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Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain

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Is there anything sadder than a Batman villain with Puppy-Dog Eyes?

"I don't know whether we should pound him or buy him an ice cream cone."
Michelangelo on Baxter Stockman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012)

A potential villain who is consistently a failure or never gets the respect that they think they deserve, and may even be angry that the heroes don't take them seriously.

They may not necessarily be entirely inept or have a laughably mild idea of what counts as villainy. Villain Decay is usually too simple an explanation. This is sometimes a relative situation, and the hero's Rogues Gallery just happens to include people more showy, better financed, or just plain scarier than him. These guys are why people are found Rooting for the Empire. A defining feature of such a villain is their gullibility: they are more often than not pitted against a Trickster who easily bamboozles them and leads them on their defeat, while it is obvious to the viewers that they should know better than listening to and believe their intended victim. A considerable number of them also tend to be Klutzes who are likely to fall in their own traps thanks to poor judgement, underestimating their foes to a ludicrous extent and/or failure to think ahead or pay any attention to their surroundings. And it is a usual way to showcase their stupidity by making them screw up their own plans and even die or get injured due to such mistakes in more realistic and grittier works.

This does not mean that they don't bear animosity; that's a Punch-Clock Villain. They're probably jumping at the opportunity to outdo their rivals and the hero. But there is something about his perseverance or attitude about the whole thing that is just short of sympathetic.

May also be a Determinator out of necessity or overlap with Draco in Leather Pants. If they get even more pathetic in regard to the hero, Unknown Rivalry looms. Just watch out, they may suddenly turn out to be a Not-So-Harmless Villain and succeed or come dangerously to succeeding with their goals in which case they will probably lose the sympathetic part and likely cross the Moral Event Horizon. After all, their appeal lies in how hopeless their attempts are.

Video Game versions of this trope frequently overlap with the Goldfish Poop Gang if they are just as pathetic in actual battle as they're treated by the story. They may maintain threat status if Conservation of Competence allows them to keep competent supporters.

The Evil Counterpart to Failure Hero. Arguably a Sub-Trope of Boisterous Weakling. Super-Trope to The Family for the Whole Family, which specifically requires the villain to be incompetent and their likely threat level sans said incompetence to be that of a Knight of Cerebus. A character who acts like a villain while genuinely not wanting to do anything truly evil (or simply not having the capacity to do so even IF they wanted to) is a Harmless Villain.

On the Sliding Scale of Character Appreciation, these guys fall under "villains we sympathize with".

Contrast Complete Monster, where we instead have an utterly nasty, dangerous, and unsympathetic villain. Also contrast Hate Sink, who is made to be as detestable as possible and someone you want to see defeated.

Not to be confused with Sympathetic Villain, Despicable Villain, where the sympathy lies in the villain being capable of redemption.

Example subpages:

Other examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • In Boonie Bears, Logger Vick is more of an Anti-Hero than an actual villain, but his job as a logger is frequently ruined by the bear brothers who want to keep their forest safe. In addition, his boss Li constantly yells at him to keep chopping down trees, threatening to lower his wages if he doesn't. It's understandable that one would feel sorry for him.
  • Squirrel and Hedgehog:
    • The South Korean mice in this propaganda-tastic North Korean series. The pair, consisting of domineering Jerkass Mulmangcho and his meeker, one-eared companion Yelipalip, migrate from faction to faction amongst the villains and are consistently mistreated and abused. All of their efforts to prove their worth, do something evil and make it higher up in the ranks of whichever group they're currently attached to inevitably fail, miserably and pitifully, usually thanks to the heroes. More than once, the two are actually arrested and imprisoned by their own bosses and almost executed because they got the blame for what the undercover good guys, Geumsagi and Juldarami, did. So far, they have always managed to somehow get out of such situations alive. Although they clearly want to be evil and respected (Mulmangcho more so than Yelipalip), they fail so often and so pitifully it's difficult not to feel bad for them.
    • It should also be noted that this was originally an evil trio of Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains, but the third guy, Mulsajo, whose distinguishing characteristic was that he wore a pink shirt, was even more ineffectual than his comrades and was blown up with a grenade midway through one of the earlier story arcs, leaving just his two buddies to carry the mantle of constantly failing.

