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Weak Boss, Strong Underlings

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The exact opposite of Authority Equals Asskicking; this is when somebody who isn't physically intimidating, or who's even outright weak, has at their disposal plenty of people who are. Call them what you will: goons, thugs, hired muscle, bodyguards, the long and short of this is they're suddenly a lot more intimidating because even if they can't hurt you themselves, they can give somebody much stronger the order to do so.

Supertrope to Mister Big. Can overlap with Evil Cripple and Dark Lord on Life Support, but the boss doesn't have to be disabled or even all that weak, just physically less intimidating than who they have at their command. Compare with Strong Empire, Shriveled Emperor. Contrast Bodyguarding a Badass.

Not to be confused with Hard Levels, Easy Bosses, though the two can occasionally overlap. A Non-Action Big Bad is occasionally this.



Anime & Manga

  • Akame ga Kill!:
    • Fat Bastard Prime Minister Honest is not a great fighter in the anime but has generals who can fight much better than him, among them the strongest woman in the Empire — The Baroness General Esdeath. Averted in the manga since he is noted to be stronger than his son Syura and goes toe-to-toe with Leone all on his own.
    • Above the Prime Minister is the Emperor himself, a naïve boy who gets manipulated by his evil, adult, and definitely more political-savvy underlings.
  • Area 88 has Giuseppe Farina, an extremely elderly, wheelchair-bound, blind, or nearly blind mafia don who nonetheless has an enormous amount of influence and connections.
  • Danganronpa: Downplayed. Big Bad Junko is mainly an intellectual mastermind, but her execution in the first game shows that she's surprisingly durable. However, she can't defeat more skilled opponents like Mukuro or Izuru in direct combat. Luckily, she has quite a few strong underlings at her disposal, like an army of Monokuma robots or the Warriors of Hope (who have giant mechs with which to kill adults).
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  • The Demon Girl Next Door: Delicate and Sickly, high schooler Yuko Yashida is Big Good Sakura's successor as the protector of Tama Town, but nearly every other character around her is stronger than her. Momo points out it's only natural for the self-stylized "Shadow Mistress" to fight with underlings. Her primary demon power, Dream Walking reinforces this.
  • Digimon Ghost Game: Downplayed. As an angelic Digimon, Darcmon is certainly stronger than others of her level, but she is still just an Adult level. Her servant/pet, however, Manticoremon, is at the Perfect level and is able to quickly defeat both BetelGammamon and Thetismon, requiring the debut of The Berserker Lamortmon to take it down. Justified in that, on their own, Manticoremons are mindless savage beasts and require angelic Digimon like Darcmon to keep them in control and give them direction, lest they attack everything around them in their hunger for Virus Digicores.
  • Dragon Ball Z:
    • Majin Buu Saga: While Babidi is very weak, what makes him a threat is that he can easily mind control very powerful fighters, which he ends up doing to Vegeta. He also used to command the all-powerful Majin Buu, who could and did easily destroy him.
    • Dragon Ball Z: Bio-Broly: Fat Bastard, Rich Idiot With No Day Job Baron Jaguar Badda is a normal human that control, or attempts to, a group of very strong Bio-Warriors, including Broly. It should cue you that he is Small Name, Big Ego Mr. Satan's rival, another utter fluke of a warrior.
  • One Piece has a few examples:
    • Spandam, leader of the secret government agency Cipher Pol 9. While his subordinates are all trained assassins and spies with superpowers, he himself is weaker than even a common low-rank Marine troop; Spandam's power level is 9, whereas Kalifa (the weakest CP9 agent) has a power level of 630, and Lucci (the strongest agent) has a power level of 4,000. He does have the "elephant sword" Funkfreed, but what should be a potentially powerful weapon is little more than trash in his hands, which Franky demonstrates.
    • While Admirals are the opposite of this trope, they still have someone above them, the Celestial Dragons. If a Dragon is attacked, an Admiral has to intervene. The Admirals are the real threat, the Celestial Dragons themselves are even weaker than Spandam.
    • Buggy the Clown is one of the first arc villains in the series, whom Luffy defeats somewhat easily early on. Buggy continues to serve as a recurring minor antagonist despite how weak he is, but after breaking out of Impel Down with Luffy's help, he manages to gain the loyalty of some of the other escapees by virtue of having once served on Pirate King Gol D. Roger's crew. Because of his underlings' strength, Buggy becomes a Warlord of the Sea over the course of the Time Skip, and later, one of the new Four Emperors after the dissolution of the Warlord system and the defeat of Big Mom and Kaido who's also managed to recruit former Warlords Mihawk and Crocodile into his crew.
    • Despite his Mythical Zoan fruit, Kurozumi Orochi is this. On paper, he is the Shogun of Wano and an equal to Kaido. In practice, despite his impressive durability, he has no skills whatsoever, and his personal guard, as well as the Beast Pirates, are stronger than him, and Kaido gets rid of him easily once he has no more use for him.
  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS, Hayate is this in a sense. She has by far the highest power level of all known mages in the series, an SS-rank, but specializes in wide-area bombardment spells that, while as powerful as they sound, are difficult to aim. She claims that Caro, the only Forward who was at C rank as of joining Hayate's division, could defeat her in one-on-one combat without the dragons that serve as the source of her offensive power.

