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He Who Fights Monsters / Comic Books

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  • Batman's greatest fear is that he will become this, if he hasn't already. In fact, this is the way many other heroes see him, and they are not entirely wrong (depending on who's writing him).
    • It's also why Batman so strictly adheres to Thou Shalt Not Kill: having that as a line that he never crosses is a barrier to slipping over the edge and becoming as much of a monster as the psychos he fights. Out of all his enemies, the Joker manages to be the one who makes him come very, very close to breaking his one rule...and that's because the Joker goes out of his way to make him break it.
      • Batman has had to be restrained more than once from killing the Joker in a few stories, like the Hush storyline when he thought the clown had murdered a childhood friend of his. In Under the Hood, Batman freely admits to the Red Hood that he actually fantasizes about killing the Joker every day, but won't do so because he believes if he starts killing, he won't be able to stop.
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    • Mr Freeze perfectly represents this fear and this trope in the animated series with the gusto he goes after those responsible for what happened to his wife, Nora. Freeze wants vengeance at any and all costs, not caring one bit about collateral damage.
      • The cycle continued in Gotham Girls- Nora's sister Dora Smithy became obsessed with vengeance against Freeze for what he did to Nora, and in the process became more or less his female double a fact cemented by Dora's own Karmic Transformation into an icy mutate with no emotion left but her love for Nora, packed away in a cell in Arkham just like her hated brother-in-law.
    • Played for laughs in at least one comic where Batman is goaded by a serial killer he's just apprehended, who accuses him of being only a mere hop, skip and jump away from this trope. He also gloats that Batman must obviously feel the same bloodlust he does and it's only a matter of time before he snaps and gives into it. Batman calmly points out that if this is true, then his first victim is likely to be any serial killer who might happen to be standing next to him and calling him a bloodthirsty psychopath. The serial killer decides it might be a good time to shut up.
  • The Punisher:
    • Frank is often presented this way whenever he makes a guest appearance in more idealistic books like Spider-Man or Daredevil. However, in his own books, he's portrayed as a profoundly messed up individual, more tortured machine than man. (Although, the Punisher told Spidey to his face once that Spider-Man could have wound up the same and still could, especially if he didn't have super-powers; Spidey didn't get the point, as clear as it was.)
    • In MCU's Daredevil Netflix series, Frank says that the titular hero is one bad day away from being him during one of their meetings. Which with stories like Shadowland and the events of the second season show, it's a very real possibility for Matt to drive off that edge.
    • It's common for criminals to rant that he and they are Not So Different, that Frank is evil, that killing them won't bring his family back, that he'll never be able to stop crime, etc. This gets at best an "I know" reaction before he kills them.
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    • Several comics have Daredevil try to stop Frank once and for all.
      • One arc ended with Frank giving himself up while Murdock was in Ryker's, to break him out and prevent him from going down the same path as Frank by killing the Kingpin.
      • Another saw Frank knock out Daredevil and chain him up, leaving Daredevil with the Sadistic Choice of shooting Frank before he sniped a mobster. Daredevil ends up pulling the trigger, but the gun wasn't loaded. As Frank puts it to every hero out to stop him, either they kill him or he goes on killing.
    • The Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe had Frank Castle dedicate his vengeance to indiscriminately murdering every superhuman on Earth after his family is accidentally killed by the X-Men and the Avengers and he is hired to kill all superhumans by an organization composed of injured and bereaved civilians blinded by their desires for vengeance against the heroes that inadvertently did them wrong, using the excuse that all superhumans are potentially dangerous to humanity regardless of their intentions. After Frank kills, well, the Marvel Universe, he goes for the last remaining one: Daredevil. When he discovers that his true identity is his friend Matt Murdock, the vigilante realizes that he's become the same threat he accused all the heroes he murdered of being and promptly commits suicide.
    • The Punisher MAX: When confronted with detective Budianski, who's undergone a severe Trauma Conga Line (perceived as a Cowboy Cop for killing a teenaged school shooter, removed from a case he was about to solve, wife in critical condition after being shot in connection to the case), Frank manages to stop him with a single question:
    Do you want to be me?
  • The Vigilante, Adrian Chase, slew himself for this very reason.
  • The Lone Wolf, in Mike Barry's novels, ended up going so out of control that his own sidekick took him out. Mike Barry, actually Barry Malzberg, felt pleased to bring the series to this conclusion.
    • And yet, he still worries. After 'The Slaver' storyline, he is troubled by the graphic extremes he went to rescue innocents and dispose of the bad guys. He just finished shooting some people in the forehead...
  • Monstress's Maika is constantly on the edge of this.
