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Tragic Villain / Comic Books

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  • Every Batman villain has a tragic motivation, but the most archetypical Anti-Villain is Mr. Freeze. His main motivation is to find a way to save his dying wife, no matter what it may be. A major factor in his introductory appearance in Batman: The Animated Series is that a Corrupt Corporate Executive directly caused his Freak Lab Accident that nearly killed both him and his wife.
    • Prior to the aforementioned animated series, Mr. Freeze was just a generic Silver Age kooky tech-based villain: B:TAS came up with the idea of Mr. Freeze as a man simply wanting to restore his wife and every incarnation since (except for the one in The Batman) has adopted this aspect.
    • Although in the New 52 Nora isn't his wife, she's a frozen woman from the '40s with a heart disease. Freeze is just crazy, which is just as tragic when you think of it. As of DC Rebirth, she's back to being his frozen wife.
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    • Depending on the Writer, fellow Batman foe Killer Croc can also be seen as one of these. Yes, he's a homicidal cannibal, but he is often portrayed as having little to no control over those urges. His increasingly bestial appearance and the gradual loss of his own humanity (again, Depending on the Writer) makes it impossible for him to have any sort of life other than that of a villain. In his appearance in the Titans series, he mentions that all he wants now is to be left alone.
    • The Penguin was bullied in his childhood for being short, and having the shape of a penguin. His whole life he had been mocked to insanity.
    • Bane was born in a prison, forced to serve out his father's sentence, lost both his parents, and was forced to become a test subject for a dangerously potent steroid that, in some alternate futures, will eventually leave him too sick and weak to care for himself.
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    • Although always sympathetic in some way, as is with almost all Batman supervillains, Poison Ivy became this when New 52 altered her backstory. After spending the majority of my childhood gardening, then finding my mother murdered and buried in the garden, I'd become pretty distrustful and misanthropic too. Some stories have portrayed her as straight-up evil (for example, remember the Harvest?), but the majority revolve around her simply going to EXTREMES to aid the environment, something she has a supernatural connection to.
    • The Riddler became this. After getting high scores on some important tests, his father beat him in the belief that he had cheated. His father's jealousy at his intelligence started a need for Edward Nygma to prove his innocence and superiority. This need manifested as riddles and puzzles. It wasn't until he attempted to commit a crime without leaving riddles that he realized his compulsion. In his attempt to not be take back to Arkham, he realized he had psychiatric issues and needed to go back to Arkham for help.
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    • In most incarnations, Two-Face can be considered this. Harvey Dent was a genuinely good man with a dream of ridding Gotham of organized crime as District Attorney. The combination of childhood trauma from his physically abusive father, the failure of the criminal justice system to actually punish those he tried to convict, and his scarring at the hands of Sal Maroni turned him into a madman obsessed with duality and fate. His first targets as Two-Face were the same criminals he had spent his career trying to bring justice to, only with a gun rather than the courts.
    • Harley Quinn counts as well (although she first appeared in The Animated Series before becoming a character in the comic as well). She was just a normal psychiatrist who developed an unhealthy infatuation for the Joker, and became a supervillain as a result. Even worse, the Joker doesn't really love her, treats her horribly, and basically just sees her as a tool he can use to his advantage by playing on her love for him.
  • Wonder Man, long-time Avenger, has been straying into this. After being revived, he's become increasingly disillusioned with the perpetual cycle of superhero-supervillain violence. After repeatedly asking the Avengers not to re-assemble, he puts together a team of similar malcontents (including a new Goliath, angry over his uncle's death during Civil War) who attack Avengers Mansion and Stark Tower, demanding that the Avengers be disbanded.
  • Paperinik New Adventures has the Coolflames. They are people whose planets were invaded and conquered, had their intelligence and emotions drained out of them, and are now forced to work for the race who invaded and conquered their homes.
  • In Runaways, Lillie and Tristan were heroes back in the early twentieth century, but then a gang war killed all their friends and caused Lillie to lose the only man she ever truly loved and also left Tristan badly deformed, and the two of them spent the next century engaging in organized crime in order to gather the resources to send the Runaways back in time to change the past... which is actually what sparked the gang war in the first place.
  • Superman: As a baby, Doomsday was killed thousands of times over throughout a period of decades, and had every single death recorded into his memory. This caused him to grow up to be an insane monster that hated all life. At his core, he's a traumatized infant in an adult's body who thinks he has to kill everything in order to stay alive.
  • Spider-Man: Curt Connors was a dedicated army surgeon who lost his arm in service. Wanting to repair his arm to get back to normal, he next took up studying reptiles to figure out how they regrew limbs. He came up with an experimental mixture that he thought would restore his missing limb. And it worked, but the side effects turned him into the villainous Lizard. Something Connors fears and hates, but which he has little to no control over without any antidotes to losing his arm. The Lizard has repeatedly put Curt through extreme trauma, but over 50 years later, and he's no closer to putting the Lizard behind him.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Doctor Psycho was initially born deformed, bullied all of his life because of it, framed for a crime that he did not commit, had his fiance stolen from him, and was led to believe that she was complicit in the Frame-Up. As the years went on, though, he became crueler and unbearably sadistic and sympathies dwindled accordingly.
    • In Wonder Woman (Rebirth) the new version of Cheetah's origin story turns out to have been masterminded by Diana's enemies, who not only arrange for her unwanted painful transformation but ensure she thinks Diana abandoned her. In reality, they rendered the communicator Diana gave her useless.
    • Pretty much every version of Silver Swan ended up a villain due to tragic circumstances, lies, and manipulation. In at least one case Silver Swan was forcibly made out of a kidnapped teenage girl, and the modifications were killing her before Diana was able to find a doctor capable of saving her life.
    • In The Legend of Wonder Woman (2016) Tomas Byde was Driven to Suicide by Ares' manipulations, and then pulled into making a deal with Ares who twisted his grief into fury while he was near death. Once he realizes the deception and betrayal that went into turning him into the Duke of Deception, he is horrified and overcome with guilt at all the deaths he has caused due to his own weakness and permitting himself to be led on in this way.
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