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The Man Behind the Curtain

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"And was this fellow, Oz, a powerful dinh? A baron? Perhaps a king?"
Again, the three of them exchanged a glance from which Roland was excluded. "That's complicated," Jake said. "He was sort of a humbug—"
"A bumhug? What's that?"
"Humbug," Jake said, laughing. "A faker. All talk, no action."

After infiltrating the fortress of evil, fighting off hordes of Mooks, successfully navigating the Death Course and laying the almighty smackdown on The Dragon, you finally reach the Evil Sorcerer's inner sanctum. You charge in, ready to face the Man Behind the Man and kick some ass...

Wait a second, since when was Baron Von Ruthless a bedridden feeble old man with leukemia? And why does he have a dry ice machine?

Sometimes the Big Bad is disappointingly small. Sometimes The Man Behind the Man is just The Man Behind The Curtain: a villain who falls depressingly short of their own hype. More deserving of a slap across the face than a pummeling (but even that might kill them), they are not even a remotely credible threat to the heroes. You want to hate them, but all you can muster up is pity.

If this happens in a serious story, expect the audience to be ticked when they find out the long-awaited big fight is going to be really one-sided, if it happens at all. Of course, really crafty Men Behind The Curtain make sure that the hero is significantly weakened by the time they get to him, either through exhaustion from fighting everyone before him or doing something very sneaky and underhanded to him before the fight begins. Then again, there may well be Truth in Television Justification for this; after all, a commander without an army is effectively useless. Of course, Tropes Are Not Bad; in a cynical-realistic show with Anyone Can Die and Surprisingly Realistic Outcome in full force, it would be jarring if the enemy is thoroughly outmatched but still poses a threat in person.

Anticlimax Boss is a Video Game-specific subtrope. For the inverse of this trope, see Fluffy the Terrible. Contrast with Villain Decay and Rank Scales with Asskicking. May use the Fake Special Attack. Has surprisingly little to do with Curtain Camouflage or the Dramatic Curtain Toss, though some examples may have those as well.

As this is a form of The Reveal, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the Cowboy Bebop episode "Brain Scratch", the mysterious and sinister Dr. Londes turns out to be an internet persona created by a paralyzed and semi-comatose teenaged boy in a hospital.
  • Naruto: While his People Puppets are incredibly powerful, and he is capable of unbelievably terrifying deeds by proxy, Nagato, AKA Pain turns out to be...a withered near-skeleton of a man incapable of standing upright or moving on his own and constantly at death's door.
  • In Afro Samurai (manga only), Afro has murdered his way through the ranks of those who either covet his Number 2 headband or are protecting the current Number One, only to find that his target died long ago.
    • This happened in the game version as well, but ended in such a way in that there was a still a satisfying Final Boss fight.
  • In ∀ Gundam, Queen Diana and her supporters refer often to her Evil Chancellor, Agrippa Maintainer, and his scheming in lunar politics while she's away. They return to find that he's put the Moon under martial law and wants to oust her for supposedly reawakening the Moonrace's latent warlike instincts... but he's also a Smug Snake who's using the Blood Knight Ghingnham faction as his muscle, and Gym Ghingnham is running rings around him. Then he gets killed by Midgard, his own agent.
  • Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam seems like it's building up to this: it's known from the start that the Big Bad, Crux Dogatie, is incredibly old, frail, and on constant life support. But while his body is frail, his mind and spirit are anything but, and he somehow manages to project an aura of intimidation and authority whenever he's on-screen. He's very driven and cunning, and continually stays one step ahead of the heroes throughout the story. And in the end, the final battle is fought with him when he personally flies a gigantic Mobile Armor into battle, easily the biggest threat on the battlefield.
  • Mayor Takeshi Hirokawa from Parasyte is the leader of the parasites in East Fukuyama City, and his plan to turn the city into a feeding zone for the parasites makes him responsible for most of the heroes' problems, but he himself is a normal human who dies without a fight when the army goes after him.

