Curbstomp Cushion

"We can't hold out forever, Kup, but we can give them one humongous repair bill!"

We are witnessing a Curb-Stomp Battle. Maybe the Imperial Japanese Navy has caught the American giant sleeping. Perhaps Skynet's forces are ripping the TechCom troops a structurally superfluous new behind. Whatever the case, the losing side is getting it hard.

How do we show that it's not hopeless, or that the losing side isn't utterly incompetent? Give them some small victory to help counterbalance the stomping they're getting. A Curb Stomp Cushion is kind of like a Hope Spot, except that it doesn't necessarily give the impression that the good guys are gonna win, just that they're still capable of taking a few bad guys down with them. This can also serve to foreshadow that the until-now nigh-invincible enemies may not truly be as invincible as they seem.

If it is the villain at the losing end, this is likely to avoid Invincible Hero shades overcoming the winning hero, or even worse, nulling out the notion they are the defending side. Possibly also combined with Not-So-Harmless Villain.

Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • This happens a couple of times during the fight with Freeza in Dragon Ball Z. Gohan manages to get in a barrage of shots during Freeza's second form, and Krillin manages to cut off part of Freeza's tail. In Freeza's final form, Goku manages to score a few good blows before Freeza powers up. And even after Freeza does, Goku's Spirit Bomb still does some damage.
    • This is later inverted when Freeza powers up against Super Saiyan Goku. Though Freeza gets in some good blows (even managing to nearly kill Goku right before the dragon revives everyone), he's still ultimately outdone, as Freeza loses power much too quickly to be a serious threat to Goku for very long.
    • It happens later on in the Cell Saga, too. The most notable occasion comes with Tien using his Tri-Beam attack to keep Semi-Perfect Cell at bay so that Android 18 could escape. Made all the more astonishing because Cell's previous form had been shown effortlessly taking down a Kami-fused Piccolo and Android 17, and the Semi-Perfect form made quick work out of Android 16.
  • In Holyland, the first Masaki vs Yuu fight is clearly one-sided, but Yuu still manages to get in a few hits, including a solid kick that the other thinks might have cost a rib.
  • The fans of Signum, who has been curb-stomped in Nanoha Force, find a little solace in the fact that she managed to chop her attacker's right arm off in the process.
  • In The Vision of Escaflowne when young pup Van and experienced knight Allen duel in their Humongous Mecha for the first time, everyone expects Allen to curb stomp Van, and he does. But as he's standing over Van, he's shocked to suddenly notice a gash in the side of his own mech.
  • Really, pick just about any shounen manga in the past 30 years where a side-character has gone toe to toe with a Big Bad or The Rival. This trope will apply for every second or third fight before The Hero gets involved. Dragon Ball had it happen once or more per saga until the end, and more recent series like Naruto and Bleach have whole years of this stuff used to build up how insanely powerful the current villain is while still reminding readers that he can be beaten.
  • A few instances of this happening in Hunter × Hunter get more powerful characters interested in Gon and Killua. Gon actually landing a blow (and later successfully stealing his badge) impress Hisoka, despite Hisoka being far more powerful and skilled. On the airship, Netero invites Gon and Killua to try to take a ball away from him. They have no chance since he's one of the most powerful beings alive, but Gon is satisfied when he forces Netero to use his other leg. When they run afoul of the Genei Ryodan they are once again totally outclassed. They put up a good enough fight to impress the Spiders, to the point that one of them even wants the two to join them.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! has this in the form of Joey's duel with Marik during the semi-finals of Battle City. Now since this is the semi-finals and Joey is facing off against the Big Bad of the arc, it's a Foregone Conclusion that he will lose, but the story has Joey come within one move of actually beating him before collapse from physical exhaustion. The duel also showed that it took a massive physical toll on Marik as well.
    • Similarly, the first time Yugi duels Pegasus, the latter's mind reading powers make him almost invincible, especially when he takes control of Dark magician. However, Yugi does deduce that the way he did it made another monster vulnerable, and he almost takes it out before the timer reached zero, even though he was reduced to just playing the top card of his deck without looking at it.
  • In Pokémon, Ash manages to be the first person ever to knock out Tobias' Darkrai. Unfortuntely, he's down one Pokemon to five, and Tobias sends out another legendary, Latias.
  • In Kill la Kill, episode 12, the seemingly invincible Nui Harime is completely trouncing Isshin Matoi, Ryuko's father, and ultimately kills him. However, before he dies, Isshin manages to slice one of Nui's eyes out while she's distracted by Ryuko's voice. This is the first time Nui drops her Stepford Smiler act, with her screaming in bloody agony. Even to this day she is very sore about this and Satsuki theorises that Nui wants to fight Ryuko largely out of revenge.
  • The final battle in Gundam 00: A Wakening of the Trailblazer is shown like this: it's pretty clear the ELS are winning the overall battle, and the human forces are getting overwhelmed. But, there are lots of scenes of individual human forces destroying truckloads of ELS, and not just the Gundam-piloting main characters. The ELS may be winning, but humanity is putting up one hell of a fight.

