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Armored Villains, Unarmored Heroes

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He's the Man of Steel, not the man in steel.

There are many, many, many, many ways to make the difference between heroes and villains obvious. One of the many tricks is to put the villain in armor, but not the hero facing him.

One of the main reasons is making said villain a Tin Tyrant, but there may be other possibilities behind it:

  • The villain's power relies on said armor, forcing the heroes to find a way around it to hurt him.
  • It's a subtle way to imply that the hero is better, because he doesn't need any further protection.
  • It encourages the image of the hero as an underdog: after all, the villain has armor and they don't, so the villain has an edge for the hero to surmount.
  • Creating a full suit of armor requires time, money and a skilled craftsman, implying that the villain has power or wealth. This reinforces the hero's underdog status.
  • Armor can be associated with war, tyranny and oppression. Heroes without armor can symbolize peace and freedom.
  • Armor can help a villain look inhuman, which highlights his villainy. Heroes, on the other hand, need to look approachable and trustworthy.
  • Armor increases the wearer's apparent size, allowing more opportunities for Evil Is Bigger.
  • Armor tends to be heavy. If the hero doesn't have superpowers it might strain Willing Suspension of Disbelief if they're able to move around as nimbly as a ballet dancer decked out in a full suit of armor. (Villains avoid this problem as the focus is not often on them so the audience can assume they had to take their sweet time plodding to their destination, but nobody wants to spend time watching the hero do that.)
  • Last but not least: seeing an unarmed and unarmored guy beating up a big guy in a armor is always awesome to look at.

See also Tin Tyrant, The Law of Diminishing Defensive Effort and Helmets Are Hardly Heroic. Often related to Brains Evil, Brawn Good and Good Armor, Evil Armor.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Saiyans in Dragon Ball Z wear some sort of armor, as do Freeza's soldiers later, in contrast to the protagonists who mostly wear martial arts gis. Vegeta in his long transition from villain, to anti-hero, to hero wears less armor every time he gets a costume change, from his first appearance with a battle skirt, winged shoulders, and a scouter, to the Buu Saga with no armor at all (though that was because he showed up to enter the Tenkaichi Tournament, where armor was forbidden, and never got the chance to get it back. He returns to wear armor again in Yo! Son Goku and His Friends Return!! (where he claims it counts as formal wear), Battle of Gods, Resurrection 'F' and Dragon Ball Super, which all take place after Majin Buu's defeat). After fighting on Earth it is said Vegeta only survived because of his armor but by time the protagonists had reached Namek it was shown to be easily shattered even by Krillin.
  • In One Piece one of the most memorable examples would be Luffy versus the weapon-loving Don Krieg. A good part of the fight revolves around Luffy trying a way to break his armor.
    • However, Luffy always jumps at the chance to wear armor, believing to be a very manly sort of thing. He even weeps with joy at just getting armored boots and gauntlets from Mr. 3's Wax Wax Fruit during the Impel Down saga.
  • Yaiba: The main character wears normal clothes whereas his nemesis Takeshi Onimaru wears spiky armor.
  • In Fairy Tail we have most of the guild members against Master Hades, while earlier, we have Sugarboy vs Gray. In the latest arc, the Raven Tail flagbearer (Actually Ivan in disguise) is completely covered in armor. By the time of the Tartaros arc, Gray also faces off against his own father Silver Fullbuster, now serving under Tartaros and armored up like a knight, while Gray himself does battle shirtless.
  • In Rurouni Kenshin, Fuji at first wears a set of armor as he faces Hiko, but when he's told that wearing it will only boost his confidence and make his attacks weaker, he decides to opt for a fair and square fight, and removes it.
  • In Gamaran none of the Ogame Ryu members wear protective clothes of sort, while many of their enemies may usually wear chainmail of sorts to protect themselves.
  • Hanaukyō Maid Team La Verite. In episode 11 Konoe Tsurugi's Onee-sama wears a heavy armor suit in combat, while her opponents Konoe and Yashima don't.
  • Inverted most of the time in Berserk, where Guts always wears armor, while most of the villains are un-armored, Especially the Apostles and the God Hand.
  • Played with in Fate/stay night. Saber is an armored hero while most of the antagonistic Servants like Lancer, Rider, Berserker, Caster, and Assassin (as well as True Assassin) are unarmored villains. It's played straight by the armored villain Gilgamesh and, during the finale of Heaven's Feel, by Saber Alter and Rider.
  • Ulysses 31: For some reason, Ulysses doesn't activate his energy shield when fighting them, while they all have shields.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • As Heathcliff, Akihiko is clad in the armor of the Knights of the Blood Oath, while Kirito wears a simple Badass Longcoat.
    • During the first half of the Alicization arc, Kirito and Eugeo are unarmored, while their enemies, the Integrity Knights, wear full plate. Eugeo suggests taking some armor along for protection, but Kirito says that it would likely slow them down, since they're unused to fighting in it. There are some exceptions, such as Alice (who later does a Heel–Face Turn and continues fighting in her armor), as well as antagonistsBercouli, Chudelkin and Quinella, none of whom are armored.
  • Rave Master: Both Haru Glory and his father Gale never used armor of sorts, while their nemesis King and Lucia Rareglove don threathening black armor on their bodies. Furthermore, while both Haru and Lucia descend from mighy kingdoms, only the Raregloves still bask in the former glory of their kingdom and try to keep up its legacy as the organization Demon Card.
  • Inverted in Ushio and Tora: as the final battle approaches, Ushio and Tora both receive a gift in the form of protective armor, one made from the remains of Stone Eater and the other from the Fallen Azafuse, while Hakumen no Mono has no need of armor.

