aka: Evil Is Dumb
"It's kind of funny, but I was just thinking that the only time Jessie and James were on the winning side is when they sided with us..."
When a long running series has a Harmless Villain
, a villain who can't go two steps without screwing up their whole plans and being completely humiliated by the heroes, occasionally the character might have a change of heart, be zapped by some strange device, or simply be tired of losing. In any case, he might turn good
, or otherwise join the heroes
. Upon doing this, a revelation will be made: when fighting for the side of good, suddenly the idiot who couldn't even get a clear cut plan together is taking care of business left and right!
In short, the villain is much more effective as a hero than a villain. In which case one of three things can happen:
- If Status Quo Is God, then some occurrence will cause the villain to turn evil again, but not before both the hero and the villain gain some new insight into each other.
- Rarely, the villain will stay good, and throw off his Villain Ball shackles (or keep them, depending on how much comedy factors into things), possibly becoming a Sixth Ranger.
- The villain will die, be Put on a Bus, or similarly get a bridge dropped on him. Usually either because executives don't think the viewing public will accept the iconically inept villain as a plausible hero, or simply because Redemption Equals Death.
In any case, such storylines always add flair to the characters on the show, because now you know that, even though they continue to say they're evil time and time again
, you know that there's a good guy in there somewhere (cue "awwwww..."
), much to his/her chagrin, though they probably secretly enjoyed it
Villains that were already powerful and effective in their villainy will generally get a Redemption Demotion
Curiously this hardly ever overlaps with Token Evil Teammate
; if the character commits something evil after their Heel-Face Turn
, it is usually taken as a sign that maybe heroing wasn't meant for them after all.
Note that this page will often spoil a Heel-Face Turn
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Anime and Manga
- Pokémon's Team Rocket trio is one of the quintessential inept villain teams, but they've often tried to help out the hero on occasions, in which case their skills go way up. This often showcases that being on the side of good is probably the best thing for them, but for some reason they insist on causing trouble anyway.
- If you look at their pre-anime timeline flashback episodes, Jessie and James are pretty serious. Even when they became goofier/more open toward each other and friendlier toward each other, they were good criminals. Though, soon after they met Ash... they became the "lovable losers" that they are today.
- In fact, during the episode where James visits his summer home (courtesy of his still filthy rich parents), he fights on the side of good for the Pokemon in the nearby Greenhouse, which Jessie and Meowth were trying to steal. Even the heroes are taken aback by how powerful his Cacnea's Sandstorm seems all of a sudden - and this is also true for the old episode where he became the "Flaming Moltres", whipping Butch, Cassidy, AND Ash until his horoscope got rained on. If James were a good guy through and through, he'd make for one of the most powerful Trainers in the anime.
- Subverted as HELL as of Best Wishes. They are very competent, goal-minded, and NEVER ONCE "blasted off" since then.
- Grandis, Hanson, and Sanson from the Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water started out as a highly inept Terrible Trio who always lost to Nadia. Yet after making a permanent Heel-Face Turn, their powers and skills proved to be extremely essential. Hanson was able to shine as a Gadgeteer Genius, even smarter than the Kid Hero protagonist in that area, Sanson's super strength saved the gang dozens of times, and Grandis showed herself as a capable leader
- Viral in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann is a quintessential example. Prior to his Heel-Face Turn he was a permanent victim of Villain Decay, each vow of new determination to avenge his slain allies or regain his honor only making the next beatdown even more painfully abrupt. But once he joins Simon to save the Earth he demonstrates his masterful skill as a brilliant copilot whose sole handicap is his relative lack of Spiral energy. (And even that may be debatable, but either way it's not that much of a handicap since Simon has more than enough for the both of them.)
- Jeremiah in Code Geass became more competent after his Heel-Face Turn. Of course, being upgraded to a bulletproof cyborg helped...
- Possibly because the words "Zero" and "Orange" stop being a Berserk Button for him, and the revelation that Lelouch and Nunnally are alive gave him a chance to shed his Failure Knight status.
- Before his conversion he was a broken man. Afterwards he had everything to fight for ... and was unexpectedly popular.
- Same goes to his sort-of "succesor", Patrick Colasaur from Gundam 00.
- Justified in Mahou Sensei Negima! with Evangeline. She starts out powerful enough to cause Negi and Asuna trouble. Turns out she wasn't fighting too hard. All her later appearances she's just generally more powerful than she was before, beating down every hero the series has and one arc pulling a Big Damn Heroes and destroying a Demon God (nearly) single handedly. The reason is that the Thousand Master tricked her and weakened her with a spell, only when the spell is temporarly taken away does she have her full power, that made her one of the most feared mages.
