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Rule of Escalating Threat

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The inevitable problem with making everything you do into a Big Event is hitting a plateau of excessiveness. This is done to maintain a sense of urgency or, more likely, shock value via Plot Leveling.

The problem occurs when the super-weapons have to go from killing thousands to millions to billions. Or the crazy villain hits the artistic plateau of sin and, from then on, just becomes a mass murderer. There's also the good chance the writers will use the opportunity to pick some Throw-Away Country to be the place where millions die, but that number is so huge that it becomes almost impossible to relate to, and the heroes' reactions just don't seem like enough. This runs counter to the superheroing idea that any number of people getting hurt is wrong; this makes the main characters seem ineffectual and induces apathy in the readers.

This also creates a paradox in Comic-Book Time, where huge numbers of deaths have to start being overlooked to make any reaction credible.

The natural antidote to this is to use something other than people being killed to convince the audience of the importance of the story.

May also happen at the top end of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil. Leads to a condition where The World Is Always Doomed. Related to A Million Is a Statistic.


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    Comic Books 
  • In the DC Comics series 52, the entire population of Biyala (one of The DCU's Quracs) is killed in a single issue. Despite the horrified reactions of characters at the time, this had never been mentioned before (since 52 was a prequel), and the few times it was brought up again, it was "Dangit! Some people died!" rather than being a horrible, culture-breaking genocide.
  • First, The Authority went up against a terrorist organization with the numbers and power to attack three major cities in the course of a few days. Then, they took on an enemy that had conquered an alternate reality Earth and turned an entire country into a rape camp. Then they took on God. Then...
  • Over at Marvel Comics, meanwhile, the killer robot Ultron has wiped at least one entire country (of the Ruritania variety) off the map.
  • Sinestro. With an army of Yellow Lanterns behind him. Plus Superboy Prime. Plus Hank Henshaw, who also has Superman's powers (and can't die no matter how much he wants to). Plus the motherfucking Anti-Monitor. After the Sinestro Corps War, what the hell can be considered a threat to the Green Lanterns? Satan? God? BATMAN!?
  • Dark Ranger struggles with this. For a time, Dark Ranger was constantly having to upgrade his gear to compete with the increasingly dangerous supervillains he was facing.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Fairy Dance Of Death: invoked By design, for any good game. As the players progress through the World Tree, each new level presents a more difficult challenge than the last. In some cases, such as the 25th gateway boss, the Difficulty Spike is lethal.
  • A Discworld fic by A.A. Pessimal has Ponder Stibbons thinking creatively about an objective scale to gauge any magical hazard. He evolves something based clsoely on the Beaufort Scale for wind strength, which involves closely watching Rincewind to see how he reacts. If Rincewind not only runs away but seeks to get to the next continent,note  it's serious.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The season finales of the new Doctor Who tend to play with this rule. Sometimes it's just the Doctor's life at stake, while other times the whole universe is threatened. The Big Bads for each story arc and what they threaten are as follows:
    • The Daleks (Earth)
    • The Daleks + Cybermen (Earth)
    • The Master (Earth and the Galaxy)
    • Davros (all of creation)
    • The Time Lords (all of creation)
    • The Silence (the Doctor's life + all of creation as an unforeseen side-effect)
    • The Great Intelligence (the Doctor's life + all of creation)
    • The Master again (Earth)
  • Pretty much ditto for Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Season one: The Master, a vampire lord. Season 2, Angleus, a possibly more vicious vampire, if not powerful, and, of course, a more personal threat, seeing as it was Buffy boyfriend having a Face–Heel Turn that Buffy herself was partly responsible for. Season 3, the Mayor, a century old sorcerer who can't be injured or killed, and is a Villain with Good Publicity. Season four was Adam, a demon/human/cyborg hybrid that was so strong, it took tapping into the primal forces of the Slayer to defeat him. Season five was Glorificus, a hell-god capable of destroying all reality. To top this, Buffy went with the "personal enemy" again, this time being her best friend, Willow, taking the Face–Heel Turn. In season seven, Buffy fought the personfication of all evil. Now in season eight, she has to deal with Twilight, a powerful... something that can easily beat her physically, and who has a massive cult behind him. Plus the United States military and the general public are against her. Oh, and a couple of rogue Slayers.