  • In X-Men comics and especially the original movie trilogy, Magneto - a survivor of The Holocaust - is so determined to ensure that what happened to him never happens to his fellow mutants that he becomes increasingly xenophobic and genocidal towards unpowered humans, quite happy to wipe them out in order to ensure mutantkind's supremacy. Magneto ultimately winds up little better than those who prompted him to begin his fight.
    • A fact that former Nazi Red Skull pointed out. It should be worth noting, though, that the Skull was sincerely trying to praise Magneto. He somehow didn't know that Magneto was a Holocaust survivor.
    • Storm once warned Black Panther that he might turn out like Magneto, as like T'Challa, Magneto started off as a good man who only wanted to protect his people. She claimed that if T'Challa didn't ease up with his ruthless methods, he might one day become just as evil as the villains he faces.
    • In Ultimate Marvel, Charles highlights this listing several dictators, leading to Erik snapping Xavier's neck in anger. Magneto later realizes Xavier was right, especially after he finds out that Mutants in their universe were made by the government in an attempt to recreate/improve the Super Soldier concept and process that Captain America was made from.
    • From the flip side of the human/mutant coin is Graydon Creed, a baseline human with the bad luck to be born the son of one of the worst mutants in history. This, combined with being raised by a Super Supremacist mother who had no use at all for her son once she realized he was not a mutant, turned Creed into a Tragic Bigot as an adult. Created to be a Foil to Senator Robert Kelly, Creed shared Kelly's Beware the Superman motivation but took it to much greater lengths than Kelly ever did, allying himself with the Robotic Psychopath Bastion and plotting a campaign of mutant genocide upon his ascension to President Evil. Though he and Magneto never met, they were more similar than either man would have ever admitted.
  • Rorschach from Watchmen describes this in great detail, recounting how he became a dark and gritty Anti-Hero first (though he had a violent childhood) by brutally taking out his anger and disgust on a kidnapper who had raped, butchered and fed a little girl to his dogs by setting him and the entire building on fire with kerosene and watching from afar for over an hour. It even affects Rorschach's psychologist. The chapter in which we learn this is even called "The Abyss Gazes Also" and ends with the Nietzsche quote above.
    • Indeed, this trope also features in the Tales of the Black Freighter sub-comic: a lone, marooned sailor, convinced the titular ship will raze his village in his absence, returns to defend his loved ones on a raft of his mates' bloated corpses. He begins his bloody crusade against the raiders — except the raiders hadn't arrived yet. He ends up attacking his wife and, horrified at what he's done, throws himself into the ocean, where the freighter collects his condemned soul.
    • Ozymandias could count toward this as well, seeing as his solution to keep Russia and America from wiping each other out with nuclear strikes was to kill three million people before the missiles could be launched. Veidt strongly hints in his last conversation with Jon Osterman (Dr. Manhattan) that he has nightmares of being taken into a ghost ship to be surrounded by murderers, in exactly the same manner as the ending to The Black Freighter.
  • General "Thunderbolt" Ross from Incredible Hulk. This is made especially clear in Hulk: Gray, where many parallels between Ross and the Hulk are drawn and Ross grows more and more fanatical in his pursuit of the Hulk as time goes on. Eventually, in his pursuit to defeat him, he became what he hunted: a Hulk. He even lampshades it.
  • Blade pretty much constantly struggles with this. In fact, the storyline Midnight Massacre in Midnight Sons, where Blade's hatred of the occult led him to accept the power of a spirit in exchange for the ability to exterminate all supernatural life made him rethink just how he goes about his mission.
  • Spider-Man villain Supercharger was the son of a scientist who was obsessed with mapping the biology of superheroes and was given electric powers in the very accident that killed his father. So, the guy was embittered against superheroes and felt that they were ultimately more trouble than they were worth. Somewhat understandable. So he demonstrates that people with superpowers are dangerous by going completely crazy with his powers so people will see how dangerous he is.
  • The Jedi Covenant from the Knights of the Old Republic comics becomes so determined to stop the Sith from re-emerging that they're willing to kill their own apprentices. Ironically, the Covenant turns out to be puppeted by a Sith Acolyte who makes up for his lack of power by being a borderline Magnificent Bastard. When the leader of the Covenant finds out about this, he does a Villainous Breakdown, Villainous BSoD, and Heel–Face Turn, in that order.
  • ElfQuest has the Go-Backs as an example of a whole culture falling prey to this. All they wanted was to follow the call of the souls of their ancestors to the Palace of the High Ones, but the Frozen Mountain Trolls fought a war to keep them away from it. The Go-Backs didn't only grow into ruthless warriors, but also took up a habit of their enemies that disgusted even other trolls: eating the bodies of the enemies they killed in battle.