- Shuten Doji/Anubis from Ronin Warriors, who becomes even more powerful after breaking free from Talpa's mind control and even going on to take over the mantle of the Ancient One when the previous one died.
- Lyrical Nanoha
- Fate Testarossa got stronger after her Heel-Face Turn (getting proper training from Chrono in-between seasons helped). Same with Signum and Vita in Nanoha StrikerS. Also played straight in Nanoha StrikerS; when Ginga Nakajima is brainwashed, she cannot use anything but her Inherent Skills.
- It's suggested in the manga that the Wolkenritter were holding back while fighting the heroes (possibly in order to not kill them), as each one has at least one ability they do not display until the final battle.
- One of the biggest promotions in the franchise would be Nove, who went from a villain who lost all of her battles in Nanoha Strikers, to a hero who achieved the fastest befriending in the franchise in Nanoha Vivid.
- However, the most successful turn from inept villain to extremely powerful hero would be Lord Dearche from the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable series. As an Omnicidal Maniac villain, she was powerful on paper, but whenever she appeared, she had a tendency get beaten almost immediately by whatever good guy is in the vicinity, may they be an in-training Hayate or a lowly Guardian Beast such as Zafira, and ended up getting killed multiple times over the course of a single night. As a reluctant hero however, she saved The Multiverse and the out of control Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds that was beyond anything the cast had faced so far, reversed the natural death of a planet, received the nigh-unlimited power she had always dreamed of, and gained a planet that accepted and loved her as their king.
- Yusuke comments on this fact in YuYu Hakusho, talking about how Hiei is doing a lot better fighting for him than when he used to fight against him.
- The key difference is that the victory-or-death scenarios he faces with Yusuke force him to do desperate things to reinvent himself. He gains massive power by mastering the Dragon of the Darkness Flame, which most demons would never even attempt, because it's just as likely to kill them as their opponents. Plus, when he fought Yusuke, Hiei was still weakened by the operation to implant his Jagan. By the end of the series, he's fully recovered.
- Several of Team Urameshi's old opponents from the Dark Tournament (Chu, Rinku, Jin, Toya, Suzuki, Shishiwakamaru) ally with Kurama and undergo Training from Hell, becoming almost as powerful as Kurama himself.
- Beelzebumon from Digimon Tamers. A pseudo-Deal with the Devil let him go from a non-threat to a Knight of Cerebus in a single jump, only to be taken down hard once he crossed the line by killing Leomon. Making amends with the human partners he ran away from boosted him back up to Mega-level, with a Hand Cannon and a spiffy set of wings to boot.
- Kind of the whole point behind Spawn comics.
- This is pretty much the basis for the recommended fanfic The Shocker: Legit.
- Nightmare Moon went down relatively easily. In Magical Pony Lyrical Twilight Luna casually wipes out armies and is considered to be scarier than her Superpowered Evil Side by the ponies that beat Nightmare Moon. The sheer power at Luna's disposal is enough to freak out her allies.
- In the Pony POV Series, Trixie is a lot stronger and more effective as the team's Sixth Ranger than as an antagonist. She even turns out to be another Element of Magic.
- In the Dark World, Twilight Tragedy was no slouch, but she lacked a lot of Twilight Sparkle's creativity, which is restored by her Heel-Face Turn. It's also possible that she's literally stronger now that she's using the purified Element of Chaos, rather than its corrupted form.
- Silver Spoon also gets this after pulling a Heel-Face Turn and becoming the Crusaders' Sixth Ranger, becoming a lot more cunning and effective than she was as a bully. Justified because she actually starts thinking for herself rather than letting Diamond do all the work. Her determination is so great that it allows her to fend off an attempt by the now Nightmare Diamond Tiara to break her spirit and convince her she only exists to be a villain.
- Tai Lung in the Kung Fu Panda Fan Fic A Different Lesson. He still loses in battle often enough to justify needing Po and the Five as his allies, and he has issues with controlling his temper and (not coincidentally) his Fire chi, but in all other respects he remains as powerful, incredible, and Bad Ass a fighter as he was when a villain. The fact he isn't maddened or enraged all the time (and has gotten over his Freudian Excuse) also allows him to actually make use of those thousand scrolls he learned, and use them cleverly and effectively. The Fire chi and the Golden Spear also count as power-ups for him.