    Comic Books 
  • Tin Tyrant Doctor Doom is the main adversary of the Fantastic Four, who are all armorless.
  • Spider-Man, pretty much an archetypal skintight-suit superhero, periodically though not invariably goes up against armored opponents of various kinds, such as the Rhino or assorted Spider-Slayer robots.
  • Superman:
    • In Action Comics #544: Luthor Unleashed!, Lex Luthor builds a fancy armored warsuit which he has kept for any physical brawls between him and Superman ever since. Superman, the original Flying Brick, has no need for such toys.
    • Some versions of Metallo play his cyborg parts as a sort of "armored" look, and characters like Brainiac, Cyborg Superman, and Barrage have donned it to fight him.
    • Part of the reason the New 52 redesign drew a lot of ire was that it attempted to add an "armor plating" look to Superman's outfit, which undermined the imagery.
    • In Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Lena Thorul wears a modified version of her brother Lex's warsuit when she wants to fight Supergirl, who never wears armor (and doesn't want to fight Lena anyway).
    • "The Unknown Legionnaire": Subverted, since Supergirl hardly wears armor, but she feels a compulsion to protect her identity when she loses her memories, so she quickly makes an armor suit, complete with a full-head helmet. She ditches her armor as soon as she remembers who she is.
    • Inverted in Crucible, with Supergirl wearing Kryptonian armor at some points, and her enemies fighting without protective gear.
  • X-Men:
    • The X-Men aren't big believers in armor, excepting those who come with it naturally through their power set, but they've faced a lot of armored enemies over the years.
    • Apocalypse wears alien Powered Armor, although given his power set it's probably the least dangerous thing about him. His "heir" Stryfe, his son Holocaust/Nemesis/whatever-it-is-this-week, and anyone who takes over Apocalypse's role like Archangel or Age of Apocalypse Wolverine all wear armor as well. And for pretty much all of them it's more for intimidation than any practical purpose.
    • Magneto for much of his history wore a costume of red chainmail along with his trademark helmet. Light, but just enough to keep Wolverine from gutting him on a few occasions.
    • The Juggernaut is a hulking giant in enormous dark-red armor, even though he's naturally tough enough for it to have no point (besides the helmet anyway).
  • Iron Man inverts this at time especially with foes like The Mandarin and Fin Fang Foom who don't wear armor.
  • Batman:
    • Inverted by Batman, whose suit contains Kevlar body-armor (how much this is emphasized visually depends on the artist), but armor is worn by almost none of his enemies. Mr. Freeze is one of the few exceptions, but most of the threats that face Gotham wear elaborate costumes made from normal cloth.
    • Robin (1993) & Red Robin: While Tim Drake always has body-armor in his suits they are generally flexible and cloth-like overall while his recurring villain "Scarab" wears high-tech full body encasing Powered Armor.
  • Wonder Woman:
    • Volume 1 & Sensation Comics: Byrna Brilyant wears her Snowman and Blue Snowman Powered Armor while fighting Wondy, who is dressed in culotte shorts and a strapless red bustier.
    • Volume 2: Ares wears black and blue armor while Wonder Woman wears a Stripperiffic swimsuit—originally a strapless red shirt and pair of spangled shorts—modeled after the American Flag.
    • Volume 5: Byrna faces off against WW in a Humongous Mecha, while Diana is wearing short pteruges and a strapless red bustier.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: The Jealous Pacificus dons an armor when he decides to attack Donald Duck.

