Not-So-Harmless Villain

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
(Redirected from Not So Harmless)

Buffy: Harmony has minions?!
Xander: And Ruffles have ridges. Buffy, there's actually a more serious side to this.
Buffy: God, I hope so.

Okay, so you have a villain, and, for whatever reason, you do not take them seriously. You might not even think about them at all. They might have a lame gimmick, or a weird name, or maybe they just do not stand out among the Mooks. They are not exactly on your radar. Even if you do remember them, you think they are either a nobody or a total joke.

Then along comes a life changing event (and an editorial decision) when they will just not stand for it anymore. Some of them just... snap. Others put themselves through Training from Hell. Either way the villain reinvents themselves from the bottom up, into someone who is not only able to show the heroes exactly why they are called their enemy, but often even become the Big Bad or the Man Behind the Man. This is when a villain decides to become their own Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

Should they fail to do so, they will become a Big Bad Wannabe.

Often the result of a Darker and Edgier reinvention of a franchise.

Compare From Nobody to Nightmare and Beware the Silly Ones. Breakout Villains are prone to becoming Not So Harmless. Contrast Villain Decay and Boisterous Weakling. When applied to minor heroes instead of minor villains, it's Let's Get Dangerous. See also Team Rocket Wins.

Possible inherent spoilers ahoy.

Examples of Not-So-Harmless Villain include:

Anime and Manga

  • Pokémon: Best Wishes:
    • Remember Team Rocket? The bumbling buffoons who stalked a ten-year-old for 13 years? They are taking about a thousand levels in badass. This is most noticeable by the fact that they now started to follow orders from Giovanni, they now try not to go after random Pokémon, and especially they now don't even blast off anymore (they instead escape using jetpacks).
    • Even prior to this, Team Rocket would balance their bumbling roles with an occasional genuinely competant plan that is foiled only due to Ash's sheer determination. Not to mention they are extremely competent as good guys.
  • Wolfen Crest: High school gonks Kurota and his twin brother are chronic bedwetters who happen to look like if John Lennon in his younger years made sweet love to a buck-toothed weasel. They are also members of one of the most powerful and brutal gangs in the city, and they didn't earn it through any connections. Both brothers were born without pubic hair and an inability to masturbate due to phimosis, making them possible targets of ridicule and teasing among the school once their secrets were exposed. However, they confronted the bullying as soon as it started by targeting the boy who acted like the boss of the class and the girl who jeered them most by severing their genitals and slicing off their noses. Since then no one dared speak or make fun of the brothers' condition ever again.
  • Code Geass:
    • Prince Schneizel. There's hints to him being like this early on.
    • Nina Einstein has this trope covered pretty well in her own right. Who would've thought that her handiwork killed more people in about ten seconds than any of the other characters killed? All series? Put together? Times a hundred? At least? Way to earn that last name. "Oops" doesn't even begin to cover it.
  • Gouyaan in Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash Star is clearly Kefka's star pupil. He's a fat guy with a pinecone on his head whose main purpose is to be annoyed by the Quirky Miniboss Squad in front of the Big Bad. Then he destroys the world.
  • Ogura Bunta of Samurai Champloo, who played the lackey to Harmless Villain and Dirty Coward Nagamitsu to facilitate his search for vengeance against Jin.
  • Lithuania in Axis Powers Hetalia is a small country in Europe with a Kick the Dog history that resulted in him being seen as the number one woobie on the show. Then the strip/episodes concerning the Battle of Tannenberg shows that he can Take a Level In Badass and make even Prussia swallow his ego.
  • Digimon Adventure:
    • Etemon is a crowning example of this trope.
      • He is an Elvis-impersonating monkey with, if you look closely, a teddy bear worn on his belt. (The teddy bear's actually a doll of a teddy bear Mon that also proved Not So Harmless.) You figure he's got no game... until he summons up his Dark Network that lets him control everything electronic in the area, which instantly disables our heroes' digital-Evolutionary Levels-based powers and destroys the entire village. Later episodes depict him having an army of very large and destructive Mons, and he himself being strong enough to throw around opponents many times his size while shrugging off their best attacks.
      • Then by the end of the series, he came back more powerful than ever as MetalEtemon. Unfortunately for him, by that point the kids had become powerful enough that it took only two of them (with some help from Leomon's Mega form) to bring him down again, even though Leomon did die from his injuries in the fight.
    • Also happened with Tailmon, who looks like a harmless cat. When the children first met her Jyou tried to shoo her away... only to have her beat the crap out of all their Digimon.
    • Impmon was a pest to the Tamers instead of a villain, throwing fire balls and scaring their Digimon away. No one saw him as anything more than a nuisance. Then he became Beelzebumon and stabbed an ally to death. Eventually, he did a Heel Face Turn and became even more competent.
  • Commander Blue of Dragon Ball. Goku thought he would be a weakling (because, well, have you heard that guy's voice?), but this perception was quickly turned on its head when Blue turned out to be about as powerful as he is, with the additional ability to paralyze people just by looking at them. However he stood little chance against Tao.
    • Majin Buu. When he first shows up, he acts like an innocent toddler, and everybody's default reaction is "WTF?" (save Supreme Kai, who knows all too well what Buu is capable of). Then he starts effortlessly pwning the strongest characters in the series, devouring thousands of people at a time by turning them into candy, and shrugging off mortal wounds as though they are nothing. Then his evil side is unleashed...
  • Fuku-chan in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, also a Man Behind the Man. To add insult to injury, he's the Small Annoying Creature.
  • Slayers:
    • Hellmaster Fibrizo. The first impression of him is just that of a Cute Shotaro Boy, and a little girl in the manga. This impression fades quickly upon the revelation that he is one of the most powerful Mazoku Lords, a fact he proves by effortlessly killing the previous Big Bad Chaos Dragon Gaav, another Mazoku Lord. He plays merry hell with the protagonists as the rest of the season's Big Bad, and they are nearly helpless against him. It takes a literal Deus Ex Machina to take him down for good.
    • In the first Slayers, a Mazoku named Tiiba almost kills the group when they try to discover Rezo's legacy, the tablet needed to awaken the Demon Beast Zanaffar. When they first encounter him, he's a pudgy, comical, dwarf-sized humanoid rooster in a dapper little waistcoat. The group describe him as: "A chicken" (Lina and Zelgadis), "A chicken from every angle" (Amelia) and "Quite possibly the chickenest looking chicken I've ever seen" (Gourry). Even Sylphiel couldn't bring herself to describe him as anything other than a chicken.
    • And in the second season, there's an unnamed Mazoku that basically looks like a giant tribal mask with arms and legs. The only thing Lina can think of is how stupid he looks, and he seems to get quickly dispatched almost immediately after appearing. He comes back later, though, and proves to be a surprisingly tough nut to crack, mostly due to the fact that he can summon several smaller masks that do an excellent job of protecting him from Lina's magic (doesn't help when Lina decides to Dragon Slave the entire building, though).
    • Joyrock, the Big Bad of The Movie, is first introduced as a rather ugly and goofy frog. However, he might not count, seeing as he quickly drops the disguise for his real form (a snake-headed troll, basically) and showcases just how sadistic and malicious he is with such stunts as sucking the life out of an entire village in case Lina might pass that way, turning their corpses into zombies and setting them on Lina and Naga when they did, and then disintegrating the zombies with three words simply because he was bored with them.
  • The latest arc in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki introduces Gouyokuou. In the episode he is introduced, he seems to be a hilariously Fish Out of Water alien looking for the woman he loves and so weak that Kyoka is able to punch him into the air with ease. Then it's revealed that he is so powerful, if even one of his Power Limiter rods is removed, he can level a city with no effort. If all of them are removed, it's Earthshattering Kaboom time. The end of the second episode of his arc hints at a darker side of his personality; a Stalker with a Crush willing to use his world destroying powers to get the woman he wants...
  • Kyuutarou Ooba from Kemonozume spends most of the show as a harmless if somewhat eccentric bureaucrat before revealing himself as the show's primary antagonist, a criminal mastermind and a hyper-wealthy, nihilistic psychopath who masturbates with a girl's dismembered arms and markets a medicine that makes people eat each other. He's also revealed to have grafted monster arms onto himself that give his round little body incredible strength, and intentionally mutates himself to the point where he's just a constantly shifting mountain of flesh by the series's final episode - one that delivers monologues on the futility of existence, natch.
  • Naruto:
    • When Naruto and friends first come across Kabuto Yakushi, he comes off as an amiable and somewhat less-than-competent fellow (flunking the Chuunin Exams seven times, no less!). Before long, both his affiliations and his abilities prove far more sinister than his appearance would suggest.
    • Tobi. While he is an Akatsuki member, he seems like comic relief until he turns out to be Madara Uchiha and had presumably been doing the "good boy" act to deceive his fellow members into not realizing that he was the real leader, who is both immortal, Made of Air, and can go literally anywhere. This persona and perception of him carries over to when Team 7 and Team 8 fight him.
    • Killer Bee. "Hey, this rap-loving dude can't be that dangero-- holy shit did he cut Sasuke open?!" Furthermore he managed to make the kid look like a complete idiot. In front of the whole Akatsuki as well.
    • Everyone and their grandmother weren't expecting much (at least physically) out of one-armed, one-eyed Danzo in Naruto, until he revealed his Sharingan and then—did he just use that guy's head as a sword-holster!? And he does it in order to have a free hand to immediately use said guy to stop numerous incoming blades thrown at him, without a single change of facial expression.
  • One Piece:
    • Foxy the Silver Fox. Foxy's a flashy, fame-hogging, pigheaded fool. He's pudgy, strange looking, and needs his crew to constantly buff his ego or he'll sink into depression. Oh, and he's also got a really powerful Devil Fruit ability that allows him to get the drop on anyone and pound them into oblivion before they know what's hit them. To be more specific about Foxy, his devil-fruit power puts everything on a delay, after the delay is over however everything that would have happened before the delay hits all at once he used this to beat the living daylights out of Luffy by first hitting him with the power then while Luffy was motionless start comboing him quickly then he took a few steps back the delay wore off and the power caused all those punches to smack Luffy all at once.
    • Buggy and Mr. 3 found out this the hard way that Impel Down's Vice-Warden Hannyabal is Not So Harmless despite not having a Devil Fruit or the reputation of his fearsome boss, Warden Magellan. The funny thing is he was going to allow them to get past him so his boss will get in trouble, but they had to go ahead with their suicidal idiotic somewhat predictable otherwise ingenious plan of taking him out, only to face an asskicking for it.
    • From the Baratie arc, we also get Gin. When first introduced, the combination of nearly dying of starvation and his still being shell-shocked from his encounter with Hawkeye Mihawk left him seeming rather pathetic. Near the end, we get The Reveal that Gin is actually Don Kreig's right hand guy, and he promptly takes down the heavily armored Pearl with one shot and then hands Sanji his ass.
    • The workers of Water 7, including a bartender named Blueno, a stern and hot-tempered secretary named Kalifa, a happy-go lucky shipwright (as well as a possible new crew mate), and finally the aloof Rob Lucci. Too bad all of them were actually undercover agents for a powerful assassination force for the government, proceeded to beat the crap of the Straw Hats and are total Blood Knight fighters.
    • The biggest one is Blackbeard, a plump man with missing teeth and a optimistic personality, but is considered to be a candidate for the series Big Bad, after killing the strongest displayed pirate so far, defeating Luffy's "brother" Ace easily, and using the government to get a strong enough crew and power in order to become the next Pirate King.
  • Due to the semi-serious nature of its first half, followed by the seriousness of the second half, Gundam ZZ does this to a few people. In the case of Chara, it was mainly her playing the Fan Service card with that whip. With Mashimar Cero though, the somewhat-bumbling but honorable and idealistic Neo Zeon officer returns as a brutal and cruel officer that oversees a Colony Drop.
  • Bleach:
    • Starrk, who despite seeming very lazy, is the most powerful of the Espada.. This also applies to his fraccion, Lilynette.
    • Yammy, rampaging idiot and 10th Espada Zig Zags like all hell with this trope. At first it seems he's incredibly weak, then he reveals that he's actually the 0th Espada and technically above Starrk. And he still gets his ass kicked. Then he reveals that he's just not at full power and goes to full power mode. And he still gets his ass kicked. Just to drive the fact of Yammy's weakness home, Kenpachi called their fight "boring", a criterion he applies to any fight where his life isn't in danger at any point.
    • Hey everybody, look, it's Wonderweiss! Aw, look how cute he is, getting distracted by a dragonfly in the middle of a battle! Sure, he apparently has spiritual power on par with the Espadas, but he's so childish and cute that I bet he's totally harm-- HOLY CRAP!.
    • Dordonii is initially shown as a somewhat eccentric and comedic villain until he reveals to Ichigo that he used to be an Espada and proceeds to beat the shit out of him.
    • More recently, we've been introduced to Shishigawara, Tsukishima's hopelessly naive, blundering, and hot-blooded minion. His Fullbring also lets him manipulate probability into devastating results. ...Yeah, this generally makes the Big Bad a tad nervous and wants him dead for it.
    • Riruka Dokugamine has power over "cute things". Rukia dismisses her, saying that since Riruka is a human that she won't kill her... Riruka responds by turning Rukia into a plushie.
      • That's not even the half of it. It works in reverse. Once this power is activated, there is no trace of her ability. Things would have gotten very, very ugly, had she not decided Ichigo and co. weren't so bad afterall.
  • Florsheim in Tentai Senshi Sunred is presented as being an organization of nice guys, average joes and all around friendly people despite the fact that they're monsters. They constantly lose to Sunred and are seen as nothing more than a joke. When a new villain group steps in, Sunred directs them to fight Florsheim first and they get beaten immediately. There's a reason Florsheim's held their territory for so long.
  • Miyo Takano from Higurashi no Naku Koro ni. Sure, she was awfully suspicious in the first season, and even in the second season but...Wow. However, that person has an excuse.
  • In Yu Yu Hakusho, Shorin appears somewhat unimpressive to his opponents and having power levels only barely above what he needs to pass (although the opponent he defeated in the first round was even weaker). He turns out to be the demon Rando, who killed 99 martial arts masters after stealing their techniques, and Yusuke only realizes this by process of elimination - he keeps up the facade until he manages to shrink and defeat Kuwabara using a technique he stole.
    • Zig-zagged with Onji in the Dark Tournament. He sports some moves in Team Uratogi's quarterfinal match, but next to his teammates, he looks like a normal, friendly old man. Then he effortlessly beats Kuwabara (though to be fair, the latter's own stupidity plays a part in it), and reveals himself to be the one who gave his members their powerful Items of Darkness. Then he reveals himself as "The Beautiful Demon Fighter Suzuki"...and gets thrashed by Genkai.
  • Death Note:
    • Although he's frightening to look at, it is easy to underestimate Ryuk. Villain Protagonist Light seems a lot worse, and with his addiction to apples and other humorous qualities, Ryuk tends to come across as Plucky Comic Relief and Light's "pet". Then comes the ending of the series where Ryuk fulfills his early promise that he will one day write Light's name in his notebook, and casually kills Light, who has just had a pathetic Villainous Breakdown. Truly, Light, like the audience, forgot that he was dealing with a death god.
    • Not to mention part of the Fridge Horror left in the ending is that Ryuk is the ultimate Karma Houdini; there's nothing stopping him from dropping a Death Note into the human world again if he ever gets bored.
  • Toshiya from The World Is Mine starts out as Mon's weak-willed bitch, even wearing a female disguise and pretending to be Mon's girlfriend in public. Things begin to change after they're killed by "Hakumadon" and Mon can't stand to kill. In addition to becoming the primary murderer of the two, he's also considerably more tech- and social-savvy than Wild Child Mon and he becomes increasingly vicious and manipulative as the story goes on.
  • Kurotowa in the Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind manga pulls the switch from "harmless" to "one to watch out for" in record time, going from appearing to be arrogant, toadying buffoon to effortlessly deflecting an assassination attempt in the space of his first appearance. And then, in his second appearance, he took control of a corvette and piloted it like an expert, even using the smoke from downed craft to cover his approach. It's even more jarring if you watched the anime first, as there all he manages is one of the most half-assed, pathetic Big Bad Wannabe attempts ever.
  • In Kero Kero Chime, White-Haired Pretty Boy Oroboros initially appears to be a pathetic gag villain who, at best, is destined for a hilarious failure of a Big Bad Wannabe. Then he turns out to be the real Big Bad, banishes everyone to another world, and only narrowly fails to pull off his evil scheme.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Kurt Godel manages to pull this off in the space of a single chapter. He's introduced as Manipulative Bastard and Consummate Liar with a lot of political power, but he has to be accompanied by a massive number of bodyguards because he's so frail. Then he kicks Negi's ass with one attack, even though Negi is made of lightning. Turns out that he's a master swordsman, and travelled with Ala Rubra in his youth. Oops.
  • In Bakugan we have Rabeeder. She's a Hybrid Bakugan and servant of Naga. Compared to the other gate keepers, she and her sister are quite ditzy and silly and seems like a pushover when the heroes first meet her, challenging the heroes to... a race? In fact she's pretty much harmless and even hits on the main character. Total joke, right? Nope. When Rabeeder arrives on earth, Alice, while inexperienced at fighting on her own, volunteers to go after her under the impression that she is weak and with a little help seems to be doing fine. But then Rabeeder overhears that her sister had been defeated. Believing her sister to be KIA, she goes on a total rampage where she flings around the up-until-that-point's main and secondary antagonists' Bakugan like rag dolls and is totally unstoppable. She is only stopped by a lucky break when she discovers her sister isn't dead. The two reunite and Rabeeder calms down. But if she hadn't...
  • Sonic X:
    • Eggman alternates between being highly competent and totally not competent at all, so much so that it comes as quite a surprise for some when he talked Dark Sonic out of a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, while his even more harmless robot buddies held off a Metarex leader.
    • In earlier episodes at least, Eggman was actually genuinely formidable against most human forces and even the majority of the main protagonists. It is only against Sonic that he falls in a flash (and even then he did give him a run for his money a few odd times). He also seems to become incredibly more competent whenever he forced to team up with Sonic.
  • Crump, The Dark Chick of Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Big 5 is a joke in his first appearance. His obsession with penguins makes him rather ludicrous, and he ultimately loses a match against Tea, one of the hero's cheerleaders. He returns a few episodes later, and alongside the rest of the Big 5, engages Yugi and Joey in a team duel—where he performs exceptionally well, using his Deck Master ability to power up Ganzley's WATER monsters, and maintaining control of the duel for the Big 5. It's not until the Big 5 move away from playing WATER creatures that he's forced to yield to Johnson, and in terms of overall performance he's just behind Lector.
  • Tetsuo in Akira especially in flashback scenes from Kaneda's memories. He seems incompetent as a member of a biker gang who barely pulls his own weight and has to be saved by his best friend on several occasions. Then he gets super powers.
  • Happens repeatedly in Black Butler:
    • First, we discover all of Ciel's goofy, incompetent staff weren't hired for their talents as servants (Sebastian's contract requires he be able to take care of everything himself anyway) but for their talents in defending the manor; the clumsy maid Mei-rin is a devastatingly skilled sniper, the groundskeeper Finny has superhuman strength, and the cook Baldo is an ex-soldier. Much later on, it also turns out that Ciel's fiancee Elizabeth, one of the only normal people he knows and the only child in the series that acts like one, is in fact an extremely Badass swordswoman who has been acting like harmless little girl because she was afraid Ciel wouldn't like her otherwise.
    • The Undertaker also fits this trope in its usual villainous angle in the manga; after seeming to be a quirky information broker for so long, he turns out to be a renegade Shinigami who kicked off a small-scale Zombie Apocalypse For the Evulz, and goes on to effortlessly wipe the floor with Grelle, Ronald, and Sebastian at the same time.
  • When Dietrich von Lohengrin of Trinity Blood first appears, he's a guy trying to take down the vampires who's helping Esther in her plans while supposedly ruining the main vampire's big plans as a double agent. And then he dies. Until it turns out he survived and had played both sides against each other to try and spark war between humans and vampires. He's the Puppet Master for a terrorist organization that wants to rebirth the world with death and is also a massive sadist with the ability to control people's bodies and even body jump into them. He can even fight, able to defeat Radu's fire powers without even trying and going toe to toe with Abel towards the end of the anime. You think that's something? He's even worse in the original novels. His sadism is taken to disturbing extremes, including being a royal who slaughtered his family so he could have the freedom to torment his people as he saw fit. When he manages to bring Esther under his power during his first appearance, he mentions he can make her feel any sensation, including the experience of being raped by dozens of men or cut apart by hundreds of swords before making her shoot Abel. Oh, and in both versions he steals Radu's body and puts Esther and Ion into a kill or be killed situation by trapping them in a cell and causing Ion to go mad for blood with Esther being the only food source...and then throwing her a knife to allow herself to either kill Ion, kill herself or let Ion kill her. There's evil and then there's Dietrich von Lohengrin.

