Created By: AmbarSonofDeshar on June 8, 2014 Last Edited By: AmbarSonofDeshar on June 19, 2014
Troped

Villainous Underdog

An evil character who is outclassed in every regard by the hero they face

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Everybody loves a good David vs. Goliath situation. Watching the heroes triumph over apparently insurmountable odds is something we not only enjoy, but anticipate seeing. It's why tropes like Underdogs Never Lose exist in the first place. So what happens then, when the underdog is the villain?

It's a lot rarer than the opposite, but on occasion you will find a story in which the villain(s) are outmatched, outgunned, outnumbered, or just generally outclassed by the heroes they face off against. In-series and out, the heroes are favoured to win, and have such a clear advantage that it's amazing the villains are able to pose any threat at all. In fact, that's where most of the drama in such a situation comes from—watching as our antagonists, whether through bravery, tenacity, brains, or sheer dumb luck manage to give our heroes a serious run for their money. Alternately, the trope may be Played for Laughs, with the whole point being watching the villain fail spectacularly.

Please note that this isn't just about cases in which the hero is a better fighter than the villain. A Non-Action Big Bad who has thousands of henchmen at his disposal can still be the Goliath to a lone hero's David (though were said Non-Action Big Bad to challenge the hero to a Duel to the Death this trope might be in effect). This is about cases in which an objective look at all factors reveals that the villain, rather than the hero, is at a significant disadvantage across the board.

Expect to see a lot of Villainous Valor in a situation like this. For more general David & Goliath battles see, well, David vs. Goliath. Often comes up in a Brains: Evil; Brawn: Good situation. Might overlap with Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain if Played for Laughs. See Invincible Hero for the kind of protagonist who is almost guaranteed to have one of these in his Rogues Gallery.


Examples

Anime & Manga

Comic Books
  • Lex Luthor is perhaps the single most iconic example in comic books. Where Superman verges on being a Physical God, his archenemy is an unpowered human, distinguished only by his manipulative and technological brilliance, and need to dominate others. Fully aware of the power differential between himself and "the alien", Luthor views himself as a Promethean figure, stealing fire from the gods in order to empower humanity. Said Grant Morrison, "It's essential to find yourself rooting for Lex, at least a little bit, when he goes up against a man-god armed only with his bloody-minded arrogance and cleverness."
  • Captain Marvel is one of the few characters at DC to be more powerful than Superman. His personal nemesis, Dr. Sivana, is an old man who walks with a cane, and whose Mad Scientist schemes rarely work out the way he plans them.
  • Batman is a supergenius technoninja who mastered every martial art on the planet, and has access to billions of dollars worth of military grade resources. His archfoe, The Joker, is a (usually) physically unimposing clown who doesn't have a fraction of the money, weaponry, or training available to him.
  • Criminal mercenary Mark Scarlotti, alias Whiplash I/Blacklash I, was an athletic man who wore a Kevlar bodysuit and had a pair of titanium whips. He typically used these to fight Iron Man, whose sci-fi arsenal practically defines There Is No Kill Like Overkill. That Scarlotti was a going concern for forty years is a testament to sheer persistence, bravery, and a fair amount of luck.

Literature
  • Wendy Alec's Brothers series retells the Bible story with the emphasis on the War in Heaven between God's five sons. Four remain loyal, but the fifth, Lucifer, is the bad apple in the divine orchard. Lucifer's rebellion is retold, but every time he challenges his brother Christos, he inevitably gets Curb Stomped.
  • Jedi Quest has gangster Granta Omega. Unlike his father, Xanatos, who was an ex-Jedi, Omega was born not only without Force powers, but without any connection to The Force whatsoever. Using his status as a "Force Blank" to his advantage, Omega launched a number of plots against the Jedi, typically acting through agents, and using his apparent undetectability to make good his escape. No match for a Jedi in a direct engagement, Omega did his best to make sure he never faced them one-on-one, using deception, hired guns, and bioweaponry to even the odds in his favour.

Live-Action TV
  • Most villains on Smallville, particularly early on. Given Clark's Nigh-Invulnerability, most battles ended as soon as he was able to track the Villain of the Week down, and he was more likely to be injured by the town's Kryptonite deposits than by one of them. As the show went on, increasingly powerful villains who averted this appeared (most notably Brainiac and Major Zod), though his two most beloved (and arguably most dangerous) foes, Lex and Lionel Luthor remained scheming Badass Normals to the end.

