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What You Are In The Dark / Comic Books

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  • Sonic the Comic: Tails was given a chance to shoot Robotnik from a building, looking down on Robotnik's parade. The unicorn who gives him this chance tempts him by saying that Mobius will be free if Tails pulls the trigger. He doesn't go through with it. Turns out the whole thing was an illusion set up by the unicorn as a Secret Test of Character.
  • Superman:
    • It happens in Superman/Batman: Public Enemies. When both heroes confront then-president of the United States, Lex Luthor, over a bounty he placed on Superman's head, blaming Luthor for an incoming meteor (made of Kryptonite or containing it at least) about to hit the earth, and the beating he just gave to their respective proteges, Superman has been pushed so far he is ready to fry Luthor. Luthor actually goads him, believing Superman wouldn't do it or that if he did, the fact that Superman committed murder would be a massive blow against him and the people's faith in him, thus a form of post-mortem vengeance against Superman. However, that is when Batman shows up and quite calmly tells Superman he [Batman] won't stop him, and that they can just make it look like an accident or "better yet, as if he'd vanished without a trace." Luthor begins sweating cold when he realizes he may genuinely lose his life for good. Needless to say, Superman doesn't kill him and settles for throwing him against the wall before leaving to stop the meteor. Which was what Batman probably knew would happen all along. Probably.
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    • In The Killers Of Krypton, Supergirl fights and defeats Empress Gandelo in uninhabited planet Tavaar. She could have taken revenge for her dead kin and friends by killing Gandelo right there and then, and nobody would probably have found out about it. Instead, she chooses to keep her imprisoned in a rock while she figures out who turn Gandelo over to.
  • In one of the Batman: The Animated Series based comics (during the The New Adventures period), a multi-millionaire philanthropist places a million dollar bounty for the Joker's head (dead or alive, but preferably dead), in order to have justice for the Joker killing his son. He does so via live broadcast, including the Times-Square-esque television screens in Gotham Uptown. The whole city goes berserk as everybody tries to capture and or kill the Joker. Finally, Batman kidnaps the millionaire, brings him to a dark corner of Gotham where the Joker is tied to a chair in a cone of light. Batman says that he will not allow the man to buy himself a murder; if he wants Joker dead, he is going to have to kill him himself. Before disappearing into the dark though, Batman asks the businessman if this is really what he wants, and if it is really worth it. The man, alone with Joker, begins to lunge at the clown to strangle him, but stops himself, unable to go against his humanitarian nature. The next day, he withdraws the bounty, instead using it to start a support organization for the families of victims of violent crime. Just like Batman expected he would.
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  • Batman himself ends up in this position with the Joker in The Dark Knight Returns. They're in an abandoned carnival ride, the Joker has just killed dozens of people after Batman's return has drawn him out of a decades-long catatonic state, and Batman has sworn that he'll never let the Joker take another life and is prepared to kill him. In the end, Batman can't do it and paralyses the Joker by nearly breaking his neck. Laughing at Batman's lack of guts and knowing that no one else in the world will know he didn't do it, Joker finishes the job for him and kills himself.
  • Discussed in a story from Christmas with the Superheroes Vol 1 #2 (1989) where Deadman, an obscure ghost superhero that can do nothing but possess others, nearly steals an innocent man's Christmas by spending it in his body (those he possesses have no memory of the time he controls them). As he is lamenting how much it sucks that he can't celebrate the holiday without stealing it from someone else and how the nature of the way he operates means he will never be more than a circus performer that died years ago in the eyes of the world, he meets a mysterious woman that can see and hear him. She reminds him that, as long as good is being done, it doesn't matter if the world knows who did it. It doesn't matter if no one remembers you ever even existed at all. Before she leaves, Deadman asks her for her name.
    My name is Kara, though I doubt that'll mean anything to you.
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  • A Secret Six chapter contains a chilling inversion of this and other similar situations. The titular group of Villain Protagonists is hired to snatch a pedophile serial killer from police, by the father of one of the said killer's victims, who intends to avenge his daughter personally. However, when Catman and Deadshot deliver the safely bound killer into an isolated storehouse, where no one will hear any screams, he starts backing down, clearly unprepared to take another's life and saying he doesn't think he can do that. Catman coldly responds with "Yes, you can", and a short but detailed instruction about the most painful ways to flense a human. Judging by the man's immediate reaction, he takes this advice to heart.
