"Shell shock" is a nickname for what was eventually termed post-traumatic stress disorder, a real condition note that participants in a war commonly acquire, but that can also be caused by a multitude of other means, often involving high-stress situations.
In fiction, this character went through hell and he has done things that no amount of (fictional) therapy will heal, and it's left him so irrevocably scarred that he has trouble feeling, emoting, or caring about the people around him and even oneself. If he continues to feel anything, it's usually restricted to Survivor Guilt. Thus he's usually the first to do what must be done and Shoot the Dog. Most Shell-Shocked Veterans will, at some point or another, be seen exhibiting the classic Thousand-Yard Stare; with a blank, emotionless expression and unfocused, empty eyes. The war clearly never ended for him.
In an ensemble show or a Five-Man Band, the Shell-Shocked Veteran is usually the Quiet Big Guy or Lancer. This often crosses into Aloof Big Brother territory if he insists on being a loner. The Shell-Shocked Veteran is usually, but not always, older than most of the cast; it seems war, like prison, doesn't take long to change you.
If the Shell-Shocked Veteran is out for revenge expect him to become an Antiheroic Hunter of Monsters, with varying degrees of success and sanity. Many a Zen Survivor has elements of the Shell-Shocked Veteran in his Back Story, though the Shell-Shocked Veteran is likelier to eventually prove he's a Jerk with a Heart of Gold or a Knight in Sour Armor. Expect him to have a Sympathetic Murder Backstory. They may be an Old Soldier, but are probably not a Blood Knight, and definitely not a Phony Veteran. Some may go From Camouflage to Criminal and take up a life of crime due to the mental distress they've been put under, while others step into the role of the Mentor in Sour Armor to impress on the young cadets that war is not glorious.
- In one of his stand-up routines, Bill Bailey discusses a conversation he had with someone about the traditional "things to do before you die" life-ambition of swimming with dolphins; apparently, the dolphins this person had swam with had previously been used for military service and consequently had "a glazed, far-away look in their eyes."
Bill: [as the dolphin] You weren't there, man. You weren't there.
- George Carlin during a routine criticizing euphemisms over more direct language, gave the use of alternative words to Shell-Shock as a primary example of such behavior.
George Carlin: "I betcha if we'd still been calling it Shell-Shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time."
- In the first World War it was simply "Shell-Shock", simple and direct. "Almost sounds like the guns themselves."
- The second World War comes along and the same condition is now "Battle Fatigue" which sounds much less terrible.
- Then during the Korean War became the more impersonal "Operational Exhaustion" which Carlin said sounded like something a car might suffer.
- Finally during the Vietnam war the term "Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder" was coined and in his opinion diluting the humanity of the condition entirely.
- Marshal Law:
- Suicida, leader of Gang Green, is a Zone veteran who never got the chip off his shoulder. He runs with a gang of equally crazy superhero vets fighting other crazy superhero vets and anyone else who so much as meets his eye. He wears a necklace of human ears. The front of his jacket reads Nuke me slowly. In his own words, "You can't turn me on an' off like a tap, man!" and "I just wanna punch the whole world in the mouth!"
- Of course, Marshal Law himself and virtually every "hero" he fights are also traumatized Zone veterans.
- The Punisher: After three brutal tours of duty in Vietnam, Frank Castle lost his wife and children to Mafia thugs and now wages a one-man war on crime. Various authors have toyed with Frank's mental state, and Garth Ennis has suggested that in Vietnam, Frank started to love combat and killing people, with the death of his family possibly being only the spark that caused his killing.
- Batman in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, at least in the first series. He somewhat softens up and chills out in the second series, at least enough to fall in love with girl-Robin and actually admit it directly to her.
- Batman in all DC continuities. You know that he's shocked by the deaths of his parents when he goes out and dresses like a flying rat.
- The Penguin, although varying based on the interpretation, usually exhibits at least seven symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, which is enough for a diagnosis. This is especially made obvious in Penguin: Pain and Prejudice.
- Any long-lived old-timer mutant in the X-Men series such as Wolverine, Magneto, or Cable.