Tabletop Games
  • Warhammer 40K: This is occasionally seen in battles with the Forces of Chaos vs Tau. Unlike humans, the Tau cannot be corrupted or influenced by Chaos, their technology is such that they basically outgun and outrange every other force, and, they don't backstab each other/sacrifice their own units every ten minutes.
    • Imperial propaganda tries to protray the various xeno species as this- like Eldar using antiquated tech, or Tau spooking when they hear loud noises, or orks being easy to defeat in close combat. It falls apart the second the troops enter combat.

Video Games
  • Captain Syrup, from Wario Land II steals from Wario at the start of the game, and is running for her life from him the rest of the game. Wario is completely invincible in this game, what with it being impossible to get a Game Over. The hero, if Wario can even be called one, can't have much more of an advantage over the villain than this.

Western Animation
  • Elmer Fudd of Looney Tunes is a particularly infamous (and unintentional) case, since he was so meek and incompetent against Bugs Bunny that even some of the Warner Bros creative team started to think Bugs was coming across more as a petty bully than a defensive trickster. As such the series went through a long list of more challenging opponents to rectify this, though almost all of them still fit this trope.
  • The setup of The Dreamstone. The Land of Dreams consists of the almost omni powerful Dream Maker and an army of magic crafting Wuts. Viltheed consists of the powerful but inactive Zordrak and his incompetent and powerless Urpney army, who were usually reliant on some eccentric gadget of Urpgor's to invade the Land of Dreams, which was usually disposed of easily. As such many episodes' tension was reliant on the heroes making the questionable tactic of sending Muggles, Rufus and Amberley to handle everything, and even they usually trounced the Urpneys to the point of Unnecessary Roughness.
  • Wile E Coyote And Road Runner cartoons are built around this concept, with the smart, but horribly unlucky coyote being thoroughly overmatched by the super fast, equally smart, and and ungodly fortunate Road Runner. Physics itself was always on the Road Runner's side, meaning Wile E's schemes were doomed from the start. A large part of this was, of course, because in the words of Chuck Jones "The audience's sympathy but always remain with the coyote."
  • Sylvester the Cat and Tweety Bird. While Sylvester certainly isn't weaker than Tweety, he's no match for Granny or Hector and has to find ways to sneak past them in order to get at the bird. That's without getting into his fights with Speedy Gonzales or Hippity Hopper.
  • The title character from Samurai Jack is the greatest warrior on the entire planet, frequently having hoards of villains coming at him at once, and beating them soundly. Despite ruling the entire world, Aku actually has to constantly hide his lair around the world to avoid Jack, because he always loses any encounter between them.
  • Many of the villains from The Powerpuff Girls are like this, what with each one of the Girls being almost on a Superman level of power. Notably, though, are the members of the Gangreen Gang, who are pretty much just 5 teenagers with no real powers other than being slightly stronger than normal people... but still being a whole lot weaker than the Girls themselves.

Community Feedback Replies: 70
  • June 8, 2014
    captainsandwich
  • June 8, 2014
    Snicka
    Often comes up in a Brains Evil Brawn Good situation.
  • June 8, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^Not necessarily. Lex Luthor's an iconic example, and he's hardly ineffective (in fact he's more or less the Magnificent Bastard at DC). And heck, even Jerid Messa manages to kill quite a few of Kamille's friends.

