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Non-Action Big Bad

The Big Bad, as everybody knows, is the ultimate evil in a work of fiction (or not). But, what exactly makes him such a threatening villain? Is it because they're cunning? Eviler than anybody else? Or maybe because they're powerful? In practically every work of fiction centered around action, the latter is the case. Well, not always.

Enter the Non-Action Big Bad, which is Evil Counterpart of Non-Action Guy.

This guy has zero fighting skills. He isn't interested in becoming stronger or more powerful either, but probably has a lust for conquest or something similar and will rely on a second-in-command or a Quirky Miniboss Squad to do all of the dirty work that needs to get done. Compare The Man Behind the Curtain. In a video game, they may be The Unfought. For Big Bads who have power, but act like this until the climax, see Orcus on His Throne.

Compare Dragon-in-Chief, where The Dragon serves as the de-facto Big Bad for the story, though not neccesarily because of this trope. Also compare Orcus on His Throne, where the Big Bad may be skilled and powerful, but doesn't even carry out any plans beyond sitting around being generally evil. If encountered in a video game, this character will either act as a deliberate Anti-Climax Boss, or an outright Zero-Effort Boss.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • The Major from Hellsing. For an Omnicidal Maniac enamoured of war and carnage, he noticeably lacks any combat involvement and limits himself to inspirational speeches.
    • Hilariously, he can't even shoot a disobedient soldier standing right in front of him, despite emptying a clip of ammo at him. Eventually, he just has his more loyal Mooks do the killing for him.
  • Spandam from One Piece is the leader of the Cipher Pol 9, an elite group of government assassins. He's also physically weaker than a single common fodder soldier.
    • He actually does have a Cool Sword: The Elephant Sword. The problem is that he can hardly use it properly. When he unleashes it on Franky, Franky convinces the Elephant to squish SPANDAM
  • Nagi dai Artai in Mai-Otome, albeit largely because males can't become Otomes.
  • Gato in the first arc of Naruto, which ended up being his undoing after he tried to dispose of Zabuza for failing to defeat Kakashi, only for Zabuza to return the favor by killing Gato himself. After that, every other Big Bad in the series has fully embodied Authority Equals Asskicking.
  • Sakyo of YuYu Hakusho is head of the antagonists in the Dark Tournament Saga, even if Toguro overshadows him in plot importance. He also knows he can't fight, despite being the fifth member of Team Toguro, so he says that the outcome of Toguro's match will decide the outcome of his, thus enabling whoever wins it to win the tournament.
  • Ghoda in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex never fights or even has any weapons, and his mooks rarely use any violent means. Which doesn't stop Aramaki to have him riddled with exploding bullets when he refuses to be taken into custody.
    • Though it happens offscreen, it's made clear that he has numerous innocent people "disappeared" because they saw something inconvenient, and further it's implied that he did that solely to annoy Section 9 who would find out anyway. And that's not even accounting the attempted nuking of millions of people.
  • Kyubey from Puella Magi Madoka Magica. He never actively bring the girls into harm, he simply gave the girl their wishes and let them fight witches as magical girls as payment. There are only two reasons to consider him a villain at all: he doesn't value individual human life at all (and doesn't even understand the idea), and he is directly or indirectly responsible for everything bad that happens in the series. The reason it's all arguable is that he's doing it to prevent universal destruction due to entropy. A more "traditional" Big Bad is Walpurgisnacht, but that is more of a force of nature than a true enemy.
