"My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."
What a glorious day! Officer Bob has just retired, and can spend time with his happy and completely innocent family! Just in time too, his job was driving a wedge between him and his family. Yep, nothing could possibly go wrong!
Except it did. Hard.
In what is possibly the mother of Dark And Troubled Pasts, this guy will have his wife and children die. This may be because the author wants to go for broke in creating a hero with "nothing and no one to live for". After all, the lack of emotional attachments holding him back and the burning drive for Revenge makes for a singularly terrifying protagonist. When a family member does survive, it's usually a child rather than the wife, since a child is someone that has to be protected and couldn't stop daddy from making a whole mess of people into a holey mess. Or better yet, the child is someone daddy can mold into a weapon of vengeance. Of course, he might abandon the child to be raised by someone else, or do the revenging in secret. If the spouse survives, they will very likely have divorced rather than teamed up to seek revenge.
The causes behind the death vary: his family may be murdered by an enemy while he was Forced to Watch, die because of a mistake he made, or through some random act of human violence. In rare cases, they die in a horrible but (mostly) blameless accident. The "mostly" comes from the fact that he will somehow find a way to blame himself for their death in a form of Survivor's Guilt, or better yet, blame God.
On the upside, this senseless and painful tragedy is a great personal motivator. The Crusading Widower will earn the "crusading" part of his name by hunting down and killing (at best apprehending) those responsible, however tangentially. Or he will try to drown his sorrows, only to be "rescued" by a friend who will motivate him with an offer to somehow atone or catch the culprits.
If it's a fantasy or sci-fi setting, a third goal may present itself: bringing them back to life. This is rarely a good thing. His loved ones will probably beg him not to, or he will choose not to resurrect them as part of a "Friend or Idol?" Decision. Alternately, he may contemplate suicide or ascending to a higher plane of existence in order to rejoin them, though they will likely convince him to wait.
For obvious reasons, this character is usually on the low end of the Idealism/Cynicism scale, tending towards Anti-Hero, Anti-Villain, or outright Villain. Very, very rarely will the Crusading Widower be a straight up Hero.
Anime and Manga
- Berserk: Guts, whose True Companions were slaughtered by demons and his Love Interest sent insane during the Eclipse.
- Himura Kenshin from Rurouni Kenshin (though he's very much not an anti-hero).
- Ogami Itto in Lone Wolf and Cub.
- Quent in Wolf's Rain.
- Heito in Daimons Hate. Poor guy had all of his former "friends" turn on him and kill his wife and daughter because he wouldn't join the plot to use the nanotechnology they developped for warring purposes. After barely surviving the Cold-Blooded Torture that cost him his two arms, he suggested himself to Training from Hell under a Mad Scientist, developped Psychic Powers with the Power of Hate, and learned to control mechanical arms through it. Before going on a crusade to murder all of his former "friends".
- Heroic example in Tiger and Bunny, in that widower Kotetsu is inspired by his late wife to continue his work as a superhero, because he promised her that he would. This choice causes serious conflict with his daughter Kaede - who doesn't know what her father does - and later in the series when Kotetsu's promise makes it even harder for him to face the prospect of giving up his heroics as 'Wild Tiger' due to the gradual loss of his powers.
- Jonah Hex.
- Big Daddy from Kick-Ass:
- The film version trains his daughter to get revenge on the drug lord who sent him to prison and left his depressed wife to OD on drugs.
- The comic version trains his daughter to get revenge on the drug lord who murdered his wife. It's a lie: she's really alive and he made the whole thing up to brainwash his daughter into becoming a vengeful superhero out of boredom with his pathetic life.
- The Punisher.
- Captain Marvel foe Black Adam.
- Preacher (Comic Book) has The Saint of Killers while he was alive. He finally gets his vengeance in the final book, two hundred-odd years after the fact.
- John Freeman in Half Life Full Life Consequences
- Maximus in Gladiator.
- Clyde in Law Abiding Citizen.
- Damon / Big Daddy in Kick Ass. He actually trains his daughter to help him seek revenge.
- Leonardo DiCaprio seems to be getting these roles lately; both Shutter Island and Inception had shades of this.
- Star Trek Generations. Dr. Tolian Soran's family was killed during the Borg assimilation of El-Auria. He spends the movie trying to get into the Nexus so he can be with them again, even though doing so requires destroying a star and killing hundreds of millions of sentient aliens.
- Star Trek had Nero, who lost his family and planet in the old timeline, and is out for revenge in the new/different/whatever one.
- 2nd film: Khan blamed Kirk for the death of his wife while his people were marooned. He expressed his bitterness enough to make it an overshadowing motivation.
- Paul Kersey in the Death Wish series.
- Gordon Brewer in Collateral Damage.
- This is the basis of Kill Bill, demonstrating that women get a shot at nihilistic murderous despair at least once in a while.
- Mel Gibson seems to play this kind of role a lot—for instance, in Mad Max, Braveheart, and The Patriot, although in the latter his widowerhood and his crusading weren't directly related (he's avenging the death of his son). Heath Ledger's character in the latter film also counts, except he's not very good at it.
- Clint Eastwood as The Outlaw Josey Wales.
- In the film Patriot Games, while they're not killed, the near-fatal attack on his wife and daughter spurs Jack Ryan to rejoin the CIA in order to find the people responsible.
- Dr. Richard Kimble of The Fugitive.
- Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles develops this, despite it not actually being the case. Regardless, he still believes that his family is dead and for a little while, he definitely becomes the angry, vengeful, miserable Crusading Widower.
- A rare gender inversion, Jodie Foster's character from The Brave One becomes a vigilante after her fiance is killed.
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service features James Bond losing his new wife at the end of film.
