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"He was always such a… little man. This was finally something that made him feel big."
Fox Mulder, The X-Files ("Pusher")
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A Sister Trope of Start of Darkness that involves a non-badass normal taking numerous levels in badass, whether instantly or over the course of a story, thus becoming essentially nothing but a giant walking, talking bucket of Nightmare Fuel.

Through a series of unlikely coincidences, or through accidental or unknowing actions on the part of the heroes themselves, or as a result of things which should never have happened — and in most alternate timelines don't happen, but just barely by the skin of their teeth, do happen — someone who might have stayed an insignificant nothing is transformed into a nightmare that grows and grows, absorbing the power to rend civilizations to dust and bring universes to their knees.

For some reason, it seems that From Nobody To Nightmare villains are always more powerful, terrifying, deadly, and threatening than your typical Diabolical Mastermind. In scenarios where the villain rose by their own effort, this often a case of I Did What I Had to Do, Jumping off the Slippery Slope, and maybe a few Angst Nukes thrown in for good measure. This may owe itself to the shock value of the idea that anyone and anything can become the Big Bad under the right circumstances; it's much more comforting to believe that only long years of Card Carrying Villainy could possibly breed that kind of person.

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Compare the Diabolus ex Nihilo. If the character was already a bad guy previously but never a serious one, it's Not-So-Harmless Villain. Heroic versions may still find themselves wondering, "Dude, Where's My Respect?". (Or becoming He Who Fights Monsters.) Frequently, the details of this process are uncovered in the villain's Start of Darkness. Also see Who's Laughing Now?, Malignant Plot Tumor, and Magikarp Power.

Note that being a villain is not necessarily a requirement for this trope, even though most who fit the trope are. Anyone who is feared or dreaded by someone (even if the "someone" in question is the cruel and tyrannical government that the heroes oppose) can qualify. In such a case, the inverse trope is Villain Decay.