    Comic Books 
  • In Marvel Zombies, Magneto and later the Silver Surfer face off against dozens of superheroes. While both are eventually killed and eaten, they both inflict a fair amount of damage and take a couple of them out.

    Fan Fic 
  • In the Tamers Forever Series: Although ChaosGallantmon dominates the Tamers for almost the entirety of their fight, he is still on the receiving end of an effective Dual Force attack from Sakuyamon and SaberLeomon, even though he still manages to keep fighting, it still proves more effective than anything even the Sovereigns could do to him.
    • Also, despite being completely outclassed in their fight against Daemon, The Tamers still manage to get a few decent hits in..
  • The Immortal Game: The Royals' attack on the Loyalists' base — the Loyalists take losses, but for the most part they escape, and Twilight Sparkle recovers from her Split Personalities in the process, so that's a bonus.
    • The second Battle of Ponyville looks like one of these, as even though Terra takes out Luna and wipes the floor with the Mane Six, they refuse to give up, and get in plenty of hits of their own. It ends up as a subversion, as they actually manage to win, thanks to reigniting the Elements of Harmony and stripping Terra's power.
  • Ace Combat: The Equestrian War: The ponies successfully recapture Cloudsdale in chapter 14, defeating a griffin army group roughly twice their size. They've lost at least ten fliers in the process.
  • In Power Games, Vita demolishes Nanoha in their first encounter. Despite this, Nanoha manages to break Vita's jaw, at the cost of breaking her own hand.
  • Zoro's duel with Mihawk in The Boy With Haki still ends with Zoro being defeated with ease. Unlike canon however, he's unlocked haki and a result his ultimate attack manages to cut Mihawk's cheek.
  • This is how the war with the martians started in Strike Witches Quest. The aliens opened the invasion with attacks on major cities and battlefields all over the globe, taking every nation on Earth by near-complete surprise and inflicting heavy damage on most of their civilian targets. But the battlefields they attacked mostly turned into Enemy Mine situations between the Axis and Allied powers, particularly at Stalingrad and Pearl Harbor. Moreover, the alien attacks on civilian targets were too successful — they killed off Hitler and Mussolini and gave Admiral Yamamoto an opening to wrest control of Japan from the maniacs in the IJA, paving the way for an early end to World War II.
  • In Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race, the Stardroids' initial invasion is prevented from being a complete rout when Pluto takes damage from the Land Blazer and Bass is able to fight them on equal footing.
  • In Direction, Applejack is unable to get in any effective hits on Red Hoof due to his extremely dense musculature and unexpected speed (Trixie having hired him for exactly this purpose), but a fortunately-placed pair of scissors allows her to momentarily escape his grip, and only her hesitation to shed blood prevents her from pressing the advantage.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Occurs in Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!. Baragon managed to catch Godzilla off-guard few times. However, it's all in vain since Godzilla still manages to roast him alive.
  • Opening scene in Terminator 2: Judgment Day shows many of the human forces being helplessly overrun and slaughtered by Skynet's machines. Shift to a mangled and helpless Terminator lying on the ground as a human trooper stands above it, taking aim to finish him off. Later in the same scene, there's a flying Hunter Killer that gets taken out with a rocket launcher.
  • Tora! Tora! Tora!: Amidst all the carnage the Japanese forces are wreaking on the surprised Americans, there are a few bright spots for the Yanks. Two fighters manage to make it into the air and engage some of the attacking bombers. Truth in Television, as seven American fighters on the island managed to get into the air during the attack to engage the enemy.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: Yes, their entire base is destroyed, but 3 of the 5 AT-ATs (one by Wedge, one by Luke, and one by Hobie who crashed his airspeeder into the bridge) are taken down in the process, and many of the transports escape the Imperial fleet.
    • Most Star Wars battles, even curb-stomp ones, tend to follow this pattern. At least one Republic AT-TE Walker is shown exploding during the Battle of Geonosis, for instance, and a number of rebel ships are destroyed even in the closing stages of the Battle of Endor.
    • The prequel trilogy ends with a canon-mandated cushion; although the Jedi are about 99% wiped out, Anakin Skywalker has become Darth Vader, and Chancellor Palpatine has gained more or less absolute power, Yoda and Obi-Wan are alive, Qui-Gon Jin has managed to contact Yoda from the Force afterlife, and together they're going to be able to train Anakin's son Luke as a new hope for the galaxy.
  • Both of the fights between Rocky Balboa and Clubber Lang in Rocky III have elements of this. In the first bout Rocky starts strong, and at one point seems to have Lang in trouble, but Lang manages to cover up and then comes back to crush Rocky. In the rematch Rocky outclasses Lang in round 1 by using Hit-and-Run Tactics, and later knocks Lang out in round 3, but during the second round Lang seemed to be on the edge of winning and managed to knock Rocky down twice.
  • The fight between Mal and the Operative in Serenity starts off as a Curb-Stomp Battle, but once Mal gets the opportunity to fight dirty, he lands a few good hits. It doesn't do much, and it's only Inara's flashbang disguised as incense going off in the nick of time that stops the Operative from killing them.
  • In Ant-Man, Ant-Man curbstomps Falcon, proving that Pym wasn't lying about how deadly the suit is. However, Falcon gets several good hits in, including nearly winning when his shock wave temporarily shorts out the suit.

