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Badass on Paper

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Harry: You've sort of made up for it tonight. Getting the sword. Finishing off the Horcrux. Saving my life.
Ron: That makes me sound a lot cooler than I was.
Harry: Stuff like that always sounds cooler than it really was. I've been trying to tell you that for years.

A Badass on Paper is a character who, despite having honestly accomplished wild achievements and incredible victories, defies high expectations and is instead quite the loser.

As unbelievable as it is, they did actually earn the achievements they're famous for and quite often the viewers actually see them do it. The question of how they did it can be answered in different ways. It could be luck, the hero could have specific talent that continuously saves the day or an ability to make his flaws work for him. Often the answer to Dude, Where's My Respect? because frankly, achievements or not, these guys just don’t seem to deserve it. In short, the character has a reputation of being a straight badass, but upon meeting the character in person, they're actually not.

Can be considered a sister trope to Warts and All, where the hero is as badass as the stories say but doesn't live up to the pure and virtuous image that people have of them.

Compare with Expecting Someone Taller in which the character is still badass but just doesn't fit the expected image, Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass where the character is mostly a moron but when the time is right to unleash their inner badass, and Cowardly Lion where a character is badass in spite of their otherwise cowardly and timid personality.

Contrast with Feet of Clay and Miles Gloriosus where the character turns out to be incompetent and was, in fact, lying about most (if not all) of the things that they are famous for.