    Fan Works 
  • Most of the so-called "villains" of The Prayer Warriors count, but Grover stands out in "The Evil Gods Part 1". He typically can't do more than threaten or taunt the "heroes", and while it's implied that he played a role in Chiron's off-screen death after converting and returning to Camp Half-Blood to convert the others, in the resulting fight with Percy, he gets defeated and beheaded fairly quickly.
  • The Metarex of Sonic X: Dark Chaos become this trope thanks to flanderization and Villain Decay. This is notably averted with Eggman, who has taken several levels in badass.
  • In Neither a Bird nor a Plane, it's Deku!, Kite Man is constantly name-dropped as a complete joke by Heroes and Villains alike. In Chapter 5, the Ultra-Humanite sarcastically asks Izuku if he thought he was Kite Man. Later on, Shouto Todoroki initially believes that Izuku, who was busy sweating and quivering on-stage, wouldn't last five seconds against Kite Man.
  • The Mane Six from The Dark Side Of The Mirrorverse are a bunch of nuisances who are also extremely messed up from their various psychological hang-ups. To list, they consist of:
    • Applejack, an inept Card-Carrying Villain whose worst crimes include stealing an apple from a store her family owned and accidentally causing the collapse of a condemned building, and who manages to bungle kicking a pebble. Her "crimes" are just a sad and pathetic cry for attention, and various characters lampshade that she barely qualifies as a villain at all.
    • Rarity is a Cloudcuckoolander who is the only legitimate criminal among them, mainly because she keeps vandalizing things in an attempt to make them "better" thanks to her parents drilling countless arbitrary and inconsistent rules into her head as she grew up to the point it drove her crazy.
    • Pinkie is a pushy Jerkass Moral Guardian who tries to convince people not to have fun with countless pamphlets and rants, and occasionally replaces foods with healthier substitutes.
    • Twilight is an Attention Whore with countless paranoia issues, and while she probably has the worst reputation out of all of them, it's because she's an Absent-Minded Professor who is very careless and easily distractable, resulting in her inventions causing massive destruction, and her brother having turned traitor, resulting in her being shunned for his crimes. She manages to upgrade herself into a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds when an invention gone wrong turns her into Nightmare Spotlight.
    • Fluttershy is a Brutally Honest Jerkass whose worst crimes are being lazy and having a case of Bystander Syndrome.
    • Rainbow is a self-hating wreck so traumatized by her abuse at Spitfire's hands that she believes she deserves whatever punishment she receives and occasionally hallucinates people berating her because she is just that utterly convinced she deserves it. She can barely even be considered a villain at all, being a good person who is usually friendly and polite with others.
  • Hunters of Justice: While conducting an investigation in Gotham, Ren, Nora, Red Robin, and Spoiler "foil" a robbery by Micheal Mayo (aka. The Condiment King). During which, Micheal breaks down sobbing about how he lost his job, his wife left him after having an affair, and she took the kids with her. The whole scene is so pathetic that even the bystanders feel sorry for him. The cops don't even bother arresting him; instead, they just send him home.
  • C-Listers subverts this trope. The protagonists are all C-list supervillains who are generally portrayed as awkward, socially inept dorks and True Companions, but it's frequently shown that they're all far from ineffectual. Even the ones who most fit the archetype, Killer Moth and Polka-Dot Man, are unrepentant criminals who are willing to kill at the end of the day.
  • The Ultimate Hope turns Junko Enoshima of all people into one, as Lady Luck seems dead set on spiting her by making literally everything she does for the sake of despair instead inspire hope. The result is Junko spending the entire fic sobbing in her rooms while watching all her classmates become great friends, have lots of fun together, and credit her for all of it. In the end, she wins the Nobel Peace Prize for accidentally ushering in a golden age of peace and prosperity. She's so broken that she's Stopped Caring and is okay with it since she gets a trophy.
  • The Boys: Real Justice: The story inverts this trope. Usually, the villains of DC fail against the heroes they are fighting. When facing the DC villains, the Seven are depicted as incompetent losers who are way in over their heads.

