Terror Hero

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"I seek the means to fight injustice; to turn fear against those who prey on the fearful."

Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins

There is a common misconception that the use of fear and terror against one's enemies is a cowardly, evil method of fighting. Not to these characters. To them, targeting a foe's psyche is every bit as valid a tactic as more direct methods. To do this, they prey upon a villain's fears, attempting to break them, thus making them easy prey. Often times, said character is either an Anti-Hero (type 2 or 3 on the Sliding Scale of Anti-Heroes) or someone who's a more clear cut hero but isn't particularly nice. Can be a very effective weapon for those with a no-kill code. Alternatively, a hero could just as easily exploit their frightening reputation as a means of scaring someone into submission. The terror hero (except type 5) typically tries to avoid direct combat unless no other options are present. In order to count (except type 5), the use of fear and morale breaking must be a standard tactic rather than something used once in a while.

There are five types of this kind of hero.

  • Type 1: The Cowl: The type made famous by Batman. Specializes in exploiting the primal fear of becoming prey. Uses a scary costume and ambush predator hunting tactics in the dark of night.
  • Type 2: The mean Warrior Therapist: This subtype is a hero that uses the dark side of the Warrior Therapist trope to break a villain by bringing up all of their insecurities and all their fears via a properly barbed Reason You Suck Speech. Good Is Not Nice applies heavily with this sub type. Exploits fears of being helpless.
  • Type 3: Scare them with a display of force: Uses a display of force designed to intimmidate a foe into submission. This is a very popular Real Life tactic designed to prevent escalation to actual violence. Type 3 typically preys upon the fear of death or injury.
  • Type 4: Supernatural methods: This sub type uses spells (illusions mainly) and psychic assaults to reach into a villain's mind, pull out their fears, and turn them into whimpering, blubbering, terrified wrecks. More horrifying examples can be considered borderline low grade Mind Rape. Exploits the fear of the unknown and sometimes death.
  • Type 5: "Oh Crap he's here": This scare tactic relies on the hero having such a frightening reputation that his mere presence in a battle field is enough to make bad guys void their bowels, drop their weapons and flee, be paralyzed with fear, etc. Exploits the fears of death and being helpless.

In terms of gameplay, characters who use fear are typically rogues or spell casters with specialization in illusions. Warrior types are typically limited to the use of types 2, 3, and 5.

It should be noted that the origins of the misconception stem from the many hideously evil acts committed upon innocent people in the name of terror tactics (think rampaging maruaders, terrorists, and the like) as opposed to the restrained, targeted tactics used by honest cops and soldiers. Alas, the evil cases are the ones that get all the press.

Associated with Bad Powers, Good People. A common tactic when Dark Is Not Evil. Related to In-Universe Nightmare Fuel for obvious reasons. Often causes a Mook Horror Show. Can lead to Moral Dissonance if used poorly. Compare and contrast with the Horrifying Hero, who's horrifying to look at as opposed to the Terror Hero who is typically normal looking but uses tactics designed to turn their foes into blubbering, terrified wrecks. Related to the Guile Hero who uses trickery, cunning, and misdirection to defeat his foes. Heroic counterpart to The Dreaded. The Cowl is sub trope dealing with a specific scare tactic.

Examples of Terror Hero include:

Anime and Manga

  • Ikki from Saint Seiya, his Phoenix Houou Guenma-Ken technique, allows him to make their opponents to see an nightmarish illusion. (Type 4)
  • Ban Midou from GetBackers can also make their opponents to have hallucinations, however he usually uses this more as a distraction technique than as an offensive attack. (Type 4)
  • From Naruto, the Fourth Hokage, Minato Namikaze, was so powerful and feared that the shinobi of Iwagakure during the Third War were ordered to cut and run if he was so much as spotted anywhere near the battlefield. (Type 5)
  • Vash the Stampede from Trigun is a type 3, acting like a gun crazed psycho to scare villains into submission. It fits given his policy of Thou Shall Not Kill. However, he only adopts this persona when his usual facade of idiocy fails.
  • The Aureolus story arc in A Certain Magical Index ends this way. Upon realizing that Aureolus' true power is to change reality to fit his imagination, Touma begins to laugh maniacally and slowly walk toward the alchemist, even after having his arm torn off. His terrifying mannerisms causes Aureolus to picture him as an invincible monster, effectively turning his reality-bending powers against him in a type 4 example.
  • In Bleach, there's Captain Unohana. We're not shown why, but discord tends to simply break off when she is near, and a team of Arrancarr once retreated when she showed up, the only time they have ever done so. In the databooks, she's listed as the third most powerful captain, but for whatever reason people fear her more than the two above her. (Type 5)
  • In his backstory, Raoh intended to be this as a combination of types 3 and 5. The rest of the series portrays him as a plain villain and a tyrant, however.

