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A pair of heroes who are strangers are Working the Same Case, often from widely divergent angles. When their investigations simultaneously lead them to the bad guys' lair, they stumble over each other and into a fight born of their mutual assumption that the other guy is one of the villains they're hunting.
Sometimes the Big Bad knows they're both coming and manipulates them into this situation in the hopes that they will weaken or eliminate each other -- or at least distract both of them long enough for the bad guys to escape. One classic tactic used in this variation is a bogus order to one of the heroes to kill the other, bellowed over a loudspeaker. Another is convincing one or both heroes ahead of time that the other either is a villain or has done something horrible.
This trope is particularly overused in Superhero comics and the movies and shows spawned from them. In that genre, it long ago reached the point of cliche and Lampshade Hanging, and even Genre Blindness no longer allows it.
Then again, Buffy has breathed some new life into it by not letting the viewers in on the situation until she finds out.
A lesser-used variant has a Big Bad manipulating lesser villains into fighting the good guys for him, or even into fighting other baddies. A Trickster Archetype hero or another so skilled might also pull this on his enemies, either to enact a getaway or distract them long enough to set up a sneak attack.
Also commonly known in comics fandoms as "Fight Then Team Up," or the "Marvel Misunderstanding" (even in the Marvel Bullpen!)
The phrase probably first comes from the 1930s Popeye comic strip as a catchphrase of Wimpy, who often gets Popeye to fight big tough guys he's wronged - thus becoming a Got Volunteered. "Let's You and Him Fight" is also the title of a Fleischer Studios Popeye short revolving around a boxing match between Popeye and Bluto. It also appears in Eric Berne's 1964 book Games People Play as one of the identified behavior patterns.
Sometimes occurs - particularly in a Crossover - in order to tease fans with the possibility of an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny. Of course, it almost always ends inconclusively. This is usually because Popularity Power evens the field when heroes are really mismatched in their weight class.
When the two characters belong to different companies or shows, it's an Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny.
Anime & Manga
- An inverted example in Trigun, when a pair of bounty hunters after Vash the Stampede mistake one another for Vash, because of the wildly varying descriptions of him that are floating around. All within sight of Vash.
- Sonic X, "Cracking Knuckles", carrying on a tradition from the video games. Knuckles manages to believe the villain way too often for his own good.
- For the first few episodes of Gundam Wing the five pilots start off with no knowledge of each other, and assume the others to be enemies.
- The entire Soul Society arc of Bleach is a giant Let's You And Him Fight situation engineered by the Big Bad to keep both heroic parties busy while he was trying to get his hands on the MacGuffin.
- In the Hueco Mundo arc, Kuchiki Byakuya and Zaraki Kenpachi are supposed to fight Espada Yammy, but end up being more interested in fighting each other. Of course, Yammy was going to have none of it, and Byakuya lampshades this trope.
Byakuya (about Yammy) This guy is a nuisance. He is getting in the way.
- Naraku from Inuyasha should have won an Oscar for the number of times he plotted his enemies (and allies) against each other. One particularly nasty example is when he told Sango that Inuyasha slaughtered everyone in her village, leading her to almost kill herself trying to get revenge. Another such instance is when Naraku lures both Koga and Inuyasha to his castle and sets them up to make Koga believe Inuyasha wiped out his clan, tricking them into a life-and-death battle; then sends in his subordinates to kill the survivor. Of course, in both cases, he had arranged the massacre himself.
- Subverted in Samurai Champloo. In the first episode both Mugen and Jin get into separate fights with the samurai in the town they are wandering through. When the two cross paths, Mugen believes Jin is one of the samurai sent to kill him and immediately attacks. When Mugen learns that Jin actually killed the town's samurai, Mugen becomes even more excited at the prospect of fighting a tougher opponent. The entire show consists of Mugen and Jin trying to fulfill their obligation to Fuu so they can finally fight each other, and the series constantly hints that no matter how close Mugen and Jin grow in their quest, their eventual duel will be to the death. Averted in the end when they decide not to, having come to like one another far too much.
- The Crossover movie between Detective Conan and Lupin the Third has minor elements of this; Conan is chasing a Rebellious Princess who switched places with Ran, but said princess has befriended Fujiko, leading to a chase sequence where Conan's rocket-powered skateboard actually manages to tail Fujiko's bike.
- In Mahou Sensei Negima, the first fight between Negi and Setsuna (in the furo) has distinct overtones of this. Negi loses. Painfully.
- Invoked in Code Geass. During what appears to be a rebellion by defecting Britannian troops, Marianne in the body of Anya attacks Bismarck, accusing him of being in on it, so that he'd be on the defensive and wouldn't question her.
- It's played straight during the first episode, where Suzaku attacks Lelouch because he thinks he's a terrorist (which was not yet the case).
- One Piece puts an interesting spin on this. In the Whiskey Peak arc, the crew had been proudly welcomed by the town, which was used by bounty hunters from Baroque Works to rob and/ or kill unsuspecting pirates while they slept. When the bounty hunters attack Zoro, he defeats them all. A chain of events are set up for the saga as he comes face to face with two agents of the aforementioned organization, Mr. 5 and Ms. Valentine. But Luffy, after learning Zoro attacked the other Baroque Works agents and unaware they weren't as nice as they seemed, becomes enraged and attacks Zoro, who calmly tries to explain before Luffy attacks him anyway. The two of them fight while the agents continue to complete their mission, but after Luffy and Zoro keep attacking them while they fight, Mr. 5 and Ms. Valentine try to kill them themselves...
- In Ronin Warriors, Dais uses his powers to make the heroes think each other is him, so they blindly attack each other.
- In Sekirei, Minato is trapped by many other Ashikabi and Sekirei who were sent an email by the Game Master who said if anyone stops Minato from reaching the MBI building, they'd be excused from his earlier rule where an Ashikabi with no wins would lose their Sekirei. A biker Ashikabi arrives late to the situation and immediately starts talking trash to them. Then they end up fighting each other instead, allowing Minato and his group to escape.
- Namor the Sub-Mariner decided to take revenge on the surface world, starting with the city of New York. The Human Torch arrived to stop him and the Marvel Universe was born. They later teamed up with Captain America when it was revealed the Axis was the true enemy, a plot Marvel still homages to this day.
