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Sadistic Choice / Comic Books

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  • In Astro City, while Superman expy Samaritan is out on a date with feminist hero Winged Victory (herself an expy of Wonder Woman,) he is trying to understand how her philosophy informs her superhero style. He asks her if, faced with a choice between a man and a woman who were in danger, she would always choose to save the woman. Her answer was "All other things being equal — yes."
  • One Batman comic has Batman forced to make one of these by causality. He ended up in an alternate universe where there were no heroes at all, not even Greek myths. In this world, Bruce Wayne's parents had yet to be killed, and he had to make a choice: save young Bruce's parents, or let them die and ensure this world had at least one hero in the form of its own Batman. Batman chooses to save the alternate Bruce's parents... and then the trope is subverted: inspired by the memory of the vigilante who saved his family, the alternate Bruce Wayne studies, trains, and on reaching adulthood dons the cape and cowl himself.
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  • In Dark Empire, Luke finds himself before the reborn Emperor, who offers to make him his apprentice. Luke has his lightsaber. But the Emperor has 'survived' by Body Surfing, and he can do this to anyone not trained to resist — and if Luke kills him, there's one extremely powerful Jedi who can't resist right there. Luke kneels at the Emperor's feet, planning to try and sabotage him from within. And he does, to an extent — but this is the Emperor, and little by little Luke becomes the mask.
  • The first incarnation of Doom Patrol ended with one. Their archenemy General Zhal gave the Patrol the choice of nuking their location or nuking a small fishing village in Maine, a sacrifice that wouldn't be remembered. The Patrol's answer? "Fire away, Zhal!"
  • Another variation appeared in the Assault On New Olympus arc in The Incredible Hercules. Hephaestus traps Hercules and his teen partner Amadeus Cho in separate chambers, each with a Big Red Button. The only way for Herc to be free is if Cho pushes his button, which would remove the air from his chamber, killing him. Or Herc can push his button, saving Cho by sacrificing his life. Almost before Hephaestus finishes explaining the trap, Herc and Cho push both their buttons simultaneously, shorting out the system and releasing them both. The scene shows that Herc and Cho would each sacrifice themselves for each other, no questions asked. Hephaestus neglected to consider this option and expresses his anger with a succinct "Frickin Hercules".
  • Wonder Woman:
    • One of the rare examples of the hero making the choice and taking the consequences happened in Infinite Crisis where Wonder Woman was faced with either murdering Maxwell Lord in cold blood or allowing a brainwashed Superman to remain under his control. She kills Lord and later hands herself in to the authorities (and is eventually found not guilty as she was acting in self-defense). She had wrapped her magic lasso around Lord, forcing him to tell the truth and she asked how she could break his mental hold on Superman and he said, under the influence of the lasso, the only way to make him stop was to kill him and CRACK! she snapped his neck without hesitation because she knew it was the only way.
    • On the cover of issue 118 of the original series, Wonder Woman is faced with the decision of whether to save Steve Trevor or a merman from falling from a precipice which they are clinging to for dear life.
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  • During a flashback in Irredeemable, Qbit is shown asking The Plutonian what it's like to have so much power and responsibility. Plutonian doesn't answer, but he's visibly irritated by the question. Years later, after the Plutonian becomes an Ax-Crazy Omnicidal Maniac, he sets out to destroy the entire country of Singapore, and tells Qbit to choose ten people to save out of four million.
    Plutonian: That's what it feels like!
  • Jason Todd pulls one of these on Batman when he comes Back from the Dead years after his murder at the hands of The Joker, forcing him to choose between letting Jason kill the Joker or killing Jason himself, so Batman would break his one rule or fail to Save the Villain; to Jason, his own life meant less than knowing that Batman loves him.
  • In the Joker's Asylum mini-series, the issue focusing on Two-Face has him setting up somebody else with a disfigured face in one of these. He can either shoot Batman (who saved him from dying in a fire) and save his wife from having acid spilled on her face, or save Batman. He tries to Take a Third Option by shooting Two-Face, only to find out that the gun isn't loaded and the person who was supposedly Batman is just one of Two-Face's goons. Although the real Batman comes and rescues everybody, his marriage is ruined by the knowledge that he couldn't choose his wife over Batman. Damn.
    • That issue also features something of a meta-example: it asks the reader to take a coin and flip it. If the coin comes up heads, the man gets a happy ending where he reunites with his wife, who manages to forgive him, and they rebuild their lives. If it comes up tails, the man fails to do this, succumbs to despair and puts a bullet through his brain. The choice is, knowing you have a 50% chance of dooming this man if you flip the coin, do you flip the coin?
  • In Garth Ennis' run, The Punisher puts Daredevil through the "choice between ideals" version. The Punisher is out to snipe a vicious mob figure; Daredevil attempts to stop him, insisting that the mob boss needs to be taken out legally, through the justice system. The Punisher manages to incapacitate Daredevil and bind him up with a gun with one bullet in his hands pointed at the Punisher's own head, such that the only way Daredevil could stop the Punisher's vigilante justice would be to violate his own ideals by fatally shooting Punisher himself. Daredevil chooses to pull the trigger, at which point it is revealed that the setup was also a false dilemma: the gun had no firing pin.
