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Tragic Villain / Western Animation

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  • Beware the Batman: Most of the villains on the show fall into this, especially if you exclude those affiliated with the League.
    • Magpie's probably the most heart-wrenching example, as she started off as a basically good person with kleptomania, but the treatment they gave her (which she volunteered for in hopes of being cured) ends up shattering her mind, and eventually erases her good persona entirely. Even after that, the Magpie persona is largely sympathetic, as beyond her compulsion to steal she mostly just wants to be loved; it's her complete lack of impulse control and her own emotions that makes her a villain. Even Batman feels sorry for her, and of course because it's that kind of show his attempt to help her only makes things worse.
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    • Metamorpho's another one, as none of what happens to him is his fault and if any of the major players in his life would just treat him with a little kindness everything would be fine. They don't.
    • Humpty Dumpty is yet another one, and is equally heartbreaking. He tried to do the right thing by testifying against his Bad Boss Tobias Whale, but was horribly injured and driven insane by Tobias' vengeance. Humpty is left basically a super (tactically) intelligent child, who mostly just wants to play games. Unfortunately, his games involve (somewhat justifiably) getting even with the people who either attacked him or failed to protect him, so he ends up drawing the attention of Batman, who naturally tries to help me. It doesn't work.
    • And then there's Lunkhead. He used to be a basic (albeit strong) mook, but a fight with Batman left him comatose and damaged his brain. Nowadays he's basically a gigantic child who *wants* to be good, but is just a little too stupid and immature to control himself. At one point he's coerced into breaking out of jail (which he initially doesn't want to because he knows he's been bad and belongs there) with the promise of candy. And, once more with feeling, because it's that kind of show he doesn't even get the candy. Instead, he gets betrayed by his only friend and pushed off a ledge.
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    • Adding to the list, there's Jason Burr, who starts off as a straight up good guy, and still wants to be one, but suffers from residual effects of Cipher's mind control that force him to betray his friends and try to kill his love interest.
    • In the most recent episode, we find out that Katana's father, a well-intentioned guy for the most part, was blackmailed into betraying his best friend Alfred, making him one of these. And, again, because it's this show he dies for it.
  • Adventure Time:
    • The Ice King assumes this role when it is revealed in a Wham Episode that he used to be a normal human with a fiancé, whom he called his "princess". His Artifact of Doom ice crown made him go insane and made his fiancé leave him when he just tried it on for a laugh, and turned him into a hermit that constantly kidnapped princesses, subconsciously trying to get Betty back.
      • A later episode actually reveals Betty didn't abandon him, as she was running in fear from him in his insanity, The Ice King from the future had temporarly turned back to normal and opened a portal through time to say one last goodbye. Though Betty basically says "Screw that" and jumps through the portal into the present day Ooo determined to find a way to permanently cure him
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    • Marceline is more of a jerk than a villain in the earlier seasons, but her backstory is quite tragic, yet not being as evil as other examples. Her mother died when she was young while her father did not have much rpesence in her life and inadvertably ended up hurting her. Furthermore, Simon aka Ice King was her parental figure during the early years of Ooo and she had to watch his descent into madness, hence her initial reasons for avoiding him.
    • Lemongrab. He is a creation with mental problems, it is impossible for him to have a social relationship for that condition (which it has led to suicidal thoughts), is uncontrollably impulsive, his mother locked him in his castle for a long time, bullied him and has long been in his own solitude. The Lemonjon's death probably contributed much to his Ax-Crazy behavior (note that he has in his mind thoughts like "rage" suffer "), as well as a revelation in the second videogame.
    • Magic Man is probably one as well. He seems to live deeply depressed by the death of his girlfriend, and that's the reason why torture other creatures.
  • Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. He was a Cheerful Child, but his grandfather, a cruel and insensitive man, was the reason why he is the man we know today. He lured him away from his loving parents and forcibly adopted Burns. There's also the loss of his teddy bear, Bobo, but that may or may not have actually contributed to it.
  • Roger Smith from American Dad!. It is revealed that he is so evil because his species releases a bile that kills them if they don't "let their bitchiness out". Made worse when it is revealed the reason he is trapped on Earth is that the others of his species wanted to get rid of him.
  • Space Ranger Ty Parsec from Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. He was bitten by the Energy Vampire NOS-4-A2 (who normally preys on the energy of robots and machines), and now carries the Curse of the Wirewolf - in the light of the green, radioactive moon of Canis Lunis he takes the form of the monstrous Wirewolf, hungering for electrical energy and destruction. While the moon was destroyed, he still carries the Curse and can be affected by small chunks of the moon. He's a brave man and a good ranger and he loathes the idea that he could hurt other people as the Wirewolf.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Prince Zuko. The snarling, angry, ruthless teenager turns out to be a "Well Done, Son!" Guy who just wants to return home and be loved by his father. Who mutilated him and then exiled him from the kingdom on a lifelong Snipe Hunt over his speaking out against a plan to use a squad of raw recruits as cannon fodder to bait a trap for an enemy regiment.
