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Psycho Sidekick

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"Mouse was the truest friend I ever had. And if there is such a thing as true evil he was that too."
Walter Mosley, A Red Death

A trope common in private eye novels since the 1980s, and occasionally found in other genres. Sometimes, your morally spotless hero has a buddy who's a lot less morally spotless. Often, they've been friends for so long that a bit of moral divergence hasn't spoiled it. On the more moral end of the spectrum, the friend's a Hitman with a Heart or Loveable Rogue. In Darker and Edgier cases, the friend is actually a Punch-Clock Villain, Noble Demon or even a Psycho for Hire, but they deliberately avoid any situation that might actually pit them against one another because it would be just too painful. Of course, the friend could be just a little bit more violent or ruthless than the hero.

When this comes in useful is when the hero has to do something that they don't feel they can do, most often killing somebody who is certain to do horrible things to them or their loved ones or innocent bystanders, but who is too sneaky or too unsuited to combat for them to be conveniently able to kill them in self-defence or some kind of fair fight. At this point the Psycho Sidekick can step in and shoot the helpless guy in the face while the hero feels some slight angst but is grateful that they didn't have to do it.

Contrasted to the case of the Psycho Supporter, in which the main character is genuinely unaware of what the friend is doing. In this case, the main character is perfectly aware of the type of person their friend is and what they do for them. Naturally, this does come across as a bit hypocritical. Sometimes the hypocrisy is ignored by the story, but more often it's lampshaded. It's sometimes explicitly or implicitly argued that the ruthless act isn't so much wrong per se, as something that would brutalise the hero to the point that they'd lose their compassion or ability to empathise with others or ability to act as a moral exemplar to others.

Can be seen as something of an inversion of The Watson, as in the original case of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and in many others, part of the Watson's role is to smooth things over socially and upbraid the main character mildly when he becomes too much of a Jerkass, Sociopathic Hero or Insufferable Genius.

Note that if they're actually psycho, the arrangement usually won't work (but see the Walter Mosley novels discussed below).

Can also be defined cynically as The Dragon, but working for a Designated Hero. Compare Big Bad Friend for when the friend keeps their evil tendencies and plot under wraps. One of these in an ensemble is the Token Evil Teammate. An Indispensable Scoundrel may be this if their personality is nasty enough. Inversions may go under Rude Hero, Nice Sidekick.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Future Diary: At least in the beginning while Yukki still has his moral compass in the fully upright and locked position, Yuno Gasai is what happens when you mix this trope with Yandere and shake rapidly.
  • Paul von Oberstein in Legend of the Galactic Heroes: he works for the (relatively) idealistic Reinhard, and lost no sleep when he let two million people die in a nuclear attack.
  • Virid the Mad Prince from There, Beyond the Beyond, staying true to his name.
  • Akira Atou in Usotsuki Satsuki wa Shi ga Mieru, whose friendship with Satsuki began when the latter stopped her from committing patricide. With a start like that, it is of little surprise that while she'll happily do what she can to assist her best friend's actions, she's also of the belief that Satsuki should let at least a few people die for the sake of her mental wellbeing and reputation (as Satsuki's attempts to warn people of their future deaths have made her a social pariah to the point her own father doesn't trust her). Akira even openly admits that, while Satsuki is probably morally correct in how much she values all human life, she personally agrees more with the philosophy of school council president Mikami, who shares Satsuki's power but instead uses it to ensure the deaths of terrible people.

