Better The Devil You Know
Finally, after a long struggle, our heroes have managed to defeat the Big Bad
, but wait—they can't just kill
them. That would be terrible! Because as soon as you kill the Big Bad
, something else will come along to take his place. Maybe The Man Behind the Man
shows up, or maybe the Sorting Algorithm of Evil
kicks in. Maybe the Balance Between Good and Evil
means that someone else will just become the new Big Bad
, or maybe it's just Inherent in the System
, but the fact you've won doesn't mean it's over.
Sure, the Big Bad
may be evil, but at least as long as he's around, you know what you're up against. You know his weaknesses, you know how he thinks, and you know how to deal with him. And you know what he won't do.
But if someone new takes over, suddenly you're right back to square one and you have to figure out how to beat them all over again.
If the Big Bad
actually does get dispatched despite this, the heroes may soon find themselves wishing for the return of the old Big Bad
, and in extreme cases, may even try to restore him to power. (If possible.)
Related to We Want Our Jerk Back
, Friendly Enemy
, and Worthy Opponent
. Bread and Circuses
or Villain with Good Publicity
may also invoke this trope if removing the Big Bad
will cause public backlash, or the heroes may fear an Evil Power Vacuum
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- Gurren Lagann invokes this to an extent after the seven-year Time Skip: the tyrannical Lordgenome has been deposed, but his cryptic prediction upon his death comes to nightmarish reality as the Anti-Spiral invade and prove to be a far more powerful and terrifying threat than Lordgenome ever was. Lordgenome may have oppressed humankind, but it turns out he did it to protect the world from the Anti-Spiral, who seek to destroy humankind.
- Arguably, this is the World Government's feelings toward Whitebeard from One Piece. Sure he's a badass pirate, one of the strongest in the world, but when he's killed, the general populace is screwed over. This is confirmed to be true, as many of the islands which were under his protection became instant hellholes in the space of a few days, making the New World even more chaotic than before. In addition, the one who killed him, Blackbeard, has since ceased hiding in the shadows, and decided to let everyone know he's the real deal. Whitebeard's Famous Last Words actually exacerbating the pirate problem by giving them a reason to persevere. New Age of Pirates, indeed.
- At the finale of Transformers Energon, Unicron was finally destroyed. However, that only spawned an even worse entity, a black hole called the Grand Black Hole (or the Unicron Singularity in the dub). It was the focus of the next series, Transformers Cybertron, where it not only threatened to destroy existence, but the scattered pieces of Unicron's original body enabled Megatron to gain dark powers.
- In the Marvel Comics storyline Infinity War, Adam Warlock has been captured by his Enemy Without, the Magus, who is minutes away from reactivating an artifact that will give him godhood. Then, they're attacked by Doctor Doom and Kang The Conqueror, who naturally want this artifact for themselves. After a moment's hesitation, Warlock begins helping the Magus against the would-be usurpers, telling himself "Better the devil you know..." And what devil could you know better than the one who's part of you?
- This is why Dr. Doom has ruled Latveria for so long. He's evil, yes, but every time he's been replaced, the guy taking his place has been an even worse tyrant, as was the guy that he replaced originally. If nothing else, he's good at protecting the place from external threats. When he returns, the citizens are always glad to have him back.
- In Runaways, the Runaways taking out their parents (The Pride) led to a massive Evil Power Vacuum in Los Angeles, leading to more villains coming in.
- This is one of the reasons why Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Punisher are usually hesitant to take out The Kingpin- they know that there'll be chaos without him. In fact, in one story, the Kingpin was legitimately out of the crime business but he was asked back to New York City in order to help calm the chaos of myriad gang wars.
- This is why the Marvel Universe keeps Galactus around. They got rid of him once before, only for something much worse to appear. His whole purpose is to act as a living seal to prevent an imprisoned Eldritch Abomination from destroying the universe. That's why he has to feed on planets; he's sort of a living generator that keeps the seal active, and his meals act as fuel for it.
- Two very literal examples in the Shadowchasers series, explained in Shadowchasers Ascension:
- The reason the gods locked Tarizdun up instead of killing him, despite the danger he posed, was because he was a pawn of the Great Old Ones, who were worse, and they would have regained the power they invested in him if he died. To this day, Tharizdun acts as a "cosmic lynchpin" to prevent an even more destructive force.
- The Devil himself qualifies, according to Unity-Of-Rings. As bad as Lucifer is, he is actually the best choice for Overlord of Hell. Despite being the tempter of mortals and a power of Evil, he is still a power of Law, and under his rule, the devils wage the Blood War against the demons of the Abyss. If he was replaced by someone who didn't care to do this, such as Mephistopheles, the demons' population would grow to unearthly numbers, they would slaughter the devils, then destroy the Upper Planes, then the mortal worlds, and once they ran out of places to destroy, would turn on themselves, and that would be the end of everything.
- In the third installment of Tremors the habitants of the valley keep a huge carnivourus subterranean worm alive, because they'd already learned how to avoid it and its presence should stave off the real evil - the real estate agents!