Not to be confused with the Badass Bureaucrat or Paper Master, both of whom are badasses with paper.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Jacuzzi Splot from Baccano!. He's the leader of a gang of bootleggers, destroyed 18 Russo Family speakeasies in a single night, survived the Pussyfoot Train incident including fighting unarmed with a single, tiny bomb against someone with a flamethrower, stood up to Ladd Russo, willingly almost fought Claire, sacrificed himself to protect someone from being harmed, and has a sword tattoo on his face. He's also a timid shrinking violet who cries all the time, not the least bit physically intimidating, has no special skills, and one of the nicest characters in the entire cast. Even when he's shown robbing a mob-run store, shooting with his tommy-gun left and right he's bawling his eyes out.
  • Comedically applied in Cromartie High School when the guys were trying to decide who was the most badass. (They don't just duke it out — they never just duke it out.) One of the guys had a reputation based entirely on guys being too scared of him to try him out. (Their 'jury' was out as to whether that was impressive or not by the time the plot moved on). On top of that, the person who was dubbed the school district's number one boss was none other than pacifist protagonist Kamiyama (though, it was mostly because he was the only one who got the question right in a quiz).
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Mister Satan/Hercule/Hercule Satan from Dragon Ball Z really is an incredible martial artist, strong enough to pull four tour buses in his introduction, and perfectly capable of pulling off a Flash Step. He's won the World Martial Arts tournament legitimately several times, and was instrumental in the defeats of Cell and Majin Buu (and he's the only person to survive fighting both), both of whom are capable of causing an Earth-Shattering Kaboom. However, he's a completely normal fighter in the world of Dragon Ball Z, where even the mooks can destroy mountains with ki. He never actually won a fight against any of the real villains: with Cell he helped provoke Gohan into going Super Saiyan 2, and with Majin Buu he befriended him as Fat Buu and convinced the people of Earth to lend energy for the final spirit bomb against Kid Buu.
    • Heavily downplayed with Android 17 in Dragon Ball Super. He is unambigiously a complete badass who poses a decent fight for even SSB Goku, but winning the Tournament of Power doesn't quite make him the World's Strongest Man, as such a feat would imply, although he's still likely in the top 10. He won because he stayed on the ring while Goku and Frieza deliberately ringed themselves out to take down Jiren in the process.
  • In Fairy Tail, Lucy Heartfilia often gets asked about her huge list of achievements (often she takes out much more experienced mages, or ones tailor-made to fight her), but she is a pretty normal girl in person, not an especially great fighter, and has only an average amount of magic. She's even the Butt-Monkey of the group, and she often denies the more ludicrous claims (in her defense, the claims are usually very exaggerated). That said, she did do a lot of impressive things, not the least of which is gathering 5/6 of the Ecliptic Zodiac to work for her and express personal loyalty (not the same thing).
    • Later subverted when she gains her Star Dress powers and becomes a legitimately powerful wizard. She's still Overshadowed by Awesome compared to the rest of her team, but she took out a powerful Tartaros demon on her own and teamed up with Natsu to take down one of the Spriggan 12.
  • Yukiteru Amano of Future Diary is the first to off another diary owner, making him a prime candidate for winning the Survival Game in the eyes of both Deus ex Machina and the other players. He subsequently kills two other diary owners later on and his Random Diary is one of the most versatile of any of the Future Diaries in-game. Not bad for a Cowardly Lion Action Survivor who cries Tears of Fear almost Once an Episode. Later on, he Took a Level in Badass, thus subverting the trope.
  • Inaba from Killing Bites became a celebrity in the world of hybrid fights after winning the last clandestine Killing Bites tournament. Never mind the fact that she hid underground for most of it, waiting until all the other fighters had eliminated each other, and posseses no real combat skills.
  • The entire main party sans Kazuma in KonoSuba. To most outside onlookers, Aqua, Megumin, and Darkness who all are powerful advanced classes (and Aqua a literal Physical Goddess) would constitute an extremely overpowered Battle Harem. With that being said, they all suffer from a horrible case of Crippling Overspecialization and nasty personality quirks that exaggerate their specializations: Aqua is borderline useless against anything that's not undead or demonic, leaving her main use being as a healer (usually to revive Kazuma after he dies), Megumin can only cast her Explosion magic once a day and collapses immediately after using it (and refuses to learn any other spell because of her explosion obsession), and while Darkness has obscene durability, her accuracy with her attacks is awful, no doubt compounded by the fact that she's a masochist. It doesn't exactly help that Aqua has a bad tendency to act as a Spanner in the Works for the party's own plans, either due to her awful luck and low intelligence — in fact, many of the problems she's gained a reputation for solving are ones that she caused to begin with — most notably in regards to undead. With that being said, when push comes to shove, when working with Kazuma (who is an inversion of this trope, having a well-deserved reputation for being weak, lazy and perverted, but proves to be extremely competent when the chips are down), they can pull off some genuinely amazing feats.
  • Legend of the Galactic Heroes: Yang Wenli's enemies fear him for his legendary martial victories despite overwhelming odds against him, his superiors are so terrified that he could take over the country they often actively handicap him, and a good deal of his subordinates actually would support him as a dictator — but he's actually one of the nicest, least intimidating guys you could ever wish to meet — a gentle and humble man with a few eccentric habits, poor combat skills, and absolutely zero aspirations besides early retirement.
  • Over the course of Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid, Kobayashi has safely handled a weapon that Mind Rapes anyone that touches it, made a violent dragon her personal servant who works for no pay, talked down beings infinitely more powerful than her, and aced a high ranking mage exam. Despite this, she is a completely ordinary computer programmer with no special abilities or magical power to speak of.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Shinji Ikari, both in the TV series and in the fandom. It's undeniable he defeated more alien enemies each with the potential to end the world by itself than anyone, risking his life several times in the process. On the other hand, his psychological issues, not to mention the plainly nasty things that happen to him prevent him from getting any respect.
  • One Piece:
    • Monkey D. Luffy is a world-class pirate with a bounty of 3 billion berries. His list of feats include defeating three of the powerful pirates known as the Seven Warlords of the Sea, declaring war on the World Government and, in the process, destroying the government base Enies Lobby, punching out a Celestial Dragon, a nobleman whose response to being offended is to sic a Marine Admiral on the offender, becoming the first man to ever break into Impel Down and causing its first ever mass-breakout when, previously, only one other person had gotten out ever, and then entering the War of the Best at Marine HQ and causing havoc on the battlefield. He's also incredibly friendly, cheerful, and, to be quite honest, a dumbass.
    • Another variation happens courtesy of the journalist "Big News" Morgans and his newspaper company. Reading Morgans' news report on Luffy's conflict with Big Mom, you'd think that Luffy was a Person of Mass Destruction who orchestrated a full scale invasion and assassination attempt on Big Mom's territory, beat up her commanders, destroyed her country, and left alive. While a lot of that is technically true, the reality of the situation is that Luffy was trying to sneak in and leave undetected, got caught, suffered through some grueling battles for it, and nearly died several times while just barely escaping Big Mom in the end. He also had nothing to do with planning the assassination (though he and his crew are why it got as far as it did); that was all Bege. Finally, a lot of the real damage to Big Mom's islands was either collateral damage or Big Mom herself on a mindless rampage. As a result of Morgans' sensationalizing of the above events, Luffy is now considered by the media to be the "Fifth Emperor of the Sea", on par with the Four Emperors and officially one of the five most powerful pirates in the world, with his bounty increasing by a staggering one billion berries — despite being, again, Luffy.
    • Buggy the Clown is an early villain who admittedly Took a Level in Badass... but not as much as others in-universe think he took. A lot of his reputation is from being a member of Gold Roger's crew like Shanks, one of the top pirates in the world... where they were both cabin boys. A lot of his power post-time skip comes from the fact that he commands a crew of badasses, not that he is one himself, becoming a noticeable aversion to Asskicking Leads to Leadership for the series. It also helps that he was seen worldwide yelling at The Dreaded Red-Haired Shanks... whose only reaction to the other pirate's temper-tantrum was to laugh and tell Buggy how much he missed him.
    • After the Dressrosa Arc, Usopp has become this. In reality, Usopp is the inarguably the weakest of the Straw Hats (though being the weakest of a monster crew like that isn't a huge condemnation) and most New World pirates would be able to humiliate him in a straight up fight, so he mostly fights with false bravado, lies and bluffs while he sets up traps or gets to a location he can safely snipe them from (his one true strength). On paper because of Usopp's acts on Dressrosa he's now one of the highest bounties on the Straw Hat crew thanks to the role he played in foiling Doflamingo's decades-long plot and helping to amass a loyal army of followers that would become the Straw Hat Grand Fleet, to the point where his moniker on his bounty slip has been changed from Sniper King to "God".
  • Rebuild World: Between taking on an entire squadron of cannon insects and later 60 Yurata Scorpions single-handedly, Akira's combat record makes him sound like a One-Man Army. But he's quick to tell others that he barely escaped with his life on both occasions and that he's not nearly as strong as he sounds, given that much of his success is tied to Alpha. It gets to the point that he asks to have his combat record scrubbed so people will stop expecting so much of him.
  • Downplayed in The Red Ranger Becomes an Adventurer in Another World. Idola is a powerful wizard, but she pales before Tougo's over-the-top sentai firepower. But after shushing Tougo to keep him from complicating the conversation with his frankness and inability to read the room, Princess Teltina comes to the conclusion that Idola was the one who defeated the Seed of Magic monster the first time, which Idola just rolls with.
  • That Time I Got Reincarnated as a Slime: There's Masayuki Honjou. An otherworlder who got the hero's skill series and they work together to manipulate events and perceptions to put him in a great light, so that's he's even thought to be a hero. In reality, partly because his skills causes the defeats of his enemies before he even has to do someting, he's barely able to hold a sword.
  • Trigun: Vash The Stampede, AKA The Humanoid Typhoon. A legendary force of destruction, leaving nothing but rubble in his wake and sporting the world's highest bounty (60 billion double dollars). Then you meet him... a goofy, spiky-haired nitwit, with a great love of donuts. Most of the destruction comes from the many people constantly trying to kill him. Most of it.