    ^Added that.
  • June 8, 2014
    DAN004
  • June 8, 2014
    Statzkeen
    Definitely not just villain effectiveness.
  • June 9, 2014
    Psi001
    • Elmer Fudd of Looney Tunes is a particularly infamous case, since he was so meek and incompetent against Bugs Bunny that even some of the Warner Bros creative team started to think Bugs was coming across more as a petty bully than a defensive trickster. As such the series went through a long list of more challenging opponents to rectify this, though almost all of them still fit this trope.
    • The setup of The Dreamstone. The Land of Dreams consists of the almost omni powerful Dream Maker and an army of magic crafting Wuts. Viltheed consists of the powerful but inactive Zordrak and his incompetent and powerless Urpney army, who were usually reliant on some eccentric gadget of Urpgor's to invade the Land of Dreams, which was usually disposed of easily. As such many episodes' tension was reliant on the heroes making the questionable tactic of sending Muggles, Rufus and Amberley to handle everything, and even they usually trounced the Urpneys to the point of Unnecessary Roughness.
  • June 9, 2014
    Arivne
    • Examples section formatting
      • Added the word "Examples".
      • Blue Linked media section title(s).
    • Namespaced and italicized work name(s).
    • Namespaced character names (Lex Luthor, Superman, Captain Marvel, Batman).
  • June 9, 2014
    Mr.Movie
         Real Life 
    • To a certain definition of "villanious", criminals can be considered this. Many criminals have to either work with improvised weapons or things like baseball bats compared to police Tasers, batons, helicopters, AP Cs, tear gas, etc., and even when packing assault rifles lack the training and organization of police.
  • June 9, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^^Put those up. Added Wile E Coyote as well because how in the heck did I miss that?

    ^^Thanks.

    ^Not sure if I want a real life section or not.
  • June 9, 2014
    DAN004
  • June 9, 2014
    Earnest
    See also Team Rocket Wins, for when this person or group does manage a surprise upset of the hero(es).
  • June 9, 2014
    DAN004
  • June 9, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    @DAN 004

    The Man Behind The Curtain and Dark Lord On Life Support aren't inherently this. In fact, the Dark Lord On Life Support tends to be the opposite, with a whole army at his disposal.
  • June 9, 2014
    xanderiskander
    Based on how the description basically just talks about how much more powerful the hero is compared to the villain over and over I think Harmless Villain basically covers this. Harmless Villains tend to be portrayed as so pathetic that you should feel bad for them anyway.
  • June 9, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ As has been stated already, this trope is not solely about villain effectiveness. Characters like Lex Luthor are considerably less powerful than their arch enemies, and yet don't qualify for Harmless Villain.
  • June 9, 2014
    bitemytail
    It's probably worth noting that Mooks are almost always this. Mooks that don't conform to this end up being Demonic Spiders or Boss In Mooks Clothing.
  • June 9, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^^Not every Villainous Underdog is a Harmless Villain and not every Harmless Villain is an underdog. Almost every Kim Possible villain falls into Harmless Villain status, yet none of them (thanks to their armies of mooks, elaborate tech, etc) are presented as the underdog in the conflict.
  • June 9, 2014
    Snicka
  • June 9, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^Added that.
  • June 9, 2014
    Psi001
    Probably all of the iconic Looney Tunes dynamics count. The creative team were renowned for their fondness for "winners against losers" chemistries, and having the antagonists pick a fight with an almost saintly and hyper competent protagonist (even the odd exceptions where the hero was on the losing end were usually done by making them Temporarily A Villain). Porky Pig and Daffy Duck were perhaps the only rather evenly matched rivalry, likely because, within Porky's violent temper and Daffy's screwiness, they both took turns being the bigger antagonist.
  • June 9, 2014
    DAN004
    ^^ Doesn't Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain play this for drama?
  • June 9, 2014
    DAN004
    At least mention the three tropes I mentioned before in the compare section.
  • June 9, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^^Sylvester sometimes comes off as though he has a chance, particularly in the ones where Tweety is the target and it's one of Granny or Hector fending him off. Though I suppose he'd still be this compared to them.

    ^Why? Man Behind The Curtain and Dark Lord On Life Support almost never apply, as it will be their armies of henchmen who make them a threat.
  • June 10, 2014
    TheTitan99
    • Many of the villains from The Powerpuff Girls are like this, what with each one of the Girls being almost on a Superman level of power. Notably, though, are the members of the Gangreen Gang, who are pretty much just 5 teenagers with no real powers other than being slightly stronger than normal people... but still being a whole lot weaker than the Girls themselves.

    • Kim Possible is the girl who can do anything. She's a better fighter than nearly anyone the show puts against her, and both Kim as well as her Gadgeteer Genius friend Wade can usually outsmart any villain as well. Very few times on the show do the villains ever put up an actual fight, and usually the ones that do are side villains.

    • The title character from Samurai Jack is the greatest warrior on the entire planet, frequently having hoards of villains coming at him at once, and beating them soundly. Despite ruling the entire world, Aku actually has to constantly hide his lair around the world to avoid Jack, because he always loses any encounter between them.