    • Zuko and Azula's great grandfather Sozin as well. Despite leading a genocide and killing his best friend, Sozin reflects at the end of his life whether all of it was worth it. He somberly concludes that it wasn't and dies a sad and regretful man seeing his life as a waste, despite what the Fire Nation history books would write. Even more so as, until Zuko, his successors (particularly his grandson) turned out to be far worse, dropping any of of his more noble intentions in favor of power for power's sake.
    • Azula falls hard into this trope. We start off knowing that Zuko's even more villainous sister Azula was their father's favorite, and that she remained in his good graces. What we learn later implies that she struggles every bit as hard as Zuko to keep his favor. Unfortunately, her teachings and beliefs are shattered when Zuko defects, as well as when Mai and Ty Lee betray her at the Boiling Rock. When she realizes that, in reality, her father cares no more about her than he did about Zuko, it ends up being the straw that broke the camel's back, and she breaks rather than bends. It turns the episode "The Beach" into a Cerebus Retcon for her; all of her cruelty and her inability to socialize normally becomes less funny and paints the image of a woman who literally cannot fathom any way to be loved or respected for who she is. Thus, she clings to her daddy, right down to his ideas and philosophies just for a chance at some affection.
    • From The Legend of Korra, both Tarrlok and Amon/Noatak. The sons of the very evil Yakone who trained them to bloodbend seeing them as nothing more than possible tools of vengeance against the Avatar and Republic City. Yakone's abuse of both him and his brother caused Noatak to run away and conclude that bending was the ultimate evil, becoming a self-loathing Knight Templar and taking on the identity of Amon. Tarrlok eventually becomes a ruthless politician in Republic City and only at the end does he realize that he's become the very tool of vengeance that his father wanted him to be, just as Amon also did, having torn Republic City apart socially and politically. With this realization he decides to end both his life and Amon's in a Murder-Suicide.
    Amon: Noatak. I'd almost forgotten the sound of my own name.
    Tarrlok: It'll be just like the good old days.
  • Demona from Gargoyles. She seems to be aware, on some level, of her evil, but can't stop doing it or even consciously admit it to herself because that would require her to admit that much of the suffering she's experienced over her millennium-long life was her own fault. So, instead, she's the ultimate Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds, lashing out at the world around her in the hope that, if she kills enough humans (and anyone else who gets in her way), it'll be enough to make the hurting stop. She's definitely a villain who needs to go down, but you can't help but feel sorry for her, all the same
  • Several established Batman villains are portrayed this way in Batman: The Animated Series, as people whose lives have been consumed with a desire for revenge on the people who caused their problems. Mr. Freeze is probably the best example.
    Freeze: Tonight I mean to pay back the man who ruined my life...our lives.
    Batman: Even if you have to kill everyone in the building to do it?
    Freeze: *nods* Think of it, Batman: to never again walk on a summer's day with a hot wind in your face, and a warm hand to hold...oh, yes. I'd kill for that.
    • Even sadder, is that Nora is eventually revived but Mr. Freeze refuses to let her see what he had become, so she (possibly an amnesiac) runs off to get married with her doctor offscreen which in turn destroyed what little humanity Mr. Freeze had left.
    • Baby Doll is a former actress with a growing disease who prevents her body from developing, so that she will always look like an 8 year old kid. After a brief success in a sitcom that starred her as the troublemaking kid in a typical American family, society shuns her and she loses everything. She finally resolves to kidnap the cast of her old sitcom in a desperate attempt to live her fantasy of a "normal" life. Its really driven home at the end of the episode when, during a climactic chase through a hall of mirrors, she ends up staring into one which (somehow) distorts her image into that of a full-grown adult. She drops her cutesy voice and persona, breaks down crying, and shoots out the mirror before surrendering to Batman.
    Mary Dahl: Look! That's me in there, the real me! There I am... (glances at her hand) but its not really real is it? Just made up and pretend like my family, and my life, and everything else! Why couldn't you just let me make-believe!?
    • One-shot villain Lock-Up may not be the best person on Earth (he's cruel to inmates under his charge as the warden of Arkham Asylum) but considering he's right that the legal system in Gotham encourages Batman's rogues gallery to keep coming back, putting everyday people at risk, he goes over the deep end into villainy himself because he's fired for being too tough. While cruelty isn't good by any standards, the fact that he was working with people like the Joker and Scarecrow means he was effectively canned for not being nice enough to serial killers and professional terrorists.