    Comic Books 
  • Groo the Wanderer: Groo is by far the greatest swordsman of his time, and has singlehandedly defeated entire armies, vanquished monsters and even saved the world, with his legend spreading far and wide. He's also a total idiot who can barely dress himself, he's The Dreaded across the world because he usually causes more damage than the threat he's fighting, and far from looking like a legendary hero, Groo is a short, scruffy and rather heavyset guy with stripy hair. The contrast is so severe that Pipil Khan, a cruel dictator who's plans of conquest had been foiled by Groo time and time again, usually by total accident on Groo's part, thought Groo must be a giant warrior with supernatural powers (since he'd never met him in person), and when the two do meet when Khan is on his deathbed, the shock is enough to kill him.
  • Rat-Man (1989): The protagonist is a superhero whose achievements include defeating an apparently invincible robot designed to kill superheroes and the Shadow. He's also too stupid to operate a car's seatbelt.
  • Squirrel Girl. She's an adorable little brunette who can talk to squirrels. Who has a tail. She's also defeated Dr. Doom and Iron Man. Each new issue answers one question: how many overpowered super villains can Squirrel Girl defeat?
  • Watchmen has Nite Owl. He's an incredibly skilled martial artist (good enough to take out entire gangs even while out of practice) who invented a physics-defying airship and a ton of crazy gadgets. But in a world where the only thing to use this stuff on is gangs and drug-pushers, he's just some rich fool playing hero.

    Fan Works 
  • Absolute Trust: People who join the Gaang after a Heel–Face Turn find bewilderment in the Gaang's quirks, usually Sokka's.
    • Shortly after Mai joins the group and sees Sokka trying to come up with a good name for the group:
    Mai: How in the world did Azula have so much trouble catching you?
    • In Chapter 32, when Zuko learns that all the "evasive maneuvers" the Gaang did were just fun side trips:
    Zuko: You know, I'm embarrassed that I didn't catch you all.
    • In Chapter 39, when Sokka is adamant about being quiet in Fire Nation territory because the "enemy birds" could hear them:
    Azula: This is the strategist who inflicted twelve-to-one losses against Zhao's fleet? I'm embarrassed.
  • Spacebattles makes Asuka this in Asuka Quest. Meet her in person, she's an adorable, cat-loving doof who fails at a lot of normal life, loves gaming and snuggling her girlfriend, and spends the whole quest on the edge of a mental breakdown because of all the horrible things she's gone through. See her as the world leaders do, and she's a Person of Mass Destruction capable of curbstomping Angels and cracking planets.
  • In Daphne Greengrass and the Boy Who Lived, when the Prophet suggests that Peter Pettigrew has become a rallying point for the recent mass escape from Azkaban, Harry acknowledges that Wormtail sounds tough when looking at him as a mass murderer who stayed hidden for over a decade, even if the reality is that most of that was luck.
  • Mass Effect: Human Revolution's take on Conrad Verner is this. He's set up an independent mercenary network across the galaxy that the Big Three haven't been able to quash, destroyed the spaceship of a psychotic mercenary, and overcomes an artificially-induced No Warping Zone so easily he thought it was just a glitch in the FTL drive. And then you actually meet the chump, who in person is no more impressive than his canon self.
  • A Rabbit Among Wolves: Jaune accidentally kills Adam when the latter takes him hostage. Despite his lack of Hunstman skills, he gains a reputation as a brutal killer for having taken Adam down.
  • In The Somewhat Cracked Mind Of Uchiha Itachi, people tend to do a double-take when the Konoha genin mention that they defeated ANBU when they were in the Academy. The challenge wasn't actually combat, it was paint tag, and the ANBU were trainees that Kakashi was so unimpressed with that he told them that he'd seen more dedicated academy students.