Comic Books

  • Robin (1993): While the General does eventually bulk up, he starts out as very Young and in Charge. He's an eleven-year-old bossing around gangsters and other criminals and for a short time, the army of a small foreign country, who are willing to listen to him because his brutal plans and strategies tend to work. The General sometimes appears in the Franchise/Batman comics as well.
  • Watchmen: Big Figure, the mafia boss that threatens Rorschach in prison, barely comes up to the waist of the two thugs he's with. Rorschach easily overpowers him and dunks him into the toilet.

Fan Works

  • Infinity Train: Seeker of Crocus: It's not that Benevolent Boss Professor Sycamore is an utter weakling, especially after his training at the Monster City Car. However, compared to the other members of the Windchasers —a giant hammer-headed dragon-shark, a Master of Illusion who also happens to be a werewolf, and a tech-savvy kid who can pilot giant robots—, it's clear he's not the top dog, just a Badass Normal.
  • Paradoxus: General Darko Laurent of the Tyrannus Division is not someone to scoff at. It just happens that his subordinates include the Winx Club (also known as the most powerful fairies of the dimension) and their daughters. It doesn't help that he's in a universe where women are more attuned to magic-wielding than men.
  • Stormwolf Adventures:
    • Nessie is pretty weak for a dhampire, but she has enough money to fund the Legion and have a personal army. Her gift also is only good for leading.
    • The Force Hunters are abominations so strong that it takes several heroes just to defeat one of them. Their creator, Emil Kudos, is not a great fighter.
    • Subverted with Al Astor. He looks like an ordinary propagandist who relies on his bodyguards, two powerful Vampire Lords. In reality, because the propagandist becomes a target fast, this is a bluff: Al is one of the strongest members of the Legion, and he was chosen in his perilous place for his strength.
    • In a Brains and Brawn duo, Talon Ted is much weaker but way smarter than Rhymey. It's on account of this latter trait that he can order Rhymey around.
  • This Bites!: Spandam is the Small Name, Big Ego, Smug Snake leader of Cipher Pol No. 9. He is only a threat to the weakest members of the Straw Hat Crew and isn't even respected by the assassins at his command. They just tolerate him and do his bidding because Spandam is their superior. While everyone gets big moments in this story, Spandam's only one is nearly killing Robin, who is restrained, forcing Vivi to awaken her Haki to stop him. He is also easily beaten by Cross, who is not physically strong, just very smart and full of knowledge.

Films — Animation

  • Zootopia:
    • Dawn Bellwether is a tiny, non-threatening sheep who happens to be Big Bad of the story and establishes an anti-predator conspiracy. She employs a number of large rams as her goons.
    • Mr. Big, a tiny Arctic shrew who happens to be a mob boss who employs a gang of polar bears. Subverted in that the size difference makes Mr. Big appear weak but the directors have said they intentionally chose him to be an Arctic shrew because they are the most vicious predators for their size in the world. They need to eat three times their body weight daily and have no qualms about eating other Arctic shrews to achieve this.

