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Incidental Villain

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Some people have evil as a way of life. Some just have it as a job. But others still have it as a tool, using it to serve their ends but able to use it only as far as they need it. They're perfectly willing to do a crime or hurt people if it suits their needs, but when it doesn't, they're also willing to do things the peaceful way.

Basically, the Incidental Villain is a character who technically isn't a villain, and they only actually do something truly antagonistic occasionally; most of the time they aren't doing anything particularly bad, only when necessary. The rest of the time, they have no problem playing by the rules or being amiable to our heroes. So, half the time the hero doesn't have to worry, because at the moment the enemy doesn't really care to antagonize: They know they're capable of villainy, but they tolerate them because they're not currently doing anything wrong. This kind of attitude is pretty common in sitcoms where the main character is a Loser Protagonist who minds his own business, has no heroic aspirations and would never even consider opposing the villain since they are totally out of their league and could possibly even be their boss. They just occasionally ends up victimised by him when the villain looks for an easy target. In some cases (especially when the world is already their oyster) the only way to stop them is by talking them into taking some preferable action which will be more in their best interests instead of whatever atrocity they originally planned to commit.

Just don't piss them off, get in their way, or otherwise force their hand. Because if they think they need to deal with you, or even think it might be to their benefit, you will regret it, though a necessary part of this kind of character is that they don't actively plot against the heroes, more or less taking schemes as they come.

A Punch-Clock Villain is often this way, due to evil being only a job to them. It's also quite common for the Corrupt Corporate Executive and other cases of enterprising and capitalistic villains. This character does not go through the Heel–Face Revolving Door, because he doesn't actually change sides; he just decides not to do anything evil for lengths of time. If anything, these characters are extremely neutral until they decide to do something devious, and go right back to neutral afterwards. This is a subtrope to Pragmatic Villainy. Even a particularly opportunistic Complete Monster can be this.

Compare and contrast with Heroic Neutral.

Truth in Television, obviously (and probably more common than any of the other villain tropes), but you know the rules...



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    Anime and Manga 
  • Balalaika of Black Lagoon is this. She has something of a cordial relationship with our heroes, and she only fills the antagonist role on occasion (such as in Fujiyama Gangsta Paradise), and she does things like edit porn when she's not commanding her men, but it is still not a wise idea to cross her or piss her off, as a number of characters such as Hansel and Gretel have learned to their sorrow.

    Comic Books 
  • The Penguin, in the Batman comics, is mostly this nowadays. Officially he's a "legitimate" businessman who owns a nightclub, and functions as a small-time criminal operator and sometime snitch, and his club is the place to be whenever the villains of Gotham want to meet or relax. All in all, he himself doesn't really threaten the city much; he's largely a neutral figure, who helps both villains and sometimes gives Batman info if coaxed enough - unless he's in the mood to try and corner Gotham's underworld, in which case he shows just how deadly and threatening he can be. This happens every once in a while, and the end result is never pretty.
  • Depending on the Writer with Lex Luthor from Superman; in some versions he's a Magnificent Bastard 24-7, in others, most days is no more evil than any other Corrupt Corporate Executive in the questionably legal experimental arms business.

    Films — Animated 
  • The appearance of the Queen of Hearts late in Alice in Wonderland isn't directly a threat to Alice's life, as she can be civil and even playful when she isn't displeased and Alice doesn't have anything that she wants. The problem is that her mood is so unstable, and so heavily based on whims and outbursts that a lot of incidents can cause, that she is entirely unpredictable in her insanity. It doesn't matter how polite and respectful one is, her buttons are easily and unintentionally pressed; therefore, it doesn't take long before Alice's life is in big danger.

  • Domina: Law in the city is fluid at best, but Artemis Butler, the leader of Necessarius, prefers to work within it if at all possible—not least because he wrote it. But when push comes to shove, he'll firebomb an entire building full of innocents if he has to. It's just most of the time he can stick to bribes and other political games.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Pierce Hawthorne of Community: The other members of the study group know that he's a self-centered ignoramus who can be a genuine threat when he feels insulted or left out, but he's mostly tolerated because they also know how lonely and depressed he can get without them.