    Comic Books 
  • Darth Vader : Downplayed in The Cry of Shadows. Renegade Clone Kaddak is said to be a muscle-bound brute who has mutilated his own face, and that is how his adversary Hock pictures him until they finally meet face-to-face and Hock learns Kaddak looks like any other Clone, besides maybe a more dignified visage.
  • Toward the end of Preacher, we learn that the true leadership of the massive Grail conspiracy was not Allfather D'Aronique but rather the Secret Council, who are a bunch of dweeby-looking old guys in silly robes who live in a dingy cave; their appearance calling to mind stereotypical Dungeons & Dragons players rather than evil masterminds. They last less than an issue before Herr Starr poisons them all.
  • In Agents of Atlas, the Yellow Claw turns out to just be a feeble, dying old man whose schemes turned out to be just a desperate publicity stunt to advance the career of his chosen heir.
  • In "The Hard Goodbye", the first Sin City story, Marv kills his way through hitmen, gangsters, a police death squad and a silent and deadly farm boy cannibal killer to get to the man behind the murder of Goldie... who turns out to be a really little old man who isn't nearly as imposing as his fearsome reputation as a Cardinal would lead one to believe. The big bad cowers and dies screaming as Marv exacts his revenge on him.
  • The infamous Adversary in Fables turns out to be... Geppetto, still as happy and kindly as ever, but turned megalomaniacal after he was requested to help overthrow and replace one too many evil dictators with wooden stand-ins from his magic grove (the same one he carved Pinocchio out of). While he's gathered quite a gaggle of evil Fables under his thrall, without his authority and his magic wood, he's actually quite pathetic.
  • Shazam!: Mr. Mind, the head of the Monster Society of Evil, turns out to be an intelligent bespectacled worm. Not a big worm, or even a mind-controlling worm (that's retconned in later), but a normal-sized green worm. With glasses. Kids must have laughed...
  • Early on in the Deadpool Corps series, the Deadpools have to stop the Awareness, a cosmic entity resembling a giant cloud that is feeding on the minds of entire alien species and making them its slaves. Actually, the real Awareness is a pretty pathetic-looking little alien, the huge nebula being nothing more than a shroud. Once the Deadpools make it past his minions and his traps, he is easily dispatched.
  • In All-Star Comics #5, the Justice Society of America spends the entire story hunting for a mysterious crime lord known as 'Mr. X', whose underlings are terrified of him. At the end of the story, Mr. X shows up and politely turns himself in, as the JSA have now smashed his network. He is a completely innocuous milquetoast.
  • Mister Miracle #2 (1971) has Overlord, a pet of Granny Goodness gifted to her by Darkseid. Overlord is extremely powerful, able to shoot devastating lasers from long range and conjure diamonds from nothing. Yet when he is killed by Mister Miracle's Mother Box, he is revealed to be nothing more than a tiny, infant-like cyborg creature in a box no bigger than a spectacle-case. As Mister Miracle scornfully puts it: "Little worms can look like sea serpents when cast on a vidi-screen!"
  • Subverted in a loop in several Marvel comics with the character Terminus. First introduced in Fantastic Four #269 (1984) as a 150' civilization-destroying alien; then in The Avengers #257 (1985) his armor is ripped open to reveal a comparatively small monster (maybe 10', unable to stand on its own) controlling it all like a Humongous Mecha; the creature dies helplessly shouting he's unstoppable. Then, in the 1990 Annuals ("the Terminus Factor" saga), Terminus returns, and we discover, along with the Avengers, that the tiny being had been an impersonator (Hercules in particular is angry to hear he'd been tricked). Apparently Marvel did not want to forfeit the villain.
  • On rare occasions in more modern day and future X-Men storylines, Apocalypse's fearsome exterior visage of an ancient and incredibly powerful mutant is torn away to reveal... an ancient and incredibly old man with a physique roughly akin to that of Mr. Burns, whose current power is largely due to being encased in what is basically glorified (albeit very, very advanced) Powered Armor, while his own power ate away at his body. However, every appearance after X-Factor #68 is a host body not capable of handling his full power. He can subvert this trope via Grand Theft Me, and finding a suitably powerful host to contain his awesome energies (or better yet, elevate himself to cosmic-level evil using one or a number of even stronger hosts) is one of his more common plots.

