When Heroes Have Violent and ‘Evil’ Powers

Ripper from Black Clover

The character on the right is called the Jack the Ripper.  For some reason, anime keeps using the moniker.  Usually for bad guys, but this time it’s for a good guy.  Name aside, I found something odd about him when he showed up in the anime.  He uses ‘Severing Magic’, which slashes at his targets . . . That’s fairly violent.  He’s on the hero side as well even though he’s a third tier supporting.  Strange?

Typically, a violent or ‘evil’ power is given to either a villain or an antihero.  Ripper would fall into the latter category since he’s bloodthirsty, but has a sense of justice.  Other examples would be Spawn and Hellboy with demonic powers.  The list gets really long and you’ll find that they’re primarily antiheroes with similar personalities:

  • Gruff demeanor
  • Loner
  • Dark or nonexistent sense of humor
  • Brooding
  • Few and limited relationships
  • Traumatic past

There are outliers, but that’s what you normally see.  Ripper actually stands out a bit because he’s a loud personality.  He’s not so much a loner and doesn’t brood, but does threaten even his allies with death.  It’s unclear if he’s serious though.  This might be why his use of a very lethal and violent power caught my attention.  His personality didn’t match the ‘evil’ of his abilities when compared to what I was used to.  It made the contrast even more apparent because he was almost friendly in a way that reminded me a little of the Joker.  Yet, again, he was a hero and respected one from what I could tell.

It makes me curious about these ‘evil’ powers and the personalities of those who wield them.  Does having them mean that the character has to be dark and an antihero?  I guess it could be if the power is something that forces them to be isolated.  That could be what creates a darker personality, which means the character’s mindset is dictated primarily by their abilities.  It could also be that their darker personality is what attracted the power, which gives you the opposite.  Either way, you have darkness creating another aspect of darkness here.  It’s done without any thought to there being alternatives.

One could argue that ‘evil’ is in the eye of the beholder too.  A power is neutral and only goes to one side if the user makes it so.  If a hero and a villain have the same power then they’ll use it differently because their objects are different.  For example, a telekinetic hero would catch and gently place a falling person on the ground.  A villain with that power may throw them into the atmosphere or tear them in half.  Same power with the same limits, but different uses.  Even something with a lethal name like ‘Severing Magic’ could be used in a heroic way.  The name certainly throws one off, but it’s possible if the user has a less aggressive personality than Ripper.

Personally, I’ve had a character on the backburner for a long time who falls into this category.  He has blood-based powers, which wasn’t that common when I first came up with him in 2001.  I’m talking able to turn his blood into weapons, armor, wings, and other uses.  It was gross and felt ‘evil’ on the surface due to the horror-like imagery.  I wanted to counter this with a personality that was friendly, naïve, and almost child-like during all of this character’s incarnations.  This isn’t what caused the problem, but I think of him every time I see a dark antihero with a violent power.  Makes me wonder if I was fighting against myself because he didn’t fit the tradition.  Not that I would change him, but I get curious about how a happy character with horror powers would be accepted in general.

So, what do you think about this odd and niche topic?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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22 Responses to When Heroes Have Violent and ‘Evil’ Powers

  1. L. Marie says:

    This is a very interesting topic. Would you consider Venom to fit this category Or the Hulk? Edward Cullen in Twilight definitely does. It seems like people in this category have to fight against their baser desires. I’ve only seen the Hellboy movies. I didn’t read the comic books.


    • Venom would definitely fit. Hulk comes off that way due to personality. Guess sparkling is evil. I don’t think it’s always fighting against desires too. We give them antihero personalities because it makes it easier to use their powers. Venom, Lobo, and Black Adam are good examples. The real challenge would be giving a character an ‘evil’ power with a heroic personality.

      Liked by 1 person

      • L. Marie says:

        I wasn’t thinking about the notion of Edward’s sparkling (😄) as I was the fact that he fights against killing Bella, since that is exactly what he desires to do. He fights against killing others also, since that’s what vampires do, but especially her, since her scent is what drives him toward ending her life. His “sibling” Jasper struggles with this aspect the most.


      • The nature issue would work for him though. Vampires are a tough one. Their powers aren’t at the core of the villainous nature. It’s the bloodlust and being undead. Put the same powers on a mortal and they wouldn’t feel evil.


  2. L. Marie says:

    But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? These powers were forced on a mortal who was turned into an undead monster. But he chose to act against type.


    • Yes, but they’re typically villains. It’s also a big thing that their personality/nature matches the darkness of their powers. I wonder what would happen if you have a noble, heroic type with horrific powers. Their not evil in nature, so they’re not fighting against their type. It feels like heroes with these powers always need to be cursed or some ‘I am not evil like my peers’ type.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. A happy character with horror powers congers up images of the Joker from the Batman series. Never thought he was especially funny so I’m thinking that such a combo would be too much for readers to take.


  4. L. Marie says:

    If you don’t mind a spoiler, in answer to your question I will say yes.


  5. Chel Owens says:

    I think you touch on a related topic, that of ‘villain;’ are there really villains? That would help answer a character’s backstory and motivations, etc.


    • I think there can be true villains. I mean, if a person can do things out of pure intentions then it’s feasible for someone to do things out of evil ones. It does seem like people have trouble with that though. Most villains I’ve seen in recent years are written as misunderstood.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Chel Owens says:

        Even with evil intentions, that villain has niggling things like a mother and/or father who raised him, yes? I’ll need to think on it more.


      • Not always. I think we add those to make them less evil, but they’re not necessary beyond that. You can have a villain who wiped out her own family with no remorse. It’s possible, but creates a scary possibility that such a person actually exists.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Charles, I love this concept. It’s all in the execution, of course. I’m thinking more like Harley than Joker. She seems to be mostly happy, confident in who she is, but has her moments of violence and insanity.


  7. I’m not familiar with this show, but like you said, it comes down to how they use their power. Letting someone fall to their death (harmful) vs. catching them (helpful). I think it also depends whether the viewer is able to know the reasoning for the action. And generally, is the character’s demeanor inspiring or menacing?


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