Beware the Superman

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"His truth. His justice. His way. And there's nothing anyone can do about it."
"[I]n any event, I never said 'The superman exists and he's American.' What I said was 'God exists and he's American.' If that statement starts to chill you after a couple of moments' consideration, then don't be alarmed. A feeling of intense and crushing religious terror at the concept indicates only that you are still sane."
Prof. Milton Glass, "Dr. Manhattan: Super-Powers and the Superpowers," Watchmen

Superhero settings, like any other setting, end up somewhere on the Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism. On the more idealistic end, you have settings like mainstream comic books, where there's a sense of wonder and basic decency about the superhuman. While there are villains, they will usually get caught or their plans will be thwarted, and while the setting may take dark turns, it will inevitably right itself. Somewhere in the middle, you have settings that look at superpowers a bit more realistically. While the government may have supers, so will despotic regimes, organized crimes, and terrorist groups. The good guys may win, but victories will be hard fought and likely to have their share of losses.

And then you have these settings. The world's not better for having superhumans. It's worse. The government has no safety net to deal with rogue supers, and it seems like there ain't nothing but rogue supers terrorizing Muggles or freaks on leashes. And that's just the so-called heroes, who are usually anything but, being all-too-aware of their superiority over the rest of the human race and a little too keen on arrogantly flaunting it. Maybe the crisis hasn't happened yet, but the way supers seem to be developing, it's only a matter of time until one of them blows up Pittsburgh and the rest go absolutely nuts. Not that they're exactly mentally-stable to begin with; many will gleefully screw the rules with their powers, but it's almost guaranteed that at least one of them is developing a God-complex as a result of their powers, and that they're only one bad day away from trying to enslave or wipe out all of humanity (which they could easily do within an afternoon).

These are often Deconstructions of more traditional Superhero fare, and often use Take Thats against popular characters like Superman or Spider-Man (or that particular writer's perception of them).

Any hope for a Hope Spot in such a dire scenario may involve calling the Cape Busters.

Stories or articles involving The Singularity sometimes put forth the idea that in Real Life, enhanced humans may cause this situation.

A milder version is Smug Super, in which the superpowered being in question isn't exactly malevolent or evil, but is still something of a jerk.

Trope title is a spin on the famous Nietzsche quote, "Behold the superman"[1] (as in "Behold the Übermensch"). See also With Great Power Comes Great Insanity, Crapsack World, The Magocracy, What Measure Is a Non Super, Transhuman Treachery.

Examples of Beware the Superman include:

Anime/Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Sorcerer Hunters has a magical version where the 'supermen' in question come in the form of Sorcerers who for most part, make life very miserable for the Parsoners who live on Spooner. It's even stated that the Sorcerers are treated as nobility as a way to keep them under control (with the eponymous Sorcerer Hunters as a stick to go along with the carrot).
  • In Darker than Black part of the package deal that makes you into a Contractor is a loss of emotions and conscience: All Contractors are, per definition, sociopaths. But they're also rational sociopaths and can thus see the inherent futility in trying to use their powers to Take Over the World. That said, the world is most definitively worse off for their appearance, especially what with all the wars that are being fought with Contractors as human weapons.
  • Geass users in Code Geass might qualify if not for the fact that regular, non-geass-possessing individuals are still responsible for most of the world's woes anyway; it's just that pretty much everyone with a Geass tend to add even more misery on top of that.
  • In After War Gundam X several belligerents use Newtypes to enhance their weapons and one side even uses Newtypes' existence to justify a racial/cultural supremacy ideology. Most of the existing Newtypes are reasonably nice people, but their existence has made the world a more warlike place. It is also implied people are less likely to look for solutions to the problems of war and conflict because they expect Newtypes to resolve them.
  • Most of the Huckebein from Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force are "just" Smug Supers proud of their seemingly flawless Anti-Magic, but their more vicious members like Cypha go straight into this.


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • Ultraman and Black Adam are the Evil Counterparts to Superman and Captain Marvel, for starters.
  • The original version of Rob Liefeld's Supreme was essentially an incredibly arrogant, ruthless version of early Golden Age activist Superman. He killed terrorists, villains, and (in one particularly notorious case) government-sanctioned teams with impunity and gore.
  • Marshal Law believes ALL superheroes are exactly like that. Including him. As his Catch Phrase says:

Marshal Law: I'm a hero hunter. I hunt heroes. Haven't found any yet.

