Big things are happening on TV Tropes! New admins, new designs, fewer ads, mobile versions, beta testing opportunities, thematic discovery engine, fun trope tools and toys, and much more - Learn how to help here and discuss here.
The process by which a badass becomes less of a badass.
A belief persists among many writers that if the audience takes a liking to a real badass who fears nothing, has infinite confidence and even carries off defeat with panache, it must mean that what they most want to see is that character reveal a vulnerable side and all manner of inner demons.
It is either that belief or the natural result of Character Development, where extra dimensions are added to an existing character to flesh them out and keep them fresh. Either way, the character starts out badass, and becomes less so over time.
Most often this happens through Ensemble Dark Horse tendencies, they appear so often and are so popular that any attempt to give them greater depths results in them losing what made them so effective in the first place.
Contrast with Took a Level in Badass. Compare with Menace Decay, Motive Decay, Villain Decay, and The Worf Effect. Compare and contrast Bait the Dog and Moral Event Horizon, where a Badass character loses their cool as a result of dog kicking.
Chickification is a gender-specific variant. Wimpification is a Yaoi Genre and Slash specific variant. Someone who undergoes physical Badass Decay may become a Perilous Old Fool.
Also note that this trope applies when a badass decays within a single continuity. If an absolute badass in your favorite book is portrayed as somewhat less awesome in The Film of the Book, that's not this trope, it's Adaptational Wimp.
A reminder from your friendly neighborhood watch: Tropes Are Not Bad. In fact many of the characters on this page Took a Level in Badassas a result of their Badass Decay.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
Both Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z and Hiei from YuYu Hakusho start out as evil and downright sadistic badasses but as time went on and their number of friends increased, so did their overall morality (more so with Vegeta than Hiei, even though it is arguable with both characters). Even Vegeta seemed to realize he'd been defanged and had made a much better villain than a hero, and purposefully had one of the later villains try to turn him evil again. It didn't seem to quite take; after killing a nameless crowd and brawling a little with Goku, he was back to fighting baddies and topped it off with a Heroic Sacrifice. He got better. This is Dragon Ball Z, almost nobody of importance dies - permanently.
This is actually evident with most reformed villains in Shonen shows. Sticking with Dragon Ball, Yamcha was once a feared bandit who rivaled Goku in martial arts prowess. He then spends the rest of the series doing absolutely nothing of importance.
In Piccolo's introduction to the series, he easily wipes the floor with Goku while in the weakest state he is ever in. He also nearly manages to take over/destroy the world. By the end of DBZ, he is relegated to teaching small children a magical dance, and later plays the straight man in a comic duo (him and Gotenks).
Tenshinhan. He was once one of the most powerful characters in the early part of Dragon Ball and was one of the few humans who could match Goku in combat. After he lost to Nappa, however, he was sidelined like several other characters.
Even Gohan suffers this, although not in as direct a path as Vegeta. At the beginning of Dragon Ball Z, he's implied to have great 'hidden power' and this is shown repeatedly throughout the Saiyan and Namek sagas, with him injuring or even fighting evenly with much more powerful opponents for short times. He fades from prominence in the Android and Cell sagas, but all the buildup eventually culminates in him becoming the most powerful character in the series in the Cell Games. By the time the Buu saga rolls around, however, he's a glorified punching bag, and though he eventually makes an attempted return to glory, it lasts about three episodes before he goes back to getting thoroughly destroyed. Kid just could not fill the old man's shoes. Possibly justified in Gohan's case in that he doesn't really want to be like Goku and really just wants to study and be a Salaryman like Chi-Chiwanted.
The character who suffers from this the most is without a doubt Uub. Dragon Ball Z ends with him being built up to being the one to take Goku's place as protector of Earth. He even merges with Buu to regain the full power of Majin Buu, the strongest villain in the previous series, and yet after all that still gets used as a punching bag. In the end his greatest achievement was killing a few undead Saibaiman and a revived General Rildo.
Master Roshi suffers from this in the original Dragon Ball anime. At the start of the series he is one of the strongest people on the planet, even stronger than the protagonist Goku. By the Piccolo Jr. arc he is little more than comic relief.
Sakura Haruno starts off the timeskip of Naruto as the first member of Team Seven to go up against a Akatsuki, Sasori, and win with help from the equally Badass Grandma Chiyo. She was hailed as the second coming of Tsunade, who'd she'd eventually surpass with her talent. Come next arc...she's knocked out at the starting bell after Naruto roars Kabuto into her. Come next arc...she does nothing, she doesn't even get to fight. Come next arc she still isn't able to land a blow on Tobi. Subverted in the Invasion of Pain where she knocks out one of Pain's summons with one blow and organizes the survivors while Naruto fights Pain one on one. THEN in the next arc she hits her lowest low: First she's treated as a ragdoll by Karui and Omoi, getting knocked out. Then she 'confesses' her love for Naruto to get him off Sasuke's trail. Then she decides to kill Sasuke on her own...and can't bring herself to do it. Then she gets strangled by a weakened Sasuke despite having Super Strength and needs Naruto to save her from the stab of her own kunai. The War Arc's recovered her somewhat...but she's no longer the Action Girl she was at the start of Part II.
UchihaSasuke is also strangely another contender for Badass Decay. At the start of Part II, he was on another level than Naruto, Sakura, and Sai together, and he took over Orochimaru's consciousness when he tried to transfer his mind into his, battles the powerful Akatsuki member Deidara one on one and wins (Ass Pull escape notwithstanding) and then fights Itachi and manages to impress him and force him to use his trump card, Susano'o to survive his Kirin. Then he faces the awesome Killer Bee and...gets pwned even with his full team AND is humiliated when he takes a tentacle of Killer Bee back to Akatsuki. Then he faces the Kages, and puts up an impressive but futile fight against the Raikage, A before Gaara needed to save him. He fights Gaara who blocks all of his Amaterasu strikes without even moving while simultaneously protecting his siblings and Darui. He is then nearly killed by Mei Terumi despite having a higher level of Susano'o available, needing White Zetsu to save him. And then Obito while playing Madara had to save him from being atomized by Onoki. He managed to get some badass credentials back when he fought and beat Danzo Shimura despite Danzo holding back, the very fact he could hold out against Izanagi spam even Itachi complimented on. Then come Kakashi...he loses his sight fighting him when he gets Susano'o's final armor. And is nearly stabbed by Sakura in the back. Then in the War Arc he takes down all Zetsus alone but is limited from fighting Kabuto with all power by Itachi.
Nearly the entire cast of Yu-Gi-Oh! suffered from this in the anime. In the original seven volumes of the manga, Joey/Jonouchi and Tristan/Honda being former gang members was a lot more obvious and only slightly less so later on, as they delivered quite a few beatings to kids their age and full-grown adults. For example, n the original manga, Jonouchi was an adept fighter, even though he wasn't a great gamer, due to living his early teen years as a gang member that had to fight to survive. He beats Bandit Keith up during Duelist Kingdom for trying to steal his cards. In the anime, Bandit Keith beats HIM up and he usually ends up looking like a wannabe thug. Also, the anime likes to put him in dog suits. Notably in the anime's version of Dungeon Dice Monsters, where Otogi has the chance to humiliate him in this way. Naturally, the manga's version of Yugi didn't let it get to that point. Dark Yugi himself was not someone to mess with, as he previously had a tendency to play Shadow Games with anyone who pissed him off, which usually ended with the loser insane, grievously hurt, or dead that lasted until the end of Duelist Kingdom. Even Tea/Anzu could throw an Armor-Piercing Slap once in a while, and not just for dramatic effect, either. Then the anime and real life card game rolled around, and suddenly Yugi and Jonouchi are settling all their problems with Duel Monsters, while Honda and Anzu are reduced to cheerleaders.
Kaiba was also greatly reduced in badassery during his transition from manga to anime, where he spends more time standing around being The Stoic than he does doing actual badass feats. He did have a few good moments in the first season and in the occasional anime fillers that focus on him, but even those were a step down from trapping Yugi and his friends in a theme park designed specifically to make them die horrific deaths.
Mokuba. Again, the franchise from before and after the universe revolved around Duel Monsters can be considered two different series with curious name similarities. The old Mokuba was an Enfant Terrible and wanted to kill Yugi. He was actually one of the better villains in the series. Most villains do something heinous in a "muggle criminal" sorta way, run afoul of someone the Pharaoh likes, get challenged to a Shadow Game (which is anything a Millennium Item holder challenges you to. Pegasus just suggested that the challenge be his own card game; if you're really the "King of Games," you can win, can't you?) and lose, suffering the Penalty Game the Pharaoh chose to inflict (a curse, sometimes fatal, sometimes worse, though if he was feeling merciful you may get away with being horribly Mind Raped with illusions.) That was the formula: "I'm such a badass criminal -> you and your stupid pyramid thingy can't beat me -> Oh, Crap." And then there were the serious villains. Yes, you're reading this correctly: Mokuba was a frickin' Knight of Cerebus in the manga. He bears no resemblance whatsoever to the later Mokuba from the Duel Monsters anime, who exists to (a) be the one Kaiba is nice to so we don't hate him and (b) get kidnapped - a lot.
Weevil Underwood and Rex Raptor were once lauded as regional champions, and to be feared. However, after their not one, but two defeats at the hands of the protagonists, they became nothing more than comic relief. That is, until they got the superpowered Seal...
Jun Manjoume in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX suffers from this in Season 3, but gets better in Season 4.
Aki Izayoi has unambiguously become much less threatening, dangerous, impressive, or actually interesting as a character as the series has progressed.
Jack Atlas, who started out the series as the serious Rival but deteriorated to the point in which he contributed little more to the series than to provide Plucky Comic Relief with his incessant bickering with Crow and with his suddenly acquired love for cup ramen that he cried over.
This possibly happened to Tokiya Mikagami, who was at first a completely ruthless man driven for revenge, and in the Ura Butou Satsujin, he manages to give out many great performances. Come to the latter arcs of the manga, however, although time by time, he did awesomely, he also often became the recipient of Distress Ball, turning into him into the Distressed Dude TWICE.
Mikagami never really decayed, he evolved into a more interesting and complete person. His whole character arc never robbed him of his power or cool head but granted him a truly memorable opponent who actually not only defeated him but changed him. The perception of badass decay comes from the flanderization of his stoicism in the anime. In the manga he was one of the funniest characters as he was the ultimate straight man, whereas the anime showed him as a personality challenged bishonen.
However, despite evolving into a more interesting, the fact that after the tournament, his record of fighting consist of either getting an off-screen beat up and being a Distressed Dude still counts as a Badass Decay. It was his Badassery that decayed, not his character overall.
Quite a few members of the Ikki Tousen cast display this over the period of the third Great Guardians season. Most notably Kan'u Unchou suffers from Flanderization so badly that it cripples her Bad Ass status and she becomes mostly unrecognizable for the first few episodes. See also Ryofu Housen's display of this through Loss of Identity. Thankfully they "get better" later in the season.
A rare "objective" take on this in Angel Densetsu: Ogisu thinks he's suffering from this (his genre savvyness, unfortunately, is off mark, and ends there too). Essentially he doubts if he is Badass because he keeps being defeated in battle once he transfers into a new school despite being undefeated previously. He is Badass but Ogisu is simply being Overshadowed by Awesome.
Manga Gendo makes for a debatable case, as he's much more emo and pathetic compared to his anime version but also much more cynical, cruel and insane. The same charge has been laid over his confession that he's a pile of self-hate with a social phobia in the end.
Some view Asuka's descent into madness as Badass Decay too, as she was established as an incredibly assertive and combative character, but then again, it also helped make her one of the show's biggest Woobies.
Nanael from Queen's Blade seems to have gotten this treatment. Ever The Ditz, she one time surprisingly decides to take on three major demons all by herself, easily defeating them. Later she loses all too easily against one of them in battle.
Ash suffers from this himself up to BW. At the end of each region or so, the guy's at the top of his game, taking down fully evolved Pokémon with ease, and in the case of DP, singlehandedly taking on a legendary. Then Ash dumps his entire team (and apparently Pikachu's levels) with Oak. Pikachu then goes on to having a hard time dealing with baby Pokémon. Averted with the BW-XY transition, however: Ash lost a great deal of his badassery in BW, only to gain them back again in the first two episodes of XY. By the second episode of XY he took on (and successfully tamed) a rampaging Garchomp with just himself, his Pikachu, and his Froakie.
Ash's Buizel started out being able to take out Dawn's Piplup, Zoey's Glameow, and Ash's Pikachu one after the other, and showing a sort of joy in beating them. Now, it's a run-of-the-mill Lightning Bruiser that, while still enjoying a good scrap, doesn't seem anywhere near as strong as it did in its debut episode.