    • Captain Syrup, from Wario Land II steals from Wario at the start of the game, and is running for her life from him the rest of the game. Wario is completely invincible in this game, what with it being impossible to get a Game Over. The hero, if Wario can even be called one, can't have much more of an advantage over the villain than this.

    ...Also, there's an example from a certain Disney film I know of: You know, Frozen. But it seems like no matter how you put spoiler tags on it, simply listing the example at all would be a spoiler in of itself, because the very act of saying it even HAS such a villain would be a spoiler. How do you go about listing that?
  • June 10, 2014
    AgProv
    Wendy Alec's Brothers series is a surprisingly readable evangelical Christian novel series. It retells the Bible story with the emphasis on the War in Heaven between God's five sons. Four remain loyal, but the fifth, Lucifer, is the bad apple in the divine orchard. Lucifer's rebellion is retold, but every time he challenges his brother Christos, he inevitably gets Curb Stomped. (as the plot demands). Even though we all know how it's going to pan out, she does tell a good story and the books can be read as imaginative fantasy fiction, disregarding the polemic. You can even get some Sympathy For the Devil.
  • June 10, 2014
    Arivne
    ^^ Warn the reader ahead of time by adding a spoiler warning at the end of the Description. Something like "Because of the nature of this trope, expect unmarked spoilers ahead."
  • June 10, 2014
    DAN004
    Should be noted that this is related to Harmless Villain as somebody up there had explained.

    That mention about Non Action Big Bad should also mention Dark Lord On Life Support and/or The Man Behind The Curtain as both are subtropes to NABB.
  • June 10, 2014
    Psi001
    ^^^^ Sylvester still had the odds tremendously against him however, since he usually had a stronger character keeping close guard of Tweety. In episodes Tweety was alone it tended to be less evident, but these became something of the exception. Sylvester may be an extreme case since he was the underdog against three separate foes. He couldn't even touch Speedy Gonzales because of his Super Speed, and he was usually a middle man in the Hippety Hopper shorts, bullied into attacking the "giant mouse" that was actually a baby kangaroo that Does Not Know His Own Strength. He also got minimal Team Rocket Wins moments compared to Elmer or post Flanderization Daffy.
  • June 10, 2014
    RossN
    Would the TIE Fighter pilots in the X Wing Series books and comics count as a collective version of these? They always outnumber our heroes making them seem nominally threatening but their craft are so inferior in nearly every respect but pure speed - no shielding at all, far more fragile and a lot less heavily armed - than the heroes can go through them essentially effortlessly.
  • June 10, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^The comment about Non Action Big Bad notes that just because someone is a NABB does not make them this trope. We therefore do not need to mention any of its subtropes.

    @AgProv

    I don't like evangelical Christian fiction either. That definitely sounds like an example, but can you rework what you wrote so that it doesn't sound like you're apologizing for the story's existence?

    @Titan 99

    Honestly, I'm not sure Hans would count. The film doesn't play him as an underdog; since nobody is aware he even is the villain he misses out on a lot of the problems that most characters like this have.

    Kim Possible's enemies were, for the most part, not portrayed as underdogs, what with their vast numbers of mooks, and in Drakken's case, the presence of Shego.

    The other three you listed look good though.

    ^Point.
  • June 10, 2014
    surgoshan
  • June 10, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^Except not. There's plenty of genuinely nasty, genuinely threatening villains who are nonetheless outgunned by the heroes. See: Lex Luthor, The Joker, Graham Aker, etc, etc. A Harmless Villain is Harmless—they do no damage. An Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain is treated with no respect, and you feel sorry for them as a result. A Goldfish Poop Gang is a (badly named) comedic recurring boss. The Villainous Underdog is weaker than the hero he fights. Period. He can still be a vicious, underhanded psycho; the only thing he's lacking is firepower.
  • June 10, 2014
    Lightysnake
    From anime and manga...

    • Sicks, the Big Bad of Majin Tantei Neugami Neuro starts off the manga considerably weaker and outgunned by Neuro, only initially spared by the demonic Neuro's insatiable curiosity and utter distaste of taking human life. To carry out his genocidal plans, Sicks uses his men to force Neuro to expend energy and make him weaker in the human world to the point Sicks can defeat him.
  • June 10, 2014
    DAN004
    @Ambar: point taken.
  • June 10, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^Have put it up.
  • June 11, 2014
    bitemytail
    ^^^ Anime is called Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro.

    Didn't want to be rude and edit your entry. Instead, I'll be rude and correct you.
  • June 11, 2014
    TheTitan99
    Well, simply not thinking the example fits the trope well enough is an easy way to get around the spoiler issue too!

    This is looking good. Well done description, and a fair amount of examples that are well written out. Have a hat!
  • June 11, 2014
    Chabal2
    • Warhammer 40 K: This is occasionally seen in battles with the Forces of Chaos vs Tau. Unlike humans, the Tau cannot be corrupted or influenced by Chaos, their technology is such that they basically outgun and outrange every other force, and, they don't backstab each other/sacrifice their own units every ten minutes.
      • Imperial propaganda tries to protray the various xeno species as this- like Eldar using antiquated tech, or Tau spooking when they hear loud noises, or orks being easy to defeat in close combat. It falls apart the second the troops enter combat.

  • June 13, 2014
    Mr.Movie
    Here's a page quote:
    "Terrorists were evil, but they were little roving gangs of evil dudes, sneaking around, using whatever weapons they could piece together. You couldn't have an epic war with them or anything. Bring a horde of missile-equipped helicopters to fight a bunch of guys with homemade explosives strapped to their riding lawn mowers and YOU start to look like the bad guy."
  • June 13, 2014
    Mr.Movie
    And also, while fixing the link to cracked.com, I accidentally tapped the "close replies" button instead of "enter changes", but nothing seemed to happen. What happens?
  • June 13, 2014
    hbi2k
    I don't understand how Lex Luthor is an underdog. Superman's a Flying Brick Lightning Bruiser and, Depending On The Writer, a Physical God. Given. But Luthor's a genius with an insane amount of resources at his disposal and top-notch business and political savvy. Sounds like a pretty even fight to me.
  • June 13, 2014
    Mr.Movie
    ^ I hate to sound rude, but you kind of defeated your own argument. You're comparing a person who is a Physical God in some canons to a smart rich guy. And while being smart and rich can certainly help you, Superman is superhumanly intelligent, and no amount of money in the world is going to help you against a person who flies faster than the speed of light, withstands supernova explosions, and moves planets.

    While Lex is a challenge to Superman, realistically any limits on Supes are self imposed (such a "no kill" code and concerns for collateral damage). There is nothing preventing him from just flying to the sun and coming back 15,000 years later as an omnipotent figure, aka Superman Prime, or picking up a cruise liner and hurling it into the Lex Corp building.
  • June 13, 2014
    hbi2k
    Well, it all depends on what you're trying to do, doesn't it? Lex would be an underdog against Supes in an armwrestling contest, but they typically don't armwrestle each other. (And when it does come down to a direct physical confrontation, Lex always has kryptonite or some other ace in the hole.) In the sort of battle of wits and resources they usually engage in, Lex is hardly ever a clear underdog.

    I mean, Supes could hurl a cruise liner into the Lex Corp building, but only by declaring that he's above the law and Lex's property is fair game just because Supes doesn't like him. And if he did that, Lex would win, because Supes would have just proven that he's exactly the kind of alien dictator that Lex is always claiming he is.
  • June 13, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ But in the end, Lex, by out-of-universe observasion, is the underdog. As the page states, the villainous underdog can still win by cunning - something that Lex always does.
  • June 13, 2014
    Paradisesnake
    ^ Yes, and it's pretty obvious when you think it this way: Lex Luthor needs to expend a great amount of resources, make up complicate plans, and search the world for a certain mineral, before he can even think about challenging Superman, whereas Superman... well, he's just that goddamn powerful.
  • June 13, 2014
    TheTitan99
    Hate to bring things back to my example, but... Wouldn't this whole Lex Luthor stuff fit with Hans as well? A schemer who outwits the massively overpowered hero, uses the hero's own moral codes against them, tricks bystanders into thinking that he's nice, has to think and rethink plans in a matter of seconds due to how hopelessly outmatched he is in a direct confrontation, ect. I think if Lex can count as an underdog, Hans should too. Or, neither should. But it seems weird to count Lex and not Hans is all.
  • June 13, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Hans who?
  • June 13, 2014
    TheTitan99
    Uh... Well, this gets into the awkward part I was talking about earlier, where in the thing he's from, it's a twist that he's even a villain in it, so I was asking how to go about marking spoilers on it. The very act of saying such a villain exists in this movie is a spoiler. But, since you're asking directly, I hope you've seen it already... He's from Frozen.
  • June 13, 2014
    randomsurfer
    I think the official Spoiler Policy is that if it's such a spoiler to even mention the name of the work on the trope page or the trope's name on the work page, just leave it off rather than listing it whited out like that.
    1. Do not ever conceal the name of the trope in a list of trope examples, the list on the work's page.
    2. Do not ever conceal the name of the work in a list of works using a trope, the list on the trope's page.

