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Badass Bystander

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Bank robberies go differently when the manager is in the mob.

"I KICKED (A) BURNING TERRORIST SO HARD IN (THE) BALLS THAT I TORE A TENDON IN MY FOOT"
— The Daily Record headline, summing up what cab driver Alex McIlven did during the 2007 Glasgow Airport attack.
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Sometimes, even Bystander Syndrome reaches its limit.

Movies, anime, cartoons, even books have an unspoken (or in some cases, explicitly stated) fighting power curve where the hero and villain are at or near the top. The Muggles and Innocent Bystanders? They're waaaay down there at the bottom, duh! Otherwise they wouldn't really be Innocent Bystanders in need of protecting, now would they?

Except for this guy. The Badass Bystander is a background or minor character who shows significant or surprising fighting prowess or strength against a major threat. Whether it's a doddering old man beating the DeathWalker 9000, going toe to claw with a werewolf, making a Defiant Stone Throw, or purse-whacking the Giant Mook into submission.

Shows up frequently in martial arts movies, Western Bar Brawls, and various Tabletop RPGs, in which random wandering monsters or random NPCs occasionally kick a PC's or villain's ass, depending on how the dice roll. NPC shopkeepers are pretty tough too.

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This can result in Fridge Logic. Why aren't they helping you, The Only One who is trying to save the world? It's Up to You only? Then again, maybe there's a lot going on, and you've just had a brush with the Hero of Another Story.

Frequently done for comedy, with the Bystander being either Weak, but Skilled or otherwise seemingly harmless. These minor characters may be so powerful they qualify as Sidekick Ex Machinas, with the hero "beating" their opponent by tossing him to the Badass Bystander to finish them off.

By their nature, plots involving Zombie Apocalypse tend to include Badass Bystanders – out of the normal civilians in harm's way, the only ones left standing are likely to be unusually badass.

If you have a whole crowd of armed Badass Bystanders, you get Everyone Is Armed and World of Badass.

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A Sister Trope to The Real Heroes.

Compare Heroic Bystander, Mugging the Monster, Suddenly Always Knew That, Let's Get Dangerous!.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Films — Animation 
  • The driver in 101 Dalmatians whose van the dogs hide in to escape from Cruella, who keeps ramming him several times in the climax, hoping to first send him in the snow and then off a cliff. Not realizing that there's a bunch of Dalmatians hiding in the back of his van, the man merely yells at her, mutters "Crazy woman driver," and focuses on keeping his van on the road (which he succeeds in).
  • In Barbie: Mariposa, a pink Flutterpixie helps Mariposa recover the antidote from Henna. The Flutterpixie isn't even named, but it's her contribution to the fight that helps save the Queen.
  • Most of Paris gets to be this in Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame, when in the climactic battle scene the crowd that had gathered to protest Esmeralda getting burned at the stake undergoes a mass Took a Level in Badass as a result of a Rousing Speech by Phoebus; they all join Phoebus in kicking the tar out of Judge Frollo's goon squad while Quasimodo is busy tending to Esmeralda (who is fighting for her life after having inhaled too much smoke). And we had actually seen hints of this earlier at the Festival of Fools, when Frollo orders his guards to arrest Esmeralda and the Street Performers in the plaza do their part to help her escape.
  • In Incredibles 2, Winston refuses to let his sister murder all the supers and ambassadors left behind on the Everjust. He jumps off the escape plane, frees the Supers and ambassadors, and orders them to the back of the ship to be as far from the impact zone as possible.
  • In Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, John Henry Irons (who in this verse is just a construction worker) clobbers one of the attacking Atlantean soldiers with a sledgehammer. It should be noted that in the original comics, he tried to do the same to Doomsday before a building fell on him.
  • The grandma from Madagascar beat Alex, a tamed lion, which is only amped up in the sequel into an all devouring Deus Ex Grandmachina.
  • In Mulan, there's the Chinese soldier from the intro, who... well, just watch.
  • In My Little Pony: The Movie (2017), Derpy/Muffins sees one of the villains' petrification grenades heading for Twilight and shoves her out of the way.
  • Scooby-Doo! and the Samurai Sword has a samurai sushi chef who casually takes out a horde of robot ninjas when they attack Shaggy and Scooby in his restaurant.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The occasional nasty bump is one of the most important jobs of any valet worth his/her salt.
  • Any time a wrestler is assigned to call a match as the guest referee (and isn't blatantly biased in favour of one of the competitors) they qualify as this, pointedly averting the Glass Jaw Referee trope. The most famous example would be Ken Shamrock during the legendary Bret Hart vs "Stone Cold" Steve Austin Submission Match from WrestleMania XIII, where after Bret won by making Austin pass out, Shamrock hit him with a German suplex to stop him from beating down the helpless Austin further.
  • Dramatic Dream Team: A random photographer won the Ironman Heavymetal Weight Championship belt by hitting Aja Kong with a hammer while she was coming out for a match. After the match, she tracked him down and gave him a uraken.
  • Glamour Boy Shane serves as a referee for TNA, but in a classy move on their part, TNA recognized that he was one of the Caribbean's most popular wrestlers, which was most obvious with his work for somewhat rival IWA Puerto Rico, and treated him as a man not to be messed with, as opposed to the typical wrestling referee.
  • Terry Funk was present at ROH Glory By Honor IX, but he was only their to ensure Tyler Black did not go through with his threat and bail during his title defense against Roderick Strong.

