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Token Motivational Nemesis

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Gamora: Your wife and child shall rest well knowing that you have avenged them.
Drax: Yes. Of course, Ronan was only a puppet. It's really Thanos I need to kill.

You've seen it a dozen times since Batman in the 1930s:

A villain traumatizes the hero in the opening pages of a comic book's first issue, possibly scarring him physically. Driving the hero to train him/herself into the very definition of a perfect warrior/detective/vigilante/wizard/whatever you will, this scumbag made the hero who s/he is today.

One would think that a villain of such importance to the very mythos of the story would continue to be a source of character motivation and story importance...

... only that by the final pages of the first issue (or at the end of the first story arc), having served his purpose of making the hero the way he is today, he is unceremoniously disposed of, and almost invariably never mentioned henceforth.

This phenomenon occurs in many retrospectively popular works, which like all fiction must compete in a market that does not give second chances. Particularly in the first productions of many comic and manga authors, one is encouraged to finish his story as soon as possible in case it proves to be unpopular, so the publishers can have an easier time cutting the losses. Only when the successful sales figures come in are the authors forced to bear the awkward responsibility of expanding a story beyond the scope of the now already-dead villain that has created it.

Most Token Motivational Villains are Starter Villains, although that's not always the case.

They are often left out of adaptations altogether to be replaced by the hero's real nemesis.

Due to the often traumatic nature of the motivating events, Spoilers Abound. Technically, these could count as Late Arrival Spoilers, but since these nemeses tend to become forgotten...