Comic Books

  • Jigsaw in The Punisher comics, though it took him several tries to actually reach serious villain status—indeed, what finally pushed him over the top was the ability to survive meeting the Punisher that many times. It's been explained that Frank considers Jigsaw a bane on the Underworld more than innocents. He gets to kill people by proxy letting the lunatic go.
  • The Flash:
    • The Top seems like a silly dude with a spinning top gimmick and a stupid suit, until he gets his mind back and turns into a genuinely terrifying villain. The fact that he was given actual superpowers and thus posed a more realistic threat to the Flash may have helped.
    • Of course, even before that he engineered his own resurrection and then came within an ace of becoming President of the United States. The Top has always been smarter than you'd think.
    • The Rogues in general are this; more than once they have been underestimated by both heroes and supervillains alike. But in Rogues Revenge you can clearly see that just because Even Evil Has Standards does not mean that they are not a serious threat. Captain Cold has no problem ordering the death of his own father, and not ten minutes before killed some young Gotham punk who tried to take on his name. Heat Wave is a full-blown pyromaniac. Weather Wizard exploded a man from the inside using a tornado. Trickster once out-tricked the devil himself.
  • The Batman graphic novels:
    • The Long Halloween and Batman: Dark Victory both do this for Calendar Man. Once a campy gag villain who committed relatively harmless crimes while dressing up in costumes based on specific days, his internment at Arkham changed him into a creepy, white-clad inmate who'd mastered the Hannibal Lecture, already knew the answers to the mystery Batman's trying to solve, and later manipulated a rehabilitated character back into madness. Unfortunately, the change didn't stick.
    • Later, in the Hush story arc, The Riddler, bitter that he's fallen so far in Gotham's criminal hierarchy, decides to team up with the new psycho on the block and puts Batman through the wringer. He figures out Batman's secret identity. The only thing that stops him from completely destroying Batman is that he has the answer to the ultimate riddle, and it's no good if everyone knows the answer. Thankfully for Batman, he eventually got hit in the skull with a mace and received a case of Easy Amnesia.

Riddler: I used to be a somebody in this town. Now, everybody has a gimmick. I was going to show them all. And I did.

Viper: This is too easy, Commander. Something has to go wrong.
Cobra Commander: I won't stand for negativity in the ranks. (shoots Viper) You wait and see. Well, it's too late for you, but the rest of you, you just wait and see.

  • Black Hand was once a pathetic joke with a weapon that was dependent on stealing energy from Green Lantern's ring and a gimmick of committing crimes based on famous folk sayings. Then he found out he's destined to be the Antichrist leader of an army of zombie supervillains.
  • Though he wasn't completely harmless before, Doctor Destiny was always a traditional silver age villain, using dream powers to mess with gravity and create chaos while not really killing anyone. Cut to The 24 Hours story in The Sandman #6.
  • Batman:
    • His archenemy The Joker has gone through this quite a bit:
      • He first went from lame to dangerous in issue #251: After twenty years of campy, oversized set pieces and pies in the face and bloodless bank robberies, He went after some of his old henchmen who ratted him out. Audiences are expecting sneezing powder or filling their house with balloons, as Joker hands the first henchman a cigar, he thinks of how "classic Joker" it is. The old exploding cigar. Except the explosive in this one is nitroglycerin, and when the henchman lights it, waiting for a little "pop", it blows up his head and most of the room. Joker's back.
      • This scene was echoed exactly two hundred issues later, in Batman #451. Here, Joker (whose reputation has been soundly bolstered by the likes of The Killing Joke and A Death in the Family) goes hunting for the henchmen of a copycat Joker that has been terrorizing Gotham in his absence. He interrogates a small-time hood about the henchmen, and awards the guy with a cigar when he receives useful information. While the hood practically shits himself, thinking he's about to be blown to bits, Joker calmly walks away, musing to himself that it had been a perfectly ordinary cigar. "Never give 'em what they expect."
      • This change in personality is usually explained by saying that Joker has Multiple Personality Disorder (maybe) and that every few years he can go from harmless to mildly evil to Complete Monster on a whim (though the real reason is because The Comic Code was imposed on The Joker for twenty years).
      • The de-fanging of Batman's villains began some years before, mostly due to a general shift in tone brought on by Dick Sprang's cartoonier style and the typically crazy plot twists of the late Golden Age. As Mark Waid notes in the afterward to The Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told, by the mid-40s the Joker was far less likely to kill. As a trade-off, the stories tended to be much more clever and colorful.
    • The Joker's Asylum II: Harley Quinn oneshot. Rival mobsters, cops and so on know that Harley is a fairly harmless character, whose Weapon of Choice is a big comedy mallet. But they're standing between her and Mr J on Valentine's Day, which means she's not kidding around anymore.
    • In the comics, Scarecrow gets his Not So Harmless upgrade in the "Absolute Terror" arc, where he terrorizes the whole of Gotham to the point it almost destroys itself in fear without using any fear gas. He simply uses psychology, and a few well-placed murders, to show the city that, if he wanted to, he could kill any one of them, no matter where they are.
      • Scarecrow's image problem was remedied in The New Batman Adventures, apparently as a cross between Herbert West, Judge Doom, and a corpse cut down from the gallows. Yeesh. He ended up literally making Batgirl live her worst nightmare after that, though at that point he'd been recognized as a pretty significant threat.
    • The Penguin, as well. In his first venture as the Penguin, he attempts to muscle his way into a mobster's inner circle. When the boss starts laughing at him (because, seriously, he's a goofy looking guy and goes by "the Penguin") the Penguin kills him in cold blood and takes control of the group.
  • Invincible villains have a tendency to do this, most notably Doc Seismic and the Lizard League.
  • Spawn:
    • The Violator looks like a harmless, morbidly obese, clown with hygiene problems, but he is super strong and capable of ripping a man in half with his bare hands. His true form is absolutely frightening.
    • This especially comes up in the Animated Adaptation, when Spawn dismisses and threatens the seemingly harmless Clown one time too many. Clown smirks and says "you don't know who you're dealing with... but it's time you found out," and proceeds to change into his true, One-Winged Angel form to give Spawn the Curb Stomp Battle of his life, all while lecturing him on his role in the coming apocalypse.
  • Some of the Hulk's foes qualify:
    • The Abomination has often been regarded as an evil knockoff of the Hulk and little more, a Dumb Muscle bad guy who's not dumb enough to be as entertaining as his heroic foe. Still, this guy's "crowning moment of evil" was poisoning Betty Ross with his own radioactive blood; at first, everyone thought it killed her, but she should be so lucky, it turned her into Red She-Hulk. Seriously, think about it, Norman Osborn may be a monster, but has he ever even considered force-feeding Mary Jane the Goblin Formula? What Abomination did is pretty evil when one considers the implications.
    • The Intelligencia from Fall of the Hulks. The team is made of MODOK, Leader, Wizard, Red Ghost, and Mad Thinker. Together they have become a pretty deadly force. How deadly, you ask? They managed to out gambit Doctor freakin' Doom.
  • One of the upsides of the Brand New Day era of Spider-Man, to many fans, has been the recasting of C- and D-list loser villains into competent and credible threats. The Spot comes back as a vengeful psychopath who slowly drives his prey insane by stalking him, while the White Rabbit is an Ax Crazy drug dealer who's willing to commit mass murder to collect the money she's owed. This also applies to classic Lee-Ditko-Romita villains like Electro, the Shocker, and the Rhino, who have all been rehabilitated from the Villain Decay they've suffered over the last several years.
  • One example of a villain becoming not-so-harmless against his will involved another Spider-Man villain, the Spot. While the ability to create portals might be a useful power to someone with creativity, Spot did not have any, and his dumb-looking costume made him something of a joke. But in one Daredevil story, he was captured by a group of human traffickers who did have creativity. They hooked him up to a device that looked like something out of Saw so they could not only use, but enhance his powers, then used it for their trafficking operations. They also used it to smuggle money and drugs inside the wombs of pregnant women. Naturally, the Spot wanted no part of such ghoulish activities, but then it got worse. When he was finally freed of the device, his powers started to malfunction and he somehow started to teleport himself inside himself several times, ending up as a hideous monstrosity that looked like something out of Silent Hill. Poor guy.
  • There once was a low-level biomage named Fleshmaster in Empowered. After being humiliated by his peers, he finally dared to use his powers on himself, and returned as the new superhero dWARf!. But since he was still being pissed off, he cooked up a really Big Bad-worthy scheme. Which was about killing all his peers at the same place where they once had humiliated them, the Capeys Awards.
  • Catman has received this treatment in spades, courtesy of Gail Simone in Secret Six. Essentially, he went from a fat slob with a cat gimmick to a sociopathic, lion-pride-leading, muscly badass somewhere in the Sahara with his insignia carved into his chest (by his own hand!) and a pair of razor claws.
  • Doctor Light was an incompetent villain for a long time. In Identity Crisis it was revealed that the League wiped his mind and deliberately turned him into a joke after he raped Elongated Man's wife. He recovered, and takes on the Titans. All of them.
  • Yellow Bastard of Sin City fame had this moment in his eponymous story. He was believed to have been comatose and missing a hand (among other body parts) and was no longer a threat. He comes back as a yellow, disfigured freak bent on revenge.