    Roleplay 
  • Avernite civilians from Embers in the Dusk are always armed and are almost all members of a militia with a skill level above that of the stormtroopers of most other human forces.

    Tabletop Games 
  • By definition, EVERYONE in second-edition's version of Dark Sun that isn't a specific monster or named NPC falls into this category. To whit: in all other campaign settings, average NPCs had no level and anything done to them was "critical fail or total success." In Athas, a world with Everything Trying to Kill You being as literal as possible, the average person on the street is a level 3 Fighter. Later editions toned this down rules-wise, but it's still generally accepted that, with levels and such being a "relative" thing, everyone walking the blasted desert of a planet is functionally tougher than anyone from any other D&D world.
  • GURPS Supers mentions these as one possible way of saving the heroes if the villain is getting the upper hand, pointing out that to avoid stealing the heroes' thunder it's better not to let the bystander beat the villain on their own, but rather contribute just enough to turn the tide.
  • Every Hunter started out as one of these, it's their willingness to be so that persuades their mysterious patrons to give them a level or two in Badass.
  • A prefab scenario for having the team meet in Shadowrun involves the player characters being this when thugs attack a convenience store they are patronising, looking for another patron.

    Theater 

    Webcomics 
  • In Daughter of the Lilies, a random fire mage and his friend manage to distract a monstrous demonic frog thingie before it can complete a gigantic Drath summoning circle.
  • Drowtales:
  • Airman Higgs from Girl Genius is a low-level soldier who never distinguished himself, despite unreal stamina, enough strength to hold his own in a barfight with Jägermonsters, and a bit of a silver tongue. Subverted: Higgs is one of the immortal creations of the Heterodynes temporarily sworn to the baron's service, implied to be the spycraft-focused Jäger general. That his career prior to this point in the story was mundane to the point of invisibility is not a coincidence, nor is the fact that he is willing to bend his cover to the breaking point to aid the Heterodyne and the Baron, who is keeping the Jägers alive. Essentially, he's anything but a bystander.
  • Officer Tod from Sluggy Freelance, a seemingly useless cop, actually manages to go toe-to-toe with the assassin who killed Oasis.