    Literature 
  • In HG Wells' novel The War of the Worlds the human military is almost helpless against the invaders, but there are two small successes.
    • An artillery crew takes down a tripod but is incinerated afterward.
    • The torpedo ram HMS Thunder Child destroys two tripods and possibly a third before being destroyed itself. The crew's Heroic Sacrifice allows a fleet of small ships carrying refugees to escape.
  • World War:
    • In the opening scenes of the World War series, human troops get annihilated all over the world by the alien invaders. Then a plucky German Panzer squad ambush an alien tank column. In exchange for losing the last 4 tanks the main character is in command of, they kill a single enemy personnel carrier and a single enemy tank by exploiting the aliens poor tactics. This is considered the most successful action against them of any kind, of the entire human-alien war so far. Obviously as the story goes on It Gets Better for the humans.
    • Such as the use of inventive tactics such as the Russian dog bombs.
    • Or even the low tech weaponry of the Humans working out for better, like when the Germans attack a grounded spaceship. The Lizards 'laugh' off the attack as they launch their anti-missile missiles... only to realise they're shells from rail-mounted artillery, and their countermeasures are useless. The resultant explosion sprays chunks of alien tech and supplies - including 'explosive metal' - all over the Chernobyl area.
    • The above-mentioned attack by the Dora cannon has far-reaching consequences for the war. The human powers manage to obtain some of the 'explosive metal' and use it to accelerate their atomic bomb projects, the use of which eventually leads to the lizards signing cease-fire agreements with the major human powers, effectively ending the war.
    • In Homeward Bound, the crew of the Admiral Peary knows that their ship is no match for Home's defense ships, if a fight does break out, the crew of the Peary will have minutes, if not seconds to do as much damage to Home as possible before going out in a nuclear blaze. This, pretty much, is the main reason why the Race doesn't just blast the offending vessel from their sky.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Silmarillion is full of these, as the Elves and their allies are doomed to lose against Morgoth. During the Battle of Sudden Flame the breaking of the Siege of Angband is cushioned by Barahir's rescue of Finrod's host; the utter defeat at the Battle of Unnumbered Tears is cushioned by the Men of Hador's Last Stand protecting Turgon's escape; the Fall of Gondolin is cushioned by Tuor and Idril escaping with the remnant of its people; and the Kinslayings at Doriath and the Havens of Sirion are cushioned both times by Elwing escaping with the Silmaril. In all cases these cushions come at the hands of Men.
  • Several of the Yuuzhan Vong's more overwhelming victories in the New Jedi Order novels are tempered by these sorts of actions. In most cases, the mitigating factor comes from the Vong's Attack! Attack! Attack! style and We Have Reserves mentality leading to huge casualties, such as during the Fall of Coruscant; it's easy to miss amidst the heroes' desperate flight from their home planet, but three waves of Yuuzhan Vong ground troops are totally obliterated, along with similar numbers of their warships. Other specific examples:
    • Edge of Victory: Conquest: The Jedi Academy has fallen, and Talon Karrde's smuggler fleet has taken heavy losses getting the students out — but they do get the students out alive, inflicting heavy damage in the process, and inadvertently spark the Jedi Heresy among the Vong's worker caste to boot.
    • Star By Star: Even though Coruscant has fallen and the strike team to Myrkr is devastated, their mission was successful, destroying the Hero Killer voxyn, and delivering the team a Yuuzhan Vong frigate which will help them take advantage of the growing heresy by impersonating a goddess.
    • Force Heretic: Remnant: The eponymous Imperial Remnant has suffered a devastating sneak attack to their capital, Bastion. The only relief comes when Luke Skywalker's small expedition accidentally jumps into the conflict, giving Pellaeon tactical advice that allows his damaged ships to obliterate a small Vong flotilla. On its own, this is a minor loss for the Vong, but it foreshadows how deadly the Remnant can be, even wounded, with a combination of Imperial pride and discipline and Jedi military intelligence.

