she's ever seriously injured or knocked unconscious, she will essentially Unperson herself and be unable to get help until she dies.
  • Playful Hacker: Kenzie regularly shows the kind of unwitting damage these skills can do in the hands of 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.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Paris initially has a successful position as a mercenary in addition to a reputation for assaulting LGBT capes (including the members of Reach) in his free time. When Tristan makes a play to take sole control over the body he shares with his brother, he decides to fake Byron's death in a villain attack. The optimal candidate to take the fall is the guy with a proven grudge against the (50% homosexual) Capricorn. As a result, Paris's violent homophobia gets him put away for murder, and nearly sent to the Birdcage.
  • 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.
  • Reformed Bully: Madison may have confessed to her misdeeds, but Vicky makes it abundantly clear to her that she has to live with what she did to Taylor for the rest of her life, and that her past regrets only make her actions more disgusting.
  • Save the Day, Turn Away: Immediately after defeating Scion, the Gold Morning combatants watched the insane Humanoid Abomination known as Khepri willingly free her People Puppets and leave through a portal, never to be seen again. While the surviving capes are obviously aware of how close they came to extinction, the fact is that Khepri forcibly assimilated almost every parahuman into existence into a Hive Mind before using them as Cannon Fodder against a rampaging Cosmic Entity. While she was able to help save the human race in the end, roughly every person involved has been traumatized by the experience and the knowledge that, for all they know, Khepri is still out there somewhere. This has the effect of leaving the surviving capes in Neverending Terror that she will return, regain control over Doormaker and the Clairvoyant, and turn all remaining parahumans back into her slaves. By the time of Ward, normal humans don't even know what the hell transpired on Gold Morning and Taylor Hebert has pretty much been "unpersoned" purely out of fear that a public focus on her would Awaken the Sleeping Giant.
  • 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). What's worse, Byron is straight and Tristain is gay, and they can each feel what the other experiences, so any sexual activity by either of them would basically be sexual assault on the other. 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.
  • Spirited Competitor: Antares's fight against Lord of Loss exhibits exactly how annoying it would be to face an enemy that treats a deadly battle like a game. Antares spends most of the fight getting steadily more enraged at how casual he is, especially since LoL's actions in delaying the heroes also puts their allies in serious danger. His condescending attempt to congratulate Antares on her eventual victory just earn him a swift punch to the face.
  • 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's eventually revealed that, pre-Gold Morning, the Irregulars had tasked Sveta with getting their leader Weld on board for their revenge plot against Cauldron. When Weld takes exception to their plan at the last second, and Sveta sides with him (having been too conflicted to even mention it to Weld beforehand), 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'd been planning to interrogate/execute anyway, means Sveta becomes even more of a pariah among Case 53s than Weld himself.
  • Super Family Team: The insight that Ward gives into the operations of the former New Wave team leaves a lot to be desired:
    • Lightstar ended up estranged from his family after the death of his girlfriend and his subsequent attempt to retire from being a hero. He essentially self-alienates upon realizing that, for his sisters, private and cape life would always be inextricably intertwined.
      Mike: The team didn’t feel healthy. You all were growing up and then we heard the kids of people with powers could get powers. [Brandish] seemed to accept it as a given that you’d be brought onboard. [Lady Photon] surprised me by agreeing, and I think that was her move… establishing an unsafe bubble, not pursuing civilian life. Powers as a part of everything. Even the damn home recipes.
    • Laserdream triggers after being recognized by a group of criminals, who attack her solely to get Revenge by Proxy against the members of New Wave. Additionally, she only decides to join New Wave out of familial obligation, feeling that signing onto the Wards might harm New Wave's reputation. Finally, she ends up the Sole Survivor of the Pelhams once her parents and brother are violently murdered.
    • Flashbang's past success in a hero couple with Brandish leads him to stay in an extremely toxic and unknowingly adulterous relationship for far too long out of the hope that their romantic partnership can become equally in-sync.
    • Victoria's trigger is revealed to be the result of internalized self-worth issues and work-based Parental Neglect, reinforcing the belief that there would be no way to get support, attention, or acceptance from her parents unless she ended up as a cape. Moreover, once Victoria reenters the hero game at the start of Ward, she has trouble finding a team that won't just use her for her connection with the more in-demand Amy.
  • Superhuman Transfusion: Cluster capes have the ability to permanently siphon off the powers of others in their group, successfully confusing their shards through the combination of a long period of close proximity and a subsequent blood transfusion. Done right, this can allow one person to access all the shards in a cluster, enabling people like Bianca and Cradle to enter All Your Powers Combined territory. However, this option is obviously only available to those with compatible blood types; without that, capes have to get creative when collecting the requisite DNA. Some who are a little shorter on sanity opt for the fun cannibalism route and/or chopping their clustermates into little pieces and bathing in their blood. Of course.
  • Time Stands Still: Secondhand's time-dilation ability allows him to move faster than the eye can follow. However, the lack of accompanying durability means he has to wear a tinkertech suit for protection. Without it, the combination of stress from walking through air with the viscosity of water, lack of access to external oxygen, and increased friction leads to major long-term damage. Unlike most capes, he's rarely willing to use his ability outside missions: having to use it too often would eventually kill him.
  • 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. Citrine (a former villain) is able to become mayor in secret while assisted by her husband the Number Man (one of the world's greatest Thinkers). Even Victoria openly says that parahumans should be less concerned with the demands of the unpowered if it impacts efficiency. 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 power allows her to empower blades, and whatever she cuts with them explodes along the cut after a few seconds delay. This, along with her superpowered precision and timing allows her to be both lethal and showy, cutting someone and then slowly walking away while they explode behind her. This makes her incredibly intimidating and does great things for her villainous reputation. However, eventually her arrogance in failing to make sure her opponents are really no longer a threat leads to her undoing: Vista twice uses her ability to warp space to greatly shorten March's blade, turning what would have been a deep cut or impalement into a scrape. What would have been a devastating explosion merely scratches the surface. March never noticed because, from the perspective of the wielder, it's hard to tell how long a blade that's pointed away from you is, and then after the cut she never observes the results. Vista takes advantage of this once to fake her own death, and then again to allow Foil to block March's blade with her palm. Foil promptly runs March through with her rapier while her back is turned.
  • Villain Team-Up: The Hollow Point villains show how a villain collective can backfire without an established chain of command. Though there is an initial benefit in multiple B and C-list villains combining their power, Prancer's unwillingness to accept the danger that official leadership would bring leads the group to become something of a Morality Kitchen Sink. Specifically, several of the more violent members engage in the type of line-crossing behavior that attracts heroes like flies to honey. And when Beast of Burden tries to take on a more iron-fisted role in the group, there's more than a bit of backlash.
    • Ironically enough, the deconstruction of this trope highlights the reconstruction of the opposite trope: Victoria works to ally the various independent superheroes and small groups into a big hero alliance and despite numerous setbacks they're able to accomplish much more than the villains. It turns out that an organization built on trust, mutual support, and giving others the benefit of the doubt, working towards a common goal instead of the pursuit of personal power, is that much more resilient when things go wrong (sometimes disastrously so) and much less likely to descend into factionalism when stressed. Moreover, the Wardens' willingness to emphasize open communication with their allies helps avoid the major failings of their predecessors in Cauldron and the Protectorate.
  • 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 immediately 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.

Alternative Title(s): Ward