Follow TV Tropes


Anti-Hero Substitute

Go To
Anti-heroes are a super vicious, cowl-wearing lot.

Over the course of a long-running series, something happens to the main character. He loses his powers, makes a Heroic Sacrifice, or gets Older and Wiser and decides to retire. Sometimes they Dropped a Bridge on Him, or Put Him On A Bus. In a word, he's gone. But the story still goes on! His role is taken by a Suspiciously Similar Substitute, but one with a very different characterization. He's how the original hero would be if he were a Jerkass, Anti-Hero or (most commonly) '90s Anti-Hero.

Depending on how he's portrayed, he may be a Replacement Scrappy (especially if the original character were good on his/her own and the fans already like him/her) or a refreshing change (often happens if the fans are tired of having to look at the same hero over and over again). Sometimes the substitute may even be liked more than the original.

When the substitute is bad enough, there'll be often a storyline where the original hero is back and will have to fight the substitute for the position and wins. The substitute is then reduced to a villain (either minor or major) or just a minor hero. Alternatively, said substitute may be Rescued from the Scrappy Heap by giving them Character Development and/or (when said substitute took the original's name) a name change.

This happened a lot during The Dark Age of Comic Books. Back then, it was common to presumptuously expect readers to like the new character, but writers have gotten savvier since then. Now, the Darker and Edgier version of the hero is commonly portrayed as a villain or a psychopath (or, sometimes, be redeemed), as the '90s Anti-Hero archetype has grown less popular over time. Some heroes were put through this in order to show why a hero shouldn't become Darker and Edgier as a subtle Take That! to the fandom. For example, Super Patriot replaced Captain America temporarily in the 1980's to show that the Cap'n wasn't the jingoistic, nationalistic unthinking supporter of the United States government some fans thought he was or wanted him to be.

Sub-Trope of Suspiciously Similar Substitute. May overlap with Costume Copycat. Could be an El Cid Ploy gone bad. Contrast with the Redeeming Replacement. Might be designed as a Temporary Scrappy, which is a purposefully dislikable character that enters and goes in a short span. Compare Corrupted Character Copy, which is similar to this trope but for Expies.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 

