Follow TV Tropes


Obfuscating Stupidity / Comic Books

Go To

  • Superman:
    • Some incarnations of Superman (especially the iconic portrayal by Christopher Reeve) have their Clark Kenting rely almost completely on Clark Kent being a clumsy, timid stick-in-the-mud (albeit not stupid), so nobody would seriously entertain the notion that this farm boy could be the Man of Steel. Indeed, it was a running joke throughout the Golden and Silver Ages that Clark couldn't get a date with Lois Lane because she was only interested in the brave, physically-capable Superman.
    • Advertisement:
    • Superman is the Trope Codifier, for DC Comics. The fact that he can disguise himself with a pair of glasses and this, and nobody ever figures it out themselves, is a testament either to human stupidity or his awesome Obfuscating Stupidity. Oh, and the hair curl. This is even lampshaded in Lois & Clark: the New Adventures of Superman, where Lois is told point blank, "Hello! Duh! Clark Kent is Superman!"
    • In one Silver Age story Lois herself used this trope; while disguised as a blonde to get close to a story she bumps into crooks who notice her 'resemblance' to Lois Lane. She pretends to be a Dumb Blonde gangsters' moll and goes along with the crooks plan to use her as a 'fake' Lois to trap Superman.
    • In All-Star Superman, it's pointed out that Clark exploits the identifying power of mannerisms and posture to better his disguise. Luthor even outright says that if Kent stood up straight and worked out more, he could have a body that looked like Superman.
    • Advertisement:
    • An interesting subversion came when Lex Luthor fed all the evidence he had regarding Superman's identity into a supercomputer, and it told him that Superman's secret identity was Clark Kent. Luthor then destroyed the machine and ignored the results, but rather than thinking that someone as bumbling and timid Kent could never be Superman, he believed that someone as powerful as Superman would never demean himself with such a disguise.
    • Modern versions of the character go back and forth with this trope though, since while Clark Kent sometimes acts clumsy and dumb, he is also a prize-winning investigative journalist for a major metropolitan newspaper and it's a little difficult to believe that he could hold such a position and reputation and have too many people think he is an idiot. Of course, obfuscating stupidity comes in handy for a job like that as well...
  • Batman:
    • Batman relies quite strongly on his public persona of "Bruce Wayne, idjit." Averted in the animated series, where he's portrayed as the head of Wayne Enterprises and a shrewd businessperson, but still having a rather... enthusiastic attitude towards social activities.
    • This backfires on him during Batman: No Man's Land when he tries to secure government aid for Gotham as Bruce Wayne. This fails for various reasons: 1) Lex Luthor is pulling strings to keep Gotham from getting help in a bid to buy up its real estate, 2) the problems the earthquake brought to Gotham can't be solved with money alone, and 3) no one takes the "idiot playboy" Bruce Wayne seriously. It really doesn't help that it looks like Bruce ditched Gotham and moved to the Bahamas using his money and connections despite the lockdown. In the end Bruce has to rely on Lucius Fox to secure government aid while he as Batman deals with the problems in Gotham and Lex Luthor's machinations.
    • It becomes a major plot point of 'Batman: R.I.P.', which starts with Alfred pointing out that Bruce is using his 'Batman' voice even when he's out of costume in the Batcave. And after a period of dating Jezebel Jet, she confronts him during a dinner with the question of whether or not there's anything more to Bruce Wayne than the fun, spontaneous, but ultimately shallow man she'd been dating. The relationship ends up being saved by an assassination attempt on Jet, with the assassin even writing off Bruce as a layabout "...with Bowflex muscles." But Bruce manages to piss him off enough to get dragged off into a secluded room by a henchman to be 'executed,' at which point he sticks to the shadows and picks off the assassins without them ever seeing him. Unfortunately, when he's interrogating the leader, Jet sees him illuminated by moonlight and, between the physical evidence and her own belief that it was impossible for there to be so little to a person, she realizes that he's Batman, in spite of Bruce's hate-filled tirade against himself for the exact sort of shallowness she had perceived. Of course, she already knew his identity, and this was all a Evil Plan by the Black Glove.