    • Frank also tends to pull this on criminals he's trying to get information out of, particularly in the MAX stories. Tell him what he needs to know and he'll kill you quickly. If you don't tell him what he needs to know, he'll torture you until you do, then kill you.
  • During the Resurrection of Ra's al Ghul arc Ra's tried to make Batman choose which new body Ra's would be slipping into out of Damian and Tim Drake, both of whom are Bruce's sons. Bruce understandably refuses and takes a third option instead.
  • Secret Six: Junior forces victims to choose whether they kill them or their family and friends. If they choose themselves, Junior kills them. If they choose their family, they kill them anyway and leave the body and a recording of them begging Junior to kill their family where the family will find it.
  • Simon Dark: The thing possessing Dall Moss tries to force Simon Dark to choose between joining him, saving the people of Gotham Village and dooming the rest of Gotham, or saving all of Gotham besides the Village. Simon is unimpressed and kills him, then chooses the option that saves the Village knowing he already has the key to preventing the rest of the city from being killed.
  • Spider-Man:
    • One annual issue features the Scorpion doing this to J. Jonah Jameson. Holding Jameson's son John and his wife Marla hostage, the Scorpion demands that Jameson decide which one he kills, saying he'll let the other one live. A broken Jameson subverts this trope when he pleads with the Scorpion to kill him instead, saying that he was the one who turned the Scorpion into a monster. The Scorpion likes the idea, but the trope is Double Subverted when he decides to just kill the entire Jameson family. Fortunately, that's the exact moment when Spider-Man pulls a Big Damn Heroes rescue and interrupts the Scorpion so the Jamesons have time to escape.
    • Done to Spider-Man by Harry Osborn, although with a twist. Harry had kidnapped Aunt May, Flash Thompson, and Mary Jane, and told Spider-Man that one of them was rigged to a bomb, and the other two were completely safe, urging Peter to save the one most dear to him. That was intended as a clue, as Peter would use the word "dear" to describe Aunt May, but never Flash.
    • Done in Spider-Man: India as a nod to the movie. The Goblin drops Aunt Maya and Meera Jain off opposite sides of a refinery tower. Spider-Man grabs Maya but doesn't have time to reach MJ...but luckily, Doctor Octopus saves her.
    • In Superior Spider-Man, Alistair Smythe uses a classic sadistic choice to delay Spider-Man. Will he choose to rescue JJJ, or the prison warden, or a group of other civilians? He's very surprised when Spider-Ock announces that he's just going to go after Smythe, they all knew the risks and his spider-bots can take care of them if they don't do anything stupid.
  • Star Wars: Doctor Aphra. Darth Vader has captured both Aphra and her father, but says he only needs one archaeologist and gives them the length of the shuttle journey back to the Executor to decide who that's going to be. Her father volunteers to give up his life, but fortunately at that point the rebels capture the shuttle.
  • Superman:
    • Pictured on the main page: In Action Comics #259, Lex Luthor does this to Supes, forcing him to pick between current girlfriend Lois Lane and childhood crush Lana Lang. Luckily, Superman wakes up from the dream he's having and comments on how he's lucky that it was a dream and that he didn't have to actually make a decision.
    • In Superman's Pal, Jimmy Olsen #16, Superman gets stuck in a self-inflicted Sadistic Choice when he tricks Lois into attributing a slip with his superpowers to some space berries, which she then eats. Thinking herself invulnerable, she goes news hunting. Superman uses his powers to keep an eye on her and the currently invulnerable Jimmy Olsen. However, then he realizes to his horror that Jimmy's powers are on the verge of disappearing, leaving him with two daring people operating under the belief they can't get hurt. Rather than have to choose whether to save his best girl or his best friend in case of a conflict, Superman decides to tell Lois the truth about Clark's powers. However, circumstances intervene so he doesn't have to.
    • A Mind-Switch in Time: When villain Euphor sends a brainwashed powered-up Lois after Superboy, Clark faces a dilemma: he cannot fight Lois, but he cannot let her attack him either because she will expend energy until self-destructing.
    • In War World, Mongul forces Superman to choose between giving him a device that controls a super-weapon and seeing his friends dying.
      Martian Manhunter: You don't mean the key—?
      Superman: What else? The lives of my friends depend on my getting it!
      Martian Manhunter: And the lives of worlds beyond numbering depend on it remaining here!
    • In a story following The Death of Clark Kent, Conduit's tape informs Superman that he set off the timer on a bomb ticking in Smallville. He can either fly away and save Smallville or stay and try to figure a way to defeat the seemingly insurmountable Death Trap in which Conduit put Jimmy Olsen. Superman flies away at superspeed, then returns. It still took several excruciating minutes before Jimmy had a "Eureka!" Moment which let Superman save him.