    • Then there is Calendar Girl who is getting revenge at the modeling world after they fired her for being too old (she is in her late twenties at least) and making her ugly. When the mask comes off she is beautiful but is absolutely horrified seeing her own face. Best put by Batman.
    Batgirl: She's beautiful.
    Batman: She can't see that anymore. All she can see is the flaws.
    • Clayface. He starts out as a stressed actor, desperately looking for more Clay (which lets him hide that his face was horribly disfigured years ago) so he can continue his career. However, when a group of thugs overloaded him with it, he turned into a clayed-out monster, and he's not happy about it.
    Batman: You CAN play those roles again, Hagan. Let me help you find a cure.
    Clayface: No! Hagan's gone! MAKE HIM STOP HAUNTING ME!
    • In this continuity, The Riddler counts as one, as he was initially an up-and-comer at a software company who designed a hit game... which his boss claimed was his idea and fired Nygma before the truth could get out. Edward then (initially) turned to crime as a form of retribution against his boss. While the Corrupt Corporate Executive was rescued, Batman himself points out that he wasn't exactly a Karma Houdini, as he's now Properly Paranoid that The Riddler might come back to finish the job.
    • Two-Face is an honorable, justice-driven man who is simply enslaved to a ball of repressed anger he's held back for years until the tragedy that malformed his face forced it to supplant his good nature.
  • The Batman gets in on this as well:
    • The first Clayface, Ethan Bennet, is not only a good friend of Bruce Wayne but also a good and honest cop who is secretly a Batman supporter. Then The Joker captures him and "clowns around with him", breaking him mentally and transforming him physically into Clayface. While Ethan's still in him, every time he uses his clay powers it messes up his mind more and more ultimately leaving him as a sadistic howling villain. He gets better, but not for a few seasons.
    • The Riddler in this continuity as well. Betrayed by his boss who wanted all the credit for his invention and also cost him his Love Interest, he's out for revenge. To make matters worse, said boss was innocent; it was actually the Love Interest who duped him into killing the boss so she could take all the credit for the invention, and he fell for it. Poor guy.
    • While it's minor, even The Joker gets this. While torturing the aforementioned Ethan Bennet and describing that all it takes to turn a good man into a monster is "one bad day", he very briefly makes this face.
  • Lord Garmadon from Lego's Ninjago. Bitten by the Great Devourer and infected with his evil, he cannot fight that side of him. He struggles to be a good father to his son Lloyd and lets him make his own choices and follow his own destiny, even if it means that the two are destined to battle in the future
  • Dr. Doofenshmirtz from Phineas and Ferb. Parodied in the movie when Doofenshmirtz-2 tells Doof that "true evil is born through pain and loss" before explaining that the only reason he became evil was the tragic event of losing his toy train as a child.
  • Dr. Drakken of Kim Possible became a villain after his college friends laughed at him, one of which was the father of his Arch-Enemy.
  • World from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. He destroyed his own world in rage when the gang tried to take Frankie back home, but he has a tragic backstory and the fact that all he really wanted was a friend who was willing to stay with him.
  • Transformers: Prime:
    • Dreadwing and Predaking. The former is an honourable warrior who went berserk upon learning of the desecration of his brother's body and the later is a revived Predacon who, thanks to Megatron's manipulations, ended up all alone in the universe.
    • Megatron himself used to be an idealist freedom fighter who could see the injustice and corruption of the society he lived in. But his lack of understanding of things like kindness and tolerance made him walk down a dark path that eventually led to the death of his own planet.
  • Danny Phantom:
    • Vlad Masters qualifies as this. When he was at college with his former best friend and crush, said friend accidentally mixed up the material needed to make a ghost portal work, which led to him becoming a ghost hybrid and him hating the culprit because of it. Years later, he discovers his creator's son who also suffers from his condition. He offers him the chance to help control his powers, but also to rule the world with him and abandon his father. He then pursues both the boy and his mother and hopes to destroy the one who started it all. However, he fails and tries making clones of the son to have as his own, but his hopes are dashed, which leads to his Villainous Breakdown.
    • Desiree was a harem girl who fell in love with a sultan who promised to make all of her dreams come true, even giving her her own kingdom. Unfortunately, she was driven away by his jealous wife and died from a combination of a broken heart and old age. As a ghost, she at first sympathized with those who wanted their dreams to come true, and tried to make them happy by granting their wishes, but overtime, the selfish desires of others, coupled with her bitterness over not having her own wish granted, turned her evil.
  • Nightmare Moon from My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. Once, she was Princess Luna, one of the two royal sisters who saved Equestria from Discord, freed the Crystal Empire from King Sombra and ruled over Equestria with her sister, Princess Celestia. She felt that no one appreciated her night because they slept through it, which led to her becoming resentful toward her sister and attempting to bring about eternal night. She is returned to the side of good early on from the main protagonists' intervention.