Comic Books

  • Batman can be considered the Trope Codifier, especially given his quote about superstitious criminals. (Type 1 and 5)
  • Trauma from Avengers Initiative. (Type 4)
  • Ghost Rider. Both a Type 4 and a Type 5: His powers are supernatural in nature and specifically meant to horrify and traumatize evil doers. His Penance Stare makes a criminal experience all the pain and suffering he's inflicted on the innocent: the more of a Complete Monster you are, the more you are left a drooling vegetable by it. He is also horrifying to behold.
  • Despite being The Cape (trope), Superman often has the Type 5 effect. In one instance, when Lois Lane was unintentionally wounded in a battle she was covering between the US military and a foreign nation, he arrived to get her to safety. His mere presence caused the other side to begin surrendering, as they assumed he was there to fight them.
    • This has been the case with Spider-Man, as well. Just seeing him can be enough to get a generic robber or mugger to surrender, in one instance several criminals were in a shootout with police but instantly surrendered when he swung over the street, even though he was on his way somewhere else and wasn't trying to intervene.
  • Dr. Manhattan had a type 5 effect when he was deployed to Vietnam and quickly ended the war, with North Vietnamese and Vietcong troops surrendering to him personally.
  • The Punisher is Type 3 and 5. Frank has been known to break up gangs of thugs simply by showing his face, and the ones who don't run often wish they had.


  • On the Discworld, there is Lu-Tze, who usually avoids conflict by reminding people of "Rule One", to wit: "Never act incautiously when facing a small wrinkly bald smiling old man!" This causes some chagrin when he ventures to those parts of the Disc where Rule One is not known, but he is well capable of backing it up. (Types 5 and 3)
    • Then there is Granny Weatherwax, who the Trolls call "She Who Must Be Avoided". The Dwarfs have a similar name for her: "Go Around the Other Side of the Mountain." When her reputation fails, she resorts to hoodoo, or "headology" as she calls it, and if that's not enough, she is perfectly capable of clearing the field by magical means. (Types 5, 3 and 4)
    • Meanwhile in the Watch books, Ankh-Morpork criminals consider Sergeant Detritus to be this. Justified since he carries as a hand weapon a ballista that would put a bazooka to shame and has chronic trouble with Mister Safety Catch, and on top of this he has been known to nail drug dealers to the wall by their ears. Apparently small riots can be cleared by shouting that Detritus is on his way. (Type 3)
    • Also, Commander Sam Vimes. The criminal underworld is so afraid of him that when he leaves town on a diplomatic mission, the crime rate goes down. Why? Because if things fall apart while he's gone, when he gets back, he will not be pleased. "And when Sam Vimes is unhappy, he tends to spread it around with a big shovel." (3 and 5)
  • The Princess Bride: The whole concept of "The Dread Pirate Roberts" relies on this trope. The current Dread Pirate Roberts is usually quite nice and may not have killed anyone at all. (Type 5)
  • Aral Vorkosigan didn't earn his title as The Butcher of Komarr but he—and occasionally Miles—play with the sinister public perception to get things to go their way. (Type 5)
  • Friend and Mentor to Harry Potter, Dumbledore seems to be this to Voldemort and his followers, and with good reason. It is outright stated that Dumbledore is the only wizard that Voldemort ever feared and during their duel Voldemort ultimately fled rather than try to fight him any longer. Prior to this, when Dumbledore arrived in the Department of Mysteries, none of the Death Eaters even bothered to try and stop him. They just ran. (5 and maybe 3)
  • Harry Dresden never meant to be one of these (Type 3), but because he's an extremely powerful wizard, is extremely protective of his city, and has a tendency toward chronic heroicism, especially when a woman is involved, most of the small-time supernatural threats steer clear of Chicago as a matter of course. This is especially clear in Ghost Story when, due to Harry's apparent death, the city is suddenly swa rmed with competing beasties of varying strengths. Molly then invokes this trope, taking on the persona of the Rag Lady in order to try and scare the city straight, using Type 4 tactics mostly, though to particularly lethal ends whenever the Leanansidhe is helping by taking a shift as the Rag Lady.
    • Harry's got a some of Type 5 going on as well, particularly in later books. The reader doesn't see it as much because many of the beings he's seen dealing withby the time his reputation grows enough are either powerful enough to be considered minor gods (in which case he's a serious threat but not terror-inducing) or just haven't realized who they're dealing with until he starts blowing things up. He's come across the stuff of nightmares a few times, and seen them scream and run away just upon realizing who he was. Even the people on his side who don't know him personally tend give him a wide berth (though this has something to do with the fact that it deserves a special mention whenever something is on fire and he didn't cause it).
    • And this will only increase when people hear that he took out the entire Red Court of Vampires, including several beings like low level gods in one go.
  • Elva talked several enemy soldiers into insanity and suicide. Simultaneously. Despite the fact that she looks like she's 6 and actually much younger. Type 2.
  • In Honor Harrington several of the characters are this. Including the Royal Manticoran Navy collectively. Whenever the bad guys say "the Manties are here" you know they are scared. Honor herself is to some degree. Honor is a professional and fights like a lady: she is just very good at it and her enemies get nervous around her. Havenite agent Victor Cachet by contrast is definitely not gentlemanly when he fights, though he is a decent enough sort in off hours. Another example is The Ballroom. They aren't exactly heroes but they sure are terrifying and escaped slaves who assassinate slavers are not judged to harshly. They have a habit of sticking out their tongues to show their tatoos right before killing a target.

