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Hurting Hero

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"You want to know how to write a good story? You take a group of interesting, likable, wonderful characters. And you turn their lives into Hell on Earth."

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Good guys are happy, right? Good Feels Good, and, as such, a hero should always feel spectacular, right?

Not always.

Sometimes, being The Chosen One is hard, especially when it puts your life in danger, consumes all your free time, and makes you choose between being alone or putting your loved ones in danger.

Heroic powers can have a terrifying will of their own, be hard to control, or demand that a price be paid. If the Hurting Hero Jumped at the Call, they'll probably wish they had Been Careful What They Wished For and think I Just Want to Be Normal. Even for "cleaner" heroes, the constant pressure of having to save people over and over can lead to Heroic Fatigue.

Heroes are also not immune to personal tragedy, and the memory of certain events and people can haunt them like everyone else. A Dark and Troubled Past can make them not even find peace in their sleep. The audience will love them for it, in that twisted and tender way they love The Woobie.

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Different heroes handle this different ways. Some get dark and broody, some drink, some cease to care how they look, some play the idiot, and some force a smile and crack bad jokes, because if the whole world thinks you're happy, that many people can't be wrong. Can they?

Sometimes, the pressure gets too great, leading to anything from a Heroic BSoD, to a full-on Fallen Hero Face–Heel Turn. Some heroes go Don't You Dare Pity Me! Others are glad for a little comfort.

Still, heroes are heroes. They can and will rise above their weakness and pain and call for everyone and the villain to come and see what they can do, and they'll do it, thus earning their happy ending, eventually. On the more cynical side of the spectrum, beware the Hurting Hero who decides they have absolutely nothing to lose by tearing the villain's spine out of their asshole if they get pushed too far.

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Compare Being Good Sucks. May cause a villain or bystander to express Sympathy for the Hero.


