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Vil Lain De Cay
Used with permission: suedeheadcomic.com

Sideshow Bob: Hello, Bart...
Bart: Oh, it's you, Bob. How' ya doin'?
Sideshow Bob: No screams? ... Not even... an "eep"?
Bart: Hey, I'm not afraid of you. Every time we tangle you wind up in jail!
The Simpsons, "Day of the Jackanapes"

The process by which a villain who is extremely scary on first appearance becomes a joke after a few more appearances.

In most shows, Failure Is the Only Option for the Villains, because success would mean that the villains Take Over the World, kill all the good guys, and otherwise do things that make future episodes impossible. However, this eventually results in a Foregone Conclusion and a predictable plot, since it makes the audience wonder why The Hero is so concerned about an enemy that they've beaten six times already. Note that this does not apply to shows where the villains are supposed to be incompetent jokes from the start.

Most writers will try to stop this decline in menace, which sometimes helps and sometimes makes the Villain Decay worse, but the fastest way to decay a villain is to make him switch sides.

Of course, you can prevent this by not having failure be the only option for the villain; let them win battles, but not the war, or let their Evil Plan come closer and closer to completion while the heroes race to prevent its final success. Or, for the really cunning villain, dupe the heroes into doing what they wanted all along or benefit from them foiling the plan. Subsequent writers may decide to make the villain Not So Harmless with a particularly shocking move on their part. Or you can make them a Disc One Final Boss, and set up somebody who is far more evil and hasn't decayed yet.

Note that Villain Decay is almost never caused by a lack of Offscreen Villain Dark Matter, a difficulty in recruiting Mooks, or even injuries from battle with the heroes — which is to say, they don't become worse off because they have lost. Also note that a Villainous Breakdown is not a guarantee of Villain Decay. Decay will only happen quicker if their entire Villain Pedigree is replaced. If you have an Invincible Hero - especially one who shouldn't be capable of winning but somehow always wins anyway Villain Decay is almost assured, even for characters who haven't fought yet. Tends to be particularly hard to avoid for villains who manage to survive the heroes' climb up the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

See also Badass Decay, Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, Goldfish Poop Gang, Harmless Villain, Lowered Monster Difficulty and Motive Decay.

Contrast Villain Sue, Invincible Villain, From Nobody to Nightmare, and Only the Author Can Save Them Now, where a villain is too effective or scary. Believe it or not, those tropes suck the tension out of the villains even worse than this one. Also contrast Adaptational Villainy, where a relatively non-villainous character in a work becomes dramatically more villainous in an adaptation, and Villain Forgot to Level Grind, where the villain never becomes any less formidable, but the hero becomes so much more powerful over time that a once threatening villain is no longer a problem.

Compare and contrast Failure Hero. Same concept—repeated failures ruins their credibility—different role.

See also Degraded Boss. Not to be confused with Redemption Demotion, where the villian strength decays because of his Heel-Face Turn


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Fan Fiction 
  • In a stunning and awesome inversion, Dungeon Keeper Ami features Mukrezar. Mukrezar is, and was, a Keeper of dubious competence, given to many Zany schemes (usually involving a Ring of Power). However, since his resurrection he has shown such an assessment is significantly lacking. Apparently his resourcefulness, ability to bounce back from crushing defeat, and, most importantly, willingness to take incredible chances- and then turn them into victories even if they failed -was his greatest asset. Every appearance has only increased the estimation of his threat, despite being Plucky Comic Relief.
  • In the beginning of Snow Angels, Disaster is introduced as an almighty being capable of driving people to madness just by seeing it. For a short while the heroes (who include a time traveler and Sufficiently Advanced Alien) actually have trouble fighting Disaster, but by the end of the first arc, Disaster has decayed so much that it's beaten up by perfectly-mundane schoolgirls. Ironically, Disaster is the same entity as Sasaki, so she actually received an upgrade before the decay.
  • My Little Unicorn:
    • Discord, god of chaos and in general considered one of the best characters in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic, is reduced to a brainwashed monster henchman of Big Bad Titan near the end of the story and loses his reality warping abilities. To add insult to injury, he gets Killed Off for Real by Celestia.
    • The sequel also does this to Queen Chrysalis.
  • Harry Potter has Voldemort, who suffers a severe case of this in The Ariana Black Series. In canon, he's practically a personification of Nightmare Fuel. In the fanfic, he's just an incompetent mustache-twirler.
  • Subverted in Ultimate Sleepwalker: The New Dreams or Ultimate Spider-Woman: Change With The Light. Given that the Sorting Algorithm of Evil does NOT apply in these series, and the heroes do not gain any new powersets or power boosts over the course of the series, villains who were introduced early on have remained constantly and deadly threats throughout both series' runs. In fact, the author has specifically gone out of his way to ensure that this trope is subverted by allowing villains who look like they might suffer from this trope to actually succeed in their evil plots.