Live-Action TV

Tabletop Games

  • The Salamanders chapter of Warhammer 40,000 are fond of exploiting their borderline demonic appearance (uber dark skin plus Red Eyes, Take Warning) to terrify rebels into submission. (Type 1 and 5)
    • All Space Marines are capable of terrorizing with mere presence but the Space Wolves get special mention (especially when they get furious) for even making the Inquisition wary of them after the events of Armageddon. (Type 5)
    • The Primarch Konrad Curze (better known as the Night Haunter) began his life as a completely ruthless and murderous vigilante who used terror and violence to cow his home world Nostramo into submission. He's said to have had left corpses as an unrecognizable pulp from his bare fists, left heavily mutilated bodies nailed outside their homes, and had a high enough body count to clog entire sewer systems (Type 3 and 5 to the logical extreme).
  • Any spell caster who specializes in illusions in Dungeons & Dragons can play as a terror hero with the right spells. (type 4) Some rogue and ranger builds can allow for similar fear tactics (type 1), as well as frequent usage of intimidate. (type 3)

Video Games

  • In Mass Effect, some of Shepard's meaner paragon actions use intimidation to bring villains in line. The paragon path in general tries to avoid the use of violence unless there is no other choice so an effective paragon character (especially in the sequel) needs to be a Terror Hero by default. (type 3)
  • In a Hero Antagonist example in Mega Man Zero, Harpuia's mere presence in battle is enough to paralyze Resistance forces with fear or break their morale. Then again, given that they're a Redshirt Army, that's not especially hard to do. (type 5)
  • Most Ghost-type Pokémon, when owned by a good guy of course.
  • The player characters of Ace Combat are aType 5, due to the aversion of certain tropes; by the end of the game your allies and enemies know that you are the one who determines the outcome of the battle, and your enemies are properly terrified.
  • Sometime after Disgaea 2: Cursed Memories, Adell became so terrifying that he ran nearly every demon out of Veldime.

Web Comics

  • Ciem is sometimes a Type I, but will resort to actual violence on enemies who are too reckless or desperate to care. Develops a reputation as a bad omen over time. She also is reluctant to ever actually kill anyone; but is not above tricking them into bringing about their own demise.
    • Extirpon, part of the expanded universe, has resorted to being all five types. It helps that the entire Break the Haughty concept is what fuels his Reality Warper powers. The more of a Complete Monster you are, the easier it is for him to crush you under ex-nihlo giant anvils, or make you cough up venomous snakes, or even outright make your ribcage explode in a fiery blaze. Or grant temporary god-mode to your normal adversaries for extra humiliation—if there's time.

Western Animation

  • Raven from Teen Titans is very skilled at breaking people with scare tactics with her dark powers. (type 4)
    • After exposing him to the unholy terrors of her home, Dr. Light was so traumatized that in future encounters he will surrender at the very sight of Raven.
  • Darkwing Duck is an affectionate parody of type 1. His ego makes him a joke; that is until he says his catch phrase.

Real Life

  • As mentioned in the description, police will attempt to scare a suspect into submission as a way to eliminate a threat without resorting to force. (type 3)
  • The point of dropping leaflets is to break morale and bring about surrender. (type 2)
  • Most military tactics at least in land warfare (sea warfare is different as running is difficult) is to some degree based on this. That is you play upon psychology enough to render a unit helpless: for instance killing fewer men at once is better than many over a longer period because of the shock effect.
  • Many self-defense courses will try and aim for a Type 3 effect, where merely showing the confidence you can kick someone's ass is sufficient to get them to back down.
  • One of Muhammad Ali's opponents had spent time in prison, so Ali exploited the fears he'd picked up in prison by pretending to be Axe Crazy. It worked. (Type 2)
  • According to tales the Gurkhas once had a technique of sneaking up to an outpost in the night killing every man but one and letting the last wake up with his dead comrades all about him.