    Film - Animation 

    Film - Live-Action 
  • Suicide Squad (2016) assembles a team of criminals for the express purpose of providing a defense against metahumans. Captain Boomerang is chosen for the crew because he's an ordinary man who tangled with a metahuman and lived to tell about it. Impressive? Except, that metahuman was The Flash, who does not kill, and Boomerang was laid flat in about the time it took him to realize he wasn't alone anymore.

  • Ciaphas Cain claims that all his achievements were down to luck or the result of him trying to save his own skin (if you're willing to take his word for it, of course). Make no mistake though, the fact that he's a genuine badass is indisputable. He's fit, very well trained in marksmanship and swordplay, and knows the ins and outs of manipulating people to a T. In the Warhammer 40,000 universe, however, this is basically the bare minimum of what is required. The debate is over his attitude (modest hero or lucky coward) and how much more of a badass he may be. The fact that he likes to point out how he plays the Humble Hero card to improve his in-universe reputation doesn't help. An example: in one adventure he runs away from a losing fight and runs smack into the enemy leader, making it look to his companions like he charged him intentionally but the narration claims he was fleeing in terror. None of which changes the fact that he proceeded to hand an Ork Warboss a ludicrously one-sided beatdown in single combat, which thanks to Ork Keystone Army tendencies effectively won a world-spanning war in a stroke.
  • Rincewind is the worst wizard the Discworld has ever known. His hat is the only thing about him that says "wizzard," and that's misspelled. With no magic talent to speak of and a survival instinct heightened by his smartness, his usual response to a situation is to run like hell, and he's gotten very good at running over the years. He's also thrown down with eldritch horrors, challenged a childlike demigod with nothing but a half-brick in a sock, and saved the entire Discworld. Several times. Arguably, he's gotten being the Right Man in the Wrong Place down to a science.
  • While he is an honest to gods badass, Harry Dresden from The Dresden Files is transformed into the literal Dreaded for those only reading his rap sheet without knowing the details.
    • And don't think he doesn't know it, too. In Turn Coat, he is ordered to be arrested, and is outnumbered by five hardened wardens as well as three members of the Senior Council, i.e. the strongest wizards in the world. When they approach extremely carefully, he's initially puzzled by their caution, since any one of them could likely beat him in a fight, especially after the events of the book have whittled down his stamina and resources, until he thinks about how he looks from their perspective and realizes:
      They were dealing with something far more dangerous than me, Harry Dresden, whose battered old Volkswagon was currently in the city impound. They were dealing with the potential dark lord nightmare warlock they'd been busy fearing since I turned sixteen. They were dealing with the wizard who had faced the Heirs of Kemmler riding a zombie dinosaur, and emerged victorious from a fight that had flattened Morgan and Captain Luccio before they had even reached it. They were dealing with the man who had dropped a challenge to the entire Senior Council, and who had then actually showed, apparently willing to fight — on the shores of an entirely too creepy island in the middle of a freshwater sea.
  • In Fred, The Vampire Accountant the main character, is exactly what he says he is, just a normal accountant who happens to be a vampire. He really has NO ambition to do things like accumulate power or challenge the social order of the modern parahuman community, but he gets either dragged in chaotic situations by his girlfriend or unwittingly makes connections with powerful people in the community through just normal social or business related networking (accountants in the parahuman community are rare). After a few books, the rumors have propped him up so much that when other vampires do come around they're looking specifically for this very impressive vampire, one of them even meets him in person and claims that he should aspire to be like him.
  • Harry Potter:
    • For a lot of the series, Harry Potter views himself as one of these. The event that made him famous happened when he was a baby and when, in Order of the Phoenix, he gets asked to teach a Defense Against the Dark Arts club, he argues that all his other achievements have been either through luck or from getting a lot of help. He begins to grow out of this in the seventh book, as he is now the one taking the fight to Voldemort, and his previous experiences fighting against the Dark Arts help him realize what has to be done.
    • Harry makes it clear that his best friend Ron also fits the trope. He's certainly a case of Redheads Are Uncool who manages to be The Unfavorite of both his family (his older brothers were successful and/or popular in Hogwarts, and got great jobs afterwards) and the series' Power Trio (it's hard for Ron to be compared to the Famed in Story Harry and the Brainy Brunette Hermione), but is very accomplished otherwise, helping Harry in many of the misadventures he's gotten himself into, becoming the Keeper of a successful Quidditch team, and being a crucial part of the Horcrux hunt that happens in the seventh book.
  • The Kingkiller Chronicle: Kvothe in The Name of the Wind is badass and does some very impressive things but the legends are even more insane. By The Wise Man's Fear, however, he's living up to the legends in truth.
  • The start of The Legend of Sun Knight boasts about the 38th Sun Knight, widely considered to be the greatest of them all, and his deeds. The truth is more complicated.
    • He returned the Death Knight to the abyss? That was an outright lie. Sun faked the Death Knight's ascension to heaven, and kept him around for years in disguise.
    • He defeated the Undying Lich? Admittedly, he did legitimately kill one of the three.
    • He slew a dragon? He did, with the help of the other Twelve Holy Knights... but he also provoked the dragon by throwing Ice Knight at it.
    • He rescued a princess? While he did bring the princess back to her kingdom, she voluntarily left to elope without telling anyone. She then pissed him off so badly that he dragged her back all the way to her kingdom.
    • He destroyed the Demon King? In a way, yes, he rid the world of the threat of the Demon King by implementing a system that removed the problem at its source. But Sun himself was the Demon King, and the climactic battle was staged.
  • The Lord of the Rings: Samwise Gamgee is a bumbling gardener with a penchant for stepping in things he really shouldn't. Samwise Gamgee is also the man who sprung a prisoner from Cirith Ungol single-handed, and succeeded in something even the greatest heroes of the past didn't, namely wounding Shelob.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Imagine if you will Sam the Slayer, sworn brother of the Night's Watch, the only living man to have killed an Other, one of the legendary ice demons that are proof against all known weapons and have the power to raise the dead and command giant spiders among gods know what other dark sorcery. Chances are you just imagined someone distinctly different from fat, bumbling exiled-lordling Samwell Tarly, who really did kill an Other through a combination of suicidal desperation and lucking into having one of their only known weaknesses (which was not known until he lucked into finding it) close at hand.
  • Lancelot (yes, that Lancelot) from The Warlord Chronicles has a major case of this. According to the protagonist, Lancelot is a self-absorbed narcissist whose greatest skill is not showing up until the battle is nearly over, getting a cloak torn or putting a little mud on his face, then paying bards an inordinate amount to spread the tales of his heroics far and wide. This crosses over to full blown Fake Ultimate Hero by the second book, and then goes into Villain with Good Publicity when he starts actively trying to overthrow Arthur. Keep in mind however that Lancelot is the narrator's hated rival, and the narrator does admit to bending the truth of the story on a few occasions...