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Examples

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    Music 

    Opera 

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Triple H started off in WCW as just another long-haired meathead(who wasn't even that meaty) with a silly Wrestling Doesn't Pay gimmick during a time when these gimmicks were a dime a dozen. He got squashed by The Ultimate Warrior during his first WrestleMania match, then the curtain call happened... But by 1997, he was randomly paired up with fellow long-haired Kliq member Shawn Michaels to form D-Generation X. From there, he would go on to marry the boss's daughter both in storyline and in Real Life, win both world championships over a dozen times, and become one of Professional Wrestling's nastiest tyrants, earning himself monikers such as 'The King of Kings' and 'The Cerebral Assassin'.
  • Jimmy Jacobs started his career off in Ring of Honor as a jobber in fuzzy boots, then as a lovesick emo-teen. Then he snapped, formed the viscous Age of the Fall stable. Since then he was a major player in the S.C.U.M faction and became the Big Bad in Chikara as the leader of the Flood (he was later revealed to be The Dragon).
  • The Miz. When he first appeared on television in the summer of 2006, it was merely as the obnoxious emcee for that year's Diva Search (which Layla El won, by the way). He eventually started wrestling, but almost everyone (except for Michael Cole, which Cole himself would Lampshade years later) thought of him as a joke who had only been offered a contract with WWE because he'd been on so many reality shows. (Outside of Kayfabe, of course, he'd been the second-place contestant on Tough Enough, which did him no favors with the fans since the fan voted contest winner was unceremoniously booted from the WWE) He remained essentially a "curtain-jerker" for his entire first year on TV, even getting eliminated from his first Royal Rumble Match after only seven seconds! It was only after he was drafted to ECW on SciFi in the summer of 2007 and paired with John Morrison in a heel tag team that he started to emerge as something resembling a threat. Fast-forward three years and several titles later, and suddenly Miz is "Mister Money in the Bank" and eventually "the most must-see WWE Champion in history!" And, of course, "Awesome."
  • The WWE NXT season one rookies were just some wet-behind-the-ears, fresh-out-of-training nobodies — maybe something someday, but for now not worth much. Then they banded together to form The Nexus, and completely tore apart Monday Night Raw. For a few months after that, they were "the biggest threat WWE has ever faced" — bigger than The Alliance, bigger than the nWo, bigger than the McMahon-Helmsley Regime, you name it. Ironically, their undoing came when Daniel Bryan, the only rookie who actually had a good amount of experience before coming on NXT, and who had been expelled from the group for showing remorse, joined the WWE wrestlers in the fight against The Nexus.
  • Mark Henry spent the better part of 15 years as a midcarder, best known for his angle with Mae Young, and was considered an oft-injured bust who the WWE only hung onto to justify the untold millions they (over)paid him. When the company was short on monster heels, they turned to Mark Henry to see if he could fill that role finally. With strong booking that had him decimating upper midcarders and main eventers alike, coupled with a rejuvenated Henry in the ring and on the mic, he was able to finally be convincing as one of the most dangerous men in the company, if not THE most dangerous.
  • Cody Rhodes made his WWE debut back in July of 2007 as a generic babyface who teamed up with veteran Hardcore Holly to win the World Tag Team Championships later that year. But Rhodes would turn on Holly at Night of Champions in June of 2008 by revealing himself to be Ted DiBiase Jr.'s mystery partner. Both DiBiase and Rhodes would spend the rest of 2008 to early 2010 as Randy Orton's Legacy henchmen who did all of Orton's dirty work. By spring of 2010 when Legacy disbanded, many experts predicted that DiBiase would be the breakout star of Legacy while Rhodes would be stuck in WWE Superstars-land. But it would be Rhodes who would become one of the WWE's top heels as well as one of the longest reigning Intercontinental Champions while DiBiase faded to obscurity.
  • AJ Lee started off as the adorable, nerdy Geek Goddess who won the crowd by being tiny, cute, and easy to relate to. Once she hooked up with Daniel Bryan, her popularity grew... and then he dumped her and she lost her mind, turning her into the crazy Wild Card who brutally abused her former best friend, won the Divas Championship and held on to it for longer than anyone before her, running right over the top of the other Divas in the process.
  • Kenny Omega was a Fun Personified kid best known for pretending to Hadoken people during matches. Then he joined the Bullet Club and reemerged as "The Cleaner" a Psycho for Hire brought in to take out all of the wrestlers in New Japan's junior heavyweight division. He then ascended even further up the ranks after AJ Styles left at Wrestle Kingdom 10, now the new leader of the Bullet Club, he has become one of the strongest wrestlers in the world, being the first gaijin to win the G1 Climax and is now the US Champion of NJPW as well as gaining mass amounts of media coverage for his matches against Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11 and Dominion 6.11.
  • Bray Wyatt. Originally Husky Harris, filler for CM Punk's iteration of the Nexus, he later on became "possessed", now the Ax-Crazy leader of a backwoods cult, who may or may not be the vessel for the devil himself.
  • As an unusual heroic example (or straight example, depending on how you feel about his career), the big man himself, John Cena. Cena's first appearance as a pro wrestler was on a Discovery Channel show called Inside Pro Wrestling School, which caught on camera his first day as a wrestler-to-be. He eventually evolved a rather corny gimmick called "The Prototype" (basically a Terminator-pastiche that derided everyone on their physique, building on Cena's past as a bodybuilder), which he kept up until he made his WWE main roster debut against Kurt Angle in 2002 (at which point he began using his real name). Anyone watching back then would have brushed this guy off as another face in the crowd, not expecting him to become the biggest thing the industry has ever seen since the days of "Stone Cold" Steve Austin.

    Roleplay 
  • Dawn of a New Age: Oldport Blues:
    • Simon in the present is a regular boy with an evil personality that's satisfied with cruel but petty crime. Flashforwards have shown that Simon becomes the head of an FBI division dedicated to capturing and persecuting superheroes, while the Dark Dragon moniker is formed into an evil organisation that kidnaps and tortures the superpowered kids.
    • Barbra, a perfectly average girl in the present, is implied in flashforwards to have mutated into a horrifying monster as a result of her Adaptive Ability.
    • Two minor examples are Eddie, a chill workman-cum-drug-dealer, and Esther, a kindly investigate journalist. Both are shown in the future to work as lackeys for the Post-Human Division, and are set on detaining the superpowered characters.
  • Frequently used in The Gungan Council for villains. Better examples would be characters that managed to fly under the radar for a year or two before everyone realized how nightmarishly involved they were in all of the galaxy's problems.
  • Survival of the Fittest provides plenty of opportunities for (mostly) normal high school students to become multiple murderers. J. R. Rizzolo, in particular, went from being a regular guy who liked playing Guitar Hero to a sadistic, deceptive loony who offed his former classmates without a trace of guilt.

    Theatre 
  • Heather Duke from Heathers starts out as a Beta Bitch consistently silenced by Alpha Bitch Heather Chandler, and appeared rather meek compared to the person protagonist Veronica refers to as a "mythic bitch." When describing Heather Duke, Veronica even comments about how she seems to have no discernible personality in comparison to the other Heathers. However, after Heather Chandler's death, Heather Duke takes over as the new Big Bad of the school and is arguably even worse despite lacking the charisma to strike other students with the same feeling of fear that Heather Chandler did. She goes so far as to spread false rumors in order to completely smear Veronica's virtuous reputation, where as Heather Chandler had merely threatened her with social isolation.

    Visual Novels 
  • In the Ace Attorney series, Joe Darke was an ordinary office worker, until he killed someone with his car. This led to a chain of events that made him an infamous Serial Killer.
    • The beginning of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney has Miles Edgeworth. He's known as the Demon Prosecutor who is said to do whatever it takes to get his guilty verdict, including forging evidence (though Case 1-5 verifies that particular rumor was untrue) and who never lost a case before going up against Phoenix. It's later revealed though that Edgeworth used to be a perfectly normal kid, albeit one very interested in being a famous defense attorney. Character Development in later games makes him less of a nightmare, though.
  • Fate/stay night's Sakura Matou goes from the cute girl with a jerk brother who gets kicked out of all the routes early, never does anything important, Cannot Spit It Out and more Shrinking Violet traits to an all powerful dark mage with the exact magic traits needed not only to be able to be the host of the (sort of) devil, but also express its power. And also to keep her mind (to a certain extent). Oh, and she can eat Servants or corrupt them as she pleases, have an immense Healing Factor and a bunch of other nifty moves. The one thing it doesn't do for her is improve her self image, causing her to believe that Rin (her sister) doesn't care about her (Rin's rather cold statements don't exactly help matters...), and to worry that Shirou might abandon her for Rin.
    • Avenger/Angra Mainyu too. Started off as just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill Mesopotamian villager. After being randomly picked to be a scapegoat for 'all evils of the world' he ended up being summonable for the Holy Grail War, but even there he was still pathetic, being one of the weakest Servants imaginable. However his spirit then went inside the Grail where he made a wish to truly become the manifestation of evil for revenge on humanity, and that's the reason the Grail has been corrupted ever since.
  • Higurashi: When They Cry: All the secondary antagonists/ironic members of the main set of True Companions.
  • In Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Akane goes from being a sweet little girl to masterminding a second Nonary Game to get revenge on the four men that caused her death, as well as to get Junpei to show her the solution to saving her life.
  • Super Danganronpa 2: The students of Hope's Peak Academy's 77th class (excluding Chiaki) were all fairly normal, if somewhat messed up, high school students before they became members of Ultimate Despair. Afterward, they were responsible for the murders of their families and friends, terrorism, coup d'etats, wars, the massacre of countless innocents, and even destroying their own bodies through self-inflicted mutilation. The finale anime describes them as million-class murderers.
    • Hajime Hinata takes the cake among the cast, starting off from someone with no talent being selected by Hope's Peak for an experiment. Said experiment erased his memories and personality to make him multi-talented for the sake of creating Ultimate Hope... but the aftereffects made him a prime target to become the Ultimate Despair, triggering The End of the World as We Know It.