- Green Goblin in Spiderman 3.
- Very common in Star Wars stories. Dozens of characters in the Expanded Universe have the backstory of "served in some branch of the Imperial military," most famously Han Solo and Biggs Darklighter. Despite being literal graduates of the Imperial Stormtrooper Marksmanship Academy, these characters are almost always treated as incredibly skilled in their field. Some, like Dengar, even hold onto their old armor, which is now actually protective. This is usually agreed to be because the Empire's training is good, the problems are more with morale, equipment, and strategy.
Live Action TV
- Played straight in Heroes with Noah Bennet, aka HRG. After his Heel-Face Turn he STILL keeps a serious amount of competency and shrewdness. Taking down an angry lunatic in midair, taking out and torturing an electric hurling assassin, killing his mentor in cold blood, and utterly owning the annoying manager of the copy store where he worked. The only noted exception being with the activities of his teenage daughter but to his defense is there ANY TV dad who is competent in that regard?
- Sheriff Roscoe from Dukes Of Hazzard would occasionally show more cleverness than usual when he was striving for a noble goal, such as tricking Enos into a prison cell in order to stop him from doing something that would get him fired. It's even mentioned several times in the series that he used to be the best sheriff in the county, before he started working for Boss Hogg and became the bumbler that he is.
- Klingons on the side of the Federation (during the Star Trek: The Next Generation era)? Kick-ass combatants who might be a bit brutal but not someone to trifle with, with high military competence and strategic and tactical skills. Klingons facing the Federation? Idiotic twits who have the tactical sophistication of a bull in a china shop.
- Happens a lot in Professional Wrestling. Standard booking is that the faces have to win matches cleanly and only lose due to cheating in order to keep the fans support and sympathy while heels almost never win cleanly so that the fans want to see them get beaten. Mix the two with a Heel-Face Turn and you have this.
- Christian Cage is probably the ultimate example of this trope. After turning his back on the fans he simply got more and more pathetic, and boring to the point in 2003 it seemed like he couldn't win a match clean if his life depended on it, even against 150 pound Spike Dudley. After returning to ECW many new fans were shocked to see he could actually escape from an arm bar and with the crowds behind him tag teams have to cheat to beat Christian in two on one matches.
- As a face, Edge (Christian's Kayfabe brother, or at least he used to be before the WWE stopped acknowledging that old storyline) did some pretty impressive stuff, including facing Kane with a broken arm and winning. As a heel, his gimmick is that he's a sneaky cowardly bastard who wins most of his matches by being "the ultimate opportunist".
- Alex Riley may be the best example of this trope. As The Miz's apprentice, he was of little competence except when he needed to take a beating in lieu of his teacher. Once Miz lost the title, he began to berate his protege until he lost one rematch too many and he fired Riley in the ring. Riley would turn on his former leader and immediately gain new found in-ring competence as he would defeat Miz several times and find himself in almost immediate title contention despite being portrayed as a mere rookie months earlier on NXT.
- Sheamus is another fine example. He had been suffering from severe Badass Decay for months and was Demoted to Extra. The Mark Henry goes on the warpath, destroying everything in his path to the point everyone was afraid to face him. Sheamus steps up to the plate to challenge him fearless, performing a Heel-Face Turn in the process. Cue Sheamus being the first one to defeat the Great Khali in recent months by forcing his way out of the Khali Vicegrip with sheer brute strength!
- In Metal Gear Solid, Johnny Sasaki was a Punch Clock Villain, ineffective and nearly too dumb to live. By MGS4, he has switched sides because of the Power of Love, but is still ineffective... until the mid-game, where he begins to take several level of Badass. By the end of the saga, the Butt Monkey Punch Clock Villain has become a super sexy Big Damn Hero Badass Normal who gets the girl and the happy ending.
- Super Mario Bros.: This happens with Bowser in a few games. Usually, this is because the player can control him so he doesn't get tricked into stuff like jumping to let enemies pass, smashing through the floor into a Bottomless Pit, charging at an enemy known for jumping ability that would let him grab his tail and throw him into a bomb, etc.
- In Super Robot Wars Original Generation 2 bad guy Arado had stats worse than your average mook when he fights you, but instantly becomes much more capable after he joins you. This is especially notable because he goes through a lot of training, and figuring out what skills his best at.
- In Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door. When Vivian joins your party, she is actually stronger than she was in the fight against her and the other Shadow Sirens much earlier in the game. In fact, if you fully upgrade her stats, she will be equal in strength to her ex-fellow siren Beldam during the rematch at the end of the game.