    • The Penguin. So good it even fools some writers. Penguin was the first villain to actually escape from Batman and outsmart him, and it was a running theme in all of Penguin's first stories that he always somehow managed find a way to escape. Truth is, people too often forget that the Penguin's shtick is that you're SUPPOSED to underestimate him. You're SUPPOSED to be so underwhelmed by his ridiculous mannerisms that you never see the scheme coming before you've fallen victim to it. There is a reason the umbrella was chosen as his weapon. It serves as a metaphor for the Penguin's character and nature. Like his umbrellas, the Penguin appears completely harmless perhaps even mundane, but also like his umbrellas he conceals a darker nature.
      • Quote from Bruce/Batman to Robin/Tim Drake in 'Penguin Triumphant': "Everyone seems to consistently underestimate the Penguin — myself included. In point of fact, Cobblepot is ruthless, vindictive, calculating, inventive — and perhaps the most brilliant man I've ever fought."
    • The Joker. He looks and acts like a clown and often comes up with ridiculous schemes that seem to genuinely make no sense (the most infamous example being the time he tried to patent his brand of poisoned fish). He can also be suicidally reckless and he frequently resorts to petty pranks even when he has Batman firmly at his mercy. But beneath his foolish façade lurks one of the most diabolically brilliant psychopathic minds Batman ever faces, and he regularly proves himself capable of not only keeping pace with, but actually frequently outsmarting, both the Dark Knight and a host of other extremely intelligent heroes and villains, with even Lex Luthor thinking he is one of the few minds who can actually keep up with him. The Joker is a brilliant chemist who invented his own lethal laughing gas and various other concoctions, has proven himself to be an expert in a range of fields ranging from engineering to psychology and even meteorology, is a masterful escape artist and magician easily on par with his nemesis, and regularly organises and executes acts of robbery and terrorism of such sophistication that they have been compared to military operations. It is very often implied that he is more than capable of killing Batman and everyone else if he really put his mind to it (and that he has intentionally passed up opportunities to do just that), and that the only reason he doesn't is that he thinks actually winning would be boring.
    • Bruce's middle two boys often rely on other's misjudging them as less sharp in order to carry out their plans. In Red Hood: The Lost Days Jason pretends not to understand German causing others to discuss a child slavery ring in his presence and while most people know Tim is smart he manages to surprise classmates repeatedly in Robin with his knowledge and observational skills without seeming too skilled and causing any of them to suspect him of being more than he is saving perhaps Ives who had already demonstrated that he would go out his way not to learn any of Tim's secrets without Tim telling him directly and Bernard who suspects everyone is up to something.
    • Harley Quinn is usually depicted as this. Harley can be quite introspective when she wants to be. She appears ditzy and goofy but she was a trained psychologist (with many comics making her a psychiatrist, which means she passed med school) and, as she says in one comic, she got into Arkham Asylum despite being a recent graduate. Harley was originally depicted as faking her way past school by sleeping with teachers, but Characterization Marches On and DC prefers to treat her as manipulative and Brilliant, but Lazy.
    • Barbara Gordon is considered genius-level and is one of the best hackers in the DC universe, but this isn't readily noticeable, especially when she's in civilian form or working as Batgirl.
  • It's also true of Spider-Man. In the early days, no one would have suspected bookish, shy Peter Parker of being the web-slinging, wise-cracking Spider-Man. This remained true as he ended up a science teacher. This is one of the few cases where the "stupid" act is part of the actual superhero persona more often than the civilian/secret identity. Peter Parker is well-known as a bright if not brilliant and educated man who avoids physical work whenever possible, where Spider-Man is a dumb jock who solves problems by punching them in the face and taunting them, kind of like a kid. All of the technical and scientific aspects of the hero-persona's work are only revealed to other heroes, if then. An example would be explaining a complex network of bugs, tracers, and detectors used to track targets intentionally allowed to escape a fight in a marked vehicle as "spider sense" and getting lucky.
