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Not-So-Harmless Villain
Buffy: (cracking up) Harmony has minions?!
Xander: And Ruffles have ridges. Buffy, there's actually a more serious side to this.
Buffy: God, I hope so.

Okay, so you have a villain, and, for whatever reason, you do not take them seriously. You might not even think about them at all. They might have a lame gimmick, or a weird name, or maybe they just do not stand out among the Mooks. They are not exactly on your radar. Even if you do remember them, you think they are either a nobody or a total joke.

Then along comes a life changing event (and an editorial decision) when they will just not stand for it anymore. Some of them just... snap. Others put themselves through Training from Hell. Either way the villain reinvents themselves from the bottom up, into someone who is not only able to show the heroes exactly why they are called their enemy, but often even become the Big Bad or The Man Behind the Man. This is when a villain decides to become their own Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

Should they fail to do so, they will become a Big Bad Wannabe.

Often the result of a Darker and Edgier reinvention of a franchise.

Compare From Nobody to Nightmare and Beware the Silly Ones. Breakout Villains are prone to becoming Not So Harmless. Contrast Villain Decay and Boisterous Weakling. When applied to minor heroes instead of minor villains, it's Let's Get Dangerous. See also Team Rocket Wins.

Possible inherent spoilers ahoy, so read at your own risk.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Pokémon: Even in the main series, Team Rocket, the bumbling buffoons who stalked a ten-year-old for 13 years, had an occasional genuinely good plan that is foiled only due to Ash's sheer determination, and were extremely competent as good guys. But in Pokemon: Best Wishes they are taking about a thousand levels in badass. Now they take orders from Giovanni, try not to go after random Pokémon, and if they're "blasting off again" they're escaping using Jet Pack|s. However, as of the XY series, they are back to their old bumbling selves.
  • Wolfen Crest: High school gonks Kurota and his twin brother are chronic bedwetters who happen to look like if John Lennon in his younger years made sweet love to a buck-toothed weasel. They are also members of one of the most powerful and brutal gangs in the city, and they didn't earn it through any connections. Both brothers were born without pubic hair and an inability to masturbate due to phimosis, making them possible targets of ridicule and teasing among the school once their secrets were exposed. However, they confronted the bullying as soon as it started by targeting the boy who acted like the boss of the class and the girl who jeered them most by severing their genitals and slicing off their noses. Since then no one dared speak or make fun of the brothers' condition ever again.
  • Code Geass:
    • Prince Schneizel. There's hints to him being like this early on.
    • Nina Einstein has this trope covered pretty well in her own right. Who would've thought that her handiwork killed more people in about ten seconds than any of the other characters killed? All series? Put together? Times a hundred? At least? Way to earn that last name. "Oops" doesn't even begin to cover it.
  • Gouyaan in Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash☆Star is clearly Kefka's star pupil. He's a fat guy with a pinecone on his head whose main purpose is to be annoyed by the Quirky Miniboss Squad in front of the Big Bad. Then he destroys the world.
  • Ogura Bunta of Samurai Champloo, who played the lackey to Harmless Villain and Dirty Coward Nagamitsu to facilitate his search for vengeance against Jin.
  • Lithuania in Axis Powers Hetalia is a small country in Europe with a Kick the Dog history that resulted in him being seen as the number one woobie on the show. Then the strip/episodes concerning the Battle of Tannenberg shows that he can Take a Level in Badass and make even Prussia swallow his ego.
  • Digimon Adventure:
    • Etemon is a crowning example of this trope. He is an Elvis-impersonating monkey with, if you look closely, a teddy bear worn on his belt. (The teddy bear's actually a doll of a teddy bear Mon that also proved Not-So-Harmless Villain.) You figure he's got no game... until he summons up his Dark Network that lets him control everything electronic in the area, which instantly disables our heroes' digital-Evolutionary Levels-based powers and destroys the entire village. Later episodes depict him having an army of very large and destructive Mons, and he himself being strong enough to throw around opponents many times his size while shrugging off their best attacks. Then by the end of the series, he came back more powerful than ever as MetalEtemon. Unfortunately for him, by that point the kids had become powerful enough that it took only two of them (with some help from Leomon's Mega form) to bring him down again, even though Leomon did die from his injuries in the fight.
    • Also happened with Tailmon, who looks like a harmless cat. When the children first met her Jyou tried to shoo her away... only to have her beat the crap out of all their Digimon.
    • Impmon was a pest to the Tamers instead of a villain, throwing fire balls and scaring their Digimon away. No one saw him as anything more than a nuisance. Then he became Beelzebumon, stabbed an ally to death, and defeated the heroes one after another before losing to Gallantmon (whom he would have beaten had Guardromon not interfered). Eventually, he did a Heel-Face Turn and became even more badass.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Commander Blue of Dragon Ball. Goku thought he would be a weakling (because, well, have you heard that guy's voice?), but this perception was quickly turned on its head when Blue turned out to be about as powerful as he is, with the additional ability to paralyze people just by looking at them. However he stood little chance against Tao.
    • Majin Buu. When he first shows up, he acts like an innocent toddler, and everybody's default reaction is "WTF?" (save Supreme Kai, who knows all too well what Buu is capable of). Then he starts effortlessly pwning the strongest characters in the series, devouring thousands of people at a time by turning them into candy, and shrugging off mortal wounds as though they are nothing. Then his evil side is unleashed...
    • Naturon Shenron in Dragon Ball GT. He initially appears to be a clown who is more interested in digging holes rather than fighting, but it turns out to be a case of Obfuscating Stupidity: as soon as he absorbs Pan, he shows his true colors and starts using Pan's powers to blow up numerous buildings and kill several innocents For the Evulz. If he hadn't fallen for Goku's Wounded Gazelle Gambit in the end, he could very well have won.
  • Fuku-chan in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, also The Man Behind the Man. To add insult to injury, he's the Small Annoying Creature.
  • Slayers:
    • Hellmaster Fibrizo. The first impression of him is just that of a young boy, and a little girl in the manga. This impression fades quickly upon the revelation that he is one of the most powerful Mazoku Lords, a fact he proves by effortlessly killing the previous Big Bad Chaos Dragon Gaav, another Mazoku Lord. He plays merry hell with the protagonists as the rest of the season's Big Bad, and they are nearly helpless against him. It takes a literal Deus ex Machina to take him down for good.
    • In the first Slayers, a Mazoku named Tiiba almost kills the group when they try to discover Rezo's legacy, the tablet needed to awaken the Demon Beast Zanaffar. When they first encounter him, he's a pudgy, comical, dwarf-sized humanoid rooster in a dapper little waistcoat. The group describe him as: "A chicken" (Lina and Zelgadis), "A chicken from every angle" (Amelia) and "Quite possibly the chickenest looking chicken I've ever seen" (Gourry). Even Sylphiel couldn't bring herself to describe him as anything other than a chicken.
    • And in season 2, there's an unnamed Mazoku that looks like a giant tribal mask with arms and legs. The only thing Lina can think of is how stupid he looks, and he seems to get quickly dispatched almost immediately after appearing. He comes back later, though, and proves to be a surprisingly tough nut to crack, mostly because he can summon several smaller masks that do an excellent job of protecting him from Lina's magic (doesn't help when Lina decides to Dragon Slave the entire building, though).
    • Joyrock, the Big Bad of The Movie, is first introduced as a rather ugly and goofy frog. However, he might not count, seeing as he quickly drops the disguise for his real form (a snake-headed troll) and showcases just how sadistic and malicious he is with such stunts as sucking the life out of a village in case Lina might pass that way, turning their corpses into zombies and setting them on Lina and Naga when they did, and then disintegrating the zombies with three words simply because he was bored with them.
  • The latest arc in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki introduces Gouyokuou. In the episode he is introduced, he seems to be a hilariously Fish out of Water alien looking for the woman he loves and so weak that Kyoka is able to punch him into the air with ease. Then it's revealed that he is so powerful, if even one of his Power Limiter rods is removed, he can level a city with no effort. If all of them are removed, it's Earth-Shattering Kaboom time. The end of the second episode of his arc hints at a darker side of his personality; a Stalker with a Crush willing to use his world destroying powers to get the woman he wants...
  • Kyuutarou Ooba from Kemonozume spends most of the show as a harmless if somewhat eccentric bureaucrat before revealing himself as the show's primary antagonist, a criminal mastermind and a hyper-wealthy, nihilistic psychopath who masturbates with a girl's dismembered arms and markets a medicine that makes people eat each other. He's also revealed to have grafted monster arms onto himself that give his round little body incredible strength, and intentionally mutates himself to the point where he's just a constantly shifting mountain of flesh by the series's final episode - one that delivers monologues on the futility of existence, natch.
  • Pesci from JoJo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5 starts off as an incredibly weird-looking, cowardly sidekick to the more competent Prosciutto and has a seemingly weak Stand-ability as well. Upon Prosciutto's defeat however he suddenly gains new resolve, comes up with lethal new ways to use his Stand and ends up becoming one of the most dangerous foes the gang faces during the part.
  • Naruto:
    • When Naruto and friends first come across Kabuto Yakushi, he comes off as an amiable and somewhat less-than-competent fellow (flunking the Chuunin Exams seven times, no less!). Before long, both his affiliations and his abilities prove far more sinister than his appearance would suggest.
    • Tobi. While he is an Akatsuki member, he seems to be nothing more than comic relief until he turns out to Madara Uchiha, a legendary Diabolical Mastermind who is insanely resilient, Made Of Air, and can teleport himself and anything he touches to anywhere, with his "good boy" act presumably being to deceive his fellow members into not realizing that he was the real leader. Even after it's revealed that he's actually Obito Uchiha, it doesn't keep him from holding his own against Killer Bee, Naruto, Kakashi, and Might Guy, four of the strongest ninja in the world, all at the same time, controlling the pace of the fight until his intangibility's weakness is found out.
    • Everyone and their grandmother weren't expecting much (at least physically) out of the elderly one-armed and one-eyed Danzo, until he revealed his Sharingan and then — did he just use that guy's head as a sword-holster!? And he does it in order to have a free hand to immediately use said guy to stop numerous incoming blades thrown at him, without a single change of facial expression.
  • One Piece:
    • Foxy the Silver Fox. Foxy's a flashy, fame-hogging, pigheaded fool. He's pudgy, strange looking, and needs his crew to constantly buff his ego or he'll sink into depression. Oh, and he's also got a really powerful Devil Fruit ability that allows him to get the drop on anyone and pound them into oblivion before they know what's hit them. To be more specific about Foxy, his Fevil Fruit power slows everything down to the point of almost stopping it in place. Furthermore, whatever hits they recieve while they're slowed down will be delayed until the fruit's effects wear off, causing all those attacks to hit all at once. Thanks to this ability, low blows and cheap shots, he was able to beat the living daylights out of Luffy, and even came close to actually defeating him a few times. Unfortunately for him, he was Hoist by His Own Petard when Luffy used a mirror shard to reflect his ability back at him.
    • Buggy and Mr. 3 found out this the hard way that Impel Down's Vice-Warden Hannyabal is Not So Harmless despite not having a Devil Fruit or the reputation of his fearsome boss, Warden Magellan. The funny thing is he was going to allow them to get past him so his boss will get in trouble, but they had to go ahead with their suicidal idiotic somewhat predictable otherwise ingenious plan of taking him out, only to face an asskicking for it.
    • From the Baratie arc, we also get Gin. When first introduced, the combination of nearly dying of starvation and his still being shell-shocked from his encounter with Hawkeye Mihawk left him seeming rather pathetic. Near the end, we get The Reveal that Gin is actually Don Kreig's right hand guy, and he promptly takes down the heavily armored Pearl with one shot and then hands Sanji his ass. Not only that, it's implied that Gin is actually stronger than Kreig, and is only second in command because he's been too loyal to make a move against his boss.
    • The workers of Water 7, including a bartender named Blueno, a stern and hot-tempered secretary named Kalifa, a happy-go lucky shipwright (as well as a possible new crew mate), and finally the aloof Rob Lucci. Too bad all of them were actually undercover agents for a powerful assassination force for the government, proceeded to beat the crap of the Straw Hats and are total Blood Knight fighters.
    • The biggest one is Blackbeard, a plump man with missing teeth and a optimistic personality, but is considered to be a candidate for the series Big Bad, after killing the strongest displayed pirate so far, defeating Luffy's "brother" Ace easily, using the government to get a strong enough crew and power in order to become the next Pirate King, and murdering Whitebeard to steal his power.
  • Due to the semi-serious nature of its first half, followed by the seriousness of the second half, Gundam ZZ does this to a few people. In the case of Chara, it was mainly her playing the Fanservice card with that whip. With Mashimar Cero though, the somewhat-bumbling but honorable and idealistic Neo Zeon officer returns as a brutal and cruel officer that oversees a Colony Drop.
    • And then there's Glemmy Toto. In the first half he's a joke character in a joke squadron led by a joke commander. By the end he's revealed himself as a clone of Gihren Zabi, the franchise's original Big Bad, and set himself up as a rival to Big Bad Haman Khan, sparking a devastating Enemy Civil War in the process and unleashing an army of clones.
      • The reason for Glemmy's sudden competence and ruthlessness is that his new role in the second half of the series was originally meant for a different character entirely: Char Aznable. This was changed so that the final showdown between Amuro and Char could instead be shown in a movie.
  • Bleach:
    • Starrk, who despite seeming very lazy, is the most powerful of the Espada.. This also applies to his fraccion, Lilynette.
    • Yammy, rampaging idiot and 10th Espada Zig Zags with this trope. At first it seems he's incredibly weak, then he reveals that he's actually the 0th Espada and technically above Starrk. And he still gets his ass kicked. Then he reveals that he's just not at full power and goes to full power mode. And he still gets his ass kicked. Just to drive the fact of Yammy's weakness home, Kenpachi called their fight "boring", a criterion he applies to any fight where his life isn't in danger at any point.
    • Wonderweiss is like mentally impaired or something, being easily distracted by a dragonfly in the middle of a battle and barely capable of speech. He's also got spiritual power on par with the Espadas and he's strong enough to take out a Vizard and was specifically created to seal away Yama-ji's sword.
    • Dordonii is initially shown as a somewhat eccentric and comedic villain until he reveals to Ichigo that he used to be an Espada and proceeds to beat the shit out of him.
    • More recently, we've been introduced to Shishigawara, Tsukishima's hopelessly naive, blundering, and hot-blooded minion. His Fullbring also lets him manipulate probability into devastating results. ...Yeah, this generally makes the Big Bad a tad nervous and wants him dead for it.
    • Riruka Dokugamine has power over "cute things". Rukia dismisses her, saying that since Riruka is a human that she won't kill her... Riruka responds by turning Rukia into a plushie. That's not even the half of it. It works in reverse. Once this power is activated, there is no trace of her ability. Things would have gotten very, very ugly, had she not decided Ichigo and co. weren't so bad after all.
  • Florsheim in Tentai Senshi Sunred is presented as being an organization of nice guys, average Joes and all around friendly people despite the fact that they're monsters. They constantly lose to Sunred and are seen as nothing more than a joke. When a new villain group steps in, Sunred directs them to fight Florsheim first and they get beaten immediately. There's a reason Florsheim's held their territory for so long.
  • Miyo Takano from Higurashi: When They Cry. Sure, she was awfully suspicious in season 1 and 2 but...Wow. However, that person has an excuse.
  • YuYu Hakusho:
    • Shorin appears somewhat unimpressive to his opponents and having power levels only barely above what he needs to pass (although the opponent he defeated in the first round was even weaker). He turns out to be the demon Rando, who killed 99 martial arts masters after stealing their techniques, and Yusuke only realizes this by process of elimination - he keeps up the facade until he manages to shrink and defeat Kuwabara using a technique he stole.
    • Zig-zagged with Onji in the Dark Tournament. He sports some moves in Team Uratogi's quarterfinal match, but next to his teammates, he looks like a normal, friendly old man. Then he effortlessly beats Kuwabara, and reveals himself to be the one who gave his members their powerful Items of Darkness. Then he reveals himself as "The Beautiful Demon Fighter Suzuki"...and gets thrashed by Genkai.
    • Elder Toguro. He is thought to be helpless without the aid of his younger brother, until he volunteers to fight in a three-on-one match in the Dark Tournament and wins without so much as a scratch on him. In addition, he could have easily killed Kuwabara had he not elected to Mind Rape him first by revealing that his friends had not told him that Genkai was dead, and then disrespecting her memory.
  • Death Note:
    • Although he's frightening to look at, it is easy to underestimate Ryuk. Villain Protagonist Light seems a lot worse, and with his addiction to apples and other humorous qualities, Ryuk tends to come across as Plucky Comic Relief and Light's "pet". Then comes the ending of the series where Ryuk fulfills his early promise that he will one day write Light's name in his notebook, and casually kills Light, who has just had a pathetic Villainous Breakdown. Truly, Light, like the audience, forgot that he was dealing with a death god.
    • Part of the Fridge Horror left in the ending is that Ryuk is the ultimate Karma Houdini; there's nothing stopping him from dropping a Death Note into the human world again if he ever gets bored.
  • Toshiya from The World Is Mine starts out as Mon's weak-willed bitch, even wearing a female disguise and pretending to be Mon's girlfriend in public. Things begin to change after they're killed by "Hakumadon" and Mon can't stand to kill. In addition to becoming the primary murderer of the two, he's also considerably more tech- and social-savvy than Wild Child Mon and he becomes increasingly vicious and manipulative as the story goes on.
  • Kurotowa in the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga pulls the switch from "harmless" to "one to watch out for" in record time, going from appearing to be arrogant, toadying buffoon to effortlessly deflecting an assassination attempt in the space of his first appearance. And then, in his second appearance, he took control of a corvette and piloted it like an expert, even using the smoke from downed craft to cover his approach. It's even more jarring if you watched the anime first, as there all he manages is one of the most half-assed, pathetic Big Bad Wannabe attempts ever.
  • In Kero Kero Chime, Oroboros initially appears to be a pathetic gag villain who, at best, is destined for a hilarious failure of a Big Bad Wannabe. Then he turns out to be the real Big Bad, banishes everyone to another world, and only narrowly fails to pull off his evil scheme.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!!, Kurt Godel manages to pull this off in the space of a single chapter. He's introduced as Manipulative Bastard and Consummate Liar with a lot of political power, but he has to be accompanied by a massive number of bodyguards because he's so frail. Then he kicks Negi's ass with one attack, even though Negi is made of lightning. Turns out that he's a master swordsman, and traveled with Ala Rubra in his youth. Oops.
  • In Bakugan we have Rabeeder. She's a Hybrid Bakugan and servant of Naga. Compared to the other gate keepers, she and her sister are quite ditzy and silly and seems like a pushover when the heroes first meet her, challenging the heroes to... a race? In fact she's harmless and hits on the main character. Total joke, right? Nope. When Rabeeder arrives on earth, Alice, while inexperienced at fighting on her own, volunteers to go after her under the impression that she is weak and with a little help seems to be doing fine. But then Rabeeder overhears that her sister had been defeated. Believing her sister to be KIA, she goes on a ''total rampage'' where she flings around the up-until-that-point's main and secondary antagonists' Bakugan like rag dolls and is unstoppable. She is only stopped by a lucky break when she discovers her sister isn't dead. The two reunite and Rabeeder calms down. But if she hadn't...
  • Sonic X:
    • Eggman alternates between being highly competent and not competent at all, so much so that it comes as quite a surprise for some when he talked Dark Sonic out of a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, while his even more harmless robot buddies held off a Metarex leader.
    • In earlier episodes at least, Eggman was actually genuinely formidable against most human forces and the majority of the main protagonists. It is only against Sonic that he falls in a flash (and he did give him a run for his money a few odd times). He also seems to become incredibly more competent whenever he forced to team up with Sonic.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Crump, The Dark Chick of Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Big 5 is a joke in his first appearance. His obsession with penguins makes him rather ludicrous, and he ultimately loses a match against Tea, one of the hero's cheerleaders. He returns a few episodes later, and alongside the rest of the Big 5, engages Yugi and Joey in a team duel—where he performs exceptionally well, using his Deck Master ability to power up Ganzley's WATER monsters, and maintaining control of the duel for the Big 5. It's not until the Big 5 move away from playing WATER creatures that he's forced to yield to Johnson, and in terms of overall performance he's just behind Lector.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds' second season, Carly Carmine is an unsuccessful, clumsy reporter that seems to never be able to do her job and always end up in bad (but funny) situations. Then she turns out being one of the five dark signers that will bring forth the end of the world as we know it. Oh whoooops.
  • Tetsuo in AKIRA especially in flashback scenes from Kaneda's memories. He seems incompetent as a member of a biker gang who barely pulls his own weight and has to be saved by his best friend on several occasions. Then he gets super powers.
  • Happens repeatedly in Black Butler:
    • First, we discover all of Ciel's goofy, incompetent staff weren't hired for their talents as servants (Sebastian's contract requires he be able to take care of everything himself anyway) but for their talents in defending the manor; the clumsy maid Mei-rin is a devastatingly skilled sniper, the groundskeeper Finny has superhuman strength, and the cook Baldo is an ex-soldier. Much later on, it also turns out that Ciel's fiancee Elizabeth, one of the only normal people he knows and the only child in the series that acts like one, is in fact an extremely Badass swordswoman who has been acting like harmless little girl because she was afraid Ciel wouldn't like her otherwise.
    • The Undertaker also fits this trope in its usual villainous angle in the manga; after seeming to be a quirky information broker for so long, he turns out to be a renegade Shinigami who kicked off a small-scale Zombie Apocalypse For the Evulz, and goes on to effortlessly wipe the floor with Grelle, Ronald, and Sebastian at the same time.
  • When Dietrich von Lohengrin of Trinity Blood first appears, he's a guy trying to take down the vampires who's helping Esther in her plans while supposedly ruining the main vampire's big plans as a double agent. And then he dies. Until it turns out he survived and had played both sides against each other to try and spark war between humans and vampires. He's the Puppet Master for a terrorist organization that wants to rebirth the world with death and is also a massive sadist with the ability to control people's bodies and body jump into them. He can even fight, able to defeat Radu's fire powers without even trying and going toe to toe with Abel towards the end of the anime. You think that's something? He's even worse in the original novels. His sadism is taken to disturbing extremes, including being a royal who slaughtered his family so he could have the freedom to torment his people as he saw fit. When he manages to bring Esther under his power during his first appearance, he mentions he can make her feel any sensation, including the experience of being raped by dozens of men or cut apart by hundreds of swords before making her shoot Abel. Oh, and in both versions he steals Radu's body and puts Esther and Ion into a kill or be killed situation by trapping them in a cell and causing Ion to go mad for blood with Esther being the only food source...and then throwing her a knife to allow herself to either kill Ion, kill herself or let Ion kill her. There's evil and then there's Dietrich von Lohengrin.
  • Stitch!:
    • In the second to last episode there was Dark End, an experiment created by the anime-only villain Deila to defeat Stitch . Not only was it an adorable (more so than Stitch) long-eared rabbit-like experiment with androgynous voice and features, it was powerful enough to (1) cause a giant fissure in a soccer ball field just by stamping its foot, (2) broke open a giant containment pod containing Gantu, 625, and Hamsterveil by lightly tapping its claw on the glass, (3) completely curb stomped Stitch till he lost consciousness twice! (but not without making him undergo a Humiliation Conga first), and wiped the floor with Stitch's nine other cousins. It wasn't until, through some contrived power gained from the love and support of Yuuna and her friends, that he was able to stand a fighting chance against Dark End.
    • There was also Twang, another flute carrying cat/rabbit-looking experiment who grew stronger the more attention and sympathy it got from those around it. This included framing Stitch in a Wounded Gazelle Gambit so Yuuna and her family would take its side. Databases suggested that with enough attention it would have become a hulking not-so-cute monstrosity.
  • Eda qualifies as one in Black Lagoon, though she hasn't even revealed exactly how far this goes. As example, during Greenback Jane arc, the usually happy-go-lucky Eda gets serious for once when one American gangster identified her as a CIA agent, and shut his mouth for his trouble.. And guess who provided our Termi-Maid with the Foxes' information? She really hates NSA, that's for sure. She's also one of the only people to make Chang lose his cool, so much so that he smashes the phone they were speaking on. After all, she did basically call him an insect compared to the might of the United States. And she told Roberta to "shut the fuck up and listen", after physically restraining her arm.
  • Holyland: Chapter 159 revealed that King, who appeared to be just a drug trafficking boss reliant on his two MMA fighter bodyguards, is quite skilled in Chinese Kenpo and even managed to strike fear in Shougo's heart.
  • Toriko: Uuman Umada, the weird guy with the five-o-clock shadow and the funny hair, looks like he's just the Pointy-Haired Boss for part of IGO. He's a mole for NEO, and once he gets the order, he carves up most of IGO's senior staff.