- She doesn't play it completely straight, though. When she turns, she has to relearn her Fiery Jinx spell by leveling up - though when she does relearn it, it's still several times stronger.
- Possibly justified in that she was unhappy working with her sisters, and thus never fought at full strength along with her sisters because she didn't have any emotion behind it. When she joins Mario, she feels relived and is able to work better now that she has a reason.
- In Half-Life, where the Vortigaunts are enemies, they're low-to-mid-range opponents who aren't too much to worry about. By Half-Life 2, where they're on your side, they're more powerful combatants and have also gained almost mystical healing and mechanical abilities. This may have something to do with the slave collars they were wearing as enemies, however. Combat-wise, the average Vortigaunt in Half-Life 2 is about on par with one from Half-Life 1 on hard mode... but even then, the Half-Life 2 ones have more health and healing abilities.
- By Half-Life 2: Episode 1, Vortigaunts are shown to be powerful enough to oppose the god-like power of the G-Man himself and by Episode 2 they're resurrecting the dead and (it's implied) battling the insanely powerful Combine Advisors, so their Heel-Face Turn has potentially upgraded them from cannon fodder to something that, collectively, potentially approaches King of All Cosmos.
- By way of explanation, the Vorts' more godlike powers are fueled by an extract which they procure from antlions. Presumably, their former masters took no interest in their animal husbandry.
- The vorts met in the Victory Mine who help you fight the Antlions are often cited as one of the best demonstrations of this trope. These three badasses slaughter an entire army of Antlions (who trained soldiers have trouble containing) with ease, while Vorts in the first game were fodder to organized groups of marines. However, it is often forgotten that these three were just particularly powerful vorts, which isn't something unique to Half-Life 2. In the PS2 only Decay expansion, when they were still bad guys, a bonus mission has a pair of Vorts being sent to retrieve a stolen Xen crystal. The two slaughter an entire platoon of marines on the way.
- Black Mesa somewhat turns down the severity of this by drastically decreasing the time it takes for a Vortigaunts to charge a blast, and doubling their health. This makes them seem more like the ones encountered in Half-Life 2; basically, they made the hard mode Vorts from the original game the standard here.
- Not exactly "evil" so much as doing his job, in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All when Detective Gumshoe is fired and helps Phoenix briefly, he shows shades of significant competence.
- In the remake of the original Wild ARMs, Zed, the Harmless Villain so lame he couldn't even make it into the Quirky Mini Boss Squad, is a recruitable secret bonus character who's actually a pretty good fighter once he's on your side. Lampshaded by dialogue indicating he finally has something worth fighting for (the little blind girl he ended up adopting) rather than simply just fighting to prove himself.
- Subverted in Mega Man 7. Bass was one of Mega Man's most intimidating foes in the first game he appeared in and had two Best Boss Ever fights. He also matches Mega Man's strength in the secret two-player mode. However, it's played completely straight in all later games when he became a a weak robot who just had to battle Mega Man despite him having zero chances of defeating him in Mega Man 8 as opposed to being a very impressive and powerful robot who is successful at what he does in the games where he is fighting against evil rather than Mega Man. In Mega Man and Bass, Bass underwent his heaviest Divergent Character Evolution and arguably became a Game Breaker.
- In Star Wars Battlefront, whatever faction you are using, the player is a lot smarter than the AI. So you could be fighting against utterly ineffective clone troopers one battle, then the next be using a hyper-competent one.
- Though inverted at the same time, since the AI is a little smarter for your enemies than your allies...
- In Fire Emblem pretty much any enemy joins you exactly as they were... meaning you can level them and make them far more powerful than they were before, tearing through legions of their companions.
- Odie in Soul Nomad & the World Eaters. When he's a Heel, he's no more than a dimwitted, incompetent bandit mage Gold Fish Poop Gang. When he switches sides, he still has the same stats he had as a boss, making him a very strong mage, and is no longer subject to the idiotic Ai and squad formations. Oddly hes still treated as a loser by everyone for most of the game, but has a flash of competency near the end. In the Demon Campaign, events force him to stop screwing around and work for good, where he actually shows himself as a very competent mage, even impressing his younger brother Dio, a legendary mage.
- In Pokémon Black and White, although not villains, the gym leader are at least boss battles, and when they come to help you at the end as you go up to beat N, this is in full effect. The gym leaders are capable of beating up six of the Seven Sages while you go to deal with N/Ghetsis, despite the fact that most of them shouldn't be able to beat the wild Pokémon hanging around outside.