  • Grunge of Gen¹³, both pre- and post-Worldstorm. The post-Worldstorm version works very hard to give the impression that he's a stupid slacker, due to bad experiences when he was younger and still extremely nerdy. Pre-Worldstorm, he takes the same advanced biology classes as the team's resident genius, Fairchild.
  • Transformers:
    • Grimlock of The Transformers (at least in the Marvel comics) was depicted as affecting his speech impediment to both make opponents underestimate him and because of his own belief that intellectuals are inferior.
    • In more recent Transformers material, Rodimus spends his time acting like a juvenile ass, but he knows exactly how people will react to each individual display of assishness. He mostly seems to think that if he acts like a child, naps on the job, pretends to be dead when asked difficult questions and so on, he can get other people to do the difficult parts of his job and leave the awesome parts up to him, and the distressing thing is that most of the time it seems to be working.
      Megatron: When did you first realize that he uses bad grammar to distract you whenever you raise an objection to something he wants to do?
      Ultra Magnus: He does WHAT?
  • While it's not always clear that he's doing it on purpose, it's been said more than once that one of Deadpool's "superpowers" is actually the ability to distract and confuse people by rambling on and on about stupid things until you either want to surrender or commit suicide from all the inanity — and yet, the whole time he's rambling, he's efficiently killing or otherwise getting on with whatever task is at hand. Often people underestimate him as a complete idiot because of all the talking, although occasionally someone will say he's an idiot but not underestimate his fighting abilities.
    • For example, his irritating, non-sequitur monologuing and erratic behavior is exactly why he could beat the crap out of The Taskmaster. Not only because Taskmaster became so irritated by the constant flood of inanity that he got all distracted, but also because he couldn't copy Deadpool's unpredictability and insanity. And Deadpool knew precisely what he was doing by unleashing it in spades. But yeah, mostly he's just nuts.
    • During Civil War, he used the phrase "addled moron that I am (or pretend to be)". This being Deadpool, it's entirely possible the "or" should be taken at face value, and he's genuinely too crazy to know how intelligent he is at any given moment.
    • Deadpool also says to Cable in the Cable and Deadpool comic something along the lines of "It's fun playing the fool, but do you know when it stops being fun? When you actually start to believe it."
    • In their first encounter, Taskmaster is detailing Deadpool's skills and abilities for a group of his students and states that Deadpool is an expert at using banter to distract his opponents.
  • From Garfield: Odie, probably. Or he might be Genius Ditz.
    • This is deliberately shown in one strip, when Odie watches Jon, then Garfield, exit the house with a wicked smile...only to settle down in a smoking-jacket, pipe, in a plush recliner, watching a show on Classical music with a copy of War & Peace nearby.
    • And in another strip where John, Garfield and Odie go on a picnic and Odie "accidentally" locks the doors of the car, "trapping" himself inside while Jon and Garfield try to instruct him on unlocking the doors. The final panel has it pouring rain, Odie enjoying the picnic meal while listening to the radio, and Jon and Garfield stuck in the rain wondering if Odie's not as dumb as he appears. In the animated version, Odie backs this up by smirking at the camera.
    • Another strip has Jon struggling to solve a Sudoku puzzle and giving up, then Odie examines it and solves it very quickly, to Jon's surprise.
    • In another strip, Odie frames Garfield for hiding all of Jon's shirts, then, when Garfield is thrown out, Odie looks on while wearing one of Jon's shirts with an evil grin on his face.
  • 11-year-old Molly Hayes, the youngest of the Runaways, seems to have the mentality of a six-year-old most of the time. However, she sometimes reveals herself to be at least as mature as her teammates, who are all in their mid-to-late teens. At one point, Molly's telepathic father states that she "acts childlike to lower people's defenses", but actually has "a ferocious intellect". Reaches its funniest point when time-displaced Geoff Wilder calls her on it.
    Molly: Please, mister! Don't hurt me!
    Wilder: Skip the waterworks, kid. Your cloying Rudy Huxtable routine is just an act you put on to get attention from your older friends. Why don't you behave like the bright young woman we both know you are?
    Molly: Fine. Your son took after you, you know. He was a total frickin' failure.
  • Booster Gold:
    • Booster Gold acts like a publicity-seeking fool to cover up the fact that he's been tasked with protecting the timestream, since this would bring about Kill Him in His Crib. Although he's not exactly a genius, he is a much more competent superhero than he seems to be. Booster's mentor and future son Rip Hunter made it clear how important this was, since it was too late to just make Booster's entire identity disappear like Rip had done with himself.
    • Booster's longtime buddy Ted Kord/Blue Beetle II invoked this as well; he was a wisecracking prankster who was also a technical genius with his own company.
  • Plastic Man is usually portrayed as being genuinely a bit dopey. During "World War III," in Grant Morrison's JLA, however, he reveals that, thanks to his longtime friendship with a C-List Fodder hero named the Red Bee, he knows just about everything there is to know about "apian management." Since an alien Evil Overlady named the Queen Bee is taking over New York City, and all the big-name heroes are busy on the Moon, Plastic Man ends up masterminding their victory. Big Barda even mentions how out of character this is for him, remarking, "This almost seems like a plan." To which he responds (while disguised as a big clown), "I only act dumb, sister."
    • Batman has said that if Plastic Man decided to go evil, not even the entire Justice League could stop him.
    • In the Kyle Baker run, local Action Girl Morgan wonders if letting Woozy Winks wander around FBI headquarters completely unattended is really a good idea, as "a spy should appear foolish and unkempt". Of course, this is Woozy Winks we're talking about. As it turns out, the actual spy is a Subversion, as it's the hyper-competent Morgan herself who is manipulating the system to her own ends.
  • In "I Can't Believe It's Not the Justice League" Elongated Man tells Booster Gold that "the difference between you and me is that I only act like an idiot".
  • Near the end of Strangers in Paradise, it is revealed that Casey was doing this all along; while posing as a Dumb Blonde aerobics instructor, she was actually keeping an eye on Katchoo for Tambi. This may or may not be an Ass Pull.
  • Jack Point, the titular character of Judge Dredd spinoff The Simping Detective, dresses as a combination of a stereotype Private Eye and a clown. His reasons are threefold: To get criminals to underestimate him, conceal gadgets and weapons in his clown gear and to allow bloodstains to be easily washed away. This is also on top of his penchant for whiskey.
    • The main Dredd strip gave us a particularly tragic version in the form of Tweak, an alien in the "Cursed Earth" story. Tweak was a genius and the ruler of his planet, but intentionally entered slavery on Earth and pretended to be a dumb animal to prevent the evil, greedy humans from returning to his planet in order to strip it of resources and enslave his species.
    • There's also PJ Maybe, a child prodigy who puts on a big show of being borderline retarded so as to avoid his teachers taking any interest in him. By the age of 14, he's already Mega-City One's most dangerous serial killer.
    • Averted in the case of the Wally Squad's Dirty Frank. He really is that crazy, but is dangerously effective nonetheless, in part because nobody thinks such a maniac could possibly be an undercover Judge.
  • Ben Grimm of Fantastic Four often acts like a dumb palooka who doesn't understand Reed's "big words" and loves to clobber. But he's well-educated - a trained test pilot and astronaut (who happens to love clobberin'!)
    • To put this in perspective, Jennifer Walters once went to the library to research a precedent setting legal trial and found the Thing there with a colossal stack of books. He was studying up to retake his certification for some of his licenses; Ben Grimm is licensed to operate literally every single vehicle on the planet, whether it goes on land, sea, air, or in space.
  • Ultra Boy, Jo Nah, of the Legion of Super-Heroes, is presented this way in the reboot continuity, partly to explain why he's a dumb jock sometimes, and a clever guy other times. The cover story is that he figured out early on that one of the LSH's enemies was manipulating events, and he presented himself as dumbish to keep the enemy's guard down.
    • To elaborate, Ultra Boy figures out in one annual that Glorith has been manipulating events in the time stream and had used her time powers to usurp the place of the Time Keeper in history, creating the Legion as her patsies to keep other potential universe rulers, like Mordru, weak. Jo Nah manipulates Glorith into a terrible confrontation with the Legion, who sacrifice much but prevail in the end, causing Glorith to lose the bulk of her powers. Because of the time based abilities of the foe in question, Jo Nah has to act stupid for the rest of his life or face repercussions. It doesn't work. Glorith figures it out and displaces Phantom Girl, Jo's girlfriend, in time where she winds up amnesiac and working for L.E.G.I.O.N. Yes people, Geoff Johns is out there, repeating your storyline.
    • Dream Girl, Nura Nal, acts like a flirtatious Dumb Blonde in public because it makes people underestimate her. She graduated top of her advanced science class (enough to keep up with Brainiac 5 at times), and is a brilliant fighter.
  • In Marvel 1602, Rojhaz, the suspiciously-tall-and-blond Native American who doesn't speak much. The colonists assume he's descended from Welsh traders and Native Americans. He's this universe's version of Captain America, right? Well, yes, but only because he's the Captain America, thrown back in time from a dystopian future, with all the brilliance that implies.
  • According to one strip of Walter Moers, infants are not only able to talk, but discuss complex topics of philosophy, psychology and the like and only use this trope if adults are around. "Ducky make toot!"
  • A one-shot Star Wars Legends comic published in the Tales series depicts a nervous, stuttering freighter pilot landing at a backwater space station for repairs to his ship. After demonstrating his skill in a gunfight, the unfortunate man is coerced into an Old West style showdown with the local crime boss, who is always on the lookout for promising new opponents. The crime boss, Shoto Eyefire, wore body armor and had snipers stationed above them to kill his opponent if he was in trouble. And with these odds stacked horribly against him, the pathetic, stuttering pushover pilot shoots Eyefire through both knees and in the shoulder and fights his way out of the fortress. The Reveal comes when he opens a fake power pack for his blaster to reveal a lightsaber.
    Eyefire: Non-lethal wounds...stun grenades...stun beams...lightsabers...I HATE Jedi Knights.
  • Fables:
    • Cinderella acts like a slutty Valley Girl in public, but is really a highly trained Black-Ops agent.
    • That bumbling little woodcarver who the Emperor inexplicably likes? He's the Emperor's dad.
  • Done twice in Les Nombrils: First in volume 3, when John John reveals that he does know how to read, and has been deliberately failing classes to prolong high school, then in volume 4, when Karine uses this to make Melanie drop her guard.
  • There's a couple in Paperinik New Adventures:
    • The first is Paperinik himself: in his civilian identity of freakin' Donald Duck he acts like a lazy and bad-tempered idiot, but as Paperinik he's a frighteningly competent Cowl with a penchant for humiliating his foes and dropping much bigger enemies with his bare hands (the temper is still there, he just vents in less obvious and more satisfying manners). It's most evident in the second series story "All and Nothing", where Donald at one point has to make a conscious effort to not act as Paperinik while in civilian identity, and some of the non-Paperinik New Adventures Italian stories (the early and the more darker of the modern ones), where he intentionally hams up his apparent incompetence only to outsmart Scrooge (who, by now, reacts to Paperinik showing up with an obvious Oh, Crap!, especially if Paperinik has reasons to be pissed at him), Gladstone (who was once led to believe that Donald had successfully took away his outrageous good luck and duped into buying a manual on banishing bad luck he had previously mocked), and everyone else;
    • the other is Xadhoom, a perpetually furious Physical Goddess with an outrageously high IQ (she comes from Xerba, where everyone holds at least a doctorate and you have to be incredibly smart to get in politics. She ruled it after proving herself the greatest astrophysicist in Xerba's history and topping the previous greatest astrophysicist's greatest achievement at a very young age, before testing on herself a method to solve Xerba's energy crisis and aquiring her powers) who tends to just charge at the Evronians and exterminate them and generally acts as a Blood Knight. Turns out she charges at the Evronians because she knows they can't harm her (and they only try and fight her only when desperate or believing they have something that could defeat her. Even those times they're right, she easily outplays them), has learned a branch of Evronian science that has no equivalent on Xerba, can easily see through Evronian traps (and still charges at them because she knows they'll fail, or, in one occasion, plays along to see when they'll realize she saw through their act), has an amazing self control, and the one time she played a stint as The Chessmaster she fooled everyone who didn't know beforehand. The Evronians realizes early about her origins and real identity (and thus her smarts), but believed her grief and rage had dulled both her intelligence and self-control until too late (their Emperor even admitted they underestimated her big time exactly one panel before losing the only leverage he had on Xadhoom to keep her prisoner).
  • In Astro City story "Pastoral", the Close-Knit Community's means of acting as a collective Secret Keeper is this. They do it so well that Cammie feels like they are in an Extra-Strength Masquerade that only she can see through.
  • Sturmtruppen:
    • One soldier complains that one of his fellow soldiers never gets a single chore, only for a third to explain that the sergeant knows the un-chored one is too stupid. In the meantime, the "fool" is thinking "Stupid like a fox", indicating this.
    • Attempted by a soldier who wants to get discharged by passing himself as crazy, so he can ask a discharge for medical reasons. It backfires horribly: First he has to convince the sergeant, who promptly decreed that he's just stupid, so he's fit to be a soldier. To try and convince the sergeant he's crazy, he strips naked. Next strip, the sergeant has blackened his eye. When the sergeant asks for volunteers for disposing of avariated nitroglycerin (more prone to explode than normal nitroglycerin) he volunteers, finally convincing the sergeant he is in fact stupid and asking to be discharged... Only for the battalion doctor to point out the (literal) Catch-22 Dilemma: if you ask to be discharged on the grounds of insanity you're not crazy. And as he did volunteer, he still has to dispose of the explosive. The stress of the disposing ends up driving him genuinely crazy... And as he's carried to the insane asylum, the sergeant gives the nurses the document stating he's being discharged on grounds of insanity.
  • A more limited version occurs in Watchmen: while still a child, Ozymandias received a lot of unwanted attention (and was suspected of cheating) by getting perfect scores on his tests at school. He notes that he "carefully achieved only average scores thereafter". Obfuscating Normality, anyone?
  • Les Nombrils: At the end of book 4, Karine uses this to trick Mélanie into an Engineered Public Confession. This is a new Establishing Character Moment for her.
  • New Avengers (2015): Team leader Sunspot appears to be an idiotic gadfly who only knows how to solve problems with money. Both SHIELD and the Maker (an alternate version of Reed Richards, one of the smartest men on the planet) find out the hard way that he actually has a plan for every situation and almost always knows what everyone is doing or plans to do.
  • The Witless Minions gang of Empowered made a living off this: they'd work as henchmen for supervillains, then go Stealing from the Till, claiming to have "misplaced" all those death rays and nuclear batteries and exotic crystals. As supervillains are already egotistic and used to the idea that henchmen are stupid, they'd usually take those claims at face value. This would continue until the villain was robbed blind—or, as they unfortunately discovered, until the villain figures out what you're doing and decides to immolate the lot of you.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: