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Outdated Hero vs. Improved Society

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Iska: Nebulis, you may have been the hope that led all astral mages 100 years ago. But no... seeing your actions made me understand... Right now, in this age...
Alice: You are no longer needed!

Someone who was unambiguously considered to be The Hero or A Lighter Shade of Grey in the past has now reached the point where their actions or viewpoint can be considered unnecessary, bigoted, or even outright villainous.

They may become a Heel or Jerkass after Slowly Slipping Into Evil or suffering Motive Decay, but they're roughly the same as they ever were. It's just that, now, their ideologies, goals, or methods, which once could have been seen positively, are now widely considered outdated. At best, they've become a Politically Incorrect Hero. If they slip further, they can become an Anti-Hero who opposes The Hero or the Big Good but otherwise has good intentions. However, at their worst, society has progressed so far in morality that now they're unambiguously the bad guy.

The point to this trope is that society has moved on without incident since the hey-day of the Fallen Hero. In other words, within the work, we see little or no downsides for what the society criticizes the past hero about. Either it has gotten closer to (or actually become) an honest-to-God Utopia, or the past hero's methods simply no longer work.

The setting does not have to be Like Reality, Unless Noted, but it cannot be dystopic. If the change is something modern-day Real Life considers "wrong" (everyone is now extremely obese), issues that make it "bad" must be addressed in-universe (obesity is not only attractive in this world, but the related health issues and disabilities are a thing of the past). If the change is morally complicated, then at some point, the old-fashioned character MUST be on the "wrong" side.

A subtrope of Nostalgia Filter and combination of Values Dissonance and Fallen Hero. May overlap with Noble Bigot (and Noble Bigot with a Badge), Cowboy Cop, Military Maverick, Racist Grandma, Born in the Wrong Century, and Jaded Washout. Subversion of Hero with Bad Publicity and Villain with Good Publicity, since the one with the bad publicity is the one that's wrong. Sympathetic portrayals may overlap with Tragic Villain or Byronic Hero, as well as Broken Pedestal. A character that expects this will often proclaim that there's No Place for Me There. May be considered a heroic version of "You Have Outlived Your Usefulness".

This is an Undead Horse Trope and the polar opposite of Graying Morality. Because of that, it's far more common to see aversions, inversions, subversions, or deconstructions of this trope, such as Crapsaccharine World, Happiness Is Mandatory, Gray-and-Grey Morality, Good Is Old-Fashioned, Good Is Boring, Victory Is Boring, Bad Future, or Bad Present.

Before adding examples to this page, please note a few things:

  • Since calling a Real Life person a hero or a villain, and an idea outdated, is very subjective and controversial, No Real Life Examples, Please!
  • Remember, a dystopia disqualifies an example from being this trope. Thus, no matter what the characters, setting or narrative says, any normalized or celebrated societal changes that involve ethical or human rights violations as established by modern standards (ecological damage, slavery, abuse, bigotry, lower "quality of life", etc.) are usually signs that the setting is such a dystopia. Even if not, at the very least, it would likely prove too controversial for this page.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Played for Laughs in DD Fist of the North Star where the great nuclear wars of 199X never happened. As a result, there are no barren wastelands, no bloodthirsty bandits, and no need for Hokuto Shinken. Instead, the streets of Japan remain clean and civilized. As such, Kenshiro, Raoh, and Toki's usual skills are next to useless, with Kenshiro having been fired from his job at the start of the story, and the plot revolves around the brothers competing against each other for the position of a part-time convenience store worker.
  • Our Last Crusade or the Rise of a New World: A century ago, the Empire branded men and women born with magical power as "witches", hunted them down, and killed them. One of the most powerful of these witches, Eve Sophi Nebulis (better known as 'Nebulis'), rebelled and led her fellow witches against the Empire, forming the Sovereignty of Nebulis before she was eventually sealed away. A century later, and both the Empire and Nebulis are still locked in a Forever War that both Alice (a witch and direct descendant of Nebulis' young twin Alicerose) and Iska (an elite swordsman of the Empire and successor of the swordsman who sealed Nebulis) wish to end to stop the senseless bloodshed. After Nebulis is released from her seal, declares her intention to destroy the Empire and everyone in it, and then attacks Alice when she tries to reason with her, both Alice and Iska realize that regardless of her actions a century ago, she's now a threat that needs to be dealt with.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin the titular rurouni Himura Kenshin suffers this on occasion, as do many of his colleagues and enemies who also survived the wars that led up to the Meiji era. He himself prefers it, and hopes that the Meiji government, for all its flaws, can be an improved society where people don't have to suffer and die like they did during the Revolution, while many of the villains are trying to push for a remilitarized society more like the age of bloodshed they remember. That said, it's also inverted in that the other class of villains come from several of the old revolutionaries instead parlaying their success to become Corrupt Politicians, morally-bankrupt businessmen, or criminal kingpins, abandoning the virtues of their warrior age for the vices of capitalism and profiteering, which is another source of tension in the series.

