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"He who fights monsters should see to it that he himself does not become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you."
Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

...will become no better than the monsters he slays.

Something has happened to our Fallen Hero: their village was destroyed, their friends were killed, their dog was roasted on an open spit, their bike was stolen... all that matters is that It's Personal, and they feel that the law just isn't suitable enough (or has become too corrupt and ignorant) to be of any use to them in settling the matter. They may justify their actions by claiming that it's justice what they pursue, not vengeance, but anyone with half a brain can easily see that they're out for revenge. Unfortunately, we can also see that the more they hunt the cause of their trouble, the more they slowly slip into the villain's personality and mannerisms to the point they forgot their goals, something that our so-called hero is too blinded by their single-minded goal to realize.

That's "He Who Fights Monsters", alright.

These characters aren't quite a villain, but they act antagonistically enough that they're little better than a villain. They may actually have the best intentions in mind; they might have a point when they say that the fiend is too dangerous to be kept alive, and other characters might even concede that point in-universe. But ultimately, their obsession with dealing out due punishment (or worse) and their refusal to think about their actions twists them into someone just as bad as, or even worse than, the one they're hunting. And even before they gets to that point, it's nigh-impossible to turn them away; calling them out on it will be ignored, acknowledged, or in the worst case scenario, retaliated against. The Power of Friendship and The Power of Love were lost to these characters the moment the atrocity that sent them on their wild goose chase happened; they feel that Team Spirit is just a hindrance, and that Love Is a Weakness that they can't afford to have. Heel Realizations will be ignored or viewed as a moment of weakness to crush, and they will never have an "I've Come Too Far" or "No Place for Me There" moment. Those require insight, which they just don't have. In fact, their views are utterly incorrigible; either they're a Tautological Templar, or very far down the road to becoming one, and they're utterly convinced of their own moral infallibility and the righteousness of their own cause. The more their quest drags on or throws up hurdles, the more likely it is that they'll forget their original motivations and the more likely they'll become a lot more dangerous due to how fast their list of targets go down when they're not entirely sure who their enemies are any more. Don't expect them to make a Heroic Sacrifice or Heel–Face Turn anytime soon; if they die in the process of bringing their nemesis down, it's usually with them crossing into Villainstown in their moment of glory. If he doesn't die...

The "fighting monsters" line represents what is a recognizable Moral Event Horizon for heroes, and both anti-heroes and Well-Intentioned Extremists live close to the boundary, especially the more pitiless Good Is Not Nice, The Unfettered, and Pragmatic Hero types. Engaging in Van Helsing Hate Crimes is a good indicator of having crossed the boundary and a Knight Templar is most certainly beyond it.

A significant reason why this happens is their motivation. Those who seek justice are out to stop the villain from hurting any more people, because they don't want them to suffer like they have; and while they may be ruthless about pursuing the villain (and may even be willing to kill the villain if they are dangerous enough), they're ultimately looking to benefit society, so long as they don't forget their cause. Meanwhile, those who seek revenge are out to make the villain suffer for what they did to them or those close to them, believing that what was done to them has given them the right to inflict pain in return. They're not looking to improve society; they're doing it for their own sake.

As expected, this twisted situation is very popular in the Revenge Tragedy genre, especially because of its inherent Dramatic Irony. note  This trope can also be used to demonstrate how "eye-for-an-eye" justice, while sounding like sweet Karmic Equivalent Exchange Justice at first, can easily spiral out into utter chaos if the hero lets his passions, wrath, and Pride forgo rationality.

May be expressed through the page quote, or via the quotes "When you become obsessed with the enemy, you become the enemy", or "If you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also".

When they cross the line or vice versa, Redemption Equals Death is the only solution for their Heel–Face Turn. This may lead to Alas, Poor Villain, if the one who fights monsters is an antagonist/a villain of a certain work.

Not to be confused with Complete Monster. Although somebody might become one by fighting such monsters, this is very rare. They can range from Anti-Hero to anywhere above. See also Cycle of Revenge, The Dark Side Will Make You Forget, Protagonist Journey to Villain, You Are What You Hate, Then Let Me Be Evil, and Became Their Own Antithesis. If this trope happens to a child, it can be used as a Freudian Excuse of a character who Used to Be a Sweet Kid. Compare And Then John Was a Zombie, where the character becomes a literal monster. If You Kill Him, You Will Be Just Like Him! is pretty much a sped-up version of this. Political equivalents are The Horseshoe Effect, Reign of Terror, Full-Circle Revolution, and Meet the New Boss, although in character-driven political novels, this trope itself often shows up. If the monster in question is an animal, that's Animal Nemesis. If the monster is supernatural, it's a decidedly unheroic instance of Hunter of Monsters. When this happens on a species wide scale, compare Humans Are the Real Monsters. Subtrope of Slowly Slipping Into Evil.

Revenge Is Not Justice is more of a response that's invoked in an effort to stop the person from becoming a monster. If the person has become a monster, then Revenge Is Not Justice is invoked to call them out for becoming a monster. Vigilante Injustice is often the starting point of a hero's descent into villainy as they have killed someone in self-defense or they killed the villain under the belief that it's the only way to get rid of a villain who's truly irredeemable.

Contrast The Chain of Harm, when instead of going after the perpetrator, they will go after the easiest nearby target.

Not to be confused with Those Who Hunt Elves, He Who Fights With Monsters, or Monster Hunter. For the Rosario + Vampire fanfic, see He Who Fights Monsters (though this one is an example of this trope).