    Comic Strips 
  • Robotman and Monty: A 6-strip story arc features the assassins from the planet Thyroid threatening Robotman (with messages tied to stones and to suction pad-arrows). Robotman is scared of them due to their reputation. In the end, they are four very small creatures, shorter than Robotman's foot. Breaking the fourth wall, Robotman and the assassins argue whether this has an Aesop or is simply a good idea for The Twilight Zone (1959).

    Films — Animated 
  • In an alternative ending of The Nightmare Before Christmas, Oogie Boogie ended up being Dr. Finklestein, who was trying to teach Sally a lesson and was jealous that she chose Jack over him. As it was, Boogie turned out to be ... practically a Mind Hive collected of thousands of little bugs, who when they were split apart could only squeal "My bugs! My bugs!" over and over.
  • In Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix, Ben and company confront the creator of the Omnitrix, a giant alien with a booming voice. It turns out to be a biosuit. Azmuth is a tiny froglike alien, a member of Grey Matter's race.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Wizard of Oz: The eponymous wizard is only a normal man who makes himself look all-powerful by means of projecting his own face largely above billowing smoke. The protagonists discover this when Toto wanders off during an audience and rips the curtain open. He vainly tries to salvage the situation by continuing his act and instructing his guests to not pay any attention to the man behind the curtain, but it isn't fooling anyone.
  • Dr. Mabuse is first described and then shown to be this in The Testament of Dr. Mabuse. When a renegade mook tries to shoot him through the curtain, it however is revealed that he wasn't actually in the room, he just used a cut-out silhouette and a loudspeaker to create the illusion that he was sitting at a table behind the curtain.
  • In Equilibrium, Brandt is initially depicted as a competent foe able to keep Preston on the ropes during a practice spar. When they fight for real, however, he dies in three of Preston's invisibly-fast strokes before he can even move to defend himself. Subverted immediately afterwards: Big Bad DuPont, who appears to be a harmless bureaucrat, proves competent enough in Gun Kata himself to fight Preston in single combat pistol-against-pistol, and lasts longer than all the previous well-armed mooks combined.
  • Subverted in Ultraviolet (2006), also directed by Kurt Wimmer, where Vice-Cardinal Ferdinand Daxus also initially seems doomed to a quick defeat but proves an able combatant against Violet, who has thus far been virtually unstoppable.
  • Halfway through M. Night Shyamalan's The Village (2004), we discover that Those We Do Not Speak Of, the bogeymen who hold the entire village in fear, are merely a ruse by the elders to keep the people in line. This is subverted when Ivy is let in on the secret and is attacked by one of these creatures anyway. And then that is subverted when we (but not Ivy) see that the creature was actually the town's Ax-Crazy man in a costume.
  • Jigsaw from the Saw series has a reputation as a dangerous murderer, but is actually a fairly weak man with colon cancer, only able to operate because of his manipulative skills.
  • Done literally in 10,000 B.C. - we only see the man in question for the briefest of moments, but it's long enough to confirm that not only is he not a god, but he's a pasty old white guy.
  • The 1989 version of Batman. When Batman finally confronts the Joker at the top of the Church he beats the everloving shit out of him with no trouble. It's only when Batman attempts to save the Joker from dying that there's trouble. Contrast this with the 2008 Joker/Batfight where even though the outcome is largely the same, the Joker still gets a few good pipe shots in.
  • In Crank: High Voltage, Poon Dong, the man who stole Chellios' heart (and whom narrative convention would suggest is the Big Bad) is the legendary leader of the Chinese Triads, played by David Carradine. About 2/3rds of the way through the film he's revealed to be a wizened Dirty Old Man who has about 2 minutes of screen-time and is promptly and anticlimactically lured to his death by two odious comic relief characters. The film's real "Big Bad" is a completely unrelated, entirely different character who seemingly comes out of nowhere in the final reel.
  • Star Wars:
    • Subverted — we're meant to think of the Emperor this way, as being unbelievably sinister despite being totally helpless and weak, right up until he suddenly unleashes the Force Lightning. The Emperor seems set up to be Yoda's opposite. Physically unimposing, but near God-like powers when he actually chose to use them. One of the Star Wars RPG books speculated that a no holds barred Jedi duel between Yoda and The Emperor could devastate a planet. The actual fight only thrashed a building, but was nevertheless awesome.
    • Darth Vader is an unconventional example, as most of his scenes involve him being a terrifying badass without peer, but when he finally removes his mask he reveals himself as a frail, crippled old-looking man wholly dependent on his robotic suit for his strength and intimidation factor, as well as to survive. All of this is Played for Drama; seeing Vader/Anakin Skywalker as a feeble, crippled old man as he takes his last breaths adds to the tragic nature of his character.
  • In Iron Man 3, The Mandarin turns out to simply be a figure fabricated by Aldrich Killian, with the man himself simply an actor playing a role in exchange for a comfortable lifestyle. However, the All Hail the King short film reveals that there is indeed a real Mandarin affiliated with the Ten Rings organization of the first film who intends to kill Trevor Slattery for taking his name.