Examples

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    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Spaghetti Westerns, heroes hurt in more ways than one. Generally they are near-invincible gunslingers who are nonetheless subject to the most horrible of tortures. The titular character in Django embodies this, his invincibility almost becoming a curse to him because he is trapped in a cycle of violence he cannot get out of.
  • End of Days: Jericho is reeling from the untimely deaths of his beloved wife and child in a robbery home invasion while he was working on a security job. He's clearly depressed and contemplates shooting himself when his best friend visits him at the start, and it's a plot point that he's not really cut out to fight the Devil because he doesn't believe or think there's much worth saving.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man 3 has Tony suffering from PTSD-like symptoms following his near-death experience in The Avengers and is obsessed with keeping his loved ones safe to the point where he has upgraded his armor 40 times since The Avengers.
    • Thor has to watch as his little brother goes insane and becomes a megalomaniac, and then he is personally tasked with bringing that little brother to justice. Then he is kept away from his sweetheart by the long, draining intergalactic war his brother's actions kick-started. Then he watches his mother die right in front of him, as he is seconds too late to save her. Then his father becomes suicidal due to the grief of his recent loss, forcing him to commit treason in order to preserve his homeworld's safety. And then his brother apparently bleeds to death in his arms after saving his life. It's no small wonder that the poor guy needs a break by the end of Thor: The Dark World.
      It only gets worse for him from there. Thor: Ragnarok culminates in him having to take up the mantle of Asgard's king after Odin's passing, though the realm of Asgard itself wounds up obliterated in the clash between Hela and Surtur. He is able to evacuate all of the people, however, and things seemed like they might get better once they can find a new home... until Thanos intercepts their ship, in pursuit of the Space Stone in Loki's possession. Around half of the Asgardian refugees under Thor's custody are slaughtered by Thanos' Order, while Thanos himself personally executes both Heimdall and Loki. In the end, Thor very nearly stopps Thanos from completing his goal, but discovers to his horror that he failed. Three weeks later, it turns out that they can't even use the Infinity Stones to reverse what Thanos did, as Thanos has made sure to destroy them himself. Though Thor is able to kill Thanos now, they have lost the war. During the five-year Time Skip from there, he has become a reclusive alcoholic, his once-admirable physique lost to years of inactivity and abuse, and he can't even bear to hear Thanos' name. Poor guy.
    • Bruce Banner, naturally. He has to deal with the loss of his life, his work and his love interest, all the while managing the Hulk and Ross' plan to dissect him. In The Avengers (2012) he admits he tried to commit suicide and that his secret to bring out the Hulk is that he's always angry. As of Age of Ultron, he had to deal with his self-enforced exile, giving up a chance to be with Natasha, and worst of all The Hulk remains in control for two whole years. This line in Avengers: Infinity War really sells it:
      Tony Stark: Banner, you want a piece?
      Bruce Banner: No, not really, but when do I ever get what I want?
      • Endgame surprisingly makes Bruce a subversion of this. In Endgame, Bruce comes to an understanding with the Hulk and he fuses the two of them together, giving Bruce the Hulk's body permanently, but keeping his mind completely intact. This gives him a new out look on life since he is able to return to his work and no one is afraid of him any more. He is even able to enjoy his superhero reputation and is quite popular among children. All in all, after everything Bruce went though, things turned out pretty good for him.
    • Good lord, Black Panther. In his debut, he was a man driven by revenge over the murder of his father, but by the start of his own movie the culprit has been brought to justice and he is crowned king. Smooth sailing from here? No. The villain of the film, Erik Killmonger, is T'Challa's long-lost cousin, the son of his uncle who betrayed Wakanda and was killed by his father in self-defense. Killmonger, a child at the time, was completely abandoned to keep what happened a secret. Killmonger challenges T'Challa to the right to the throne and wins, nearly killing him in the process. His spirit as beaten as his body, T'Challa only returns to the world of the living after calling out his father and the other previous kings of Wakanda for their policy of isolationism leading to this tragedy, as well as confronting his beloved father for abandoning his nephew and causing Killmonger's Start of Darkness. He wins and regains the throne in the end, of course, but even the villain's death is a moment of tragedy, not celebration. Notably, T'Challa spends several scenes of the film in tears, but Chadwick Boseman pulls it off, his open display of gentler emotions not making him look weak in the slightest.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • Superman is put through the wringer in both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. As a child, he had to deal with his powers manifesting and causing him all kinds of grief (particularly his super-senses), which led to the other kids ostracizing and bullying him because his powers made him "act weird". Then he finds out as a preteen that he's not even human (even though he looks just like one), with his adoptive parents constantly stressing that he keep his abilities secret out of fear that people would fear and hate him. He then loses his father and spends several years aimlessly wandering, trying to look for answers. When he does, he inadvertently brings the Kryptonian survivors to Earth, who are determined to exterminate humanity to bring Krypton back, forcing him to fight the last members of his own species. At the end, he is left haunted by the deaths from the collateral damage of the fight, and then has to kill General Zod to save an innocent family. Things get worse in the sequel, as Superman has to deal with skeptics who are afraid of his power and those who practically worship him as a messiah figure. Oh yeah, and he dies, though he does get better later on.
    • Alongside his Death by Origin Story parents, Batman is in mourning for his deceased sidekick Robin, who was killed by the Joker. He also laments the fact that he's been fighting crime in Gotham for almost twenty years by the time of Dawn of Justice and has next to nothing to show for it.
    • Wonder Woman went through World War One, seeing the lowest depths that humanity could sink to, and lost her First Love Steve Trevor. This, along with other painful events, led to her losing faith in her ability to help humanity, though she does gain it back over time as she makes friends with the other Justice League members.
    • While he's the Plucky Comic Relief and thus considerably less angsty than the others, Barry Allen also counts. His mother was mysteriously murdered and his father was wrongfully convicted and sentenced to life in prison for her death. Since then, Barry's been desperately trying to get into a crime forensics school to learn the tricks of the trade so he can clear his father's name and find out the truth behind his mother's death. He also doesn't have many friends, which is why he immediately accepts Bruce's offer to join the Justice League.
  • Mark Steven Johnson adopts the tradition for Daredevil (2003). Matt Murdock's superhero lifestyle is depicted as being a thankless and torturous affair.

    Web Original 
  • RWBY: Jaune Arc. Since Pyrrha's death, he outwardly projects an image of being the same lovable goofball he's always been, but he very clearly misses her and regrets not being able to save her. He torments himself nightly by training to her videos, which includes an aborted attempt by her to reveal her feelings. He incorporates elements into his clothing and weapons design inspired by her, including wearing a red sash at his waist and melting down the metal from her circlet and armour to trim his shield and sword. When he confronts Cinder at Haven, he loses control of his anger over what she did to Pyrrha, an act which almost costs him his life.