    Live Action TV 
  • Several battle scenes in Babylon 5 have this element.
    • Most notably, the Season 2 episode The Long, Twilight Struggle features a fleet of ships being ambushed by a large Shadow fleet. Amidst the ships getting cut apart left and right, you do see two of the ships concentrating their fire to wound a single Shadow Battlecrab - the first time one of these ships is seen damaged in battle.
    • The Earth-Minbari war was a generally one-sided stomping of humanity, with a single human victory being the destruction of the Minbari flagship Black Star in a minefield. Naturally, Sheridan was the one behind it. And the sore losers never let him forget it. However, the fluff implies that the Minbari did, in fact, sustain other casualties; it's just their casualties were significantly lower than that of the Earth Alliance. Depending on the source, the Battle of Vega, one of the first battles of the war, results in 1-3 destroyed Minbari ships, one of them being a Sharlin warcruiser being rammed by a prototype Nova-X battlecruiser (the future Omega destroyers).
  • Implied in the Mini Series of the Battlestar Galactica remake. Boomer mentions that the only ships proving effective against the Cylons are either obsolete models or overdue for repairs. That means that amidst all the carnage shown during the invasions, at least a few Colonial warriors were getting their own punches in.

    Video Games 
  • This can be done in-universe by Alpha 1 in an early mission of FreeSpace: during an important escort mission, the known enemy is suddenly and unexpectedly taken out by untargetable ships nearly impervious to the primary weapons available, who then turn on you. It is rather hard to destroy the strange ships... but if one pulls it off, the debriefing hails it as proving that the new enemy rampaging unchecked through Terran and Vasudan space can be hurt.
  • The player themselves serves as one in Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars, when humanity meets the Scrin. The first mission introduces them in the process of utterly annihilating the city of Munich, and the entire defending GDI contingent along with it. Despite the defeat, however, the player does succeed in evacuating the local GDI council, and discovers the aliens' inherent weakness to directed sonic energy in the process.
  • In Mass Effect 3, Palaven is taking a heavy beating, but the description of the war includes how the Reapers actually lost a few ships in the opening.
    • While the Codex initially refers to the Fall of Khar'shan and the Fall of Earth for the first two fronts in the Reaper War, once Shepard visits the Turian home system, the Codex is updated with a third entry: The Battle of Palaven.
      • Goes so far as to include The Miracle of Palaven, where if you secure the Krogan alliance, the Turians and Krogan manage to smuggle a bunch of WMDs into the Reaper processing ships. This gets millions of people killed, but they were doomed anyways and at least this way a large number of Reaper ships get to die with them.
  • In the backstory of the Halo series, this is the way the Human-Covenant war goes for about 30 years. The human military wins a lot in ground battles due to their superior training and the SPARTAN-II's. Heck, the SPARTANS are so feared by the Covenant that they call them "demons". But Covenant spaceships are much more advanced than human ships, so they win the space battles and glass the planet from orbit, rendering the human's victory on the ground moot.
    • Even some space battles are this for the Covenant, in some cases being Pyrrhic Victories. The battle for Reach cost the Covenant dearly, even if they don't like to show it.