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Cyber Blue a corrupt police officer named Weiser tricks the young gunslinger Blue and his robot companion Fatso into killing several innocent rebels. He then executes Blue, and a distraught Fatso fuses himself into the boy to birth the ultimate life form. The now adult Cyber Blue manages to ambush and kill Weiser a few chapters later, remarking that Fatso's knowledge let him know there is an entire Government Conspiracy out there that needs to be adressed to make any real change on Tinos.
  • Dragon Ball has Raditz, Son Goku's long lost older brother and the Starter Villain of the Dragon Ball Z anime series (and its corresponding part in the manga), who reveals Goku his true origins and that he's actually an alien. He dies along with Goku fighting him and Piccolo, and is mentioned as an afterthought in the arc he was introduced in, only getting a bit more characterization in a Frieza Saga anime filler flashback.
  • Shin, Kenshiro's romantic rival-turned-nemesis in Fist of the North Star, was the one who defeated him in combat, engraved the seven scars on his chest, and stole Yuria, the love of his life, away from him, leading Ken to his quest for revenge. Shin then goes on to amass a huge gang and declares war on Kenshiro...until he is defeated by the end of the manga's tenth chapter. The cover of the second volume of the original tankobon edition doesn't even try to hide Shin's literal downfall.
    • The first ten chapters were written in a way that implied that Kenshiro and Shin were the sole practitioners of Hokuto Shinken and Nanto Seiken respectively. The existence of the other Hokuto Brothers and other Nanto Seiken practitioners would not be established until a bit later, with Nanto Seiken becoming an umbrella term for the 108 martial arts styles that branched off from a common source rather than just something unique to Shin. Because of this, Shin's specific style of Nanto Seiken was never given a name in the actual manga, even when he was brought up posthumously as the other members of the six Nanto grandmasters (which Shin was part of) were gradually introduced. Later guidebooks and spinoff material would establish his style to be Nanto Koshuken or "Lone Eagle Fist" style, following the avian themed naming of the styles practiced by the other Nanto grandmasters (Waterfowl, Crimson Crane, White Heron and Phoenix).
    • The TV anime prolonged Shin's role in the story by rearranging the events of the first few story arcs so that the climatic fight between him and Kenshiro occurs a lot later than it did in the manga. Because of this, Shin's organization is much bigger than it was depicted in the manga, as it includes not only his four playing card-themed henchmen (Spade, Diamond, Club and Mr. Heart), but also the two subsequent enemy factions that Kenshiro fought in the manga after Shin's demise (the Golan commandos and Jackal's biker gang) as subordinate organizations, along with numerous filler villains (most of them being practitioners of rather unorthodox forms of Nanto Seiken, as the manga already established the existence of other Nanto masters by the point the anime entered production). Shin also gets more interaction with Yuria than he did in the manga and even gets his own moment of glory before his fight against Kenshiro when he single-handedly thwarts a mutiny within his own army.
    • The 1986 movie on the other hand, gave Shin even less things to do than what he did in the manga. After defeating Kenshiro, Shin spends almost all of the movie walking around in his castle and giving orders to his lackeys. When Kenshiro finally arrives at Southern Cross to confront Shin, he finds out that Shin has already been defeated by Raoh, his more iconic rival.
  • In High School D×D, Issei's motivational nemesis is Raynare, his fallen angel ex-girlfriend who killed him at the end of the first episode, then killed his friend/one-of-several-future love interests Asia three episodes later. He avenges his and Asia's deaths when he punches Raynare through a wall/through a window in the anime. While Rias does kill her after Issei can't bring himself to do it, Issei is left severely traumatized by the ordeal, making it harder for him to accept that someone could love him. The example as a whole is interesting for while Raynare herself doesn't impact Issei's motivations for too long,note  she does leave a lasting impact on Issei's Character Development as he's forced to come to terms with what she did to him and accept the affections of his club mates.
  • In the first two volumes of Himenospia, Himeno's entire class is slaughtered by a heavily armed police squad under orders from officer Jirō Kuroda, to prevent the girls from spreading their wasp-based mind control mutant powers any further. After the incident, Himeno turns herself in to negotiate and finds they went and murdered her mother too. So she calmly reveals she already got public opinion on her favor and made the female family members of key politicians into hostages by having them turned into her proxies. And then repeatedly stabs Jirō in the face in a murderous rage when he still tries to shoot her. However... it turns out scientists managed to transplant his brain into a soldier schoolgirl's body, and Jirō now calls himself Niho Kurono and is further antagonizing Himeno.
  • Subverted in Itsuka Tenma no Kuro Usagi: Hinata seems to be one for Gekkou, setting up the latter's entire motivation to get to where he is today, only to be killed off at the end of the second episode. Yeah, not so much...
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
  • Naruto's first villain, the corrupt instructor Mizuki, is the one who tricks Naruto into stealing the scroll that taught him his Shadow Clone signature move and also revealed the secret about the tailed beast sealed inside him, plus allowed a moment where Naruto realized there was somebody in his life that cared for him when Iruka took a hit for him. And he never appears again except in filler.
  • One Piece has Higuma, the mountain bandit who taught a seven-year-old Luffy that life as an adventurer is, in fact, incredibly dangerous and potentially fatal. Interestingly, he's responsible for more lasting damage on Shanks than Luffy himself.
  • The Hiruma brothers of Rurouni Kenshin for Kamiya Kaoru, whose defaming of Kamiya Kasshin Ryu drove her Dojo where our heroes lived into financial destitute for the entire story and kicked off the franchise, were never mentioned or seen again after Himura Kenshin ran him out of town by the second chapter of the second volume of the manga (at least by Kenshin and Kaoru. Sanosuke runs into them briefly in volume 26). The anime makes them a single character but the result is exactly the same by the fifth episode.
  • Ushio of Yu-Gi-Oh! wasn't the first bully shown tormenting Yugi, but he was undoubtedly the one who pushed Yugi into meeting his True Companions, and eventually tap into Dark Yugi for the first time - and the first recipient of a Shadow Game penalty. Interestingly enough, despite his one-shot status, he was one of the manga's nastiest customers until legitimate Arc Villains like Pegasus and Marik showed up.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: Joe Chill, the mugger who murdered Bruce Wayne's parents, is possibly the most well-known example of this trope. While Batman's origin story was first shown in Detective Comics #33 (published November 1939, a few months after his debut), the true identity of the mugger was not revealed until Batman #47 (June 1948, almost ten years later), where he was unceremoniously killed by his very own henchmen when they learned he was indirectly responsible for the birth of Batman. In the post-Zero Hour: Crisis in Time! continuity, the writers at DC made the identity of the mugger unclear, with the rationalization that since Batman never found out his parents' murderer, any criminal he catches might as well be the one who did it. However, the Infinite Crisis storyline retconned the mugger's identity back to being Joe Chill. Most retellings keep the incident the same, but rather than a simple burglary gone wrong, Joe Chill was usually working for someone who wanted the Waynes out of the way.