  • Sayaka Quest: Skadi. A triple-Witch spawned from a natural 100 on the difficulty role and the second most powerful Witch fought to date.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000 has experienced this a fair few times. The relentless doom 'n' gloom of the setting starts getting tricky for Games Workshop to top. They constantly use "most world-shattering event in the history of humanity" type-language in order to make it look like this is really the big one; the gamers just shrug and go "yeah whatever, we've seen it all before". The 5th Edition re-boot attempted to get past this by saying "no seriously guys, everything's screwed". The fans were, by and large, not taken in. Status Quo Is God after all. The 8th edition made things slightly better (Roboute Guilliman, one of the few people who remembers the Imperium as it was/should have been was brought back to life) and also much worse (half the galaxy is cut off from Warp travel, Cadia is gone, Abaddon's Black Crusade succeeded...).
  • Averted for Warhammer Fantasy, where The Bad Guy Wins actually happened... just in time for the new game, Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.

    Video Games 
  • The first four Pokémon generations followed this pattern. Team Rocket of Generations I and II were a pretty standard organized crime syndicate. In Generation III, Team Magma and Team Aqua sought to use Hoenn's legendary Pokémon to expand the land or sea respectively, risking widespread destruction worldwide. Then in Generation IV, Team Galactic's leader sought to reshape the universe to his will with legendary Pokémon that can warp time or space.
    • Zig-zagged in subsequent Generations. The scheme of Generation V's Team Plasma was mostly limited to impacting Unova, Generation VI's Team Flare secretly sought to wipe out almost all life on the planet, Generation VII had Lusamine recklessly unleashing Ultra Beasts all over Alola or Necrozma stealing Alola's light, and Generation VIII's Team Yell is basically a gang of Football Hooligans who are simply trying to support their local gym leader's little sister (and getting a tad carried away with it), while Galar's resident Mega-Corp is attempting to use an ancient alien Pokémon as a power source for the region.

    Western Animation 
  • The DCAU version of the Joker may be an exception, although this was largely mitigated by what broadcast standards allowed the show. Joker's plans tended to focus on his original trademark convoluted plots of many different types, everything from selling poisoned fish to just messing with someone's life, rather than outright murdering anyone in cold blood — thus explaining the rarity of his trademark non-wacky pistol. Nonetheless the direct-to-video Batman Beyond movie saw fit to censor a few disturbing bits.
    • Ironically, his The Dark Knight version points out that this trope is why he doesn't want Batman to die; while he's around, the Joker can continue to threaten hundreds, if not thousands, of lives at once, instead of becoming the one-off petty crook he was before.
  • In The Venture Bros., this is the principal The Guild of Calamitous Intent runs off of. An equally matched aggression system that fits the right villain with the ideal protagonist of an equal or so skill and power level. It’s this system that prevents every costumed weirdo, Mad Scientist and miscreant from running amuck, causing untold damage and killing who knows how many civilians; which would have the worlds governments up their asses and leave them no way to fight back. It’s for this reason if either the villains or heroes do not follow protocol or get too bloodthirsty? The Guild can claim self defense or liability and finish them off.
    • This also the reason Brock Samson Doesn't Like Guns, despite being quite adept and eager at killing with just about any other implement. He has no ethical issues with guns and will even reach for one if the situation calls for it, but if he relies on firearms to kill henchmen, then henchmen will start relying on firearms to kill him.
  • In The Legend of Korra, each season's main villain is bigger and badder than the one before. First is Amon and the Equalists, who want to "equalize" benders by removing their powers - bad news if you're a bender in Republic City. Next up is Unalaq, who wants to release a Sealed Evil in a Can and become an evil Avatar. He briefly succeeds but gets taken out before he can cause any real trouble besides temporarily taking over the Southern Water Tribe and leaving part of Republic city covered in spirit vines. The third season introduces the Red Lotus, an anarchist group who wants to end all world governments. They succeed in assassinating the Earth Queen and almost permanently destroy the Avatar. The chaos from that season gives rise to Kuvira, a No-Nonsense Nemesis who swiftly reconquers the Earth Kingdom, declares it an Earth Empire, and then marches on Republic City with a high-tech army led by a Humongous Mecha wielding spirit-powered superweapons. Hard to imagine where they could have gone with a fifth season.