Puny Earthlings

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"Puny Earthlings! Who will save you now?"
Ming The Merciless, Flash Gordon

Humanity is just plain less cool than the other sapient peoples of the universe. By any standard one cares to choose, aliens of any type are greater than or equal to humanity, with the occasional weak point, often due to their Bizarre Alien Biology.

This makes sense in the case of aliens landing on Earth; you have to be pretty self-assured in your own abilities to risk landing on a rock dominated by near-hairless apes with nuclear weapons. One would assume that a weaker alien - at least one without massively compensatory technology - would just keep right on flying, and go land on a planet full of Smurfs.

Even in Space Opera, where we do most of the landing, it's rare to encounter a species that is inferior to humanity in all ways; the Cargo Cult are usually not advanced technologically or mentally, but they may very well be stronger and tougher than their so-called god.

In comics, nearly every alien is outright superpowered. Of course, almost all major characters in mainstream comics are super, so that's not so illustrative.

This is also a staple of Tabletop Games and other fantasy games, where humanity is almost always the "Middle Race", with no one attribute that stands out, but instead a balance of all stats and abilities as they are usually the basis of the design of all other main races.

Just to add to the insult, they all live longer than humans, too.

One thing humans can do to balance the scales, apparently, is mate with any of these superior species to create Half Human Hybrids with those traits. Sometimes even humans that were only raised by aliens are likely to somehow "inherit" abilities from their foster parents. The more "human" the alien is, the greater the apparent tendency to give them superpowers.

This may be due to the fact that aliens in fiction are, more often than not, either outwardly indistinguishable from humans or just humans with stuff tacked on. No actor would put up with the makeup artist taking parts away.

As if all the above wasn't humiliating enough, aliens also are viewed as (or view themselves as) morally stronger than weak-principled humans who do such unthinkable things as murder, rape, pillage and hate. Thus, they have the ethical imperative to put us all on trial for our crimes if they so desire. Apparently, humans are the ONLY sentient race in the whole universe who've ever killed one of their own kind in anger; nobody ever questions this.

Point any of this out in the presence of the hero, though, and you're likely to get yourself a Patrick Stewart Speech. Sometimes the speech is justified; often even the physically superior aliens will admit that Humans Are Special.

On the other hand, sometimes our "inferiority" isn't necessarily a bad thing. While humans might lack the strengths of the aliens in question, they might also lack its weaknesses. More than anything, humans are adaptable, oftentimes moreso than the supposedly "superior" races. Unless you take into account that many of these weaknesses are usually very rare, while they can bathe in stuff that can kill humans in seconds.

This trope is common because, even among Earthly life forms, most people (and intellectuals/writers) believe humans are squishy wizards who hold an obvious advantage only in intelligence. Other animals are always faster, stronger, tougher and more agile than a human. In truth, humanity stacks up decently enough against many individual species rather than the vague "animal kingdom" amalgam that it is most often compared to, but quite badly against other predators. It is in fact likely that a human (even prehistoric) deprived of their intelligence and thus ability to manufacture tools, clothing, and shelter would rapidly die from starvation and exposure. Other predators rely purely on their innate physical abilities.

Contrast Humanity Is Superior, Humans Are Special, Humans Are Cthulhu, and Humans Are Warriors. See also Humans Are the Real Monsters, Humans Are Morons, Humans Are Average, and Insignificant Little Blue Planet.

Not to be confused with Earthlings.

Examples of Puny Earthlings include:


Anime and Manga[edit | hide | hide all]

  • The humans (and inexplicable Funny Animals) of Dragon Ball and its offspring are completely, pitifully underpowered. Case in point: the term "power level" was used liberally in the first season of Dragon Ball Z; the higher someone's "power level," the stronger they were. An average human's power level is 5. The first villain we encounter in the series has a power level of 1,200. Add the Sorting Algorithm of Evil into the mix and you've got yourself a race that has apparently survived its entire existence on little more than a wing and a prayer. (That, or the fact that their savior's power level is OVER 9000!. Naturally, he's not human.)
    • However, for some reason human/Saiyan hybrids have the potential to be far more powerful than both races...
    • Might have something to do with Saiyans and humans both having an ape-ancestry...
    • If you look at the power levels achieved by the few humans who did become strong, you realize that humans have the ability to increase their power much more (by many orders of magnitude) than most aliens of whom it is explicitly stated in the Freiza arc that, with the exception of a few mutants, mostly do not have the capacity to increase their baseline power by very much. It of course helps that humans baseline power is so low. But couple this potential for growth with the Saiyans strong baseline power and ability to grow stronger after severe injury, and the strength of the hybrids is not so surprising.
    • It's not necessarily so much that Dragonball humans are inherently weak, per se, in terms of their ki, but rather that their fighting techniques are pitifully weak compared to those of other races and for a long time they (with a few exceptions) didn't even know about the existence of ki - while everyone else did. The human Z-fighters in fact become respectable warriors if they're exposed to the superior techniques of aliens like Kame and King Kai, well exceeding Saiyan or Namekian baseline power. Dragon Ball Online, which is canon for the DBZ universe according to Akira Toriyama, features humans becoming much more of a warrior race once the secrets of ki become more widespread and the Z-fighters begin passing on their superior training methods to the rest of humanity.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, practically every world out there has access to Magitek... with one of the few exceptions being earth. Earthlings have zero magic culture since the vast majority of us have diddly squat magic capabilities. However, as though following some strange law of averages to balance all the puny earthlings, it's mentioned that when the exceedingly rare earth mages are found, they tend to be sickeningly powerful ones like Nanoha, Hayate, and Gil Graham.
  • In Haruhi Suzumiya, there are possibly-omniscient aliens capable of Rewriting Reality and surviving attacks which would kill a normal human... of course, this is softened somewhat by the fact that the most powerful being in the series is an otherwise normal human girl, or at least she would be if she knew of her powers. Her existence also caused a group of humans to gain Psychic Powers, though...
  • In Outlaw Star, there was an episode where there was an alien being resembling a cactus that had the power to influence and control everything living around them. Subverted in that when its power didn't work, it was completely helpless. This led to a less-than-dignified death delivered by the hands...er, feet of the waifish Melfina.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist the villain Father ( a walking Eldritch Abomination in human skin) considers himself so far above humanity that to call humans "fools" would be like humans calling ants "fools".