  • In Chapter 7 of Don Rosa's The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck pictured at the main page, "Dreamtime Duck of the Never-Never", Scrooge (years before becoming wealthy) chooses to return a huge opal that had been stolen to its rightful place in a sacred Aboriginal cave, rather than take it for himself and make a fortune selling it. Even though the theft wouldn't be discovered for a hundred years.
  • In the Disney Ducks Comic Universe story, "Being Good For Goodness Sake", the Beagle Boys break into a dilapidated house disguised as Santa Clauses (since it's Christmas Eve) with the intention of using it as a base to plan another robbery of Scrooge's vault. However, they find a poor widow and her son are living in the shack who mistake them for "real" Santas. They really have no reason to help them, but sympathizing with their plight and its similarities to their own childhood, they give them a few-hundred bucks out of their own pockets. They end up getting caught by a police officer soon after, but, completely unknown to them, there was a contest happening at the same time to find the most sincere act of generosity in Duckburg before Christmas, which Donald Duck and Scrooge had both been running ragged try to win the ten-thousand dollar prize. The Beagle Boys end up winning the contest because, unlike Scrooge and Donald, their act of kindness was the most sincere. And to top it off, they end up giving the prize money to the widow and her son because they realize they really have no way to use it.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • Wedge Antilles earned one in a X-Wing Rogue Squadron comic set shortly after the destruction of the Second Death Star. Corellia's capital city is attacked by an Imperial madman desperate to show that the Empire had not yet been defeated. After several days of intense fighting, they cornered him and forced him to flee in a TIE Interceptor, with Wedge chasing after him in another. Wedge manages to shoot him down and lands to find the man crawling out of the wreckage. After giving him one strong punch in the face, Wedge binds his hands, saying that no one would question him if he decided to execute the Imperial right there, but then all of the man's victims would never see justice.
    • The same four-issue arc of the X-Wing Rogue Squadron comic that introduces Baron Soontir Fel, Ace Pilot of the Empire, shows us that he's not that bad a guy by including a scene where his superior, a corrupt admiral tasked with protecting a planet, tells him to relax and enjoy the planet's luxuries, which includes a scantily-clad local girl named "Grania". Fel says that his wife wouldn't approve. The admiral tells him that his wife wouldn't either, but no one needed to know. Fel uses the stock answer of "I'll know."
    • Star Wars: Invasion #3: Finn has the opportunity to kill a trapped Yuuzhan Vong warrior, but instead he frees him, instructing him to "learn." Luke Skywalker was covertly watching this Secret Test of Character, however.
      True natures are revealed at times like this. [...] No mercy could be expected — but some individuals exceed expectations.
    • In Star Wars (Marvel 1977), Leia briefly ends up stranded on the low-tech world Shiva, where she makes quite an impression on the natives and is widely accepted there. She enjoys the feeling, but when Luke finds her again and offers to leave her there to find that peace and happiness she wants so much, she refuses first with the stock phrase, then with this:
      "I am Princess of Alderaan, Luke. Fate has cast me as a leader of the Rebellion. For better or worse, whatever the outcome... I'll play that role to the finish."
  • In the second Booster Gold series, Booster intends to become a serious, hard-working superhero in tribute to Blue Beetle. Then Rip Hunter offers him a chance to protect the time continuum — by maintaining his reputation as a fool, which will protect him from time-traveling enemies. Booster struggles but accepts. (Although, in this case, Rip can offer that he will know that Booster is a great hero, and later two Batmen become Booster's Secret Keepers).
  • Played heartbreakingly straight by a doomed Buffy body double in one of the Buffy Season 8 Comics. "I tried to feel it. I tried to face the darkness like a woman and I don't need any more than that. You don't have to remember me. You don't even have to know who I am. But I do." Made all the more powerful because we never learn the girl's name.
  • The ending of the original Doom Patrol series had their nemeses take a small fishing village hostage, demanding the Patrol's deaths in exchange. The Doom Patrol accepted the deal, and died as obscurely as they lived. Until the inevitable Retcon, anyway.