- It doesn't even have to be the older ones, many still young mutants can have nasty backstories leaving them with an equal mix of combat abilities and psychological trouble ala X-23 (raised as perfect killing machine by a secret weapon developing organisation) or Marrow (raised in a hostile pocket dimension as super powered foot soldier).
- Rachel Summers came from a future where mutants were outlawed, hunted down by the military or locked into concentration camps. She was drugged, brainwashed and forced to use her telepathic abilities to track down mutants. Wolverine once compares her to Holocaust survivors.
- Cyclops, at least since the start of the 00s. Losing two wives, being possessed by Apocalypse, and having his people repeatedly genocide'd and left on the brink of being wiped out has left him incredibly broken, which in large part is likely why he became so ruthless in defending what little he has left. And let's not even get started on what happened after he killed his surrogate father while under the control of the Phoenix Force.
- Bucky Barnes, especially under his Winter Soldier identity. Captain America himself to some extent has shown shades of this in recent years.
- In Adventures in the Rifle Brigade, we eventually see that Captain Hugo Darcy's father is a WWI veteran who lost all his limbs after going over the top and has been ranting about it ever since. "Hand grenades, they said! Artillery, they said! Machine guns and barbed wire, they said! Stuff and nonsense! Poppycock, I told them!"
- Marv from Sin City is implied to be one. He says he fought in a war, he has a gruesomely scarred face, has an unnamed mental condition, is extremely proficient in hand-to-hand combat and tends to fly into psychotic rages.
- Jackie acts this way in Adolescent Radioactive Black Belt Hamsters when pretending to be a Red Baron, a Shout-Out to Charlie Brown.
- The discredited Tron: Ghost In the Machine started out with this. The combination of literally living through a first-person shooter and the implications of what being a User means hit Jet like a speeding lightcycle. When the story opens, he has gone from a brilliant programmer and former Playful Hacker to a technophobic shut-in, hunkered down in the remains of the old arcade.
- The Unknown Soldier was once assigned to impersonate a presumed dead American soldier who was known to be so ferocious in battle, he was nicknamed "The Edge." Eventually, the soldier found The Edge was alive, but a prisoner of the Japanese, with his mind utterly shattered with battle fatigue.
- Played for Laughs in one Achille Talon, where he comes across a Banana Republic soldier crying on a log. His traveling companion notes that it must be a fresh-faced newbie... or a very hardened veteran, sometimes it's hard to tell the difference.
- In The Flintstones were guilt-tripped into fighting a war against the Tree People who were allegedly a threat to their families. Fred and Barney are still messed up from it, and the Loyal Order of Water Buffaloes is a support group for them and other participants.
- Ishmael of Copperhead seems to be one: in addition to his literal scars, he specifically avoids larger conflicts (though he's up for a fight now and then) and has retreated to a hermitage outside town to limit his contact with other people.
- The Transformers:
Dogfight: We live and breath warfare day in, day out. For some of us, it's the only life we've ever known! We know exactly how to fight - we just don't like doing it.
- The UK series' introduction of Kup details that troops suffer from "combat fatigue", where they're simply unable to fight anymore. Since There Are No Therapists, command gives them a spaceship and lets them wander off into space for their final years. And Kup is no exception, though an encounter with Hot Rod gives him a He's Back moment.
- Dogfight's A Day in the Limelight issue suggests he's got some of this going on.
- IDW's run on The Transformers comics winds up with a lot of such characters due to being a darker look at the effects of a species going through a Forever War. Characters range from the psychotic war criminal Sandstorm who turns into a serial killer to the hilariously dysfunctional Scavengers who'd just like it if they could be left alone (except for one, who thinks maybe it'd be a good idea to start up a support group, which the others mock him for).
- Transformers (2019) turns Cyclonus into this. He's a veteran of the last war who lives in seclusion and is haunted by images of his dead comrades, who chide him over his failings and sometimes urge him to get therapy.