    Comic Books 
  • Orlando to Mina and Allan in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century
  • Wolverine sometimes plays this role in X-Men, in issues where the other characters are being depicted as relatively pacifistic.
  • Cassidy in Preacher, until his actions become just too evil to tolerate, and both Jesse and the reader discover that he always was that bad.
  • A JLA/Hitman miniseries depicted Tommy Monaghan as a Psycho Sidekick for Superman, and explicitly stated the moral justification of the trope described above.
    • And Natt 'The Hat' to Tommy in the regular Hitman series. Natt does things like shoot the subdued prisoner (he was only going to be sent back) and kill the innocent staff of the mafia safehouse (Tommy said 'Kill everyone'). It becomes apparent over the course of the series that Natt only (mostly) follows Tommy's creed of 'kill only bad guys' because he values their friendship.
  • Captain America: Bucky Barnes is portrayed this way in current books, as a creative Retcon explaining his "harmless" sidekick persona was actually a front for shady activities a public figure like Captain America couldn't be caught doing. He makes quite a darkly hilarious contrast to the older and unfailingly idealistic Cap.
  • Bruce Wayne's son Damian tries to become the psycho equivalent of Robin to Batman, to the point of trying to dispose of Tim Drake in his first appearance. While Bruce was thought dead, Damian served as Robin to Dick Grayson's Batman, and Dick had his hands full trying to teach Damian proper restraint. And in the New 52 DC, Damian is Robin to Bruce.
    Damian/Robin: Now whose neck do I break first?
  • Jailbait and Headcase to Max Damage in Incorruptible. Jailbait was Max's sidekick/underage lover when he was a supervillain, and hasn't taken his Heel–Face Turn and Jail Bait Wait well at all. The last straw was when he left her behind in an attempt to keep her safe. Since she's a bloodthirsty adrenaline junkie, that was the worst thing Max could do to her. Her successor Headcase is even worse — the murder of her whole family unhinged her so badly that she's now a Death Seeker with Max as the only anchor she has in life.
  • When Deadpool and Taskmaster work together, it's usually because one is prepared to do what the other won't. Since neither of them can remember which one is supposed to be the "good guy", they trade off arbitrarily.
  • Daredevil: Elektra Natchios for Matt Murdock.
  • CIA Mercenary Eddie Fyers in the '80s Green Arrow series.
  • The Adventure Time comics make it much more obvious than the TV series that Princess Bubblegum knows about Peppermint Butler's evil tendencies and deliberately uses him as a troubleshooter for problems that Finn is too nice to deal with.
  • In "Year Two" of the Doctor Who (Titan) Eleventh Doctor comics, the TARDIS gets overloaded with these, with the Doctor being accompanied by the Squire, Abslom Daak, and River Song.

    Fan Works 
  • The Sacred and the Profane: "Zirah" (Aziriphale) is a chillingly ruthless Psycho Sidekick to "Caphriel" (Crowley), who ends up having to kill him to protect Adam.
  • Under the Northern Lights: The reindeer see Twilight Sparkle as this to Celestia — the evil sorceress who does the dirty deeds that are needed to support Equestria's power and prosperity, but which would sully Celestia's holy and pure reputation if she did them herself.
  • The Wizard in the Shadows: Harry comes off as this to the rest of the Fellowship. He's well aware that he's thoroughly unbalanced and that he's the Fellowship's big gun, and fortunately gets better. But for a while, he goes off like a bomb at the merest hint that someone's threatening someone he cares about.