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Examples

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    Film — Animation 

    Music 
  • Bob Dylan's "My Back Pages":
    In a soldier's stance, I aimed my hand
    At the mongrel dogs who teach
    Fearing not I'd become my enemy
    In the instant that I preach
    • While Dylan presumably was writing about the Author Tracts of his earlier "protest music" period, these lines would also prove oddly prophetic with regard to some of his later work. (Slow Train Coming, anyone?)
  • U2's "Peace on Earth":
    They say that what you mock
    Will surely overtake you
    And you become a monster
    So the monster will not break you
  • Radiohead's "Bangers and Mash":
    If you stare into the dark, the dark will stare back
    back into your SOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUUUUL
  • "The Nature of the Beast" by Ice Nine Kills:
    Where is the end? What have we done?
    We're what we swore we'd not become.
  • Atreyu's "Becoming The Bull"
    Grab the bull by the horns the old adage goes
    Nobody tells you where to go from there
    Seems like fate's pulling you
    Decisions have to be made
    The best path is the hardest earned
    Back and forth the struggle consumes us all
    Trying to keep a level head
    In the most unsettling of times
    Today I'll become the bull.
  • This happens at the end of "Strength of the World" by Avenged Sevenfold after the narrator went on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge on those who killed his family:
    So far forever now alone, a greater punishment on me has been imposed
    A killer falling from the light, I'll miss my family, I'll never be alright
  • "Night of the Hunter" by 30 Seconds To Mars:
    I was born of the womb of a poisonous spell
    Beaten and broken and chased from the land
    But I rise up above it, high up above it and see
    I was hung from the tree made of tongues of the weak
    The branches, the bones of the liars, the thieves
    Rise up above it, high up above it and see
    Pray to your God, open your heart
    Whatever you do, don't be afraid of the dark
    Cover your eyes, the devil's inside
    One night of the hunter
    One day I will get revenge
    One night to remember
    One day it'll all just end, oh
    Blessed by a bitch from a bastard's seed
    Pleasure to meet you, prepare to bleed
    Rise, I'll rise, I'll rise
    Skinned her alive, ripped her apart
    Scattered her ashes, buried her heart
    Rise up above it, high up above it and see
  • "Murder" by Within Temptation and indeed most of the album The Unforgiving is about violently hunting down monsters:
    I'm about to do it your way
    I will make your world unsafe
    I never thought you'd get this far
    It's insane
  • Possibly implied in "Crawl" by Breaking Benjamin:
  • The running theme of "The eye of the abyss" by Vader describing the fall into the abyss
    Burning horizon and the Black Eye
    Like a dominating Sun
    The Abyss ever-lusting
    Fear turns into hate
    You are screaming and falling
    Wings of fire melting the flesh
    Alone in this suffering
    Pain and pride exploding...FOREVER!
  • The song 'Persecution Complex Cellphone Girl (lol)' is about the titular girl whose heart had been broken by a lying man. She thus uses her phone to seek out similar lying men, seduces and leaves them broken due to believing that all men are trash. At the end, her phone seeks out the next liar - her. And thus, the last line of the song is:
    You're the liar. Just go die. Bye bye!
  • Tim Pool's Will of the People is a song about one ideology after another taking a country over, and each time a rebellion successfully takes down a regime and takes over the government, they become as tyrannical as the regime they overthrew, leading to one big vicious cycle.

    Myths & Religion 
  • In Japanese Mythology, a person who kills many Youkai will be transformed into a youkai. This occasionally gets played around with in games, manga, and anime from the country—for example, in La Pucelle, this is the basis for a Non-Standard Game Over, one that gets taken more or less as canon in the Disgaea series. And in Inuyasha, the murderous Bankotsu of the Band of Seven manages to transform his weapon into a demonic blade by using it to kill 1000 youkai and 1000 human warlords. It also shows up in Saiyuki, where it's a part of Hakkai's backstory.
    • Saiyuki's portrayal of this myth especially invokes this: while the various anime adaptations more or less consistently show that merely killing a thousand youkai turns one into a youkai, in the manga Hakkai's case is unique, and Word of God specifically states that it's not the act of killing or "being bathed in youkai blood" that triggers the transformation, but the killer's inner negative energy. In other words, this can only happen to those who already lost enough of their humanity and cultivated enough of their hatred that they might as well be compared to monsters themselves.

    Pro Wrestling 
Austin was on the other side of it a few years earlier during his feud with Bret Hart. Austin kept going after Bret, calling him out, and attacking him at every opportunity. Getting beaten by Bret in matches didn't discourage Austin, who kept hounding him. So it really shouldn't have been a surprise that Bret finally got angry enough to absolutely brutalize Austin in their famous submission match at WrestleMania, which was the beginning of his Face–Heel Turn.
  • Dr Stevie became more and more violent in his efforts to deal with the violently insane. In some ways, he was worse than his patients, as they really couldn't help it but Stevie knew exactly what he was doing. Then again, since Stevie thought this approach would work, all evidence to the contrary, one could say he had become insane himself, albeit in a different way.
  • Hinted at the end of Kevin Owens and El Generico's confrontation at Ring of Honor Final Battle 2010. Generico, after suffering a whole year of his former friend's abuse, has Steen on his knees and is holding the very chair that was used to start the feud a year earlier. As Generico swings it, Steen holds up Generico's former mask, as if to suggest actually hitting him would make him just as bad as he is. Generico holds the mask up to his face, contemplates it... And realizes that no, Kevin Steen is just a complete scumbag who deserves to get hit in the face. He drops the mask, smacks Steen with the chair, and pins him for the victory.
  • Carly originally had no interest in becoming a pro wrestler and was happy to just help around the family business, working as a camera man in WWC. This changed when Ray González began targeting Carly because he was feuding with Carly's father at the time. 14 years later, Carlito Caribbean Cool is one of the top wrestlers in WWC and is targeting Ray González Jr, who till then was content to simply help with his father's mini market.
  • While Survival Tobita's Saitama Pro Wrestling Company featured him fighting a variety of Wrestling Monsters, often of the Kaiju variety, he averts this due to his staying a Facenote  and due to the silliness of some of the monsters.
  • Roman Reigns became this when he underwent his Face–Heel Turn. He had been established as the main rival of The Authority, which was an example of Invincible Villain, and when he gained the Universal Title, he, too, became an Invincible Villain, holding on to it for over two years, longer than any Authority aligned wrestler.