Yellow Bastard: Recognize me, Hartigan? Huh? Do ya? Recognize my voice, you piece of shit cop? I look different but I bet you can recognize my voice!

  • In a lot of the Marvel/DC crossovers, the Badass Normal characters of one universe would always be looked down upon by the living god (sometimes literally) characters of the other. One particular example: Spider-Man is following Carnage as he's being transported to a prison across the country; along the way it passes through Gotham City, and Bats is very displeased with having the wall-crawler on his turf. However, Cassidy figures out a way to escape and goes bloody crazy at a time that the Joker also happens to be active, and rather unintentionally the heroes end up switching their villains. Carnage laughs off the Bat until he's taken down with expert planning, and Spider-Man really, really doesn't seem to perceive Joker as a physical threat, but Joker just won't stop, and dances happily across the Moral Event Horizon numerous times. After realizing just how similar he really is to Cassidy, down to hallucinating Joker's smile as Carnage's symbiot-grin, he almost beats Joker to death before Batman gets him to stop. Really, through the whole thing, nobody took anyone else seriously before the ass-kicking started except, of course, Batman.
  • Baby Face Finlayson from The Beano was a harmless villain in his early appearances in the 70s and 80s but he became not so harmless in Kev F Sutherland's strips in the 2000s where the character reached almost Big Bad status.
  • In JLA: New World Order, the White Martians invade and incapacitate all the superpowered heroes, but ignore Batman because he has no powers and they believe he can do nothing to stop them (to be fair they did think he was dead, but they were not worried by the possibility that he survived). Protex, launches into a rant about how Batman can do nothing against them, as he's Just One Man and a normal one to boot, which causes Superman to retort that Batman is "the most dangerous man on Earth". Batman proceeds to prove him right as he single-handedly turns the tide and turns the White Martians into terrified and paranoid wrecks.

Films -- Animation

  • Zigzag, the grand vizier, in The Thief and the Cobbler seemed, at first, an egotistical Ted Baxter who spun Rhymes on a Dime. Then he stole the golden balls protecting the city, giving them to Big Bad and Evil Overlord One-Eye. One-Eye is unappreciative, and has him thrown to the alligators... Zigzag tames them, going on to tell One-Eye "One mistake will suffice! Don't treat me lightly twice!"
  • The Lion King:
    • Those three hyenas. At first, they seem like a bunch of idiots who always fail every time, but at the end of the film, they all show their true dangerous selves when they kill Scar.

Scar: Ahh, my friends...
Shenzi: Friends? I thought he said that we was the enemy.
Banzai: Yeah, that's what I heard.
Both: Ed?
Ed: (pauses for a moment) Muheheheheh... Muhehehehehahahahaha... MUHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!"
Scar: No! Let me explain! No! You don't understand! No! I didn't mean it! No!No! I'm sorry I called you- NO! NO! (screams in pain)

    • Scar himself. Many can tell that he's jealous of his brother's position, but no one had any idea how far he would go.
  • Megamind:
    • The titular Villain Protagonist, a super-intelligent Gadgeteer Genius and Mad Scientist. He seems harmless because he always gets defeated by that Flying Brick, Metro Man. But then he apparently gets Metro Man out of the way with a Kill Sat...
    • There's also Hal, the bumbling reporter whom Megamind endows with Metro Man's powers so that he can have a rival. But once he gets rejected by Roxanne, he decides to become a supervillain instead, beating Megamind within an inch of his life, wreaking havoc on the city, and kidnapping Roxanne and threatening to kill her.
  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast has the villain Gaston, who starts out as just a vain, preening buffoon, certainly malicious, but more ridiculous than anything else. Then he incites a riot and leads a lynch mob against The Beast, and very nearly kills him. Which is cut short by the staff of the castle, men, women, and children who've been transformed into anthropomorphic household objects, banding together and utterly wiping the floor with the mob's collective ass.
  • Cars 2:
    • Grem and Acer, a pair of bumbling villains who appear to be based on two of the worst cars ever made. But then we see them kill Rod "Torque" Redline...
    • The first film has Chick Hicks, who is constantly losing to his rival Strip "The King" Weathers, and during the climax he almost killed the King!
  • The Jungle Book:
    • Shere Khan, the Big Bad, in spite of his occasional hammy and whimsical nature, is actually an evil bloodthirsty tiger bent on killing any human that's still in his jungle, especially the mancub he sees as Mowgli. In the sequel, he drops the hammy and whimsical aspect altogether.
      • This is more noticable in the original novel, while no one doubts Shere Khan's wrath in the Disney films (except Lucky), the novel's rendition has a lame leg and is considered something of an narcisistic fool. He is of course, still a great hulking tiger and actually shows something of a manipulative streak towards the wolves. Mowgli's rather elaborate defeat of Shere Khan would not be considered full of awesome if he wasn't such a dangerous force after all.
    • Even more so Kaa, he's much more of a flamboyent bumbler than Khan, but neverless there are few in the jungle immune to those hypnotic eyes. Even in the sequel, where his Butt Monkey role is upped quite a notch, he was a mere second from devouring Shanti.
  • Lotso from |Toy Story 3. He is introduced as the friendly leader of the daycare center toys, but then we find out that he welcomes new toys to his daycare center only to send them all to the dreaded Caterpillar Room, where they are all either pulled apart or smashed to pieces by the students there. At the end of the film, he even almost had the heroes burned alive in a garbage fire!
  • The Coachman from Pinocchio. You can tell this by his Nightmare Face in his introductory scene.
  • As terrifying as Ms. Tweedy was in the original Chicken Run, she was Obliviously Evil at most. A mean woman, yes, with quite a few dark parallels, but in the end, she was just a farmer trying to make money. Whether she would have continued had she known the chickens were sapient creatures was debatable. However, the sequel - Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget - answers that question with a definite yes. Tweedy is still in the poultry business, but on a larger, corporate scale, having married the wealthy owner of such a company in order to control it (meaning Gold Digger can be added to her rap sheet of villainous Tropes), and now runs it like a James Bond villain would. Her stated goal is to eradicate every chicken in the world out of revenge for being humiliated. Petty, vengeful, greedy, with those same dark parallels even more obvious now, Tweedy is very evil and very deadly.

Films -- Live Action

  • Men in Black:
    • Subverted then lampshaded. When Jay is being tested and they hit the firing range, he ignores the military examples shooting all the alien targets and fires one shot. Once asked why Tiffany had to die, Jay completely dismantled the aliens as doing harmless activities and notes the books on advanced physics, books way too advanced for a kid her age, finishing that she's there to cause some trouble. Genre Savvy as that was, Jay still underestimated such issues as birthing aliens and the Noisy Cricket, but the biggest example of Not So Harmless was the coroner finishing off the Big Bad Bug.
    • Also worth noting: "I feel like I'm gonna break this thing." Well, Jay, in Soviet Russia...
  • Yuen Wah's character in Eastern Condors at first seemed like a comic relief villain (mostly due to his weird laugh), but turned out to be an incredibly intense martial artist at the end of the movie.
  • The Beast in Kung Fu Hustle. Bald, overweight, and at first dressed in a less than intimidating manner, even The Syndicate that freed him didn't believe he was really the Beast until he held a gun six inches away from his head, pulled the trigger, and caught the bullet. With two fingers. He quickly ascended to being the Big Bad.
  • Batman Begins:
    • The Scarecrow gets this treatment. Prior to this movie, he was best known as the go-to incompetent villain on Batman the Animated Series. In the movie, he's introduced as a skinny and unintimidating psychologist with big pretty eyes. And then he sets Batman on fire.He. Set. BATMAN. ON. FIRE. And still gets defeated pretty much instantly.
    • In The Dark Knight, both Batman and the mob are shown dismissing The Joker out of hand. The mob considers Batman their more pressing problem, while Batman (somewhat hypocritically) rationalizes that he's just one man, and so can't possibly be more dangerous than the mob. He ends up destroying quite a bit of the city, driving the last nail into the mob's coffin, and almost doing the same for Batman and drives Harvey Dent to madness.
  • The Killer Rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • In Blindness, The King Of Ward 3 is shown to be an obnoxious punk who simply disrespects the protagonists and loudly makes an ass of himself. Then he manages to find a gun, and becomes the most powerful tyrant in the place.
  • In the Kill Bill movies, Budd is the only member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to be down-on-his luck and there is some lip service paid to his lack of fighting ability. Bill has no doubt the Bride would be too much for him, Elle has a long list of insults for him, and even the Bride herself seems overly confident when going after him. Despite this, he is the only member who defeats and captures the Bride.
    • That's because he's a Combat Pragmatist. Unlike the others, he doesn't try to engage in an honorable duel with her. He simply shoots her with a shotgun as she opens the door.
  • Similar to the Batman example above, Superman Returns does this to Lex Luthor. In the Donner films, He was an intelligent villain but was really more the scene-stealing comic relief. Luthor, as played by Kevin Spacey, is an icy Sociopath with a burning hatred of Superman and a complete and utter lack of morals. While the Donner Films showed him as amoral but cowardly, Luthor here personally lays a beatdown on Superman and even stabs him with a knife made of Kryptonite. It is quite shocking to see in a film which seems to deliberately avoid making the Darker and Edgier trope.


  • In the last Star Wars New Jedi Order novel The Unifying Force, the true Big Bad of the series is revealed. Its not the Recurring Boss Nom Anor, nor is it Evil Overlord Shimrra. It's Onimi, the weak looking and disfigured court jester. The events that disfigured him also made him the only Force user among the Yuuzhan Vong, giving Onimi the ability to rule from behind Shimrra through Mind Control. In the Final Battle, Onimi also reveals the ability to produce deadly toxins giving Jacen Solo a run for his money.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • In most of the codices and fanbase, da Orks are usually considered the Comic Relief race, with an endearingly insane viewpoint on their thoroughly insane world. (They're the only ones really having fun.) But when portrayed in Ciaphas Cain, the Orks are absolutely not endearing, harmless, or funny; they're brutal, disgusting, and completely psychopathic.
    • This tonal change comes less from changing the fundamental character of the race than simply painting it from the ground's-eye, non-Orky perspective. From the viewpoint of an Ork, their rampages across the galaxy are hilarious antics. From the eyes of their victims, they're not, because da Orks never comment on things like randomly shooting or lynching civilians, eating or killing each other for fun, and working captives to death through slave labor and brutal punishment.
    • Indeed, you'll find that's the case whenever Orks are viewed from the perspective of others. They're always terrifying, brutal and utterly alien, unless the writer is writing from their perspective.
  • A Storm of Swords:
    • If your first thoughts upon completing the book aren't "holy crap! Littlefinger is a psycho!", then you should seriously consider re-reading. I mean, we always knew he was a traitorous bastard, but he had a sympathetic backstory and was one of the most genuinely likeable characters in the series. But seriously, who knew he would go that far?
    • Joffrey may count at the end of A Game of Thrones. Presented throughout the book as a spoiled brat, it isn't until King Robert dies, leaving him in power that he starts to show his true colors.
  • The Auditors of Reality of Discworld might count. While they are Obstructive Bureaucrat Eldritch Abominations, much of the time, they are presented as pretty ridiculous and played for laughs. However, when they get a plan into action to cause The End of the World as We Know It, they don't seem so funny anymore.
  • Pettigrew/Wormtail from Harry Potter. All accounts of his past portray him as a simpering incompetent little coward who hid in the shadow of more powerful friends. While this is mostly true, he's far from harmless. When he's revealed to be the one who really betrayed the Potters it's also shown that he killed about a dozen people with a single spell to cover his escape. He also managed to overpower a Ministry official (admittedly a somewhat scatterbrained one) that happened to know information that Voldemort could use. Then he killed Cedric on Voldemort's orders. He may be the least competent of Voldemort's Death Eaters, but he's still a Death Eater to the core. And EVERYONE seems to forget he became an Animagus at 15; sure he had a ton of help, but isn't that a slight hint he might be more powerful than expected?
    • To be fair, his portrayl is pretty inconsistent. His backstory involves a lot of advanced feats of magic, but we never actually see him do anything particularly impressive in the current timeline. And what happens to him at the end of the series is PARTICULARLY pathetic. I suppose you could handwave it with his skills deteriorating from living as a mouse for 13 years.
  • The clown "Magnifico Giganticus" in Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire is a pathetic, misshapen sad sack who is rescued by the main characters and travels with them, until we find out he is the Big Bad of the novel, the mutant conqueror known as "The Mule."
  • The Pillars of the Earth: Yeah, see that idiot, envious kid named William Hamleigh?]] Got made a fool of, butt of a lot of marriage jokes, and he lusts after a girl he'll never...OH SHIT DID HE JUST RAPE ALIENA! He gets worse from that.
  • In Counselors and Kings Dhamari is introduced as a middle-aged wizard of unremarkable talents and unassuming nature significant only because he was once married to one protagonist's mother. He's actually one of the trilogy's main villains who's been helping half of the Big Bad Duumvirate with her schemes ever since they were apprentices together, and while he's no more magically talented than he looks and is too petty to be a true Chessmaster, he's got more than his fair share of low cunning and Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Honor Harrington presents us with Mesa, a small, horribly corrupt star nation run by a coalition of Mega Corps, being responsible for a wide variety of atrocities in the name of the bottom line. Despite the fact that they are effectively untouchable due to being wrapped in a tangled web of backroom political deals and blackmail of various powerful officials across the galaxy, they are considered largely a minor sideshow given the fact that the Peoples Republic of Haven and the Star Kingdom of Manticore are fighting the largest interstellar war in the history of mankind. And then the Mesans launch their surprise attack on the Manticoran and Grayson homeworlds, smashing industrial infrastructure and causing millions of deaths, all with no warning.

