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PETER FONDA [as Mephisto]: Nice work, Nicolas. I'll just remove the curse from you now and you can be on your way.

NICOLAS CAGE [as Ghost Rider]: No. I'm going to keep this curse in order to fight you.

PETER FONDA: You mean the curse I had the power to give you and just said I can remove at any time? That's the curse you're going to use against me?

NICOLAS CAGE: That's right.
Ghost Rider: The Abridged Script, The Editing Room

In just about every superheroic version of a Deal with the Devil, The Devil or some other powerful Big Bad gives the hero superhuman powers and/or brings him/her Back From the Dead in exchange for servitude, his Soul, or being bound to complete a certain task.

Trouble is, the hero has no intention of being a pawn in the Devil's game, and after a short stint of doing Old Scratch's dirty work, breaks free and declares that he'll use the Big Bad-given power against him and combat evil as a Badass Darker and Edgier Anti-Hero.

Somehow, this always actually works. The Devil apparently never has the ability to take his gifts back with the same snap of his fingers with which they were given, and the hero is usually able to break contract without any major repercussions other than having to fight his former boss's minions for a living.

This makes you wonder why the Devil was stupid enough to give this guy enough power to beat him (sometimes inexplicably more power than the Devil character himself has, or unusual powers that he doesn't have), why said devil-given powers are so effective against their own creator, and why the Devil does all this with no contingency plan should the hero choose to rebel. You'd think the biggest Magnificent Bastard in mythology would be able to keep a tighter leash on his pet badasses. Though admittedly in older folktales the Devil was often a very gullible character, falling for various minor forms (often involving wealth) of Faustian Rebellion again and again. This isn't actually that unusual, as it has been posited that, as a being inherently lacking virtue, he is incapable of certain qualities. Really, though, it just convolutes the whole issue even further.

A common justification is that by however way they broke free from Old Scratch's control is the very thing that stops the Devil from taking the power back. This is often explained that the Devil could only give the powers in the first place if they gave him control over them. If he no longer has control, he can't do anything directly to that person besides sending in his Mooks to try and kill them off.

The villain doesn't specifically have to be Satan; this trope applies to any story in which the hero is given powers by the bad guy and then rebels and uses them to combat evil. If he isn't directly fighting his 'benefactor' all the way, they'll cross swords eventually and the hero will win. It's basically an excuse to give the hero awesome Hell-themed powers without having to actually make him evil. Comes with a ready-made antagonist and his Legions Of Hell to boot, who will already be gunning for the blood of the renegade agent of Hell.

In a certain way, it's a sort of Frankenstein's Monster. Just because you create something doesn't mean it's easy to put it back in the box, regardless of what you may be.

Sooner or later, may involve the Hero going To Hell and Back and most likely fighting his way to stick it to Mephistopheles Like a Badass Out of Hell.

See also Hoist by His Own Petard, and Phlebotinum Rebel. Compare Pro-Human Transhuman. For the reverse, where Satan (or the equivalent) actually is the biggest Magnificent Bastard in the world, see Evil Is Not a Toy. This trope can also be the cause of Dark Is Not Evil. Contrast The Punishment and The Problem with Fighting Death.

Examples of Faustian Rebellion include:


Anime & Manga

  • In Naruto, Sasuke betrays Orochimaru. This trope is played to an even greater extent, because instead of killing him, Sasuke absorbs Orochimaru, becoming even more powerful.
  • Mai-HiME. The HiME eventually destroy the HiME Star using the powers it bestowed upon them in the first place. After that, the powers vanish.
  • Both averted and played straight in The Slayers. Black Magic, the form of magic the protagonist uses, is basically getting powers from the local equivalent of Satan and his closest demon-minions. It is explicitly noted and shown that black magic does not work against the ones who give the powers. But nevertheless, Lina manages to use her powers indirectly to thwart the demons' plans, usually by using black magic on lesser demon mooks (which is okay).
  • The main premise of Umineko no Naku Koro ni is for the main character to deny the existence of witches. And the being he's holding this debate against? A witch. And his only tool to defeat her? To use her magical colored text to prove and disprove certain aspects of the mysteries and show that the crimes were possible by human hands. Fortunately Beatrice is Genre Savvy enough to catch on eventually, and starts intentionally using "red text starvation tactics" to deny Battler his handicap.
    • It should also be noted that debating with Battler is the only way Beatrice can get him to admit the existence of witches (which would restore her power), and the red text was originally a weapon she was using against him (red text is always true, but also Exact Words -- and Battler figured out the latter).
  • In Puella Magi Madoka Magica's Grand Finale, Madoka uses her wish to erase every single witch (past, present, and future) from existence, thereby keeping all Magical Girls from becoming them. Reality becomes a bit unstable and unfortunately, her wish doesn't come without a price.
    • That is not to mention Homura Akemi, who keeps using her time-based powers in order to relive her meeting with Madoka, in the hopes of saving her (which includes killing Mephisto Kyubey repeatedly). While she didn't stop Madoka from becoming a magical girl as intended, she was just as much part of foiling Kyubey's plans as Madoka was -- First, by giving Madoka enough power as a magical girl so that her wish could work in the first place and secondly by getting Madoka to think thrice about becoming a magical girl. And when she did, it was solely in order to end Kyubey's plans.
  • In the battle vs Galaxia in the Stars season of the Sailor Moon anime, Neptune and Uranus sell out to Galaxia, turn on Pluto and Saturn and take their star seeds...then reveal their true intention by turning the star seed stealing bracelets on Galaxia. To their surprise, it doesn't work, because Galaxia had no star seed, and the two are killed shortly after.


