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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/or 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. 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.

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Examples:

Anime and Manga
  • Area88 has Giuseppe Farina, an extremely elderly, wheelchair-bound, blind or nearly blind mafia don who nonetheless has an enormous amount of influence and connections.
  • Dragon Ball Z has Babidi. While he himself 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.
  • One Piece has 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; 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.

Comic Books

  • While the Batman and more frequently Robin Series villain the General did eventually bulk up he started out as an eleven year old bossing around gangsters and other criminals, and for a short time the army of a small foreign country, who were willing to listen to him because his brutal plans and strategies tended to work.
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Films - Animated

  • Zootopia:
    • Dawn Belwether is a tiny, non-threatening sheep who happens to be Big Bad of the story and establishes an anti-predator conspiracy - she also 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 3x their bodyweight 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.
  • The Emperor in Return of the Jedi is this, his ability to shoot lightning from his fingertips notwithstanding.
  • 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.

Literature

  • 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.
  • 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 rehire (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.

Video Games

  • Borderlands 2's "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.
  • Earthworm Jim has a character called Bob the Killer Goldfish who is a Zero-Effort Boss both times he shows ups. 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.
  • The Necromancer in West of Loathing. For a large portion of the game, you hear about him 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.
  • Ryo Aoki of Yakuza: Like a Dragon 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

  • Trope image provider Mr. Burns in The Simpsons may struggle to crush a paper cup, but is still widely feared because he has a private army of security guards, hired goons, and lawyers in his personal retinue.
  • Miraculous Ladybug: Though Hawkmoth does have the baseline powers of a Miraculous Bearer (super-strength, boosted reflexes, and a magic Sword Cane and indestructible suit), just about any one of his akumatized minions would be more than a match for him in a fight. The one time he actually gets into a fight with other Miraculous users, he is exhausted after just a few minutes, though it does take around 5 heroes to overwhelm him while Ladybug and Chat Noir on their own were beaten with ease by him.
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