- The DC Comics series Birds of Prey once hung a lampshade on the trope with novice a crime fighter who was styling herself as the new Batgirl. Using her teleporting powers she had been watching the heroes for a long time and knew not only that they were good guys, but also their names, secret identities and powers, and when they set up an ambush one evening to try and find out who has been masquerading as Batgirl (Something Oracle, the original Batgirl, does not take lightly) she could not have been happier. As they are fighting she happily converses with all the participants and explains that after they are done fighting they can all be good friends and teammates, because she had gained the impression that fighting at the first meeting was the traditional thing to do.
- Lampshaded hard in an issue of The Flash where he and the Pied Piper almost come to blows while investigating the murders of some homeless people.
Young Boy: This is gonna be neat!
Pied Piper: Neat?!
Boy: Sure. You guys are gonna fight now, right? On account of you really like each other, but a supervillain made you misunderstand so now you gotta fight. So you're gonna fight for about an hour, then realize that you've got a common enemy and be life-long friends. Pretty neat!
Flash: ...Boy, do I feel predictable.
Piper: Let's cut to the part where we team up, okay?
- Rift does this in World's Collide to Superman and Icon, stating that the two similar characters had to fight because that's what they're supposed to do. They play along and pull their punches. Rift is Genre Savvy enough to realize this and forces them into real No-Holds-Barred Beatdown when he states the loser's universe would be destroyed.
- Subverted in the backstory to the comic book miniseries Common Grounds: two superheroes, an experienced one and a novice, accidentally fight each other (a situation referred to by one character as a "knuckleduster"), and the experienced superhero kills the younger one. The survivor is subsequently arrested, sentenced to a lengthy term in jail, and emerges decades later unable to find gainful employment, forced to scrounge through the trash for meals. This actually serves as the key background moment of the entire series, as it was this event that lead to the foundation of the titular series of restaurants. The founder of Common Grounds, himself a former hero, was the father of the inexperienced hero killed in the brawl, and he started the neutral-ground eatery as a means of insuring that heroes (and even villains) would finally have a chance to meet one another and be able to clear up these minor confrontations before they could spin out of control in the real world.
- Example of the "Big Bad manipulates the actors to fight and eliminate each other" trope: the DC miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths featured a subsidiary story arc involving Brainiac and the Earth-One Lex Luthor assembling an army of supervillains to attack the remaining superheroes. Brainiac and Luthor had led their villain army to believe that the superheroes would be easily defeated owing to the villains outnumbering the heroes (who were already distracted dealing with the huge honkin' crisis that was unfolding in the main story arc); however, the real plan was to have the heroes and the other villains kill each other off so that when the the dust finally cleared, Brainiac and Luthor would be the last superpowered "men" standing, and therefore be able to take over all the remaining universes without anyone left to defeat them.
- Partially subverted in the Kurt Busiek/George Perez crossover miniseries JLA-Avengers, in which the two titular teams were pitted against each other in such a gambit -- but after the initial encounter, Batman and Captain America (realizing they were being played) removed themselves from the ongoing contest to figure out why. Which was seriously the moment you knew the bad guys had lost. Bats and Cap, working together? You're screwed, Krona.
- Some titles like The Hulk can usually pull these off repeatedly due to his unstable mental nature. One day he's a giant with the mind of Bruce Banner, the next an unthinking ball of green rage. Getting these fights to stop usually involves a Cooldown Hug and the inevitable Hulks Cooldown Hug Corollary to avoid a change in the Status Quo.
- Lampshaded in one instance by Hulk himself. Granted he was in the middle of his "smart hulk" phase, but during the Marvel Knights sagas he runs into Ghost Rider.
Hulk: Alright, I get it. This is the obligatory "good guy meets good guy, they have an obligatory fight based on misunderstanding, then team up to fight the REAL bad guy. Can we just skip it?" (Unfortunately for him, fortunately for the reader, Ghost rider is in screaming spirit of vengence mode, and he's not having any of it.)
- In the first Spider-Man/Batman, it's averted in that Spider-Man turns out of be a huge Bat-fanboy, basically winning Batman over with sheer persistence; the only resemblance of a fight was a punch by Batman and a Judo Throw by Spidey. By the second crossover, they basically shake hands and agree to team, with Spider-Man pointing out to a resistant Batman that they went through all of this the first time; they could either waste time fighting between themselves and approaching the case from different angles, or they could pool their resources from the start and work together. After a moment, Batman conceded the point.
- Sleepwalker's lack of understanding about the human world and its heroes led him to end up fighting with Spider-Man, Deathlok and Ghost Rider at different points in his short-lived series. Thankfully, both of the comic's regular readers were spared Wolverine and The Punisher guest starring.
- Watchmen refers to a fight between The Comedian and Ozymandias when they first bumped into each other. Ozymandias shrugs it off as a common enough misunderstanding in reference to the trope, but given The Comedian's personality (and the fact that Ozymandias was investigating the disappearance of Hooded Justice, whom the Comedian might well have murdered) it possibly wasn't an accident. And while Ozymandias trivializes the incident, the severe beating he administers (or has administered) to The Comedian as part of murdering him demonstrates that he probably wasn't sincere.
- Lampshaded in an issue of Justice League of America in the early nineties. Obsidian and Nuklon are waiting to meet up with the JLA to offer to join the team after its most recent roster overhaul, and Obsidian says, "First, they won't even let us join. 'You were in Infinity Inc? Wasn't that some kids' group, like Menudo?' Then there'll be some bizarre misunderstanding, and they'll think we're villains, and there'll be a fight, and..."
- Used twice in Marvel 1602. Peter Parquagh is sent by Sir Nicholas Fury to deliver a message to Carlos Javier. Before he can even reach the gate, Hal McCoy pins him to the ground and accuses him of being a spy. Earlier, Parquagh is sent to bring Virginia Dare to visit the queen and is waylaid by her bodyguard Rojhaz. Rojhaz (who later turns out to be Steven "Captain America" Rogers) protests his exclusion from the meeting by lifting Peter up by his shirt.
- Batman No Mans Land has an amusing aversion. Bane manipulates several of the various Gotham gangs into thinking Two-Face has murdered several of their compatriots. Two of the gangs, the Street Demonz and the Eightballs, run into each other while out for revenge and immediately team up to stage an assault on Two-Face's headquarters. No argument, no tension, no Mexican Standoff, no nothing. Apparently, common street gangs are better at teamwork than most crime fighters in the DCU.
