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To Catch Heroes, Hire Villains

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A dramatic convention that allows The Hero to face off against a villain, while being hunted as a criminal. Wait, what?

This trope is sometimes used during an In Medias Res opening, giving us the twist of surprise that the hero is suspected, or even completely guilty, of breaking the law, or their moral code. It allows the story to continue with the conflict the heroes have with the people they're trying to defeat, even while the cops are now chasing our hero as well.

Our hero is now on the side of criminals and ne'er-do-wells, but since he is still a hero even if a law-breaking one, there's a way to neatly avoid the issue of attacking police officers, who are only doing their job. Someone in a position of authority goes Recruiting the Criminal from one of the defeated villains. Now their job is to catch the same person they've lost to before. Often rejoicing in being tasked to take out their enemy and cause as much collateral damage as they wish, one of the cops (or even the person who hired them) will question if crossing the Godzilla Threshold was the right thing to do. Since the hero is unlikely to even be suspected of doing something as dangerous and life-threatening as the villain who hunts him, the usual answer is no.

The chances, by the way, of the whole thing being a huge frame-up designed to make the heroes look bad are reasonably high. As are the chances of the person in a position of authority of being a villain himself, who was just looking for an excuse to destroy the hero.


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     Anime & Manga 

  • In Outlaw Star, after Hilda steals Melfina and the titular starship from the Kei Pirates, they manage to track her down with help from the MacDougal brothers. A little more ambiguous than hero/villain since both Hilda and the MacDougals live outside the law, but they're certainly more heartless and ruthless than she is, and go on to be one of Gene's worst enemies.

     Comic Books  

  • Civil War (2006) features Tony Stark hiring legions of supervillains to capture the resisting supers. Thunderbolts is an interesting example because the villains are the protagonists. And of course it blew up in his face; Norman Osborn became the director of SHIELD HAMMER.
  • The original Freedom Force in the Marvel Universe: The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants agreed to serve the U.S. government in exchange for full pardons for their past crimes. Their second mission was to bring in the Avengers, who had been framed by Quicksilver.
  • In Public Enemies, President Luthor frames Superman for endangering the Earth and forms a posse of superheroes led by Captain Atom to bring him in—plus he puts Major Force on the team, one of the most sadistic villains around.
  • Early Spider-Man comics had J. Jonah Jameson hire villains, or in case of the Scorpion help create him in order to try and take down Spider-Man.
  • Tomahawk and his Rangers were the arch-enemies of the British forces in the Revolutionary War. One of the Crown's more successful plots against them involved pardoning notorious criminals — giant strongman Bull, agile thief the Fly, a Native tracker called "the Indian", vicious pirate Captain Salt, and peerless gunman the Highwayman. They easily capture all the Rangers, including Tomahawk himself, though Tomahawk manages to lead an escape as their execution looms.
  • A 2016 storyline in The Flash has his Rogues Gallery recruited by Central City PD who have decided the Flash is a menace. The twist is CSI Barry Allen is assigned to the unit as well.

     Fan Works  

     Video Games  

  • In Tin Star for the Super NES, the townspeople elect Black Bart, the game's villain in every previous "day" of gameplay, as sheriff after Tin Star is framed for the murder of a small child. He isn't actually dead.
  • In City of Heroes, one Story Arc has your character become a fugitive (although it doesn't really affect jack, of course). You get ambushed a couple times by Malta and once by a Nemesis group, the former suggested to have actually been hired by the city.
  • Like the above Civil War example, Marvel Ultimate Alliance 2 has the Pro-Registration side use supervillains to hunt the Anti-Reg side. The difference is that they use nanite technology as a sort of mind control to keep the villains from trying anything funny. It falls apart when the nanites started developing on their own and Turned Against Their Masters.

     Western Animation  

  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • After Toph Beifong commits the crime (as her parents see it) of running away from her family at the age of 12 without telling them where she's going, Toph's dad hires the thug which Aang and co had just spent the half the episode fighting (mainly because he managed the feat of successfully kidnapping Toph and Aang earlier) to track Toph down. It actually works, until Toph manifests an ability that nobody else in written history has ever done and everyone thinks is completely impossible.
    • When Aang disappears near the end of the third season, the rest of the group turn to their newly acquired Lancer, Zuko, to find him. When he asks why, they point out that before his Heel–Face Turn, he had spent two seasons tracking the Avatar down over and over again, and as such is the most qualified one to do it now.
  • In one episode of Batman: The Animated Series, after Batgirl dies (All Just a Dream), Gordon releases Bane to bring in Batman.
  • In Justice League Unlimited, Project Cadmus is a government organisation aimed at creating pre-emptive measures should the Justice League go rogue. It is largely composed of supervillans and is funded by Lex Luthor.
  • In Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., the team is framed by arch-foe The Leader for the destruction of their hometown. Pursuing Leader into space and then taking him back to Earth, their attempt to clear their names is met with a government-authorized robot army led by The Abomination. Makes more sense than it would in the comics, since, like in the 2008 Movie, Blonksy has a background as a government operative.