- In For Love of Evil from the Incarnations of Immortality series, Satan is deposed after singing a hymn during the climax of the previous novel (long story). The most evil person on Earth is automatically selected as his replacement, and turns out to be far, far worse than Satan ever was. He gorges on food, rapes the damned child souls, and bullies Hell's staff around instead of actually governing Hell and keeping track of the evil portion of the Celestial Bureaucracy, which is Satan's responsibility. Also, Satan is very Affably Evil, while this guy is a complete asshole. The other Incarnations promptly help Satan take back his office, having decided that they prefer him to be in charge of evil.
- In the Discworld novel Carpe Jugulum the old Count Magpyr was far fairer to his opponents via Contractual Genre Blindness, respected his Igor, and much preferred by the townspeople he terrorized. So, the heroes usurp the upstarts with their older, known adversary.
- The Team did this once when a Yeerk inspector came to Earth to see why the invasion was taking so long, and would have taken the Visser's place once the Andalite bandits had been taken care of. The Animorphs end up killing the inspector so Visser Three stays in charge; "better the evil we know and makes stupid mistakes than the one who doesn't."
- This is also their logic for not wanting Visser One to take over the Earth invasion again—-which she proves by figuring out they're humans. However this one is more complicated. Visser One wants a slow, secret infiltration of the planet while Visser Three wants to declare all-out war and kill millions or more people, so that the Animorphs have to balance Yeerk politics to get Visser One's methods while keeping Visser Three the person in power.
- In The Dresden Files Harry's description of 'Gentleman' Johnny Marcone tends be this. Sure he's a powerful crime lord that turns a profit on almost any crime in Chicago, but Marcone has known limits. The gang-wars that would likely replace him aren't as knowable as he is.
- Used in one of the X-Wing books as the reason not to execute a known spy. In typical Star Wars tradition they messed with the original idiom.
Booster: "Better the Hutt you have tagged than one you don't"
- Done literally in Brimstone Angels. Farideh, the heroine, gets her magic powers through a Deal with the Devil, specifically a devil named Lorcan. Lorcan, by human standards, is manipulative, arrogant, controlling, and shows a distinct Lack of Empathy. However, he's also into Pragmatic Villainy and is unlikely to commit evil acts (or force Farideh to do them) if he's not getting something concrete out of them and isn't unpleasant company if he has no reason to feel malice for you. Farideh may know her arrangement with Lorcan is far from ideal, but if he died and the pact got transferred to another devil, the resulting situation could turn out far worse, and the second book's plot in particular is heavily influenced by her understanding that this trope is very much in play.
Live Action TV
- The "War in Hell" storyline of Dominic Deegan sees Dominic fighting on behalf of the Demon Lord Karnak. Not because he wanted to, but because his family knew Karnak before his demon days, and as a result knew how to handle him. Any other demon lord securing power would have meant a lot of trouble.
- Welcometo Nightvale: Plays with this. Night Valeis ruled by a questionable government which has been both incompetent (with it's terrible bridge building plans and wasting lots of money pointless projects, and corrupt (one can get brainwashed or taken away to be tortured by the Sheriff's secret police, and all the creatures and dangers present do nothing). It's even stated that any old corrupt law can be enforced by a thug with a gun. That said, the attitude to the town seems to be "It's not perfect, but nothing is," and people seem fine, when they're not cowering. Cecil himself happily reports the creepy and macabre happenings. Strex Corp is notably more evil: they've killed people to splatter blood on walls, tried to have people arrested or enslaved to function for the company, and sold orange juice that could teleport people to other possibly fatal dimensions. Part of the reason they're hated is because they're worse than the old administration, but the other part is because they are trying to erase the original evil, corrupt, nature of the town, and that's against town pride.
- Lampshaded in Starcraft to explain why the heroes of the story were working with Kerrigan ("Queen Bitch of the Universe," in her own words, and The Leader of an alien locust swarm) of all people to fight the UED. - a dictatorship lead by Space Russians from Earth, who's only contact with the heroes so far have involved bullets.
- The first half of Brütal Legend sees Eddie Riggs help out rebel leader Lars Halford, who's trying to free his people from the tyrannical rule of General Lionwhyte. They succeed, but the instant they do Emperor Doviculus turns up, kills Lars, and shatters the rebel army. Turns out Lionwhyte was the only guy able to convince Doviculus not to Kill All Humans.
- Many animals have a defense that is designed to cause severe discomfort to their natural enemy, but rarely kills (for example a skunk or porcupine). The result is the predator remains in the area, and they keep other predators out of their territory, but the predator remembers what happened the last time, so the skunk can now feed in peace.
- Allegedly a factor in the Russian revolution: because foreigners were supporting the white army, support grew for the red army, which wasn't influenced by unknown, foreign powers.
- A factor in Cuba's revolution. When your choices are a homegrown dictator or a "president" in the back pocket of The Mafia (Cuba being a paradise for drugs, gambling, contraband, and money laundering by American organized crime), the homegrown option starts looking like a good one.
- Josef Stalin was perfectly aware of each and every occasion that Adolf Hitler visited the Russian Front. He scrupulously refrained from launching any attacks, even when Hitler was only a mile or two behind the front line and extremely vulnerable. He explained later that the last thing he wanted was for a rational leader, one who trusted his generals and left them free to decide strategy, to take over in Germany. This was the sentiment shared by every country near WWII's end and the reason that assassination attempts ceased. Hitler was such a raving, paranoid lunatic that his "leadership" did as much if not more harm to the Nazi government than every military loss combined.