- Also subverted in Spider-Girl, when she runs into Araña (Grown up version of the 616 Araña), who wants to fight her. May absolutely refuses, since she refuses to turn "the hero biz" into some sort of "who's stronger" contest and runs away. But Araña chases her and goads her into fighting. From the start of the sequence;
May I don't do "tests", "misunderstanding battles", or "grudge matches".
- Lampshaded in Exiles and played straight dozens of times.
- Lampshaded in Aztek: The Ultimate Man. When the Genre Savvy Aztek is confronted by an angry Green Lantern out for a fight, he simply swipes Kyle's Power Ring and then hands it straight back.
Aztek: Good, well, now that we've passed the predictable fight superheroes are obliged to have when they first meet and established the fact that I'm not a villain, maybe we can down to business here. Friends?
Kyle: Ring first, then friends.
- Deadpool once explained the real reason heroes do this: It's fun.
Citizen V: This fight is completely unnecessary.
Deadpool: BLASPHEMY! All fights are necessary!
- In the Soviet Super Soldiers oneshot, the Crimson Dynamo laments that "a prerequisite to every visit I make to the United States seems to be a completely gratuitous battle against people I don't even know."
- In normalman, Captain Everything and Sgt. Fluffy have a pointless fight the first time they meet in the series... despite the fact that even Dumb Muscle Cap is aware that they're on the same side and have known each other for years; It's just something that you do.
- Subverted and lampshaded in Peter David's Spider-Man 2099 Meets Spider-Man one-shot. Due to some time-traveling experiments, Peter Parker (Spider-Man 1995) and Miguel O'Hara (Spider-Man 2099) switch places. After some running around, the two meet while pursuing a time-traveling Hobgoblin from 2211. Peter Parker/Spidey 1995 promptly quips "I know this is the part where we're supposed to be confused about each other, get into a fight, then settle our differences and chase the bad guy -- but we're short on time, so let's just skip all that, okay?" Miguel, dumbfounded, simply agrees.
- Lampshaded in The Spectacular Spiderman #13 where, before teaming up, Razorback attacks Spiderman because "Isn't that what superheroes do when they first meet?"
- In his first encounter with the Legion of Super-Heroes, the clone Superboy mistakes them for villains. If you translate the Interlac, Saturn Girl says "This must be the 20th century tradition of fighting then teaming-up I've heard about."
More recently, the JLA/JSA/Legion teamup in the Lightning Saga subverted this slightly by having Superman introduce the Legion team when they showed up in the past though Karate Kid had been beaten up as Trident earlier and in fact Star Boy had already been on one of the teams. But then they all had issues with each other later.
Also subverted in a different meeting of Superboy and a Legion team turns out the mission team had been pretending to be average citizens and had insuated themselves into his life beforehand
- One issue of the Sonic the Hedgehog comic, "Rogue Rouge", dedicates itself to setting up a surprisingly brutal fight between Bunnie Rabbot and Rouge the Bat. It is a Cat Fight with a generous amount of Fan Service and lampshaded at the end with a page of sheepish "boy, that was silly" dialogue.
- Lampshaded when, about ten or twelve years ago in real time, The Avengers (actually, robot impostors) arrived in Germany to claim jurisdiction over the Red Skull and take him away in the middle of his trial by the German government. Hauptmann Deutschland wondered if protocol required that he should fight Captain America.
- Early on in The Savage Dragon, Badrock from Youngblood randomly appears and attacks Dragon. They cause a bit of property damage, then Dragon gets the upper hand and Badrock begs off. He says he was just testing to see if Dragon, who had just recently appeared and joined the police force, was tough enough; that kind of thing "happens all the time in Marvel Comics." An incredibly pissed off Dragon proceeds to arrest him. Note that Badrock is a mutated grade schooler so he really wouldn't know any better.
- Badrock also provoked a fight on accident when Freak Force took in a villain he fought and were going to claim the reward money. And then he hit on Ricochet and in general acted like an idiot. All told, both sides were justified in wanting to beat the other up.
- During John Byrne's run on Superman, Darkseid tried to use illusions to convince Superman that he was battling his minion Amazing Grace and Wonder Woman that she was fighting Kalibak, when in reality Superman and Wonder Woman were fighting each other. Subverted in that the two heroes saw through the deception almost immediately and staged a mock battle, fighting their way toward Darkseid's throneroom. As Superman reminded Darkseid, "We may be mere mortals, but we're not stupid!"
- Dr. Blink: Superhero Shrink tells how this works.
- When Spider-Man met Daredevil for the very second time, an interesting thing happened; they started fighting because the Masked Marauder had deliberately engineered is so they would come to blows by having guys in Daredevil costumes taunt Spidey until he hunted down the real one. Why, you ask? So the only two threats to his plans would be too tied up dealing with each other to stop him.
- Occurs in Death's Head #10, when an Upperclass Twit manipulates Death's Head and Iron Man 2020 to fight each other while he bets on the outcome.
- Blue Beetle and Guy Gardner had one when they first met, as his ring detected Jaime's Reach technology as a threat. Also notable for the rematch having been broken up by one fighter's mother.
- When Daredevil is tracking down clues in some sewers, Batman almost gets the drop on him, thinking he's the culprit. You'd think a guy who dresses up like a bat wouldn't be so judgemental about a guy who dresses up a devil. Both act Out of Character throughout the crossover.
- Black Panther in his first appearance in Fantastic Four attacks the Four to prove his worthiness to defend his kingdom and the usefulness of the team to help him. After making that point, he stops the fight to explain himself to the team and makes it up to them for the incident.
- Happens between the Avengers Academy Students and The Avengers in Issue #21 then again between the students and the X-Men in the next issue!
- Happens in issue #12 of Strikeforce Morituri, with a fight between the current Morituri team and the third-generation recruits.
- As mentioned in Linkara's review, this was surprisingly averted in the Care Bears / Mad Balls crossover comic. There's an obvious set-up for it, but the protagonists manage to avert it by not being complete idiots.
- In at least one Wolverine-Ghost Rider team-up, both characters know they're on the same side the entire time, but keep trying to actually murder one another out of simple hatred.
- Runaways: Most of the team versus Cloak and Dagger, who think they're criminals holding Molly hostage. Alex tries to point out how old the routine is, but the more experienced heroes make short work of them. (According to Dagger, Stilt-Man took longer to beat - ouch.)
