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The Man Behind the Monsters

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So Davros created the Daleks in his own image, and Davros said unto the Daleks, "EXTERMINATE!"
Image by Paul Hanley.

"I gotta hand it to that Kurata, he really knows his monsters. Guess it takes one to know one."

Every horde of monstrous mooks will be led by a powerful and (relatively) human-looking figure. If the mooks are already vaguely human, the leader will be downright gorgeous. There's no stated reason for the use of this trope, but it allows for the heroes to have someone in the enemy camp with whom they can interact, and a slavering monster does not make good drama (fear, revulsion, terror, yes. Drama? Not so much). Otherwise, they're essentially fighting an enemy with all the charisma of a wave of lava.

Frequently, the mooks are themselves incapable of organizing into a vast army. Those dirty monsters can't do anything without a proper HUMAN leading them! Subversively, they may turn out to have been Good All Along and bullied by the Big Bad into evil. Beauty Equals Goodness on its ear, as it were.


The Pretty Guys Are Stronger is a Sister Trope. The analogue here is that the leader (who is the most powerful) looks the most human, and the weaker the subordinate, the more wild or mindless they become. The Dragon and his lieutenants occupy a curious niche in all this: while they also benefit from this trope and, in fact, tend to look the most human on the villainous side, it's because they aren't so powerful as the leader. Confused? So are we. It does, however, tend to telegraph a Heel–Face Turn, though not always.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, evil members of good or neutral species are generally more monstrous than their good counterparts.

Contrast Not Even Human, where only the boss is a monster. Also related to the Bishōnen Line.



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    Anime & Manga 
  • Aizen in Bleach, though the hollows aren't much of monsters anymore, as his method of powering them up is to force them to cross the Bishōnen Line.
  • In El-Hazard: The Magnificent World, Jinnai discovers that his talent is controlling the insect-like Bugrom. Even if not for him, their queen Diva is far more human-looking than the rest of the species.
  • All the Zoanoids in Guyver are uniformly bestial in their Game Face forms, but Zoalords are quite a bit more human looking once transformed, with appealing One-Winged Angel/Sculpted Physiques.
  • In Inuyasha, Naraku reassigns Kagura to command his army of flying worms.
  • In Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann : Lordgenome, leader (and creator) of beastmen.
  • Zeus from King of Thorn.
  • Griffith after his reincarnation in Berserk. A beautiful knight in white shining armor, leading an army of Apostles. He still has all the power of his Godhand incarnation as Femto, and can even take on Femto's sinister bat-winged form if he feels the need.
  • In World Embryo, the Coffin Princesses who direct the Kanshu (humans transformed into hideous monstrosities due to infected electromagnetic waves such as cell phone signals) look like cute young girls with second pair of ear-like extensions on the top of their heads. One of the Princesses, Neene, who looked like the protagonist beloved deceased aunt Amane, had manipulated said protagonist into protecting her until she matured into a Queen Bee and planned to destroy the entire world by absorbing the memories of the entire populace, nearly putting him through the Despair Event Horizon.
  • Claymore reveals that the yoma are actually created by the Organization which also controls the Claymore. The entire continent is just a testing grounds for them.

    Comic Books 
  • Marvel Comics seems to love this trope. Among others, you have the Subterraneans, led at times by the handsome ancient roman scientist, Tyrannus, and the ugly misshapen victorian-era explorer, Mole Man, the Trolls and Ice Giants of Asgard, who will often find themselves rallying behind such villains as Loki and the dark elf Malekith, and the Inhuman's subhuman slaves, the Alpha Primates, who are always a ready army for Maximus the Mad.
    • On the non-villainous side, Monsters Unleashed introduces Kid Kaiju whose ability as an Inhuman is to summon monsters by drawing them. He's even able to use this ability to create new monsters in this way, bringing his own team of heroic kaiju into existence.
  • In Camelot 3000, the alien invaders are controlled by the human sorceress Morgan la Fay, who'd usurped the power of their Hive Queen.
  • Wonder Woman's villain Circe is an immortal demigod sorceress whose favorite minions are bestiamorphs, humans that were turned into monstrous animals.
  • Black Moon Chronicles: Most of the demons of hell are of the Big Red Devil type, but the Prince of Darkness himself looks like a Tall, Dark, and Handsome man in ornate robes.