Comicbooks

  • Spawn one of the best known examples.
    • Which is really too bad, because in its original form it was an inversion. Spawn was sent back to Earth with a finite amount of power. In a demoralizing lecture, the devil explains quite coldly how he does not care what Spawn does with the powers -- if he uses them to do evil, great, Hell's cause is advanced on Earth. If he uses them to do good, great, he's sending evil souls down to Hell to swell the devil's army and thus hastening the final war against Heaven. If he refuses to do anything with them, great, he'll eventually turn cold and emotionless if not outright insane from the emotional stress of never getting involved with anything, the powers will drain away anyway (although much more slowly), and he'll return to Hell with a mindset much more befitting the general the devil wants him to be. Now that's a devil who knows how to bargain. There is the loophole that he doesn't have to kill anyone while using the powers for good.
  • Before Spawn there was Ghost Rider (though the premise changes later). Most Marvel heroes Mephisto decides to mess with as well.
  • The Saint of Killers in Preacher (Comic Book). Initially being obedient to God, he hesitates in killing the protagonist when he learns that Jesse has information regarding the deaths of his wife and child, and eventually turns on God with the same guns he was given.
    • Though at least in this case God is pretty much an egomaniac who wants to see how much he can get away with and still make people love/obey him.
    • Don't forget that the very first he does with those guns is turn them on the Devil and the Angel of Death, right after they give them to him.
  • The comic and movie adaption Faust.
  • Constantine in Hellblazer has played around with variations of this at times.
  • The Silver Surfer from Fantastic Four. In the comics, the Surfer just refused to work for Galactus, and as punishment, was condemned to never return to his homeworld and girlfriend ever again (he and the FF eventually figure a way to get him off Earth and Surfer does Galactus a favor big enough to fully release him). In the movie... well, he seemed to be fully capable of killing his almighty master at the cost of his own life or maybe not.
  • Subverted in Earth X, where Mephisto's goal is to create as many alternate universes as possible, so that the world will never entirely end and he will never face divine judgment. Mephisto deliberately creates as many heroes by such bargains as possible (certain none of them will ever be powerful enough to truly defeat him) as well as many other "devils" to rule their own versions of hell. The result is a multiverse in constant chaos, with people continually travelling back in time in hopes of changing the past.


Fan Fiction

  • In Decks Fall Everyone Dies, there is an example with monetary power instead of superpowers. The duelists get funding for their club/theater from Duke Devlin. He orders the players to promote dice games as a way of running the country (over card games). The players, most of whom are duelists, don't agree with this and plan to revolt. Duke doesn't seem to be able to take the money back after signing their contract.