Films — Live-Action

  • Guy Ritchie was particularly fond of this trope:
    • In Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels, Harry has Big Chris and Barry the Baptist at his disposal (but Harry's not above getting physical himself, even if the only weapon available is a 15-inch black rubber sex toy)
    • Snatch. features this quite a lot; Bricktop has his thugs (most prominently John and Errol), Turkish and Tommy used Gorgeous George for that purpose, Doug The Head hires Bullet-Tooth Tony both for this and for his abilities to find someone, and Avi has Rosebud.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Black Widow (2021): By virtue of his advanced age and lack of combat prowess, Non-Action Big Bad General Dreykov can barely throw a punch. Luckily for him, he has an army of Widows as well as the Taskmaster at his disposal.
    • Pietro and Wanda Maximoff both serve as the Strong Underlings to Baron Strucker's Weak Boss, as they are both enhanced individuals capable of taking on the Avengers, while Strucker is an old man with no combat skills who doesn't even try to defend himself when Captain America comes to capture him.
    • Due to his old age, General Ross isn't much of a physical threat to any of the heroes. Which is why he has to rely on his soldiers, especially Emil Blonsky, who was a skilled fighter even before he took the Super Soldier serum.
  • Star Wars:
    • Subverted in regards to Darth Vader. Despite being a Dark Lord on Life Support, Vader's mastery of the Force allows him to easily overpower all of his subordinates, no matter how badass they are or whether they are Force-sensitive too.
    • The Emperor looks so fragile, ill, and old compared to the imposing looks of his Dragon, Darth Vader. Moreover, Vader himself is the one to defeat him in The Climax, even if just by virtue of exploiting the weakness of the Emperor's Force Lightning technique.
  • The Netflix exclusive Bright has Poison, an Evil Cripple bound to a wheelchair but surrounded by a couple of trigger-happy cholos.
  • Lex Luthor in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a young, skinny Evil Genius who uses Anatoli Knyazev and his mercenary team as muscle.


  • In the Discworld novel Guards! Guards!, Sam Vimes is first seen as a hopeless alcoholic shunted sideways into commanding the Night Watch, a laughable Ragtag Bunch of Misfits in the City Guard. Vimes ends up taking several levels in badass, but not before he recruits the terrifying troll Detritus and the very keen Constable Carrot, a man who can knock out a troll in a fist fight. When Vimes is menaced by two of the much more reputable Palace Guards, he considers and says "You're right. This is not a scary uniform."
    [Constable Carrot steps forward]
    Vimes: This, on the other hand, is a scary uniform.
  • Harry Potter: Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge is described as, at best, an average wizard and, at worst, magically incompetent. By virtue of his charge, the entire Auror force and the Unspeakables answer directly to him. While not every Auror is Tonks, Kingsley, or Scrigmeour-level of talented, the career is one of the most course-heavy in Hogwarts and requires further training at an Academy. On the other hand, the Unspeakables are the ones tasked to unravel and deal with the mysteries of magic, so they must be very proficient at it.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: Most of the Tullu's bannermen have more wealth, larger armies, and wider territories than them. This makes House Tully potentially the weakest of the great houses.
  • Tricky Business: After Manny Arquero humiliates Bobby Kemp in front of his date (well, remains calm while Kemp looks like the whiny little bitch he is), Kemp buys the ship Manny works on and fires him. Unfortunately, Manny actually works for the mob and is very quickly rehired (and Kemp informed of how things work from then on).
    The first thing he did, as owner, was go to the ship and personally fire Manny Arquero, from behind two bodyguards. Arquero did not seem troubled at all.

Tabletop Games

  • Red Dragon Inn has Torglesnarf Duncleton (First of His Name), the self-proclaimed goblin king of small stature surrounded by minions who definitely aren't tiny.

Role Play

  • Dark World Role Play: Downplayed. Navy can't be entirely classified as weak. However, he still once uses B.T., Bolt, Beta, and Bits as weapons. The first three of them are very strong and could outnumber him if they weren't held under the control of the Blue Teeth at the time.