    • The corresponding episode in Batman: The Brave and the Bold called "The Last Patrol!" had the Patrol do the same thing, their deaths broadcast all over the world by General Zahl. However, he finds the people end up ADMIRING the Patrol for their sacrifice. The General realizes that even in Death, the Doom Patrol defeated him. In memoriam, the island village of fourteen the Patrol died for is renamed "Four Heroes."
  • Back during the original run of Thunderbolts (when everyone still believes the disguised villains to be heroes) Spider-Man is framed for murder, and the T-Bolts are assigned to apprehend him. At first, MACH-1 (who was formerly Spidey's enemy the Beetle) relishes the thought, but after he and the rest of the team fight alongside Spidey against the true threat, he throws away the chance to make the charge stick and get away with it, giving Spidey the evidence that clears him. He tells Baron Zemo he did it so Spider-Man wouldn't be suspicious and risk their covers but that's not the real reason. Why? He realizes he's supposed to be the hero, and after teaming up with his old foe, it's starting to grow on him. As he tells Moonstone on the last page of the comic, "This hero stuff... I think it's starting to become contagious..."
  • Arguably the entire impetus of Empowered in later chapters, with the titular character proving her heroism in ways that will never garner acclaim or repair her tarnished public image because, quote, "THIS. IS. WHO. I. AM." Compounded by the most jerky of her Jerkass teammates actively blaming her for the incidents she resolved.
  • One of the running themes of Spider-Man:
    • Peter is unique for the fact that he became a superhero because he failed this test. After getting superpowers on a silver platter in Amazing Fantasy #15, he tried to cash it in, and had no grand plans aside from using the money to provide for his family. But then a burglar passes by and he does nothing and when called out for it, exclaims that it isn't his job. That burglar then killed Uncle Ben, i.e. his beloved surrogate father. This moral failure and lapse pretty much defines Spider-Man for the rest of his life, and his attempts to do good and redeem his action.
    • In one early run of the comic, Peter follows this rule to a frankly absurd degree. An entire downtown building has been turned into gold (don't ask), which many people trapped under rubble (increased weight+soft gold=not good). The government shows up to clean up and claims the gold as property of the state, while Spidey sneaks in to help people trapped. While he considers grabbing some gold for himself to help with his financial difficulties, he leaves it because it would be stealing... despite the fact that the gold in question was literally trash. Zigzagged at the end where he decides to take a used notebook he grabbed from a trashcan but says so to the soldiers guarding the place, with them having no immediate objections.
    • In Nick Spencer's run, Peter cites his refusal to turn his unearned degree after his revival in his own body as another failing of a similar kind. He notes that after getting his body back he simply walked past a wall showing his graduate degree earned by Octavius in his body and he didn't turn it in and realizing this, he comes to the conclusion that the plagiarism scandal he faces is entirely deserved and justified.
    • A Spider-Man comic written by Roger Stern gives us a villainous example: Stilt Man is desperate to achieve something and plots killing Spider-Man to earn some street cred. However, during the fight Spider-Man saves him from a laser beam which accidentally knocks him out. Stilt Man realizes that they are alone and Spider-Man is defenseless. He just could murder him and claim he killed him in a fair fight, and nobody would ever know the truth... nobody but him, that is. So he does not go through with it.
    • Peter Parker experiences this early in his career (in The Amazing Spider-Man #5) when his high school bully, Flash Thompson, dresses up as Spider-Man in a failed prank attempt and is captured by Doctor Doom by mistake. For about half a panel, Peter considers doing nothing, letting Doom take care of his problem for him. He then realizes that he could never let Flash come to harm, and Spider-Man heads off to the rescue.
  • Parodied in Richie Rich. An associate of Richie's father claims that most people are dishonest. Mr. Rich says the opposite. The associate suggests a Secret Test of Character: leaving a wallet stuffed with cash on the sidewalk and seeing whether the first person to notice the wallet keeps it or tries to find its owner. Along comes a man whose face lights up when he sees the wallet, but who then holds it up and asks if it belongs to anyone. "What do you think now?" says Mr. Rich, smiling. "I don't think this was a fair test," says his colleague, as the last panel zooms out to show the passerby is being filmed for television.