  • Dr. Bruce Banner's transformation into The Incredible Hulk has Igor Drenkov (then named Igor Starsky), who, by inaction during the gamma bomb test left Banner to be bombarded by gamma rays shortly after saving the life of teenager Rick Jones, in an attempt to have him killed and steal secrets of the G-bomb. He got beaten up by the Hulk and arrested for his trouble, but he later informed his handler, the Gargoyle of the Hulk, who arranged the whole incident, and doesn't survive past the first issue. We don't see Igor again until the 30th anniversary issue, where the Hulk decides to pay him a visit and mete out his own ironic punishment to him by forcing him to relive that day, convinced that despite Igor being an alcoholic, and homeless, that he hasn't suffered nearly enough - the knowledge that he only stayed in jail for 6 months before he returned to the Soviet Union as part of its spy trade deal was icing on the cake. This either doesn't work, or works too well, as Drenkov was already driven mad by the guilt of being responsible for the Hulk, came to believe that he was in an Ironic Hell even before the jade giant came across him again.
    • He's Adapted Out in most adaptations, while in the 2003 Hulk, Bruce's father and Thunderbolt Ross are responsible for his transformation, directly and indirectly, respectively.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Mr. Carradine, the thief who murdered Peter Parker's uncle Ben Parker. He came back for a second appearance in the seventies, and died of a heart attack when Spidey revealed his identity.
    • And he did not even get a name until the 1990s, when his daughter appeared in a storyline that involved her with Ben Reilly during the Clone Saga.
    • In the third movie, Uncle Ben's murderer was actually Sandman, a member of Spidey's Rogues Gallery in the original comics. However, the killing was accidentally provoked by the burglar originally thought to had been Uncle Ben's murderer, who was the Sandman's lackey.
    • And in The Spectacular Spider-Man he's the Cat Burglar, father of recurring villain/partner/love interest Black Cat. This version turns out to have never intended to kill anybody, and guilt has made him repent in prison.
  • Similarly, The Fixer who turned Matt Murdock into Daredevil, dies of a heart-attack by the end of the first issue.
    • Daredevil (2003) replaced him with the Kingpin, doing a routine hit on his way to the top.
    • Frank Miller's re-telling of Daredevil's origin, entitled "The Man Without Fear", has the Fixer ordering the Kingpin (at that point, his main enforcer) to kill Matt Murdock's father. Later in the miniseries, Kingpin takes control by killing the Fixer.
  • Marie L'Angelle in Preacher, Jesse Custer's grandmother who made his childhood a living hell, is introduced in the beginning of the second volume but dies halfway through the book. Her influence, however, radiates on a while longer — her nephew is Allfather D'aronique.
  • In the original run of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Shredder, the evil ninja who would serve as the Turtles' archenemy in later versions of the saga, turned out to be this, being killed by the Turtles in the first issue, though he was resurrected and used as a villain (and then killed permanently) in later arcs. Said later arcs came after the first cartoon and the comics based on it made Shredder the Big Bad. The writers have said more than once that the Shredder was never intended to be the Turtles' Darth Vader, and he really isn't missed in the comicverse.
  • Luke Cage: Hero for Hire: Diamondback served this role to Luke Cage. When Luke was still known as Carl Lucas, Diamondback framed him for drug possession and got him sent to prison. There, Carl was experimented and gained his bullet-proof skin, owning his current condition to his enemy. After breaking out of prison and changing his name, he confronted Diamondback, hoping to clear his charges. Unfortunately, Diamondback got killed in his secondary appearance, ruining any chance of Luke clearing his name (at the time, anyway).
  • The people who captured Tony Stark, leading to him building his first Iron Man armor in a cave with a box of scraps to escape and defeat them, were originally unconnected to any of his later Rogues Gallery. He's usually captured by a more important villain or organization in adaptations.
  • In the original run of X-Men, Charles Xavier's paralysis was established to have been caused by an alien called Lucifer, in the process of the former preventing the latter from trying to lay the ground for an invasion of earth. After a couple of defeats at the hands of the original X-Men relatively early on in their original 1960s run, Lucifer has made only very rare further appearances in Marvel continuity. Typically in adaptations or retellings, such as the movies or the Ultimate Universe, Magneto is given this role instead.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Obadiah Stane/Iron Monger in Iron Man; he is revealed as the movie progresses to be the one who hired the Ten Rings to kill Tony Stark, thus indirectly causing the incident that changed Stark's vision of life and led him to become Iron Man. Despite this, he doesn't survive the first movie, and is never mentioned again in the second Opus. Ironically enough, this version of him led the character to be promoted in the fans' eyes, and he is made part of the Big Bad Ensemble in Iron Man: Armored Adventures.
  • Magneto did away with his nemesis Sebastian Shaw in X-Men: First Class, but never mentioned him in the 20 Minutes into the Future trilogy that preceded it. We're talking about the man who killed Magneto's mother and whose role Magneto assumed after killing him. Of course, the writers of the trilogy couldn't have predicted the future (in fact, Shaw doesn't look very dead, or old enough to have been an adult in The '40s, in his television appearance in X2). And it doesn't matter, as Days of Future Past removes the trilogy from existence.
  • What was left of police officer Alex Murphy after he was brutally murdered by a gang was turned into RoboCop. His memory was erased, but key memories resurfaced, including Murphy's murder. Robocop killed Murphy's killers at the end of the first film and they were never mentioned in either of the two sequels, even though the first of those explored Robocop's identity or lack thereof and to what extent he is Alex Murphy.
    • In RoboCop (2014), the crime boss who is responsible for putting a bomb in Murphy's car and mortally wound him is killed halfway through the movie without any fanfare with the movie rapidly switching to another villain in order to have a climatic ending.
  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld was James Bond's nemesis for nearly twenty real life years, starting from the second film in the franchise From Russia with Love and ending with For Your Eyes Only. He killed Bond's wife in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Bond took his revenge two films later in For Your Eyes Only, but for legal reasons Blofeld's name was never spoken in that film, nor was the character ever mentioned in any subsequent film other than the non-canon Never Say Never Again.
  • Deconstructed in Batman Begins. Joe Chill is killed by a mob hit before Bruce can take his revenge. Being denied vengeance motivates him to become Batman, with the added bonus of Rachel guilting him into swearing off guns. To an extent Chill is replaced in this regard by Carmine Falcone, the gang lord who ordered Chill's death. However, as soon as Batman has dealt with Falcone halfway through, he only appears once more in prison, as Batman moves on to the far more dangerous Scarecrow and Ra's al Ghul.
  • Batman (1989) turns Jack Napier, the man who would become the Joker, into the murderer of Bruce Wayne's parents, presumably to add more chemistry to the Batman/Joker rivalry. However, the Joker got killed in the first film and never appeared in any of Tim Burton's or Joel Schumacher's sequels, except for a second-long flashback in Batman Forever where he is played by The Other Darrin.
    • Schumacher planned to have the Joker reappear as a result of Scarecrow's fear toxin in the planned fifth film, but it never happened.
  • In Payback the Consummate Professional thief and hardass Villain Protagonist Porter is betrayed by his partner Val after a job they completed together, shot, and left for dead. After a few months of recovering from his wounds, Porter comes back for revenge and his half of the money from the job. Porter shows early on he can get to Val whenever he wants to; he breaks into Val's apartment in the night and surprises Val, despite the fact that the building belongs to The Syndicate and Val is a low-ranking member. Roughly halfway through the movie Porter kills off Val since Val doesn't have his money and can't get ahold of it, and focuses the rest of the film on getting his cash from the Syndicate.