Brock went through this. When introduced, he was a Gym Leader and a genuine threat. After joining Ash and Misty, his character became more and more softened and his battling became less and less frequent. Just by looking at his previous most used Pokémon (Onix) and one of his last teams (Happiny and Bonsly), one can start to notice the difference.
Team Rocket also qualifies. In the second episode, they were a viable threat, and were even wanted by the police. But as the series progressed, they became less and less of a threat… As of Black and White, however, they've taken a level in badass, and have again become a viable threat. But then in X and Y, their badassery has decreased again.
Jessie's Lickitung. It was one of the most powerful Pokémon they ever owned; it easily defeated Ash's Bulbasaur, Brock's Vulpix, and Pikachu, before it was eventually defeated by Misty's Psyduck. In later appearances it was defeated easily by Ash's Pokémon, especially Pikachu, who previously couldn't even harm it. The only time it came close to the power of it's original appearance was when it took down a Nidoking (Though it needed Team Rocket's other Pokémon to slow it down first).
Even Gary Oak is an offender. In the first season, Gary was always three steps ahead of Ash, rolling around the region in a Corvette with teenage cheerleaders, acting like a total jerk to Ash whenever they met, flaunting his superiority. Then one day, he loses a match, big time, and it's assumed to be a Break the Haughty moment, and after that, Gary is far more modest and humble out of nowhere, and only lightly teases Ash. Also, his cheerleaders disappeared. Many fans were outraged. He later regained both his ego and his cheerleaders in time for the Johto League tournament.
In the first season of Digimon, Angemon was easily the most powerful fighter on the hero's side, able to take out enemies who were at higher stages than himself. His next stage had a one hit kill, healing moves and he never reached his highest stage for the sake of conflict. In most later Digimon media, Angemon suffers The Worf Effect. New mons aren't stronger, Angemon just sucked all the sudden. He gets all sorts of new stages that all get beaten anticlimactically. The only exception is the card game.
Also, at the end of the first season Angemon fought the strongest mon by himself while taking care of all the other protagonists, also during a scene in the second season he makes a brief appearance (which also doubles as genre savviness for both him and Takeru for coming up with the idea) to one-hit several mooks and at the same time showing off his then rival how far behind his league he was.
In the first Digimon movie, Omnimon wipes out an army of Diaboromon. In the second Digimon movie, Omnimon can't handle a swarm of Kuramon. Not only is Kuramon Diaboromon's weaker, unevolved form, there were fewer Kuramon than there were Diaboromon, the entire scene makes no sense unless you look at it as the writers fumbling to bring out a brand new form.
Kon was introduced as a genuine problem and was actually considered a threat to the main characters. After the end of that storyline, he was quickly reduced to a Joke Character ever after.
Even Ichigo went through this, he ends the Soul Society arc being able to beat Captains, he blocks Yami's punch by holding up his sword then slices clean through his arm. Mere episodes later he can't even defeat a mook. Then he gets better and then ends up being able to destroy the strongest espada. Then manages to scratch another with his strongest attack. However, Ichigo's case is rather justified because his power fluctuates greatly (It goes to Hero to Zero and back), and its based on how focused he is and how serious he's taking the situation.
Tuxedo Mask from Sailor Moon also had this problem but mostly in the anime. In the first season he starts out as Sailor Moon's personal Deus ex Machina, but as the Sailor Team gathers and begins to grow stronger, he starts to fall under this trope, being the only one not to receive power-ups on a regular basis. His manga self, on the other hand, performs the inverse, as in that continuity he starts out with no real powers, but manages to get a normal semi-powerful attack spell during the second series.
Kunzite is a particularly menacing and dangerous presence in the Dark Kingdom arc of the anime, forming shrewd plans to deal with his enemies and providing a more seasoned and experienced source of aid to his younger partner, Zoisite. After Zoisite dies, he attacks the Sailor Senshi and they just barely survive his onslaught. Then directly after this happens, Kunzite suddenly becomes the "main villain" for an arc and all this goes out the window. He comes up with particularly brainless plans to root out Sailor Moon's identity, all of which target seemingly random traits of women that naturally just cause him to zero in on the wrong girl. He also frequently gets outshone by the evil Endymion/Tuxedo Mask (and that is saying something). Though he does return to being competent for a few episodes once Endymion is put out of commission.
Lampshaded in Jubei-chan season 2, with shiro pointing out that in the first season that he could hold his own again jiyu's enemies to some new ones, who promptly mop the floor with him
Magical Record Lyrical Nanoha Force does this rather early on to Lady of War Signum, regarded as one of the more Badass characters in the series. CyphaofHuckebein became the first to decisively defeat her, and gave a rather brutal finishing to boot. It's a bit early to say whether this trope is really in effect currently as Signum has not really been seen since and the incident could be a sort of Darker and Edgier version of Nanoha and Fate being defeated (and having their Linker Cores stolen) in A's.
Signum has finally shown up again waking up at the hospital with Hayate, Rein, and Agito worried about her and generally having a sweet reunion with Hayate telling Signum that it's too early to join Reinforce Eins in heaven. While it's not the badass reappearance that many fans probably wanted, Signum still retains her credentials as she completely thrashed Cypha before she "Reacted" and the rest of the cast was defeated far worse (Nanoha and Fate were largely unscathed but poor Hayate was impaled completely out of nowhere by Huckebein's leader, who hadn't been seen until then, before she one-shotted Erio and Vita). It seems like a case of this for the main cast combined with absurdly broken villains and faulty new weapons...though there are now hints of a conspiracy involving the company that made those weapons so things are likely more than they seem for now.
Tokiko Tsumura in Busou Renkin started out as a badass Lady of War, capable of holding her own even with a homunculus embryo slowly turning her into a homunculus herself and causing her severe pain whenever she uses her kakugane. And then she defeats Jinnai, and that's her last major victory for a long, long time, and after that she's seemingly delegated to emotional support for Kazuki and chopping up minor mooks. Granted, this wouldn't be as bad, but it definitely reaches its lowest point during the Re-Extermination Arc when she's caught in a massive explosion that splits the group up and is injured and has to be defended from another enemy, while not even trying to defend herself when said enemy suddenly turns around and attacks her. Fortunately, the next fight she's in she finally manages to reverse this trope and pull out another major victory.
In-Universe example: The center theme of one episode of Gundam Evolve is Char Aznable, after having used his "Quattro Bajeena" alias for a while, beginning to realize he's lost his edge. He has this realization during a training mission where his top-of-the-line, fully loaded Rick Dias is defeated handily by combat data of his old self in a Zaku II armed with just a Heat Hawk. This episode addresses the fact that Quattro in Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam isn't pulling off insane tricks and inducing pants-wetting at the mere mention of his name like he did in the original series. Probably has something to do with Redemption Demotion.
Monster Chopper also gets a downgrade in badassery, but this is mainly because Chopper learned how to control this form. This means that instead of a rampaging murderous beast, you still have the adorable Chopper (in terms of personality, not appearance). Usopp even mentions how awkward this is.
Superman during his transition from the Golden Age to the Silver Age may be the most outstanding example of this trope. From a noble vigilante who wasn't afraid of roughing it up with (non-superpowered) villains, to the nicest guy in the universe, who wouldn't kill a fly and only destroyed machines if no other choice was available. Unlike many of his Golden Age colleagues (e.g. Batman), many of his Silver Age trappings have stuck to this day, but please notice that Tropes Are Not Bad.
During the earliest stories of his series, Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen was a competent detective and Pintsized Powerhouse who might get a head start on beating up the bad guys before Superman got there and who, if captured, often found some way to alert Superman with or without his signal watch. As the stories progressed, he became more and more The Load.
Something similar happened to Doomsday. After all, they were both an "accomplishment villain": a villain created with the sole purpose of defeating the hero to raise sales. The problem with this kind of villain is that the fans will want to get more stories with him, and writers have to depower him so that the stories are not prone to Fridge Logic (if he could kill Superman once, why can't he do it again?)
Thorn started off as a pretty badass (if gimmicky) feminist vigilante who went around kicking ass and teaming up with the likes of Lois Lane and Green Arrow. By the time the year 2000 rolled in, she had become an ineffectual joke who appeared as a recurring thorn in the side (pun intended) to Harley Quinn & Poison Ivy. It became something of a running joke where the duo would be attacked by Thorn while committing a crime, only to easily defeat her and leave her bound and gagged. A couple years later Gail Simone revived the character and made her into a cunning antiheroine who fought the Birds of Prey.
A rather insignificant example of this is when it turns out Abe Sapien from Hellboy gets seasick in Drums of the Dead. Abe remarks, "Being in the water is different from being on the water" or somesuch.
Nicky Cavella's first introduction in The Punisher MAX paints him as a suave, Affably Evil badass who smooth talks his partners and generally acts like a pretty decent guy (until he gets down to business), yet the mobsters of New York are terrified of him and he's done something to put him in charge of the two most dangerouslypsychotic killers in the mob. When his plans come crashing down around him, he isn't so cocky and smooth anymore and runs away while using the man he conned into helping him as a meat shield. Even so, he still seems like a pretty dangerous and effective villain (not least because he subverted Bond Villain Stupidity). But in his next (and last) appearance, he is the complete opposite of everything that he was in the first comic. He's whiny, stupid, smug snakeish and just creepy and weird. Readers do get to see his origin story, and one part of it is horrifyinglycool, but overall his badass credentials seem to have been left in his other pair of pants.
The X-Men's The Juggernaut. For the first three decades of publication history, he was a physically unstoppable villain empowered by the deity Cyttorak. Some of the notable feats include withstanding Thor's "godforce" unharmed, an attack that was earlier shown capable of severely injuring Galactus. Then during Onslaught the Juggernaut gets a taste of The Worf Effect, as he is knocked clean across two states and ends up comatose for several days just to show how badass Onslaught is. Things went further downhill as Chuck Austen wrote him as part of theX-Men. Juggernaut, who before had been capable of going for weeks if not years without air, food, or water, can suddenly drown in Austen's first story featuring him. There was absolutely no explanation for why the Juggernaut was suddenly very stoppable, and later authors have scrambled for a Retcon to explain that. The latest line comes from Fear Itself: The Worthy, which says that Juggernaut's power goes "up and down on Cyttorak's whim". That is something that has never happened before, even when the Juggernaut went dimension-hopping with Doctor Strange and tried to kill Cyttorak when coming face to face with him. Or when the Juggernaut screwed up a bet between Cyttorak and other deities in The Eight Day, he was confirmed to still possess unstoppable strength from Cyttorak's enchantments in the follow-up story The Ninth Day.
In his original appearance, Roberto Rastapopoulos was portrayed as an actually threatening villain, being a Magnificent Bastard who led a whole drug traffic in the first story arc in the whole series, almost succeeded in killing Tintin at several points and display some degree of Genre Savvyness. In Fly 714 for Sydney, he is turned into a comical villain who ends up accidentally revealing his whole plan under the effect of a truth serum and get heavily ridiculized, even failing to crush a spider. Might be intentional, however, as Hergé's purpose when writing this book was to deconstruct the adventure genre.
Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog had this happen with Metal Sonic. The "Version 3.0" had started out as something of a big threat. However, in the span of about 75 issues, that threat level disappeared quickly, becoming something of a joke. The fans, Sega and ultimately writer Ian Flynn got tired of that, though.
Alison Drake's (Ruth Chatterton) character towards the end of Female (1933). Sadly, this is a common set-up for pre-Code films, mostly those featuring strong or amoral female characters. Another example would be Lily Powers in Baby Face (1933).
The prequel trilogy did this to Darth Vader...sort of. He only shows up properly at the very end, once "Anakin Skywalker" is done and over with, but the one time he's there features one of the most infamousNarmmoments ever that really makes him seem less impressive.
General Grievous gets this in an odd way. In Star Wars: Clone Wars he was a badass unstoppable Jedi killer. However, at the end of the series, his few remaining internal organs were severely mangled by Mace Windu, resulting in him gaining a chronic cough and seeming much weaker in episode three, as he was intended to become a Fallen Hero and a precursor of sorts to Vader.
King Ghidorah may be one of the fastest examples of Badass Decay in film history. He went from being the ultimate evil in his film debut (Ghidorah The Three Headed Monster) to being The Dragon in the very next film. Also, he went from being a genuine threat that took three monsters to defeat and over six to kill in the Showa era to being easily dispatched by Godzilla alone with a single blast.
Pintel and Ragetti from Pirates of the Caribbean. While they were always comic relief, they had no problem with murder in the first film. In the two sequels they are just mischievous at worst. This was even given an in-story justification: After losing their immortality at the end of the first film, they were deliberately trying to avoid provoking people into doing things like shooting them. Also, Ragetti had become religious and was worried about his eventual fate.
Kevin Flynn in TRON: Legacy is noticeably less proactive when compared with his incarnation in the first TRON movie. This is mostly the result of having spent a prolonged period waging a Hopeless War against his own creation Clu, which has left him jaded, burnt-out, and despairing. Later in the movie, however, Kevin steps back up and exhibits some of the old badassery that characterized him in the first film.
