Break the Badass

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When the audience needs to be shown how physically dangerous an enemy is, the creators invoke The Worf Effect, or maybe they throw a Sacrificial Lamb (or worse, a Sacrificial Lion) in the path of the bad guy. But when the producers don't feel like killing one of their characters yet, but still need to show the audience just how dangerous the situation is, they often resort to breaking the badass by having the hardest, coldest, roughest, toughest, most jaded and violent, seen-it-all character become shocked out of their wits by it.

When this is done to Villains, it is often in the form of Even Evil Has Standards. Related to Not So Above It All and Sarcasm Failure. Contrast Admiring the Abomination, where scientific curiosity makes a character get excited (if still scared) at the sight of a monster.

Expect Oh Crap or Mass "Oh Crap" reactions.


Examples of Break the Badass include:


Anime & Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • In a chapter of Mahou Sensei Negima, to show how unstoppable the old Big Bad was (he was the Final Boss), one of the Hot-Blooded (and otherwise invincible) characters was given an uncharacteristic fear of him, just to emphasize the point. Rakan was incapable of beating him due to the Lifemaker's power. He seems to genuinely be dead now, though.
    • Being Rakan, he fought him anyway, and made a pretty good show of himself despite knowing he had no chance of victory. He got better. Kind of.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!: When Marik is about to summon his Sun God Ra, and all the characters present who are aware of the strength of it have eyes widened with shock.
  • In Pokémon Special FireRed & LeafGreen arc, Red suffers an almost uncharacteristic Heroic BSOD after losing a fight to Deoxys.
  • In Fairy Tail, we have Acnologia, who does this to every body on Tenrou Island.[1]
  • Guts of Berserk isn't immune to this.

Comics[edit | hide]

  • When the Martian Manhunter wants Guy Gardner to settle down during a JLA meeting, he accomplishes it via the threat: "I'll tell Batman."
  • The only villain that the Incredible Hulk will admit to being scared of is the Sentry's evil alter ego, the Void.
  • In one issue of Green Lantern, Kyle Rayner relates how Guy Gardner (a Green Lantern notable for not just being able to "overcome great fear", but being honest-to-God fearless) used to tell funny stories about some of the truly ridiculous villains Hal Jordan used to fight. But, Rayner notes, "Guy never told any funny stories about Sinestro", the one villain who ever scared the crap out of Gardner.
  • In an early issue of X Men, the X-Men had to fight the reality warper, Proteus. He was so scary that Wolverine was shaken by the first battle.
  • A DC Comics Crisis Crossover once noted that things had gotten really really bad by having one of the characters note that even The Joker had stopped laughing.
    • On that note: In Underworld Unleashed, the Trickster comments that when villains want to scare each other around the campfire, "They tell each other Joker stories."
  • Marv in Sin City only seems to be afraid of the woods. This makes sense considering he was tied up to a tree as a child and left overnight.
  • In Watchmen, when The Comedian (a guy who has shot his pregnant Vietnamese girlfriend, possibly assassinated Kennedy, and killed other heroes to repay long past slights) discovers the main antagonist's plan, he completely breaks down, and shows up at the home of one of his old enemies drunk out of his mind, praying for help, and demanding to know how anyone can come up with such a thing.
  • Batman is, of course, one of the most famous badasses in comics. When he discovers that an ancient conspiracy—the Court of Owls—has been living in Gotham for hundreds of years, he's a little alarmed. When he discovers that they've never acted against Batman until now because they never even considered him to be a threat, he's a little more alarmed. But when he's captured, drugged and psychologically tortured in a vast labyrinth beneath Gotham City and nearly driven to madness and hopelessness, that's when the readers start to feel the horrors really sinking in. Of course, being Batman, he manages to escape. It's still a chilling sequence, however.