    EDIT: Erm...well, it used to be the official policy. Now it's more of a piece of general advice.
  • June 13, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    @Titan 99

    It's not so much that Hans isn't an underdog, as the story never really plays that factor up. No attention is really paid to it, and he never seems to not be in control (though it eventually becomes clear there was no plan here and he was winging the entire thing). Still I suppose he is a technical qualifier.
  • June 13, 2014
    TheTitan99
    Woohoo! Technical qualifier! The two sweetest words in the English language!

    Also, we could just list a Spoilers Below warning... maybe? It really would ONLY be for this example, but it would allow for other future villainous reveals, possibly. I can't think of any others, but some may exist.
  • June 16, 2014
    hbi2k
    "But in the end, Lex, by out-of-universe observasion, is the underdog."

    I don't agree. I never go into a Superman story thinking, "Wow, how's that scrappy underdog Luthor going to get out of this one?" I go in thinking, "Holy crap, that mad genius Luthor has Supes dead to rights!" (Or at least, that's what I do in a good Superman story.)

    I dunno, the more I think about this trope the more confused I get.
  • June 16, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ he's nothing but a mad genius though. Even if he succeeds sometimes. The Superman example above already explained it well.
  • June 16, 2014
    Mr.Movie
    Let me explain it this way: Lex Luthor is toast in a fair, direct confrontation, and thus the very fact that he has to rely on indirect means such as kryptonite, powered armor, hostage-taking, deception, manipulation, etc. proves that he is the underdog.

    However, that is not to say everything all comes down to physical combat. If you had a hero and villain who both tried to be the Manipulative Bastard type, the villain would be the underdog despite superior combat skills if they were stupid/uneducated/No Social Skills while the hero wasn't.

    The question I think that would be good for determining whether or not someone is a villainous underdog is this: As their abilities stand relative to each other, who must work with the most indirect means to achieve their goal?

    In other words, the generic villain I mentioned above would not be the underdog if his/her goal was to "kill the hero", barring external help on the hero's side.

    Through this reasoning, if Lex wants to kill Superman and Superman wants to capture Lex, then Lex Luthor says, "I need to take a hostage, and when Supes shows up, whip out the green rocks." (indirect means) while Superman says "I will swoop in with my super speed to save the hostage and brad Lex before he can exploit my weakness." (inherent powers are direct).

    Does all of that make sense?
  • June 16, 2014
    BKelly95
    Would this be an example of Bad Writing? If the villain is that much weaker than the hero, then how is he a threat?
  • June 16, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ If the villain is weaker and yet can be a threat, that's awesome writing.

    ^^ but my point still stands, right? Lex has to resort to indirect means to stand a chance against Supes. Cuz, well, he's the underdog here.
  • June 16, 2014
    xanderiskander
    ^^They can do that by being a threat to the civilians the hero is trying to protect by taking hostages or just causing destruction.

    Heroes also usually have stricter moral standards where they can't kill people. A lot of times this even applies to their enemies. And since villains don't usually follow the same standards they can use that to their advantage to force the hero to make a Sadistic Choice.
  • June 16, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^^It's bad writing only if it's unintentional. Just because a character is weaker than the hero doesn't mean that they are weaker than the rest of the cast, either. To return to an example I'm fond of, Zeta Gundam's Jerid Messa is thoroughly outclassed by Kamille Bidan in all respects. Jerid in his turn, however, outclasses most of Kamille's friends and allies. By the time the series is over, he's killed Kamille's mother, his first girlfriend, and his friend Apolly, and tried to kill his second girlfriend, all despite the fact that he can't touch Kamille himself.