    Fan Fiction 
  • The Night Unfurls has several examples:
  • This trope is used as an explanation for why advanced robots were outlawed between the Mega Man (Classic) and Mega Man X series in The Prototype. After Dr. Wily's death, King takes control of the remaining robot master armies. The narrator notes that people were more or less okay with being attacked by killer robots because they knew that a human was in control of them, and it was something they could understand. But when a robot is in control, that scares the populace so much that they outlaw advanced robots like the deceased Mega Man and Roll, at least until X is discovered.

    Films — Animated 
  • The Coachman from Pinocchio is actually revealed to have large, ape-like monsters forcing young boys which the Coachman had turned into donkeys into crates headed for either the salt mines or the circus.
  • Henna in Barbie: Mariposa controls the vicious, dimwitted Skeezites to serve her whim and attack Flutterfield.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Blade II: The Reapers are clearly portrayed as feral animals who do little more than snarl and roar after being changed. Nomak is the only Reaper shown to have enough control of himself to make plans and talk, to the extent that he spares Whistler's life so that the human can deliver a message, where any other Reaper would have just torn Whistler's throat out the moment it had the chance.
  • In Star Trek, the Borg, being a Hive Mind collective, didn't have a leader... until some writer decided to create the Borg Queen, who fits this trope. Zigzagged in that it's never quite clear if she's really an individual as such, or some sort of "avatar" for the larger Hive Mind.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West and her Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. Notable in that the monkeys were the first to cheer when the witch died, as they weren't serving her willingly. Subverted by the Winkies, who had the same green skin and long noses as the Witch herself; however, they were foreigners (with the witch even turning to the audience in the stage adaptation and explaining that "Oh-Ee-Oh" is one of their native folk songs).
  • The Goblin King from Labyrinth is played by David Bowie; his subjects are played by Ugly Cute muppets.
  • The Avengers (2012) film has Loki and his alien army. Played with in that the army is a loan. Although Thanos is still more humanoid-looking than the rank-and-file Chitauri grunts.
  • Poison Ivy and Bane in Batman & Robin might or might not be a subversion, depending on whether outward appearance matters. Both have been mutated by Venom, but Ivy still looks like a normal (and sexy!) human woman while Bane is a green-skinned, apelike monster.
  • The Evil Masked Figure, the villain of Scooby-Doo: Monsters Unleashed, is a man in a mask who leads an army of living monster suits (or more accurately, monster suits turned into living monsters).
  • Anton Arcane spends most of Swamp Thing as a handsome older man played by French actor Louis Jordan. This is a case of Adaptational Attractiveness, as he quickly went from gnarled old man to grotesque zombie-like figure in the comics.
  • In Hellboy (2019), though aided by some human cultists, Nimue has an army of monsters at her back and call to unleash havok upon the world.