    Roleplay 
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Refan becomes a more jaded and bloodthirsty killer as he ends up having to fight more and more enemies to protect his loved ones. When the enemies get tougher, he has to resort to using his demonic side, which is slowly corrupting him.
  • Survival of the Fittest:
    • Adam Dodd in turns into one of these for a good while during his tenure on the v1 island. His obsession with getting revenge on Cody Jenson leads him to mow down a good six or seven of his fellow students, despite his supposedly heroic motives. In something of a subversion, however, he lives to come to realise that his actions have been misguided and returns to a more conventional Anti-Hero mold.
    • The entire concept of player-killers is based in this. They're targeting people who are playing the game, but in doing so are becoming players themselves. One example is Imraan Al-Hariq of V4, who hunts down Ivan Kuznetsov and Tabi Gweneth because they've both killed once. Never mind the fact that Tabi's single kill was multiple-murderer Clio Gabriella, and it was only to protect Ivan. What makes it worse though is that Imraan acknowledges this and still tries to kill her.

    Theatre 

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Godot definitely qualifies. Starting as a defense attorney, he gets poisoned by a criminal, barely escaping death with damaged sight. Upon finding that his girlfriend, Mia, was killed by a criminal, and Phoenix failed to help her, he holds a grudge against him, and sets up The Plan to prevent Maya, Mia's sister, from suffering the same fate...only to find the criminal that poisoned him, Dahlia, and in his rage, try to kill her. While he was successful, he admits that he acted out of revenge rather than the desire for justice.
    • Phoenix Wright himself becomes this in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney. After having his attorney's badge taken away for (accidentally) presenting forged evidence, he loses respect for the whole judicial process, and manipulates crime scenes, forging evidence to get Kristoph Gavin convicted. He gets better by Dual Destinies.
    • Damon Gant used increasingly unethical methods (including murdering a subordinate and framing a 14-year-old girl for it for the sole purpose of blackmailing her sister into framing someone else) to increase his control over the investigative process and neutralize criminals who could not be convicted otherwise, such as Joe Darke.
    • In the sequel to Ace Attorney Investigations, the final villain (Simon Keyes) was driven to commit a large array of crimes including kidnapping two minors and framing both of them for murder, killing a man with a falling hot-air balloon and arranging the murders of two other people, all so that the murderers would be caught and arrested because he had been a witness to a murder 12 years earlier but was silenced by the joint conspiracy of Blaise Debeste, Patricia Roland and the fake Di-Jung Huang and forced to go on the run in order to avoid being killed. Edgeworth even points out that his motive was a mix of justice and revenge but that he had become as bad as his enemies. At the end of the game, Edgeworth pledges to capture corrupt people in power before their victims become examples of this trope.
    • At the end of the third case of The Great Ace Attorney: Adventures, mere minutes after Magnus McGilded is erroneously declared not guilty, he is led back into the courtroom by a bailiff for further inspection of the omnibus where the murder took place — he is then locked inside the omnibus as it's doused with paraffin and lit on fire, leaving him to burn to death. At the end of the final case, culprit Ashley Graydon confesses that that bailiff was an assassin he hired to kill McGilded, a smooth-talking Villain with Good Publicity who used his many public works projects to draw attention away from the fact that he made his vast fortune off of vicious loansharking — not only did he fabricate evidence and threaten Gina into providing false testimony, which together brought about his not guilty verdict, but it turns out that prior to his death, he had been working with Graydon, a communications officer, to secretly record and sell state secrets as acts of high treason. Graydon had returned to his childhood home in the slums and asked his father, whom he hadn't seen in years as part of his attempt to distance himself from his past, to make the music disks used in the scheme under the guise of giving them to a musician friend; Mason eventually realized that his son was being dishonest and insisted on being the middle-man for the next hand-off. During the course of an argument inside the aforementioned omnibus over the disk, McGilded stabbed him to death. Graydon says that he didn't realize how truly evil McGilded was until he killed Mason, and that he then vowed on his father's name to exact revenge and rid the world of a "monster." He also (unintentionally) shot and killed Pop Windibank while attempting to retrieve the disk that Mason died over and tried to pin the crime on Gina. Barok van Zieks points out that by attempting to use his wealth and influence to get away with murder, he became the very kind of person he hated in Mc Gilded. Graydon solemnly agrees.
    • The Great Ace Attorney 2: Resolve:
      • The culprit of case 1 gets called out for this, since even though his victim was a murderer on the verge of becoming a Karma Houdini, he still tried to frame an innocent teenage girl for his crime.
      • In case 3, several years after Odie Asman ruined Enoch Drebber's aspiring career as a scientist, Drebber decided to have revenge against Asman by killing him. However, he himself ended up crushing Albert Harebrayne's own scientific ambitions by using him as an Unwitting Pawn in his revenge scheme.
      • Kazuma Asogi comes dangerously close to this during the final trial, when he tries to do the exact same thing to Barok that he hates Barok for doing in the backstory- prosecuting despite a conflict of interests and convicting an innocent man due to personal biases. Kazuma just gets lucky that Ryunosuke was there to snap him out of it before he could get Barok declared guilty.
      • Mael Stronghart believed that the Reaper assassinations were a necessary evil to punish criminal masterminds who use Jury and Witness Tampering to get away with their crimes. In the process of creating his conspiracy, he had several people blackmailed and killed, including the Lord Chief Justice before him, who Stronghart had killed just so he could take his place. So in attempting to curtail London's crime rate, he himself became a criminal mastermind.
  • Archer from Fate/stay night. The famous "Unlimited Blade Works" poem that he had supposedly written about himself even carries a message that is very similar in nature to the "He who fights monsters" quote itself (if you manage to decipher its incomprehensible language that is). It tells the story of a man who spent his whole life in an agonizing pursuit through self-sacrifice, to become the hero of his ideals, until he one day realized that it was an ideal that could never be met, that evil would always persist, that all his sacrifices had been in vain, and that he had ultimately only managed to turn himself into a killer without a cause. He was just another part of the evil in the world that he once had thought he was fighting. The man who wielded swords had thus lost his identity to the point where there no longer was a man, there were only his weapons. He was "a man made of swords".
  • Ikemen Sengoku:
    • Kennyo used to be a gentle, peaceful monk until the massacre of his monk brothers by Nobunaga Oda drove him to commit heinous deeds to avenge them. He's fully aware that he's become a monster himself in his Roaring Rampage of Revenge to take down the Devil King, but believes that dooming himself to Hell is worth it if he can drag down Nobunaga there with him.
    • Motonari, who lost many loved ones and suffered through a bloody power struggle when he was younger, became an Omnicidal Maniac who wants to turn all of Japan into a violent, lawless hellscape where only chaos reigns. The main character, after learning about Motonari's past from Sasuke, thinks that the quote "he who fights with monsters" would apply well to him.
  • The Church in Tsukihime is known as being fanatically zealous about killing non-humans. Other characters imply, and we have even seen, that there are some demon hybrids/vampires who are neutral or good. The Church does not care, so it does not tend to get along with those like the Tohnos (hybrids, but avoid inversion), Arcueid (vampire, but kills vampires and is too tough for them to beat), and the Nanayas, who only targeted the Inverted. Notably, the only Church characters we see are a bit heretical for not blowing everything up first and then covering it up. It's not surprising for them to be heretics considering that the Church is repeatedly stated to have no influence in Japan — since any members of the Church are the only representatives of it for dozens, if not hundreds, of miles, it's pretty safe to act as they please.