Comic Books[edit | hide]

  • While The DCU is probably the king of this trope thanks to Superman et al., it's rather surprisingly averted in Green Lantern Corps: there are a multitude of alien races, some of which are just plain better than humans, but most of which have their own advantages and disadvantages (one race has no concept of sound, another has no sight, one member is a sentient planet, another is a sentient strain of smallpox, and so on.) Humans do still get picked on, though (you can thank Hal for that one).
    • It's also worth noting highly powerful superheroes like Superman, Wonder Woman, etc, really don't take kindly to other superpowered beings scoffing at the supposed lameness of humans (said scoffers usually have to eat their words due to good ol' human scrappiness winning out against high odds, and the protective heroes delivering smug "I told you so"'s.)
  • Starfire from Teen Titans is an alien who is actually superpowered by their own standards; she has the ability to fly, learn foreign languages through kissing, superhuman strength and endurance, and the ability to shoot energy beams. All but the last of these is standard issue for her species.
  • The Legion of Super-Heroes had multitudes of Human Aliens, each race with a specific power, but later Retcon and Continuity Reboot gave them a Meta Origin as Phlebotinum Rebel Transplanted Humans.
  • While the Marvel Universe has less of this trope than DC, most aliens are still super-powered in some way. The most commonly seen aliens are the shapeshifting Skrulls and Dire Wraiths, the Kree and the Shi'Ar who both have greater strength and stamina than humans, and the Watchers and Celestials-- fuggeddaboudit.
  • In Elf Quest not only do the elven main characters look down on humans because the elves all have incredible looks, lifespan and abilities, the readers so it seems, are expected to agree with them. But the most annoying part is: In real life we have evil and selfless, stupid and clever, abject and proud people. In Elfquest, while not all of them are evil, most humans are. Evil or not, all humans can be tricked by elves in a way a five year old wouldn't fall for in real life. And all the non-evil humans kiss the feet of the elves in that Can't Argue with Elves way.
  • In most comic book continuities though, the advantage humans have over the other races is that earth will have a ridiculously high concentration of humans with superpowers. There may be a whole planet of hawkmen, or a whole planet of shapeshifters, but humans are the ones that spontaneously mutate superpowers through random accidents or X-genes. Aliens with superhero level abilities will almost never have any variety in powers and conversely will have common weaknesses. And then there are the many humans, both good and evil, who will use their scientific abilities to create weapons and armor to even the odds when they fight their alien foes. The likes of Iron Man and Doctor Doom might not have the same fancy innate abilities as the Skrulls or the Shi'ar, but they're easily a match when it comes to intelligence and science smarts.
    • In fact, the DC Comics Crisis Crossover "Invasion!" was precisely about this fact: The alien Dominators wanted to exploit our superbeings to conquer the universe, but had to trick other alien races into helping capture them first, on the excuse that humans are troublesome, genetic freaks.
  • In Invincible this is both played straight and subverted - several aliens are more powerful than humans, especially the Viltrumites (who are like humans.... but with mustaches, superpowers and really long life spans). But at one point there is an alien race with much shorter lifespans, and Allen the Alien is considered superpowered by his own race's standards.


Film[edit | hide]

  • Parodied in Spaced Invaders, in a scene where the small band of Martians leave their ship and threaten to blow up the Earth with their supposed super-weapon, until it's pointed out to them that their ship would be destroyed as well. The Martians flee in disorder:

"'Prepare to die, Earth scum, prepare to die, Earth scum!' I'll make sure they carve that on your tombstone!"

Trio of Agents: It's Him. The Anomaly. Do we proceed? Yes. He is still. Only human.

