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Targeted to Hurt the Hero

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"And as I set out upon this world and deliver the justice mankind so greatly deserves...I will make it my mission to destroy everything that you love. [...] Starting with her."
Adam to Blake about Yang, RWBY

What's a villain to do when they want to taunt or intimidate their heroic nemesis, get revenge against them, or the plot requires said nemesis to spring into action against them? Simple — kill, maim, or otherwise deeply hurt a loved one. Not only will the hero certainly be motivated to go after the villain — maybe even through a Roaring Rampage of Revenge — but the sight of their dead child/parent/significant other/spouse/sibling/best friend/sidekick will surely cause a bucketload of anguish. Bonus points if the targeting method of choice is brutal or gruesome, or if their body is left for them to find.

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This is the first and foremost reason Secret Identities are so important to 95% of the superhero community. If through any means the villain learns their greatest enemy's identity, they can use their loved ones against them. Savvier heroes may try to prevent this with an It's Not You, It's My Enemies, while crueler villains might utilize tactics like Forced to Watch to make the targeting worse.

Compare I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure, when a villain actively threatens to use this trope, Friendly Target, where those close to the hero are the most likely to be hurt, Collateral Angst, a more general case where bad things happening to Character A are primarily important for their effect on Character B, and And Your Little Dog, Too!, when a villain threatens to hurt a hero's loved one as a display of evilness. Also compare Death by Origin Story. Depending on how useful/interesting the character is, and whether their death was abrupt or not, can overlap with Dropped a Bridge on Him. See also Revenge by Proxy, when a character goes after a perceived offender's loved one.