    Comic Books 
  • DC Comics:
    • In his original time of Ancient Egypt, Black Adam's methods were the mark of a great and mighty hero who would stop at nothing to free his people, rule them as a wise and just king and provide them with plenty, and keep them safe from threats. Five thousand years later, those same methods make him an ultraviolent, bloodthirsty, vengeance-prone mass murderer whose tendency to go on massive rampages whenever he feels personally wronged cause him to continually come into conflict with the heroes of the day.
    • The reason the DC version of Heracles/Hercules is often depicted as a villain is that society has changed greatly since Ancient Greece while Herc has stayed exactly the same and the actions that used to get him acclaimed as a great hero now get him condemned as a monster. He is extremely and needlessly violent as well as incredibly arrogant and entitled, expecting to be treated with groveling adulation just for existing. He's also a raging misogynist who personally raped Hippolyta and led the mass rape/sexual enslavement of the Amazons that got him turned to stone and forced to bear the burden of holding up Themyscira, which he personally sees as time served for a misdeed and cannot understand why the Amazons would still happily kill him on sight given the chance.
  • Captain America: Played With, because in his case society may have improved, but the government running it hasn't. While he laments some things he did during World War II, he remained The Cape and fought for what he understood to be good in accordance with contemporary values. Helping matters was the fact that, during his day, America was an isolationist country and not quite the Hegemonic Empire it became during the Cold War. During comic book arcs that were published during The '60s, The '70s, and The '80s, a lot of angst was tossed his way because certain things like The Vietnam War and a lot of corrupt government officials generated an extreme (In-Universe and out) hatred for "The Man" and anything that represented him (like Cap). In nearly all portrayals of the character, Cap reaches a point where he realizes that his country isn't merely defending the world from evil, but has in its own way become the problem. Depending on the Writer, his stories either take a Graying Morality bent, whereas Cap is Only Sane Man, or this trope, whereupon Cap realizes that he is on the wrong side. But really it depends on what point that particular writer wants to make.
  • Magneto:
    • Depending on the Writer, he may fit this trope during his Start of Darkness origins. After surviving horrible atrocities against the worst types of human beings (usually Nazi concentration camps during World War II), the young man who would be Magneto saw similar hate-mongering starting to appear against mutants, which he himself was. At some point, he joined forces with another mutant named Charles Xavier and the two made great achievements protecting and advancing mutantkind. However, Magneto remained convinced that human-mutant coexistence was impossible and that mutants had to eventually take control from humanity. The falling out between himself and Charles and their incompatible ideologies is the impetus for the X-Men series.
    • In particular, Grant Morrison's run on X-Men directly makes the claim that Magneto's contribution to mutantkind is over and that even the mutant populace would rather fondly remember him as an obsolete hero.
    Professor Xavier: Magneto had become a legend in death, an inspiration for change. Now look at you—just another foolish and self-important old man, with outdated thoughts in his head. You have nothing this new generation of mutants wants...except for your face on a T-shirt.
    • The series Magneto: Not A Hero made the case that Magneto is neither a "hero" nor a "villain". He is a Moral Pragmatist. He will always seek the most direct and proactive ways to end mutant oppression and help them become the dominant species on the planet. Depending on the current status quo, sometimes the most direct method is to help the X-Men or other heroes, and sometimes it means battling against them, in which case, he becomes this trope.
    • Ironically, post 2010s, the fanbase has swung the other way as it's become increasingly obvious that mutantkind does need some militant leaders. The Krakoan age has pushed Magneto to even higher prominence, while guys like Cyclops believe that Xavier's dream, while noble, requires a lot more force than he wished to believe. The guy who is considered outdated these days is Xavier, as his dream and nigh-pacifism are considered incredibly naive these days.
  • In Marvel Comics' mythology works (The Mighty Thor, The Incredible Hercules and others), many gods succumb to this trope as they can't deal with a world that's moved on without them (Or, in fact, their lives may depend on being worshipped). In particular, in some of their douchebaggiest moments, Zeus and Odin have both hatched terrible schemes to trick or cow humanity into worshipping them again, usually by some sort of apocalyptic show of force. Fortunately, Thor, Hercules, and other characters who are loyal to humanity have typically talked them out of it.
  • Uncanny X-Men: Exodus, an ancient mutant who was a knight during The Crusades and faithful ally of the Black Knight before his dormant powers were awakened by Apocalypse who intended to use him as a herald. While Exodus was able to come back to his senses and stop himself from killing the Black Knight, he was entombed for centuries before being awoken by Magneto above, who indoctrinated him into the modern-day crusade of mutant supremacy. Just like Black Adam, Exodus's methods proved incompatible with the modern day and only served to get him into conflicts with superheroes. Perhaps because he is a younger immortal, Exodus has been growing out of this with time, once being recruited by S.H.I.E.L.D. to lead their psi division and currently being entrusted with the critically important duty of educating mutant children in X-Men (2019). He's not out of the woods yet (he still idolizes Magneto beyond reason and parrots mutant propaganda about the Scarlet Witch), but all in all he has a better chance of outgrowing this trope than most of the other characters on this list. At the conclusion of the 2021 X-Men: The Trial of Magneto story, he gladly admits he was wrong about Wanda and tells the children new stories about how 'the Pretender became the Redeemer'.