    Films — Live-Action 

  • Hawk in Robert B. Parker's Spenser novels: the Trope Codifier in the hard-boiled crime genre and one of the first to appear, resulting in a Fountain of Expies.
  • Mouse in Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels. A particularly extreme example in that he's genuinely Ax-Crazy. And played by Don Cheadle in the 1995 film adaptation of Devil in a Blue Dress.
    Mouse: If you didn't want him dead, Easy — why did you leave him with ME?
  • Clete Purcel in James Lee Burke's Dave Robicheaux novels, although Dave can get a bit more morally ambiguous than is usual in such cases.
  • From Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files series:
    • Bob the Skull is a spirit of intellect, and thus doesn't wholly understand the "morality" thing. Kincaid stands well within Psycho for Hire in most cases, but acts as the Psycho Sidekick to the Archive.
    • Inverted in the case of Harry and Michael, Knight of the Cross. While Harry is heroic, he is more likely to do morally dubious things than Michael, who dislikes people swearing. For instance, an ancient sorcerer who's spent the last 1500 years collaborating with a Fallen Angel and taking part in pretty much every atrocity worth the name, is captured and mockingly gives up his token of the Fallen (one of the coins of the Judas Price), and Michael leaves him be as a result because that's the purpose of the Knights, to save people from the Fallen, despite the fact that he has vital information about the plague that his boss is about to unleash and is taunting them about the torment of their fellow Knight. Michael is bound. Harry is not. So Harry gets out a baseball bat.
      • Inverted a lot by Harry. He plays Psycho Sidekick to Karrin Murphy's advocacy of the law, and the White Council see him as useful psychotic that'll need to be shot sooner or later.
      • And on top of all of these you have Ebeneezer McCoy. Being the Psycho Sidekick to the White Council is part of his job description.
  • Joe Pike in Robert Crais' The Monkey's Raincoat and the other Elvis Cole books. He actually has a moral code but is a lot more comfortable with violence than Elvis. He also has a few books centered around him.
    • Mercenary Jon Stone seems to serve as a psycho sidekick to Pike.
  • Mick Ballou in Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder novels.
  • Hoppy Uniatz in Leslie Charteris's The Saint novels. Simon Templar himself, on one (reasonably justified) occasion, dealt even more mercilessly than usual with some sadistic murderers. The fact that Simon often has to restrain Hoppy shows just how Psycho this Sidekick really is. It doesn't help that Hoppy will do anything the Saint asks, and interprets everything through his unorthodox upbringing and previous profession. In "The Case of the Frightened Innkeeper," Templar forgets this; meaning to tell Hoppy to remove some of the Ungodly from the Saint's presence, Simon carelessly says "Get rid of them." Hoppy does.
  • Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovitch: Ranger, although Ranger's a bit more cerebral than most examples, and significantly less psycho than average.
  • Subverted in Carol O'Connell's Mallory novels, which are about a sociopathic primary character who would usually be someone else's Psycho Sidekick surrounded by sidekicks who keep her from going completely evil.
  • The Dragaera books have been acknowledged as inspired by the Spenser series, but seem to turn this on its head. Vlad Taltos, the protagonist, is the Psycho Sidekick in relation to his friends who are fantasy elf nobility, but it's less that he is more bloodthirsty than that he is less bound by social conventions. This is played rather straight in Orca, though, as a Lawful Good police officer, who normally disdains assassins, has Vlad kill her partner who was a Corrupt Cop and a murderer.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Sergeant Bothari has elements of this, though Aral Vorkosigan is more active than most in acting as his Morality Chain and eventually gets him some much-needed medical intervention.
  • Major Joachim Steuben in David Drake's Hammer's Slammers series is in love with Colonel Hammer — and there's nothing so awful he wouldn't do it if he feels it'd benefit the colonel. Including having himself assassinated to give Hammer the chance for a "once and for all" crackdown on the opposition.
    "And sometimes a fellow who does one job well can see where his job has to be done, even though a better man has overlooked it. Anyhow, Secretary, there always was one thing you and I could agree on — lives are cheap."
  • In David Drake's RCN series, Adele's servant Tovera is a sociopathic killer. Mostly she stays with Adele to learn to at least mimic the behaviors of someone with a more normal mental state. Hogg is also this to Daniel Leary, being the one who does things that Leary's honor or morals prohibit.
  • Lee in Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai!. Due to an uncorrectable medical condition, he's unable to tell right from wrong and is socially dysfunctional. He knows this, and seeks a cause to keep him functioning. He'll do anything for that cause. Luckily, he found Donal, who keeps Lee from doing anything nasty.
  • Edward in the Anita Blake series (although it's not like Anita's such a saint).
  • Bubba Rugowski in Dennis Lehane's Kenzie and Gennaro Series.
  • Myron Bolitar Series by Harlan Coben: Windsor Horne Lockwood III, or, Win.
  • In Animorphs Rachel is this to the rest of the team, although they're not exactly white hats themselves. Reached its peak in the final two books when Jake sent her to kill his own brother.
    • Eventually, Rachel herself lampshades how she was made into this—the other characters kept needing someone to do bad things for the greater good, and it became easier and easier for her to be that someone. The entire team functions to enable and justify her actions.
  • Willikins to Sam Vimes in Terry Pratchett's Snuff.
  • Morley Dotes to Garrett in the Garrett, P.I. series.
  • In Neogicia, Keynn Lucans is a benevolent leader, while his brother Nox seems to be behind the more fishy government activities. Keynn is stated to be aware of his brother's activities while not doing anything to restrain his actions in any way, hinting that the situation could be intentional.
  • In Wolf Hall, Thomas Cromwell likes to mentor young men as apprentices/clerks and one person he takes on is Christopher, a young ruffian who he meets in Calais, who reminds Cromwell of a young (French) version of himself. Like Cromwell as a boy, Christophe is eager to leave his birthplace because he was in a fight and left his opponent dead. In Cromwell's household, Christophe teaches the other young men how to fight (both conventional swordplay and the kind of skills one would need to walk away from a fight in an alley and make sure one's enemy doesn't). He also plays the worse cop in Cromwell's interrogation of Mark Smeaton, as Cromwell threatens to leave Mark alone with Christophe if he doesn't confess. In a couple of scenes, when the two are alone, Christophe likes to make conspiratorial comments to Cromwell to the effect that while both pretend to be civilized, they are really cutthroats.
  • Xander, in The Other Kind of Roommate, acts as Alex's personal Agent executioner. He doesn't seem to mind.
  • Shuos Jedao spends Ninefox Gambit as Kel Cheris's utterly ruthless and, possibly, homicidally insane, advisor via Symbiotic Possession. The other two novels in the trilogy put a rather different spin on it.
  • In Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson's Author Avatar Raoul Duke is nutty enough from all the drugs, but his Wild Samoan attorney Dr. Gonzo is straight-up Ax-Crazy on top of whatever substances he's on at any given moment.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
  • Avon in Blake's 7, with interesting consequences when he ended up as the central character. Unusually, Avon continues to act like a Psycho Sidekick — but when he has authority, this is a disaster for himself and everyone around him. Its aspects like this which make it feel like a show shot on the deck of a burning ship.
  • Gene Hunt (and sometimes Ray) in Life on Mars and Ashes to Ashes (2008).
  • Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles:
    • Both Derek and Cameron move around on the spectrum between this and Psycho Supporter in relation to the more moral Sarah and John. This occurs as early as the second episode, when Sarah holds Enrique at gunpoint because she thinks he might be a snitch, but doesn't shoot. Cameron arrives on the scene by shooting him twice in the chest before anyone has a chance to stop her. Of course, she's vindicated at the end of the episode when it turns out Enrique really was an FBI informant.
      Sarah: What did you do?!
      Cameron: What you couldn't.
    • Derek does it even more often, whereas Cameron can usually be persuaded not to kill people if John or Sarah are near. And aside from the guy they thought was Sarkissian, all the people he kills were really close to him, namely Andy Goode and Jesse.
      Derek: John Connor said to let you go. (pulls out pistol) I'm not John Connor.
  • Guerrero in Human Target. A short middle-aged man wearing round Harry Potter glasses. Likely also a retired Psycho for Hire and a Pintsized Powerhouse. Played by Jackie Earle Haley, better known as Rorschach from the Watchmen film. In the show's premiere he says the following (in a completely low-key tone of voice) to a couple of Mooks who are trying to intimidate him:
    Guerrero: I'll take the beating, because that's all you two amateurs are cleared to do. Then one night soon, I'm gonna break into your houses and kill each of you in your sleep. I'll probably start with you, Alfredo. That way Stephen here can have a few extra days with Marla and the girls. It's only fair.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: While Giles is sometimes the Psycho Supporter, the "Scoobies" are well aware of his Ripper persona. Spike is this for Dawn; at certain points in the series, she adores him despite knowing that he would be back out slaughtering innocents if not for his chip.