    Comic Books 
  • Jigsaw in The Punisher comics, though it took him several tries to actually reach serious villain status — indeed, what finally pushed him over the top was the ability to survive meeting the Punisher that many times. It's been explained that Frank considers Jigsaw a bane on the Underworld more than innocents. He gets to kill people by proxy letting the lunatic go.
  • The Flash:
    • The Top seems like a silly dude with a spinning top gimmick and a stupid suit, until he gets his mind back and turns into a genuinely terrifying villain. The fact that he was given actual superpowers and thus posed a more realistic threat to the Flash may have helped.
    • Even before that he engineered his own resurrection and then came within an ace of becoming President of the United States. The Top has always been smarter than you'd think.
    • The Rogues in general are this; more than once they have been underestimated by both heroes and supervillains alike. But in Rogues Revenge you can clearly see that just because Even Evil Has Standards does not mean that they are not a serious threat. Captain Cold has no problem ordering the death of his own father, and not ten minutes before killed some young Gotham punk who tried to take on his name. Heat Wave is a full-blown pyromaniac. Weather Wizard exploded a man from the inside using a tornado. Trickster once out-tricked the devil himself. As Flash himself has pointed out in the past, the Rogues aren't just a bunch of villains who each have their own sometimes silly-seeming gimmicks. They're Central City's version of the Mafia with their own sometimes silly-seeming gimmicks.
    • In the New 52, the Rogues have integrated the powers of their gadgets with their bodies; giving them metahuman powers and making them even more dangerous. Captain Cold, for example, can now slow down the Flash just by being too close to him.
  • The Batman graphic novels:
    • The Long Halloween and Dark Victory both do this for Calendar Man. Once a campy gag villain who committed relatively harmless crimes while dressing up in costumes based on specific days, his internment at Arkham changed him into a creepy, white-clad inmate who'd mastered the Hannibal Lecture, already knew the answers to the mystery Batman's trying to solve, and later manipulated a rehabilitated character back into madness. Unfortunately, the change didn't stick.
    • Later, in the Hush story arc, The Riddler, bitter that he's fallen so far in Gotham's criminal hierarchy, decides to team up with the new psycho on the block and puts Batman through the wringer. He figures out Batman's secret identity. The only thing that stops him from completely destroying Batman is that he has the answer to the ultimate riddle, and it's no good if everyone knows the answer. Thankfully for Batman, he eventually got hit in the skull with a mace and received a case of Easy Amnesia.
      Riddler: I used to be a somebody in this town. Now, everybody has a gimmick. I was going to show them all. And I did.
  • An earlier Riddler turn to Not So Harmless is in the Peter Milligan tale "Dark Knight, Dark City". For the first chapter, you think he's the same old Riddler, leaving clues to pointless crimes. Then he nearly kills a security guard... then a baby... then you find out that the crimes aren't the point, they're just a way of manipulating Batman to a fate worse than death. That's about the time one of Riddler's minions asks another, "Is it me, or is he starting to remind you of the Joker?"
  • G.I. Joe:
    Viper: This is too easy, Commander. Something has to go wrong.
    Cobra Commander: I won't stand for negativity in the ranks. (shoots Viper) You wait and see. Well, it's too late for you, but the rest of you, you just wait and see.
  • Black Hand was once a pathetic joke with a weapon that was dependent on stealing energy from Green Lantern's ring and a gimmick of committing crimes based on famous folk sayings. Then he found out he's destined to be the Antichrist leader of an army of zombie supervillains.
  • Though he wasn't completely harmless before, Doctor Destiny was always a traditional silver age villain, using dream powers to mess with gravity and create chaos while not really killing anyone. Cut to The 24 Hours story in The Sandman #6.
  • Batman #251:
    • After 20 years of campy, oversized set pieces and pies in the face and bloodless bank robberies, The Joker goes after some of his old henchmen who ratted him out. Audiences are expecting sneezing powder or filling their house with balloons, as Joker hands the first henchman a cigar, he thinks of how "classic Joker" it is. The old exploding cigar. Except the explosive in this one is nitroglycerin, and when the henchman lights it, waiting for a little "pop", it blows up his head and most of the room. Joker's back.
    • This scene was echoed exactly two hundred issues later, in Batman #451. Here, Joker (whose reputation has been soundly bolstered by the likes of The Killing Joke and A Death In The Family) goes hunting for the henchmen of a copycat Joker that has been terrorizing Gotham in his absence. He interrogates a small-time hood about the henchmen, and awards the guy with a cigar when he receives useful information. While the hood practically shits himself, thinking he's about to be blown to bits, Joker calmly walks away, musing to himself that it had been a perfectly ordinary cigar. "Never give 'em what they expect."
  • The Joker's Asylum II: Harley Quinn one-shot. Rival mobsters, cops and so on know that Harley is a fairly harmless character, whose Weapon of Choice is a big comedy mallet. But they're standing between her and Mr J on Valentine's Day, which means she's not kidding around anymore.
  • In the comics, Scarecrow gets his Not So Harmless upgrade in the "Absolute Terror" arc, where he terrorizes the whole of Gotham to the point it almost destroys itself in fear without using any fear gas. He simply uses psychology, and a few well-placed murders, to show the city that, if he wanted to, he could kill any one of them, no matter where they are.
  • The Penguin, as well. In his first venture as the Penguin, he attempts to muscle his way into a mobster's inner circle. When the boss starts laughing at him (because, seriously, he's a goofy looking guy and goes by "the Penguin") the Penguin kills him in cold blood and takes control of the group. Now the Penguin isn't one of the typical "criminally insane" Batman villains, he's just a mobster of short stature who happens to like birds.
  • Invincible villains have a tendency to do this, most notably Doc Seismic and the Lizard League. Both of them were jokes on their first appearance and Not So Harmless At All after that. Doc Seismic is a Mad Scientist with a glass jaw, but can still do a ton of damage with his inventions and clever planning until he's restrained. The Lizard League are a bunch of Animal Themed Superbeings who don't pose any threat to Invincible... but then, neither does almost anyone else on Earth. They can still do a lot of damage when Invincible is unavailable.
  • Spawn:
    • The Violator looks like a harmless, morbidly obese, clown with hygiene problems, but he is super strong and capable of ripping a man in half with his bare hands. His true form is absolutely frightening.
    • This especially comes up in the Animated Adaptation, when Spawn dismisses and threatens the seemingly harmless Clown one time too many. Clown smirks and says "you don't know who you're dealing with... but it's time you found out," and proceeds to change into his true, One-Winged Angel form to give Spawn the Curb-Stomp Battle of his life, all while lecturing him on his role in the coming apocalypse.
  • The Intelligencia from Fall of The Hulks. The team is made of M.O.D.O.K., Leader, Wizard, Red Ghost, and Mad Thinker. Together they have become a pretty deadly force. How deadly, you ask? They managed to out gambit Doctor freakin' Doom.
  • One of the upsides of the Brand New Day era of Spider-Man, to many fans, has been the recasting of C- and D-list loser villains into competent and credible threats. The Spot comes back as a vengeful psychopath who slowly drives his prey insane by stalking him, while the White Rabbit is an Ax-Crazy drug dealer who's willing to commit mass murder to collect the money she's owed. This also applies to classic Lee-Ditko-Romita villains like Electro, the Shocker, and the Rhino, who have all been rehabilitated from the Villain Decay they've suffered over the last several years.
  • The Iron Man villain the Living Laser was such a joke, everyone (even other villains) called him "the Living Loser". Eventually, however, his abilities were amplified by Count Nafaria, and even though this was temporary, it eventually turned him into a being of photons, making him far more dangerous and a true threat.
  • There once was a low-level biomage named Fleshmaster in Empowered. After being humiliated by his peers, he finally dared to use his powers on himself, and returned as the new superhero dWARf!. But since he was still being pissed off, he cooked up a really Big Bad-worthy scheme. Which was about killing all his peers at the same place where they once had humiliated them, the Capeys Awards.
  • Catman has received this treatment in spades, courtesy of Gail Simone in Secret Six. Essentially, he went from a fat slob with a cat gimmick to a sociopathic, lion-pride-leading, muscly badass somewhere in the Sahara with his insignia carved into his chest (by his own hand!) and a pair of razor claws.
  • Doctor Light was an incompetent villain for a long time. In Identity Crisis it was revealed that the League wiped his mind and deliberately turned him into a joke after he raped Elongated Man's wife. He recovered, and takes on the Titans. All of them.
  • Yellow Bastard of Sin City fame had this moment in his eponymous story. He was believed to have been comatose and missing a hand (among other body parts) and was no longer a threat. He comes back as a yellow, disfigured freak bent on revenge.
    Yellow Bastard: Recognize me, Hartigan? Huh? Do ya? Recognize my voice, you piece of shit cop? I look different but I bet you can recognize my voice!
  • In a lot of the Marvel/DC crossovers, the Badass Normal characters of one universe would always be looked down upon by the living god characters of the other. One particular example: Spider-Man is following Carnage as he's being transported to a prison across the country; along the way it passes through Gotham City, and Bats is very displeased with having the wall-crawler on his turf. However, Cassidy figures out a way to escape and goes bloody crazy at a time that the Joker also happens to be active, and rather unintentionally the heroes end up switching their villains. Carnage laughs off the Bat until he's taken down with expert planning, and Spider-Man really, really doesn't seem to perceive Joker as a physical threat, but Joker just won't stop, and dances happily across the Moral Event Horizon numerous times. After realizing just how similar he really is to Cassidy, down to hallucinating Joker's smile as Carnage's symbiot-grin, he almost beats Joker to death before Batman gets him to stop. Really, through the whole thing, nobody took anyone else seriously before the ass-kicking started except Batman.
  • Baby Face Finlayson from The Beano was a harmless villain in his early appearances in the 70s and 80s but he became not so harmless in Kev F Sutherland's strips in the 2000s where the character reached almost Big Bad status.
  • In JLA: New World Order, the White Martians invade and incapacitate all the superpowered heroes, but ignore Batman because he has no powers and they believe he can do nothing to stop them. Protex, launches into a rant about how Batman can do nothing against them, as he's Just One Man and a normal one to boot, which causes Superman to retort that Batman is "the most dangerous man on Earth". Batman proceeds to prove him right as he single-handedly turns the tide and turns the White Martians into terrified and paranoid wrecks.
  • The Condiment King in The DCU. A Canon Immigrant from Batman: The Animated Series, the Condiment King is usually treated as a throwaway, joke villain but in Robin #171 (April 2008), (after Poison Ivy had given him some tips on mixing spices in Arkham) Robin observes that the villain is potentially dangerous (he had just attempted to detonate a mustard gas bomb inside a mall, and his condiment guns could cause anaphylactic shock), but his ludicrous nature prevents the justice department taking him seriously.
  • Black Manta. How tough is the guy who can't beat Aquaman? Like Aquaman, a hundred times tougher than you probably think. Tough enough to kill you with his hands tied, turns out.
  • In Whatever Happened to The Man of Tomorrow?, the final enemy Superman faces is Mr. Mxyzptlk, who has gotten bored of playing pranks and decided to be truly evil.
  • Mark Waid's run on Daredevil has been doing this with Jester. For years, he was nothing more than a C-list Joker knockoff that no one took seriously, in-universe or out. Now he is a diabolical mastermind with a love of chaos and a need to make Matt's life hell. Culminated with him cheerfully crossing the Moral Event Horizon when he makes Foggy Nelson hang himself just to spite Matt.
  • Avengers Arena takes Arcade and makes him a genuine threat. By the end of the series, half the kids in Murderworld are dead, and he has escaped without punishment.