    Pinball 
  • Prince Charming, already a fairly ineffectual villain in the Shrek movies, gets decayed further to a minor protagonist in the Shrek pinball game.

    Radio 
  • Spoofed in Nebulous where K.E.N.T. mention battling "the Seaquel Devils" (a play on the Doctor Who monster the Sea Devils) - "They came back again. And again. Each time less effective than the last." Harry then reminds them of the Prequeloids - "We always knew how they did that!"

    Tabletop Games 
  • Whenever a new army in Warhammer 40,000 is introduced, they start as existential threats to the entire setting for a year or two and then decay into just another faction.
    • There's an obvious reason for this: profit. Make your new faction unstoppable arse-kickers who make mincemeat out of any opposition, and you've got a surefire way of getting eternal 13-year-old boys everywhere forking out on them just so that they can be the toughest tabletop warrior. Then throw out some heroic last stands for the Space Marines so that the existing factions don't get completely alienated. Wait a few years till everybody's got them, introduce a new, even more powerful, even more expensive faction. Rinse and repeat. Profit.
    • Necrons. When first formally introduced, they were supremely enigmatic horrors serving even more horrific beings, known for mysterious harvests of life, unknown plans, and ridiculously advanced technology. Fan perception of them quickly made them Omnicidal Maniacs to the public eye, and they began to be perceived as a race-wide Creator's Pet. The 5th Edition Codex has resulted in a serious hit to the Necrons' previously unknown and unstoppable nature in favor of shifting the focus towards the Tyranids and Chaos as the greatest threats facing humanity.
    • The Orks started off as a galaxy wide tide of death and destruction but degenerated into pub brawlers over time.
      • Zigzagged with the Orks. No one in the setting, and very few outside of it, will argue that Ork hordes aren't a serious, ongoing threat to everyone else. The problem is, Orks have kinda been stuck in the status quo area for a while, and the big video games featuring them have them on the bottom of the Villain Pedigree.
    • Tyranids also started off as unstoppable, galaxy-devouring horde of alien locusts, but their impending, full-scale invasion and eating of the galaxy kept getting delayed and delayed and then the tyranids inexplicably adopted an "attack in small numbers" strategy that made them less of a threat to the setting.
    • Then on a smaller scale you have some of the lords of Chaos. Abbadon the Despoiler is probably the number one offender. He is supposedly the heir to Horus and carries the title of Warmaster of Chaos, as well as the favor of all four Chaos Gods. However his Black Crusades seem to end in defeat more often than not, or at best as a stalemate. One can argue on whether or not it's his fault but the community at large now looks at him as a bit of a joke, earning him the nickname Failbaddon.
      • Games Workshop has spent the better part of 2013 trying their hardest to dispel this notion about Abaddon, eventually resorting to retconning eleven of his thirteen Black Crusades.
  • In any table top rpg with a significantly steep power curve, this can happen rather quickly. Dungeons & Dragons (and Pathfinder) are the best known examples, where an enemy which is an absolute terror at one point could be a beatable boss a few levels later and a mook a few more after that. If the villain doesn't scale to the power level of each Player Character, this trope becomes almost inevitable.