Live Action TV

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Warren and the other Nerds of Doom. At first, they're kind of silly with their arguments over Star Trek and the best actor to play James Bond, and their kinda weird attempts to challenge Buffy in ways that, really, were nothing compared to five seasons of big bads and various monsters of the week. Warren stops being funny when he tries to rape his ex via mind control and kills her when she tries to escape, and near the end of the season he shoots Buffy and murders Tara Maclay.
    • The Mayor. At first he seems like a self-serving politician tapping into supernatural powers for personal gain. Then it turns out he commands a small army of vampires and plans to become a pureblood demon. Oh, and he's also invulnerable; not just Nigh Invulnerable, invulnerable.
    • When Harmony shows up in Season 5 with her own pack of vampires, the heroes can't take her seriously. Unfortunately, in the midst of taunting her, Dawn invites her into her house, and we are reminded that while Harmony may be incompetent, she is still a vampire. Then in season 8 she kills a Slayer with her own stake on national television and convinces the public that vampires are the good guys and Slayers are the bad guys, sending the US Military after them.
    • The characters, fans, and writers in seasons 4 through 6, kept forgetting that Spike was a soulless demon, and had to be reminded about it every once in a while.
  • Mirror Hoshi on Enterprise. At the start of the two-part episode, she is the captain's sex-bunny and background character in all the plotting and conspiring; as it ends she has just made herself Empress.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in "Changing Face of Evil", the Dominion allies with the Breens, a race that can only live in the cold, and was previously known only as pirates and slavers, so the first reaction was "WTF? Next time Dominion makes alliance with cavem...". Then the Breen attack Earth and then they whip out the energy draining gun, pwning 300 ships at once and endangering all others.
  • Trakeena of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Becoming Not So Harmless was what her whole character is about. At first, she's Big Bad Scorpius' spoiled daughter, and spends most of the time whining or backstabbing the villains who do know what they're doing in order to rise in the ranks. Eventually, she leaves, eventually meets up with an old ally of her dad's, and gets some combat training. The real fun begins when The Starscream, Deviot, arranges Scorpius' death (oh, a lot of backstabbing going on in Lost Galaxy) and succeeds. Trakeena returns to take his place... and the new, badder Trakeena is worse than her dad ever was. She starts out as a competent and more proactive Big Bad, and gets more and more driven (and insane) until finally reaching unimaginable heights of evil. The final arc is something that wouldn't fly in a kids show (or any show short of 24, for that matter) this side of 9/11.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Daleks are a meta-example. While the characters rarely reacted with anything but terror, their numerous appearances over the original series' twenty-six year run heavily diluted any fear to be had from the motorised pepper pots. Thus the new series episode "Dalek" was written with the sole intention of showing a new generation that the Daleks were Not So Harmless, with a single imprisoned, crippled, powerless Dalek killing hundreds of people effortlessly.

The Doctor: What's the nearest town?
Van Statten: Salt Lake City.
The Doctor: Population?
Van Statten: 1 million.
The Doctor: All dead.

    • Indeed, the single moment where the audience knew that the Daleks were not to be trifled came with a single word: EL-E-VATE!!
    • Since then they may have been defeated several times by the Doctor, but in each case only after they caused massive damage. In their second appearance alone they annihilated the surface of Earth with such prejudice that it deformed the continents.
    • In the classic series, there was The Master's appearance in The Deadly Assassin. While never exactly harmless, his appearance here (after a lengthy hiatus) portrayed him less of a Friendly Enemy and more a ruthless Omnicidal Maniac, happy to tear the universe apart to save his own skin.
  • The Ferengi on Star Trek are an interesting example, since they were originally created to be a serious threat. When this fizzled, they were retooled into a sort of Comic Relief... but every so often, an episode will be released that reminds the viewer that the Ferengi are Not So Harmless after all.
  • Tom Zarek and Gaeta in the new Battlestar Galactica. Tom spends most of the series as a placeholder for vice president or opposition, and Gaeta watching the radar. They eventually lead a coup against Adama and Roslin.
  • One episode of Numb3rs has a pair of polite bank robbers. They walk in, request the money, say thank you, and walk out. They are even polite enough to hold doors open for people. Really harmless robbers with a cutesy nickname, or so people think until Charlie predicted their target and Don and a team tries to arrest them. That is when they demonstrated that not having needed to call for backup is not the same as not having backup or not having needed to use violence is not the same as being unwilling to use violence. Turns out they are ex-special forces working to a deeper plan and perfectly happy to use assault rifles, car bombs, and expertly knife a janitor that gets in the way—just hadn't needed to before.
  • In the Firefly episode "The Train Job," the crew is introduced to Adelei Niska, who is a mild-mannered, friendly, bespectacled old man who has a "very dangerous reputation." Throughout the conversation with him, he seems like a harmless sort, until he has the back door to his office opened, to reveal the corpse of his nephew hanging from the ceiling of his personal torture chamber. Cue respect and fear.
    • Niska even tells them that he doesn't really trust his "reputation" to carry much weight. He trusts visuals much more. Hence the demonstration.
  • Marlo Stanfield's first appearance in The Wire is very unassuming (blink and you'll miss it). Furthermore the Barksdales and everyone else initially dismisses him as just a small time dealer of no consequence. Fast forward a year and many row houses later...
  • The Trickster's third appearance in Supernatural
  • Stargate SG-1's Lucian Alliance gained a reputation as being a bumbling band of smugglers whose M.O. roughly came down to spreading evil space corn throughout the galaxy. When they make their reappearance in Stargate Universe, they do so replacing the goofball routine with a new "ruthless band of badasses" one.
    • In the Universe pilot, they actually have several Ha'taks give trouble to the General Hammond, a Daedalus-class battlecruiser upgraded with Asgard technology (including those plasma beams that can slice through Ori shields). The Ha'taks themselves were for a number of seasons considered nothing more than a joke. And why not? The Lucian Alliance are not the Goa'uld, they're human (most of them) and have as much ingenuity as Earth-bound humans.
  • Percy, the Big Bad of Nikita, started out seemingly ineffectual, always being Out-Gambitted by Nikita at every turn. However, as the series goes on, he becomes more and more of a Complete Monster, and as the penultimate episode of the first season shows, he is also one hell of a Magnificent Bastard. Check out his description on that page for details.
  • Vern, Psycho Loner and Big Bad Wannabe of Dark Oracle spent a season-and-a-half being treated as a joke by the main characters, who had far bigger problems to deal with in the form of their Evil Twins Blaze and Violet. Then in rapid succession Vern, finds and reads the comic book that shows Blaze and Violet's world, steals an amulet from Doyle and attempts to kill Doyle, Lance and Cally with it, absorbs some of the amulet's magic so that even after losing it he remains a threat, and frees previous Big Bad Omen from the comic, eventually helping him trap Lance in the comic, and loosing Blaze in the process. Unfortunately for him, Blaze being on the loose means that Vern is again overshadowed, and ultimately has to pull a Heel Face Turn when he realises Blaze is going to turn on him.
  • Dr. Maki from Kamen Rider OOO started out as a creepy Mad Scientist that was actually rather evil (though he was working for a good guy). And, while he did make a Deal with the Devil with the Big Bad Kazari, he gradually turned into a joke...until he remembered he killed his sister and decides it was the right thing to do. Not only does he regain all his previous level of evil, he gets worse! He goes One-Winged Angel and becomes the Dinosaur Greeed, unites the Greeed, and tells Kazari You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, killing him by ripping out his intact Core Medals, leaving him to die a slow and painful death (though he had it coming...). He goes from an absolute joke to the Big Bad!


  • Voltaire's "When You're Evil" is a cheerful showtune with a singer who's cartoonishly pure Evil-with-an-E.

I'm the fly in your soup
I'm the pebble in your shoe
I'm the pea beneath your bed
I'm a bump on every head

It takes about three verses to realize that he's serious.

... Lord Beelzebub
Has never seen a soldier quite like me
Not only does his job, but does it happily.
I'm a dagger in your back
An extra turn upon the rack
I'm the quivering of your heart
A stabbing pain, a sudden start.

Myths & Religion

  • Loki of Norse Mythology. Most of the tales starring Loki cast him as a harmless trickster. He gets into amusing antics with Thor, cheats Dwarves with a Pound of Flesh Twist, helps the Norse gods swindle a giant by seducing his horse (giving birth to Sleipnir in the process), and cuts off Sif's (Thor's wife) hair as a prank. Oh, and he also fathers three of the most dangerous beings in the mythos; one becomes the ruler of (and namesake) of the underworld, one becomes a sea serpent big enough to encircle the world, and the third becomes the Biggest Badass Wolf ever. But Loki only really gets nasty when he finds out that he's destined to suffer a horrific fate at the hands of the other gods, and decides that he might as well earn it. He does so by killing Baldur and ensuring that he stayed dead. Then when Ragnarok arrives, he breaks free of his imprisonment, leads an army of the damned, and kills the bridge guardian of the gods Heimdall (though he dies as well), doing his part to seal the Norse gods' defeat.
  • Loki's description could actually describe all trickster gods in mythology. Most of the time they just perform harmless and amusing pranks. Then they commit deeds of mayhem and murder that only they find funny. The worst of them are essentially The Joker armed with divine powers.
  • Satan. In the Old Testament, he was basically God's poker buddy, and a minor character. In Revelation? He assembles an army and triggers the apocalypse, making Earth even more of a Crapsack World.

Pro Wrestling

  • This was the whole basis of the recent feud between John Cena and The Miz. Cena is the top star on WWE Raw, and once Miz was traded to the brand he instantly started calling him out. The feud played out for months with the idea that Cena was much more focused on his other feud with The Big Show and couldn't be bothered to care about Miz running his mouth—as things went on and Miz began to do such things as attack him and Big Show alike any time he could, Cena began to take him more and more seriously. Then their match at The Bash didn't happen, honest, but in a showdown on Raw Miz put up a losing effort but dominated Cena through the entire match and showed that he was just as able to hang with Cena as Big Show is. Now where is the Miz? He's the WWE Champion.
  • While The Miz still seems to be playing this trope hard, he ultimately had his Championship reclaimed by Cena, albeit only to have it snatched by...
  • Alberto Del Rio. Much like The Miz, his "Juan Bradshaw Layfield" is incredibly narcissistic and will frequently bawk from a match. When riled enough however, he is disturbingly ferocious. Cena labelled De Rio pathetic for cashing in his Money In The Bank match on a champ post match and swiped it back, a few nasty beatdowns later De Rio won it again.
  • Similarly, the infamous "You will not look past me" rant from Chris Jericho to The Rock in the buildup to Royal Rumble 2002. Everyone assumed Rock would beat Jericho for the belt and go on to the Wrestlemania main event. Nope. Nor did Stone Cold Steve Austin the following month.
  • A good chunk of The Nexus became a lot more dangerous after they formed their group. Justin Gabriel began wearing black trunks and delivering stares of death before a 450 splash, Skip Sheffield became a lot more vicious in the ring. And Michael Tarver...well, actually became awesome, especially after the booking on NXT Season 1 did everything to make you think he wasn't.
  • The Spirit Squad. It's very easy to mock five goofy male cheerleaders... until you remember that there are five of them... they've got you surrounded... prepare for the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. They captured the Tag Team Titles from Kane and The Big Show, and crippled Shawn Michaels.


  • In sports, the "Wounded Tiger" and "Ewing" theories both assert that a team known for one or two star players is more likely to thrive when said star(s) are not playing. The point being that opposing teams will write them off as they would a wounded tiger, not realizing that a wounded tiger fights the hardest. So when Deron Williams is nursing an injury, either watch out for the New Jersey Nets or prepare to be baffled and ashamed in defeat; the wounded tiger is on the prowl.
    • For instance; after LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal left them in the summer, the now-starless Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 2010-2011 season... by beating last season's runner-up squad, the Boston Celtics. This was both an incredible upset and a slap in the face to LeBron, whose Miami Heat had lost to the Celtics the day before, and Shaq, who now played for the Celtics. Similarly, shortly after breaking a record-setting losing streak, the "Cleveland Cadavers" showed they were still alive... by beating the previous year's champions, the LA Lakers. And about a month later, they beat the Heat.