    Live-Action TV 
  • From Xena: Warrior Princess: The warlord that attacked Xena's village and killed her brother was the preliminary cause of her Face–Heel Turn and Sliding Down The Slippery Slope progress. He was dealt with for good in a season one episode, and played as so ridiculously campy and over-the-top, that the writers wisely decided never to bring him back. For the villain who was essentially the reason for Xena becoming the way she was, he ended up barely relevant.
  • The first episode of Blake's 7 features Dev Tarrant, the undercover Federation agent who arranged the massacre of Blake's original followers and inspires him to become a rebel again by arranging a similar massacre. Despite still being at large and infiltrating the resistance as the episode closes, he is never seen or mentioned again, with the role of Blake's nemesis quickly being assigned to Travis, the officer who actually carried out the original massacre.
  • It wasn't revealed until the final season of Heroes that Noah Bennett had a wife who was killed by "one of them" named Richard and was recruited by The Company after killing a special he encountered in his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. He never actually found Richard (as far as we know), but the man was the catalyst for Bennett's entire origin story and you'd think Bennett would have told Sandra, Claire and Lyle about him and the whole other life he destroyed when he told them who he was really was earlier in the series. This is lampshaded by a very unimpressed Claire when the truth is revealed to her and the audience through a vision.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Several official Adventure Paths for Pathfinder, especially ones that start with level one adventurers too weak to realistically face any campaign-level villains, feature antagonists uninvolved in the Big Bad's plot, whose only purpose is to give the fledgling party something to form around.
    • In Curse of the Crimson Throne, the characters are brought together by a woman named Zellara because each of them (Zellara included) has been wronged by the small-time crimelord Gaedren Lamm in various ways. Zellara has discovered the location of Lamm's operations, and sends the PCs to take him out. Invading Lamm's warehouse and killing him is the first set piece of the campaign; as the characters emerge from the hideout, they hear about the event which kicks off the rest of the plot. Lamm himself is quickly forgotten, as it becomes apparent the PCs have bigger fish to fry.
    • Similarly, he first major set piece in the first adventure of the game's second edition, Age of Ashes, is a halfling rogue named Calmont's attempt use a summoned fire elemental to burn down the city hall of the town where the heroes are about to be hired, followed by a quest to track him down and capture him. Aside from being a rebellious former servant of Book One's Arc Villain Voz Lirayne — not even in a villainous way, just an apprentice at her book shop — he is not in any way connected to the villains' schemes.
    • Extinction Curse has several. Nemmia Bramblecloak, a militantly anti-civilization druid begins the adventure by murdering the circus heroes's ringmaster as part of her campaign to drive civilized people from her domain. She, in turn, was corrupted by her Evil Mentor and lover, the succubus Balenni. Lastly, the Arc Villain of book two is Mistress Dusklight, the abusive former employer of the founders of the Circus of Wayward Wonders, a group that the game expects to include most if not all of the PCs, who is now out to sabotage her ex-employees turned business rivals by any means necessary. While Balenni and Dusklight are both aware of and make deals with the campaign's Xulgath antagonists, neither of them are involved in their actual plans.
    • Gatewalkers has a double-layered case — the first villain the adventurers face is Bolan Nogasso, another civilization hating druid, who is plotting to spread the elf killing obnubilate curse across the entire world to wipe out civilization. He's acting on the orders of the curse's original creator Kaneepo the Slim, a fey who wants revenge on the elves for sealing them away for thousands of years, and who later desires to make the heroes into their heirs. Aside from Bolan's status as a fellow Gatewalker — a recipient of the same Mass Super-Empowering Event as the heroes and fellow one time Brainwashed and Crazy servant of campaign antagonist Osoyo the Blackfrost Whale, which neither he nor the party will remember until long after Bolan is dead and forgotten, neither are in any way involved in the campaign's main plot.

