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Not-So-Harmless Villain

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"Perhaps you'll laugh, but I know him better than most, and this is the truth; Littlefinger is one of the most dangerous men in Westeros."
Varys, Game of Thrones

Okay, so you have a villain, and, for whatever reason, either because they're harmless, ineffectual or both, you do not take them seriously. You might not even think about them at all. They might have a lame gimmick or a weird name or maybe they just do not stand out among the Mooks. They are not exactly on your radar. Even if you do remember them, you think they are either a nobody or a total joke.


Then they go on to subvert your expectations. Some put themselves through Training from Hell. Others turn out to be the villainous kind of the Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass. And the rest may be Obfuscating Stupidity. Either way, the villain ends up as someone who is not only able to show the heroes exactly why they are called their enemy, but often even become the Big Bad or The Man Behind the Man. This is when a villain decides to become their own Sorting Algorithm of Evil, or at least be recognized as more dangerous.

Should they fail to do the former, they will become a Big Bad Wannabe. Often the result of a Darker and Edgier reinvention of a franchise.

The villain may become a Knight of Cerebus.

Compare Dead Serious, From Nobody to Nightmare, Beware the Silly Ones. Breakout Villains are prone to becoming Not So Harmless. Contrast Villain Decay and Boisterous Weakling. When applied to minor heroes instead of minor villains, it's Let's Get Dangerous!. See also Team Rocket Wins. If it is later revealed that the villain always was that vile and/or dangerous, but the heroes or audience were misled into dismissing or liking them, see Bait the Dog.


Not to be confused with The Not-So-Harmless Punishment.