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Kobolds, before attempts to buff them into dragons-lite, were introduced as lizard-dog humanoids so small they got half-hit dice. Cannon Fodder for rookie adventurers to sweep up without a fuss. However, being too pathetic to have a chance in the open combat, kobolds got an affinity for filling their lairs with traps. They also hurl incendiaries or poisonous insects at the enemies and dare to attack only in overwhelming numbers, using thrown weapons. In the hands of a particularly clever or vindictive Game Master, even an encounter with a lowly band of kobolds can be turned into a nightmare. Add some armor and you'll get Tucker's Kobolds—the party chose to carve their way through demons over that. Demotivator helpfully depicting how such encounters can end up.
    • Of course, just about any monster can be amped up to a potential Total Party Kill in the hands of a Killer Game Master, or one looking for the ultimate challenge for his players.
    • If you dumpster dive for abilities through about a half dozen splatbooks, kobold sorcerers are just about the most powerful characters in D&D 3.5, as they can theoretically have spellcasting at FOUR levels higher than their actual level. Generic sorcerers don't even get 9th level spells until level 18. A Dragonwrought White Dragonspawn Kobold Sorcerer who has completed the Greater Draconic Rite can have Epic Spellcasting at level 17.
    • In the Forgotten Realms, Cyric, while undeniably an evil Complete Monster, was always considered a minor threat at best due to the fact that he's so freaking insane that most of his plans fall through. Then, in 4th edition, he orchestrates the death of Helm, personally murders Mystra (possibly for good this time), and unleashes the devastating Spell Plague, all without breaking a sweat. Wow.
    • In the first Pathfinder adventure, Burnt Offerings, the players fend off an attack from goblins that act like pyromaniac 5th-graders who injure themselves as often as their opponents. But weeks after the raid, they discover a goblin who ran and hid under a house, where he slowly went mad from hunger and isolation and killed and ate a child. A definite case of Mood Whiplash.
    • "The Bandits of Bunglewood" from Dungeon Adventures #51 seems to be inspired by Tucker's Kobolds. The eponymous Bandits are kobolds who have gotten more training than the typical ones, and investigating their misdeeds is difficult because nobody is willing to admit they were beaten up and robbed by mere kobolds. As a result, their actions around the town the module takes place are clouded by stories of orcs, lycanthropes, trolls, and other "respectable" monsters.
  • New World of Darkness games:
    • In general: Humans are slow, feeble, ignorant, nearly powerless, and only an actual danger to supernaturals in significant numbers. Until the supernaturals find themselves facing the exceptions, who are very capable of fighting the supernaturals on their own turf and winning, by means as diverse as Task Force: VALKYRIE's plasma cannons and bullets that phase into the spirit realm and harm incorporeal entities, to the Malleus Maleficarum's habit of calling down the literal wrath of God, to an insanely brave and fiendishly clever group of everyday men and women who have gotten fed up with the things that go bump in the night and broken out whatever weapons or tools that are handy.
    • Hunter: The Vigil also has an example within its own bounds. The Keepers of the Source are a group of feel-good New Ager neo-hippie types based out of San Francisco. They also believe that mages and other practitioners draw upon the life energy of Gaia in order to power their magic, and really, really, really aren't happy with this arrangement.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 the Imperial guard are generally portrayed as the Imperium's trillions strong Redshirt Army. A popular joke in the fandom goes "what do you call a lasgun (the Imperial guard's main weapon) with a laser sight? Double-barreled." Then again, it is possible to have so many in even small games - the saying goes: "One lasgun is a joke. 150 lasguns is not."


  • In Julius Caesar:
    • the conspirators against Caesar consider Marc Antony no threat, saying, "He can do no more than Caesar's arm when Caesar's head is cut off". In fact, they're so unafraid of him that Brutus lets him speak at Caesar's funeral! Whatever speech he can make will pale in comparison to the unparalleled generosity of letting him speak at all, right?! Friends, Romans, Countrymen!
    • The audience is privy to a bit of foreshadowing regarding Marc Antony's forthcoming badassness with this line:

Marc Antony: ...And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch's voice cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war.