  • The trope title and the page quote both refer to Oz, the Great and Terrible, who, as everyone now knows, proved to be neither. While in the film his disguise was a fiery hologram, in the book he changed disguises every day. (A giant head, a beautiful woman, a dragon, and a fireball.) In the sequels, though, he does become a bona fide wizard.
  • Malkariss, ruler of the subterranean kingdom from the Redwall novel Mattimeo. He spends his life inside a giant carving of a polecat that amplifies his voice. He's really so old that he's practically helpless when his own slaves attack him.
  • Randall Flagg, Mordred Deschain, and the Crimson King from The Dark Tower. Stephen King even foreshadows this in the quote at the top of this page, which occurs right before a scene in which Flagg reenacts the exposing of The Wizard of Oz.

    Flagg and the Crimson King are two cases where The Man Behind The Curtain overlaps with Villain Decay. In previous novels like The Stand and Insomnia, they were presented as competent and terrifying, but Stephen King subsequently changed his mind about the nature of evil and set these villains up to be exposed as humbugs in the final volume of The Dark Tower.
  • The Star Trek novel Kahless is, essentially, a "demythologization" of the Klingon legends about the titular character. When Kahless finally confronts his traditional enemy, the tyrant Molor, he discovers that Molor is not an invincible warrior—just a dying old man.
  • Mr. Foreclosure, the villain of The War Between The Pitiful Teachers And The Splendid Kids, is an ant. Not even a giant ant.
  • In Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce, Blayce is called "The Nothing Man", because that's what he is: a short, weak, fidgety, acne-ridden slimeball. Given that he's a serial child murderer and necromancer who invented the horrific killing devices that plague the Tortallan front (as well as brutalizing the local population), Kel is disgruntled to find that he's so unimpressive and easy to kill once she takes care of his Dragon.
  • Werner von Aargau in Tim Powers' The Stress of Her Regard. His contract with the nephilim - having one of them physically implanted in his body to link their species with humanity - has kept him alive for the last several hundred years, but didn't stop him from aging. He is now spliced into the fabric of a building in such a way that he cannot be killed without Taking You with Me.
  • Discworld:
    • The demon Quetzovercoatl in Eric. The Nightmare Fuel demon who's the basis of an entire warlike religion turns out to be all of six inches tall. To add insult to injury, he's killed seconds after manifesting to his followers (accidentally, too).
    • The greatest and most terrible bogeyman to have stalked the Disc, the custodian of the Tower of Teeth and the entity who ultimately runs the Tooth Fairy operation (in Hogfather) is revealed to be incredibly weak and wizened, incredibly old, on the point of death, and motivated only by his perceived need to Keep The Children Safe by ensuring nobody else can psychically control them via their discarded milk teeth.
  • The Authority in His Dark Materials is revealed to be a frail, old and hopelessly senile angel sealed inside an almost indestructible crystal cage by his servants to keep him alive. He's even lost the ability to speak, but seems happy when the protagonists unwittingly kill him without even realizing who he is.
  • Malazan Book of the Fallen: When Adjunct Tavore Paran meets the Whirlwind Leader Sha'ik in a duel on which the whole destiny of the Whirlwind rebellion, the battle is... short. Sha'ik has left Felisin to her own feeble powers, and she is ruthlessly killed in a few blows.
  • Cronal from the Star Wars Expanded Universe is a subversion — he hides behind holograms and body doubles to disguise the fact that physically he's a frail old man on life-support, but he's such a powerful darksider that he doesn't need a working body to pose a threat.
  • In Barbara Hambly's novel The Ladies of Mandrigyn, the whole world fears Altiokis the Wizard King, shadowy ruler of a mighty empire, the greatest wizard the world has ever known, immortal, invincible... It turns out he's a third-rate magician who captured something by luck in his youth; by some combination of his own cretinous nature and the mind-corroding effects of the alien power, he's become a vicious, dull-witted, infantile glutton who whiles away the centuries indulging his base appetites.
  • In Jeff Somers's cyberpunk novel The Electric Church, the leader of the eponymous Church (which offers "salvation through immortality" by means of cyborg conversion) is a digitized consciousness in a box (though his personal avatars, the Cardinals, are very formidable).
