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Designated Hero / Comic Books

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  • Iron Man during the Civil War, with Captain America as the Designated Villain, Depending on the Writer. In some issues from that arc, the exact opposite effect occurred: Iron Man appeared to be the Designated Villain (to many, he seemed like a reasonable guy defending normal humans against powerful forces while trying to avert a backlash against superheroes, yet some writers expected us to root against him) and Cap seemed like the Designated Hero (refusing to take seriously Iron Man and Reed Richards' arguments that humans were in danger due to the mega-powerful supers running loose and unaccountable, yet some writers expected us to find Cap to be completely reasonable). The fact that the writers themselves seemed to be fighting over which side was right just added to the confusion; some sources claim that there wasn't actually a single, mutually-agreed version of the letter of the Super Registration Act, which surely cannot have helped.
    • Perhaps the Aesop was that neither extreme was truly moral. If that's what they were going for, designated heroes were the way to go. Captain America was the Designated Hero more often than not with Iron Man as the Designated Villain. Mainly because the politics associated with Cap's side tended to resonate better with most of the writers. But all in all, it was a case of a complicated issue being "simplified" by having a good guy and a bad guy. Iron Man and his pro-Registration side all took a big hit in the credibility department when they started tossing anti-Registration heroes into a parallel universe prison without trials.
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    • Another example of Iron Man being the Designated Hero was World War Hulk. To the point where many readers were cheering the Hulk on. (This was, in fact, already happening when Civil War was still going on, with "You're all fucked when the Hulk gets back!" being a common response to Marvel's ad campaign trying to get fans to choose a side in the war.)
    • According to Word of God, the official stance is that Iron Man and the Pro-Registration side was meant to be the one in the right; and they thought it was "so obvious" (despite "Registration" in Marvel comics historically relating to "Mutant Death Camps", and despite Captain America traditionally being the moral compass of the Marvel universe) that they threw in a few Kick the Dog moments to make it seem more ambiguous. If so, they went seriously overboard, since the Pro-Reg does things like try to arrest Cap by force for breaking the Act before the Act was even passed, creating a clone of Thor that went Ax-Crazy and killed an Anti-Reg C-list hero (Bill Foster/Goliath), hiring supervillains to capture their opponents (and giving the Ax-Crazy mass-murderer Norman Osborn a major position in SHIELD), throwing captured heroes into a prison without trial in the NEGATIVE ZONE (an otherworldly post-apocalyptic dimension populated entirely with dangerous aliens and monsters) and trying to start a war with another nation (Atlantis). The worst the Anti-Reg side did was hire The Punisher (then fire him immediately), fight Pro-Reg forces, and be on the receiving end of Straw Man Political journalism. The majority of readers sided with Cap and supporters of both sides thought Iron Man was a dick in this story and believed he was meant to be the bad guy.
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    • And then he and Reed Richards (two of the heads of the Pro-Registration faction) use science to make everyone forget Spider-Man's secret identity so he can continue being a vigilante without having to deal with accountability in One Moment in Time. Which pretty much goes against what they fought the entire Civil War and committed all their crimes against humanity to put a stop to. So you can add horrific levels of hypocrisy to the list of what makes them designated heroes.
  • There was a lot of this in Avengers vs. X-Men as well. Depending on the Writer, Captain America and the Avengers are a bunch of fascists jerks to the plucky underdog X-Men, or Cyclops and his X-Men are a bunch of religious fanatics and dictators waiting to happen.
    • The aftermath is just as confusing with regards to this trope. Cyclops is definitely framed as being in the wrong (it was him who killed Professor Xavier, after all), but the validity of this is pretty questionable considering why he killed Xavier and that he was spurred on by the Avengers, but other issues have members of the Avengers calling out Tony Stark over his role in the crisis. The fact that the Avengers were the ones to man up and offer the olive branch to the X-Men just confuses the roles even more.
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    • Throughout the series and aftermath, the only one who seems to be constantly a Designated Hero is Wolverine, who essentially causes the conflict by telling Captain America what essentially amounted to biased accounts on Cyclops' character and the Phoenix as a whole, repeatedly attempts to kill Hope because 'it's the only way' to stop the Phoenix (which would have fucked everything up had he been successful), and afterwards doesn't even try to help the newly appearing, and vulnerable, mutants. He does however, find the time to harass Cyclops at every opportunity when he tries to do so.