  • The Boys deals with a world where most superheroes consider themselves to be above mortal law; after all, no jails can hold them, and they can plow through most police officers and soldiers. The eponymous black ops unit aims to show them just how wrong they are. This makes the world something of a Black and Grey Morality situation as well, given that several of the members of this unit, themselves super-powered, are quite sociopathic themselves.
  • The original Squadron Supreme's limited series has this as the central them, with the superheroes taking over their world after it's trashed an alien mind-control menace, for the "greater good", of course. They do in fact succeed in eliminating poverty, war, and, though a (mostly) voluntary brain-modification unit, reforming most of the world's criminal. However, their own personal failings, rising team death count, and totalitarian underpinnings leave their attempt a failure, case in point being how their Captain Ersatz for Green Arrow takes their Captain Ersatz for Black Canary and Brainwashes to make her always in love with him. He quickly regrets this but has to live with the consequences until he is discovered and expelled from the team.
  • Twenty years later, the Justice League (of whom the Squadron were Expies) would likewise had a major storyline, Identity Crisis involving using Zatanna's magical brainwashing on super-powered criminals, following Doctor Light's rape of Sue Dibney. Not surprisingly, the main holdout on each team who rejected the plan in horror (playing the role of team conscience) was essentially the same character (Batman and his Captain Ersatz, Nighthawk).
  • J. Michael Straczynski's Supreme Power (and later Squadron Supreme) redid the Marvel classic Squadron Supreme to show a world where most supers are at least a bit more unhinged. Hyperion, while well-meaning, has been raised since birth to be the ultimate American patriot, and goes through a Heroic BSOD when he finds out. Zarda's a vampiric alien with little regard for human life and a stalker-like crush on Hyperion. Doctor Spectrum's being yanked around by an alien superweapon that occasionally takes over his mind. Nighthawk's a black vigilante with a strong antipathy for whites and a violent hatred for racists. Blur is (at first) a sellout who uses his powers for advertising. Arcanna wants to get rid of her powers. The Shape is a severely retarded superstrong juggernaut. Nuke is so dangerously radioactive that he must be sealed inside a lead suit. Master Menace is... well, a master of menace. Collateral damage is a major theme of the series, and there's been one mini where Hyperion goes insane and takes over the world.
    • Hyperion's actually still a really nice guy with some ideas about the world that you'd naturally get growing up the way he did. He went a little crazy once, but still. Serial killer Michael Redstone is Hyperion without the flight or the morality, and represents the opposite side of Hyperion's coin.
    • JMS also plays with such a theme in Rising Stars; the Specials mostly mean well, but after All of the Other Reindeer turn against them, we start seeing some of the real damage they can do, especially after Critical Maas takes over Chicago. After the Surge, even the less aggressive ones tend to take what they want and ignore laws, just because they can.
  • Miracleman portrays all its supers as at least a bit flawed, from the well-meaning but ultimately authoritarian Miracleman to the sociopathic Kid Miracleman, who destroys all of London For the Evulz.
  • Whether or not The Authority are Earth's last line of defense against serious threats and a force for change, or a bunch of authoritarian despots who can't get outside their own heads, varies somewhat depending on who's writing which Wildstorm book this week. Much of the rest of the Wildstorm Universe is the same way.
    • In their original portrayal by Warren Ellis The Authority at least twice casually killed tons of civilian bystanders, who were guilty of nothing more than living under the rule of an Evil Overlord. Of course the analogue to American military involvement is brought up, to grey the issue more.
      • To be fair to the American military, while collateral damage does occur (sometimes far too often) during their operations they have yet to deliberately remove an entire nation -- population included -- from the face of the planet because they don't want to spend the time to actually stick around and try to set up some type of provisional government or military occupation to deal with the population that's left over after you've successfully deposed the enemy regime. And yet the Authority did precisely this to the Italy of Earth-Sliding-Albion.
  • Planetary plays fast and loose with the trope, however: A cabal of superheroes does secretly rule the world and quite a lot of bad stuff is supernatural in origin. Still, many of the Earth's mysteries are neutral or even benign and the Century Babies (who are all immortal and superpowered) are implied to be the Earth's natural immune system against superpowered foes that would threaten humanity. By the end, Elijah Snow has managed to use the knowledge collected by The Four to avert Reed Richards Is Useless and eliminated global poverty, war and innumerable diseases.
  • Watchmen has only one superhero with actual superpowers, but his very existence and the enormous extent of his powers almost leads to a nuclear war. Although benevolent enough by himself, he is very weak-willed and kills uncounted Vietcong in the Vietnam War and a solid number of American criminals (petty and otherwise) basically only because somebody told him to. Throughout all of this, he becomes progressively detached from humanity, at one point watching a pregnant woman being murdered without even attempting to interfere. The others, though baseline humans, aren't much better, being well-meaning-though-flawed everymen at best and fanatical nutbag mass murderers at worst, ultimately leading to their actions being outlawed unless specifically condoned by the US government.
  • Earth-8 (formerly the Crime Syndicate run Earth-3), an Alternate Universe in The DCU (and Captain Ersatz of the current Ultimate Marvel universe) is ruled by supervillain expies of Superheroes from Earth 1 or 2, and the only people capable of standing up to them are the superhero expies of the supervillains of Earth 1 or 2.
  • For that matter, some of the Ultimate Marvel heroes, especially The Ultimates, border on the edge of this trope themselves sometimes, except Spider-Man, who is still an idealistic teenager.
  • Powers touches on this frequently, depicting most supers with feet of clay. A story involving the Superman analogue named Supershock is a particularly good example—he develops a god complex, destroys the Vatican and the Gaza Strip after going off the rails, and it's revealed that his power level has been underplayed to avoid worldwide panic.
  • Kingdom Come is set in a future of The DCU wherein the next generation of superhumans took their cue from the Nineties Anti Heroes rather than 'outdated' heroes like Superman (who retired in disillusionment after one of them got off scot-free after murdering the Joker), with the result that the 'heroes' and 'villains' are more interested in recklessly kicking the tar out of each other than the innocent. When The Capes do make a reappearance, their determination to rein in their more reckless brethren sees them quickly turn into Knight Templars. Unlike many of these universes, it's suggested that this one is at least partially the public's fault, as they overwhelmingly rejected the ideals of the old-fashioned heroes and placed their trust in the more 'modern' ones, only to learn too late what this meant.