  • In The Runelords, Raj Ahten's mooks consist of ordinary humans backed up by enhanced humans and monstrous Nomen and Frowth Giants. Ahten himself is an androgynous, incredibly beautiful, and charismatic human. This is because he's taken so many endowments of glamour from his subjects, which force anyone who looks at him to percieve him as beautiful. This effect is so powerful that it still works later in the series, when half his face has been burned off.
  • Vord from the Codex Alera series come in a wide variety of monstrous forms, but the queens are humanoid in shape and capable of speech.
  • In The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Lord Foul's minions include a wide variety of monstrous beings, but in his true form (or at least, the form he reverts to after Covenant's Wild Magic injures and weakens him), Foul himself resembles a dignified, elderly human note .
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Trollocs are an Always Chaotic Evil horde of beast-men. Their superiors are the Myrddraal, who look like pale-skinned, eerily graceful humans except for the fact that thay have smooth skin where eyes should be. Their commanders are the Forsaken, who are a group of actual humans (albeit very, very powerful channelers). Subverted in that the level above the Forsaken is occupied by the Dark One himself, who isn't remotely human and is somewhere in the general neighborhood of God of Evil, Eldritch Abomination, and Sentient Cosmic Force.
  • In the Corum series, Prince Gaynor the Damned plays this role. In the first trilogy, he leads an army of Half-Human Hybrids. The evil army in the second trilogy is even more unintelligent on its own and in need of intelligent human leadership, so it has both Prince Gaynor and the Evil Sorcerer Calatin.
  • Subverted in Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. The local army of monsters is composed of Bukken (tunneling goblins), Hunen (hairy giants) and Norns (arctic dark elves), but appears to be acting on the orders of the human King Elias and his advisor, the also-human Pryrates. Except that the army is a loan from the Storm King, an undead specter who was once a humanoid Sitha but is now a borderline-Eldritch Abomination and he always intended to backstab Elias and Pryrates, with his minions being full aware that their "service" to Elias is a temporary indulgence only. Of course, the main characters are all aware that the Storm King is the ultimate string-puller for most of the series. — the trick is convincing everybody else that Elias is not, in fact, the Big Bad du jour.
  • Zig-Zagged in Mistborn. The Lord Ruler looks like a normal young man, if you can get past the sheer aura of apathy and despair that he emanates, and his two races of minions are monstrous: Inquisitors look like humans with metal spikes pounded through their eyes, and Koloss are giants with sagging skin that will die from overgrowth. Religion claims that the Lord Ruler is a god rather than a man, but the heroes discover that he's just a man who won the Superpower Lottery. The truth is more complicated: he was a god, but only for a few minutes. In those few minutes, he learned how to break the magic system wide open, which granted him immortality while leaving him technically human.
    • This trope is best shown in the final battle: the Inquisitor Marsh turns on him and tries to exploit the weakness built in all Inquisitors (a metal spike on the back that grants them power), only for him to discover that he doesn't have one.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • Davros and the Daleks. He only barely qualifies as "human", but at least you can have a conversation with him.
    • Among other minor examples, the new-series episode "School Reunion" features Anthony Head as the leader of a group of bat-like, flying aliens - he says he keeps a human-like body as a "personal preference".
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Angelus, the Mayor, Glory and the First (usually) all looked more human than many of their servants. Also throw in Spike and Drucilla, Faith and Caleb as human-looking dragons.
    • And while Adam definitely didn't look human, he had a woman behind him, his creator Maggie Walsh.
  • FarScape: The human-looking Peacekeepers are considered the worst threat in the galaxy, with the exception of the Scarrans. Subverted by the fact that Scorpius is the only inhuman-looking Peacekeeper.
  • Subverted somewhat with Babylon 5. The Shadows and the Vorlons are very much not humanoid, but they have much more normal-looking agents that can move freely amongst the younger races, Mr Morden being the most famous example.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Jem'Hadar are the somewhat reptilian genetically engineered soldiers of the Dominion. Their superiors are the much more human-looking Vorta, who also serve as the "public face" for the Dominion. The Vorta themselves report to the Founders, who in their natural state are shapeshifting blobs of orange liquid, though they do have a regular humanoid form they use for interacting with "solids", and they can impersonate humans exactly if they wish; so your mileage may vary on whether this counts as a subversion or not.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: Once she joined forces with the Kazon, Seska would qualify (technically she looked Bajoran/Cardassian, but she still looked and behaved more human than the Kazon).