Possible spoilers ahead — read at your own risk.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Pokémon: Team Rocket, the bumbling Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain buffoons who stalked a ten-year-old for 13 years, had an occasional genuinely good plan that is foiled only due to Ash's sheer determination, and were extremely competent as good guys. But in Pokemon: Best Wishes they took about a thousand levels in badass. Now they take orders from Giovanni, try not to go after random Pokémon, and if they're "blasting off again" they're escaping using Jet Packs. As of the XY series, they are back to their old bumbling selves, though still retain a more formidable streak compared to early on. During the Sun and Moon series, they collect a more formidable team of Pokemon (with Jessie's Mimikyu set up as a rival for Pikachu) and go on to actually win a battle against Ash fair and square. They quickly return to their bumbling ways afterward...until they collect a Z-Ring, with Ash and Pikachu once again just barely avoiding defeat.
  • Code Geass:
    • Prince Schneizel. He seems very passive early on and is actively supportive of Euphemia's idea of the Special Administrative Zone in Japan. It's only near the end that we begin to see just how far he'll go to accomplish his goals, and just how little of a conscience he has.
    • Nina Einstein has this trope covered pretty well in her own right. Who would've thought that her handiwork killed more people in about ten seconds than any of the other characters killed? All series? Put together? Times a hundred? At least? Way to earn that last name. "Oops" doesn't even begin to cover it.
  • Goyan from Futari wa Pretty Cure Splash★Star is a fat guy with a pinecone on his head whose main purpose is to be annoyed by the Quirky Miniboss Squad in front of the Big Bad Akudaikhan. Then he turns out to be the real villain who created Akudaikhan, reveals his true form, which looks on par with a Dragon Ball Z villain, and destroys the world. Though the world is restored and he is destroyed, Goyan still puts up an impressive fight against the Cures before his demise.
  • Klein from Fresh Pretty Cure! is shown to be a little, elderly man serving as a secretary for the Big Bad Lord Moebius. Then he transforms into a large humanoid lizard with enourmous strength and high speed and is pretty much more powerful than Northa in her monstrous plant form, giving the heroines a hell of an ass-kicking. And then both of them fuse together to become an even more powerful being.
  • Ogura Bunta of Samurai Champloo, who played the lackey to Harmless Villain and Dirty Coward Nagamitsu to facilitate his search for vengeance against Jin.
  • Lithuania in Hetalia: Axis Powers is a small country in Europe with a Kick the Dog history that resulted in him being seen as the number one woobie on the show. Then the strip/episodes concerning the Battle of Tannenberg shows that he can take a level in badass and make even Prussia swallow his ego.
  • Etemon from Digimon Adventure is a Large Ham showboater with a fondness for rock and roll. (The dub takes this a step further by giving him a voice and speech-style like Elvis Presley.) That said, he's also a Perfect-levelnote  Digimon, leagues more powerful than the previous antagonist Devimon, and before Agumon becomes MetalGreymon, he pounds the heroes silly in each encounter. His debut alone marks him as this type of villain, as he's shown to be a goofy-looking guy capable of destroying an entire village with a single attack while also de-powering the heroes and he has got a network that allows him to observe the entire continent Server. The only reason he never manages to kill the children and their Digimon is because of a series of very bad luck rather than incompetence. He's also one of the few enemies to come back from the dead and take a level in badass to become MetalEtemon…all while rocking' it out. And despite the main villain of the Dark Masters' second part is Pinocchimonnote , it's MetalEtemon who kills an ally (namely, Leomon).
  • Archnemon and Mummymonnote  are basically the Digimon Adventure 02's version of Team Rocket's Jessie and James, yet they are not as harmless as their goofiness would let on. Since both of them are Perfect-level Digimon, the heroes' Digimon are only able to fight them when they Jogress Evolvenote , but if they are any level below the duo, both will definitively dominate them. Archnemon is still capable of creating Dark Tower Digimon and is practically the mother of The Juggernaut BlackWarGreymon (who she can't control) and it is shown that her mere presence is enough to make Dark Towers prevent Digimon from evolving. They also manage to build Dark Towers across the entire Real World, resulting Digimon travelling to the Real World and causing havoc. While that plan is ultimately foiled in the end thanks to a Next Tier Power-Up, both of them carry out their boss's other plan and kidnap children in Tokyo while the heroes are busy fighting Digimon outside Japan. When they show up with all those children, Ken is stuck with a Sadistic Choice: a) either he stays with his friends and ignores the threats of the two villainous parties, b) he goes with Demonnote  whose minions have shown to be rather unimpressive except for SkullSatamon, or c) go with Archnemon and Mummymon who appear less serious than Demon, but have an established evil history and have actual hostages.
  • Impmon is a deconstructed version of this trope. He was a pest to the Digimon Tamers cast instead of a villain, throwing fireballs and scaring their Digimon away. No one saw him as anything more than a nuisance. Then he made a Deal With a Deva, became Beelzebumonnote , stabbed an ally to death, and defeated the heroes one after another before losing to Dukemonnote  (whom he would have beaten had Guardromon not interfered). Eventually, he did a Heel–Face Turn and became even more badass.
  • Dragon Ball:
    • Dragon Ball GT.
      • Ryan Xing Long/Haze Shenron is the weakest of the Shadow Dragons and is seen as a weak klutz and a loud mouth, plus he can't transform or increase his strength. However, as the fight carried on, Pan and Goku realized that he was still a threat, the pollution he spread was weakening them, making them tire out and easier for him to fight. He then tries to throw them into the polluted lake, hoping to drown them and dissolve their bodies.
      • Qi Xing Long/Naturon Shenron initially appears to be a clown (a goofy looking giant mole to be exact) who is more interested in digging holes rather than fighting, but it turns out to be a case of Obfuscating Stupidity: as soon as he absorbs Pan, he shows his true colors and starts using Pan's powers to blow up numerous buildings and kill several innocents For the Evulz. If he hadn't fallen for Goku's Wounded Gazelle Gambit in the end, he could very well have won.
    • The Red Ribbon Army in the original Dragon Ball, while capable of threatening Goku and his friends on occasion were mostly pushovers even to a young GokuNote  , and absolutely nothing compared to the later threats in both Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z. Then along came the Red Ribbon cyborgs/androids in DBZ who were an order of magnitude more powerful than even Super Saiyans, and who exterminated all but one of the protagonists in an alternate future. Then there is Cell who was also part of the Red Ribbon Cyborg project.
    • When Babidi first resurrected Majin Buu, everyone was surprised that he was a childish fat pink alien, to the point where Babidi and Dabura doubted that the resurrection had worked correctly. And then he wipes out Dabura (who at this point was at least as strong as Perfect Cell) in one shot.
    • Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’: After Pilaf rightfully tells Mai and Shu that they shouldn't trust Sorbet, they think because he's no bigger than they are they'll be able to take him down easily, he sees through their plan and shoots their weapons out of their hands with his ring, he then tells them not to take him lightly because of his size, later his ring's beam is able to pierce Goku's heart while he is distracted in Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan form.
  • Fuku-chan in Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch turns out to be controlling Micheal.
  • Slayers:
    • Hellmaster Fibrizo. The first impression of him is just that of a young boy and a little girl in the manga. This impression fades quickly upon the revelation that he is one of the most powerful Mazoku Lords, a fact he proves by effortlessly killing the previous Big Bad Chaos Dragon Gaav, another Mazoku Lord. He plays merry hell with the protagonists as the rest of the season's Big Bad, and they are nearly helpless against him. It takes a literal Deus ex Machina to take him down for good.
    • In season 2 there's an unnamed Mazoku that looks like a giant tribal mask with arms and legs. The only thing Lina can think of is how stupid he looks, and he seems to get quickly dispatched almost immediately after appearing. He comes back later, though, and proves to be a surprisingly tough nut to crack, mostly because he can summon several smaller masks that do an excellent job of protecting him from Lina's magic (doesn't help when Lina decides to Dragon Slave the entire building, though).
  • An arc in Kyouran Kazoku Nikki introduces Gouyokuou. In the episode he is introduced, he seems to be a hilariously Fish out of Water alien looking for the woman he loves and so weak that Kyoka is able to punch him into the air with ease. Then it's revealed that he is so powerful, if even one of his Power Limiter rods is removed, he can level a city with no effort. If all of them are removed, it's Earth-Shattering Kaboom time. The end of the second episode of his arc hints at a darker side of his personality; a Stalker with a Crush willing to use his world-destroying powers to get the woman he wants.
  • Kyuutarou Ooba from Kemonozume spends most of the show as a harmless if somewhat eccentric bureaucrat before revealing himself as the show's primary antagonist, a criminal mastermind, and a hyper-wealthy, nihilistic psychopath who masturbates with a girl's dismembered arms and markets a medicine that makes people eat each other. He's also revealed to have grafted monster arms onto himself that give his round little body incredible strength, and intentionally mutates himself to the point where he's just a constantly shifting mountain of flesh by the series's final episode - one that delivers monologues on the futility of existence.
  • Pesci from Part 5 of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Vento Aureo starts off as an incredibly weird-looking, cowardly sidekick to the more competent Prosciutto and has a seemingly weak Stand-ability as well. Upon Prosciutto's defeat, however, he suddenly gains new resolve, comes up with lethal new ways to use his Stand and ends up becoming one of the most dangerous foes the gang faces during the part.
  • Naruto:
    • Kabuto Yakushi comes off as an amiable and somewhat less-than-competent fellow (flunking the Chūnin Exams seven times, no less). Before long, both his affiliations and his abilities prove far more sinister.
    • Tobi. Introduced to be nothing more than comic relief until he turns out to be Madara Uchiha, a legendary Diabolical Mastermind who is insanely resilient, Made of Air, and can teleport himself and anything he touches to anywhere, with his "good boy" act presumably to hide the fact that he was the real power behind Akatsuki. Even after it's revealed that he's actually Obito Uchiha, it doesn't keep him from holding his own against Killer B, Naruto, Kakashi, and Might Guy, four of the strongest ninja in the world, all at the same time until his intangibility's weakness is found out.
  • One Piece:
    • Foxy the Silver Fox. He's a flashy, fame-hogging, pudgy, strange looking, and a pigheaded fool and needs his crew to constantly buff his ego or he'll sink into depression. Oh, and he's also got a really powerful Devil Fruit ability that allows him to get the drop on anyone and pound them into oblivion before they know what's hit them. To be more specific, the ability of his Noro Noro Fruit slows everything down to the point of almost stopping it in place. Furthermore, whatever hits they receive while they're slowed down will be delayed until the fruit's effects wear off, causing all those attacks to hit all at once. Thanks to this ability, low blows, and cheap shots, he was able to beat the living daylights out of Luffy, and even came close to actually defeating him a few times. Unfortunately for him, he was Hoist by His Own Petard when Luffy used a mirror shard to reflect his ability back at him.
    • Buggy and Mr. 3 found out this the hard way that Impel Down's Vice-Warden Hannyabal is not so harmless despite not having a Devil Fruit or the reputation of his fearsome boss, Warden Magellan. The funny thing is he was going to allow them to get past him so his boss will get in trouble, but they had to go ahead with their suicidal idiotic somewhat predictable otherwise ingenious plan of taking him out, only to face an ass-kicking for it.
    • Gin. When first introduced, the combination of nearly dying of starvation and him still being shell-shocked from his encounter with Hawkeye Mihawk left him seeming rather pathetic. Near the end, we get The Reveal that Gin is actually Don Krieg's right-hand guy, and he promptly takes down the heavily armored Pearl with one shot and then hands Sanji his ass (albeit partly because Sanji took a beating from Pearl). Not only that, it's implied that Gin is actually stronger than Krieg, and is only second-in-command because he's been too loyal to make a move against his boss.
    • The workers of Water 7, including a bartender named Blueno, a stern and hot-tempered secretary named Kalifa, a happy-go-lucky shipwright (as well as a possible new crew mate), and finally the aloof Rob Lucci. Too bad all of them were actually undercover agents for a powerful assassination force for the government, proceeded to beat the crap of the Straw Hats and are total Blood Knight fighters.
    • Wanze. When Sanji, Usopp, and Franky meet him on the Sea Train, he offers them noodles from his nose and has an equally wacky face to match. The three heroes immediately proceed to blow him off and try going to the next car to confront the actual Big Bads, only for Wanze to get serious and do everything in his power to stop them. He is an agent of Cipher Pol after all, and he later shows that most of his various silly expressions and quirks are actually just acts to mislead his opponents. While his main power is still making noodles from his nose, he manages to use it to great effect and even overpowers the strongest of the three, Sanji. Too bad he picked the wrong opponent for a one-on-one fight, as he's ultimately Hoist by His Own Petard as Sanji is a chef, and him using food as his weapon allows Sanji to use techniques he usually reserves for cooking and not fighting. As Sanji gets the upper hand, Wanze takes his danger progression Up to Eleven by throwing a poisoned knife at Sanji at relatively close range, though he ultimately misses and is defeated.
  • Due to the semi-serious nature of its first half, followed by the seriousness of the second half, Gundam ZZ does this to a few people. In the case of Chara, it was mainly her playing the Fanservice card with that whip. With Mashimar Cero though, the somewhat-bumbling but honorable and idealistic Neo Zeon officer returns as a brutal and cruel officer that oversees a Colony Drop. In the first half Glemmy Toto is a joke character in a joke squadron led by a joke commander, but by the end he's revealed himself as a clone of Gihren Zabi, the franchise's original Big Bad, and set himself up as a rival to Big Bad Haman Khan, sparking a devastating Enemy Civil War in the process and unleashing an army of clones.
  • Bleach:
    • Yammy Llargo, rampaging idiot and Decima Espada zig-zags with this trope. At first, it seems he's incredibly weak, he reveals that he's actually the Cero (#0) Espada and technically above Starrk (who's ranked first). And he still gets his ass kicked. Then he reveals that he's not at full power, and he powers up. And he still gets his ass kicked. Adding insult to injury, Kenpachi called their fight "boring".
    • Dordonii is initially shown as a somewhat eccentric and comedic villain until he reveals to Ichigo that he used to be an Espada and proceeds to beat the shit out of him. While Ichigo had been reluctant to go all-out against an underling like him, he's forced to use his Bankai and his Hollow mask to defeat him.
    • Apacci, Mila-Rose and Sung-Sun, Harribel's three elite Fracción, count as well. They seemingly do nothing but argue with each other, very nearly coming to blows, which constantly leaves them open for attack. Next thing you know, they use their powers to create a giant chimera named Ayon, which utterly destroys four Vice-Captain Shinigami. Captain-Commander Yamamoto-Genryuusai himself had to personally get involved in that ordeal.
    • Sternritter Askin Nakk Le Vaar comes across as a cowardly, ineffectual fighter with no real offensive powers when compared to his fellow members of the Wandenreich, yet not only is he chosen to be among Yhwach's Elite Guard when invading the Soul King's Palace, his power is revealed to be one of the most broken abilities among their numbers. As a result, he manages to catch both Nimaiya of the Zero Squad and Grimmjow off-guard, defeats Ichigo after his most recent levelling into badass, smashes Yoruichi and her brother Yuushirou into paste without mercy, and gets the better of Kisuke Urahara, lampshading that he's been completely underestimated until it was too late.
  • Florsheim in Tentai Senshi Sunred is presented as being an organization of nice guys, average Joes and all around friendly people despite the fact that they're monsters. They constantly lose to Sunred and are seen as nothing more than a joke. When a new villain group steps in, Sunred directs them to fight Florsheim first and they get beaten immediately. There's a reason Florsheim's held their territory for so long.
  • Miyo Takano from Higurashi: When They Cry was awfully suspicious and creepy in season 1 and 2, but seemed to be more of a joking mentor than a true threat. She is actually the mastermind behind the conspiracy, and is perfectly willing to personally murder children if it helps her plans.
  • Yu Yu Hakusho:
    • Shorin appears somewhat unimpressive to his opponents and having power levels only barely above what he needs to pass (although the opponent he defeated in the first round was even weaker). He turns out to be the demon Rando, who killed 99 martial arts masters after stealing their techniques, and Yusuke only realizes this by process of elimination - he keeps up the facade until he manages to shrink and brutally defeat Kuwabara using a technique he stole.
    • Zig-zagged with Onji in the Dark Tournament. He sports some moves in Team Uratogi's quarter-final match, but next to his teammates, he looks like a normal, friendly old man. Then he effortlessly beats Kuwabara and reveals himself to be the one who gave his members their powerful Items of Darkness. Then he reveals himself as "The Beautiful Demon Fighter Suzuki"...and gets thrashed by Genkai.
    • Elder Toguro is thought to be helpless without his younger brother until he volunteers to fight in a three-on-one match in the Dark Tournament and wins without so much as a scratch on him. In addition, he could have easily killed Kuwabara had he not chosen to Mind Rape him first by revealing that his friends had not told him that Genkai was dead, and then disrespecting her memory.
  • Death Note: Although he's frightening to look at, it is easy to underestimate Ryuk. Villain Protagonist Light seems a lot worse, and with his addiction to apples and other humorous qualities, Ryuk tends to come across as Plucky Comic Relief and Light's "pet". Then comes the ending of the series where Ryuk fulfills his early promise that he will one day write Light's name in his notebook, and casually kills Light, who has just had a pathetic Villainous Breakdown. Truly, Light, like the audience, forgot that he was dealing with a death god. Even more, he can still drop the Death note if he feels bored, as with the case with Minoru Tanaka; and even if this lad never actually used its killing power (rather, his gambit consisted of selling it to powerful nations), he killed him anyways, because Minoru eventually bored him as well.
  • Toshiya from The World Is Mine starts out as Mon's weak-willed bitch, even wearing a female disguise and pretending to be Mon's girlfriend in public. Things begin to change after they're killed by "Hakumadon" and Mon can't stand to kill. In addition to becoming the primary murderer of the two, he's also considerably more tech- and social-savvy than Wild Child Mon and he becomes increasingly vicious and manipulative as the story goes on.
  • Kurotowa in the Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind manga pulls the switch from "harmless" to "one to watch out for" in record time, going from appearing to be arrogant, toadying buffoon to effortlessly deflecting an assassination attempt in the space of his first appearance. And then, in his second appearance, he took control of a Corvette and piloted it like an expert, even using the smoke from downed craft to cover his approach. It's even more jarring if you watched the anime first, as there all he manages is one of the most half-assed, pathetic Big Bad Wannabe attempts ever.
  • In Kero Kero Chime, Oroboros initially appears to be a pathetic gag villain who, at best, is destined for a hilarious failure of a Big Bad Wannabe. Then he turns out to be the real Big Bad, banishes everyone to another world, and only narrowly fails to pull off his evil scheme.
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Kurt Godel manages to pull this off in the space of a single chapter. He's introduced as Manipulative Bastard and Consummate Liar with a lot of political power, but he has to be accompanied by a massive number of bodyguards because he's so frail. Then he kicks Negi's ass with one attack, even though Negi is made of lightning. Turns out that he's a master swordsman, and traveled with Ala Rubra in his youth. Oops.
  • Maken-ki!: Otohime Yamato initially comes across as comically inept, due to her cowardice. At least, that's what she lets her enemies think. But her "Dollhouse" ability proves otherwise, since it allows her to take control of their bodies and, if she chooses, she can break them with extremely minimal effort. Plus, she proved cunning enough to set a trap for someone as skilled as Yuuka, who's a full-fledged Ninja. Who's laughing now?
  • Bakugan has Rabeeder. She's a Hybrid Bakugan and servant of Naga. Compared to the other gatekeepers, she and her sister are quite ditzy and silly and seems like a pushover when the heroes first meet her, challenging the heroes to... a race? In fact, she's harmless and hits on the main character. Total joke, right? Nope. When Rabeeder arrives on earth, Alice, while inexperienced at fighting on her own, volunteers to go after her under the impression that she is weak and with a little help seems to be doing fine. But then Rabeeder overhears that her sister had been defeated. Believing her sister to be KIA, she goes on a total rampage where she flings around the up-until-that-point's main and secondary antagonists' Bakugan like rag dolls and is unstoppable. She is only stopped by a lucky break when she discovers her sister isn't dead. The two reunite and Rabeeder calms down. But if she hadn't...
    • Averted in the same episode, when Alpha Hydranoid one-shotted her, leaving her begging for a quick death (being nearly petrified is why he didn't do this, to begin with).
  • In Sonic X, Eggman alternates between being highly competent and not competent at all, so much so that it comes as quite a surprise for some when he talked Dark Sonic out of a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, while his even more harmless robot buddies held off a Metarex leader. In earlier episodes at least, Eggman was actually genuinely formidable against most human forces and the majority of the main protagonists. It is only against Sonic that he falls in a flash (and he did give him a run for his money a few odd times). He also seems to become incredibly more competent whenever he forced to team up with Sonic.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh!:
    • Otaki/Crump, the Dark Chick of Yu-Gi-Oh!'s Big Five is a joke in his first appearance. His obsession with penguins makes him rather ludicrous, and he ultimately loses a match against Anzu/Téa, one of the hero's cheerleaders. He returns a few episodes later, and alongside the rest of the Big 5, engages Yugi and Jounouchi in a team duel—where he performs exceptionally well, using his Deck Master ability to power up Oshita's/Ganzley's WATER monsters, and maintaining control of the duel for the Big Five. It's not until the Big 5 move away from playing WATER creatures that he's forced to yield to Ooka/Johnson, and in terms of overall performance, he's just behind Daimon/Lector. Justified by the fact that Otaki doesn't lack dueling skill, but does suffer from a near-crippling obsession with penguins—left to his own devices he'll select a deck full of low-level Penguin cards who can't accomplish much, but when given the rest of the Big Five's cards to play with, he can realize his full potential.
    • In Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's' second season, Carly Nagisa is an unsuccessful, clumsy reporter that seems to never be able to do her job and always end up in bad (but funny) situations. Then she turns out being one of the Dark Signers that will bring forth the end of the world as we know it. Oh whoooops.
    • Girag from Yu-Gi-Oh! ZEXAL serves as the vanguard to an alien invasion, whose goal is to destroy Astral's homeworld. His attempts to defeat the heroes involves creating a series of Villains of the Week, with him looking less impressive with each one. While here, he lives in a broom closet and is oddly fond of pop idols. Then his best friend Alito gets hurt and, Villainous Valour in full effect, he shows himself to be a strong duelist, and given the context worthy of respect. He then gets even more sympathetic when we learn his backstory... and then the full power of the Barians were released, and he killed a couple of minor characters.
  • Tetsuo in AKIRA especially in flashback scenes from Kaneda's memories. He seems incompetent as a member of a biker gang who barely pulls his own weight and has to be saved by his best friend on several occasions. Then he gets superpowers.
  • Black Butler:
    • Ciel's goofy, incompetent staff weren't hired for their talents as servants (Sebastian's contract requires he be able to take care of everything himself anyway) but for their talents in defending the manor; the clumsy maid Mei-rin is a devastatingly skilled sniper, the groundskeeper Finny has superhuman strength, and the cook Baldo is an ex-soldier.
    • It also turns out that Ciel's fiancée Elizabeth, one of the only normal people he knows and the only child in the series that acts like one, is an extremely badass swordswoman who has been merely acting like a harmless little girl because she was afraid Ciel wouldn't like her otherwise.
    • The Undertaker, after seeming to be a quirky information broker for so long, turns out to be a renegade Shinigami who kicked off a small-scale Zombie Apocalypse For the Evulz, and goes on to effortlessly wipe the floor with Grelle, Ronald, and Sebastian at the same time.
  • Eda qualifies as one in Black Lagoon, though she hasn't revealed exactly how far this goes. As an example, during Greenback Jane arc, the usually happy-go-lucky Eda gets serious for once when one American gangster identified her as a CIA agent, and shut his mouth for his trouble.
    • Villain Protagonist Rock becomes this trope as the series goes on. Just because he won't shoot you like everyone else in Roanapur will doesn't mean he's not dangerous.
  • Holyland: Chapter 159 reveals that King, who appeared to be just a drug trafficking boss reliant on his two MMA fighter bodyguards, is quite skilled in Shorinji Kenpo and even managed to strike fear in Shougo's heart.
  • Toriko: Uumen Umeda, the weird guy with the five-o-clock shadow and the funny hair, looks like he's just the Pointy-Haired Boss for part of IGO. He's a mole for NEO, and once he gets the order, he carves up most of IGO's senior staff.
  • Ukyo from Samurai 7 initially seems like a childish fop, who's only dangerous because of his daddy's men and money. Then, with nothing but an understanding of how to appear good, (gained from being raised as a farmer), he kills the current emperor, rebuilds the Nobuseri into his personal playthings, and sets out to conquer the world—all under the guise of a benevolent ruler.
  • Early on in the Faudo arc of Zatch Bell!, during the heroes' infiltration of the eponymous sleeping giant monster, they run into a strange creature named Unko Tin Tin growing out of the wall of Faudo's esophagus. He asks them a bunch of easy riddles and then lets them by without incident. They thereafter forget about him... until Faudo wakes up and he grows legs and starts coming after them. Turns out he's actually an extremely skilled fighter, and it ultimately required a Heroic Sacrifice by Wonrei, a character who'd been in the cast from nearly the beginning, to take him down.
  • Guardian Fairy Michel has the Black Hammer Gang. They're comedic, and almost seem like they're going to end up in Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain territory... until it turns out they're not that ineffectual. Even the trailer points out that Salome will lie, cheat, and steal to get her way, and might succeed. Some episodes' plots are kicked off because of an early-episode victory by the Black Hammers, and sometimes they do get away with a treasure.
  • Akame ga Kill! is a dark series with many gray based characters, but out of them all, Seryu seemed to be the most harmless of the villains the Night Raid had to fight against that isn't a Hero Antagonist like Wave. She is given a tragic backstory, which explains her obsession with justice and helping the innocent. When she unknowingly meets Tatsumi, both of them are friendly and get along. And it seems like she is being used by The Empire as a lab rat and is in over her head. But nothing can be further from the truth. As the series goes along, Seryu is revealed to be an Ax-Crazy psychopath who believes anyone who opposes the Empire is "evil" and must die. She kills Sheele and is shown enjoying every minute of it, and her weapon, which is a little dog that can transform into all kinds of powerful guns, is one of the most deadly weapons on the show (said dog is responsible for ripping Sheele in half and eating her). Lampshaded by Mine who calls Seryu out on her blood lust before their epic battle where she blows her in half to avenge Sheele's death... and even then, Seryu would have killed her with her final suicide bomb had Tatsumi not gotten her out of the blast radius in time.
    • Later on the series introduces Dorothea of Wild Hunt, who at first seems to be the typical Evil Genius, the scientist that stays in the lab and doesn't stand a chance in combat, much like Doctor Stylish of the Jaegers, especially thanks to her tiny build. Then, when she finally gets her chance courtesy of her leader and the Prime Minister's son Syura getting axed off by Lubbock, she does more damage than he ever did when their group was at full strength. She destroys entire revolutionary camps, with only Izou and a monstrous Cosmina (which, combined with herself, are only half of Wild Hunt's original manpower), and when Night Raid appears, her Crazy-Prepared tactics give them a tough fight and she nearly kills Leone in one-on-one combat. Even more impressive considering the fact that the members of Wild Hunt who died before this point were physically more imposing than her, but also fell rather anti-climatically against Night Raid or the Jaegers, which made it all the more shocking when she proved to be one of the most dangerous physical fighters.
  • In the 1997 Berserk anime, Adon Coborlwitz is given this treatment. His recurring role early in the series — fighting the Band of the Hawk but never directly confronting the main heroes — portrays him as an incompetent general who can't get anything done right, and he is shown comedically blundering everything he does. After two particularly embarrassing losses, he engages in a head to head confrontation with the Hawks where he meets Casca, the lead female. He then proceeds to kick her ass, unhorsing her and putting her on the defensive while telling her why she should never have tried to be a soldier in the first place. Sure, Casca was on period at the time, but then Adon shows off more points on how threatening he can be when several Hawks rush to her rescue, only for Adon to tear through them with his trident with ease, then going after Casca again and nearly killing her. He is still dealt several painful blows by Guts when he stops Adon from landing the death blow, but we still saw the general of the Blue Whale Knights make a point about his character. Sure, he's a Dirty Coward and a Butt-Monkey, but that's not to say he's no threat to the Band of the Hawk.
  • In Tokyo Ghoul, this occurs more than once.
    • Naki initially seems to simply be a comical Psychopathic Manchild, crying over the death of his beloved "Big Bro" Yamori and or spawning memes with misheard or mispronounced words. He turns out to be strong enough to become The Rival to Tsukiyama and manages to seriously wound Akira in battle. By the time of the sequel, he's been promoted to the higher ranks of Aogiri, and commands a sizable force of Mooks that are completely devoted to him.
    • Nimura Furuta, the bumbling and cowardly sidekick of Evil Cripple Shiki Kijima. His primary skills are apparently doing paperwork for his superior and serving as The Bait during operations. Less a villain, and more of a lackey for one. Then he drops the bumbling act, swiftly killing two of his comrades and Matsumae. Afterward, he beats himself up to convincingly play the "sole survivor" of a massacre and uses the chaos to leak vital information to Aogiri. Furuta is actually a Tyke Bomb working for V, and has spent the last several years infiltrating various organizations and sowing chaos everywhere he goes. He's also Souta, the member of the Clowns Gang that dropped the steel beams on Rize and caused Kaneki's transformation into a Half-Human Hybrid. He winds up being the final Big Bad of the series when he takes over the CCG and uses it for his own plans. It isn't clear where his true loyalties lie, or what his real goals are, but he gleefully plays the harmless fool while playing for all the teams.
  • Goblins in Goblin Slayer. It is indicated early on that, while they are dangerous in large numbers, they have the size and strength of a small child, and are typically fodder for experienced adventurers. However, for a party of four inexperienced adventurers (that is to say, most starting adventurers), a nest of goblins turn out to be a terrifying force that easily overwhelms them exactly because they failed to take the threat they represented seriously. The adventurers guild even mentions that this is pretty much standard procedure: Newbie adventurers take goblin quests because they don't seem that difficult, while more experienced ones don't do them because of the pitiful reward. The adventurers go in, manage to kill a few goblins and get slaughtered (and females are raped to breed more goblins), another group goes in and kills a few more goblins and gets slaughtered, and only when the third or fourth group come in are the goblins dead. Most of them, as those that survive might actually learn something and grow into a different, much more dangerous sort of goblin. It's little wonder why Goblin Slayer, the title character, who is specialized in wiping out goblins, makes it his rule to Leave No Survivors among the goblins of the nests he hits.
    • The light novel puts it this way: Goblins are only as intelligent, clever and strong as children. But they are just as intelligent and clever as children.
  • Charlotte the Dessert Witch, from episode 3 of Puella Magi Madoka Magica, seems to be a complete and utter non-threat. She looks like a plush doll, and not even the creepy kind, and Mami utterly annihilates both her and her minions. And then the witch enters her second form. And off goes poor Mami's head. Sets the tone of the series pretty nicely, really.
  • Uzu Sanageyama from Kill la Kill is hardly harmless to start with, and gives Ryuko a run for her money the first time they fight. However, she figures out a way to shut off his super sight and defeats him. When he challenges her to a rematch, she is confident that she can easily defeat him again using the same tactic. But the Uzu she faces this time is different in a blood-chilling way. His laid-back cockiness is replaced by a grim and rather terrifying determination, and it is revealed that he has sewn his eyes shut and trained his other senses to such an extent that he is basically impossible to approach from any angle. Ryuko never gets a single hit on him, and the only reason she even gets away with her life is that Uzu's Goku Uniform overheats and fails. The sheer contrast with their previous battle and Uzu's earlier attitude makes this one of the most striking moments in the whole series.
  • The Monster Clown Mr. Magic Pierrot in Sailor Moon (briefly) outright murders both Usagi and Hawk's Eye, which was a stark contrast to the Lemures being mostly ineffective Comic Relief.
    • The first two Daimon to appear in the season before that both qualify as well. Mikuji was able to incapacitate the Sailor Senshi and Tuxedo Mask, and also broke Sailor Moon's transformation brooch, only being defeated because she was blindsided by Sailor Uranus and Sailor Neptune. Nekonerru was able to top her as she took the Senshi down while they were transformed and survived Uranus and Neptune attacking her. However, after this, Sailor Moon got a new transformation brooch and weapon, allowing her to defeat Nekonerru. From then on, the Daimon never really became as threatening as those two.
  • While calling One Pound Gospel's Ryuusei Kurenai harmless is a bit of a stretch, he's first introduced as a host, and is taken as just a handsome man who happens to hold a debt over Sister Angela due her aunt's antics. The solution for her debts comes from the fact he's also the undefeated Asian-Pacific featherweight boxing champion, who's having a last fight with Hatanaka before challenging the world champion and feels so sure of his strength to bet her debt over the upcoming match. He ends up losing, but it's the first time ever he has to go the distance and had a large advantage on points before being knocked out at the last moment.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • The Long Halloween and Dark Victory both do this for Calendar Man. Once a campy gag villain who committed relatively harmless crimes while dressing up in costumes based on specific days, his internment at Arkham changed him into a creepy, white-clad inmate who'd mastered the Breaking Speech, already knew the answers to the mystery Batman's trying to solve, and later manipulated a rehabilitated character back into madness. Unfortunately, the change didn't stick.
    • Later, in the Hush story arc, The Riddler, bitter that he's fallen so far in Gotham's criminal hierarchy, decides to team up with the new psycho on the block and puts Batman through the wringer. He figures out Batman's secret identity. The only thing that stops him from completely destroying Batman is that he has the answer to the ultimate riddle, and it's no good if everyone knows the answer. Thankfully for Batman, he eventually got hit in the skull with a mace and received a case of Easy Amnesia.
      Riddler: "I used to be a somebody in this town. Now, everybody has a gimmick. I was going to show them all. And I did."
    • Riddler turns to Not So Harmless in the Peter Milligan tale "Dark Knight, Dark City". For the first chapter, you think he's the same old Riddler, leaving clues to pointless crimes. Then he nearly kills a security guard... then a baby... then he blows up a minion's throat... That's about the time one of Riddler's minions outright tells him, "You're starting to make the Joker look positively sensible.", after commenting to another that he's looking positively less stable than ever before. Then you find out that the crimes aren't the point, they're just a way of manipulating Batman into a Fate Worse than Death. It eventually turns out that the increased level of evil is due to Demonic Possession.
    • In Batman #251, after 20 years of campy, oversized set pieces and pies in the face and bloodless bank robberies, The Joker goes after some of his old henchmen who ratted him out. Audiences are expecting sneezing powder or filling their house with balloons, as Joker hands the first henchman a cigar, he thinks of how "classic Joker" it is. The old exploding cigar. Except the explosive in this one is nitroglycerin, and when the henchman lights it, waiting for a little "pop", it blows up his head and most of the room. Joker's back.
    • The Joker's Asylum II: Harley Quinn one-shot. Rival mobsters, cops and so on know that Harley is a fairly harmless character, whose Weapon of Choice is a big comedy mallet. But they're standing between her and Mr. J on Valentine's Day, which means she's not kidding around anymore. Even Batman decides the best way to stop her is to capture the Joker first, so she wants to go back to Arkham. It really says something when Batman thinks fighting the Joker is a safer bet.
    • The mastermind behind the grand plan to finally bring Batman and Gotham to its knees in Batman Eternal is none other than Cluemaster, who exploited his status as being C-rank fodder in order to pull the strings from the background, knowing Batman would never suspect so much destruction from an amateur. Though he gets hijacked by Lincoln March, his plan still nearly destroyed Gotham.
    • Batman Beyond: Ghoul was nothing more than a Mook for the Joker in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, and remained so for most of Beyond's comic book run... until he killed Vigilante with Joker toxin and became The Man Behind the Man for Rewire and goaded him into trying to kill his father, the mayor of Gotham.
  • Jigsaw in The Punisher comics, though it took him several tries to actually reach serious villain status — indeed, what finally pushed him over the top was the ability to survive meeting the Punisher that many times. It's been explained that Frank considers Jigsaw a bane on the Underworld more than innocents. He gets to kill people by proxy when letting the lunatic go.
  • The Flash:
    • The Top seems like a silly dude with a spinning top gimmick and a stupid suit until he gets his mind back and turns into a genuinely terrifying villain. The fact that he was given actual superpowers and thus posed a more realistic threat to the Flash may have helped. Even before that he engineered his own resurrection and then came within an ace of becoming President of the United States. The Top has always been smarter than you'd think.
    • The Rogues, in general, are this; more than once they have been underestimated by both heroes and supervillains alike. But in Rogues Revenge you can clearly see that just because Even Evil Has Standards does not mean that they are not a serious threat. Captain Cold has no problem ordering the death of his own father, and not ten minutes before killed some young Gotham punk who tried to take on his name. Heat Wave is a full-blown pyromaniac. Weather Wizard exploded a man from the inside using a tornado. Trickster once out-tricked the devil himself. As Flash himself has pointed out in the past, the Rogues aren't just a bunch of villains who each have their own sometimes silly-seeming gimmicks. They're Central City's version of the Mafia with their own sometimes silly-seeming gimmicks.
    • Captain Cold in particular is a noteworthy example for his role in Forever Evil: Luthor is openly contemptuous of his intelligence and abilities - especially now that he's reduced to using his Cold Gun again, not having An Ice Person powers. Meanwhile, the other team members (not counting Bizarro), Black Manta, Sinestro, and Black Adam are heavyweights who overlook him. Initially, it appears that he's merely around to have someone from the Flash's Rogues. Then he goes up against Johnny Quick, the Crime Syndicate's Psychopathic Manchild version of the Flash, who disarms him and taunts him about how useless his weapon is and how he's completely helpless. Cold retorts that it's not a freeze gun, as Quick claims, but a Cold one, that takes things to absolute zero. He then demonstrates that it's also voice-activated, promptly freezing Quick's right leg, before shattering it and killing him.
  • In Old Man Logan, the various super-villains finally get together into one massive army and take out the heroes to conquer the world. Wolverine is at the X-Men mansion when over 50 enemies attack. Wolverine goes around slashing and clawing every single one of them in a full-on rage. It's only when he's done that he discovers that the "villains" were an illusion and he's just slaughtered all the X-Men. And who crafted this illusion that was so great it utterly fooled Wolverine's senses, made him kill his friends and totally broke his spirit? Mysterio. Yes, the supposed second-rate Spider-Man foe was the man who beat Wolverine like no one else.
  • G.I. Joe:
    • The Marvel comic ignored the cartoon's Cobra-La origin of Cobra Commander, with writer Larry Hama instead characterizing him as an ex-hippie used car salesman who wants to Take Over the World. Initially, the character never strayed very far from the cartoon's General Failure persona, though he eventually evolved into a Villain Ball, and a halfway-competent Big Bad, costing the Joes billions of dollars in equipment and a squad of team members (though this was actually due to lieutenants misunderstanding his orders). The character's final turn into a full villain occurred in issue #131 (December 1992) when, after numerous tries, Cobra located and attacked the Joe team's Elaborate Underground Base. After readying the second wave of the attack, the following conversation takes place.
      Viper: This is too easy, Commander. Something has to go wrong.
      Cobra Commander: I won't stand for negativity in the ranks. (shoots Viper) You wait and see. Well, it's too late for you, but the rest of you, you just wait and see.
    • In G.I. Joe: Resolute he goes into massive rants about how he was really faking his General Failure schtick in the hope it would make his mooks less likely to blindly follow orders and become smarter. This is just after he killed a traitorous subordinate and then killed 10 million people.
  • The Abomination has often been regarded as an evil knockoff of the Hulk and little more, a Dumb Muscle bad guy who's not dumb enough to be as entertaining as his heroic foe. Still, this guy's "crowning moment of evil" was poisoning Betty Ross with his own radioactive blood; at first, everyone thought it killed her, but she should be so lucky, it turned her into Red She-Hulk. (Seriously, think about it, Norman Osborn may be a monster, but has he ever even considered force-feeding Mary Jane the Goblin Formula? Such an act is pretty evil when one considers the implications.)
  • Green Lantern:
    • Black Hand was once a pathetic joke with a weapon that was dependent on stealing energy from Green Lantern's ring and a gimmick of committing crimes based on famous folk sayings. Then he found out he's destined to be the Antichrist leader of an army of zombie supervillains.
    • Larfleeze seems like just a wacky loon who never does anything beyond stealing anything that looks shiny to him. He's also the only member of the Orange Lanterns. Sounds harmless enough right? Except being the sole Orange Lantern also means he's the sole wielder of the Orange Light's power, making him one of the most powerful ring wielders in the universe. And he's not just a loon, he's dangerously mentally unstable and has an explosive temper; he tends to respond to attempts to steal his precious loot with utterly psychotic bouts of violence. He's the only Orange Lantern because he killed all the others to get their stuff. The Green Lantern Corps are rightfully careful when dealing with him.
  • Though he wasn't completely harmless before, Doctor Destiny was always a traditional silver age villain, using dream powers to mess with gravity and create chaos while not really killing anyone. Cut to The 24 Hours story in The Sandman #6.
  • Invincible villains have a tendency to do this, most notably Doc Seismic and the Lizard League. Both of them were jokes on their first appearance and Not So Harmless At All after that. Doc Seismic is a Mad Scientist with a glass jaw, but can still do a ton of damage with his inventions and clever planning until he's restrained. The Lizard League are a bunch of Animal Themed Superbeings who don't pose any threat to Invincible... but then, neither does almost anyone else on Earth. They can still do a lot of damage when Invincible is unavailable.
  • The Intelligencia from Fall of The Hulks. The team is made of M.O.D.O.K., Leader, Wizard, Red Ghost, and Mad Thinker. Together they have become a pretty deadly force. How deadly, you ask? They managed to out gambit Doctor freakin' Doom.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Brand New Day recasts C- and D-list loser villains into competent and credible threats. The Spot comes back as a vengeful psychopath who slowly drives his prey insane by stalking him, while the White Rabbit is an Ax-Crazy drug dealer who's willing to commit mass murder to collect the money she's owed. This also applies to classic Lee-Ditko-Romita villains like Electro, the Shocker, and the Rhino, who have all been rehabilitated from the Villain Decay they've suffered.
      • Shocker invokes this trope. He’s far from harmless and is a dangerously competent supervillain, but he’s an Affably Evil Punch-Clock Villain who prefers to stay under the radar because it makes it easier for him to steal and so that he doesn’t end up a target for bigger superheroes like the Avengers or psycho vigilantes like the The Punisher who would shoot him on sight. He also regards heroes as a professional hazard instead of the hatred most villains regard them with; however, if you betray him, Shocker has no problem showing you how dangerous he really is.
    • Mysterio, with his silly costume and somewhat weak 'powers' often comes off as something of a joke, but every now and then he pulls off something big, like driving Daredevil so insane he almost murders an infant, using a robotic avatar to muck around in the Ultimate Marvel universe, including killing their version of the Kingpin, and perhaps his biggest (if unofficial because of it happening in a glorified What If?) deed: being the one to destroy the X-Men to the last man, using Wolverine as a catspaw and assassin. Oddly enough, none of these actually happened to his main enemy Spider-Man, which suggests that perhaps ol' Fishbowl Head should go find himself a new arch-enemy (though it's worth noting that Mysterio disguised himself as a psychiatrist and nearly drove Spider-Man insane in one of his earliest appearances).
  • The Iron Man villain the Living Laser was such a joke, everyone (even other villains) called him "the Living Loser". Eventually, however, his abilities were amplified by Count Nefaria, and even though this was temporary, it eventually turned him into a being of photons, making him far more dangerous and a true threat.
  • There once was a low-level biomage named Fleshmaster in Empowered. After being humiliated by his peers, he finally dared to use his powers on himself, and returned as the new superhero dWARf!. But since he was still being pissed off, he cooked up a really Big Bad-worthy scheme. Which was about killing all his peers at the same place where they once had humiliated them, the Capeys Awards.
  • Catman has received this treatment in spades, courtesy of Gail Simone in Secret Six. Essentially, he went from a fat slob with a cat gimmick to a sociopathic, lion-pride-leading, muscly badass somewhere in the Sahara with his insignia carved into his chest (by his own hand!) and a pair of razor claws.
  • Doctor Light was an incompetent villain for a long time. In Identity Crisis it was revealed that the League wiped his mind and deliberately turned him into a joke after he raped Elongated Man's wife. He recovered and takes on the Titans. All of them.
  • Yellow Bastard of Sin City fame had this moment in his eponymous story. He was believed to have been comatose and missing a hand (among other body parts) and was no longer a threat. He comes back as a yellow, disfigured freak bent on revenge.
    Yellow Bastard: Recognize me, Hartigan? Huh? Do ya? Recognize my voice, you piece of shit cop? I look different but I bet you can recognize my voice!
  • In a lot of the Marvel/DC crossovers, the Badass Normal characters of one universe would always be looked down upon by the living god characters of the other. One particular example: Spider-Man is following Carnage as he's being transported to a prison across the country; along the way it passes through Gotham City, and Bats is very displeased with having the wall-crawler on his turf. However, Cassidy figures out a way to escape and goes bloody crazy at a time that the Joker also happens to be active, and rather unintentionally the heroes end up switching their villains. Carnage laughs off the Bat until he's taken down with expert planning, and Spider-Man really, really doesn't seem to perceive Joker as a physical threat, but Joker just won't stop, and dances happily across the Moral Event Horizon numerous times. After realizing just how similar he really is to Cassidy, down to hallucinating Joker's smile as Carnage's symbiot-grin, he almost beats Joker to death before Batman gets him to stop. Really, through the whole thing, nobody took anyone else seriously before the ass-kicking started except Batman.
  • Baby Face Finlayson from The Beano was a harmless villain in his early appearances in the 70s and 80s but he became not so harmless in Kev F Sutherland's strips in the 2000s where the character reached almost Big Bad status.
  • The Condiment King in The DCU. A Canon Immigrant from Batman: The Animated Series, the Condiment King is usually treated as a throwaway, joke villain but in Robin #171 (April 2008), (after Poison Ivy had given him some tips on mixing spices in Arkham) Robin observes that the villain is potentially dangerous (he had just attempted to detonate a mustard gas bomb inside a mall, and his condiment guns could cause anaphylactic shock), but his ludicrous nature prevents the justice department from taking him seriously.
  • Supergirl's villain Reactron. In his first Post-Crisis attack on her, Supergirl disposes of him quickly and notes that for a guy with near limitless power, Reactron isn't thinking very big, or using his powers very intelligently. Then he gets modified and given a new Kryptonite-powered armor in the beginning of New Krypton, and proceeds to nearly kill Kara Zor-El several times, as well as murder her parents and her whole race.
  • Superman story Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? provides several examples:
    • The final enemy Superman faces is Mr. Mxyzptlk, who has gotten bored of playing pranks and decided to be truly evil. An interesting subversion in that he's only harmless by choice, and when he goes for it he becomes a threat so nightmarish that Superman of all people is forced to break his non-killing code.
    • Prankster, Toyman and Bizarro go from harmless nuisances to murderous monsters. Bizarro, in particular, stands out, destroying the Bizarro World and then decimating Metropolis.
  • Mark Waid's run on Daredevil has been doing this with Jester. For years, he was nothing more than a C-list Joker knockoff that no one took seriously, in-universe or out. Now he is a diabolical mastermind with a love of chaos and a need to make Matt's life hell. Culminated with him cheerfully crossing the Moral Event Horizon when he makes Foggy Nelson hang himself just to spite Matt.
  • Avengers Arena takes Arcade and makes him a genuine threat. By the end of the series, half the kids in Murderworld are dead, and he has escaped without punishment. Zig-zagged in the aftermath in that nobody else in the super-villain or superhero community still respects him because A) it is explicitly pointed out that his grand scheme to "become a threat" is a blatant In-Universe rip-off of Battle Royale by them (Arcade also said it was so, but he saw it as 'inspiration') and B) in order for it to work out as well as it did, he had to go after teenagers, so the ones who are not disgusted in an "Even Evil Has Standards" fashion mock him because they think that he went after "easy" targets. As such, he spends his appearances afterward whining about still not being respected before the teenagers that survived find him and give him the most humiliating vengeance they can devise.
  • In Doctor Who: Four Doctors, the Voord, one of the show's most memetically notorious unimpressive monster species, become a genuine universe-level threat thanks to teaming up with an evil alternate version of the Twelfth Doctor.
  • This is turning into a trend in the Titan Doctor Who crossover events, as in Doctor Who: Supremacy of the Cybermen the previously-ineffectual incarnation of Rassilon from "Hell Bent" teamed up with the Cybermen to try to destroy the universe and recreate it with himself as its creator God, and only failed because they inevitably tried to stab him in the back.
  • Doctor Who: The Lost Dimension takes it to self-parodic extremes in the Fourth Doctor issue, in which due to the multiversal collapse the Doctor and Romana II have to deal with incursions into the main universe by more-powerful alternate universe versions of notorious unimpressive monsters the Quarks, the Krotons, and the Ogrons, all of whom have become their universes' dominant cultures due to, the Doctor theorises, neither he nor the Daleks existing in them.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (IDW), Bebop and Rocksteady are lovable goofballs like they are in other incarnations of the franchise. Unlike other incarnations, these versions are exactly as powerful as you would expect a pair of hulking warthog and rhino mutants to be; they can take ridiculous amounts of punishment and the Turtles can only slow them down in a straight fight. When one of the team (Donatello) tries to fight them alone, they savagely beat him to near death.
  • The villain Madcap debuted in Captain America and spent most of his tenure as a wacky comic relief D-lister. Then he was accidentally merged with Deadpool, who's mind drove him from comical insanity to not-so-comical. After being expelled from Deadpool's body, Madcap set about making the mercenary's life hell, including such acts as brainwashing innocent civilians into feeding themselves to a tiger, or infecting Deadpool with a virus so that he would pass it on to his young daughter and her adopted family and be Forced to Watch them die.
  • The Ultimates: While not strictly "harmless", Loki remained behind-the-scenes and manipulated events to create The Liberators whilst branding his brother as a mentally-ill man who is powered by stolen Tech. Once his team is defeated, though, Loki decides to stop holding back and release his full godly power. His first action turns the sky red.

    Fan Works 
  • For the first few years of The Parselmouth of Gryffindor, Hermione and her friends don't even pay attention to Draco, who, being better at posing and poking poodles than actually harming anyone, is written off as no threat at all. Then it turns out she gave up too early too completely because he very nearly manages to kill her. With a snake.
  • In Sailor Moon, Mimete is usually quite ineffective, especially in the anime. But in GS 260 she actually creates a growth serum, grows into a giant using said serum, destroyed Fort Hampton where she was working and kidnapped Colonel Ricther and is now being held by her and her boyfriend.
  • The Anti-SOS Brigade usually function as comic relief in You Got HaruhiRolled!. Not so once Emiri joins them, giving them the strength to defeat the SOS Brigade and kill all of Kyon's friends.
  • The protagonist is actually a sympathetic, though highly reluctant, interrogator in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fic "You Obey." When it comes down to it, it is frightening just how brutally effective he is at getting the information he wants.
  • In Xenophilia and its spin-offs, Honeydew amounts to little more than a loud nuisance to Lero and his herd. Then comes Divided Rainbow, where we see Honeydew throw her lot in with a sadistic band of criminals...
  • The Legion of Doom in Challenge Of The Superfriends The End. After years of being a laughable band of losers, they encounter an Eldritch Abomination known as The Benefactor, who turns them into tormented, horrific things with the power to doom worlds.
  • Despite their small size and low level, the Kurisarimon and DarkScubamon from the Tamers Forever Series are vicious and numerous Digimon whose predatory and opportunistic natures make them a threat even to Mega level Digimon.
  • Mega Man Reawakened:
    • Glyde's Birdbots are cute and goofy and aren't dangerous in small groups, but in large numbers, they manage to capture Megaman.
    • Quentin Emerald may be a hypocritical madman, but in Arc 4 he had Robert on the ropes and would have killed him if not for Protoman.
  • Mega Man: Defender of the Human Race has this in a big way with Dr. Wily. With most of his crazy plots from the show carried over, and how he had a tendency to foil his own schemes, Wily was generally seen as a foolish if evil old man by the readership. Even given his villainous breakdowns, rants, and increasingly dangerous plots, he didn't threaten the characters personally much post episode 4... until the episode 10 epilogue, where he personally and mercilessly tortures ProtoMan in cold blood. It ends with ProtoMan begging him to stop.
  • In the My Little Pony/Dresden Files crossover The Dresden Fillies, the true mastermind of the whole affair is Novel Notion. This nervous, easily cowed pony goes on to activate a spell that sacrifices the entire Order Triune to summon a demon. Then he holds the family of the Mane 6 hostage.
  • In Pokemon Rejuvenation, Angie's right hand-woman, Cera, seems much less intimidating than her boss, as she acts quite Affably Evil even while her boss is in the middle of a Villainous Breakdown. After Angie was defeated and turned into a Human Popsicle at the end of Version 5, most people assumed Cera wasn't coming back. Then came Version 6, in which it's revealed that Cera can teleport to any location where one of Angie's fliers is, she has limited Reality Warper powers, and is dead-set on freeing her master. Then she watches two of her companions die brutal deaths, goes crazy, and manages to successfully capture A FRIGGIN' GROUDON. The kicker? It's heavily implied by the ending of Version 7 that she's freed Angie!
  • In Persona EG, Sunset Shimmer seems like just a regular bully. She targets Twilight and anyone close to her because Twilight is going to beat Sunset for valedictorian. In all of Sunset's appearances early on she just smugly taunts Twilight while her goons take embarrassing pictures and videos of her. After ZIT spends months fighting shadows and Eris in Zodiac, Sunset seems like just an annoyance to them and they can deal with her the same as any bully, by ignoring her. This is quickly proven wrong though, when Sunset sneaks into the dorm one night and rapes Flash while he is asleep. Then, not even a month later it is discovered that Sunset does know about Zodiac and what ZIT is doing because she is Mephistopheles, Eris' boss and the one responsible for everything that ZIT has been put through up to that point.
  • In Forever He-Man, while Skeletor's attacks are repelled, he does serious damage to the castle and He-Man at times, with his first attack since the loss being a catalyst for everyone finding out the truth.
  • A Shadow of the Titans: Evil Dick is a total joke villain, whose only noticeable quality is that he gets his ass kicked in virtually every appearance. Then comes Chapter 12, which opens with him having somehow taken Starfire prisoner, and preparing to activate a Doomsday Device to destroy Jump City, with him only being stopped in time because Star Chan manages to (literally) pull the plug on it before it can activate. Afterwards, Robin states that this proves they can't ever underestimate a villain, no matter how simple they seem.
  • Don't Haze Me: Falcon Sentinel is predominantly an annoying new villain who won't stop following Kim. But, when angered, he's dangerous. Shego learns this when he beats her up. Falcon Sentinel's increasing violence leads to Kim shooting him in self-defense when he tries to kill her.
  • Metastability lampshades this with O'Malley. In spite of being a parodic Laughably Evil Card-Carrying Villain, Church notes that he can still be a threat in the right circumstances and talks everyone into putting him in a place where he can't do any damage.

    Films — Animation 
  • Zigzag, the grand vizier, in The Thief and the Cobbler seemed, at first, a Small Name, Big Ego who spun Rhymes on a Dime. Then he stole the golden balls protecting the city, giving them to Big Bad and Evil Overlord One-Eye. One-Eye is unappreciative and has him thrown to the alligators. Zigzag tames them, going on to tell One-Eye "One mistake will suffice! Don't treat me lightly twice!"
  • The Lion King (1994):
    • Shenzi, Ed, and Banzai at first seem like Wile E. Coyote-esque villains who always fail every time, but at the end of the film, they all show their true dangerous selves when they kill Scar for betraying them.
    • Scar, while an effectively calculating villain, by his own admission, didn't really inherit the brawn of his family, and when confronted by Simba, starts to beg pitifully for his life. It turns out to be an I Surrender, Suckers however, and he gives Simba a legitimately epic Last Villain Stand which he very nearly wins. He really wanted to be king - and when that failed he pulled a Defensive Feint Trap on the hyenas and, Sore Loser that he was, went for The Last Dance - which, three fighters on one scrawny opponent, went about as well as one would expect.
  • Megamind:
    • The eponymous Villain Protagonist, a super-intelligent Gadgeteer Genius and Mad Scientist. He seems harmless because he always gets defeated by that Flying Brick, Metro Man. But then he apparently finally kills Metro Man with a Kill Sat. Deconstructed unusually as he fully expected Metro Man to foil the plan easily and send him back to jail just like every other time, the success was caused by a fluke that wasn't part of his plan, and he doesn't know what to do with himself afterward and quickly comes to miss the routine of repeatedly being foiled by Metro Man. Then it's subverted as it turns out Metro Man was just Faking the Dead and Megamind never stood a chance against him after all. Then, it ends up somewhere between a Double Subversion of this and an example of Let's Get Dangerous!, as after his Heel–Face Turn he does manage to defeat Titan.
  • Disney's Beauty and the Beast has the villain Gaston, who starts out as just a vain, preening buffoon, certainly malicious, but more ridiculous than anything else. Then he incites a riot and leads a lynch mob against The Beast, and very nearly kills him.
  • Cars has Chick Hicks, who is constantly losing to his rival Strip "The King" Weathers, and during the climax, he almost killed the King!
  • Cars 2 has Grem and Acer, a pair of bumbling villains who appear to be based on two of the worst cars ever made. But then we see them kill Rod "Torque" Redline...
  • The Jungle Book (1967):
    • Shere Khan, the Big Bad, in spite of his occasional hammy and whimsical nature, is actually an evil bloodthirsty tiger bent on killing any human that's still in his jungle, especially the man-cub he sees as Mowgli. In the sequel, he drops the hammy and whimsical aspect altogether.
    • Kaa is much more of a flamboyant bumbler than Khan, but still, there are few in the jungle immune to those hypnotic eyes. Even in the sequel, where his Butt-Monkey role is upped quite a notch, he was a mere second from devouring Shanti.
  • Disney's Robin Hood:
    • Prince John. Snivelling, childish, cowardly momma's boy? Check. Ruthless, greedy, amoral tyrant with a vindictive streak two miles wide? Check. In hindsight, it was perhaps best if the civilians hadn't made a mocking sing-song about him.
    • The Sheriff of Nottingham is dim-witted and despite his size is easily manhandled by Little John and Lady Kluck. At the end of the movie, however, he completely snaps and comes after Robin with a torch, burning down the castle, and coming closer to killing Robin than anyone else in the film.
  • The Great Mouse Detective: Ratigan's henchman Fidget seems to be the usual bumbling minion, but turns out to actually be quite competent and even scary if the first scene is any indication. Notably, save for the one single screw-up of dropping the list Rattigan gave him, which serves as a clue to help Basil locate their evil lair, Fidget actually successfully does every single thing he's ordered to do without fail.
  • The Aristocats: Edgar. He's rather bumbling and somewhat of an Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, but he still clearly has evil intentions. Sure, he doesn't kill the cats but he tries to take them away from their owner by dumping them in the countryside (with some speculations that he was going to throw them in the river) and then ships them to Timbuktu.
  • Kent Mansley from The Iron Giant. He's initially portrayed as an incompetent, neurotic bureaucrat who's in way over his head. And he is. But he's also a cruel, sadistic government agent with enough power to make a little boy's life hell. And all these traits, combined with his ever-growing paranoia, leads him to put an entire town of innocent people (and himself) in jeopardy.
  • Dave from Penguins of Madagascar is a goofball but startlingly competent and ruthless, with a rather savvy handling of his minions. Even his plan to take away the penguins' cuteness was a tall order Not-So-Harmless Punishment since he planned on it's doing so resulting in every last remnant of the species getting wiped out by terrified humans.
  • The Prophet: For all of the Sergeant's buffoonery he is still a threat and when a riot breaks out, his first instinct is to reach for his gun and to open fire on the civilians, an act which Mustafa manages to stop.
  • Jasper and Horace from 101 Dalmatians may seem like a pair of bumbling comic relief henchmen at first, but they're just as cruel and ruthless as Cruella herself. When they're ordered to kill the puppies, they hesitate not out of sympathy or squeamishness, but because they want to watch a game show. And during the final chase scene, they join their boss in attempting vehicular homicide on a trucker. Jasper, in particular, seems to genuinely like being cruel, seemingly getting his kicks from picking on Nanny, Sgt. Tibbs and the puppies.
  • Despite their Lighter and Softer tone, the sequels to The Land Before Time have a few of these:
    • In The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure, we have Strut. He doesn't seem like much of a threat, since he prefers to eat plants, is pretty reluctant to steal eggs, and spends much of his screentime getting bullied by his older brother Ozzy. Sounding uncannily like Pinky certainly doesn't make him appear menacing either. Then he suggests to his brother that they should murder Littlefoot by throwing him off a cliff and tries to strangle Chomper. It's only the arrival of Chomper's parents that saves the kids from being killed by them.
    • The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through the Mists gives us Ichy and Dil. They may seem like a pair of bumbling comic relief baddies, and their Teeth-Clenched Teamwork dynamic is frequently Played for Laughs, including a vaudeville-style Quarreling Song. But at the end of the day, they're still ruthless and dangerous predators who pose a legitimate threat to the heroes.
    • Rinkus from The Land Before Time VII: The Stone of Cold Fire. While he initially appears cowardly, bumbling and ineffectual compared to the charismatic Pterano and the aggressive Sierra, it's revealed to be an act. As it turns out, he's much smarter and more dangerous than he seems, and he plots with Sierra to betray Pterano so that they can take the stone's power for themselves.
  • Brutish and Oafish Guard from The Hunchback of Notre Dame are often subject to amusing humiliations, but they still enforce a brutal and corrupt regime. Among their misdeeds throughout the film, they initiate the public humiliation Quasimodo goes through, subdue Phoebus when he turns on Frollo and were inches away from executing him before Esmeralda interfered. Brutish Guard in particular is responsible for setting off the entire second half of the film when he discovers Esmeralda’s escape offscreen and reports it to Frollo.
  • Mr. Tweedy from Chicken Run spends much of the movie as a Henpecked Husband to Mrs. Tweedy, but he's also stopped every one of the chicken's escape attempts, and when Mrs. Tweedy tells him to get a chicken to test out the pie machine, Mr. Tweedy comes back with Ginger, having correctly identified her as the chickens' leader.
    Mr. Tweedy: (to Ginger) I've got a score to settle with you.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Men in Black: Defied when Jay is being tested and they hit the firing range; he ignores the military officers shooting all the alien targets and fires one shot... at the target depicting a small, human girl. When asked why "Tiffany" had to die, Jay completely dismantled the aliens' apparently threatening appearances as doing harmless activities and notes the books on advanced physics the girl was carrying, books way too advanced for a kid her age as well as the fact that she was hanging around a dark alleyway in the first place, concluding that she's there to cause some trouble. This impresses the testers, although it's not stated whether it's more due to his quick thinking or because he was actually right.
  • Yuen Wah's character in Eastern Condors at first seemed like a comic relief villain (mostly due to his weird laugh) but turned out to be an incredibly intense martial artist at the end of the movie.
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
  • In Blindness, The King Of Ward 3 is shown to be an obnoxious punk who simply disrespects the protagonists and loudly makes an ass of himself. Then he manages to find a gun and becomes the most powerful tyrant in the place.
  • In the Kill Bill movies, Budd is the only member of the Deadly Viper Assassination Squad to be down-on-his luck and there is some lip service paid to his lack of fighting ability. Bill has no doubt the Bride would be too much for him, Elle has a long list of insults for him, and the Bride herself seems overly confident when going after him. Despite this, he is the only member who defeats and captures the Bride since he's a Combat Pragmatist, saw her coming, and just blasted her with a shotgun the moment she got close.
  • Hocus Pocus: Sarah appears as a ditzy, childlike Butt-Monkey to her sister Winnifred. But then she creepily flies over Salem beautifully singing "Come Little Children" and every child in Salem mindlessly walks toward the sisters' house, where the sisters await to drain their life force. One realizes that she was the singer who originally lured Emily to her death at the start of the film. Moreover, Sarah Jessica Parker's delivery of her character's lines may make them funny, but really listen to what she is saying and try to say she doesn't sound like a Psychopathic Womanchild.
    Sarah (on a child) Ooh! Put him on a hook and let me play with him.
  • The Riddler in Batman Forever may have been a Large Ham, but all things considered, he managed to figure out who Batman was on his own and launched an assault on Wayne Manor that completely destroyed the Batcave and left Bruce for dead. If not for his need to utterly screw with Bruce serving as his downfall, the Riddler came the closest to killing Batman far beyond what any of the other villains in the pre-Nolan films achieved, not counting the amount of damage he inflicted alongside Two-Face and his successful gambit to play the people of Gotham City for saps with his Box devices.
  • Chris D'Amico/The Motherfucker in Kick-Ass 2 is quite incompetent and Laughably Evil... until he has the Colonel killed. He then starts crossing the Moral Event Horizon repeatedly.
  • Star Wars:
    • By the time Return of the Jedi rolls around, the audience knows the Emperor is extremely evil. The movie itself then shows him to be terrifying intelligent and cunning, but he still looks like a frail and harmless old man who needs Vader to do the fighting. Then he starts blasting Luke with Force Lightning, effortlessly defeating him and showing everyone all how deadly he really is. As Yoda had said earlier in the film: "Do not underestimate the powers of the Emperor."
    • Similarly in Revenge of the Sith, the audience now knows just how dangerous Darth Sidious is in planning and using the Force, but he still doesn't exactly seem like a physically-inclined fighter. This movie then shows he is also a Master Swordsman, taking out three Jedi Masters in ten seconds.
  • The Big Hit: For the first part of the film, Cisco is an obnoxious but pretty comedic foil for Melvin. Yet when mob boss Paris compels him to hunt down Keiko's kidnappers, Cisco has little problem switching into genuine bad guy mode when he sells out and kills his former associates in the scheme.
  • Home Alone: Harry usually seems to be just as bumbling as his partner Marv, however, in the first film, he actually manages to gain information by impersonating a police officer. At the climax of the first two films, Harry and Marv manage to catch Kevin. In the first film, Harry was going to bite Kevin's fingers off. In the second film, he was going to shoot him in the face.
  • In The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), Alexander Vinciguerra was initially written off as a playboy who does nothing but pursue his hobbies and flirt with other women while his wife Victoria did most of the work. But he is a Bad Ass Driver and uses those skills to take on both Solo and Kuryakin at the same time.