    Fan Works 

    Films — Animation 
  • The robot probe sent by Gallaxhar in Monsters vs. Aliens has deflector shields that render it invulnerable to the Army's weapons. The five monsters battle the robot without armor or even weapons. Ginormica puts up a goodly tussle, and Doctor Cockroach is unkillable.
  • Inverted with the armored conscripts that defend Imperial China from the armorless Hun horde in Walt Disney Pictures' Mulan.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • Man of Steel: Kal-El/Superman wears his Kryptonian skinsuit (his superhero suit in effect), while General Zod and his crew wear Kryptonian armors on top of their own skinsuits. Only mid-way during Zod's final confrontation does her take his armor off for better freedom of movement, not needing it anyway.
    • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice: Rather very misguided co-protagonist than outright villain, but still, Batman wears a Powered Armor when confronting Superman — mostly to protect himself from crashing through walls whenever the Man of Steel is not under the effect of Kryptonite gas.
    • Wonder Woman: Diana does wear armor parts, but nowhere near as covering as the one Ares conjures from nearby metal debris in their final confrontation.
    • Wonder Woman 1984: The film inverts the trope with Diana and her golden armor against the unarmored Cheetah.
    • Zack Snyder's Justice League: Steppenwolf wears a silvery collapsible armor covering his whole body, while the only one who's fully covered in armor on the heroes' side is Cyborg.
  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Vader. In addition to evoking the look of a Black Knight against the unarmored farmboy, the armor/life support emphasizes his inhumanity.
    • The Rebel Alliance forces tend to have uniforms with with little more than flak armor, compared to the Empire's Stormtroopers who are armored head to toe (not that it ever helps them). Even their pilots are Faceless Mooks.
    • During the Clone Wars the Jedi would more often than not be unarmored, while their Clonetroopers, the future Stormtroopers, wear body armor. In Star Wars Legends this is actually one of the reasons many Clonetroopers disliked the Jedi, as they took them going unarmored as considering themselves immortal and putting themselves above the lowly Stormtroopers, with Appo, commander of the 501st Legion under both the Republic and the Empire, privately respecting Darth Vader more than he had when he was Anakin precisely because he finally took on wearing armor.
  • Played with in The Last Samurai with the armored samurai vs. the modern Japanese army in western uniforms.
  • Inverted in Iron Man 3's final battle, where the eponymous hero, famed for his Powered Armor, fights the Big Bad who wears normal clothes.

  • The main villains of Gods and Warriors are the members of the House of Koronos. They're rich and powerful enough to afford bronze armor, while the warriors under their command wear rawhide armor. The two main heroes are an Outsider and the runaway daughter of the High Priestess, and their allies tend to be low-class as well. The final battle of the final book is the only time the heroes are wearing armor.
  • In Journey to the West, after starting the eponymous journey with Tripitaka, Sun Wukong wears nothing but a tunic and a tiger pelt used as a kilt, and being monks neither Pigsy or Sandy carry armor. Most of his opponents will show some impressive armors, helmets and plates, usually described in high detail. That doesn't help them much.
  • A variant in The Stormlight Archive. While both the Alethi protagonists and the Parshendi antagonists have armor, the Parshendi armor is literally a part of their body. The Alethi just wear armor like normal.
  • A common trope in artwork depicting Conan the Barbarian, but largely averted in the actual stories and films.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Daredevil (2015):
    • In season 1, Matt Murdock wears black Civvie Spandex while Wilson Fisk wears suits lined with knife-proof material. Matt eventually manages to get his iconic red devil costume tailored by the guy who tailors Fisk's suits.
    • In season 3, Matt is wearing a black costume made from clothes in his church's donation bin, while Dex wears a Daredevil suit that Fisk made for him.
  • In Doctor Who, the Doctor and their companions are always wearing normal Earthly clothing, while monsters like the Daleks and the Cybermen are heavily armored.
  • Omnipresent in the first two seasons of Spartacus: Blood and Sand, in which the gladiators (and later rebels) mostly go into combat shirtless against Roman soldiers in laminar armour. In the last season most of the rebels take to wearing looted Roman armour.
  • Game of Thrones shows why this is a bad idea in the first season, when the unarmoured Master Swordsman Syrio Forel takes on the villainous Kingsguard Ser Meryn Trant. To quote the Hound: "Your friend's dead, and Meryn Trant's not, because Trant had armour. And a big fucking sword."
  • A variation of this occurs in Super Sentai and its adaptation Power Rangers. The transformed form of the heroes always resembles them wearing skintight spandex, while at least one villainous character per series wears a suit of armor or has a body structure that resembles armor.