Video Games

  • Final Fantasy VI:
    • Kefka, to a certain extent. Comically-loony jester sidekick of the real villain? Uwa, ha ha. WRONG!!
    • Speaking of Final Fantasy, what about the recurring monster Tonberry? Little green guy in a coat, carrying a lantern and a kitchen knife, he should be easy to kill, right? Wrong... it doesn't help that he's creepy as hell too.
    • What's more, in the Final Fantasy Tactics series, Tonberries are among the most powerful enemies, capable of doing up to 999 damage with 100% accuracy. And for the people who don't know, that is all of the damage. At least, that can be done in any one attack.
    • The Cactuar deserves a spot on this page. The first time you ever see one, it looks and even sounds unbearably cute and harmless. It's just a little walking cactus. In nearly all of the games though, not only do they possess insane evasion and magic defense making it extremely difficult to damage them, they also possess their infamous 1000 Needles Fixed Damage Attack, which ignores all defenses and can kill a character in one hit depending on HP caps. That's not even mentioning the stronger varieties that have the 10,000 needle and 100,000 needle variants. Basically, no matter how powerful your characters are, there's bound to be a cactus that can murder the hell out of them with one blow.
    • And then we have to go full circle and bring up Kefka again. More specifically, his Dissidia Final Fantasy incarnation. Due to the way that universe is built up, when a character dies, s/he will simply be resurrected again, though of at expense of the memories of his/her previous life. All through the 13th resurrection circle, Kefka is trying, with the help of the Cloud of Darkness, to get Terra Branford to join their side. Again. See, she actually WAS on their side in the 12th circle, but due to Kefka being neglectful she pulled a High Heel Face Turn... So, why does the Cloud of Darkness not call Kefka out on it being his fault? And why does she act like she had never seen Terra before? Well, because she tipped the heroes off on how to stop the invasion of Manikins, beings that can nullify the resurrection process, and Kefka did not like that... So he killed her... Let me repeat that, and then you can sit there and let it sink in: The gibbering Psychopathic Manchild, Kefka, pulled a You Have Failed Me... on the Anthropomorphic Personification of the realm of nothingness.[1]
  • Devil May Cry 3 gives us Jester, goofy clown demon who shows up randomly to annoy Dante and give him advice on how to proceed. Then you have to fight him as a boss and even that ends up being funny due to Jester's personality, but during The Reveal you find out he's Arkham's Devil Trigger and has been manipulating Dante, Vergil, and Lady in a Evil Plan to open the portal to the demon world, give him the sealed power of Sparda, and generally bring Hell on Earth.
  • Alex of Golden Sun fame is little more of a Smug Snake in the first game, whereas his companions always throw themselves into the thick of combat and are more than willing to risk their lives to achieve their dream of restoring Alchemy to the world. Then the sequel rolls around and in the first five minutes he curb stomps the same elite soldiers that Saturos and Menardi did a game ago before nonchalantly responding to their threat of backup by asking if they thought even a hundred of their soldiers would be enough to stop him. He then reveals true colours as a Magnificent Bastard, employing tactics such as hiring replacements for his old companions in order to intimidate Felix into lighting the remaining beacons. He then (presumably) steals Isaac's ship so he can be there when the Golden Sun forms over Mt. Aleph after all four Elemental Lighthouse beacons are lit so that he can obtain absolute power and Immortality.
  • The King of Fighters '97 has the New Faces Team. At first they appear to be just some punk kids (or whatever kind of band they had) with upbeat attitudes and realistic fighting styles. Supplemental materials suggest that they hate Iori and may have punked the '94 Sports Team, but otherwise they're pretty normal. Then it is revealed that all three of them are villains from the Orochi bloodline, and they display highly powerful elemental abilities in their new forms. And then one of them becomes Orochi himself, and you're suddenly fighting a world-destroying god. A world destroying god who was originally Chris, the Team's Cute Shotaro Boy and Fragile Speedster.
  • Garland, of the original Final Fantasy I. Wussy first boss of a knight that you'd probably forget about once you reach the final dungeon, where he turns out to be the Big Bad.
  • Paper Mario:
    • Jr. Troopa is a baby koopa fresh from the nest (with most of his egg's shell still on him) and a comic relief Recurring Boss who can actually be a real hassle to beat at many stages of the game.
    • The Koopa Bros., as well, are treated as complete losers but prove formidable in the actual fight with them. That's teamwork for you.
    • Don't forget Bowser in Paper Mario. Although he's extremely dumb (he'll believe Peach if she tells him Mario hates healing items), he possesses the Star Rod which basically makes him a god, and he actually manages to defeat Mario at the start of the game.
  • Dimentio in Super Paper Mario seems to be at first a jester-like character, light-hearted and playful. Later, as his true intentions unfold, his true menace becomes apparent.
  • Gruntilda from Banjo-Kazooie and its sequels tends to come across as rather goofy with her constant rhyming and her funny lines. Even when battling her, she still makes weird, rhyming comments. She also reveals some mean magic skills and a surprisingly good aim. Every battle with Gruntilda is a multi-phase marathon where she will pull out all the stops to defeat you. And, just in case you had any doubts, she kicks off her return in Banjo-Tooie by destroying the grey Jinjos' house, zombifying the king of the Jinjos, destroying Banjo's house, and killing Bottles. And she plans to zombify the entire Isle of Hags.
  • Porky from EarthBound. He starts out as Ness's friend, and even after he turns, he's still just a harmless nuisance. By the end of the game, though, he's Big Bad Giygas's right hand-man. There's a reason his theme song for your final battle against him is called "Porky Means Business!" (although the name is unofficial, the Japanese track is cease to exist, referring to what Porky wants Ness and his friends to do.)And if you believe in alternate character interptation he is the true big bad of the game with giygas as his dragon. In Mother 3, he's a full-on Big Bad himself. Who manages to take over the world.
  • Kingdom Hearts II:
    • Demyx. When he's first seen, he acts like a clumsy coward, running away and stumbling everywhere. His in-game profile even calls him a joke. However, when accused of being a truly emotionless being, he ditches the act. Suddenly he's leaping around all over the battlefield and using his sitar to unleash a huge barrel of watery whoopass on Sora and company. Many players were unpleasantly surprised, to say the least.
    • Marluxia. "A pink scythe? Flowers? You can't be--oh shit!"
  • Dragon Fable:
    • Nythera. Starts off as a somewhat bratty and powerless apprentice to Warlic, the greatest mage in the world. She's pretty blatant about wanting Warlic to give her her powers back, and insinuates that she'll take his powers if he doesn't. This is all played for laughs at first. Then she kills Warlic and steals his powers and issues a challenge to all of the Elemental Lords at once, which drives them to attack your town. To add insult to injury, she even thanks you, since she used the potions YOU helped her to make to finish off Warlic. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
    • Later in the quest line, when she faces the Elemental Avatars, the player gets the chance to control her. Her basic attack consists of several hits that do hundreds of damage each. Due to the way the battles work, it's still a Hopeless Boss Fight, but damn.
  • Deathroy from Blue Dragon. What appears to be an annoying sidekick turns out to have been the Big Bad all along. In fact, he's the Big Bad that killed all of the Not-Really-The-Big-Bad's people.
  • Dalton from Chrono Trigger is best known for Breaking the Fourth Wall when inappropriate music is playing, getting sucked into a portal when the Trick Boss he tried to summon fails to appear, and generally being an incompetent ham. Then you meet him in a bonus dungeon in the DS version, where he mentions his plan to build an army in Porre and try to take over Guardia. Nothing to worry about, right? According to the backstory of Chrono Cross, Porre's rebellion succeeds, and Crono himself dies for good in the battle. The debate over whether Crono and Marle live or die rages among the fans, and the game gives enough evidence for either.
  • Halo:
    • Guilty Spark. Sure, he originally seemed like annoying sidekick (basically C-3PO's floating head), until you realize he was leading you into destroying all life in the galaxy. When Master Chief and takes Cortana and refuses to activate Halo, Spark's tells the Setinels "Save his head... dispose of the rest.". His sociopathy almost makes up for him being annoying as hell... almost.
    • And at the end of Halo 3, after seeing him do little more than float, blabber on, and occasionally send Setinels to kill MC, he kills Johnson and actually kicks Master Chief and Arbiter's asses in a case of Cutscene Power to the Max. Sure, he becomes an Anticlimax Boss as soon as you realize Johnson's Spartan Laser's, the right tool to finally end his whining, but until then, he was putting down some serious hurt.
  • The Ensemble Darkhorse of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Fawful, poses very little threat when he fights the heroes at the end of the game, and even refers to himself as "Fawful, who is just a toady!" Then, after spending the next game in the series plotting his revenge in the sewers beneath Peach's castle, he returns as the Big Bad of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.
  • At the beginning of Gaia Online MMO zOMG!, we are introduced to Frank. Who's a cute little nerdy boy? You's a cute little nerdy boy, oh yes you are! He's the second-in-command of a group of mad scientists who are destroying the world For Science!.
    • Likewise, the Fluff enemies. You get used to crushing these guys with minimal effort in the first two areas... and then the Zen Gardens introduces suicidal Cherry Fluffs that gang up on you and then explode For Massive Damage. Later areas include Fluffs that sink you in quicksand as well.
  • Rider in Fate/stay night spent the first route having even Shirou calling her weak and in the second route she got killed offscreen by a normal, non magus human. Fierce. But then she shows up in HF and starts turning people into stone by looking at them. (Surprise! She's Medusa!) Oh and then she makes a Heel Face Turn (sort of...) so this overlaps with Let's Get Dangerous.
    • Furthermore, her physical capabilities were significantly impaired in the first two routes due to temporarily being in the service of Shinji, who has no magic power of his own and can't reinforce her with mana. When her true master, Sakura, takes her back, her skills SKYROCKET.
  • Punch-Out!!:
    • You wouldn't imagine that Glass Joe, the shining example of a Warmup Boss, could ever put up a fight. When he returns for a rematch in the Wii game's Title Defense mode, however, he's equipped himself with a helmet that deflects all jabs, and has added a surprisingly effective fake-out punch to his arsenal. As a result, he often ends up defeating players who were able to defeat Mr. Sandman, the Champion and Final Boss.
    • In the NES version, Don Flameco. The first time you fight him, he's a Breather Boss about as difficult as Glass Joe, standing in place when hit, and showboating with his dances too much to launch an effective offense. The second time you fight him you'll probably be expecting more of the same only for you to land your first punch... and find him dancing around dodging your attacks like crazy. And he doesn't screw around when he attacks anymore, making his offense fast, hard to predict, and giving the player little respite..... oh crap. King Hippo can be this for some players, being a fat stupid looking guy from a Tonga like country called "Hippo island". He gapes like a hippo and looking at him you'd think he's slow and easy to hit.... he isn't.
    • Your own cuddly, overweight, chocolate bar chomping manager boxes you in a downloadable spin-off game. Know that Star Punch that lays waste to your foes? This guy invented that move.
  • The Rebel Alliance in Star Wars Battlefront gets this from the members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion. A member of the 501st talks about the Rebels, mentioning that the stormies had treated them like disobedient children, but were repaid for their tolerance with treachery on an unimaginable scale. Of course, the "treachery" in question was Luke destroying the Death Star, so sympathy for their anger is difficult.
  • Combine Advisors from Half-Life. Oh look, it's a giant maggot thing on life support and is barely capable of moving on its own. Sure, it's a member of the ruling caste of a vast interdimensional empire, but it can't possibly—is that thing levitating? HOLY SHIT, DID THAT THING JUST LIFT ME UP WITH PSYCHIC POWERS?! OH SHIT, IT'S GONNA SUCK MY BRAINS OUT AND EAT THEM!!!!
  • Ghostbusters the Video Game subverts this. Obstructive Bureaucrat Walter Peck is back... but hints start getting dropped partway through that he's actually the Big Bad, and his obnoxious bumbling obstruction is a cover for his nefarious motives. In the end, it turns out he is just an obnoxious Obstructive Bureaucrat, and the real Big Bad is the ghost of Ivo Shandor -- and Peck's not even the one who was possessed by him, it was the mayor.
  • Xenogears:
    • Miang is introduced as the unassuming girlfriend of the White-Haired Pretty Boy Ramsus. Much later, it is revealed that she is the Big Bad, the human form of the creator "god," and has existed for 10000 years via body surfing. It also doesn't hurt that the battle against her gear is one of the hardest in the game.
    • From the same game: Krelian. He's presented as an antagonist from the beginning, so he's never exactly "harmless," but at first he seems pretty insignificant compared to Grahf, the Gazel Ministry, and Id. Turns out he's a Chessmaster Magnificent Bastard who's been manipulating everyone of consequence for the last five centuries. In the end HE WINS.
  • Pokémon:
    • Team Galactic. Just another goofy Team Evil capable of only doing mainly ineffectual things like hijacking windmills, stealing honey, and trying to beat you at Pokémon matches? Sure, you might think that, until they bomb one of Sinnoh's Sacred Lakes, kidnap all of the sacred sprites, and begin summoning one-to-two Pokémon capable of undoing the world.
    • I take your Team Galactic and raise you one Miror B. The poster boy for Disco Dan in dark and edgy Orre loves dancing with his Ludicolo, more so than his actual job as a Cipher Admin. Keep in mind I am talking about the guy who moonwalks around Pyrite Town in mockery of the police, distributes Shadow Pokémon to unsuspecting competitors at the Pyrite Colosseum, orchestrated Rui's kidnapping because she can differentiate Shadow Pokémon from regular Pokémon, and has Mayor Duking wrapped around his finger because he holds the mayor's Plusle hostage. Did I forget to mention he's the nicest Admin in all of Cipher?
    • On top of that, there's Mayor Es Cade of Phenac City, who sits on his duff and expresses concern about Cipher's activities throughout Orre while you're busting your ass busting them. Clearly a goofy, useless mayor, right? You wish.
    • Mr. Verich at Gateon Port, the only known sea port in Orre. Usually a chipper old man, he generously provides free drinks and entertainment to all the grounded sailors in town with a perpetual smile on his face. He's actually Cipher's Grand Master Greevil, and he's bribing the sailors to keep them from sailing out to his ops base on Citadark Isle. There's also the bodyguards that accompany him, and one of them puts Zook in his place when he collides with Jovi and threatens to tear her apart. Both of them are Cipher Admins, too.
    • Ghetsis as well. He was treated as any other member of Team Plasma by the main cast and N was built up to be the real threat; when he actually throws out his Pokemon, he hits you with a "pseudo-legendary" dragon Pokemon with maxed stats for that specific Pokemon, making it by far one of the HARDEST battles in the game due to it being capable of taking down Pokemon 10 levels higher than it without too much effort. It's also in a form that it's not supposed to evolve into for another ten levels.
  • Near the end of Dragon Age while storming the fortress the Archdemon is you see massive dogpiles of Darkspawn all over Sandal killed them all, Enchantment!
    • He does the same thing in Dragon Age II.
  • In Dark Chronicle, Emperor Griffen has a... rather underwhelming true form... one that will kick your ass if you're not careful.
  • Mega Man X 4:
    • Double, a rookie Hunter that was assigned to be the title character's Mission Control. Obese, clumsy, incompetent, and not-too-bright, so what's so meaningful about his name? He's Sigma's mole, assigned to throw X off Sigma's tracks, Ax Crazy, and is capable of annihilating a dozen Hunters on his own.
    • X himself gets this in Maverick Hunter X. Sigma is the most powerful Reploid in service, Vile is as deadly as he is reckless, and his unit is the best the Hunters had before they rebelled. X is scoffed at for being a low-rank Technical Pacifist. Then the "weak little B-Class Hunter" blows through Sigma's lieutenants, fortress guardians, and even his dog before his showdown with Sigma. Oh, and his creator? Dr. Light, the guy who created the original Mega Man, himself an example of Not So Harmless.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum:
    • It gives this treatment to The Riddler, of all villains. Although you never encounter him directly, he manages to be a legitimately scary villain once you think about how some of the riddles were set up, especially the ones involving dead bodies. There is no way he could have predicted when and where those people would be killed by Joker's thugs, so the only explanation is that he murdered them and posed them there himself. He also gives a rather disturbing answer to the classic riddle: "What walks on four legs, then two legs, then three?" Dr. Young says it's a human being (crawls as an infant, walks on two legs as an adult, uses a cane in old age), but the actual answer is a baby with its legs cut off who has been given a crutch. It's clear why he belongs at Arkham.
    • Scarecrow also manages to be threatening due to the level of Mind Screw he pulls on Batman (and the player). The encounters with him are some of the most memorable in the entire game.
  • Batman: Arkham City gives Calendar Man a treatment similar to that of The Long Halloween: He never leaves his cell but if you visit him in certain holidays (or mess with the system clock) he will tell you a story about a gruesome crime he committed that day (including horribly murdering his parents in Mother and Father's Day). If you get all 12 of his stories and visit him again he's gone, with a Two-Face thug hanging from the ceiling.
  • Speaking of, Dr. Wily falls under this. In Mega Man and Bass, one of his creations, King, chopped Proto Man in half. In Mega Man 9, he managed to con the world into thinking Dr. Light was after world domination, getting the good doctor arrested. And in Mega Man 10, if not for Roll, he would've won. And this is just in the Classic series. In the X series, he is responsible for The Virus that causes much of the conflict. Plus, it's hinted that he may still be alive...
  • Touhou Seirensen ~ Undefined Fantastic Object:
    • Nazrin. She's a pathetic Stage 1 mid-boss and boss, with easy to dodge horizontal patterns, and she shows up later as the Stage 5 mid-boss and absolutely murders you with curvy and splitting lasers.
    • In the same game, Kogasa Tatara: She shows up as a Stage 2 mid-boss and boss, and proclaims that her main goal is to scare and/or surprise people. Her patterns were also fairly easy to dodge, and people made fun of her when the demo was released; she returns in the full version as the Extra Stage midboss, and with difficult spellcards that make it hard for many to reach the relatively easy (compared to, say, Yukari Yakumo of Perfect Cherry Blossom) Extra Boss with decent resources. Surprise!
    • Cirno seems to be on her way to this trope. Originally she was just a Stage 2 boss, and later a far from notable minor playable character amongst other minor playable characters. Then she got her own story route in Hisoutensoku, pitting her against a Physical God and a Person of Mass Destruction. Then she got her own game in which she manages to put up a decent fight against Marisa, one of the most feared beings in Gensoukyou. The strongest fairy is still not a severe threat compared to others, but she has accomplished much.
  • Dino Piranha, the first boss of Super Mario Galaxy, is definitely one of the easiest bosses in the game, but when you run into him in the second-to-last level before fighting Bowser, he's now on fire and therefore much difficult to kill.
  • Twilight Princess gives us Midna, a cute three foot tall imp, what can she do? Well, float around, pass through solid objects, break chains, change shape, project a paralyzing dark energy field, teleport people and objects over large distances, and levitate objects weighing several metric tons. And that's before she gets the Fused Shadows. After that she can slay a major villain with one blow, turn into a tentacled, spear-wielding Eldritch Abomination, and toss the Final Boss around the room with her Prehensile Hair. Just be thankful that in her case Dark Is Not Evil and she is on your side, if grudgingly at first.
  • The Dishwasher has the Invalid, a wheelchair bound hospital patient with most of his head wrapped in bandages. However, his Boss Subtitles call him the Vegative Neuromancer, and most people know what neuromancers do.
  • Joshua in The World Ends With You is incredibly hard to fight with, until you get him floating, then he can shoot very powerful Jesus Beams not to mention he's actually The Chessmaster for the entire game
  • Shrowdy von Kiefer, villain of A Vampyre Story, is basically black magic incarnate. This means he has every negative trait you can think of--childishness, selfishness, a complete lack of dignity, an obsession with his mother, a fondness for torture, the capacity to coldly kill someone he claims to be in love with . . .
  • Chocobo's Dungeon 2 has several examples. One is that enemies can actually kill each other to level up and become much stronger. Another is the cute vampire mage kid who dies in one hit from most attacks but can cast a spell that takes you down a whole level. The biggest example, though, is when the weakest enemy in the game gets access to a wish-granting crystal and wishes to become powerful enough to be the bully instead of the bullied, thus becoming the Big Bad.
  • In Saints Row 2, in the beginning Maero, the leader of the Stilwater Brotherhood, sees the Boss as a "washed-up gangbanger" and for this reason offers him/her only 20% of his shipment and by extension, 20% of Stilwater. And after the Boss angrily turns him down, he barely does anything in response, still seeing him/her and the Saints as a nuisance. Then the Boss permanently burns his face with radioactive waste, then s/he kills his girlfriend and has his best friend crippled. After that he devotes all energy to killing the Boss and destroying the Saints.
  • Dr "Eggman" Robotnik has started playing into this manner in the recent Sonic the Hedgehog games. He's even more clownish and bumbling as ever, however his plans are more stable, and manage to take Sonic by surprise a few times. Even his super form recently got neutralized by one of the doctor's machines after taking him too lightly.
  • In World of Warcraft, Deathwing's attack on Stormwind was probably intended to be this -A way to showcase him as a major threat who could do serious damage to the Alliance and the Horde after the previous expansion's antagonist, the Lich King, was called a Saturday morning cartoon villain by the fanbase one to many times. Your Mileage May Vary on how well it actually worked, though, since the attack happens almost entirely offscreen, is barely mentioned after the fact, didn't kill anyone important, and has never been given any (canon) reasoning as to why he chose Stormwind and only took out the park when he apparently could have leveled the entire city.
  • Suikoden V's Lord Barrows is an over the top Smug Snake and Fat Idiot. Initially, the only threat he seems to pose is that allying with him makes other potential allies reluctant to join you. It later turns out that he's far more devious than he lets on. He masterminded the uprising at Lordlake as part of a power grab, which means that a large part of the game's conflict is his fault. Finally, he comes close to forcing the Prince to ally with a foreign army as part of a plan to betray Falena to that army's country.
  • Spyro: Year of the Dragon has Bianca. While at first she's not exactly a threat to Spyro, she does eventually succeed in creating a monster by the name of Buzz to fight Spyro, whose dangerous enough to be the first boss of the game. Though having said that, she's not nearly as big of a threat as the Sorceress is.