    Web Original 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog goes this route with the main character. In the prequel comic released, he was merely a geeky kid who was inspired by a Mad Scientist's moment of triumph to be a Supervillain (albeit one with good aspirations). He consistently remains unsuccessful at impressing his superiors and is eventually shoehorned into a situation where he must commit a murder or be executed for incompetence. Eventually with the accidental murder of Penny, the girl he loved, he becomes a true supervillain in both position and personality.
  • Coyle Command found its origins as a laundromat. Its leader, Coyle Commander, had the job of opening and closing it every day.
  • Cute swamp monster Theodora, from roleplaying podcast Dice Funk, goes from a bit character in the previous season to a main character in the next one...a main character in Faustian service to a God of Abominations. By the time the other characters realize that she's Not So Harmless and sweet, Dora has become the living avatar of a dark god and sacrificed everything she's cared about on that god's altar. Worse yet, she accomplishes exactly what she'd set out to do, killing dozens and trapping thousands of innocent people in a Fate Worse than Death inside of ironic hells that they can no longer escape. Ever.
  • League of Legends has Jericho Swain, the Master Tactician. His first record of being known in Noxus was when he walked into an infirmary with a severely mangled leg. No one but Swain (and maybe his bird) knows what happened, and he walked off afterwards with nothing but a cane in hand, refusing magical treatment, going off to join the Noxian military. Instead of being turned away for being a cripple, he tore his way through the ranks as a commanding officer, being promoted when demotions were asked for, and being decorated after nearly every battle. And even now, he still walks around with a cane.
  • A host of kids in the Whateley Universe who are nothing until somewhere around the age of fourteen they manifest as mutants. Deathlist, most feared hero killer in the world, started out as an ordinary schoolboy.
  • The Questport Chronicles: The Fellowship never finds out who the mage who destroyed Questport is or where he came from. No one had heard of him until after the cataclysm.
  • The Queen of Pain from Orion's Arm, an Eldritch Abomination that was once a perfectly normal cat.
  • That Guy with the Glasses:
  • The heroine of Tired Fairy is originally just a joung woman from a middle-class family, going on university vacation. Then she finds the Sphere of Power, an ancient artifact that can kill averybody and destroy anything the wielder wishes (think Death Note on steroids). By the end of the first book, she is de-facto in control of the world.
  • After two online users, ghettofinger and GirlVinyl were kept from creating a Wikipedia article about a certain someone, they went on and created their own wiki so they could get away with it. The result: The infamously offensive (and Nigh Invulnerable) Encyclopedia Dramatica.
  • You, in Cookie Clicker. At the very start, you can't even bake a decent cookie, with the ones you do make being unappealing even to the neighbourhood raccoon. Several gazillion cookies later, you've established a baking empire spanning several galaxies, have opened dozens of portals to universes made of cookies, baked with antimatter, unravelled time itself, and bribed elder gods, all with these same cookies that are now unimaginably good. And it all started with one click from someone who one day felt like baking some cookies.
  • Several of the most feared Villains in A Practical Guide To Evil.
  • Cobra Kai: All the Cobra Kai students started off as meek, bullied kids with some form of disability, and ended up feared, ruthless martial artists. However, the standout is Eli, who went from trying to hide in his clothes to a berserker whose capacity for aggression and brutality frightens even the other members of Cobra Kai.
  • Taylor Hebert from the web serial Worm is a depressed fifteen year-old girl that's the victim of heavy bullying. Roughly 1,680,000 words later, she has been an infamous Supervillain/Warlord, a renowned Superhero, a voice at the table when The Illuminati discussed their response to the impending apocalypse, a dimension-hopping Physical God of total mind-control ability. Then she peacefully retires at around nineteen years old.
  • Madness Combat: Tricky the Clown starts out as a random Mook in the Sheriff's employ, but then assimilates reality-warping technology and becomes the setting's most enduring villain. As of Expurgation, he's reached Humanoid Abomination status as "The Thorn in Reality's Side".

 
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