In Ip Man the title character was nearly untouchable; only the Four-Star BadassBig Bad landed any real blows. Not so much in the sequel. That the Old Master could fight him to a draw, fans could accept. A boxer punk managing to knock him down multiple times didn't get accepted as readily. It's justified, though, for people who do their homework; boxing doesn't look as flashy for the cameras, but it is still a disciplined martial art, and even if The Twister was merely a "punk" rather than the toughest, fastest boxer to come over from Britain, it's explicitly shown that the people in charge of the match kept changing the rules to put Ip at a disadvantage, and that Ip was forced to improvise when he couldn't rely on his prior training.
This happens to the hitman Vincent in Collateral. He goes through most of the movie as a cold blooded killer who shoots down enemies in seconds. When it comes time for the climax, he is gunned down by the cabbie hero who had never picked up a gun in his life.Lampshaded after a fashion and probably justified: His last words are to taunt the hero with how much better at this stuff he is. Doesn't matter how experienced you are if you let hubris get the better of you, genius.
The T-Rex in Jurassic Park III. He is easily defeated by the Spinosaurus and gets no screen time other than their fight, essentially being replaced by the Spinosaurus. This is supposedly a case of Reality Ensues as the film's consulting paleontologist pointed out that the T-Rex was a scavenger and the Spinosaurus was really the predatory animal.
The Scarecrow from The Dark Knight Saga. He starts off as the Big Bad of the first movie, only to be quickly demoted to The Dragon once the real villain shows up. That's not all that bad except the climax of the first movie sees him getting tasered by the main character's love interest within seconds of showing up. The next movie begins with him as a lowly drug dealer where he is taken down in the Batman Cold Open. It makes some sense, though; he's a scrawny little psychologist with no physical prowess or weapon skills. In the beginning of the first movie, all he really has are connections, fear gas (which he only obtained in part through those connections), and a lack of morality (which isn't exactly rare in the Batman universe). When the League of Shadows and the mob went down and he lost his position at the Asylum, he lost most of what made him a threat in the first place.
In The Dark Knight Rises, Bruce's deteriorating health and a prolonged retirement from super heroics really hurt his efficiency when he shoulders the mantle again. The fact that Batman isn't as effective a fighter as he was is constantly discussed in-universe.
The basic premise of the film Hook, where Peter Pan has left Neverland for so long that he's no longer the badass he was and has to relearn everything to save his children.
In The Antithesis Qaira Eltruan begins Arc II as a genuine 'badass', who is cold and ruthless and devoid of all mercy and feelings. As the story goes on it is shown that he does have a heart, and his disguise as a ruthless unmerciful bastard is the result of terrible past experiences involving the death of his mother and other traumatic things he was forced to do as a militant leader. With Leid's help, Qaira slowly begins to feel compassion again, hence the decay of his badassness.
Count Dracula has been steadily humanized since his appearance in Bram Stoker's 1897 novel. In the book, he is a cold, ruthless monster with no redeeming qualities. Since then, he's been softened in each new appearance, going from a vile, diabolical arch-fiend to a Large Ham in a cape and tux, tragically searching the oceans of time for his lost love by biting the necks of fainting, gasping, and all-too-willing females. Counting down...
Nosferatu, depicted chillingly as the monstrous 'Orlok' by Max Shreck.
The 1973 TV production of Dracula has Jack Palance as a fierce-looking vampire, but prefers to play up the "tragic figure searching for his lost love" angle.
Dracula (1979) with Frank Langella, continuing his transformation from monster to lover, a tragic figure with poofy 70's hair and a partly-open poet's shirt.
Bram Stoker's Dracula with Gary Oldman starts with Dracula's tragic history to create sympathy. Though he spends most of the film as a monstrous villain, all of his scenes with Mina heavily characterize him as a tragic romantic.
Hellsing takes an interesting route in making Dracula an anti-hero who is thoroughly evil and yet fighting for the good guys. Alucard is characterized as a fairly honorable Blood Knight who is more interested in finding challenging opponents to fight than doing harm to regular people.
A Fred Saberhagen novel, The Dracula Tape, comically subverts the Dracula story by having the Count show up and insist that he was the good guy all along and everyone else in the classic tale was a nut or actually in love with him.
In the holiday special The Halloween That Almost Wasn't aka The Night Dracula Saved The World, Dracula ends up saving Halloween (what else?). To really drive the stake in further, he was played by none other than Judd Hirsch.
Scooby-Doo! and the Reluctant Werewolf, where he is no more menacing that Gomez Addams; Drak Pack, where he is the creator of a group of superheroes; and Los Vampiros las Prefieren Gorditas, where he has to put up with Olmedo and Porcel's antics.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer plays it both ways by lampooning Dracula's cliche mannerisms, but still making him far more powerful than the typical vampire. In the comics, Dracula becomes pathetic and kept Xander brainwashed for a while because he was lonely. Then he reminds the audience with a terrifying Badass Boast of what he is capable of.
Blade: Trinity plays Dracula as a straight villain as well as the first and more powerful vampire. However, he's much less evil than the other modern vampires. Rather than a sadistic monster, he's an honorable warrior who prizes strength and is driven to create a powerful bloodline. Ultimately before he dies he sees Blade as a worthy descendant and helps him escape capture.
The trope is often averted and Dracula is played as a powerful, menacing villain with no redeeming characteristics. When teamed up with other classic monsters, Dracula is often the most dangerous one of the bunch.
The title character of Artemis Fowl. Although thankfully this one has not yet fallen into wangst. Fowl has, however, kept what badassery he did have, and has yet to be as anvilicious as any of our heroes. The elves were parodies of other rather more anvilicious interpretations of the fairy folk.
Possibly spoofed in the most recent book, in which he travels back in time to match wits with... well.... himself. One exchange later and he's left stranded on a telephone pole with nothing more than the line "I hate me."
Count Olaf, although not woobie-fied, is less and less scary as the books go on, and more and more ludicrous. How much of this was deliberate is unknown.
Vampires have been portrayed as conflicted and used to explore themes of sexuality since beforeBram Stoker. The gothic horror tradition is rife with these themes: Varney the Vampire was angsting over his vampiric nature 200 years before Edward Cullen was thought of, and Carmilla's entire hat was Evil Is Sexy. Even in Anne Rice's works, they're still thoroughly portrayed as monstrous, even the sympathetic ones (which is where their angst comes from). If anything, vampires suffer more from Flanderization than this trope.
Kisten from the The Hollows novels suffers from a classic example of this. First presented as the scion of the most powerful vampire in Cincinnati bent on dangerously seducing the main character he decays Spike-style over the series to becoming simply her romantic interest and then he suffers Redemption Equals Death
Some fans insist that this is what happened to Han Solo in the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Although that may be a failure to realize that he still does as much stuff (if not more) than what he does in the movies, but he's occasionally useless compared to his wife, children, and brother-in-law, all of who are extremely gifted in the Force. It would probably be more accurate to say that they all Took a Level in Badass while he did not.
Kannwar, the immortal God Emperor of a continent and the Big Bad of the Right Hand Of God trilogy, gets this big time in the sequel trilogy. At the conclusion of the first trilogy he is only stopped in his war of conquest when the creator of the Universe personally intervenes, shooting off his remaining hand with an arrow. By the end of the second trilogy he's spent a lot of time wangsting with the girl he turned immortal in the first trilogy and been blown up and revived several times, more or less for laughs.
The A Song of Ice and Fire books have this happen to the Kingsguard. Once looked up to as shining examples of knighthood and the best fighters in the kingdom, they're now a joke, with all of them put in for political reasons rather than for fighting skill.
The Night Watch has a similar problem, it used to be a largely volunteer force with criminals conscripted for sheer numbers. Now there are almost no volunteers, even fewer knights, and numbers are so small they've abandoned most of their fortresses.
Live Action TV
Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer began the series as a straight villain who was set up to be killed off. Prior to this, he did things like kill the Annointed One, lead three powerful demon bounty hunters, and (once it was decided not to kill him off) betray Angelus behind his back and help save the world for his own selfish benefit. As the character became popular and got strung along throughout the rest of the show's run, he gradually became more and more sympathetic and cuddly. The change was so infamous that this trope was once called Spikeification. Despite his decay, the character would occasionally receive a few awesome moments to keep him interesting, and he wound up becoming somewhat badass again on Angel. The decay probably began around the season three episode when he stumbles back to town a heartbroken drunk after Drusilla broke up with him for not being evil enough. Thankfully, by the end of the episode, he realizes that all he needs to do to win her back is go back to being the person he was, i.e. a complete badass with a healthy dose of sociopathy.
The decay hit the ground running in season 4 when he is captured by the Initiative (a government paramilitary group studying demons) and has a chip installed in his head that prevents him from hurting humans. With the ability to cause harm removed, he was forced to become Angel-like: drinking blood obtained from butchers or blood banks, helping the Scoobies because he was so raring for a fight that he chose to attack other demons, and generally becoming angsty about his inabilities. However, it was when he fell in love with Buffy that he dove face-first into the realm of decayed.
This decay is sort of justified out-of-universe, because to keep Spike on the show past his time as a villain, he would have to be rendered a non-threat, so the audience wouldn't be wondering why Buffy didn't just stake him.
Also, the Turok-Han. When it was first introduced, the "ubervamp" was so powerful that it just couldn't be stopped by any member of the Scooby gang and it almost killed Buffy. Twice. On the third try, Buffy kills while giving a speech to all the Potentials and the Scoobies and Andrew in a Crowning Moment of Awesome, but just barely. In the season finale, after Willow turns all Potentials into Slayers, you can see a whole army of ubervamps go down by flies, as Buffy's army kill them as if they weren't stronger than regular vampires. And it's not only the power of a slayer; Robin and Giles and even Anya are seen killing a few of them!
To an extent, Irina Derevko from Alias. Even Sark showed hints of humanity, but Derevko was given the Villain Ball in season 5. Sark at least stayed believably unredeemed.
Invoked about the Night's Watch, which has fallen on hard times. Of the veritable army that once existed to safeguard the realm, only a token militia of less than a thousand men remains. They are also severely under-equipped and can only afford to keep three of their nineteen castles along the Wall manned and maintained.
Evoked and discussed in-universe with Robert Baratheon, who was a mighty warrior. When the series begins he's living on past glories, is too fat for his armor, and spends his days partying and trying not to piss himself.
Arthur Fonzarelli, "The Fonzie" from Happy Days, is first flanderized and then decayed through the course of the series, but especially after it Jumps The Shark. He ends up being more like a Boys' Club leader than the aloof, antisocial cool guy he started the show as.
Battlestar Galactica: Cylons in general have avoided badass decay, but Caprica-Six seems to have suffered rather badly. She went from baby mercy-killing in the miniseries to pining for Baltar and desiring co-existence with humans in Downloaded, though it was clear she cared about Baltar in the miniseries and she wasn't seen again until Downloaded anyway, so its not as if we had much evidence of badassery on her part anyway. That at least led to the scary occupation of New Caprica. After that, unfortunately, she was eventually reduced to surrendering along with Baltar, and sitting in Galactica's brig getting hardly any screen time. It's well-written legitimate character development, up until late season 3 where the writers almost forgot she existed for a time.
Starbuck goes through is a little bit in the later seasons, especially when she dies and comes back. She goes from being the badass Viper pilot to captain of a reconnaissance mission. The biggest sign of this is when she slaps Baltar for revealing a secret about her. In previous seasons she sucker-punched both Tigh and Apollo when provoked, but here she fights like The Chick.
Although never exactly a badass, Norman Clegg from Last of the Summer Wine began the long-running series as an acerbic philosopher with a dry and pointed sense of humour (as well as functioning as the Ego of the series' Power Trio). As time has gone on, however, he has become a total wimp: scared stiff of driving cars, terrified of the various female characters (especially Auntie Wainright) and increasingly resigned to whatever madcap scheme his current "leader" has in mind. One of many ways in which the series has jumped the shark.
Lord Zedd in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers began life as the "Emperor Of Evil": a genuinely terrifying villain who quickly banished the comical Rita Repulsa and proved his magnificence by almost destroying the Rangers' zords, finally stripping Tommy of his Green Ranger powers, and creating his own highly kick-ass zord Serpentera, which towered above the Rangers' own Megazord. Then near the end of the 2nd season he got married to Rita, becoming a more comical villain as the show went on and by the third season the transformation had become complete and he was a Jaded Washout type character. By next season in Zeo he along with the rest of the Morphin baddies are run off by the Machine Empire (His voice actor confirms "Zedd scared small children, so they invoked this trope".) Ironically, he seems to do better in season three, as he pulls off more evil schemes which may convince the audience that he might even win. How? One of his plans climaxed in entering the Command Center, throne and all.