- Saga has Prince Robot IV, who fought at the battle on Threshold None and was seriously wounded in the fighting which also claimed the lives of many comrades. Even long after the battle, his personality has been seriously destabilized. He also suffers flashbacks and night terrors of the battle as well as an orgy he participated in during his time there.
- Sheriff in Duster 2015 has a flashback to his days in the war when he discovers the tunnel he and Jo tried to escape the Nazis in caved in.
- Star Wars: Purge: Roblio Darte shows hints of this, stating that the Jedi strayed from their path when they became generals and solemnly describing an ugly battle in his earlier appearance in Star Wars: Republic.
- Fortunes of War by Iron Maiden describes in detail the emotional and psychological agony of a veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress, leaving out the myths propagated by pop culture about the condition.
- Sonata Arctica's song Replica is about this.
- 'Broken Soldier' by The Black Angels, deals with a crippled soldier suffering from PTSD, what caused him to become so and his difficulty returning to civilian life, never truly feeling safe.
- Blue Öyster Cult's "Veteran of the Psychic Wars" appears to be a sufferer, though the lyrics leave ambiguous whether the war is real or not.
Wounds are all I'm made of. Dare you say that this is victory?
- Mac Singleton from the music video for the Travis Tritt song "Anymore".
- "Wild Irish Rose" by George Jones is about a homeless, alcoholic Vietnam vet.
- Also "The Door"
- "Still in Saigon" by The Charlie Daniels Band is about a shellshocked Vietnam Vet.
"Every summer, when it rains
I smell the jungle; I hear the planes
Can't tell no-one; I feel ashamed
Afraid someday I'll go insane"
- "War Inside My Head" part of the second disc of Dream Theater's "6 Degrees of Inner Turbulence" is about a shell-shocked Vietnam veteran who has hallucinations of the war.
- "The Enemy Inside" from Dream Theater is about a veteran, probably of the Iraq war, suffering from PTSD finding himself unable to reintegrate into society. It comes with a music video showing exactly how crippling this can be, with actual veterans providing some commentary.
- The narrator of Richard Thompson's "Al Bowlly's in Heaven" is a destitute WWII vet who "can't close me eyes on a bench or a bed/for the sound of some battle raging in my head."
- "Drive On" by Johnny Cash.
- Also "The Ballad of Ira Hayes." It's based on the true story of Ira Hayes, one of the Marines on the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima. After the war, he turns to alcohol to dull the pain, and eventually drinks himself to death.
- "Hell Broke Luce" from Bad As Me by Tom Waits tells the story of Jeff Lucey, an Iraq War veteran who killed himself due to the horrors he saw and committed.
- "I Don't Want To Wait" by Paula Cole, that's right, the Dawson's Creek theme song is about a man going to war and coming home with PTSD.
- "I Bombed Korea" by CAKE
- "Zombie" by The Cranberries
- "Khe Sanh" by Cold Chisel
- "Sam Stone" by John Prine
- "Eighth of November" by Big and Rich
- Roger Waters' "Paranoid Eyes." Most of The Final Cut, for that matter.
- Confederate vet Virgil Caine (the narrator) in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" by The Band.
- The M*A*S*H theme song, Suicide Is Painless
- "The Girl Next Door" by Country Joe MacDonald is about a woman who develops PTSD while serving as an Army nurse in Vietnam.
- "Born In The U.S.A." by Bruce Springsteen.
- According to lyricist Bernie Taupin, the title character in "Daniel" by Elton John is one who wants to be left alone.
- "Talking Old Soldiers" from Tumbleweed Connection appears to be from the perspective of one drowning his sorrows and bitterly relating to another war veteran of the horror of "hav(ing) a graveyard as a friend."
- Vietnam vet John Lee Pettimore (the narrator) in "Copperhead Road" by Steve Earle.
"I wake up screaming like I'm back over there."
- Redgum's 'I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)' is about the plight of Australian veterans of Vietnam, who came home scarred by shrapnel, Agent Orange, and psychological trauma:
And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?And night time's just a jungle dark and a barking M16?And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?God help me, I was only nineteen.
- "Too Long a Soldier" by Pat Benatar.
