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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, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
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A potential villain who is consistently a failure or never gets the respect that he thinks he deserves, and may even be angry that the heroes don't take him seriously.

He 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 his 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.

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This does not mean that he doesn't bear animosity; that's a Punch-Clock Villain. He's probably jumping at the opportunity to outdo his 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.

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The Evil Counterpart to Failure Hero. Arguably a subtrope of Boisterous Weakling. Supertrope 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 is a Harmless Villain. Contrast Complete Monster, where we instead have an utterly nasty, dangerous, and unsympathetic villain.


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Other Examples:

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    Asian Animation 
  • 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 

    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.
  • "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 the 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.

    Roleplay 
  • 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 over 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.

    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]

    Theatre 
  • 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 with 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.
  • Sir Pentious of Hazbin Hotel, overlapping with Smug Snake (literally so, since he's a cobra demon.) His unironic Dastardly Whiplash shtick would be hard to take seriously at the best of times (to be fair, he died in the late 1800s and it wasn't a Dead Horse Trope then), and the army of egg-shaped Adorable Evil Minions don't help. His multiple failed attempts to take over Hell cement him as ineffectual rather than just goofy.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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. Taken Up to Eleven in "Jeffy's Bad Word!" where 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).

 
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Alternative Title(s): Symphathetic Ineffectual Villain

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Wile E. Coyote

The Coyote is the epitome of the butt-monkey in Western animation. In fact, one of the laws of the Road Runner cartoons is that "the audience's sympathy must remain with the Coyote." For a coyote to want to eat a roadrunner is perfectly natural in the order of things, and to top it all off, he is regularly portrayed as skinny and starving. No matter how hard he tries, all of his plans to catch the Roadrunner end up backfiring on him, including the devices he builds or orders from ACME. Furthermore, whenever one of the Acme Products does work as advertised, their success manages to work against the Coyote. The sad look he shows in this video after another failed attempt at catching the Road Runner is one good example.

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