    Video Games 
  • Lolorito Nanarito of Final Fantasy XIV is an extremely rich man who wants to continue being rich, and maintain the oligarchy of wealth in the city of Ul'dah that he benefits from. As such, he's willing to sabotage competitors, engage in underhanded business practices, exploit desperate refugees, and work against the city-state's more egalitarian Sultana, and this has brought him into conflict with the player character before. But he also recognizes that he loses everything if Ul'dah or Eorzea in general is destabilized, and so he has offered resources to stand up to Garlemald, worked behind the scenes to foil a plot by one of his fellow oligarchs to assassinate the Sultana, and even donated half his fortune to the Sultana as a peace offering. (Though he remained one of the six richest citizens of Ul'dah afterwards, which says something about his net worth.) In general, by the more recent expansions, he realizes that antagonizing the player character, one of the most powerful people in the world, is bad for business, so he does what he can to make himself indispensable, while still not abandoning his profiteering ways.
  • Kirby's occasional antagonist King Dedede, particularly in the games. He's a greedy self-centered jerk, but he's also a king who cares about his kingdom, believe it or not. So, most of the time he's helping to defend his kingdom against monstrous threats and taking care of business, and every once in a while he'll do something like steal everyone's food so he can have a feast on his downtime, which puts him in an interesting space between nuisance and savior.

    Visual Novels 
  • Dr. Mosely/Zeta from Double Homework tries to help the subjects of her experiments whenever possible, but also isn’t above murder, either to keep her secrets or to sate her anger at someone who crossed her.
    Dr. Mosely/Zeta: You are all liabilities.

    Western Animation 
  • Shere Kahn in TaleSpin was reimagined as an Affably Evil Corrupt Corporate Executive, and has no problem with hiring pirates to attack shipping lines that aren't his own or ruthlessly crushing the opposition. But despite being ruthless and cold, his villainy is mostly due to him being extremely pragmatic, feeling that ruthlessness is the most effective way to deal with it. Most of the plots dealing with his company happen when one of his employees threatens the protagonists either outside of his knowledge (like a rogue scientist going mad) or in a way that he doesn't care about (like an inventor whose invention could put them out of business). He almost always helps against the villain of the week when he appears, and is even a Benevolent Boss (because mistreated employees don't work as efficiently). In the end of most plots where he's antagonistic, he tends to decide that his course of action was not the best he could do and abandon it with no hard feelings, often even choosing Baloo's side because it's the easiest way to get the job done.
    • One could argue whether the original interpretation from The Jungle Book applies to some extent. While something of a non-anthropomorphic Egomaniac Hunter that likes to consider himself an intimidating figure, he is suggested to only really hate mankind out of fear of their "red flower" (fire) and isn't taken that seriously by other residents of the jungle. He breaks rules of the Jungle as well; however, he is merely a normal animal killing for food. The Disney interpretation has some implications of this trait but is rarely shown on screen outside terrorizing Mowgli or anyone protecting him (by the sequel he is so embittered at his defeat he is out and out sinister and malevolent).
  • Harley Quinn (2019): This version of Poison Ivy has little interest in being an out-and-out supervillain, and instead maintains a mostly normal life with an apartment and real life problems and concerns, only very occasionally going on sprees of eco-terrorism against targets she thinks deserve breaking her normal routine.
  • Hondo Ohnaka of Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a ruthless pirate, and will do whatever it takes for profit. This means that while he is perfectly willing to kidnap both hero and villain alike to cash in on their ransom or pillage and/or extort from defenseless people, he'll also gladly help out our heroes if there's enough money in it, as well as abandon any current evil plans with no hard feelings whatsoever the moment they become unprofitable.
  • The Brotherhood of Mutants in X-Men: Evolution are less a gang of sociopathic terrorists and more a bunch of antisocial teens being led around by an actual sociopath; once Mystique, and later Magneto, are gone, they couldn't care less about the heroes, wouldn't hurt people or really do anything bad, but just keep to themselves unless forced to act. They're practically friends with the X-Men, and have a more Friendly Rivalry vibe to their feud than anything; they help them all the time, and most of the times they fight them outside of Mystique's influence are because, despite being not-quite-evil, they are generally assholes, or there's a misunderstanding. However, with the exception of Lance, they adamantly refuse to join the X-Men on principle, preferring to mind themselves. In the end, however, they stop going around wavering on the line between good and evil and join SHIELD.
  • David Xanatos from Gargoyles is a good example. He's an Affably Evil Corrupt Corporate Executive whose only real motivation is his own interest: if he wants something, and he can't get it legally, he'll do something illegal, and if that brings him into conflict with the heroes, he'll fight them. If he's not interested in them, he'll leave them alone; he doesn't hold grudges; and being evil isn't his primary concern, just a tool he uses.
  • King Julien, of The Penguins of Madagascar, is a prime example of this. Being a spoiled egomaniacal control freak, he's the most common antagonist on the show, with his schemes often being the catalyst for larger plots or being the main threat of the episode. But, despite being something of an asshole, the rest of the animals in the zoo don't have anything more than a casual dislike for him, and tolerate him when he's not doing anything antagonistic, since he's not generally a bad guy, just a spoiled jerk who occasionally screws with people to get his own way.