Web Comics

  • Order of the Stick:
    • The lich sorcerer Xykon is an extreme example. His humorous dialogue and status as a Card-Carrying Villain along with the fact that he rarely fights directly (in anything but an instant win) lead many people to believe he was much less serious or at least genuinely malevolent than he really is. Then he's pushed into exerting himself... As Redcloak puts it: "I know he seems funny and charming, but believe me, when you see for yourself the depths to which he'll sink, you will never sleep well again."
    • Qarr the imp is a definite case of playing with a trope. The first we saw of Qarr was an ominous red and black speech bubble speaking from just off panel during a Cliff Hanger. Fans went into a flurry of speculation about this mysterious new being, but nobody expected it to be a tiny imp with virtually no power of its own and who wasn't even all that bright. However, Qarr's attempts to convince Vaarsuvius into a Deal with the Devil drew the attention of the IFCC, a trio of powerful evil beings bent on creating enough chaos, confusion and disorder so that they can move ahead with their own attempt to seize The Snarl's Gate. Qarr is now working with them, and as a result after starting out as something of an inversion, Qarr is now much more dangerous than he ever was in his previous position.
    • And then there's the Monster In The Darkness, an unknown medium-sized creature who behaves like a young child, yet is practically invulnerable to all attacks. He once accidentally knocked a paladin through a stone wall, out of a tower, and several miles away in a game of "Who Can Hit the Lightest". He can also basically create an earthquake by stomping. And he teleported Vaarsivus and O-chul a couple kingdoms away, without the knowledge of anybody in the room (namely, The Monster itself and the aforementioned Xykon), just by saying "escape".
    • General Tarquin Elan's father initially comes across as an Affably Evil Noble Demon type of villain. While he can be funny and charming, not unlike Xykon, he is not someone you want to piss off.
  • The Walkyverse is full of these:
    • Including the nigh-omnipotent but unfortunately-textured Knight of Cerebus we refer to as The Cheese and the surprisingly cunning Monkey Master, a robot ape whose cannons shoot actual monkeys. The grand tamale of them all, however, has to be the Head Alien, a tiny purple guy with a flair for the over-dramatic whose preferred method of torture involves The Sound of Music. And then you find out it's his Evil Plan that's driving the entire strip, and that he's a lot more competent than he seems at first. Remember all those Brainwashed and Crazy friends you had to kill? Yeah, he set that up years in advance.
    • And then there's Galasso, and especially Faz in Shortpacked!, and possibly the Head Alien again.
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • For most, Dr. Schlock was more or less a good guy, though he would sometimes betray the good guys on account of being a coward. It never mattered much, though, since his one skill (creating inflatable technology) can be neutralized quite easily (by anything with a sharp edge). Then he actually manages a hostile takeover of Hereti Corp, one of the series' main Big Bads, orders the assassination of several FBI agents to cover his tracks, and states, "If we're going to 'take over the world' we're going to do it right."
    • Also from Sluggy, the Dimension of Pain, anyone? A bunch of incompetent demons, falling over themselves, scared of bunnies, and used as entertainment when they invade on Halloween, not to mention the whole Meanwhile, in the Dimension of Pain... spinoff. Then, in the That Which Redeems arc, they become serious, powerful villains. Heck, they even kill a dimension's Zoe.
  • Emergency Exit: The villains seem quite harmless, more annoying than anything else. Until one of them rips off Karl's face.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic usually portrays Lewie the Lich as a Harmless Villain. When called upon, however, he points out an important fact about liches: no matter how silly they seem, you only get to be one by being very powerful.
  • Recent developments in Las Lindas strongly suggest that the twin tricksters Din and Jin have a much more malicious side to them...
  • Dead of Summer:
    • Alan Stone falls under this. While not physically imposing at first, he beats the tar out of a sympathetic character, and is revealed to have Sinister Surveillance almost everywhere, which lets him know a great deal of secrets. A crossing of the Moral Event Horizon later and it's hard to remember that he seemed wimpy at first.
    • Doug Fetterman and his lackeys fall under this too. His two henchmen don't even get names, all three are portrayed as Large Hams, and you figure they're no match for the good guys... Then they assault Commander with a swarm of insects, fry KILROY'S brain and reformat him into a time bomb, and reveal that Panther is apparently working for them. As Panther kills Dr. Light, ripping out his eyes. And then you realize the extent of Fetterman's Plan.
  • Something*Positive: That Crazy Blue Thing. Second comic on this page.
  • Girl Genius:
  • Collar 6: Butterfly is an extreme example of this. She went from simply being a Jerkass in her early appearances to sheer horror in this strip.
  • Homestuck:
    • Okay, pretty much nobody considered Knife Nut Archagent Jack Noir to be harmless, but then he ascended to Big Bad status, killed off the previous Big Bads, massacred a huge army from both Kingdoms and wrecked two planets.
    • The better Homestuck example is Troll Racist Eridan Ampora. After spending most of Act Five failing at genocide and wallowing in exaggerated emotional theatrics, he decides that his best chance of survival after everything goes to hell is to side with Jack. When Sollux and Feferi try to stop him, he knocks the first one out and kills the latter. Then, when Kanaya, who he had previously shown to be the landdweller who he cares about the most (in that he would spare her when he commits genocide) tries to stop him, he destroys the Matriorb, thereby destroying the last hope the trolls as a race had of surviving, then blasts a hole through her stomach.
    • Oh, it gets better. While Eridan had his issues, no one ever suspected that Gamzee, upon becoming sober from his sopor slime, would attempt to kill everyone on the station as a show of his inherent superiority. Boy were we wrong.
    • Courtyard Droll would like to remind you that he's Clubs Deuce's alternate by blowing up Jade to death. His post-scratch self does the same by murdering Jake's dreamself in his sleep, although he does feel a little bad about it.

Web Original

  • Act III of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, when the titular Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain takes off the kid gloves and decides to Murder the Hypotenuse in response to Captain Hammer's merciless taunting over the theft of his would-be girlfriend Penny. Subverted when, even with all the provocation in the world and his Arch Enemy helpless before him, he can't bring himself to pull the trigger. Double Subverted when Hammer turns the tables and the malfunctioning Death Ray explodes, handing Dr. Horrible the victory anyway.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • Jade could also qualify, as her only power is rather weak on its own, being "What a lame power is heart". She's also gained regeneration, but that's not direct damage... except she's got a Mad Scientist on call to make her wonderful toys, and she is VERY clever with using her powers. Amongst other things, she shot someone in the face (Stun), has no qualms about killing enemy mooks if necessary, is known to be a Mama Bear, is working directly for a Cosmic Horror that exists solely to EAT COSMIC HORRORS! Oh, and she once trapped a demon in the body of an infant... Twice. (Forced it to reform itself in an infant body by threatening it... Then trapped it in that body by breast-feeding it... Regenerator milk has very strange properties.)
    • Not to mention the time she was attacked by the Ultra Violent Bloodwolf. She used railway spikes to nail him to a tree, and used silver to burn "I attack little girls" into his chest.
    • Hekate also gets credit, along with Don Sebastaino. Hekate came perilously close to making Fey into her mind-slave, and actually killed Jade, who got better. Both she and Don were revealed to be rapists, and at a much higher level of villainy. While both ended up defeated, Hekate is now working for a A- List Supervillain, the Necromancer. He's not a proper A List or A+ List only by comparison to other Supervillains who kill a whole lot more people.
  • /tg/'s Drew the Lich, an incompetent, Card-Carrying Villain who can't even get the "villain" part right (his phylactery is a Skeletor figurine). Never forget about the lich part, or this may happen. And don't let him plot against you "Whoever said I would act Lawfully?" after all!
  • In the Machinima Deus Ex Machina, Patrick is obviously going to be a villain from the moment you see him, but from his nerdy voice and attitude, he doesn't seem very threatening. Then he gets mindraped by the covenant and dons his supersuit before weakening the earth's defenses to the point that the covenant can easily break through and kill us all WHILE killing off Michael, John's only friend, and making every single attempt to save the world meaningless before throwing him into a pit with two berserkers. Even PLAGUE didn't cross the horizon this much.
  • Survival of the Fittest has Jimmy Brennan, who started out as a Miles Gloriosus type who ran around the forest screaming and pissing his pants in the first thread he appeared in, and bragging about being a Badass in the next. For the most part, his antics are fun in a Crosses the Line Twice sort of way, up until he beats resident Jerk Jock Philip Ward to death with a branch.
  • Omega from Red vs. Blue is an unusual example, as the viewer doesn't learn of his Not So Harmless moment until after he's been absorbed by the Meta, taking him permanently out of the picture: Despite being the Big Bad for the show's first five seasons, Omega/O'Malley was always far too cartoonish and hammy to be taken seriously, being more a parody of the Big Bad archetype. Then, in the beginning of Reconstruction, a shell-shocked Red soldier named Walter explained to Command over what went down after the Blues at Valhalla scavenged Tex's crashed pelican (see the ending to the Blood Gulch Chronicles). Walter's rather detailed description of an ominous 'infection' to the Blues and Reds, on top of how the Blues massacred one another, made Omega seem much more threatening as an antagonist than his previous incarnation ever did. And THEN we learn that he and Gamma were put in charge of torturing the Alpha until its mind disintegrated by trapping it in nightmare situations it couldn't escape from...
  • Dr. Vorn really doesn't look like much of a Mad Scientist when he first arrives, yelping and jumping at least three times in his meeting with Coyle Commander. And yet, his creation successfully infiltrates their rivals, takes over their head quarters and prepares to bring their plans to Take Over the World to life! ...And when that doesn't quite work, the Commander kills Vorn and hires his creation instead.
  • The Big Bad mastermind of Gaia Onlines deicide storyline? Don Kuro, the perpetually five-years-old dark elf mob boss, about whom all we'd known previously was that he likes going to anime conventions (Gaia conventions, even), has an awesome big sister, is a huge Momma's Boy, and owes Devin favors (not that kind).
  • The Nostalgia Critic is a pathetic, miserable, useless waste of space... but he rigged Kickassia with dynamite just in case anyone wanted to take his finally-gained power away.