In the first season, Goldar was The Dragon and more than a match for the entire team of 5. Jason was capable of trading blows with Goldar, but that was it. But with season two more about Tommy than any other cast member, Goldar's character suffered dreadfully. Tommy began to defeat Goldar singlehandedly, but it wasn't just that Tommy's skills were growing. In one episode, Billy was able to kick Goldar around, unmorphed, and that's when it got depressing. One might expect he'd be furious and try to regain his honor, but instead he just turned into a bungling nincompoop.
Toyed with and retconned several times in Heroes with Sylar. Several storylines make it look like he's becoming a more sympathetic character until the arc is aborted and he snaps back to being a psychopath.
When the Time Lords first show up in Doctor Who at the end of the Second Doctor's run, they were mysterious, powerful, and threatening to the Doctor. They forced him to regenerate and banished his regenerated self to Earth. Over time, the portrayal of Time Lords changed into that of a stagnant society in decline, who had largely forgotten much of their former power and morality. The downgrading of the Time Lords happened first accidentally and then deliberately. In "The Three Doctors" they appeared as more Human Alien than god-like. Then when they re-appeared in "The Deadly Assassin" they fell prey to deliberate Take ThatRetcon by writer/script editor Robert Holmes, Armed with Canon. Fandom at the time complained about Holmes' story, but it established the trend which later writers took and ran with.
Similarly, the Brigadier, when he first appeared in the late 1960s (real time) took no guff from anyone and the stories portrayed UNIT, the force he led, as an elite team of defenders against Alien Invasion. He got gradually more comedic and less impressive, though he would regain his reputation later. As did UNIT itself.
The Daleks, especially over the course of the new series. In the first episode, a single Dalek on near future Earth was presented as likely to START by killing everyone in the nearest city, should it escape. A Dalek army required the intervention of a being with powers little short of God-like. One of the cult of Skaro confidently predicted that five million Cybermen could be destroyed by a single Dalek. Later, they emasculate themselves by merging with humans. By 2010, Daleks serve tea when undercover, and when not undercover their ship's weaponry is successfully disabled by three human-piloted Spitfires, albeit ones with Dalek guns.
The ship was nearly drained of power at the time. In their first ever appearance, First Doctor serial The Daleks (1963-64), they serve meals to the Doctor and his companions when they're not undercover, but in control - the good guys are their prisoners. True, there's an evil plot afoot - but it's a remarkably subtle plot by Dalek standards, and taking prisoners at all is out of character. They only go undercover in Victory of the Daleks because there's no other way to ensure the survival of their race.
Ontop of that however, Asylum of the Daleks has them borrowing a page from the Cyberman's playbook (namely, converting a Human into a full Dalek as well as the Dalek Human Zombies)., but the more prominent sign of Badass Decay would be "The Daleks subtract love and add anger".
On the subject of Doctor Who, The Cybermen in the classic era were infamously subject to this. By the time 80's Who rolled around, the Cybermen were routinely being killed with Solvents, concentrated fire from Human weapons and most infamously, anything made of Gold, from Gold Dust to Gold Coins. This appeared to have been rectified in the New Who era. However, Later on, they are defeated by a golden ticket and a father's love for his son.
In the fourth season of 24 Curtis Manning was a pure badass, so much that he was called Black Bauer. In the fifth season he was mostly a doormat compared to Bauer, in the sixth season he was ineffectual until he got killed by Bauer.
Tyr Anasazi of Andromeda went from being one of the show's best Magnificent Bastards and the only mortal being in the universe that Dylan Hunt couldn't take in a fight to a driveling short-sighted idiot that ended up losing fights to all and sundry, and was ignominiously shot in the back and dropped off a cliff. Some viewers believe that Kevin Sorbo (who played Dylan Hunt) becoming executive producer might have had something to do with this.
Dexter almost succumbed to this in season two, even going so far as planning to turn himself in as the Bay Harbor Butcher, but thankfully changed his mind. As the series has gone on, Dexter has suffered from Badass Decay anyway. After all, each season charts a new step of emotional development for Dexter, as he discovers that he's not quite as inhuman as his adoptive father led him to believe. As a result, the Dexter at the end of Season 5 is not nearly as dark as his Season 1 counterpart. The series veered in a new direction in Season 7, with Dexter willfully rejecting the Code of Harry and becoming more of a Badass.
Hannah suffered from this between season 7 and 8. Initially, she was a Dark Action Girl whose MO was to seduce victims into lowering their guard before poisoning them with rare poisonous plants she breeds in her garden. One of season 7's best moments has to be her murder of Sal Price in this fashion. She then gets Put on a Bus until mid-season 8; upon her return, the audience was disappointed as she was reduced to a weak woman who apparently couldn't take care of herself anymore (which she had been doing since she was 14) and needed Dexter for everything, resulting in her being too dependant of him and eventually leading to a Romantic Plot Tumor. And the showrunners just couldn't get enough of her.
The Borg from Star Trek. In their first appearance they started carving the Enterprise like a turkey and Borg drones had a personal energy shield that would adapt to enemy weapons fire after other drones would fall. A single Borg ship (with Picard assimilated) was powerful enough to destroy 39 Federation spaceships in the battle at Wolf 359, break through the Solar System's defense grid and reach Earth orbit. Early on, writers realized that because the original Borg concept was so single-minded they needed to modify some concepts to make for more story potential. The Borg turned to assimilating both people and technology, instead of being their own unique race. Star Trek: First Contact introduced the concept of Borg "queens," which while effective for that movie the Queen inherently humanized them, making it capable of deceiving them. By the end of Star Trek: Voyager, the Borg's bad-assness had decayed so badly that Janeway routinely blew up whole Borg cubes with just a mean stare. However, the Borg did roar back to badass level in the post-Nemesis novel continuity and Star Trek Online. How badass? Well, let's just say eating fucking Pluto was just the beginning.
In the 60s spy series The Man From UNCLE, heroes Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are sometimes subject to plot dependent Badass Decay. E.g., in the third act of the third season episode, "The Five Daughters Affair, Part II", Solo and Kuryakin fight THRUSH's "karate killers" ( who despite that name (as given in the credits) do very little actual killing in the episode) for about the sixth time in the two-part adventure. Despite holding their own in several earlier fights with the karate killers, Solo and Kuryakin lose whatever fighting skills they've demonstrated, and are straightway handed their asses by the THRUSH "killers". This is necessary to set up the fourth act's climax and resolution (therefore "plot dependent").
Michael Caffee of Brotherhood goes from Badass Punisher-like Ear-cutting Irish Mob vigilante to brain damaged bagman then paranoid drugged mob-boss
The titular House suffered from this in Season 6. Where once there was a badass, sarcastic, biting floating brain, there now stands a love-sick puppy that spouts "emotionally healthy" psychobabble. Most notable in his relationship with Cuddy, which went from mutual messing to confessions of love. Confessions. Of love. From House.
LOST had some serious decay with the Others. What started as a mysterious group of rogue jungle ninjas was soon revealed to be little more than a bunch of commune dwelling nobodies that played football and had a flare for the dramatic. Although shining the spotlight on anything scary will quickly reveal that it's just a branch scratching against a window. See Nothing Is Scarier.
Morgause from Merlin was simply too intelligent for her own good. In her first appearance she storms into Camelot, takes down several guards, challenges Prince Arthur to a duel, beats him, drops a bombshell about his mother, makes him chase her across the countryside for answers, shows him what may or may not be a real apparition of his mother who tells him that his father was responsible for her death, and then watches from a crystal as he goes storming back to Camelot to kill King Uther in a fit of rage. However, in a show that seems almost pathologically dependent on Status Quo Is God and pressing the Reset Button, Morgause is reduced in season three to a completely ineffectual and one-dimensional villain who plots to overthrow the kingdom with a range of increasingly convoluted plans. If she had been allowed to retain the intelligence and subtlety she had displayed in the second season, she would have been running the place in two seconds flat.
Barnabas Collins of the original Dark Shadows was intended to be the latest villain when he first appeared. His first victim was Willie Loomis (who was looking for jewels supposedly buried in the family crypt), turned into his slave. Jason McGuire, who had come to Collinwood to blackmail Elizabeth Stoddard, was one of his first on-screen kills (Jason had brought Loomis with him, and become interested in the jewels Willie sold for Barnabas). He kidnapped and tormented Maggie Evans in an effort to make her into a version of his first love, Josette; killed anyone who got in his way; manipulated Dr. Hoffmann's affection for him, and generally caused mayhem. Then audiences fell in love with him, leading to his transformation into a heroic character.
Eric of True Blood started as a fetishy ruthless powerful vampire with a certain human streak. Badass Decay was predetermined. He stayed Badass three seasons. At season 4 he's been cursed by a group of hobby esoterics, lost his memory along with his personality and has taken to making angsty confessions to Sookie.
It's hardly surprising that Viking Spike got Spikeified.
He seems to have gotten back his badassery by the end of the season, when he decapitates three heavily-armed guards in the space of a second, while Bill stakes the vamp who put him in power.
Young Blades: Pointed out in-universe when D'Artagnan discovers that his famous Musketeer father has been reduced to performing for money and selling action figures of himself.
Entourage had Ari Gold go from a hyper-ambitious, foul-mouthed, ruthless agent for Hollywood's A-list to a guy whose main accomplishment was securing a Hallmark movie-of-the-week role for a washed up TV actor.
Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost in Space, started as a cold, cruel, traitorous villain, to became the main comic relief as a cowardly, incompetent even effeminate burden.
Roger Waters was one of the major components of one of the greatest/scariest/craziest bands of all time. In the recent 12/12/12 concert, he spent the entire first songclapping his hands over his head and playing for the audience. He also had a bunch of preppy, smiling girls singing the second verse of "Another Brick in the Wall: Part II," and they weren't even supposed to be ironic. The only thing more pathetic than how clearly he had sold out was how much his decrepit audience was loving it.
Metallica was generally accused of this starting with The Black Album, although it wasn't very common until St. Anger - it was even complete with a documentary showing the previously badass kings of heavy metal going into therapy, and trying to bury the hatchet with their Big Bad. (But many - not all, considering the fanbaseis - considered Death Magnetic a return to form)
Similarly, Megadeth began as a brutal Thrash band, spending the '80s making fast, heavy songs based on anger, hedonism, violence and horror. At the beginning of the following decade, Dave Mustaine purged himself of the drug habits the influenced the band's earlier music, and took their thrash sound in a more progressive and accessible direction with Rust in Peace and Countdown to Extinction, which brought the band commercial success and shifted lyrically to weighty political and personal issues. A different, more mature sort of Badass.
It was after the more somber and introspective Youthanasia that the Decay began to set in; Cryptic Writings, unlike the albums before it, distilled everything about the band into a Lighter and Softer, dumbed-down product. The lyrics went from cerebral to childish, the music stripped of its intensity and reduced to simplistic radio fodder. The nadir was the disastrous Risk, a clumsy attempt at dated pop music that went in all kinds of failed directions. 2001's The World Needs A Hero showed the band attempting to steer themselves back on track but ultimately flopped with both fans and critics. And while the post-10-Minute Retirement album The System Has Failed did manage to Win Back some of The Crowd, their best days are still far behind them, as each following release merely repeated the same "autopilot" sound of the band banking on their glory days with less creativity and energy.
Lucy van Pelt of Peanuts, who went from an ebullient ball of aggressive energy to a rather neutered figure in the later years. The biography Schulz and Peanuts claims that Lucy was largely based on the author's first wife Joyce; after they divorced, Lucy lost her powers.
Professional Wrestling itself is an example. Back in the mid-1800s professional wrestling was a real competitive sport, and by the 1900s the highest ranked wrestlers had about the same amount of prestige that boxing and MMA champions have today. Real professional wrestling matches tended to be very slow-paced, however, and the sport slowly worked its way towards being more of a performance art when promoters started making rules to ban long static displays from matches. Promoters then discovered that the best wrestlers weren't necessarily the most marketable, and began fixing matches. By the 1950s, wrestling was more or less entirely scripted and predetermined. By the 1990s, wrestlers couldn't even claim prestige, or get endorsements, save a few in national promotions, (WWF Stone Cold, WCWGoldberg) and by the 2000s most champions of national promotions are largely ignored by the general populace, except maybe in their home countries.