  • 2666: Popescu is introduced as a Romanian intellectual touring Dracula's castle with General Entrescu. Several years later, he shows again, tying up loose ends from the war by killing a former comrade.
  • A Practical Guide To Evil has a few examples:
    • Kairos Theodosian, Tyrant of Helike. At first, he just looks like some kind of insane Royal Brat in the mold of a Joffrey Baratheon — dangerous to hang around, but ultimately a self-destructive footnote in the making. It takes him less than a chapter to show how he actually earned his Name. And, he keeps his foot on the accelerator. His being a cackling font of ostentatiously Classic Evil is quite deliberately hiding a metric tonne of meta-awareness under all that ham. For starters, he's actively using his appearance of being "just another nutso Tyrant" to hide the extent of what he's capable of not just from the Calamities, but the Wandering Bard, as well. Every hard-core, very nasty trick he's pulled has been a shell game used to attain goals beyond the obvious ones, yet others have been slow to realize this thanks to the show he makes of juggling the obvious villain balls.
    • Almorava of Smyrna, The Wandering Bard. An Ashuran hero who joins The Lone Swordsman's party before the rebellion begins in southern Callow. Ridiculously dressed, constantly throwing back enough alcohol to kill a herd of livestock and a less-than-competent musician and singer, The Bard at first appears to be little more than comic relief. The jury's still out on how much of her silliness is an act, but there's certainly more to Almorava of Smyrna than meets the eye. She has the Genre Savvy that is the hallmark of her profession, with an understanding of the workings of fate rivaled only by the Black Knight. She has a tendency to appear (literally) whenever anything particularly plot-relevant is going on; no matter how much violence is directed her way she always manages to escape just in time; she seems to know intimate details of events she should be far too young to have witnessed and if nothing else, her liver must be superhuman. The epilogue of Book 2 reveals that The Wandering Bard is actually some kind of body-hopping immortal entity that has lived since long before elves arrived on Calernia. The precise nature of this entity is still mysterious but it seems to always exist as a storytelling-based Name and although it switches bodies and identities it retains all of its memories. It's also apparently scary enough to bully the Forever King. At the conclusion of Book 2 Almorava of Smyrna dies (apparently of alcohol poisoning) and the name passes on to a new host named Aoede of Nicae.
    • Akua Sahelian, The Heiress (later gains the Name of The Diabolist). Despite being a bit of a Smug Snake and tending towards Bond Villain Stupidity, she's just powerful and clever enough to become a massive threat later in the story, engineering a magical plague to raise a massive army of undead and devils in a bid to conquer Praes and return her homeland to its long tradition of old-fashioned villainy.
  • In The Zombie Knight, Parson Miles. While everyone knows how powerful he is most think he is a buffoon more concerned with ice cream than strategy. Even his seemingly massive failures have long-term repercussions that seem to be exactly what he wanted them to be.
  • In the last Star Wars New Jedi Order novel The Unifying Force, the true Big Bad of the series is revealed. It's not the Recurring Boss Nom Anor, nor is it Evil Overlord Shimrra. It's Onimi, the weak-looking and disfigured court jester. The events that disfigured him also made him the only Force user among the Yuuzhan Vong, giving Onimi the ability to rule from behind Shimrra through Mind Control. In the Final Battle, Onimi also reveals the ability to produce deadly toxins, giving Jacen Solo a run for his money.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: This series takes a positive delight in showing how gods-damned dangerous "harmless" can turn out to be.
    • Walder Frey is introduced as a greedy and opportunistic lord whose loyalty is fickle and will always place his own concerns over others. Ultimately he shows that crossing him can provoke him into some shockingly savage behavior.
    • Joffrey is presented as a spoiled brat of a prince who is nonetheless held in check by his father. However, once he assumes the throne, he reveals that he's much more depraved and sadistic than he at first appeared, and has the means to exercise his darkest impulses.
    • Reek is introduced as the disgusting, sycophantic lackey of the monstrous (and late) Ramsay Snow. After Theon pulls him from a cell, he becomes Theon's lackey during the would-be prince's occupation of Winterfell. As the ill-advised campaign begins to inevitably fall apart, Reek eventually reveals that he's actually Ramsay Snow himself, the bastard son of Lord Roose Bolton, and he has designs on conquering the North for himself.
    • Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish is introduced as a court Wild Card, a cynical, opportunistic sneak who only supports Eddard Stark due to being childhood friends with Ned's wife Catelyn. As the book series goes on it's revealed that Baelish is a Manipulative Bastard who's an expert in Xanatos Speed Chess, and has been running a Long Game where he used his position as Master of Coin and confidante of Lysa Arryn to manufacture much of the Seven Kingdoms' current financial and political troubles. Even people who know what an unpleasant character he is beneath his façade tend to underestimate him because his house is two generations away from being peasants and his 'lands' practically exist only on paper.
  • Skulduggery Pleasant: Vaurien Scapegrace is introduced in the second book and quite clearly intended as a comic relief character, proclaiming to make murder into an art form despite never having successfully killed anyone, showing little skill with fighting and no apparent magic. Scapegrace never manages to become a major villain, and in the fourth book he actually gets killed by his own boss....who then reanimates him, turning him into a zombie. Vaurien maintains his status as a comic relief character, but nevertheless manages to kill dozens of mortals, creating a small zombie horde and temporarily providing a serious threat to the heroes.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Pettigrew/Wormtail. All accounts of his past portray him as a simpering incompetent little coward who hid in the shadow of more powerful friends. While this is mostly true, he's far from harmless. When he's revealed to be the one who really betrayed the Potters it's also shown that he killed about a dozen people with a single spell to cover his escape. He also managed to overpower a Ministry official (admittedly a somewhat scatterbrained one) that happened to know information that Voldemort could use. Then he killed Cedric on Voldemort's orders, with a wand that wasn't his. He may be the least competent of Voldemort's Death Eaters, but he's still a Death Eater to the core. And EVERYONE seems to forget he became an Animagus at 15; sure he had a ton of help, but isn't that a slight hint he might be more powerful than expected?
    • Draco Malfoy. For the first five books, he's just a whiny, snarky, envious bully, and even then he's of little threat to the main heroes, other than through his father's connections. But in book 6 he's tasked with assassinating Dumbledore. This doesn't make him more powerful, but sheer desperation turns him into a loose cannon and drives him to ever greater extremes, and he doesn't care if innocent people get hurt in his attempts. He ends up very nearly killing two people (Katie Bell and Ron Weasley) AND sneaking a gang of Death Eaters into the allegedly impenetrable Hogwarts.
    • Gilderoy Lockhart at first seems like nothing more than a pompous Small Name, Big Ego, but later reveals himself to be a dangerous villain in his own right because his Crippling Overspecialization just happens to be Laser-Guided Amnesia.
  • The Pillars of the Earth: Yeah, see that idiotic, envious kid named William Hamleigh? Got made a fool of, butt of a lot of marriage jokes, and he lusts after a girl he'll never... Oh shit did he just rape Aliena! It all goes downhill from there, too...
  • In Counselors and Kings Dhamari is introduced as a middle-aged wizard of unremarkable talents and unassuming nature significant only because he was once married to one protagonist's mother. He's actually one of the trilogy's main villains who's been helping half of the Big Bad Duumvirate with her schemes ever since they were apprentices together, and while he's no more magically talented than he looks and is too petty to be a true Chessmaster, he's got more than his fair share of low cunning and Chronic Backstabbing Disorder.
  • Honor Harrington presents us with Mesa, a small, horribly corrupt star nation run by a coalition of Mega Corps, being responsible for a wide variety of atrocities in the name of the bottom line. Despite the fact that they are effectively untouchable due to being wrapped in a tangled web of backroom political deals and blackmail of various powerful officials across the galaxy, they are considered largely a minor sideshow given the fact that the People's Republic of Haven and the Star Kingdom of Manticore are fighting the largest interstellar war in the history of mankind. And then the Mesans launch their surprise attack on the Manticoran and Grayson homeworlds, smashing industrial infrastructure and causing millions of deaths, all with no warning.
  • The Star Trek Expanded Universe novel Kahless does this with the legendary Klingon tyrant Molor. Indeed, at the beginning of the story, Molor is a powerful and imposing warlord carving out an empire on Qo'noS with Kahless as his loyal lieutenant. Then Kahless is forced to do the honorable thing and kills Molor's son in a duel for insubordination. After that, Kahless, Morath, and a few others are forced to flee. Eventually, Kahless (with Morath's help) forges La Résistance and storms Molor's capital city. Kahless and Morath confront Molor in his throne room... only to see a feeble man made of skin and bones, suffering from the same plague as many of his subjects. Seeing this helpless guy, Kahless drops his guard, only for Molor to throw a dagger at him. Morath throws himself in front of the dagger, while Kahless beheads the tyrant. Interestingly, this means that Kahless II is, in fact, the clone of Morath and not Kahless.
  • Safehold: Vicar Allayn Maigwair is repeatedly remarked as the least intelligent among the antagonists known as the Group of Four. His actions, such as wasting time and resources building ships that had been outclassed by the protagonists and a certain uselessness in political matters, confirm this. Yet, it is his idea to engage in subterfuge intended to make the Empire of Charis think they were sending their newly built fleet to one location when they had a separate target. Even with their near-omnipotent spying capabilities, this trick catches the Charisian leadership entirely flat-footed. Later, in the sixth book Midst Toil and Tribulation when given a hand in commanding army forces, as opposed to naval ones, he proves to be a very competent military leader and launches one of Safehold's most successful army campaigns ever.
  • In some Rainbow Magic books the goblins can be this, like when they successfully prevented Kirsty from getting Sophie's sapphire.
  • At the very end of the second book in Mistborn: The Original Trilogy, the heroes discover how to Mind Control the monstrous koloss, and from then on they use hordes of dominated koloss as shock troops in conquering various rebel factions. Until, at one particularly crucial moment, the series' Big Bad steals back all the koloss, and blocks the Flaw by which the heroes had been controlling them. All of a sudden, the heroes are faced with an army of supernaturally strong and tough enemies, every one of which they have to kill.
  • Shere Khan in The Jungle Book, more noticeable than the Disney film. He has a lame leg and is considered something of a narcissistic fool. He is still a great hulking tiger and actually shows something of a manipulative streak towards the wolves.
  • In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Alien Bodies, by Lawrence Miles, a Dalek spaceship arrives as a new villain faction, terrifying everyone. Then it turns out that the ship was hijacked and all the Daleks killed by a group of Krotons, who previously appeared in one Troughton-era TV story and were remembered in fandom as among the show's all-time most laughable lame monsters. It is then revealed for the rest of the novel just how much they Took a Level in Badass.
  • In the Doctor Who New Adventures, the Monk, who was quite comical in his two TV series appearances, reinvented himself as the horrifyingly-effective Big Bad of a major story arc.
  • Everybody mocks Kallor as a bullying braggart in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Right up until he joins forces with the Crippled God and performs an epic backstab on Caladan Brood's forces. Then in Toll the Hounds he approaches near Hero Killer status.
  • In the military sci-fi epic Victoria, the Lady Land Azania and its female soldiers are on the receiving end of even more than the usual amount of sarcasm and condescension from the avowedly anti-feminist hero, John Rumford, who does not believe that women can fight. This verdict then at first appears justified, when their inexperienced air force underperforms despite superior technology. However, on the ground, the Azanians actually prove to be Rumford's most dangerous enemies throughout the story, and the only ones who manage to outmaneuver his unit in the field.
  • Sandokan:
    • At first baronet William Rosenthal seems to be just an obnoxious and racist young noble who planned to make a career in the Royal Navy thanks to his nobility and hated lord Guillonk's guest (actually Sandokan, found near dead and healed by Guillonk and family after a bad run-in with a British cruiser) because he wasn't English. He's in fact obnoxious and a little racist even for the European norm of the time, but he's the captain of the cruiser that had nearly killed Sandokan, and that didn't actually hate him until he realized where he had already seen him. There's even a good chance he had been the one who actually wounded Sandokan in that battle...
    • Sindhia, the Rajah of Assam and Surama's cousin who sold her to the Thuggee. He's initially presented as an idiot and a borderline madman, depending on his adviser Teotokris for actual rule. Yet he easily disposed of his predecessor by duping him into not killing him immediately and giving him a gun, and upon breaking out of the asylum he had been sent after being deposed he practically dethroned Yanez by stealing him most of his popular support and building an army under his nose, only losing due Sandokan showing up with a Plague Master. Also, comparing the approximate date of his accession to the Assam throne with Real Life events, he actually extended his dominion, somehow taking back the whole Assam from the British East India Company (who had come to conquer the whole Assam and restored the previous dinasty in Upper Assam only).
  • Les Misérables: Thénardier is introduced as a petty thief and conman and a neglectful parent, set to be forgotten after he fails to squeeze more money out of Valjean after the latter gains Cosette's custody. Later in the novel, he comes back as a dangerous gang leader in Paris who manages to kidnap and threaten Valjean, breaks out of prison, attempts to break into Valjean's house with his gang, and demands payment from Valjean to let him leave the sewer and save Marius's life... while also knowing that he'll end up running into Javert, who's lying in wait outside.
  • Skitter from Worm is considered a pretty minor concern to the heroes at first. Creepy and dangerous in the wrong circumstances, sure, but ultimately not a major player. A few months later and they're discussing her like this:
    Miss Militia:Skitter’s a known criminal mastermind, with an emphasis on the latter. She’s a capable strategist and a battlefield tactician. As far as we were aware, she [is] one of the more powerful villains in North America, judging by her control over this city.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Warren and the other Nerds of Doom. At first, they're kind of silly with their arguments over Star Trek and the best actor to play James Bond, and their kinda weird attempts to challenge Buffy in ways that, really, were nothing compared to five seasons of big bads and various monsters of the week. Warren stops being funny when he tries to rape his ex via mind control and kills her when she tries to escape, and near the end of the season he shoots Buffy and murders Tara Maclay. Then one of the other nerds, Andrew, kills Jonathan, proving himself not just a source of comic relief.
    • The Mayor. At first, he seems like a self-serving politician tapping into supernatural powers for personal gain. Then it turns out he commands a small army of vampires and plans to become a pureblood demon. Oh, and he's also invulnerable; not just Nigh Invulnerable, invulnerable.
    • This becomes Spike's hat in Season 4. Buffy and company get used to thinking of him as harmless thanks to the chip implanted in his head that prevents him from physically attacking any humans, but he occasionally shows them that he could still cause them problems or even get them all killed, even if he can't attack them directly.
      • When Faith wakes up from her coma and plans to go on a rampage against the group, Giles and Xander run into Spike, and because he's lived with them, fought demons together with them a few times, and generally been unable to harm them, they make the mistake of assuming he'll be an ally. They ask him if he's heard anything about Faith, and Spike feigns concern, which makes them fill him in on the whole Faith situation (as Spike has never seen or heard of Faith before) complete with a physical description and the fact that she's looking for vengeance against the group. With this information in hand, Spike announces that he's going to find the rogue Slayer so he can tell her where they are so he can watch as Faith kills them. And thanks to their assumption that he's harmless, he even has a rough description of the person he should be looking for.
        Spike: What do you need?
        Xander: Her. Dark hair, [raises a hand to about Faith's height] ye tall, name of Faith, criminally insane.
        Spike: Is this bird after you?
        Xander: In a bad way, yeah.
        Spike: Tell you what I'll do then: head out, find this girl, tell her exactly where all of you are, then watch as she kills you. [Spike smiles at Xander and Giles, then sighs in annoyance at their shocked expressions] Can anyone in your damn little Scooby club at least try to remember that I hate you all. Just 'cause I can't do the damage myself doesn't stop me from aiming a loose cannon your way.
      • Near the end of Season 4, he manipulates the existing tensions within Buffy's friends and successfully gets them to turn against one another.
    • When Harmony shows up in Season 5 with her own pack of vampires, the heroes can't take her seriously. Unfortunately, in the midst of taunting her, Dawn mistakenly invites her into her house, and we are reminded that while Harmony may be incompetent, she is still a vampire. Indeed, the minute she finds out that Harmony has minions, Buffy laughs her ass off but quickly changes her tune when she discovers that Dawn invited Harmony in, gathering a small arsenal of weapons and stakes. Then in season 8, she kills a Slayer with her own stake on national television and convinces the public that vampires are the good guys and Slayers are the bad guys, sending the US Military after them. All this from the seemingly brainless vampire that Buffy and Angel repeatedly refused to kill because they didn't see her as much of a threat.
  • Angel plays with this in regards to Daniel Holtz, a vampire hunter desiring revenge on Angel and Darla for destroying his life. Angel and Darla were always afraid of him but still didn't think of him as that much of a threat. When Holtz reappears in the present day, Angel and Darla realize just how dangerous he really is.
  • Game of Thrones: Cersei Lannister. After about six seasons of being sidelined, outmaneuvered, and humiliated by the other players of the Game, Cersei snaps and has all of her rivals in King's Landing wiped out with wildfire before usurping the Iron Throne as Queen. She is directly responsible for killing as many or more major characters than anyone else has over all six seasons.
  • Mirror Hoshi on Star Trek: Enterprise. At the start of the two-part episode, she is the captain's sex-bunny and background character in all the plotting and conspiring; as it ends she has just made herself Empress.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, in "Changing Face of Evil", the Dominion allies with the Breen, a race that can only live in the cold, and was previously known only as pirates and slavers, and are best known among fans for wearing a copy of Princess Leia's bounty hunter disguise from Return of the Jedi, so the first reaction was "WTF? Is the Dominion going to make an alliance with the Kazon next?". Then the Breen attack Earth and then they whip out the energy draining gun, pwning 300 ships at once and endangering all others.
  • Power Rangers Lost Galaxy: Becoming Not So Harmless was what Trakeena's whole character is about. At first, she's Big Bad Scorpius' spoiled daughter and spends most of the time whining or backstabbing the villains who do know what they're doing in order to rise in the ranks. Eventually, she leaves, eventually meets up with an old ally of her dad, and gets some combat training. The real fun begins when The Starscream, Deviot, arranges Scorpius' death and succeeds. Trakeena returns to take his place... and the new, badder Trakeena is worse than her dad ever was. She starts out as a competent and more proactive Big Bad and gets more and more driven (and insane) until finally reaching unimaginable heights of evil.
  • Power Rangers Ninja Storm: In Lothor's very first appearance, and during a time-travel journey back to his days as a man, he was formidable, but he seemed very bumbling/ineffective throughout the season, lamenting how his plots always failed and his soldiers were being destroyed...until the finale, where he revealed that he was filling up the Abyss of Evil with dead soldiers in order to cause all hell to break loose on Earth. To this end, he willingly employed a backstabber and allowed himself to be destroyed to lead the charge of bad guys.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Daleks are a meta-example. While they were always a threat and other characters rarely reacted with anything but terror, their numerous appearances over the original series' twenty-six year run heavily diluted any fear to be had from the motorised pepper pots. Thus the new series episode "Dalek" was written with the sole intention of showing a new generation that the Daleks were Not So Harmless, with a single imprisoned, crippled, powerless Dalek killing hundreds of people effortlessly.
      • On a lesser scale with the Daleks in First Doctor stories. In their third story "The Chase" they had the potential to become really dangerous when they acquire time travel and pursue the Doctor. However they come across as quite laughable here, one Dalek struggling over a simple math problem, falling over, and getting beaten by Funhouse robots. In their next appearances, "The Daleks' Master Plan" and its teaser episode "Mission to the Unknown" they came very close to conquering the Solar System and other Galaxies, and two companions die during the story.
    • In the classic series, there was The Master's appearance in "The Deadly Assassin". While never exactly harmless, his appearance here (after a lengthy hiatus) portrayed him less of a Friendly Enemy and more a ruthless Omnicidal Maniac, happy to tear the universe apart to save his own skin. In his next appearance, though his main plan is stopped, he ends up getting a new body by taking over a rather nice character. In the story after that, he goes on a killing spree and causes the Fourth Doctor's death.
    • This was the intention with the Cybermen in "Earthshock", after their poorly-received last appearance seven years earlier. The Cybermen come close to destroying the Earth and cause the death of one of the Doctor's companions, Adric, causing a case of Alas, Poor Scrappy.
    • Every time the Cybermen show up in a New Who finale, they are never the most dangerous threat. The Cybermen in "The Doctor Falls" on the other hand, take over the Big Bad role from The Master and get closer to killing the Doctor than any of the other recurring villains.
  • Tom Zarek and Gaeta in Battlestar Galactica. Tom spends most of the series as a placeholder for vice president or opposition, and Gaeta watching the radar. They eventually lead a coup against Adama and Roslin.
  • One episode of NUMB3RS has a pair of polite bank robbers. They walk in, request the money, say thank you, and walk out. They are even polite enough to hold doors open for people. Really harmless robbers with a cutesy nickname, or so people think until Charlie predicted their target and Don and a team tries to arrest them. That is when they demonstrated that not having needed to call for backup is not the same as not having backup, and not having needed to use violence is not the same as being unwilling to use violence. Turns out they are ex-special forces working to a deeper plan and perfectly happy to use assault rifles, car bombs, and expertly knife a janitor that gets in the way — just hadn't needed to before.
  • Marlo Stanfield's first appearance in The Wire is very unassuming (blink and you'll miss it). Furthermore, the Barksdales and everyone else initially dismisses him as just a small-time dealer of no consequence. Fast forward a year and many row houses later...
  • Supernatural: Crowley was never a harmless villain, but because he spent a lot of his screen time teaming up with the heroes and being deliciously snarky and cool, most fans forgot that he was... y'know, evil. Then Season 8 rolled around, Crowley had no reason to buddy up to the Winchesters anymore, and promptly skipped right over the Moral Event Horizon in- and out-of-universe.
  • Stargate SG-1's Lucian Alliance gained a reputation as being a bumbling band of smugglers whose M.O. roughly came down to spreading evil space corn throughout the galaxy. When they make their reappearance in Stargate Universe, they do so replacing the goofball routine with a new "ruthless band of badasses" one. In the pilot, they have several Ha'taks give trouble to the General Hammond, a Daedalus-class battlecruiser upgraded with Asgard technology (including those plasma beams that can slice through Ori shields like they're made of paper). The Ha'taks themselves were for a number of seasons considered nothing more than a joke. And why not? The Lucian Alliance are not the Goa'uld, they're human (most of them) and have as much ingenuity as Earth-bound humans.
  • Percy, the Big Bad of Nikita, started out seemingly ineffectual, always being Out-Gambitted by Nikita at every turn. However, as the series goes on, he becomes worse and worse, and as the penultimate episode of season 1 shows, he is also a Magnificent Bastard. Check out his description on that page for details.
  • Vern, Psycho Loner and Big Bad Wannabe of Dark Oracle spent a season-and-a-half being treated as a joke by the main characters, who had far bigger problems to deal with in the form of their Evil Twins Blaze and Violet. Then in rapid succession Vern, finds and reads the comic book that shows Blaze and Violet's world, steals an amulet from Doyle and attempts to kill Doyle, Lance and Cally with it, absorbs some of the amulet's magic so that even after losing it he remains a threat, and frees previous Big Bad Omen from the comic, eventually helping him trap Lance in the comic, and loosing Blaze in the process. Unfortunately for him, Blaze being on the loose means that Vern is again overshadowed, and ultimately has to pull a Heel–Face Turn when he realises Blaze is going to turn on him.
  • Dr. Maki from Kamen Rider OOO started out as a creepy emotionless scientist with a Morally Ambiguous Doctorate and a weird fixation on the Creepy Doll he carried around on his arm. While he was genuinely unsettling at first, the way he flipped out whenever he lost his doll gradually turned him into a joke. Then he fully recovers the memories surrounding his sister's death note : he killed her, in a fit of jealousy, and looking back on the event, he decides he was right to do so. Cue him joining up with the Greeed, obtaining the Purple Core Medals, transforming into a Greeed himself, hijacking Big Bad status from Kazari (directly killing him in the process), and coming within inches of destroying the planet.
  • Justified:
    • When we first meet Sammy Tonin he's not taken seriously by anyone, he wears custom-made suits that are all the wrong size and is basically seen by everyone as nothing more than his father's messenger boy, but in "Ghosts", when his father is driven into hiding, he swiftly takes over the family business, turns his only rival's men against their boss and, after a moment considering whether to take Raylan at his word, has said rival riddled with bullets. The following season, he suffers a Villainous Breakdown and spends his time using chainsaws to torture people.
    • Dewey Crowe is the show's resident Butt-Monkey and gets no respect from the other criminals or law enforcement. However, season 3 reveals that when desperate he can be extremely violent and dangerous though still incredibly dumb. In season 5 he murders a man.
    • Dickie Bennett is Smug Snake par excellence who is probably the least threatening of the Bennett crime family both physically and mentally. However, he's shown time and time again he's a vicious little scumbag and that if you turn your back on him, be prepared for him to shoot you dead without remorse. Just ask Raylan's mom Helen.
  • Doctor Clayton Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000. While normally he's just a hammy Harmless Villain, he was very close to succeeding in driving the protagonists insane and ruling the world with Manos: The Hands of Fate, Hercules Against the Moon Men, Monster a-Go Go, The Castle of Fu Manchu, and Red Zone Cuba. His successor (and mother) Pearl Forrester also came close with Hobgoblins and Invasion of the Neptune Men.
  • Community:
    • At the start of the series, Chang's really more of a nuisance than a villain, and for most of the first three seasons, he's such a pathetic antagonist that one feels sorry for him despite his Jerkassery. Then at the end of Season 3, he gets Drunk with Power after being made a security guard and manages to take over the college after kidnapping the Dean, and afterward he nearly burns down the school with all the students still inside it.
    • Mr. Radd in "Regional Holiday Music" is introduced as an annoyingly cheerful, mildly creepy fellow who wants to get the study group to fill in for the Glee club. As with many of the show's plots, the joke is that Greendale is such a Cloud Cuckoo Land that students there would treat something so minor like a life-or-death situation. Then Mr. Radd lets slip that he murdered the original Glee club.
  • The Count from Young Dracula is often made fun of in-universe and generally regarded as a washed-up has-been among the vampire community. Every now and then, however, he'll make reference to the fact that in his heyday, he was Vlad the Impaler, killer of thousands and one of the most horrifically ruthless dictators ever to walk the face of the earth. The one time he is cornered by a dangerous enemy and it is made clear he will not be able to weasel out of a fight the audience sees a swell of his real power followed by the Count making a necklace from his opponent's extracted fangs after the Fight Unscene.
  • The Flash (2014): Season 3's first two episodes give us Edward Clariss, The Rival. He's a speedster obsessed with being the fastest... except he was not faster than Barry in the slightest. Furthermore, after seeing Barry defeat Zoom and his experiences with the Reverse-Flash, The Rival felt nothing more than a lackluster villain who lacked what made either of them personal with Barry. However, he ends up stabbing Flashpoint!Wally in the back and creates three tornadoes in an attempt to destroy Central City, thus reminding the viewer that no matter how unimpressive The Rival was compared to Reverse-Flash and Zoom, he is still a metahuman with dangerous powers that he intends to use to harm people.
  • The Witcher (2019): The Nilfgaardian Empire is constantly treated as a joke by just about everyone from Cintra and the Northern Kingdoms to the Brotherhood of Sorcerers. This ends when Nilfgaard begins their absolutely brutal, take-no-prisoners invasion of the Northern Kingdoms.

  • Voltaire's "When You're Evil" is a cheerful show tune with a singer who's cartoonishly pure Evil-with-an-E.
    I'm the fly in your soup
    I'm the pebble in your shoe
    I'm the pea beneath your bed
    I'm a bump on every head
It takes about three verses to realize that he's serious.
... Lord Beelzebub
Has never seen a soldier quite like me
Not only does his job, but does it happily.
I'm a dagger in your back
An extra turn upon the rack
I'm the quivering of your heart
A stabbing pain, a sudden start.

    Mythology and Religion 
  • Loki of Norse Mythology. Most of the tales starring Loki cast him as a harmless trickster. He gets into amusing antics with Thor, cheats Dwarves with a meaningless victory, helps the Norse gods swindle a giant by seducing his horse (giving birth to Sleipnir in the process), and cuts off Sif's (Thor's wife) hair as a prank. Oh, and he also fathers three of the most dangerous beings in the mythos; one becomes the ruler of (and namesake) of the underworld, one becomes a sea serpent big enough to encircle the world, and the third becomes the biggest wolf ever. But Loki only really gets nasty when he finds out that he's destined to suffer a horrific fate at the hands of the other gods, and decides that he might as well earn it. He does so by killing Baldur and ensuring that he stayed dead. Then when Ragnarok arrives, he breaks free of his imprisonment, leads an army of the damned, and kills the bridge guardian of the gods, Heimdallr (though he dies as well), doing his part to seal the Norse gods' defeat.
  • Coyote, in Navajo mythology, is never really a trickster god but varies between Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny! and Eldritch Abomination. Early on, he mostly just messes up First Man's work and gets tricked by blackbirds, the Navajo's real trickster-figures. Later, though, Coyote lets himself be murdered...four times...resurrecting himself each time, thus becoming the only Navajo supernatural who can use Corpse Poison without having gotten it from First Man. Then his wife, Woman Who Becomes a Bear, invents skinwalking (and to the Navajo, all skinwalkers are diabolically evil).

  • Hailey Solomanari of Kakos Industries becomes this more and more over time. At first, she seems like an Uncanny Valley Girl at best with her silly personality, cute voice, and her strange ability to discentegtste human bodies through making love with them. This could even be passed up as her being naive until she received her A Day in the Limelight episode and gleefully informs the listeners about the people she's maimed and killed when given just a small taste of power. Even the two main evil executives grow terrified of her.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • The infamous "You will not look past me" rant from Chris Jericho to The Rock in the buildup to Royal Rumble 2002. Everyone assumed Rock would beat Jericho for the belt and go on to the WrestleMania main event. Nope. Nor did "Stone Cold" Steve Austin the following month.
  • A really bizarre case of this was Victoria, who first appeared on television as a happy ho who liked to dance but became a sadistic psychopath with Stevie Richards wrapped around her little finger with no explanation or foreshadowing whatsoever. Her entire career from that point on is unexplained shifts between fun-loving ex-ho and deranged loon, with very few exceptions (she once purposefully tried to make herself crazy in hopes it would help her beat Mickie James).
  • Chris Hero and Necro Butcher first appeared at Ring of Honor events as hecklers who were frequently removed from the premises by security. Little did anyone know that this was the beginning of a feud, one that would be considered a contender for greatest in ROH history, as it would progress to Hero having (nearly)the entire CZW locker room behind him and Claudio Castagnoli defecting from ROH to join them in their attempt to destroy the company. Even after the CZW incursions were put to an end The Kings Of Wrestling continued to cause trouble in ROH for years to come.
  • This was the whole basis of the 2009 feud between John Cena and The Miz. Cena is the top star on WWE Raw, and once Miz was traded to the brand he instantly started calling him out. The feud played out for months with the idea that Cena was much more focused on his other feud with Big Show and couldn't be bothered to care about Miz running his mouth — as things went on and Miz began to do such things as attacking him and Big Show alike any time he could, Cena began to take him more and more seriously. Then their match at The Bash didn't happen, honest, but in a showdown on Raw Miz put up a losing effort but dominated Cena through the entire match and showed that he was just as able to hang with Cena as Big Show is. Miz eventually became a long-running WWE champion. However, he suffered Badass Decay shortly thereafter and was relegated to the midcard once more; his title run mentioned only to boost the credibility of whoever was beating him up that week. While The Miz still seems to be playing this trope hard, he ultimately had his Championship reclaimed by Cena, albeit only to have it snatched by...
  • Alberto Del Rio. Much like The Miz, his "Juan Bradshaw Layfield" is incredibly narcissistic and will frequently balk from a match. When riled enough, however, he is disturbingly ferocious. Cena labelled Del Rio pathetic for cashing in his Money In The Bank match on a champ post-match (never mind that pretty much everybody who wins the Money In The Bank uses it that way) and swiped it back; a few nasty beatdowns later, Del Rio won it again.
  • The dancing Cloudcuckoolander Pinkie Sanchez proved how not harmless he was during Chikara's eighth season when he disguised himself as Carpenter Ant to win the Torneo Cibernetico and join Die Bruderschaft des Kreuzes.
  • Another example involving the BDK was Delirious, who wasn't even a villain until UltraMantis Black mind controlled him with The Eye Of Tyr. It was assumed by a repentant UltraMantis that simply removing Delirious of this control would solve all problems but instead Delirious wanted revenge, first against Black, and then against society in general, leading him to join what seemed to be an end of the world cult.
  • A good chunk of The Nexus became a lot more dangerous after they formed their group. Justin Gabriel began wearing black trunks and delivering stares of death before a 450 splash, Skip Sheffield became a lot more vicious in the ring. And Michael Tarver...well, actually became awesome, especially after the booking on NXT Season 1 did everything to make you think he wasn't.
  • Marty "The Moth" Martinez first appeared on Lucha Underground as a chubby, goofy, Cloud Cuckoolander fanboy convinced he was a descendant of the Aztec tribes and was treated as a Joke Character by everyone (and for the entire first season he was just a Jobber, although he did at least show himself as a pretty proficient wrestler). Then at the end of Season 1 he actually kidnapped his recurring opponent Sexy Star and held her captive for over half a year, showing himself to be completely insane and actually kinda scary.
    Marty: You thought I was amusing?!