  • It's common in Kamen Rider for the Monster of the Week to be commanded by a normal human.
    • In the original Kamen Rider, while many of Shocker's operatives were mutant kaijin, its top executives were all humans, with the possible exception of the Great Leader himself.
    • In Kamen Rider Kuuga, the Gurongi all took the form of humans outside battle.
    • Kamen Rider Agito has the Overlord of Darkness. While the Lords all had monstrous forms, the Overlord took the form of a human.
    • In Kamen Rider Ryuki, each of the Riders in the Rider War had a contract monster under their control. And all of the Mirror Monsters were ultimately created by the human Shiro Kanzaki.
    • The Fangire in Kamen Rider Kiva all have monstrous forms, but their top brass, the Checkmate Four all have normal human forms which they use outside battle.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim has the Overlord Inves, a group of Human Aliens who managed to gain transcendent power from eating Helheim Forest's fruit and thus gain the ability to command its mindless Inves monsters. Towards the end, Kouta and Kaito become Overlords as well and thus gain the ability to summon massive armies of Inves.
    • Kamen Rider Drive: While the Roidmudes have no human commanding them, their leaders all usually take human forms outside battle. And later on it's revealed that the Roidmudes' evil is ultimately the result of their creator, Professor Tenjuro Banno.
    • Kamen Rider Ex-Aid has the Bugsters, monsters based on enemies from video games created by the human Kuroto Dan. Their leader Parado also takes the form of a normal human and doesn't have any monster form.
    • Kamen Rider Build: The Smash are monsters created from unwilling human test subjects by the Faust organization, which is staffed by normal humans. While initially their only purpose was as a side effect of harvesting Fullbottles, they eventually graduate to being employed for military use by the divided governments of the setting and the Arms Dealer backing Faust. It becomes inverted in the second half though, when all of the human villains are revealed to be pawns of the true Big Bad, the Planet Eater Evolt, who is revealed to have a very monstrous true form.
    • It's revealed later on in Kamen Rider Zero-One that ZAIA Japan's CEO Gai Amatsu\Kamen Rider Thouser had fed information to the Ark about humanity's malice, making him responsible for the creation of and the Daybreak Town Accident.
  • Some of the evil factions in Super Sentai and Power Rangers are led by human-looking figures, commanding hideous monsters.
    • The Bandora Gang from Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger are led by the eponymous Witch Bandora, a human witch. The same goes for their counterparts in Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers who are led by the human-looking Rita Repulsa.
    • The Gorma Tribe from Gosei Sentai Dairanger all posses human forms, but the top ranked members never take on monstrous forms in battle. Their battle forms just give them metal masks. Their leader, the Gorma Emperor, doesn't even have a battle form.
    • Subverted, but later played straight in Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters. The human-looking Enter is first subservient to Messiah, a floating skull comprised of data. When Messiah is defeated halfway through the series, Enter plans to take his place, playing this trope straight.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Paul Heyman is the normal-sized handler of "The Beast", Brock Lesnar. Humorously, however, other WWE celebs often refer to Heyman himself as if he were a monster, calling him a "walrus" or a fat ogre.
  • Paul Bearer may have been ghoulish-looking, but at least he wasn't a seven-foot-tall undead giant like The Undertaker.
  • The Great Khali tended to be managed by very small note  men, such as Khosrow Daivari or Ranjin Singh. Although Singh was arguably a subversion, because he was revealed to be Khali's non-handicapped brother.
  • Armando Estrada (another relatively small man) managed "The Samoan Bulldozer" Umaga before embarking on an in-ring career of his own.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Dragonlance setting for Dungeons & Dragons. Each dragon army was made up of an assortment of monsters and led by a human(oid) Dragon Highlord.
  • Averted in Warhammer 40,000 with Genestealer cults. The genestealers start off looking human, then the next generation gets a few extra limbs or extending jaws, and so on, until purestrain genestealers, who look like like beefy xenomorphs. They're led by a Magus, who looks like a human with a huge, veined cranium, and a Patriach, a disgustingly obese, multilimbed monstrosity.
  • Princess: The Hopeful: While the bulk of the Darkness's armies tend to consist of the clearly inhuman Darkspawn, they will often be led by a Mnemosyne or Cataphract, who possess mostly-human bodies and minds and as such are capable of strategic planning and long-term thinking.