Professional Wrestling has a most bizarre example in John Cena. In 2004, he was a street-wise thug (who happened to be a white rapper) who never backed down from a challenge, and fought rich bastard John Bradshaw Layfield while espousing "battle raps" which mocked anyone in a 15-mile radius. In 2005 and 2006, his overwhelming popularity led the writers to turn him into a Hoganesque superhuman with an inferiority complex who openly admitted he was inferior as a technical wrestler, therefore taking away everything that made him popular in the first place. It eventually got to the point where fans would cheer his opponent out of spite, no matter how evil that person was. Fortunately, the release of his movie The Marine allowed him to get back his never-say-die attitude, and he appears to be recovering from the setback. Slowly. The fact that WWE seems to be implying that he really is a marine based on his role in the movie doesn't help matters. In fact, most heels who became anti-heroic faces in the Attitude Era generally fall under this trope. More so when you consider said anti-heroes tended to have their most popular traits exaggerated when they become faces ("Stone Cold" Steve Austin wasn't a full-blown redneck until his turn, and The Rock didn't rely as much on his "sing-along" catchphrases). Cena's Self-Deprecation was largely a very mishandled attempt to appeal to the fans who had turned on him; additionally, it was mostly during his feud with Triple H, who is the head writer's husband and has had many feuds in which his opponent has sung his praises. Thankfully, this aspect of his character was dropped after Cena was given a clean victory over Trips.
WCW mid-2000. Hulk Hogan was put in a feud with midcard wrestler Billy Kidman. Their matches usually consisted of Hogan whaling on Kidman to the point that it resembled child abuse, then something happening to enable Kidman to pick up a fluke win. This was badass decay for BOTH men. Kidman previously was a very popular midcard wrestler, and Hogan was Hogan. Now Kidman resembled a whipping boy, and the Boring Invincible Hero Hogan became a boring almost invincible hero.
Without a doubt, Kane from the WWE. From the very beginning, Kane made his debut in the then-WWF as an unstoppable monster who destroyed everyone in his path. His badass decay began in the early 2000s when the writers tried to lighten his character up a bit by having him do comical imitations of other wrestlers like Hulk Hogan and Booker T. His character became considerably lightened up when he tag-teamed with the likes of the Hurricane and Rob Van Dam. Lightening up a wrestler in itself should not destroy their career but Kane's decline was more of a gradual process than something that happened overnight. He soon began jobbing to newly debuting monster heels like Batista and losing some of the menace that once made him a force to be reckoned with. Despite that, Kane still carried on as a high-ranking mid-card wrestler at worst, a powerful entity very few wrestlers could defeat without some sort of cheating tactic. Then the shit hit the fan when Triple H accused Kane of being a murderer and a necrophiliac, leading to an awkward and disgusting storyline involving Triple H in a Kane mask having sex with a mannequin corpse in a funeral home. Eventually, Kane was made to finally unmask on live-television in a second feud with Triple H and Evolution. It was downhill from there. Nowadays, Kane can be seen jobbing to various wrestlers that he would've demolished back in his masked Big Red Machine days (Edge, Randy Orton, Mark Henry, Rey Mysterio, etc.)
Kane started to get better. In a 2010 angle where someone put The Undertaker in a vegetative state and Kane going out for revenge, he demolished main eventers on a weekly basis; beating Jack Swagger (heavyweight champ at the time), The Big Show, Mysterio, and CM Punk. This included taking on Punk's entire stable, the Straight Edge Society, three on one, and dominating them, and sending Punk running from the arena. All of this without Kane being directly involved in the title picture. Then he won the World Heavyweight Championship from Rey Mysterio out of nowhere. Then it was revealed that he was the one who put The Undertaker in a vegetative state out of bitterness at being in his brother's shadow all his career. Then he would respond to his brother's return by Tombstone Piledriving him and getting the best of him at every opportunity. Then he would pin The Undertaker easily at Night of Champions. Then he would do it again in a Hell In A Cell match, setting up Paul Bearer to backstab him in the process. Then, he buried him a month later at Bragging Rights!
After his remasking in late 2011, he completely got better. For a few months. He gave a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown to Zack Ryder on several occasions and got in brutal feuds with Cena and Orton, even defeating Orton cleanly at Wrestlemania. Then decay quickly set in again. A plot involving a crush on AJ Lee ensured that he lost any credibility that he had got back by remasking. He lost at No Way Out, failed to win at Money in the Bank, and was defeated by Daniel Bryan at Summerslam. He was next used for comedy purposes, attending anger management.
Speaking of Kamala, he's a great example of this. Before his WWF run he was one of the few men to ever bodyslam André the Giant, and when he first debuted in WWF he was a genuinely frightening monster. In the long run he never won any of his feuds (allegedly because Vince McMahon disliked him) and his threat level diminished. Then he got turned face and teamed up with Slick, and that was the end of Kamala being scary.
Tazz (or Taz). Initially one of the toughest, most brutal wrestlers in ECW, Tazz made his debut in the then-WWF by giving Kurt Angle his first ever loss. Very soon, however, Tazz's badass decay began when he began feuding with the announcers, Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. After that was over, he became a glorified jobber. Though he did make a small comeback later on by winning the tag team titles with Spike Dudley, it was a little too late by then. After losing the tag team titles, Tazz stopped wrestling and joined the announce team with Michael Cole. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin mentioned in interviews that his talking down to Tazz wasn't right, but Tazz's decline was otherwise justified in that he did have a jacked-up neck that was getting worse over the years; after all he was part of the original ECW.
Goldust came into the WWF in 1995 as a bizarre, effeminate, gold-painted man who would psych people out and trick them to win his matches. When management decided in early 1997 to turn him face, they did so by showing that Goldust was just a character and the man behind him, Dustin Runnels was actually a caring family man. This breaking of the fourth wall turned fans off, and it didn't help that he stopped doing all the weird stuff that made people like him in the first place. Eventually, he reverted back to his old self (after some speed◊ bumps◊) but never had the original success he had as Goldust.
Chris Jericho has undergone a lot of badass decay over the years. One may not notice nowadays with Jericho being pinned left and right by a number of younger generation superstars, but there used to be a time when Jericho was one of the most dominant wrestlers in the WWE who could take down any wrestler who stood in his path, only coming up short against the really big superstars such as The Rock, The Undertaker, Kane, and Triple H. During the Attitude Era, he was known for his incredible mic skills and memorable feuds against Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, The Rock, Chris Benoit, and Kurt Angle. His badass decay most likely began after Triple H defeated him and took the Undisputed Championship away from him. These days Jericho has been toned down incredibly by both the PG Era and restrictive ringwork by the injury-conscious WWE. Even wrestlers he could defeat with no problem in the past such as Edge or Christian are now pinning him cleanly and making him look like a chump. True he's won the world title a few more times in recent years but it just doesn't feel like it's as big of a deal now as opposed to if he had won them during the height of his career from 1999 to 2001.
As a general trend, the WWE's decision to rebrand their TV shows from TV-14 to PG in order to add family appeal has unfortunately resulted in some of this. In order to reach a PG rating, the WWE had to cut back on mature content: scanty clothing, innuendo, weapon use, blood, and especially swearing. Since there are fewer options available for faces and heels to emphasize Badass characteristics during a feud, decay is more likely to happen across the board.
Abyss has gone from Kane clone, to a hybrid of Kane and Mankind, to a geek who asks if having Jacqueline on his lap makes him not a virgin anymore, back to indestructible badass, and now he's a 6'8" 300+ version of Dave Sullivan.
Samoa Joe, twice. The first was after losing to Kurt Angle at Hard Justice 2007 when Karen Angle predictably turned on Joe. The fans saw that turn two miles away, so they cheered for Kurt and Karen and booed Joe. The real damage didn't come until Joe cut a promo on Scott Hall at Turning Point, leading to his rebellion against TNA management. Unfortunately, he came off as whiny, leading the fans to boo him even more. He was losing left and right. Eventually, at Lockdown 2008, he got his badass cred back after beating Angle for the TNA Title.
Alas, that didn't last long, did it? After losing the title to Sting (when Nash turned on him), Joe formed the TNA Front Line along with AJ Styles to counter Sting's new group: the Main Event Mafia. During that feud, the Front Line lost nearly EVERY SINGLE MATCH against the Mafia, with the exception of Lethal Lockdown. It was also during this feud where Joe became a member of the "Nation of Violence," which saw him torture Sheik Abdul Bashir for no reason whatsoever and threaten to kill Scott Steiner. Again, the fans looked at Joe as a complete psychopath, and not the badass he once was. Then, he turned on the Front Line and became just another lackey for Kurt Angle.
Jay Lethal had a stretch where he pinned TNA Champion Kurt Angle clean, won the X-Division Title, and saved the aforementioned X-Division from Team 3D. The latter, he did ALL BY HIMSELF. During all of this, he was getting the attention of So Cal Val. Immediately after he got the girl, saved the X-Division, and got his title back, Sonjay Dutt wooed Val away from him. That was the beginning. Val remained undecided on who to shack up with, until she turned on Lethal, killing him for good.
For that matter the X-Division, whose championship ranged from almost as to just as important as the NWA World Championship (which also deserves its own entry) as a division with no limits that anyone could compete in if they could go hard enough to flippy wrestlers with a weight limit. Basically glorified cruiserweights banished from the main even and Impact altogether to the B show Xplosion. Austin Aries brought back some prestige, as he turned it from "not even worth mentioning in the same angle regarding the world title" to "glorified contract for a world title match", then Seiya Sanada's run the Japanese Wrestle1 Promotion, Samoa Joe getting the belt back and being treated as an equal to the World Champion and title defenses occurring in the main event greatly improved the X Division's image.
Just like Abyss and Kane, AJ Styles goes up and down the badass roller coaster frequently. With him playing second fiddle to the retired Ric Flair, AS THE WORLD CHAMPION, NO LESS, it's safe to say he's on the down slope.
Ring of Honor had a rather abominable case of this with BJ Whitmer. He spent 2006 on the cusp of stardom, proving himself as a BadassDeterminator who bled for ROH and stood victorious after a barbed wire match with the infamous Necro Butcher. But then, after losing to his longtime archenemy Jimmy Jacobs, Whitmer went on a losing streak that completely nullified the entire year of Badass cred that he had acquired. It didn't help that he came out of the losing streak by aligning with Smug Snake Adam Pearce, who nobody bought as a major threat; thus, Whitmer went from an independent and awesome hero to the thug of a weak and cowardly villain.
Of all people, there was a case with Davey Richards. As soon as Rocky Romero joined the No Remorse Corps, Richards became the ass of many jokes between Romero and Roderick Strong. He'd have to leave and get training from Dan The Beast Severn to regain his credibility.
Batista's badass decay ultimately turned him into the poster child for memes in professional wrestling. There's too many to mention here, so you can see the respective pages.
Mick Foley lampshaded in his autobiography how his Mankind gimmick went from insane pain-lover to doofy goofball in near-record time. He didn't mind as both interpretations were wildly popular, but he had to admit it ended up a lot different that he envisioned.
Almost everyone from The Ministry Of Darkness bar The Undertaker and John Bradshaw Layfield. Dennis Knight went from the deranged Mideon to the comedic Naked Mideon and "Bogus Mankind"; Nelson Frazier Jr. went from Mabel, King of the Ring, to Viscera, servant of The Undertaker, to Viscera, "The World's Largest Love Machine;" Ron Simmons went from tough world heavyweight champion (in WCW) to leader of the Nation of Domination to tag-team champion with JBL in the Acolytes, to beer-drinking redneck in APA, to some guy that walks around saying "Damn!"
Viscera did come back with the terrifying new image of Big Daddy V. He now let most of his tattoos show and was unstoppable for a little. You also had his much clearer Jiggle Physics in this persona.
The Acolytes/APA were actually pretty over as Stone Cold-like tough guy faces and were usually on the fringes of the top feuds at any given time in 1999 and 2000. Mideon might not really count since he was a joke from the start.
The Hell in a Cell match was once theGimmick Match where the most vicious of feuds went to end in a bang. However, around 2006, the Cell was built to be bigger, ensuring nobody was to try the spots on the top of the Cell such as the ones in HBK vs Undertaker, Mankind vs Undertaker, or Cactus Jack vs Triple H. The matches nonetheless remained intense and bloody until the Hell in a Cell PPV was created in 2009. This not only meant that the feuds in a Hell in a Cell match usually now lacked the history of intensity of past matches but that the new PG rating meant that all the viciousness of past matches would be gone, essentially just making the match a standard no-DQ match with a big cage obstructing the audience's view. While Hell in a Cell used to be a truly special match used maybe once or twice a year to cap off a really big feud, it's since become just another gimmick match with no real specialness to it.
Sheamus went through this after awhile. After starting off strong, and winning the WWE championship in his first PPV match, he went down the card a little, but was still Badass and netted another (albeit short), championship reign. Then came the 2010 King of the Ring tournament; despite winning said tourney, after becoming "King Sheamus" he started losing frequently (although to guys like Randy Orton & John Morrison, but still). Fortunately, he dumped the king regalia note at a house show where he was scheduled to face Yoshi Tatsu, he attacked him from behind, dropped him with a High Cross, and said "King Sheamus is dead. Long live the Celtic Warrior!" Or So I Heard and has gotten much better. Since turning face in the summer of 2011, though, he's becoming even more bad-ass, going on a roll from that point onnote He's looked strong, keeps winning cleanly on a regular basis, and has even won the 2012 Royal Rumble and the championship at WrestleManiain 18 seconds.