    Fan Works 
  • The Anti-SOS Brigade usually function as comic relief in You Got HaruhiRolled!. Not so once Emiri joins them, giving them the strength to defeat the SOS Brigade and kill all of Kyon's friends.
  • The protagonist is actually a sympathetic, though highly reluctant, interrogator in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic "You Obey." When it comes down to it, it is frightening just how brutally effective he is at getting the information he wants.
  • In Xenophilia and its spin-offs, Honeydew amounts to little more than a loud nuisance to Lero and his herd. Then comes Divided Rainbow, where we see Honeydew throw her lot in with a sadistic band of criminals...
  • The Legion of Doom in Challenge Of The Superfriends The End. After years of being a laughable band of losers, they encounter an Eldritch Abomination known as The Benefactor, who turns them into tormented, horrific things with the power to doom worlds.
  • Despite their small size and low level, the Kurisarimon and DarkScubamon from the Tamers Forever Series are vicious and numerous digimon whose predatory and opportunistic natures make them a threat even to Mega level Digimon.
  • In Mega Man Reawakened, Glyde's Birdbots are cute and goofy, and aren't dangerous in small groups, but in large numbers they manage to capture Megaman.
    • Quentin Emerald may be a hypocritical madman, but in Arc 4 he had Robert on the ropes and would have killed him if not for Protoman.
  • Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race has this in a big way with Dr. Wily. With most of his crazy plots from the show carried over, and how he had a tendency to foil his own schemes, Wily was generally seen as a foolish, if evil, old man by the readership. Even given his villainous breakdowns, rants, and increasingly dangerous plots, he didn't threaten the characters personally much post episode 4... until the episode 10 epilogue, where he personally and mercilessly tortures ProtoMan in cold blood. It ends with ProtoMan begging him to stop.
  • Boys Und Sensha-do gives this treatment to Anzio. In Girls und Panzer canon, they were defeated off-screen, apparently very easily, at the end of Episode 7 of the anime, and even in the manga, which showed the match in its entirety, went down more easily than Oarai's other opponents. Here, they give Oarai more trouble than Saunders, which they had curb stomped a few chapters ago, with the author reasoning that weaker schools like Oarai, that have to use unconventional tactics, are a better match against Miho than stronger ones.
  • In the My Little Pony/Dresden Files crossoverThe Dresden Fillies story False Masks, the villains are a group called the Order Triune, a society that has mistaken the pony-form Harry Dresden as the reincarnation of an Evil Overlord, and have made it their mission to kill him. After their various methods fail, they summon He Who Walks Behind. Twice!
    • The real shock comes when the true mastermind of the whole affair is revealed: Novel Notion, who had been outed as a spy, and was easily intimidated by Harry Dresden. He goes on to activate a spell that sacrifices the entire Order Triuneto summon a demon. Then he holds the family of the Mane 6 hostage to force them to fork over the Elements of Harmony.
  • In We Are All Pokémon Trainers, you'd think that two Go-Rock Squad Admins would be easy for our heroes to defeat. You thought wrong. The two of them gave our heroes quite a run for their money before Casval and Pentigan's actions helped turn the tide by temporarily fixing Gordor's pipe organ Power Styler and breaking their control over their hordes of Tyranitar and Metagross, as well as their secondary instruments getting stolen by Librarian's Hitmonchan.

    Films — Animation 
  • Zigzag, the grand vizier, in The Thief and the Cobbler seemed, at first, a Small Name, Big Ego who spun Rhymes on a Dime. Then he stole the golden balls protecting the city, giving them to Big Bad and Evil Overlord One-Eye. One-Eye is unappreciative, and has him thrown to the alligators. Zigzag tames them, going on to tell One-Eye "One mistake will suffice! Don't treat me lightly twice!"
  • The Lion King:
    • Those three hyenas. At first, they seem like a bunch of idiots who always fail every time, but at the end of the film, they all show their true dangerous selves when they kill Scar.
    • Scar himself. Many can tell that he's jealous of his brother's position, but no one had any idea how far he would go.
  • Megamind:
    • The eponymous Villain Protagonist, a super-intelligent Gadgeteer Genius and Mad Scientist. He seems harmless because he always gets defeated by that Flying Brick, Metro Man. But then he apparently gets Metro Man out of the way with a Kill Sat...
    • There's also Hal Stewart, the bumbling cameraman whom Megamind endows with Metro Man's powers so that he can have a rival. But once he gets rejected by Roxanne, he decides to become a supervillain instead, beating Megamind within an inch of his life, wreaking havoc on the city, and kidnapping Roxanne and threatening to kill her.
  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast has the villain Gaston, who starts out as just a vain, preening buffoon, certainly malicious, but more ridiculous than anything else. Then he incites a riot and leads a lynch mob against The Beast, and very nearly kills him.
  • Cars 2:
    • Grem and Acer, a pair of bumbling villains who appear to be based on two of the worst cars ever made. But then we see them kill Rod "Torque" Redline...
    • The first film has Chick Hicks, who is constantly losing to his rival Strip "The King" Weathers, and during the climax he almost killed the King!
  • The Jungle Book:
    • Shere Khan, the Big Bad, in spite of his occasional hammy and whimsical nature, is actually an evil bloodthirsty tiger bent on killing any human that's still in his jungle, especially the mancub he sees as Mowgli. In the sequel, he drops the hammy and whimsical aspect altogether.
      • This is more noticeable in the original novel, while no one doubts Shere Khan's wrath in the Disney films (except Lucky), the novel's rendition has a lame leg and is considered something of an narcissistic fool. He is still a great hulking tiger and actually shows something of a manipulative streak towards the wolves. Mowgli's rather elaborate defeat of Shere Khan would not be considered full of awesome if he wasn't such a dangerous force after all.
    • Even more so Kaa, he's much more of a flamboyant bumbler than Khan, but still there are few in the jungle immune to those hypnotic eyes. Even in the sequel, where his Butt Monkey role is upped quite a notch, he was a mere second from devouring Shanti.
  • The Coachman from Pinocchio. You can tell this by his Nightmare Face in his introductory scene.
  • Wreck-It Ralph's King Candy. At first glance, this CGI Mad Hatter knockoff seems as harmless as a sugar cube... Then comes The Reveal, where he shows everyone- viewers and characters alike - how "harmless" he really is.
  • Disney's Robin Hood: Prince John. Snivelling, childish, cowardly momma's boy? Check. Ruthless, greedy, amoral tyrant with a vindictive streak two miles wide? Check.
  • Kent Mansley from The Iron Giant. He's initially portrayed as an incompetent, neurotic bureaucrat who's in way over his head. And he is. But he's also a a cruel, sadistic government agent with enough power to make a little boy's life hell. And all these traits, combined with his ever-growing paranoia, leads him to put an entire town of innocent people (and himself) in jeopardy.
  • Willie the Giant from the "Mickey and the Beanstalk" segment of Fun and Fancy Free may be laughable enough, but he is also a violent kleptomaniac who has a morning star the size of a two-story house, which he is not afraid to use when he sees Mickey, Donald and Goofy trying to escape with the harp that he had stolen.

    Films — Live Action 
  • Men In Black:
    • Subverted then lampshaded. When Jay is being tested and they hit the firing range, he ignores the military examples shooting all the alien targets and fires one shot... at the target depicting a small, human girl. Once asked why "Tiffany" had to die, Jay completely dismantled the alien's apparently threatening appearances as doing harmless activities and notes the books on advanced physics the girl was carrying, books way too advanced for a kid her age, finishing that she's there to cause some trouble. Genre Savvy as that was, Jay still underestimated such issues as birthing aliens and the Noisy Cricket, but the biggest example of Not So Harmless was the coroner finishing off the Big Bad Bug.
  • Yuen Wah's character in Eastern Condors at first seemed like a comic relief villain (mostly due to his weird laugh), but turned out to be an incredibly intense martial artist at the end of the movie.
  • The Beast in Kung Fu Hustle. Bald, overweight, and at first dressed in a less than intimidating manner, even The Syndicate that freed him didn't believe he was really the Beast until he held a gun six inches away from his head, pulled the trigger, and caught the bullet. With two fingers. He quickly ascended to being the Big Bad.
  • The Dark Knight Saga
    • The Scarecrow in Batman Begins gets this treatment. Prior to this movie, he was best known as the go-to incompetent villain on Batman: The Animated Series. In the movie, he's introduced as a skinny and unintimidating psychologist with big pretty eyes. And then he sets Batman on fire.
    • In The Dark Knight, both Batman and the mob are shown dismissing The Joker out of hand. The mob considers Batman their more pressing problem, while Batman (somewhat hypocritically) rationalizes that he's just one man, and so can't possibly be more dangerous than the mob. He ends up destroying quite a bit of the city, driving the last nail into the mob's coffin and almost doing the same for Batman, and drives Harvey Dent to madness.
    • In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman, who has been out of action for roughly eight years, gets back in the batsuit, and is able to hunt down and capture several League of Shadow members who were trying to escape a bank robbery. The primary villain Bane manages to get away. Batman dismisses Bane as just another one of Ra's al Ghul's flunkies. When Bruce and Alfred review tapes of Bane's assault on the bank, Bruce brushes away Alfred's assessment of Bane's combat abilities, stating that he'll simply "fight harder". He teams up with Catwoman to go underground and take out Bane, only to be outsmarted by Bane and lured into a trap. Forced to fight Bane one-on-one, Batman learns just how "harmless" Bane is.
  • The Killer Rabbit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
  • In Blindness, The King Of Ward 3 is shown to be an obnoxious punk who simply disrespects the protagonists and loudly makes an ass of himself. Then he manages to find a gun, and becomes the most powerful tyrant in the place.
  • In the Kill Bill movies, Budd is the only member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to be down-on-his luck and there is some lip service paid to his lack of fighting ability. Bill has no doubt the Bride would be too much for him, Elle has a long list of insults for him, and the Bride herself seems overly confident when going after him. Despite this, he is the only member who defeats and captures the Bride, since he's a Combat Pragmatist.
  • Superman Returns does this to Lex Luthor. In the Donner films, He was an intelligent villain but was really more the scene-stealing comic relief. Luthor, as played by Kevin Spacey, is an icy Sociopath with a burning hatred of Superman and a complete and utter lack of morals. While the Donner Films showed him as amoral but cowardly, Luthor here personally lays a beatdown on Superman and stabs him with a knife made of Kryptonite. It is quite shocking to see in a film which seems to deliberately avoid making the Darker and Edgier trope.
  • Hocus Pocus:
    • The three witches in general. All silliness and hammyness apart, they murder a child in their introductory scene.
    • Special mention goes out to Sarah. She starts out as a ditzy, childlike Butt Monkey to her sister Winnifred, until it's revealed she actually has the power to lure victims to her by song. She then has a scene in which she creepily flies over Salem chanting "Come Little Children" and every child in Salem starts mindlessly walking toward the sisters' house, where the sisters mean to drain their life force. Moreover, Sarah Jessica Parker's delivery of her character's lines may make them funny, but really listen to what she is saying and try to say she doesn't sound like a Psychopathic Womanchild.
    Sarah (on a child) Ooh! Put him on a hook and let me play with him.
  • In The Adventures of Robin Hood, the Sheriff of Nottingham may be a fat coward, but he is the one who continually has the soundest advice to deal with the outlaw.
  • The Riddler in Batman Forever may have been a Large Ham, but all things considered, he managed to figure out who Batman was on his own and launched an assault on Wayne Manor that completely destroyed the Batcave and left Bruce for dead. If not for his need to utterly screw with Bruce serving as his downfall, the Riddler came the closest to killing Batman far beyond what any of the other villains in the pre-Nolan films achieved, not counting the amount of damage he inflicted alongside Two-Face and his successful gambit to play the people of Gotham City for saps with his Box devices.
  • Chris D'Amico/The Motherfucker in Kick-Ass 2 is quite incompetent and Laughably Evil... until he has the Colonel killed. He then starts crossing the Moral Event Horizon repeatedly.
  • Star Wars:
    • By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, the audience knows the Emperor is extremely evil. The movie itself then shows him to be terrifying intelligent and cunning; but he still looks like a frail and harmless old man who needs Vader to do the fighting. Then he starts blasting Luke with Force Lighting, effortlessly defeating him and showing everyone all how deadly he really is.
    • Similarly in Revenge of the Sith, the audience now knows just how dangerous Darth Sidious is in planning and using the force. This movie then shows he is also a Master Swordsman.
  • In Galaxy Quest there are the small creatures inhabiting the beryllium mining complex. Knee-high bipedal humanoids who look very cute and communicate in a baby talk language. Then they get pissed off...
  • Though it's clear he's not harmless, the smaller and leaner T-1000 at least looks this way compared to the physically imposing T-800 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. He goes on to completely Worf poor Arnie every time they tangle physically, and then he starts showing off his liquid metal capabilities.

    Literature 
  • In the last Star Wars New Jedi Order novel The Unifying Force, the true Big Bad of the series is revealed. Its not the Recurring Boss Nom Anor, nor is it Evil Overlord Shimrra. It's Onimi, the weak looking and disfigured court jester. The events that disfigured him also made him the only Force user among the Yuuzhan Vong, giving Onimi the ability to rule from behind Shimrra through Mind Control. In the Final Battle, Onimi also reveals the ability to produce deadly toxins giving Jacen Solo a run for his money.
  • In the Warhammer 40,000 tabletop game, da Orks are almost a Plucky Comic Relief faction, with an endearingly insane love of pointless violence. This is simply because their rulebooks are written from their perspective, where their actions are hilarious antics - when we see them in the Ciaphas Cain books, through the eyes of their victims, Orks aren't endearing, harmless or funny; they're brutal, disgusting, and completely psychopathic.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • "A Storm of Swords". If your first thoughts upon completing the book aren't "holy crap! Littlefinger is a psycho!", then you should seriously consider re-reading. The reader always knew he was a traitorous bastard, but he had a sympathetic backstory and was one of the most genuinely likeable characters in the series. But seriously, who knew he would go that far? It gets worse in A Dance with Dragons, despite not appearing in this book. He forced a 11 year old girl, Jeyne Poole, into prostitution and then married her to a serial killer.
      • This is even for characters within the books. Because of his house's low status, he's seen as ambitious but barely anything to lose sleep over. Then he instigates a devastating Civil War that tears Westeros apart, using the chaos it causes to become one of the most powerful men in the nation.
    • Also, Walder Frey, who started out as not so much a character as the punchline to a running joke. Then a certain infamous event occurs which turns him into one of the few villains who has no defenders, either among the other characters or among the fans.
    • Joffrey may count at the end of A Game of Thrones. Presented throughout the book as a spoiled brat, it isn't until King Robert dies, leaving him in power that he starts to show his true colors.
    • As of A Dance with Dragons, Varys. Throughout the series he's been portrayed as an enigmatic figure but not someone especially dangerous (at least compared to the likes of the ruthless Tywin or the brutal Gregor). Then he bludgeons Pycelle to death, shoots Kevan with a crossbow, reveals his true grand plans for Westeros to the dying man, and sends his gang of child assassins to finish him off.
    • The Ironborn as a whole act as one to the rest of Westeros. Even after Balon Greyjoy rebels against the throne for a second time, he's considered the least dangerous of the Five Kings, conquering only the poorest parts of the North.Then he dies, and his brother Euron uses the chaos of the civil war to swarm over the wealthiest lands and towns of the western coast. And send his younger brother east to capture dragons.
  • Harry Potter
    • Pettigrew/Wormtail. All accounts of his past portray him as a simpering incompetent little coward who hid in the shadow of more powerful friends. While this is mostly true, he's far from harmless. When he's revealed to be the one who really betrayed the Potters it's also shown that he killed about a dozen people with a single spell to cover his escape. He also managed to overpower a Ministry official (admittedly a somewhat scatterbrained one) that happened to know information that Voldemort could use. Then he killed Cedric on Voldemort's orders. He may be the least competent of Voldemort's Death Eaters, but he's still a Death Eater to the core. And EVERYONE seems to forget he became an Animagus at 15; sure he had a ton of help, but isn't that a slight hint he might be more powerful than expected?
    • Draco Malfoy. For the first five books he's just a whiny, snarky, envious bully, and even then he's of little threat to the main heroes, other than through his father's connections. But in book 6 he's tasked with assassinating Dumbledore. This doesn't make him more powerful, but sheer desperation turns him into a loose cannon and drives him to ever greater extremities, and he doesn't care if innocent people get hurt in his attempts. He ends up very nearly killing two people AND sneaking a gang of Death Eaters into the allegedly impenetratable Hogwarts.
    • Gilderoy Lockhart at first seems like nothing more than a pompous Small Name, Big Ego, but later reveals himself to be a dangerous villain in his own right.
  • The clown "Magnifico Giganticus" in Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Empire is a pathetic, misshapen sad sack who is rescued by the main characters and travels with them, until we find out he is the Big Bad of the novel, the mutant conqueror known as "The Mule." Although the readers start to suspect something when he kills a roomful of bad guys with a song.
  • The Pillars of the Earth: Yeah, see that idiotic, envious kid named William Hamleigh? Got made a fool of, butt of a lot of marriage jokes, and he lusts after a girl he'll never... Oh shit did he just rape Aliena! It all goes downhill from there, too...
  • In Counselors and Kings Dhamari is introduced as a middle-aged wizard of unremarkable talents and unassuming nature significant only because he was once married to one protagonist's mother. He's actually one of the trilogy's main villains who's been helping half of the Big Bad Duumvirate with her schemes ever since they were apprentices together, and while he's no more magically talented than he looks and is too petty to be a true Chessmaster, he's got more than his fair share of low cunning and Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Honor Harrington presents us with Mesa, a small, horribly corrupt star nation run by a coalition of Mega Corps, being responsible for a wide variety of atrocities in the name of the bottom line. Despite the fact that they are effectively untouchable due to being wrapped in a tangled web of backroom political deals and blackmail of various powerful officials across the galaxy, they are considered largely a minor sideshow given the fact that the People's Republic of Haven and the Star Kingdom of Manticore are fighting the largest interstellar war in the history of mankind. And then the Mesans launch their surprise attack on the Manticoran and Grayson homeworlds, smashing industrial infrastructure and causing millions of deaths, all with no warning.
    • And we find out in the twelfth book that The Mesans caused the war between Haven and Manticore, making them indirectly responsible for trillions upon trillions of deaths. And even that's just a drop in the bucket compared to their long-term plans...
  • The Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Kahless does this with the legendary Klingon tyrant Molor. Indeed, at the beginning of the story, Molor is a powerful and imposing warlord carving out an empire on Qo'noS with Kahless as his loyal lieutenant. Then Kahless is forced to do the honorable thing and kills Molor's son in a duel for insubordination. After that, Kahless, Morath, and a few others are forced to flee. Eventually, Kahless (with Morath's help) forges La Résistance and storms Molor's capital city. Kahless and Morath confront Molor in his throne room... only to see a feeble man made of skin and bones, suffering from the same plague as many of his subjects. Seeing this helpless guy, Kahless drops his guard, only for Molor to throw a dagger at him. Morath throws himself in front of the dagger, while Kahless beheads the tyrant. Interestingly, this means that Kahless II is, in fact, the clone of Morath and not Kahless.
  • Safehold:
    • Vicar Allayn Maigwair is repeatedly remarked as the least intelligent among the antagonists known as the Group of Four. His actions, such as wasting time and resources building ships that had been outclassed by the protagonists and a certain uselessness in political matters, confirm this. Yet, it is his idea to engage in subterfuge intended to make the Empire of Charis think they were sending their newly built fleet to one location when they had a separate target. Even with their near omnipotent spying capabilities, this trick catches the Charisian leadership entirely flat-footed.
    • Later, in the sixth book Midst Toil and Tribulation when given a hand in commanding army forces, as opposed to naval ones, he proves to be a very competent military leader and launches one of Safehold's most successful army campaigns ever.
  • In the Rainbow Magic series, Jack Frost can be downright nasty, like freezing Rachel solid. Also, a lot of the things he does have very negative impacts on the human world.
    • In some books even the goblins can be this, like when they successfully prevented Kirsty from getting Sophie's sapphire.
  • At the very end of the second book in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, the heroes discover how to Mind Control the monstrous koloss, and from then on they use hordes of dominated koloss as shock troops in conquering various rebel factions. Until, at one particularly crucial moment, the series' Big Bad steals back all the koloss, and blocks the Flaw by which the heroes had been controlling them. All of a sudden, the heroes are faced with an army of supernaturally strong and tough enemies, every one of which they have to kill.