  • The death of Barry Allen in Crisis on Infinite Earths is a classic example. Not only is it a Heroic Sacrifice, but it takes place without any witnesses or ability to communicate anyone else. (It's true he flashes through time as he dies, but he has no control over that, nor did he know he could do it in advance.)
  • In a Daredevil story from early in Frank Miller's run, DD is the only hero available to stop the Hulk from hurting anyone during one of his rampages. Naturally, Daredevil is completely outmatched, and the first few minutes of him facing the Hulk leave him badly wounded and forced to retreat to catch his breath. During this, Matt contemplates fleeing as he realizes how impossible his odds are, and nobody else would know that he turned tail and ran — except for himself. Refusing to flee like a coward, he goes back and faces the Hulk and gets him to stand down in spite of his injuries.
  • In the Holiday Special of Transformers: More than Meets the Eye, a Sparkling ends up on the Lost Light, smuggled in a crate of booze even as everybody prepares to hide for the night. Only Whirl, Swerve and Nautica know about the Sparkling, and though they've tried to send it safely back to Cybertron, Whirl's left holding the baby, the last one awake. The only safe option left seems to be to flush the Sparkling out of an airlock, and nobody ever needs to know. It's the only way to protect the crew, anyway. Even if they did find out, it's not like Whirl's got some kind of heroic reputation to lose. Whirl tucks the Sparkling into his own cockpit and turns off his own spark to keep everybody safe - which nearly kills him, because it's not actually a Cybertronian at all, it's a horde of Scraplets. It's a big Character Development moment for him.
    • Brainstorm turns out to A) secretly be a Decepticon spy, and B) even more secretly has been working on a time machine all this time. He escapes into the past, with the seeming goal of killing Optimus Prime and winning the war for the Decepticons. Turns out that was never his intent; instead he planned to prevent the war (and the billions of deaths it caused) by changing significant events in Megatron's past. After this fails, he goes back to the day Megatron was constructed, to kill him before he even comes online. Alone in a room with the founder of the Decepticons, one shot could save countless people. The Autobots arrive, and Rung manages to talk him down. Rung reveals he knew Brainstorm wouldn't take the shot because he checked the security footage; Brainstorm stood there for ten full minutes trying to work up the nerve and couldn't. He reveals that despite being a brilliant weapons designer, he has never taken a life himself, because he chooses not to. Then Rewind shoots Megatron dead, because due to the time-travel he's seen the reality it'll create, and while it is a horrific nightmare world for Cybertronians, the war never occurs and spreads off planet, and he figures that makes it worth it. Then Whirl puts a Spark in Megatron's body anyway, wanting to spite the Functionist Council.
  • In Watchmen, the titular team of heroes is faced with this after Ozymandias unleashes his master plan to save civilization from nuclear war by wiping out half the population of New York in a staged alien attack, which will force the nations of the world (and especially the U.S. and Russia) to stop the Cold War and work together for a solution. The group is at a loss: the public has a right to the truth about all of the deaths and other illegal activity the plan required, but revealing that truth would also create so much animosity and anger that war would easily break out, just as Ozymandias planned in the first place. They agree to say nothing, but Rorschach won't do it, citing his philosophy—"Never compromise"—as a reason, forcing Dr. Manhattan to kill him to preserve the planet. As with the majority of the book, it's ultimately up to the reader to decide who, if anyone, was right.
  • In the Rising Stars setting, the superpowered Specials were initially banned from all government jobs, including law enforcement. However, Matthew Bright had always wanted to be a police officer like his dad, simply to serve and protect people. So he built himself a fake identity, passed himself off as a normal person, and managed to join the police force. After establishing himself as a damn good cop, an arsonist bombs a building several of Matthew's fellow officers were in, leaving them trapped as the building burns and collapses around them. The only way to save them is to use his powers, which would out him as a Special, cost him his job, destroy this new life he's made for himself, and possibly land him in prison. The only way to keep the job and life he loves is by letting those men die, which no one could blame him for. After all, he's just a normal guy, right? Nothing he could do. As Matthew's inner thoughts at the time show, he's most definitely not a normal guy, and it has nothing to do with his powers.