  • Isaac Asimov's The Foundation Trilogy: In "The Mule", the titular character is a Galactic Conqueror who is depicted in his own propaganda as a towering, immensely-strong superman, and his court jester Magnifico seemingly confirms this when he falls in with the heroes after running away from his master. Later on, it becomes clear that the Mule's real powers are psychic in nature, and one character theorizes he's probably a perfectly ordinary-looking man who just made himself seem a terrifying giant to scare poor Magnifico. Then it turns out that the "giant superman" image is a complete fabrication, and Magnifico himself, a weedy, scrawny man, was the Mule all along. However, while he might be physically unimpressive, those Psychic Powers are all too real and incredibly potent - the Mule may be a physical weakling, but he was still able to conquer a good chunk of the galaxy without ever having to throw a punch himself.
  • In The Wheel of Time, this is downplayed with Forsaken (or Chosen), the group of chief servants of the Dark One. While they are definitely dangerous and powerful, they are also very egoistic and dysfunctional, unable to work together as a whole, and get killed one by one by main characters while spending as much time fighting each other as the forces of Light. They are a great threat, but they are not all-powerful as were believed to be before by protagonists.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the fourth season Halloween episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Fear Itself", Buffy and company must fight their way through a haunted house where the decorations have been brought to life as monsters by the influence of Gaknar, a primordial fear demon. When the demon itself is brought forth, it is so tiny that a fearsome-looking picture of it shown earlier proves to be actual size. There's an Aesop — the standard "The only thing to fear is fear itself" moral, hence the title.
  • Lost's Jacob, who runs the Others from a secret cabin and can apparently only speak to Ben, is such a straight execution of this trope that the episode in which Jacob first appears is in fact titled "The Man Behind the Curtain."
    • Subverted: There was no man behind the curtain - Ben never spoke with Jacob, who doesn't really live in the cabin. Whoever Locke heard, it wasn't Jacob...and he wasn't in charge. The actual Jacob appears only two seasons later.
    • It turns out it was actually Jacob's brother, who is actually the Black Smoke, which means it's subverted to hell and back as it's therefore the Unkillable Monster behind the curtain. Just to rub salt in it, the image that Locke sees in that chair is actually a vision of his dead self, a reference to the Monster plotting Locke's death. Jacob did use to live in that cabin, and the Monster is old and manipulative enough to really be in charge, in a sense, even if nobody realizes it.
  • Star Trek' Balok, from the episode "The Corbomite Maneuver", has the appearance of a human child. When he communicates with other ships via the viewscreen, he uses an intimidating puppet.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.: Zig-zagged with the Clairvoyant, the Big Bad of season 1. When first encountered, he appears to be a wheelchair-bound old man who can't even speak and has to communicate through a computer, qualifying him for this trope. However, it's revealed this man isn't actually the Clairvoyant, just a fall guy set up by HYDRA. Then it's revealed that the real Clairvoyant, John Garrett, is not a psychic at all, just a man with a lot of information at his disposal. Then it's revealed that he's also Secretly Dying, and his body has decayed to the point where it requires a Super Serum just to operate at normal human levels, qualifying him for this trope too. THEN he takes the GH.325 drug in an attempt to cure himself, and starts developing genuine clairvoyant abilities as a result, ultimately making him a subversion.
  • Person of Interest. Played with in "Super", when John Reese accuses Harold Finch of being a master hacker who just made up the story of a supercomputer as cover. A flashback at the end of the episode shows that Finch is telling the truth.
  • Westworld. Maeve is horrified the first time she wakes in the Body Repair Shop, but her awe turns to contempt once she realises how flawed the humans working there are.
    Maeve: At first, I thought you and the others were gods. Then I realized you're just men. And I know men. You think I'm scared of death? I've done it a million times. I'm fucking great at it. How many times have you died? Because if you don't help me I'll kill you.
  • While they don't really look that intimidating per se, the Daleks from Doctor Who appear to be mass murdering human-sized robots, but are actually small, squid-like creatures on the inside... that are still murderous when the housing is opened.