    Fan Works 
  • Merlin in A Tale of Too Many Worlds As Chrestomanci sadly notes, he's still a fundamentally good guy the problem is that the world has long changed since his era and there's really no place for him.
    "I think he still is," Chrestomanci said, "but the world has changed around him. Thrones are getting along quite happily, you see," he told Merlin. "Civilised worlds don't take well to smiting. We no longer stand on mountaintops and hurl fireballs at enemy hordes. Instead, we work for the government and help pass laws to stop others doing things like that." He looked a little regretful.
    Films — Live-Action 
  • Demolition Man: Subverted Trope. One of the major plot points is that John Spartan, your average Eighties/Nineties red-blooded American Cowboy Cop, is seen by everybody in the futuristic city of San Angeles (which runs on Political Overcorrectness) as a curiosity at best and a mindless brute at worst (they really have no problem calling him terms like "neanderthal" to his face). Of course, the reality is San Angeles runs on a very prissy kind of fascism and it takes someone with Spartan's will to point it out, let alone do something about it.
    John Spartan, in the epilogue: [To Da Chief] You're gonna get a little dirtier, [to Edgar Friendly] and you're gonna get a lot cleaner... and somewhere in the middle, I think things will work out.
  • James Bond: Ever since Goldeneye and especially in the Daniel Craig reboot series, one of the underlying plot points of the franchise is how super-spies like Bond are seen as relics of the Cold War, useless because everybody thinks that drones and hackers are the way of the future, terrorism is a murkier enemy and even that Bond's preference for sleeping around is a representation of sexual predation. The answer: it's likely true that Bond is a relic of a dying age, but it's his methods that will likely prove unnecessary in the future, not his function. Espionage will always be necessary for the defense of national security, believing that all of it can be done without having someone on the field is utter foolishness, and it will never be a nice business with 100% clean methods...but unsavory tactics will become exceptions more than rules.
  • Star Trek Beyond: Captain Balthazar Edison was a hero of the Romulan and Xindi Wars. When Starfleet was formed and the Federation preferred cooperation between alien species rather than waging wars, Edison, a Space Marine, was made a Space Navy captain and given an exploration ship. That, coupled with being abandoned (so he thinks, the Federation simply never received his Distress Signal due to electromagnetic interference) in uncharted territories by the society he once proudly served was the final straw that drove him mad and led him to swear vengeance, becoming the film's villain Krall.
  • Into The Storm has this as its theme when it comes to Winston Churchill, and arguably imperial Britain as a whole.