  • Villain Protagonist Light Yagami from Death Note. Although it is shown he can throw punches to L, this is never shown as the series progress.
  • Neither Degwin Zabi or his son, Gihren were up to much physical action in the original Mobile Suit Gundam. As the political (and military in Gihren's case) rulers of Zeon they didn't need to be.
    • In the anime Gihren ends up getting his brains blown out by his sister Kycilia after he kills his father with a Wave Motion Gun. Interestingly, in Yoshiyuki Tomino's original 52-episode plan for the series, Amuro actually gets to confront Gihren in person, but even then all he does is rant at Amuro and die in a hail of gunfire.
    • Gundam SEED subverts this trope. It initially appears that Non Action Guys Muruta Azrael and Patrick Zala will be the show's Big Bad Ensemble. The former is a psychopathic madman who leads the Earth Forces from behind the scenes, the latter an Insane Admiral turned President Evil who rules ZAFT with an iron fist. Both lead massive armies, and are dedicated to eliminating one another. In reality however, they are both Unwitting Pawns of Badass Ace Pilot and Magnificent Bastard Rau Le Creuset, who is the real Big Bad of the series.
    • Gundam SEED Destiny has a Big Bad Ensemble of Lord Djibril and Gilbert Durandal. Both have more than enough resources (and madness/manipulative ability) to make up for their lack of frontline combat skills, with Djibril heading a world-wide network of hate-groups, and Durandal as ZAFT's new President Evil.
    • Chancellor Wong in G Gundam is the bad guy in the second act- he's super manipulative (he even has literal chess-pieces in the shape of the Gundams), is the De-Facto leader of everything and holds authority over Master Asia... however, he hardly stands up from his floaty chair, only sets up fights for Domon, and has an L-Level sweet tooth. Suffice to say, he's almost vaporized by collateral damage—which was the direct result of his own manipulations—and when he actually gets in a Gundam (unwillingly) he lasts all of two minutes. And most of those two minutes are spent talking.
  • Jail Scaglietti of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS. Being a Mad Scientist with Super Intelligence and a lot of resources, he was one of the biggest threats to the TSAB itself in the franchise and came the closest to taking The Federation down even though he himself has little to no fighting abilities. The battle against him was pretty much over once all of the Combat Cyborgs guarding his base were neutralized and Fate finally got around the Capturing Threads set up in his lab.
  • Commander Red in the Red Ribbon Army saga of Dragon Ball.
  • Desparaiah from Yes! Pretty Cure 5. While her Dragon-in-Chief Kawarino is the most difficult villain the girls have to face in this season, the only things Desparaia does during the Grand Finale is summoning Mooks, blocking the attacks with a barrier... and undergoing a High Heel-Face Turn!
    • Ironically, she is the most powerful being in this season, the only reason why Kawarino is so damn loyal to her.
  • Every single antagonist on the Pokemon series, since it's the Pokemon who do all the fighting for them, while the main antagonist are not shown to have any fighting ability whatsoever. However, the Pokemon themselves are said to never be evil, while the theatrical legendary Pokemon are merely troubled, confused, or highly protective, and are Easily Forgiven at the end.

     Board Games 
  • The king in Chess. It's barely superior to a simple pawn, and spends as much time as possible hiding and fleeing (especially since it usually can't attack another piece without moving into check first).

    Comic Books 
  • Sin City baddies tend to be this trope. The Roarks, Ava Lord, Wallenquist, and the Colonel never get their hands dirty and are likely incapable of doing so. Instead, they send dirty cops, mooks, hitmen, and assassins to do their jobs.
  • Lex Luthor most of the time. He does have a battlesuit, but he tends to get in fistfights a lot less than he uses his Manipulative Bastard and Corrupt Corporate Executive aspects.
  • The Leader. He may be a mutant, but his only power is Super Intelligence, and he's got the physique of a string bean.
  • In most forms of media, The Joker is this - he's generally portrayed as scrawny, and occasionally it will only take one punch from Batman to bring him down. He makes up for it by being a Magnificent Bastard and stacking the odds. In a number of stories, the tension isn't on Batman beating him in a fight, but trying to catch him before he murders more innocent people.
    • This usually goes for most of his rogues gallery as well, to various degrees. Guys like Riddler or Scarecrow are more masterminds than fighters. Two-Face or the Black Mask are gangster types who are capable of using a gun or fighting, but don't have the physique or skill needed to take Bats on in a straight fight.
  • In the pages of Iron Man and The Avengers, we have seen guys like the Roxxon Oil heads, Justin Hammer, and the leaders of the Maggia who were corrupt business men or mafia bosses who could not go up against the heroes one-on-one and often employed super villains. Obidiah Stane and Count Neferia also started off this way but both men either gained powers later or eventually wore a suit if Power Armor.
  • Darth Vader, of all people ended up this way in the Marvel Star Wars comics. The reasoning behind this was that Lucas Arts did not want to have Vader and Luke fighting too often, lest it conflicted with the movies, which the comics were supposed to coincide with.
  • Most of the X-Men's human villains like Reverend Stryker, Bolivar Trask, Senator Kelly, Arcade, etc., since they mainly represent humanity's hatred of mutants (except Arcade, who's just crazy).
  • The Kingpin is interesting in that he is a very strong and skilled fighter but is usually in the mob boss role. In his earliest appearances, he had legitimate Super Strength and could fight guys like Spider-Man and even overpower him. Once he became a Daredevil villain, he was brought down a peg or two and less likely to fight Spider-Man. Instead, when he shows up in Spidey's books now, he is usually employing supervillains.

    Film 
  • Cutler Becket from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. He loves to sit and enjoy his tea while he watches his armies fight against the pirates. According to secondary materials he is an expert swordsman but never gets the chance to show it in the films.
  • Dieter von Cunth in MacGruber, for all his fearsome reputation, just stands there and gets his ass kicked when the finale comes.
  • Sauron from The Lord of the Rings film series is a partial case. He does come out, and he DOES do some major damage in the prologue against the Last Alliance. But he never comes out to play again during the main story arc; in the film explicitly because his form is just an eye on his tower.
  • Rex Lewis/The Doctor/Cobra Commander in G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Slightly subverted. While he does leaves the dirty work to his Vipers and McCullen, he does use his tools in wanting to torture Duke. Which makes sense since Rex blames Duke for his apparent death.
  • Discussed in Unbreakable, where the mother of Elijah Price, a comic art gallery owner, mentions the "soldier villain", basically an Elite Mook who fights with his fists, and the mastermind villain, who plots and plans and is often much more dangerous. David Dunn, the Nigh Invulnerable protagonist, runs into the film's Big Bad, who is an example of the latter, pretty much immediately afterwards. It turns out to be Elijah.
  • Alexander Pierce in Captain America: The Winter Soldier does nothing more in terms of action than use a gun to hold people hostage a few times. Dr Zola is much the same, although he at least has the excuse of being a computer now.

    Literature 
  • In Animorphs, the Council of Thirteen may count as Non-Action Bigger Bads, as they're political leaders and their hosts are apparently just normal Hork-Bajir and Taxxons (though a few have unknown hosts). They could take a normal human in a fight, sure, but they probably wouldn't stand up to the Animorphs. Their morph-capable servant, Visser Three, is the real Big Bad.
    • Subverted with Visser One. You wouldn't think a middle-aged housewife could be very formidable in a fight, even if she is controlled by the leader of the initial invasion of Earth. You would be wrong.
  • Grand Admiral Thrawn from The Thrawn Trilogy. He's actually implied to be at least a decent fighter, and is described as being powerfully built, but he has no interest in engaging in combat himself- it's strategy and trickery that hold his interest, not brawling. The Thrawn Trilogy Sourcebook gives him ridiculously high stats, but then again it's made so that fans can roleplay through the events of the trilogy, and they might be able to force a physical confrontation.
    • Explicitly averted in one of his later (but chronologically earlier) appearances. One of Thrawn's intricate plans includes a requirement for an elite bounty hunter's involvement. The bounty hunter is the linchpin of the plan, and would have to be given more information than such an inherently mercenary individual should be trusted with. Thus, Thrawn simply puts on a suit of Mandalorian armor and assumes the role himself. Sharpshooting included.
  • The Big Bad for the first six books of Galaxy of Fear is a Shi'ido named Borborygmus Gog. While the series' other Shi'ido, Hoole, takes several different forms in order to fight various menaces, Gog prefers to use his talents for impersonation and trickery. His menace comes from his projects and schemes, and while he menaces people with a blaster a couple times and once detonates an Explosive Leash in a creation's skull, he never actually fights anyone himself.
  • Lord Straff Venture in the second Mistborn book- he's a thoroughly evil man, but is middle-aged, out of shape, and a Tineye (meaning that he has magical abilities, but they involve Super Senses rather than anything physical). As such, he prefers to work through his army and his Ax-Crazy Dragon and illegitimate son Zane.
  • Lord de Worde in The Truth doesn't hit people. He hires people to do that.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire provokes endless debate among fans as to who the Big Bad is, or if indeed such a Crapsack World even has a single person who would qualify. However, all of the possible candidates fall into this trope, as they are all politicians and manipulators who do not do any fighting themselves.

    Live Action TV 
  • Most of 24's Big Bads, who prefer to leave the fighting to The Dragon or other more violent underlings.
  • Linderman from Heroes, who as a seemingly friendly old man with healing as his power is the only Big Bad without decent combat skills.
  • The First Evil in Buffy the Vampire Slayer who, having no physical form, must resort to Mind Rape as well as The Dragon and its Elite Mooks. It does not want to be this trope and attaining a physical form is implied to be its endgame (since it is Made of Evil, the more evil it can make the world the closer to fulfilling this ambition it gets). On the flipside, it is completely invincible and As Long as There Is Evil it will always exist, so its a pretty high-functioning example of this trope.
  • Tousei Kaneshiro from GARO The One Who Shines In The Darkness. Justified, as he knows that the sect of demon hunters that oppose his plans are forbidden to slay ordinary humans. Thus, his complete lack of superpowers ironically becomes the perfect defence against his superpowered enemies.
  • Doctor Who is full of Big Bad's like these, most notably Davros, the crippled Kaled scientist who created the Daleks. He can't do much beyond sit and talk and laugh maniacally, although he gets an artificial hand that can shoot bolts of electricity later in the series. Although the show does make a point of having most enemies being the cerebral type or the overwhelming force type (or both), who are almost always defeated by outwitting them.
    • The Daleks were occasionally depicted in this way in stories such as Frontier in Space in which the Master was said to be working with the Daleks as silent partners. Notably, they were mentioned but did not appear in that story. In The Daleks Master Plan, the more visible and active Big Bad was Mavic Chen and even included an appearance by the Meddling Monk. Villains who can't climb stairs or move very fast are probably going to prefer having more mobile henchmen to do their work. The Daleks are frequently depicted this way in the Expanded Whoniverse.
  • Common enough in Justified. While Boyd Crowder (Seasons 1-the present), Bo Crowder (Season 1) and Robert Quarles (Season 3) were capable (and in Quarles' case, terrifying) combatants, most of the other big players rely on their underlings to do their fighting for them. Mags Bennett (Season 2) was an older woman who operated through her sons and never personally pulled the trigger, Nicky Augustine (Season 4) executed an unarmed man, but always let Mr. Picker do the fighting, and Theo Tonin (Bigger Bad to Quarles and Augustine) never appeared in person, operating through more physically capable agents like Sarno and Elias Marcos.
  • In Blake's 7, Servalan was originally meant to be just this. It was initially thought that the Supreme Commander (later President) of the Federation would have better things to do than personally go around chasing Blake. In the real world, a Commander in Chief wouldn't command a flagship during wartime, let alone go about chasing terrorist units. Those are jobs for his generals, admirals, and Black-ops units. The Federation was just that big. Originally, he (yes, Servalan was orignially conceived as a male character) was only to have only appeared once in the series. Jaqueline Pearce's performance was so well received that she became a regular character and archenemy of Blake and Avon.