  • Spock's Beard have a song with this title and theme on their X album.

  • In Mission to Zyxx galactic pop star Brihx is revealed to be a puppet controlled by their choreographer, who is secretly a roboticist.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Space 1889 in Beastmen of Mars the players will find out who is behind the horrifying Cult of the Worm. He’s fairly underwhelming, yet not...

    Video Games 
  • The Feeble Files adventure game has one of these, although it's not a person who you'd know about before you reached the final "dungeon." The CEO of Omnicorp, the man behind the Omnibrain, the ultimate source of all the torment in the galaxy is a senile old guy who was actually asleep for the last several centuries while a strategy game AI ran things for him. He dies instantly when a frustrated Feeble punches him in the face.
  • In the Earthworm Jim series, Bob the goldfish may be evil, but he's confined to a small bowl and he and his bowl are completely defenseless.
  • Emperor Murod in the original Summoner, despite being served by legitimately intimidating and nasty lackeys and being responsible for actions of gross evil... is just a feeble old man. On top of this, he's an Anticlimax Boss, even after pulling a One-Winged Angel out of nowhere.
  • Subverted in Advance Wars: Dual Strike. The Big Bad Von Bolt turns out to be a feeble old man in a wheelchair hooked up to a life-sustaining machine, but since all of the actual combat is between replacable mooks, and Von Bolt is a strategic genius with a devastating CO Power, he's still pretty threatening.
  • No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle is all about Travis fighting his way to the man responsible for the murder of Bishop, Jasper Batt Jr. By the time you reach him, he reveals himself as a tiny, weak, buck-teethed man who is only capable of fighting you with his rocket-racecar-desk and robotic bats. He was actually shown as such in his silhouette early in the game, and Travis lampshades how he was already wondering what to expect.
    "'Thought the suspense was gonna kill me! 'How will he make his entrance? Is he emo or grunge? 'What's his fighting style?' How's his broke-ass face gonna look when he dies?!'"
    • Though this is subverted rather gloriously as after he is first beaten he pumps himself full of steroids transforming into the hulking Batt-man. And if you can beat that, he somehow bloats up to the size of a blimp to crush Travis.
  • In Darkened Skye, the Big Bad Evil Overlord Lord Necroth is widely known and feared as "He Whose Face Must Not be Glimpsed". It turns out that Necroth is really an inch-high maggot using a giant megaphone to communicate with his followers. Skye even has to use a shrinking spell to enter Necroth's throne room to confront him. Skye even remarks "He Whose Face Must Not be Glimpsed. That's because he's too small to see! You're Lord Necroth? You're nothing more than a pathetic little..." Despite being The Man Behind The Curtain, Necroth is not an Anticlimax Boss, as he does put up a reasonable fight (since the heroine is also only an inch high at that point). Possibly a Shout-Out to Mr. Mind, above.
  • In Final Fantasy X, The Man Behind The Curtain, Yu Yevon, is described in the third act to be the controller of Sin. This feat gives the impression that his power must be immense, yet he is revealed in the final battle to be nothing more than an insect. A spectral insect, but an insect nonetheless.
    • Most of his feats were done in ages past, and he's degenerated so much he's really quite defenseless on his own. In his prime, however, he was likely the greatest summoner the world has ever known and created TWO Epic Level Summons with his skills. At the same time. He's also the father of Yunalesca, another contender for being the greatest summoner since she created the Final Aeons, another Epic Level Summon AND she knows how to make more of them if need be. After 1000 Years of Epicness, it seems to have finally decayed Yu Yevon utterly.
  • This is, incidentally, how Mega Man 2 ends. Dr. Wily suddenly transforms into an alien (with some mad targeting skills), but when you destroy the alien, the whole room is revealed to be a giant spinning holographic space projector of some sort, and the alien itself a small floating turret. Dr. Wily has nothing else up his sleeve, and (presumably?) surrenders.