  • BIONICLE's Visorak horde, an army of Giant Spiders, are led by the humanoid Sidorak and Roodaka on behalf of the also-humanoid (usually) Brotherhood of Makuta.

    Video Games 
  • In Fallout Tactics, the army of Super Mutants is lead by someone called Gamorin whom they revere. He turns out to be a renegade Brotherhood paladin.
  • Possibly Super Paper Mario - Count Bleck and Dimentio may or may not be human. It's ambiguous, but most others in the setting look far less human.
    • Count Bleck is, in fact, of the Tribe of Darkness (which is implied to be the same species as Merlon, or similar). Dimentio isn't clear.
    • A heroic example, the dominant species of the Mushroom Kingdom are the Toads, but Princess Peach Toadstool is a human.
  • Warcraft:
    • The Horde, for the most part, averts this:
      • The Old Horde, featured in Warcraft I and II, was able to take fight to humanity, and even bring it to its knees in the first part, without any human help whatsoever. While demons were working behind the scenes manipulating the Horde (more on the Burning Legion below), they did not rule it directly, and for the most part the Old Horde was corrupted, but otherwise independent.
      • The trope was invoked inbetween II and III with the actions of the human lord Aedelas Blackmoore, who sought to train the now-enslaved orcs to serve as his personal army. However, his plans backfired, resulting in the orc rebellion and the formation of the modern, protagonist New Horde.
      • The Dark Horde (a remnant of the Old Horde), one of the antagonists of vanilla World of Warcraft, subverts this trope. At first, it appears that it is led by the human Lord Victor Nefarius; however, eventually Nefarius is revealed to be a dragon in disguise. Kairozdormu, another dragon in disguise, attempted to take control of the Iron Horde, another remnant of the Old Horde created using time travel, but he was killed before he could do so.
      • The New Horde plays with this trope a little. Its first Warchief, Thrall, has a unique model which is slightly more humanoid than the normal orc one, with eyebrows and teeth that are flat rather than sharp. He would downplay this trope if he were a bad guy. His successor, Garrosh Hellscream, was a bad guy, but he was even monstrous than the other orcs, thus averting this trope. After him came Vol'jin, who was neither a bad guy nor humanlike. The fourth Warchief, Sylvanas Windrunner, was the first, and so far only, Horde leader to actually play this trope straight, being a very, very, ''very'' evil sexy high elf.
    • The Lich King might count, as he looks pretty much as he did in life, exept all pale and dead, while the common soldiers of the Scourge are skeletons, barely humanoid ghouls, and abominations stitched up from corpses. In fact, most of high ranking Scourge (exept the liches, who look like floating ghostly skeletons, and crypt lords, who are giant undead insects) look more human than their underlings, as the dark magic that sustains them also helps to preserve their bodies.
  • The Locust Queen appears in Gears of War 2. Lampshaded by Cole.
  • Although Saren from Mass Effect isn't exactly a human, his species is generally treated as equivalent to human by the game. The geth that serve him are not.
  • Kingdom Hearts:
    • This is the case in most games. The hordes of monstrous Heartless and Nobodies eventually turn out to be under the control of a being (or collective of beings) who look and act entirely human - but looks can be deceiving.
    • The Unversed are also under the control of Vanitas, as they are incarnations of his feelings. Vanitas himself is under Xehanort's control as he is his master, although the exact degree of control he is under is debatable.
  • In [PROTOTYPE], Elizabeth Greene is the organizing force behind the infection; most of the monstrosities infecting Manhattan are under her direct command. She looks normal enough, but is essentially "burned out", with Greene being less of an independent personality than a personification of The Virus. Alex Mercer suggests he could take control of the infection after Greene's death, but he's more focused on killing them than leading them.
    • In [PROTOTYPE 2] Alex becomes this to the new infection, which he causes.
  • In Galaxia Chronicles, HE is a noticeably ordinary-looking person (at least, what we see of HIM) compared to the biomechanical Siris, who he is collaborating with as part of HIS Evil Plan. At one point, HE and Maxx draw blood simultaneously after White Shell attacks the latter, implying that they share some kind of connection to each other, or that HE is possibly a future version of Maxx. The game never elaborates on it.