- The inmates from "Red Sector A" by Rush.
" A wound that will not heal. A heart that cannot feel.""Hoping that the horror will recede..."
- Cormorant provides this with "Ronin", an incomplete and unreleased song from their demo.
- Warren Zevon's song Play it All Night Long, (written in response to Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama.)
Brother Billy has both guns drawn, he ain't been right since Vietnam
- Paul Hardcastle's "19" features samples from the 1983 documentary Vietnam Requiem.
- Def Leppard's Die Hard The Hunter. It's got nothing to do with the movie, it's about veterans of the Falklands War returning to Britain and having trouble in civilian life because their instincts are still geared for combat.
- Green Day's 21 Guns, which was written in the context of the Iraq War, is sung to a Shell-Shocked Veteran, with the lyrics alluding to the mental state of a guilt-ridden soldier after experiencing war.
- Metallicas Confusion is sung from the perspective of a war veteran with PTSD. The music video portrays a former soldier who served in The War on Terror being triggered by mundane things at work, having the office around her blur into the combat zone that she never truly left behind.
- In "The Silent Avenger", The Shadow is up against one of his deadliest opponents: a shell-shocked WWI sniper whose condemned gangster brother has set him loose on the judge, jury, and governor.
- This was the fate of several different characters in Dino Attack RPG. Kate Bishop and Sam Race were both in need of massive therapy to get over their trauma (the former of whom even developed a drug addiction). Sarah Bishop on the other hand is haunted by guilt over the people she killed. Then of course Rotor and Cabin's relationship quickly goes downhill because neither can really adjust to society after the war.
- Adam Dodd from Survival of the Fittest version three fits this trope, having been the only survivor of version one. It was even pointed out in am old episode of the podcast run by the site members, where one of the hosts says "the game never ended for Adam Dodd; as far as he's concerned he never left the v1 island."
- Dungeons & Dragons adventure OA6 Ronin Challenge. The PC's can meet Nozumi Takahosho, an ex-cavalryman in the service of General Goyat. The terrible things he experienced during the pursuit of Governor Kawabi plus a dose of jungle diseases permanently addled his mind.
"We went to the jungle," he says excitedly, pointing in the direction of the Shao Mountains. His eyes then glaze over as he struggles to remember the details. "The jungle..." he stammers, "The devil-men...they had teeth like snakes...they killed everyone...everyone..." [he collapses to the ground, sobbing and shaking]
- Warhammer 40,000: The Imperial Guard has Sly Marbo, the One-Man Army. What he's seen and done has made him unable to function other than by killing the Emperor's enemies (he apparently has loads of medals piling up somewhere, having no use for them).
- Standard Guardsmen, in this large, terrible universe, are unsurprisingly liable to get this... should they survive at all.
- The Iron Warriors reached this point significantly before the Heresy, but kept being sent into combat anyway - their Index Astartes article mentions that combat fatigue and the relentless, grinding nature of siege warfare had brutalised them until bloodshed was the only real release they had left, leading to a murderous rampage across their rebellious homeworld, which in turn led to them joining Horus.
- Not as sympathetic as it sounds. The Imperial Fists had the same specialties (making and breaking fortifications) as the Iron Warriors. However, the Imperial Fists chose to do as their name implies and powerfully smash through a point in said fortifications and annihilate the enemy. The Iron Warriors chose the hard and bloody trench and siege warfare instead of a similar swift and effective method as used by the Imperial Fists. They have no one but themselves (for not standing up for themselves) and their Primarch to blame. Same for the garrison duty they were merely asked to perform because they were good at it and they agreed to it then complained as though they didn't have any choice. They were damn good at it, too.
- Eldar aspect warriors practice some sort of battle trance seemingly to avoid this (and also for efficiency, of course). At one point some of them fail to properly exit from this Unstoppable Rage state and become Exarchs who stick to the warrior path for the rest of their lives.
- The sanity rules in Call of Cthulhu include some symptoms that leave the characters Shell-Shocked Veterans. Not all triggers for SAN checks are even necessarily supernatural.