In a slightly tragic real life example, Ken Shamrock went through this. The first UFC Superfight (now Heavyweight) champion, Shamrock was once known as "The Worlds Most Dangerous Man", and was signed to the then-WWF, where among other things, he was at one point considered as a candidate to win the WWF Championship from the departing Bret Hart, defeated The Rock at WrestleMania to win the Intercontinental Championship (the decision would be reversed when Shamrock refused to release the Ankle Lock) and won the prestigious King Of The Ring tournament. However, he would go on to sustain a serious neck injury at the hands of a debuting Chris Jericho, and was never the same. He would try to return to MMA, and while his old self briefly shined through, he just didn't have it any more. To this day he has refused to retire, despite the heavy toll steroids have taken on his body and losing far more matches than he's won (and on one of those occasions where he won, it was overturned afterwards when he tested positive for steroids after the match), and usually ending the fights as a bloody mess, a mere shell of the man he once was.
When Albert/A-Train returned to the WWE as Lord Tensai he was a mysterious and intimidating monster heel. It only took a few months before he was dancing the robot in a basque and thong...
Velvet Sky after her Heel-Face Turn lost all of the ruthlessness and Awesome Ego that made her so entertaining in the first place. Lampshaded when her former tag team partner, Angelina Love, returned to tell her that Velvet had gotten "vanilla" and boring.
This inevitably happens in many card games due to a phenomenon known as "power creep," where R&D overpowers their new cards so much that older sets become laughably weak in comparison. Remember how powerful Base Set Charizard was in the Pokemon TCG? Nowhere near the title holder for HP or damage output now.
The entire drow race in the Dungeons & DragonsForgotten Realms setting. First they were sexy, intelligent, heavily matriarchal, and Always Chaotic Evil insane badasses with a small pantheon. Then we got the hero Drizzt (a fugitive from his culture). Due to the Dungeons and Dragons rules discouraging evil players, some players want to be drow because they're cool... but good-aligned and without the severe social stigma, despite drow being nearly always evil and Drizzt being a considerably-developed unique example of a good-aligned drow. Then we got the good aligned deity Eilistraee, and her entire clutch of (mostly) female drow worshippers who, naturally, danced naked at night. (Their chief priestess, Qilue, has a magic dress of invisibility. No, it doesn't make Qilue herself invisible...)
Drizzt himself in the 2nd edition had rules written solely to make him more dangerous, such as, despite being in a Hit Point/Critical Existence Failure based combat system, having a flat chance of killing anyone in a single shot. It was a low chance, but he had a better chance of killing someone with a normal attack than he did of scoring a critical hit. In 3rd edition, he is a less than optimal build with very few special rules. This may or may not be a good thing.
Drow are a slightly odd case because they started off as a society of mostly-neutral people oppressed and managed by their massively evil and Machiavellian rulers and priestesses under the aegis of their malevolent goddess Lolth. One of the first sources to deal with them, The Vault of the Drow, described a lot about the Vault and the city therein, and they were a functioning if troubled society. Later sources removed nuance by promoting their entire society toAlways Chaotic Evildark elf badasses, until eventually different interpretations were built up again.
Another Forgotten Realms example: the Red Wizards of Thay. They used to be an extremely powerful and influential organization of (mostly) amoral/evil wizards. Now they are band of loosely connected merchant arcanists who make a, admittedly profitable, living trading magical items. This is a justified case: their own leader launched a coup in their homeland of Thay that his lieutenants the zulkirs did not want. When they rebelled against him he unleashed the Spellplague against his own followers. The last of the zulkirs then sacrificed themselves to prevent their treacherous leader's ascension to godhood. Without their leaders, and beset on all sides by their many enemies, the Red Wizards were forced to disband their once powerful organization and focus solely on their front business of magical item trading to survive.
The Necrons of Warhammer 40,000 and their C'Tan gods began as a supremely enigmatic group of Eldritch Abominations with ultimately unknown designs for the galaxy in general and mankind in particular. They had few unit selections and no real characters because the vast majority of their forces simply had not awakened yet, or at least had left no survivors to report their existence, and ended up with a reputation for being Creator's Pets due to their implication of being ultimately unstoppable, despite two other major factions being just as doomsday-ish. Then, starting with the Fifth Edition, they started getting development and have been subjected to a nonstop Worf effect by everyone with no end in sight.
This example is based primarily off the author's POV. Since the C'tan are omnipotent star gods and the necron race managed not only to engage and imprison them, it would stand to reason that the race in general has in face averted the worf effect, whilst simultaneously worfing the star gods themselves.
The Avatar of Khaine. A physical manifestation of the Ax-Crazy Eldar god of war. He used to be a nigh-unstoppable close-combat beatstick for the army, yet recent fluff has it constantly being beaten and overwhelmed to make another character look more badass.
The God Emperor went through this after the Horus Heresy, rather understandably. Before that whole mess, he was the greatest psyker in the galaxy, a mighty warrior, a genius scientist and ruled over an impossibly vast interstellar empire. You could've called him a God without being accused of hyperbole or exaggeration. However, after he was wounded by Horus and had to go on life support... Well... Here's before◊ and after◊.
Any army with a Codex or Army Book designed in a previous edition will end up undergoing this as time marches on and they become less and less effective, to the point of being unusable, on the tabletop.
From Vampire: The Masquerade, we get the Sabbat. Initially portrayed as something like The Lost Boys, they get watered down slightly in that, indeed, they do have their own rules after all. An odd case, though, goes to the Tzimisce, the resident Body Horror masters. A poorly-received book posited that their powers were really an Eldritch Abomination plague, and this actually made them less awesome somehow. Later books ignored this in general.
This trope is inherent to virtually any campaign that actually gives stats to its gods. Some settings avert this by having enemies above a certain power level being unstatted, but killable if the players come up with a plausible means to do so. Others do their level best to spend five hundred to a thousand words saying "You lose" in attribute and skill form. Justifiable in some settings more than others — Forgotten Realms and Greyhawk have gods dying to mortals be rare, but not unheard of events, but there's no excuse for statting up Cthulhu in D&D.
In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Naesala takes advantage of the Begnion senators' greed by looting their ships and selling the swag to the others. He also sells his best friend for a nice sum. Whether or not he's being truthful when he says he planned to rescue him is up to you. In the sequel Radiant Dawn, it turns out Naesala is just the poor victim of the blood pact. It is never explained how he was able to swindle the senators while being forced to obey their will. Notably, he gets ordered around by a thirteen-year-old girl.
Bowser goes back and forth between this and taking a level in badass. He varies between a genuine threat to the Mushroom Kingdom and a Big Bad Wannabe that pines for Peach's love or a harmless villain that go-karts with Mario. Generally, the main platformer series portray him as the former, while the spinoffs portray him as the latter.
A straighter example in the series comes from the Koopa Troopas. In every 3D platform game, they're significantly less threatening than they are in the 2D Mario games, even being completely unable to hurt Mario in Super Mario 64. Goombas, on the other hand...
Axel and Riku from the Kingdom Hearts series. Many suspect that the popularity of these characters and their expanded roles as a result are chiefly to blame for this.
In the first game his ambition, Riku's independence and pro-activity firmly cast him as an awesome Anti-Hero/Villain dedicated to saving Kairi no matter what the cost. That doesn't really work out. Thanks also in due part by the Reverse/Rebirth mode of Chain of Memories, in which he is pressured by an enigmatic and morally ambiguous Stealth Mentor into accepting the darkness in his heart which makes him more powerful but much less determined and proactive as a result, his independent spirit is all but absent in the sequel, where for the vast majority of the game he is content to play the role of the Black Cloak-wearing Mysterious Protector and wait for Sora to do the real hero work. He fully regains his badassness along with his rightful body at the end of the game...too bad it took him this long, though.
Mannimarco from The Elder Scrolls is a particularly tragic example. When you first meet him in Daggerfall, he's a fierce and powerful lich lord of no small ability who commands armies of necromancers and is a strong political power, and becomes godlike in the end and is still badass despite being an Expy of Kyuss from World of Greyhawk. Fast forward two games, and we arrive at Oblivion, where Mannimarco returns as...a skinny, wrinkly old man who sits around in a cave in the middle of nowhere and doesn't look menacing at all. He may still be a worthy opponent, but anyone who goes from this◊ to this◊ isn't going to be taken seriously any more.
The Elder Scrolls wiki attempts to justify this by making mention of a Timey-Wimey Ball that happened in Daggerfall...apparently it split Mannimarco into two beings: the King of Worms from Oblivion and the God of Worms from the previous game.
The Resident Evil series sort of accidentally did this in reverse to Rebecca Chambers, by giving her a badass upgrade in the prequel, where she's a player character and therefore pretty competent. Some time between then and running into Chris in the original game, she apparently snapped from the sheer horror around her and lost all her zombie-killing skills. Not that you can really blame her, though.
There is a particularly ridiculous and instantaneous example of this in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. In The Wind Waker, Tetra is a Badass pirate who can certainly take care of herself and is secretly Princess Zelda, who fights alongside Link in the final battle against Ganon. In the sequel, she is put out of commission at the very start of the game, and at the end when she's freed, does nothing to contribute to the final battle.
Justified in the Crash Bandicoot series: Crunch Bandicoot made his debut as a gruff and cocky villain working under Doctor Cortex. After being knocked out of Doctor Cortex's control and joining the Bandicoot family, Crunch became The Atoner and softened his ways considerably in an attempt to be a positive role model to children.
Cobra from Silent Scope fell hard in just two games. In the first, you had to kill him while chasing him in a moving vehicle, with his hostage just inches away...whereupon he hijacks a trailer and comes after you again. (The only way to avoid this was to take him down in the stadium, which itself is at least the second hardest boss fight in the game.) In the second game, while he's still a tough nut, you only need to kill him once, and he's an absolute coward who hides behind a hostage the entire battle (mitigated...slightly...by the fact that he's fighting two guys at once). In the third game, he's nothing but an afterthought you obliterate in the first mission.
A common criticism of Starcraft II is that this happens to the Queen of Blades herself at the ending. Dropping from one of the most powerful characters and queen bitch of the universe to a Damsel in Distress in one scene? The fans did not enjoy this at all. Reversed in the next part of the game, though.
In F-Zero GX, Black Shadow gets hit hard with this. His status as feared villain goes right out the window in the first cutscene of the story mode with the arrival of Deathborn.
Miles Edgeworth in the Ace Attorney series is introduced as a ruthless, brutal prosecutor who seems not to care at all about human rights and terrifies everyone around him, even his subordinates. Eventually, though, he becomes instead quirky, awkward and fussy but likable, while Gumshoe and his other subordinates are flanderized into useless ditzes that he has to use Tough Love on. This seems due mostly to his status as Ensemble Darkhorse, but is explained in-universe by learning from his former friend Phoenix that one doesn't have to be brutal to be just. Unfortunately, they ruin that last part with the retcon that he never knowingly used forged evidence, thus taking away a lot of his original badass (and villainous) points.
In RuneScape, we have a trio of gods getting hit with this. Guthix, Saradomin and Zamorak were originally capital-G Gods with presumed near-omnipotence, the latter two only held in check by the former's threat to nuke the world if they intervened directly. They were also the source of the Protection Prayers, which are Game Breaker abilities requiring bosses to have mechanics specifically to counter them in order to be a challenge at all. Now, Guthix is dead, and Saradomin and Zamorak are fighting in surprisingly small physical bodies (only the size of the game's largest bosses) with a surprisingly small and weak-looking Beam-O-War. Considering these were the guys who made the Wilderness by fighting at full power, you'd expect their Beam-O-War to at least level Lumbridge, if not create a World-Wrecking Wave, and cover THE WHOLE MAP in blinding light. Their physical bodies should be beyond the game's graphics capability to display fully. Instead, they look like Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha could defeat them.
First is Miles "Tails" Prower, Sonic's right-hand man. In the Classic games he was a standard Tagalong KidSidekick but he could definitely keep up with Sonic and was just as capable as him taking on Eggman. In the Adventureseries he undergoes major Character Development to stop relying on Sonic to always have his back and the result is beating Eggman and saving Station Square by himself, and then goes on to come up the plan of how to destroy a satellite laser. Nowadays he hardly fights and is more than content with just standing on the sidelines while Sonic handles all of the work; tellingly he's easily frightened by some Nightmares in Unleashed when he's done far greater feats in the past.