  • Superman came off as this in his earliest stories, as he had yet to become the iconic beacon of hope he is today. One story showed him angry that a friend of his died to a car accident and hijack a radio stadio to declare war on all reckless drivers. Hundreds of dollars in property damage later, Superman has succeeded in his goal, as driving laws are now rigidly enforced by the mayor (after Supes kidnapped him and took him to a morgue so he could guilt him with all the victims of driving accidents, natch), and the story ends with Superman getting a ticket for parking in the wrong place. This leaves the reader wondering if it's just a kooky Ironic Twist Ending typical of comics of the time, or if Superman is receiving Laser-Guided Karma for his vigilantism. Hijacking a radio station to declare war on blank sounds straight out of a Saturday Morning Cartoon villain's playbook. He sometimes slips back into this in modern comics, particularly some moments in Superman: Grounded where he refuses to do hero things just to make some kind of vaguely-defined point about non-interference, but it never gets as bad as that aforementioned story, at least in canon comics.
  • Sam & Max: Freelance Police:
    • Sam and Max are ostensibly peacekeepers, but in practice they're peacekeepers who are only happy if there's no peace to keep, and the latter of the duo is a sociopathic maniac who's more of a mobile and highly unstable weapon than a detective. In Max's words, they save the world. Sometimes on purpose!
    • One of Steve Purcell's rules for writers in other Sam and Max media is that while Sam and Max are sociopaths, they're still HEROIC Sociopaths. Heroic sociopaths with a wing in Hell dedicated to them. That are allowed into Heaven. Make of that what you will.
  • Nemesis the Warlock is supposed to be seen as an hero of the alien resistance, but is really a manipulative, murderous jerk and nobody would root for him, was he fighting somebody less evil than Torquemada. Later the series decides to turn him into one in-universe, revealing some unpleasant things about him: most notably, that his motivation is simple boredom and he could have solved the conflict long time ago, but is holding back, therefore prolonging a monstrous war, that took a great toll on both sides and caused the genocide of countless alien species as well as the deaths of his wife and son, for thrills. That however makes him lose the status of a hero among both his allies and the readers.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Gladstone Gander in Don Rosa's "The Sign of the Triple Distelfink". Considering the immense lucky streaks he gets every other day of the year and his unrelenting smugness about that fact, it's hard to feel sorry for him if his Born Lucky status is inverted on a single one. And he accomplishes his goal of getting rid of even that blot on his entitlement to fortune, while beating Donald out of attaining any luck for himself, who is usually portrayed as barely being able to get by or financially support his nephews (take for example the ending to Super Snooper Strikes Again).
  • A common problem with the '90s Anti-Hero trope is that they might end up this when badly handled. Countless comics had the hero smashing into a doom fortress and butchering dozens of mooks, without explaining why he's there, who the mooks are, or what he actually wants - about the only way to tell is to check if he's on the cover.
  • Spider-Man in the infamous One More Day is supposed to be suffering from the upcoming death of his Aunt May, instead he's a selfish manchild who scoffs at a man showing him sympathy for saying "I know how you feel", accepts a literal Deal with the Devil by giving up his marriage and talks his wife into doing it. So, with great power comes... no responsibility? Peter's deal was a better option than taking responsibility for his actions and growing up?
    • Things become more complicated and worse when it is revealed Mary Jane egged him on and her reasons why.
  • In Gold Key Comics Star Trek story The Planet of no Return, aka K-G, Planet of Death, Kirk and co. discover a planet with a plant civilization, in an otherwise uninhabited galaxy. Unsurprisingly, the plants view the landing party as prey. To prevent this civilization, which was just sitting there minding its own business, spreading to neighboring uninhabited planets, Spock performs an act of planet-wide genocide. We even get to see the Enterprise phasering sentient trees who burn as they run for their lives across a devastated landscape.