- Surviving the World of Darkness is no easy picnic, but the Chronicles of Darkness book Dogs Of War explicitly delves into this territory (as its objective of expanding Player Character options for military-based campaigns) with optional rules to change the game's morality meter (which would turn a player character into a horrifying Sociopathic Soldier if left as is) into a sanity meter that makes the characters become more distraught with PTSD as they lose points.
- Chris in Miss Saigon. John too, though he's not as badly off.
- It is possible to see Coriolanus as this. Even though it was written and set long before shell-shock was understood or the weapons that usually caused it had been developed, Coriolanus' public and point-blank refusal to talk about his many battles (even though he knows his refusal will severely damage him,) might indicate trauma. The Ralph Fiennes film version (which was set in modern times,) heavily implied this.
- Fate/stay night:
- Archer is not only one of these, but his magic is fueled by this. His Reality Marble, a representation of "the world he holds in his mind", is a featureless barren landscape riddled with discarded and heavily-used weapons, extending on forever, as giant metal gears endlessly turn in the sky.
- Shirou (Archer's past self) still has flashbacks to the Great Fuyuki Fire, of which he is the sole known survivor. He has a pretty good lid on it most of the time, but anything that reminds him of that disaster can cause him to freak out.
- Code:Realize depicts Abraham Van Helsing as a former soldier who was comprehensively broken into a "human weapon" by his experiences during the Vampire War. Most of the British public considers him a hero, but Van Helsing is clearly haunted by what he's done to the point of not caring if he dies.
- Atlas Molniya of Starship Promise was once a fighter pilot for the Union of Democratic Star Systems, and whatever prompted his break with the Union was traumatic enough to leave him with lasting emotional scars and a lot of bitterness toward the military he used to serve in. In his first season, he experiences a full-fledged flashback during a space dogfight, with only the player character in any position to try to talk him down before they're both killed.
- Flippy from Happy Tree Friends is a vicious parody of this trope. Rather than breaking down when he sees a trigger, he efficiently eliminates any living being in the vicinity that could possibly pose a threat to him—and, for that matter, any living being that can't pose a threat to him.
- It's hinted that Sonic is this in Super Mario Bros. Z — and given what happened to him and everyone on Mobius at the hands of Mecha Sonic, one can hardly blame him.
- Red vs. Blue:
- There are hints that the AI of Project Freelancer have PTSD. Due to the nature of the Cold-Blooded Torture used to create them, they (or at least Delta and Theta) are always afraid that something bad will happen at any moment, and keep their owners awake at night worrying about it.
- On Chorus, we meet partner mercenaries Felix and Locus who are confirmed shell-shocked before their true colors are even revealed. They both have their own way of coping. Locus prefers to try and make himself believe he's a "true soldier", a walking suit of armor with a gun with no feelings beyond accomplishing his mission. Washington correctly deduces this is to avoid the realization that he's simply become a monster. Meanwhile, Felix is a Psychopathic Man Child who, despite his blustering, knows full well he can't function without Locus. So, he does everything he can to make sure Locus's psychological wounds never heal, ensuring he never abandons him. When Locus DOES abandon him, that's when Felix lets his broken state show completely.
- Also on Chorus, we have Dr. Emily Gray. She's been a doctor in a Forever War since she was young, and it's done a number on her. Word of God is that one early plan for season 13 would have Epsilon find her journal, which would show that she was once mentally stable, but as the entries went on she would slowly break and start retreating to her happy place until there was no going back, which is how she became like she is now.
- On a less serious note, Sarge is strongly implied to be one. His experience as an Orbital Shock Drop Trooper has given him a bad fear of heights, and he admits in a PSA (of questionable canon) that he's been in the military for so long that he can't function without a war to fight.
- The PTSD episode of The Damn Few discusses and attacks this trope, or at least exaggerations of this trope as applied to Real Life.
- RWBY Given the events that happen near the end of Volume 3, it will ultimately surprise nobody to learn that quite a few of the central characters suffer from this in various forms in Volume 4. It might be a surprise to discover that one of the characters to suffer the most is the third volume's main villain, however.