    • In Red Daughter of Krypton, Supergirl must choose between letting an innocent person die and letting an alien abomination steal her body.
    • In Supergirl (Rebirth), Supergirl's father Zor-El had to choose between banishing an innocent to the Phantom Zone and let someone potentially extremely dangerous run free (since that person was a werewolf and he couldn't control himself).
    • In Many Happy Returns, Linda has to choose between sending Kara back to her timeline where she will eventually get killed in action… and letting The Multiverse die.
    • In The Supergirl from Krypton (2004), Gillotina holds Big Barda hostage and will slice her throat unless Wonder Woman submits to Darkseid. Diana retorts by taking Granny Goodness hostage. Fearing for her life, Granny orders her Female Fury to release Barda.
    • In The Untold Story of Argo City, a vision shows a monster named Zygor mind-controlling Supergirl into leading her father and her cousin into a death trap, and then forcing her to choose which of them will be spared.
    • The Plague of the Antibiotic Man: Superman bursts into Amalak's spaceship and finds out his enemy is holding Supergirl captive, and forcing him to choose between two options: taking the cure for his plague to Earth or saving his cousin's life.
      Amalak: "I assume you recognize the star-cannon, Superman...and are acquainted with its power! So I am prepared to propose a trade: I let you take Nam-Ek back to Earth— and in exchange, Supergirl remains here as my prisoner! Either that— Or I'll kill her right before your eyes!"
      Superman: "What can I do? The minute I leave, he'll kill Supergirl— and yet there's Central City...And Lois—!"
    • The Death of Luthor: When Supergirl tries to stop Luthor from robbing a bank, Lex says she can arrest them...or she can stop a baby buggy which has slipped out of one woman's grasp and is rolling down the street. Supergirl chooses to save the baby, but she realizes too late that it is another Luthor's trap.
    • The Planet Eater Trilogy: After announcing he will use their machine to tear Earth asunder, Brainiac states he will save one city...and asks Superman which city wants him to spare.
      Brainiac: "Soon your Earth will be torn asunder, totally destroyed— just like Krypton was, eh? But I will save one city, even as I spared Kandor from Krypton's unexpected demise. Which city would you save if given the choice? Which city will I save, Superman— New York? London? Moscow? Metropolis?"
  • In The Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers, Big Bad Overlord offers his prisoners the chance to compete in gladiatorial matches to the death. Anyone who wins twelve matches gets a choice — nobody has ever spoken to somebody who has made it, but knowing that Overlord is Ax-Crazy, the Sadistic part almost goes without saying. The choice? Commit suicide on the spot, or fight Overlord. The two options are one and the same.
  • Ultimate Marvel:
    • The Ultimates: Red Skull was once hired to kill a guy, but instead of just shooting him, he got the guy's wife and infant son, held a gun to the infant's head, and gave the wife a choice — either he kills the baby or she stabs her husband to death with an old pair of scissors. Then after she killed her husband, Red Skull threw the baby out the window anyway, his goons then raping her until well into the next day. Then taking the bread and milk out of the fridge when and his goons eventually left.
    • Ultimate FF: Doom left the team with one. Save the army of murderous fishmen from an alternate reality, or themselves?
    • Ultimate Daredevil & Elektra: Elektra gave Trey a mortal injury, and gave Matt a choice. He can get him to a hospital before he bleeds to death, or he can go with her. He chose the first one
    • Ultimate X-Men: Wraith forces Jean to decide: kill a scientist working for terrorists, or watch Cyclops die. She chose the first option, but was devastated later because of it.
  • In one Vampirella mini-series, a mobster gets his home invaded by a rival. The Rival holds the mobster's adult daughters at gunpoint and forces him to choose which one of them gets to live. He chooses the younger daughter. Whom the rival shoots anyway, telling him his other daughter now gets to live knowing her father would've let her die.
  • In Watchmen, Rorschach gives a child kidnapper the options of sawing his own hand off or burning alive.
    • Rorschach also waited around outside ostensibly to see what choice the kidnapper made, but this is Rorschach we're talking about here; it doesn't seem likely he'd have let the man survive in any event.
  • The wolf prince Hrimhari is given the chance to sacrifice his own life to save his love Rahne Sinclair of X-Factor. However, Rahne is pregnant with his child, and the one offering the deal will only save one person in exchange for Hrimhari. One life for one soul. Hrimhari subverts the choice by choosing to save the nearby mortally wounded Elixir instead, since Elixir has extremely powerful healing powers (no Healing Factor though, hence the "mortally wounded" issue) that could save Rahne and the child.
  • In Y: The Last Man, Alter puts a gun to the head of one of the Hartle twins and offers the other a choice — either reveal the location of the last man on Earth or "live the rest of your miserable life knowing you could have saved your sister."
  • In Zero, Zizek is given the option of saving his lover or their unborn baby. He chooses the baby at the request of Marina.