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY:
    • The White Fang was once a peaceful protest group, trying to advocate peace between humans and Faunus, but five years prior to the start of the series, a faction within the group, feeling that said peaceful protests were getting them nowhere, staged a coup and took control of the entire organization. Adam Taurus invents the "Grimm mask", which his faction wears in the belief that, if humans are going to call them monsters, they may as well don the faces of the Grimm and behave as monsters. Not only does humanity revile them, but other Faunus do, too. Adam Taurus ends up murdering High Leader Sienna Khan in Volume 5 for being too moderate, taking control of the organisation so he can repeat his contribution to the destruction of Beacon Academy by attacking Haven Academy; this time, he is stopped and his abandonment of the White Fang to save his own skin ends up destroying the very organisation he transformed.
    • General Ironwood has always trod the ethical grey area in his contributions to the fight against evil, but after Volume 3 he begins taking increasingly authoritarian actions to circumvent the plans of the villains. Throughout Volume 7, the villains exploit his paranoia and past trauma to shred away the positive aspects of his character; at one point Ironwood himself wonders if Salem's strength and success lies in her lack of humanity, and Watts is thrilled to hear him declare that he will "sacrifice whatever it takes" to defeat her. By the end of the volume, Ironwood has devolved into a paranoid dictator, willing to abandon the rest of the kingdom and all of Remnant just to hide Atlas from Salem's forces, and issues arrests on the heroes just for disagreeing with his inhumane plans. When Oscar points out that Ironwood's current mentality makes him just as bad as Salem, Ironwood shoots him, setting up him replacing Salem as Arc Villain in Volume 8.