  • Speaker for the Dead: At the end of Ender's Game, Ender is universally respected as the savior of humanity for his defeat of the Buggers. By the time of this sequel set 3000 years later, however, he is universally reviled for his extermination of the Buggers, who are regarded sympathetically. This shift is largely due to his own actions; Ender himself was empathetic to the Buggers and wrote a book (under the Pen Name "Speaker for the Dead") from their perspective that proved to be very influential. Interestingly, while "Ender" the military commander was reviled, the "Speaker for the Dead" became revered and the founder of a kind of pseudo-religion of "speakers for the dead" who would be invited to "speak the death" of an individual (usually with Brutal Honesty). Ender himself became one of these (before converting to Catholicism, but we won't get into that).
  • In Mistborn: The Original Trilogy Kelsier is considered a messianic figure and, while we're led to question his motives and methods, he's still portrayed as heroic overall. By the time of the sequel series, though, it's noted that a character follows the same black and white unforgiving attitude. And that definitely makes him a villain, because he's not fighting a horrific dystopia anymore.
  • In The Stormlight Archive by the same author this is played with, in that it's implied Dalinar will come to be seen this way if they win. Wit tells him that he's a tyrant, but that he doesn't think Roshar is ready for anything better. And it certainly isn't ready for massive social change in the middle of the apocalypse. So, while in other times he might denounce Dalinar viciously, here he may be exactly what is needed.
  • Stanisław Lem's novel Return from the Stars plays on this trope with a Science Hero. The protagonist is an astronaut who returns to Earth after an exploratory mission with a century-long relativistic gap, to a society which had long removed its violent impulses and sees him as borderline savage. These same violent impulses are implied to be a main driving factor in heroic exploration of the kind he engaged in, and now such sacrifices in the name of science are viewed by society as wasteful and unnecessary showing-off which doesn't really benefit anyone.

    Live-Action TV 
  • One segment in the Babylon 5 season four finale, "The Deconstruction of Falling Stars", set 100 years in the future from the rest of the show, has some Pompous Political Pundits questioning John Sheridan's motives in creating the Interstellar Alliance, essentially calling him a megalomaniac who was out to feed his ego (though they acknowledge he did do a lot of good despite this). Then Old Lady Delenn shows up, just to call them out on their hatchet job and tell several million people watching that Sheridan was a good man.
  • Barney Miller: Inspector Luger goes out on a call with one of the detectives to catch a thief. When they do, the Inspector cuffs him and then smacks the perp around until he gives up the goods, which used to be the norm but isn't allowed anymore. The Inspector's temporary partner Wojo is quite upset over this.
  • In Blue Bloods there's a recurring theme of how being a Cowboy Cop was a lot more accepted when Grandpa Henry was on the force than it is now: the streets of New York were rougher and there weren't any cell phone cameras. In one episode, there's a threat to an officer from organized crime, and Henry remarks to an old friend about how in a similar situation when he was police commissioner, he sent the boys in blue out to crack heads until somebody coughed up a name. This then shows up on YouTube as Henry admitting to Police Brutality. It's revealed later that Henry was being a Papa Wolf; the officer in danger was his son Frank Reagan, the current PC.
  • Played With in The Boys (2019) with Soldier Boy, a Captain America Expy who spent the last 50 years as a Russian POW and is troubled by how much the West has changed since. However, it's ultimately subverted as it's revealed that even back in his own time he was already a massive jerk to begin with.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • The first two seasons have the Kohn-Ma and the Circle, both being Bajoran groups that came out of La Résistance to the Cardassian Occupation but who now are violently opposed to any foreign presence on Bajor, including the Federation protagonists' humanitarian relief efforts out of Deep Space 9 at the request of the Bajoran Provisional Government. Bajorans friendly to the Federation regard them as little more than terrorists, and not the good kind.
    • The series has a recurring theme of Cardassians attempting to reclaim what they see as Cardassia's glorious past. Late in the series, after Legate Damar pulls a Heel–Face Turn against the Dominion who have reduced Cardassia to a puppet state, he's even forced to gun down one of his own allies and an old friend, Gul Rusot, when he lets his enthusiasm for the old ways get in the way of the immediate mission of bringing down the Dominion.

    Tabletop Gaming 
  • General Varchild from Magic: The Gathering is a tragic example. A Kjeldoran Fallen Hero from the time of the Dominarian Ice Age, she started out as a Country Mouse turned knight whose valor won her a place of leadership under King Darien, and despite her bone-deep racism towards the Balduvian barbarians (who had killed her brother and uncle in their raids), she was able to set that aside and accept an Enemy Mine situation with them against the necromancer Lim-Dûl. But after Lim-Dûl's defeat, Varchild couldn't accept a long-term peace with the Balduvians and rebelled against Darien in the hopes of seeing "Balduvia burn to warm Kjeldor's hearth" once and for all. While Varchild's final fate is unknown, it is known that her crusade failed, with the Kjeldorans and Balduvians ultimately uniting into the nation of New Argive some twenty years later.