     Music 
  • Dr. Wily in The Protomen's albums. It's lampshaded in Act I.

    Video Games 
  • King Cepheus and Lady Vega in the first two Mega Man Star Force games tend to rely on their ultimate weapons, Quirky Miniboss Squads, and minions to do the fighting for them. In both games, the final boss isn't the villain, it's the device they planned to use to take over/destroy (delete as applicable) the world.
  • Sofia Lamb from BioShock 2. Andrew Ryan of the first game as well, until you deal with him and Fontaine takes over the show.
    • Likewise, Zachary Comstock from Bioshock Infinite is weak and dying from years of vigor abuse and in no shape to put up much of a direct fight against Booker. This wasn't always the case, but saying any more than that would spoil it.
  • Bob Page from Deus Ex. Although he's in the process of becoming a god, at that particular stage in the process he's so vulnerable that effectively all you do is turn off his life support.
  • Henry Leland in Alpha Protocol. He can be the final boss, but the fight is a joke and its made clear that this is just an act of desperation. Sergei Surkov is also one.
  • In the arcade version of The Combatribes, the main heroes spent the last two stages chasing after a man in a suit who fits the image of a stereotypical crime boss. When the crime boss is cornered in the final stage, he is betrayed and killed by his female bodyguard Martha Splatterhead, who proceeds to fight the player in her boss' place.
  • Caesar of Fallout: New Vegas does not fight in the game unless you decide to assault his fort, preferring to let his Dragon Lanius take command of the military campaign. It's justified in that he's an aging man with a brain tumor and doesn't put up much of a fight by himself, though statistically he is equivalent to an Elite Mook with nonexistent armor since he wears ceremonial robes and is surrounded by Praetorian Guards.
    • In the Old World Blues DLC, there's Dr. Mobius. While he spends the entire DLC siccing his Robo-Scorpions on you in as maniacal a manner as possible, when you actually meet him he turns out to be a heavily senile and grandfatherly old brain who can barely remember half of what he says. Most of his more maniacal rants are due to him taking Psycho. You can fight him, but he's hardly a match for you. Similarly, The Think Tank at the end are equally pitiful in combat, though it's made clear early-on that without their pacification field there's nothing stopping you from curb-stomping them.
  • Ozwell Spencer of Resident Evil is a crippled old man in a wheelchair. Needless to say, without the Undying Loyalty of his Dragon-in-Chief, Colonel Sergei Vladimir, he wouldn't be very dangerous.
  • Marian Mallon in Dead Rising 2: Case West is an Evil Cripple in a wheelchair. Needless to say, she has yet to be confronted.
    • In Dead Rising 3, she fights Nick with a series of cranes, but doesn't physically challenge him. She is later killed unceremoniously by the game's real Big Bad.
  • Major General Nikita Dragovich from Call of Duty: Black Ops. The best he can muster against Mason and Hudson when he confronts them directly at the end of the game is to try and shoot the former with his sidearm, before being easily beaten up and choked to death.
    • The same can be said of Imran Zakhaev from the original Modern Warfare. Without his Ultranationalist armies to protect him, he's just an angry old dude with one arm. The only reason he manages to kill Gaz and most of Soap's other squadmates is because they previously had a tanker truck explode in their faces. The moment Soap gets hold of a gun, he's done for.
  • After spending the second game in an uneasy alliance with Shepard, the Illusive Man becomes this in Mass Effect 3, with Kai Leng acting as The Heavy. It's kind of like they split the role Saren had in the first game into two people - Shepard and the Illusive Man constantly try to talk the other around to their way of thinking, while Leng is an exclusively physical threat who ends up on the wrong end of Shepard's omni-blade.
    • Originally, the creators intended for the players to fight a reaperized version of The Illusive Man as the final boss. However, they felt that since TIM was meant to be a villain whose intelligence was his greatest weapon it would undercut the character for him to become a Giant Space Flea from Nowhere.