    Live Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Warren and the other Nerds of Doom. At first, they're kind of silly with their arguments over Star Trek and the best actor to play James Bond, and their kinda weird attempts to challenge Buffy in ways that, really, were nothing compared to five seasons of big bads and various monsters of the week. Warren stops being funny when he tries to rape his ex via mind control and kills her when she tries to escape, and near the end of the season he shoots Buffy and murders Tara Maclay.
      • Then one of the other nerds, Andrew, kills Jonathan, proving himself not just a source of comic relief.
    • The Mayor. At first he seems like a self-serving politician tapping into supernatural powers for personal gain. Then it turns out he commands a small army of vampires and plans to become a pureblood demon. Oh, and he's also invulnerable; not just Nigh Invulnerable, invulnerable.
    • When Harmony shows up in Season 5 with her own pack of vampires, the heroes can't take her seriously. Unfortunately, in the midst of taunting her, Dawn mistakenly invites her into her house, and we are reminded that while Harmony may be incompetent, she is still a vampire. Indeed, the minute she finds out that Harmony has minions, Buffy laughs her ass off, but quickly changes her tune when she discovers that Dawn invited Harmony in, gathering a small arsenal of weapons and stakes. Then in season 8 she kills a Slayer with her own stake on national television and convinces the public that vampires are the good guys and Slayers are the bad guys, sending the US Military after them. All this from the seemingly brainless vampire that Buffy and Angel repeatedly refused to kill because they didn't see her as much of a threat.
    • In the final parts of Season 4, Spike, having been rendered unable to harm humans by the Initiative, takes advantage of the fact that the Scoobies no longer view him as a threat to exploit the existing tensions within the group and successfully turn Buffy and her pals against each other.
  • Angel has a few examples as well:
    • Played with in regards to Daniel Holtz, a vampire hunter desiring revenge on Angel and Darla for destroying his life. Angel and Darla were always afraid of him but still didn't think of him as that much of a threat. When Holtz reappears in the present day, Angel and Darla realize just how dangerous he really is.
  • Mirror Hoshi on Star Trek: Enterprise. At the start of the two-part episode, she is the captain's sex-bunny and background character in all the plotting and conspiring; as it ends she has just made herself Empress.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in "Changing Face of Evil", the Dominion allies with the Breen, a race that can only live in the cold, and was previously known only as pirates and slavers, and are best known among fans for wearing a copy of Princess Leia's bounty hunter disguise from Return of the Jedi, so the first reaction was "WTF? Next time Dominion makes alliance with cavem...". Then the Breen attack Earth and then they whip out the energy draining gun, pwning 300 ships at once and endangering all others.
  • Trakeena of Power Rangers Lost Galaxy. Becoming Not So Harmless was what her whole character is about. At first, she's Big Bad Scorpius' spoiled daughter, and spends most of the time whining or backstabbing the villains who do know what they're doing in order to rise in the ranks. Eventually, she leaves, eventually meets up with an old ally of her dad, and gets some combat training. The real fun begins when The Starscream, Deviot, arranges Scorpius' death (oh, a lot of backstabbing going on in Lost Galaxy) and succeeds. Trakeena returns to take his place... and the new, badder Trakeena is worse than her dad ever was. She starts out as a competent and more proactive Big Bad, and gets more and more driven (and insane) until finally reaching unimaginable heights of evil. The final arc is something that wouldn't fly in a kids show (or any show short of 24, for that matter) this side of 9/11.
    • Lothor appeared to basically be this. In his very first appearance, and during a time-travel journey back to his days as a man, he was formidable, but he seemed very bumbling/ineffective throughout the season, lamenting how his plots always failed and his soldiers were being destroyed... until the finale, where he revealed that he was filling up the Abyss of Evil with dead soldiers in order to cause all hell to break loose on Earth. To this end, he willingly employed a backstabber and allowed himself to be destroyed to lead the charge of bad guys.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Daleks are a meta-example. While the characters rarely reacted with anything but terror, their numerous appearances over the original series' twenty-six year run heavily diluted any fear to be had from the motorised pepper pots. Thus the new series episode "Dalek" was written with the sole intention of showing a new generation that the Daleks were Not So Harmless, with a single imprisoned, crippled, powerless Dalek killing hundreds of people effortlessly.
    The Doctor: What's the nearest town?
    Van Statten: Salt Lake City.
    The Doctor: Population?
    Van Statten: 1 million.
    The Doctor: All dead.
    • Indeed, the single moment where the audience knew that the Daleks were not to be trifled came with a single word: EL-E-VATE!!
    • Since then they may have been defeated several times by the Doctor, but in each case only after they caused massive damage. In their second appearance alone they bombarded the surface of Earth such that they deformed the continents.
    • In the first encounter the 11th Doctor has with them they kill very few people but successfully trick the Doctor into helping to restore their race.
    • They were no slouches in their last appearance in the classic series episode, "Remembrance of the Daleks" - they may have been defeated by the Doctor and his human allies (and gotten made fun of to boot), but they still managed to slaughter almost an entire company of soldiers AND threaten the Earth. Not bad for a bunch of "rolling pepper pots". Fridge Horror sets in when you realize that they'd been hiding in the area for some time, and randomly killing people, so who knows what the real casualties were?
    • Could be seen on a lesser scale with the Daleks in First Doctor stories. In "The Chase" they had the potential to become really dangerous when they acquire time travel and pursue the Doctor. However they come across as quite laughable here, one Dalek struggling over a simple maths problem, and getting beaten by Funhouse robots. In their next appearances, "The Daleks Master Plan" and its teaser episode "Mission to the Unknown" they come very close to conquering the Solar System and other Galaxies, and two companions die during the story.
    • In the classic series, there was The Master's appearance in The Deadly Assassin. While never exactly harmless, his appearance here (after a lengthy hiatus) portrayed him less of a Friendly Enemy and more a ruthless Omnicidal Maniac, happy to tear the universe apart to save his own skin.
    • This was the intention with the Cybermen in "Earthshock", after their poorly-received last appearance 7 years ago. The Cybermen come close to destroying the Earth and cause the death of one of the Doctor's companions, Adric, causing a case of Alas, Poor Scrappy.
    • The title villains of "The Krotons" were regarded as a joke. However in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel "Alien Bodies" introduces the Krotons by having one take over a Dalek ship and eat the crew. In Big Finish the Krotons are also shown to be dangerous.
    • In Big Finish Doctor Who "Seasons of Fear" the villains are given a major reveal as the Nimons. They were the monsters in the poorly-thought of story "The Horns of Nimon", where their costumes were a laughable Special Effect Failure. However in a sound-only medium the Nimon are a credible threat, coming very close to conquering Earth and it is shown that if succeeded they would have conquered many other worlds and become the masters of time.
    • The Meddling Monk was a rather comedic villain on his two appearances in the TV series. In the New Adventures, he reinvented himself as the horrifyingly-effective Big Bad of a major story arc. In Big Finish he also shows himself to be dangerous, helping the Ice Warriors in a plan to kill 300,000 Martian colonists and in Lucie Miller/To the Death he helps the Daleks invade Earth again.
  • The Ferengi on Star Trek are an interesting example, since they were originally created to be a serious threat. When this fizzled, they were retooled into a sort of Plucky Comic Relief... but every so often, an episode will be released that reminds the viewer that the Ferengi are Not So Harmless after all.
  • Tom Zarek and Gaeta in the new Battlestar Galactica. Tom spends most of the series as a placeholder for vice president or opposition, and Gaeta watching the radar. They eventually lead a coup against Adama and Roslin.
  • One episode of NUMB3RS has a pair of polite bank robbers. They walk in, request the money, say thank you, and walk out. They are even polite enough to hold doors open for people. Really harmless robbers with a cutesy nickname, or so people think until Charlie predicted their target and Don and a team tries to arrest them. That is when they demonstrated that not having needed to call for backup is not the same as not having backup or not having needed to use violence is not the same as being unwilling to use violence. Turns out they are ex-special forces working to a deeper plan and perfectly happy to use assault rifles, car bombs, and expertly knife a janitor that gets in the way — just hadn't needed to before.
  • In the Firefly episode "The Train Job," the crew is introduced to Adelei Niska, who is a mild-mannered, friendly, bespectacled old man who has a "very dangerous reputation." Throughout the conversation with him, he seems like a harmless sort, until he has the back door to his office opened, to reveal the corpse of his nephew hanging from the ceiling of his personal torture chamber. Cue respect and fear. Niska even tells them that he doesn't really trust his "reputation" to carry much weight. He trusts visuals much more. Hence the demonstration.
    "Now for you, my reputation is not from gossip. You see this man? Ehh, he does not do the job. I show you what I do with him, and now for you my reputation is fact. Is solid."
  • Marlo Stanfield's first appearance in The Wire is very unassuming (blink and you'll miss it). Furthermore the Barksdales and everyone else initially dismisses him as just a small time dealer of no consequence. Fast forward a year and many row houses later...
  • Supernatural:
  • Stargate SG-1's Lucian Alliance gained a reputation as being a bumbling band of smugglers whose M.O. roughly came down to spreading evil space corn throughout the galaxy. When they make their reappearance in Stargate Universe, they do so replacing the goofball routine with a new "ruthless band of badasses" one.
  • In the Stargate Universe pilot, they actually have several Ha'taks give trouble to the General Hammond, a Daedalus-class battlecruiser upgraded with Asgard technology (including those plasma beams that can slice through Ori shields like they're made of paper). The Ha'taks themselves were for a number of seasons considered nothing more than a joke. And why not? The Lucian Alliance are not the Goa'uld, they're human (most of them) and have as much ingenuity as Earth-bound humans.
  • Percy, the Big Bad of Nikita, started out seemingly ineffectual, always being Out-Gambitted by Nikita at every turn. However, as the series goes on, he becomes worse and worse, and as the penultimate episode of season 1 shows, he is also a Magnificent Bastard. Check out his description on that page for details.
  • Vern, Psycho Loner and Big Bad Wannabe of Dark Oracle spent a season-and-a-half being treated as a joke by the main characters, who had far bigger problems to deal with in the form of their Evil Twins Blaze and Violet. Then in rapid succession Vern, finds and reads the comic book that shows Blaze and Violet's world, steals an amulet from Doyle and attempts to kill Doyle, Lance and Cally with it, absorbs some of the amulet's magic so that even after losing it he remains a threat, and frees previous Big Bad Omen from the comic, eventually helping him trap Lance in the comic, and loosing Blaze in the process. Unfortunately for him, Blaze being on the loose means that Vern is again overshadowed, and ultimately has to pull a Heel-Face Turn when he realises Blaze is going to turn on him.
  • Dr. Maki from Kamen Rider OOO started out as a creepy Mad Scientist that was actually rather evil (though he was working for a good guy). And, while he did make a Deal with the Devil with the Big Bad Kazari, he gradually turned into a joke...until he remembered he killed his sister and decides it was the right thing to do. Not only does he regain all his previous level of evil, he gets worse! He goes One-Winged Angel and becomes the Dinosaur Greeed, unites the Greeed, and tells Kazari You Have Outlived Your Usefulness, killing him by ripping out his intact Core Medals, leaving him to die a slow and painful death (though he had it coming...). He goes from an absolute joke to the Big Bad!
  • Moriarty from BBC's Sherlock has danced around this trope. When he was first introduced, he was a mysterious, nigh-omnipotent presence, manifesting only in emails and, quite creepily, the voices of terrified hostages repeating his words. When we finally meet the man in the season finale, he first comes off as cheerfully flamboyant, but soon reminds us exactly who he is. Though he is still cheerful and flamboyant.
    Sherlock: People have died.
    Moriarty: That's what people DO!
  • Justified:
    • Dickie Bennett is an emotionally stunted, physically crippled twit who isn't seen as a threat by anybody, despite being the heir apparent to his mother's drug business. However, between his rapid mood-swings, bitter meanstreak, and vast ambitions he's still able to cause a lot of damage, killing Helen Givens, wounding Ava Crowder, trapping Raylan, and triggering a Mob War between his mother and up-and-coming Harlan crime lord Boyd Crowder.
    • When we first meet Sammy Tonin he's not taken seriously by anyone, he wears custom-made suits that are all the wrong size and is basically seen by everyone as nothing more than his father's messenger boy, but in "Ghosts", when his father is driven into hiding, he swiftly takes over the family business, turns his only rival's men against their boss and, after a moment considering whether to take Raylan at his word, has said rival riddled with bullets. The following season, he suffers a Villainous Breakdown and spends his time using chainsaws to torture people.
    • Dewey Crowe is the show's resident Butt Monkey and gets no respect from the other criminals or law enforcement. However, season 3 reveals that when desperate he can be extremely violent and dangerous though still incredibly dumb. In season 5 he murders a man.
  • Doctor Clayton Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000. While normally he's just a hammy Harmless Villain, he was very close to succeeding in driving the protagonists insane and ruling the world with "Manos" The Hands of Fate, Monster A-Go Go and The Castle Of Fu Manchu.
His succsessor (and mother) Pearl Forrester also cam close with Film/Hobgoblins.

    Music 
  • Voltaire's "When You're Evil" is a cheerful showtune with a singer who's cartoonishly pure Evil-with-an-E.
    I'm the fly in your soup
    I'm the pebble in your shoe
    I'm the pea beneath your bed
    I'm a bump on every head
It takes about three verses to realize that he's serious.
... Lord Beelzebub
Has never seen a soldier quite like me
Not only does his job, but does it happily.
...
I'm a dagger in your back
An extra turn upon the rack
I'm the quivering of your heart
A stabbing pain, a sudden start.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Loki of Norse Mythology. Most of the tales starring Loki cast him as a harmless trickster. He gets into amusing antics with Þór, cheats Dwarves with a meaningless victory, helps the Norse gods swindle a giant by seducing his horse (giving birth to Sleipnir in the process), and cuts off Sif's (Þór's wife) hair as a prank. Oh, and he also fathers three of the most dangerous beings in the mythos; one becomes the ruler of (and namesake) of the underworld, one becomes a sea serpent big enough to encircle the world, and the third becomes the biggest wolf ever. But Loki only really gets nasty when he finds out that he's destined to suffer a horrific fate at the hands of the other gods, and decides that he might as well earn it. He does so by killing Baldur and ensuring that he stayed dead. Then when Ragnarök arrive, he breaks free of his imprisonment, leads an army of the damned, and kills the bridge guardian of the gods, Heimdallr (though he dies as well), doing his part to seal the Norse gods' defeat.
  • Loki's description could actually describe all trickster gods in mythology. Most of the time they just perform harmless and amusing pranks. Then they commit deeds of mayhem and murder that only they find funny. The worst of them are essentially The Joker armed with divine powers.
  • Coyote, in Navajo mythology, is never really a trickster god, but varies between Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny! and Eldritch Abomination. Early on, he mostly just messes up First Man's work and gets tricked by blackbirds, the Navajo's real trickster-figures. Later, though, Coyote lets himself be murdered...four times...resurrecting himself each time, thus becoming the only Navajo supernatural who can use Corpse Poison without having gotten it from First Man. Then his wife, Woman Who Becomes a Bear, invents skinwalking (and to the Navajo, all skinwalkers are diabolically evil).