  • The Brain, of Animaniacs spinoff Pinky and the Brain, who is doomed to failure every episode because of his tragic flaw, Genre Blindness. His plans have been shown at points to be purely power-hungry, but he's also shown to be wanting to rule the world because he thinks he can do a far better job (that appears to be Pinky's position at least — and considering the intelligence level of the world as depicted in the show... he could be right). In the historically inaccurate episode of Freakazoid! (where he travels back in time), it was shown as much in an alternate time-line where he's president of the U.S.A. and things seem to have worked out pretty well. He is unable to anticipate the wacky hijinks which will inevitably result from the fact that this is a Warner Brothers cartoon, and so inevitably either Pinky's bumbling or his own carelessly chosen reactions end each plan in disappointment. In one episode, a prognosticative observation shows a future elderly Pinky & the Brain still locked in their labmouse cage, still plotting to Take Over the World.
  • The Powerpuff Girls: Mojo Jojo was one in The Powerpuff Girls Movie. The movie revealed that he started out as a Well-Intentioned Extremist, who believed that his race were looked down upon humans, and that had caused him to go against humans along with his race. Albeit his quote: "For too long, apes and monkeys have been living under the thumb of man! Well, the time has come, to oppose that thumb, and give back what was rightfully ours. The world!!!". In the comics, he also regrets what he has done, and wants to become Jojo again. When he does turn back to Jojo anyhow, he becomes Mojo Jojo again, by a mistake.
  • A few in Gravity Falls:
  • Samurai Jack: The Daughters of Aku in Season 5 of were horribly abused by their mother all their lives and molded into merciless killing machines trained to kill Jack, raised to believe that Jack was a villain attempting to overthrow the "benevolent" Aku. Jack deeply regrets killing them in self defense, and the only survivor, Ashi, makes a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Nox, the Big Bad of Wakfu, is obsessed with building a time machine and going back to prevent the death of his family. To do this, he has been draining the life force of anything and everything in his path, without apology and maybe even some glee. He's perfectly okay with committing wanton atrocities because he thinks that if he stops the disaster that drove him to villainy, that will also undo all of the deaths he has caused. When he activates his machine and it only goes back twenty minutes, he has a Villainous Breakdown.
  • Castlevania (2017): The Big Bad Dracula sets off to destroy humanity upon finding his, human, wife burnt at the stake because her interest in medicine was mistaken for witchcraft. Though he acted in anger, the sadness of the loss far outweighs that and his offensive becomes directionless. The raw hatred he had for humanity dulls considerably and he's only left a lonely and broken man going through the motions. Even his affection for other Vampires simply fades away and he tries to snuff out their food-source, uncaring if his own species dies along with the humans. In the finale he ultimately stops his fight with Alucard when the revelation that his anger and sadness have caused him to nearly kill his own son, one of the only other people he still loves. This ends up finally breaking him and ending his aggression.
  • Infinity Train: The Conductor is revealed to be a woman named Amelia who found the titular train after losing her husband Alrick. In her grief, she took control of the train from the previous Conductor to try and build a car where she could relive her life with Alrick, with no success. To make matters worse, since this is actively going against the purpose of the train (which was designed to help people overcome their grief), the number indicative of her progress has stretched all the way up her neck, meaning she'll likely die before she ever gets to leave.
  • Steven Universe: The Movie has Spinel, who was created for the purpose of being Pink Diamond's friend and playmate. Pink repaid her by convincing Spinel to stay behind in her space garden while she would go to Earth, though she promised that she would eventually return... this was nothing but a lie and she never returned, leaving Spinel to wait alone for 6,000 years only to discover that Pink Diamond eventually died having completely forgotten about her. As such, she decides to destroy whatever happiness Steven has as a result of her own happiness being taken away. This even feeds into her defeat as Steven doesn't so much succeed in talking her down, as much as she talks herself down; breaking down crying while curb-stomping him and admitting she's a Reluctant Psycho, saying that all she really wants is a friend who she can make laugh.
  • OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes: Professor Venomous, Card-Carrying Villain status aside, garners a fair bit of sympathy with his backstory. Despite being part of a top-class hero team and having a loving and supporting girlfriend, he struggled with his insecurities over whether or not he could measure up to the rest of his team. Eventually, he turned to genetics in an attempt to become stronger, only to accidentally De-Power himself permanently, and shortly after the incident, he overheard his lover say something that made it seem like none of her emotional support was genuine, which made his insecurities even worse. He tried for years to regain his abilities but could never get it right and eventually turned to villainy in an attempt to find closure. And to top it all off, he gained a second personality along the way in his pursuit of power. At his core, Venomous is a man who obsessed over his perceived shortcomings, was unable to move past them and only ever found peace after he turned to the dark side.

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