- In Harry Brown, the title character is specifically avenging the death of his friend, but the death of his sick wife early in the film frees him up to act, as he has nothing left to lose.
- Subverted in Rolling Thunder. While Major Ranes' wife and son are both murdered by the gang, he says to his friend Johnny he found the men who killed his son. While he was a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Rane's wife started a relationship with another man, and he seems to feel she's already dead to him prior to her actual death.
- The Mariachi becomes this in Once Upon a Time In Mexico following the murder of Carolina and their daughter by Marquez.
- Michael Edwards in Red Storm Rising.
- Lucas Trask in H. Beam Piper's Space Viking. He pays for his crusade by a) nuking and looting cities, and b) offering cities the chance to pay him not to nuke them, and sometimes to nuke and loot someone else. As he begins to recover from the trauma, he begins working on c) trade and d) lighting the blue touch paper on what might become a new Federation.
- Hercules in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys.
- To a certain degree, Gibbs in NCIS.
- Sam Winchester's fiancee-to-be's murder in the pilot episode of Supernatural makes him obsess over hunting her killer.
- Twenty-two years earlier, the boys' father, John Winchester became a widower when his wife died in the same way. And he spent the rest of his life hunting down her killer, including training his sons into the human weapons that make such fascinating television. He died first, but his spirit helped his eldest son off the bastard a season later.
- Michael in Nikita, all the way.
- Wyatt Cain in Tin Man. All he wants once he's been freed is to kill Zero, avenge his family, and die in a blaze of glory. Fortunately for him, his former boss forces him into a promise to guard DG "at all costs."
- The Criminal Minds episode "Roadkill" features an unsub who targets people who drive red coupes, out of revenge for his wife's death. The red coupe driver who caused the accident was him. He was so twisted with guilt that it warped his memory.
- Patrick Jane on The Mentalist.
- Jack Bauer from 24, who found his wife dead at the end of the first season, murdered by his mistress.
- Leo Dalton in Silent Witness, after a car crashed into a restaurant and killed his wife and daughter.
- Horatio Caine, from CSI: Miami, who had his wife shot and dying in his arms.
- Two examples from CSI New York: Mac Taylor (who lost his wife on 9/11) and Don Flack (girlfriend killed in a robbery).
- Jack Halford in New Tricks.
- Adrian Monk. His wife's murder is both the reason for the way he is, and his motivation for his work. He finally solves her murder in the Series Finale.
- Homeland Security agent Mark Fallon, who appeared on two episodes of Castle. His wife was killed on 9/11.
- Gender Flipped on Merlin with Queen Annis who seeks revenge for the death of her husband at King Arthur's hands.
- Also Uther and his anti-magic crusade brought on by Ygraine's death
- Gabriel Belmont in Castlevania: Lords of Shadow.
- Kratos from God of War kills his own family and spends the rest of the series haunted by the memory and seeking revenge on the Gods for making him do so and for otherwise being colossal jerkasses.
- Max Payne spends the first game on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the big conspiracy that killed his wife and newborn girl. It takes a while for him to get started (primarily due to spending most of the game trying to find out who murdered his partner and set him up to take the fall for it), but when he does...
- Carth Onasi in Knights of the Old Republic. His primary motive is killing his treasonous commanding officer who announced his defection to the Sith by bombing Carth's homeworld, and among the casualties...
- Kivan from the first Baldurs Gate.
- Ashe from Final Fantasy XII was married to Prince Rasler, making her a Crusading Widow.
- Star Fox: Main character Fox McCloud's father James was this in the official backstory to the series.
- The Player Character's father in Fallout 3.
- Aveline from Dragon Age II is a Widow Hero. Her husband is killed less than thirty minutes into the game, though with Hawke's help, she can remarry.
- Mass Effect 2: Thane's work as an assassin led to his wife being killed. He was pretty changed by it.
- Gender-flipped and notable that even if she wasn't romanced in the first game, Liara still has a subtle vibe of this during the second. After Shepard's death, she handed his/her remains over to Cerberus in order to bring them back, then went and waged war for two years against The Shadow Broker for trying to sell Shepard's corpse to the Collectors. Keep in mind, before this, she was a shy and mild-mannered archaeologist.
- Boone from Fallout: New Vegas. Interesting in that while he is motivated by his wife's death, it's not the strongest guiding force in his life or even the reason he feels that fate's only keeping him alive to toy with him.
- Varian Wrynn in World of Warcraft, though he's fortunate enough to keep his son as a Protectorate (if often enough a reluctant one). He still blames himself for not being able to save her, though a bit less so as of the novel Wolfheart, and holds a very long and violent grudge against the Defias for their part in his wife's death. While, granted, he does tend to have pretty terrible luck with loved ones in general, Tiffin's death much more than others really threw him into gritty Anti-Hero territory... at least once he finally snapped out of his depression from it.
- Cyan Garamonde in Final Fantasy VI goes berserk when his wife and son are killed, followed by a long period of soul-agonizing Corner of Woe. But he eventually gets better, regaining his sense of purpose and becoming a formidable warrior.
- In the Ciem Webcomic Series, Candi Levens in the Crusading Widow after Denny dies. (And whenever Donte is threatened.) Her rage and manipulation are worse in the books, especially in regards to Angie's death.
- Gender flipped in Our Little Adventure with Pauline. She becomes a barbarian after her husband and son were killed, partly to deal with her rage and pain of it all, and partly to seek out an opponent greater than her. Joining Julie's group was the perfect way for her to do this.
- Mr. Freeze in Batman the Animated Series , though his wife did not actually die.
- While not exactly a widower (because his wife is in a stasis chamber until her psychocrystal can be retrieved), Zachary Foxx in Galaxy Rangers has some warning flags of this trope. Rare in that he is a straight-up heroic example, but the topic of Eliza is still his Berserk Button.