    Web Original 
  • From Cracked,
  • In the third RP of Darwin's Soldiers, the heroes end up getting ambushed by Dragonstorm soldiers. They are assisted by some nearby loggers, who do remarkably well in battle against them.
  • Early in The Salvation War, a demon attacked a mall. A security guard died to give others time to escape and a pair of hunters who happened to have big game rifles in their truck finally took it down. Similar scenes occurred elsewhere, especially in Detroit. Given that Humans Are Special and Humans Are Warriors are big themes in the work, it's to be expected.
  • In chapter 4 of T.O.T., an elderly man and regular home owner nearly kills Maximus Slade with his shotgun after the werewolf breaks into his house. He even manages to save a teenager after Maximus took her hostage and successfully mangled his face with his shotgun. He still ends up getting killed, b
  • Worm:
    • Forrest, a civilian with no powers and a refugee in Brockton Bay who, upon seeing local supervillain Skitter fighting the serial killer Mannequin in order to protect the civilian survivors of Mannequin's teammate Shatterbird, steps in and hits him with a cinderblock to help take his head off. Mannequin having relocated all important organs to his torso, this doesn't kill him, but it does drive him off. Forrest goes on to become Skitter's second in command.
    • Later, during the Chrysalis arc, the students of Arcadia High do this, helping Skitter escape by mobbing the superheroes that were coming for her.
  • In an interesting variation, SCP Foundation's usual Red Shirts are "D-class agents": death row criminals apprehended from all over the globe who nobody is going to miss, used as test subjects for anything that they can't use to their advantage, terminated if they survive through enough experiments. So, by Foundation standards, they're Bystanders. SCP-2439 is... the latest number that the D-class knew wasn't taken when they scrawled the Containment Procedures on the wall where the lamp is kept. It's an Eldritch Abomination that causes victims to start Hearing Voices, designated as Keter (same ranking as 682) by the last D-class who knew what Keter meant. If it infects someone long enough, it'll turn them into People Puppets. If it gets ahold of Foundation staff, the D-class reckon that the entire world is fricked. So they keep the information just between themselves, wreck anyone who tries to tell the Foundation staff about it, kill the Foundation staff who manage to find out about it anyways, and make sure that some of the other D-class agents know about it before their termination comes up. Every D-class who knows about it is (a) containing it voluntarily as The Atoner, (b) containing it voluntarily For the Evulz, or (c) is about to get his head bashed in because he's not willing to contain it.
    Just in case you're the eldritch thing: Fuck off, squidface. We're worthless, sure, but we can get shit done just as well as the others. You're not getting in.
    • There's also SCP-1983 which is another Keter that got straight-up neutralized by one of the D-class.

