Badass on Paper

Harry: You've sort of made up for it tonight. Getting the sword. Finishing off the Horcrux. Saving my life.
Ron: That makes me sound a lot cooler than I was.
Harry: Stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was. I've been trying to tell you that for years.

You hear tales about the character. Every achievement, every victory. You get assured time and time again that every story you've heard is true. You come to the conclusion only someone of a divine level of badassery could have done these things.

Then you meet them.

It's not so much that the stories about the hero were false so much as they just left out a few crucial details. Namely that the hero is in fact a loser.

It's not an act. If it is, even they have started to believe it. It's not them stealing the credit from their sidekick either.

As unbelievable as it is, they did actually earn the achievements they're famous for and quite often the viewers actually see them do it. The question of how they did it can be answered in different ways. It could be luck, the hero could have specific talent that continuously saves the day or an ability to make his flaws work for him. Often the answer to Dude, Where's My Respect? because frankly, achievements or not, these guys just donít seem to deserve it.

Can be considered a sister trope to Warts and All, where the hero is as badass as the stories say but doesn't live up to the pure and virtuous image that people have of them.

Compare with Expecting Someone Taller in which the character is still badass but just doesn't fit the expected image and Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass where the character is mostly a moron but when the time is right unleash their inner badass.

Contrast with Feet of Clay and Miles Gloriosus where the character turns out to be incompetent and was, in fact, lying about most (if not all) of the things that they are famous for.

Not to be confused with the Badass Bureaucrat or Paper Master, both of whom are badasses with paper.


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  • Jacuzzi Splot from Baccano!. He's the leader of a gang of bootleggers, destroyed 18 Russo Family speakeasies in a single night, survived the Pussyfoot Train incident including fighting unarmed with a single, tiny bomb against someone with a flamethrower, stood up to Ladd Russo, willingly almost fought Claire, sacrificed himself to protect someone from being harmed, and has a sword tattoo on his face. He's also a timid shrinking violet who cries all the time, not the least bit physically intimidating, has no special skills, and one of the nicest characters in entire cast. Even when he's shown robbing a mob-run store, shooting with his tommy-gun left and right he's bawling his eyes out.
  • Comedically applied in Cromartie High School when the guys were trying to decide who was the most badass. (They don't just duke it out- they never just duke it out.) One of the guys had a reputation based entirely on guys being too scared of him to try him out. (Their 'jury' was out as to whether that was impressive or not by the time the plot moved on).
  • Yang Wenli's enemies fear him for his legendary martial victories despite overwhelming odds against him, his superiors are so terrified that he could take over the country they often actively handicap him, and a good deal of his subordinates actually would support him as a dictator - but he's actually one of the nicest, least intimidating guys you could ever wish to meet - a gentle and humble man with a few eccentric habits, poor combat skills, and absolutely zero aspirations besides early retirement.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji Ikari, both in the TV series and in the fandom. It's undeniable he defeated more alien enemies each with the potential to end the world by itself than anyone, risking his life several times in the process. On the other hand, his psychological issues, not to mention the plainly nasty things that happen to him prevent him from getting any respect.
  • Vash The Stampede, AKA The Humanoid Typhoon. A legendary force of destruction, leaving nothing but rubble in his wake, and sporting the worlds highest bounty(60 billion double dollars). Then you meet him... a goofy, spiky haired nitwit, with a great love of donuts. Most of the destruction comes from the many, many, many people constantly trying to kill him. Most of it. That said, much of the act is Obfuscating Stupidity. Piss him off enough, and you learn firsthand where the page picture on Glowing Eyes of Doom came from.
  • In Fairy Tail, Lucy Heartfilia often gets asked about her huge list of achievements (often she takes out much more experienced mages, or ones tailor-made to fight her), but she is a pretty normal girl in person, not an especially great fighter, and has only an average amount of magic. She's even the Butt Monkey of the group, and she often denies the more ludicrous claims (in her defense, the claims are usually very exaggerated). That said, she did do a lot of impressive things, not the least of which is gathering 3/4 of the Ecliptic Zodiac to work for her and express personal loyalty (not the same thing).
  • Yukiteru Amano of Future Diary is the first to off another diary owner, making him a prime candidate for winning the Survival Game in the eyes of both Deus ex Machina and the other players. He subsequently kills two other diary owners later on and his Random Diary is one of the most versatile of any of the Future Diaries in-game. Not bad for a Cowardly Lion Action Survivor who cries Tears of Fear almost Once an Episode. Later on, he Took a Level in Badass, thus subverting the trope.
  • Monkey D. Luffy is a world-class pirate with a bounty of 400 million beris. His list of feats include defeating two Warlords of the Sea, declaring war on the World Government, destroying Enies Lobby, punching out a Celestial Dragon, becoming the first man to ever break into Impel Down and causing its first ever mass-breakout (only one other person had gotten out ever), and then entering the War of the Best at Marine HQ and causing havoc on the battlefield. He's also incredibly friendly, cheerful, and, to be quite honest, a dumbass.