- Somewhat lampshaded in a Marvel Team-Up miniseries a few years back. Wolverine is searching for a potentially dangerous teen mutant that happens to be talking with Spider-Man. When Wolverine attacks Spider-man, he dodges the berserking attacks and asks why do they keep having to fight every time they meet.
- This plays out oddly in one issue of Action Comics, where Superman gets into a fight with Diode the Invincible over a misunderstanding... but while he wasn't a member of the murderous Doomslayers roving the area, Diode was a supervillain. After clearing the air, the aged wash-up decided to help Superman take care of the Doomslayers before retiring peacefully.
- Spider-Man's second comic appearance ever (after his Origin Story) was a misunderstanding with the Fantastic Four, who were almost the only other superheroes in Marvel Comics at the time.
- Justice Peace and Thor in The Mighty Thor #371. This one has consequences: the fight delays Justice Peace's pursuit of the serial killer Zaniac, who kills several more people before they catch up with him.
- In an early storyline of Justice League International, Maxwell Lord and his computer ally sicced the League on Metron after framing him for creating a rampaging robot. Their plan went awry when it turned out that Metron and Mister Miracle knew each other as New Gods and were more inclined to talk things out.
- Avengers vs. X-Men not only pit the two groups against each other, it had its own tie-in miniseries dedicated to just the hero vs hero fighting (AvX VS)! Mind you, in this case there isn't any misunderstanding or mistake in identity involved - the two teams simply want things that are mutually exclusive. But some fans feel that the speed at which they resort to violence is just as contrived.
- In Dr. No, James Bond's investigation into an MI-6 operative's death leads him to Quarrel, who's already working with CIA agent Felix Leiter. Because Leiter saw Bond leave the airport with one of Dr. No's men, Quarrel attacks Bond; their fight is broken up when Leiter arrives to clarify the whole mess.
- The Matrix. Seraph fights Neo on their first meeting, but in that case it's to establish that he really is The One. Given Mr. Smith's ability to Body Surf this is a sensible precaution.
- In Sky High, Lash causes Will to trip, spilling his food over Warren. Already on a short fuse, Warren starts a fight with Will.
- In Iron Man 2, Rhodey suits up as War Machine to reign in Crazy Drunken Self-Destructive Tony. It seems played for laughs at first, but gradually turns very un-funny.
- Two cops in Hard Boiled end up on either sides of a major gang shootout taking place in a warehouse. One is undercover. The other drops in from the skylight to do a bust, and does not know about the cop undercover. This is a very, very straight example.
- The Forbidden Kingdom. It having Jet Li and Jackie Chan in the same movie first time ever!!, of course they have to fight at first. This is achieved by having Jet Li's character first steal the MacGuffin, taking Chan's character and the kid to be a couple of thieves.
- Hilariously averted in the first X Men film, where Cyclops demands that Wolverine prove that he isn't the Shape Shifter Mystique:
Wolverine: Hey, hey- it's me!
Cyclops: Prove it.
Wolverine: You're a dick.
Cyclops: (pause) Okay.
- Happens a lot in Kaiju movies:
- An accidental version happens in Godzilla raids again, the military's attempt to lure Godzilla away from a city inadvertently attracts Anguirus and the two destroy the city in their battle to the death.
- The JFDS's solution in King Kong vs Godzilla was to bring them together in hopes they'd kill each other.
- Also Dr. Serizawa's answer to Big G and the Mutos in the 2014 reboot. "Let them fight."
- In the never made Godzilla vs Redmoon this would have been the military's answer when two monsters appear. But averted when the two kaiju turn out to be a male and female of the same species.
- In Heroic Trio, all three main characters fight each other in different scenes before finally teaming up.
- In Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest, Jack Sparrow uses this tactic to escape Will and Norrington.
- In Bunraku the two main characters have a Bar Brawl before deciding to team up to go after the Big Bad.
- In The Avengers, Thor tries to get to his brother Loki, but provokes Iron Man and Captain America by stealing him out of SHIELD custody. Later on, Thor fights to stop a rampaging Hulk from destroying the Helicarrier, and Black Widow fights off a Brainwashed and Crazy Hawkeye. Cap and Iron Man almost get angry enough at each other to start a fight themselves (Steve even makes a challenge, but Tony refuses to suit up), but they drop the issue the moment the Helicarrier comes under attack.
- The trope name and page quote comes from Neil Gaiman's American Gods, where it's a key plot point. An example of an old, named scam mentioned to Shadow by Mr. Wednesday, "Let's You and Him Fight" turns out to be the Evil Plan Odin and Loki have been working on together. The plan was to goad the home-grown modern gods into fighting the immigrant gods to the death, so both Odin and Loki could feed off ensuing battle.
- In one of the Sharpe books, master manipulator Ducos comes up with a plan to end the war. As a first stage, he needs a general killed. On a personal level, he wants Sharpe dead. As luck would have it, Sharpe has already slept with the general's wife. One well-timed letter later, the Duel to the Death is arranged.
- In another book, Sharpe and Harper go to a monastery occupied by a mixed force of deserters from all the armies involved in the Peninsular War, led by a French cook and 'Colonel' Hakeswill, carrying the ransom for the Portuguese wife of an English high-up who'd been at the monastery for an annual festival. At the same time a French officer and his sergeant arrive to pay the ransom for the French officer's English wife. Both sides think that the other is the enemy.
- In the film, Sharpe pins the French colonel and calls for him to surrender, but the Frenchman refuses to surrender to a "deserter".
- In the Warhammer 40000 novel Grey Knights, the Big Bad uses the secrecy surrounding the Grey Knights to paint them as Chaos Marines and get the local Imperial forces against them.
- Similarly, Alaric, the protagonist of the series, pulls this off on his foes in the sequel Hammer of Daemons. Some of the Daemons he manipulates are aware that he's playing them, but they are compelled to go along by their own greed, paranoia, and rage.
- Heimerdinger's Kingdoms and Conquerors features several chapters of this, told from multiple POV. one hero( Apollos) believes his Love Interest was murdered by his masked opponents( a long ago friend) while Gid was informed that Apollos killed his good friends. the two continue to fight until Gid's friends shout his name, and Apollos recognizes the voices.
- This ultimately turns out to be the plan of the alien Starflyer in Peter Hamilton's Space Opera Pandora's Star/Judas Unchained.
- In the history of Larry Niven's Known Space universe, the Puppeteers lure an Outsider ship into human space so that the humans will gain an advantage during the First Man-Kzin war. And during one of the later Man-Kzin wars, the Puppeteers themselves show up to sell humanity invulnerable starship hulls. They do this so the humans will wreck the Kzinti population (and specifically to kill off the more violence-prone members of the species), thus reducing the Kzinti threat to the Puppeteers.
- In a Russian short story, after a devastating interstellar war, humanity and a race of human-sized insects wipe out each other (humans cause the bugs' star to go nova, while the bugs nuke Earth). The few remaining humans are helped by a race of benevolent aliens. When the aliens offer one of the humans (a clone, actually) a chance to fight a cloned bug, he readily agrees. During the fight, though, the bug (who has Genetic Memory) reveals that the supposed "benefactors" are, in fact, the masterminds behind the failed First Contact between humand and bugs. Apparently, whenever they encoutner a violent race that can potentially threaten them, they find another violent race and pit them against each other to mutual annihilation.
- Much of Simon R. Green's Guard Against Dishonor is set up so as to get that series' married-cop protagonists, Hawk and Fisher, to fight one another, as the bad guys implicate Fisher in police corruption while alleging Hawk has gone rogue and is killing innocent people. When they finally meet, it's subverted, because they both care about each other more than about their duty as cops, so wouldn't have attacked each other even if the allegations had been true.
- Let's not forget his Nightside series where this is a favorite tactic of the main character
- In Needful Things, Leland Gaunt tricks an entire town into fighting and killing each other by selling worthless junk magically disguised as treasures to people in exchange for having them perform pranks on their neighbors.
- The Green Hornet Crossover episode of Batman included a classic "ignorant good guys beat the crap out of each other" scene.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: "Puppet Show" (Sid the Dummy), "What's My Line?" (Kendra), among others. Also, Spike and Faith are both characters who have gone through Heel Face Turn character arcs. By "Dirty Girls," both of them are on the side of good. When they meet for the first time since they were both evil, they trade blows for a bit, because Faith thinks Spike is still evil, and Spike just gets pissed off enough to hit back.
- On Hustle a nonviolent version ensues for the first episode of series 5. Albert sets up Mickey and Ash and Emma and Sean to pull cons on each other at the same time.
- It seems a mandatory part of every recent Kamen Rider series (except maybe Kamen Rider Hibiki) that every single pair of Riders must fight each other at least once in the series. Made the entire point of Kamen Rider Ryuki, where There Can Be Only One.
- Similarly, almost every Super Sentai series from about 2000 and on must have its yearly teamup movie with the previous group of Rangers start with the two groups mistakenly battling it out before getting into the meat of the plot. Power Rangers, on the other hand, usually averts this trope by having Ranger teams get down to business pretty quickly. The only teamups that invoke it are Ninja Storm/Dino Thunder (the Dino Rangers need to smack some sense into the brainwashed Ninja Rangers) and RPM/Samurai (both Red Rangers are manipulated into getting pissed at each other).
- For much of Kamen Rider 555, Inui Takumi and Kiba Yuuji are friends in their civilian identities and each ignorant of the other's alter-ego - which is good, because each thinks the other (in his alter ego) is a Dragon for the evil corporation. Even the AU Kiba of the Non-Serial Movie is tricked into fighting Takumi by the bad guys.
- Decade is a good example. Most of the time, whenever he travels to other people's worlds, those people get word of Decade being a devil and would destroy them, so naturally, they fought back.
- Doctor Who: The regeneration story "Time and the Rani" had this happen between the Doctor and his sidekick -- she didn't realise he was the Doctor because she hadn't seen him since the regeneration, and the last time he'd seen "her" it had been the villain in disguise.
- In Sharpe at one point, Hakeswill orchestrates it so that Sharpe and Harper, on a mission to ransom a general's kidnapped wife, attack and almost kill a pair of Frenchmen... who are there for exactly the same reason, but for the French officer's wife. Fortunately, Sharpe realizes what's going on before anything irreversible happens.
- In Heroes, Maury Parkman uses his mind control powers to trick Nathan Petrelli and Matt Parkman into fighting each other, each thinking they are fighting an enemy.
- Happens all the time in Smallville when Clark meets another hero.
- Season 3 of Dexter starts with the death of a semi-innocent man due to this trope.
- In Babylon 5 a large part of Sheridan's strategy is to arrange this for the Shadows and Vorlons.
- Rare heroic example in season 5 of 24: Jack Bauer is inside a bank retrieving evidence that will implicate the President of the United States in the day's conspiracy from a safety deposit box when Christopher Henderson's men manage to find him and surround the bank, but due to the fact that all the windows and walls are bulletproof, Jack's safe as long as he remains in the building--but only then. He has the bank president set off the silent alarm to call the police to the bank, and since Henderson can't allow that evidence to reach CTU (which it undoubtedly would if Bauer was arrested), his men open fire on the policemen, allowing Jack to escape in the confusion. In a police car, no less.
- In the final season of Lost, Locke/the Smoke monster tries to manipulate Kate and Claire into killing each other over Aaron.
- One of the big reveals near the end of the series was that the Smoke Monster, being prevented from killing Jacob's candidates himself, was manipulating them into killing each other all along: Survivors, the Others, DHARMA folk and everyone else - and while some attempts failed, other have succeeded.
- Used by Patrick Jane of The Mentalist. Faced with a serial killer he could identify but who he could not prove, Jane went on a talkshow with the killer and goaded him into talking smack about the "deceased" Red John. As one would imagine, there was one less serial killer that evening.
- In the Star Fleet Universe (an Alternate History Star Trek universe), this is how the Tholians survive being bordered by the Federation, Romulans and Klingons (the last of which are flat out trying to destroy them... with some good reason).
- Standard Eldar operating procedure in Warhammer 40000. While they're usually more concerned with making entire species fight each other for their own benefit they are more than happy to manipulate individuals to the same end.
- Due to the extreme secrecy surrounding Inquisitors and the insidiousness of the forces of Chaos, most times an Inquisitor crosses paths with another during an investigation it ends in bloodshed. Due to the nature of the universe, however, one of them usually turns out to be correct about the other's corruption.