Video Games

  • Borderlands 2: "Tiny Tina's Assault on Dragon Keep" DLC features a sidequest that is acknowledged In-Universe as a Shout-Out to the Borderlands equivalent of Game of Thrones, featuring an expy in the form of "Prince Jeffery." Jeffery taunts you from his iron throne made of guns while his two bodyguards fight you. After you finish them off, Tina (the DM) admits that she can't allow you to kill a minor, but your character can go up and smack Jeffery around and reduce him to a quivering mess with a melee hit. You can do it as many times as you desire, but Tina eventually states that she can't think of any more dialogue for the character to say.
  • Criminal Case: World Edition: Conversed in the ninth case, Killing Spring. Omar Bahir, aka The Sword, accuses the victim Hamza Bousseif of being this trope — that Hamza can put at risk the life of the protestants he leads in order to overthrow the Sultan but is too cowardly to do the same with his own life. Omar also encourages Hamza to become Cannon Fodder to demonstrate what a great leader he is.
  • Cuphead: "Bootlegger Boogie" in the DLC consists of fighting against the Moonshine Mob, a gang of bugs that fight the local ant police with your characters caught in between. The first in line is the spider, a big and tough mobster in charge of the goons who can call in backup and bombs. The second is a seductive lady insect who places down and dances to a gramophone that emits killer sound waves. The Mob's Secret Weapon is a giant anteater who eats scores of ant police and fly mobsters then spits them out as a Big Ball of Violence. The mob boss is a small snail who's seen in the fight intro and has a single, easily-avoided attack and far less health than the first three, with his only threat being the element of surprise after the anteater goes down.
  • Dave.exe: For being the evil leader and Big Bad, Edgy Dave is actually not that strong. He has the slowest chase speed out of any killers in the game, and his ability, Combat Tentacles, is quite tame. By contrast, his underlings include but are not limited to a chainsaw-wielding monster, a teleporting arcade virus, a boxing robot, a killer spider, and a horde of exploding ducks.
  • Earthworm Jim has a character called Bob the Killer Goldfish who is a Zero-Effort Boss both times he shows us. His feline minions on the other hand pack quite the punch, literally as one punch from them deals quite a lot of damage to Jim.
  • Expeditions: Conquistador: Unlike Moctezuma, Tepictoton, the ruler of the Totonac, is far weaker than his guards — the game treats him as a mere Civilian, meaning he has pathetic stats and equipment, no special skills, and will usually try to run and hide rather than fight.
  • Fate/Grand Order: Jason of the Argonauts is portrayed as an incredibly weak Servant who managed to assemble a crew of some of the greatest heroes of Greek Mythology and whose talent is that of a tactician capable of squeezing out a victory when his back is against the wall. This is shown by how in-game he's of the lowest rarity while his attacks have him calling upon Heracles, Atalante and Medea (all of whom are of the second-highest rarity in the game) as well as having a largely support-focused move set.
  • Most final bosses in the Gradius series are laughably easy giant brain organisms that are sorely lacking in health and firepower, if they even have any at all. The minibosses encountered on the way to them are much more dangerous opponents, with one usually being a deadly wall of guns and another usually being a completely invincible multi-legged mech. To say nothing about the brutally difficult Boss Rushes present in almost every game in the series, all of whom are the minions of the final boss.
  • Infernax:
    • Cutscene Boss Mayor Edgar drops his sword once confronted by Alcedor. His goon is about twice as strong as the normal cultists.
    • Remus is much weaker than Brutus, as the former goes down in a single hit and the latter is probably the strongest skeletal enemy. However, the former gives him orders because he is far more calculating, while Brutus is destructive and just smart enough to set traps.
    • Played with with Robert. His fighting skills are nonexistent, while the cultist leaders put up more of a fight. However, his summoning skills are the strongest, as his officers needed rituals to summon one demon, while Robert can summon a whole army of skeletons without rituals.
  • Koihime†Musou: The rulers of the Kan Empire are not fighters, but they have powerful generals under their command, with Chouryou and Ryofu among the most powerful. Downplayed in regards to Kashin, who's one of the rulers but also a warrior.
  • Legends of Runeterra: Halfway through the Path of Champions, the player encounters Azir, whose entire deck revolves around summoning underlings, the Sand Soldiers. When Azir activates a certain boost card, his ephemeral armies get stronger than him, particularly if he summons a handful of them.