    EDIT: Just realized Granta Omega is a pretty good example. When you're only power is being difficult to spot, and you try to take on the entire Jedi Order you are pretty badly outmatched.
  • June 17, 2014
    Psi001
    For comedic works I think it's more the amusing irony of seeing a usually unimposing character completely outdoing a predator (keep in mind that prior to Bugs Bunny, the idea of a rabbit strolling right in front of hunter and nonchalantly saying "Nehhh, what's up doc?" was completely bizarre). Even then though creative teams got this would only have effect for so long and wrote in better Asshole Victims that would Bugs could look charismatic and heroic against while still outmatching them completely.

    I think the problem is stuff such as Looney Tunes led to endless copycats of it's 'winner hero vs loser villain' formula, lots of which didn't seem to quite get the point what made them work. Many of which just seemed to simplify it as being some unimposing shmuck getting decimated by some righteous sadist to the point of thinly concealed bullying (granted some dark comedies do this intentionally, especially if they use a Nominal Hero).

    Cases such as The Dreamstone it's hard to say what they were going for, it's probably likely they just took a load of ideas and then realized they only wanted to focus on the bumbling villain. I think a large pivot that goes into it is that it's easier to write villains than heroes. Villains have more freedom in personality traits, and also since they are usually the 'losers' of the feud, it's easier to write more pathos into them by default. It's basically them going by this and just skipping the formalities.
  • June 17, 2014
    DannyVElAcme
    Anime examples:
    • In the original Mazinger Z series, Baron Ashura is famously incompetent next to the titular robot. While he/she's certainly a dangerous foe and causes massive amounts of property damage and loss of human life, every time Koji Kabuto arrives he/she loses horribly. It even becomes a plot point when Doctor Hell replaces him/her with Count Brocken as his main henchman.
    • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Viral is a formidable bad guy, but he's never able to beat Simon and Kamina. He keeps coming back with reinforcements and more powerful mechs and Simon and Kamina always wreck him.
  • June 17, 2014
    Psi001
    Surprised this one wasn't mentioned before:

    • Team Rocket of Pokemon (specifically the trio of Jesse, James and Meowth). Their entire shtick consists of being buffoons who chase after an exceptionally powerful Pikachu. Most of their Pokemon (including Meowth himself) are much weaker and less experienced than the heroes' (especially as Ash nears more and more into his goal as a Pokemon Master), leading them to rely on wacky inventions and mechs to try and succeed. While the exact level varies (around the Johto series they were essentially a Goldfish Poop Gang, while the Best Wishes series had them Take A Temporary Level In Badass), they are generally always treated as somewhat commendable and almost heroic in their doomed zeal some degree.
  • June 17, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ They're Harmless Villain, Played For Laughs variant of this.
  • June 17, 2014
    hbi2k
    @Mr. Movie -

    I still don't think it does. Lex's goal is hardly ever straight-up "kill Superman." It's usually more like "discredit Superman" or "make an assload of money in a shady arms deal" or something, and in a situation like that, direct force is irrelevant.
  • June 17, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    ^ Yes, his goal is sometimes "kill Superman." (Check out the entries for The Black Ring and All Star Superman, just for two.) Messing up his day makes a good second, though.

    I don't understand why this does not qualify if the villain is trying to kill the hero. A person of lesser power managing to almost succeed, whether it's at murder or slander, is still potentially impressive.
  • June 17, 2014
    DAN004
    ^^ So I guess the key of this trope is "direct, personal conflict"?
  • June 17, 2014
    Psi001
    What about villains who are only trying to evade the hero to accomplish their goal (eg. Ralph Wolf And Sam Sheepdog). In which case most episodes of The Dreamstone can likely be omitted as well.
  • June 17, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    ^^Uh, no? The key of the trope is that the hero is more powerful than the villain on every front.

    ^^^What on Earth are you talking about? Most of the examples I've put up involve the villain trying to kill the hero in one form or another. There's absolutely no reason why "trying to kill the hero" would disqualify you.

    ^As long as the odds of their evading the hero are not good, then there is no problem with them qualifying.
  • June 17, 2014
    DAN004
    ^ Then hbi2k's argument is invalid.
  • June 19, 2014
    Hero_Gal_2347
    Launching soon?
  • June 19, 2014
    AmbarSonofDeshar
    Hopefully.
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=mdjs8mi3u23iyydwu3kryelt&trope=VillainousUnderdog