Magog: They chose the one who'd kill over the one who wouldn't. And now they're all dead.

  • Flashpoint has this as a scenario. The Atlanteans and Amazons are at war due to a convoluted, long-term plot by their leaders' Treacherous Advisors. Wonder Woman has taken over the UK, and Aquaman has sunken most of the European mainland in retaliation for Diana killing Mera. America is caught up in the paranoia that either of the parties may invade them some day (as Booster Gold can attest). Oh, and in a completely unrelated note, Grodd has dominated Africa through continent-wide genocide.
    • In addition, this world has Subject Zero, a former U.S. Army soldier who became the first test subject of Project Superman, and had his powers augmented to the point of Nigh Invulnerability. Due to him becoming increasingly unstable, he was locked down in the facility for twenty years and, when he broke out, he went on a rampage to prove himself as a hero. He is only stopped by Subject One - a.k.a. Kal-El.
  • The End League. 12 years ago, a screw-up by Astonishman, the resident Superman analogue, left the environment screwed up, 3 billion people dead, and 1 in 10,000 survivors with superpowers. Then It Got Worse... In the present day, the Earth is dying, the starving masses are completely dependent on the supervillains who rule the world, and the surviving 10 heroes spend most of their time hiding in a bunker and scavenging for food.
  • The motivation behind much of Batman's distrust of many superpowered heroes, including among the groups he belongs to, in modern interpretations of the character.
    • Speaking of Batman, there's also Jean-Paul Valley, the first long-term temp Batman - an unhindged former Knight Templar Super Soldier who went so far down the Slippery Slope that Bruce had to take the mantle back by force.
  • Earth X starts out with the premise that every human being in the Marvel Universe has mutated into supers. Most of them are, at best, apathetic everymen, and a substantial number are jerkasses. The original heroes have either succumbed to apathy or are fighting a doomed war against human self-destructiveness. And then it turns out that all of this is part of the Celestial Plan.
  • Another one happens in Irredeemable, where another Superman analogue, the Plutonian, went crazy and started to kill people and acting in a way that would make most of supervillains in history jealous. This comics is written by the same man who wrote Kingdom Come.
  • Three mini-series Warren Ellis wrote for Avatar Press fits this trope. Black Summer begins with one of the super"heroes" murdering the president of the United States, No Hero shows superheroes who have actually been manipulating world events for their own selfish ends, and Supergod takes the position that superhumans (all created in the lab) turn out to be inhuman, unguessable engines of destruction. Their motivations are unknowable to humanity because they just aren't human.
  • Superman: Red Son plays with this trope, having Superman take a much more authoritative role in his world. He actually creates a paradise, as long as you don't have a problem with your every move being watched, your day optimally calculated for you, and your criminals brainwashed into Superman loving servants of the state. This Trope eventually plays into his desire to quit as it made him reluctant to assume the role of world leader in the first place.
  • Reign of the Supermen featured The Eradicator, who was Superman without moral constraints.
  • Lex Luthor invokes this thinking in Lex Luthor: Man of Steel, encouraging people to question Superman's supposed Omniscient Morality License when he, for instance, saves The Toyman from an angry mob, after the latter had blown up a daycare centre killing at least one family. His real reason (or so he tells himself) for hating the hero is that Superman, whether he means to or not, by dint of his mere existence make all human progress irrelevant and thus serves as a crutch that we need to overcome, which is a soft variation of this trope. Of course, given that every single evil thing that happens in this comic- including the Toyman's actions-, were probably orchestrated by Luthor himself, Lex is less The Cassandra he thinks he is and more the deluded egotistical sociopath he always is, and coupled with his Improbably High IQ coupled with his billion dollar corporate empire means that the only Superman humanity should be worried about is Lex Luthor himself.
  • Frank Miller partially got in on the act in The Dark Knight Strikes Again: by the end of the series, variously due to needling from Batman and a series of Break the Cutie moments, Superman goes from a limp-wristed tool of the powers that be into the sort of personality who can say:

Superman: Father. Mother. You were wrong. I will always treasure your memory, but you were wrong. I am subject to no man's laws. I am Superman.
Superman: What shall we do with our planet, Lara?

    • Miller might just believe that this is an improvement for Supes, mind you...
  • Marvel's The Sentry has become this in a big way.
  • The Mighty features Alpha One, a superhero with abilities like Superman. At first, he seems like a really good man who's been using his powers to the fullest ability to protect and benefit mankind. Then his latest second-in-command finds out... he's been engineering catastrophes to take the "tragic victims" off for his genetic experiments. Turns out he's a sociopathic alien who was exiled for blithely suggesting you can kill 1 in 10 people if it will make life better for everyone else.
  • Omniman of Invincible was a protector of his planet until it turned out that he was a mole for a race of evil super powered beings who wanted to conquer Earth.
  • Titan from Dark Horse Comics's Comics Greatest World imprint tried to act like a classic Superman, but the abuse he suffered during childhood, the trauma he suffered when he lost control of his powers during adolescence and the fact that most of the people he trusted and cared about manipulated him eventually caused him to suffer a mental breakdown, first against his former benefactors, then against United States in general.
  • A God Somewhere (drawn by the same artist as The Mighty) tells the story of how suddenly becoming the first and only person with superpowers, and the mass media attention that comes along with this, sets an ordinary, sane man of arguably above-average character on a path that ends with a large body count and his loved ones traumatized for life. Because the reader is never given a direct glimpse of what this man is thinking, the motives behind his unnecessarily horrific actions remain as mysterious to us as to the characters in the story. After a certain point, he seems to have lost touch with any recognizably human sort of morality.
  • A recurring problem in Marvel Comics. New York City in particular has been the epicenter for superhuman events from Galactus trying to devour the planet (on more than one occasion), demonic invasions and seemingly endless battles between superheroes and villains (or sometimes just between superheroes and other superheroes), aliens, the occasional giant monster of undefined origin and one instance where a Herald of the above-mentioned Galactus levitated Manhattan Island into orbit. Magneto once blasted the entire planet with an EMP, has raised volcanoes on a whim and moved his giant space station around to anywhere he wants it. The Hulk has left trails of destruction across America countless times. A prominent head of state goes by the name Doctor Doom. The U.S. government has scary giant, purple robots flying around to "protect" the public from mutants. That any sane person does not live in a state of abject terror over all of this requires incredible powers of denial, a fact which has been lampshaded on many occasions.
    • Groups like the Friends of Humanity in the X-Men books believe this trope. While they're normal, they thrive on fear of mutants.
  • Paperinik New Adventures plays with it by making it true for the main villains, the Evronians, TWICE. The straightest example for them is Trauma, an Evronian general that was changed in a Super Soldier and was later imprisoned for various insubordinations and outright mutiny justified by his superiority. Then there is Xadhoom, an alien scientist who became a Physical Goddess whose vendetta against Evron and the fact she's pretty much invincible made her the primary cause for Evronian horribly painful deaths, to the point that in her final appearance in body (in the same issue the Evronian Empire was broken by the loss of a good chunk of its population and pretty much all its rulers), three Evronians battlefleets barely slowed her down while she was PLAYING with them. After Xadhoom became a star to save the survivors of her people, it seemed to happen straight when an Evronian survivor managed to steal a recording of her mind and was told how to get her powers... Then, as he obtained them and got his A God Am I moment, the recording gloated that you need CONTROL or the Power will kill you, and the Evronian promptly dissolved into nothing.
  • In All Fall Down, Siphon is arrested for involuntary manslaughter, and held in suspicion by a portion of the public throughout her career.

Film[edit | hide]


Literature[edit | hide]

  • In most of the stories and novels based on the popular Magic: The Gathering card game, the characters that you play the game as (powerful wizards and demigods who summon assorted fantasy creatures to fight for them in epic battles) are actively despised by the general populace. This is because they have the annoying tendency to summon people who are just sitting at home, minding their own business with their friends and family, into huge magical battles where they could easily be killed or crippled. Several stories detail the suffering the family members of summoned creatures have to endure when their loved ones are returned dead or crippled.
    • A particular quote that sums it up after Freyalise has broken the Ice Age without concern for what the sudden climatic shift would do the the world at large:

Archmage Jodah: [Sharing the world with planeswalkers] is like sharing your bed with a mammoth. Sure, it may be a nice mammoth, but when it rolls over, you'd still better get out of its way fast.

  • A major theme in Frank Herbert's Dune novels.
  • This is explored with a science-fiction twist in Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain trilogy.
  • This is how most non-powered individuals think of "freaks" in Those Who Walk in Darkness—whenever superpowered vigilantes appear, superpowered criminals try to earn prestige by killing them, and every couple weeks a few more innocent people get killed in the crossfire. So after one villain blew up San Francisco, the USA forcibly expelled all known supers, regardless of whether or not they were actually vigilantes, and any new ones that are discovered are either slaughtered or experimented on. Beware the muggles too!
  • Ironically, Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, the men who would go on to create Superman himself, originally wrote and illustrated a short story called The Reign of the Super-Man about an impoverished worker who gained super powers and tried to take over the world, only to find that the powers were temporary. They wrote the story for a science fiction magazine and later retooled the character as a superhero.
  • In Hard Magic, Part of the Imperium's plan for taking over the world is to sow distrust of Actives in the United States, by framing them for a Peace Ray attack.
  • Averted in most of J.R.R. Tolkien's legendarium precisely because the good guys (the Valar, the loyalist Maiar, those Elves and Men who pay attention to them) recognize the fundamental truth that no matter how much power they might possess in their relative scale, they are not God. Thus Gandalf and his fellow Wizards, angelic messengers sent by the Valar to contest with Sauron, are specifically ordered to use persuasion and example, not force, to rally Elves and Men against the demonic Sauron. They use their vast powers only in extreme situations, where nothing else will do. Likewise, the Valar tend to leave Elves and Men to their own devices most of the time, since swaying them by force or fear does more harm than whatever harm they set out to prevent.
  • In the Honor Harrington series, Earth's devastating Final War was fought by Super Soldiers with intelligence boosts that all too frequently had the side-effect of increased aggression and sociopathic tendencies. This is the main reason for Luddism and prejudice against genetic engineering. The Harrington family's Meyerdahl Beta line is one of the few successful lines to boost intelligence without creating amoral monsters, but even Honor is aware that her own killer instinct may be linked to it. It's worth noting also that the Winton family line are genies who probably have intelligence boosts, and Elizabeth is infamous for a volcanic and implacable temper.
    • On the other hand Elizabeth is the only person in her family who has her temper or anything remotely comparable, suggesting that its just her own personal flaw and not her genes. Then again, Honor and her father both struggle with the same killer instinct -- his is in fact worse than hers, to the point he had to prematurely end his Marine career and go into medicine because he was starting to fear that he couldn't mentally keep it together during combat situations, which is something that Honor is capable of doing.
    • Later on both averted and subverted when one of the ruling council of Beowulf - the star nation most dedicated to avoiding this trope, who created the original Beowulf Code forbidding future transhuman augmentation after the Final War -- points directly at Honor (who, as it happens, is his niece), then at one of the toughest descendants known of the 'Scrag' Super Soldiers of the Final War... and states that genetically, there is virtually no difference between them. And that that doesn't matter, because they have both proven as capable of acting as responsible moral agents as any other person he knows. And that therefore the original philosophy of 'augmentation was wrong' must be flawed, and that the actual flaw of the old masters of the Scrags was not their augmentations but instead their belief that augmentations placed them above common morality. Which is just another iteration of the old 'Master Race' bullshit the human race has been putting up with since before people knew DNA existed.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Star Trek has Khan and the Augments, genetically engineered superhumans created by a cabal of scientists; their enhanced abilities resulted in enhanced ambition, leading to them betraying their creators and launching a worldwide conflict in which rival warlords fought one another while treating normal humans like slaves. Their defeat led to laws restricting the genetically enhanced in Federation society, which nearly ends the career of Dr. Bashir (whose parents had him illegally enhanced) on Deep Space Nine.
  • J. Michael Straczynski likes this trope. His Babylon 5 series has the Psi-Corps, the result of a Super Registration Act that only served to unite telepaths in a monstrous organization with the creed that "mundanes" are expendable.
  • Heroes seems to be doing this in season 3.
  • The Nietzscheans of Andromeda brought about the fall of the multiple galaxy-spanning Commonwealth. Their precise motivations aren't so clear.
    • One reason given is that the Commonwealth had just signed a treaty with the Magog, and the Nietzscheans refused to be part of it. Whether that's the-truth-the-whole-truth is, of course, debatable.
    • The pilot episode has one of them give their motivation as seeing the Commonwealth as having BETRAYED THEM by signing the treaty with the Magog after the wholesale slaughter of several Neitzschean worlds (it's never explained HOW exactly a treaty was created with the Exclusively Evil generally mindless berserker Magog species).
      • Given that it is established right from the start that Magog are capable of intelligence, it is probable that some measure of intelligence is present in the guiding forces of the species.
        • The season 1 finale gives us a glimpse of the ruling intelligence of the Magog, and its plain that the 'mindless berserkers' we see are merely the cannon fodder. Whoever or whatever the boss Magog is, it can clearly think, talk, and plan.
    • In a twist, it becomes clear fairly early on that Neitzscheans aren't so superior physical or mentally to the average human, in part because most of humanity is genetically modified in some way or the other. One should beware the superman, but more because he thinks he is a superman than because he is one.
  • The Earth-2 Metropolis in Smallville is terrorized by Clark Luthor (Ultraman), an acknowledged vigilante and murderer.
    • The Superhero Registration Act story arc was caused by certain people convincing the government that superheros would all become this trope if left unchecked.