    Matthew: "I signed on to save lives. If I meant that, then I had to do what was necessary. Or it was all a lie. Whoever did this was smart, all right. Lead me on a wild goose-chase. And now my men are trapped inside the building I didn't search. I can't let them die. I refuse. Damn the exposure, I REFUSE.
  • Inverted in a Secret Wars II Spider-Man crossover. The Beyonder has transformed a skyscraper into solid gold. Spider-Man realizes that all of his financial woes would be solved if he takes even a transformed gold notebook. No one would ever know. So he takes it. However, he winds up wracked with guilt over it, which is ridiculous since he has literally saved the world dozens if not hundreds of times for free while living on what amounts to a subsistence lifestyle. He doesn't get over it until Black Cat steals the notebook from him.
  • Ultimate Marvel
    • Ultimate Spider-Man:
      • During the events of Ultimatum, Spidey risks his life after the flooding of New York dragging people to safety, which J. Jonah Jameson witnesses. The event causes JJ to actually stop writing anti-Spidey headlines, having been humbled by what he witnessed (and amazingly, this sticks).
      • A few months later, during the events of Ultimate Enemy, Spider-Man and Spider-Woman are inside Roxxon as the building is being crushed by a tentacle monster (long story). As they're fleeing, they find Doctor Octopus pleading for help. This is a man who has previously tried to ruin Peter's life out of sheer spite. Spider-Woman advocates just leaving him to his well-deserved fate, but Peter refuses. As with Jameson, this act causes Ock to make a genuine Heel–Face Turn.
    • Subverted in Ultimate X-Men. During a mission to the Savage Land, Wolverine and Cyclops were alone, had no contact with the team, and Wolverine could have easily pushed Cyclops down a crevasse and no-one would ever know the truth. So he does. And he doesn't feel bad about it either. Then he goes home and tries to get with Jean.
    • The Ultimates
      • Banner has all of Thor secrets in a SHIELD folder with his previous backstory. And Thor has all of Banner secrets... in his mind. He is aware that he cries every night over Betty's rejections, and that he fantasizes about hurting the Pyms for getting his old job.
      • In public, Henry Pym is all nice and all smiles, but when nobody is watching them, he is a violent domestic abuser.
  • Wonder Woman: Warbringer: The Oracle offers to stay quiet and just let Alia die, which would restore the balance in Themiscyria, prevent Diana from facing the consequences of breaking the law by bringing Alia there, and stop the war that Alia is foretold to bring. Diana chooses the difficult path of trying to save Alia, Themiscyria and the world.
  • In a villainous version that crosses over with The Only One Allowed to Defeat You, The Joker once met Batman and engaged him in a battle—trouble is, the Dark Knight was fresh from another fight and thus completely exhausted. He promptly collapses, and the Joker realizes that he can finally fulfill his dream of killing Batman. But after a few moments, he decides that the victory wouldn't really be "his," because the Caped Crusader wasn't at full capacity—even though no one else is around and the Joker could easily claim that he overpowered his foe. The Clown Prince of Crime thus spares Batman's life, vowing that when he does finally kill him, he'll do it fair and square.
  • A few stories from Batman Black and White fall under this trope:
    • In one story, a child kidnapper called Playground snatches a young girl off the streets, but she is able to escape him and goes hunting for a heroine like Batwoman or Huntress to help her. Instead, she runs into Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn, who are planning to break into a bank. Even though it's not their problem and they're both criminals, the women think Playground is absolutely disgusting and beat the stuffing out of him to save the child.
    • In one mystery story, Batman works endlessly to save an inmate from death row, even though all of the evidence points to the criminal committing a murder. With literal minutes before the execution, the Caped Crusader is able to prove that the inmate is innocent (it turns out that the real murderer was the man's wife). In a bit of a Wham Shot, it's revealed that the prisoner the Batman worked so hard to save was the Joker, who deliberately set the entire thing up for years by arranging for the victim's wife to discover his supposed infidelity, just to exploit this trope and force the Dark Knight to save him. The Clown Prince of Crime gloats that the blood of any of his new victims will now be on his foe's hands, but Batman counters that the Joker now owes him his life, and swears that when he does finally bring him down, it will be for a genuine crime.

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