- Let's not forget Romeo and Juliet, in which Paris (Juliet's betrothed) goes to visit her grave at the same time that Romeo does-- they each think the other is trying to defile her tomb, attack each other, and Paris dies. Romeo doesn't realize his mistake until Paris (with his dying breath) begs to be brought to Juliet's side so that he may join her in death.
- Has happened a few times in Bionicle, usually when the heroes have never met before (or at least, one doesn't recognize the other due to a Mid-Season Upgrade). The most blatant one, which has no such justification, comes when the Toa Hagah show up and say "Sorry, but, uh, we kind of have to cause some Monumental Damage to complete our mission.", to which the Toa Mahri say "Aw Karzahni no!" and they fight. After it breaks up, they lampshade that they're idiots for not even trying to come up with a less destructive plan for the Hagah to follow.
- Castlevania: Curse of Darkness has this with the main character Hector, and the famous vampire slayer Trevor Belmont. Trevor believed that Hector was the Devil Forgemaster causing all of the trouble, and it's only until after the fight that Trevor learns better.
- Mega Man first met his brother, Protoman, under these circumstances in Mega Man 3. Also, Duo for Mega Man 8.
- Also, an impending fight between Mega Man X and Zero has been hinted upon ever since X2. (Though in a non-canon process just before the final battle in that case.) It was again touched upon in X4 before finally taking place in X5, and by extension, both X6. (And not Mega Man Zero 1 and 3, since that's a copy.)
- In Kingdom Hearts: 358 Days Over 2, Roxas is tasked to defeat a "giant heartless" in Halloween Town - said Heartless happens to be Xion, who attacks him because she is under the impression that he is her target. Their missions were rigged by the Organization so that one of them could assimilate the other.
- In the original Kingdom Hearts, Sora ends up in a fight with Leon shortly after he arrives in Traverse Town.
- In the sequel, the Organization tricks The Beast into going berserk and attacking the protagonists who spend the fight trying to calm him down. Throughout the series, Hades, being the Manipulative Bastard that he is, uses various means to get his enemies to kill each other, such as making a deal with Cloud and brainwashing Auron.
- Happens to everyone in Rival Schools. Characters from the respective high schools start disappearing and come back Brainwashed and Crazy, or at the very least Not Themselves. Nobody knows who's behind the chaos until the very end, after they've all beaten each other to a pulp.
- The SRX and ATX teams meet this way in Super Robot Wars Original Generation, due to the ATX team being used as a test for the new units that the SRX team got. The participants notice it's obviously a bit contrived and only some go through with their orders.
- In Super Robot Wars Z, an incident ends up in a battle between one half of your team and the other half. Which includes some of the most famous mecha in all of anime.
- In Super Robot Wars OG Saga: Endless Frontier, the player's party is tricked by Saya, Big Bad of Namco X Capcom, into attacking her pursuers, namely Reiji Arisu and Xiaomu, the main heroes of Namco X Capcom. What plays into Saya's favor is that Reiji and Xiamou wear red and black, a color scheme also worn the Orchestral Army, seen by the player's party as being up to no good. Upon the party's meeting of Reiji and Xiaomu, Two of the party members suspect they've been lied to, but goes ahead with the beatdown and decide to figure things out later.
- Arguably combined with Gambit Roulette) in Battalion Wars 2. Kaiser Vlad, leader of the Germany-equivalent Xylvania, orchestrates a preemptive invasion by the UK-based Anglo Isles on the Japan-esque Solar Empire, who promptly counterattack by invading the Anglo Isles with Russian-stand-in Tundran Territory support. All this to invade the Tundran Territories in an attempt to find a weapon placed there. It's implied that he may have done it once before, setting the America-counterpart Western Frontier against the Tundrans to set up mining operations in the Frontier.
- Also pretty much the plot of Advance Wars 1, as Sturm (and his pawn, Olaf) set up a massive war between the protagonists Orange Star and the other nations, using clones of Orange Star's CO Andy, with the idea of cleaning up the remains.
- In Super Smash Bros Brawl, Mario and Pit fight Link and Yoshi when one team finds the other standing over the trophy of either Zelda or Peach. Which team finds which depends on the player's actions. You'd think that Yoshi at least would know that Mario is not his enemy and vice versa.
- This actually happens quite often throughout the Subspace Emmisary, mostly involving Meta Knight (ie., Marth, Lucario, almost with Snake). There's almost one between Fox and Sheik, but it is broken up by Peach. With tea.
- The use of this strategy by a player, during a multiplayer match, is the bane of "Stop Having Fun!" Guys everywhere.
- In Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe's story mode, there wouldn't be a story without this. Only when ready to battle Dark Khan does everyone realize the obvious. And when he does appear, he infects absolutely everyone with the Kombat Rage to keep it going until Superman and Raiden are the only ones remaining.
- Mission 6-4 of of Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings. What makes this so annoying is that it's probably the hardest battle in the game.
- Devil May Cry 3 has this to an extent. Arkham was playing Lady, Vergil and Dante, and trying to get them to fight each other, and weaken each other so that he could come out on top, and open the gate to hell. Dante and Vergil do end up fighting each other in the end, though Lady and Dante end up sort of on the same side.
- The battle with Savyna in Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean. Once you win, you realize that it was a misunderstanding, and she joins the party.
- In Kirby's Adventure and the remake Nightmare in Dreamland, King Dedede brings this on himself, by neglecting to actually tell anyone that the reason he stole the Star Rod was to keep it from falling into the hands of an invading Nightmare. Oops.
- In Cave Story the protagonist is attacked by Curly Brace before he has time to explain to her that he's not after the Mimigas.
- Touhou Project introduces many of the characters this way. In the Fighting Game Immaterial and Missing Power, many of the heroes already know each other but still assume the other is a villain.
- As well as the follow-up fighter Scarlet Weather Rhapsody and its expansion, the versus-shooter Phantasmagoria of Flower View is also very guilty of this.
- In Imperishable Night, the 4th stage boss is either Reimu or Marisa, wo attack your party for causing the titular imperishable night. In truth, the team you pick did do this, but only because of the real incident: the corrupted moon, and are trying to buy time. Not that Reimu and Marisa are willing to listen to that reasoning, though. In fact, they are either oblivious to the moon problem, or immediately blame you for the moon problem, once you bring it up.