    Films — Animation 
  • Joker from The LEGO Batman Movie, like many of his other incarnations, commits many of his crimes (like blowing up Gotham and sending the debris into the Abyss of Nothingness) just to get Batman's attention and impress him. Here though, none of Joker's plans have ever worked to the point of Gotham's citizens not really taking him seriously anymore. Batman even tells him that he has no investment in their antagonistic relationship, claiming that he has more emotional investment against Bane and Superman than he does Joker.
  • Kaa, from Disney's The Jungle Book. Unlike in the book, where he's a benevolent badass Old Master.

  • While he started off as a badass, by the end of Kung Fu Panda, Tai Lung had become this due to a combination of Freudian Excuse, Sympathy for the Devil, revealing his Start of Darkness and "Well Done, Son" Guy status, and an Et Tu, Brute? from his past. This may have something to do with the Humiliation Conga and Kick Them While They Are Down which some viewers see in the final battle—it certainly can't be denied that what had once been a chillingly effective villain seemed rather pathetic and easily defeated, Po's understanding of the Dragon Scroll notwithstanding.
    • Of course, after his Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy resume is firmly established and he has shamelessly brutalized the entire rest of the cast, others see this as simple karmic retribution. Pride goeth before the fall, after all, and a Humiliation Conga was really no less than Tai Lung deserved at that point.
  • "Bowler Hat Guy" in Meet the Robinsons. He becomes dramatically more sympathetic as the movie progresses, and by the end of it he isn't even the villain.
  • Megamind. You start to root for him since, despite his numerous failures against Invincible Hero Metro Man, he never gives up. He always bounces back from his latest plot being foiled, ready to go at it again.
  • Peter Pan:
    • Captain Hook. Unlike other Disney villains, he has an understandable reason to want to destroy his nemesis (who seems to continually make his life miserable for no reason). He's constantly humiliated throughout the movie, seems disrespected by everyone in Never Land (besides Mr. Smee), and isn't feared in the slightest despite being clearly murderous. And there's the fact that the narrative oddly takes a sadistic liking making him the butt of many comical injuries.
    • The captain's ineffectiveness continues in the sequel, Return To Never Land. They tried to make him more cunning and unappealing (his crew, this time, seems to respect him, even), but yet, somehow winds up as more of a bumbling, unsuccessful fool than the original. His own ship even gets destroyed.
    • How about Mr. Smee, a rotund nincompoop First-Mate of Hook with a jovial voice, but eager to abet the most heinous deeds on the excuse of Just Following Orders.
    • Really though, you could count Captain Hook and his crew as a whole. They're not exactly angels, yes, but they do have their reasons, and constantly get the short end of the stick, only getting close to victory somewhat and having it brutally taken away. Seems as though Failure Is the Only Option.
  • Edgar, the villain of The Aristocats, is even less threatening as a villain than Hook is. Not only is he constantly humiliated throughout the film when trying to get rid of the cats, but he is ultimately dealt with easily.
  • Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse: The Spot is traditionally one of Spider-Man's C-List villains across media, often being a very minor and inconsequential nuisance at best, which holds true here as well... at first. However, since nobody takes him seriously, he is able to fly below everyone's radar and discover and hone the true, devastating potential of his powers and becomes a trans-dimensional being that threatens the entire multiverse. This also serves as his Berserk Button as well because Miles inadvertently ruined his life due to his actions in the first movie as he was one of the unlucky scientists to be caught in the aftermath, and being treated as nothing but a joke despite it drives him over the deep end to exact revenge on Miles and he eventually develops the aforementioned ability to do just that.
    The Spot: You'll finally have a villain worth fighting for, and I WON'T JUST BE A JOKE TO YOU!!!