Films

  • This is the premise of the movie Faust: Love of the Damned, in which the Faustian character uses his powers to become a superhero, and, in typical b-movie violence, takes on the hordes of Hell.
  • The entire plot (such as it is) of the Rudy Ray Moore blaxploitation epic Petey Wheatstraw, the Devil's Son-In-Law. After he is gunned down, Petey is allowed to return to life with Crazy Satan Powers if he marries the devil's hideous daughter. Petey agrees, and almost immediately begins scheming to use his powers to get out of the arrangement. Hilarity ensues.
  • In Angel On My Shoulder, Paul Muni plays a gangster who is murdered by his own men. He dies and goes to Hell, where the Devil (Claude Rains) offers Muni a chance to go back to Earth, occupying the stolen body of an honest judge (also played by Muni) providing Muni does the Devil's work while wearing the judge's body and identity. In this second chance at life, Muni repents his evil ways and decides to go straight. He defies the Devil by announcing that he intends to live an honest life this second time, so that when he dies in this second body he'll go to Heaven. But of course the Devil gets the last word: since Muni is occupying a body he stole from someone else, he continues to commit evil so long as he wears it: in order to do good, Muni must accept that he's had his one chance at life by giving up the stolen body and returning to Hell. He does this.
  • The film version of Little Shop of Horrors, as opposed to the stage version, which is a straight Deal with the Devil story.
  • Despite the Trope Quote above, the Ghost Rider film plays this trope straight. At no point in the actual script does The Devil claim he can reclaim the Ghost Rider power against the wielder’s will. (And in fact, if he could, Carter Slade’s rebellion wouldn’t have been possible to begin with.) For the record, he can’t claim Johnny’s soul for refusal to surrender the curse either, as he had specifically contracted that if Johnny defeated Blackheart, his soul would be freed, with no other conditions mentioned.
    • It should also be noted that the incident in the quote does happen: he offers to take the curse away, and Johnny denies the offer. This implies that he can remove the curse, but only if Johnny lets him as he no longer owns his soul.


Literature

  • Subverted in Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, when Pryrates uses the power the Storm King gave him in an attempt to bind the Storm King to his will. Of course, Pryrates is far from a good guy, and the power he gained is insufficient. A Karmic Death results.
  • "That Hell-Bound Train" is a fantasy short story by Robert Bloch from 1958 that won the Hugo Award in 1959. Martin makes a Deal with the Devil that he would be able to stop time for himself whenever he wanted. In other words, once he found a point in his life he enjoyed, that happy moment would last forever for him. He found out that The Devil had tricked him, others have tried this wish, but they never found the perfect moment, always waiting for something better, until they died. Martin dies and has to ride the Hell-Bound Train with the Devil to Hell. At that point, knowing Hell awaits and enjoying the company of minor sinners (gambling, sex, etc.) all having their last and greatest time, Martin stops time on the train, trapping everyone there (including the Devil) forever.


Live-Action TV

  • Sam on Reaper is trying to find a way out of the Deal with the Devil his parents made that ended up ensnaring him to serve as Hell's bounty hunter. However, when a solid opportunity comes along, he gives it up to aid another, noting that Satan would probably find another way to get him back on Hell's roster.
    • Furthermore, several demons have considered knocking over Satan and setting up a new rule in Hell. It hasn't exactly worked out well for most of them...
  • In the Mexican superhero comedy El Chapulin Colorado, one episode has the hero narrating the story of Faustus. In this version, Faustus regains his youth from a deal with the Devil, who also throws in a magic wand in the bargain. When the Devil comes to claim Faustus' soul, Faustus asks to be shown the contract. When The Devil produces it, Faustus uses the wand to make it disappear. The Devil cried like a little girl afterwards.
  • Cruelly subverted in Supernatural. An agent of Lucifer gives Sam mystical powers that allow him to exorcise and even destroy demons with his mind. Seems a little stupid of Lucifer, right? Except that there are a number of seals keeping Lucifer bound in Hell, and the final one is the archdemon Lilith... and Sam ends up using his power to kill Lilith, unwittingly releasing Lucifer. Which was the plan all along. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
    • Not entirely unbelievable, however. Since Lucifer is locked up, he has no real power over demons or Hell till he's released, as a demoness told Dean that no demon had ever seen Lucifer prior to his release. Azazel did speak to him in a flashback, but only after years of "wandering the desert", whether he meant wandering Earth or literally searching in, say, Jerusalem, for Lucifer's Cage Door. Not all demons are complete devotees and, much like humans, some just want to preserve their own interest. Crowley, for an example, wants Lucifer out of the picture, since Lucifer would eventually destroy all demons after conquering Earth. He takes it up to becoming King of Hell in the new season, so it's possible that one demon or another try to go against Lucifer and his followers. Of course, there remains to see if at least ONE DEMON will ever go against the stereotypical traits to actually help without having second or traitorous intentions.