    Myths & Religion 
  • The Bible probably holds the Ur-Example: When David was fighting Goliath he refused to wear any armor note  and took only his sling and five stones with him. Some Artists depict him wearing absolutely nothing.(except maybe a helmet).
  • Present in almost every telling of the Robin Hood legend — Robin and his Merry Men wear tunics of lincoln green (or, in more modern adaptations, homespun shirts) while battling the Sheriff's guards, who wear chainmail and helmets. Which are, of course, wholly ineffective.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer 40,000: The Eldar of the craftworlds and corsair fleets use lightweight tech that is very sleek and lends itself to a pseudo-Future Spandex look. The Dark Eldar, by contrast, use gear covered in conventional layered plates and hard edges. Compare their basic infantry units, Guardians and Kabalite Warriors.

    Video Games 
  • God of War:
    • In God of War, Kratos is almost always wearing a loincloth and sandals against the heavily armored Ares.
    • God of War III pits you against two notable armored bosses: Poseidon and Hercules. In both cases you have to smash the armor first.
    • Averted in God of War (PS4). Kratos can now wear full plate armor (although it is optional), and the villain, Baldur, only wears a loincloth.
  • In Genji Dawn Of The Samurai there's Yoshitsune versus The Mask Yoritoshi of the Heishi. You can even cleave part of his armor to obtain an ingredient.
  • Downplayed in Hero of Sparta, where the duology's hero, King Argos, wears a sleeveless Spartan-style tunic and shin-guards. The main villain, Hades on the other hand is a black-clad Tin Tyrant with his entire body decked in powerful spiked armor.
  • In BioShock:
    • Jack versus the Big Daddies in BioShock. Jack is wearing a casual sweater, while the Big Daddies don't look human because all you can see is armor. Justified as Jack is the Right Man in the Wrong Place and gains more health thanks to 'Adam', while Big Daddies were designed to survive bullets.
    • Inverted in BioShock 2. Subject Delta IS a proto-type Big Daddy, while the splicers are just crazy humans.
    • Booker versus almost anything in BioShock Infinite; The Handymen are disabled men now in Mecha-suits, the Firemen are permanently trapped inside their suits of armor, the Motorized Patriots are completely made of metal, and various soldiers have heavy battle armor. Booker, on the other hand, relies completely on an invisible magnetic shield around his body.
  • Final Fantasy: Many villains from the series are encased in armor while the heroes are running around in normal clothes (well, for a given value of normal...).
    • In Final Fantasy, Garland, the first boss and Big Bad, is a Tin Tyrant. The heroes (minus the Warrior) are in clothing or robes.
    • In Final Fantasy II, Firion and co. wear civilian clothing, and only one of the temporary party members wears armor. The Evil Empire's mooks and The Dragon all wear heavy plate armor.
    • Golbez of Final Fantasy IV is a Tin Tyrant, while only two out of the twelve members of the player party are armored (Cecil and Kain). Cecil also loses some armor coverage when he transforms into a Paladin, although he's still clearly a knight.
    • Exdeath from Final Fantasy V, in wizard form, wears a pale blue armor with gold trims. The Light Warriors do have several heavy armor jobs, but their Freelancer outfits (which they're liable to fight the final battle in) are just clothes.
    • In Final Fantasy XII, the main party are wayward members of La Résistance who spend a good chunk of the game fighting Archadian Judges, powerful warriors armored head-to-toe to enforce the will of the Empire. The main party sticks to normal clothing, which only includes a couple of token armor pieces if any.
    • Most of the high ranking members of The Empire in Final Fantasy XIV are covered head to toe in armor and conceal their faces in helms. The city state leaders and the Scions of the Seventh Dawn that oppose the empire wear light armor to normal clothing and their faces are always shown. The player can follow the trope, invert it, or zig zag it with whatever gear they wish to use.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
    • In The Legend of Zelda Link faces foes dressed only in a tunic and pants, while his armored enemies range from stone statues to ten-foot-tall knights in full plate.
    • Localizations of A Link To The Past address this by calling the upgraded tunics "mail".
    • Games from Twilight Princess onwards would add a thin chain or scale mail shirt under the tunic. In the latter, he can also get a full set of armor that renders him invincible at the cost of constantly draining his rupees.
  • In the Castlevania series, heroes rarely wear armor at all, while, among various things, living armors are recurring enemies, in one form or another.
  • In Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, none of your enemies wear body armor, but Big Smoke does when he's fought as a boss. CJ calls him out on being a wuss for wearing body armor and how a real gangbanger doesn't need it. However, the insult can dive into Hypocritical Humor if you have him wearing (albeit invisible) body armor and this is never pointed out.
  • In Strider there's Hiryu and his official rival, Solo. Hiryu wears a simple ninja outfit and relies entirely on melee weapons/skills whereas Solo appears decked in several types of Powered Armor that lets him fly and shoot missiles around.
  • Inverted in Metroid, where Samus is clad head-to-toe in Powered Armor, fighting for the most part dangeorus alien lifeforms with nothing but their own bodies as weapons.
  • Played with in Dragon Age.
    • Loghain from Dragon Age: Origins is a major villain who wear armor all the time and some of the player's party members(as well as the player themself) are unarmored with Liliana starting out unarmored when facing a bunch of Loghains's men and is one of the most noble hearted characters, but gets inverted with the Archdemon with his lack of armor and being the villain and Alistair being a heroic member of the party in armor.
    • Dragon Age II inverts this with the Arishok as a major antagonist without armor.
  • The heroes of The Legend of Heroes: Trails from Zero and Trails to Azure and The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel don't wear any armor whatsoever while Arianrhod, the strongest member of Ouroboros wears a 24-Hour Armor. Duvalie from the same series is also a case of this trope on both ends of the spectrum where she's a villain when she has the armor on but ends up joining the heroes in Cold Steel IV, ditching the armor. She does wear it back in the finale but she's still on the heroes side.
  • Mini Ninjas, Hiro and all the other ninja protagonists are unarmored, while the soldiers employed by the Evil Warlord all wear samurai armor (with occasional exceptions).
  • The Max Payne series pits the titular character against mooks with armored vests at least a few times per game. Max Payne 3 takes it further with the elite UFE batallion, who don ballistic helmets as well as shoulder and knee pads in addition to bulletproof vests. Max, on the other hand, has nothing but a stash of painkillers to keep himself going.
    Max: (picking up a bottle of painkillers) They had their body armor, I had mine.