Music[edit | hide]

  • KMFDM's 'Son of a Gun' is, at least on the surface, a song about a jerk-ass superman with a dollar sign on his chest.
    • Forged from steel, iron will / Shit for brains, born to kill / All are equal, no discrimination / Son of a Gun, a simple equation / Son of a gun, master of fate / Bows to no god, kingdom or state / Watch out! Son of a Gun, superhero number one!


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • The superhero RPG Aberrant by White Wolf. Aberrant details the sudden emergence of superpowered humans in 1998; however, Aberrant came as a prequel to the futuristic sci-fi RPG Trinity, which reveals that many of the superhumans (named "aberrants" in the far future) became tainted by their powers, went mad, declared war on Earth, and caused all manners of destruction before taking off for the vast reaches of space. There are some sane "aberrants," but most of them went crazy nuts. Part of the drama of Aberrant comes from either trying to escape the fate of the future aberrants, or making sure it never comes to pass.
    • A consistent theme of the Aberrant setting, to the point of shaping virtually all government policy and most cultural movements, is the persistent fear that nova abilities and talents are so superior as to render human achievement irrelevant -- that all major scientific advances and cultural movements will end up defining themselves by either the accomplishments of novas, or the reactions of human beings to said novas, but never just be about normal people and by normal people. The worst part is? They were right.
    • A curious little detail of the Aberrant setting is that its most powerful "hero", Caestus Pax, is a publicity-obsessed jerk, while its most powerful "villain", Divis Mal, is a nice guy, even to the baselines he believes are lesser beings. (He's a megalomaniac, and almost certainly nuttier than a box of Fruit Loops on top of said megalomania, but he won't lift a finger against you unless you're dumb enough to attack him... and even then he won't kill you because he's so powerful that he has no need to.)
  • Exalted has the Great Curse, an infliction launched by the Primordials after being defeated by the Exalted that drives Solars and Lunars to states of ever-mounting insanity once they start to defy their core virtues. The books make clear that, for all the shiny transhuman fantasy of the First Age, it could also be a very scary time to live in if you were a mere mortal.
    • To put this in perspective: In Dreams of the First Age, it is revealed that there was a political movement in the Solar Deliberative to literally dismantle the universe and reshape it to their specifications. What's more, they had more than enough power to pull this off. The only reason they haven't yet is because their peers also have sufficient power to stop them if they try, and their movement has yet to win enough of a majority in the legislature to make their plan legal. Imagine three hundred beings with all that power and confidence, in absolute control of the world...and slowly but surely going completely crazy.
      • Exalted 3rd Edition has rebooted the entire setting, and explicitly makes DotFA and other First Age content no longer canonical. However, the basic theme ('the Exalted are that powerful and cursed to eventually go that insane') is still the core assumption that the game setting is designed around.
  • In case you didn't notice the theme in White Wolf's other works, the Old World of Darkness often hints at these matters. The werewolves might be necessary to keep the universe's fundamental aspects of law, chaos, and corruption in order, the mages might be the last chance humanity has for real inspiration and survival After the End, but there's a reason Hunters want to take them down. At best, creatures of the Old World of Darkness are a slow, unavoidable slide down the slippery slope toward the complete destruction of their virtues into complete insanity, and not particularly disposed to think of people as people until then. At worst...
  • Unknown Armies, especially the adepts. The bibliomancer will sell your soul for a good book. The dispomancer is drunk, and it might not be best to be within a few hundred miles should he get his hands on a major charge. The most powerful supernatural beings on the planet are a self-mutilating hermaphrodite, and a man that's best described as simultaneously being the greatest saint and worst monster humanity has ever approached. There are 'good' guys, but they're the magic-users throwing Mana into hamburger patties and seeing what happens.