    Western Animation 
  • There is an ever present yet dignified sadness in Peter Cullen's performance of Optimus Prime, as if The Great War has affected him so deeply, that he is always crying deep inside. Cullen stated in interviews that he drew inspiration from his brother, a Shell-Shocked Veteran of The Vietnam War, who told him before the audition for Optimus "Don't be a tough hero; you are strong enough to be gentle."
    • Most particularly, in his Transformers: Prime incarnation.
      • It's significantly increased in his non G1 performances, possibly because the Film and Prime versions have Cybertron ruined by the war, whereas G1 still had the hope of things eventually getting back to normal (and indeed they eventually do in the finale). In G1, Prime would occasionally crack a few dry jokes, insult or taunt the cons, and hang out with the bots, watching TV or playing basketball. 2007 and beyond Prime is all business. He'll make heroic speeches and cheer people up, and is badass in battle, but is almost always all business. He also sounds older, not exactly old, but more like a general in his late 40s to 50s, though that's probably because Peter Cullen is 20 years older.
  • Adventure Time:
    • The more you learn about Marceline the Vampire Queen, the more you'll want to give her a big hug. Born the half-demon daughter of Hunson Abadeer (who is Adventure Time's version of Satan) and a human woman, Marcy lost her mom in the mushroom wars. In the post-apocalypse she was taken care of by Simon Petrikov until he left to protect her from himself (he was losing his memories and sense of self because of the ice crown). When she turned into a teenage she decided to protect people by destroying all of Ooo's vampires, during which time she befriended a group of survivors. As she was killing the vampire king however, not only did her friends have to leave and never come back, but she was turned into a vampire her self meaning she would out live them and most everyone else she would befriended. Over the next thousand years Marcy would meet and bond with her dad, until he ate her fries (which considering how little food was available to Marcy growing, is a big deal), and she met, befriended, and started a relationship with Princess Bubblegum until the candy kingdom got so large that Bubblegum accidentally pushed Marcy away. Also the amnesiac Simon-turned Ice King would find her year after year to do stuff with her despite not remembering anything about her every time and she had a jerk of an ex boyfriend named Ash who stole her teddy bear and sold it to a which for a wand. While things start looking up for her after she befriends Finn, she still has to deal with her father trying to force her to take over the Nightosphere (Hell). Thankfully, Marcy and Bubblegum patch things up and start dating again by the finale. Unfortunately, Farmworld Marceline had it even worse off than her main timeline counterpart and doesn't get a happy ending, poor girl.
    • While Finn is usually pretty cheerful, he is definitely still this when it comes to his human parents or the lack of other humans. His lowest point was definitely after the double whammy of his brake-up with Flame Princess and losing his arm only a short time after (plus his disappointing reunion with his human father). Thankfully by the second time he loses his arm he takes it much better.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang is the last of his people alive and under tremendous pressure to save the world.
  • Subverted in Justice League, when Orion thinks that Flash covers this trope, but is proven wrong:
    Orion: Now I understand. You play the fool to hide a warrior's pain.
    Flash: Dude, the bad guys went down, and nobody got hurt. You know what I call that? A really good day.
  • In the opening two-part episode of Batman Beyond, Terry correctly infers this when Bruce Wayne initially refuses to get directly involved to stop Powers' nerve-gas project:
    Terry: Something happened to you, didn't it? And it wasn't just that you got old.
  • Rick and Morty: If you consider Morty Smith a hero, the entirety of the show should do the trick; from when he gets almost raped in "Meeseeks and Destroy," to living with the guilt of Rick accidentally turning all non-related humans into Cronenberg-esque creatures on his behalf in "Rick Potion #9. And that's just the first season.

 
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Video Example(s):

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Tawna

The signs are clear early on that something bad happen to her Crash and Coco as she was briefly on the verge of tears when Coco brought it up. It turns out that they died at the hands of her N. Tropy. She tries to keep their distance from them, yet always works to help them from the shadows. She also tries to keep them from confronting N. Trophy out of fear losing them.

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