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Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • The DCU:
    • Blackest Night: Gehenna, who was killed in the most horrific manner possible, turned into salt, just to torment her boyfriend. Though this was the point as Ronnie was continuously feeding Black Lantern Firestorm emotions since they were fused together and it would have happened to anyone else who was fused with Jason to make Firestorm (such as Jason's best friend Mick if he didn't cease to exist during Infinite Crisis, or even Professor Stein).
    • Green Lantern:
      • Major Force kills Kyle Rayner's girlfriend Alexandra DeWitt and leaves her remains in the fridge for the hero to find, as Revenge for Kyle getting in his way. This was the Trope Namer for Stuffed into the Fridge as well as the inspiration for Women in Refrigerators.
      • Major Force would enact the same tactic a few years later, murdering former Green Lantern Arisia Rrab by suffocation in order to torment her friend Guy Gardner (who at the time operated as the hero Warrior). However, due to her alien physiology, Arisia did not actually die, but rather entered into a state of dormancy that she later recovered from.
      • John Stewart's wife, Katma Nui, was murdered by Star Sapphire (Carol Ferris). To make things even worse, it was not strictly because she was Stewart's wife - Ferris just wanted to kill a Green Lantern, arrived to Stewart's apartment, recognized Katma Nui as a former GL and literally said "you'll do".
    • The Flash: Barry Allen's archnemesis, Eobard Thawne, goes back in time to kill Barry's mother and to frame his father for it just to torment him.
  • Marvel Universe:
    • Dark Avengers: Lindy Lee. She was killed by Hawkeye (Bullseye) on orders from Norman Osborn in order to make Sentry release his full potential and successfully attack Asgard.
    • Spider-Man:
      • The Night Gwen Stacy Died: After an unsuccessful attempt at using Aunt May to get to Peter, the Green Goblin killed Gwen Stacy to hurt Peter Parker/Spider-Man. It doesn't end well for him, to the point that the Goblin was actually killed for a time.
      • In one storyline, the Kravinoff family is out to kill all the Spider-themed heroes to piss off Spider-Man. They succeed when they kill the current Spider-Girl, Maddie Franklin. Spidey reminds them why it's not a good idea to go after his friends and family.
      • In Sins Rising and Last Remains, the entirety of the storyline and all of its convoluted twists were simply the result of Harry Osborn using Brain Uploading to get back at his father and Peter from beyond the grave, to the point that he even had Mysterio implant Fake Memories of Gwen Stacy cheating on him in Mary Jane just to hurt him.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, when the Joker, whose mind is using Tim Drake's body, deliberately targets those closest to Terry, including Bruce Wayne, his brother Matt and mother Mary and his girlfriend, Dana, who gets sent to the hospital after some members of the Jokerz gang attack her. When Joker gets a hold of a military satellite, he tells Terry that he has a choice of who he can save, as he is targeting Wayne Manor, the apartment building where he lives with his family, and the hospital Dana is in.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Zig-zagged in Highlander. The Kurgan, believing that Heather is with Ramirez, rapes her after he kills Ramirez, because he could. It is centuries later, with her long dead of old age and having never spoken of it to her husband, as he reveals this to Connor MacLeod, that it actually hurts her real lover.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: Spider-Man: No Way Home: As with his last appearance, the Green Goblin loves this strategy, killing Aunt May as part of his attempt to corrupt Peter Parker, believing her to be his Morality Chain with her "holy moral mission" to help anyone they can. Which he seems to be correct about, given Peter-2 has to stop Peter-1 from killing Goblin in revenge and desecrating what May stood for. He later attempts something similar with MJ, using his glider to prevent Peter from rescuing her when she falls off the Statue of Liberty, though she is instead rescued by Peter-3.
  • Mission: Impossible Film Series:
    • Mission: Impossible III: Davian threatens to torture Ethan's wife in front of him, and then execute Ethan in front of her just to punish Ethan for interfering in his business. When he actually abducts Julia it's to force Ethan's cooperation instead and she manages to kill his boss and last few mooks.
    • Mission: Impossible – Fallout: Lane has arranged for Julia to be in the remote village that Lark has multiple nuclear weapons set to go off in, just to make Ethan suffer. This ends up working against his plans as she helps the team diffuse them.
  • A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child: Greta's death is used to motivate Mark into believing Alice's claims about Freddy targeting them. Freddy even tortures Greta's soul in front of Mark to get a reaction out of him.
  • No Time to Die: The Action Prologue is caused by Spectre targeting James Bond and his Second Love Madeleine Swann on their romantic holidays in Southern Italy. Spectre's petty leader Blofeld expected two outcomes from this attack: either Bond gets killed or he accuses Madeleine of having lured him into the trap and they will end up separated. The second option prevails (despite Madeleine having nothing to do with it), and Bond's love life gets wrecked for five years in the process, an outcome Blofeld is delighted by.
  • Safe (2012): Luke's wife is killed as punishment for him not throwing a fight. As was the homeless man at the shelter he was in.
  • Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.: Connie LaRosa, Harry's previous love interest. The villains give the hospital a fake chart, tricking a nurse into killing her with an overdose of morphine/
  • Spider-Man: This is the Green Goblin's favored method of attacking Spider-Man once he learns he's Peter Parker, going after the two people he cares about most, Aunt May and Mary Jane Watson. He does this under the belief that Spider-Man is effectively unbeatable in direct combat, unless he first attacks the heart and makes Peter want to die. Though this backfires when he threatens to kill MJ after he's finished with Peter Parker, which hits his Relative Button and gives him the Heroic Second Wind to defeat the Goblin.
  • Spider-Man 3: Venom targets Mary Jane, kidnapping her to lure Spider-Man out with the intention of killing them both. In this case it's specifically as revenge for Peter taking Eddie's own girlfriend, Gwen Stacy.
  • Star Wars: In The Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader tortures Han Solo as part of a Batman Gambit to lure Luke to Cloud City for his famous We Can Rule Together plot.
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    Theater 
  • Elisabeth: Some productions have Death befriend Rudolf as a young child and seduce him as an adult. This is because Sisi, Rudolf's mother, actively spurned Death - so Death presumes that killing her only son would drive her past the Despair Event Horizon and make her wish to die. He succeeded on both counts, but then realizes he doesn't actually want Sisi seeking him as an escape from suffering.

    Video Games 

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: Adam Taurus is an elite member of the White Fang organization, a Faunus-rights group corrupted into a violent terrorist organization. In addition to his hatred of humans, he also directly targets Blake Belladonna, ex-member of the White Fang and his ex-girlfriend. At one point, he specifically tells her that for "betraying" him, he will dedicate himself to destroying everything she loves. This culminates in a fight against Blake's teammate, Yang, where Adam severs Yang's arm.

    Web Video 
  • Every Man Hybrid: HABIT delights in torturing...anyone, really, but especially the Hybrid trio. He decides to go after Jeff, and does so by taking away everyone he cares about first, from Sparky the dog, to his beloved younger brother. He then finally decides to attack Jeff directly when he's emotionally weakened. To make matters worse, he does this while in Evan's body, making it appear like his own best friend is torturing him. He even admits to doing this, claiming he needs to make Jeff "all squishy" before he could do anything else.

    Western Animation 

 
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"All my powers, and I couldn't do a thing."

Kessler has Trish kill to motivate Cole.

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