    • The Catalyst doesn't seem to have any weapons, powers, or anything else to oppose you or anyone else, until the Crucible is plugged in - yet, as the Reapers' governing intelligence, it at least indirectly controls thousands upon thousands of enormous machines designed and optimised solely to destroy entire species.
  • Dr. Breen in Half-Life 2. The final battle consists of sabotaging his teleporter before he can run away (nuking you in the process), while he taunts you.
  • In Evil Genius, the Evil Genius character is unable to attack enemies (though that doesn't stop him/her from dispatching Mooks).
  • Dr. Neo Cortex of the Crash Bandicoot series, he's a super genius and at least arms himself with a deadly laser gun, but he's also a weedy midget with a head almost bigger than his stick-like body. Granted Rule of Funny applies on occasion, in Crash Twinsanity he actually brawls with Crash toe to toe.
  • The alien brain in X-COM does absolutely nothing but sit in its underground base, waiting for someone to shoot it.
  • Hyman Roth in The Godfather 2. Once you get past his plans and mooks, he's a Zero-Effort Boss who can be killed however you like with ease.
  • Jack Denham in Syndicate (2012). He tries to shut down your CHIP, but when that fails he doesn't raise a single weapon.
  • Victor Branco in Max Payne 3. The one time he tries to pull a gun on Max, he gets disarmed quickly and only The Dragon saves him. The "boss fight" with him is just blowing out his private jet from under him.
  • In Ace Combat: Joint Assault, neither the Valahaia leader nor Oliveri fight you in the air.
  • Action Doom 2: Urban Brawl: Peter Crisp, the old, wheelchair-bound Corrupt Corporate Executive, who doesn't actually do anything during the final showdown, instead sending waves of mooks (and a helicopter) at you.
  • Sly Cooper: Thieves In Time has Le Paradox, to an extent. As Sly points our while dishing out a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, Le Paradox never actually stole the Coopers' various canes himself, instead leaving it up to his various partners to do all of the dirty work for him. That being said, he does put up a good fight against Sly during the Final Boss fight.
  • Tomb Raider (2013) has Mathias, who largely leaves it up to his Solarii goons or Himiko's Stormguard to do the fighting for him. He does attack Lara in the finale, but is easily shot off of a cliff.
  • Resident Evil 6 has Carla Radames, Ada's Doppelgänger. She's more of a schemer than a doer, but as shown when she oversees Jake's capture and personally infects Chris' squad, she's more than capable of getting her hands dirty if she has to.
  • In Byteria Saga: Heroine Iysayana, The Man Behind the Man Behind The Man is an unidentified superior being attempting to bring down the Celestial Bureaucracy. He doesn't want the archangels to come for him, of course, so he stays hidden and lets Paulinus, his mortal Dragon-in-Chief, execute his plan. He only (carefully) manifests himself when he tries to convince the heroes to join him; he could presumably wipe the floor with them but doesn't risk leaving traces.
  • City of Heroes:
    • The Center, leader of the Council. Heroes have only ever been able to talk him via radio in a mission added over six years after the game's launch. Villains can meet him in person during one of their story arcs, where he is indeed not a combatant.
    • King Midas, leader of the Gold Brickers, has never appeared in person at all.

     Web Comics 

     Web Original 
  • The Shadow Overlord in the "Rise of Red" story arc of The Irate Gamer. He's trapped in a mirrored prison and relies on the Evil Gamer and R.E.D. to carry out his plot to defeat the Irate Gamer. He is ultimately crushed by the decapitated head of the Humongous Mecha sent to destroy his arch enemy, who remains in the dark about his existence.

    Western Animation 
  • Subverted by Tombstone from The Spectacular Spider-Man. Spider-Man invokes this trope, right before Tombstone beats him in less than 5 seconds.


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