    Webcomics 
  • In The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, when the doc is subject to More than Mind Control by an evil motorcycle helping him hunt down King Radical, this trope provides the "More Than" part.
    Alt Text: To be fair, Doc always WANTED to blow up helicopters. The bike just gave him the means.
  • Bittersweet Candy Bowl:
  • When the second part of the phrase (the abyss part) was used in The B-Movie Comic, creator Roman Wunderlich declared in The Rant that he didn't understand what the big deal was:
    "I never understood what's supposed to be so bad about that... I mean, I'd see that the abyss is deep, and the abyss'd see that I'm shallow — but it's not like I've been denying that, anyway..."
  • Jenn of Casey and Andy just manages to catch herself doing this.
  • The Vatican and Aesir churches of Cry 'Havoc' level cities to destroy a handful of daemons. Although, seeing as the last time their foes congregated, a decade long war that killed half of the world's population occurred, they may be more justified than most.
  • Dominic Deegan: King David Johann's obsession with human supremacy (in magic, specifically) eventually turned half his soul into an all-consuming Eldritch Abomination, and the other half into a genocidal dictator who wanted to kill everyone outside of his kingdom and then mutate half his people.
  • In the series, For Love Nor Money, Eamonn makes it more than evident that he despises everything about his uncle and the perversion he reaps on those around him, especially his mother, and when he chooses to challenge him directly, John Lees opts to rape his mother and leave his half-sister to die of Whooping Cough. To kill the perceived monster of his life, Eamonn resolves to murder his uncle out of revenge and honour, even though this in turn makes a monster out of him.
  • In Girl Genius, the main reason that the Big Bad the Other, aka Lucrezia Mongfish, is so reviled is her use of mind-control via slaver wasp—if one flies into your mouth, you become susceptible to any order given by her—one character is ordered to die, and does so immediately. Baron Wulfenbach is her main enemy, with the stated aim of destroying her and all her work, no matter what it takes. Which makes his personality overlay onto his son, Gil extremely hypocritical, especially since this is the exact same thing that Lucrezia did to her daughter Agatha. It's called out by the Big Bad herself in comic, that in trying to protect Gil from her influence he's ended up becoming just as bad as she is. Of course, he doesn't care what he is, as long as he remembers who he mass-murders people for.
    Lucrezia in Agatha: My goodness! How Mister High-and-Holy has fallen! Using your own son?
  • Kuro Shouri: Hisaki believes he is right to strike down his brother who killed their parents, but he often resorts to extremely violent methods with little provocation.
  • Oglaf plays this trope for laughs in that strip.
  • The Order of the Stick: Vaarsuvius became a very literal example of this trope but has since "recovered" and now regrets their actions.
  • In Pacificators, the reason regular people hates those with powers so much is because one of their best Pacificators ever, Castella Brandsford, went mad and murdered thousands of people before she was finally killed herself.
  • Paranormal Mystery Squad: Stephanie is introduced as having a staunch zero-tolerance policy against cryptids, because of what happened to her parents. However, by the time of the "Vampire Cheerleaders Must Die!" arc, she's come to accept that not all cryptids are evil as she first thought, as a result of her sister becoming a werewolf and after spending time with their friends, who're also cryptids. Stephanie later becomes a rare literal example and figurative subversion when she becomes a cryptid herself.
  • This is invoked in PepsiaPhobia: when Bambikles seeks to avenge his mother by killing the monster who took her life, he's told that "To kill a monster, you must become a monster." So he does (partly because his girlfriend promises to marry him if can become a true monster, subverting the Vengeance Feels Empty trope with All Girls Want Bad Boys sex). He can't go through with it and is killed off. His 'girlfriend' is revealed to be an evil A.I. mastermind, whose original function was to create fun, whimsical games of adventure. Too much time and too many battle simulations warped her programming.
  • Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal: Don't let little boys triumph against hordes of monsters; sometimes their families come with them.
  • In unOrdinary, John Doe is an heroic and kind high-school student at first, but as him and his best friend Seraphina get systematically bullied by the entire school, he adopts the identity of Joker and starts beating up the bullies. But even after proving his point, he can't stop being violent, and ends up becoming the type of bully he was originally fighting against.
  • Professor Broadshoulders from Zebra Girl is obsessed with destroying demons and people tainted by demons, to the point where he sacrifices his very soul, giving into his own demonic curse and physically transforming into a demon, to destroy Sandra, the titular zebra girl, despite the fact that Sandra was still a good person, despite being transformed into a demon herself. Appropriately, it was Broadshoulders's attempts at destroying Sandra that finally pushed her over the edge, turning her away from wanting to cure her condition to indulge her demonic hunger for pain and torment.

    Web Originals 
  • TV Tropes: Some tropes come about as a deliberate attempt to defy a stereotype or cliché, only to become as over-exposed as the very thing they were defying. A good example is Real Women Don't Wear Dresses, which began life as an attempt to defy the stereotype of women as being weak and overly-sensitive, only to become a stereotype in and of itself that suggested that women who don't wear masculine clothing or act in a stereotypically masculine way are inferior to those that do.
  • Fighting Monsters is named after this trope, and plays with it thoroughly, bringing up the original quote in the prologue, as well as throwing it at the main character in the form of a Wham Line.
  • In Sailor Nothing, Himei worries that she is turning into this.
  • Satirized by The Onion in "Little Boy Heroically Shoots, Mutilates Burglar".
  • The Union series. Combined Forces - Team 4 falls under this trope. While they start off as idealistic as soldiers go, they eventually devolve into bitter reflections of themselves that kill because they can, not because they have to. Taken to the extreme with Shadow Agents, clones born and bred to go as far into this trope as possible, becoming little better than what they're fighting.
  • Protectors of the Plot Continuum:
    • Agents can become rather Sue-ish in their efforts to rid the Multiverse of sues. Of course, they never become anywhere near as bad as those that they are tasked with killing.
    • In the mission into Rainbow Factory, Caroline goes absolutely postal with the impostor Rainbow Dash, and later says she would probably have gone completely over the edge had Kilroy not hit upon the right word to bring her to her senses.
  • Subverted by SF Debris, regarding Captain Janeway:
    She has stared into the abyss as it has stared into her... and the abyss said "JESUS!"
  • In Worm, Taylor begins to epitomize this trope as she gets deeper and deeper into the politics of being a cape, eventually becoming a Well-Intentioned Extremist who makes it clear that there are no lines that she refuses to cross if it accomplishes her goals.
  • In the Spanish creepypasta fanfiction "Una promesa no cumplida", the protagonist is a nameless girl who one day loses her best friend to BEN and copes with it by going on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against him. After a long time devoted to hunting him down to fulfill the titular vow to kill him, she tracks him down to the Creepypasta Mansion and goes fullblown Leeroy Jenkins on BEN. After being finally defeated, the creepypastas, impressed with her Ax-Crazy hatred towards BEN and single minded obsession with killing him decide the best way to deal with her is to give her Laser-Guided Amnesia and welcome her into their ranks with open arms, turning her into another creepypasta monster like the one who she tried to kill.
  • The Magnus Archives has plenty of these. Characters that intend to use the abilities granted by the Dread Powers for heroic purposes inevitably end up succumbing to their monstrous side, while characters that avoid becoming tethered to the Powers remain physically human but often become more morally monstrous than the Avatars they fight.
    • Gertrude Robinson, despite her role as Archivist, refused to use her Beholding abilities and devoted her life to stopping the Powers' rituals, including the Watcher's Crown. She prevented countless rituals over her lifetime... but to do so, she had to betray and sacrifice her assistants, doom innocent civilians, and commit all sorts of other crimes. It's nearly universally accepted that Gertrude was a terrible person. Her actions are put into an even harsher light by MAG 160, which reveals that every ritual she destroyed was doomed to failure with or without her intervention, meaning the terrible acts she committed were All for Nothing.
    • Most Hunters fall under this trope, including Daisy, Julia, and Trevor. They feed their god by hunting and killing monsters, but as time passes and their connection to the Hunt grows, they start caring less and less about whether they accidentally kill innocents as well.
    • Jon becomes this in later seasons. As he settles into the role of Archivist, he gains several evil-seeming powers — a Compelling Voice, the ability to give people nightmares and then watch their dreams, the ability to rip information out of people's minds, and a Horror Hunger for others' trauma - but at first he intends to only use these powers for good. But over time, he starts losing his moral scruples regarding his powers, first using them when they aren't absolutely necessary and then feeding on innocent civilians. By the end of season 4, he's the lynchpin in a successful Beholding ritual to bring about the apocalypse, all because he couldn't overcome his hunger for statements.