  • Half-Life has one in the HECU, and it applies in two ways.
    • Them against the invading Xen aliens. In general the HECU are being overwhelmed, but as far as Gordon can see, they tend to win individual battles, suggesting that the aliens are only winning overall due to their superior numbers (an entire alien army vs a single special forces battalion). It's true that the marines are also enemies to the player (and everyone else in Black Mesa) but it's still not hard to be rooting for the humans during an alien invasion. Even in their last ropes, the HECU are still quite well-equipped and threatening, which Black Mesa showcases best.
    • Against Gordon, they also are one. Even if Dr. Freeman slaughters them in droves along his way, the first firefight is no cakewalk and it doesn't get any easier from there, even after more powerful hardware is acquired - they pull out their own big guns in the form of attack helicopters, armored fighting vehicles and a swarm of stationary turrets. And mines. Lots of mines.
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim's Dawnguard DLC, the Hall of the Vigilant is destroyed by Clan Volkiharnote  after the player reaches level ten, with all residents killed. However, there are a few vampire and Death Hound corpses littered around the area, showing it wasn't a total massacre. The same later happens when the same group of vampires abduct a Moth Priest- one of his guards is found dead on the scene and the others are undead thralls in the cave where the Priest is held captive, but a few vampires died trying to seize him.

    Web Comic 
  • During newbie Viole's and Veteran Urek's fight in Tower of God, the weaker Irregular gets a One-Hit KO… but while receiving it and protecting a little girl that somehow got into the fray, he actually managed to scratch Urek's cheek.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Bugs Bunny often outsmarted his foes with sheer ease. Every now and again however a brief of wit or Genre Savvy would bestow the villain and take Bugs by surprise to make things a little more tense (and likely to prevent Bugs from becoming insufferably smug). Allegedly the creative team deliberately made Bugs' foes slightly more challenging so the audience wouldn't start to see him as the bully of the feud.
  • Tom and Jerry would similarly usually end with Tom outsmarted and decimated by Jerry, but would usually get in the odd shot along the way (usually when Jerry was at risk of looking more relentless than Tom). He was even bestowed the odd DarkhorseVictory against Jerry to keep the formula that little more unpredictable.
  • During Wendy's brawl against Cartman in the climax of the South Park episode "Breast Cancer Show Ever", Cartman manages to get a few good hits in against Wendy, but still ends up with what he deserves. Granted this was likely as much to show Cartman Would Hit a Girl as to add tension to the fight.
  • In Transformers Prime Wheeljack and Ultra Magnus ended up facing the freakishly powerful Predaking in his newly revealed robot form. In Predakings dragon form, absolutely nothing has proven to even damage him but merely slow him down, and while his robot form was a little easier to knock around he was still Nigh Invulnerable to their most powerful attacks. Utilizing Bash Brothers they gave him one hell of a fight, but in the end they were no match.
  • Every fight Tai Lung gets into before Po in Kung Fu Panda establishes him as being great but not invincible. During the jailbreak he is almost stopped when the bridge is blown, The Furious Five all manage to land blows and Tigress and Viper go toe-to-toe with him for a short while before he pulls out his pressure point attack, and Master Shifu takes him on in a protracted battle.