Second is Knuckles the Echidna. Once was considered Sonic's equal and the respected guardian of a powerful artifact has now devolved into a Butt Monkey who always gets tricked by an outside party and is the embodiment of Dumb Muscle. He's hardly even an important character anymore either. Fns were getting tired of playing multiple characters and wanted to go back to just Sonic. Tails has gotten better since Sonic Colors. Meanwhile, Knuckles is still a butt monkey.
Usually, the Ottoman Empire in Victoria: An Empire Under the Sun. It starts the game as a Great Power, up there with France, the United States and, of course, The British Empire. However, the highly illiterate, conservative and theocratic society has a tendency to not advance forward like the European powers out west. By the later period of the game's timeframe, they're pushovers.
The Borg and Species 8472 (here called the Undine) had a bouncing effect in terms of Decay in Star Trek Online. When they're first brought in, they're shown to be a much greater threat than before. However, a lack of appearance from the Undine neuter their Badassness while Power Creep forces the Borg into this trope. Recently, however, the Undine have roared back in full force.
Transition from Pokemon Red Blue And Yellow to Pokémon Gold and Silver: Psychic-type Pokemon in general, and Sabrina in particular. Psychic type were considered overpowered in the former games, due to them effectively lacking any type weaknesses. Come the latter games, and Psychic now has a disadvantage to two newly introduced types. Sabrina, being a Psychic-type gym leader in both games goes under this as well. For the former games, you'd better do some levelling up, and pray that your strongest Pokemon can prevail against her. For the latter games, just send in a Dark/Steel type, and she'll go down in no time.
Kevin & Kell's uber-wolf R.L. . R.L. begins the strip as the most fearsome predator at Heard Thinners, Inc. He does not lose his hunting skills, but after his medical domestication and marriage to Kevin's ex-wife Angelique, R.L now allows his rabbit wife to keep him collared and leashed. He fears smelly retribution if he fails to be a good father to his twenty skunk step-children.
Stewie started the series as an aggressive, psychotic, evil genius plotting to take over the world and kill his mother, but by the fourth season, he became much more effeminate, petty, occasionally overly naive, and immature, seemingly abandoning his evil ways. Now his evil-ness is only occasionally mentioned, for a quick joke. Though this is unlike most examples, as this was probably because they didn't think it would be funny for much longer (many fans think that reducing him to a walking gay joke is even less funny.) The two-parter "Stewie Kills Lois"/"Lois Kills Stewie" addresses this Failure Is the Only Option issue. The ending reveals most of it was a virtual reality simulation he was viewing to see what things would be like if he did decide to commit himself to his ambitions right now. It turns out that though he could pull off world domination, in the end he'd be killed. (There's some funny Lampshade Hanging with Brian's comments on this story thus being a big tease.)
Joe Swanson has also suffered from this. In the beginning, while the show occasionally made jokes about his disability, he was a competent police officer who could his own in a fight despite being handicapped. After the show was uncancelled, while he still has moments of badassery, he is made fun of for his disability all the time and is often seen as being weak for it, to the point where the show outright said he wore diapers!
Gorgonzola from Chowder. At the beginning, he was more sarcastic and intimidating (to Chowder at least). Now he's a bit of a punching bag for the other characters, frequently getting his ass handed to him. People have said this happened when his master, Stilton, was introduced. To be fair, he wasn't seen in many episodes before that point.
Mandy doesn't become less badass per se, but she does become less villainous, shifting from a not-so-secretly evil Enfant Terrible to a manipulative but ambivalent Only Sane ManSnark Knight who doesn't really care about anything, fights evil merely because she has nothing else to do, and isn't really vindictive unless someone disrespects her first. Like Stewie, she still has her evil moments every once in a while, but it's no longer her defining character trait.
Hoss Delgado and Grim also fit this trope. Grim's first appearance in the first episode shows him as a terrifying spirit that collects people when it's their time to die. Starting in his very next appearance, he obeys the every command of Billy and Mandy, and things only get worse from then on. Hoss is more or less a competent badass in his first appearance, but in the TV spin-off Underfist, he lives with his mom in a trailer, is forced to work with several monsters just because Mandy says so, and he also gets beaten up possibly more than any other character in the story. He even admits that he has been wetting his bed for the last thirty years and a marshmallow bunny is the reason he hates monsters so much. A far cry from what he once was.
The animated incarnation of Popeye goes through this something awful. In the Max and Dave Fleischer cartoons, he's truly Nigh Invulnerable like his comic strip counterpart, to the point where bullets will bounce off him (without having eaten spinach first). By the time Famous Studios starts making the cartoons, Popeye requires spinach to perform even the most mundane feats of strength.
Skeletor from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), a classic two-dimensional villain with no previous redeeming qualities whatsoever, abruptly turns good for no apparent reason other than "the Spirit of Christmas" in the He-Man and She-Ra Holiday Special. This had no bearing on later evil; it was just something the eighties did, apparently.
Three words: Staff Child Psychologist.
In the film trilogy, Marty McFly was breaking the time barrier and facing off against terrorists and western gunmen. In the animated series, he needs constant supervision from at least one of the Browns.
In Ben 10, the titular hero's nemesis and Evil Counterpart is Kevin 11, suffers this through a toned down version of Redemption Demotion; in the original series, he was an 11 years old Ax-CrazyCreepy Child with some degree of Genre savvyness who could actually stand against Ben of his own. The sequel Ben 10: Alien Force, taking place after a 5 years Time Skip, has him going through a Heel-Face Turn and becoming a Anti-Hero. While he remains useful, he was now unable to fully use his abilities which was later explained by the fact it was his powers who caused him to go psychotic when he abused of them, resulting in him becoming ridiculously weak compared to before (just before his Heel-Face Turn, he fight Ben and is easily defeated). To sum up, he went from Ben's second most dangerous arc-foe to the weakest of the protagonists.
The protagonist himself went through this when the writers attempt to do a Character Rerailment on him in Ben 10: Omniverse. Sadly, this had the side effect to remove all the badassery he had gained over the course of the AUF era, making him an immature, clumsy, bumbling Idiot Hero who can't use the Omnitrix right even after all those years.
Valtor (or Baltor, depending on the version you get), from season 3 of Winx Club, was a magnitude better Big Bad than his ridiculous predecessor Lord Darkar. Suave, fascinating, cool, powerful, and when he didn't use Mind Control for his deeds, he fought the heroines in first person (also since the Trix were quite ineffective). He blinded Layla, transformed Faragonda into a tree, made Tecna disappear in a black hole - even if all these events were resolved after a few episodes, they showed he was serious menace. At some point, the authors must have realized he was too powerful, and the fairies had to defeat him sooner or later; so, in the last episodes he became an increasingly stupid cardboard villain and, finally, his handsome appearance was revealed to be the disguise of his true form, a big ugly demon. One of the many wasted opportunities of season 3.
Skulker in Danny Phantom (Ghost Zone's Greatest Hunter) is able to take down nearly any ghostly beast—big or small—without any fear. He hunts for sports and Danny Phantom is his only real challenge; otherwise, he's competent. Then by the last season, in one episode, it's spurred away: his motivation to hunt Danny is just to impress his one-time girlfriend (who points out how horrible he does said job despite no evidence of such), and despite handling a giant ghost monster in the same episode, is unable to fight back against a regular teeny bird! A later episode had him running away from mutant unicorns instead of combating. Other episodes seem to depict him back to his badass self, but they're often minor.
Prince Erik from The Little Mermaid goes from so badass that he does all of the action scenes in the first movie, to not even bothering to lift a sword in the direct-to-video sequel to rescue his infant child. Inversely, Ariel goes from being mostly a Damsel in Distress to taking Erik's sword off his belt while he's wearing it and rescuing said infant daughter while Erik stands back dumb-founded. Apparently it's impossible for both of them to be competent at the same time.
In The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Phoebus was at least of average intelligence and is reasonable in his attitude towards outcasts once he has some experience with them. In the sequel, he is easily hoodwinked, displays a worse attitude towards the circus folk than toward Gypsies in the original film, and generally gets in the way more than helps.
Captain Gantu from Lilo & Stitch suffers from this. In the original movie, Gantu was a respected captain in the Galactic Federation. He stood 20 feet tall and was trained well in alien martial arts (and to a lesser extent, hula-dancing). Although he ultimately failed his mission to bring Stitch back to the Federation, he came particularly close, and generally left us with the impression that he was an overall competent, and badass character. Fast forward to later sequels and the cartoon series, where he becomes a one-man Team Rocket. Gantu has since been fired, works under the employ of an anthropomorphic hamster, and is foiled on repeated occasions by the titular duo. On one occasion, he failed to succeed in an episode's mission when Stitch was incapacitated. He was foiled by a 6-year old child.
Stitch! took him down even further than the series did. He was indeed rather comedic and most often failed, but he was at least dedicated to his duty of capturing experiments, and he would rather spend time attacking the enemies than eating sandwiches. In Stitch!, his first 'formula episode' appearance has him arguing with Reuben over flavours of sandwich, he cries uncontrollably after a sad moment in a television show (and is upset when Hamsterviel switches it off so that he can try to get Gantu to do something), and can hardly ever be said to attack. He doesn't even use his blaster even with it in the holster. But here's the doom sign; when Hamsterviel is the one who's reprimanding Reuben all the time, you know you've fallen pretty dang hard.
Brother Blood of Teen Titans is introduced as the suave, charismatic headmaster of the HIVE (a supervillain training center) using a combination of Mind Control and force of personality to make his "students" fanatically loyal and takes his defeat in stride. In his next appearance, he's making sloppy mistakes, cornball puns, and goes into petulant rages at the top of a hat- and now it seems he's also so cruel that no one would willingly work for him withoutMind Control. Oddly, he also got to show off new powers and his amazing martial arts skills, so his fighting ability went up even as his competence and cool factor went down.
In one episode of The Simpsons, a TV character who Homer shares his name with is downgraded from badass to blithering idiot, much to his dismay.
Number 4 of Codename: Kids Next Door he started out as a competent badass who enjoyed a good fight every now and then and had some brilliant tactics to his plans, in later episodes he became very whiny, a lot less intelligent, and lost nearly every fight he was involved in.
Rampage of Beast Wars, who starts out as a psychotic Mighty Glacier who Megatron barely keeps under control, due to being (among other things) unkillable. He is progressively nerfed after this, becoming one of the Predacon troops (if still psychotic) and gets knocked around by Depth Charge. He even loses his invincibility in the last episode for no apparent reason. That could have something to do with the Energon blades/spikes they were using still being in their raw, unstable state.
In The Venture Bros., Brock Samson's love interest accuses him of going through this when he displays uncharacteristic interest in taking care of the kids rather than just guarding them. He is, however, still plenty badass.
Duncan of the Total Drama series started out as a bad boy jerkass from juvie who was able to intimidate most of the other campers. Come the next two seasons, possibly due to a Relationship Upgrade with Courtney, he starts to lose the intimidating aspect of him and occasionally gets his ass handed to him by some of the other campers. Two of which happen to Harold and Cody, the two nerdiest characters in the show. Although Duncan does get some of his badassery back late Season 3, when he teams up with Alejandro and starts acting like a Manipulative Bastard...but he fails at even that in the end.
Season 5 builds an entire subplot around Duncan's badass decay. After being placed on the Heroic Hamsters team, he gradually gets "sucked into their niceness" and becomes a huge sweetheart, to his horror and everyone else's amusement. His desperation to prove that he is still bad leads to him blowing up Chris' cottage, resulting in his subsequent arrest and removal from the competition. At least his badass nature has been restored.
Similar to Duncan, Scott started off as a devious, street-smart badass who viewed all of the contestants as objects to the point that he seemed like a genuine sociopath. A few episodes into season five, his tendency to be Book Dumb was Flanderized into full-blown idiocy, with all of his evil traits totally forgotten. Oddly enough, like Duncan, none of this happened until he got a crush on Courtney.
Megan from My Little Pony in the first special was a rough cowgirl, with a bulky frame (for a 12 year old girl, that's it) and wasn't afraid of fighting barehanded against monsters or diving downstream to rescue a friend, without mentioning how at the end of the first TV special, she kills Tirac. Her second TV special turned her into a feminine Bishoujo girl and her Movie/TV series final redesign turned her into a boney girl who kept being overpowered by dumb enemies or falling for the dumbest traps and was nowhere as rough or competent as the original Megan.
Cementing his downfall, seasons 2 and 3 rather consistently portray him as bumbling comic relief. Although he does get very brief moments to shine, when Rule of Cool calls for it, these happen rarely and he tends to get outdone quickly. In one episode, even his own men call him out briefly on his cowardly attitude.
Diego from Ice Age started off as having being a Badass being his defining trait to getting his ass kicked repeatedly in the fourth movie.
Harley-Davidson: Onceupona time the ultimate symbol of All-American rebellion. Nowadays, it's known just as much for its clothing line and restaurant franchises than its motorcycles, of which you're more likely to find a midlife crisis-having executive perched atop than an actual Badass Biker (many of whom will actually go out of their way to avoid Harley products).