- Made all the more heartwrenching because the "veterans" here are seventeen year old girls. They have visibly gotten somewhat better by the end of Volume 4 though, thankfully. Especially poor Yang.
- It's strongly implied that General Ironwood suffers from PTSD as a result of the incident that lost him most of the right side of his body, as he shifts his robotic shoulder subconsciously while talking to Team RWBY about how stress can make you see things that aren't there, "even after the battle has passed." And his mental state only gets worse after the events of Volume 3. Throughout Volumes 4 and then 7, he's shown to have become irritable, paranoid and prone to emotional outbursts, and at one point he's even shown experiencing a flashback to the attack on Beacon, all textbook indicators of PTSD.
- Sekhmet from The Green Eyed Sniper is an AWOL soldier and a war criminal with obvious PTSD. Although it's unclear what exactly she's seen and done during war (except for building a weapon of mass destruction which she repeatedly sabotages), she has a pained and rather strong restraining reaction in the presence of wounded people.
- Thaco the monk, from the webcomic Goblins, is the oldest of the main cast; in fact, the barbarian is his son. He was held captive and tortured some years ago. It took him long enough to get over it that his eventual recoveryby ignominiously beating down the person responsiblewas a major character development point.
- Spoofed in Penny Arcade with Frank, a Vietnam vet turned EB Games store manager.
- Aiden from La Macchina Bellica has a pretty bad (and well researched) case of this combined with Survivor's Guilt
- In Sinfest, Fuchsia's Flashbacks are explicitly termed Post-Traumatic Stress — though she is not technically a soldier, having only worked for Satan.
- Anna Galactic: Dilvan Ceylon has been a veteran of a war and he has troubles trying to cope with it.
- Homestuck: Dave Strider shows signs of this, mostly from his upbringing with Bro, who regularly beat the shit out of him.
- Questionable Content: Bubbles the ex combat unit was an AI version of this, to the point she let Corpse Witch "encrypt" (actually erase) a chunk of horrific memories.
- Half-Man: Major Koda, has been experimented on/tortured by aliens for years, retrieved and then experimented on by humans when they got him back, and then frequently flung in battle after. His stability is...questionable.As he commanding officer puts it "I'm sure that if I'd been though a quarter of what he's been though, I'd be stuck in a hospital somewhere, screaming my lungs out night and day"
- Kill Six Billion Demons: According to Word Of God, and at least one of his former companions In-Universe, the Demiurge Jagganoth suffers from PTSD. Supplemental materials reveal he was a Child Soldier in something called the "Corpse Legions" during the Universal War before he became a Demiurge.
- Shoutan Himei from Sailor Nothing begins the story like a classic example of this trope. And just when you think things couldn't get worse for her, they inevitably do.
- Miss Henderson, the librarian at Whateley Academy in the Whateley Universe. She's the only survivor of a Cosmic Horror experience. And probably Phase's mother, whose horrific trauma was when she was only six, and she's never really recovered from it.
- PTSD Clarinet Boy is this trope Played for Laughs.
- One of the key points of departure in the Alternate History timeline Reds! is the United States entering the First World War on the side of the Allies in 1915, participating in the bloodiest engagements of the war and taking much worse losses than in our timeline. Even the less thoroughly traumatised veterans return home feeling very bitter indeed towards their political leadership. One of the most notable cases? George Patton. Yep, old Blood and Guts himself came back a deeply changed man, his faith in God and his old ideological beliefs lying buried in Flanders fields along with roughly a million of his fellow soldiers.
- Played for Laughs in the Twitter Character Blog for Jurassic Park's Tim Murphy. More than twenty years later, that weekend where dinosaurs nearly killed him is still a haunting memory.
- Carl Copenhagan from Demo Reel has a Dark and Troubled Past involving working with The Stasi. As is common with characters from the show, his pain only comes out when he's sick or alone.
- The Cry of Mann: Jouglat has a very hard time adjusting to being away from the warr, suffering from flashbacks and finding his house uncomfortably quiet.