    Truth In Television 
  • The Dunkirk evacuation, codenamed Operation Dynamo by the British, was the evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beaches and harbour of Dunkirk, France, between 27 May and the early hours of 3 June 1940, when British, French and Belgian troops were cut off by the German army during the Battle of Dunkirk in the Second World War.
    • The Allied forces just got Curb Stomped in Europe and were retreating. The "miracle of Dunkirk" was hailed as a victory. The British press presented the evacuation as a "disaster turned to triumph" so successfully that Winston Churchill had to remind the country, in a speech to the House of Commons on 4 June, that "we must be very careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations." Nevertheless, with the implication of the evacuation that the British army escaped to fight again when the time is right, exhortations to the "Dunkirk spirit", a phrase used to describe the tendency of the British public to pull together and overcome times of adversity, are still heard in Britain today.
    • The Germans didn't have it all their way in Europe; upon being told that he'd been hit by British tanks during a more vulnerable moment during the German attack, which turned out to be two British tank brigades, the German general initially believed he'd been hit by five divisions.
    • This was the Battle of Arras in late May 1940. The only major British counter-attack during the Battle of France, it halted the blitzkrieg in its tracks and caused significant panic and confusion. General Rommel himself narrowly avoided becoming a prisoner of war, and although the British attack was halted and turned, it is believed to have influenced Hitler's hasty order to halt all attacks on the British front and for the panzers to come to a halt. This allowed sufficient respite for the British army to retreat, unopposed, to Dunkirk, prepare defensive positions, and to begin evacuating the army back to England. Had the Germans disobeyed Hitler's stop order and pressed closely on the BEF after Arras spent most of Britain's tanks, Dunkirk would never have happened, and Britain may have been forced to seek surrender terms.
    • There were also many cases of French units inflicting punishing damage on the German attackers, whenever the Germans found themselves unable to effectively bring their advantages to bear. The French army didn't lack fighting spirit, they were simply caught by surprise with the bulk of their forces poorly positioned to face the German Blitzkrieg.
    • Even earlier in the Blitzkrieg, polish armored trains took a heavy toll of the invading forces wherever they could reach them.
  • As mentioned in the example for Tora! Tora! Tora!, the Pearl Harbor raids had a few examples of this, be it AA gunners successfully shooting down attacking planes, or the seven Army Air Corps planes making it up into the air to engage the enemy. It wasn't enough to make a huge difference (at first), but at least they tried.
    • A bigger victory for the Americans was actually a case of good luck-or bad luck for the Japanese. One of the main goals of the Attack on Pearl Harbor was to sink both the American battleships, AND the American carriers. When the Japanese arrived, all they found were the battleships. Turns out the carriers were out on patrol or delivering planes. It turned out to be a costly mistake for the Japanese, especially when those carriers turned up in battle later, and especially when the naval combat tactics developed for and during WWII meant that carriers were far more important than battleships.
    • The Anti-Air guns and the Army Air Corps were able to make a bigger impact once the surprise wore off, with the second wave of Japanese attackers facing much stiffer resistance. Yamamoto canceled the third wave of the attack in light of the improved American defense. The third wave would have annihiliated the fuel depots at Pearl Harbor, rendering the base incapable of functioning in the aftermath. With their fuel supply intact, the Americans were able to quickly mobilize and redeploy what was left of the Pacific Fleet. Indeed, by war's end, only two of the battleshipsnote  sunk at Pearl Harbor, USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma, had not been raised and put back into action.
    • Another example from Pearl Harbor was the USS Nevada, the only battleship at port that day that managed to get underway, making a Defied Trope of Sitting Duck. She took several bombs and a torpedo nonetheless during her attempted escape, and her crew deliberately ran her aground in the harbor rather than risk having the battleship trap the entire fleet by sinking in the narrow channel leading to the sea.
  • In the Battle of Tsushima the outnumbered, outgunned and outclassed Russian Second Pacific Squadron lost eight battleships, three coastal battleships, seven cruisers (three interned by neutral powers after escaping the losing battle), seven destroyers (one interned), and most of its auxiliaries to Japan three torpedo boats, but most of the Japanese capital ships were damaged and would have been out of action for months had the Russians not surrendered.
  • For Serbs, the Battle of Kosovo in 1389 was a Curbstomp Cushion. Their forces were completely annihilated by the Ottomans, but the Ottomans also incurred heavy losses, including their Sultan, and thus their progress through the Balkans was slowed.