- Bioshock allows players to invoke this trope on enemies with a variety of plasmids, such as the Enrage plasmid, which makes enemies fight each other blindly, or the Hypnotize Big Daddy plasmid, which can be used to make two Big Daddies fight one another. It's one of the safest ways to kill the bastards.
- In Knuckles' very first appearance, in Sonic The Hedgehog 3, he fights Sonic because he thought that Sonic meant to steal the Chaos Emeralds.
- Truer to the trope, well after he has been established as a character, Robotnik tricks him into fighting Sonic again in Sonic Adventure and again in Sonic Advance 2
- Sonic Rush subverted this a bit, Sonic and Blaze fight each other over who would fight Eggman (or Nega), even though they both know near the end that both are good guys (in fact, Blaze knows that Sonic is a good guy from the near start.)
- Sonic 2006 has Silver, who arrived from the future and is told by Mephiles that Sonic is the Iblis Trigger (basically the cause of Silver's Bad Future). Mephiles is manipulating Silver to destroy Sonic - in order to make Elise cry, and ergo release Iblis and cause the bad future that Mephiles wants. Silver only wisens up when Shadow shows him the past, after spending most of the game pursuing Sonic.
- In Brutal Legend, this is the Tainted Coil's most effective strategy. Emperor Doviculus appears to be especially good at it.
- In World of Warcraft, in Nagrand, Lantresor of the Blade provides an unusual example of a good guy pulling off this scheme.
- Most of the game revolves around both the Alliance and Horde being at odds with each other but working towards the same end. A prime example is the Icecrown Gunship Battle, where both sides are using a gunship in order to get to the top and set up a base camp for the strike force...and end up trying to shoot each other down in the process.
- A City of Heroes arc has you tracking an evil double of yourself. At the same time, a good double is also tracking the evil double. You run into the good one first, and you both (unaware that there's three of you running around) assume the other's the evil one, so you fight one another, and sort things out afterward.
- In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha Battle of the Aces, the cast mainly fights "memories" of the other characters, showing what they were like in the past or would have been like if things had not turned out a well as they did. In Fate's story, the real Vita mistakes her for a Memory and begins attacking her. After the player wins the fight, Fate succeeds in convincing Vita that she's real.
- Alpha Protocol has you attempting to foil an assassination plot planned on a Taiwanese president. You're given information saying that one Omen Deng is the one planning the hit. Cue giant battle to take the plaza nearby the president's press conference. Ending with you and Omen (possibly) talking. Seems he received info that You were the assassin. just as you'd received the same. Cue Oh Crap!
- It's also possible for Mike to pit Conrad Marburg and Alan Parker against each other in the finale by either revealing to Marburg that Parker was responsible for him going rogue years ago or, if Madison Saint James, AKA Parker's daughter is killed, telling Parker that Marburg was the one who did the deed. Either way, it ends with Parker dead and Michael getting a chance to even the score with Marburg.
- Early trailers for Professor Layton VS Ace Attorney suggest that Phoenix Wright and Professor Layton end up taking each other on in court. Yes, really.
- Happens three times in the Legend of Spyro trilogy. The first two times, the present villain tries getting Cynder to fight Spyro, the first time, they pretend to fight for the crowd. The second time they try this again so Cynder can take out Gaul's staff but Gaul sees it coming and knocks her out when she tries. The last time it's for real when Malefor takes over Cynder's mind and makes her attack Spyro.
- From the looks of the Prototype 2 teaser trailer, this is going to be the plot of the game: a new character, Heller, is experimented on by Alex Mercer and uses his new powers to hunt down the rogue scientist. Presumably at some point in the story he'll discover that Mercer's been fighting on behalf of the citizens and it was Blacklight and their subordinates who really ruined Heller's life.
- Team Fortress 2: What to do when the RED Demoman and BLU Soldier are becoming best pals, before they realize that their opposing militias are secretly run by the same woman? Invoke this trope through new weapons and a bit of Berserk Button-pushing.
- In Jabless Adventure, neither of the first two bosses are bad guys. Lumber Jacques mistakes you for a walking tree (and after you defeat him, he gives you a powerup to apologize). Then Rutherford Goldbeard thinks you're a cattle rustler (and/or a brain squid victim) and attacks you to defend his property.
- Happens in the opening of Halo 3 where the Master Chief notices a cloaked elite and moves in to attack it until Johnson stops him saying that the Arbiter is with the humans. Why he was cloaked, we will never know.
- He was on reconnaissance.
- Antihero for Hire: Crossroad jumps Shadehawk because a doppleganger disguised as him ratted her Secret Identity out to her mob-boss father. Presently, Shadehawk is engaged in a running battle with the "Civic Champions" who think he's evil for a repeatedly unrevealed reason, which eventually turns out to be breaking into Tera Corp.
- Arthur, King of Time and Space here, partly for the pun and partly as part of a quick little Plan by Morgan.
- In Circus Knights, the school's protectors attack Domino because he's carrying an unconscious girl, and someone's been going around putting girls in comas. About twenty pages later, one of the protectors points out that the girl Domino is carrying "Has shown signs of Narcolepsy."
"You're kidding me... We could be attacking someone who tried to help Mrs. Blacksmith?... JOE! This isn't funny!!
- Girl Genius has done a variant on this... until just before the Big Impressive Fight started, she was the Big Bad.
- In Inverloch, Acheron is captured and put in an arena for fighting da'kor. Varden volunteers to fight him in order to fake Acheron's death and save him. In order to make the fight believable, Varden says something to anger Acheron, making him believe Varden has switched sides.
- Magellan has an impressive aversion: a team from the future (and thus, unknown in the present) was attacked three times by other heroes in quick succession. The latter two they quickly resolved with diplomacy, and the first was a very short fight.
- In Sluggy Freelance this happens between Berk and Torg during the K'Z'K storyline, since Berk thinks Torg is the one who summons the demon K'Z'K into the world and Torg just thinks Berk is a nut with a shotgun.
- This can be used in levels in the Sly Cooper series that contain patrols other than guards (Bears in Canada, Wolves in Holland, and Carmelita) to escape detection. When a guard spots you, you can alert said patrols and the two of them will typically fight it out while you run away.
- Invoked (the author is a troper...) in Star Harbor Nights when Perfection Jones and Ray Vallenzio first meet.