    Web Animation 

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Original Series: The Fire Nation Mooks (as well as Admiral Zhao and Zuko, but only during the first season) wear body armor, in contrast to the heroes who dress in travelling clothes and monk's robes. Azula, being a Lightning Bruiser skits the line by wearing lightweight armor that could be mistaken for a regal outfit. But this trope is directly averted by the series Big Bad Ozai, who spends his final battle against Aang shirtless.
    • The Legend of Korra: In this Sequel Series, both the Equalists and the Earth Empire mooks (as well as their leaders, Amon and Kuvira, respectively) both wear conspicuous armors: industrial combat suits for the former and fascist-inspired armored uniforms for the latter (mooks from both wear even Darth Vader masks). While Korra and the rest of the protagonists and their allies rarely use armour at all, the exception being metalbenders like Lin. Inverted with the Red Lotus, who are armourless anarchists contrasted in later episodes against the armored but heroic Zaofu military, and averted at all by Unalaq and his troops, that don't bear any armor whatsoever.
  • Ben 10 versus the Forever Knights. Ben transforms into different aliens, but none of them really have armor. Gwen and Kevin count in the sequels. Kind of.
  • The Urpneys from The Dreamstone wear metal armor and helmets (they also wear swords on their belts that are never used in combat). The Noops Rufus and Amberley are completely unarmed children (though Rufus has a similarly underutilized sword in the first season) and the magic-powered Wuts are completely naked. Both of the latter groups suffer much less to slapstick injuries than the Urpneys despite their armor.
  • The Owl House: Emperor Belos is dressed in metallic gauntlets and wears a metallic helm around his mask, whereas the heroes — from the Owl House denizens to the B.A.T.T.'s directly opposing Belos — never really wear any armor. Additionally, the Coven Captain has a metal Cool Mask, whilst the Golden Guard wears a mask and a pauldron before he makes a complete Heel–Face Turn, and it's also worth noting the Abomatons which enter Belos' service in Season 2 have an armored look with their machine parts.
  • In Regular Show, season 4 "A Bunch of Full Grown Geese", when the baby ducks fuse together to become a giant duck man to fight a bunch of geese who also fuse together to become a giant goose man, the geese giant has armor and the duck giant is unarmored. It's subverted when the duck giant is losing and he has Mordecai and Rigby summon Powered Armor for them to fight and they succeed.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ninja Turtles only have shells, and many of their allies are completely unarmored, but Shredder is heavily armored. Especially so in his 2003 incarnation, where he is clad from head to toe in armor.
  • Teen Titans: With the exception of Cyborg whose body is part-armor, the Titans don't really wear much armor and their faces are largely clear to see. Slade, one of the primary villains of the series, is dressed head-to-toe in dark-gray armor and his face completely obscured except for his eye.