  • The Na'Vi in Avatar are nearly twice the size of humans, and even more strong, fast and agile on their home turf - not the mention the ability to neurally link with other lifeforms via a 'plug' in their hair. Although the humans definitely have the technological advantage, and even then the Na'Vi seem to take to guns pretty quickly...
    • Not so sure that they're any stronger than humans—it is (supposedly) a low-gravity planet. Interestingly, sort-of subverted in that the genetically-engineered avatars *are* stronger than the locals.
  • Neil Gaiman used to tell about receiving a script for a potential movie adaptation of Sandman. He read until he came to a scene where Morpheus is attacked by soldiers while proclaiming "Puny humans! Your weapons cannot harm Morpheus, the Lord of Dreams!" at which point he put the script down and refused to read even one page further.
  • Taken to another level in The Avengers, wherein the Hulk beats the ever-loving crap out of Loki and then says, "Puny God."


Fanfic[edit | hide]

  • A botched attempt happens in Naga Eyes. Riku the naga goes on and on about how humans are weak compared to nagas. This would be all fine and well, if it weren't for the fact that a naga's life seems to consist of little more than lying around and eating a random passers-by or two.
  • Completely inverted in the Jenkinsverse, where humans are to the rest of the galaxy what Xenomorphs are to the crew of the Nostromo.

Literature[edit | hide]

