I'd ask you this question, Stew: who's really the worst monster in this so-called world of ours? Is it really the Medusa, the snake-haired temptress of olden times? Or is it another monster, Stew? A monster maybe a bit closer to home? A monster we call... man? Stew:
It's the medusa with all the snakes in her hair. That's the monster. Rich:
Yeah, it is, yeah. Rich:
Do you want to watch that celebrity arse video now?
— Richard Herring and Stewart Lee, Lee And Herring's Reasonably Scary Monsters
If your world is a Fantasy Kitchen Sink
where the heroes spend every week
battling vampires, aliens, ghosts and fairies, one easy way to mix things up a little is to scrap the supernatural element altogether for a chapter and have the heroes fight something relatively mundane, be it a serial killer, a robber or even just a murderously grumpy animal.
Of course, since the heroes spend most of their time putting down creatures that are generally more dangerous and powerful than human beings, it's common to make these villains even more of a threat — expect to see your heroes knocked about (physically or mentally) more than usual. Cannibals
are a common choice, largely because they border on monster-level weirdness anyway and aren't quite as played out as the Serial Killer
To help make the threat even more convincing, you can expect the writers to make these episodes darker than the usual fare, possibly through gruesome horror or psychological tension. The latter is particularly useful, since it can lead to the characters inflicting nasty violence on humans rather than monsters
for once. If the heroes can't kill humans then expect a Karmic Death
. And if the show is given to platitudes you can expect some "the real monster is man
" philosophising at the end — even though the werewolves, zombies and demons that appear in all the other episodes make it clear
that the real monsters are monsters
The Mundanger may be part of a Scooby-Doo Hoax
— though with deadlier consequences than Scooby-Doo
would ordinarily encounter. Contrast How Unscientific!
, where a show set in an ordinary world features a seemingly real supernatural event in one episode.
Compare They Look Just Like Everyone Else
and sister trope Mundangerous
for superpowered beings being taken out by similarly low threat objects. If at all interested, the trope name is a portmanteau of "mundane" and "danger''
and not some Super Robot
series you just about remember but turns out never existed. Also has nothing to do with
a certain moon of Kerbal Space Program
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Anime and Manga
- Neon Genesis Evangelion, with the reveal in The Movie that the final Angel is "mankind", in the form of an All Your Base Are Belong to Us attack on the Geofront.
- Jet Alone, a "malfunctioning" giant robot from a rival organization, also qualifies.
- The most vicious, evil, and overall nasty Monsters Of The Week in Hell Teacher Nube are all human. Such as the masked serial killer who nearly murdered Kyoko and Hiroshi (and got away,) the con artists that did the same, the bank robbers who Nube humiliated with his supernatural skills until they shot at him with an Uzi, the kidnapper who took Nube's kids to a warehouse to kill them, the Mad Scientist who called down the Orochi upon the city...
- A Certain Magical Index:
- In Light Novel Vol. 4, the heroes at one point have to deal with a Serial Killer named Jinsaku Hino, when they normally deal with espers and sorcerers.
- Touma Kamijou's Imagine Breaker makes him the perfect guy to deal with supernatural threats. Logically, it doesn't help him against mundane threats. He has to deal with street thugs and bullies the old fashioned way, and the magical organization GREMLIN gets Genre Savvy and hires armed mercenaries to deal with him, since he can't negate their mundane guns.
- In Light Novel Vol. 17, Touma and Index's plane gets hijacked by mundane terrorists, leading to a Die Hard on an X plot.
- One episode of Fullmetal Alchemist, a series in which heroes and villains alike wield alchemic magic, deals with a comparatively less-flashy cross-dressing serial killer.
- This happens in Parasyte. Shinichi spends most of the series fighting increasingly powerful shapeshifting monsters, but one of his most dramatic confrontations was with a human serial killer.
- In the Hellblazer arc "The Family Man", something that's gruesomely killing families turns out to just be an old man with a big knife. And the mysterious beastie that's eating people outside the town of Doglick in "Good Intentions" turns out to just be a giant boar.
- Notably, titular Family Man scares John more than most supernatural villains in the series.
- An arc in Todd McFarlane's run on Spider-Man involved a series of gruesome slasher murders in the woods of Ontario. Spider-Man initially believed the murders to be the work of the monstrous Wendigo, but while investigating alongside Wolverine they learned that the murders were committed by a serial killer.
- In a Hack Slash story it at first looked like old villain Father Wrath was back, but it turned out to be a non-powered copycat, whose neck Vlad nonchalantly snaps.
- The Punisher counts as this for the criminals and villains of the Marvel universe. Commit a crime in New York and you could be brought in by mutants, aliens or a literal Physical God, or, if you're unlucky, shot to death by a gun-toting vigilante.
- Parodied when he tries to bring in the Runaways, where he's so convinced that he's the scariest thing in New York that he completely misses the winged monstrosity that flies up behind him and nearly takes his head off.
- Brotherhood of the Wolf centers around the true Urban Legend of a giant wolf who terrified France in the 1700's. Throughout the movie, it is believed that the wolf is a supernatural force. As it turns out, it was a pet lion made to look like a monster.
- Sociopathic Soldier Captain Vidal is by far the deadliest (and most disturbing) monster in Pans Labyrinth.
- The Day Britain Stopped focuses on how the lack of infrastructure planning, lack of political leadership, and lack of good management can paralyze Britan's transport network. The paralysis of Britan's transport network in turn triggers the chain of reactions leading to tragic consequences in the mockumentary.