Tabletop Games

  • Perfectly possible for Abyssals and Infernals in Exalted; however, there are backdoor penalties for defying the will of their undead/demonic masters. Abyssals get Resonance, which builds up as they adopt the trappings of life; if it's not bled off, it can result in an explosion of necrotic energy that basically kills everything the Abyssal holds dear. Likewise, the Infernals get Torment, which allows their master to hijack them if it builds up too much; the only way to bleed it off is to act like a supervillain. Seriously; this is what happens when the Ebon Dragon has a hand in the creative process.
    • Yes, he often ends up screwing himself over in the long term. For example: Infernal Genius Declaration is one of said ways to act like a supervillain, and it basically involves informing the enemy of your plans while beating the guy over the head with how stupid he is. Now, ask yourself: Is there any way for a hero to use this?
      • The Infernals now have a number of Heresy Charms that allow them to eat their coadjutor, reformat their Exaltation, plug in an Urge that is basically a carbon copy of their motivation, and snap the tethers linking their shard to the phylactery-womb. It is believed that the Ebon Dragon's expression when this happens is going to be priceless.
    • More broadly, the creation of Exalts in the first place was essentially the gods using this trope to their advantage. They specifically designed Exaltation to be something they couldn't take back, because they needed the Exalted to fight the Primordials and the Primordials could've just ordered the gods to remove the powers of the Exalted.
  • Incredibly common among the PCs in Deadlands. Heroic Hucksters tend to be more common than villainous ones, thanks in no small part to the fact that they don't so much deal with devils as gamble with them for power. Mad Science (which comes from the same source as Huckster Magic), is behind the creation of the Holy Wheel Gun. But Hucksters and Mad Scientists pale in comparison to the The Harrowed who have their own problems to deal with.
    • Mad Scientists are somewhat of a subversion though. Once one of them comes up with the idea of splitting the Ghost Rock Atom (basically creating magical nukes capable of reducing the world to slag), the Demons giving them their creativity/power immediately stop giving and Mad Scientist the ability to make anything *except* these Nukes. Sort of a "Lets make all their wild plans come true until one comes up with something suitably destructive, then we'll give it (and nothing else) to everyone"
  • In Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, this is pretty much expected of any Warlock, especially those who made a very literal Deal with the Devil. A sample Infernal Pact is, in fact, actually an ancient warlock who tried to pull this trope off, but failed, and now teaches other humans the arts of infernal magic in hopes that one of them will become skilled enough to come and set him loose.
  • Liliana Vess in Magic the Gathering, who made a deal with four archdemons from throughout the multiverse for immortality. She's killed two so far and is currently seeking out the other two.