    Film — Live-Action 
  • MonsterVerse:
    • Kong: Skull Island: 1970s Monarch operatives Bill Randa and Dr. Houston Brooks are a precursor counterpart to 2010s Monarch operatives Dr. Ishirō Serizawa and Vivienne Graham in Godzilla (2014), being a tight-knit pair of an older mentor operative and a younger protégé scientist who work together to understand, investigate, and if needs be to try and combat the Kaiju in the world. However, Randa and Brooks' morals are a significantly darker shade of gray than Serizawa and Graham's were: the worst that the latter two ever deliberately did was to cover up the existence of monsters and the true cause of the Janjira disaster until the masquerade was doomed, and to try and preserve Kaiju specimens for as long as possible so long as they weren't posing an immediate threat to human life; whereas Randa and Brooks endanger dozens of non-Monarch people (from Landsat personnel whom are effectively untrained civilians to Vietnam War vets whom were just about to go home to their families), by tricking them into the expedition for their own ends without telling them anything about what might be living on Skull Island. Serizawa and Graham were idealists, almost to a fault, whom were awed by Godzilla, but they still wouldn't put preserving the male MUTO ahead of protecting human life — Randa on the other hand initially sees all the kaiju including Kong as conscienceless monsters that will destroy civilization if left alone, and he wants to expose their existence to the U.S. government in the hopes they will authorize an extermination campaign against the creatures for the sake of all humanity; while Brooks, to a lesser extent, doesn't think twice about brutally and callously carpet-bombing an uncharted island's herds of benign deer wildlife in order to get his seismology readings on the Hollow Earth.
    • Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Emma and Mark Russell are substitutes for the late Joe Brody from Godzilla (2014); having lost family (their son) as a casualty of the Kaiju destroying a city years ago, and having never quite moved past it while continuing to focus more on their own grief than on what really mattered to them, just like Joe. From the film's start, Mark and Emma embody different aspects that Joe had combined: Emma is a driven workaholic who has become a scientific genius and pioneering expert in using bio-acoustics to better understand the Titans, while Mark has become an emotional recluse, has lost his glamorous former-job amidst the emotional fallout, and has estranged himself from the rest of his family. However, both of them are, in their own ways, a lot more dickish and moody than Joe ever was: Mark is a hot-headed jerk who is holding a one-sided enmity against Godzilla for his involvement in Mark's loss, and he's prone to lashing out with anger and self-righteousness at the people whom are doing nothing but try to help him, plus he can't even say that he spent all those years he was isolating himself and neglecting his family doing something semi-productive with his grief like Joe did; whilst Emma, instead of merely using her wits to seek answers on why she suffered while being unintentionally inattentive to her family like Joe; instead uses her wits to engineer the likely deaths of millions to billions in an "ends justify the means" effort to save the world, and she's emotionally manipulated her daughter into being her accomplice without a thought whilst literally leaving her daughter's father for dead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • At the beginning of season five of Boardwalk Empire, Nucky Thomson has replaced his bodyguard Eddie Kessler, who committed suicide when being blackmailed by the FBI. Kessler was affable, decent, but determined and capable in a fight — by no means a hero, but one of the nicest characters in the setting, and fast becoming a Morality Pet for Nucky. The replacement is silent, menacing, and viciously brutal in a fight — even slicing the ear off a dead attacker and keeping it in his suit pocket. The implication is that Nucky hates that he got personally attached to Kessler only to lose him, and has hired a bloodthirsty stoic he won't mistake for a friend.
    Senator: Doesn't say much, does he?
    Nucky: That's what I like about him.
  • Buffyverse:
    • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: When one Slayer dies, another girl is called forward to take her place. Buffy briefly dies in the season one finale, and while it was only a few minutes before she was revived (and thus she continued being the main character throughout the show's run), that was apparently long enough that Kendra, a Knight Templar whose sole focus is on hunting and killing vampires regardless of who they are, was called up as the new Slayer. When Kendra died, she was replaced by Faith Lehane, very much an Anti-Hero before, during, and after her Face–Heel Turn. According to the rules of how the Slayer lineage works, Faith is considered the "active" Slayer, so while her dying would lead to a new Slayer taking her place, Buffy's later (temporary) death at the end of season five does not have this effect.
    • Angel also did this with Spike, to comedic effect. Where Angel would pound rapists into the pavement and receive a smooch as reward (to Spike's vocal disgust), "Blondie Bear" just chides the girls for stupidly walking home at night and alone.
  • Johnny Lawrence in Cobra Kai is like Miyagi in that he mentors young people... but he's also a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Keppler, the Temporary Substitute for CSI's Gil Grissom. He was prone to bending the rules a lot more than Grissom, and nearly got the whole team in trouble with his "reverse forensics" plan to nail a criminal they couldn't otherwise touch.
  • It has happened in Doctor Who four times so far.
    • When the mild-mannered Fifth Doctor died and regenerated into the Sixth, who was frequently a Jerkass, controversially violent, and started his life by trying to kill his own companion in a bout of post-regenerative psychosis. (Not that Five didn't get up to some violent acts himself, but he seemed much more conflicted about it.)
    • The Eighth Doctor sat on the sidelines during the Time War, a major interstellar conflict set in-between the classic series and the revamp. Upon learning that a seemingly fatal incident he was involved in actually was fatal, meaning that he was already dead, he chose to drink an elixir that was specifically formulated to give Time Lords more-than-usual conscious control over the nature of their next self. This allowed him to become the "War Doctor", who was specifically crafted by his former self to be a person who would do anything necessary to end the war. What the War Doctor eventually did led to his subsequent selves refusing to even consider him deserving of being called "the Doctor", to the point that it's strongly implied that he is the one thing in the universe that Eleven is most frightened of.
    • They did it again when the Eleventh Doctor regenerates into the far more abrasive and openly ruthless Twelve, with his main character arc for his first season revolving around whether he still counts as a "good man", which he himself doubts.
    • And again, revealed gradually with Thirteen, as while Twelve developed into a much softer version of himself, he also had a buttload of trauma that unlike the other Doctors he had no time to process, plus wanted to die for real, so Thirteen represses everything, shuts herself off and her simmering rage comes out in a sadistic Grin of Audacity at the villains in season 11, and outright yelling at her companions in season 12.
    • To a lesser extent, there was also the transition from Three (a well-dressed, gentlemanly iteration who was something of a Jerk with a Heart of Gold but was generally heroic) to Four (a manipulative, egotistical, vaguely loopy Manchild with a much more casual attitude towards death, who dressed like a Rummage Sale Reject to conceal a mind like a steel trap, albeit one with something of a wonky spring).
      • Among companions, Intrepid Reporter Sarah Jane Smith was replaced by Leela, a Future Primitive who was very willing to kill (an impulse Four did little to rein in). Later, chirpy health nut Mel was replaced by a proud juvenile delinquent and Demolitions Expert Ace.
  • Elementary: In the third season, Watson is replaced as Sherlock's apprentice by Kitty Winter, a grim, snarky young punkish woman who is deeply traumatized by having been raped and tortured in the past, and has a distinctly violent and ruthless streak, and ends up fleeing New York City after torturing and disfiguring the guy who abused her.
  • In the final episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, John Walker becomes U.S. Agent, a darker (literally) and more brutal version of Captain America under Contessa Valentina Allegra de Fontaine.
  • Monarch: Legacy of Monsters: Monarch's deputy director Verdugo fills in for the MonsterVerse 2010s movies' Ishirō Serizawa and Vivienne Graham as the onscreen head of Monarch's operations during the series. Though well-intentioned, she's not nearly as idealistic or scrupulous as Serizawa and Graham are. A cold and acidic boss who's envious that she's only the deputy director, Verdugo disparages the heroes — her underling Tim especially — at nearly every turn, in contrast to Serizawa and Graham's kind and respectful demeanors towards others including their employees. Whereas Serizawa and Graham respect all life both human and monster, Verdugo is willing to dismiss the distress call and leave the heroes for dead when she thinks there are much more pressing concerns on Monarch's plate — this leads Tim to hit his Rage Breaking Point, publically chew Verdugo out, and resign from Monarch in protest, whereas Serizawa and Graham were both regarded highly and with fondness by their colleagues including Chen, Stanton, Coleman and Mark in Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019).

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 
  • Umineko: When They Cry:
    • Villainous example. Beatrice gave her title to Eva's hidden personality. When Eva-Beatrice was acting like a monster all-time, Beato get a few Pet the Dog moments, and got to make a Heroic Sacrifice, after realizing her mistakes. Then it's revealed it was all a clever Batman Gambit she put in order to make Battler admit she's a witch.
    • EP 5 replaces Battler himself for Furudo Erika. It's played with irony considering the second is more or less an aspect of the Big Bad and Battler is not incapacitated and actively fighting against the change.