Film[edit | hide]

  • Serenity
    • The fact that Jayne Cobb is the most comfortable with gore and violence makes it all the more significant that he was the one to demand the transmission of the Reavers messily killing the scientist be turned off.
    • Jayne's fear of the Reavers in general seems to evoke this trope.
    • Also, when the Reaver fleet appears out of the cloud in front of the Alliance fleet, it is the Operative himself, shown to be perhaps the baddest Badass in the Firefly universe, who completely freaks out. Although perhaps what shocks him is not the appearance of the Reaver fleet, so much as the fact that everyone around him is so paralyzed that they cannot fire on their own initiative. Though, you can DEFINITELY see the terror in his face when he sees them pop out of the ion field.

"Target the Reavers! Target the Reavers! Target everyone! SOMEBODY FIRE!"

  • Lord of the Rings: "A Balrog. A demon of the ancient world. This foe is far beyond any of you. RUN!"
    • The book version had Legolas, who is old enough to remember the Balrogs, freaking out.
    • A minor example from Gandalf again is his giving a rousing speech to the men of Gondor that whatever comes through that door, they can fight it. His expression at the giant armored battle trolls that smash through is priceless.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • The Hunger Games: Mockingjay shows the jaded Action Girl Johanna Mason, who describes herself offhandedly as unbreakable because "there's no one left I love" without seeming affected by these losses at all, return from her imprisonment in the Capitol (including quite a lot of Cold-Blooded Torture) completely traumatized. Katniss even mentions how, without her normal badass attitude, she looks like nothing more than another Broken Bird.
  • In World War Z narrator Todd Wainio describes how one of his fellow soldiers, a former wrestler, "an ogre with a two-g body count", who once tore off a ghoul's arm and bashed its skull in with it, broke down crying and had to be carried off on a stretcher when he came across a jackknifed big rig filled with broken bottles of cheap perfume that reminded him of someone he lost.
  • In the Dresden Files novel Turn Coat, Harry breaks down when Madeline Raith turns him in to the White Council for shielding Morgan, to the point where it crosses into a Heroic BSOD. Murphy snaps him out of it by point out that (a), he's a badass, man up, and (b) bureaucracies take time to get things done; he has time, man up. Also segues into an awesome scene where Murphy takes Harry to task for his inaccurate self image of an unpredictable lone ranger.
    • Even more so in Changes when he breaks his back. He gets better, but he was so morose that he ended up committing assisted suicide.
    • Tessa shooting Michael. The Denarians torturing Ivy. The Denarians killing Shiro. The Denarians like this trope - it literally makes them stronger.
    • The Naagloshi is also fueled by this trope. It gains power by killing wizards (and even a bit from one-trick-ponies like the Alphas). However, it gets crowning mention for what it did to Thomas.
    • Harry essentially became a hero by having these moments, and then thinking and acting instead of despairing. The thinking started a bit later, though, so his reputation as a magical thug isn't totally unfounded.
      • One in particular would be seeing Stan killed so casually in his flashback in Ghost Story. In a moment that's both heartbreaking and badass, Harry snaps out of it and blows up the assailant, He Who Walks Behind, the foremost warrior of the immune-to-magic Outsiders.

Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Doctor Who: "The Stolen Earth" gives us not one but several broken badasses: Sarah Jane, Jack and (to a much lesser extent) Martha and Rose.
    • The End of Time gives us a double-whammy in the appearance of the Time Lords. Their re-emergence sends the Doctor into a Heroic BSOD so badly, the Doctor picks up a gun. Then, to show just how horrific Rassilon himself is, we get a Break the Badass moment from The Master, of all people.
    • In "The Big Bang", it's revealed that the Pandorica is summoning not just the Daleks, not just the Cybermen, but every single enemy the Doctor has ever opposed. The way the Doctor unconsciously backs away from the person delivering this news, a look of complete and utter terror on his face that goes waaay beyond Oh Crap.
    • Also done in "The Impossible Astronaut". The Doctor, after going to meet the mysterious astronaut and telling his companions not to interfere whatever happens, is shot by the astronaut and starts to regenerate. Amy lets out a Big No and starts to run toward the Doctor, but River and Rory hold her back. Then the astronaut shoots again, killing the Doctor in the middle of his regeneration. This time, it's the normally implacable River who screams and runs for him, and we know that whatever just happened, something is very, very wrong.
    • And again in "A Good Man Goes to War"- the writers sure do like this trope. The Doctor has risen higher than ever, having successfully rescued Amy and her daughter Melody from an army, without a single death. Then the Headless Monks come and kill most of the Doctor's team, including the young Lorna Bucket who deserted the army to help them. The real killing blow is when they realise that Melody wasn't actually Melody, but a fake duplicate....Amy is so distressed that she refuses to let the Doctor come near her.
  • In the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode "Dead Man's Party", Xander's reaction to zombies cowering in fear is along the lines of "When scary things get scared, it's time to run". Also, Buffy's in "Teacher's Pet" when a vampire runs from the mantis woman: "Hmmm. I'm a blood-drinking undead monster who can shave with my hand. How many things am I scared of? Not many things and not substitute teachers, generally".
    • Happens to Anya too, when Xander casually mentions that the mayor's planning an ascention. Her reaction? She leaves town. Though not before conveying dire warnings about how as someone who has seen some pretty horrible things, most of them things she caused, she also witnessed the last ascention to occur - so she knows what she's talking about.
    • In the 5th season, the Oh Crap look on Buffy’s face when Travers tells her that Glory is not a demon but a god is priceless. This is accompanied by a shaky and little “oh”
  • Will Riker was more or less the charming swaggering Kirk-type of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Unflappable, brave as hell, and perfectly willing to knuckle up when necessary, he was never non-plussed. So in the classic episode "Best Of Both Worlds", when even he has an Oh Crap look on his face when the Borg-busting weapon fails, we know how far the situation has deteriorated.
  • In Deadliest Warrior, the Vampires are terrified at the Zombie hordes (This is obvious because some of the vampires are killed by the zombies), but the Vampires fight so aggressively that it shows that they weren't being cowards, they just knew the threat. As the zombie's numbers drop, the last Vampire seeks revenge on the last Zombies, showing no mercy.
    • In fact, many 'badasses' on the show (Spetsnaz, Zande, Jesse James, Medellín Cartel members, Navy SEALs) run away from their foes because they always seem to run out of ammo and need to run away long enough to switch their weapons or ambush their enemy. (If the enemy also runs out of gun ammo, it normally leads to a knifefight.)

Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Raidou Kuzunoha vs. the Soulless Army, the game over sequence is plenty scary, being such a wonderful failure, but what makes it downright terrifying is the realization (sometimes Fridge Logic) that Raidou, normally very cool, collected, and poker-faced, looks horrified, and is very visibly panicking.
  • Knights of the Old Republic I: There is one particular dark side act which will make Canderous tell you you've overstepped the limit. Only one. Mind-controlling Zaalbar into choking his teenage friend, a girl who trusts and respects you and believes that you can still be saved, to death.

Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • This happened with The Venture Brothers' Brock Samson at one point. Dr. Venture responded along the lines of, "I've seen you yank a man's eyes out of their sockets with the veins still attached and dance him around like a marionette, but THIS shocks you?!"
  • In Transformers: The Movie Autobot veteran Kup has Seen It All and is unfazed by everything. Enter Unicron eating one of Cybertron's moons: "...I've never seen anything like it."
  • In The Legend of Korra, Amon does this to Korra herself. She was already scared witless into becoming uncharacteristically hesitant and seemingly-stoic after witnessing Amon's ability. Her first personal encounter with him, when his Equalists ambush and restrain her in seconds and he himself promises her imminent destruction once the time is right, leaves her crying into Tenzin's arms, admitting she had never felt so helpless and afraid.
  1. Makarov, Gildartz, Erza, Laxus, Mirajane, Natsu, Gray, Gajeel, The Raijinshuu, Juvia, Elfman, Lisanna, Levy, Pantherlily, Happy and Charle.