  • Big Finish Doctor Who gives this to a couple of notorious joke villains from the TV show, like other expanded universe canons.
    • In "Seasons of Fear" the villains are given a major reveal as the Nimons. They were the monsters in the poorly-thought-of story "The Horns of Nimon", where their costumes were a laughable Special Effect Failure. However in a sound-only medium the Nimon are a credible threat, coming very close to conquering Earth and it is shown that if they succeeded they would have conquered many other worlds and become the masters of time.
    • The Meddling Monk was a rather comedic villain on his two appearances in the TV series. In Big Finish he shows himself to be dangerous, helping the Ice Warriors in a plan to kill 300,000 Martian colonists and in Lucie Miller/To the Death he helps the Daleks invade Earth again.


  • In sports, the "Wounded Tiger" and "Ewing" theories both assert that a team known for one or two-star players is more likely to thrive when said star(s) are not playing. The point being that opposing teams will write them off as they would a wounded tiger, not realizing that a wounded tiger is a very dangerous creature. So for instance, when Deron Williams is nursing an injury, either watch out for the New Jersey Nets or prepare to be baffled and ashamed in defeat; the wounded tiger is on the prowl. Similarly, after LeBron James and Shaquille O'Neal left them in the summer, the now-starless Cleveland Cavaliers opened the 2010-2011 season... by beating last season's runner-up squad, the Boston Celtics. This was both an incredible upset and a slap in the face to LeBron, whose Miami Heat had lost to the Celtics the day before, and Shaq, who now played for the Celtics. And shortly after breaking a record-setting losing streak, the "Cleveland Cadavers" showed they were still alive... by beating the previous year's champions, the LA Lakers. And about a month later, they beat the Heat.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • In the Forgotten Realms, Cyric, while undeniably evil, was always considered a minor threat at best because he's so freaking insane that most of his plans fall through. Then, in 4th edition, he orchestrates the death of Helm, personally murders Mystra (possibly for good this time), and unleashes the devastating Spell Plague, all without breaking a sweat. Wow. In 5th Edition, all of that got retconned into having not happening (like pretty much every other change 4th Edition made) but Cyric is still treated as a legitimately threatening god.
    • In the first Pathfinder adventure, Burnt Offerings, the players fend off an attack from goblins that act like pyromaniac 5th-graders who injure themselves as often as their opponents. But weeks after the raid, they discover a goblin who ran and hid under a house, where he slowly went mad from hunger and isolation and killed and ate a man who tried to stop him doing the same to his child. A definite case of Mood Whiplash.
    • Kobolds started out as cowardly little dog-lizard things and were even more cannon fodder than goblins... then came Tucker's Kobolds, and in Pathfinder they came back as Weak, but Skilled tactical geniuses that could utterly slaughter a party of adventurers without even directly fighting them.
    • "The Bandits of Bunglewood" from Dungeon Adventures 51 seems to be inspired by Tucker's Kobolds. The eponymous Bandits are kobolds who have gotten more training than the typical ones, and investigating their misdeeds is difficult because nobody is willing to admit they were beaten up and robbed by mere kobolds. As a result, their actions around the town the module takes place are clouded by stories of orcs, lycanthropes, trolls, and other "respectable" monsters.
    • Any monster can be amped up to a potential Total Party Kill in the hands of a Killer Game Master, or one looking for the ultimate challenge for his players.
  • New World of Darkness:
    • Humans are slow, feeble, ignorant, nearly powerless, and only an actual danger to supernaturals in significant numbers. Until the supernaturals find themselves facing the exceptions, who are very capable of fighting the supernaturals on their own turf and winning, by means as diverse as Task Force: VALKYRIE's plasma cannons and bullets that phase into the spirit realm and harm incorporeal entities, to the Malleus Maleficarum's habit of calling down the literal wrath of God, to an insanely brave and fiendishly clever group of everyday men and women who have gotten fed up with the things that go bump in the night and broken out whatever weapons or tools that are handy. To put it another way: most supernatural effects have damage, targeting, and so on that scale with "power" dots (gnosis, etc) plus stat dots plus "skill" dots (sphere ranks, renowns, etc) and occasionally some miscellaneous dots from a third pool. Until players hit the 'epic' point where their supernatural power is over 5, vanilla mortals use the vital stat + skill points + specialties system, which scales in exactly the same way, meaning that statistically a 0 XP mortal specialist using her specialty can likely do things that are more powerful than the supernatural players. A skilled DM refrains from pointing this out until the party has decided to take a shortcut through an active SWAT site to reach their "real" opponents or something similar. Then Hilarity Ensues, up to and including a Total Party Kill.
    • In fan-supplement Princess: The Hopeful, the All-Consuming Darkness, of all things, used to be this to the Princesses. Back when the Kingdom existed, they were treated as a nuisance the Nobles had a duty to take care of and were routinely curb-stomped. Then the Hopefuls grew self-righteous and suffered infighting, giving minions of the Darkness enough time to actually fester and come up with a plan. Once that was done, they completely obliterated the Kingdom, trapping most servants of the Light in the Dreamlands. Nowadays, they are by far the side with the upper hand.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Imperial Guard are generally portrayed as the Imperium's trillions strong Redshirt Army. A popular joke in the fandom goes "what do you call a lasgun (the Imperial guard's main weapon) with a laser sight? Double-barreled." But as Black Crusade reminds us, "The Legionnaire that scoffs at a lasgun has not charged across an open field against a hundred of them."
    • Abbadon The Despoiler is nominally the setting's Big Bad (or at least the biggest bad short of a Chaos God), but despite being trumpeted as the man who could succeed in finally toppling Terra, the fandom had problems taking him seriously because his twelve Black Crusades were either dismal failures or somewhat redeemed by having one of his plans out of many come to fruition. Then came the Eye of Terror event, and when it was over, Abaddon's 13th Black Crusade had ransacked Cadia, establishing a solid beachhead on the fortress-world that stood between the forces of Chaos and the rest of the galaxy. Later supplements did more to rebuild his reputation, explaining that the previous Black Crusades weren't attempts to conquer the galaxy, but to achieve certain goals which Abaddon met. The Fall of Cadia event took this even further by having Abbadon blow the whole planet to kingdom come despite the efforts of the Imperium, Eldar, Dark Eldar, and Necrons, with the added detail that the Imperium is effectively broken in half.
    • Perturabo, Primarch of the Iron Warriors. Before the Horus Heresy, the Iron Warriors legion got repeatedly shit on and disrespected, being treated as semi-expendable workhorses and given all the most brutal garrison and siege duties without being recognised for their contributions to the final victory or even really being thanked. When Horus turned traitor, the Iron Warriors followed; they gleefully dismantled the Imperial defences during the Siege of Terra and wrecked much of the Imperial Palace, and then nearly massacred their rivals the Imperial Fists. Now they're one of the most ruthless and terrifying Chaos Space Marine legions in the entire galaxy, valuing nothing beyond their hatred and their means of expressing it. Even Chaos itself is just another weapon in their Industrialized Evil approach to fighting war.
  • In Rifts, the Power Leeches introduced in Psyscape start out tiny and relatively weak, but have unlimited growth potential, frightening if assaulted by a friendly unlimited-ammo Cosmo-Knight or Machine Person.
  • In Nightbane, the Dream Ghouls introduced in Between the Shadows: are weakest of all the dreamthings, but unlike the others, they can receive an upgrade from absorbing PPE and it is not explicitly a 1-time thing, allowing them potentially unlimited upgrades in size and attributes.
  • Out of all the Ancient Ones in Arkham Horror, Azathoth the "Idiot Sultan" could be considered to be the most harmless one, since anything he does while he's still asleep is to make it harder for his cultists to wake him up. The catch is that, when any of the other Ancient Ones wakes up, you get a final chance to stop them via boss fight. But if Azatoth wakes up, you don't get the chance, as he destroys the entire world with his first and only attack.
  • In the Mutants & Masterminds Freedom City setting, there's the Toon Gang. The four of them look and act just like gangsters from a Golden Age of Animation cartoon: they're effectively immortal (anything that kills them only effects them for an instant, for example, a laser would burn them down to a pile of ash with a pair of blinking eyeballs, and then they'd suddenly reform, completely unharmed), they comedically skid on floors when running, and perform other animated tropes. Here's the thing, though: they're in a world that doesn't play by those rules, and they don't realize it. Their idea of "putting a hit" on someone is to drop a cartoon anvil on them, which is still completely lethal. They can't be caught for more than a few minutes at best since they'll escape due to Rule of Funny or via Offscreen Teleportation. And they don't realize that the cartoon bullets from their Tommy Guns will simply kill other people (not that they really understand what death is). Effectively, they're a collection of immortal Reality Warpers with kleptomania and no ability to comprehend the consequences of their actions.

  • In Julius Caesar the conspirators against Caesar consider Marc Antony no threat, saying, "He can do no more than Caesar's arm when Caesar's head is cut off". They're so unafraid of him that Brutus lets him speak at Caesar's funeral! Whatever speech he can make will pale in comparison to the unparalleled generosity of letting him speak at all, right?! Friends, Romans, Countrymen! The audience is privy to a bit of foreshadowing regarding Marc Antony's forthcoming badassness with this line:
    Marc Antony: ...And Caesar's spirit, ranging for revenge, with Ate by his side come hot from hell, shall in these confines with a monarch's voice cry 'Havoc,' and let slip the dogs of war.
  • In Pokémon Live!, Jessie, James, and Meowth are this. Despite their zero-win track record and seeing themselves as incompetent, Jessie and James manage to capture both Pikachu and Ash. Delia also takes their threat very seriously, worrying that they may have hurt Ash and knowing that they answer directly to Giovanni.
  • In Twisted: The Untold Story of a Royal Vizier, Prince Achmed, who only appears briefly in the original film, comes back after being laughed at and treated like a gag to enforce a war between their two kingdoms, proving that, yes, sending a tiger to attack a prince from a powerful and influential nation has consequences.