  • More generally, in Fantasy that use the Tolkienian archetypes for non-human races, elves are typically longer-lived, more graceful and refined, wiser and better with magic than humans. Dwarves are also longer-lived, are physically tougher and often have superior technology, frequently Steampunkish compared to what others have.
    • Hobbits, on the other hand, rarely are luckier than average midgets.
    • Arguably an Unbuilt Trope by Tolkien himself. His elves may be all kinds of badass (although their superiority is usually more alluded to than spelled out in loving detail), but they're at least as capable of making a mess of things as humans are—and they are bound to the world that humans get to leave behind after death.
  • Animorphs had an interesting variation - though the aliens were far more advanced, it seemed to have only been because of a head start. The Andalites took three times as long as humans to go from heavier-than-air flight to landing on the moon. (One wonders what things would've been like a few decades after the end of the series, considering that by then, humanity's first faster-than-light spacecraft was under construction.) Another thing that scared the wits out of some aliens was sheer numbers. ("You mean five million, Sub-Visser?")
    • Speaking of the Andalites, they have insanly weak arms so much that one is shocked that a human child can throw a rock
    • Indeed, of all the major alien species in Animorphs, only the Ellimist has any claim to being entirely superior to humanity: Yeerks are useless without a host; Gedds are barely sentient, weak and clumsy; Hork-Bajir aren't terribly bright on average (seers being the exception) and appear to age faster (though they're no joke in physical matters); and Taxxons can't control their own hunger.
  • The inversion is Older Than Radio, and almost older than the core trope itself. In the John Carter of Mars books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the Earthman transported to the lower gravity of "Barsoom" has remarkable strength, leaping abilities, and endurance.
  • Robert Zubrin's The Holy Land. Of course, they're all humans, but the Earthling humans have terrible hygiene, are shorter and less physically fit, and have absolutely no Psychic Powers.
  • Inverted in E. E. "Doc" Smith's Spacehounds of IPC; the inhabitants of Saturn's moon, Titan, can't stand the "dreadful temperatures" and "crushing pressure" on Saturn's surface. To the human protagonists, meanwhile, it's basically a midsummer's day.
  • Referenced in The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi. Humans are slower and weaker than most other alien races, which is why they no longer use unaltered humans as soldiers. (They prefer instead to use genetically engineered Super Soldiers with transplanted minds.)
  • In the Known Space universe by Larry Niven, Humans have been regularly at war with a race, the Kzin, described in various books as being walking, talking, 700 pound tigers. Even more impressive, humans begin the conflict as a nearly pacifist race, having been turned into near sheep by the ruling UN. They owe much of their survival to wild innovation and what the Kzin disparagingly refer to as "monkey curiosity". Good old humanity is somewhat helped by a hyper paranoid race called the Puppeteers, who like them enough to slowly sell them (or rather, arrange to have sold to them) faster than light technology. Later on the Puppeteers are revealed to be so paranoid that only their most mentally unstable even consider faster than light travel.
    • Heck, the Kzinti were getting kicked around by human merchant fleets using their laser engines as weaponry. Getting FTL just sped up the process.
    • The Humans were becoming pacifistic as they had nearly wiped themselves out several times already. The Kzinti found out the hard way how skilled Humans are at waging war.
    • Kzin are not the most dangerous of the Known Space races. Humans who wear the Hellflare can kill Kzin males without weapons. But other species, like the Pak Protectors and the Kdatlyno, are much more than a match for humans (a human Protector fighting to lose was nearly too much for Louis Wu's Motley Crew). The Grogs and the Slavers have irresistable Mind Control powers that work on anything with a nervous system. The Jinxian Bandersnatch can crush a tank. Feral Jotoki are feared in their native environment even by Kzin hunters. And even the cowardly Puppeteers can kick a man's heart out through theirs spine.
  • Used for satiric purposes in Voltaire (the philosopher, not the musician)'s short story Micromegas, which involves two colossal aliens, one from Saturn and the other from Sirius, visiting Earth. The Saturnian mourns that he has only 72 senses in comparison to the Sirian's nearly 1,000 senses. And Micromegas states that he met creatures far superior to himself.
  • Inverted in the Alan Dean Foster The Damned trilogy, where humans are among the toughest sons of bitches in the galaxy, and are better at war than any other species. We also have natural immunity to Mind Control, and when we're rewired to remove that ability, and then unwired, can demonstrate said mind control (and then pass it on to our children).
    • Averted with the thranx in Foster's Humanx Commonwealth novels, as these insectoids have as many physical disadvantages (easily drowned, bad climbers, limbless juveniles) as advantages (extra legs, good senses, tough exoskeleton) over humans.
  • The eponymous Stranger in Stranger in A Strange Land qualifies as "humans raised by aliens are likely to somehow 'inherit' abilities from their foster parents".
    • Humans can gain these abilities too, so it's more of a training thing.
  • The Oankali from Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series all have interesting powers.
  • A minor (Grannan) character in the Star Wars Expanded Universe Black Fleet trilogy comments that X-wings are designed for human tolerances, prompting Admiral Ackbar to comment that it's "frustrating to be held back by their limitations."
  • Gulliver's Travels features a race of Giants and a race of morally and intellectually superior horses.
  • The "humans are the only race ever to be put on trial" thing is at least averted in Robert Heinlein's juvenile novel, Have Space Suit Will Travel. Humanity does end up being judged by the Council of Superpowered Aliens; however, this trial comes right on the tail of another race being put on trial, so it seems to be a fairly routine procedure. And the other aliens which are indisputably worse get thrown in the wastebin, whereas the human race is still considered redeemable.
  • In a short story by Sergey Lukyanenko, three alien ships arrive to Earth and demand that humans move as many as they can into the polar regions, so that the aliens can settle most of Earth. The main character is a diplomat sent to negotiate with the alien representative, who turns out to be a pretty decent guy, regretful of having to do this. However, their homeworld is threatened by a black hole, and habitable planets are rare. In the end, though, the alien gladly informs the diplomat that they managed to terraform Venus and stop the black hole, all within a few weeks of arriving to Earth. He also remembers his grandfather who discovered the wheel. Furthermore, he offers to give their ships to humans, as they are now obsolete, and explains that the reason humans were never conquered by another race is because we're "so pathetic." I guess it makes sense if you have gone from wheel to interstellar travel within a century while someone else took millennia just to reach the atomic age.