  • Fables gives us Jack (of beanstalk and giant-killing fame, but also every Jack in every fairy tale or nursery rhyme,) who tries to be a Lovable Rogue, but often comes across as having all the conscience of The Sociopath, just one who finds it easier and safer to con people rather than use violence. The discovery in his spin-off Jack of All Tales that he is half-Fable (ie a character in a story) and half-Literal (an Anthropomorphic Personification of a trope, like Dex the Deus ex Machina or the Pathetic Fallacy, the Anthropomorphic Personification of Anthropomorphic Personifications) leads to the conclusion that he is the incarnation of the Designated Hero.
  • Batman, if not handled properly, can fall into this category.
    • This is especially apparent in some of Frank Miller's later work. For example, in All-Star Batman & Robin, the Boy Wonder, he outright kidnaps Robin, roughs up Alfred for daring to give the kid some food rather than forcing him to eat rats, gloats about his intellectual superiority to Superman, in general demonstrates little compunction for killing or abusing other heroes, and does barely any actual crimefighting.
    • New 52/DC Rebirth Batman. From his extremely abusive treatment of both Jason Todd and Dick Grayson (including beating the crap out of both boys, the former to near death), to neglecting Damian, to smacking Tim, this Bruce has become so abusive of his family that very few fans feel like rooting for him, with several even going on to outright disown him as Batman. The fact that the writers still insist on treating him like a hero and having said family forgive him for his actions with little to no seccessions on his part is not helping matters.
  • The Fixer from Holy Terror (who, interestingly enough, was written by Frank Miller and was a Captain Ersatz of Batman). Natalie Stack is at least a criminal already, but The Fixer is meant to be the hero of Empire City. Said hero yells at his allies and belittles them, uses guns on the terrorists, cripples one and threatens to gouge his eyes and blows them up despite saying he despises their lack of respect for life, makes constant racists remarks about them and doesn't suggest any other method of stopping someone save for killing, including a corrupt police commissioner. And before the comic ends, he reveals he only fights crime to stay in shape and practice on criminals to get ready in case of a terrorist invasion, meaning his only interest has been to kill Muslim terrorists.
  • The Authority came to be this in later issues, being treated as heroes despite doing horribly amoral things (Midnighter paving through a bunch of civilians to take out a villain or stopping an invasion from a parallel Earth by destroying a whole country, even though it is clear that the invaders are completely outmatched anyways). Under the pen of series creator Warren Ellis this was deliberate as his vision of the Authority was that they were supervillains being used to take down worse supervillains. However when Mark Millar took over they were turned into his political mouthpieces and thus were always presented as being in the right, even when they committed terrible atrocities in the name of peace.
  • The majority of the supporting characters in Justice League: Rise of Arsenal besides Roy Harper come off as this:
    • Black Canary and Dick Grayson are supposed to be seen as trying to help Roy when his grief over losing an arm and losing his daughter Lian cause him to spiral back into drug addiction while also becoming a violent anti-hero. The problem is just that they do more damage than they fix. Black Canary spends most of the arc looking like she's made of ice, and ultimately decides to wash her hands of Roy, considering him a lost cause. Dick abandons Roy in a center for villains with substance abuse problems, and does nothing to argue with Canary over her condemnation of Roy. As a matter of fact, Canary's behavior is called out in Birds of Prey when she's subjugated to Mind Rape by a villain forcing her to relive her past mistakes. An illusion of Roy specifically asks how she could let him become "this thing" he is now.
    • Donna Troy, Wally West, Cyborg, and Doctor Mid-Nite are equally unhelpful. Donna and Wally do nothing to help Roy, Doctor Mid-Nite is completely ignorant of how badly hurt Roy really is when he begins stealing pain medication and Mid-Nite never catches on, and Cyborg gives Roy a shoddy prosthetic arm that causes even more pain while making inappropriate jokes about the situation.
    • Roy himself didn't endear himself to the readers either. It seems he is supposed to be a Jerkass Woobie as he tries to come to terms with the death of his daughter Lian, the loss of his arm and a renewed addiction to drugs, but he's such a plain old Jerkass that the Woobie part is almost cancelled out. To their credit, all the above people do try to reach out to him and console him, but he throws their sympathy back into their faces along with some incredibly cruel, mean-spirited jabs while whining that none of them understand his pain, even if they clearly do or at least want to (his comments on the deaths of Donna's husband and son are in especially poor taste). Linkara has pointed out his behaviour, even when taken in context, still makes him Unintentionally Unsympathetic.