  • The Red Lanterns, especially Laira, who was the first Green Lantern to use the newly-written premise to kill for revenge, which was why she was expelled from the Green Lantern Corps. Feeling betrayed, she became a perfect host for a Red Lantern Ring, which then turned her into as dangerous and murderous a psychopath as many of the Sinestro Corps members that she hated so much.
    • Sinestro is this even more. To bring order to his planet, he established a totalitarian regime, becoming the symbol of tyranny in a star system. Once Hal Jordan took him down, he decided that Guardians were not up to the job of bringing order and defeating crime in the Universe and swore to destroy the Green Lantern Corps and replace it with his own order. He has no problems teaming up with several DC Universe villains and, in the end, created his own corps, openly acknowledging that most of its members are of the same kind as those he once fought. When his daughter, Soranik Natu, had to become ruler of their native planet, Sinestro was more than interested if she was gonna follow the same path as him.
    • The Guardians of the Universe tried so hard to ensure the Green Lantern Corps' victory in the war with the other Corps that they established several oppressive rules, allowing Corps members to kill and banning romantic relationships between the members. They had no problems with giving Larfleeze a star system and giving him the location of the Blue Lanterns' (who wanted to become their allies) headquarters to make him stay away from the rest of the Universe.
  • Rick Grimes from The Walking Dead is becoming more like this as the series progresses. His actions have become increasingly brutal as his obsession with keeping his son and the group safe grows. He himself is beginning to recognize this however, although we'll have to wait and see if he can pull himself back from the brink.
  • Megatron in the IDW comic books was this. He initially formed the Decepticons to try bringing equality and justice to Cybertron, the Cybertronian society having become so corrupt and fascistic that Autobot thugs freely handed out beatings to innocent Cybertronians for no reason and the Autobot senate's answer to dealing with peaceful protests was to have all of the protestors shot. However, over the course of four millenia of war, as well as the brutal things he did to gain power in the first place, he's become exactly the kind of heartless and vicious tyrant that he originally despised.
    • Amazingly, he eventually had a My God, What Have I Done?-moment, and pulled a Heel–Face Turn. And while there are some on both sides who acknowledge he's changed, there are a lot more who refuse to accept it.
  • Superman:
    • While Superman rarely comes close to this trope, he is very aware of it and lampshades it on several occasions, mostly in response to Anti Heroes who are just as bad as the villains they fight. He even occasionally criticizes his own actions in the newspapers as Clark Kent when he does veer dangerously close to this territory as Superman.
    • This fear is what made him give a piece of kryptonite to Batman.
      Superman: I want the means to kill me to be in the hands of a man I trust with my life.
    • In For the Man Who Has Everything he nearly beats Mongul to death, but was distracted.
  • In the Supergirl Red Daughter of Krypton storyline, after being freed by the Red Lanterns, the people of planet Ysmault declares that they'll follow their saviors' example and hunt their enslavers down and "erase" them. Guy Gardner warns them not to become like the monsters they're going to fight.
    Guy: We came because we heard a monster was loose in our sector. It's our job to clean up the monsters. So. Do what you gotta do. Put people on trial. Punish them how you like. But watch out you don't turn into monsters. Because then we'd be back for you.
  • Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four blatantly averts this trope when dealing with his Arch-Enemy, Doctor Doom. To this day, he still doesn't outright hate Doom, no matter what horrible things Doom inflicts upon him. In fact, in one storyline where he was exceptionally pissed off, Reed told himself that he really had to kill Doom this time, only to break down in grief and pity when he confronted him, and wound up pleading with Doom to reform.
  • In Kingdom Come, Orion has killed Darkseid and became ruler of Apokolips. In order to maintain peace, he has to make many questionable choices and Superman notes that he is now more like his father than ever before.
    • It only skirts this if you assume that he isn't trying to justify his becoming this and was telling the truth. Orion states that he tried to make Apokolips a better place. The residents couldn't handle freedom. This forced Orion to become more like Darkseid in order to keep the population under control.
  • In Harry Kipling (Deceased), the New Atheist Militia is inspired by Kipling's example and sets about killing gods - by committing genocide against their followers. In fact, their denial is so intense and fanatical that it manifests as what Kipling describes as an 'anti-god', and the NAM is as trapped by their own anti-god as the believers are by their deities.
  • The fact that Crux turned himself into exactly the type of monster he's dedicated his life to hunting is called attention to in Issue #5 of Red Hood and the Outlaws.
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender – Smoke and Shadow, Azula states that her purpose is to be the monster that Zuko fights. Rather than becoming Fire Lord, she will constantly threaten the Fire Nation and force Zuko to be more ruthless and authoritarian until he's the second coming of Ozai.
  • In Uncanny X-Men (2018), Cyclops comes to recognize that his attitude following the events of House of M turned him into the man who tried to be the second coming of Magneto.


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