  • Used to a minor extent in C. J. Cherryh's Foreigner series. The alien atevi are bigger (and thus stronger) than humans, have superior hearing and night-vision, are much better at math, have the innate ability to instantly and accurately count things, and once they count something they have a Photographic Memory of the resulting number.
  • In Gordon R. Dickson's novel Spatial Delivery, the two alien races who come into play are both giants compared to humans. A member of the species who act as the antagonists of the story (enormous beings from a high-gravity planet) once showed up to the Olympic Games on Earth and casually proceeded to break several human track and field records in quick succession without even trying, just to show his contempt.
  • If anything this is played straighter in the Discworld books than in most non-parody fantasy. Most sapient races are flat out better than humans: dwarfs are tougher, stronger and live longer, trolls and golems are near indestructable and incredibly strong (and trolls are incredibly intelligent when in cooler temperatures), vampires have all their standard strengths and can even learn to replace their lust for blood, pictsies are unbelievably strong and ferocious (gnomes are described as being as strong as a human despite being half the size of a Barbie doll) and orcs can only be called superbeings.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • Alien Nation depicted the Newcomers as generally better in every way; physically stronger (they were labor slaves) and able to learn in years what took humans decades, with the vulnerability to salt water as the only major downside. This created a lot of resentment among human supremacists.
    • Seeing how they mostly live right next to the ocean, that's a pretty big downside.
    • They were also poisoned by the proteins in cooked meat.
    • Also, most of these characteristics derived from genetic manipulation, as their former oppressors engineered the Tenctonese to be a perfectly adapted slave race.
  • This usually applies in Star Trek. To illustrate, the most commonly seen alien races would probably be the Vulcans, Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, and Ferengi. Of that list, the only aliens not physically stronger than humans are the Ferengi, and even that wasn't true in their first appearance. Some of those races also have longer lifespans than humans, but none have shorter. There are exceptions; for example, Star Trek: Voyager's Kes belongs to a species that only has a nine-year lifespan.
    • The species is, however, telepathic, has photographic memory and mature very fast. Whether this makes up for the short lifespan is in the eye of the beholder. (They'd kind of have to mature fast, wouldn't they?)
      • Also they apparently can only have a single child, once. Um..., without a high rate of multiple births, that would mean the population halves every generation.
    • The Elaysians (which appeared on Deep Space Nine) come from a low-gravity environment. They would almost collapse under their own weight in normal gravity even with a gravity harness.
    • Averted with the majority of the Bajorans. Only the Kai have any special abilities, and that's only by virtue of being proxies for the Prophets.
    • And Klingons are only stronger than humans as a general species average—well-built and skilled humans can and do take them down in hand-to-hand combat on screen.
  • Used pretty much continually and consistently on Doctor Who, both as an excuse by the invading alien menace to do whatever they please, and as a reason by the Doctor as to why he defends Earthlings.
  • Similarly to the Legion of Super-Heroes, on Smallville, every single familiar-looking alien race shown so far has had some kind of superpowers, and most are also much stronger and tougher than humans.
  • Power Rangers plays this utterly straight. We have tiny lifespans measured in (at extremes) centuries rather than millions of years, we have no innate superpowers or weaponry, we can't grow several hundred feet tall on demand like most species seem to be able to, pretty much anything more complex than a morpher that we make is either really buggy or made with large amounts of outside help (if not borrowed entirely), and our only native tribe of mages that hasn't wiped itself out lives in a pocket dimension, rarely coming out (and are led by an alien witch, no less). Somehow, despite this utter lack of talent, ability, or luck, humanity (specifically, California) has managed to turn back armed invasion by more or less the entire known universe, with minimal amounts of aid.
  • Mork from Mork and Mindy looks human, but also has powers.
  • In Farscape, humans are lacking compared to a great many species, especially in terms of life spans. However, this is not played completely straight, as humans have a much greater heat tolerance compared to Sebaceans. Furthermore, at least some of these superiorities may not be natural, as Sebaceans have greater eyesight and lifespan (though not heat resistance), and yet they are implied to be the descendants of humans.
    • In the Peacekeeper War miniseries, Sebaceans are revealed to be genetically altered humans, created to be the muscle for the great peacemaker aliens. Things went slightly wrong when these aliens got sealed away and left the Peacekeepers on their own.
  • The Human Aliens of Roswell have various superpowers.
  • Averted quite hard in the Stargate Verse. Humans have been able to grievously upset a power balance that has stood for thousands of years and kick the collective butts of many an advanced species.
    • Specifically, the Goa'uld are stupid egomaniacs with a god complex and ineffective technology. The Asgard are physically about as strong as an infant. The Replicators (Milky Way) aren't really sentient. Pretty much everyone else is either human or a Reality Warper.
    • OTOH, aside from the Asgard and the Reol, we're pretty near the bottom of the raw strength scale.
  • In Babylon 5, the humans are behind the other major races technologically (except possibly the Narn), are considerably bigoted (a failing of all the races), are Curb Stomped by the Minbari, and do little against the Shadows (when one thinks about it, it is largely a Minbari-Shadow war, with a few hangers on). In general humans, except for the main characters, come off rather poorly.
  • Demon variant on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, where both vampires and demons look down on humans, even though vampires themselves are the lowest of the low to demon races, and demon races are all likely tainted with humanity anyway. Both types are stronger, faster and have various supernatural abilities.