    Pro Wrestling 
  • This was the whole basis of the recent feud between John Cena and The Miz. Cena is the top star on WWE Raw, and once Miz was traded to the brand he instantly started calling him out. The feud played out for months with the idea that Cena was much more focused on his other feud with The Big Show and couldn't be bothered to care about Miz running his mouth — as things went on and Miz began to do such things as attack him and Big Show alike any time he could, Cena began to take him more and more seriously. Then their match at The Bash didn't happen, honest, but in a showdown on Raw Miz put up a losing effort but dominated Cena through the entire match and showed that he was just as able to hang with Cena as Big Show is. Miz eventually became a long-running WWE champion.
    • However he suffered Badass Decay shortly thereafter and was been relegated to the midcard once more; his title run mentioned only to boost the credibility of whomever was beating him up that week.
  • While The Miz still seems to be playing this trope hard, he ultimately had his Championship reclaimed by Cena, albeit only to have it snatched by...
  • Alberto Del Rio. Much like The Miz, his "Juan Bradshaw Layfield" is incredibly narcissistic and will frequently balk from a match. When riled enough however, he is disturbingly ferocious. Cena labelled De Rio pathetic for cashing in his Money In The Bank match on a champ post match (nevermind that everybody who wins the Money In The Bank uses it that way) and swiped it back, a few nasty beatdowns later De Rio won it again.
  • Similarly, the infamous "You will not look past me" rant from Chris Jericho to The Rock in the buildup to Royal Rumble 2002. Everyone assumed Rock would beat Jericho for the belt and go on to the WrestleMania main event. Nope. Nor did "Stone Cold" Steve Austin the following month.
  • A good chunk of The Nexus became a lot more dangerous after they formed their group. Justin Gabriel began wearing black trunks and delivering stares of death before a 450 splash, Skip Sheffield became a lot more vicious in the ring. And Michael Tarver...well, actually became awesome, especially after the booking on NXT Season 1 did everything to make you think he wasn't.
  • The Spirit Squad. It's very easy to mock five goofy male cheerleaders... until you remember that there are five of them... they've got you surrounded... prepare for the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown. They captured the Tag Team Titles from Kane and The Big Show, and crippled Shawn Michaels.

    Sports 
  • In sports, the "Wounded Tiger" and "Ewing" theories both assert that a team known for one or two star players is more likely to thrive when said star(s) are not playing. The point being that opposing teams will write them off as they would a wounded tiger, not realizing that a wounded tiger is a very dangerous creature. So when Deron Williams is nursing an injury, either watch out for the New Jersey Nets or prepare to be baffled and ashamed in defeat; the wounded tiger is on the prowl.
    • For instance, after LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal left them in the summer, the now-starless Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 2010-2011 season... by beating last season's runner-up squad, the Boston Celtics. This was both an incredible upset and a slap in the face to LeBron, whose Miami Heat had lost to the Celtics the day before, and Shaq, who now played for the Celtics. Similarly, shortly after breaking a record-setting losing streak, the "Cleveland Cadavers" showed they were still alive... by beating the previous year's champions, the LA Lakers. And about a month later, they beat the Heat.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Kobolds, before attempts to buff them into dragons-lite, were introduced as lizard-dog humanoids so small they got half-hit dice, Cannon Fodder for rookie adventurers to sweep up without a fuss. However, being too pathetic to have a chance in the open combat, kobolds got an affinity for filling their lairs with traps. They also hurl incendiaries or poisonous insects at the enemies and dare to attack only in overwhelming numbers, using thrown weapons. In the hands of a particularly clever or vindictive Game Master, even an encounter with a lowly band of kobolds can be turned into a nightmare. Add some armor and you'll get Tucker's Kobolds — the party chose to carve their way through demons over that. Demotivator helpfully depicting how such encounters can end up.
      • If you dumpster dive for abilities through about a half dozen splatbooks, kobold sorcerers are the most powerful characters in D&D 3.5, as they can theoretically have spellcasting at FOUR levels higher than their actual level. Generic sorcerers don't even get 9th level spells until level 18. A Dragonwrought White Dragonspawn Kobold Sorcerer who has completed the Greater Draconic Rite can have Epic Spellcasting at level 17.
      • Pun-Pun, the nigh-omnipotent.
    • In the Forgotten Realms, Cyric, while undeniably evil, was always considered a minor threat at best because he's so freaking insane that most of his plans fall through. Then, in 4th edition, he orchestrates the death of Helm, personally murders Mystra (possibly for good this time), and unleashes the devastating Spell Plague, all without breaking a sweat. Wow.
    • In the first Pathfinder adventure, Burnt Offerings, the players fend off an attack from goblins that act like pyromaniac 5th-graders who injure themselves as often as their opponents. But weeks after the raid, they discover a goblin who ran and hid under a house, where he slowly went mad from hunger and isolation and killed and ate a man who tried to stop him doing the same to his child. A definite case of Mood Whiplash.
    • Any monster can be amped up to a potential Total Party Kill in the hands of a Killer Game Master, or one looking for the ultimate challenge for his players.
  • New World of Darkness games:
    • In general: Humans are slow, feeble, ignorant, nearly powerless, and only an actual danger to supernaturals in significant numbers. Until the supernaturals find themselves facing the exceptions, who are very capable of fighting the supernaturals on their own turf and winning, by means as diverse as Task Force: VALKYRIE's plasma cannons and bullets that phase into the spirit realm and harm incorporeal entities, to the Malleus Maleficarum's habit of calling down the literal wrath of God, to an insanely brave and fiendishly clever group of everyday men and women who have gotten fed up with the things that go bump in the night and broken out whatever weapons or tools that are handy.
      • To put it another way: most supernatural effects have damage, targeting, and so on that scale with "power" dots (gnosis, etc) plus stat dots plus "skill" dots (sphere ranks, renowns, etc) and occasionally some miscellaneous dots from a third pool. Until players hit the 'epic' point where their supernatural power is over 5, vanilla mortals use the vital stat + skill points + specialties system, which scales in exactly the same way, meaning that statistically a 0 xp mortal specialist using her specialty can likely do things that are more powerful than the supernatural players. A skilled DM refrains from pointing this out until the party has decided to take a shortcut through and active SWAT site to reach their "real" opponents or something similar. Then, Hilarity Ensues.
    • Hunter: The Vigil also has an example within its own bounds. The Keepers of the Source are a group of feel-good New Ager neo-hippie types based out of San Francisco. They also believe that mages and other practitioners draw upon the life energy of Gaia in order to power their magic, and really, really, really aren't happy with this arrangement.
  • In Warhammer 40,000 the Imperial guard are generally portrayed as the Imperium's trillions strong Redshirt Army. A popular joke in the fandom goes "what do you call a lasgun (the Imperial guard's main weapon) with a laser sight? Double-barreled." But as Black Crusade reminds us, "The Legionnaire that scoffs at a lasgun has not charged across an open field against a hundred of them."
    • Abbadon The Despoiler in nominally the setting's Big Bad (or at least the biggest bad short of a Chaos God), but despite being trumpeted as the man who could succeed in finally toppling Terra, the fandom had problems taking him seriously because his twelve Black Crusades were either dismal failures or somewhat redeemed by having one of his plans out of many come to fruition. Then came the Eye of Terror event, and when it was over, Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade had ransacked Cadia, establishing a solid beachhead on the fortress-world that stood between the forces of Chaos and the rest of the galaxy. Later supplements did more to rebuild his reputation, explaining that the previous Black Crusades weren't attempts to conquer the galaxy, but to achieve certain goals which Abaddon met. Now more people can view him as the protegee of the man who nearly took Holy Terra.
  • In Rifts, the Power Leeches introduced in Psyscape start out tiny and relatively weak, but have unlimited growth potential, frightening if assaulted by a friendly unlimited-ammo Cosmo-Knight or Machine Person.
  • In Tabletop Game/Nightbane, the Dream Ghouls introduced in Between the Shadows: are weakest of all the dreamthings, but unlike the others they can receive an upgrade from absorbing PPE and it is not explicitly a 1-time thing, allowing them potentially unlimited upgrades in size and attributes.

    Theater 
  • In Julius Caesar:
    • the conspirators against Caesar consider Marc Antony no threat, saying, "He can do no more than Caesar's arm when Caesar's head is cut off". In fact, they're so unafraid of him that Brutus lets him speak at Caesar's funeral! Whatever speech he can make will pale in comparison to the unparalleled generosity of letting him speak at all, right?! Friends, Romans, Countrymen!
    • The audience is privy to a bit of foreshadowing regarding Marc Antony's forthcoming badassness with this line:
    Marc Antony: ...And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch's voice cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war.