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    Western Animation 
  • Aaahh!!! Real Monsters: Simon the Monster Hunter wanted to prove that monsters were real, and fancied himself the Only Sane Man, despite how the world at large viewed him as a lunatic. As the series progressed, he developed a personal vendetta against Ickis that drove him to increasingly nastier and ever-more-insane plans, eventually becoming dead-set on getting his revenge on monsters in general and the Trio in particular.
  • A major theme in the "City of Thieves" episode of Adventure Time, though it is used more for the Rule of Funny.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender features a lot of these.
    • Jet was first established as a freedom fighter similar to Robin Hood, but was later shown to be completely willing to take some innocent lives in order to kill some Fire Nation soldiers. He calmed down a little eventually. And by "eventually", we mean "too late".
    • Fong the Earth Kingdom general, was obsessed with triggering the highly destructive Avatar State in Aang by ordering his men to attack him. He even went as far as to endanger Katara's life, by burying her alive.
    • Hama was an imprisoned waterbender who taught herself the dark art of bloodbending, allowing her to control the bodies of her victims in a rather painful way. She used this to escape the Fire Nation prison. In her later life she became at least as destructive and cruel as the fire benders she hated, as she used her bloodbending to abduct innocent Fire Nation citizens.
    • Katara herself almost becomes this trope in "The Southern Raiders". In order to find closure to the death of her mother, she decides to hunt down the man responsible for it, going as far as to willingly use bloodbending, a technique she really did not want to learn in the first place. When she does find her mother's killer, she almost impales him with a barrage of icicles, but manages to restrain herself at the last minute.
  • This is a recurring theme in the Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra, where each of the main antagonists stands for an ideal, but takes said ideal too far, resulting in them becoming the villain.
    • Amon was the son of the mob boss Yakone and a young waterbender who was taught by his father to bloodbend. Eventually his father's abuse of both him and his brother Tarrlok, brought him the belief that bending was the root of all evil and needed to be ended. By the time the series comes around and by the end of it he has become just as cruel as any bender was.
    • Hiroshi Sato also fits, wanting to eradicate bending to avenge the murder of his wife. However, his thirst for vengeance goes to the point where he loses all capacity for love and even attempts to murder his daughter who opposes him and his plans. She even tells him that his wife would hate what he's become.
    • Korra herself came within spitting distance of this trope during season 2. After her father was arrested on charges of conspiring to kill Unalaq and sentenced to life in prison, Korra arbitrarily decided the judge was corrupt and chased him down after the trial, threatening to have Naga bite his head off if he didn't tell her what she wanted to know.
    • Zaheer wanted freedom for everyone and saw all the government corruption, incompetence and tyranny as something that needed to be dismantled completely in order to provide that. While no one shed tears over his first victim, the tyrannical Earth Queen, he still began an uprising and had plans to assassinate every world leader to plunge the world into complete anarchy. While he disdained hurting innocents, he wouldn't hesitate to do it to further his goals.
    • Kuvira was the result of Zaheer's uprising. Originally a brave and heroic woman, she desired the stabilization, safety and reuniting of the Earth Kingdom after Zaheer's uprising. The stabilization took three years to accomplish and she was determined to never let it happen again, nor let the circumstances that led to Zaheer to come back. So, she overthrew the outdated monarchy and established the Earth Empire, becoming an even worse tyrant than the previous Earth Queen (albeit with much more noble intentions). Korra revealing to her just how far she had fallen is what finally convinced her to surrender.
  • The eponymous villain of the Batman: The Animated Series episode "Lock-Up" is a fairly obvious GOP pundit parody. Lyle Bolton constantly says that the "liberal media", "coddling doctors", and "gutless police" are responsible for super-crime in Gotham. He believes that the criminals at Arkham don't deserve privileges or even the most basic humane treatment. The first part of the point is not necessarily wrong given that those criminals include the likes of the Joker, Harley Quinn, Scarecrow, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy and plenty of more public threats. Obviously, he's hyperbolized, but it's still pretty severe for a kids' show.
  • Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Charmcaster becomes this after her best efforts in resurrecting her father drove her to madness and insanity to the point where she became even worse than the previous tyrant who killed him in the first place. After her father calls her out on this, she gets better...mostly.
  • After time traveling to a Bad Future, Gosalyn finds that her absence made Darkwing Duck turn into Darkwarrior Duck whose idea of justice is Disproportionate Retribution. He is, without a doubt, far worse than any of the villains who he has already disposed of permanently.
  • An episode of The Fairly OddParents! had Timmy wishing to babysit Vicky. Before long, he ends up acting just as bad as Vicky did, to the point where Cosmo and Wanda get reassigned to her!
  • Gargoyles. This is a recurring theme throughout the series.
    • Demona. Demona responds to human racism and genocide against her species by gradually turning into a raging, murderous, genocidal maniac who wants to kill all humans.