    Live-Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: Walter White eliminates many powerful rivals, including Gustavo Fring, on his way to becoming a drug kingpin. But once he gets his drug empire, he can't hold onto it, as he doesn't have the influence or loyalty that Gus cultivated amongst his men, and his non-criminal relationships come together to ruin him.
    • This also extends to how the general public views him. To the public and the DEA, Heisenberg's a diabolical mastermind who methodically wipes out all competition in Albuquerque and builds the largest drug empire in history. In actuality, Walt and Jesse can't run a drug business worth jack shit. For most of the series, their "drug empire" is actually just the two of them cooking meth for other people. Everything from distribution to protection is handled by someone else. The first time they try to form their own gang, it fails miserably and forces them to go back to cooking for hire. Their second attempt fares much better, but that's only because they inherit Gus' former henchman and connections. Even then, Walt's empire is actually just a series of partnered groups that answer directly to their respective leaders, not to Walt. A lot of the famous things that Walt is known for are actually done by his partners, like his distribution network (handled by Mike and later Declan), his expansion to Europe (handled by Lydia), and his killing of the prisoners (orchestrated by Jack's gang). Walt is incapable of doing any of that on his own and has to rely on them. As soon as they turn on him, Walt is left completely helpless because he has no henchman of his own to protect his authority. In short, while Walt's empire is undeniably powerful, Walt himself isn't. His partners obey him at first due to his reputation, but as soon as they realize how powerless he really is, they have no problem betraying him.
    • Saul Goodman is also an example of this trope. The man is considered to be the top Amoral Attorney in New Mexico with his feats not only include being able to convincingly sway the jury easily, but he got Lalo Salamanca out of jail, managed to talk down Tuco Salamanca from killing two hapless scammers and he helped build Walt's meth empire using his connections and criminal tactics. However, most of his accomplishments involved a lot of outside factors and luck, and when Saul is faced up against an actual physical threat to his safety, he's quick to cower and beg for mercy.
  • Seth in the Doctor Who serial "The Horns of Nimon".
    Seth: I don't want to be a hero. I've never wanted to be. It's just that I've chanced to be around when things have happened.
    • And then, after they've defeated the Big Bad and he and his people return to his planet, the Doctor makes this comment:
      Doctor: Poor old Seth.
      Romana: Poor old Seth?
      Doctor: Yes. Well, just imagine the legends Teka's going to build up around him. He'll have to spend the rest of his life trying to live up to them. It's terrible.
    • The Doctor themself could qualify as this. Last survivor of the Time War, archenemy of the Daleks, savior of countless worlds (and the entire universe), feared by evil everywhere, absolute legend. While the degree to which their badassness is obvious depends on the incarnation, most peoples' first impression of the Doctor is that of an eccentric weirdo wandering the cosmos at random as a tourist and making it all up as they go along.
  • El Chapulín Colorado is lauded In-Universe to be a competent hero that, no matter the issue, he can save the day. Only the second part is true, as most of the time he saves the day by complete chance, or because the enemy sees the error of his ways.
  • By the fourth season of Farscape, the crew of Moya have become legendary pirates painted as the unequivocal victors of conflicts they really only barely survived (and in some cases didn't.)
  • Although the protagonist of Galavant used to be a bona fide badass, at the start of the show he's spent more than a year in deep depression and doing nothing but Drowning My Sorrows, which has left him out of shape and incapable of carrying out heroic deeds as he once did. The first few episodes have several occasions where he essentially coasts by on his old reputation, but after that point, he is forced to start regaining his old form.
  • Don Dogoier AKA Gokai Green from Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger. Someone who's cracked necks, uses wrestling moves untransformed professionally, and ran into battle while shooting a BFG doesn't usually run away from fights or hide behind whatever he can find.
  • The Ghost in Killing Eve is a ruthless, although not sadistic, assassin. She is a highly trained nurse who has killed several high-ranking and respected people, if not more. And when Eve and Villanelle meet her, Villanelle breaks her within minutes. It isn't clear what Villanelle does to her, but still, it takes all of about five minutes screen time.
  • In the Season 2 opener of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we meet Li Nalas, who is revered all across Bajor as one of the great heroes of the resistance, especially known for a mission where he snuck in and assassinated a particularly cruel Cardassian leader. As it turns out, two of them just happened to run into each other in the woods as the Cardassian leader was taking a bath in a lake — he just walked out of the water in his underwear and Li Nalas shot him. The story kept getting exaggerated as it spread. Li himself is deeply insecure, feeling pressure to live up to a reputation he considers unearned for the sake of Bajor. When he sacrifices himself to save Sisko, Li expresses relief that his death means he's "off the hook"...even though the last couple of episodes have proven he really is a badass hero.