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: While OG Loc at first appears to be an idiot who is ridiculed for their friends, even too harmless to consider him a "villain", this is inmediately inverted when he send CJ to commit several atrocities: kidnap and kill Madd Dogg's manager and his girlfriend and killing all the security of Madd Dogg to steal his rhyme book. It gets worse when he becomes famous and all this took Madd Dogg to almost commit suicide!
  • Final Fantasy VI:
    • Kefka, to a certain extent. Comically-loony jester sidekick of the real villain? Uwa, ha ha. WRONG!!
    • The recurring monster Tonberry. Little green guy in a coat, carrying a lantern and a kitchen knife, he should be easy to kill, right? Wrong... it doesn't help that he's creepy too.
    • What's more, in the Final Fantasy Tactics series, Tonberries are among the most powerful enemies, capable of doing up to 999 damage with 100% accuracy. And for the people who don't know, that is all of the damage. At least, that can be done in any one attack. It's also the highest HP that playable character is capable of having.
    • The Cactuar. The first time you ever see one, it looks and sounds unbearably cute and harmless. It's just a little walking cactus. In nearly all of the games though, not only do they possess insane evasion and magic defense making it extremely difficult to damage them, they also possess their infamous 1000 Needles Fixed Damage Attack, which ignores all defenses and can kill a character in one hit depending on HP caps. That's not even mentioning the stronger varieties that have the 10,000 Needle and 100,000 Needle variants. No matter how powerful your characters are, there's bound to be a cactus that can murder them with one blow.
    • And then we have to go full circle and bring up Kefka again. More specifically, his Dissidia: Final Fantasy incarnation. Due to the way that universe is built up, when a character dies, s/he will simply be resurrected again, though of at expense of the memories of his/her previous life. All through the 13th resurrection circle, Kefka is trying, with the help of the Cloud of Darkness, to get Terra Branford to join their side. Again. See, she actually WAS on their side in the 12th circle, but due to Kefka being neglectful she pulled a High Heel-Face Turn... So, why does the Cloud of Darkness not call Kefka out on it being his fault? And why does she act like she had never seen Terra before? Well, because during the 12th circle she tipped the heroes off on how to stop the invasion of Manikins, beings that can nullify the resurrection process, and Kefka did not like that... So he killed her... Let me repeat that, and then you can sit there and let it sink in: The gibbering Psychopathic Manchild, Kefka, pulled a You Have Failed Me on the Anthropomorphic Personification of the realm of nothingness. note 
  • Final Fantasy IX: Remember Zorn and Thorn, the annoying jester twins whose asses you handed to them in Disc 2? They're not twins. The resulting monster spams the more harmful status ailments (Virus and Venom) while also bombarding you with powerful black magic (notably Bio... which also inflicts Poison!), making for a surprisingly challenging - and satisfying - Climax Boss. note 
  • Devil May Cry 3 gives us Jester, goofy clown demon who shows up randomly to annoy Dante and give him advice on how to proceed. Then you have to fight him as a boss and that ends up being funny due to Jester's personality, but during The Reveal you find out he's Arkham's Devil Trigger and has been manipulating Dante, Vergil, and Lady in a Evil Plan to open the portal to the demon world, give him the sealed power of Sparda, and generally bring Hell on Earth.
  • Alex of Golden Sun fame is little more of a Smug Snake in the first game, whereas his companions always throw themselves into the thick of combat and are more than willing to risk their lives to achieve their dream of restoring Alchemy to the world. Then the sequel rolls around and in the first five minutes he curb stomps the same elite soldiers that Saturos and Menardi did a game ago before nonchalantly responding to their threat of backup by asking if they thought even a hundred of their soldiers would be enough to stop him. He then reveals true colours as a Magnificent Bastard, employing tactics such as hiring replacements for his old companions in order to intimidate Felix into lighting the remaining beacons. He then (presumably) steals Isaac's ship so he can be there when the Golden Sun forms over Mt. Aleph after all four Elemental Lighthouse beacons are lit so that he can obtain absolute power and Immortality.
  • The King of Fighters '97 has the New Faces Team. At first they appear to be just some punk kids (or whatever kind of band they had) with upbeat attitudes and realistic fighting styles. Supplemental materials suggest that they hate Iori and may have punked the '94 Sports Team, but otherwise they're pretty normal. Then it is revealed that all three of them are villains from the Orochi bloodline, and they display highly powerful elemental abilities in their new forms. And then one of them becomes Orochi himself, and you're suddenly fighting a world-destroying god. A world destroying god who was originally Chris, the Team's Fragile Speedster.
  • Garland, of the original Final Fantasy I. Wussy first boss of a knight that you'd probably forget about once you reach the final dungeon, where he turns out to be the Big Bad.
  • Paper Mario:
    • Jr. Troopa is a baby koopa fresh from the nest (with most of his egg's shell still on him) and a comic relief Recurring Boss who can actually be a real hassle to beat at many stages of the game.
    • The Koopa Bros., as well, are treated as complete losers but prove formidable in the actual fight with them. That's teamwork for you.
    • Bowser in Paper Mario. Although he's extremely dumb (he'll believe Peach if she tells him Mario hates healing items), he possesses the Star Rod which makes him a god, and he actually manages to defeat Mario at the start of the game.
  • Dimentio in Super Paper Mario seems to be at first a jester-like character, light-hearted and playful. Later, as his true intentions unfold, his true menace becomes apparent.
  • Gruntilda from Banjo-Kazooie and its sequels tends to come across as rather goofy with her constant rhyming and her funny lines. Even when battling her, she still makes weird, rhyming comments. She also reveals some mean magic skills and a surprisingly good aim. Every battle with Gruntilda is a multi-phase marathon where she will pull out all the stops to defeat you. And, just in case you had any doubts, she kicks off her return in Banjo-Tooie by destroying the grey Jinjos' house, zombifying the king of the Jinjos, destroying Banjo's house, and killing Bottles.
  • Porky from Earthbound. He starts out as Ness's friend, and after he turns, he's still just a harmless nuisance. By the end of the game, though, he's Big Bad Giygas's right hand-man. There's a reason his theme song for your final battle against him is fan-nicknamed "Porky Means Business!" (the Japanese fan-nickname translates roughly to "Cease to Exist", referring to what Porky wants Ness and his friends to do.) In Mother 3, he's a full-on Big Bad himself. Who manages to take over the world.
  • Kingdom Hearts II:
    • Demyx. When he's first seen, he acts like a clumsy coward, running away and stumbling everywhere. His in-game profile even calls him a joke. However, when accused of being a truly emotionless being, he ditches the act. Suddenly he's leaping around all over the battlefield and using his sitar to unleash a huge barrel of watery whoopass on Sora and company. Many players were unpleasantly surprised, to say the least.
    • Marluxia. "A pink scythe? Flowers? You can't be—oh shit!"
  • Dragonfable:
    • Nythera. Starts off as a somewhat bratty and powerless apprentice to Warlic, the greatest mage in the world. She's pretty blatant about wanting Warlic to give her her powers back, and insinuates that she'll take his powers if he doesn't. This is all played for laughs at first. Then she kills Warlic and steals his powers and issues a challenge to all of the Elemental Lords at once, which drives them to attack your town. To add insult to injury, she even thanks you, since she used the potions YOU helped her to make to finish off Warlic. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero.
    • Later in the quest line, when she faces the Elemental Avatars, the player gets the chance to control her. Her basic attack consists of several hits that do hundreds of damage each. Due to the way the battles work, it's still a Hopeless Boss Fight, but damn.
  • Deathroy from Blue Dragon. What appears to be an annoying sidekick turns out to have been the Big Bad all along. In fact, he's the Big Bad that killed all of the Not-Really-The-Big-Bad's people.
  • Dalton from Chrono Trigger is best known for Breaking the Fourth Wall when inappropriate music is playing, getting sucked into a portal when the Trick Boss he tried to summon fails to appear, and generally being an incompetent ham. Then you meet him in a bonus dungeon in the DS version, where he mentions his plan to build an army in Porre and try to take over Guardia. Nothing to worry about, right? According to the backstory of Chrono Cross, Porre's rebellion succeeds, and Crono himself dies for good in the battle. The debate over whether Crono and Marle live or die rages among the fans, and the game gives enough evidence for either.
    • You have the opportunity to fight Ozzie, Flea, and Slash again during an optional side-quest. At this point, you're stronger then Flea or Slash could ever hope to be, while Ozzie, per the norm, does nothing but run away and set ineffectual traps. Then you fight them all together, and they counter any attack with combination techs that range from "nasty" to "devastating." (depending on who you attack) Suddenly, they don't seem so wimpy anymore.
  • Halo:
    • Guilty Spark. Sure, he originally seemed like a rather annoying sidekick, until you realize he was leading you into destroying all life in the galaxy. When Master Chief and Cortana refuse to activate Halo Spark tells the Sentinels to "Save his head... dispose of the rest.". His sociopathy almost makes up for him being annoying... almost.
    • And at the end of Halo 3, after seeing him do little more than float, blabber on, and occasionally send Sentinels to kill MC, he kills Johnson and actually kicks Master Chief and Arbiter's asses in a case of Cutscene Power to the Max. Sure, he becomes an Anticlimax Boss as soon as you realize Johnson's Spartan Laser to be the tool to end his whining, but until then he was putting down some serious hurt.
  • The Ensemble Dark Horse of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Fawful, poses very little threat when he fights the heroes at the end of the game, and refers to himself as "Fawful, who is just a toady!" Then, after spending the next game in the series plotting his revenge in the sewers beneath Peach's castle, he returns as the Big Bad of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.
  • At the beginning of Gaia Online MMO zOMG!, we are introduced to Frank. Who's a cute little nerdy boy? You's a cute little nerdy boy, oh yes you are! He's the second-in-command of a group of mad scientists who are destroying the world For Science!.
    • Likewise, the Fluff enemies. You get used to crushing these guys with minimal effort in the first two areas... and then the Zen Gardens introduces suicidal Cherry Fluffs that gang up on you and then explode For Massive Damage. Later areas include Fluffs that sink you in quicksand as well.
  • Rider in Fate/stay night spent the first route having even Shirou calling her weak and in the second route she got killed offscreen by a normal, non magus human. Fierce. But then she shows up in HF and starts turning people into stone by looking at them. (Surprise! She's Medusa!) Oh and then she makes a Heel-Face Turn (sort of...) so this overlaps with Let's Get Dangerous.
    • Furthermore, her physical capabilities were significantly impaired in the first two routes due to temporarily being in the service of Shinji, who has no magic power of his own and can't reinforce her with mana. When her true master, Sakura, takes her back, her skills SKYROCKET.
  • Punch-Out!!:
    • You wouldn't imagine that Glass Joe, the shining example of a Warm-Up Boss, could ever put up a fight. When he returns for a rematch in the Wii game's Title Defense mode, however, he's equipped himself with a helmet that deflects all jabs, and has added a surprisingly effective fake-out punch to his arsenal. As a result, he often ends up defeating players who were able to defeat Mr. Sandman, the Champion and Final Boss.
    • In the NES version, Don Flameco. The first time you fight him, he's a Breather Boss about as difficult as Glass Joe, standing in place when hit, and showboating with his dances too much to launch an effective offense. The second time you fight him you'll probably be expecting more of the same only for you to land your first punch... and find him dancing around dodging your attacks like crazy. And he doesn't screw around when he attacks anymore, making his offense fast, hard to predict, and giving the player little respite..... oh crap. King Hippo can be this for some players, being a fat stupid looking guy from a Tonga like country called "Hippo Island". He gapes like a hippo and looking at him you'd think he's slow and easy to hit.... he isn't. Remember, hippos are among the most dangerous animals on Earth.
    • Your own cuddly, overweight, chocolate bar chomping manager boxes you in a downloadable spin-off game. Know that Star Punch that lays waste to your foes? This guy invented that move. Granted, he's no villain, but try punching that chocolate bar out of his hand and see how well he takes it.
  • The Rebel Alliance in Star Wars Battlefront gets this from the members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion. A member of the 501st talks about the Rebels, mentioning that the stormies had treated them like disobedient children, but were repaid for their tolerance with treachery on an unimaginable scale. The "treachery" in question was Luke destroying the Death Star'', so sympathy for their anger is difficult.
  • Combine Advisors from Half-Life 2. Oh look, it's a giant maggot thing on life support and is barely capable of moving on its own. Sure, it's a member of the ruling caste of a vast interdimensional empire, but it can't possibly — is that thing levitating? HOLY SHIT, DID THAT THING JUST LIFT ME UP WITH PSYCHIC POWERS?! OH SHIT, IT'S GONNA SUCK MY BRAINS OUT AND EAT THEM!!!!
  • Ghostbusters: The Video Game subverts this. Obstructive Bureaucrat Walter Peck is back... but hints start getting dropped partway through that he's actually the Big Bad, and his obnoxious bumbling obstruction is a cover for his nefarious motives. In the end, it turns out he is just an obnoxious Obstructive Bureaucrat, and the real Big Bad is the ghost of Ivo Shandor — and Peck's not even the one who was possessed by him, it was the mayor.
  • Xenogears:
    • Miang is introduced as the unassuming girlfriend of Ramsus. Much later, it is revealed that she is the Big Bad, the human form of the creator "god," and has existed for 10000 years via body surfing. It also doesn't hurt that the battle against her gear is one of the hardest in the game.
    • From the same game: Krelian. He's presented as an antagonist from the beginning, so he's never exactly "harmless," but at first he seems pretty insignificant compared to Grahf, the Gazel Ministry, and Id. Turns out he's a Chess Master Magnificent Bastard who's been manipulating everyone of consequence for the last five centuries. In the end HE WINS.
  • Pokémon:
    • Team Galactic. Just another goofy Team Evil capable of only doing mainly ineffectual things like hijacking windmills, stealing honey, and trying to beat you at Pokémon matches? Sure, you might think that, until they bomb one of Sinnoh's Sacred Lakes, kidnap all of the sacred sprites, and begin summoning one-to-two Pokémon capable of undoing the world.
    • In the same vein, Team Flare. So they're just fashion-obsessed villains that want to make money by stealing fossils and Pokéballs? Sure, until the part where they try to commit mass genocide via Fantastic Nuke as an utterly insane measure to secure limited resources for all (and by all we mean Team Flare). Said nuke is powered by life-draining and killing thousands of Pokémon and possibly the nearby trainers on Route 10, which is also meant to make the group not only the sole survivors of their global holocaust, but immortal superhumans.
    Team Flare grunt: Only Team Flare is stayin' alive, stayin' alive, stayin' alive!
    • Miror B. The poster boy for Disco Dan in dark and edgy Orre loves dancing with his Ludicolo, more so than his actual job as a Cipher Admin. The same guy who moonwalks around Pyrite Town in mockery of the police, distributes Shadow Pokémon to unsuspecting competitors at the Pyrite Colosseum, orchestrated Rui's kidnapping because she can differentiate Shadow Pokémon from regular Pokémon, and has Mayor Duking wrapped around his finger because he holds the mayor's Plusle hostage. He's the nicest Admin in all of Cipher.
  • Non-villainous example: Near the end of Dragon Age: Origins while storming the fortress the Archdemon is you see massive dogpiles of Darkspawn all over Sandal killed them all. Enchantment!
  • In Dark Chronicle, Emperor Griffen has a... rather underwhelming true form... one that will kick your ass if you're not careful.
  • Dr. Doppler of Mega Man X3 evokes this at least when it comes to physical power. Every other scientist ever in the series has hopped behind the controls of a Humongous Mecha to deal with Mega Man, while Doppler just tosses off his labcoat and battles X all by himself.
  • Mega Man X4:
    • Double, a rookie Hunter that was assigned to be the title character's Mission Control. Obese, clumsy, incompetent, and not-too-bright, so what's so meaningful about his name? He's Sigma's mole, assigned to throw X off Sigma's tracks, Ax-Crazy, and is capable of annihilating a dozen Hunters on his own.
    • X himself gets this in Maverick Hunter X. Sigma is the most powerful Reploid in service, Vile is as deadly as he is reckless, and his unit is the best the Hunters had before they rebelled. X is scoffed at for being a low-rank Technical Pacifist. Then the "weak little B-Class Hunter" blows through Sigma's lieutenants, fortress guardians, and his dog before his showdown with Sigma. Oh, and his creator? Dr. Light, the guy who created the original Mega Man, himself an example of Not So Harmless.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum:
    • It gives this treatment to The Riddler, of all villains. Although you never encounter him directly, he manages to be a legitimately scary villain once you think about how some of the riddles were set up, especially the ones involving dead bodies. There is no way he could have predicted when and where those people would be killed by Joker's thugs, so the only explanation is that he murdered them and posed them there himself. He also gives a rather disturbing answer to the classic riddle: "What walks on four legs, then two legs, then three?" Dr. Young says it's a human being (crawls as an infant, walks on two legs as an adult, uses a cane in old age), but the actual answer is a baby with its legs cut off who has been given a crutch. It's clear why he belongs at Arkham.
    • Scarecrow also manages to be threatening due to the level of Mind Screw he pulls on Batman (and the player). The encounters with him are some of the most memorable in the entire game.
  • Batman: Arkham City gives Calendar Man a treatment similar to that of The Long Halloween: He never leaves his cell but if you visit him in certain holidays (or mess with the system clock) he will tell you a story about a gruesome murder he committed that day (including his own parents in Mother and Father's Day). If you get all 12 of his stories and visit him again he's gone, with a Two-Face thug hanging from the ceiling.
    • Arkham City also takes the Riddler further down this road: still reeling from his defeat in the previous game, he has now upped the ante by kidnapping several innocent civilians and placing them in puzzle-like death traps for Batman to solve.
  • Speaking of, Dr. Wily falls under this. In Mega Man & Bass, one of his creations, King, chopped Proto Man in half. In Mega Man 9, he managed to con the world into thinking Dr. Light was after world domination, getting the good doctor arrested. And in Mega Man 10, if not for Roll, he would've won. And this is just in the Classic series. In the X series, he is responsible for The Virus that causes much of the conflict. Plus, it's hinted that he may still be alive...
  • Touhou Seirensen ~ Undefined Fantastic Object:
    • Nazrin. She's a pathetic Stage 1 mid-boss and boss, with easy to dodge horizontal patterns, and she shows up later as the Stage 5 mid-boss and absolutely murders you with curvy and splitting lasers.
    • In the same game, Kogasa Tatara: She shows up as a Stage 2 mid-boss and boss, and proclaims that her main goal is to scare and/or surprise people. Her patterns were also fairly easy to dodge, and people made fun of her when the demo was released; she returns in the full version as the Extra Stage midboss, and with difficult spellcards that make it hard for many to reach the relatively easy (compared to, say, Yukari Yakumo of Perfect Cherry Blossom) Extra Boss with decent resources. Surprise!
    • Cirno seems to be on her way to this trope. Originally she was just a Stage 2 boss, and later a far from notable minor playable character amongst other minor playable characters. Then she got her own story route in Hisoutensoku, pitting her against a Physical God and a Person of Mass Destruction. Then she got her own game in which she manages to put up a decent fight against Marisa, one of the most feared beings in Gensoukyou. The strongest fairy is still not a severe threat compared to others, but she has accomplished much.
  • Dino Piranha, the first boss of Super Mario Galaxy, is definitely one of the easiest bosses in the game, but when you run into him in the second-to-last level before fighting Bowser, he's now on fire and therefore much difficult to kill.
  • Twilight Princess gives us Midna, a cute three foot tall imp, what can she do? Well, float around, pass through solid objects, break chains, change shape, project a paralyzing dark energy field, teleport people and objects over large distances, and levitate objects weighing several metric tons. And that's before she gets the Fused Shadows. After that she can slay a major villain with one blow, turn into a tentacled, spear-wielding Eldritch Abomination, and toss the Final Boss around the room with her Prehensile Hair. Just be thankful that in her case Dark Is Not Evil and she is on your side, if grudgingly at first.
  • The Dishwasher has the Invalid, a wheelchair bound hospital patient with most of his head wrapped in bandages. However, his Boss Subtitles call him the Vegative Neuromancer, and most people know what neuromancers do.
  • Joshua in The World Ends with You is incredibly hard to fight with, until you get him floating. Then he can shoot very powerful Jesus Beams, and he's actually The Chessmaster for the game
  • Shrowdy von Kiefer, villain of A Vampyre Story, is black magic incarnate. This means he has every negative trait you can think of—childishness, selfishness, a complete lack of dignity, an obsession with his mother, a fondness for torture, the capacity to coldly kill someone he claims to be in love with . . .
  • Chocobos Dungeon 2 has several examples. One is that enemies can actually kill each other to level up and become much stronger. Another is the cute vampire mage kid who dies in one hit from most attacks but can cast a spell that takes you down a whole level. The biggest example, though, is when the weakest enemy in the game gets access to a wish-granting crystal and wishes to become powerful enough to be the bully instead of the bullied, thus becoming the Big Bad.
  • In Saints Row 2, in the beginning Maero, the leader of the Stilwater Brotherhood, sees the Boss as a "washed-up gangbanger" and for this reason offers him/her only 20% of his shipment and by extension, 20% of Stilwater. And after the Boss angrily turns him down, he barely does anything in response, still seeing him/her and the Saints as a nuisance. Then the Boss permanently burns his face with radioactive waste, then s/he kills his girlfriend and has his best friend crippled. After that he devotes all energy to killing the Boss and destroying the Saints.
  • Dr "Eggman" Robotnik has started playing into this manner in the recent Sonic the Hedgehog games. He's even more clownish and bumbling as ever, however his plans are more stable, and manage to take Sonic by surprise a few times. Even his super form recently got neutralized by one of the doctor's machines after taking him too lightly.
  • Father Karras from Thief 2, especially considering your last threat was a god and he has a silly, high-pitched, slurred voice. He can't be too much of a threat, right? Then he sics the entire police force on you, is the head of a major religion that has access to advanced tech for this age (seemingly half of which he invented himself), is a pretty clever Chess Master, kidnaps people to be turned into mindless robots, and his ultimate plan, if successful, will kill everyone in The City.
  • Suikoden V's Lord Barrows is an over the top Smug Snake and Fat Idiot. Initially, the only threat he seems to pose is that allying with him makes other potential allies reluctant to join you. It later turns out that he's far more devious than he lets on. He masterminded the uprising at Lordlake as part of a power grab, which means that a large part of the game's conflict is his fault. Finally, he comes close to forcing the Prince to ally with a foreign army as part of a plan to betray Falena to that army's country.
  • Alice: Madness Returns's Dr. Bumby. He's set as an mildly antagonistic hypnotherapist apparently dedicated to helping Alice and the other orphans in his care forget their past traumas; apart from being inconsiderate and rude, he doesn't seem to be genuine villain material. Then you learn that he started the fire that killed Alice's family- in order to cover up his rape of Lizzie, Alice's sister. And it doesn't stop there: the hypnotherapy he practises is designed to break down the patients' minds and reduce them to empty shells that can be pimped out to wealthy clients. In Alice's case, he wants to make sure she never remembers the fire or the part he played in it by destroying Wonderland and taking her mind with it; as such, his Wonderland persona is none other than the Dollmaker, the Big Bad behind the Train currently destroying the world.
  • Lord Zur in Guardian Heroes spends most of the game as a Harmless Sissy Villain, except on one ending path where he absorbs Valgar's abilities to morph into Super Zur, giving him new powers and vampire-like wings.
  • If you ask Hayes about the Spathi in Star Control II, he will warn you not to underestimate them. They may be utter cowards, they may be humorous, and they may look silly... but their Eluders are some of the toughest ships in the game and can be very difficult to take down. The Spathi may avoid combat at all costs, but if they're forced into it, they're really good at it.
  • World of Warcraft has the Murlocs. Individually, murlocs aren't much of a threat. They're about two feet tall aquatic humanoids of limited intelligence. However they are rarely found individually. They are usually in large social groups and will come to the defense of one another, and almost always flee at low health; returning with several more. They are extremely deadly at low levels where several quests require killing them. Many a new player has made the mistake of laughing at the little fish man with the incoherent grumbling growling noise. Then that player finds him or herself facing a dozen or more and is overwhelmed quickly. Murlocs were finally patched in the Cataclysm expansion to be easier to kill and not summon as much help, but they can still overwhelm an unlucky or unprepared player.
    • Deathwing's attack on Stormwind was probably intended to be this, a way to showcase him as a major threat who could do serious damage to the Alliance and the Horde after the previous expansion's antagonist, the Lich King, was called a Saturday morning cartoon villain by the fanbase one to many times. But this attack happens almost entirely offscreen, is barely mentioned after the fact, didn't kill anyone important, and has never been given any (canon) reasoning as to why he chose Stormwind and only took out the park when he apparently could have leveled the entire city.
  • In Fallout 3, the Capital Wasteland largely considers the Enclave to be a joke, since their only presence outside the borders of their base is a looping radio broadcast of Patriotic Fervor. Most people you talk to assume that the Enclave is either an automated pre-War broadcasting system or some crazy old man in a bunker somewhere. Turns out, not so much...

    Web Comics 
  • The Order of the Stick:
    • The lich sorcerer Xykon is an extreme example. His humorous dialogue and status as a Card-Carrying Villain along with the fact that he rarely fights directly (in anything but an instant win) lead many people to believe he was much less serious or at least genuinely malevolent than he really is. Then he's pushed into exerting himself... As Redcloak puts it: "I know he seems funny and charming, but believe me, when you see for yourself the depths to which he'll sink, you will never sleep well again."
    • Qarr the imp is a definite case of playing with a trope. The first we saw of Qarr was an ominous red and black speech bubble speaking from just off panel during a Cliff Hanger. Fans went into a flurry of speculation about this mysterious new being, but nobody expected it to be a tiny imp with virtually no power of its own and who wasn't even all that bright. However, Qarr's attempts to convince Vaarsuvius into a Deal with the Devil drew the attention of the IFCC, a trio of powerful evil beings bent on creating enough chaos, confusion and disorder so that they can move ahead with their own attempt to seize The Snarl's Gate. Qarr is now working with them, and as a result after starting out as something of an inversion, Qarr is now much more dangerous than he ever was in his previous position.
    • And then there's the Monster In The Darkness, an unknown medium-sized creature who behaves like a young child, yet is practically invulnerable to all attacks. He once accidentally knocked a paladin through a stone wall, out of a tower, and several miles away in a game of "Who Can Hit the Lightest". He can also create an earthquake by stomping. And he teleported Vaarsivus and O-chul a couple kingdoms away, without the knowledge of anybody in the room (namely, The Monster itself and the aforementioned Xykon), just by saying "escape".
    • General Tarquin ( Elan's father) initially comes across as an Affably Evil Noble Demon type of villain, combined with the same goofy sense of dramatic conventions we've come to know from Elan. While he can be funny and charming, not unlike Xykon, he is frighteningly competent and not someone you want to piss off.
    • Nale spent almost a decade (in real-world time) as the epitome of a Smug Snake and Big Bad Wannabe whose Complexity Addiction results in every plan he puts into action ending in failure. Then he casually kills the centuries-old vampire cleric Malack, revealing that he'd been waiting for the right opportunity to do so since he was 9 years old... then confesses the whole thing to his father (the Tarquin mentioned above), completely underestimating him and allowing him to pull off one of these himself when he murders his son in cold blood. A "scared old man protecting his rut" indeed.
  • The Walkyverse is full of these:
    • Including the nigh-omnipotent but unfortunately-textured Knight of Cerebus we refer to as The Cheese and the surprisingly cunning Monkey Master, a robot ape whose cannons shoot actual monkeys. The grand tamale of them all, however, has to be the Head Alien, a tiny purple guy with a flair for the over-dramatic whose preferred method of torture involves The Sound of Music. And then you find out it's his Evil Plan that's driving the entire strip, and that he's a lot more competent than he seems at first. Remember all those Brainwashed and Crazy friends you had to kill? Yeah, he set that up years in advance.
    • And then there's Galasso, and especially Faz in Shortpacked!!, and possibly the Head Alien again.
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • For most, Dr. Schlock was more or less a good guy, though he would sometimes betray the good guys on account of being a coward. It never mattered much, though, since his one skill (creating inflatable technology) can be neutralized quite easily (by anything with a sharp edge). Then he actually manages a hostile takeover of Hereti Corp, one of the series' main Big Bads, orders the assassination of several FBI agents to cover his tracks, and states, "If we're going to 'take over the world' we're going to do it right."
    • The Dimension of Pain. A bunch of incompetent demons, falling over themselves, scared of bunnies, and used as entertainment when they invade on Halloween, and the whole Meanwhile, in the Dimension of Pain... spinoff. Then, in the That Which Redeems arc, they become serious, powerful villains. They even kill a dimension's Zoe.
  • Emergency Exit: The villains seem quite harmless, more annoying than anything else. Until one of them rips off Karl's face.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic usually portrays Lewie the Lich as a Harmless Villain. When called upon, however, he points out an important fact about liches: no matter how silly they seem, you only get to be one by being very powerful.
  • Recent developments in Las Lindas strongly suggest that the twin tricksters Din and Jin have a much more malicious side to them...
  • Dead Of Summer:
    • Alan Stone falls under this. While not physically imposing at first, he beats the tar out of a sympathetic character, and is revealed to have Sinister Surveillance almost everywhere, which lets him know a great deal of secrets. A crossing of the Moral Event Horizon later and it's hard to remember that he seemed wimpy at first.
    • Doug Fetterman and his lackeys fall under this too. His two henchmen don't even get names, all three are portrayed as Large Hams, and you figure they're no match for the good guys... Then they assault Commander with a swarm of insects, fry KILROY'S brain and reformat him into a time bomb, and reveal that Panther is apparently working for them. As Panther kills Dr. Light, ripping out his eyes. And then you realize the extent of Fetterman's plan.
  • Something Positive: That Crazy Blue Thing. Second comic on this page.
  • Girl Genius:
  • Collar 6: Butterfly is an extreme example of this. She went from simply being a Jerkass in her early appearances to sheer horror in this strip.
  • Homestuck:
    • Okay, nobody considered Knife Nut Archagent Jack Noir to be harmless, but then he ascended to Big Bad status, killed off the previous Big Bads, massacred a huge army from both Kingdoms and wrecked two planets.
    • The better Homestuck example is Troll Racist Eridan Ampora. After spending most of Act Five failing at genocide and wallowing in exaggerated emotional theatrics, he decides that his best chance of survival after everything goes to hell is to side with Jack. When Sollux and Feferi try to stop him, he knocks the first one out and kills the latter. Then, when Kanaya, who he had previously shown to be the landdweller who he cares about the most (in that he would spare her when he commits genocide) tries to stop him, he destroys the Matriorb, thereby destroying the last hope the trolls as a race had of surviving, then blasts a hole through her stomach.
    • Oh, it gets better. While Eridan had his issues, no one ever suspected that Gamzee, upon becoming sober from his sopor slime, would attempt to kill everyone on the station as a show of his inherent superiority. Boy were we wrong.
    • Courtyard Droll would like to remind you that he's Clubs Deuce's alternate by blowing up Jade to death. His post-scratch self does the same by murdering Jake's dreamself in his sleep, although he does feel a little bad about it.
      • Just for demonstration, here's a video endorsed by the Huss of Lips himself.
    • And undyingUmbrage. It was easy enough to write off his verbal aggression and death threats as non-serious - Dirk seemed to, after all. It got even easier in one conversation when uu hilariously demanded that Dirk draw porn for him...of people holding hands and reciting poems to one another, uu all the while acting as though normal human romantic behaviour was the most terrible of all weird fetishes, cementing him as a not-so-heroic Comedic Sociopath. And then he kills Calliope's dreamself. And is star of a flash in which he starts his session off by prototyping a whole planet in his kernelsprite. And he eventually grows up to become the Big Bad Lord English, the most powerful and evil character in the story.

    Web Original 
  • Act III of Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, when the titular Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain takes off the kid gloves and decides to Murder the Hypotenuse in response to Captain Hammer's merciless taunting over the theft of his would-be girlfriend Penny. Subverted when, even with all the provocation in the world and his Arch-Enemy helpless before him, he can't bring himself to pull the trigger. Double Subversion when Hammer turns the tables and the malfunctioning Death Ray explodes, handing Dr. Horrible the victory anyway.
  • Whateley Universe:
    • Hekate. While she has a reputation as someone never to cross, she's not particularly successful most of the time and usually sticks to playing The Dragon to Don Sebastiano. And then it's revealed that the events that led Skybolt and Cavalier to become sex-slaves to the Alphas were her doing, using magic straight out of the Cthulhu Mythos. She came perilously close to making Fey into her mind-slave, and actually killed Jade, who got better. Sebastiano spent most of his career riding off the reputation her magic brought him, and looks a lot less competent when the truth comes out. He's a rapist thug, but she's on a whole different level of villainy from him.
  • /tg/'s Drew the Lich, an incompetent, Card-Carrying Villain who can't even get the "villain" part right (his phylactery is a Skeletor figurine). Never forget about the lich part, or this may happen. And don't let him plot against you "Whoever said I would act Lawfully?" after all!
  • In the Machinima Deus ex Machina, Patrick is obviously going to be a villain from the moment you see him, but from his nerdy voice and attitude, he doesn't seem very threatening. Then he gets mindraped by the covenant and dons his supersuit before weakening the earth's defenses to the point that the covenant can easily break through and kill us all WHILE killing off Michael, John's only friend, and making every single attempt to save the world meaningless before throwing him into a pit with two berserkers. Even PLAGUE didn't cross the horizon this much.
  • Survival of the Fittest has Jimmy Brennan, who started out as a Miles Gloriosus type who ran around the forest screaming and pissing his pants in the first thread he appeared in, and bragging about being a Badass in the next. For the most part, his antics are fun in a Crosses the Line Twice sort of way, up until he beats resident Jerk Jock Philip Ward to death with a branch.
  • Omega from Red vs. Blue is an unusual example, as the viewer doesn't learn of his Not-So-Harmless Villain moment until after he's been absorbed by the Meta, taking him permanently out of the picture: Despite being the Big Bad for the show's first five seasons, Omega/O'Malley was always far too cartoonish and hammy to be taken seriously, being more a parody of the Big Bad archetype. Then, in the beginning of Reconstruction, a shell-shocked Red soldier named Walter explained to Command over what went down after the Blues at Valhalla scavenged Tex's crashed pelican (see the ending to the Blood Gulch Chronicles). Walter's rather detailed description of an ominous 'infection' to the Blues and Reds, on top of how the Blues massacred one another, made Omega seem much more threatening as an antagonist than his previous incarnation ever did. And THEN we learn that he and Gamma were put in charge of torturing the Alpha until its mind disintegrated by trapping it in nightmare situations it couldn't escape from, transforming Omega from a Dastardly Whiplash into a genuine monster
  • [[Coyle Command Dr. Vorn]] really doesn't look like much of a Mad Scientist when he first arrives, yelping and jumping at least three times in his meeting with Coyle Commander. And yet, his creation successfully infiltrates their rivals, takes over their head quarters and prepares to bring their plans to Take Over the World to life! ...And when that doesn't quite work, the Commander kills Vorn and hires his creation instead.
    • And now as a ghost, it would appear he hasn't taken this particularly well.
  • The Big Bad mastermind of Gaia Onlines deicide storyline? Don Kuro, the perpetually five-years-old dark elf mob boss, about whom all we'd known previously was that he likes going to anime conventions (Gaia conventions, even), has an awesome big sister, is a huge Momma's Boy, and owes Devin favors (not that kind).
  • The Nostalgia Critic
    • The Nostalgia Critic is a pathetic, miserable, useless waste of space... but he rigged Kickassia with dynamite just in case anyone wanted to take his finally-gained power away.
    • For all his hamminess, getting easily trashed in a fight, and inability to spell his own name, Terl from To Boldly Flee counts as this. Most of his plans (imprisoning the Critic in his house, kidnapping Cinema Snob so the Executor can turn him to the dark side, and duping the crew into disabling their weapons) actually work, and he would have finished them off for good in the finale if not for Linkara's Big Damn Heroes moment. And even though it didn't technically work the way he wanted, he's managed to survive (through clones) longer than the Critic's, uh, mortal existence, so technically he's achieved his goal.
  • Cancrelax from France Five is a simpering little toady who's only dangerous because he makes a destroyed monster big. Then in the fifth episode, he changes into a buff form and lets the heroes see those claws of his aren't just for show.