Videogames

  • Raziel in the Legacy of Kain series. Brought back from the dead (for the second time) as a wraith by the Elder God in the first game of the Soul Reaver subseries, he starts showing off some true Rage Against the Heavens by the second game, after he learns what he used to be (a Sarafan general, leader of the army that killed nearly every vampire in the land of Nosgoth in genocide), the Elder's true nature (a parasite who feeds on the souls of the dead, and who despises vampires because he cannot feed on their undying souls) and Kain's true motives (to bring the world of Nosgoth back to vampire rule, as it originally was).
    • Raziel is actually an aversion on two counts. 1) While he does turn on the Elder God, neither he nor it are able to directly harm each other. 2) It's actually implied that the Elder God didn't actually create or even empower him. It told Raziel that to manipulate him.
    • Kain's own transition to a vampire in the first game was actually intended to end this way, since the necromancer brings him back to take his vengeance for his murder, when the necromancer himself had arranged it.
  • Ares grants Kratos his powers in God of War. Kratos stays thoroughly evil throughout, but Ares manages to piss him off enough that he resolves to murder Ares.
    • To Ares' minor credit when the fight with Kratos starts to go against him he does remove Kratos' powers and weapons, and if it hadn't been for a conveniently placed giant sword, he would have killed Kratos.
  • Averted in Sonic Unleashed, Sonic gets his night form painfully extracted by Dark Gaia to get all, no matter how little, its dark energy back into itself.
  • Kingdom Hearts II: Hades becomes increasingly frustrated in his attempts to defeat Hercules, since the hero kills every opponent the Lord of the Dead throws at him. At Pete's suggestion that he "send somebody already dead and save him the trouble," Hades decides to summon Auron, offering to let him out if he kills Hercules. Auron declines and insults him, telling him that "This is my story, and you're not part of it." Hades, in a rage, attacks him just as Sora comes in, and the group escapes, later foiling Hades's next attempt at Hercules's life.
    • Also doubly subverted in that later, during your second visit to Olympus Colosseum, Hades is able to exert power over Auron by stealing his free will and forcing him to fight Hercules without mercy. After several more events happen, Sora and the group steal back Auron's will (which was in the form of a small statue of him) and break Hades' control over him.
  • Sparda, the demon father of Devil May Cry protagonist Dante, literally sealed off the demon world because of his love for a human woman. The result: he's presumably dead (and thus stuck in Hell with all of his enemies), and the entire family is stuck in the business of devil hunting right up until the present day. Still, it pays, and who can disagree with being able to stack bullets or cut through walls with one arm and a sword?
  • The Knights of the Ebon Blade in World of Warcraft certainly qualify. After being sent on a suicide run to draw out Tirion Fordring, head of the Argent Dawn (soon to be Argent Crusade), they turn on Arthas and decide to join the fight against the Scourge. It doesn't seem that there's any explanation why Arthas doesn't just take back the spell or magic he used to bring them back or failing that just get rid of the Death Knight powers that HE gave them in the first place.
    • Or better yet, push his will on them a bit harder, and take them back into the fold of the Scourge at the best possible time. Like when the Death knights are working with said paladin, to shiv him right up the Light.
    • Doesn't the final fight involve the Lich King personally killing all of the PCs present, including any Death Knights, and stating that he only let them get this powerful so that he could recruit them all as undead? This would seem to indicate that he has the same reason not to stop the PC death knights from rebelling, and possibly that letting the Ebon Blade NPCs keep their free will was all part of either than plan or some other plan (they did, after all, get you readmitted into your faction.)
      • The same question could apply to the Forsaken, who were also slaves of the Lich King. Presumably, regaining your free will is enough to make the Lich King's getting you back either impossible or not worth the time.
    • Similarily, what Warlocks mostly do is make the Burning legion and its fel energy turn on itself. In fact, a big part of warlock PCs lore is that they are pretty much always an example of Bad Powers, Good People, or else they would have gone rogue/
  • The Cerberus head honcho Illusive Man in Mass Effect 2 resurrects the KIA Commander Shepard (in the course of "Project Lazarus", no less) in return for the latter's help in fighting back the Collectors. Since the Collectors are a common enemy, even Paragon Shepard cooperates with Cerberus willingly (although their methods differ), but the actual Faustian Rebellion can come in the end of the game, when Shepard decides whether to destroy the Collector base for good (Paragon choice) or let Cerberus reverse-engineer it, potentially leaving a backdoor for the Reapers.
    • Justified in that the Illusive Man believed that only Shepard had the qualities needed for success (which is why only Shepard could succeed in the first game), making her/him more receptive to Cerberus may have had completely unforseen consequences on her/his psyche. The Illusive Man acknowledged that Shepard could easily screw him over, but hoped that she/he would see things from his perspective (which Shepard does most of the time). Of course, this doesn't stop him from getting mad at the end.
    • Miranda also performs one if she's taken along during the final leg of the Suicide Mission. She informs the Illusive Man that she's not going to stop Shepard from destroying the Collector Base, this is her resignation from Cerberus and promptly hangs up when he begins furious ranting.
  • Zig-zagged in all kinds of ways with Oswald in Odin Sphere. His adopted father Melvin offered him as a baby to Queen Odette. She granted his Psypher sword dark power without equal. However, this power rots his body and dooms him to become Odette's consort upon his own death. When Oswald meets his true "master", he discovers that his hellish power cannot harm its master. However, it IS the only thing that can hurt King Gallon, whom Odette preserved in endless undeath.
  • Cynder from The Legend of Spyro did this to some degree. Once Spyro sets her free from Malefor's spell, she retains enough of his darkness to use four elements no other dragon can; Shadow, Poison, Wind, and Fear. How does she use these powers? Why to fight Malefor's evil army and help Spyro kick his butt of course! Though said darkness does let him take over her mind to some degree, but he has to drive her over the Despair Event Horizon first and the Power of Love is an effective antidote.


Web Originals

  • In Sailor Nothing, Himei and all of the Sailors were given their extremely effective Yamiko-killing powers by a rebel Yamiko general... who was easily dispatched via the same powers when he rejoined the Yamiko.. Of course, being the story it is, there are more reasons too.
  • Chuck Norris agreed to trade his soul to the Devil in exchange for his incredible martial arts abilities and rugged good looks. As soon as the exchange was completed, Norris used his newfound powers to kick the Devil's ass and retake his soul. The Devil, appreciating the Irony, became friends with Norris. They now play poker in Hell every second Wednesday.


Webcomics

  • A subversion occurs in Dominic Deegan with Tim the infernomancer. He shows up with powers enough to rip through the legions of Hell... only for us to discover that he had the balls to steal these from his master.
    • His master then notes that he couldn't take the power (a set of gauntlets) back even if he wanted to; the gauntlets had somehow bonded to Tim. However, he hides this fact, making Tim believe he could take back the power at any time, but offering to let him keep them if he kills their mutual enemies, the Deegan family. Dominic figures the truth out and tells Tim, hoping he'll stop his highly-motivated killing spree. Instead, Tim simply decides that now he's free to take his time.
  • In Panthera, after it's revealed that Ari is actually Oosterhuis, Panthera wastes no time in transforming and getting ready to kick ass.
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