  • Squirrel Girl. She's an adorable little brunette who can talk to squirrels. Who has a tail. She's also defeated Dr. Doom and Iron Man. Summed up in a line from one of the examples on her page: Each new issue answers one question: how many overpowered super villains can Squirrel Girl defeat?
  • Rat-Man is a superhero whose achievements include defeating an apparently invincible robot designed to kill superheroes, a Goku Expy and the Shadow. He's also too stupid to operate a car's seatbelt.


  • For a lot of the series, Harry Potter views himself as one of these. The event that made him famous happened when he was a baby and when in Order of the Phoenix he gets asked to teach a defense against the dark arts club, he argues that all his other achievements have been either through luck or from getting a lot of help.
    • In fact, one of the biggest reasons that the final book is such a Wham Episode is because Harry has moved beyond simply stumbling blindly into Voldemort's traps and has the know-how to go on the offensive.
  • Rincewind is the worst wizard the Discworld has ever known. His hat is the only thing about him that says "wizzard," and that's misspelled. With no magic talent to speak of and a survival instinct heightened by his Genre Savvy, his usual response to a situation is to run like hell, and he's gotten very good at running over the years. He's also thrown down with eldritch horrors, challenged a childlike demigod with nothing but a half-brick in a sock, and saved the entire Discworld. Several times. Arguably, he's gotten being the Right Man in the Wrong Place down to a science.
  • Ciaphas Cain claims that all his achievements were down to luck or the result of him trying to save his own skin (if you're willing to take his word for it, of course). Make no mistake though, the fact that he's a genuine badass is indisputable. He's fit, very well trained in marksmanship and swordplay, and knows the ins and outs of manipulating people to a T. In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, however, this is basically the bare minimum of what is required. The debate is over his attitude (modest hero or lucky coward) and how much more of a badass he may be.
  • While he is an honest to gods badass, Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files is transformed into the literal Dreaded for those only reading his rap sheet without knowing the details.
  • Much like the Dresden example above, Kvothe in the The Name of the Wind is badass and does some very impressive things but the legends are even more insane. By the second book, however, he's living up to the legends in truth.
  • Lancelot (yes, that Lancelot) from The Warlord Chronicles has a major case of this. According to the protagonist, Lancelot is a self-absorbed narcissist whose greatest skill is not showing up until the battle is nearly over, getting a cloak torn or putting a little mud on his face, then paying bards an inordinate amount to spread the tales of his heroics far and wide. This crosses over to full blown Fake Ultimate Hero by the second book, and then goes into Villain with Good Publicity when he starts actively trying to overthrow Arthur. Keep in mind however that Lancelot is the narrator's hated rival, and the narrator does admit to bending the truth of the story on a few occasions...
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Imagine if you will Sam the Slayer, sworn brother of the Night's Watch, the only living man to have killed an Other, one of the legendary ice demons that are proof against all known weapons and have the power to raise the dead and command giant spiders among gods know what other dark sorcery. Chances are you just imagined someone distinctly different from fat, bumbling exiled-lordling Samwell Tarly, who really did kill an Other through a combination of suicidal desperation and lucking into having one of their only known weaknesses (which was not known until he lucked into finding it) close at hand.

    Live Action Television 
  • Seth in the Doctor Who serial "The Horns of Nimon".
    Seth: I don't want to be a hero. I've never wanted to be. It's just that I've chanced to be around when things have happened.
    And then, after they've defeated the Big Bad and he and his people return to his planet, the Doctor makes this comment
    Doctor: Poor old Seth.
    Romana: Poor old Seth?
    Doctor: Yes. Well, just imagine the legends Teka's going to build up around him. He'll have to spend the rest of his life trying to live up to them. It's terrible.
  • By the fourth season of Farscape, the crew of Moya have become legendary pirates painted as the unequivocal victors of conflicts they really only barely survived (and in some cases didn't.)