    Real Life 
  • This guy, a Mixed Martial Arts practitioner who defended a cashier from an irate customer.
  • Ronald Reagan once saved a 22 year old nurse from a mugger in 1933. He scared away the mugger by pointing a 1911 pistol at him, saying "Leave her alone or I'll shoot you right between the shoulders." Later, he would tell the woman he saved that the gun was empty.
  • John Smeaton, who kicked a burning terrorist in the balls so hard he injured his foot.
  • A Delaware woman told USA Today that she had been walking home from church when her purse was snatched. A nearby man who had witnessed the attack jumped out of his car, chased the purse-snatcher through several backyards and over fences, and got the purse back. The man in question? Just happened to be her senator (and future President of the United States) Joe Biden.
  • A Milwaukee man picked the wrong time and place to get into a "domestic dispute" when Mayor Tom Barrett was nearby.
  • Rukhsana Kausar, a farmer's daughter from India, living near the Pakistani border. After three armed militants invaded her home and began beating her father, she attacked the leader with an axe, disarmed him, and shot him dead with his own gun while his gang ran away in pants-wetting terror. The dead man turned out to be a high-profile wanted terrorist commander. Kauser was shortly thereafter named Badass of the Week.
  • Elvis Presley was on the way to his hotel after arriving in Madison as part of a concert tour in June of 1977. He spotted two guys attacking a seventeen-year-old gas station attendant, and grumbled "Look at those two punks, I don't like this two-on-one deal." He got out of the limo, assumed a kickboxing pose and said "If you want a fight, let's fight." The three young men were so astounded they stopped immediately and began to ask for pictures and autographs instead. Before leaving he said "I found you as enemies; I leave you as friends."
  • When he was the mayor of London, Boris Johnson encountered a woman being attacked while out riding his bicycle. He proceeded to take their pipe and chase them down the street calling them "Oiks!!!"
  • The French have always loved Dime Novel type writing and American popular fiction. James Thurber relates a story he heard about a tourist set upon late one night by Paris thugs, until he assumed a belligerent stance and bellowed "JE SUIS NICK CARTER!!!" They ran like hell.
  • Professional wrestler Perry Saturn, a former US army ranger, once got shot in the neck trying to save a woman from getting raped and by the time the police arrived he had beaten the shit out of all three lowlifes by himself.
  • Rob Van Dam chased down a mugger outside his comic shop, and Bam Bam Bigelow ran into a neighbor's burning apartment to save them.
  • The "Bike Thrower" in China. He stopped his bike in the middle of the road after seeing a lady being mugged by two assholes on a motorbike. Then as the robbers rode past him, he threw his bike at them, knocking them down and leaving them for the cops. Then the hero just picked up his bike (trashed by the throwing) and walked away carrying it.
  • Retired Gurkha soldier Bishnu Shrestha sat quietly while forty bandits robbed the train he was in, until the bandits decided to try and rape the young girl next to him. Bad move. He pulled out his service kukri and proceeded to kill 3 of them, and injure 8 more, until the rest ran for their lives. As a result, he was briefly un-retired so he could get a medal.
    "Fighting the enemy in battle is my duty as a soldier. Taking on the thugs on the train was my duty as a human being."
  • Mixed martial arts Jon Jones chased down and apprehended a mugger in New York, then went on to win the UFC Light Heavyweight title that same night.
  • Adam West, one day, was chilling at the beach. He saw a man swearing at a topless girl and chasing after her with a knife. As West tells it, while he knew it probably wasn't going to help his reputation for mental stability, he still managed to take the attacker down, with a beach chair.
  • Daniel Lewin.
  • Richard Ramirez (AKA the serial killer known as the Night Stalker) was caught when he tried to steal a car. The car's owner, along with two neighbors and their sons, chased him down. As they ran, they recognized him from police photos that had been airing on the news and realized just who they were chasing. Once they caught him, they proceeded to beat the crap out of him in the street. When the police showed up, they did stop the men from outright killing him, but didn't bother to arrest any of them for the assault. Nobody was the least bit upset.
  • Adam Kinzinger. For the record, he has since been elected a U.S. Congressman. Just goes to show, everyone loves an Action Hero.
  • Senator Cory Booker:
    • During his time as the mayor of Newark, he was on his way home one night when he saw that his neighbor's house was on fire and their daughter was trapped inside. He immediately ran into the flaming building and carried the girl out safely. People immediately started joking about the new standard for government service.
    • This follows a well publicized incident where he chased down a robbery suspect on foot while out for a jog and several instances where he went around the city getting people's cars and homes unstuck after snowstorms (which he continued to do even after being seated as a Senator). May be disqualified from this trope since Mayor Booker seems physically incapable of actually standing by.
  • Some time in the 90s in Canberra, Australia, a man held up a public swimming pool with a shotgun. The manager refused to go along with the man's demands, and just when the man was about to shoot him, he pushed the gun downwards and took a shot in the leg. The assailant panicked and ran. The manager just happened to be an ex Special Forces Vietnam vet.
  • The 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings produced several of these, who can be seen on video of the event running towards the explosions, tearing down metal barricades with their bare hands and pulling people out, and several of them were credited with saving people who might have otherwise bled out by using makeshift tourniquets. One particular bystander named Carlos Luis Arredondo (who it turns out was already a badass in his own right) could be easily spotted wearing a distinctive cowboy hat in videos of the event and, in one particularly famous photograph (warning: graphic, though it's the cropped version of another that's much worse), running alongside and helping a man being wheeled away who had most of his leg blown off. He became an icon overnight.
  • Tank Man, whose identity is still unknown. Also a Badass Pacifist.