    • Jon Canmore/Castaway. Jon Canmore, to avoid having to admit that he spent his life hunting innocent people and that his own error paralyzed his brother for life, also becomes a genocidal maniac who wants to kill all gargoyles.
    • The Captain of the Guard, Gillecomgain, and Macbeth allowed their desire to revenge to turn themselves into monsters, though The Captain of the Guard and Macbeth managed to redeem themselves. Goliath also nearly succumbed to it, but he realized this was only another part of a pointless cycle of revenge.
  • Hero Inside: This trope appears to be a recurring theme throughout the first season.
    • Dirk and his Council of Comics were people who using the hero books sought revenge on those who mistreated them for their nerdy interests, but in doing so they became far worse than their assaulters as Mike points out to them.
    • Ed had been using the Disco Duo to get revenge on the bullies who made his life a living hell, until his confrontation with Mike makes him realize that he's become no better than them and willingly surrenders his hero book.
    • Lucy was instructed by her uncle to retrieve all the hero books so their power wouldn't be abused, but became so fixated on her mission that she failed to realize that she had been causing just as if not more collateral damage than those she fights and putting dozens of innocent people in harm's way. Fortunately, she sees the error of her ways thanks to Mike and vows to use her heroes in less destructive ways.
  • Justice League:
    • The Justice Lords, the alternate reality counterparts to the League from "A Better World", fell to this after Lex Luthor became president and killed the Flash.
    • In "Patriot Act", General Wade Eiling becomes so obsessed with taking down the show's titular League (and metahumans in general), that he injects himself with an unstable Nazi-created Super-Soldier serum in order to more readily combat them. His only claim to fame after this? Beating up seven non-powered second-stringers and causing the same superhuman fear-mongering from the citizens that he swore to protect from the League.
      General Eiling: [about to throw a car onto Shining Knight] Superman and your Justice League are a threat to a safe and stable world.
      Elderly Woman: [standing between Shining Knight and Eiling] Drop the act. You think killing Superman would make the world safe? Or killing this boy? Or us? Tell me, how many of us do you have to kill to keep us safe?
      General Eiling: They're the ones I'm after, not you. I'm not the menace, metahumans are! Superpowered beings!
      Bystander: You're the only one around here with superpowers!
      [Eiling stops, dropping the car]
      General Eiling: ...All right, I've become what I hate, I'll give you that. But in the long run, you'll see I was right. You'll see you need the likes of me to protect you from them.
  • This is apparently the reason for Shego from Kim Possible's Face–Heel Turn (at least going by her Lawful Stupid brother's version of events). More likely, she was fed up with their stupidity.
  • Frequently lampshaded by Kion in The Lion Guard. He was bestowed with the Roar of the Elders, which is given to the second-born cub, as the first is destined to be the king, while the 2nd is tasked with leading the Lion Guard, a group dedicated to preserving the kingdom and defending the Circle of Life. As its leader, the second-born cub is expected to be the fiercest of the group and is thus gifted with the Roar of the Elders by the Great Kings of the Past. Kion knows that Scar, Simba's grand-uncle, was bestowed with the Roar when Mufasa was heir, but used it for evil purposes, causing the Great Kings to strip Scar of the roar. Therefore, Kion's greatest fear is to become similar to Scar, and it is this reason that forces him to regulate his use of the Roar.
  • This whole trope was the moral of the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "One Bad Apple." Lampshaded by Sweetie Belle.
    Sweetie Belle: Why does life have to be so ironic?!
  • The Powerpuff Girls become this in "Candy Is Dandy." They strike a deal with Mojo Jojo to get an endless supply of candy, but when the candy gives out, they beat Mojo to a pulp like they never had before. It's Blossom who finally realizes this, the girls becoming as bad as the villains they fight over a candy addiction.
  • On ReBoot, little Enzo Matrix never took the presence of Lawful Evil Megabyte too seriously, until Megabyte finally took over Mainframe, exiled The Hero, Bob, into the WWW and pushed Enzo into despair until he was trapped in games. When Enzo came back much older and much more serious, he's willing to execute viruses in cold blood and killing Megabyte was all he could think of. In the episode "Number 7," he ended up in a simulation of Mainframe, where he rebooted in Megabyte's body and easily played the part unconsciously. That same episode also shows that Matrix suffers from a lot of self-loathing over what he's become and fears he's truly become a monster like Megabyte. Ultimately, Matrix is able to calm his rage enough to decide Megabyte was Not Worth Killing.
  • Robot Chicken does an extrapolation of Revenge of the Nerds and points out how what the Nerds do is worse that what was done to them, and that what they did was in fact illegal.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Played surprisingly straight in the Revenge Is a Dish Best Served Three Times segment "Revenge of the Geeks", in which, the Elementary School's group of nerds, tired of being bullied, created a weapon and gave it to Milhouse, since he's the only one with hand-eye coordination. At first, he uses the invention to get back at the bullies, but then he started to use it on anybody who wronged him in the past, to the point of becoming a bully himself. Lisa, who was narrating the story, says that the aesop of the story is that revenge can make you as bad as the people who harm you. (Homer, however, interpreted it as "Never put down your weapon.")