    Video Games 
  • Monkey Island: Guybrush Threepwood Mighty Pirateô is probably one of the biggest examples of this. It would take too long to list everything that a guy that looks like a flooring inspector and has only the ability to hold his breath for ten minutes as talent has managed to achieve in the space of five games.
    • Gets played with in Tales of Monkey Island when he meets a fan of his exploits. She starts off as a normal fangirl who, despite to catch him to collect a bounty on him, still asks him to sign a picture of him. When she actually sees him in usual Guybrush trial and error action, she throws the photo away in disgust. However, he slowly regains her respect when he proves that while he may not be a conventional pirate, his ways work.
  • Roger Wilco of the Space Quest series is up there with Guybrush Threepwood. A bumbling, lazy, not-particularly competent janitor who only survived the opening shots of the Saurien onslaught in the first game was by sleeping on the job in the closet. Over the course of the games, he saves the planet Xenon, defeats Vorhaul twice, saves Those Two Guys From Andromeda, puts an end to the pukoid threat, and saves countless lives. And yet, if you walked up to him, you'd quickly realize he's still a bumbling, lazy, not-particularly competent janitor.
    Roger: Blegh! That was a bitter section. I don't think I want to lick the road around here anymore!
  • In Dawn Of The Dragons, the player character is a relatively ordinary person who accomplishes his/her increasingly long list of heroic deeds with a lot of bravery, luck and help from his/her True Companions. The general populace start to see him/her as a Living Legend on par with the expy of Hercules while the antagonistic dragons come to fear him/her. His/her closest companions are more realistic but still place him/her in very high regard. Being elevated like this is a little unnerving for the dragonrider.

    Web Comics 
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Bob has saved the world or helped save it multiple times. He even got a Medal of Honor once. He works in a little newsstand and gets complaints from his customers for missing work too often.
  • Sinfest: Slick and Squigly — One is a poet who has survived and escaped hell multiple times as well written at least one poem so good that makes most woman weak at the knees. The other is skilled at parkour and is able to achieve flight through narcotics alone. Both deal with beings like God, Satan, Jesus and Buddha on a regular basis... and neither one of them has the respect of any one in the comic, reader included.

    Web Original 
  • In Noob, a long-standing Mistaken for Badass situation eventually lead one of the game's worst players to drive one of the most feared Player Killers off the game. The player in question gets no special credit in the first place due to most people knowing he's pretty much The Fool, but the feat is quite the achievement in ignorance.

    Western Animation 
  • Xiaolin Showdown: A villainous example with Jack Spicer. In the span of three seasons he has built countless robotic armies, a time machine, a Shen Gong Wu detector, a shapeshifter, highly impressive AI, is responsible for the release of Wuya thus causing the Wu to start revealing themselves and in a future without Omi he would be ruler of the whole world. Not bad for a guy who lives with his parents. He also had the best track record against the heroes out of anyone who has challenged them, having claimed several victories whereas any other villain is lucky to have one or two.
    • It's worth noting that when Jack got a hold of Chase Young's (legendary evil guy, extremely powerful) army of big cats, Omi tried to return them to Chase, primarily because he thought that was better from a tactical perspective. Jack used them to rob the Xiaolin Warriors of their Shen Gong Wu, whereas Chase felt he was too powerful in his own right to need them.
  • In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, Sidney Debris, a gangster wannabe, manages to frustrate Batman's attempts to catch him by being a bumbler. Then, during the tussle, Batman supposedly falls to his death. Within hours, the word's gotten out that he's "The Man Who Killed The Bat". It's technically true, but the title is loaded language: in truth, it was all based on pure luck. Now, because Asskicking Equals Authority, every criminal in Gotham wants to take him out to prove they're tougher. (The Joker wants him dead because he took away his chance to kill Batman.) However, through Batman's (offscreen) help, Sidney not only survives, but his legend grows because of the crooks he "beat". The story ends with him going to prison with all sorts of Villain Cred: when he arrives in prison he's lauded as The Man Who Almost Killed the Bat (which is true), and the one who helped make the Joker look foolish (which is again true). It's Batman himself who points this out to make him feel better.