  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Fred Nacht (aka Nightstalker Fred) tries to do his job of being a menacing villain but always ends up bumping into Nesa who foils his plans and humiliates him (often without Fred even realizing who his mysterious tormenter is).
  • Survival of the Fittest:
    • Kami Steele from Spin-Off The Program is one. Her first appearance had her pointing a gun Gangsta Style at a girl with the intent to kill her but ran away after being yelled at by said girl, who had started to poke holes in her plans. She has since started a body count but still has her moments of incompetence. At one point, she attempts to give herself a Character Name Alias... in front of people who already know she's Kami.
    • One could also make a case for Version 4's Jimmy Brennan, up until he beat Philip Ward to death with a branch. Prior to that, though, he definitely qualified due to his attitude. One early thread has him brag about all the ass he's already kicked, despite having panicked and wet himself the thread immediately before.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Virgil, the Million Dollar Man a.k.a. Ted Dibiase's dragon was presented this way during his WWE wrestling career. For years Ted Dibiase treated Virgil like a servant, yet Virgil would do whatever Heel action he was told. That is until a storyline was created where Virgil turned against Ted Dibiase and became a Face.
  • Ariana was this in LLF during 2004, where she was so ineffectual that even when they were on the verge of winning a match she screwed so much up that her Tag Team partner Princesa Sugey snapped and assaulted her, then Polly Star, who was recovering from a prior match, decided to join in. Ariana was so sympathetic that rather than try to win the match one of her tecnica opponents tried to protect her and adding to the whole thing was the referee ruling the disqualification in favor of the tecnicas, so they won anyway.
  • Particularly worth mentioning is Simon Dean, the heel version of fitness freak Richard Simmons in WWE in the mid-2000s. He never won a match against a non-jobber. (Of course, Dean wasn't really evil so much as he was very, very annoying, which is enough to make you a heel in WWE.)
  • AJ Styles during the Angle Alliance Christian Coalition feud in TNA, him essentially serving as the fall guy of both groups.
  • Montel Vontavious Porter on Smackdown after he lost the United States Championship and continued to lose every match he had afterwards, to the point Theodore Long refused to pay him the bonuses that were in his contract and took away MVP's NFL-style inflatable tunnel entrance. Fans began to cheer for him out of sympathy.
  • Hydra in Chikara, mostly due to the fact he was only 130 lbs, making it really easy to sympathize with him against almost everyone he was matched up with.
  • Layla El during the Laycool period. While they were both rotten people, Layla was also goofy, small, and tended to take the losing pin or submission hold when the team lost. And Layla also seemed to genuinely care about Michelle McCool, who was growing increasingly tired of her.
  • Jakob Hammermeier, to give Chikara another entry on this page, in that he has an abusive Bad Boss in Tim Donst. When Donst is not around, however, this trope is not in play either.
  • Despite spending at least half of her career as part of the hostile occupying Power Stable Oedo tai and being as willing to commit fouls as most other members, Kris Wolf serves as such in World Wonder Ring STARDOM simply because she's so happy and energetic that she doesn't come off as being very malicious and she remains in good spirits facing many setbacks. Being pretty tiny helps too. Even the other goofy members such as Kyoko Kimura, for one contrast, tend to have worrying tempers, sadistic streaks, devious plots, and success in their endeavors, which means they don't get showered in as many cheers or streamers.
  • Dangerous Curves Ahead are a heel Tag Team mostly because of Kaci Lennox. Derby Doll Layne Rosario thinks of herself as a big domineering brute, but she's not, and she's proved she's not for so long that fans tend to cheer out of nostalgia or sympathy and boo when Lennox screeches at her for screwing up.