  • Ozwell E. Spencer of Resident Evil is one of the original founders of the Umbrella Corporation. His company has been producing every strain of The Virus under the sun, and executives, especially the founders have a tendency to go One-Winged Angel as soon as the hero shows up. When we meet Spencer, he's a terrified, feeble old man who is on life support 24 hours a day. Who gets killed by Wesker before we even get to fight him.
  • The Collector in LittleBigPlanet (not to be confused with those Collectors) spends the entire game one step ahead of the player, hiding in the background and snatching away various objects and NPCs with a giant robot and an Evil Laugh. Once you've finally chased him to his bunker and defeated his robot, however, he turns out to be a tiny little guy - smaller than Sackboy, even - and all he really wanted was some friends. Needless to say, he's immediately forgiven, and everything ends on a happy note. What kind of game did you think this was?
  • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: The true leader of the Patriots is revealed to be [[spoiler:Zero from Snake Eater, and throughout the game he is built up as having become much more villainous than how he was in 1964. However, the epilogue shows that Zero has been in a vegetative state the entire time, with him becoming much more pitiable than he was initially thought of.
  • Parodied in one of the joke endings of Silent Hill 2, where it is revealed that the unseen entity jerking James around and forcing him to relieve the most painful memories of his life is... a shiba inu dog. Roll credits!
  • Fallout: New Vegas has Mr. House, the enigmatic genius who controls the Vegas Strip with his army of robots, who nobody has ever met in person and is rumored to be the oldest political force in the Mojave Wasteland. He turns out to be a shriveled, almost-mummified 261-year-old Howard Hughes Homage sealed in an iron lung, who dies of multiple viral infections if you so much as open the case he's shut in.
  • A non villainous example occurs in Jak 3: The Precursors, the Big Good god-like race of apparent Energy Beings are revealed to actually be ottsels like Daxter. The Reveal even has them hiding between an actual curtain while they control the Energy Being hologram. Unlike a lot of other examples, they are quick to remind Veger that they are still the most powerful beings in the universe.
  • The boss of the second world of McDonald's Treasure Land Adventure is a scary bat-like robot, which, when destroyed, is revealed to be piloted by a tiny and cute green bat in yellow overalls, who bursts into tears. Ronald is able to cheer him up in the following cutscene by giving him some of his magic jewels, and in return, the boss gives him the third piece of the treasure map.
  • The second megastar you fight in No Straight Roads is the Virtual Idol Sayu, whom Kliff explains is controlled by a team of four creators. The boss battle itself reveals that they're all students, and after their program is completely disrupted, Mayday appears to leer towards the cowering bunch...but simply unplugs their equipment and lets them off the hook, encouraging them to put their talent to better use than for NSR.
    • Tatiana, NSR's own elderly, sinister CEO, is assumed by Mayday to be fairly harmless after all the districts are taken away from her, and her tower appears to have no security measures whatsoever. Subverted with gusto, as Tatiana proves herself to be quite the powerful fighter.
  • Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game: After Gideon is defeated at the end of the game, he blows up revealing the final boss was just a mechanical decoy. The arena then changes to a laboratory with the real Gideon operating a machine in the background. After the device shuts down, Gideon jumps in front of the protagonists... And immediately falls on his knees begging for mercy ala Dr Wily. One hit is all what it takes to finish him off for good.

  • Played with in this The Adventures of Dr. McNinja guest comic.
  • Inverted in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal 3038: It starts like the Oz scene, but Oz is completely unfazed and explains how he's more impressive having achieved what he has as a human than a godly wizard. Indeed, the only reason he's behind a mere flimsy curtain is because he likes to be found out sometimes.
  • Erica Henderson's guest story in Sluggy Freelance makes an Oz reference and uses this trope with Sluggy creator Pete Abrams appearing as a giant glowing figure treated as a god, but then revealed to be the real human Pete behind the curtain. His "god" appearance is a reference to his "glowing head" appearance in other filler strips.