    Western Animation 
  • Xin Fu and Master Yu from Avatar: The Last Airbender, the two goons hired to bring Toph back for her parents, seem harmless and not very intelligent at first, but are shown to be relatively competent earthbenders if given their chance to shine, and did in fact even manage to briefly capture their quarry at one point... until she invents Metalbending just in the nick of time to kick their asses all by herself.
  • Cobra Commander may seem like a complete idiot, but remember that he is a notorious international terrorist with an army at his side. If not for the GI Joe team, he likely would have won in the first episode. This is lampshaded in the Darker and Edgier G.I. Joe: Resolute in which he explains that he only acted stupidly and cowardly so that his troops will know how not to behave.
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • The Monarch is thought of as a Harmless Villain...until he starts killing people with poison darts and elaborate deathtraps.
      • This appears to be situational. Against Dr. Venture and Brock Samson? Harmless Villain. Against anyone else? The man is actually kind of scary. Compare his banter with Venture(roughly paraphrasing: "At least I've driven you mad HAHAHA") to what he says to the The Moppets: (again, roughly paraphrasing: "I will feed your bodies to the dogs if you don't move NOW").
    • This also applies to The Monarch's henchmen. This was the only time that they were depicted as a competent fighting force.
    • And Dr. Girlfriend's Murderous Moppets/the Pupa Twins, Tim-Tom and Kevin. Yeah, they're unshaven dwarfs dressed like 19th century schoolboys, but they're also deadly hand to hand combatants. Specifically, both of them are Knife Nuts. They're also plotting on the Monarch and his henchmen.
    • Sgt. Hatred seemed too Affably Evil, treating Dr. Venture very cordially after being assigned as his new archenemy. Then he shot Doc in the stomach without provocation. They were rubber bullets, yeah, but that's just his way of "keeping it lively," which just makes it way worse. He is also a pedophile(A recovering one, but he has trouble controlling his urges).
    • In season 4 21, previously an incompetent but Genre Savvy henchman, has taken a huge level in badass and has become not only by far the most competent and dangerous of The Monarch's henchman, but also the most mentally imbalanced as well. This is all because of the loss of his best (and perhaps only) friend, 24.
    • The Venture Bros in general applies this to all villains. The justification is that the villains we see are sanctioned by the Guild of Calamitous Intent, which places strict regulations on arching. OSI, the world police force, tolerates the Guild simply because they have restrictions for their members and the alternative is letting a bunch of pissed-off madmen with exotic weapons, powers, and costumes run around aimlessly.
  • Justice League:
    • John Dee/Dr. Destiny went from sadsack prison inmate to dream-invading psychopath very quickly, though the clear impression is given that he was always that person. After he escaped from prison, Green Lantern wasn't at all concerned because Dee was "a nobody". Batman then reminds him the Cyclops considered Ulysses "a nobody" and lost its eye.
    • The second version of Dee was probably inspired by his really, really creepy, almost squicky depiction in the first run of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. He also shows elements in this incarnation, where he starts out an atrophied, behind the times insomniac whose carjacking attempt only succeeded because the victim was being nice. Then he killed the driver (after patiently listening to her life story), recovered his Artifact of Doom, and drove the entire world mad.
  • While Darkwing Duck's no-nonsense, death-penalty toting Knight Templar future self of Darkwarrior Duck will never be mistaken for harmless, there is a brief point where this is invoked. In a scene cut from the broadcast version, Gosalyn attempts to appeal to Darkwarrior when he pulls his signature, and decidedly non-lethal, gas gun on her. She calls his bluff, when he reveals that he hasn't used a gas gun in years, and that the weapon he's aiming point-blank, at her face is a freaking missile launcher.
  • Stan, Xander Crews' aging, overweight, and constantly exasperated assistant on Frisky Dingo. After Xander went missing, he had him declared dead (calmly explaining such when Crews called him before hanging up and laughing), took over the Crews corporation and, with it, the Crews fortune and Xander's identity as the superhero Awesome X, and his command over the Powered Armor wearing X-Tacles.
  • Zet from Magi-Nation. Seeming at first to be a Harmless Villain as one of a Terrible Trio-style set of Those Two Bad Guys (and the eternal Butt Monkey of his Dumb Muscle superior Korg), Zet turned out to be not only a peerless mastermind once he was finally rid of Korg, but is universally considered the hardest boss in the game, having more health than the final boss himself and the ability to act twice in one turn.
  • Sonic Sat AM:
    • Ixis Naugus was on his way to becoming this (along with Snively), but cancellation and the Power Rangers got in the way. He had only appeared in one episode, and was such a dark horse that viewers had initially speculated that his glowing red eyes at the end of the last episode were Knuckles'.
    • Well, considering he had ROBOTNIK scared shitless of him, the audience kinda knew right from the start that he was nowhere near harmless.
    • Also, the writers stated that if the series continued, Ixis Nagus would have replaced Robotnik as the Big Bad.
    • The Archie comic version of Sonic the Hedgehog shows why Naugus scared Robotnik. He's one mean SOB you simply don't want to mess with.
    • The show's 3rd season plans would also have played with this for Snively, Robotnik's downtrodden lackey, who would take over briefly as Big Bad. Though supposedly leaving his mark for a brief while, the Freedom Fighters would eventually begin to overpower him, pressuring him to release Naugus who would begin his aforementioned domination. Even in what of the series was made, Snively showed odd occasions of competence and came this close to conquering Knothole.
  • In the Masters of the Universe universe, Hordak. In He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (2002), he was used relatively minorly in the series (as an unseen Bigger Bad who Skeletor had betrayed but still feared), but would have been more important in the unmade S3.
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • This version of the Scarecrow is rather unthreatening in appearance, but gets his usual thing on, spreading fear and such. He isn't considered especially threatening by Gotham until he starts sadistically removing people's fears, causing citywide chaos and panic. Batman gets a taste of just how Scarecrow can be earlier, when Scarecrow drugs him with a toxin that could permanently drive him insane with fear, if he is infected too long or gives into his worst fears. To make matters worse, Scarecrow manages to get Batman locked up in Arkham Asylum, while Scarecrow tries to fill the entire city with fear gas to permanently drive the city insane with fear. Batman manages to stop Scarecrow with two seconds to spare, and barely manages to overcome the effects of Scarecrow's toxin.
    • Even by the standards of Batman's rogues gallery, the Clock King looks like he should be a pushover. He's just some two-bit pencil-pusher with a bowler hat and clock-themed glasses, right? The only skill he has is punctuality. What are his chances against Batman? Pretty good, it turns out; his timing is impeccable, and he's studied the way Batman moves, so the Dark Knight can't even land a punch. Knowing a lot about time (and some trivia about Batman and his devices), as the bank vault death trap showed, proved this wouldn't be easy for Batman. He forced Bats to think outside the box to beat the death trap. When he's next seen, he's gotten a device that speeds up or slows down time, so he's not just limited to knowledge alone. His skills at timing and planning allowed the Suicide Squad (er, Task Force X) to break in the Justice League Watchtower and steal a god-made all-powerful armor. He had studied a lot of data on the League's operations with the Watchtower and knows the limitations of Task Force X as well. He's Mission Control with them and monitors their moves to keep them on schedule as much as possible.
  • Scarecrow's image problem was remedied in The New Batman Adventures, apparently as a cross between Herbert West, Judge Doom, and a corpse cut down from the gallows. Yeesh. He ended up making Batgirl live her worst nightmare after that, though at that point he'd been recognized as a pretty significant threat.
  • Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series. Batman and Superman:
    • When the first cross-overs between the animated series started, Batman fought Lex and won quite effortlessly when Superman thought he couldn't handle him. And then Superman, who had absolutely dismissed The Joker as goofy-looking nobody, is then nearly defeated by the psycho (and he nearly kills Lois Lane and a few hundred other people while pinning Superman down).
    • From an evil point of view, Lex has dismissed Joker himself because he can't handle his 'mere mortal' in Gotham. By the end the Joker completely outdoes him, nearly destroying everything he loves and nearly killing him.
    Mercy: He said he was going to destroy everything Mr. Luthor ever built!
    • Lex also felt that Batman was nothing to worry about and saw him as nothing more than a nuisance, that is until Batman breaks into his penthouse and does something that even Superman had failed to do before: scaring the crap out of Lex Luthor. After that Luthor decided to give him the same priority as Superman. That's when Luthor understood what the Joker meant when he said "there's nothing 'mere' about that mortal."
  • Tim The Witch Smeller from Sabrina: The Animated Series and his aardvark look like a complete joke, being a nerd with a poor Freudian Excuse and no powers who hunts witches. Then he reveals his ability to track any witch anywhere and his habit of tracking witches while they're amongst Muggles so they can't reveal their powers, making him one of the most dangerous villains in the series.
  • Metalocalypse:
    • Charles Foster Ofdensen goes 19 episodes before anyone even says his name; he's the annoying, nasal-voiced nerd lawyer who serves as a voice of reason to the otherwise stupid and possibly insane metal band. And then we find out that he's actually been a badass all along, and the villains of the series consider him a bigger obstacle in the way of Dethklok's destruction than Dethklok itself.
    • As a bonus, he seems to actively hide his ruthlessness from Dethklok, and has been known on at least three occasions to lie to them about what he does to people who threaten them, or his own position with the band. In one of the season 2 deleted scenes we see him telling the boys what happened to potential management usurper Melmord Fjordslorn: "Turns out he was a pedophile. What a weirdo." The truth? Ofdensen fought him to the death for the right to manage the band and won.
    • Also Dr. Rockso (the Rock 'n Roll Clown; he does cocaine). No, really. The overweight, coked-up clown dressed in about a yard of fabric with a brightly colored wig and facepaint is a dangerous, dangerous man willing to do whatever it takes to get just a little more of that sweet blow.
  • Blokk in Shadow Raiders, a brute-force driven dimwit who extremely quickly suffers Villain Decay and hardly seems a big deal. But then Planet Rock redeploys its main weapons somewhere else, and Blokk leads a hideously destructive attack and kills the planet's ruler in one-on-one combat. And when the small kids of the show defeat him again, he finally snaps and spends the last episode on a vicious killspree that nearly wipes out the planet.
  • Xiaolin Showdown:
    • Teenage wanna-be villain Jack Spicer, who underwent Villain Decay almost the moment he was introduced in the pilot, and quickly became a one-man Goldfish Poop Gang. At least, until the penultimate episode, when a Bad Future shows that, in a timeline where the heroes weren't around to constantly thwart him, he'd actually defeated all the major villains who were taken more seriously than him, conquered the world, and rechristened himself the Emperor of Darkness.
    • Hannibal Roy Bean even lampshades it in his first appearance by telling Jack that he would have no problems becoming the worst villain ever, if he ever learned to conquer his fears.
  • Gargoyles' Owen Burnett at first merely seems like an uptight man Friday for David Xanatos— but not only does he quickly prove to be an extremely competent badass in his own right, he is in fact Puck, an immortal Trickster with vast magical powers.
  • Transformers Animated:
    • It appears to be doing this cross-shows with Wasp(inator). The Beast Wars character he was based on was the Chew Toy and the definition of a Harmless Villain with a weird speech pattern, but this version is dangerously deranged and the way he talks is a result of insanity brought on by years of imprisonment for something he didn't do.
    • And after he became Waspinator he's now twice as big as Prime. He's hopped up on unstable Transwarp energy. Oh, and like his Beast Wars counterpart, getting blown to pieces isn't exactly life threatening to him.
    • The Decepticons Starscream, Blitzwing, and Lugnut also fall under this category. They aren't too bright (although Starscream has some moments), are very comical, and are each capable of single handedly defeating all 5 main Autobots without too much trouble in a straight fight.
    • Swindle, an arms dealer based on Ron Popeil with hidden weaponry up the exhaust port and surprisingly sneaky and clever.
    • When Starscream made a bunch of clones, they all set to bickering, and their personalities really affected how they fought (Skywarp was too much of a Dirty Coward, and Ramjet and Thundercracker spent too much time talking). Slipstream and Sunstorm, however were more effective, taking Bulkhead and Prowl down respectively.
    • Even some of the human villains get this...Like the Headmaster, who's an Internet Tough Guy with a Mini-Mecha that he can take over other robots with. Robots including Bulkhead and, later on, the aforementioned Starscream. It's fair to say Animated has a lot of this going around.
  • The Transformers:
    • The Decepticons from the original Transformers cartoon were originally portrayed as goofy, incompetent villains who constantly lost to the Autobots every single time throughout the first two seasons, but from Transformers: The Movie onwards, they actually began killing almost half the original Autobot cast! (out-of-universe, this was actually done by the writers just so they can make room for new characters, both 'Bot and 'Con alike) The third and final season, as with the Japanese sequels, actually portrayed all of the 'Cons as true villains.
    • Even in early seasons, there were a fair number of times the Decepticons outsmarted or overpowered the Autobots and were mere seconds away from victory. Megatron, despite his infamy as a General Failure is also Dangerously Genre Savvy at times and often succeeds in sabotaging the Autobots attempts to finally take them out (eg. he instantly reversed around Mirage's attempt to turn them and the Insecticons against each other and also managed to steal or outmatch some of Wheeljack's gadgets such as the Immobilizer and the Dominator Disc).
  • Danny Phantom: The Box Ghost was a minor incompetent villain, only posing a serious threat to Danny when he was first starting out. But then he stole Pandora's Box and started releasing Sealed Evil in a Can all over the place... His effectiveness in the future... Beware indeed.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Most of Dr. Drakken's schemes nearly work, but there's usually some fatal flaw that destroys them. If not that, there always a Genre Savvy cheerleader, a seemingly clumsy sidekick, or a certain molerat who gets in the way.
    • Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama saw him succeed on a grander scale, and showed how dangerous he can be when he finally learns from his past mistakes.
    • In the second finale, he underwent a plant mutation that at first made it look like he was turning into a monster, but then it appeared to make him look even more ridiculous. Turns out though, this mutation gave him powerful, destructive vines that he used to crush the alien walkers, earning him his very first victory. If the company had decided to continue the series, he really would be a force to be reckoned with.
    • Shego, she's mostly the muscle who fights Kim but is too lazy to actually take over the world herself, but in Kim Possible Movie A Sitch In Time she comes up with and pulls off a successful plan to take over the world.
  • Inverted with Valmont from Jackie Chan Adventures. Involves a Timey-Wimey Ball and complications.
  • Lucius on Jimmy Two-Shoes is usually the posterboy for The Devil Is a Loser. However, according to Word of God, he has powers that can allow him to remake the planet to his will! The sole reason he doesn't is because he wants to prove to everyone he doesn't need to.
  • Dora the Explorer: Though not shown often from the present day one, Swiper the Fox, of all people, sometimes has shades of this. His Bad Future self reveals the only reason Dora can stop him is he's just polite enough to listen to her "Swiper no swiping" trick. When he ended up on the Naughty List on Christmas, he stops listening at all. The result is he becomes so successful and steals so much stuff the future Dora angrily tells the present Swiper there's nothing left to swipe and he's single handedly ruined everyone's Christmas since that day. Then when the past Swiper tries the "Swiper no swiping" trick on his future self, future Swiper simply laughs at him and says it doesn't work anymore before stealing said item anyway. Good thing Swiper is polite, huh?
  • Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension has an Alternate Universe version of Dr. Doofenschmirtz who is way more evil and dangerous than the one they're accustomed to.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Doofenschmirtz of the main universe as well; 'Remains of the Platypus' shows us that if given the time to actually focus, he could develope a truly dangerous inator, like that episode's Vaporizinator.
  • The Dreamstone:
    • The Urpneys are blundering idiots who even the heroes described as being "tiresome". However despite their haplessness, they did on several occasions manage to outsmart or capture the heroes and actually succeeded in bringing the Dreamstone to Zordrak multiple times over. It was merely stopping the heroes from stealing it back they had problems with. In some cases the heroes are left genuinely outmatched until dumb luck intervenes.
    • "The Spidermobile" is a defining example. Sgt. Blob and his men decimate the entire Land of Dreams in Urpgor's new (literal) Spider Tank and take the stone with ease. They even remain undefeated, it is Zordrak that ends up losing it to the heroes.
    • While not really a Harmless Villain himself, Zordrak's intents originally seemed to be little more than keeping the Dreamstone away from the Noops so he could spread nightmares, making the war between the two sides for a rather mundane cause. In "A Day Out" he reveals a new motive; to corrupt the stone's power to use as his own and become "LORD OF THE UNIVERSE!!!", making the stakes from the Urpneys trying to steal it for him a lot higher for the Noops.
  • Aladdin: The Series:
    • Abis Mal is mostly by far the least threatening of Aladdin's Rogues Gallery, but there are times when he's managed to not only get the upper hand, but come dangerously close to winning
      • In "Forget Me Lots" he took advantage of Jasmine's amnesia in order to brainwash her into a fanatically loyal, nigh-unstoppable One Woman Army.
      • "Some Enchanted Genie" had him in control of a genie. He wished that she'd crush them like bugs, but when pointed out she can't kill, he instead wished for them to be turned into bugs, so he could do the crushing. Someone else had to wish he didn't wish that.
    • There's also Mechanicles. Like Abis Mal, his one episode, "I Never Mechanism I Didn't Like", where he's a major threat involves brainwashing. Unlike Abis Mal, however, he doesn't brainwash just Jasmine, but everyone in Agrabah except Aladdin and Genie.
  • Dr Robotnik of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is largely considered far more incompetant than most other incarnations of the doctor, however he has been shown to be Dangerously Genre Savvy several times over and many of his inventions, as goofy as they are, are very elaborate or at least work as he intended.
  • Shredder of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) cartoon is similarly considered a heavy downgrade from his fearsome alternate counterparts, but he still possesses combat skills that usually only Master Splinter can rival, and his schemes, though cartoony, range anywhere from pitiful to potentially deadly. Following the Darker and Edgier reboot in later seasons, he has a minor, but more fearsome role.
    Shredder: I never bluff...
  • Ben 10 has several cases like this:
    • Dr Animo is a stereotypical Mad Scientist mostly considered as a joke (though he was considered as Ben's third most dangerous enemy in the original series, but considering the ones before him were Vilgax and Kevin 11, that makes him the least impressive of the three). In Alien Force episode Voided, however, he has ended up in an alternate dimension where he became a ruthless dictator by controlling the giant alien animals used to keep the dimension, and almost created a portal to go invade Earth. Sadly, after this episode, he is back to being a joke.
    • The Forever Knights, while creepy and threatening in the original series, were gradually turned into a joke over the course of Alien Force and Ultimate Alien, to the point in one episode, Gwen (who is usually the Only Sane Woman of the group) considered Ben supporting his girlfriend in a tennis match was a priority over preventing them to take over the world. Comes season 2 of Ultimate Alien, their original leader Sir George comes back, ends their Enemy Civil War and turned them into a much more competent group with hight-tech weapons and who actually succeed in killing a recurring character.
    • Vilgax's sidekick Psyphon was passive for most of his screen time, usually contenting himself with being a messenger, advisor, scientist and lackey. After Vilgax is apparently killed in the finale of Alien Force, he goes on a Avenging the Villain moment against Ben. Turns out he is skilled enough to handle Ultimate Spider-Monkey in a hand-to-hand fight.
    • Omniverse takes it even further by giving him a more threatening appearance, a gang of underground alien criminals, and making him a near match for Ben and Rook.
    • Minor villain Serpent was first introduced as a Smug Snake (literally) villain who got curb stompd by Ben in his first two appearances. When he shows up for the third time, he turns out to have learn from his previous defeats, and proves Dangerously Genre Savvy to anticipate which form Ben is about to use and set a trap instead of fighting him directly. He almost succeeds in killing off Ben.
    • Malware, big time. The guy is first introduced at the beginning of Ben 10: Omniverse, where he is quickly sent to retreat by Ben in the Batman Cold Open. We then get a Whole Episode Flashback that reveals his origin, including the fact he murdered people of his own kind to feed himself, but still seems to have him stick as a minor villain. And THEN Of Predator And Prey reveals that he was the Big Bad all along and the one who hired Khyber; the reason he was defeated so easily at the beginning of the show was because he already got what he needed in the fight and just needed to leave. Hell, when Ben encounters him for the first time in five years in Malefactor, he's genuinely frightened by him, a task few villains in the franchise have succeeded in.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the episode "Owl's Well That Ends Well", Spike tries his hand at Snidely Whiplash villainy and is about as dangerous as an adorable baby dragon can be. That is to say, not very dangerous or effective at all. Cue "Secret Of My Excess", and a quirk in dragon biology which causes them to grow when they indulge their greed turns little Spike into a powerful monster that nearly demolishes Ponyville.
    • Trixie was little more than an obnoxious jerk in her first appearance, tripping up our heroes when they booed her, then getting her house smashed when she couldn't match her boasts. Then comes her return, and now Trixie's sporting a magical amulet that lets her match Twilight's more impressive feats of magic, and a nasty attitude willing to use it as a result of it corrupting her mind. She becomes powerful enough to effortlessly overpower Twilight.
    • While at no point is Discord presented as weak, he could at first sight be mistaken for a Great Gazoo. He is a Large Ham who likes to make chocolate rain out of the skies. He is also the Spirit of Chaos, a nigh-omnipotent Reality Warper who can shape the world as he sees fit, and a force so powerful Princess Celestia seems afraid of him. He stole the Elements of Harmony from behind Princess Celestia's impenetrable protection spells, turned Equestria into a World Gone Mad, and brainwashed the Mane Six to be Jerkasses so that they would become unable to use the Elements, thus eliminating the only threat to him and entertaining himself with their ensuing bickering. It is unlikely he would ever have been defeated if it weren't for his overconfidence.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door
    • In one episode, the Toilenator, a villain constantly ridiculed (just look at his name), finally snaps when he was thrown down the Grand Canyon and laughed at. Eyes glowing red with anger, he manages to flush the entire Canyon of cereal, the KND's celebration feast.
    • In another episode, he defeats five of the Kids Next Door's greatest enemies on his own, thinking that they were members of Sector V in disguise. Of course he then gets his ass thoroughly kicked by the actual Sector V kids, so... subverted?
    • Grandma Stuffum, as well. At first, she seemed like a goofy recurring villain (even if still a threat). Then came "Operation: F.O.O.D.F.I.T.E.", which was basically just one big epic fight between her and Sector V to the music of GWAR songs.
  • In the two-part WordGirl episode A World Without Wordgirl, the titular hero, tired of missing her birthday party due to stopping villains, wishes she never was WordGirl. When her wish comes true, she finds herself in Chucktopia, later learning that, without Wordgirl to constantly stop him Chuck managed to become a successful villain and took over the city, forcing all the other villains to work for him.
  • Denzel Crocker from The Fairly OddParents is probably the most incompetent villain on the show, but he did successfully manage to take over the world in Abra-Catastrophe, and managed to capture Cosmo and Wanda in another.
  • Adventure Time:
    • The Earl of Lemongrab initially appears to be an annoying, harmless jerk. The second time he appears, however, he's deliberately torturing people with weapons including a sword that shoots sonic blasts, and an electrical torture chamber. However, it's hard to tell whether he's genuinely evil, or just COMPLETELY BATSHIT CRAZY.
    • The Ice King is usually played as a demented old fool, but being a tall order comedic sociopath, he is dangerous at times. In one instance, he manages to overpower Finn and is about to make the final blow, but then remembers he didn't visit him to fight and holds off. He also proved useful under benevolent purposes, helping Finn defeat the Lich.
  • South Park:
    • Eric Cartman. Most of the time, he's just a fat, racist bully, but so far he's fed a teenager his own parents in the form of chili, nearly started a second holocaust and controlled Cthulhu to destroy all who he hates.
    • Sheila Broflovski. Her moral crusades were usually Played for Laughs, but in The Movie she singlehandedly starts a literal war with Canada, initiates a Canadian holocaust and (indirectly) causes the apocalypse.
  • In his first several appearances, Barry from Archer is an antagonist, but a fairly harmless one (Archer beats the bejeezus out of him in at least half of their encounters). Then the KGB gets ahold of him, and suddenly he's a lot less easy to mess with.
  • Duke Igthorn of Gummi Bears is as much as Large Ham as any other Disney villain, and as typically successful as any other Saturday morning cartoon villain. However, several times over the course of the series he's truly endangered Dunwyn through his schemes, and in the series finale actually conquers the kingdom, losing at the end of the finale notwithstanding.
    • It's also clear that if it hadn't been for the Gummi Bears, he would have taken over Dunwin a long time ago. Even if most people now believe that the Gummi Bears only are fairy-tale characters, they remain a threat to Duke Igthorn, that the king's knights only can dream of being. And there's also one episode, where he blows up a tower and could have killed Princess Calla (she even was unconscious for a while). So yes, Duke Igthorn sure had his dangerous moments.
  • Killgore of My Life as a Teenage Robot gets this treatment. He wants to get credibility as a villain, but since he's just a living windup toy and considered cute by many, no one can really take him seriously. However, when push comes to shove, he's capable of accomplishing anything, including rebuilding Armageddroid, a rogue Humongous Mecha created by Dr. Wakeman that nearly killed Jenny in their first battle, to prove he's a legitimate threat.
  • Looney Tunes character Elmer Fudd is a real dunce and less a villain than a mere punching bag for Bugs Bunny, whom he invariably hunts. And then came one of the most epic Looney Tunes cartoons ever, What's Opera, Doc?, where Elmer shows Bugs how "harmless" he really is...
    • Elmer stands as the only villain to actually defeat Bugs in the classic shorts, and more than once. He gets the last laugh in both "Rabbit Rampage" and "Hare Brush".
  • Li'l Gideon Gleeful in Gravity Falls seems like just a fraudster who thinks he's entitled to have Mabel, but he quickly turns dangerous when he thinks Dipper is trying to interfere in their relationship. It's also revealed he has a journal like Dipper's, and knows about a secret at the Mystery Shack.
  • Cute, lazy, and more than a little bit childish, She-Ra: Princess of Power's Imp may seem like little more than the Big Bad's pet, but he's a highly competent spy and a very creative mischief maker who has caused plenty of trouble for the Rebellion.


Non-human Lover RevealMore than Meets the EyeObfuscating Disability
Non-Powered Costumed HeroHidden BadassObfuscating Insanity
Monster ClownHidden EvilDirty Cop
Not His SledSpoilered RottenOh, and X Dies
Not Me This TimeVillainsObvious Judas
Not Evil, Just MisunderstoodAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Obliviously Evil
Not BrainwashedHeel Face IndexThe Paragon Always Rebels

alternative title(s): Not So Harmless
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