  • Siri and Cano, a pair of Team Astro grunts from Pokemon: Adventures in the Millennium. They take time to do an entire Team Rocket-style speech when they first appear, their Pokemon don't respect them enough to listen to their orders, and they're so bad at sneaking around that the player characters immediately take pity on them.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Voldemort in Potter Puppet Pals. Taken to ridiculous extremes when Harry has Hagrid beating up every character that bothers him. Voldemort tries to kill Harry, and Harry just leaves without even bothering to have him knocked out.
    Voldemort: Ah! Harry! I've been WAITING for you! Avada Keda—
    Harry: No time to chat, Voldemort! Gotta go! [runs off]
    Voldemort: [audibly choking up] But... but, ah... oh, every time I try to kill Harry- [sob]

  • Dr. Einstein of Arsenic and Old Lace. At the very least, he's helped Jonathan escape from jail and evade the police. He probably has something to do with the latter's ability to be a contender in the play's Body-Count Competition as well. However, he's clearly motivated by fear and spends a lot of time drunk. This may be the reason for his escape at the end.
  • In Ruddigore, when the protagonist Robin becomes Sir Ruthven Murgatroyd, he finds that he can't commit evil deeds if his life depended on it, which is exactly the predicament he's in.

    Web Animation 
  • Burnt Face Man's entire Rogues Gallery, whose nefarious schemes include harassing him over MSN and stealing his submarine (he doesn't have one, the plot was randomised). Taps Man splashes his opponents with water. "Hot, and cold. Hot, and cold, and a combination of them, which I call 'HOLD'." Despite that, Taps Man managed to kill Burnt Face Man's rival, Slightly Bruised Man, with a spray of scalding water, followed by tepid water with lead piping and a faulty boiler.
  • In Gravity Falls: Deep Woods, Jeff (leader of the gnomes) becomes one after losing the gnomes' support. While he never was the biggest threat in Gravity Falls, he still was of the Not-So-Harmless Villain kind. Here, he becomes so ineffectual that Pacifica is able to defeat him and his four buddies all by herself. The heroes actually spend the second part of Quest for the Northwest helping him regain his lost leadership out of pity.
  • Homestar Runner: Strong Bad, most of the time. On the rare occasion the mischief he gets up to is more serious than Poodle Poking, he's likely to fail pretty miserably at it. It's just as well, though, as the local approach to law enforcement is just as pathetic.
  • Minecraft Endventures: Endreai, the incompetent general of the Endermaster's army. He and his group are beaten up by the heroes constantly. He also has trouble teleporting only some parts of his body.
  • While O'Malley from Red vs. Blue occasionally has moments of true villainy, far more often, he is completely, thoroughly, and utterly ineffectual throughout the Blood Gulch Chronicles. How much of this is him and how much is actually due to him being in the head of Doc, the pacifist medic is up for debate, but the fact still remains that his evilness generally consists of wacky plots to destroy the universe and illegally downloading music, and his robot army fails miserably because...well, let's just say that when he requested a robot army to take over a base in a day, he didn't expect that it would literally have to take exactly 24 hours for the robots to do it!
  • RWBY: Junior, the mobster nightclub owner. In his first encounter with Yang before the events of Volume 1, she crushes his balls, and then trashes him, his goons, and his club. In Volume 2, he's remarkably civil to her and helps answer her questions about Roman. He's not a good guy by any means, but he's a bit too pathetic to be called a real villain.
  • RWBY Chibi: Roman Torchwick. While in canon he's a dangerous (but funny) opponent, in Chibi 99% of his schemes backfire violently. It gets so bad he couldn't even enjoy taking a bite of fro-yo before losing it. He didn't stay for his Throw the Dog a Bone, where that accident defeated Ruby Rose.
    Roman: Just once I wish things go my way...
  • The Most Epic Story Ever Told in All of Human History: Ridiculously Epic Fail, who crosses the Epic Fail qualities of the heroic Side Kick Epic Fail with the evil intentions of the Big Bad Ridiculously Epic. This leads to a villain who is horrible at his attempts to be evil.

    Web Original 
  • SCP Foundation:
    • SCP-1370. An Omnicidal Maniac in personality, in ability it's completely harmless. To give an example of how harmless it is, it once tried to fight a potted plant and lost. Even its attempts to give itself intimidating names are utter failures since it chooses names like "Prime Minister Sinister", "ShivaTron, Despoiler of all Mirth", and "Doom-Master Thirteen-Seventy, Master of all Doom". Researchers managed to convince it to give itself titles such as "Patheticon the Garglemost" or "Pesterbot", seemingly unaware of the given nature of these names.
    • There's also SCP-705, a small mound of Play-Doh that autonomously creates tiny armies of soldiers with a very hostile and territorial mindset. Despite this, it's still only Play-Doh and as such is incapable of harming anything and is only considered a minor nuisance by the Foundation. There was one time when they were left alone in the site's break room.
      In less than an hour, SCP-705 had taken control of the Mr. Coffee machine, declaring independence and control over the region. The assault was routed when Dr. Rights brushed them away from the burner, resulting in massive casualties and a complete rout. Interviews with SCP-705 remark on this day with great fear and resentment.
  • Surprisingly absent in Worm despite the focus on villains due to the protagonist being one... sort of. Most villains mentioned more than just in the background are extremely effective. The closest this trope gets is Uber and Leet, a pair of video game nerds who make internet videos out of their heists. They're mostly useless and obvious underdogs in a city filled with far more menacing gangs but are just despicable enough to destroy any sympathy they might garner.

    Web Videos 
  • Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog:
    • Dr. Horrible, portrayed as a decent fellow with evil ambitions and a crush on a girl from his laundromat, while also being bullied around by Jerk Jock superhero Captain Hammer. He even qualifies as a Well-Intentioned Extremist; he thinks Utopia Justifies the Means and a benevolent dictatorship would do that. Kind of like the Brain.
    • Interestingly, at the very beginning, he gets a letter from a would-be superhero calling himself Johnny Snow. Horrible immediately makes it seem as if Snow is an Ineffectual Sympathetic Hero. Then we read the prequel comics and see how Johnny Snow single-handedly stopped the entire Evil League of Evilnote  while Captain Hammer was out of town. It turns out that he's also a Gadgeteer Genius. That "ice beam" which is so "Johnny Snow" that Horrible mentions in his song was actually used by Snow. Dr. Horrible's main problem with Johnny Snow is that Snow wants to set himself up as a nemesis when the doctor has much more personal reasons for reserving this for Captain Hammer.
  • In The Cult of Scratchwood… basically all the Daleks. Their ultimate goal is to destroy the planet, but in the meantime, they are an extremely likable bunch of misfit Cloud Cuckoo Lander Fish out of Waters who pose no threat to anyone whatsoever.
  • Lee Phillips from KateModern, during his brief time as a villain. He is perfectly serious in his plot to revenge himself on Gavin and Tariq but is overshadowed by the arrival of far more threatening antagonists such as Kate's Watcher and Terrence.
  • While she worms her way out of trouble much more successfully than the Critic and could dominate the world if she got her mind fixed, The Nostalgia Chick is still just a shut-in alcoholic who'll never make anything of her life.
  • On a less mass-homicidal note, The Nostalgia Critic. He's pretty much just a damaged little boy with a gun and temper tantrums at his disposal.
  • SMPEarth: Tommy was perhaps one of the most hostile, yet also one of the weakest players on the server, constantly antagonizing everyone around him and getting absolutely trounced on the regular. His faction, Business Bay, followed a similar pattern of behavior. Tommy was also fifteen years old, so him trying to bully around the adults of the server ended up being endearingly ineffective. Out-of-universe, Techno actually praised him for this behavior, saying that a server like this needed a villain to keep things interesting, and he was very glad Tommy took that role upon himself.
  • Mario from SuperMarioLogan, although not necessarily a villain, has failed in his numerous attempts to get rid of Jeffy, getting constantly annoyed and Driven to Suicide by him and his handicapped behavior. In "Jeffy's Bad Word!" some fans genuinely felt sorry for him due to all the Mario torture porn he suffered from the video, especially the second half of the video starting from after he spanked Jeffy due to the latter saying the F-word (no, not that F-word).


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Symphathetic Ineffectual Villain


The Life of the rat Grey

Grey is a mouse-like rat who usually antagonizes the recurring insects. Kind of like Wile E. Coyote, he is very inept at catching his prey, fails in comical ways, and is left starving while desperately hungry up until he formed a group in the "Life of a Rat" episode, he continues plotting against them regardless.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (9 votes)

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Main / IneffectualSympatheticVillain

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