    Web Original 
  • In The Gamer's Alliance, Distreyd Thanadar XII, the High Cleric of Mardük, used to be a powerful sorcerer but became weak and aged rapidly after his constant leeching of the power within the Krystallopyr shard drained most of his lifeforce while he kept casting the Plague of Nightmares across the globe so his army could conquer other nations more easily. By the time Jemuel confronts him in Vulpengaard Keep at the end of the Great War, Distreyd has become a mere shell of his former self.
  • Apparently there's a species of spider that does this—a tiny spider makes an effigy of a giant spider to scare off predators. [1]
  • In Red vs. Blue the Director is built up to be the reason everything bad has happened in the series for 10 years. He turns out to be a tired old man watching the last video of his dead wife on a loop and the heroes deem him too pathetic to be worth killing.

    Western Animation 
  • Fairly OddParents: In the episode "Wish Fixers", the Jorgen Von Strangle who keeps enforcing the Pixie's rules turns out to be Sanderson in a Jorgen-shaped robot.
    Sanderson: Pay no attention to the Pixie controlling the Jorgen robot.
  • Star Wars: The Clone Wars: In "Nomad Droids", the droids are captured by a group of natives on the planet Balnab, who have an oppressive ruler who commands them in the form of an intimidating hologram. R2 quickly discovers that the hologram is a fake being operated by a group of pit droids and exposes them.
  • Teen Titans:
    • Mad Mod turns out to be a feeble old man running a simulator. The version they were going after was actually a hologram.
    • Subverted by Brother Blood, who looks like a frail old man relying on personal charisma and Mind Control powers to make himself seem dangerous- and then Cyborg gets into a fistfight with him, and he turns out to be one of the most dangerous hand-to-hand combatants in the show.
  • Mr. Big in Rocky and Bullwinkle always cast an enormous shadow because of a flashlight he always kept with him, but ended up being one or two inches tall, and can be picked up with two fingers. It is later revealed, in his last appearance, that not only is his shadow effective enough that he can take over the moon with it, he is still strong enough to beat up a full-sized person.
  • Skulker from Danny Phantom is really a tiny and pathetically weak ghost. The body most people see is just a high-tech suit. As he spends almost all of his time in the suit, however, this isn't a huge weakness.
  • Samurai Jack: In "Jack and the Smackback", the Aqualizer is really a tiny, pathetic slug-like creature inside a powerful robotic suit.
  • G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero: Subverted in "The Gamesmaster". The Gamesmaster seems at first to just be a spoiled brat in a control room hiding behind his robots and traps. When Flint manages to fight past them and confront the man face to face, he's shocked to find the man is over ten feet tall and incredibly strong.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures: the school is run by the Great and Powerful Principal of Looniversity, being clearly modeled after The Wizard of Oz example and terrifying any poor student sent to his office. In "The Learning Principal" (a short in "Looniversity Daze"), Buster gets sent to the office for his poor classroom behavior and accidentally finds the principal is really Bugs Bunny (operating the requisite equipment behind a privacy screen). Bugs lampshades the inspiration for all this and says the students need to be shaken up every now and then for their own good.
    Buster: Are you the principal?
    Bugs: Eh, you were expecting maybe Roger Rabbit?
  • Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot: The alien warlord known as Po the Obliterator, who challenges champions and destroys their home planets when he wins, is actually small, frail and weak outside of his power suit.
  • Done rather anti-climatically in the first part of the finale of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. The intimidating Grogar, the Greater-Scope Villain of the setting who created all the monsters in the world… Is nothing more than a persona used by Discord as part of a False Flag Operation to try to boost Twilight’s confidence, with the whereabouts or status of the real Grogar never revealed.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Man Behind The Curtain


The Trope Namer

"Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain."

How well does it match the trope?

5 (23 votes)

Example of:

Main / TheManBehindTheCurtain

Media sources: