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Nerd in Evil's Helmet

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This villain comes across as really imposing. And he probably (but not necessarily) has real power to back it up. However, he's really nerdy underneath.

He's hiding it, or trying to hide it, behind a tough façade. So it's a big surprise when he's revealed for the nerd he is. This surprise can come to other characters, the audience or both.

The classical façade to hide behind is a literal helmet. But it can be something else.

Note that being a nerd does not equal being a wimp. Not a total one at least. However, the villain might exploit such stereotypes and pull a Wounded Gazelle Gambit or similar after his nerdy side has been revealed, even if he actually is a badass.

For a genuinely intelligent villain see Evil Genius. Contrast Bitch in Sheep's Clothing. Compare and contrast Evil Is Sexy. Can be the same kind of dissonance as Villains Out Shopping.


Examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • The Major, the Big Bad of Hellsing has been described by the mangaka as an "otaku", and he is a stereotypical fat, bespectacled geek. Despite being absolutely obsessed by and in love with war, he's personally pathetically useless at combat - at one point he opens fire on a minion who failed at point-blank range with at least five guns attached to his chair... and misses.

    Fan Works 
  • Darth Vulcan, from The Rise of Darth Vulcan, was a full-core cosplaying, roleplaying, comic book fan geek, who abandoned all his fandoms and deliberately began roleplaying as a "cool kid"/jerk in order to survive high school. Then he found the Alicorn Amulet and everything went downhill from there...
  • The fan-made Revenge of the Sith parody "Episode III: A Lost Hope" plays up Anakin Skywalker's whiny personality from the prequels. The first scene has Palpatine putting Darth Vader into his iconic armor, only to have Vader/Anakin immediately pull off the helmet and whine, "This helmet is totally chaffing my eyebrows! I swear!" Later, there is a fight between Vader and Mace Windu where Windu breaks Vader's prop lightsaber, to which Vader/Anakin whines, "You swing too hard, ass! I swear!"

    Films — Animation 
  • The Incredibles: Syndrome starts out as a superhero fanboy, then ascends to supervillain after being (sort of) rejected by his idol. Syndrome is more of an inversion — Evil in a Nerds' Helmet. He is clearly a Psychopathic Manchild with a serious Lack of Empathy who even murders children without batting an eyelid, and there is little to indicate that, beneath it all, he was all that much different when he was a kid (eg. he doesn't seem to notice or care when one of his stunts nearly causes a train crash). Most important and scarily, though, Syndrome thinks he is the hero, when he actually just a very, very bad case of Heroism Addict and is willing to kill dozens of heroes and endanger thousands of lives because he is a Glory Hound.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Spaceballs, Rick Moranis gives us the unforgettable Darth Vader Clone Dark Helmet, as seen in the trope image. The surprise comes to the audience only, since his staff already knew him (and was used to pretending they don't know he's playing with dolls).
  • Ogre in the Revenge of the Nerds series is revealed to be this at the end of the second movie. Then, at the end of the third film, Stan (who led the Jerk Jock fraternity in the first film) does a Heel–Face Turn and reveals that he is a closet nerd, too, dropping the evil scheme he was bullied into trying.
  • In Machete Kills, Luther Voz is one of the few villains who can fight on par with Machete. He's also a guy totally obsessed with Star Wars and Star Trek.
  • Kylo Ren from The Force Awakens publicly dresses and acts like Darth Vader, but underneath that helmet? A pale, gangly guy who doesn't look threatening in the least. Moreover, in private, he shows a fanboyish obsession with Vader (which explains his fashion choices) and behaves like an angsty teenager. Saturday Night Live had a field day with this ("Star Wars Undercover Boss: Starkiller Base"), as did the "Emo Kylo Ren" page on Twitter. In The Last Jedi, he starts moving out of the shadow of his influences, but is still very dorky. Note, however, that his nerdiness does not make him any less dangerous.
  • Donald Pierce from Logan is a ruthless Psycho for Hire who also happens to be a fan of Wolverine and the comics he was featured in.
    Donald: [sheepishly] By the way, I'm a fan.
  • 8mm has "Machine", a sadistic killer in a leather mask. When the mask comes off, he's shown to be very schlubby looking, and produces a pair of glasses to finish the ensemble. This is very much Played for Drama, as it shows how a mild-mannered looking guy (who doesn't even have a Freudian Excuse) can be such a bastard.

    Literature 
  • In Neil Gaiman's American Gods, the "technology kid" acts tough, and does a lot of things which should be intimidating, but are so clearly rehearsed other characters can see it and find it kind of pitiful.
  • Transformers Cybertron: The textstory "Force of Habit" had Hardtop, top Decepticon sniper, and comic book collector. He collects comics from Earth and other organic planets. While he insists on calling them Graphic Novels, he's quite open about his habits, and quite particular about not letting them get damaged. At the end of the story, all the Cons are marooned on a planet waiting for rescue, Hardtop lets all of the other Decepticons read his comics, but continues to insist that they be careful with them.
  • Inverted in The Rules of Supervillainy as, despite his intimidating attire, everyone assumes Merciless is a dorky everyman within five minutes of meeting him. Then he proceeds to trash much-much more powerful villains than himself and often leave a large trail of bodies behind him.
  • Vampiros do Rio Douro: Sétimo is the strongest and most dangerous of the Seven, a group of vampires with demonic powers granted by Satan himself, and among his brothers (who can easily take on the army by themselves), he spoken in complete and total dread calling him "the devil on Earth" and "evil incarnate", and considering how evil themselves they are, that is saying something. Sétimo is later revealed to look like a teenage boy who is a total dork with technology, which even the protagonists find jarring how can someone so unimposing could be terrifyingly evil.

    Live-Action TV 

    Video Games 
  • In Max Payne 2, Max has to escort gangster boss Vinnie Gognitti, who has a bomb strapped to his head. Vinnie suggests that they head back to his place, where Max discovers that he has a room full of merchandise from the popular Saturday Morning Cartoon, Captain Baseball-bat Boy. (Funnily enough, he's actually right about that.)
    Vinnie: What? I'm a collector! There's nothin' nerdy about it, I'm a collector! Lots of tough guys are into this stuff!
  • Zant, the Evil Sorcerer who nearly conquers Hyrule in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, is a tall figure dressed in black robes with a creepy chameleon-shaped helmet. But once he removes the scary helmet, you see why he usually keeps it on — he's no more imposing than your average Twili, and a Psychopathic Manchild to boot.
  • The Big Bad from Ratchet & Clank: Full Frontal Assault hides his real face behind a mask to keep it hidden that he's the Qwark Fanboy from a side mission in Going Commando.
  • Hyness from Kirby Star Allies is revealed to be this after his hood falls off, where he's revealed to be some sort of creature with bulging eyes and a massive nose. His personality certainly doesn't help him in this case, as he's flailing wildly, ranting and generally being so hyper you'd think he just did a pound of meth.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 
  • General Tarquin in The Order of the Stick. The surprise came to the readers as well as the characters. Despite being a ruthless tyrant and Chessmaster, he's also just as drama-obsessed as his do-gooder, Cloudcuckoolander son Elan. Given the nature of the world they live in, that only makes him more dangerous.
  • Dark Smoke Puncher from The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. After seeing how his parents practically disowned his older brother for pursuing a medical degree, Sean McNinja took on a wannabe-gangsta persona and his current name to hide his intelligence and interest in robotics.
  • Krakow Brings us Kia's father. An intimidating man in a red cloak with glowing red eyes and horns. Under the hood, he's a standard businessman and Bumbling Dad with glasses, and horns.
  • Homestuck: Both Vriska Serket and Eridan Ampora are dedicated FLARPers — though in Alternia, mutually advantageous teammwork in Fatal Live Action Roleplaying leads to the both of them racking up a pretty impressive death count.
  • The Glass Scientists has a new, interesting take on Edward Hyde. In Hyde's original book, Dr. Jekyll was so obsessed with maintaining the image of a proper British gentleman that he invented the potion that made him into Hyde so he could go out into the night to strip clubs, gamble, and generally cut loose. In the webcomic, those Jekyll still cares deeply about his reputation and Hyde still spends the nights with debauchery (with an even more fluid sexuality), but Jekyll's pride shines out as Hyde's Small Name, Big Ego. He's a Card-Carrying Villain, but he's always wishing that he could be more intimidating.
    Rachel Pidgley: Oh, it's just you, Master Hyde! For a moment there I thought that I was in real danger!
    Hyde: Who says you're not? What could a little maid like you know of my dark ocean of depravity?
    Rachel: [giggles]
    Hyde: There is no giggling in the depravity ocean!

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • The first episodes of Bonkers deal with the Collector, a toon with a creepy mishmash appearance. He collects other toons by sealing them in plastic with a device called "the Laminator". However, when his glove is ripped off, it turns out he has five fingers instead of four, and when his mask comes off afterward, he is fully outed as a geeky-looking human.
  • Played with in an episode of Garfield and Friends has the Masked Mauler, a pro wrestler so bloodthirsty that nobody will wrestle him because he never follows the scripts. When he roped Jon into a match against him, Garfield saved Jon by discovering that the Masked Mauler was allergic to cat hair, making him sneeze so hard that his mask flew off, revealing his "nerdy" face. But he doesn't act like a nerd, so...
  • Dark Vegan on Johnny Test comes off as a parody of this.
  • Elmer Fudd in What's Opera, Doc?, wearing a magic helmet instead of his usual hunter cap.
    • Likewise, one of the New Looney Toons shorts in the The Looney Tunes Show invokes this and is a music video of Daffy Duck imagining himself as an all-powerful Evil Sorceror, although in that case its more nerd fantasising himself in evil's helmet.
  • An episode of Cow and Chicken had this. The new bully in town turned out to be a wimpy kid in an inflatable suit. (Along with everyone else.)
  • Similar to the Cow and Chicken example, one episode of Johnny Bravo has Johnny accidentally replacing the captain of a Star Trek-esque ship, where he ends up encountering and making an enemy of a hulking, menacing galactic warlord, who facially resembles Carl, and is implied to be some sort of genetic ancestor to said character. When Johnny meets him in battle on a nearby planet, the warlord removes his armor... and is revealed to be just as weak and wimpy as his earthly descendant underneath.
  • Two instances in My Life as a Teenage Robot, in "This Time with Feeling", Jenny battles a knockoff named Himcules voiced by Bruce Campbell who also happened to be a sexist Politically Incorrect Villain that grew stronger from others' pain. After beating the robot to a pulp (because she had installed a robot nerve system that was accidentally switched to feeling excruciating pain), Jenny switches to "tickle" and reduces Himcules to a "90-pound weakling" when Jenny and the town's laughter drain his power. In "Ear No Evil", Jenny (who had enormously large robotic ears installed to impress a group of Rich Bitches but only caused her intense humiliation) battles the "Lancer", a large imposing knight who steals everything in the city. After destroying his armor and weapons, Lancer is revealed to be a tiny elf-like man with ears comically larger than Jenny's.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender
    • Prince Zuko is genuinely handsome (despite his prominent scar) and skilled at fighting, giving orders, and anything that doesn't involve casual social interaction. But sit down and have a conversation with the guy and you'll discover his adorkable side pretty quickly. He does join the good guys in the third season, but his dorkiness stays.
    • Similarly, his sister Azula is a frighteningly competent Manipulative Bastard, but when she tries to act normal, she fails spectacularly.
  • South Park
    • On several occasions, Butters has adopted the alter-ego of the supervillain Professor Chaos. But given that this is Butters we're talking about, Professor Chaos is a pretty harmless and pathetic baddie whose idea of "evil" falls squarely under Poke the Poodle.
    • The episode "Make Love, Not Warcraft" has the boys fighting a griefer who keeps killing them in World of Warcraft . He's an imposing foe in the game, but in real life... well, just take a look at this picture.
  • Xanatos from Gargoyles has shades of this one.
    • Under normal circumstances he's a suave, composed, Affably Evil Magnificent Bastard. When his plans call for him to act like the stereotypical Card-Carrying Villain, however, he'll show a much nerdier side as well. Quoth Xanatos after helping bring the Frankenstein's Monster-esque Coldstone to life.
    Xanatos: "It's alive, ALIVE! You know, I Always Wanted to Say That."
    • The whole reason he's involved in the plot is because he believed a magical story he read in a thousand-year-old book. Of course he's a nerd at heart.
    • And when he finally gets Elisa and Co. stuck in a genuine Death Trap, he casually asks, "It's my first real stab at cliche'd villainy. How am doing so far?"
  • Obligatory example from The Simpsons: in "Treehouse of Horror X", the second segment takes this trope to its logical extreme by having Comic Book Guy turn into a literal superhero-comicbook-esque supervillain, The Collector, whose main gimmick is based on collecting people.
  • Lord Dominator from Wander over Yonder. When her helmet's faceplate is down and her armor is up, she looks and sounds like a fairly typical Galactic Conquerer. Underneath, however, is an excitable Green-Skinned Space Babe who'll gush over her how cool her latest villainous acts were as soon as she's alone. However, the trope is played with in that Lord Dominator is still a complete sociopath, even when she's in private.

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