    Video Games 
  • In Dawn of the Dragons, the player character is a relatively ordinary person who accomplishes his/her increasingly long list of heroic deeds with a lot of bravery, luck, and help from his/her True Companions. The general populace starts to see him/her as a Living Legend while the antagonistic dragons come to fear him/her. His/her closest companions are more realistic but still place him/her in very high regard. Being elevated like this is a little unnerving for the dragonrider.
  • Dragon Age: Hawke, the second game's main character, is supposed to be a huge badass. However, Varric likes to exaggerate his stories, meaning that Hawke's actions, while badass, aren't nearly as grandiloquent as the Warden's or the Inquisitor's. In fact, Hawke lampshaded to the Inquisitor how much of Hawke's actions are exagerated, while even Varric is aware that Hawke themself was mainly irrelevant to the problems originated in Kirkwall, as they're going to happen soon or later, even without Hawke.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, the Disciple is one of the least explored and developed companions as a result of a Troubled Production, affecting the playerbase's perception of him especially in comparison to his Mutually Exclusive Party Member the Handmaiden. Yet in spite of this average perception of him being a Wide-Eyed Idealist Sarcasm-Blind "Jedi fanboy", his own list of deeds are fairly impressive. Not only is he a spy for the Republic (on the very short list of people that the notoriously untrusting Carth Onasi personally trusts, no less) that goes completely unnoticed for the entirety of the game, he made his way into the archives of the ruins of the Jedi Enclave sublevel that are crawling with dangerous laigreks that scare off even the most rough-and-tumble salvagers unarmed and is calmly reading when the Exile finds him. Finally, he figures out Revan's plans and strategy as well as Kreia's, requiring her to step in and suppress that knowledge because he figured it out long before the endgame. He's also fairly open-minded and insightful about the failings of the Jedi Order and why the average person doesn't know or care about the difference between Jedi and Sith.
  • Monkey Island: Guybrush Threepwood Mighty Pirate is probably one of the biggest examples of this. It would take too long to list everything that a guy that looks like a flooring inspector and has only the ability to hold his breath for ten minutes as talent has managed to achieve in the space of five games.
    • Gets played with in Tales of Monkey Island when he meets a fan of his exploits. She starts off as a normal fangirl who, despite to catch him to collect a bounty on him, still asks him to sign a picture of him. When she actually sees him in usual Guybrush trial and error action, she throws the photo away in disgust. However, he slowly regains her respect when he proves that while he may not be a conventional pirate, his ways work.
  • Roger Wilco of the Space Quest series is up there with Guybrush Threepwood. A bumbling, lazy, not-particularly competent janitor who only survived the opening shots of the Saurien onslaught in the first game was by sleeping on the job in the closet. Over the course of the games, he saves the planet Xenon, defeats Vorhaul twice, saves Those Two Guys From Andromeda, puts an end to the pukoid threat, and saves countless lives. And yet, if you walked up to him, you'd quickly realize he's still a bumbling, lazy, not-particularly competent janitor.
    • Who is prone to tasting any inanimate object (and probably a few animate ones) he can find with his tongue.
      Roger: Blegh! That was a bitter section. I don't think I want to lick the road around here anymore!
  • Undertale:
    • Papyrus is a lot stronger than most people give him credit for. Going purely by stats, he's arguably even stronger than Undyne, only out done by Boss Monsters. However, since the strength of a monster's attacks is proportional to their killing intent, his attacks don't reflect his stats. Papyrus is one of the kindest, nicest people in the underground, and as a result, is nowhere near as effective in combat as he could be. Lampshaded by Undyne, who admits that he's more than strong enough to become a Royal Guardsman, but she keeps denying him the opportunity because she can't bear to put him in harm's way.
    • Inverted by Sans. His description says that he only has 1 HP, 1 DEF, 1 ATK and is the easiest enemy in the entire game. What the description doesn't tell you is that he's also the World's Best Warrior, that his attacks bypass your Mercy Invincibility and that he deals 1 HP damage per frame, so that's 30 HP damage per second, not counting the stacking Karmic Retribution effect he applies with every hit. Sans is also a bona fide Combat Pragmatist compared to the other monsters: he will take the first turn away from you, open with his strongest attack, interrupt his opening monologue mid-sentence to get the drop on you, attack you during your turn, and actually dodge your attacks. Halfway through his fight, he'll offer you the chance to spare him, and if you take it, well, prepare to get dunked on.