    Video Games 
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney
    • Manfred von Karma for the Franchise as a whole. His act of murder 15 years earlier turned pretty much all of the recurring cast's lives around, be it directly or indirectly. He is only present in one case of the first game, and mentioned a few times in the second and third games.note  His daughter Franziska is a recurring character and she has difficulty getting over the "von Karma perfection" he drilled into her.
    • For Phoenix himself, Redd White. He kills Mia Fey right after Phoenix's first case, an act that is responsible for many characters' first meetings and the main reason Maya chooses to participate in the series at all. Phoenix gets him arrested and everyone promptly forgets he ever existed. Even when the third game introduces a new character whose entire characterization is based around that murder, he barely acknowledges the murderer.
    • In The Great Ace Attorney, Jezaille Brett is the motivational villain for protagonist Ryunosuke Naruhodo, who framed him for the murder of John H. Wilson and lead Ryunosuke to clear his name in court. After she is revealed as the killer, she is arrested and taken by British authority, never seen for the rest of the first game, seemingly able to get away with her crime. This is later subverted in the sequel, where not only is she the victim of the first case but it's revealed that she was a pawn of a greater conspiracy between the British and Japanese judicial system.
  • Hideo Kojima didn't expect the original Metal Gear Solid to be as successful as it was, so the first game ends with Solid Snake's evil twin, Liquid Snake, dying from a heart attack. He proved so popular that the sequels sort of maybe but not really kind of brought him back. Nobody's really sure. The same happened with Big Boss in the original Metal Gear.
  • What little prologue we see of Dogyuun has a huge golden robot appear that kills the protagonists' friend. They chase after him, starting off the events of the game where you fight the enemy forces. Despite appearing to be the Big Bad or The Dragon, said golden robot is fought and Killed Off for Real early as only the second out of ten bosses.
  • The Barbarian King for the entire God of War series. He was a warlord who bested Kratos during his early career as a Spartan captain in his backstory and was about to execute him after crushing his army. During a moment of weakness, Kratos asked for the help of Ares to save him and in exchange he would be enforcer of his will. That was when things went downhill from there and this escalated to Kratos murdering his mortal and divine family, toppling the Greek Pantheon and nearly destroying humankind. Yet the Barbarian King never appears outside of flashbacks since Kratos killed him shortly after being saved by Ares, though he returns for a brief boss fight as an Monster from Beyond the Veil in the second game where he escapes from Hades and randomly cross paths with his old rival to settle things once and for all, but even then, Ares and Zeus top Kratos' list.
  • Benny from Fallout: New Vegas. The game began as he gloats and shoots you in your head as he steal your package. Regardless of whether you kill him (or sparing him for whatever reason, given how he's already showing his sleaziness by others' impression of him and him in person), not only said package is something that could empower Mr. House, the de facto leader of New Vegas, but the access to certain areas such as Mr. House's own domain and the bunker draw the notice of two major factions vying for control of New Vegas... or you can discover Benny's own pet project and make it your own.