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Pretty much why half the Final Fantasy baddies go bad.
    • Sephiroth AND Genesis both go mad when they discover their true pasts and becoming evil supersoldiers of unrivalled power bent on killing many, many people.
    • Kefka is noted to be an extremely powerful mage, who goes insane and destroys the world.
    • When Kuja learns he hasn't got long to live, he destroys a planet and then attempts to destroy all of creation. Inverted, in that he was already evil.
    • Ultimecia knows she's doomed to die because her entire life is part of history, so she tries to screw over all existence to prevent it.
  • Happens in Freedom Force. Time Master rebels against his mortality by trying to destroy time.
    • Fridge Logic sets in when you learn he can summon himself from any point in time to help himself out without causing a paradox. Wait, how can this guy ever die? And how did Freedom Force beat him twice?
  • City of Heroes has a few examples of playing with this trope. First off is an enemy group called The Malta, who are zealously dedicated to making sure this DOES NOT HAPPEN in a world with literally millions of meta-beings. Then there's a small-scale example with the Rogue Isles, setting of the expansion "City of Villains", where a country of islands is ruled by super-villains. The only thing that prevents them from taking over the world is endless in-fighting and Status Quo Is God. And finally, the most triumphant in-game example is the alternate universe Praetoria, which was fleshed out in the recent "Going Rogue" expansion. There, alternate versions of the game's signature heroes rose to power by saving their doomed world and now rule what little is left with an iron fist.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Girl Genius fits this. The Sparks are not superheroes, but they are certainly more imposing than your average human. Sparks are also able to... "persuade" some people to help them. The Other has come close to conquering Europa via Zombie Apocalypse, and Othar's quest to wipe out all the worlds Sparks is painted as hopeless and misguided ("this guy invented a new water filter, he needs to die"). Baron von Wulfenbach was forced to maintain a despotic empire just to quickly suppress any Spark who decides to get uppity, as it's the only way to keep at bay an all-out war. The best of what was said about a bloodline who managed to repeatedly prove that they deserve loyalty (which overall is a rarity) -

For generations, the people of Mechanicsburg have served the most depraved, unstable, crazed maniacs in the world! Sure, the Heterodynes were dangerous lunatics - but they became our dangerous lunatics! And as long as we pleased the masters, life was good.[...] So we grew safe, secure and fat from the spoils of conquest.

