How did Brer Rabbit get away, Uncle Remus? Remus:
Who say he git away? Toby:
Brer Rabbit always gits away. Remus:
Don't you be too shure... ain't i done tol'd you that Brer Rabbit, bein' little and without much strength, he's s'posed to use his head instead o' his foots?
An Invincible Incompetent is a hero who defeats powerful opponents, despite having very little skill or ability. Frequently, they keep this up for years, heroically gaining almost no power as they progress, so as to make their constant victories even more impressive.
The method by which they do so differs. Some win on sheer, blind luck. Others know exactly when to say "Let's Get Dangerous
", or intelligently exploit a major weakness of their enemy before returning to their previous state. Many get by on the efforts of mentors and other side characters. However they do it, it makes them effectively invincible, despite being largely incompetent.
This trope caters to audiences who like to identify with the "weaker" side in any conflict. A downside is Villain Decay
; it is hard to present a villain as a credible threat if they repeatedly fail to stop the bumbling hero.
Despite the clear comedic applications of this trope, it is just as often played for (relatively idealistic) drama, with the audience expected to root and identify much more with an outclassed hero.
Closely related to The Fool
and the Idiot Hero
. See also: Underdogs Always Win
, which is this trope on a meta level and primarily applied to sports stories. Inspector Oblivious
is a subtrope.
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Anime & Manga
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: Katsuya Jonouchi (Joey Wheeler) perpetually comes from behind to win. Granted, everyone does this, but Joey never seems to be picked as a favorite to win anything, despite several finals showings. Jonouchi's an odd combination of Idiot Ball and Informed Flaw. For no explained reason except maybe poverty, his deck is mostly full of weak cards. While his quick-thinking and few strong cards make up for his weaker monsters in life-threatening scenarios, he'd be MUCH more effective if he'd try a more effective deck-type.
- In the Irresponsible Captain Tylor nobody can decide if Justy Ueki Tylor is this or he's just that good but prefers to look like it.
- Ju Ingong in Transfer Student Storm Bringer defeats everyone and becomes JJang of the school without any fighting skills simply through dumb luck, although everyone who witnesses his fights believes him to be using super-advanced fighting techniques.
- In the Unova League in Pokémon, Ash/Satoshi's new rival Cameron has intelligence that makes Ash look smart by comparison, frequently misses important facts and information yet still proves good enough to beat 8 gym leaders to get to the League. When the two face off, Cameron handicaps himself with 5 Pokemon to Ash's 6 and ends up facing half his team with only Riolu, and still manages to win.
- Woozy Winks, sidekick to the DC superhero Plastic Man, was a literal version of this. As part of his origin story he once saved a powerful wizard from drowning. As thanks, the wizard put a spell of protection on him, the result of which was that he would magically avoid/survive absolutely anything that could ever hurt him. Falling piano? He'll stumble out of the way so that it hits just an inch behind him. Shoot at him? He'll bend down to pick up a penny just in time to avoid it. At the same time, he was so incompetent and dimwitted that he couldn't really take advantage of this, with it being entirely likely he never realized he had this power to begin with.
- Perfection Is Overrated argues that essentially, the Mary Sue boils down to this, as they succeed despite going about tasks incompetently, become popular even when their personalities are repulsive, and survive mistakes that should have killed them. The SUEs, the main antagonists of the fic who represent Mary Sue archetypes without the Plot Armor or author favoritism, end up losing to the Himes because they continue to act as though they're invincible, even when they're not, and it's briefly suggested that their reason for wanting to change the world is because they can't function in it the way it is.
Films — Live-Action
- Inspector Clouseau of The Pink Panther series is a shining example, combined with Bat Deduction in that his profoundly stupid and illogical actions often save him and/or destroy his attacker and/or solve the case he's supposed to be working on. Many skilled assassins try to kill him, but Clouseau inevitably survives by some absurd accident, almost always unknowingly killing the assassin(s) in the process. All for the sake of Rule of Funny, of course.
- Rincewind, from Discworld, is noted for trying to run away from the plot action, yet invariably winning somehow. It's been noted that he has the favour of the Lady, goddess of luck. It's also been noted that she will lose interest if he ever acts like someone with divine protection.
- Ciaphas Cain: Has a dark and dramatic take on a protagonist who attempts to run away from the action yet always ends up winning. The difference being that he is actually competent, or he would not have survived very long, let alone lived to retire in the Warhammer universe. However, he refuses to admit this.
- Craig Shaw Gardner's "Ballad of Wuntvor" satirizes the concept. Within the work, he refers to the trope as the "Eternal Apprentice".
- Get Smart: Max Smart, who once disarmed an atomic bomb by getting his tie stuck in the timer.
- Sabrina the Teenage Witch: Sabrina went seven years without ever learning even one or two simple spells she could reliably not mess up. Notable in that there usually was no villain except for her mastery of this trope alternately causing and fixing problems.
- Power Rangers RPM: Ziggy the Green Ranger is several leagues behind the other Rangers in fighting skills - and not just the ones on his own team, but just about every other Ranger, period — but he manages to bumble his way through fights, providing support for his teammates rather than drag them down.
- Mikey Whipwreck was the epitome of this trope in ECW. Despite going for months on end without managing to land a single offensive move, Mikey somehow managed to wrack up an impressive winning streak due to coincidental outside interference or just sheer dumb luck. This culminated with him winning the ECW Television Title and successfully defending it for a while, despite his numerous attempts to vacate the title.
- In Noob, Sparadrap, one of the worse players, tends to be this on and off. The only situation consistently having it happen is his "fights" against Dark Avenger, to the extent of becoming a Running Gag.
- Scooby-Doo has this trope in two flavors. The later shows and movies, though still often playing on this trope, gave the gang a bit more of a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass cred, displaying more acts of genuine competance and bravado.
- Shaggy and Scooby always seem to end up finding the weekly monster despite their cowardice, laziness, and complete lack of investigative skills.
- Despite the inevitable failure of Fred's convoluted traps to catch the monster, the monster usually ends up trapped by the end of the episode anyway.
- Rufus and Amberley from The Dreamstone were bumbling kids somewhat a cut below Badass Normal, however since they're the foes were the Urpneys and most of their allies were immortal Invincible Heroes, they usually didn't have to achieve much to win the day.
- Inspector Gadget: Gadget thwarts Doctor Claw again and again, almost solely on the strengths of his Hyper Competent Sidekicks or well timed slapstick bumbling. On the very rare occasions he gets a clue what's going on however, he is shown to be surprisingly competent.
- Parodied in an episode of Robot Chicken, where Dr. Claw's finally put two and two together and turns Gadget into The Terminator to kill Penny.
- Jonny Quest: Jonny is pretty powerless through the show's whole run, and is constantly being plucked from danger by his father and Race.
- Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes, "Dooms Word Is Law": While Johnny and Ben are often reasonable fighters they are a lot more effective against Dr. Doom by accident in one episode, dodging missiles because they're fighting each other and using a two-pronged attack because they couldn't agree on a plan.
- Coop of Megas XLR somehow manages to win completely impossible situations out of sheer luck.