  • In Necropolis, the plot is kicked off when a gang of bandits ravage the main character's hometown, which includes killing her father and burning down her house. She responds by going off to a nearby shop run by a demon and making a deal for a magic sword. Thanks to said magic sword, she easily kills the bandit leader the strip after she catches up to them, and then wipes out the rest of the gang of bandits offscreen.
  • In Weak Hero, the heroes Ben and Alex have a personal grudge against Jimmy Bae, as he's responsible for the incident that left Alex traumatised and Ben with a long-lasting arm injury. However, he's the lowest-ranked member of the Union and so rarely shows up again after he's thoroughly beaten in the first act.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman Beyond: Mr. Fixx killed Terry McGinnis's father and then died in the first episode... maybe. However, Derek Powers ordered the hit, and was still around to be the target of Terry's vengeance. However, Powers disappears at the end of Season 1 and never returned in any of the following seasons, despite the possibility being left open.
  • Hakon, who massacred Goliath's clan in Gargoyles is killed in the second episode of the series and rarely mentioned again. He does return as a ghost in two later episodes but in the first the focus is mostly on the Captain of the Guard and the second is a comedic Breather Episode with little overall importance to the series.
  • The Joe Chill story was the basis for the Batman: The Brave and the Bold episode "Chill in the Night". The episode borrowed much from #33, but upped the ante. The Spectre and The Phantom Stranger had a bet for Batman's soul over whether or not Batman would break his one rule and serve vengeance, or keep it and serve justice. Present-day Joe was now an arms dealer auctioning weapons on the black market, His henchmen were replaced with Batman's Rogues Gallery (who were attending the auction), and ended with the Spectre finishing Chill after Batman wouldn't, dropping a ceiling on him.