Music[edit | hide]

  • Princes of the Universe by Queen

I am immortal/I have inside me blood of kings! (YEAH! YEAH!)/I have no rival/No man can be my equal/Said to be the future of you all!


Newspaper Comics[edit | hide]


Tabletop Games[edit | hide]

  • In Dungeons & Dragons, humans on average were always weaker in at least one stat than any other race: elves had agility (and sometimes intelligence), dwarves had strength and endurance, and so on. But until the third edition of the game, the other races were limited in their choice of classes and their advancement therein, while humans could take up any profession and progress to any experience level with no restrictions. In Third Edition, classes are opened up to all races, but humans get more skill points and a bonus feat, representing their "versatility" as the Jack of All Stats of the setting.
  • Inverted in the post-apocalyptic Tabletop Games Gamma World. Humans that survived the nuclear apocalypse unaltered are assumed to be of incredibly hardy genetic material. They are much more resilient than other races (though they lack the super-powers and cool mutations of others).
    • A later Dragon article insisted that the "pure strain humans" were actually products of a few centuries of genetic engineering, a la Star Trek Augments. Humans who hadn't received such gene therapy (i.e. us) were total wimps by contrast, and were the ancestors of the game's human mutants, lacking the mislabeled "pure strain's" resistance to radioactive mutagens.
  • In Mortasheen, humans are not very high on the food chain, usually ending up as either food, experimental subjects or sometimes pets, which is why the human civilization of Wreathe is so genocidal towards all the setting's monsters and mutants. Though, actual native Mortasheen humans are rather blase about this whole state of affairs, sometimes even volunteering for experiments to try and become something less vulnerable.
  • Warhammer 40,000 is a particularly strong example, where an unaugmented human is among the weakest, most pathetic things on the battlefield. Orks are stronger, more resourceful and ridiculously hard to both kill individually and wipe out as a whole. Eldar are faster, longer-lived, more intelligent (or act it), universally psychic and with ludicrously advanced technology. Humans have three things going for them: the comprehensively superhuman Space Marines, above and beyond most other races' footsoldiers, the best Tanks in the setting, and sheer numbers; the one resource the Imperium is never, ever short of is manpower. (Of course, this tends to lead to... wastefulness.)
    • Humanity also has the advantage of variety and a good deal of psychic potential - less so than the Eldar, but there's more eligible human psykers than there are Eldar, period (although only a handful of those even survive...).
    • It has to be noted that humans, while weak, aren't the weakest sapients in the setting - that honour goes to the Tau (okay maybe the gretchin), who are, on average weaker, shorter-lived, less skilled in melee and have even worse eyesight, needing advanced targeting equipment to hit as well as humans. They make up for it by having some of the best-equipped armies in the setting, and only getting better.
      • The eyesight of the Tau is a point of much contention and debate in various novels and books. The current consensus appears to be that Tau can see into the IR and UV spectra naturally and can pick out much finer visual detail than humans (humans will get eyestrain trying to understand Tau art): However, their eyes take longer to gauge distances and focus on moving objects.
  • Played almost depressingly straight in Exalted. The player characters are among the eponymous Exalted, humans given the ability to perform superhuman feats of magic and badassery by virtue of having received a sliver of divine power (the source of which determines what type of Exalted they are). Those humans who don't get chosen, though? Pretty much at the bottom of the world's sentient totem pole; their main use, as far as many gods and even Exalted are concerned, is that they're good at offering prayers and sacrifices and make useful pawns. What's worse is that they were specifically designed to be that way.
  • Averted in most games by Deep 7. Santa's Soldiers? Humans are stronger, taller, and faster than the game's Christmas Elves, but cannot use magic. In Arrowflight, Humans are the result of demons seducuing elves, and therefore walk the fine line between Order and Chaos. In their Red Dwarf RPG, humans have bonuses to their endurance because they're the ones crazy enough to invent vindaloo and New Age music.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • In Halo, humans compare poorly to the Covenant, not just in terms of which has superior technology; a Covenant Elite or a Brute is dramatically stronger than a human, while a Covenant Hunter is pretty much a walking artillery unit, able to wipe out normal humans by the squad, and can only really be stopped by heavy weapons. Only the superhuman SPARTANs can outclass, or even match, these three Covenant races. Humans attempt to balance the scales through The Spartan Way (duh).
    • Just how puny the Puny Earthlings are in the Haloverse depends entirely on where you look. In the books, it's said that a single Elite is an even match for an entire squad of marines, while a Brute is an even match for a Spartan in close-quarters combat. In the games... not so much. Hell, even the books are inconsistent about it, as in Contact Harvest two squads of colonial militia (not even proper marines) hold off six Brutes and a squad of Grunts by themselves. UNCM squads are composed of 20 militiamen each. Also, Grunts and Jackals are just as much cannon fodder as marines are, if not more so.
      • That bit about the novel where a trio of Brutes nearly wipe out a Spartan squad, even killing one of them? Said Spartans had outdated and damaged armor, and they themselves were all heavily injured (by normal human standards) and fatigued from countless recent hard battles. A Spartan in top shape obviously fares better against a Brute than a Spartan who's practically half-dead.
    • Humanity is generally completely outclassed in space combat; most of their victories occur only when they manage to outnumber the Covenant by at least 2-1, and even then they usually end up taking more casualties than they inflict.
      • However, there are a handful of space battles where a well-led or well-fortified human force manages to either defeat or heavily damage a numerically superior Covenant fleet, examples including a skirmish between the UNSC Iroquois and four Covenant ships, the Battle of Reach, and the Battle of Onyx.
  • Used to interesting effect in MULE, where the lack of any special advantage (and a starting penalty to boot) marks humans as the "Expert Race", intended for use only to handicap experienced players.
    • This actually comes with its own slightly-balancing advantage—Starting out in last place means that, until you start rising up the ranks, none of the harmful random "help or hurt a single player" events will ever happen to you. If an event happens, you will always get a beneficial one—anything from a few units of sellable goods to a free plot of land.
  • Pretty much any alien in Half-Life. Despite being in a completely unfamiliar environment the Nihilanth's forces were slaughtering the human military, with its weakest members capable of hurling electricity (and as evidenced in Episode Two have the potential for so much more) while the Nihilanth itself possessed enough psychic might to keep open a dimensional rift by itself. Afterwards, the non-sapient Xen beasts overran the planet, killing almost everything and forcing humans to barricade themselves in the few surviving cities. The Combine, though no indication of physical superiority, are technologically advanced enough to conquer the planet within hours and their leaders are psychically almost as powerful as the Nihilanth. And the GMan, whatever he is, is basically Nyarlathotep. The only thing humans have going for them is superior teleportation technology, a few Badass Normals and the walking superweapon that is Gordon Freeman.
  • The Metroid series has (among others) the psychic Chozo and their adopted human, series protagonist Samus Aran. Granted, they did infuse her with their DNA so she could survive on their planet, and a lot of her more badass moves come from the combat suit they modified for her... but even out of the suit, she can jump twice her own height, among other things. In fact, she's had a total of 3 different species somehow combined with her, and each one has given her special powers, though one of them did give her a weakness to cold.
  • Partially subverted in Prototype, as Mercer has been casually slashing and punching his way through the human military for the first parts of the game....but then he meets Specialist Cross.
    • The US Army and Blackwatch do a pretty good job fighting normal infected and hunters and could have end it all much faster if Alex didn't kept killing them by the truck loads.
  • In Iji, humanity is considered a pest at worst by both of the two alien races. To the point that the Tasen, upon invading, hardly bothered looking at human "neoweapon" research because it was still horrendously inferior to even their outdated weapons.
  • Sword of the Stars has a bad case of this. Humans are either physically or mentally inferior to practically every other species in the galaxy and a one-on-one fight 'au naturelle' of your average human vs. your average pretty much everything will put the human in a disadvantage. Fortunately, Sword of the Stars is a 4X game, and human ships are no worse than those of their fellow species—and when you take into account that human boarding- and planetary assault crews have Power Armor and special traing, the odds are more equal.
  • Notably averted in Mass Effect. While aliens like the Asari are naturally powerful psychics and can live for centuries and the Krogans are exceptionally strong and durable and potentially live for centuries, all races are shown to have enough strengths and weaknesses to put them on relatively even ground with humanity. In fact, humanity's determination and ingenuity quietly scare the crap out of everyone else.
    • That said, the trope does get played straight (though also for laughs) in the sequel:

Wrex: Now, Shepard. What brings you here? How's the Normandy?
Shepard: Destroyed in a Collector surprise attack. I ended up spaced.
Wrex: Well, you look good. Ah, the benefits of a redundant nervous system!
Shepard: Yeah... humans don't have that.
Wrex: Oh. It must have been painful, then.

    • Notably, a few alien races live significantly shorter lifespans than humans. Salarians only live to be about forty, and Vorcha only have twenty. They do compensate by the salarians having an advanced metabolism that allows them to get by with only an hour of sleep a day and leads to an overclocked nervous system, and the Vorcha can adapt to almost any environment, and can regenerate. Still, that's a lifespan of only a fraction of the average human.
    • Turians can survive more radiation that a human can. Though human food is toxic to them (averting No Biochemical Barriers), like their's is for us.
  • Albion also averts this. The feline Iskai seem pretty impressive at first, being tall, extremely fast and agile, possessing prehensile tails that allow them to wield an additional weapon, and being quasi-immortal (albeit at great cost) on top of it. But it's soon revealed that from their perspective, humans are enormously strong and sturdy, and 'can live to an incredible age' - Iskai's natural lifespan isn't much longer than 40–50 years at most, and the aforementioned quasi-immortality method is available only to a handful of highly respected individuals. Ultimately, Iskai are Fragile Speedsters, while humans are Mighty Glaciers - neither better than the other, they complement each other well on your team.
  • Humans in Gensoukyou, the setting of Touhou, are almost completely powerless and at the mercy of the youkai that outnumber them (fortunately, nowadays youkai are more concerned with tea parties than eating humans), only able to thwart the pathetically weak and deeply stupid fairies. Even the handful of humans that can effectively fight youkai are not quite normal, Reimu possessing the abilities of the Hakurei bloodline, Sanae borrowing the power of her patron gods, and there is evidence Sakuya isn't human at all. Only Marisa truly averts this trend, and her power and magical ability is repeatedly noted as being an incredibly unusual exception.
    • Having said that, even Marisa's power comes from mushrooms and a device created by a youkai. Without it, she wouldn't be able to cast spells. Mokou is another example, being the most powerful NPC in the game she appears in, due to having over a dozen centuries of life to practice magic, and being immortal.
    • As for the youkai, practically all of them are physically and spiritually more powerful than humans, able to survive being cut into pieces, according to one character. However, they are much more vulnerable to spiritual attacks than humans, which is one reason why Reimu is such a powerhouse in the setting.
  • Command & Conquer 3 Tiberium wars: All humans have to use equipment or cybernetics to fight, the Scrin spit corrosive chemicals, control minds and fire energy out of their bodies.
  • At the epilogue of Skyward Sword, Demise makes several comments about how the humans from his glory days spent their time cowering in their caves at the mere sight of him and fled to their goddess Hylia for protection. He even mocks Hylia for abandoning her divine form for that of Zelda (this is after eating her soul), and yet he finds it curious that their kind begot the likes of Link and Groose. He even commends Link when he finally goes down.

"You stand as a paragon of your kind, human. You fight unlike any human or demon I have ever faced."


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • The Nemesite Empire in The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob has legally owned Earth for eons. They consider humans part of the local wildlife (because we don't have interstellar space travel yet) and have designated Earth as a nature preserve.
  • Lampshaded in Schlock Mercenary, when Schlock's unit is trying to come up with a way to use Schlock's various powers (Nigh Invulnerability, reforming if destroyed, shape-shifting, and a couple of other things) to get past a military checkpoint. Schlock complains "Why does it have to be MY powers? To me, YOU guys are the aliens. Can't you use your 'Special human powers' to get us past it?"
    • This trope is indeed justified and explored quite a bit. The other naturally-evolved species have little or no physical advantage over humans, or if they do, it's minor, roughly balanced, and treated realistically (i.e. a four-armed alien who can only see in one direction ain't gonna aim weapons everywhich way at once). With very few exceptions, like the Vhorwed (huge gorilla-like aliens like Elizabeth and that bouncer).
    • Most of the stronger and more powerful species are at least partially artificial. The only reason for Shlock's unusual abilities is that Carbosilicate Amorphs are descended from memory storage units and are mostly dough of specialized Nanomachines and super-strong carbon strands; also, they don't have their own eyes and have to obtain them as a symbiont. The Esspererin have almost as many cool features, but that's unsurprising for late-phase output from somebody's iterative mechanical replication experiment "solar powered robo-fairies". The Ot-Skadak evolved naturally, though (like most critters on Eina-afa, apparently) in symbiosis with runaway industrial-grade nanobots. The various noon-human Terran species (apes, bears and elephants), as Uplifted Animals, were engineered the way they are on purpose. F'Sherl-Ganni are long-living, have many prehensile limbs, generally hardy and can survive in vacuum for a while, but they are said to have "directed their own evolution for 100,000 years" and may include nanobots as essential components too (their long-term memory system is unusual, for one).
  • Averted by the aliens in A Game of Fools who, despite their fearsome appearance, have little advantage over humans besides their highly advanced technology, can be easily restrained with nothing but rope and a fair few are terrified at the very sight of humans (though they've gotten over the last one somewhat).
    • Neeg also got the crap beaten out of him by an Old lady.
  • Aylee and her species in Sluggy Freelance are not only capable of assuming different forms to suit their environment, but their collected arsenal of genetic tricks from unknown eons of consuming planets (which acts to justify this) allows those forms to have just about any useful attribute, though not all at once. Thus, Aylee apparently never needs to sleep or breathe (nor, possibly, go to the potty), and often has vastly superior physical abilities compared to humans as well as a powerful Healing Factor. Things like flight, breathing fire and emitting EMPs are also possible adaptations. She's also very talented at web design. On the other hand, she's socially awkward on Earth and dreadful in handling money, and sometimes leaves slime all over the place or eats unnacceptable things.