    • Both points also apply to various Super Soldiers and other monsters created by and serving (and often rebelling against) all these maniacs, even those that aren't overpowered mindlessly destructive abominations - Mechanicsburg may be accomodating, but there's a pre-existing balance of power even without the Heterodynes.
    • Granted, "mundane" nobility differs only in that they tend to fall back on backstabbing when faced with superior force, while "madboys" and "madgirls" more often obliviously rampage head-on anyway.
  • In Errant Story, the elves decided breeding with the humans was a good idea because of the birthrate being much higher than elf-elf matings, and also to "uplift" humanity. Only half-elves tend to be a lot stronger magically than humans, and many also have either birth defects or a predisposition towards madness. After a lengthy civil war, only one elven city and one quarter of the population remained.
  • The protagonists of Keychain of Creation are certainly Good, but as Exalted (see above), are very aware of their superiority, and the bad guys are even worse.
  • In Project Auberdem, US government brainwashes a Nazi superhuman with Superman-esque abilities into becoming Premium, America's greatest hero. This worked well enough until a time-traveling villain restored his memories and all the world's heroes realized just how lucky they were to have him in their side.
  • Mountain Time's Surf Rat, though a powerful force against evil, is strongly implied to amass lots of collateral damage. For example...
  • In To Prevent World Peace, a Magical Girl army won the major battle. Now they're unemployed. Guess what they start doing.
  • In Our Little Adventure, there doesn't seem to be that many high levelled people living on Manjulias. Those who are powerful end up in leadership positions, good or evil. Brian and Angelo are high levelled spellcasters, and though those who serve them regard them as a boon to their race, others are terrified of them and all their followers.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, Pakistan, Chile, Cuba, Bermuda, and Viet Nam were all taken over by dictatorial super-villains (or in Chile's case, a team of dictatorial supervillains). This is slightly inverted in the case of Bermuda, where (despite being ruled by a crazed madman) the standard of living actually improved since the takeover.
  • Doctor Horrible's nemesis Captain Hammer is an anti-intellectual ass who shoves the people he rescues into garbage and who's only use for women is sex.
  • In Destine Enormity, the superpowered villaqins rule Arcadia with an iron fist and force the Normals to live in the Slums.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Megamind: Titan is probably the poster boy for this Trope. The contrast between him and Metro Man is stark.
  • The Powerpuff Girls Movie had the eponymous characters treated as outcasts, after their game of tag destroyed most of the city.
  • Justice League dealt with this trope in the episode "A Better World", presenting the Lawful Evil version of the league: The Justice Lords, who run an authoritarian earth free of crime, but likewise also empty of free speech or self government.
    • Bruce Timm states in the commentary that the episode was originally supposed to be a straight up "Crime Syndicate" story, which involved characters that are almost-Evil Twins-but-not-exactly, but fell in love with the idea of using actual alternate versions of the regular characters. He comments during the Batman vs Batman fight in the Bat Cave that the scene was specifically animated to not make it clear from visual clues who was talking, so either character could be saying either side of the argument. Ultimately, Justice League Batman is unable to respond when Justice Lord Batman points out that in this new world "no 8 year old boy will ever lose his parents because of some punk with a gun." This scene arose from conversations among the writers, who were trying to find a way for Batman to successfully respond when they realized that there was no verbal response; they had meant for League Batman to win the argument, but the fact of the matter was that, because of who the characters were, the Lord Batman won instead. Justice League Batman does get his response later. After showing the zeal of the Police State his counterpart helped created, he sarcastically mentions to Lord Batman how their parents would be proud of what their son has done (by creating a world that goes against all what they believed). Justice Lord Batman is not pleased at this realization, prompting his Heel Face Turn (or at least, willingness to rid his own universe of superpowered heroes). Perhaps the proper verbal response would be "I'm glad they're dead so they didn't have to live in this world", but there's no way Batman would be able to say those words
    • The regular Justice League in the Unlimited incarnation, seeing the horrors the Lords have done, work to avert this trope by recruiting Green Arrow, a politically astute and strident Badass Normal to be the team's political conscience. Sure enough, he essentially saves the team's soul during the Cadmus affair, which revolved around his trope as it involved a secret government agency being set up to rival the League in the event it turned evil.

Green Arrow: Hey, I'm the only guy in the room who doesn't have superpowers, and let me tell you: you guys scare me. What if you do decide to go down there, taking care of whoever you think is guilty? Who could stop you? Me?

  • Another example is the Batman Beyond episode "The Call" - although not exclusively this, it is basically centered around the premise that Superman has lost it and is taking out Justice League members one by one. Although he doesn't give the theory any more credence than any of previous brainwashing or mind-game Super Dickery Superman has gone through, Bruce Wayne does acknowledge the real possibility of the world's strongest man snapping from the strain of his responsibilities.
  • Superman: The Animated Series had an episode where Lois Lane went into an alternate future where, due to her death, Superman had become a benevolent dictator over the years. He and Lex Luthor ruled the world side by side.
    • The 2-part finale` Legacy deals with this in some detail; Superman is Brainwashed into becoming a minion of Darkseid, partly out of petty vengeance for his earlier defiance of him, and becomes The Dragon, his ultimate soldier who leads his armies to conquer the universe. He is eventually unleashed on Earth where, with the help of Lex Luthor, he is captured and defeated, and his brainwashing removed; he is also rather annoyed to find out that they are also holding Supergirl prisoner, after he had beat her up while under mind control. Its this show of rage that actually leads to Emil Hamilton joining Cadmus in Justice League Unlimited, as it was the first time he was actually afraid of Superman (there's nothing like seeing someone pissed off that their family has been hurt to convince you that person can never be trusted again). The episode ends with a number of characters being asked if they can ever trust Superman again.
  • The reason Thundarr the Barbarian's After the End world has not had any resurgence of civilization in 2000 years is primarily because the wizards like having their petty little kingdoms, and knock down any attempt by the Muggles to organize or build.
  • In an episode of Darkwing Duck, Gosalyn accidentally traveled to a future where DW had gone through a breakdown due to her disappearance, resulting in him becoming Dark Warrior Duck, a dictator who punished people harshly for even minor offenses. Even though he didn't have super powers, he was still pretty scary, even being more savvy than he was before his dark transformation.

Notes

  1. Which itself is a takeoff on "Ecce Homo" ("Behold the man"), which is what Pilate said to the crowds after Jesus was scourged