- Kids Next Door, "Dogfight" does this, by having The Kid fight Numbuh 2 (both of them like to eat chili dogs, which plays a role in the plot). Later turns out that the owner of the hobby shop they both frequent told The Kid that Numbuh 2 was trying to destroy chili dog stands. Guess who's really behind that plan (hint: he doesn't like chili dogs staining his counter). And, a la Buffy, we didn't find out until The Kid brought it up.
- An episode of the Disney animated Hercules had a crossover with Aladdin, with a Villain Team-Up of Jafar and Hades. After failing to destroy each other's nemeses, the villains engineered a fight between the two heroes. But only until Herc and Al realize they're being played and team up themselves.
- The Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends episode dealing with the origin of Iceman managed to work in a fight between the two heroes prior to their official team-up, until Spidey managed to talk some sense into him.
- An episode of Kappa Mikey does this, with Gonard and a lobster that had escaped from the kitchen.
- From the DCAU:
- In the Superman: The Animated Series and Batman: The Animated Series crossover, there is a scene where Superman meets Batman for the first time while he is in the process of crossing two lines: a) Don't threaten and/or beat up the mooks any more than is necessary and b) Don't do it on Superman's turf. Supes tries to get Batman to stand down. Batman throws Superman across the room. A second later, Superman has him pinned to the wall, commenting that he had heard he was crazy, but "I didn't think you were stupid." Then Batman gets out the Kryptonite...
Batman (holding out a minuscule sliver of Kryptonite as Superman buckles): It doesn't take much, does it?
- The Zeta Project episode "Shadows" sets things up so that, in a spot of havoc by the rogue infiltration unit IU 7, Batman becomes convinced that Zeta has returned to his old ways. Their encounter doesn't have the same visceral satisfaction of many other examples, as Zeta is barely even defending himself.
- Static is giving Batman a hand with a villain's time machine in the Batcave when he's flung 40 years into the future. The new Batman, not recognizing him and reasonably considering him an intruder, tussles with him until the elderly Bruce Wayne breaks it up. He's been expecting this day, and he needs them both for a mission ...
- In the Justice League episode "The Terror Beyond", Superman, Wonder Woman, and Hawkgirl stumble upon Dr. Fate, Inara, and Aquaman apparently torturing Solomon Grundy. Supes demands that they stop; Dr Fate decides that there isn't enough time to explain what's going on. He makes a shield to block the heroes out, and when that fails, he magically teleports everyone away... and when that fails, Hawkgirl kicks his butt.
- Technically, this trope also occurs in the episode "Paradise Lost". In it, both Wonder Woman and Superman have hallucinations in which they see each other as a monster and then precede to attack each other. Superman discovers the ruse when he sees Wonder Woman's reflection in water. He tries to tell her, but she still sees him as a monster and continues to attack. One would think that she would start to wonder why it wasn't fighting back but she was so enraged that the thought never occurred to her. She finally snaps out of it when the monster answers her inquiry ("Where is Superman?!") by pointing to a mirror, revealing him to be the monster she was holding in a choke hold.
- In Transformers Animated, the Autobots met Jetfire and Jetstorm this way.
- The Transformers G1 cartoon has a few examples .
- Season 3 twice contrives a way to have Optimus Prime and Rodimus Prime fight (once when Optimus has been brainwashed by the Quintessons, once when Rodimus has been infected with the Hate Plague).
- Before that "War of the Dinobots" saw Megatron manipulate the three original Dinobots into attacking Optimus Prime. Then the two new Dinobots turn up and...clue's in the title.
- In “The Traitor” Mirage attempts this. He steals some energon from the Insecticons and leaves behind planted evidence framing the Decepticons for it hoping they’d get into a fight. Unfortunately for him they catch on.
- This was entirely the Quintesson’s plot in “Five faces of darkness”. They manipulate things to restart the Autobot/Decepticon war in hopes that, when the dust settled they would ultimately come out the winners.
- And in “The Journal” it’s revealed the Quintessons made a business out of this. They incited two planets hostile toward each other into all-out war just so they could profit selling weapons to both sides. Bastards!
- In "Triple takeover" Astrotrain and Blitzwing lead Megatron into a trap intent on taking over the Decepticons. (They conspired with Starscream but they double crossed him) When Megs breaks out of the trap he goes to deliver some payback on the usurpers. Upon seeing this Optimus Prime tells the Autobots to hold back and lets the Decepticons fight it out among themselves
- In the Beast Wars episode "Dark design" Megatron captured Rhinox and brainwashes him into a Predacon. But rather than rush in gun blazing Optimus Primal decides to hold back for a while and allows Pred-Rhinox to wreak a little havoc before making a rescue attempt.
- In one episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Usagi is forced to attack the titular turtles by a bad guy who tells him his sensei will be killed if he does not.
- In episode 22 of the third season of Winx Club Riven mistakenly believes that Nabu (at the time using the fake name Ophir) is trying to steal Musa from him due to a Not What It Looks Like situation, and when he arrives at the Red tower where the others are, everyone but Nabu has been knocked unconscious after a fight with the guardians of the Red tower, and Riven assumes that Nabu was responsible for that as well. Before Nabu gets a chance to explain what is going on, Riven attacks him and Nabu has to fight back. Luckily, the others regain consciousness, stop the fight and clear up the misunderstanding.
- Aku from Samurai Jack has all the reasons in the world to call himself the master of deception.
- Spider-Man: The Animated Series did it with Daredevil, who thought Spider-Man was the one who framed Peter Parker, given his particularly poor reputation at the time.
- In the Futurama episode "The Farnsworth Parabox", when the Planet Express crew meet themselves from a Parallel Universe, both groups assume the other is evil, as mirror universe doppelgangers are always evil. Of course, neither are evil (not that either are good, either).
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender, between the Gaang and Zuko the first time they meet after his Heel Face Turn during the third season. Understandable given their history, which included a Heel Face Turn he didn't quite complete at the end of the second season, something that Katara angrily reminds him off before and after he makes this one stick.
- Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes episode "Panther's Quest".
- In the 90s Fantastic Four series, Panther did it without a misunderstanding. It looked very much like he woke up one morning thinking hunting them would be fun. If completely unfamiliar with the character, you'd have thought he was a villain in the vein of Kraven the Hunter, but it turns out that he's, well, Black Panther, and he's testing the Four's strength to see if they were Badass enough to help him out.