Quite simply, a character who is in charge and whose authority is unquestioned and unchallenged. The character, whether his organization is large or small, is exactly as the title describes: completely in control.
While this might seem merely the purview of the more powerful villains
, this is not necessarily the case: a leader who is just THAT good might reach the point where he's unquestioned because his subordinates KNOW that whatever he says or orders is the best course of action, period.
This character is SO in charge that any character who challenges him will be shunned by the organization as a whole as someone exceedingly foolish, dangerous or insane. Also, characters who challenge his authority run the risk of having their entire character revolve around their desire to undermine the leader's authority
. However, for this trope to fit, the leader must be, when all's said and done, the most effective leader the organization could ever have(or at least, formidable or charismatic enough that challenging him is for all purposes impossible), and anyone else who managed somehow to usurp the role will be proven wholly ineffective at the task. Simply put, the upstart is just plain wrong to challenge the other's authority, his word is law for a reason.
While rare, given the fickle nature of humanity as a whole, there HAVE been Truth in Television
examples of this trope, even in modern day. Kim Jong-il(now succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-un) and Fidel Castro, for example, have gone for decades unchallenged as the heads of state of their respective countries, and many a brutal dictator has kept the populace so afraid that they have gone unchallenged(Papa Doc Duvalier is an example).
There are many reasons a character can have this kind of supreme authority:
- Asskicking Equals Authority: The leader is so friggin' powerful, it's impossible to subvert his authority at all. This is pretty much bad guy territory here, but there ARE examples characters of unquestioned authority in the good guys' side who earned their title by kicking ass.
- The leader is "omniscient": Note that this is not a literal case of omniscience(at least not usually...), but it might as well be. The leader is SO wise and has such a perfect record of making the correct decisions, anyone whose ever questioned his authority has just given up and conceded that, yes, this guy is just the smartest in the bunch and his authority is well-deserved.
- The leader is an inspiration: This leader leads by example, being a paragon the virtues of his organization. Other characters simply defer to him because he is beyond reproach.
- Divine Authority: The leader's position is given to him by a higher power or the character himself is considered a deity. However, being king because God said so isn't enough for this trope to apply. After all, bad kings have been taken down by oppressed masses before. This trope applies when the ruler is effective, so that to the average subordinate/subject, his divine status is from which his ability comes.
- The leader is totally benevolent: The leader cares so much about his charges that every single decision he makes is colored by his desire to protect and bring prosperity. The leader maintains his authority because the people actually love him.
- The leader is totally malevolent: Questioning the leader earns you a death sentence, it's that simple. This leader rules by fear, and any threat he makes causes his subjects to tremble because he WILL make good on it.
The leader's subordinates will always exhibit Undying Loyalty
, at least externally. If the leader is a bad guy, he might actually have the resentment of his subordinates, but they can't really do anything about it.
- Big Bads in Buffy the Vampire Slayer tend to be this due to the "totally malevolent" reason. However, Bonus Points go to Glory, who has an entire demon race as her questioning servants.
- Darkseid rules Apokolips. Period. An example of his control is seen in the DCAU: In Justice League, Superman manages to defeat him and keep him off Apokolips, which leads to a MASSIVE civil war between would-be rulers. When he returns in Justice League Unlimited, the fighting literally stops cold the very second he appears, with every combatant in both armies dropping to a knee. Hell, except for being benevolent, he's practically an example of ALL the types of leadership listed in the trope: smarter than everyone on his planet, the most powerful being on his planet, a literal physical god, loved and feared by his subjects, and an example to what everyone in Apokolips might reach if motivated enough.
- Doctor Doom is the absolute ruler of Latveria, and his rule is benign and fair. And heaven help you if you say otherwise.
- T'Challa, the Black Panther, is the rightful ruler of Wakanda, but even if his title was not a traditional one, he'd still be its ruler based on his myriad virtues. He's truly the most effective and benign leader Wakanda's ever had.
- Dimension lords all exhibit this trope by default. Dormammu, Mephisto, Trigon, Nekron, the Anti-Monitor, the list is pretty long actually.
- Both sides in Transformers exhibit this. Optimus Prime is such an effective and beloved leader that no Autobot questions his leadership(in fact, time and again, it's been shown that when he's NOT leader, things usually go to shit). As for Megatron, well, challenging his leadership is the easiest way to not live anymore, but he's also a guy who leads from the front.
- The God Emperor of Mankind in Warhammer 40K.
- Gandalf is the leader of the Fellowship, this is not questioned. And in the books, it is shown that any character who doesn't heed his advice ends up badly(ask Denethor).
- Real Life example: Pharaohs in Ancient Egypt.
- Most of the leading gods in world mythology are unchallenged by the other gods within their pantheon, and most gods are absolute rulers over the concepts they have purview over(Hades is unchallenged when it comes to death and the underworld, Poseidon is unchallenged when it comes to the sea, etc.). Taking down one of the leading gods is an event of titanic(no pun intended) importance within a pantheon's history(the Titanomachia of Greek Mythology or the Ragnarok of Norse Mythology, for example).
- Many of history's most powerful leaders and dictators have gone unchallenged for the duration of their reign.
- The Low King of the Dwarfs in Discworld. Even his opponent in the not-quite-an-election bows to his absolute authority; to do otherwise would be to devalue a position he still hopes to win one day. "We may disagree about where the boat is going, but only a madman would drill holes in the bottom".