    Video Games 
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, Teyrn Loghain Mac Tir's worldview is stuck in the time of the Orlesian occupation of his country, so he considers a handful of Orlesian Grey Wardens and the possibility of King Cailan divorcing Loghain's daughter and marrying the Orlesian Empress instead a much bigger threat to Ferelden than, say, an endless horde of Always Chaotic Evil monsters who spread The Plague and are led by a giant unkillable Dracolich from the underworld. This ultimately makes him the secondary Big Bad of the story, after said dracolich.
  • Mass Effect:
    • The krogan were originally seen by the galaxy as heroes for their aggression, determinattion, Super-Toughness, and Explosive Breeding which allowed them to survive their homeworld turning the tide of and winning the Rachni Wars. But in the peace and prosperity afterward those traits led the krogan to overpopulate the planets they were given so they seized more by force, then responded to diplomatic efforts to make them stop by going to war with the rest of the galaxy stopping only once the genophage was deployed meaning they no longer had the numbers to continue fighting. Other than keeping the statue commemorating their past heroism the krogan are now viewed as a menace because they're sticking to their outdated ways so would go back to warmongering given the chance, which will happen in 3 unless they're led by Urdnot Wrex who's one of the few krogan to recognize his race needs to change to have a place or future.
    • The Illusive Man, aka Jack Harper, was once an Alliance hero who fought in the First Contact War against the war-like (and mildly genocidal) turian species. From the viewpoint of the humans, this was their First Contact (natch) with an alien race and these guys were willing to nuke entire civilian cities from orbit to force humans to surrender. However, the whole "war" was a tragic misunderstanding and once things were cleared up, humans were welcomed into galactic society. However, peace was a bitter pill to swallow for many humans (such as Harper), who never lost his "Humans First" priorities. Many humans, in fact, still see him as a hero; even humans with no hate for aliens appreciate what he does to protect mankind—which is how he pooled together thousands of like-minded persons from the military and civilian spheres to create Cerberus, a major antagonist faction across the first Mass Effect trilogy.
  • Metal Gear: Almost every major Big Bad or Greater-Scope Villain in the franchise qualifies for this trope. Part of the conflict of the series revolves around the problem of what becomes of great soldiers once their job is done. For example, many in Army's Heaven, Outer Heaven, FOXHOUND, and the Patriots are once-heroes who have no idea how to cope with peace.
  • Sly 2: Band of Thieves: Jean Bison is a nineteenth-century Canadian lumberjack who has survived into the modern via being frozen alive following an avalanche. He is oblivious to the need to conserve natural resources as he seeks to continue his mission to "tame the wild North" via unrestrained chopping down of forests. The writers acknowledge the Deliberate Values Dissonance by having Sly Cooper mentioning that Bison would have been a Hero in his time.


    Western Animation 
  • In the first season of The Legend of Korra, the Equalist Movement holds this opinion of the Avatar, the one person in the world with the power to bend all four elements who is usually also a world-renowned hero (or is destined to be one). Korra, the titular character, is the current living Avatar and isn't quite fully trained when all this goes down. Deconstructed, in that the Equalist Movement really isn't a movement for an improved society but an extremist movement symptomatic of a class divide between benders and non-benders that had been festering since long before Aang, Korra's predecessor, had died. But it came to a head in the peaceful generation after the hundred year war.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: As recently as the beginning of Queen Moon's rule (the mother of the teenage protagonist Star), Mina Loveberry was considered a hero to Mewni for fighting in its wars against armies of monsters. Times since have become more peaceful, so Mina's gung-ho attitude is thought of as less favorable. When Eclipsa becomes queen, and most of the kingdom at least tolerates her pro-monster reforms, Mina becomes an outright Evil Reactionary who wants her dethroned and executed by her own hand.
  • Played for Laughs in SuperMansion with Captain America expy American Ranger, a jingoistic Politically Incorrect Hero and Fish out of Temporal Water with slight biases towards minorities and women but never maliciously so.