Western Animation

  • Xin Fu and Master Yu from Avatar: The Last Airbender, the two goons hired to bring Toph back for her parents, seem harmless and not very intelligent at first, but are shown to be relatively competent earthbenders if given their chance to shine, and did in fact even manage to briefly capture their quarry at one point... until she learns Metalbending just in the nick of time to kick their asses all by herself.
  • Cobra Commander may seem like a complete idiot, but remember that he is a notorious international terrorist with an army at his side. If not for the GI Joe team, he likely would have won in the first episode. This is lampshaded in the Darker and Edgier G.I. Joe: Resolute in which he explains that he only acted stupidly and cowardly so that his troops will know how not to behave.
  • The Venture Brothers:
    • The Monarch
      • he is thought of as a Harmless Villain...until he starts killing people with poison darts and elaborate deathtraps.
      • And there was his "minty fresh entrance".
      • The effect of this trope is enhanced due to the fact that the series does a good job making you forget that he's disturbingly competent despite being played for laughs.
      • This also applies to The Monarch's henchmen. This was the only time that they were depicted as a competent fighting force.
      • During his forced hiatus of arching Doctor Venture, apparently even thinking about Doctor Venture was his Berserk Button. During one instance where he failed to muster the hatred to combat his new "weenis" of a protagonist, his wife suggested he pretend that he was Doctor Venture instead. The Monarch then immediately executed the poor walrus-man with a laser cannon.
    • Ted, leader of a group of parodies of Scooby Doo characters, seems like, well, Fred from Scooby-Doo, plus 30 years. Until it comes to light that he's a sadistic kidnapping control freak who has a gun and isn't afraid to use it. Also, you better find some clues in that "haunted house", or he'll "chain you to the back of my van and road haul you 'til you're nothing but a pelvis wearing a belt." It doesn't help that he's also a parody of Ted Bundy.
    • And Dr. Girlfriend's Murderous Moppets/the Pupa Twins, Tim-Tom and Kevin. Yeah, they're unshaven dwarfs dressed like 19th century schoolboys, but they're also deadly hand to hand combatants. Specifically, both of them are Knife Nuts. They're also plotting on the Monarch and his henchmen.
    • Sgt. Hatred seemed too Affably Evil, treating Dr. Venture very cordially after being assigned as his new Arch Enemy. Then he shot Doc in the stomach without provocation. They were rubber bullets, yeah, but that's just his way of "keeping it lively," which just makes it way worse. He is also a pedophile.
    • In season 4 21, previously an incompetent but Genre Savvy henchman, has taken a huge level in badass and has become not only by far the most competent and dangerous of The Monarch's henchman, but also the most mentally imbalanced as well. This is all because of the loss of his best (and perhaps only) friend, 24.
    • The Venture Brothers in general applies this to all villains. The justification is that the villains we see are sanctioned by the Guild of Calamitous Intent, which places strict regulations on arching. OSI, the world police force, tolerates the Guild simply because they have restrictions for their members and the alternative is letting a bunch of pissed-off madmen with exotic weapons, powers, and costumes run around aimlessly.
  • Justice League:
    • John Dee/Dr. Destiny went from sadsack prison inmate to dream-invading psychopath very quickly, though the clear impression is given that he was always that person. After he escaped from prison, Green Lantern wasn't at all concerned because Dee was "a nobody". Batman then reminds him the Cyclops considered Ulysses "a nobody" and lost its eye.
    • The second version of Dee was probably inspired by his really, really creepy, almost squicky depiction in the first run of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. He also shows elements in this incarnation, where he starts out an atrophied, behind the times insomniac whose carjacking attempt only succeeded because the victim was being nice. Then he killed the driver (after patiently listening to her life story), recovered his Artifact of Doom, and drove the entire world mad.
  • While Darkwing Duck's no-nonsense, death-penalty toting Knight Templar future self of Darkwarrior Duck will never be mistaken for harmless, there is a brief point where this is invoked. In a scene cut from the broadcast version, Gosalyn attempts to appeal to Darkwarrior when he pulls his signature, and decidedly non-lethal, gas gun on her. She calls his bluff, when he reveals that he hasn't used a gas gun in years, and that the weapon he's aiming point-blank, at her face is a freaking missile launcher.
  • Stan, Xander Crews' aging, overweight, and constantly exasperated assistant on Frisky Dingo. After Xander went missing, he had him declared dead (calmly explaining such when Crews called him before hanging up and laughing), took over the Crews corporation and, with it, the Crews fortune and Xander's identity as the superhero Awesome X, and his command over the Powered Armor wearing X-Tacles.
  • Zet from Magi Nation. Seeming at first to be a Harmless Villain as one of a Terrible Trio-style set of Those Two Bad Guys (and the eternal Butt Monkey of his Dumb Muscle superior Korg), Zet turned out to be not only a peerless mastermind once he was finally rid of Korg, but is universally considered the hardest boss in the game, having more health than the final boss himself and the ability to act twice in one turn.
  • Sonic Sat AM:
    • Ixis Naugus was on his way to becoming this (along with Snively), but Cancellation and the Power Rangers got in the way. He had only appeared in one episode, and was such a dark horse that viewers had initially speculated that his glowing red eyes at the end of the last episode were Knuckles'.
    • Well, considering he had ROBOTNIK scared shitless of him, we kinda knew right from the start that he was nowhere near harmless.
    • Also, the writers stated that if the series continued, Ixis Nagus would have replaced Robotnik as the Big Bad.
    • The Archie comic version of Sonic the Hedgehog shows just about why Naugus scared the living shits of Robotnik. He's one mean SOB you simply don't want to mess with.
    • The show's third season plans would also have played with this for Snively, Robotnik's downtrodden lackey, who would take over briefly as Big Bad. Though supposedly leaving his mark for a brief while, the Freedom Fighters would eventually begin to overpower him, pressuring him to release Naugus who would begin his aforementioned domination. It should be noted even in what of the series was made, Snively showed odd occasions of competence and even came this close to conquering Knothole.
  • In the He-Man and the Masters of the Universe universe, Hordak managed to share the same fate as Ixis: In the 2002 series, he was used relatively minorly in the series, but would have been more important in the unmade S3.
  • Batman the Animated Series:
    • This version of the Scarecrow is rather unthreatening in appearance, but gets his usual thing on, spreading fear and such. He isn't considered especially threatening until he starts sadistically removing people's fears, causing citywide chaos and panic.
    • Even by the standards of Batman's rogues gallery, the Clock King looks like he should be a pushover. He's just some two-bit pencil-pusher with a bowler hat and clock-themed glasses, right? I mean, the only skill he has is punctuality. What are his chances against Batman? Pretty good, it turns out; his timing is impeccable, and he's studied the way Batman moves, so the Dark Knight can't even land a punch.
    • Not to mention that his skills at timing and planning allowed the Suicide Squad (er, Task Force X) to break in the Justice League Watchtower and steal a god-made all-powerful armor.
  • Batman and Superman:
    • When the first cross-overs between the animated series started, Batman fought Lex and won quite effortlessly when Superman thought he couldn't handle him. And then Superman, who had absolutely dismissed The Joker as goofy-looking nobody, is then nearly defeated by the psycho (not to mention he nearly kills Lois Lane and a few hundred other people while pinning Super down).
    • From an evil point of view, Lex has dismissed Joker himself because he can't handle his 'mere mortal' in Gotham. By the end the Joker completely outdoes him, nearly destroying everything he loves and nearly killing him.
    • As shown above, Lex also felt that Batman was nothing to worry about and saw him as nothing more than a nuisance, that is until Batman breaks into his penthouse and does something that even Superman had failed to do before: scaring the crap out of Lex Luthor. Of course, this is easy to explain; Batman isn't a hero who is so strong that he feels he's "living in a world of cardboard" (as Superman famously put it) so he's not afraid to bend (or even break) the law from time to time if it means taking a greater evil down. Luthor never dreamed anyone would be so bold as to break into his penthouse and threaten him. After Batman does so without a second thought, Luthor decides to give him the same priority as Superman.
  • Tim The Witch Smeller from Sabrina the Animated Series and his pet aardvark look like a joke but are some of the most dangerous villains in the cartoon.
  • Metalocalypse:
    • Charles Foster Ofdensen goes 19 episodes before anyone even says his name; he's the annoying, nasal-voiced nerd lawyer who serves as a voice of reason to the otherwise stupid and possibly insane metal band. And then he has his Crowning Moment of Awesome, and we find out that he's actually been a badass all along, and the villains of the series consider him a bigger obstacle in the way of Dethklok's destruction than Dethklok itself.
    • As a bonus, he seems to actively hide his ruthlessness from Dethklok, and has been known on at least three occasions to lie to them about what he does to people who threaten them, or his own position with the band. In one of the season 2 deleted scenes we see him telling the boys what happened to potential management usurper Melmord Fjordslorn: "Turns out he was a pedophile. What a weirdo." The truth? Ofdensen fought him to the death for the right to manage the band and won.
    • Also Dr. Rockso (the Rock 'n Roll Clown; he does cocaine). No, really. The overweight, coked-up clown dressed in about a yard of fabric with a brightly colored wig and facepaint is a dangerous, dangerous man willing to do whatever it takes to get just a little more of that sweet blow.
  • Blokk in Shadow Raiders, a brute-force driven dimwit who extremely quickly suffers Villain Decay and hardly seems a big deal. But then Planet Rock redeploys its main weapons somewhere else, and Blokk leads a hideously destructive attack and kills the planet's ruler in one-on-one combat. And when the small kids of the show defeat him again, he finally snaps and spends the last episode on a vicious killspree that nearly wipes out the planet.
  • Xiaolin Showdown:
    • Teenage wanna-be villain Jack Spicer, who underwent Villain Decay almost the moment he was introduced in the pilot, and quickly became a one-man Goldfish Poop Gang. At least, until the penultimate episode, when a Bad Future shows that, in a timeline where the heroes weren't around to constantly thwart him, he'd actually defeated all the major villains who were taken more seriously than him, conquered the world, and rechristened himself the Emperor of Darkness.
    • Hannibal Roy Bean even lampshades it in his first appearance by telling Jack that he would have no problems becoming the worst villain ever, if he ever learned to conquer his fears.
  • Gargoyles' Owen Burnett at first merely seems like an uptight man Friday for David Xanatos—but not only does he quickly prove to be an extremely competent badass in his own right, he is in fact Puck, an immortal Trickster with vast magical powers.
  • Transformers Animated:
    • It appears to be doing this cross-shows with Wasp(inator). The Beast Wars character he was based on was the Chew Toy and the definition of a Harmless Villain with a weird speech pattern, but this version is dangerously deranged and the way he talks is a result of insanity brought on by years of imprisonment for something he didn't do.
    • And after he became Waspinator he's now twice as big as Prime. Not to mention he's hopped up on unstable Transwarp energy. Oh, and like his Beast Wars counterpart, getting blown to pieces isn't exactly life threatening to him.
    • The Decepticons Starscream, Blitzwing, and Lugnut also fall under this category. They aren't too bright (although Starscream has some moments), are very comical, and are each capable of single handedly defeating all 5 main Autobots without too much trouble in a straight fight.
      • Not to mention Swindle, an arms dealer based on Ron Popeil with hidden weaponry up the exhaust port and surprisingly sneaky and clever.
      • When Starscream made a bunch of clones, they all set to bickering, and their personalities really affected how they fought (Skywarp was too much of a Dirty Coward, and Ramjet and Thundercracker spent too much time talking). Slipstream and Sunstorm, however were more effective, taking Bulkhead and Prowl down respectively.
    • Hell, even some of the human villains get this...Most notably the Headmaster, who's basically an Internet Tough Guy with a Mini-Mecha that he can take over other robots with. Robots includeing Bulkhead and, later on, the aforementioned Starscream. It's fair to say Animated has a lot of this going around.
  • The Decepticons from the original Transformers cartoon were originally portrayed as goofy, incompetent villains who constantly lost to the Autobots every single time throughout the first two seasons, but from Transformers: The Movie onwards, they actually began killing almost half the original Autobot cast! (out-of-universe, this was actually done by the writers just so they can make room for new characters, both 'Bot and 'Con alike) The third and final season, as with the Japanese sequels, actually portrayed all of the 'Cons as true villains.
  • Danny Phantom:
    • The Box Ghost was a minor incompetent villain, only posing a serious threat to Danny when he was first starting out. But then he stole Pandora's Box and started releasing Sealed Evil in a Can all over the place...
    • Not to mention his effectiveness in the future... Beware indeed.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Most of Dr. Drakken's schemes nearly work, but there's usually some fatal flaw that destroys them. If not that, there always a Genre Savvy cheerleader or a certain molerat who gets in the way.
    • So the Drama saw him succeed on a grander scale, and showed how dangerous he can be when he finally learns from his past mistakes.
    • In the second finale, he underwent a plant mutation that at first made it look like he was turning into a monster, but then it appeared to make him look even more ridiculous. Turns out though, this mutation gave him powerful, destructive vines that he used to crush the alien walkers, earning him his very first victory. If the writers had decided to continue the series, he really would be a force to be reckoned with.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Subverted with the Amoeba Boys. One episode has them unleash a potentially life-threatening virus that quickly spreads throughout the whole city. This would normally make them qualify, except for the facts that A. it was a complete accident on their part, B. they literally had no idea that they were the ones responsible for the outbreak until the Girls convinced them to hope create a vaccine, and C. They themselves were infected by the virus.
    • In another episode, the girls believe they were Obfuscating Stupidity after being caught in a trap. Of course the trap was really the plan of Mojo Jojo and the girls were the ones who set it up.
  • Inverted with Valmont from Jackie Chan Adventures. Involves a Timey-Wimey Ball and complications.
  • Lucius on Jimmy Two-Shoes is usually the posterboy for The Devil Is a Loser. However, according to Word of God, he has powers that can allow him to remake the planet to his will! The sole reason he doesn't is because he wants to prove to everyone he doesn't need to.
  • Though not shown often from the present day one, Swiper the Fox, of all people, sometimes has shades of this. His Bad Future self reveals the only reason Dora can stop him is he's just polite enough to listen to her "Swiper no swiping" trick. When he ended up on the Naughty List on Christmas, he stops listening at all. The result is he becomes so successful and steals so much stuff the future Dora angrily tells the present Swiper there's nothing left to swipe and he's single handedly ruined everyone's Christmas since that day. Then when the past Swiper tries the "Swiper no swiping" trick on his future self, future Swiper simply laughs at him and says it doesn't work anymore before stealing said item anyway. Good thing Swiper is polite, huh?
  • Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension has an Alternate Universe version of Dr. Doofenschmirtz who is way more evil and dangerous than the one we're accustomed to.
  • The Urpneys of The Dreamstone are blundering idiots who even the heroes described as being "tiresome". However despite their haplessness, they did on several occasions manage to outsmart or capture the heroes and actually succeeded in bringing the Dreamstone to Zordrak multiple times over. It was merely stopping the heroes from stealing it back they had problems with. In some cases it was a mere number of conveniences that gave the heroes a victory.
  • Abizz Mal of Aladdin is mostly by far the least threatening of Aladdin's Rogues Gallery, but there are times when he's managed to not only get the upper hand, but come dangerously close to winning, such as when he took advantage of Jasmine's amnesia in order to brainwash her into a fanatically loyal, nigh-unstoppable One Woman Army..
    • There's also Mechanikles. Like Abizz Mal, his one episode where he's a major threat involves brainwashing. Unlike Abizz Mal, however, he doesn't brainwash just Jasmine, but everyone in Agrabah except Aladdin and Genie.
  • Dr Robotnik of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is largely considered far more incompetant than most other incarnations of the doctor, however he has been shown to be Dangerously Genre Savvy several times over and many of his inventions, as goofy as they are, are very elaborate or at least work as he intended.
  • Shredder of the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon is similarly considered a heavy downgrade from his fearsome alternate counterparts, but he still possesses combat skills that usually only Master Splinter can rival, and his schemes, though cartoony, range anywhere from pitiful to potentially deadly. Following the Darker and Edgier reboot in later seasons, he has a minor, but more fearsome role.

Shredder: I never bluff...

  • Ben 10 has several cases like this:
    • Dr Animo is a stereotypical Mad Scientist mostly considered as a joke (though he was considered as Ben's thid most dangerous enemy in the original series, but considering the ones before him were Vilgax and Kevin 11, that makes him the least impressive of the three). In Alien Force episode Voided, however, he has ended up in an alternate dimension where he became a ruthless dictator by taking control over the alien animals used to keep the dimension, and almost created a portail to go invade Earth. Sadly, after this episode, he is back to being a joke.
    • The Forever Knight, while creepy and threatening in the original series, were gradually turned into a joke over the course of Alien Force and Ultimate Alien, to the point in one episode, Gwen (who is usually the Only Sane Woman of the group) considered Ben supporting his girlfriend in a tennis match was a priority over preventing them to take over the world. Comes season 2 of Ultimate Alien, their original leader is back and turned them into a much more competent group with hight-tech weapons and who actually succeed in killing a recurring character.
    • Vilgax's sidekick Psyphon was passive for most of his screen time, usually contempting himself with being a messenger, advisor, scientist and lackey. After Vilgax is apparently killed in the finale of Alien Force, he goes on a Avenging the Villain moment against Ben. Turns out he is skilled enough to handle Ultimate Spider-Monkey in a hand-to-hand fight.
  • When the Pakleds appeared in Star Trek: The Next Generation, they were joke villains intentionally portrayed as incompetent and dimwitted, the reason the crew mistook them for harmless. In Star Trek: Lower Decks, while still incompetent and dimwitted, they manage to be a legitimate threat, mostly because Starfleet never considered them to be such and ignored them. Indeed, the episode "No Small Parts" could be seen as a precautionary tale to any who dismiss a potential threat as unimportant.

Real Life

  • In 1933, the leaders of the German government decided to make the leader of a popular political party the Chancellor (i.e. Prime Minister, in a system where he shared power with the President). The leaders thought of this appointment as a way to get easy political support, saying they had "boxed him in", and "we've hired him." That party leader was Adolf Hitler of the Nazi party.
  • On a larger scale, Germany in 1939, despite huge military efforts, still lagged behind England and France in the number of heavy weapons (no heavy tanks, less and worse cannons etc.) so it was assumed a full-scale war between Germany and Allies would be a German defeat. During his conference in September 1939, for example, Stalin outlined 3 scenarios: Germany loses quickly, becomes France's colony and the USSR has to deal with France and UK, which is BAD, Germany loses a long war and has a communist revolution, which is GOOD, and Germany fights Allies to standstill, which is also generally good, as it opens a way for communist propaganda. The Allies themselves also assumed similar outcomes, though with different appreciation. So when Germany beat the Allies in such a fast and one-sided way it was a huge shock for everyone else.
  • Poland in 1939. Out-numbered, out-gunned (their equipment was way below par), and fighting with an outdated battle plan, they still managed to give the Germans a bloody nose (285 aircraft lost, 279 damaged, and virtually a whole armoured division worth of equipment). Note: Poland was outnumbered 59 to 1 in that battle. (80 to 1 if you count the reinforcements Germany had.)
  • The Allies thought Japan was inferior compared to the likes of Germany or Italy. They were so dead wrong.
  • As a young man, Julius Caesar was captured by pirates and held for ransom. They got to liking him, since he would play their games and joke with them. He would often smile and say to them that when he was free, he would return with a fleet and crucify them. He wasn't joking.
  • During the Peloponnesian War, both Athens and Sparta considered the kingdom of Macedonia in northern Greece unimportant, weak, and barely better than barbarians who didn't speak the Greek language. During the century that followed, however, Macedonia grew to be the dominant power in Greece, and under Alexander the Great, its army conquered the Persian Empire and continued on, extending its empire as far east as India.
  • This trope is the whole idea behind gambling hustlers. They play intentionally badly for a few games, and when the stakes get really high, they play to their full ability and make off with a ton of cash.
  • Acording to Richard Clarke, the CIA initially thought of Osama Bin Laden as a rich kid who wrote checks to terrorist groups.
  • The Bourbons were a minor noble family when they were chosen to lead France in the hope that they'd leave the other nobles alone to go about their business. Through a long string of political marriages they had gained direct control of about sixty percent of the country by the time of the revolution.
  • Pretty much every time you read a phrase to the effect of "all factions agreed on X, because they KNEW he wouldn't do anything"—you can be pretty sure major changes are ahead.
  • There's a reason that a graphic image depicting the Starting-forces/Casualty-count of The Winter War has made the rounds online as a Fauxtivational Poster with the caption "Be afraid [of Finland]. Be very afraid."
  1. To put that into further perspective; not even the Onion Knight, the Cloud of Darkness' fated nemesis, could kill her in his main storyline.