      • Just about the one thing that does gain Roy some real sympathy points back is when, after being sequestered in St. Virgil's and forced to sweat out his addiction by himself, he admits to himself the others were right that he was going way over the edge and was going to try and endure the night. Unfortunately, by then he starts hallucinating a ghastly vision of Lian's corpse telling him he's horrible and he has to kill the Electrocutioner. On the flip side, while his friends tried what they thought was helping him, none of them ever realized how badly their attempts backfired, and what keeps them in this trope alongside Roy is none of them own up to how badly they failed. Later on, Dick Grayson still thinks he did everything to help Roy instead of admitting he left his friend to rot. Really, the whole book is such a badly written cluster fuck of forced drama it's no wonder all the characters fell into this trope.
    • The only character in this series who retains any genuine sense of sympathy from readers is Lian Harper, because of how horribly she was killed off and the fact that she was killed off to make this story happen. Her status as The Woobie is only intensified when Roy uses her death as justification to go back to using drugs and to kill people, and later on when Cheshire uses her death to guilt trip Roy. That the only sympathetic character is one who's been dead for the entire story speaks volumes of how awful everyone else is.
  • King Aspen and his deer (except Bramble) from My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (IDW), despite being presented as victims losing their home to an evil construction company, came off as much more heartless and villainous than Well-To-Do. While Well-To-Do unrepentantly destroyed a chunk of the forest, King Aspen caused much more damage by sending vines and animals from the forest to invade pretty much all of Equestria and endangered countless innocents who had absolutely nothing to do with it out of mere petty vengeance. Not only did these actions actually prolong the problem (Celestia and Luna would have happily helped if they weren't busy defending Canterlot from the vines), but the deer are completely unapologetic about it and not even so much as told off for it (Can't Argue With Deer, after all) . The comic even ends with Princess Celestia apologizing to them for some reason. To say this all hit a sore spot with the fanbase is one heck of an understatement; the fanbase's description of the deer tends to fall somewhere between sociopathic smug elves and eco-terrorists.
  • Due to extreme Values Dissonance, basically every "good" character in Chick Tracts up to and including God. The measure of what constitutes morality in the Chick Tracts universe is based solely on devotion to Chick's own brand of extreme cultish fundamentalist evangelism, which the vast majority of Christians, let alone people in general, simply do not share. Characters can be the most selfish, cruel and just plain awful human beings to ever exist, but a deathbed conversion or lip service to the author's professed religious beliefs will have them ascend to heaven, while people who spent their entire life trying to stop misery around the world will go to hell for the crime of not bothering to convert anyone.
    • God himself comes across as a cruel, petty and nasty egomaniac who doesn't care about mankind and hungers only for adoration.
  • Kingdom Come intentionally invokes the trope as part of its satire of Nineties Anti Heroes, which were popular around the time it was written. The story displays an alternate universe where the anti-heroes have evolved into full-on designated heroes after Superman retires; they quickly kill all the villains, and then, bored, turn on each other. The end result is that we open In Medias Res of a world where the costumed neo-fascists, Bomb-Throwing Anarchists, Torture Technicians, and Right Wing Militia Fanatics gun each other down in the streets for nothing more than amusement, all the while still having the gall to call themselves "heroes."
  • The New 52:
    • This iteration of Wonder Woman lectures people in danger for being weak instead of saving them (at first), and casually kills villains and is proud of it. Wonder Woman (Rebirth) would later turn most of this run into magically implanted and altered memories rather than things which actually occurred.
    • From Teen Titans:
      • Cassie Sandsmark in this reality is a thief who steals artefacts from museums and dig sites that her mother works at purely for fun. This is never presented as bad and just a fun thing. No, she doesn't donate them or the money she gets from them or anything, it is literally just for fun.