    Web Comics 
  • 8-Bit Theater: Red Mage is regularly belittled and easily defeated by every villain they face. His plans are laughably bad and he normally ends up inside a monster, facing various horrors. Over the course of the comic, he has cast every spell in the world simultaneously, killed a dragon from the inside, trapped the Fiend of Fire in a handbag long enough for it to be destroyed, and single-handedly killed the apocalypse-toting Krakenoid after his skeleton was removed.
    • Black Mage may also count. He is the universe's chew toy and is the most likely to experience pages of torture with no resistance. It is acknowledged once that he has the apocalyptic power of three wizards, he took over Hell at one point, vaporized the Fiend of Earth, controlled the Temple of Fiends with his mind, drained the evil from five of the vilest creatures ever to exist (including himself), and had the ability to cast a doomsday-triggering spell right from the beginning of the comic. Regardless, he is rarely played up as a badass.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob! Bob has saved the world or helped save it multiple times. He even got a Medal of Honor once. He works in a little newsstand and gets complaints from his customers for missing work too often.
  • Sinfest: Slick and Squigly — One is a poet who has survived and escaped Hell multiple times as well written at least one poem so good that it makes most women go weak at the knees. The other is skilled at parkour and is able to achieve flight through narcotics alone. Both deal with beings like God, Satan, Jesus and Buddha on a regular basis... and neither one of them has the respect of anyone in the comic, reader included.

    Web Original 
  • In Noob, a long-standing Mistaken for Badass situation eventually led one of the game's worst players to drive one of the most feared Player Killers off the game. The player in question gets no special credit in the first place due to most people knowing he's pretty much The Fool, but the feat is quite the achievement in ignorance.
  • Taken all too literally in the case of Jaune Arc in RWBY, whose desire to be a Huntsman so that he can live up to his family's tradition of protecting people leads to him apply for Beacon Academy with forged credentials. In fact, he's never attended any of the basic Huntsman prep schools, meaning he has no knowledge of anything about how to be a Huntsman. Zigzagged in that he does have a surprising amount of potential and, with some special training from Pyrrha, manages to start catching up with unusual speed. Even though he is unquestionably the weakest member of Team JNPR, he manages to be surprisingly badass as the series goes on.
  • Pretty much every protagonist from Twitch Plays Pokémon. Each of them collects all eight badges from their region (16 for the Johto characters and 20 for the fan-made region characters) and defeats the Elite Four and Champion, they all defeat some form of crime syndicate, and some have even traveled to other dimensions and realities. They also get lost inside one-room buildings, black out to weak 'mons and can struggle for hours to pass trivial obstacles.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of Batman: The Animated Series, Sidney Debris, a gangster wannabe, manages to frustrate Batman's attempts to catch him by being a bumbler. Then, during the tussle, Batman supposedly falls to his death. Within hours, the word's gotten out that he's "The Man Who Killed The Bat". It's technically true, but the title is loaded language: in truth, it was all based on pure luck. Now, because Asskicking Leads to Leadership, every criminal in Gotham wants to take him out to prove they're tougher. (Well, except for The Joker, who only wants him dead because he took away his chance to kill Batman.) However, through Batman's (offscreen) help, Sidney not only survives, but his legend grows because of the crooks he "beat". The story ends with him going to prison with all sorts of Villain Cred: when he arrives in prison he's lauded as The Man Who Almost Killed the Bat (which is true), and the one who helped make the Joker look foolish (which is again true). It's Batman himself who points this out to make him feel better.
  • Todd in Bojack Horseman. This is even lampshaded early in Season 5 during a job interview, where the boss is astounded at his resume: He's launched a successful ridesharing app, built and managed a theme park and was even briefly Governor of California. In spite of all these accomplishments (most of which he merely stumbled into by luck), he is still homeless and is interviewing for a job as a janitor, mostly due to his carefree and Cloud Cuckoolander demeanor. For example, the millions of dollars he made off the ridesharing app were lost instantly when he accidentally included them in a tip to his waitress.
  • Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015) has the combiner Menasor, made up of all the Stunticons for the final Combiner Force season. Optimus himself stated that Menasor managed to destroy an entire planetary system and since Optimus isn't the type to just blatantly make up lies, we know it's true Menasor managed to accomplish this task somehow. But in all the times the audience sees Menasor, what we get on-screen is a laughably uncoordinated Decepticon combiner who gets his sword stuck in the ground for hilariously long periods of time, doesn't have the best control over his body or mind, and ultimately gets his butt kicked by Ultra Bee, an Autobot combiner who's even less experienced than Menasor and was fighting him head-on for the first time.
  • The Venture Bros. has resident butterfly-themed Not-So-Harmless Villain, the Monarch. For a guy with no superpowers dressed like a butterfly, the Monarch has one impressive resume. He committed what was essentially an act of terrorism in college and got away with it scott-free; was able to became a full-on super villain before he got his trust-fund and while registered as a lowly henchmen in the Guild of Calamitous Intent (including taking on the legitimately superpowered Captain Sunshine); seduced (twice) and eventually married his boss’s girlfriend; built a fully-function floating palace with an army of henchmen so loyal to him that they would give their lives for him; has escaped a prison built specifically to house super villains with all but one of his cohorts betraying him; has killed every Science Hero (not named Rusty Venture) he was assigned to by the Guild with frightening ease; has managed to always become Rusty’s arch nemesis despite being legally red-taped numerous times and — to top it all off — has survived several encounters with Brock freaking Samson. With this in mind, he probably could have had everyone in the Venture compound killed many times over (or definitely has in the case of Dean and Hank) and simply chooses not to because of his obsession with annoying Dr. Venture.
  • Xiaolin Showdown: A villainous example with Jack Spicer. In the span of three seasons he has built countless robotic armies, a time machine, a Shen Gong Wu detector, a shapeshifter, highly impressive AI, is responsible for the release of Wuya thus causing the Wu to start revealing themselves and in the future, without Omi, he would be the ruler of the whole world. Not bad for a guy who lives with his parents. He also had the best track record against the heroes out of anyone who has challenged them, having claimed several victories whereas any other villain is lucky to have one or two. It's worth noting that when Jack got a hold of Chase Young's (legendary evil guy, extremely powerful) army of big cats, Omi tried to return them to Chase, primarily because he thought that was better from a tactical perspective. Jack used them to rob the Xiaolin Warriors of their Shen Gong Wu, whereas Chase felt he was too powerful in his own right to need them. And the Bad Future in the series finale shows Jack Spicer having defeated all of the other villains as well as the Xiaolin Warriors to become ruler of the world. The explanation for all this is alluded to in several episodes: Jack has the potential, but he's too lazy and cowardly to make much use of it except in short bursts.