Spain and Portugal in the 19th and early 20th Century. Once being the two glorious empires that had colonies all around the world. Lost most of their colonies, by independence, or other countries taking over said colonies. Further humiliated by most said other countries underwent industrialization before Portugal and Spain! All courtesy of Belgium note She didn't even exist before the partition from the Netherlands., Britain, France, Germany note She wasn't even a unified nation until the 1870s., Japan note She wasn't even European/Caucasian. Instead, she was a seculded Asian country, with a feudal society, and was, in fact, at the verge of being the receiving end of colonialist takeover, all well into the 1860s., Netherlands, and the United States note It had a civil war in the 1860s, and the country didn't have all 48 states for most of the 19th Century.
Mike Tyson used to be the most feared boxer, but then he got clobbered by Buster Douglas and now he's just known for his lisp (and whatever else).
Alan Moore's Batman story The Killing Joke could be seen as a cruel parody of this. We are privy to his tragic backstory revealed in flashbacks as he tries to drive Commissioner Gordon mad by brutally shooting Barbara and then tormenting him with photos of her suffering. Near the end of the story, however, the Joker says that he doesn't clearly or consistently remember the events that made him what he is, naming the trope Multiple-Choice Past in the process. (This story was an inspiration to certain filmmakers.)
The same can be said of Going Sane in which the Joker, thinking he killed Batman, regains his sanity, becomes an upstanding citizen, and becomes engaged to a woman, only to return to his old self when Batman is revealed to be alive. Amazingly this story made him even more terrifying. If the Joker's insanity isn't an unchangeable absolute in The DCU, nothing is certain. The Joker puts the 'chaotic' in Chaotic Evil. He'd never be as consistent as to be evil all the time. note YMMV, since if the Joker's madness hinges on the Batman being alive, then there is some consistency to his insanity
The Daredevil story "Fall of The Kingpin" is an interesting study of this. The story starts out with Daredevil reminding Kingpin of his lost wife, who he genuinely loved but who left him because she didn't approve of his criminal lifestyle. Daredevil then takes down his top enforcer Typhoid Mary and things get worse from there. Fisk ends up running afoul of HYDRA, who blow up all of his business holdings in New York City and drain his financial accounts. Meanwhile, Daredevil has used SHIELD's database to acquire countless evidence of Kingpin's crimes, and turns them over to a federal prosecutor. Normally Kingpin's a man who'd be able to call in favors, but with the loss of his holdings and his current indictment, nobody wants to risk working with him. To top it all of, Daredevil tricks him into having a Freak Out in public, destroying any doubt of his true character and making it clear that nothing is going to save him from his problems. Kingpin has his bail paid by an old lackey of his, and at first he's grateful. Then he finds out that the only reason he got him out of jail was so the Kingpin could be HIS lickspittle for awhile, and tells him to go pick up his laundry. A pretty sad end for a man who once owned New York City and tore Daredevil's life apart, huh? Except...that last insult was one too many. Kingpin smashes his cane into the guy's skull so hard the head breaks off. He then impales him with the broken end and lifts him into the air. As his blood runs down the Kingpin's arms, he thanks him, saying that he reminded him of a part of him that he had thought lost forever, remarking that he now feels ...Born again. He walks off with the intent to reclaim everything he had, and Daredevil feels guilty at how far he went to take him down. It could be argued that this storyline is a deconstruction of Villain Decay and Badass Decay: the Kingpin efforts to become a true Diabolical Mastermind by creating a legal media empire so he can be a Villain with Good Publicity are the reason HYDRA could blow all his business holdings in New York. Kingpin’s ability to be The Don really depends on other corrupt people believing he has enough power to return their favors. Everyone else (his wife, Daredevil, HYDRA) believes he’s not more than The Brute and The Bully. The storyline shows him slowly getting more desperate, stupid, and weaker… also becoming much more dangerous each time. When he is truly desperate, he embraces being The Brute and The Bully again… .
Live Action TV
On Deadwood the Magnificent Bastard Al Swearengen starts off the series by stepping on a woman's throat and ordering the deaths of a family of travelers. Throughout the show, however, he reveals a vulnerable side, all manner of inner demons, and develops into something of an anti-hero as he works to build the community, fight the destructive influence of George Hearst, and occasionally Pet the Dog. However, every once in a while a scene pops up to remind the audience what a brutal bastard he is. In one particular scene that seems specifically created to combat the trope, he takes his time torturing a mook and mocking him for shooting at an unarmed woman... then admitting to the mook as Swearengen is about to murder him that it was just another kind of torment, and Swearengen has and would kill women and children without hesitation.
Shark does everything they can to avoid having this happen to their badass protagonist, like the time he framed a Serial Killer. On the other hand, he gets to Pet the Dog by having meaningful conversations with his teenage daughter. Then again, the first episode showed that he believed in his methods, just that he realized the wrong people were benefiting from them.
Inverted with Lilah Morgan on Angel. She started off as a fairly spineless villain, constantly showing fear regarding her superiors as opposed to her counterpart Lindsey McDonald who was calm and casual even when there was a good chance his bosses were going to kill him. When he was put on a bus, Lilah stepped up and became a scheming and manipulative bitch who rarely took insults lying down. At the end of her run on the series she was still scheming and manipulating, despite being dead. The audience sees her more human side through her growing relationship with Wesley and earns some sympathy when she is brutally and shockingly murdered, while remaining whole-heartedly evil.
Subverted in one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit where the villain of the week was played by Robin Williams - not angsty, dramatic Robin Williams, but goofy Robin Williams, complete with funny voices, which he used to pretend to be "Det. Milgram" and talk a woman's male boss into violating her, then got the jury to laugh him back onto the street. At the climax he tries a version of the Milgram experiment with Elliot and Olivia, and when Elliot won't press the button, breaks down crying at how unfair his life is and how "sheep" killed his wife...then he "reveals" it was a Secret Test of Character and goes back to his goofy self. This was played straight many, many times in the Law & Order franchise, however.
Subverted awesomely in Primeval. The Gorgonopsid is an incredibly powerful Permian carnivore, serving as the main threat in the first episode and only going down after being hit by a SUV and shot repeatedly with an automatic rifle. In episode 6, the new human-hunting, intelligent baddie, the Future Predator, ends up following our heroes through a Time Portal and into the Permian. A Gorgonopsid appears, and we all wait for the old, "outmoded" creature to be killed by the new monster...except that doesn't happen. Instead, the Gorgonopsid proceeds to teach this future-spawned upstart just what throwing down, Old School really means. Gorgonopsids didn't become extinct because of the evolution of other better predators, but because of the Permian extinction event which also killed almost everything else.
LOST is extremely good at averting this, with badass characters remaining as such after we learn about their Freudian Excuse backstory. Especially Benjamin Linus, whose tragic childhood was sort of balanced out by him committing mass murder because of it.
It plays with the concept with Locke. When we first see him, he's got an awesome Obi-Wan sage thing going on, throwing knives at boars and such. In episode three, we discover he was a rather pathetic and needy guy before the crash, and that he was in a wheelchair before the crash. Episodes starring him only went further as the audience discovers exactly how pathetic and needy he is and why he's that pathetic, as his apparent destiny as someone 'special' is foreshadowed more and more. In season six, we discover that in the end, Locke was a pathetic failure who was used by everyone for their own ends, up to and including the Big Bad of the whole show. Huh.
However, we do discover that Locke was absolutely right about things happening for a reason, and everyone having a special purpose.
Damon Salvatore spends all of Season 1 slowly becoming more human and less evil vampire. By Season 2 he is unquestionably an anti-hero but he has become even more of a badass than before, if that is even possible, such as when he tortured and then killed Mason Lockwood.
Katherine was introduced as the Big Bad of season 2, and suffered some decay when Klaus supplanted her in that role. But come season 3, she quite unexpectedly gets back to her Magnificent Bastard self via Heel-Face Turn.
Over the course of Season 5 of Supernatural, the angel Castiel slowly lost his powers as he was cut off from Heaven. Though the loss of his abilities to heal and smite demons made him a lot less handy in a fight, he simply became a Badass Normal. Season 6 restored him to full strength, and even took the time to remind the audience how strong he actually is by basically dedicating its third episode to Cas kicking ass.
In contrast to Kitsune, Japanese fox spirits, the Korean Kumiho went from benign and beneficial to vicious to finally Always Chaotic Evil (always).
Shawn Michaels, aside from a title win in his second back match in 2002, lost the vast majority of his PPV matches for the rest of his career, particularly at WrestleMania (his trademark show), where he went 3-5 in his final eight years (and 2 of his 3 wins came against opponents on the other side of 60). But, he's Shawn Michaels, so his mic skills and ring-work were still so good that nobody cared. It also helped that he had a habit of getting his wins back sooner or later on regular TV, and dominated the tag-team division as part of DX. He generally did get a big win or two every year (against guys as big as John Cena, even!), but compared to his complete dominance in the late 90s (he lost about three times total between 1996 and 1998, if that)...
Mick Foley became known as the violent daredevil Cactus Jack and the insane Mankind. After an injury, he took time off from wrestling matches and became known as commissioner under his real name. He then wrote his autobiography by himself (followed by several other books), as well as raising a young family and is now known as the nicest guy in wrestling.
Kurt Angle has remained very much a badass through his entire career, going on to cleanly defeat some of the biggest names in the industry, including Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, and Shawn Michaels. He's also one of the very few pro-wrestlers out there who can claim that they've beaten both Cena and Orton cleanly. Even when he's putting others over, he usually bounces back the next week and carries on with all the finesse of a main event top guy.
Randy Orton remains, if not excelled in viciousness despite the PG Era since he was simply about being brutal, The Mizgot serious as a credible champion instead of another David Arquette/Pacman Jones, and obviously there's The Undertaker, who after twenty years of competing, is still regarded as one of the top men on the WWE roster. Orton was, at one point, the spitting image of this trope. Shortly after his departure from Evolution, Orton was placed in a romantic plot in which he played a significantly softer, baby facegimmick. Fortunately, he got better. When he made another face turn in 2010, he didn't lose any of his ruthlessness.
Agrael in Heroes of Might and Magic 5, starts off as a badass demon lord with a red armor and Spikes of Villainy, although he's clearly a Noble demon from the start, but it didn't stop him from being one of the most badass characters, and the Only Sane Man. He retained this trait even after he reformed and dumped his old armor, revealing him to be quite the Bishōnen. He's still the one with the most badass comebacks and Pre Ass Kicking One Liners.
"Writing a story centered around your main antagonist is sort of difficult, because you risk "devillainifying" them. Yes, I just made that word up. What I mean though, is that once an audience has read all about a character's life, with all of their personal struggles and trials and tribulations and such, it's more difficult to see the character as the Big Bad. My challenge here was to tell the story of Xykon's life without making Xykon even slightly sympathetic. I mean, he's wholly and unapologetically Evil, but more to the point, he's kind of a dick."
Rich has a similar discussion about Belkar in the foreword for On the Origin of PCs, and states this is one of the reasons why Belkar's backstory picks up a few hours before the party forms. Although in this case it's more about that giving Belkar a sad backstory would make him rather a sad figure than being a comical one.
Belkar has completely turned this trope on its head by learning that he can garner sympathy and influence by pretending to have a case of Badass Decay, after a vivid fever-dream debate with the only character in the series he's ever given much respect. Pretending to turn over a new (Bitter)leaf, Belkar has risked his life to save Haley Starshine—even though she abandoned him when he was in a similar situation—but only so that he could mock her about it afterward. He also selflessly refused to kill Haley's treacherous former friend, and convinced his companion to do it instead.
Occurred in-story with Vaarsuvius, who finally got the long-desired ultimate arcane power... ...at the cost of alienating V's spouse, frightening V's children, getting partially damned, AND being utterly ineffectual. Nothing V did after Taking A Level In Badass changed a thing, other than indirectly freeing O-Chul and giving V's familiar a look at the world of the Snarl... ...and giving V some overdue humility, proving again that Tropes Are Not Bad.
Just to drive the point home, despite absolute superiority in terms of raw power in the battle against Xykon, V still loses because Xykon uses his powers with more cleverness. Conversely, by using V's pre-existing powers (namely, V's familiar and the Explosive Runes spell), O-Chul and V manage to deal a significant blow to Xykon before escaping by dropping Xykon's phylactery into the sewers.
"Wastelanders Anonymous": Benjamin, a loner, comes to town and starts making connections that slowly soften him up despite all his efforts to resist.
Paul Smith of Survival of the Fittest fell victim of this towards the end of his run, laying down and dying and exhibiting little of his former spirit and in general, what made him entertaining. Jarringly, for the rest of his death, he was very in character. However, this is, at least in part, justified - another handler took over Paul for his death.