     Religion and Mythology 
  • The Bible:
    • Books of Samuel: Joab respects David (at least up until the end of his life) and seems to have some kind of respect for God (or at least a fairly deep understanding of the scriptures for a military man), but he clearly doesn't believe that either have any authority over him. He will do what he thinks is necessary, including killing people he thinks deserves it. He's so good at his job that David can't do anything about it. He gets Solomon to promise to do it after David dies, and Solomon does.

    Video Games 
  • Knights of the Old Republic: HK47 and Canderous Ordo, plus HK again, Mandalore and to some extent Atton Rand in the sequel.
  • Black Whirlwind in Jade Empire doesn't know of a problem that his axes won't solve.
  • Several classes in Star Wars: The Old Republic get one, most notably Khem Val in the Sith Inquisitor storyline.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Wrex the Proud Warrior Race Guy. The second and third games add a whole cohort of them:
    • Grunt, perhaps even more so than Wrex. As Grunt's mental condition is essentially that of an adolescent who has had only minimal interaction with other members of his race, he lacks the discipline and self-control that an older, more experienced Krogan, like Wrex, has.
    • Jack, by her own estimation, is a "murdering psycho bitch" when you first meet her.
    • Zaeed Masanni — he's not just a nigh-unkillable badass mercenary, he's quite willing to blow up the building you're both standing in, in order to open the door.
    • Aria would probably kill you for considering her a sidekick, but in the Omega DLC for the third game, she'll follow your lead in combat. And while most of her unpleasantness is nigh-on clinical — rallying people to her cause in order to use them as cannon fodder — she'll choke the life out of her Cerberus opponent with her bare hands and freely admit to really enjoying it.
    • Aria's sidekick, Patriarch - "Kill the family first. Then he'll come at you stupid."
  • The latter half of everybody's favorite crime-solving dog and rabbit duo Sam & Max. Very much so. Of course, Sam is Only Sane by Comparison.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Spirit Hunter: NG, Akira is well aware that Seiji uses his connections to threaten, blackmail, and even kill those who oppose them or their families, but as they've been friends for years, and Akira isn't exactly a bastion of morality himself, he doesn't dig too deeply into it.

    Web Comics 
  • Little Sappho, the sidekick from The Adventures of Gyno-Star, can be extremely violent when angered, and is often willing to do morally questionable things that Gyno-Star would never consider doing.
  • Token Evil Teammate Belkar Bitterleaf in The Order of the Stick is the psycho sidekick to Haley during their time in the Sapphire City rebellion, and to Roy during their time in a gladiatorial prison.
  • Bam from Tower of God is a decent, idealistic fellow. His best friend Khun however he describes aptly as a Devil.
  • In Basic Instructions the Knifeketeer (who isn't exactly Mr. Boy Scout himself..) has Stabby, who more than lives up to his name.