- Averted in Live A Live. Any time you have to fight a playable character, they have the exact same HP, stats, equipment, and attacks they have when they're playable.
- Subverted in Abe Kroenen, in which Rasputin turns out to be just as horribly inept at being a good guy as he is at being a bad one.
- Happens in Kid Radd. The vilians go from being humerously incompetent to downright deadly once they switch sides.
- Shadowgirls got a borderline case—Chrissy behaving like a spoiled brat didn't won verbal confrontations and in physical ones faced only the opponents either weak enough or strong enough to make it one-sided. Once she did decide to bring misery upon those who deserved it, she gets to butcher a Bad Guy too powerful to expect this and uses her Mad Bitchy Skillz for a truly jaw dropping show.
- Jack Spicer of Xiaolin Showdown has turned good on three occasions, and each time he's been way more competent (though one time he was so nice that he made everyone sick), and has teamed up with the heroes many more times. The only reason he's hasn't made that Heel-Face Turn is because he's too much of a Card-Carrying Villain to give up the villain schtick, and he's apparently too much of a quitter to want to work hard at being good.
- Kim Possible, in the episode when Dr. Draken becomes good, and Ron becomes evil. The goofy sidekick is actually quite intimidating as an evil villain, while the Harmless Villain seems a pretty decent good guy.
- Drakken was also pretty damn competent at running a company when he acquired the cupcake business. Shame about the low-carb craze.
- Also in the series finale (of the Post Script Season- that is, the real finale), Drakken, famous for his terrible plans to rule the world, comes up with a successful one to stop someone else from doing the same.
- That wasn't the first time Drakken got a sudden competence boost when opposing other villains. In fact, Drakken is actually more competent at being good than he is at evil. The only time he ever subverted this trope was in Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama. Shego, on the other hand, seems to be held back by Drakken. It's been proven in "A Sitch In Time" that if Shego had ever bothered to break out on her own (and provided that Kim wasn't standing in her way), she would have conquered the world ages ago.
- Jackie Chan Adventures had an example of the permanent switch in Tohru, who was already pretty effective before he switched, and then learned magic and upped his success rate.
- Jackie Chan Adventures also had Finn, Ratso and Chow turn good in one episode, and do extremely well at being good guys... until their greed gets the better of them. In the end, they accidentally make a Heroic Sacrifice which, in a parody of Redemption Equals Death, leaves them stranded on a cliff halfway down a mountain.
- In Avatar: The Last Airbender , Zuko is arguably more effective when doing good deeds or acting on the behalf of the heroes (initially to serve his own ends), usually under the guise of the Blue Spirit. When he makes a full Heel-Face Turn, this is briefly inverted by him losing all his powers, but afterwards he becomes even more powerful by learning the TRUE version of Fire Bending, making him an even match for his sister Azula.
- Although we don't actually see what he used to be like, think about this. General Iroh, the Dragon of the West, led a 600 day siege of Ba Sing Se and pulled out after just barely penetrating the outer wall. Uncle Iroh, a Grand Master of the Order of the White Lotus, led the siege of a Fire Nation occupied Ba Sing Se that succeeds in hours and began the battle by blowing down the wall. By himself. In one shot. OK, well when he was good he had the comet powering him up, but still.
- Breaking out of a Fire Nation Prison...by himself...during an eclipse when he didn't have his Fire Bending! And he's still described as a One-Man Army by the shell shocked warden!
- Subverted in Power Puff Girls when Mojo Jojo shows power he never had before when he teams with the Girls to beat down an alien bent on the destruction of Townsville, but this isn't because he found good inside himself, but because the girls said they found something more evil than him.
- Zim, from Invader Zim. His job is to conquer humanity, but he's actually more successful in defending it.
- When Carl the Cockroach wizard was allied with Yin and Yang, he was incredibly competent. The siblings even lampshaded it.
- Occurs at various points in X-Men: Evolution with the Brotherhood, who tend to be less than intimidating when they're playing antagonists. But whenever they need to team up, they all get a nice promotion- even Toad, the series' resident smart-assed coward, was able to help out against Magneto and an evolved Sabretooth. Their best moment as a team may be the series finale, where they arrive late to cover Kitty Pryde's team after they've been wiped by an upgraded Magneto (mind-controlled by Apocalypse), and manage to hold out own against him without losing a single member (with the other teams fighting Apocalypse's horsemen all suffering some defeats).
- Proves to be the case for the title character in Megamind.