      • Bart Allen, real name Bar Torr, is... weird. He started a space revolution against an oppressive government but immediately regretted all of it the instant it got his sister killed, because that apparently nullifies the oppression and all, because someone he loved was killed during it, even though people were obviously dying during the violent revolution. He becomes an informant against the revolution he started and gets put into witness protection and has his memory altered (for some reason), and it's painted like some kind of redemption thing for him... then it's not, because somehow he faked all of it and it was all to get the space politicians in one place for his trial so he could murder them all, and he's clearly painted as a villain for this — meaning the previous characterisation probably was meant to be the "heroic" version — and then... it doesn't work, his sister tells him their parents sucked for not listening to the space government, and he's painted as a tragic character now. There is a good reason some readers thought he was meant to be a new version of Inertia, the villainous version of Bart Allen (a flashback has him in an Inertia-looking outfit too).
      • Solstice was a generally heroic character... until she murdered a judge. She does this so she can be incarcerated with her lover Bar Torr, but it's played as a sad ending for her and the characters sympathise and say it's wrong she's incarcerated. As opposed to, say, exactly what she deserves for, again, murdering a judge.
      • That same story has Tim Drake also come off this way, because Tim is completely on board with the space government capturing Bar Torr for his crimes. However, once they decide to imprison him for life after the whole attempted murder of political enemies thing, Tim decides "fuck that, we must free Bar!" Apparently justice is only worth upholding if you think your friend won't be punished for what he did.
      • Bunker got this big time in Will Pfeifer's run. He saves a bunch of people from an incident, and one of the guys says that, of all the heroes, they're saved by the two that look like... we'll never know what he was going to say, because Bunker slams the dude into a brick wall assuming he'd say something homophobic (Bunker himself is also gay), when the guy hadn't even gotten the first letter of what he was going to say out. We were obviously supposed to side with Bunker as he dressed down this guy afterwards, but people ended up siding with the guy since he was being brutalised for being ungrateful. Yeah, not exactly heroic behaviour right there.
  • Civil War II gives us Captain Marvel, following in the footsteps of Iron Man in the first Civil War and who went a little crazy with her methods while using a Inhuman precog to combat crimes. She went around trying to arrest her allies and others for things that haven't happened yet, and ignored people when they tried to tell her that the precog wasn't really seeing the future, at least not with 100% accurately. Having indirectly caused the deaths of War Machine and Bruce Banner, she grew more stubborn in her beliefs and went on to imprison an innocent woman, tried to arrest Miles for a crime he may not commit, and put Iron Man in coma when he opposed her. While some fans still love the character, others are unsure that she should be the female face of Marvel.
  • Inhumans vs. X-Men has the Inhumans, who are trying to stop the X-Men from essentially saving their people from being gassed by their Terrigen Mists, all so they can continue using those self-same mists to forcibly convert people with Inhuman ancestry into new Inhumans. Needless to say, having people die for their own benefit isn't heroic. And it only gets worse when supplemented by Death of X and the tie-in volumes of Deadpool and the Mercs For Money, both of which prove that to the Inhumans, the Terrigen Clouds are so sacred that they outweigh mutant lives in their eyes. It gets so bad that, when Kamala Khan and other Nuhumans get involved and they find out what's going on, all she can sputter out is "You guys, who are the good guys?"
    • In the Death of X, it's revealed that Black Bolt executed Cyclops for the hideous crime of... altering a Terrigen Cloud to still function as it should whilst no longer being lethal to mutants. Although Inhumans vs. X-Men tried to retcon that this caused the Cloud to destabilize and fall apart, that wasn't presented as being the case in Death of X, and it still presents Black Bolt in a terrible light, since he still executed someone.
    • In Deadpool and the Mercs for Money, meanwhile, the characters visit an Alternate Universe where the X-Men had one of their Reality Warpers successfully transmute the Terrigen Clouds to be harmless to mutants and still function to power-up Inhumans. The result? The war between the two races got worse, as the Inhumans were outraged that the Terrigen Mists were no longer 100% the same chemical makeup as they had always been.
    • This is even more obvious when one looks at the prior history of the Inhumans, which made it clear that they were largely Anti Heroes at best; the noble class of an intensely stratified and isolated monarchy with all the problems that comes with it, including archaic rituals, intense xenophobia, imperialistic ventures, and even slave labor at points. Trying to switch them to being straightforward protagonists was really never going to work.