- In the anthology film Film/VHS, the villain of the "Second Honeymoon" segment is a normal human and her partner, contrasting with the supernatural monsters in the other segments.
- Stephen King wrote Cujo with the declared goal of creating an entirely mundane horror story where the supernatural was absent.note
- In the extended version of The Stand, King spends a short chapter describing the "second wave of deaths" caused by the after-effects of the plague. Unlike the billions of people who die from the super-flu plague, these people die of mundane causes. Like the guy who dies of tetanus because all the doctors who could have treated him have died, or the girl who dies in the car accident when she decides that a lack of people equals a lack of traffic and runs into a stalled car at 100 mph, or the older man who dies of a heart attack because he runs out of his medication, and so on.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld is rife with dragons, werewolves, reality-destroying magic, and the odd Eldritch Abomination, but most of the darker books, like Night Watch or Small Gods, feature non-magical human villains. Similarly, the greatest threats to the bad guys are often Badass Normal Vimes or The Chessmaster Vetenari.
- Kim Newman's story "Where The Bodies Are Buried 3: Black And White And Red All Over". The other WTBAB stories were about a supernatural Serial Killer emerging from a Slasher Movie; this is a Ripped from the Headlines tale of tabloid hysteria and hypocrisy over such movies. (Yes, ultimately it's all down to Derek Leech, but he doesn't do anything supernatural to make it happen.)
- Solomon Kane mostly fought supernatural villains of some sort. However, in "Blades of the Brotherhood" the villains were perfectly ordinary pirates.
- In the Maximum Ride series, the Flock face off against genetically engineered werewolves and other mutant threats. In the fourth book, a huge source of danger is Angel falling down a chasm in the Arctic and then nearly dying, along with Max and Total, in a blizzard.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: despite the looming threat of the Others behind the Wall, the worst evils in the novels are constantly committed by human beings driven by greed, ambition, or sheer sadistic pleasure.
- Odd Thomas usually deals with supernatural threats— cult organizations, spooks and spectres, and the like. In the graphic novel Odd Is On Our Side, the villain is an old man who really, really hated children trampling his prize-winning flower garden on Halloween.
Live Action TV
- Call of Cthulhu normally involves players going up against the creatures and cultists of the Cthulhu Mythos. One adventure, "Westchester" House, was about a "haunted house" where the hauntings were strictly human created, with nothing from the Mythos involved.
- Although the Ravenloft setting is best known for its vampires, werebeasts, mad scientists and other horror staples, it's also home to a number of Mundanger human killers. One of the Core's bloodiest darklords, the tyrant Vlad Drakov, is an ordinary fighter whose only supernatural quality is an enhanced resistance to magic. The (non-darklord) ruler of Nova Vaasa, Prince Othmar, is likewise a normal human villain.
- Tends to happen to you in The World of Darkness if you survive long enough.
- Hunters in particular are likely to run into mundane serial killers. Of course, this being the World of Darkness, not all those serial killers stay mundane...
- The Chosen One comes across all kinds of strangeness in Fallout 2, from ghosts to super-mutants to intelligent scorpions. But when (s)he investigates giant scorpion monsters that are kidnapping cattle at night, they turn out to just be a pair of cattle rustlers.
- The Sam & Max: Freelance Police cartoon pitted them against their usual selection of crazy monsters, giant robots, aliens, and so forth - as well as against their loserly human Loony Fan, Lorne. He is easily the most fondly-regarded villain in the show.
- In Batman: The Animated Series, there's often a normal human gangster or corrupt boss behind the villainy of the week. In a lot of cases, they're even more evil than the costumed villains are, like Boyle, the guy who created Mister Freeze by callously trying to pull the plug on his wife.
- In one episode of Superman: The Animated Series the villain is a corrupt police detective who got an innocent man sent to death row for murder (that the detective committed). When Clark Kent manages to confirm the inmate's alibi, he gets caught in a carbomb attack, setting Superman's investigation back to square one and "killing" Clark Kent.
- Despite news media and realistic fiction focusing on threats of war, gang crime, terrorism, starvation, and serial killers, most Americans will die of heart disease or cancer, which each claim more lives than the sum of the next three causes of death, cerebrovascular diseases (such as stroke), chronic lower respiratory diseases, and (especially automobile) accidents. Suicide was 11th, and homicide was 15th, with every other slot filled by a disease or condition.
- One notable editorial in the Chicago Tribune, written on the tenth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, noted that across the country, nearly five times as many people died on 9/11 of "causes unrelated to terrorism" than died of "someone flew an airplane into a building", including nearly 1500 tobacco-related deaths, and nearly 4000 people who died in automobile accidents.
- One episode of This American Life, The Giant Pool of Money, included a story of a Marine, returned from Iraq, trying to catch up with his mortgage payments after the housing bubble collapsed and his interest rates went through the roof. In the followup episode sixteen months later, This American Life reported that the Marine ultimately got the loan refinanced to a point that he could keep up, but that it ended up being even worse than being deployed.
Adam Davidson: Wait, wait, wait. You fought in Iraq as a Marine, and this was more stressful?
Richard Campbell: Yeah. Believe it or not, yeah. It was. It's a lot harder to deal with than shooting at people and having people shoot back at you, believe it or not.
- In Europe, many of the purported attacks of bears, wolves and lynxes against livestock are actually the work of feral dogs. Farmers are obviously more inclined to blame the former since that guarantees a government compensation for their losses, whereas the latter usually doesn't.