     Web Original  
  • Blood Boy, a big antagonist in the early stages of Survival of the Fittest version 3 had this occur in the last topic he appeared in, becoming an almost Jokeresque figure (to the point of almost directly quoting from The Dark Knight at one point). This does, however, have a fairly good reason: a different handler took over the character for that scene, one who, needless to say, had a rather different take on the character.
  • The Necromancer, in the Whateley Universe. Starts out as one of the top 60 supervillains on the Interpol rating scale. He's now oh-for-two against Team Kimba, who are high schoolers. Even with his team of supervillains working for him. Now one-for-two, making out like a bandit in the process, excluding one goal failing due to a Unknown Unknown.
  • On TWGTG, we have the Mad Scientist Dr. Insano that first appeared on The Spoony Experiment, whose early appearances depict him as a Laughably Evil, but none the less dangerous character. Later appearances, however, have him attempting no evil plans and just have him acting comedic.
    • Averted with Atop the Fourth Wall's villain Mechakara, who is presented as a Knight of Cerebus that almost kills Linkara in his first appearance, and when he later reappears, despite being Demoted to Dragon for the new Big Bad Lord Vyce, he's become even more a threat due to being upgraded, shown most notably in that his re-match with Linkara he No Sells the methods used to defeat him the first time. (And then in To Boldly Flee, he not only takes out Linkara in five seconds, but comes within an ace of killing the entire TGWTG cast.)
    • The suave, chessmaster-like, psychotic Ask That Guy is slowly turning into a pathetic, needy, emotional wreck. Maybe played with because he's always been like that, he just can't seem to hide it anymore.
    • In his first appearance during the Nostalgia Critic's review of The Last Airbender, Shamalayan removed Critic's talent (he gets it back, even though "there wasn't much to lose"), and would have done it again in Devil if he hadn't been stopped by the actual Devil. Come After Earth, and he's become so predictable that Critic isn't even phased by him anymore.
  • Strong Bad, from the infamous Homestar Runner universe, used to try to do actually evil things, but he's gone under lots of Villain Decay. To quote him from the Strong Bad Email(sbemail) called "your edge"
    Strong Bad: Me and the Cheat, walked past this deflated basketball and consciously decided not to re-inflate it! And we feathered Strong Sad for a HALF HOUR!
  • In Noob, Dark Avenger is one of the most feared player killers of the game... except a Running Gag has Sparadrap accidentally killing him. He's shown to give other characters difficulty, but it made the decay slower rather than keeping it from happening. Writing Dark Avenger out of the series due to his actor moving away relied on having that decay reach the lowest point possible.
  • The C.C Corporation in Flander's Company started out as a relatively competent organisation who actually succeeded in taking over Trueman's company without him even noticing, and their leader Carla Burnelle was a Psycho Electro and Magnificent Bitch who could handle the whole team of protagonists of her own. Come season 3, the arrival of Aegis cause Carla to suffer a Villainous Breakdown, leading her to a Genre Blind decision. Her group is even worse, as most competent members are either Killed Off for Real or Put on a Bus, leaving her more and more Surrounded by Idiots.


Uniqueness DecayIndex Decay    
Took a Level in JerkassCharacter DerailmentWhat an Idiot
Humiliation CongaNo One Respects the Spanish Inquisition    
Villain CornerCharacterization TropesVillain Has a Point
Villain CredVillainsVillain Episode
Utopia Justifies the MeansAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Villainous Breakdown
Viewers In MourningUnexpected Reactions to This IndexWhat Do You Mean, It's for Kids?
'Freaky Friday" FlipImageSource/Live-Action FilmsFriday the 13th (1980)

alternative title(s): Monster Decay; Villain Threat Decay; Villain Downgrade; Increasingly Harmless Villain; Diminishing Villain Threat; Diminished Villain Threat
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