  • Andross from Star Fox, although technically not human, was the closest to a human compared to the other characters, genetically speaking, and he was either directly responsible for the events of the series or manipulated the enemy into doing his bidding. In Star Fox: Farewell Beloved Falco, Andross was resurrected via cloning by a rogue Cornerian officer. In Star Fox Adventures, due to his hijacking the plot, he was implied to have manipulated Scales and the rest of the Sharpclaw army into doing his bidding. In Star Fox Command, it was implied that he was the one who created the main threat of the game, the Anglar Race. In fact, the only main villainous group never affiliated with Andross at all was the Aparoids.
  • Professor Hojo in Final Fantasy VII created the Big Bad, Sephiroth, both naturally and artificially (Sephiroth was Hojo's birth son, and he was injected with Jenova's cells as an embryo), and was implied to have had some involvement in creating Deepground.
  • Ein in Pokémon Colosseum, The Evil Genius of the Cipher syndicate who created the Shadow Pokémon used by Cipher. He's the last and most powerful of the admins.
  • Captain Syrup in Wario Land 1 and 2 who is the only other human member of the game's cast and the Big Bad. Also possibly The Shake King in Wario Land: Shake It!, who while probably not quite human, looks a heck of a lot more so than any of other enemies in the game.
  • One of the most common enemies in Illbleed are animate crash-test-dummies. Their leader, Dummyman, is not a dummy himself but rather a man in a costume, as can be glimpsed in the Killerman stage. He also doesn't fall apart when defeated like they do.
  • Sigma from the Mega Man X series tends to have animaloid Mavericks as his minions.
  • The Architect from Dragon Age: Origins – Awakening, the "creator" and leader of the "awakened" darkspawn.
  • The Secret World has a few examples:
    • In the Hell Dimensions, the main enemy demons (which look appropriately demonic and largely inhuman) are led by Eblis, a fallen angel shaped like a smooth, whitish humanlike being. In a less villainous version, your incursions into hell are to support a demonic rebellion led by a human called Wicker.
    • In the first section of the game (On Solomon Island), you fight a number of zombies, giant bugs, ghosts, and such, but the main villain is the human looking Beaumont.
  • The Ancestor from Darkest Dungeon is directly responsible for almost every enemy you face, and the rest are probably his indirect fault as well. Brainwashing fishmen, demonic swinefolk, undead legions, parasitic fungus and vampirized aristocrat ex-pals were all brought about by his hand, and when the villagers complained he hired a group of bandits to keep them in line and gave the witnesses to the creatures he had created. The reason behind all this is he was bored and wanted eldritch power for a laugh. This being a Cosmic Horror Story, it all went wrong quite quickly. Unusually he is not the Big Bad, as he killed himself after realizing what he had done and supports you via narration as you clean up his mess.
  • The Vagans somehow got a hold of the Vajra Queen in Super Robot Wars BX and, thus, are behind most of the Vajra attacks in the game.
  • In the original Shadow Warrior (1997) You fight a bunch of monsters and demons, but Zilla is just a Corrupt Corporate Executive who made some kind of pact to summon said creatures from the spirit world. The same is mostly true in the remake, although in the sequel (where the material and spirit worlds have collided and monsters are as common as wild animals) he mainly uses robots and humans with Powered Armor.
  • While they’re still creepy cyborg Humanoid Abominations, the higher ranks of the Abyssal Fleet in KanColle look more human-like than the lower-ranking units, who are more animalistic sea monsters.
  • The first two House of the Dead games feature Dr. Curien and Caleb Goldman, respectively, are the ones behind the zombie outbreaks. Thornheart seems to be this for Scarlet Dawn. Averted in III and IV, where there are no human antagonists (unless you count Goldman filling the Big Bad role in IV posthumously)

    Web Animation 
  • RWBY: The Grimm, mindless monsters of pure destruction, are ruled by Salem, an immortal woman who fell into the pool of their essence.

    Web Comics 
  • A number of the Sparks from Girl Genius have turned themselves into this due to being just as willing to experiment on themselves as they are other people and animals.

    Western Animation 

Alternative Title(s): The Woman Behind The Monsters