    Video Games 
  • Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas: While OG Loc at first appears to be an idiot who is ridiculed for their friends, even too harmless to consider him a "villain", this is immediately inverted when he send CJ to commit several atrocities: kidnap and kill Madd Dogg's manager and his girlfriend and killing all the security of Madd Dogg to steal his rhyme book. It gets worse when he becomes famous off of Madd Dogg's stolen lyrics, nearly driving Madd Dogg to suicide!
  • Garland, of the original Final Fantasy I. Wussy first boss of a knight that you'd probably forget about once you reach the final dungeon, where he turns out to be the Big Bad.
  • Borghen in Final Fantasy II comes at the end of a dungeon after a tough boss, having decided that if the Emperor is certainly going to have him killed for his failures, he's going to take the party down with him. That doesn't go so well...until he triggers a boulder trap just before his dies, forcing Josef to make a Heroic Sacrifice to save the others.
  • Final Fantasy VI: Kefka, to a certain extent. Comically-loony jester sidekick of the real villain? Uwa, ha ha. Wrong- he usurps Emperor Gestahl and becomes the god of the world, destroying it.
  • Kefka again in Dissidia Final Fantasy. Due to the way that universe is built up, when a character dies, s/he will simply be resurrected again, though of at expense of the memories of his/her previous life. All through the 13th resurrection circle, Kefka is trying, with the help of the Cloud of Darkness, to get Terra Branford to join their side. Again. See, she actually WAS on their side in the 12th circle, but due to Kefka being neglectful she pulled a High-Heel–Face Turn... So, why does the Cloud of Darkness not call Kefka out on it being his fault? And why does she act like she had never seen Terra before? Well, because during the 12th circle she tipped the heroes off on how to stop the invasion of Manikins, beings that can nullify the resurrection process, and Kefka did not like that... so he killed her. The gibbering Psychopathic Manchild, Kefka, pulled a You Have Failed Me on the Anthropomorphic Personification of the realm of nothingness. note 
    • Moreso than Kefka is Exdeath in Dissidia. Despite bumbling about, there is literally nothing that gets past him in regards to Dissidia's plot. He knows half his team is scheming for their own muses, knows that Golbez is a traitor and knows exactly about previous cycles and what will happen again and again. Gameplay reflects this with his Difficult, but Awesome Turtling and counter-offensive strategies. The only reason he doesn't put up more of an active threat against the heroes is simply that he does not care as all outcomes will lead to what he wants. He considers offing Golbez for his mutiny, but when Cecil makes that more of a hassle, he just drops it.
  • Final Fantasy IX: Remember Zorn and Thorn, the annoying jester twins whose asses you handed to them in Disc 2? They're not twins. The resulting monster spams the more harmful status ailments (Virus and Venom) while also bombarding you with powerful black magic (notably Bio... which also inflicts Poison!), making for a surprisingly challenging - and satisfying - Climax Boss. note 
  • Devil May Cry 3: Dante's Awakening gives us Jester, goofy clown demon who shows up randomly to annoy Dante and give him advice on how to proceed. Then you have to fight him as a boss and that ends up being funny due to Jester's personality, but during The Reveal you find out he's Arkham's Devil Trigger and has been manipulating Dante, Vergil, and Lady in a Evil Plan to open the portal to the demon world, give him the sealed power of Sparda, and generally bring Hell on Earth.
  • Alex of Golden Sun fame is little more of a Smug Snake in the first game, whereas his companions always throw themselves into the thick of combat and are more than willing to risk their lives to achieve their dream of restoring Alchemy to the world. Then the sequel rolls around and in the first five minutes he curb stomps the same elite soldiers that Saturos and Menardi did a game ago before nonchalantly responding to their threat of backup by asking if they thought even a hundred of their soldiers would be enough to stop him. He then reveals true colours as a Magnificent Bastard, employing tactics such as hiring replacements for his old companions in order to intimidate Felix into lighting the remaining beacons. He then (presumably) steals Isaac's ship so he can be there when the Golden Sun forms over Mt. Aleph after all four Elemental Lighthouse beacons are lit so that he can obtain absolute power and Immortality.
  • The King of Fighters '97 has the New Faces Team. At first they appear to be just some punk kids (or whatever kind of band they had) with upbeat attitudes and realistic fighting styles. Supplemental materials suggest that they hate Iori and may have punked the '94 Sports Team, but otherwise they're pretty normal. Then it is revealed that all three of them are villains from the Orochi bloodline, and they display highly powerful elemental abilities in their new forms. And then one of them becomes Orochi himself, and you're suddenly fighting a world-destroying god. A world destroying god who was originally Chris, the Team's Fragile Speedster.
  • Spookys Jumpscare Mansion: Specimen 1 is a cheep, cute looking cardboard cutout that jumps out to harmlessly scare the player. That said, while they have the lowest body count, they have killed people, and they can also halt the player if they’re running from another, more deadly specimen, leading to damage and possibly a death.
  • Handsome Jack, from Borderlands 2, is recognized as being a major threat to Pandora, but for much of the game, he tries (and fails) to kill you and your friends while acting like a dick at every turn. Then his daughter Angel dies, and he goes on to murder Roland and kidnap Lilith. Once he puts his mind to it, he becomes dangerous.
    • Even before this, he reveals himself as more dangerous than expected when he explodes Bloodwing's head after her boss fight and even before that, when the Hyperion-brand energy core you just installed deactivates Sanctuary's defenses.
  • Paper Mario:
    • Jr. Troopa is a baby Koopa fresh from the nest (with most of his egg's shell still on him) and a comic relief Recurring Boss who can actually be a real hassle to beat at many stages of the game.
    • The Koopa Bros., as well, are treated as complete losers but prove formidable in the actual fight with them. That's teamwork for you.
    • Bowser in Paper Mario. Although he's extremely dumb (he'll believe Peach if she tells him Mario hates healing items), he possesses the Star Rod which makes him a god, and he actually manages to defeat Mario at the start of the game.
    • Dimentio in Super Paper Mario seems to be at first a jester-like character, light-hearted and playful. Later, as his true intentions unfold, his true menace becomes apparent.
  • Bowser has a kind of character arc in the Mario and Luigi series where this happens to an even greater scale. He starts off in Superstar Saga as a Harmless Ineffectual Sympathetic Butt-Monkey before becoming a slightly better threat in Partners in Time but still minor compared to the true villains - the Shroobs. In Bowser's Inside Story, he is a Villain Protagonist who, with help from the Mario Bros., is capable of beating Fawful and the Dark Star. Dream Team makes him a true and credible threat after teaming up with Antasma and becomes the true main antagonist and final boss with reality warping powers thanks to a MacGuffin, which sets the stage for Paper Jam where he is the main antagonist (along with his paper counterpart) for the whole game and about as threatening as he is in the main Mario games.
  • The Ensemble Dark Horse of Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga, Fawful, poses very little threat when he fights the heroes at the end of the game, and refers to himself as "Fawful, who is just a toady!" Then, after spending the next game in the series plotting his revenge in the sewers beneath Peach's castle, he returns as the Big Bad of Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.
  • Dino Piranha, the first boss of Super Mario Galaxy, is definitely one of the easiest bosses in the game, but when you run into him in the second-to-last level before fighting Bowser, he's now on fire and therefore much difficult to kill.
  • Gruntilda from Banjo-Kazooie and its sequels tends to come across as rather goofy with her constant rhyming and her funny lines. Even when battling her, she still makes weird, rhyming comments. She also reveals some mean magic skills and a surprisingly good aim. Every battle with Gruntilda is a multi-phase marathon where she will pull out all the stops to defeat you. And, just in case you had any doubts, she kicks off her return in Banjo-Tooie by destroying the grey Jinjos' house, zombifying the king of the Jinjos, destroying Banjo's house, and killing Bottles.
  • Porky from Earthbound. He starts out as Ness's friend, and after he turns, he's still just a harmless nuisance. By the end of the game, though, he's Big Bad Giygas's right-hand-man. There's a reason his theme song for your final battle against him is fan-nicknamed "Porky Means Business!" (the Japanese fan-nickname translates roughly to "Cease to Exist", referring to what Porky wants Ness and his friends to do.) In Mother 3, he's a full-on Big Bad himself. Who manages to take over the world.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • Kingdom Hearts II has Demyx. When he's first seen, he acts like a clumsy coward, running away and stumbling everywhere. His in-game profile even calls him a joke. However, when accused of being a truly emotionless being, he ditches the act. Suddenly he's leaping around all over the battlefield and using his sitar to unleash a huge barrel of watery whoopass on Sora and company. Many players were unpleasantly surprised, to say the least.
    • Kingdom Hearts coded has Pete of all people. Taking full command of the Bug Blox glitches that infest the datascape, he gains a lot of power, going from the incompetent and minor threat he normally is to a genuine and terrifying threat to Data-Sora. For example, he takes full advantage of the fact that Donald and Goofy are going to try and protect Data-Sora and uses that fact to trap the two and nearly kills them as a result.
    • In Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance, Captain Pete of Country of the Musketeers is significantly more competent than his "normal" (and inept) incarnation, nearly succeeding in his coup of Queen Minnie due to his own cunning. He only fails because Sora and Riku show up and help Mickey, Donald, and Goofy.
    • While The Heartless aren't exactly harmless, being creatures that exist As Long as There is Evil and being a world-destroying force in the original game, it's easy to forget that when Sora is literally killing them by the thousands with little trouble. Then comes the Secret Episode of Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep where Aqua is trapped in the Realm of Darkness. Suddenly The Usual Adversaries are actually dangerous, to the point where even Shadows can kill you in a few hits. To drive the point home, the player isn't facing the cute, cartoony Emblem Heartless here; no, you're pitted against Purebloods, the original, far more terrifying variety of Heartless, culminating in a boss fight against a monstrous Animalistic Abomination that's one of the largest Heartless bosses in the series.
    • The Shadow Heartless are normally The Goomba. In 0.2 A Fragmentary Passage we learn what happens when they team up. The Demon Tower is a large number of Shadows combining their power and serves as a competent boss twice. The Final Boss of the storyline is the Demon Tide; an even larger number of Shadows surrounding an orb of dark energy and takes the combined strength of Aqua and Mickey to take down and it still has enough strength to cause one of the cruellest Hope Spots in the series.
      • Kingdom Hearts III takes in further when said Shadow Heartless all proceed to join together into one giant tornado that is too much for even the Guardians of Light to defeat. Or more accurately, said Heartlesses curb-stomps each and every one of the Keyblade wielders (and Donald and Goofy) and have their hearts taken away by the Lich, something that not even all 13 Xehanorts together could ever accomplish.
  • Dragonfable. Nythera starts off as a somewhat bratty and powerless apprentice to Warlic, the greatest mage in the world. She's pretty blatant about wanting Warlic to give her her powers back, and insinuates that she'll take his powers if he doesn't. This is all played for laughs at first. Then she kills Warlic and steals his powers and issues a challenge to all of the Elemental Lords at once, which drives them to attack your town. To add insult to injury, she even thanks you, since she used the potions YOU helped her to make to finish off Warlic. Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!. Later in the quest line, when she faces the Elemental Avatars, the player gets the chance to control her. Her basic attack consists of several hits that do hundreds of damage each. Due to the way the battles work, it's still a Hopeless Boss Fight, but damn.
  • Deathroy from Blue Dragon. What appears to be an annoying sidekick turns out to have been the Big Bad all along. In fact, he's the Big Bad that killed all of the Not-Really-The-Big-Bad's people.
  • Chrono Trigger:
    • Dalton is best known for Breaking the Fourth Wall when inappropriate music is playing, getting sucked into a portal when the Trick Boss he tried to summon fails to appear, and generally being an incompetent ham. Then you meet him in a bonus dungeon in the DS version, where he mentions his plan to build an army in Porre and try to take over Guardia. Nothing to worry about, right? According to the backstory of Chrono Cross, Porre's rebellion succeeds, and the kingdom of Guardia falls.
    • You have the opportunity to fight Ozzie, Flea, and Slash again during an optional side-quest. At this point, you're stronger than Flea or Slash could ever hope to be, while Ozzie, per the norm, does nothing but run away and set ineffectual traps. Then you fight them all together, and they counter any attack with combination techs that range from "nasty" to "devastating." (depending on who you attack) Suddenly, they don't seem so wimpy anymore.
  • Chrono Cross gives you Solt and Peppor. Two bumbling minions that are often weaker than the regular encounters but are often accompanied with a powerful enemy (Karsh and Ketchup). Then they find out that Karsh is possibly Dario's murder and they get serious for once. During this battle they are quite stronger, have combination attacks and use powerful innate boosted elements like Earthquake to wreck your party.
  • Halo has Guilty Spark. Sure, he originally seemed like a rather annoying sidekick in Halo: Combat Evolved, until you realize he was leading you into destroying all life in the galaxy. When Master Chief and Cortana refuse to activate Halo, Spark tells the Sentinels to "Save his head... dispose of the rest.". At the end of Halo 3, after doing little more than float, blabber on, and occasionally send Sentinels to kill whatever, he kills Johnson and actually kicks Master Chief and Arbiter's asses in a case of Cutscene Power to the Max. Sure, he becomes an Anticlimax Boss as soon as you realize Johnson's Spartan Laser to be the tool to end his whining, but until then he was putting down some serious hurt.
  • zOMG!:
    • The beginning introduces Frank. Who's a cute little nerdy boy? You's a cute little nerdy boy, oh yes you are! He's the second-in-command of a group of mad scientists who are destroying the world For Science!.
    • The Fluff enemies. You get used to crushing these guys with minimal effort in the first two areas... and then the Zen Gardens introduces suicidal Cherry Fluffs that gang up on you and then explode for massive damage. Later areas include Fluffs that sink you in quicksand as well.
  • Punch-Out!!:
    • You wouldn't imagine that Glass Joe, the shining example of a Warm-Up Boss, could ever put up a fight. When he returns for a rematch in the Wii game's Title Defense mode, however, he's equipped himself with a helmet that deflects all jabs, and has added a surprisingly effective fake-out punch to his arsenal. As a result, he often ends up defeating players who were able to defeat Mr. Sandman, the Champion and Final Boss.
    • In the NES version, Don Flamenco. The first time you fight him, he's a Breather Boss about as difficult as Glass Joe, standing in place when hit, and showboating with his dances too much to launch an effective offense. The second time you fight him you'll probably be expecting more of the same only for you to land your first punch... and find him dancing around dodging your attacks like crazy. And he doesn't screw around when he attacks anymore, making his offense fast, hard to predict, and giving the player little respite..... oh crap.
    • King Hippo can be this for some players, being a fat stupid looking guy from a Tonga like country called "Hippo Island". He gapes like a hippo and looking at him you'd think he's slow and easy to hit.... he isn't. Remember, hippos are among the most dangerous animals on Earth.
    • Your own cuddly, overweight, chocolate bar chomping manager boxes you in a downloadable spin-off game. Know that Star Punch that lays waste to your foes? This guy invented that move. Granted, he's no villain, but try punching that chocolate bar out of his hand and see how well he takes it.
  • Inverted by Sutekh, the Big Bad of Nightshade, who is revealed at the end to be a dorky weirdo with absurd plans for taking over the city. This is after he was established as a very dangerous and credible threat who had already murdered one superhero offscreen and repeatedly tries to do the same to Nightshade.
  • The Rebel Alliance in Star Wars: Battlefront gets this from the members of the 501st Stormtrooper Legion. A member of the 501st talks about the Rebels, mentioning that the stormies had treated them like disobedient children, but were repaid for their tolerance with treachery on an unimaginable scale. The "treachery" in question was Luke destroying the Death Star, so sympathy for their anger is difficult.
  • Ghostbusters: The Video Game subverts this. Obstructive Bureaucrat Walter Peck is back... but hints start getting dropped partway through that he's actually the Big Bad, and his obnoxious bumbling obstruction is a cover for his nefarious motives. In the end, it turns out he is just an obnoxious Obstructive Bureaucrat, and the real Big Bad is the ghost of Ivo Shandor — and Peck's not even the one who was possessed by him, it was the mayor.
  • Xenogears:
    • Miang is introduced as the unassuming girlfriend of Ramsus. Much later, it is revealed that she is the Big Bad, the human form of the creator "god," and has existed for 10000 years via body surfing. It also doesn't hurt that the battle against her gear is one of the hardest in the game.
    • From the same game: Krelian. He's presented as an antagonist from the beginning, so he's never exactly "harmless," but at first he seems pretty insignificant compared to Grahf, the Gazel Ministry, and Id. Turns out he's a Chessmaster Magnificent Bastard who's been manipulating everyone of consequence for the last five centuries. In the end HE WINS.
  • Pokémon:
    • Team Galactic. Just another goofy Team Evil capable of only doing mainly ineffectual things like hijacking windmills, stealing honey, and trying to beat you at Pokémon matches? Sure, you might think that, until they bomb one of Sinnoh's Sacred Lakes, kidnap all of the sacred sprites, and begin summoning one-to-two Pokémon capable of undoing the world.
    • In the same vein, Team Flare. So they're just fashion-obsessed villains that want to make money by stealing fossils and Pokéballs? Sure, until the part where they try to commit mass genocide via Fantastic Nuke as an utterly insane measure to secure limited resources for all (and by "all" we mean Team Flare). Said nuke is powered by draining the life from and killing thousands of Pokémon and possibly the nearby trainers on Route 10, which is also meant to make the group not only the sole survivors of their global holocaust, but immortal superhumans.
      Team Flare Grunt: Only Team Flare is stayin' alive, stayin' alive.
    • Miror B. The poster boy for Disco Dan in dark and edgy Orre loves dancing with his Ludicolo, more so than his actual job as a Cipher Admin. The same guy who moonwalks around Pyrite Town in mockery of the police, distributes Shadow Pokémon to unsuspecting competitors at the Pyrite Colosseum, orchestrated Rui's kidnapping because she can differentiate Shadow Pokémon from regular Pokémon, and has Mayor Duking wrapped around his finger because he holds the mayor's Plusle hostage. He's the nicest Admin in all of Cipher. In the sequel, he's the proud "owner" of a Shadow Dragonite, probably the strongest Shadow 'mon in the game next to Lugia.
  • Mega Man has several examples:
    • Dr. Doppler of Mega Man X3 evokes this at least when it comes to physical power. Every other scientist ever in the series has hopped behind the controls of a Humongous Mecha to deal with Mega Man, while Doppler just tosses off his lab coat and battles X all by himself. He isn't an easy fight either; Doppler has surprisingly powerful attacks and is bit of a Puzzle Boss as he can regenerate his health if you attack him at the wrong time.
    • Double in Mega Man X4, a rookie Hunter that was assigned to be the title character's Mission Control. Obese, clumsy, incompetent, and not-too-bright, so what's so meaningful about his name? He's Sigma's mole, assigned to throw X off Sigma's tracks, Ax-Crazy, and is capable of annihilating a dozen Hunters on his own.
  • Speaking of, Dr. Wily falls under this. In Mega Man & Bass, one of his creations, King, chopped Proto Man in half. In Mega Man 9, he managed to con the world into thinking Dr. Light was after world domination, getting the good doctor arrested. And in Mega Man 10, if not for Roll, he would've won. And this is just in the Classic series. In the X series, he is responsible for The Virus that causes much of the conflict. Plus, it's hinted that he may still be alive...
  • Touhou:
    • Nazrin is a pathetic Stage 1 mid-boss and boss, with easy to dodge horizontal patterns, but she shows up later as the Stage 5 mid-boss and absolutely murders you with curvy and splitting lasers.
    • Kogasa Tatara shows up as a Stage 2 mid-boss and boss, and proclaims that her main goal is to scare and/or surprise people. Her patterns were also fairly easy to dodge, and people made fun of her when the demo was released; she returns in the full version as the Extra Stage midboss, and with difficult spellcards that make it hard for many to reach the relatively easy Extra Boss with decent resources. Surprise!
    • Cirno was originally she was just a Stage 2 boss, and later a far from notable minor playable character amongst other minor playable characters. Then she got her own story route in Hisoutensoku, pitting her against a Physical God and a Person of Mass Destruction. Then she got her own game in which she manages to put up a decent fight against Marisa, one of the most feared beings in Gensokyo. The strongest fairy is still not a severe threat compared to others, but she has accomplished much.
    • Clownpiece in Legacy of Lunatic Kingdom. Ridiculous name aside, she is a fairy (actually a lampad from Hell, but still), like most of her kind she is a prankster (with a side of insanity), and she wears one of the silliest costumes a Touhou character has ever worn, which is really saying something. She is also a stage 5 boss, which ranks her below only the Final Boss and the Bonus Boss. What's more, she is beyond any doubt one of the hardest stage 5 bosses in the series, with many fans finding her harder to beat than the bosses that come after her, making her the most brutal and infuriating fight in a game that has a nasty Difficulty Spike compared to previous Touhou games in the first place, and by extension one of the hardest bosses in a series already known for its unforgivable Bullet Hell. And her signature power? Driving people insane, possibly violently, with a side order of Power Born of Madness, which is exactly as nasty a combination as it sounds. Well, trying to get through that frustrating boss battle of hers, you'll probably go crazy too.
  • Joshua in The World Ends with You is incredibly hard to fight with, until you get him floating. Then he can shoot very powerful Jesus Beams, and he's actually The Chessmaster for the game.
    • Kariya generally comes off as The Slacker who's highly unmotivated, but he manages to deduce that Joshua is in he game illegally, and becomes a very challenging boss, especially when paired with Uzuki. It's fairly telling that Beat, who's hotheaded and reckless, is nervous about facing Kariya in battle.
  • Shrowdy von Kiefer, villain of A Vampyre Story, is black magic incarnate. This means he has every negative trait you can think of—childishness, selfishness, a complete lack of dignity, an obsession with his mother, a fondness for torture, the capacity to coldly kill someone he claims to be in love with . . .
  • Chocobo's Dungeon 2 has several examples. One is that enemies can actually kill each other to level up and become much stronger. Another is the cute vampire mage kid who dies in one hit from most attacks but can cast a spell that takes you down a whole level. The biggest example, though, is when the weakest enemy in the game gets access to a wish-granting crystal and wishes to become powerful enough to be the bully instead of the bullied, thus becoming the Big Bad.
  • In Saints Row 2, in the beginning Maero, the leader of the Stilwater Brotherhood, sees the Boss as a "washed-up gangbanger" and for this reason offers him/her only 20% of his shipment and by extension, 20% of Stilwater. And after the Boss angrily turns him down, he barely does anything in response, still seeing him/her and the Saints as a nuisance. Then the Boss permanently burns his face with radioactive waste, then s/he kills his girlfriend and has his best friend crippled. After that he devotes all energy to killing the Boss and destroying the Saints.
  • Dr "Eggman" Robotnik plays into this manner in the later Sonic the Hedgehog games. He's even more clownish and bumbling as ever, however his plans are more stable, and manage to take Sonic by surprise a few times. Even his super form gets neutralized by one of the doctor's machines after taking him too lightly. But the moment that really takes the cake was Sonic Forces, where he once again attempted to Take Over the World... and actually succeeded!
  • Father Karras from Thief 2, especially considering your last threat was a god and he has a silly, high-pitched, slurred voice. He can't be too much of a threat, right? Then he sics the entire police force on you, is the head of a major religion that has access to advanced tech for this age (seemingly half of which he invented himself), is a pretty clever Chessmaster, kidnaps people to be turned into mindless robots, and his ultimate plan, if successful, will kill everyone in The City.
  • Suikoden V's Lord Barrows is an over the top Smug Snake and Fat Idiot. Initially, the only threat he seems to pose is that allying with him makes other potential allies reluctant to join you. It later turns out that he's far more devious than he lets on. He masterminded the uprising at Lordlake as part of a power grab, which means that a large part of the game's conflict is his fault. Finally, he comes close to forcing the Prince to ally with a foreign army as part of a plan to betray Falena to that army's country.
  • Alice: Madness Returns's Dr. Bumby. He's set as an mildly antagonistic hypnotherapist apparently dedicated to helping Alice and the other orphans in his care forget their past traumas; apart from being inconsiderate and rude, he doesn't seem to be genuine villain material. Then you learn that he started the fire that killed Alice's family- in order to cover up his rape of Lizzie, Alice's sister. And it doesn't stop there: the hypnotherapy he practises is designed to break down the patients' minds and reduce them to empty shells that can be pimped out to wealthy clients. In Alice's case, he wants to make sure she never remembers the fire or the part he played in it by destroying Wonderland and taking her mind with it; as such, his Wonderland persona is none other than the Dollmaker, the Big Bad behind the Train currently destroying the world.
  • Lord Zur in Guardian Heroes spends most of the game as a Harmless Sissy Villain, except on one ending path where he absorbs Valgar's abilities to morph into Super Zur, giving him new powers and vampire-like wings.
  • If you ask Hayes about the Spathi in Star Control II, he will warn you not to underestimate them. They may be utter cowards, they may be humorous, and they may look silly... but their Eluders are some of the toughest ships in the game and can be very difficult to take down. The Spathi may avoid combat at all costs, but if they're forced into it, they're really good at it.
  • World of Warcraft:
    • Individually, Murlocs aren't much of a threat. They're about two feet tall aquatic humanoids of limited intelligence. However they are rarely found individually. They are usually in large social groups and will come to the defense of one another, and almost always flee at low health; returning with several more. They are extremely deadly at low levels where several quests require killing them. Many a new player has made the mistake of laughing at the little fish man with the incoherent grumbling growling noise. Then that player finds themselves facing a dozen or more and is overwhelmed quickly. Murlocs were finally patched in the Cataclysm expansion to be easier to kill and not summon as much help, but they can still overwhelm an unlucky or unprepared player.
    • Deathwing's attack on Stormwind was probably intended to be this, a way to showcase him as a major threat who could do serious damage to the Alliance and the Horde after the previous expansion's antagonist, the Lich King, was called a Saturday morning cartoon villain by the fanbase one to many times. But this attack happens almost entirely offscreen, is barely mentioned after the fact, didn't kill anyone important, and has never been given any (canon) reasoning as to why he chose Stormwind and only took out the park when he apparently could have leveled the entire city.
  • In Fallout 3, the Capital Wasteland largely considers the Enclave to be a joke, since their only presence outside the borders of their base is a looping radio broadcast of Patriotic Fervor. Most people you talk to assume that the Enclave is either an automated pre-War broadcasting system or some crazy old man in a bunker somewhere. Turns out, not so much...
  • The Scout from Team Fortress 2 seems to have been designed like this. In the previous Team Fortress games, Scouts were a borderline Joke Character, existing to capture the flag and very little else while the other classes do the actual fighting. Team Fortress 2 makes the new Scout's character model even smaller and gives him a big smack-talking mouth. It also gave him the deadliest shotgun in the game as his primary weapon and a speedy double-jump to make him nearly untouchable. Competitive teams adore competent Scouts for being perhaps the deadliest single class in the game.
  • The Leader's Force from Brave Fencer Musashi are played for laughs the moment they enter the scene, with Ben's crippling stupidity, Ed's stuttering which he even writes in his letters, and Topo's Alpha Bitch-ness. Then you face them in The Very Definitely Final Dungeon and they're amongst the most difficult bosses in the game.
  • Undertale
    • Papyrus isn't exactly what one will call a villain, but he repeatedly tries and fails to halt the player's progress with puzzles, and ultimately ends up growing fond of his prey, though this doesn't stop him from ultimately confronting you himself. Said fight starts off almost pathetically easy, with all of his projectiles travelling along the ground and being almost effortless to dodge, and even his secret Blue Attack is easy to get through since his brother Sans tells you how to avoid getting hurt by it beforehand; standing still allows blue attacks to pass through your SOUL harmlessly. Then it turns out that what Sans didn't tell you is that said Blue Attack also causes your soul to be affected by gravity, and now you have to dodge all these ground-based projectiles like your typical platformer, while the patterns get more and more complex and challenging. It is hinted that he is even stronger than that, and if you stop a No Mercy route by sparing him, his dialogue afterwards heavily suggests that his real "special attack" involves the same Gaster Blasters used by the most difficult boss in the game, his brother Sans. And to add more to his hidden badassery, Undyne admits that Papyrus is tough, Flowey admits it took him a while to get bored of Papyrus, and in the True Pacifist Ending, everyone except Papyrus is covered in two vines, with Papyrus being covered in four. Adding all that together...
    • Zigzagged with Undyne, who first appears as an inversion more than anything, going from a genuinely terrifying, threatening and inexorable Black Knight to... basically an over-the-top Hot-Blooded anime character. While not harmless by any means, it's hard to take her seriously after that. However, on a No Mercy route, Undyne will remind you that being basically an anime hero has its perks. Like the obligatory Heroic Second Wind in the face of impossible odds and certain death. Like being able to harness the Toxic Phlebotinum that no one else but the villain can use. Like the Transformation Sequence. Meet Undyne the Undying, the second hardest boss fight in the game.
    • Heavily downplayed with Flowey the Flower, who first appears at the beginning of the game as a friendly flower who wants to teach you around here... and then brings you health down to 1 and says that in this world, it's kill or be killed. Most players would forget about him afterwards... until he appears at the end of the Ruins, judging you for what you've done while playing throughout the game so far. And then, in the Neutral Ending, he kills Asgore, becomes an Eldritch Abomination and the Final Boss. And in the True Pacifist Route, he becomes his true form, Asriel Dreemurr, and turns into a literal God who is so close to defeating you in hopes of gaining control over the entire timeline.
  • Uncharted 4: A Thief's End: Rafe is a Know-Nothing Know-It-All who was competing against the Drake brothers in finding the lost treasure of Henry Avery. Then in the climax, he turns out to be a very good fencer and actually came closer to killing Nate than anyone else in the game.
  • Batman: Arkham Asylum is widely regarded to have turned the Riddler into this after his goofy presence in Batman Forever. Batman: Arkham Origins fulfilled this trope the hardest. Even in the other Arkham games, Nigma is treated as an annoyance, barely tolerated by the rest of Batman's rogue's gallery and always getting humiliated in the end. Origins, however, introduces Enigma, Nigma's alter ego from before he became the Riddler, who's far more composed and competent and who not only gets away in the end, but actually manages to succeed in his master plan of releasing incriminating dirt on the mayor of Gotham.
  • RuneScape: The finale of the Void Knight quest series, widely considered one of the hardest quests in the game, reveals that the mastermind planning to unleash a horde of Eldritch Abominations on Gielinor is none other than Professor Melville Grayzag, a crazy summoner who'd previously been the comic-relief bad guy of the extremely old, extremely easy quest "Imp Catcher." Several players actually managed to call this before The Reveal, owing to the fact that the first quest in the Void series has "Imp Catcher" as a prerequisite despite otherwise having nothing to do with it.
    • In the years and sequel quests since "Defender of Varrock", Zemouregal suffered so much Villain Decay that it's a genuine shock to see him ruling over the ruins of "New" Varrock in "Dimension of Disaster". Even better? Varrock had already been destroyed, and all the townspeople killed, by Delrith, the demon from the tutorial quest "Demon Slayer". One Not-So-Harmless Villain conquered the city from another Not-So-Harmless Villain.
  • Tales of the Abyss has Dist the Reaper. Or Rose as he prefers. He's a Sissy Villain who gets picked on by the Token Evil Teammate Jade, has no respect from even his allies (who see him in-universe as The Scrappy), and generally is just so ridiculous no one takes his seriously. This is mainly because Jade is tormenting him; for all his eccentricities, he's a genius inventor, having made all the fon machines being used by the villains, and ultimately he nearly stops them from being able to save the world from the miasma in the third act by massacring the replicas of the Tower of Rem with a massive fon machine.
  • Mass Effect: A backstory one. In Mass Effect 2, the Patriarch, an old krogan warlord and former ruler of Omega, mentions that when Aria T'Loak first came to Omega, he thought she was just another asari dancer. After crushing multiple organs and breaking many bones, Aria has spent centuries ruling over Omega and reigning as one of the most powerful crimelords in the Terminus Systems.
  • Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance: When Senator Armstrong is first seen, it's assumed that he's a (admittedly huge) bespectacled, suit-wearing politician who is only a danger to Raiden when piloting Metal Gear Excelsus. But once you destroy Excelsus, Armstrong proves to be just as dangerous in hand-to-hand combat as any of his underlingsparticularly when he bulks up and demonstrates other nanomachine-enabled superpowers.
  • A beloved, time-tested tradition of the Dead Rising series is to sideswipe you with dangerous Psychopaths who in no way should be much of a threat. You think Antoine the fat delusional chef, Adam the clown, or "Slappy" the guy in the children's mascot costume aren't dangerous? The clown juggles chainsaws, the chef can restore all his health in about five seconds if you let him, and the children's mascot roller skates around shooting fire at you. They can all take one hell of a beating, they all want you dead, and they will kill you in a matter of seconds if you underestimate them. Of course, as you can dress however you want and wield whatever you want you get to invert this and be a not so harmless hero as well, being the man in a bright pink onesie with a Servbot head armed with a cactus who took all these Psychopaths down and saved the day.
  • "The Stranger" from the opening of God of War (PS4) initially looks like he's just a random drunken asshole with no idea that he's antagonizing a literal god. Kratos knocks him to the ground with a single punch—then the Stranger says "My turn," and delivers an uppercut that sends Kratos flying over his own house. Then the fight is on. Kratos eventually learns that the Stranger is in fact the Norse god Baldur, explaining why he's such a formidable foe.
  • The Book of Unwritten Tales: Munkus at first seems as nothing but a Nerd in Evil's Helmet. However over the course of the series he manages to outsmart the heroes repeatedly due to a combination of being a master of disguise and frequent use of the Batman Gambit, the only reason he loses is because being Genre Savvy is common in this setting.
  • Played with in Hollow Knight with Zote the Mighty, an arrogant Miles Gloriosus hero who keeps getting in trouble and needs to be bailed out by the player. At first he seems utterly harmless, but then you fight him in the Colosseum of Fools...where you confirm that he really is harmless, as his "Life Ender" weapon can't even damage you, and he constantly trips over himself. But then there's an optional Bonus Boss battle against "Grey Prince Zote", a much beefier version of Zote who still bumbles around as he fights, but is far more lethal. Even then, it's not actually Zote you're fighting, but an idealized version of him created by Bretta's subconscious after Zote convinces her that he's every bit the unstoppable hero that he claims to be.
  • The Nyakuza, a Cat Folk Yakuza, in A Hat in Time. Their leader, the Empress, is obviously not someone to trifle with, but the rest of the gang are apparently only nominally gang members; they're mostly found hanging lampshades, discussing food truck and pop culture, and selling Hat Kid new aesthetics. At least, until the Empress puts a bounty on Hat Kid's head. Then they turn out to be vicious fighters, numerous enough to block off escape routes with sheer numbers, and cunning enough to disguise as civilians and only put on their masks when they can corner Hat Kid into a trap she only barely escapes with her life.
  • Old Lorenzo Belli in Haunting Ground, the Big Bad and Mad Alchemist responsible for the events of the game and creating the various other homunculi you had to fight. While not "harmless" considering what he's responsible for, he's also a Dark Lord on Life Support who can't even stand or speak without wheezing or gasping. Not a problem once you've taken out his Mooks, right? While he can't stand he can move, like a spider scurrying on his belly, and faster than you can run. Also if he so much as touches you it's an instant death. Also you can't kill him; blowing him up in an explosion or mauling him into hamburger in a rock grinder only briefly slows him down. Yeah, Fiona better start running her ass off.
  • Guild Wars to Guild Wars 2:
    • In Nightfall Palawa Joko was talked up as being a great threat in the past but his actual behavior and performance left him looking like a buffoon in-game. Between the first game and its sequel, Joko conquered the entirety of Elona, butchered the heroic Sunspears, turned the Ossa royal line into his personal henchmen, and instituted an unnervingly thorough rewriting of history which has brainwashed most of his subjects into slavish devotion.
    • Mad King Thorn's status as The Caligula was well-known in the original game but it was distant enough that it could be overlooked. The sequel throws his insanity into the player's faces, with interviews of people he murdered starting as a ''child' and how his magical power was so great his killers were afraid he'd resurrect himself.

    Visual Novels 
  • Most Ace Attorney villains don't qualify, as they're not revealed as villains until they're past the not-so-harmless point. One exception is the culprit of 3-2, a standard quirky, self-aggrandizing side character who's outed as the Gentleman Thief Mask☆DeMasque within a single trial day (a feat usually reserved for the tutorial). Except this was all planned to give him an alibi for the murder he really committed and pin the blame on the real Mask☆DeMasque.
  • Rider in Fate/stay night spent the first route having even Shirou calling her weak and in the second route she got killed offscreen by a normal, non magus human. Fierce. But then she shows up in HF and starts turning people into stone by looking at them. (Surprise! She's Medusa!) Oh and then she makes a Heel–Face Turn (sort of...) so this overlaps with Let's Get Dangerous!. Her physical capabilities were significantly impaired in the first two routes due to temporarily being in the service of Shinji, who has no magic power of his own and can't reinforce her with mana. When her true master, Sakura, takes her back, her skills SKYROCKET.

    Web Animation 
  • In Deus ex Machina, Patrick is obviously going to be a villain from the moment you see him, but from his nerdy voice and attitude, he doesn't seem very threatening. Then he gets mind raped by the covenant and dons his supersuit before weakening the earth's defenses to the point that the covenant can easily break through and kill us all WHILE killing off Michael, John's only friend, and making every single attempt to save the world meaningless before throwing him into a pit with two berserkers. Even PLAGUE didn't cross the horizon this much.
  • Helluva Boss: Blitzo is a Villain Protagonist variant. Despite him being the head of an assassination company, it's easy to see him as no real threat since he's a kooky, socially inept, borderline-illiterate weirdo who makes some very questionable business decisions. But one underestimates him at their own peril: he's still a crack shot, capable of shocking ruthlessness, and physically skilled enough to casually catch arrows with his eyes closed.
  • Red vs. Blue:
    • Omega from the original series is an unusual example, as the viewer doesn't learn of his Not So Harmless moment until after he's been absorbed by the Meta, taking him permanently out of the picture. Despite being the Big Bad for the show's first five seasons, Omega/O'Malley was always far too cartoonish and hammy to be taken seriously, being more a parody of the Big Bad archetype. Then, at the beginning of Reconstruction, a shell-shocked Red soldier named Walter explained to Command over what went down after the Blues at Valhalla scavenged Tex's crashed pelican (see the ending to the Blood Gulch Chronicles). Walter's rather detailed description of an ominous 'infection' to the Blues and Reds, on top of how the Blues massacred one another, made Omega seem much more threatening as an antagonist than his previous incarnation ever did. And THEN we learn that he and Gamma were put in charge of torturing the Alpha until its mind disintegrated by trapping it in nightmare situations it couldn't escape from, transforming Omega from a Dastardly Whiplash into a genuine monster.
    • The Meta/Agent Maine gets this in Revelation, being reduced to comic relief for most of the series. Then in the climax he fights Tex mostly by himself (Wash helped a little), stabs her in the face with a giant spike and then gets his powers back. At that point, he's back to his usual Knight of Cerebus status.

  • The Order of the Stick:
    • The lich sorcerer Xykon is an extreme example. His humorous dialogue and status as a Card-Carrying Villain along with the fact that he rarely fights directly (in anything but an instant win) lead many people to believe he was much less serious or at least genuinely malevolent than he really is. Then he's pushed into exerting himself... As Redcloak puts it: "I know he seems funny and charming, but believe me, when you see for yourself the depths to which he'll sink, you will never sleep well again."
    • Qarr the imp is a definite case of playing with a trope. The first we saw of Qarr was an ominous red and black speech bubble speaking from just off-panel during a Cliffhanger. Fans went into a flurry of speculation about this mysterious new being, but nobody expected him to be a tiny imp with virtually no power of his own and who isn't even all that bright. However, Qarr's attempts to convince Vaarsuvius into a Deal with the Devil draws the attention of the IFCC, a trio of powerful evil beings bent on creating enough chaos, confusion, and disorder so that they can move ahead with their own attempt to seize The Snarl's Gate. Qarr is now working with them, and as a result after starting out as something of an inversion, Qarr is now much more dangerous than he ever was in his previous position.
    • General Tarquin (Elan's father) initially comes across as an Affably Evil Noble Demon type of villain, combined with the same goofy sense of dramatic conventions we've come to know from Elan. While he can be funny and charming, not unlike Xykon, he is frighteningly competent and not someone you want to piss off.
    • Nale spent almost a decade (in real-world time) as the epitome of a Smug Snake and Big Bad Wannabe whose Complexity Addiction results in every plan he puts into action ending in failure. Then he casually kills the centuries-old vampire cleric Malack, revealing that he'd been waiting for the right opportunity to do so since he was 9 years old... then confesses the whole thing to his father (the Tarquin mentioned above), completely underestimating him and allowing him to pull off one of these himself when he murders his son in cold blood. A "scared old man protecting his rut" indeed.
  • 8-Bit Theater:
    • Black Mage, one of the Villain Protagonist main characters, spends almost all the saga doing nothing but things that are deleterious to himself in his efforts to kill everyone on the planet, starting with his teammates. Thief actually states that he would stop BM if anything BM did would hurt anyone more than himself. And then, towards the end he calmly takes out all 4 fiends (perhaps the most powerful and certainly the evilest creatures on the planet) AND the other 3 members of the Light Warriors (all also ridiculously powerful- a warrior who can block anything and kill anything that bleeds, a ninja who can dodge anything, including ethereal energies, and a mimic who can cast every spell the universe has ever seen) with simple ease. Course, then Sarda appears and reverts everything.
    • Garland is shown to be utterly incompetent as a villain- he simply has no idea how to hurt anyone, and for that matter really doesn't want to. His Dark Warriors consist of a dark elf who would be exceptionally useful if he had his swords (which were stolen by the Light Warriors and which take him almost the entire story to get back), and who is utterly useless without them; a pirate who can't read, write, do anything nautical, or really anything useful; and a goth vampire who is obsessed with roleplaying and spends his time writing poetry. When they tire of his inept leadership, though, we get a sight of the real Garland; he offers to cater the meeting they have about getting rid of him; when Drizz'l, the dark elf, asks him why he would cater a meeting specifically designed to screw him over, he delivers a "The Reason You Suck" Speech stating how useless the other Dark Warriors are, and informs him that all the food is spiked with amnesia peppers and that everyone will forget the whole idea in an hour or so. It was also shown that he could summon giant monsters (although not controlling them) and took part in killing the Yeti the Dark Warrior met.
    • Hilariously averted with the cultists; after their first plan to destroy the universe ends terribly at the hands of the Light Warriors, they come back a few hundred strips later seeming much more competent; they see through Black Mage's disguise like a window, lock of the rest of the Light Warriors, and actually set up the summoning ritual for the monster that will end the universe. It seems like a massive threat to the universe and the Light Warriors. Then Black Mage kills them all with his knives in a few seconds and summons the monster, who immediately dies to Red Mage (by accident, no less).
  • Walkyverse:
    • The Head Alien is a tiny purple guy with a flair for the over-dramatic whose preferred method of torture involves The Sound of Music. And then you find out it's his Evil Plan that's driving the entire strip, and that he's a lot more competent than he seems at first. Remember all those Brainwashed and Crazy friends you had to kill? Yeah, he set that up years in advance.
    • And then there's Galasso, and especially Faz in Shortpacked!!, and possibly the Head Alien again.
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • For most, Dr. Schlock was more or less a good guy, though he would sometimes betray the good guys on account of being a coward. It never mattered much, though, since his one skill (creating inflatable technology) can be neutralized quite easily (by anything with a sharp edge). Then he actually manages a hostile takeover of Hereti Corp, one of the series' main Big Bads, orders the assassination of several FBI agents to cover his tracks, and states, "If we're going to 'take over the world' we're going to do it right."
    • The Dimension of Pain. A bunch of incompetent demons, falling over themselves, scared of bunnies, and used as entertainment when they invade on Halloween, and the whole Meanwhile, in the Dimension of Pain... spinoff. Then, in the That Which Redeems arc, they become serious, powerful villains. They even kill a dimension's Zoe.
  • Emergency Exit: The villains seem quite harmless, more annoying than anything else. Until one of them rips off Karl's face.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic usually portrays Lewie the Lich as a Harmless Villain. When called upon, however, he points out an important fact about liches: no matter how silly they seem, you only get to be one by being very powerful.
  • Dead of Summer:
    • Alan Stone falls under this. While not physically imposing at first, he beats the tar out of a sympathetic character and is revealed to have Sinister Surveillance almost everywhere, which lets him know a lot of secrets. A crossing of the Moral Event Horizon later and it's hard to remember that he seemed wimpy at first.
    • Doug Fetterman and his lackeys fall under this too. His two henchmen don't even get names, all three are portrayed as Large Hams, and you figure they're no match for the good guys... Then they assault Commander with a swarm of insects, fry KILROY'S brain and reformat him into a time bomb, and reveal that Panther is apparently working for them. As Panther kills Dr. Light, ripping out his eyes. And then you realize the extent of Fetterman's plan.
  • Something*Positive: That Crazy Blue Thing. Second comic on this page.
  • Girl Genius:
  • Collar 6: Butterfly is an extreme example of this. She went from simply being a Jerkass in her early appearances to sheer horror in this strip.
  • Monster Lands: Marcus Rila has no fighting skills and his attempts at cheating are entirely ineffective until he manages to push Othera off a cliff.
  • Homestuck:
    • Okay, nobody considered Knife Nut Archagent Jack Noir to be harmless, but then he ascended to Big Bad status, killed off the previous Big Bads, massacred a huge army from both Kingdoms and wrecked two planets.
    • Another example is Troll Racist Eridan Ampora. After spending most of Act Five failing at genocide and wallowing in exaggerated emotional theatrics, he decides that his best chance of survival after everything goes to hell is to side with Jack. When Sollux and Feferi try to stop him, he knocks the first one out and kills the latter. Then, when Kanaya tries to stop him, he destroys the Matriorb, thereby destroying the last hope the trolls as a race had of surviving, then blasts a hole through her stomach.
    • While Eridan had his issues, no one ever suspected that Gamzee, upon becoming sober from his sopor slime, would attempt to kill everyone on the station as a show of his inherent superiority.
    • Courtyard Droll would like to remind you that he's Clubs Deuce's alternate by blowing up Jade to death. His post-scratch self does the same by murdering Jake's dream self in his sleep, although he does feel a little bad about it.
    • And undyingUmbrage. It was easy enough to write off his verbal aggression and death threats as non-serious - Dirk seemed to, after all. It got even easier in one conversation when uu hilariously demanded that Dirk draw porn for him...of people holding hands and reciting poems to one another, uu all the while acting as though normal human romantic behaviour was the most terrible of all weird fetishes, cementing him as a not-so-heroic Comedic Sociopath. And then he kills Calliope's dream self, thereby taking control of their shared body. And he eventually grows up to become the Big Bad Lord English, the most powerful and evil character in the story.
  • Zebra Girl: Lord Incubus. That little skull-headed demon Jack released from the book that wanted to take over the world, only to get flushed down a dimensional portal shaped like a toilet? Yeah, he's back. And he's genuinely frightening this time.
  • In El Goonish Shive, in the eyes of Raven, Abraham became this since initially he's viewed as merely infamous for his stupid and reckless action that resulted in the creation of the Dewitchery Diamond. However, Abraham managed to disarm and knock out Raven, a powerful half-immortal wizard in his own right, came very close to killing Ellen, and given that she's the first time he's baffled by a strange use of his diamond, it's implied he's had to put down many actual monstrous creatures over the centuries.
  • Hell Joe in Tower of God seems like a pretty comical villain — Evil Overlord or not — who spends his time with comic books and television and complains about how bored he is because he can't escape the Floor of Death. When the generally overpowered character Princess Yuri Jahad is asked to kill him, it seems like it would be a Curb-Stomp Battle as soon as she gets to him. Instead, he turns out to be the first character whom she can't beat — he's got a piece of the floor's dead Administrator within him, granting him both extraordinary power and the ability to manipulate the Shinsu around him, limiting others' powers.
  • Sweet Home: Jay's monster form seems easy enough to deal with - just tell him he looks good and he'll walk away. Unfortunately, that need for attention is constant, and so much as running away when his back is turned is enough to set him off, and when he's set off, he unleashes a psychic headache on his victims. Despite trying to get him away peacefully, Hyun is forced to kill him.

    Web Original 
  • Whateley Universe has Hekate. While she has a reputation as someone never to cross, she's not particularly successful most of the time and usually sticks to playing The Dragon to Don Sebastiano. And then it's revealed that the events that led Skybolt and Cavalier to become sex-slaves to the Alphas were her doing, using magic straight out of the Cthulhu Mythos. She came perilously close to making Fey into her mind-slave, and actually killed Jade, who got better. Sebastiano spent most of his career riding off the reputation her magic brought him and looks a lot less competent when the truth comes out. He's a rapist thug, but she's on a whole different level of villainy from him.
  • /tg/'s Drew the Lich, an incompetent, Card-Carrying Villain who can't even get the "villain" part right (his phylactery is a Skeletor figurine). Never forget about the lich part, or this may happen. And don't let him plot against you: "Whoever said I would act Lawfully?" after all!
  • The Big Bad mastermind of Gaia Onlines deicide storyline? Don Kuro, the perpetually five-years-old dark elf mob boss, about whom all we'd known previously was that he likes going to anime conventions (Gaia conventions, even), has an awesome big sister, is a huge Momma's Boy, and owes Devin favors (not that kind).
  • SCP Foundation:
    • Of all the groups that the Foundation has to combat constantly, including a Mad Artist coalition with access to reality-warping, a Mega-Corp that sells ungodly artifacts to the highest bidder, machine-god cultists, and their Unfettered, more violent rival organization, a church that resembles a sillier version of the Church of Happyology crossed with New Age beliefs doesn't sound that bad. But then you get to read about their bible-slash-self-help book, Star Signals, and how an uncontained outbreak of copies of this book brought them closer than any of these other organizations to rewriting the world into an unrecognizable mess, and realize that they're just as dangerous as any of the aforementioned groups.
    • SCP-387 is a bunch of sentient, self-assembling Legos that enjoy being played with and playing with other Legos, and assimilate Lego products added to their toybox. Aside from somehow giving children highly detailed knowledge of WMD construction, they don't harm anyone and were even approved for recreational use by Foundation personnel. One time, someone left a pile of Micro Blok imitation toys in the room... [DATA EXPUNGED] ensued.
      Dr. Arch:' Jesus fucking Christ!
    • SCP-2006 is usually harmless, but efforts need to be made to keep it harmless by convincing it Nightmare Retardant B-movie horrors are the epitome of scary, so those are the forms it will try when scaring people; terrifying others as an apparent prank is all it ever wants to do. The site director remarks it should never progress to not-so-harmless stage because they have no idea what its upper limits for shapeshifting power are, or if it even has them, and to make sure that doesn't happen it must be kept ignorant of what truly terrifies humans. And in one tale, it proves it's aware of at least one of those things (the possibility the Foundation itself is the one being fooled into thinking it, and other objects, are genuinely contained) and genuinely terrifies a high-ranking doctor to the point of panic; it found it just as funny as its usual "scares".
  • Stellar Ranger Dark Star Series Three: Initially, Dr. Lament seems to be less a real villain and more an actor (poorly) playing one. Their haunted house is built up to be Nightmare Retardant invoked in-universe, with an amateurish, barebones website, a Cliché Storm of a spooky backstory, and a dramatic voiceover by Lament that is simultaneously high-pitched and monotone, as if Lament themself was uninterested. The rangers go visit the house so they can laugh at it. Then Lament traps them inside and reveals thier knowledge of the Penumbra, sends traps and minions to kill them, reveals themselves to be an agent of Despair, and later is able to coerce Destiny into making a deal to save her life.

    Web Videos 
  • Act III of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, when the titular Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain takes off the kid gloves and decides to Murder the Hypotenuse in response to Captain Hammer's merciless taunting over the theft of his would-be girlfriend Penny. Subverted when, even with all the provocation in the world and his Arch-Enemy helpless before him, he can't bring himself to pull the trigger. Double Subversion when Hammer turns the tables and the malfunctioning Death Ray explodes, handing Dr. Horrible the victory anyway.
  • The Nostalgia Critic
    • The Nostalgia Critic is a pathetic, miserable, useless waste of space... but he rigged Kickassia with dynamite just in case anyone wanted to take his finally-gained power away.
    • For all his hamminess, getting easily trashed in a fight, and inability to spell his own name, Terl from To Boldly Flee counts as this. Most of his plans (imprisoning the Critic in his house, kidnapping Cinema Snob so the Executor can turn him to the dark side, and duping the crew into disabling their weapons) actually work, and he would have finished them off for good in the finale if not for Linkara's Big Damn Heroes moment. And even though it didn't technically work the way he wanted, he's managed to survive (through clones) longer than the Critic's, uh, mortal existence, so technically he's achieved his goal.
  • Cancrelax from France Five is a simpering little toady who's only dangerous because he makes a destroyed monster big. Then in the fifth episode, he changes into a buff form and lets the heroes see those claws of his aren't just for show.
  • In the Hat Films Grand Theft Auto V series, Ross designs a course named "Mil-Truck Massacre". The premise is relatively simple- steal a military truck, escape the three-star security (which is not that difficult, for reference) and drive the truck back to an extraction point. As it turns out, the cops, who are armed with just handguns and not well armoured, might individually be useless, but Ross has their respawn rates set so high that they are essentially able to Zerg Rush anyone in the truck and kill them instantly. This forces the trio to angrily ally with one another as they get increasingly frustrated, yet they still fail.
  • When Vanilla Ice is first seen in Vaguely Recalling JoJo, he's doing a goofy pose in a spirit picture with DIO. During Joseph's scrying in episode 7 of Jotaro's Journey, he is struggling with a card game. When the heroes explore DIO's mansion, Vanilla Ice kills Avdol and Iggy in cold blood.

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time:
    • The Earl of Lemongrab initially appears to be an annoying, harmless jerk. The second time he appears, however, he's deliberately torturing people with weapons including a sword that shoots sonic blasts, and an electrical torture chamber. However, it's hard to tell whether he's genuinely evil, or just COMPLETELY BATSHIT CRAZY.
    • The Ice King is usually played as a demented old fool, but being a tall order comedic sociopath, he is dangerous at times. In one instance, he manages to overpower Finn and is about to make the final blow, but then remembers he didn't visit him to fight and holds off. He also proved useful under benevolent purposes, helping Finn defeat the Lich. The most overt example of this in the series happens in "Princess Monster Wife", in which in his first major appearance after "Holly Jolly Secrets" revealed his tragic past and made the audience feel sorry for him, he chopped bits off several princesses to make himself a wife. "Finn the Human" showed that his crown is powerful enough to freeze the planet for centuries on end and it would overpower a normal person's mind into doing just that in a matter of minutes. The only reason the Ice King remains mostly harmless is a tiny remnant of his original personality is still resisting it.
  • Dr. Robotnik of Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog is largely considered far more incompetent than most other incarnations of the doctor, however, he has been shown to be pretty clever several times over and many of his inventions, as goofy as they are, are very elaborate or at least work as he intended. In particular, the last few episodes of the series revolved around a Time Travel plot where Robotnik and Sonic were trying to collect the Chaos Emeralds. Seeing as this is Sonic we're talking about, Robotnik always proved too slow and didn't manage to get a single Emerald ... until the very last one. And then with that one he managed to collect the rest in a single episode and nearly destroyed Sonic and friends.
  • Adventures of the Gummi Bears: Duke Igthorn is as much as Large Ham as any other Disney villain, and as typically successful as any other Saturday morning cartoon villain. However, several times over the course of the series he's truly endangered Dunwyn through his schemes, and in the series finale actually conquers the kingdom, losing at the end of the finale notwithstanding. It's also clear that if it hadn't been for the Gummi Bears, he would have taken over Dunwin a long time ago. Even if most people now believe that the Gummi Bears only are fairy-tale characters, they remain a threat to Duke Igthorn, that the king's knights only can dream of being. And there's also one episode, where he uses the Gummiscope to blow up a tower and nearly kill Princess Calla (she was even unconscious for a while). So yes, Duke Igthorn sure had his dangerous moments.
    • There is also the fact that his minions are for the most part a bunch of Ogres three times his size and could probably crush him like a gnat if they so wished. NONE OF THEM dare to betray their master. What kind of normal human can pull off that sort of feat?
  • Aladdin: The Series:
    • Abis Mal is mostly by far the least threatening of Aladdin's Rogues Gallery, but there are times when he's managed to not only get the upper hand, but come dangerously close to winning. In "Forget Me Lots" he took advantage of Jasmine's amnesia in order to brainwash her into a fanatically loyal, nigh-unstoppable One Woman Army. "Some Enchanted Genie" had him in control of a genie. He wished that she'd crush them like bugs, but when pointed out she can't kill, he instead wished for them to be turned into bugs, so he could do the crushing. Someone else had to wish he didn't wish that.
    • There's also Mechanicles. Like Abis Mal, his one episode, "I Never Mechanism I Didn't Like", where he's a major threat involves brainwashing. Unlike Abis Mal, however, he doesn't brainwash just Jasmine, but everyone in Agrabah except Aladdin and Genie.
  • In his first several appearances, Barry from Archer is an antagonist, but a fairly harmless one (Archer beats the bejeezus out of him in at least half of their encounters). Then the KGB gets ahold of him, and suddenly he's a lot less easy to mess with.
  • The Amazing World of Gumball turned minor character Rob into a villain towards the end of Season 3. He begins his first villainous outing in Season 4's "The Nemesis" where his attempts to get revenge on Gumball and Darwin backfire on him Wile E. Coyote-style and aren't even noticed until the brothers take pity on him and try to build up his confidence and make him a bigger threat. So he resolves to blow up the town dam only to find out it doesn't have one. Then things get more serious with his surprise appearance in "The Bus", in which, through manipulating others, he secretly masterminds the theft of a million dollars which results in a high-speed police chase, a legitimate bomb scare aboard a packed school bus, and a fight with Gumball atop an airplane wing. And he almost gets away with it! And if that wasn't enough, come “The Disaster” and “The Rerun”, he learns he exists within a TV show and concludes that Gumball's existence as the main character is why he has become an arbitrary villain. So he drops most of the clichés forced upon him and becomes hell-bent on destroying Gumball's life, breaking up his family and banishing him to the Void with a reality-changing TV remote. Were it not for a literal Reset Button and a change of heart after Gumball tries to Save the Villain, he would have succeeded. "The Ex" and "The Spinoffs" are much more lighthearted, although the latter has some sinister undertones as he attempts another Hostile Show Takeover. Towards the end of the show, Rob learns the show is about to end after kidnapping Banana Barbara and becomes something of a Byronic Hero, who attempts to save everyone from disaster by turning them into humans and escaping Elmore. Yet his methods and failure to properly warn everyone lead others to resist him, leaving the Void to swallow up Elmore at the end of the series.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra:
    • Xin Fu and Master Yu, the two goons hired to bring Toph back for her parents, seem harmless and not very intelligent at first, but are shown to be relatively competent earthbenders if given their chance to shine, and did in fact even manage to briefly capture their quarry at one point... until she invents Metalbending just in the nick of time to kick their asses all by herself.
    • Princess Azula was this to Long Feng specifically. When they decided to partner up to pull off a coup to bring down Ba Sing Se, Azula deliberately makes him think that she is a somewhat intelligent young girl who is way over her head. When he decides to betray her, as she knew he would, she turns his own men against him and reveals to him just how cunning and ruthless she really is.
    • Korra has the titular character's cousins Desna and Eska, who at first seem to be nothing more than Creepy Twins used for comic relief. Then comes "The Peacekeepers", where they both fight Korra to a standstill and may have even beaten her if not for a dark spirit intervening. They continue to be big threats for the rest of the season until their Heel–Face Turn.
    • In season 3 of Korra, the Earth Queen mistakes Zaheer and his crew for run of the mill bounty hunters. She couldn't be further from the truth as they are a group of benders with elite powers (P'li is a combustion bender, Ming-hua has deadly Combat Tentacles with waterbending, and Ghazan is a lava bender) who are ruthless Bomb-Throwing Anarchists. They absolutely curb stomp the Dai Li. She pays for it with her life as Zaheer makes quick work out of her by suffocating her with his bending.
    • In season 4 there is Baatar Jr. Throughout the season he is portrayed as someone being manipulated by Big Bad Kuvira, because of his resentment of his family. Otherwise, he is a harmless number two who is on his way to being Kuvira's Henpecked Husband. Then we find out not only was he not being manipulated, but many of the Earth Empire's advancements were more his idea than Kuvira's. She used her charisma as the Great Uniter and her muscle as an expert metal bender to make them a reality. And he turns out to be the general of their army's war mechs divison and puts up a strong fight against the heroes, so much so that Toph ends up interfering and saving them.
  • Ben 10:
    • Dr Animo is a stereotypical Mad Scientist mostly considered a joke (though he was Ben's third most dangerous enemy in the original series, but considering the ones before him were Vilgax and Kevin 11, that makes him the least impressive of the three). In the Alien Force episode "Voided", however, ended up in the Null Void where he became a ruthless dictator by controlling the giant aliens that guard the dimension, and almost created a portal to invade Earth. He does however returns to being a joke once he is sent back to Earth.
    • The Forever Knights, while creepy and threatening in the Original Series and earlier Alien Force episodes, were gradually turned into a joke over the course of Alien Force and Ultimate Alien. It got to the point that, in one episode, Gwen (who is usually the Only Sane Woman of the group) considered Ben supporting his girlfriend in a tennis match as a bigger priority over preventing their latest wold domination scheme. Comes season 2 of Ultimate Alien, their original leader Sir George comes back, ends their Enemy Civil War and turns them into a much more competent group with high-tech weapons that actually succeed in killing a recurring character.
    • Vilgax's sidekick Psyphon was passive for most of his screen time, usually contenting himself with being a messenger, advisor, scientist and lackey. After Vilgax is apparently killed in the finale of Alien Force, he goes on a Avenging the Villain moment against Ben. Turns out he is skilled enough to handle Ultimate Spider-Monkey in a hand-to-hand fight. Omniverse takes it even further by giving him a more threatening appearance, a gang of underground alien criminals, and making him a near match for Ben and Rook. Of course, being Omniverse, he is gradually turned into a bigger joke than he ever was to begin with as the shows goes on.
    • Minor villain Ssserpent was first introduced as a Smug Snake (literally) villain who got curb stompd by Ben in his first two appearances. When he shows up for the third time, he turns out to have learned from his previous defeats, and proves smart enough to anticipate which form Ben is about to use and set a trap instead of fighting him directly. He almost succeeds in killing off Ben.
    • Malware, big time. The guy is first introduced at the beginning of Ben 10: Omniverse, where he is quickly sent to retreat by Ben in the Batman Cold Open. We then get a Whole Episode Flashback that reveals his origin, including the fact that he murdered people of his own kind to feed himself, but still seems to have him stick as a minor villain. And THEN Of Predator And Prey reveals that he was the Big Bad all along and the one who hired Khyber; the reason he was defeated so easily at the beginning of the show was because he already got what he wanted in the fight and just needed to leave. Hell, when Ben encounters him for the first time in five years in Malefactor, he's genuinely frightened by him (because he literally ripped his favorite alien Feedback out of the Omnitrix), putting him into an Heroic BSoD, a task few villains in the franchise have succeeded in.
    • The Incurseans were introduced in Alien Force as rather generic alien invaders with a frog-like appearance, who appeared almost exclusively for comedy (with their first episode being the only exception). In season 3 of Omniverse, they are promoted to Big Bad level baddies, and actually manage to take over Earth through sheer military brute force for a short time. Ben almost loses it when he realizes he is losing to what he always considered C-List villains.
  • Codename: Kids Next Door:
    • At first, Gramma Stuffum seemed like a goofy recurring villain (even if still a threat). Then came "Operation: F.O.O.D.F.I.T.E.", which was basically just one big epic fight between her and Sector V to the music of GWAR songs.
    • Among the Rogues Gallery of the KND, Toiletnator is THE most pathetic villain and The Friend Nobody Likes. However, he has shown that he can be a scarily competent fighter if he tries: in one episode he alone defeated five other villains (Mr. Boss, Crazy Cat Lady, Fibb and Wink and Knightbrace) who had taken over the Sector V Treehouse (because he somehow thought five adults were Sector V).
  • Danny Phantom: The Box Ghost was a minor incompetent villain, only posing a serious threat to Danny when he was first starting out. He was so pathetic that Skulker used him for bait. He continues to be this for the rest of the series, except for one episode where he managed to steal Pandora's Box, allowing him to release the world's worst evils while at the same time being filled with the Box's energy. To say nothing of his Future Badass-self in The Ultimate Enemy alternate timeline.
    The Box Ghost: Beware.
  • Darkwing Duck:
    • While Darkwing's no-nonsense, death-penalty toting Knight Templar future self of Darkwarrior Duck will never be mistaken for harmless, there is a brief point where this is invoked. In a scene cut from the broadcast version, Gosalyn attempts to appeal to Darkwarrior when he pulls his signature, and decidedly non-lethal, gas gun on her. She calls his bluff when he reveals that he hasn't used a gas gun in years and that the weapon he's aiming point-blank, at her face is a freaking missile launcher.
    • Among the goons of the infamous Taurus Bulba none contrasted more with their leader's seriously intimidating style than the Bumbling Henchmen Duo Hoof and Mouth who made even Hammerhead look like a no-nonsense gangster. Despite supposedly providing the muscle they actually only provided comic relief by their gormless goofing off. This goofing off however apparently went horribly wrong offscreen as it turns out that they were the ones who murdered Gosalyn's grandfather, Professor Waddlemeyer because they didn't understand Bulba's orders to keep him alive at least until they could get the doomsday machine's operating code. This casts their buffoonery under a darker light.
  • DC Animated Universe:
    • When the first cross-over between Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series started, Batman fought Lex and won quite effortlessly when Superman thought he couldn't handle him. And then Superman, who had absolutely dismissed The Joker as goofy-looking nobody, is then nearly defeated by the psycho (and he nearly kills Lois Lane and a few hundred other people while pinning Superman down).
    • From an evil point of view, Lex has dismissed Joker himself because he can't handle his 'mere mortal' in Gotham. By the end the Joker completely outdoes him, nearly destroying everything he loves and nearly killing him.
    • Joker's silly, manic, love-struck sidekick Harley Quinn actually managed to defeat Batman. She would have actually murdered him, if not for the timely intervention of the Joker, himself.
    • In Justice League John Dee/Dr. Destiny went from sadsack prison inmate to dream-invading psychopath very quickly, though the clear impression is given that he was always that person. After he escaped from prison, Green Lantern wasn't at all concerned because Dee was "a nobody". Batman then reminds him the Cyclops considered Odysseus "a nobody" and lost its eye. The second version of Dee was probably inspired by his really, really creepy, almost squicky depiction in the first run of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. He also shows elements in this incarnation, where he starts out an atrophied, behind the times insomniac whose carjacking attempt only succeeded because the victim was being nice. Then he killed the driver (after patiently listening to her life story), recovered his Artifact of Doom, and drove the entire world mad.
  • Dora the Explorer: Though not shown often from the present day one, Swiper the Fox, of all people, sometimes has shades of this. His Bad Future self reveals the only reason Dora can stop him is he's just polite enough to listen to her "Swiper no swiping" trick. When he ended up on the Naughty List on Christmas, he stops listening at all. The result is he becomes so successful and steals so much stuff the future Dora angrily tells the present Swiper there's nothing left to swipe and he's single-handedly ruined everyone's Christmas since that day. Then when the past Swiper tries the "Swiper no swiping" trick on his future self, future Swiper simply laughs at him and says it doesn't work anymore before stealing said item anyway. Good thing Swiper is polite, huh?
    • In some other episodes, Swiper might also try harder than usual to swipe something (as in one episode where he jumped Dora and friends just before they could finish the third "No swiping" command and swiped three items as opposed to just one, or in "Boots' Special Day", where Swiper attempts to be more sneaky than usual by changing where he’ll come from to throw Dora off), or he might try more than once per episode (as in one of the Easter episodes, where he came back at the end in an eggshell for another go).
  • The Dreamstone:
    • The Urpneys are blundering idiots who even the heroes described as being "tiresome". However, despite their haplessness, they did on several occasions managed to outsmart or capture the heroes and actually succeeded in bringing the Dreamstone to Zordrak multiple times over. It was merely stopping the heroes from stealing it back they had problems with. In some cases the heroes are left genuinely outmatched until dumb luck intervenes. "The Spidermobile" is a defining example; Sgt. Blob and his men decimate the entire Land of Dreams in Urpgor's new (literal) Spider Tank and take the stone with ease. They even remain undefeated, it is Zordrak that ends up losing it to the heroes.
    • While not really a Harmless Villain himself, Zordrak's intents originally seemed to be little more than keeping the Dreamstone away from the Noops so he could spread nightmares, making the war between the two sides for a rather mundane cause. In "A Day Out" he reveals a new motive; to corrupt the stone's power to use as his own and become "LORD OF THE UNIVERSE!!!", making the stakes from the Urpneys trying to steal it for him a lot higher for the Noops.
  • DuckTales (2017) introduced Mark Beaks, a social media-obsessed billionaire to be a foil for Scrooge, he was mostly harmless in his subsequent appearances (in one episode, he went to Scrooge's manor and hacked the security... simply so he could find embarrassing photos of Scrooge to post online). Who is Gizmoduck? showed him as a liar and thief who put a Restraining Bolt on Gizmoduck, forces him to help only the people who have his app, and eventually steals the armor and announces his intention to be the one who decides who is saved or not.
  • Denzel Crocker from The Fairly OddParents is probably the most incompetent villain on the show, but he does successfully manage to take over the world and capture Cosmo and Wanda in Abra Catastrophe, and manages to put the Fairy World in disarray in the first installment of The Jimmy Timmy Power Hour.
  • Stan, Xander Crews' aging, overweight, and constantly exasperated assistant on Frisky Dingo. After Xander went missing, he had him declared dead (calmly explaining such when Crews called him before hanging up and laughing), took over the Crews corporation and, with it, the Crews fortune and Xander's identity as the superhero Awesome X, and his command over the Powered Armor wearing X-Tacles.
  • Gargoyles' Owen Burnett at first merely seems like an uptight man Friday for David Xanatos— but not only does he quickly prove to be an extremely competent badass in his own right, he is in fact Puck, an immortal trickster with vast magical powers.
  • Cobra Commander may seem like a complete idiot, but remember that he is a notorious international terrorist with an army at his side. If not for the GI Joe team, he likely would have won in the first episode. This is lampshaded in the Darker and Edgier G.I. Joe: Resolute in which he explains that he only acted stupidly and cowardly so that his troops will know how not to behave.
  • Li'l Gideon Gleeful in Gravity Falls seems like just a fraudster who thinks he's entitled to have Mabel, but he quickly turns dangerous when he thinks Dipper is trying to interfere in their relationship. It's also revealed he has a journal like Dipper's, and knows about a secret at the Mystery Shack.
  • Invader Zim has Zim become this in the film Enter the Florpus. More often than not in the show and comics, his schemes are thwarted not by his arch-nemesis Dib or his cloudcuckoolander robot sidekick, but his own ego and Genius Ditz personality. In the film, Gaz, the only human character other than her brother Dib to know that Zim is an evil alien, is even in the middle of pointing out that Zim's plans always fail when the villain protagonist successfully teleports Earth into the path of the Irken Armada, throwing the populace into chaos and successfully conquering the planet.
  • As with any portrayal of King John of England, Ivanhoe: The King's Knight features the then prince as seemingly harmless only to show himself to be able to use a sword with deadly skill.
  • Lucius on Jimmy Two-Shoes is usually the poster boy for The Devil Is a Loser. However, according to Word of God, he has powers that can allow him to remake the planet to his will! The sole reason he doesn't is that he wants to prove to everyone he doesn't need to.
  • Olaf from Kaeloo wishes to Take Over the World and cover it with ice, but he never scares anybody or does anything that actually harms them, so they just make fun of him. At least, until the season 2 finale, where he kidnaps Quack Quack to use his powers to power up a machine that created snow, and freezes Kaeloo and Mr. Cat alive and puts them in People Jars.
  • Kim Possible:
    • Dr. Drakken is a buffoon and a classic Harmless Villain most of the time, but most of his schemes nearly work aside from some fatal flaw that destroys them. Kim Possible Movie: So the Drama saw him succeed on a grander scale, and showed how dangerous he can be when he finally learns from his past mistakes. In the second finale, he underwent a plant mutation that at first made it look like he was turning into a monster, giving him powerful, destructive vines that he used to crush the alien walkers, earning him his very first victory.
    • Shego is mostly the muscle who fights Kim and is too lazy to actually take over the world herself, but in A Sitch in Time she comes up with and pulls off a successful plan to take over the world.
  • Looney Tunes:
    • Elmer Fudd is a real dunce and less a villain than a mere punching bag for Bugs Bunny, whom he invariably hunts. And then came one of the most epic Looney Tunes cartoons ever, What's Opera, Doc?, where Elmer shows Bugs how "harmless" he really is… Elmer stands as the only villain to actually defeat Bugs in the classic shorts, and more than once. He gets an arguably even more awesome victory in "Rabbit Rampage", when he somehow manages to become the cartoonist and uses this power to spend the entire short tormenting Bugs (the same thing Bugs did to Daffy in an earlier, more famous short.)
    • Perhaps the series' oddest move was evolving Daffy Duck into one for Speedy Gonzales. Similar to the above examples, Daffy was still rather bumbling and comical, however he was often portrayed as Speedy's most competent foe compared to the rest of his completely ineffective Rogues Gallery, often putting Speedy and his friends in much more dire circumstances (e.g. enslaving them or depriving them of water) and downplaying the former's Comically Invincible Hero streak.
  • Zet from Magi-Nation. Seeming at first to be a Harmless Villain as part of a Bumbling Henchmen Duo (and the eternal Butt-Monkey of his Dumb Muscle superior Korg), Zet turned out to be not only a peerless mastermind once he was finally rid of Korg, but is universally considered the hardest boss in the game, having more health than the final boss himself and the ability to act twice in one turn.
  • Metalocalypse:
    • Charles Foster Ofdensen goes 19 episodes before anyone even says his name; he's the annoying, nasal-voiced nerd lawyer who serves as a voice of reason to the otherwise stupid and possibly insane metal band. And then we find out that he's actually been a badass all along, and the villains of the series consider him a bigger obstacle in the way of Dethklok's destruction than Dethklok itself. He seems to actively hide his ruthlessness from Dethklok, and has been known on at least three occasions to lie to them about what he does to people who threaten them, or his own position with the band. In one of the season 2 deleted scenes he's seen him telling the boys what happened to potential management usurper Melmord Fjordslorn: "Turns out he was a pedophile. What a weirdo." The truth? Ofdensen fought him to the death for the right to manage the band and won.
    • Dr. Rockso, the Rock 'n Roll Clown. He does cocaine. No, really. The overweight, coked-up clown dressed in not nearly enough fabric with a brightly colored wig and facepaint is a dangerous, dangerous man willing to do whatever it takes to get just a little more of that sweet blow.
  • Killgore of My Life as a Teenage Robot gets this treatment. He wants to get credibility as a villain, but since he's just a living windup toy and considered cute by many, no one can really take him seriously. However, when push comes to shove, he's capable of accomplishing anything, including rebuilding Armageddroid, a rogue Humongous Mecha created by Dr. Wakeman that nearly killed Jenny in their first battle, to prove he's a legitimate threat.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
  • Lord Boxman of OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes is regarded by hero and villain alike as a bumbling robot-maker due to his obsession with, and failure to, destroy Lakewood Plaza Turbo. However, in "We're Captured!" after K.O., Enid, and Rad ruin his dinner with Professor Venomous, Boxman flies into an Unstoppable Rage, jury-rigs a BFG and sends the Power Trio packing. In "Villains Night Out", he gate-crashes a private event run by other villains and makes a total fool of himself, and his antics get the villains' cruise ship sunk. He then reveals to Venomous that he's fully aware how little the other baddies think of him, but wanted to make it clear that he doesn't care, and that he'll do whatever he wants. This actually impresses Venomous enough to support Boxman's creation of Boxman Junior, a super bio-robot so powerful that K.O. actually had to work with T.K.O to defeat.
  • Phineas and Ferb shows that Doofenshmirtz can be scarily dangerous at times. "Remains of the Platypus" shows that if given the time to actually focus, he could develop a truly dangerous inator, like that episode's Vaporizinator. Phineas and Ferb the Movie: Across the 2nd Dimension has an Alternate Universe version of Doofenshmirtz who is way more evil and dangerous.
  • The Powerpuff Girls:
    • Mojo Jojo often appears harmless due to the Powerpuff Girls overpowering him, but in reality, he's done a lot of things that prove he's competent and not a joke. Such things would include Mass Murder, slandering, turning the whole world into dogs and creating a supervillain ape army, but he also defeated a Giant Overlord that not even the Girls stood a chance against. And he has actually defeated the Girls.
    • The Gangrene Gang tends to be a Goldfish Poop Gang most of the time, although some stories make them actual threats at least for a while. In one story, they gain superpowers and "turn Townsville topsy-turvy" until the powers wear off. In another, they start committing clever robberies under Sedusa's tutoring. Unfortunately for Sedusa, they sell her out once she tosses them aside.
    • The Amoeba Boys are always the Butt Monkeys of the show, only doing minor crimes that don't make sense at all; yet the fact that they are living germs can make them one of the biggest threats of the show when they don't actually mean to be. Their worst act was that they caught a cold after staying up all night standing in front of a "Keep Off The Grass" sign which got mixed with their DNA and created a virus that spreads infecting all of Townsville to near-death. The Girlsnote  were forced to find the Amoeba Boys and bring them to the lab to have the cure extracted. They also split themselves into an army after being inspired from a peeled orange they took and raided the army to steal more oranges which caused everyone in Townsville to have scurvy.
  • The Wartime Cartoon series Private Snafu depicts soldiers of the Axis Powers in more or less the comedic and stereotypical light you'd expect. There's one important difference, however: they're generally portrayed as competent and legitimately dangerous adversaries, and some episodes end with them killing the title character note . For example, in "Fighting Tools" a German soldier openly mocks Snafu's poor care of his weapons and winds up the victor since his equipment works. There's a simple reason for this: the series was aimed at a military audience rather than a civilian one, meaning they wanted to hammer home that the enemy was a real, very credible threat and not to be taken lightly or underestimated.
  • Blokk in Shadow Raiders, a brute-force driven dimwit who extremely quickly suffers Villain Decay and hardly seems a big deal. But then Planet Rock redeploys its main weapons somewhere else, and Blokk leads a hideously destructive attack and kills the planet's ruler in one-on-one combat. And when the small kids of the show defeat him again, he finally snaps and spends the last episode on a vicious killing spree that nearly wipes out the planet.
  • Cute, lazy, and more than a little bit childish, She-Ra: Princess of Power's Imp may seem like little more than the Big Bad's pet, but he's a highly competent spy and a very creative mischief maker who has caused plenty of trouble for the Rebellion.
  • The Simpsons: The first time Sideshow Bob went to jail, it was simply for framing Krusty the Klown for robbery. In most of his major appearances afterwards, he plans to murder people (usually Bart Simpson, after the first two times he got Bob arrested).
  • South Park:
    • Eric Cartman. Most of the time, he's just a fat, racist bully, but he's fed a teenager his own parents in the form of chili, nearly started a second holocaust and controlled Cthulhu to destroy all who he hates.
    • Sheila Broflovski. Her moral crusades were usually Played for Laughs, but in The Movie she singlehandedly starts a literal war with Canada, initiates a Canadian Holocaust and (indirectly) causes the apocalypse.
    • Herbert Garrison. When first elected into office it seems that people were simply overreacting over how horrible he would be as president with the only things he had done was get rid of six immigrants and not complete the wall he promised. Later on however, its been revealed that he's been raping foreign diplomats and his own staff to death. And that's not even getting to the fact that he also nuked Canada, killing millions of people there.
    • Then we have Heidi Turner who ends up dating Cartman and becomes effectively a female clone of him. The difference is, of course, that Heidi was always a much more intelligent person than Cartman:
      Heidi: The point is, if the school administration doesn't cancel the science fair, I will see to it they are all fired for discrimination!
      Mr. Mackey: She's kind of like Cartman, but with the ability to follow through.
      P.C. Principal: Oh, dude. Bro...
  • Spawn: This especially comes up in the Animated Adaptation, when Spawn dismisses and threatens the seemingly harmless Clown one time too many. Clown smirks and says "you don't know who you're dealing with... but it's time you found out," and proceeds to change into his true, One-Winged Angel form to give Spawn the Curb-Stomp Battle of his life, all while lecturing him on his role in the coming apocalypse.
  • The season 1 finale of Star Trek: Lower Decks reveals that the "walking joke" Pakleds have suddenly become a threat thanks to Starfleet ignoring them for too long. How much of a threat? Their first appearance in the episode results in the destruction of an entire starship with all hands lost. Also dangerous enough to require a Heroic Sacrifice from a main character to stop them.
  • Ludo from Star vs. the Forces of Evil regularly jumps between this and Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain. He spent Season 1 as a bumbling little fool hopelessly trying to steal Star's wand. The second season has him graduate to this trope by finding a wand of his own (which is suspiciously made from the hand of the seemingly deceased Toffee), learning to master its power, and gaining command of an army of rats. At the beginning of the third season, he's even destroyed the spell-book and gained control of Mewni. However, every other character still treats him as little more than a nuisance and he ultimately discovers that he's just been used as a pawn and Meat Puppet by Toffee for the past several months, which doesn't help his Inferiority Superiority Complex.
  • Steven Universe:
    • Peridot plays with this as her very first appearance carried a lot of threat with the first reveal of an unknown enemy out there with its sights set on earth. In her first direct interaction with the group, however, she's shown to be rather immature and a bit pathetic. Despite this, she does consistently prove to be a problem until she begins her Heel–Face Turn.
    • The Ruby Squad are mostly comprised of Harmless Villains (Leggy, Navy) or Ineffectual Sympathetic Villains (Doc, Army) and Eyeball. When they first appear they're easily fooled by the Crystal Gems and act like gullible children, with Eyeball mostly just growling and giving everyone dirty looks. "Back to the Moon" reveals that she's a veteran of the Gem war and is much more violent and unhinged than her comrades as she tries to murder Steven while trapped in space.
    • Navy looks like a bubbly fool even by Ruby standards, and in "Room for Ruby" she wants to join the Crystal Gems, acting all sugary and lovey-dopey toward Steven and Earth...then she drops the act and reveals herself as a Manipulative Bitch that tricked Steven that whole time, playing on his naïvety and the image of the Rubies as cute idiots, stealing the spaceship back and getting revenge over the Crystal Gems fooling them before. All without ever dropping her cheerful adorable smile.
      Navy: I could have done that, but then I would have never got to see your face when you were tricked...BY YOUR FAVORITE LITTLE RUBY!
  • Teen Titans: In both of his first two appearances, Dr. Light gets taken out in the teaser, before the main episode's plot begins. In fairness, he never counts on Raven's dark side taking over and terrifying him. In Season 5's episode "Kole", we see that without Trigon's influence on his daughter, Dr. Light is more of a challenge, nearly defeating the Titans in the process.
  • Shredder of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) cartoon is similarly considered an Adaptational Wimp, a heavy downgrade from his fearsome alternate counterparts...but surprisingly, back in the days he was actually a case of Adaptational Badass: where Comic Book!Shredder is curb-stomped and killed in his first appearance, Cartoon!Shredder is a Badass Normal ninja master that can hold his own against the turtles despite being a normal human, possesses combat skills that usually only Master Splinter can rival, and his schemes, though cartoony, range anywhere from pitiful to potentially deadly. And following the Darker and Edgier reboot in later seasons, he has a minor, but more fearsome role.
    Shredder: I never bluff...
    • In Turtles Forever, Shredder's two henchmen, Bebop and Rocksteady, also count. Do they manage to beat the Turtles at their own game? No, but they are the ones who ultimately kill 2003 Shredder so that has to count for something.
    • In a meta sense, the Shredder gets less and less harmless with every incarnation. The original is dead in one issue. The '87 cartoon version, as described above, has his moments, but spends most of his time arguing with Krang as if they were married(his voice actor confirmed it was actually intentional). The Movie version was a deadly combatant, but got angry and unfocused easily, leading to his defeats. Then came the 2k3 version, a thousand-year-old alien who took the myth of a demon and used it to control the criminal underworld into modern day, and was a fierce enough combatant to cripple the turtles ON-SCREEN. So did the human, but possibly even more depraved and terrifying 2012 version.
  • Transformers Animated: When Starscream made a bunch of clones, they all set to bickering, and their personalities really affected how they fought (Skywarp was too much of a Dirty Coward, and Ramjet and Thundercracker spent too much time talking). Slipstream and Sunstorm, however, were more effective, taking Bulkhead and Prowl down respectively.
  • The Transformers:
    • The Decepticons from the original Transformers Generation One cartoon were originally portrayed as goofy, incompetent villains who constantly lost to the Autobots every single time throughout the first two seasons, but from Transformers: The Movie onwards, they actually began killing almost half the original Autobot cast! (out-of-universe, this was actually done by the writers just so they can make room for new characters, both 'Bot and 'Con alike) The third and final season, as with the Japanese sequels, actually portrayed all of the 'Cons as true villains.
    • Even in early seasons, there were a fair number of times the Decepticons outsmarted or overpowered the Autobots and were mere seconds away from victory. Megatron, despite his infamy as a General Failure, was also always just cunning enough to reverse around any of the Autobots attempts to get a long term upper hand in their war with the Decepticons (e.g. he instantly reversed around Mirage's attempt to turn them and the Insecticons against each other and also managed to steal or outmatch some of Wheeljack's gadgets such as the Immobilizer and the Dominator Disc). This inability to gain a definite control over the Decepticons led to the latter having control of Cybertron by the time of the Time Skip at the start of The Movie, with the Autobots forced into hiding.
  • The Venture Bros.:
    • The Monarch is thought of as a Harmless Villain... until he starts killing people with poison darts and elaborate deathtraps. This appears to be situational. Against Dr. Venture and Brock Samson? Harmless Villain. Against anyone else? The man is actually kind of scary. Compare his banter with Venture(roughly paraphrasing: "At least I've driven you mad HAHAHA") to what he says to the Moppets: (again, roughly paraphrasing: "I will feed your bodies to the dogs if you don't move NOW").
    • This also applies to The Monarch's henchmen. Put them up against Brock Samson, OSI, or the minions of other supervillains, and they come off as bumbling, incompetent losers. Turn them loose on Muggles and Innocent Bystanders on the other hand... and they're a terrifying group of well-armed killers, albeit still not truly competent, per se.
    • And Dr. Girlfriend's Murderous Moppets/the Pupa Twins, Tim-Tom and Kevin. Yeah, they're unshaven dwarfs dressed like 19th-century schoolboys, but they're also deadly hand to hand combatants. Specifically, both of them are Knife Nuts. They also plot against the Monarch and his henchmen for awhile.
    • Sgt. Hatred seemed too Affably Evil, treating Dr. Venture very cordially after being assigned as his new archenemy. Then he shot Doc in the stomach without provocation. They were rubber bullets, yeah, but that's just his way of "keeping it lively," which just makes it way worse. He is also a pedophile (A recovering one, but he has trouble controlling his urges).
    • In season 4 21, previously an incompetent (yet Genre Savvy) henchman, has taken a huge level in badass and has become not only by far the most competent and dangerous of The Monarch's henchman, but also the most mentally imbalanced as well. This is all because of the loss of his best (and perhaps only) friend, 24.
    • The Venture Bros in general applies this to all villains. The justification is that the villains we see are sanctioned by the Guild of Calamitous Intent, which places strict regulations on arching. OSI, the world police force, tolerates the Guild simply because they have restrictions for their members and the alternative is letting a bunch of pissed-off madmen with exotic weapons, powers, and costumes run around aimlessly.
  • Villainous: Dr. Flug is just a nerdy scientist wearing a ridiculous paper bag and who is deathly scared of his boss Black Hat. Yet, when he wants to he can be just as evil: at the end of "The Lost Cases of Townsville", he captures Mojo Jojo and is seen about to experiment on him while saying that his experiment won't kill Mojo, but will make him wish it would. He also made clear to the Kids Next Door that he is not above harming children who get in his way.
  • Wander over Yonder:
    • Lord Hater is a Psychopathic Man Child who is obsessed with being the GREATEST IN ALL THE GALAXY!! While his inability to do anything about Wander has made him a laughingstock, he's still a skeleton with super strength and lightning powers, and before he met Wander had actually built up a pretty fearsome empire. When Hater goes into an Unstoppable Rage, even the normally fearless Wander knows to keep away.
    • There's also the Potted Plant from "The Bounty". While it may seem like a joke compared to the other bounty hunters, it actually manages to capture Wander and Sylvia by eating them, although it makes the mistake of eating Commander Peepers as well, who escapes by cutting it.
  • In the two-part WordGirl episode A World Without Wordgirl, the titular hero, tired of missing her birthday party due to stopping villains, wishes she never was WordGirl. When her wish comes true, she finds herself in Chucktopia, later learning that, without Wordgirl to constantly stop him Chuck managed to become a successful villain and took over the city, forcing all the other villains to work for him.
  • Xiaolin Showdown:
    • Teenage wanna-be villain Jack Spicer, who underwent Villain Decay almost the moment he was introduced in the pilot, and quickly became a one-man Goldfish Poop Gang. At least, until the penultimate episode, when a Bad Future shows that, in a timeline where the heroes weren't around to constantly thwart him, he'd defeated all the major villains who were taken more seriously than him, conquered the world, and rechristened himself the Emperor of Darkness. Hannibal Roy Bean even lampshades it in his first appearance by telling Jack that he would have no problems becoming the worst villain ever if he ever learned to conquer his fears.
    • Wuya spends much of her time as a harmless ghost chewing out Jack Spicer...until she regains her physical form and full power, at which point she conquers the world single-handedly and is nigh unbeatable. Even when resurrected in a weakened state later on, she proves extremely dangerous.
  • In Yin Yang Yo!, despite being the first villain of the series, Ulta-Moose is considering the most pathetic of the Rogues Gallery. However, in one episode, he obtains the Amnesiulet, and uses it to gain the powers of the Night Master. Not only does he ransack the town with the Night Master's army, but he manages to even kill Yin and Yo. It's only averted thanks to Yang using a "Groundhog Day" Loop.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Not So Harmless


They're Not a Joke Anymore

The Pakleds turn out to be pretty dangerous once they've gotten away with stealing technology for long enough. They're still pretty stupid.

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Main / NotSoHarmlessVillain

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Main / NotSoHarmlessVillain