  • The titular heroine of The Pro, who was a surly prostitute given superpowers and was apathetic at best toward using her powers for the greater good. She's very abusive towards her infant son, she's quicker to resort to brutal methods when fighting criminals, she gets even with one of her short-changing clients by having a line of prostitutes shove extremely painful objects up his ass and later rips off his jaw for attempting to shoot her son, and she shows zero respect for the League of Honor's standards for decency. The League of Honor, in contrast, are meant to be seen as inferior to the protagonist for holding back when lives could be at stake and chewing her out whenever she goes too far in her treatment of the villains. All this and the comic's writer Garth Ennis, notorious for his bias against superheroes, apparently thinks the Pro is still better than conventional superheroes.
  • In their latest incarnation, the Runaways seem to be hitting this trope, as their efforts to reunite the team wreak havoc on the lives of the individual members, with Victor being resurrected against his will, Karolina getting dumped by her girlfriend, and Molly becoming estranged from her grandmother (who is, to be fair, a Mad Scientist, but was still genuinely devoted to providing a good home for her granddaughter.) This is perhaps most pronounced in issue #11, where the Runaways barge in on Klara, who's been Happily Adopted, and try to pressure her into returning, even going so far as to baselessly accuse her adoptive dads of being supervillains.
  • Katie from Seconds is this in spades, as she cheats on Max with Andrew repeatedly, and yet she still ends up with Max at the end. And she even ends up with him after he catches her smooching on Andrew.
  • Johnny Turbo: The titular hero regularly assaults and shoots the FEKA goons for simply selling their products.
  • Stardust the Super Wizard was essentially Disproportionate Retribution made flesh, an absolutely invincible, omnipotent being raining terrible and disturbingly creative punishment on everyday petty criminals. He’s now in the public domain and frequently treated as an Anti-Hero or outright Villain Protagonist by later writers.
  • Heroes in Crisis does this with Harley Quinn. She breaks into Sanctuary, the superhero therapy centre, to hang out with Poison Ivy when Ivy was there for therapy. Everyone there except Harley and Booster Gold is murdered, and each thinks the other is the murderer. Booster wants to find out what really happened, while Harley... wants to murder Booster Gold. Batgirl tries to keep her in check and help her find the real murderer, but Harley still constantly brings up wanting to murder him and does actually attempt it. She is never presented as a villain throughout the story, just as a misunderstood hero out to avenge someone she cares about.
  • Some readers feel the X-Men as a whole have hit this point during Jonathan Hickman's X-Men. To wit, after years of being the punching bag of... everyone, mutants have founded their own country known as Krakoa. This country quickly becomes a destabilising presence in the world, as its miracle drugs (which have effects including curing incurable diseases and extending lifespans) have a huge impact on global politics and the economy, but are only given to those who ally with Krakoa, which means recognising it as a country and allowing mutants to leave to join it no matter their previous crimes — Krakoa bills itself as a "fresh start", so no crime prior to a mutant joining "counts", meaning mass murderers like Sabretooth and Apocalypse are given free passes. Anyone who attempts to arrest or detain a mutant who is aligned with Krakoa — even heroes like the Fantastic Four — are rebuked and basically told "this is a mutant problem, fuck off" and the mutants will deal with the criminal themselves, without revealing the world how they dealt with it, which does not build trust at all. They also do not allow any humans to visit without supervision. Finally, what laws they do have that seem good, such as the rule against killing any human, have been broken a lot, to the point that most of the high-ranking X-Men know it's just for show and won't be followed when push comes to shove. The books do paint the X-Men as somewhat morally grey now, but for some readers, it's not often enough given the things they're doing.
  • The title character of Hothead Paisan: Homicidal Lesbian Terrorist occasionally edges into this trope, most notably in an early story where she decides to take action against women getting raped and men trying to rationalize that women like it by shoving a telephone pole up a random man's ass. The problem with the story is that there is absolutely no indication that the man Hothead attacked was a rapist or a rape apologist, so, aside from the fact that it is never okay to rape someone, Hothead's actions can easily give the impression that she just sexually assaulted an innocent person unprovoked.


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