    • Lampshaded in "Sex, Pies and Idiot Scrapes," where Homer and Ned become bounty hunters and Homer scolds Ned for "not becoming as bad as the people they were hunting."
  • South Park loves this trope. In one particular episode, in order to keep tomato Kenny alive, Stan and Kyle enlisted the Republicans, and showed Kenny on national TV like that...only to learn that his last wish, if he were ever hooked up to a feeding tube, was "...for the love of God, don't show me on national TV like that.". Downplayed, since this was an accident; the rest of their methods weren't that bad and they still had good intentions.
    • Kyle Broflovski gets this most, considering his personal hatred for Cartman (not that Cartman's actions make it any less justifiable). Episodes such as "Fatbeard" display his borderline murderous vendetta against him.
      • In earlier season it was implied that Eric Cartman became such a Jerkass because he was constantly bullied for his weight. "Cartman's Silly Hate Crime 2000" goes so far to imply that Clyde almost underwent the same evolution after the boys turned their attention onto him instead, even taking on some of Cartman's obnoxious attributes.
    • The episode "Butterballs" depicts anti-bullying advocates as being no better that those they are fighting against. Or the people that eventually advocate against them... and those that advocate against them...
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In the pre-movie seasons, Mr. Krabs was originally the Big Good to Plankton's Big Bad, simply defending his business against Plankton's Evil Plans. Post-movie, due to Flanderization, he's often shown to be just as evil and cruel as Plankton, if not worse, and often makes it his personal duty to sabotage Plankton when he's making legitimate profits or simply isn't miserable. In "The Krabby Kronicle," Plankton himself is actually disgusted at how low Krabs would stoop to make money:
      Plankton: And I thought I was evil!
    • Compared to Squidward Tentacles, who openly hates SpongeBob and doesn't bother hiding it, Mrs. Puff was a docile, well meaning character whose nerves have slowly been worn at by SpongeBob's antics. Several episodes have shown her take increasingly desperate and sometimes unscrupulous measures just to finally get away from him and in one episode, she outright tried to murder him.
  • Bismuth from Steven Universe is this due to her making a weapon designed to kill her enemies (Homeworld Gems) with has plans to commit genocide against them and will destroy anyone who stands in her way (even allies), thus becoming as bad as the Homeworld Gems she fights against who have done the same against their enemies and allies.
  • Tom and Jerry: On the rare occasion that Jerry loses to Tom, this trope is often his undoing, being so set in his vendetta against Tom that he'll attack him beyond provocation or even draw the first blow.
  • Depth Charge in Transformers: Beast Wars snubbed most of the Maximal cast to continue his hunt for Rampage, who had murdered the colony he was supposed to protect beforehand. The one time he decided not to put his vendetta before an important mission, he was ambushed by his prey, and chose to finish him off in a suicide attack rather than return to his duty. Being frequently AWOL allowed him to pull off several Big Damn Heroes moments, but that doesn't excuse his not being there fighting in the first place. He also utters this trope's Stock Phrase word-for-word: "It's not revenge I'm looking for, it's justice." Depth Charge even went head-to-head with Optimus over it, when he showed no remorse at Cheetor's death and didn't care about what really happened to him. Optimus-fucking-Primal had to threaten him with a lobotomy to get an answer and some respect. Once Depth Charge opened up a bit, he revealed a fondness for Cheetor.
    • Let's also throw in the Maximal government; they locked down all information and locations related to the Great War, Big Brother style, they experimented on their own citizens in order to copy a condition in a Decepticon's spark that rendered it immortal (resulting in the creation of Rampage and the atrocities he committed, above), and their treatment of the Predacons is very much like the treatment of the Allies towards post-World War I Germany. All in the name of keeping the peace and not letting the atrocities of the past come back to haunt Cybertron again.
    • Megatron himself is this in several continuities, such as most of the comics series, Beast Wars, Transformers: Animated and Prime, usually getting his start fighting against an oppressive and unjust Autobot/Maximal regime, and then going more mad and power-hungry than the guys he rebelled against.
  • The seeming moral of the animated short "Who's Afraid of Mr. Greedy"
  • This is why the Winx Club has so many problems with how Nebula and her Warrior Fairies go about fighting with the Wizards of the Black Circle, believing that vengeance will make them no better than their enemies. (The Winx want to stop the Wizards, too, but disagree with the Warrior Fairies' methods.) Aisha rejects the Winx after the death of Nabu when they still believe that acting out of vengeance would make them just as bad as the Wizards. Nebula finally realizes how far she has fallen, from Fairy of Peace to Fairy of War, she tells the others to leave her to presumably die as they flee a destructing planet.


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Alternative Title(s): The Abyss Gazes Also, Those Who Fight Monsters, She Who Fights Monsters

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What Do You Sacrifice?

Luthen knows what he has become in his quest to build the Rebellion and take down the Empire.

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