  • Most people wouldn't know that Steve Buscemi was a firefighter before eventually becoming an actor — he happened to be in New York during the 9/11 attacks, and the first thing he did was run all the way to his old fire station to volunteer for the rescue effort. It's quite likely he saved a number of lives that day.
  • Also on 9/11, a fourth plane was hijacked and headed towards DC. The passengers, at first, reacted in the way you're supposed to when a plane is hijacked (sit down and shut up), before they found out what happened with the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Todd Beamer rallied some of the passengers to fight back, saying "Are you guys ready? Okay, let's roll." They managed to crash the plane in an open field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Their heroics kept the plane from hitting it's intended target (either the Capitol or the White House).
  • In 1871, the James-Younger gang attempted to rob a bank in Northfield, Minnesota. Unfortunately for the gang, the town just happened to be chock full of these. The bank teller refused to open the safe, even when threatened with a knife and pistol whipped (Cole Younger murdered him in revenge, one of two people killed by the gang that day). When the rest of the town noticed something was going on at the local bank, they armed themselves and fought back against the famous outlaws when they attempted to escape. Between the shootout and the manhunt that followed, only Jesse and Frank James managed to get away. It is almost universally agreed upon that this was the event that led to the downfall of the infamous outlaw and his gang.
  • This would-be robber probably should've checked to see if one of the customers happened to be an off-duty police officer.
  • A would-be rape victim broke the assailant's knife and put him in a stranglehold. Turns out she was a sailor.
  • Tameka Brown, who was riding a Philadelphia train when she noticed a man trying to attack a woman carrying a small infant. Brown stood up, put herself in front of the assailant, and successfully got the woman and child off the train to safety. But not before delivering the following Badass Boast to the attacker:
    "I said Satan, the Lord God, rebuke you in the name of Jesus, you will not touch this woman."
  • A few schoolchildren were once mugged on a public train in Munich, Bavaria by two teenage junkies, who wanted to take their money. A middle-aged businessman, Dominik Brunner, intervened and escorted the kids off the train at the next stop. When the teens decided to go after them, he tried to hold them off with his bare hands. They beat him to death.
  • This Swedish gas station employee stopped a gas thief by latching on to his car like the T-1000. The kicker? The thief was a prospect member of the Bandidos club of outlaw bikers and armed with several knives.
  • While filming a night scene for the first episode of Person of Interest, actor Jim Caviezel spotted a woman being beaten by her boyfriend in the street; he immediately ran off set and "intervened".
  • During the 1966 University of Texas Tower Shooting, an armed citizen named Allen Crum was one of the group who stormed the tower to take down the shooter. In addition, there were also numerous citizens who got their own rifles and returned fire.
  • During the 2016 Munich shooting, a gunman massacred ten people inside a shopping centre before climbing onto the roof in an (apparent) attempt to snipe some more. Then Thomas Salbey, an owner of a next-door tenement, took the chance, stepping out on his balcony and hurling insults down at the gunman and draw him into an argument — both in an attempt to keep him from shooting anyone else, and to alert the police of his presence. A neighbour captured this bizarre exchange on film. And when the gunman threatened to walk away, he threw a bottle after him.
    Gunman: I am German!
    Balcony man: A wanker's what you are!
  • In 2015, a gunman attempted to open fire on a crowded train in France. As soon as he exited a lavatory with weapons ready, two French passengers who happened to be nearby tried to disarm him, followed by a Briton and three Americans (two of whom happened to be US military personnel on leave).
  • A man known only as "The Hunter" or "The Deer Hunter" killed the man who fatally shot Patrolman Sammy Long.
  • Pro wrestler Shawn Daivari choked a drunk, disruptive passenger unconscious on a lightrail in October 2012.
  • Actress Daryl Hannah is 5'10" and twice used her long legs to hold down muggers.
  • In August 2019, two bystanders rescued a special needs baby from a car wreck in Los Angeles. One of those bystanders was Danny Trejo. Yes, that Danny Trejo.
  • On November 29th, 2019, a man wearing a (fake) explosive vest attacked members of the public on London Bridge with knives, killing two and wounding four. Two men retaliated with a fire extinguisher and a decorative narwhal tusk pulled from the wall of a nearby restaurant, and held him until armed police arrived and shot the attacker.
  • During the riots in Seattle following the death of George Floyd, some of the rioters got the idea of stealing rifles that were stored in the trunk of some parked police cars. An armed marine veteran who was guarding a news crew covering the event had other plans.
  • H. P. Lovecraft seems to have regarded himself as lacking courage. This may be part of the reason he had his Author Avatar Randolph Carter serving in the French Foreign Legion during World War I. However, people who knew him expressed confidence that he was not cowardly and wouldn't lose his head in a crisis. Sometime in the late 1920s, while he was living at 10 Barnes St. in Providence, his neighbor's house caught fire, and the old gentleman was seen calmly assisting to remove furniture and making sure everyone was safe.
  • In 2001, a young boy named Jessie Arbogast was swimming at a Florida beach when he was attacked by a bull shark that bit off his right arm and tore out a piece of his right thigh. His uncle, Vance Flosenzier, grabbed the shark by the tail and dragged it to shore where a park ranger shot it. Flosenzier's actions prevented the shark from attacking anyone else and also allowed Jessie's severed arm to be recovered from the shark's mouth and eventually reattached.
  • Trolley-Man, a Melbourne-based man who used a shopping trolley to ram a homicidal maniac in 2018.
  • A similar act of heroism occurred a year later in Sydney when three men pinned another knifeman using a chair and milk crate.
  • In 2019, Toni Doherty from New South Wales charged into a bushfire in order to rescue a koala.

 
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Bank Manager

"Do you have any idea who you're stealing from?!"

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