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • In the Global Guardians PBEM Universe, the Delethai are bigger, stronger, and tougher than human beings, as are the Xorn and the Terhish. The Hsax are smaller and physically weaker than humans, but are much faster and have much sharper senses. Physically, the K'kriki'i are pretty much harmless to humans, having evolved on a planet with about the same gravity as the Moon... but they're a race of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens and much, much smarter than humans to boot.


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Transformers. Even the Autobots do it sometimes.
    • Soundwave makes many good points on human inferiority to Transformers in this debate in case your still have any doubts.
    • The ultimate result of this is that in Transformers Animated Sari, who is easily the most likeable (read:least hated) human, turns out to be at least partially mechanical.
      • However, most Autobots are so freaked out by organic contamination that captain Fanzone actually managed to intimidate an informant into getting them what they needed just by threatening to drool on him.
    • The live-action movie verse on the other hand, the humans are effective fighting Transformers because they're puny; their small size allows them to hide in cover and pop up to fire a few Sabot rounds at a Decepticon.
    • It's possible that the Autobots, Optimus Prime in particular, like and protect humanity because we're so small and weak.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes, while every other planet seems to spawn a race of superpowered people, Earthlings need to do it the old fashioned way with lab accidents and the like.
  • Humans in Futurama are not only puny, but in general stupider than every other species (which is quite a feat). Decapodians, Nibblonians, and whatever species Morbo and Kif are, are all widely superior than humans, though there are a few disadvantages (such as Decapodians dying after sex and Kif being very squishy).
    • Decapodians are more advanced. What.
    • Their crab and sand-castle technology was, at least. They certainly conquered Earth quickly when they felt like it.
      • There's also the fact that humans are stupider and lazier than pretty much every other species in the known universe. And it's INFECTIOUS. There are horrible gelatinous blobs that have gone completely redneck. Humans produced both Richard Nixon AND Zap Branigan. (Kif looks superior only because he is ALWAYS standing next to Zap Branigan.)
  • Pretty damn bad in Ben 10. So many other species have outright superpowers, and humanity's only one appears to be the ability to breed with these aliens so their kids can have the alien superpowers. It gets pretty bad when the idea of a human having magical powers is treated as ridiculous while having similarly-themed energy-based superpowers inherited from the alien grandparent isn't (turns out that it was both, as said grandparent is an alien who's literally made of magic).
    • Although, those are mostly just the aliens that the Omnitrix happens to use. A fair few one-off and civilian aliens are generally on par with humanity.
    • We're apparently also known in the galaxy for our flavor...
    • On the "we don't share their weaknesses" side, one alien superhero was nearly killed by... chocolate. And he was a Superman Expy to boot!
  • Hawkgirl and all other Thanagarians, as portrayed in Justice League, have super-strength and wings.
  • Teen Titans has Starfire (and her sister Blackfire) who are super strong, can fly, can throw fireballs, learn languages by kissing and have inordinately high pain thresholds (including a tolerance for extreme temperatures). All of these powers are just... characteristics of Tamaranians, apparently.
  • In Buzz Lightyear of Star Command Mira's race has this attitude toward other races due to the natural power of Intangibility and their secondary Psychic Powers as a result of it. The Chlorm have an extreme version of this acting as if all sentient races are just Talking Animals. This results in putting them in their zoos, using them for product testing and having them do dumb tricks.
  • Parodied by Invader Zim. Humans are pretty dumb, and Irkens have all kinds of superior technology...but for the most part, the Irkens are pretty dumb too. According to Word of God, the show's whole concept was founded on the inherent ridiculousness of a Sufficiently Advanced Alien too stupid to use his power correctly.
    • There ARE extremely competent Irkens who excel at planetary conquest and using all that advanced weaponry. Zim is actually rather good at using it himself, he's just completely incompetent at target selection. (He once carried out one of the most devastating planetary assaults EVER performed by any Irken...he just forgot to travel from his homeworld to the target planet BEFORE unleashing planet-wide devastation.)