  • Persona 5 has two examples among the Palace Rulers.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Justice For All: Shelly de Killer is possibly the strongest individual in the series and very loyal to his client. His client is good at scheming, but attempting to backstab Shelly was his downfall, as Shelly could easily kill him.
  • Tower Of The Sorcerer: The Golden Knight is very beatable even at the start of the Knight Zone, and when he's exactly the same strength at the end of the zone, after all the power-ups you've collected, he's a push-over. But first, you must deal with his army of soldiers, knights, and swordsmen, who each get a free shot at you, with no breaks in between. Ouch.
  • Princess Connect! Re:Dive: Illya has two modes: the menacing Evil Overlord and the Sleep-Mode Size. Whenever she steps out of her crystal container, she reverts back to the latter and is considerably weaker than her bat minions. Much to her chagrin, the bats sense the power gap and start attacking her. Played for Laughs when Yuuki tries to help Illya and then carries her in bridal style.
  • West of Loathing: For a large portion of the game, you hear about The Necromancer and see his handiwork in the many skeletons you fight. After finding a bunch of clues, you locate the tower. You fight your way to the top of the tower through hordes of skeletons. Then, you finally reach the Necromancer. It turns out that all that dark magic did a number on him, and the Necromancer turned to dust if you just breathed on him hard enough.
  • Yakuza:
    • Yakuza: Sohei Dojima is a short, pudgy, physically unimpressive Non-Action Big Bad who's easily taken care of in the ending of 0 once he's completely run out of cannon fodder with no way to escape. His success as a yakuza is owed primarily to his ruthless ambitions having at some point or another the support of some of the most powerful figures in the Tojo Clan's history. To name a few we have Shintaro Kazama, Futoshi Shimano, Daisaku Kuze, Hiroki Awano, and Keiji Shibusawa.
    • Yakuza: Like a Dragon: Ryo Aoki is a Corrupt Politician out to gut the Japanese criminal underworld and rebuild it in his own image. His chosen instrument for this is the Omi Alliance yakuza, and notably, Ryo's boss battle is much easier than the preceding one against Yosuke Tendo, a former boxer built like a truck and about as hard-hitting as one to boot.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: Exaggerated. Mr. Burns may struggle to crush a paper cup and in one episode had his foot pushed away by an ant he intended to step on, but he is still widely feared because he has a private army of security guards, hired goons, and lawyers in his personal retinue.
  • Miraculous Ladybug:
    • From an aesthetic point of view, the Big Bad Hawk Moth's character design looks very unthreatening compared to that of the colorful, wacky akumatized villains he creates. He wears a dark purple two-piece suit and a gray Luchador mask while his underlings range from giant robots to dark knights and everything in between. In terms of the logic of the plot, that Hawk Moth needs to create them in the first place drives the point home. The Butterfly Miraculous, which he uses, is a support type and not truly suited for direct combat. The only reason why he is able to overpower Ladybug and Chat Noir is that he is an adult and far more ruthless than them. Several of his own minions could take him in a fight; a few of them can even overwhelm the aforementioned heroes, prompting them to rely more on cunning and less on raw power.
    • The Peacock Miraculous fulfills a supporting role as well (creating minions to aid in battle), but this trope is accentuated by the fact it is damaged, which aggrieved its user with a debilitating, gradual illness. Again, The Dragon Mayura being an adult is the only reason she's not entirely helpless. Fortunately for her, her control over her sentimonsters is more complete than Hakw Moth's over his akumas because she amokizes objects, not people.
    • Big Good Master Wang Fu cannot take the physical toll of using a Miraculous due to his old age (he's well over 100 years). This forces him to give the Miraculous jewels to Recruit Teenagers with Attitude, so they can go and fight the evil Miraculous user Hawk Moth for him. The younger heroes are inexperienced, though, so Master Fu remains the Guardian of the Miraculous and the titular character's mentor.
  • Winx Club: As the titular characters earn more powerful transformations each season, they become the strong underlings for Faragonda's weak boss. Faragonda, a Retired Badass in her own right, is the elderly Headmistress of the fairy school the Winx attend and the one who assigns them missions. It's unclear the exact point when their dynamic shifts but given that Faragonda is unable to call on her fairy transformations, it's probably fairly early on.