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Sideshow Bob: Hello, Bart...

Bart: Oh, it's you, Bob. How' ya doin'?

Sideshow Bob: No screams? ...Not even...an "eep"?

Bart: Hey, I'm not afraid of you. Every time we tangle you wind up in jail!

The process by which a villain who is extremely scary on first appearance becomes a joke after a few more appearances.

In most shows, Failure Is the Only Option for the Villains, because success would mean that the villains conquer the world, kill all the good guys, and otherwise do things that make future episodes impossible. Inevitably, the viewers start to wonder why the heroes act concerned about an enemy that they've beaten six times already. Note that this does not apply to shows where the villains are supposed to be incompetent jokes from the start.

Most writers will try to stop this decline in menace, which sometimes helps and sometimes makes the Villain Decay worse, but the fastest way to decay a villain is to make him switch sides.

Of course, you can prevent this by not having failure be the only option for the villain; let them win battles, but not the war, or let their Evil Plan come closer and closer to completion while the heroes race to prevent its final success. Or, for the really cunning villain, dupe the heroes into doing what they wanted all along...

Note that Villain Decay is almost never caused by a lack of Offscreen Villain Dark Matter, a difficulty in recruiting Mooks, or even injuries from battle with the heroes -- which is to say, they don't become worse off because they have lost. Also note that a Villainous Breakdown is not a guarantee of Villain Decay. Decay will only happen quicker if their entire Villain Pedigree is replaced. If you have an Invincible Hero - especially one who shouldn't be capable of winning but somehow always wins anyway - Villain Decay is almost assured, even for characters who haven't fought yet. Tends to be particularly hard to avoid for villains who manage to survive the heroes' climb up the Sorting Algorithm of Evil.

See also Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, Goldfish Poop Gang, Harmless Villain, Lowered Monster Difficulty and Motive Decay.

Contrast Villain Sue, Invincible Villain, and Only the Author Can Save Them Now, where a villain is too effective or scary. Believe it or not, those tropes suck the tension out of the villains even worse than this one. Also contrast Adaptational Villainy, where a relatively non-villainous character in a work becomes dramatically more villainous in an adaptation.

Compare and contrast Failure Hero. Same concept--repeated failures ruins their credibility--different role.

Examples of Villain Decay include:


Anime and Manga Edit

  • In the Pokémon anime, the Team Rocket trio started out being more dangerous and effective before they became...well...Team Rocket (although this may have been intentional, since the writers likely didn't know what direction to take the characters in the beginning, and chose the more comical route). As of Best Wishes, they have gone back to being more dangerous, leaving all of their comical Pokémon at the base similar to Ash leaving his team. Heck, half the time, they won't even bug Ash and co. anymore due to their missions.
    • The games have actively tried to avoid this. Team Rocket only appeared in the first two sets of the main series of games, decaying in the second one due to their leader, Giovanni, not organizing them. Since then, almost every spin-off and main-series game that includes criminal organizations includes entirely different ones. They've also upped the ante for their plans each time. The team in the third tried to modify the landscape of the earth (or at least the area they were in), believing that this would be for the good of humanity. The leader in the fourth wanted to use the powers of a legendary Mon to become a god.
  • Beck from The Big O is the world champ of Villain Decay: the writers put him through almost every one of the gimmicks mentioned above. First he got a cool new weapon, then he got played as a buffoon (complete with a comically grotesque hairdo), then the hero was put into an Alternate Universe where Beck was a real threat, before he finally ended up just being an underling working for Big Bad Alex and his Psycho for Hire, Alan Gabriel.
    • Well, that's all true, assuming you believe he was set up to be a competent villain in the first place. In the manga, that's perfectly true, and he is a competent villain. In the anime, it's fairly obvious that he was intentionally turned into comic relief. He starts out being effective because he's actually smart enough to dial down his own ego and commence his plans intelligently. Unfortunately, his ego takes control in later episodes, and his decay is quite noticeable. Also, it's rather blatantly implied that he really isn't fit to be a villain, and that his true genius is in building robots and neural AIs (which he remains shockingly good at, as lampshaded by Gabriel, and later by Super Robot Wars Z). That said, the decay of the anime Beck is quite possibly justified.
  • The Knights of the Rounds in Code Geass R2. In their first appearance, they were shown as Britannia's elite force. Lelouch and the Black Knights were struggling when fighting only three of them (Suzaku, Gino, and Anya). But as episodes passed, they became easier and easier to incapacitate. Then, the show introduced more Knights, and after that, one of them is killed. Later, when Suzaku does a Heel Face Turn and gets a stronger robot, he becomes able to slice down his superiors in mere seconds. However, it's probably justified due to the Lensman Arms Race being in effect, where the Super Prototypes quickly become reverse-engineered and dated in the space of a few episodes. The Knights' demise could be explained because they didn't upgrade their Knightmares enough, but the fact that Tamaki was shown to be more competent and badass, however, is not justified.
    • This is an ironic example, as the rest of Code Geass is quite good at avoiding Villain Decay. Any given battle is generally a toss-up, with the protagonists winning and losing a roughly equal number of battles, and almost every major villain getting in a victory or two. Cornelia is portrayed as both a highly competent tactician and fighter, the Glaston Knights are a force to be reckoned with, and Suzaku manages to win a ton of battles and lose very few. The climactic battle at the end of the first season is in fact won by the villains of the series, while the protagonist is defeated, captured, and has his memories erased.
    • They don't really decay all that badly. The only one that was actually slaughtered was number 12 (weakest) in a standard Vincent Knightmare rather than an Ace Custom, and that was by Suzaku - higher ranked, geass sumper-charged to be able to push the normal human limits and in a *deep breath* Super-super-super-super prototype of superness that took the entire budget of the R&D department to develop, twice. The knight of one fights the same person, and even manages to hold his own very effectively until Suzaku's Lancelot just starts moving to darned fast for him to keep up. He previously managed to defeat the other Super-Prototype ace in a machine equal to the first lancelot, Xing-ke, without much effort. Anya never decayed so much as we didn't get to see her final fight, though it was against something that wasn't so much a knightmare as a small battleship, and her motivation to fight for brittania is the loss of her memories caused by geass, something her opponent could negate. Gino never really decayed in the slightest, managing to fight against the Lancelot Albion in a far inferior machine for a while.
  • Subverted in Yu-Gi-Oh! with Yami Bakura. Initially he's really just a side-villain, nowhere near a main threat, and no one really spends a lot of time on him - in fact, in the first season he's defeated by the sidekick in a sideplot while Yugi is busy with the Big Bad. As it turns out, this works to his advantage, since it allows him to lurk around setting up his evil plans with no one noticing. By the time the final season rolls around, he puts all those puzzle pieces to work and becomes the season's Big Bad.
  • Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann: Viral was designed for this trope. In his first appearance, he nearly hands the heroes their asses, but in every further appearance he's defeated with less effort. Despite showing up with a new upgraded mecha each time, he's eventually beaten by the humans' mass-produced mecha whose pilots don't even break a sweat. The reason for this, in-show, is because non-evolving beastmen can never match the constantly growing power of the spiral-powered humans. He gets better after his Heel Face Turn.
  • Interesting metaexample: in the Sailor Moon anime the Quirky Miniboss Squads grow less menacing and more comedic with each passing season. This did not hold to the manga.
    • Starter Villain Jadeite started off a competant threat. He had powerful minions, curb-stomped Sailor Moon during their first meeting, and actually managed to succeed in getting away with human energy in one scheme, earning Queen Beryl's compliments. But right after that last event, things began to go downhill for Jadeite. Very downhill. Once he got Hoist by His Own Petard for the last time, Queen Beryl "decomissioned" him for good. The rest of the Shittenou avoided the trope, with Nephrite and Kunzite never ceasing to be threats (though Kunzite slips when he gets his own arc), and Zoisite never being much of one to begin with so that he couldn't possibly decay (he always relied on dirty tricks in order to be dangerous.)
    • The Ayakashi Sisters in the manga are murderous maniacs, while in the anime they were merely misled and are granted a chance to live free in modern day Tokyo. The manga also had them capable of killing the Sailor Senshi with ease, something they struggled with in the anime.
    • Queen Nehellenia was still evil in the anime, but only because she was misled, and she was eventually redeemed and granted a second chance at life in Stars. In the manga, she was evil incarnate (a spawn of Chaos), responsible for the death of the Moon Kingdom and the current calamity, and was destroyed by Usagi and Mamoru.
  • The Gillian in Bleach. When one makes its first appearance, it is a genuine threat, very scary, and only barely driven off by Ichigo and Uryu double-teaming it. By the start of the Arrancar arc, we've learned that the Menos which Ichigo drove off is a mere soldier, and while dangerous, no threat to a captain class Soul Reaper. There also exist the higher order Menos, the Adjuchas and Vasto Lordes, the latter of which far exceed any captain in ability. By the time of the Captain Amagai arc (possibly filler, or possibly a deleted storyline like the Forest of the Menos), the giant Gillian is a threat that can be destroyed by only five or six ordinary Soul Reapers; generally without even using their Shikai. (if they even have one) Sorta pathetic for a creature which requires the Special Royal Guards Squad to defeat.
    • Plain ol' hollows were only dangerous for the first 15 episodes or so. Once Uryu shows up, it's shown that he and Ichigo can each take them on four at a time without much trouble. In the beginning of the Captain Amagai filler arc, Ichigo is up against over 50 hollows and uses his bankai (no mask, just bankai). Rukia chides him for unnecessarily wasting his spirit energy, though this mostly because Ichigo's grown much stronger over time. Hollows that were a threat in the beginning wouldn't stand a chance against him after that.
    • Aizen picks this up in a different way than the Hollows do; when he first appears, he is a bona fide Magnificent Bastard, having manipulated everyone for over a century to get his hands on the MacGuffin and pulverizing all opposition easily once it's time for him to make his move. When the Hueco Mundo arc rolls around, however, Aizen's lost most of his mojo and slid into Smug Snake territory; his plans don't seem to serve much purpose besides stalling for time and getting all of his followers killed off pointlessly, and when said plans fail to win the war for him, Aizen gives up on strategy forever and just decides to bulldoze everyone with his Story-Breaker Power, sprouting literal Plot Armor in the process. When you see the former Magnificent Bastard get outmaneuvered by Yamamoto, Urahara, Isshin, Urahara several more times, Yoruichi, Gin, and Urahara again after Ichigo defeats him in a complete Curb Stomp Battle, it's hard to take Aizen seriously anymore.
  • Orochimaru from Naruto suffers from some Villain Decay over time. In the Chunin Exam arc, he's too strong for any of the heroes to defeat, forcing the Third Hokage to sacrifice himself to save the village (which doesn't even kill him entirely). Then it's revealed that he lost to Itachi in the past while trying to claim his body, and in most of the battles after that, he's defeated easily or forced to retreat. This is partly because he he isn't always at full strength when he fights, but it shows that he's lost much of his original threat. This was worst when he fought against Itachi (while fighting Sasuke) in the manga, and was defeated in merely a few pages.
    • Also his minions from the Sound Village suffer from this, in Part 1, even the weakest of them including Filler Villain was a serious threat, and the Sound Four were so powerful that it took two of their opponents to give everything they had to kill them; in fact their leader was so strong that he would've won his fight if not for a terminal disease. when Part 2 comes around most of them (excluding those who join Hebi) are whiny wimps dependent on Kabuto.
  • Tarant Shank, the arguable Big Bad of Tenchi Muyo! GXP, decays very fast. In his first appearance he's portrayed as an extremely dangerous and unstable villain who nearly kills Seina, Mitoto, and Kiriko, and leaves Seina traumatized from the experience. However, his next appearance has him appear with a broken arm (revealed later to be from fighting Tenchi and company off screen) and he quickly goes downhill from there; his plans are easily foiled by Seina's group, his ship is utterly destroyed, and his role as Big Bad is supplanted by Seiryo of all people. He makes a minor comeback in the final few episodes, but never quite manages to regain the same threat level he had in his original appearance.
  • The Trinity Siblings in Mobile Suit Gundam 00 may qualify. Their first appearance sets the group up as a very skilled fighting force, with them single-handedly rescuing the other Meisters from certain capture, and obliterating most of the Union's and Human Reform League's ranks. However, following this, they're systematically defeated time after time, even, in part, by faceless Elite Mooks, until it culminates in the resident Complete Monster shooting one of them dead and effortlessly defeating the second, the third being handily saved by a timely intervention of her enemy. This can, somewhat, be justified, as they were caught off guard by both the Trial System's effects and the GN-X models, which were on par with Gundams, but the fact that they put up so little of a fight is still surprising.
    • The other antagonists of the second season decay pretty badly by its second half. First, A-LAWS and then Ribbons' personal squad of personality-lacking bishonen initially appear as very threatening antagonists, repeatedly pushing the Celestial Being to the brink of destruction, but then decay to Elite Mooks, with A-LAWS eventually being demoted all the way to the status of normal Mooks that die ineffectually by the dozens in the final episodes. If we count things beyond sheer combat potential, Ribbons himself decays very badly as well: after being presented as a cunning Magnificent Bastard who manipulated just about everyone for his own gain in the first season; in the second season he can't come up with anything better than making his puppets commit massive atrocities for no apparent purpose. This culminates with firing a Wave Motion Gun in the midst of a space battle that wipes out his own A-LAWS fleet while doing little damage to the enemy, and then using a bunch of Super Mode-powered Mobile Suits piloted by Super Soldiers as suicide weapons.
    • Ali Al-Saachez, introduced as the biggest Complete Monster in Gundam history undergoes a pretty major case of decay in Season 2, despite having become Ribbon's Dragon. It culminates in him getting shot in the face while attempting to pull an I Surrender, Suckers on Lockon II. This actually makes sense though, as most of the people he defeated in Season 1 were fighting at some sort of disadvantage, or, in Setsuna's case, were trained by Ali.
  • In Macross Plus, the X-9 Ghost Unmanned Fighter is a terrifying threat, capable of fighting off two Ace Pilots, even though each is using their respective Super Prototype against it. When the mass-production model of the X-9, the Ghost V-9 shows up in the Grand Finale of Macross Frontier, under the control of the Galaxy fleet, they are reduced to mere Elite Mooks, which can easily be taken on one on one by SMS's Ace Pilots. They do slaughter the Redshirt Army however.
    • It helps that the VF-25 is far, far more advanced than the YF-21 and YF-19. Also the V-9s were under Slave control of the Battle Galaxy (that is, Grace herself). When Luca released his own V-9 escort drones via the JUDAH System, he made specific mention of them having become just as deadly as the prototype Ghost X-9.
  • G Gundam has Wong Yun Fat, the Neo Hong Kong Premier and sponsor of the Gundam Fight. He's an intelligent Affably Evil Magnificent Bastard with dashes of The Chessmaster, but as the plot advances and we get into the Battle Royale arc, he gets two very undignified deaths that reduce his Magnificent Bastard points so he can give space for the true mastermind, The Starscream Urube Ishikawa.
  • A particularly jarring example is The Shinigami Grell Sutcliffe from Black Butler. While he wasn't ever exactly menacing he did act as one half of Jack the Ripper and murder Ciel's last living family member in a fit of pique. Enter the filler arc and suddenly he's a de-fanged sidekick with a crush on Sebastian.
    • Overlaps with Adaptation Decay, since he only had one appearance in the manga.
  • Hao from Shaman King gets hit by this hard at the very end. A thousand years old, and controls the fundamental spirit of fire (That eats souls), willing to wait a long time for his plans to succeed and very calm and calculating. There was pretty much no way for our heroes to succeed in the final showdown, even with superior numbers. So at the end he loses his cool, calm and collected demeanor and loses largely because of that.
    • Notably, in the Shaman King manga, Hao really was unbeatable and became the titular Shaman King. The anime had to pull a stock shonen ending instead of that, though, since the manga ending hadn't come out at the time, so they needed to make him lose, somehow.
  • Envy in the later parts of the Fullmetal Alchemist manga. The guy who killed Hughes and generally made life miserable for every protagonist, and he's kicked Ed's ass at least once. His last two fights are against Marcoh, who uses his knowledge of philosopher's stones to decompose him (and before that he was just getting jerked around by May Chang, including getting a rock hand shoved between his ass cheeks), and Roy, who puts him through one of the worst curb stompings in manga history.
    • Gluttony, after a brief moment of Unstoppable Rage after learning that Roy killed Lust, is left on the brink of death after the first battle in Father's inner sanctum, forcing Father to restore him. In his next appearance in battle, Lan Fan is easily able to cut him to pieces, and Pride decides that he'd be more useful if he ate him and absorbed his sense of smell.
  • Buggy the Clown and his crew from One Piece spent their first appearance as a serious threat. In the manga, Buggy's first scene is him brutally killing one of his own crew members (he actually spares the guy in the anime.) But after Buggy's defeat, in all subsequent appearances he is portrayed as incompetent and having lost much of the "monster" in his status as a Monster Clown.
    • What's worse is that he was once an apprentice pirate with Shanks in The Roger Pirates, and while they would seem to be of equal power or potential, Shanks seems even stronger each time we learn more about him (like being compared to Mihawk, and turning out to be one of the Four Emperors), while Buggy couldn't defeat one of Impel Down's Blugori while Luffy effortlessly takes down five.
      • A lampshade is hung on this when Luffy and the group of big-name former prisoners he was with him finally escaped Impel Down. At about this point, Buggy's past on the Roger Crew was revealed, causing Emporio Ivankov to muse that Buggy is likely the 'disgrace' of the Roger Pirates.
    • The Pacifistas. They're initially capable of fighting against the entire Straw Hat crew and more than a match for each of the Supernovas. Then, in the Whitebeard War arc, Boa Hancock is able to take down many of them, and even large groups of Whitebeard Pirate Mooks can fare well against them. After the Time Skip, Luffy, Zoro and Sanji almost effortlessly defeat two of them.
    • Sir Crocodile, on the other hand, averts this. He is defeated by Luffy fairly early in the story, and despite the Straw Hats having become significantly more powerful since then, he remains a very dangerous and powerful man throughout - even in spite of being removed from Alabasta, where his element, sand, was abundant. His Number Two, Daz Bones, counts as well.
  • Ranma One Half has Kuno, who, in the very earliest portions of the story, is represented as some sort of deadly, even lethal threat to Ranma...up until his first defeat, after which, he was little more than a Butt Monkey even on his best of days, with Ranma Badass Back attacks leveling him. They don't even mention Kuno as being in any way threatening even to the untrained civilians of the cast. In fact, Kuno actually managing to disrupt the status quo and gain the advantage over Ranma via some Plot Device is usually such a big deal as to be the focus of the episode.
  • Arguably, Giriko from Soul Eater. That is, the idea of a mad git with a chainsaw as a Weapon form does start out as a dangerous prospect, especially when he defeats the kids with no effort whatsoever meaning Justin Law had to step in (cue convenient example of the skill of a Death Scythe). Afterward, he spends too much time getting drunk and womanizing to be any kind of threat.
  • All those evil corporations, organizations and elite hacker groups seem pretty daunting at first in Serial Experiments Lain. The knights were particularly presented as being high-level hackers. It has you rather worried for Lain, that is until we find out (MAJOR SPOILER) that Lain has complete control of the Wired, which in its merging state with the real world, pretty much makes her God. Sayonara, Eiri! Knights: DELETED.
  • Kagura in Inuyasha suffers this. She nearly overwhelms Inuyasha on her own in his first two fights with her, but a big contributor to that was his inability to use his Wind Scar supermove on her because she could control the air. When he gained the ability to use it whenever he wanted, he could take her easily. She was, however, still a tough enemy for the rest of the cast. What really killed her as a threat was the constant popping up of villains stronger then her.
  • Minor example: Misa Amane in Death Note, who starts out as a typical Genki Girl Moe Yandere Perky Female Minion with moments of sinister Ax Crazy creepiness. After she has her Death Note stolen (twice), she becomes a Genki Girl Moe Yandere Perky Female Minion without any moments of Ax Crazy creepiness, and stays that way for the rest of the series. Justified in that having one's Death Note taken away erases all memories that the owner had ever since owning it.
    • Possibly played straight. In her first few episodes she's seen as a competent villain and legitimate threat even managing to kill a member of the Kira investigation team and finding out Kira's identity. Once she met up with Light, she began to decay fast.
  • From Rurouni Kenshin, Isurugi Raijuta, as admitted by the author himself. A fearsome swordsman possessed of "macho intelligence" and a belief that's on the opposite spectrum of the hero's...but in the final battle, he's revealed to be a cowardly fake, who's never actually killed anyone and gets taken out with one blow (and completely broken afterwards).
  • Miyo Takano went from trying to kill Rika, and becoming God, to trying to use the real Hinimzawa Syndrome to become "Queen of the World." Though given that it was an OVA episode...
  • Haruhi Chan parodies this in episode 3 with Achakura leaving Nagato's apartment to kill Kyon. Her result for attempting such thing? A cat attack which causes Achakura to change her mind.


Comic Books Edit

  • Generally speaking, this has been a big problem for American Superhero comics for a long time, due to their serialized nature and the constantly recurring villains. This was especially a problem during the Silver Age, where writers like Stan Lee would have the villains openly say "This time my brilliant plan will work perfectly! And those pesky heroes will be unable to stop me!!!" and whatnot without any sense of irony after having been clobbered multiple times already (and the reader was supposed to take the threat to the hero at straight face value, to boot). A lot of the accomplishments - and problems - surrounding American comicry from the 1970s onward can be traced in large part to attempting to combat Villain Decay while keeping the now-decades-old continuity running without having to constantly invent new villains.
  • The Predator extraterrestrial embodies this trope after being trounced by virtually every other comic book character in the industry. Despite the incredible awesomeness of the original Alien vs. Predator comics, it later became a check-the-block for every character from Superman to Judge Dredd beat up a Predator at least once in their career. This trope is somewhat rationalised by the fact that the Predator's code of honor means they must look for a "fair fight." But let's face it: if someone wrote "Aliens vs. Predator vs. Terminator vs. Robocop vs. Squirrel Girl," Squirrel Girl would win.
  • By far, The Joker from the Batman comic book series. This page nicely details his periods of decay. Arguably, the same thing can be said for any other villain featured in the 60's show. 1973's "The Joker's Five Way Revenge" returned him to his original personality of scary sadistic madman. From then on there have been certain storylines that will ensure that the Joker may never suffer Villain Decay again if we keep going in this direction.
    • Said decay, depending on which continuity you follow, has become a part of Joker's character: He can go from complete goof ball to Complete Monster in an instant and, according to Grant Morrison, went through the decay because he likes to "reinvent" his act every so often.
  • Many villains of Crisis Crossovers suffer this if they are ever seen again. The Beyonder of Marvel's Secret Wars is a good example. Presented as a mysterious and powerful cosmic being in the original maxi-series, he assumes human form and becomes mostly a joke in Secret Wars II. One memorable scene involves Spider-Man teaching him how to use the bathroom. It doesn't help that his character was portrayed inconsistently throughout the second maxi-series and the tie-ins. In one tie-in, he's murdering the New Mutants (only to bring them Back From the Dead later), in another he's consoling the Human Torch over the accidental death of a fan. It's little wonder that Secret Wars II is considered 'drek' by many comics fans.
  • The Marvel supervillain Abomination has probably lost more bad boy status than almost any other. Originally a Hulk villain, he started out up-powered even by the Hulk's standards, whomping him down in their first encounter. He then had some gamma power stripped, which was added to the Hulk, thus losing in their next encounter. He then suffered a series of beatdowns at the hands of the Hulk, leading to humiliating exposition as his character developed a fear of even encountering the Hulk anymore. But that was not the end of it. Over subsequent years, he became a chew toy to show how badass the lower bricks in the Marvel universe could be, taking solo beatdowns at the hands of both Wonder Man and She-Hulk. Oh, true, they pulled out all the stops in their demonstration of badassery, but the Abomination just can't get any respect, in spite of still remaining perhaps the physically strongest character without some quasi-infinite trick up their sleeve.
    • He got a slightly better treatment in the Chaos War Herc family crossover, where, after having been killed off a couple years ago by the Red Hulk, he comes back as a servant for the Big Bad Chaos King. After tearing through a team of Hulks, Doctor Strange states that he was "the Underworld's strongest prisoner". He's still dead again by the end of the story, but he definitely got some cred back.
  • Colonel Olrik of Blake and Mortimer fame fits this trope to a tee. In his first appearance, he aided The Empire in bringing about World War Three and successfully conquering the world. Understandably, his later appearances as a smuggler/thief/spy are not as impressive.
    • Even when said Empire's bloodthirsty dictator was brought Back From the Dead via Time Travel and Olrik joined him once more in The Strange Encounter he was little more than a thug.
  • The Hobgoblin from Spider-Man. This page tells it all.
    • Also, Venom, whose career as a psychotic murderer and Spider-Man's most frightening enemy ended the minute he decided to become "the Lethal Protector".
      • It's so much worse than that. In Venom's early days, he was able to tango with both Spidey AND the Human Torch. Remember, he's weak to fire. In his first appearance, he almost KILLED Spider-Man. Fast forward about seven years. Spider-Man, in a bored nonchalant manner, sends him running scared WITH A LIGHTER.
  • In his first appearance, Doomsday was an Implacable Man who weathered the combined attacks of numerous superheroes without much effect before he and Superman tore up half the city killing each other. In his second appearance, they were only able to stop him by sending him to the end of time. Also, Doomsday has the ability to come back from the dead, now immune to whatever killed him in the first place. Apparently, Superman is now easily capable of defeating him alone, because he decided he needn't be afraid of him anymore. Or something.
    • If we're thinking of the same instance, it was a one-off because Doomsday had become intelligent, rendering him able to fear death. The intelligence was later removed, rendering him his previous un-psych-out-able self.
    • This is actually about Power Creep, Power Seep. When Superman fought Doomsday in 1992, he was in his least powerful incarnation since the late 40's/early 50's. Fans thought they had gone too far DePowering him in the late 80's and wanted him to have some of his awesomeness back so Superman learned over the past several years that he had been holding back, not allowing himself to be as powerful as he could be. If you read everything from 1992 through the early 2000's, it actually makes sense. There is even a reference to it in the story where Pa Kent reaches out to Superman spiritually during his near death experience and convinces Superman that he should stop artificially imposing human limitations on himself. His soul had not returned to it's intact body because he thought he was supposed to die.
  • The zombie Fantastic Four from Marvel Zombies were capable of overpowering Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler, Thor, and Doctor Strange. Later, all we needed was Ultimate Doctor Doom (controlled by Ultimate Reed Richards) to kill them all.
    • Of course, in the earlier example, it's clearly established that they had surprise on their side at least partly -- plus a handy ability to turn anyone they bit into zombies, which evened the odds somewhat.
  • Marvel Comics' Onslaught initially appeared as beyond godlike and it took every superhero on Earth to defeat him. He made a recent return in which he was defeated far more easily and sent to the Negative Zone.
    • When he did come back, he was the subject of a low-selling mini where he was defeated by Captain America and some of the author's Pet Characters. Not very fitting for a guy who literally took on the entire Marvel Universe at one point.
  • Dr. Light in The DCU. At first, he was tough enough to take on the whole Justice League, and then declines through the 1980s to the point where he is beaten by the kid non-powered superhero team, Little Boy Blue and his Blue Boys.
    • This was retconned in the infamous Identity Crisis storyline as the League having given him what amounted to a psychic lobotomy via Zatanna's magical powers after he had sneaked aboard the Watchtower and raped Sue Dibny. He later recovered and went back to his threatening self...until The Spectre turned him into a candle.
      • After getting his memories back, most of his appearances gave him a faster variety of villain decay. Identity Crisis was intended to turn him into a serious and intelligent foe for the JLA once more, but instead, he became a serial rapist who went on about how much he liked rape.
        • His constantly reminding us of the rape thing is apparently intended to make him seem more evil, but it actually makes the decay worse: he used to be a C-list villain, but now he comes off as a C-list villain who desperately clings to having managed to hurt non-powered civilians in a way non-powered thugs in reality do with (very sad) regularity hoping someone will take him seriously.
  • Gepetto, the evil mastermind of Fables contracted a bad case of villain decay. He'd conquered and ruled countless realms for centuries, but after he lost the first couple battles of the new war, he became depressed and sat about moaning while his Empire fell to pieces, until the heroes came and took him to live in a nice new apartment in New York City.
  • Justice League of America villain Prometheus was originally created by Grant Morrison to be the JLA's Moriarty. He was a psychotic anti-Batman who used a high-tech helmet to load information and fighting skills directly into his brain. He had an exceptional origin story, built his own unorthodox weapons, and he killed an evil interdimensional alien monk to steal his teleporter. Prometheus took down the Justice League in his first appearance (even Batman) and then...He became a Mook. Much later, it was revealed that these appearances were his never before mentioned sidekick using his gear while the real Prometheus was imprisoned in his own mind (and, you know, prison). When he finally escapes, he tracks down his sidekick and lights him on fire.

 Crime Doctor: You know, Prometheus, I'm almost disappointed...When you first appeared on the scene, we were all mighty impressed. You carry the knowledge of the world's thirty greatest fighters in your helmet, Right? The point is, we thought you'd be a world beater. Then we heard Catwoman tore your manhood. We heard Hush made you his punk.

    • Although that issue uses his Villain Decay to make it that much more shocking when he destroys Lady Blackhawk, Huntress, Mirage, and Lady Shiva.
    • James Robinson made him a real threat again in Cry for Justice. However, he was surprised when Green Arrow shows up to kill him, despite Green Arrow having been a killer for years in continuity.
  • The recurring Tintin villains are ineffectual and ridiculous in their last appearance in Flight 714. Former Big Bad Rastapopoulos is reduced to playground banter with his intended victim over which of them is nastier, and loses. According to Word of God, Rastapopoulos would have been more menacing...if only his outfit hadn't ended up looking so utterly daft. Herge apparently took one look at his own sketches and was unable to see him as a serious threat ever again.
  • Herr Starr, in Preacher (Comic Book), was actually genuinely menacing in his first appearance (and again in his Start of Darkness). That didn't last very long at all. Not even the fact that he frequently defeats other villains does anything to stop the decay - mostly because poor Starr just can't seem to stop losing body parts...
  • A rare example of a character suffering this at the hands of their own creator: Ulysses Hadrian Armstrong, AKA The General, was an Enfante Terrible that could have passed for the son of the Joker in his first appearance. His backstory has him burning down an entire building at the military academy where he was educated, not because the academy's bullies lived there, but because he was bored. He then proceeds to run away to Gotham with a bunch of guns, shoot rival gang members and law enforcement alike in cold blood, and lays siege to a police station with an army of gang members armed with rocket launchers. Oh, and he also had the balls to smack Batman in the back of the head with a shovel, sending the Dark Knight plunging three stories down, after Batman had just saved his life. All done at the tender age of eleven. Later, when creator Chuck Dixon reused him in the Lighter and Softer Robin ongoing, he started acting more his age, began to incessantly quote military figures, and was generally Played for Laughs a lot more.
  • Allegedly Carl Barks of Donald Duck fame claimed that Magica de Spell "demanded a strong plot", but later writers have had her go after Scrooge McDuck's lucky dime, again and again. She is now a Villain Protagonist in many stories focusing on new trinkets and gadgets she obtains for this purpose. As a result, her character has mellowed considerably over the years, moving into Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain territory.
  • In Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog, we get a good example of this trope in the Evil Sorcerer Ixis Naugus. When originally introduced, he was an extremely powerful wizard with power over the elements and who sent Sonic and Tails on a wild goose chase around the world before being banished to the Void. When he came back a few years later, he soon found himself reduced to Mammoth Mogul's Dragon, but was still threatening...at least, until his time as Dr. Eggman's prisoner destroyed his mind, leaving him a mindless beast Mogul kept as a pet. But as of issue 220, Nagus has had his mind and powers restored by a Chaos Emerald wielded by his apprentice Geoffery St. John, and has set himself up as the Big Bad of the current arc. And so far, he's been doing pretty well for himself.
    • Series Big Bad Eggman himself goes through several instances of this--sometimes in-universe--he'd finally lost his marbles completely and stayed that way for most of a nearly year long story arc. He's largely recovered--both from the in universe decay and the meta version--by becoming the go-to 'event' villain. The last five years or so have involved Eggman launching tremendously huge attack that significantly alters the status quo--only barely being beaten--then hiding out or otherwise removing himself from direct conflict for a while while Sonic and co. deal with other, lesser (for the most part) villains, then launching an attack that once again significantly alters the status quo.
      • Part of this is due to the writers taking away one of the main reasons he was a threat - his ability to turn people into robots. Then came Sonic Genesis where he hit a "reset" switch that made it possible to roboticize again. While his whole plan didn't pan out he got a consolation prize in the form of Mecha Sally and the villain decay seems to be wearing off.
  • It's been brought up in-universe that Marvel villain Arcade has never succeeded in killing a superhero, even though that's actually his job.


Fan Fiction Edit

  • Orochimaru in Naruto Veangance Revelaitons, while never as impressive as his canon incarnation, managed to defeat all of Team 7 in his first appearance before being curb stomped by the God Mode Sue protagonist Ronan, and even then, Ronan passes out from the exertion. In his next appearance, Orochimaru gets defeated in a single attack, and while he later manages to blow up the temple and kill off Sasuke, Kakashi and Naruto (although the latter didn't stick), he soon, like in canon, gets replaced by Madara as the main antagonist.
    • Madara also goes down this road. In his early appearances, he was more competent, and actually killed Ronan once Eventually, he keeps capturing Ronan, only for Ronan to inevitably escape, and once it's revealed that he's working for "the council", he becomes even less competent, resorting to Your Mom insults against Ronan in his final encounter with him before the Council tires of his failure.
  • In the beginning of Snow Angels, Disaster is introduced as an almighty being capable of driving people to madness just by seeing it. For a short while the heroes (who include a time traveler and Sufficiently Advanced Alien) actually have trouble fighting Disaster, but by the end of the first arc, Disaster has decayed so much that it's beaten up by perfectly-mundane schoolgirls. Ironically, Disaster is the same entity as Sasaki, so she actually received an upgrade before the decay.


Film Edit

  • General Grievous in Star Wars. Viewers' first look at Grievous occurs during the Star Wars: Clone Wars animated series, in which the cyborg took on six Jedi at once and completely destroyed them without much effort, establishing him as an unstoppable killing machine. However, the series' production team developed the character independently from the films' team. For Grievous's live-action appearance, Lucas wrote him as a significantly lower threat. The live-action Obi-wan faces a significantly weaker Grievous and dispatches him fairly quickly all by himself. The second season of the animated series attempts to justify the discrepancy by revealing more of Grievous's evasive nature and showing how he received the injuries he displays in the live-action film.
  • Grievous's decay has reached a new rock bottom in Season 4 Star Wars the Clone Wars. After not being able to tell that Jar Jar Binks wasn't the Gungan Boss, he engages Captain Tarpals in single combat and even though he kills him, he gets stabbed THROUGH by him, then pelted with the Gungan Armies weapons...and is finally captured.
    • He manages to subvert this sometime, most noteably near the end of Season 4. Dooku sent Grievous after his former apprentice, Asajj Ventress, who had earlier tried to take revenge on him for betraying and almost killing her. Arriving on Dathomir, Grievous and his droid army tore through the Nightsisters and their Army of the Dead. 'Though Grievous lost in his one-on-one fight with Ventress, when he realised he can't defeat her, he had his droid army shoot at her while he kept her lightsabers in a Blade Lock.
  • Big Bad King Ghidorah went from being the most feared creature in the universe his VERY film debut to being, literally, The Dragon for a variety of evil aliens in the sequels (As well as being the result of being three mind-controlled pets fused into one monster in one alternate universe). To make matters worse, he went from being a monster that took 2-3 other monsters to defeat and over 6 to kill to being EASILY blown apart by Godzilla with little effort.
    • It doesn't help that he was portrayed as a hero in the film Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All Out Attack. Of course, that was due to Executive Meddling more than anything else.
    • And then there is Godzilla himself, who has suffered from this trope to an unbelievable degree, starting as a devastating monster representing the terrors of nuclear radiation, and was later portrayed as a child-friendly defender of the earth.
  • James Bond nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld and his SPECTRE minions were pretty threatening the first 5 times that Bond fought them. But in Diamonds Are Forever, Blofeld is reduced to stealing the identity of Howard Hughes knockoff Willard Whyte and hijacking Whyte's company to continue his plans. It's probably for the best that legal issues prevented Blofeld and SPECTRE from showing up again, although he does get a Lawyer-Friendly Cameo in For Your Eyes Only, where he's dispatched in the unrelated opening teaser. Blofeld and SPECTRE also undergo Villain Decay in Ian Fleming's original books, but in a completely different fashion.
  • Aliens in the Alien series. The first installment was a horror film in space, with a single, nearly invincible alien stalking and killing the helpless crew of a spaceship. However, the sequel Aliens was an action film, where a swarm of xenomorphs overwhelm a squad of space marines by virtue of sheer numbers. Since then, xenomorphs have increasingly been depicted as cannon fodder. The merchandise has further stripped the Alien of its mystique and creepy sexual undertones, being produced in all kinds of increasingly parodic forms (plush, Lego, superdeformed).
    • The key thing to remember about the first Alien movie was that the body count was more due to the crew being helpless (having no guns, worrying about the Alien's acidic blood eating through the hull of the ship) than anything else. In Alien 3, there was a similar situation to the first movie because the people again, had no guns.
    • The swansong of the Alien came in Alien vs. Predator: Requiem, which featured a gigantic Predator-Alien hybrid engaging in a ridiculous, rubber-suited kaiju battle with a Predator. At that point, it was no longer a horror icon -- it was a cartoon character like Wile E. Coyote.
  • In the original A Nightmare on Elm Street Freddy was the menacing personification of evil; over the course of the various films that followed he gradually became an increasingly camp wise-cracking court jester. This was reflected in his marketing -- he cut an album of cheesy pop songs, guest-rapped on a hip-hop track about his antics, was rapped about in a different WillSmith track, and was subject to all kinds of tie-in merchandise including yo-yos. It took years and the return of Wes Craven (in 'New Nightmare') to address and attempt to reverse his decay.
    • And in Freddy vs. Jason, he is completely upstaged by Jason as he only gets a single kill.
      • Which brings up the hilarious irony that the film actually managed to make him scary again.
      • Fridge Brilliance in that Freddy was weakened by no one dreaming and remembering him, so he resurrects Jason to spread fear. It works, he starts getting stronger (and helps in his single kill, he doesn't outright kill the guy). When he's finally at peak power and ready to relish his first true kill in years...Jason steals it, which makes Freddy VERY angry.
  • Megatron from the Transformers live-action film series was the menacing Sealed Evil in a Can Big Bad of the first movie, destroying whole cities and causing the only on-screen casualty of the movie. By the sequel, he's just The Dragon to the real Big Bad, The Fallen, and more or less just argues with Starscream for the second half of the movie. Note that this particular case of Villain Decay occurs over the course of one movie, as he is still pretty menacing at the beginning of Revenge of the Fallen, and even kills Optimus Prime. But then when the final battle scene rolls around, he doesn't even attempt to fight Prime to the finish, and pulls a Villain Exit Stage Left. Presumably, the real final fight is reserved for the inevitable third movie.
    • It doesn't help that in the novelization of Revenge of the Fallen, he actually has a reason for working with The Fallen. And there's also a reason for his lack of fighting Prime, which is related to his reason for working with The Fallen. To elaborate: in the novelization, The Fallen promised to make Megatron a Prime, then when Optimus said that Primes are born, not made, Megatron swears off his allegiance to The Fallen and vows to never serve anyone again. It's one of the many reasons that the novelization (based on an earlier script with less jokes and more actual SENSE) is more well-received than the movie.
    • The movie version of Starscream also suffers from this. He easily defeats two of the Autobots in the movie, and the prequel and expanded material made him out to be a very threatening character, beating the shit out of, sometimes killing, Autobots and other Decepticons. But in Revenge of the Fallen, he spends most of the movie reduced to being a joke.
      • Like Megatron, in the third film Starscream does not fare well at all, though he arguably got better than in the second movie, having ripped the Autobot rocket to shreds and completely obliterating an escort of Ospreys.
        • This trope might as well be applied to the Decepticons as a whole. In the first film the underling Cons are clearly much more powerful than any Autobot that isn't Optimus Prime, taking tons of punishment and keeping on going. Brawl only goes down after taking concentrated fire from all the Autobots and the US military at once for at least 15 minutes, while Blackout is only downed by Lennox managing to get him point bank in a weak spot in his armor. Starscream is totally undamaged, despite taking on Ironhide and Ratchet and several Air Force jets at once, and simply leaves once his objective can't be completed. Prime meanwhile easily kills a regular Con, but is totally overpowered by Megatron. In the sequels Prime can suddenly hold his own against Megatron and fight off Starscream and Grindor at the same time, while the other Autobots can down Cons single handedly. The only Decepticons that seem to be serious threats are Devastator and Shockwave's snake thing.
  • The first time around in The Mummy Trilogy Imhotep is a walking plague, causing fire to fall from the sky, hordes of locusts and rivers to run with blood. In The Mummy Returns, he's just some guy with telekinesis who trades banter with an eight-year-old.
  • The Agents in The Matrix certainly qualify. They went from being the scourge of the virtual world and the most dangerous entity that could be encountered, to suddenly being little more than cannon fodder in the two sequels.
    • They are only cannon fodder to Neo, though. Notice that neither Trinity nor Morpehus managed to defeat any Agents in the sequels (and Morpheous really. really tried)
  • Some Halloween fans felt the revelation that Laurie was Michael Myer's sister took away the menacing mystery that made Michael such an effective villain.
    • Michael himself also went from a mysterious, always-in-the-shadows lurker to a generic Jason Vorhees-esque slasher villain by the end of the series. In the first films, he killed only a handful of people, and only because they got in the way of him and his main victim. But in the later films, he was killing over a dozen people in each movie, seemingly for no reason at all. And often doing it with uncharacteristic flair and violence.
      • Let's not forget Michael's Single Tear moment in Halloween 5. A perfect example of Villain Decay, if ever there was one.
  • In the first Jurassic Park movie, the T-Rex is an unstoppable monster, who can't be fought and only run from. He takes on the other villains of the piece in the final scene and kills them with ease. Hell, his face is the symbol of the franchise. In the second film, more of the same, only with a much higher body count. Third film? Hit by The Worf Effect: Killed unceremoniously by a dinosaur most dinosaur experts say he should have been able to take apart with ease, even being replaced on the franchise symbol. Villain decay indeed.
  • The first bug we see in action in Starship Troopers withstands the combined fire of four mobile infantry before going down. Later on bugs are seen taken down by just a few rounds.
  • Discussed in-universe in The Godfather

 Sollozzo: All due respect, the Don, rest in peace, was slippin'. Ten years ago could I have gotten to him?

Literature Edit

  • The Cthulhu Mythos: Once August Derleth got his hands on it, the greater Eldritch Abominations started appearing everywhere personally and being repelled just as easily. Cthulhu was once sent back by ordinary explosives, for goodness' sake. Admittedly It did remain fundamentally Badass enough that even a nuclear bomb couldn't actually kill It. But do you really need to, when you can punch It out with just about anything every time it returns?
  • D.Metria the Demoness from the Xanth series, started off as a fairly malevolent seductress, but with each subsequent appearance became less threatening, to the point that by the time she was "replaced" by her insane doppleganger, D.Mentia, she was basically Xanth's version of Mr. Mxyzptlk (The Superfriends version, at that).
    • In more recent books this is justified by her having acquired half of a human soul, which gives her a conscience. She can still be mischievous, but is no longer malevolent.
    • This is an example in part, I think, of someone the fans liked being made nicer in response.
  • In Tales of MU, Puddy and Sooni start out as the Manipulative Bastard and the Alpha Bitch, respectively, but are eventually reduced to being pathetic losers who struggle to keep even a couple people under their control. The worst aspects of the transition are probably a result of Webcomic Time: the change takes several months of real world writing time, but just a couple weeks story time.
  • Harry Potter:
    • A notable subversion of this trope occurs when Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy are presented as mere Jerkasses who like giving Harry and company hell for the first five books of the series, but at the beginning of book six, both are presented as high ranking members of Voldemort's army, the Death Eaters. It does turn out however that Snape was a Double Agent for the Order of Phoenix, and Malfoy was incapable of coping with actually being evil.
    • A straight Villain Decay happened to Lucius Malfoy. He is introduced as a sinister and cunning master-manipulator, who, while maintaining a benevolent and charitable public image, actively and ruthlessly pursued his ambitious goals, descending to threatening whole families and unleashing an ancient monster on a school. Next time he's just The Dragon, and after his failure and consequent fall-from-grace, he's reduced to an unnerved bystander with little to no involvement in the action.
    • Voldemort. Initially described as a chilling evil Mastermind, following his official return in Book 4, his actions really caused a lot of readers to question how exactly he became a the dark lord "Who shall not be named." His own paranoia was what made Harry The Chosen One in the first place, he continued to use "the killing spell" on Harry in hopes of killing him, even though it failed to kill him each and every time, and after finally having Harry at his mercy, he was somehow convinced by a simple lie that Harry really was dead by one of his minions who he had been treating like crap.
  • The Wheel of Time series features significant villain decay with regards to the Forsaken, the 13 most devoted human servants of the Dark One. Initially presented as uber-badasses from the Age of Legends wielding powers most modern people could not begin to comprehend and being trained as scientists, generals and geneticists, the Forsaken get their asses totally handed to them repeatedly by the present-day heroes. Partly, this is because the Forsaken's reputation got exaggerated during the 3000 years the spent imprisoned, partly it's because they lack the support network they had in their prime, but whatever the reason, there's still a big gap between their myth and the reality, which was one of Jordan's more anvilicious points in his series (the gap between hearsay and reality, specifically).
    • Which is not to say that they're any less dangerous than the legends said. Their reputations were well deserved in the first place. Part of it comes from the fact that the present day heroes learned quickly that the Forsaken, for all their power and knowledge, are still only human.
  • The Young Wizards series averts this rather neatly, because a), the Lone Power has been defeated without great sacrifice a grand total of...once (and in a subsequent encounter, another aspect commented that that version of Itself was just plain stupid), and b) due to the fact that It exists outside of time, dipping into our universe wherever and whenever It pleases, It can be decisively defeated in one place and simultaneously be an active threat elsewhere.
  • Sang-Drax from the Death Gate Cycle series was introduced in the fifth book as a Magnificent Bastard manifestation of the Big Bad that could play Haplo like a fiddle. While he's still cunning in the next two books, he gets a whole lot sloppier, downgrading him to a literal Smug Snake. He finally dies when a room caves in on him. This isn't as lame as it sounds because said room was filled with magic that was antithetical to him, but still -- he really should have seen it coming.
  • Tolkien often does this deliberately in The Lord of the Rings, but still puts the less-powerful villains in situations where they can get the upper hand. Saruman goes from needing a massive army, a wizard, and more to stop him, to being somebody who could be defeated by a mob of angry Hobbits. Gollum is another example - he finds the One Ring to Rule Them All, and first uses it for murder and theft, but eventually crawls into a cave and uses the Ring's power to catch fish. The Ring doesn't particularly care for this. In fact, this is one of the core themes of the stories, because Evil Is Petty it eventually loses everything that once made it great and even noble.
  • In The Silmarillion, this is explicitly canon for Melkor/Morgoth. He starts out out-powering everything else in the universe except for God and being quite cunning to boot, but as the book progresses he is drastically weakened after squandering his power and getting Shapeshifter Mode Locked, and his cunning goes down the drain as he goes increasingly Ax Crazy.
  • Artemis Entreri after the first few encounters with him, as Drizzt no longer wishes to fight him, and at one point refuses to kill him despite the perfect opportunity. Also, Entreri is getting old, whilst Drizzt is still in his prime.
  • The Heralds of Valdemar series plays this trope intentionally with the overarching Big Bad, Ma'ar. He starts out in the Mage Wars prequels as a frighteningly powerful, ruthless Well-Intentioned Extremist who can rival Great Mage Urtho in sheer power. Even worse, he conceives of an amazingly effective My Death Is Just the Beginning gambit involving hiding his soul in a pocket of the nether plane until a blood descendant learns to wield magic, at which point he steals the body, destroying its original soul in the process, and embarks on a new plan to Take Over the World. As he is constantly thwarted over the centuries, however, his spirit becomes increasingly petty and narcissistic, and eventually he grows careless enough to sow the seeds of his defeat when he fails to destroy the soul of his latest possessee, An'desha. Also a case of divine intervention, as it turns out that the Gods were tacitly abetting his scheme because they needed his knowledge to avert a repeat of the Cataclysm 3000 years later.
  • Deliberately invoked and deconstructed with Cersei from A Song of Ice and Fire. She started out as the puppet master behind King Robert and became one of the most feared characters in the series when she declared herself Queen Regent after his death...but promptly ran herself straight into the ground the second the checks on her power were removed. As the power went to her head, her schemes became less competent and more deranged over time, and while she was still somewhat feared it was more because she was psychotically unstable and overly trigger happy. Tyrion and Tywin managed to restore her somewhat, but when the former removes the latter in a permanent way Cersei's schemes spiral completely out of control and end with her being imprisoned by the Swords and Stars, awaiting trial for adultery, incest, murder, and treason.
  • Matthew Luzon in the Petaybee book, Power Play. Though he was supposed to do a live-to-fight-another-day sort of thing, he ended up just hiding and sending other people to do his dirty work. Intergal counts as well, especially in the Twins Of part of the series. Their attempts to reclaim Petaybee become less about Petaybee and more about payback for losing it in the first place.
  • Happens to Lord Ombra in the series Peter and the Starcatchers. In Peter And The Shadow Thieves, all Ombra has to do is have his shadow overlap with yours, and immediately he steals your shadow, giving him full access to all your memories and turning you into an utterly obedient slave with no further effort or maintenance on his part required. In "Peter And The Secret of Rundoon" onward, he...can't. Being as Ombra in his first incarnation was ludicrously overpowered, it was pretty much a choice between Villain Decay or Only the Author Can Save Them Now.
  • In Death: This trope is mostly avoided by having a new murderer in each book. This still happened with Isaac McQueen in New York To Dallas. He started out as a cunning Complete Monster pedophile who had never been caught and he seemed to avoid even being noticed in the first place...until Eve took him down as a rookie. She wasn't even out to arrest him, she was just questioning him on a matter that was not really related to him, and he attacked her when she wouldn't leave. Twelve years later, he escapes from prison trying to get Revenge on Eve and still seems untouchable. However, by the end of the story, he turns out to be a Complete Monster pedophile who has lost a lot of his intelligence, and his ability to make even basic decisions. Dr. Mira even explains that the 12 years in prison, having the power to make decisions taken away from him in that time, and breaking most, if not all, of his patterns in illogical ways have devolved him!


Live-Action TV Edit

  • Multiple instances show up in the various Star Trek series:
    • The Borg are probably the most infamous example: they went from once-a-season super menace to routine issue over the course of Star Trek: Voyager.

      The truly interesting thing about the Borg, to begin with, was not so much their threat level (though that was high) as the existential challenge they presented to the mindset and worldview of the complacent characters. In their first appearance, Picard and the other Federation personnel seem to have trouble even comprehending the idea that this foe cannot be reasoned with, that there's literally nothing they can say or do that will move them, or that an enemy would ever be an enemy if he really understood them. The Borg did not care. Later they watered this down with the infamous 'Hugh' episode that reduced the Borg to just another alien race that can be persuaded by good will and proper effort. The Borg were supposed to be inexorable, absent that they're boring. Several of the episodes focused on Seven of Nine in Voyager, however, help this issue. Yes, Borg can get cute and cuddly again when separated from The Collective...but there are billions upon billions of Borg. And you'd have to free them all to beat The Collective. And at first a lot of them might not want to stop being Borg...so it isn't just as easy as "Hugh"ing them all.

      The Villain Decay of the Borg really began in earnest with Star Trek: First Contact, with the introduction of the Borg Queen. The reason they were so tough to beat was because they were absolutely decentralized - there was no central locus. The Borg Queen served mainly as a way to personalize the borg threat (the producers recognized that it wasn't very thematic to have the Enterprise crew interact with an abstract Hive Mind voice as the villain), but also as a quick fix to the movie's Borg problem.

      Oddly enough, before they started to decay, they actually got more dangerous, once they start desiring to assimilate everything and not just civilizations. Before a single ship had very little to fear from a passing cube. But of course, Voyager being only a single ship (and without a civilization to defend), this had to change, otherwise they could just fly through Borg space just fine, as long as they didn't settle any planets or develop superior technology. And with this desire only for large scale assaults out the window, Voyager had to deal with them constantly. Thus, they had to get easier.

      That's why TNG only had 6 episodes that dealt with the Borg - it was just too tough to keep the Borg a terrifying enemy and yet still come up with ways to defeat them. And since 4 of those episodes were in pairs of 2-parters, 1 of them didn't even require defeating any Borg, and in 1 of them they were introduced to the Borg by Q and thus only saved from destruction/assimilation by Q's intervention as well (a literal Deus Ex Machina), only twice in 7 seasons did the Enterprise actually defeat the Borg[1]. Voyager had to beat them in about 15 different episodes and they quickly became paper tigers.

      The decay is later turned on its head in the later The Next Generation and Voyager relaunch novels, when the Borg effectively reestablish their handle as one of the greatest threats to the galaxy since...well, ever. In the span of approximately six months, they kill Captain Janeway, destroy the planet Pluto, and launch a massive invasion in an attempt to completely annihilate every spacefaring civilization of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, the end result of which was over 63,000,000,000 casualties. That's 63 billion for those of you who have trouble with zeros.
    • Likewise Species 8472, who were Scary Dogmatic Aliens until "In the Flesh".
    • The Ferengi were downgraded from serious threats to comic-relief pests after only two appearances. The Ferengi were intended to be major recurring villains, but over the course of several makeup revisions, the Ferengi went from impressive to goofy-looking. This probably has as much to do with the fact that when the Ferengi were introduced early on in Next Generation, Gene Roddenberry was still involved with the production, and was trying as hard as possible to recreate the old series. However, characters that would have worked as villains in the much cheesier era of the original series basically just inspired laughter in modern audiences. Also, all else being equal it's easier to make tall guys look threatening than short guys. Roddenberry really wanted to have villains who are small in stature yet still dangerous, but it just didn't work out. Not that their status as Strawman Capitalists helped much either.
    • The non-canon TNG novels have retconned this in a rather interesting way by having the Ferengi intentionally disseminate rumors of the Ferengi's bloodthirsty nature as a calculated response to a perceived threat from the United Federation of Planets. Essentially, the Ferengi were so worried about first-contact with moneyless society that they hoped give themselves a fearsome image before the first meeting took place. In universe, when first-contact actually occurred, each side underwent almost total Villain Decay from the perspective of the other.
    • Q turned from a frivolous yet dangerous omniscient being who nevertheless delivered some important Aesops to Captain Picard, to a lovesick puppy who goes to Captain Janeway for advice on parental relationships and conflict resolution in the Q Continuum. Q really was one of those characters who were a case of Depending on the Writer, especially in TNG. He's creepy and borderline sadistic in "Encounter at Farpoint", then campy and unwittingly annoying in "QPid", then he's back to being sinister in "True Q". It's debatable whether or not he was even actually a villain, considering how many times he (sometimes indirectly) helped Picard and the crew.
    • The Dominion in Deep Space Nine suffer heavily from this trope as well. In Starfleet's first military encounter with them, three of the weakest Dominion fighters destroy the Galaxy-class USS Odyssey, ostensibly one of Starfleet's most powerful ships, with relative ease. However, by the end of the show we can see Galaxy-class starships destroy the Dominion fighters in one shot. By the time of the Dominion War, Starfleet had developed defenses to the phased polaron beams that the Dominion Ships use, and upgraded their weapons. Hell they turned the Galaxy-class Explorer into the Galaxy-class Battleship. Precisely why the Dominion belong on the Villain Decay page, and not on Fridge Logic. The Dominion continued to be a serious threat right up until the final battle of the Dominion War. Often, however, one side in an all-out conflict undergoes villain decay as the natural result of a long, drawn-out struggle. Vichy France, Fascist Italy, and Nazi Germany all underwent their own separate decay at different points in the war.
  • After seeing how much respect the Borg lost during his writing stint on Voyager, Ronald D. Moore rather neatly avoided the trope in his remake of Battlestar Galactica Reimagined. The villainous Cylons are only sparingly used as a direct threat to the heroes, and typically when the heroes do beat them there's some kind of price. However, one particular Cylon, Caprica-Six has decayed rather badly. Given she was only in one episode (the miniseries), where she performed one mercy killing and lectured Baltar and that was it, and then wasn't seen again until the late second season where she followed through on being sad at taking a baby's life by regretting the holocaust in its entirety and missed a man she from the beginning cared about, or why else bother to save him, she didn't have much badass to decay anyway.
    • During the "Pegasus" arc and the second-season episodes that followed it, the basestars in particular were almost completely downgraded (to the point that, if the Pegasus launched a head-on attack with its cannon, it would utterly destroy one). This removed a lot of the series' tension. To note, in a late second-season episode, the Pegasus destroys one Basestar and holds out against two more for several minutes while the acting captain waits for a critical system to be fixed. This decay makes the Pegasus' sacrifice in season 3 all the more illogical.
  • Almost every season of Power Rangers begins with the villain being replaced by a new one -- because after forty episodes of losing, the old villain doesn't seem as cool. (And of course, a new villain means more Merchandise-Driven.)
    • Lord Zedd, when he was introduced he was very dark and frightening. He was deemed too scary for children and he was toned down over time. By the third season he had degenerated into comic relief.
      • Zedd's villain decay is actually discussed and countered in Linkara's History of Power Rangers series. As he points out, even though Zedd became more goofy, he actually started winning once the Villain Decay hit. For most of Season 2 (when he was still menacing), he just kept losing like Rita did. In Season 3, he destroyed the Thunder Zords, kidnaped and nearly killed Kimberly, almost killed Tommy in a straight fight, took over the Ninja Zords, destroyed the power coins, and even BLEW UP THE COMMAND CENTER. He may have stopped being scary, but he compensated by being more of a threat.
    • Rita Repulsa and later Lord Zedd's Dragon Goldar was also hit with this. He went from a menacing figure who was more than a match for the entire Power Rangers squad to being Bulk and Skull's servant. The same thing happened to Rito Revolto.
  • Pretty much inevitable for any of the recurring villains on Doctor Who.
    • This was the fate that befell the Doctor's greatest enemies the Daleks after 16 television stories, four cameos and countless appearances in other adaptations, especially when their creator, Davros, began to dominate the stories. They were later made more menacing again; in 1988 they were given the ability to fly, and for their 2005 return in "Dalek", they were given new abilities, such as a force field and the ability to crush a man's head using the plunger arm. However, they may be falling back into this, going in their more recent appearances from one being defeated by its own self-loathing, to a fleet being defeated by a Deus Ex Machina, to millions being defeated by reversing the polarity. On the other hand three Daleks, later two Daleks and a Dalek-Human hybrid take two episodes to destroy. Because of this, it seems the Daleks suffer from some variation of the Inverse Ninja Law. The more there are, the easier they are to defeat.
    • This was even lampshaded by Steven Moffatt, who commented that they had lost to the Doctor "400 times" (this was probably exaggeration, but he does have a point as the Daleks have only won ONCE over the past few years). For this reason he is temporarily retiring the Daleks, probably for a good couple of seasons. Considering that they have appeared ten times since the show's revival, it's certainly fair enough.
    • Also in Doctor Who, the Master particularly suffered from this, with many writers simply using him as a convenient bad guy with little motivation beyond being "eeeevil". The trend arguably started from his very first appearances, since he appeared as the Big Bad in every episode of Season Eight of the classic series, which arguably diluted his effectiveness right from the off. He always allied with another evil power, which then betrayed him, forcing him to work with the Doctor. Over his many appearances in both classic and new series, writers have tried most of the tricks above to avert Villain Decay, including threat escalation, frequent Enemy Mine plots, Alternate Universe victories, and having him murder the family members of series regulars. Probably for the same reasons that the series itself has been so long-lived, despite succumbing to Villain Decay several times over, the character somehow keeps bouncing back as a Magnificent Bastard. The new series attempted to correct this both by giving him a plausible motivation - complete insanity - and by showing how Badass he could be; not least by stranding the Doctor at the end of time itself, becoming Prime Minister of Great Britain, massacring a tenth of the population of Earth and all in all being a rather Magnificent Bastard before the Doctor managed to undo everything.
    • The Cybermen were Doctor Who's most Egregious victim of this trope. In Second Doctor Cybermen stories, they were powerful, some might say too powerful. That may be a good reason they weren't used for the entire Third Doctor run. When they were brought back at the beginning of the Fourth Doctor era, they were given a weakness: gold dust would clog their chest units and suffocate them. All well and good, until someone misinterpreted that to mean that gold itself was their weakness. In Earthshock it wasn't so bad, as only one was killed, and that weapon (Adric's badge) broke and was unusable. Despite their gold weakness not coming up in The Five Doctors and Attack of the Cybermen, they were still killed in heavy droves by Rassilon's tower's defenses, the Raston Warrior Robot, and even human weapons. The weakness returned with a vengeance in Silver Nemesis, however, treating us to the wonderful sight of Ace killing Cybermen with gold coins fired from a slingshot. The Cybermen seen that come from a parallel Earth do not have this weakness, and the ones from this universe that returned in the new series were no longer defeated that way (although one flagship was entirely destroyed by the Doctor as part of The Teaser of "A Good Man Goes to War").
    • This trope was one of the reasons why the Mandragora were not used in a story in The Sarah Jane Adventures as it was felt they would be defeated "too easily" (and so were replaced with the Ancient Lights).
  • In Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the Turok-Han (ancient ugly vampires) of Season Seven were a particularly good example of this. The first one that shows up beats the hell out of Buffy all by itself, but by the end of the season everyone is hacking them down left and right. Spike starts out as one of the most feared and dangerous vampires Buffy has ever encountered. By season 4 he's a joke, figuratively and literally -- he's the actual butt of the joke in many scenes. He becomes less of a joke over seasons 6, 7, and Angel season 5, but never reverts back to being a villain proper.
    • Plus the Vampires themselves, who constitute a major threat in the first season, becoming progressively weaker until finally they're just a bunch of wussy mooks that even Xander has roughly even odds of killing in a fair fight. This was briefly Zig Zagged in later seasons where Riley had to become a Super Soldier just to keep up, but overall in both Buffy and the spinoff, Angel, Vampires went from "Major threat that requires an incredibly superhuman girl to be born every generation just to deal with them" to "A random passerby can take one out with a pencil". They're still treated by the characters like they're a major threat, but the actual quality of the threat tends to be far inferior to how much they act like it's a threat, as exemplified by their strength being wildly inconsistent; sometimes being portrayed as being far above any normal human's and at other times they can be easily overpowered and restrained by a young (non-Slayer) woman who can't weigh more than 120 pounds.
  • Nicole Wallace of Law and Order: Criminal Intent started off as Moriarty to Bobby Goren's Sherlock Holmes, which made her getting nailed in her return appearance so satisfying. Then she was brought back in increasingly ridiculous ways, to the point where she was closer to a supervillain than her original anti-Goren persona.
    • The Villain Decay reaches its nadir in her final appearance, in which she's just a Red Herring for the real villain, who kills her offscreen.
  • The Source of All Evil in Charmed went from an angel-winged, black cloaked, seemingly omniscient entity, to a big guy in a black cloak who tried to kill the Charmed Ones with about as much success as every enemy before although he did become the only character to succeed in having one of the sisters permanently murdered, but that may have been defined above as during his first phase, and being severely wounded by one renegade demon throwing fireballs at him. Eventually he lost not just the wings but the menacing hood as well and revealed a goofy face before dying, and it was revealed that The Source of All Evil is a transferable title. The new ones? Were never threatening.
    • Any and all demonic threats in general suffered from villain decay; early demons, albeit being a Monster of the Week in most cases, were a threat to the sisters individually; later on, when all-purpose vanquishing potions were produced by the gallon, they were mere nuisances most of the time. Perhaps this is why villains in later seasons consisted of one of the Elders who supposedly oversaw all "good magic," beings capable of removing people from reality at their whim, and finally, other witches.
  • Scorpius in Farscape managed to remain a Magnificent Bastard throughout the second and third seasons, thanks in large part to the writers letting him achieve total victory in the second season finale. The third season thus became about the heroes trying to reverse their earlier loss. However, by the end of the third season the show introduced a new villain who served as Scorpius' superior, and by the fourth he had lost all his fearsomeness. Grayza and Braca even have him crawling on a leash like a dog, and he licks Grayza's boot! How much Villain Decay do you WANT!?. Thankfully, he still had enough magnificent bastardry left in him to survive the fourth season and the TV movie, regaining his position in the process.
    • Mind you, there's something to be said for a villain who manages to get himself (begrudgingly) accepted as a part of the hero's crew even though he freely admits that his goals and motivations haven't changed a jot since when he last tried to kill everyone. And boy howdy, it pays off big-time in season 4's three-parter. That's magnificent.
    • In the first season, the early-on Big Bad was Bialar Crais, the senior local Peacekeeper who was chasing them because he blamed Crichton for his brother's demise. He is usurped (and ruined, professionally) by Scorpius at the end of Season 1 but reappears later and becomes (uncomfortably for all) a semi-crew member due to his symbiotic relationship with Moya's child.
      • Harvey (the neural clone of Scorpius inside Crichton's head) was specifically introduced to avoid this trope. This way Scorpius could appear as a constant threat without downgrading this menace by having Crichton escape at the end of the episode.
      • The clone itself was subjected to extreme villain decay when the chip that generated it was removed from Crichton's head. While it did survive this, it lost all ability to control Crichton, and its personality degenerated from an exact clone of Scorpius to something that bore at least as much resemblance to Crichton.
      • Grayza began to suffer decay as the Scarrans became the main villains of season four- and ended up kidnapped by them due to her own gullibility. Particularly blatant was the revelation that Captain Braca- who she'd supposedly enslaved with her infallible pheromone glands -- was actually still working for Scorpius; he went on to personally remove her from command to prove it. And just to rub it in, her command carrier was retaken by Scorpius, who'd recovered from his bout of villain decay.
  • Shows up quite a bit in the Stargate Verse. In the interest of fairness, it does have to be granted that there's a justification for aliens suffering some decay, in that part of the SG teams' missions is to promote Villain Decay; that is, a large part of the purpose of the Stargate program is to go forth and find out what's out there, and ways to defend Earth from those threats. If they were at all successful, Villain Decay was simply the logical extension of their success. Now, whether or not this makes for good television writing is very open to debate.
    • Stargate SG-1 fits this trope like a Goa'uld hand device. The Goa'uld were introduced as merciless, brutal and could effortlessly obliterate Earth as well as having a firm grip on much of the galaxy, held back only by in-fighting caused by their lust for power. When our heroes encounter just a small group of Jaffa, they manage to escape in one piece if lucky. But as the series progressed they became a bunch of arrogant, scheming, childish fools with a Napoleon complex and their mighty Jaffa armies become P90 fodder. Their flanged voices sounded cool and creepy when spoken slowly and calmly, but sounded ridiculous when they put any real emotion into it. By the end of the series, a Goa'uld encounter is just an inconvenience as our heroes have bigger fish to fry.

      It should be noted that in the original movie, the heroes only fought one Jaffa one-on-one (well, two or three on one, really) and then only really survived because Daniel ringed down in the exact right place at the exact right time. Since that's not exactly a viable tactic for an ongoing series, the Jaffa get progressively wimpier as the show goes on. Free Jaffa, however, seem much more badass than their enslaved counterparts, partially because there are fewer of them, and therefore the writers don't have to worry about tipping the scales too much.
    • The Replicators, on the other hand, largely avert this trope, as each time the heroes meet a bunch of those things, it has required an even more insane plan than the last one to merely stall them. Trapping them in a time-stop bubble (they escape), sending then into a black hole (escape too), finding a ancient-made BFG specially designed to destroy them (become immune) and friggin' finally, using a weapon that can fry the entire Milky Way to destroy them all at the same time once and for all. Their Asuran brethren in Atlantis required a similarly insane plan to put them down once and for all.
    • The Wraith in Stargate Atlantis also went the way of the Goa'uld, as first the Atlantis Expedition develop a retrovirus to turn Wraith into humans, but then get reduced to in-fighting amongst themselves over dwindling food (read: human) resources. The Wraith lost their powers to cause hallucinations after their first appearance. Even though they can regenerate from wounds quickly, their scab-masked grunts quickly become just so much cannon fodder. Back around "The Lost Boys" (season 2), it was a difficult prospect for a small team to infiltrate a Wraith hive; by the later seasons ("The Queen" or "The Shrine"), the good guys are almost nonchalant about walking into Wraith territory. Of course, the Wraith's decay wasn't helped by the introduction of the new Big Bads on the block, the Asurans (who were really just the Replicators, but less threatening).
    • Among their human opponents, Harry Maibourne starts as a menacing Knight Templar, then winds up doing a semi Heel Face Turn and eventually just gets Put on a Bus.
  • Adam Monroe, formerly Big Bad of Heroes season 2. When he returned in Season 3, he was downgraded from a Magnificent Bastard to comic relief. Then he was killed off by the new villain, Mr. Petrelli, in an Eviler Than Thou moment. Oh, and all this took less than two episodes, possibly setting a new record for 'fastest villain decay ever'.
  • Mr. Sweeny on Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide, to the point where he doesn't rat Ned out in the finale for sneaking along on the field trip. Of course, he leaves him stuck in that tree... "but do tell me how your day turns out."
    • This is somewhat justified by the fact that Sweeny was never really "evil" in the first place. Ned just thought he was, and as the series progresses, Ned stops portraying him as an evil scientist and more as a strict teacher who helps him out from time to time.
  • Dr. Smith on Lost in Space may be one of the most iconic examples of this trope. He was originally a dangerously intelligent saboteur attempting to kill the Robinsons, but by a few episodes in he had deteriorated to complete pest/buffoon status. Early attempts at character development soon puttered out, and he became simply annoying comic relief.
  • Wizards of Waverly Place: The mummy wasn't nearly as badass in "Wizards vs. Werewolves" as he was in the "Chronicles of Moises" arc, and his defeat was ridiculously easy.
  • Ben Linus from Lost, through a mix of Sorting Algorithm of Evil and Character Development. In seasons 2 and 3, he comes across as the ultimate in Magnificent Bastardry (and arguably, he's still got most of those skills), but season 4 saw the introduction of his arch-nemesis, Charles Widmore, a guy that Ben is actually afraid of, and the conclusion of season 5 reveals that Ben has been the Man in Black's unwitting pawn all along. Adding to that, circumstances saw Ben becoming the Losties' Token Evil Teammate from season 4 onwards. But in this case, Villain Decay doesn't preclude being awesome, thanks to Ben's always-entertaining approach to solving problems and Michael Emerson's award-winning performance, and despite working with the Losties for three seasons he doesn't actually make a Heel Face Turn until season 6's "Dr. Linus".
  • Brad Bellick of Prison Break. Corrupt Cop and Smug Snake in season 1, he serves as the main antagonist there and was quite cunning. He becomes much less of a threat in season 2. When season 3 sets in, he's completely pathetic, being the lowest of the low in Sona prison and being treated like shit by everyone. In season 4, he joins the protagonists and pulls a Heroic Sacrifice. Everyone mourns for him, apparently having completely forgotten what an utter bastard he was in the first season.
  • Partly due to Seinfeld Is Unfunny, Jerri Manthey in Survivor. She was seen as the original survivor villain mostly because she was the first to be called that. (Richard Hatch is probably more of the "original" survivor villain) She was actually booed off the stage in All Stars, yet years later after the likes of Boston Rob controlling the game, Russell Hantz sociopathically pushing his way to the finals and admittedly griefing his fellow players, Jonny Fairplay lying to get a sympathetic advantage, Ami Cusack, and players like Naonka, Corrine, and Randy just being a Jerkass...When Jerri showed up on stage in Heroes vs. Villains and wasn't like any of those, people actually applauded for her.
  • Omen on Dark Oracle. In Season 1 he managed to be The Big Bad, even with his powers sealed. In Season 2 he returns with his powers unlocked...and is demoted to being a flunky of Blaze and Violet. He's still dangerous, but Lance and Cally have bigger fish to fry, and simply aren't scared of him anymore. In the end, he's reduced to a rather pitiful figure who pulls a Heel Face Turn to help Cally and then dies.
  • A brilliant example of Tropes Are Not Bad from The Wire. In the first season the Barksdale crew ruled the West Side of Baltimore. By the third season, they were in a tit-for-tat and being matched by independent drug lord who had no backing and was young and inexperienced. Marlo's ruthlessness surprised even Avon but it went beyond that, particularly with the collapse of Avon and Stringer's friendship where the cracks could be seen as early as the beginning of the second season.


Professional Wrestling Edit

  • John Bradshaw Layfield. Remember when JBL was the longest-reigning WWE Champion in the history of SmackDown!? Yup, nobody else does, either.
  • Averted with The Great Khali. Although he was marginalized a bit following the loss of his World Heavyweight Championship to Batista late in 2007, WWE managed to keep him sufficiently menacing up until his Heel Face Turn a year later....and then the decay set in.
  • Also averted with Umaga. Although he did lose three consecutive pay-per-view matches in early 2007 after having previously gone undefeated for nearly nine months, he managed to remain a dangerous (if hardly ever successful) villain right up until his death in 2009.
  • Vladimir Kozlov. Like Umaga, he managed to go for the better part of a year without being pinned until Shawn Michaels finally defeated him in early 2009. Within months, however, he and Ezekiel Jackson were playing second fiddle to William Regal, who was himself a pretty pathetic villain. His standing eventually fell so far that by the time he turned face, he was spending most of his time with Santino Marella in a comic-relief (if occasionally successful) tag team.
  • Played straight and then subverted with Montel Vontavious Porter. He was the longest-reigning United States Champion in the title's 33-year history until Matt Hardy finally won it from him in 2008. From there he began a long slide into irrelevancy, until by the fall of that year he was stuck in a months-long losing streak that made you forget he had ever been at all competent. But this eventually proved to be a blessing when the crowd began to cheer him out of sympathy, resulting in a Heel Face Turn and a long-denied victory when he won a match that enabled Triple H to participate in the 2009 Royal Rumble. He then went on to be just as successful as before, even defeating Shelton Benjamin to become United States Champion once again.
  • Lampshaded with Edge. After winning the World Heavyweight Championship in December 2007 (which he had never lost, as it had been stripped from him earlier that year due to an injury), he decided to safeguard his title by forging a strategic relationship with SmackDown! General Manager Vickie Guerrero. Although at first he only pretended to fall in love with her, as time went on he genuinely became enamored with her and transformed into a slightly effeminate character who swooned over Vickie every chance he got. In any event, the strategy was an enormous success: Edge had Vickie set up numerous scenarios in which his chief rival, The Undertaker, couldn't possibly win, and even persuaded her to have 'Taker banished from WWE entirely. Edge proposed marriage to Vickie in the summer of 2008, but the ceremony ended in disaster after it was revealed that he had been cheating on Vickie with Alicia Fox, the wedding planner. Vickie told Edge that she hated him, which led to a brief period of Cry for the Devil as Edge begged Vickie for forgiveness. But Vickie would have none of it, and decided to avenge herself further by having Undertaker reinstated to WWE and booking him against Edge in a Hell in a Cell Match at SummerSlam. This turned Edge into a wild-eyed coward who didn't believe he could win the match without help, and so he sought advice from Mick Foley on how to win a Hell in a Cell Match. Foley flat out told Edge that he was going to lose the match, because ever since he had fallen in love with Vickie he had been a complete sissy....
  • For the Divas, Molly Holly. This two-time Women's Champion was forced to undergo a protracted Humiliation Conga that lasted almost an entire year after Wrestlemania XX, when Victoria defeated her in a match, strapped her to a barber's chair, and shaved off all her hair. Eventually her hair grew back, but things only got worse for Molly when Stacy Keibler (of all people!) pinned her in three consecutive matches. This was truly the beginning of the end for Holly, because if someone so inexperienced could pin a former champion three times, then who the hell couldn't? It wasn't long before "Mighty Molly" wasn't so mighty anymore - indeed, was a complete joke, losing every single match more or less regularly before finally leaving WWE.


Tabletop Games Edit

  • The Necrons of Warhammer 40000 are an interesting case of this. When first formally introduced, they were supremely enigmatic horrors serving even more horrific beings, known for mysterious harvests of life, unknown plans, and ridiculously advanced technology. Fan perception of them quickly made them Omnicidal Maniacs to the public eye, and they began to be perceived as a race-wide Creator's Pet. The 5th Edition Codex has resulted in a serious hit to the Necrons' previously unknown and unstoppable nature in favor of shifting the focus towards the Tyranids and Chaos as the greatest threats facing humanity.
    • This happens all the time in W40k. Whenever a new army is introduced, they start as existential threats to the entire setting for a year or two and then decay into just another faction. The orks started off as a galaxy wide tide of death and destruction but degenerated into pub brawlers over time. Tyranids also started off as unstoppable, galaxy-devouring horde of alien locusts but their impending, full-scale invasion and eating of the galaxy kept getting delayed and delayed and then the tyranids inexplicably adopted an "attack in small numbers" strategy that made them less of a threat to the setting.
    • This is invoked half-deliberately and half-facesave. When introducing the new armies, they were very excited and wanted to pump them up, even if it didn't make any sense. However, if they actually took their own word seriously, it would atomically spell the end of the game: there's only so many times you can say "Uh...the Elder fixed it with an ancient artifact" before the fans start to look elsewhere. Thus, they simply damp down the new kids once they get established.
    • Then on a smaller scale you have some of the lords of Chaos. Abbadon the Despoiler is probably the number one offender. He is supposedly the heir to Horus and carries the title of Warmaster of Chaos, as well as the favor of all four Chaos Gods. However his Black Crusades seem to end in defeat more often than not, or at best as a stalemate. One can argue on whether or not it's his fault but the community at large now looks at him as a bit of a joke, earning him the nickname Failbaddon
  • In general RPGs manage to avoid this problem by having a chance the heroes will die in any appropriate conflict, and will generally kill or otherwise completely defeat the villain. On the other hand, any game with leveling up will see a great many enemies go from a serious threat early on, to being completely ineffective in a few levels.


Video Games Edit

  • Bowser of the Mario series does this depending on the type of game. In most of the main platformers, he is shown as a genuinely powerful threat to the Mushroom Kingdom (and in Galaxy, the entire universe). In the sports spinoffs, he is the Trope Namer for Go-Karting with Bowser who is actually on friendly terms with Mario. In the RPGs, barring the first Paper Mario, he is upstaged by another Big Bad while he provides comic relief. Played with in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story. He goes through his usual Villain Decay like he always does in the RPGs, but it establishes him as a legitimate Badass at the same time.
  • Dr. Ivo "Eggman" Robotnik went through this starting with Sonic Adventure, which is when he started to get into his habit of releasing sealed evil in cans and constantly failing to learn that Evil Is Not a Toy. In nearly every game since Sonic Adventure, he started to be constantly upstaged by the game's Big Bad while he is forced to help the heroes defeat him. Sonic Colors managed to get him back into the spotlight by having him refrain from trying to unseal an evil and made him go back to using his Mecha-Mooks to destroy Sonic and attempting to mind-control the entire Earth.
  • Sonic Generations plays with this: At first, the Big Bad just seems to be a pretty generic Eldritch Abomination, and Eggman's role is reduced to being a mere victim. But in the end, it turns out the Time Eater was really a robot piloted by the Eggmen all along. Yes, Eggmen, plural.
  • The Space Pirates from the Metroid Prime series get hit hard with this in Echoes—after being the driving menace of the first game, they are abruptly downgraded into a recurring nuisance to Samus— but this can be justified by the game wanting to play up the threat of the Ing and Dark Samus, and the fact that the Pirates on Aether were a small, marooned colony that got many of their crew killed or Ing-possessed.
  • LeChuck from the Monkey Island series. In the first game he is quite creepy, as is his ship and crew. By the third game he has been Flanderized into a rather humorous albeit sadistic character who enjoys hurting Guybrush for the hell of it.
  • Tales of Monkey Island furthers this even more, and after the intro he's transformed into a genuinely nice guy who Guybrush is suddenly worried about Elaine legitimately falling for. Then the end of chapter four manages to reverse four games worth of decay in a few scenes, and LeChuck manages to revert into the evil bastard he used to be
  • Wily and Sigma of the original Mega Man and X series, of course. They started at world domination and thus couldn't up the ante, they were obligated to never win a single token victory except perhaps during the intro mission, every game had them unleash a new wave of greatest minions ever who would fall like dominoes, and of course the biggie is that they used roughly the same approach (8 robot masters and a fortress, give myself a robot body, and maybe try to make it look like someone else is the villain at first) in every game in the entire series and were defeated singlehandedly by the same person every time. On the plus side, they got a new "more evil" true form every time.
    • In X6, this trope is interpreted quite literally, as Sigma can barely string together coherent sentences ("JUSDIE, Zelllllllloooooo!!!!!"), and is more of a robotic hunched-over zombie who can actually be knocked down, not just back. On the flipside, prior to X6, Simga's schemes seemed to get more evil each game. In X3, when Dr. Doppler comes up with a cure for the Maverick Virus, Sigma turns him evil, along with Mavericks he cured. In X4, he causes the Maverick Hunters and an army called Repliforce to go to war with eachother, creating a very morally ambiguous plot. To top it all off, he comes close to destroying the Earth with a big laser weapon, which X and Zero fail to stop, and is only stopped by the leader of Repliforce, General sacrifice himself. In X5, he makes a scheme to turn Zero maverick by crashing a Maverick Virus infect space colony into that Earth that would cause KT impact esc damage in the process, and depending on the plot of the game, he succeeds and also wipes out most life on Earth in the process (X6 goes assuming the colony did crash into that Earth, but Zero not going Marvick). In all endings, he nearly kills X, and appears to kill Zero.
    • Wily's decay was Lampshaded by Mega Man at the end of Mega Man 9: Wily, defeated, begs for his life as usual, and Megs shows him a hologram of Wily doing the same thing for the past 9 times:
    • Wily may actually be a subversion, though, considering he creates The Virus, which plagues the X series long after his death. Plus, in the current timeline, his robots have gotten harder to defeat.
  • The Mario & Luigi games bring us Fawful. Right Hand of the main villain in the first game, in the second...he sells badges in a semi-secret shop ranting about how he'll have his revenge on Mario and Luigi one day, which happens in the next game in the series.
  • Dracula in the Castlevania series has been thrashed by the Belmonts and their friends more times than can be Counted (vun hundred and fifty two! Vun hundred and fifty three! Vlah ah ah...), usually only a brief time after his resurrection, meaning he rarely has time to do anything particularly evil. He was finally, perhaps wisely, retired in the Sorrow series...and ironically replaced with new villains who seem a whole lot more inept and ineffectual than Dracula himself ever did. After all, they are canonically Dracula wannabes.
    • There's also Slogra and Gaibon, which debuted as powerful bosses in Super Castlevania IV (albeit made waaay too easy by all the food between them) then had found their way down to mid-range Mook status by Portrait of Ruin. Before that, they bacame a weak boss pair in Symphony.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth was an extremely menacing Big Bad - a phantom, unstoppable killing machine cutting a swathe of death across the world, always one step ahead of the heroes, and all while manipulating Cloud into a Tomato in the Mirror from within his own mind; all so he can simply mind control him into giving him the Artifact of Doom right after putting six feet of steel clean through his ally in a single strike. With a smirk. What a bastard! But in subsequent appearances, all he seems to do is appear out of nowhere with his theme song blaring to deliver a Hannibal Lecture and kick the hero's ass for a while before he gets owned. Again. What really makes this worse is that in the original game, Sephiroth didn't care about Cloud beyond his use as a puppet. In fact, he didn't even recognize him when they met. Then in later appearances, he's completely obsessed with Cloud to the point of having no other motive than to defeat him (save for the Kingdom Hearts series, in which Cloud is the obsessed one.)
  • Dissidia Final Fantasy seemed to play around with this. He actually starts out wanting to control Cloud as a puppet...and it grows into a Foe Yay-tastic obsession by the last time you fight him. For that matter, pretty much all the villains in Dissidia suffer a decay in one way or another. They go from being the ultimate evils in their universes to just servants of another slightly more ultimate evil. Plus the chaotic storyline really limits their plot roles. Sephiroth, for instance, doesn't seem interested in doing much of anything beyond just taunting Cloud. He has the goal to become a god but his mindscrewing with Cloud seems to have nothing at all to do with that, yet it takes prominence for him.
  • Final Fantasy X has a strange example. After confronting the party in Bevelle and revealing his motives, Seymour becomes a more powerful threat gamewise. But storywise, the party brushes him off as completely nuts and stops taking him seriously. In the end, Tidus' reaction to Seymour's final appearance inside of Sin is a simple annoyed "Don't you EVER give up?"
  • Ashura of the SaGa series. In the first game, he is the penultimate boss. In the second game, he is the first major boss of the game, and it can be a pretty challenging fight. By the third game he's just a normal boss.
  • The HK-50 droids in Knights of the Old Republic 2. In Peragus, one droid was able to make the entire mining colony its bitch over a few days. Than a squad of three of them showed up at Telos and jobbed against the hero, before finally three more were defeated by T3-M4.
  • The original Big Core of the Gradius series has undergone significant Villain Decay; while the original game's bosses were almost nothing but Big Cores, bigger and more powerful Bacterian technology in subsequent games slowly phased this boss out until, in Gradius V, it became a regular, if large and heavily-armored, enemy.
  • Vizier Khilbron (a.k.a. the Undead Lich) and Shiro Tagachi were the Big Bads in the first two chapters of Guild Wars, and each of them made a challenging opponent at the time. But when they show up again in Chapter 3, Nightfall, even the two of them teamed up are merely just another speedbump on the way to the new Big Bad, Abaddon.
  • Maleficent from Disney's Sleeping Beauty was to a degree the main villain of the original Kingdom Hearts. When she is revived in Kingdom Hearts II she only can control Heartless, is left plotting in a wreck of a castle as opposed to the magnificent one she had in the original game, and has only one loyal servant left...Pete. However, this is often lampshaded, and by the end of the game she seems to recapture her former glory by conquering Organization XIII's castle once Xemnas is destroyed.
    • Maleficent goes right back up to villain status in Birth By Sleep. She manipulated Terra to do what she wants and despite that Ventus and Aqua both whoop her ass, she clearly doesn't give up there (especially after Ventus defeats and she immediately reappears without a single fuck to give.) She doesn't even die when she did in the movie! One of the parts of the Bittersweet Ending is that you realize Maleficent has Aurora captured by Kingdom Hearts and has destroyed Enchanted Domain...all Ventus and Aqua did was just delay the inevitable. Villain Decay still qualifies though, as this was chronologically the first entry in the Kingdom Hearts series. It was a downward slope for her after that.
    • Even Maleficent had it easy compared to Jafar. In the original Kingdom Hearts, he had a notably prominent role in the Disney Villain group, often interacting with Maleficent directly. In Kingdom Hearts II, he gets ONE scene and an ensuing boss battle, and then dies.
  • In System Shock 2, SHODAN went through this trope herself. After the hacker "destroyed" her in that showdown on Citadel Station, SHODAN hibernated on the computer system within the garden grove on Citadel where her experiments, the Many, were created. Her pod was ejected from the Station, and after three decades, it crash landed on Tau Ceti 5. Then, SHODAN's creations thrived, and since she was out of commission at the time, while they were thriving, they grew rebellious and plotted to turn against their own creator: SHODAN herself. So, she aids you as you dispose of the Many, even though she threatens and insults you. SHODAN, however, stopped fitting into this trope after you finally exterminate the Many. Then, she plans to merge her power with the Von Braun's Faster Than Light travel drive, so that she could combine the cyber world with the real world, allowing her to change reality as she sees fit. SHODAN leaves you for dead, and then you fight her. And once you think you've defeated SHODAN for good...
  • In Capcom's Resident Evil franchise, Ozwell E. Spencer is the prime example of this trope. In the beginning, he was the one pulling all the strings. He was the leader of Umbrella Corporation. He was the one who was responsible for all the terror and destruction that the T-virus caused. But after the constant thwartings of Umbrella's schemes, and the deaths of some of its most prominent workers, and especially after Chris and Jill destroyed Umbrella's T-ALOS project, Umbrella went bankrupt, and the authorities were aware that Umbrella was behind it all. Spencer then became a fugitive, losing everything.
    • From a gameplay standpoint, this applies to Nemesis in Resident Evil 3 Nemesis. He's at his worst during the first fight, where you don't have much to go with in terms of items, and he's in the form that has the fastest and hardest-to-dodge attacks from the start. Subsequent forms have him with his trademark rocket launcher, which can attack at a distance, but makes him unable to grab Jill, not to mention that repeated shooting at him throws his aim off, and even if they hit, the rockets don't hurt as much as his grab. By that point, you already have access to the Magnum or the Grenade Launcher, too. This is actually a recurring process, where he gets progressively slower in his attacks and you amass more powerful weapons and ammunition, making each fight easier than the last. By the end of the game, poor Nemmy is a joke.
  • Bubble Bobble: Super Drunk, the Final Boss of the first game, returns, degraded and easier, as the first boss in a sequel, Bubble Symphony (aka Bubble Bobble II). He even has a patch on his hood to show for it.
  • Arthas in World of Warcraft. In Warcraft III, he starts out as a paladin with potential who is the only person to really beat the Scourge (he was supposed to, but the guy in charge of them didn't know that). Then he turns into a death knight and is presumably even stronger. Kicks some ass in Frozen Throne while fighting with some rather major handicaps. Merges with Nerzhul to become the Lich King, making him even smarter, stronger and upping his magical abilities. Apparently Blizzard realized this made him pretty much a unstoppable one man army who could probably take the world over by HIMSELF, so all throughout the latest World of Warcraft expansion he makes one huge mistake after another, looks like a total moron and kills his followers who are actually rather competent (one took down the Drakkari empire by manipulating you, pretty much) instead of you. Oh, and he's also done nothing of importance over the last...what, ten official years? Something like that. He's really good at making himself lose.
    • He seems to keep you alive simply out of his own amusement. He kills the troll guy whom you've already defeated and pretty tells you "Good work tricking the guy that tricked you. I'm gonna let you live now because that amused me. Come up with something like this again and I may let you live."
    • In the cinematic after defeating Arthas in Ice Crown Citadel, Arthas reveals the whole point of allowing the players to live and defeat his lieutenants and defeat HIM was so he could kill/resurrect them as his NEXT batch of lieutenants. What, the Ling King doesn't have enough power - he can only support enough Big Bads to fill a raid with?
    • And apparently, this was "intended". In the next raid, Uther speculates that Arthas' piss poor attempt at war is the only thing keeping the Scourge from rolling over Azeroth.
    • Kael'thas in Magister's Terrace. Justified in that he's been resurrected since killed in Tempest Keep and the process didn't go too well for him. It still feels weird to be fighting such a big name character with five people and then cut off his head to hand in to a quest NPC, but it feels even weirder that Priestess Delrissa, Vexallus, and even every trash pull in Magister's Terrace were by far trickier affairs than the prince -- much less that his second phase could be soloed by any self-healing class (given enough time).
    • Happened to the entire race of Ogres. In Warcraft they were Lightning Bruisers who beat things to death with firey fists. They could even be upgraded into Ogre-mages, magical powerhouses with super intelligence and the gamebreaking spell Bloodlust. By World of Warcraft ogres were slow, almost always used weapons instead of Good Old Fisticuffs, and even the super intelligent Ogre-mages were speaking in You No Take Candle.
      • It sort of got better as World of Warcraft progressed. Burning Crusade featured the Ogre clans united under Gruul the Dragonkiller, himself a horrifyingly powerful and nearly God-like figure amongst the Ogres. His names comes from the time he killed off dozens of Black Dragons(a previous big deal enemy to the player) by picking them up and slamming them into the spiked landscape. Cataclysm features the return of Cho'Gall, who puts the Magi in Ogre Magi as an insane cultist leader with a ton of eldritch abomination powers. He also makes good use of the remaining Ogres as muscle.
  • Chrono Trigger:
    • Magus. The first time you fight him is a complex affair of constantly shifting weak points and debuffing his defenses. He lasts long and hits hard enough that you will probably have to actually reference the inventory you probably only previously used to chug potions out of combat. The second time, he -- with none of his stats changed since then save a slight drop in Defense -- gets soloed by Frog, Lucca, or Marle. He joins your party later, and since Good Is Dumb, has been dropped down to your stats and has to relearn all his spells. He still arguably manages to remain a Badass in spite of this.
    • Done literally with the Tyranno. It's called Black Tyranno when you first meet it, but if you find it again in the Infinity+1 Sword search quests, it has decayed into Rust Tyranno. Actually a subversion, though, as this version is somewhat stronger than the previous one.
  • All the final bosses from the Fatal Frame series could fall under this category. Through all three games the Big Bads will come chase you down every once in awhile, during which the player can't even get an option to attack them and it's an instant kill if they so much as touch you. Suddenly though in the end you can fight them back. Rather easily even.
    • The Kusabi suffers this a bit in the third game, where he returns as a boss but loses his One-Hit Kill abilities. On the other hand, he gained flight and a huge amount of speed, making him a much more terrifying opponent, so...maybe it evens out.
    • Reika from III laughs at this trope. She actually got a fair bit more powerful for her final fight.
  • In Left 4 Dead, the Tank was something you ran from. With the introduction of melee weapons in Left 4 Dead 2, a creature that once required a huge amount of lead to bring down can be taken out much more rapidly with cricket bats. Thanks to the fact that his melee only hits one survivor at a time, if all survivors gang up on him, he'll die in no time. Later fixed in a patch. It now takes about twice as long to kill a Tank with melee weapons, long enough that unless you have absolutely perfect team coordination, at least one of you is still going to get pummeled before you bring him down. And molotovs still work just fine.
  • Summerill the Disc One Final Boss Final Boss of Agarest Senki gets turned into a Warmup Boss in Agarest 2. Can't get any lower than that.
  • Zant in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess looks like a pretty cool villain. Sure, his outfit is a bit weird, but it has a creepy vibe and he acts like a true Magnificent Bastard. He also walked right into Hyrule Castle and forced Princess Zelda to surrender, and he's nigh untouchable the first few times you see him. Not to mention that he stole the fused shadows from Midna, and nearly killed her. Plus the one time you see a part of his face, he has a very nasty looking smile. Once you reach him, he turns into something below a Villainous Harlequin, and his actions (and attack animation) take away any shred of dignity he might have had left. Then we find out that all his power was given to him by Ganon, and without that, he was just a whiny Twili who wanted to be king. Perhaps this is just so we won't miss him as a fresh and cool villain after he gets inevitably Hijacked by Ganon.
  • Rodrigo Borgia from Assassin's Creed II starts out as the menacing Big Bad in the game by slyly walking around Italy making sure everything is going according to plan and even has a cool dark reddish-black hooded robe, but at the end he ditches the cloak for not as cool majestic Pope robes and shows off how much of a fat bald guy he is. Then he ditches his Magnificent Bastard demeanor and rambles about religion. If that's not enough he gets the stuff KNOCKED out of him by a bare handed Ezio. And finally the next game has him being upstaged by his kids with them disobeying orders and is eventually killed by an apple To be fair it is based on history.
  • Kerrigan from Starcraft. In the original she was little more than an Axe Crazy Psycho for Hire Elite Mook to the Overmind. In Brood Wars she ascended into a Magnificent Bitch of her own right, manipulating ALL the other sides against each other, eliminating one key figure after another and eventually crippling her enemies and proclaiming herself Queen Bitch of the Universe. And it WAS NOT an empty boast. Then...came Wings of Liberty. Sarah suffered from a sever case of "Arthas Syndrome", and for the whole Terran campaign stayed in the background, being repeatedly thwarted by the humans, spurting some cliched villanious trites interlaced with some fatalistic emo crap, and finally being rescued by the hero, who carried her on his arms into the sunrise. All the hopes now lie in the upcoming Zerg campaign which is supposed to rehabilitate our beloved Femme Fatale.
  • In Command and Conquer Red Alert, the Soviets are fear-inspiring Nazi replacements who want to Take Over the World and cross the Moral Event Horizon several times. Over the course of the games, they become increasingly goofier and sillier, eventually becoming Harmless Villains in Command and Conquer Red Alert 3, compared to the new antagonist, the Empire of the Rising Sun.


Web Comics Edit

  • See The Rant of this B Movie Comic strip.
  • Jacob of Dominic Deegan is all over this trope. In the Visions of Doom arc, he was introduced as a near-unstoppable necromancer who fought a powerful spellwolf to a standstill, out-maneuvered his seer brother and manipulated an evil cult into conducting a dark ritual before killing them with ease so he could use their body parts to make a necromantic golem. Later, he and his golem tries to team up with the Chosen to unleash the Storm of Souls, but their plans are ultimately defeated and his own creation turns on him. He gains a bit of credibility by tearing off his own flesh, but never really regains the Badass status that he once held. In the most recent arc, he gets owned by Huk Thak/Roki, is murdered by the Shintula Chief and is finally betrayed once again by his servant Neilen and left to rot in the orc version of the afterlife. The character's future is uncertain but it's clear he'll never attain the coolness that he once had.
  • Happens in-universe to the Vampire Lord Fluffy of A Modest Destiny, turning him from an unstoppable Necromancer to a freelance contractor for people looking to fill their dungeons with pre-made monsters. Later subverted when it turns out he's as Faux Affably Evil as ever, just more patient than he looks.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob-- In their first appearance, the Pirates of Ipecac were goofy, but they had big guns and a spaceship and came across as a credible threat. In the current storyline, Fructose Riboflavin has taken a bit of a Level In Bad Ass and forced them to become his cringing lackies.
  • This was done (probably deliberately) to Faz in Shortpacked! In his first appearances, he was an insufferable Smug Snake who managed to become Galasso's favorite employee via manipulation and undermining his coworkers all while rubbing it in their faces. Now he's the most pathetic member of the cast and treated as little more than a nuisance.
  • After Kelelder from Jix was killed the first time by Jix (though, this term is used loosely since he's an immortal), he's become somewhat of a Kenny type character. The creator didn't want him to be seen like this, so Kelelder made an agreement with another character to back off from the main character and stop trying to kill her.
  • Subverted in Girl Genius: Deliberately Distressed Damsel and general Magnificent Bastard Zola has habit of recovering from Villain Decay and becoming stronger and smarter than she was before in the process.


Web Original Edit

  • Blood Boy, a big antagonist in the early stages of Survival of the Fittest version 3 had this occur in the last topic he appeared in, becoming an almost Jokeresque figure (to the point of almost directly quoting from The Dark Knight Saga at one point). This does, however, have a fairly good reason: a different handler took over the character for that scene, one who, needless to say, had a rather different take on the character.
  • The Necromancer, in the Whateley Universe. Starts out as one of the top 60 supervillains on the Interpol rating scale. He's now oh-for-two against Team Kimba, who are high schoolers. Even with his team of supervillains working for him. Now one-for-two, making out like a bandit in the process, excluding one goal failing due to a Unknown Unknown


Western Animation Edit

  • The first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 1987 animated series used heavy Lampshade Hanging ("at last, Shredder, you've done something right!") to underscore how completely the Shredder had become a joke villain. While he was mildly threatening in the first season (although to what extent this is the case is cause for debate), villain decay set in very quickly after that, as it did with most of the series' villains.
  • The Shredder of the second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 cartoon series, on the other hand, managed to emerge seven seasons mostly unscathed by villain decay, growing more powerful to the point where the turtles stopped being able to defeat him with martial arts alone. However, not all the series villains are so lucky--the Shredder's dragon, Hun, in particular, vent from "tough" to "joke" in the space of one season, before regaining some measure of respectability during the last third of the show's second season, which he retains--mostly by not featuring him in any extended battles with the turtles--until the end of the show... and gains a considerable power upgrade upon becoming a Badass Abnormal in Turtles Forever.
  • Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons didn't suffer from this until many seasons into the show. His subsequent appearances always outdid the last and became a lot more violent and heinous, but he still never won. Around his fifth or sixth appearance he lost it though. Even worse, Mr. Burns used to be a greedy, heartless, megalomaniac Corrupt Corporate Executive, the villain of many episodes. He was regularly depicted as decrepit and with the mindset of a more reactionary era, but that didn't stop him from being entertainingly pure evil. Come Season 10 and beyond, he was inexplicably transformed into an inoffensive old man, most of the jokes about whom revolved around his senility and physical frailty. In other words, yet another victim of the terrible case of Flanderization which has plagued the series.
    • Burns also showed a very dynamic sympathetic side, where he's almost a Scrooge like figure feeling the effects of a plentiful...but empty life. This is still shown occasionally but of course in a lighter manner.
    • This trope is invoked in-universe in the Halloween special Nightmare On Elm Street parody. after Groundskeeper Willie (in the Freddy Kruegar role) is defeated, Bart and Lisa contemplate his return. He appears moments later, but has been reduced to an ineffectual villain whose bufoonery is even accompanied by jaunty music.
  • Cobra Commander, the main villain of G.I. Joe, follows other aforementioned 80s cartoon villains' example but he's worth special mention because in parallel to his bumbling persona in the cartoon, his original comic book persona remained a ruthless Magnificent Bastard all throughout to its final issues. This Decay was probably intentional because his bloodthirsty ways needed to be toned down for the Sunbow series. Though also worth mention is that while the cartoon Commander was mostly inept by the end of GI Joe's second season, at least he was a part of the sub-plot concerning an internal civil war within Cobra where Commander and a few others made up the secret sub-group Coil in an effort to slowly wrestle control of Cobra away from Cobra emperor Serpentor, giving the villain at least some credibility by the end. However in the animated movie, Coil is never mentioned and Cobra Commander goes beyond becoming everyone's Butt Monkey for the film in a literal sense, in a way decaying the character in two different ways. Fans of GI Joe tend to not like the movie very much based on this, and the fact the movie attempts to retcon what is known about the Commander's past to something beyond ludicrous...even by 80s cartoon standards.
  • On Codename: Kids Next Door, it took an age-ified Nigel and the rest of the team to take Father down in his first appearance (Op GROW-UP). Then a few cadets took him down in his next appearance (Op TRAINING), making him more of a comic-relief pest. Then the writers escalated his crimes by turning the KND into animals (Op GRADUATES), and after that was taken care of, they had him extend school hours to 8:25 p.m. (a big deal, since the protagonists are school-hating children - Op PRESIDENT). In Operation ZERO, he was reduced to being completely ineffectual when faced with his father.
    • Z.E.R.O. actually plays with this however. after his father banishes him for not being competent enough, he goes into a state of depression which takes his moral opposite brother to pull him out of. Together they face their father and even though Father is still afraid he tries to stand up for himself. Soon after he gets sucker punched and Grandfather begins to rag on him a bit and sets off his Berserk Button. His unstoppable rage is so fierce that it makes his heroic brother, who was previously shown to not be afraid of anything, step back and makes Grandfather, the unstoppable evil who has basically conquered the world, afraid. But before he can do anything he gives up because he's too depressed. This shows that it's not the lack of ability that holds him back but rather the lack of self-confidence.
  • The 2008 animated television revival of Speed Racer had Zile Zazic, the main villain of the show, oil tycoon and trustee of the Racer Academy...who went through every possible process in which decaying villains could go through! It didn't help that he only carried out his plans first-hand two-thirds of the way through the season. By the end of the show, his plans became boring and predictable.
  • Xiaolin Showdown:
    • Jack Spicer became full-on comic relief with the emergence of Chase Young. Chase himself became less of a threat to the Xiaolin monks when Hannibal Roy Bean was released, moving more into Eviler Than Thou and Enemy Mine plots against Bean.
    • Wuya too. Starting off as a fairly credible mentor to Jack, she eventually regained her magical power and managed to take over the world off-screen. Upon her return in the second season however, she was reduced to nothing but a loud, obnoxious whiner, and by the end of the season she was reduced to being nothing more than a cheering fangirl for Chase Young. She regained some of her villainous grativas in the third season, but even then, she was just never as cool as she was in the In the Flesh 3-parter.
  • Valmont in Jackie Chan Adventures. Just look at the guy. In the early seasons, he was a charismatic, refined, rich-out-his-ass leader of a worldwide criminal organization who could very well be mistaken for a Magnificent Bastard (Hell, he was even able to hold his own against (and even get the better of) Jackie in their personal confrontations.) Then take a gander at the later seasons...knocking over convenience stores, living in an apartment no bigger than your bathroom (seriously), and leaning on the three goons he has left to pay for the bill at a pancake shop.
    • The Shadowkhan are a good example. They were quite potent in seasons 1 and 2, but in the Oni Mask saga, they go "poof" if someone so much as trips them. Also, when the Enforcers became Dark Chi Warriors, who initially could survive falling off a cliff, but towards the end of the season, couldn't survive a fall of 10 feet.
    • Shendu also suffers from this. Early on, he's an ominous and threatening figure, despite being stuck as a statue. During the end of the 1st season, when he's finally regained his powers, he's a vastly powerful and menacing evil dragon. During the 2nd season, however, because he's stuck sharing bodies with Valmont, he's largely a joke, except during the finale, and when he later returns during the finale of the 3rd season. During the series finale, however, he's stuck helping the heroes, and is largely a joke when fighting his son Drago.
  • The Decepticons of Transformers suffer this in most versions. Beast Wars and Animated each had different methods to avoid them becoming ineffectual:
    • Beast Wars avoided it by being more arc-based with the Predacons often winning or the Maximals falling victim to a Xanatos Gambit.
    • Inferno, unfortunately, decayed so quickly that to anyone who's only seen the first season, his supposed power comes off as more of an Informed Ability.
    • Rampage is a downplayed example. When he first appears, he's The Juggernaut. Having his spark torn out and forced to serve Megatron made him the Implacable Man. That's how Badass he was.
    • Animated on the other hand doesn't always have them as the villains. They also reverse the Took a Level In Badass the Autobots as a whole went through by having a crew that was never meant for battle with tools that had primarily non-combat purpose in mind, so it takes the whole team to take down just one or two of the armed-to-the-teeth Decepticons.
    • Animated started out with the Autobots basically requiring all hands on deck to stand a chance against any of the Decipticons but by the end of season 3, Optimus Prime is able to take on Megatron single handed.
    • Starscream took a level up in badassery when he first fought the Autobots and was too strong for them (making up somewhat for the stupidity he displayed earlier), but later he's largely a joke because of how he keep getting his ass kicked by Megatron. Two other Decepticons, Blitzwing and Lugnut also suffered from this. Initially they would be considered Not So Harmless. They were dumb, but either of them could take all the Autobots on his own. But as time went on, they kept on getting beaten by plot devices and largely become jokes.
    • Even the films have done this. The Decepticons were nearly unstoppable g, being in Icy mode most of the time, manages to out maneouver the autobotsin the first film, in the sequel they get thrown around. Although the extent of decay is hard to tell since the Autobots and humans from around the globe have been fighting for two years now as a specialized task force. They're better prepared this time. Plus the fights aren't in crowded cities, so the Autobots can cut loose, especially Optimus.
      • The Cons always sucked in those films, sure Starscream and Brawl could do some damage, but they were defeated rather easily, as well as most of the other cons. Look at the body count: Autobots lost one guy of five, Decepticons lost 5 out of 8.
    • Transformers Prime, following tradition, hands this to Starscream (again). He went from surprisingly competent in the pilot to standard Starscream near the end of the season. And while he dealt Arcee a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown in Partners and later went rogue, it's not been entirely undone yet. Admittedly it is justified with Megatron returning and things generally not going his way. So far Megatron hasn't been hit with this (yet), clearly being the most competent of the Cons (Soundwave perhaps being the close second). If the season 2 three-part premiere and "Operation Bumblebee" are to be believed, however, Starscream is getting back on form, particularly when he killed a dozen Vehicons in a row.
  • The Commando Droids of 'Star Wars:The Clone Wars' went from Elite Mooks in their first appearances to almost as ineffectual as their ridiculously ineffectual cousin, the B-1 Battledroid.
  • Vlad from Danny Phantom was once a Magnificent Bastard and a very competent arch-foe with an often sympathetic side. But in the third season, he became a shallow crook with little redeeming qualities; his final plan was to force the world to let him save it from a giant meteor in exchange for world domination (an agenda that was poorly conceived) and 500 billion dollars...as if he wasn't already filthy stinking RICH! Skulker is another example. In his first appearance he was genuinely menacing, and had Danny looking over his shoulder scared. Fast forward to "Micro Management", where Danny could defeat him in a few blasts, and only became a threat when Danny lost his powers. It reached its peak in "Girls Night Out", where a bird chased him off.
  • In his first appearance in Yin Yang Yo, Kraggler is an incredibly elderly gargoyle who is discounted by the siblings due to his age, then proves to be a very powerful and capable villain, who, rather than being defeated, is convinced to stop because of an apology for his mistreatment. From then on, he's treated as a joke villain (even moreso than the other villains, this being a comedy series) who's only a threat if he uses magic to reduce his age.
  • Ra's Al Ghul himself suffered from this in Batman: The Animated Series and later DCAU canon. Introduced as the leader of a global secret society, whose first villain plan involved wiping out 99% of the human race to save the planet, and once described by Batman himself as "a criminal mastermind more dangerous than Lex Luthor and The Joker combined", Ra's would end up spending EVERY SINGLE ONE of his episodes trying out various wacky schemes to cheat death and expand his already 600 year long lifespan, instead of doing anything productive to menace the human race. Hell, in his last Batman: The Animated Series appearance Batman ends up saving him from a 2000 year old Egyptian mummy girl.
    • Ra's al Ghul's Villain Decay is still debatable, considering how even in the Superman episode "The Demon Reborn," Batman himself declared that Ra's al Ghul was more dangerous than both The Joker and Lex Luthor combined. Later in the canon, though, they refer to something called "The Near-Apocalypse of '09," which Ra's was behind, and apparently took the whole Justice League to stop.
    • Ra's says in "The Demon Reborn" that he realized the Lazarus Pits effects were becoming shorter and shorter, so perhaps he was concentrating on finding out a way to live longer before trying another world domination effort.
    • Also from BTAS, Killer Croc. In his first appearance he came up with a pretty good plan to frame Harvey Bullock, and gave Batman a pretty good fight. After that, he was mostly treated as Dumb Muscle comic relief, and was used to demonstrate how awesome Bane and the Judge were by getting his ass kicked.
    • In his second appearance, while the Clock King did gain a device that actually let him control time, he also didn't show a lot of what made him such a formidable opponent in his debut episode (his ludicrously precise timing and planning). This resulted in the man who was able to physically match Batman in combat being taken out the instant his device broke.
  • Carface, in All Dogs Go to Heaven was legitimately menacing in the original film (it was his henchmen who were incompetent jokes). The scene where he and his gang threaten Itchy at Charlie's Club may indeed be Nightmare Fuel for some. However, in All Dogs Go to Heaven 2, he loses several IQ points, and becomes the idiot henchman. The Villain Song, 'It Feels So Good to Be Bad', sung by Satan to Carface, seems to be about reversing Villain Decay and going in the complete opposite direction, but nothing ever comes of it. Carface never really regains the menacing quality he had in the first film, and ends up being sent to Fire and Brimstone Hell because he made a really stupid Deal with the Devil. While this plot point seems to be retconned in the series, he seems to only get worse, ending up playing a Scrooge archetype in "An All Dogs Christmas Carol". To elaborate, this was a chain-smoking, gravel-voiced, Manipulative Bastard Bad Boss that waits until Charlie's wasted and rolls a car into Charlie that if he didn't die from the impact would drown, took everything Charlie had, manipulated an orphan for gambling tips, beat Itchy with a gang of Mooks within an inch of his life then almost killed Charlie again until he himself was eaten by King Gator. Essentially if you're a Don Bluth villain in a sequelized franchise, prepare to be decayed. The only way out of that is to never appear in the sequels at all, which many Bluth villains do not.
  • Sharpteeth in The Land Before Time sequels. The original Sharptooth was an unstoppable killer and a true force of nature who had seemingly supernatural stamina. As the series continued (and became progressively more kiddy), all the carnivorous dinosaurs in general have decayed to the point of no return. It got so bad in The Land Before Time TV series that Littlefoot and the other kids were able to chase off two raptor-like Sharpteeth and one Tyrannosaur just by throwing fruit at them. It's especially bad considering how Red Claw is constantly referred to as the "biggest, meanest, most scary Sharptooth ever". Yes, the Tyrannosaurus rex that runs from some fruit is supposed to be more big, bad and gruesome than the Tyrannosaurus rex who violently ended the life of Mama Longneck and terrified both the dino-kids and real kids.
  • Magnacat from Monster Allergy is a serious threat to the Tamers, but not anymore when his plans kept on failing, he becomes bankrupt. Hector Sinistro becomes this as well.
  • While never particularly smart, the Trix sisters from Winx Club were competent enemies, acting on their own in the first season. They still were more than decent during the second season, even if by then, they were already reduced to the main villain's henchwomen; notable was their fusion into a single, powerful entity in the last episode. Then the third season came, and they became little more than a joke - they even received some power-up at some point, but it turned to be useless.
    • Subverted at the very end of the first movie when they team up with their ancestors, the Three Ancestral Witches, promising to rip the Faeries' wings off.
  • The Hive kids from Teen Titans started out in the first appearance as a well-organized elite fighting force that proved to be an even match for the titular heroes (even taking them down in their first encounter when they had the element of surprise), but by the last season they had decayed so badly a single Titan (Kid Flash) could trounce them all fairly easily (except for Jinx, who had a Heel Face Turn anyways).
    • Even when they were badass, they hardly liked each other, and weren't all that bright, save Jinx and Gizmo (who was too immature to put his brains to effective use on more than one occasion). One could argue that without Brother Blood to scare them into competence, they just really didn't care about working in tandem anymore. They probably only stuck together at all by that point because they had nowhere else to go.
    • There's also the fact that since Teen titans played a speedster near their full potential, Kid Flash was probably more effetive alone than the main 5 where in most cases. This is kinda re-enforced by the fact they got just one person to watch their city for the 5 of them.
    • Brother Blood himself got this pretty bad. His fighting ability never really went down- it was his intelligence and ability to make effective use of his other powers that suffered. In "Deception", for example, he seems to know almost everything that's happening in the HIVE from the start (including that Cyborg was The Mole), and he was only beaten in the end because Cyborg's half-mechanical brain was able to reject him. In "Wavelength" and "Titans East", he somehow give Cyborg his own powers by mistake, is completely oblivious to when someone with no mental enhancements at all is capable of completely resisting him, and blows his top at the first opportunity. There's more to decay than just a decrease in power, after all.
  • In Ben 10, Clancy the bug man was a sadistic psychopath in his first appearance. When he appears in the Grand Finale he has been turned into a generic bug monster for no reason. In fact, most of the villains that returned in the finale were decayed, with the exception of Charmcaster, who stuck to her role as Evil Counterpart to Gwen.
    • Vilgax. In the original series, Ben was never able to truly defeat Vilgax on his own at least, before he became Ben 10,000, only beat him badly enough that Ben and friends have enough time to get away. Fast forward to Alien Force, and not only has Vilgax gotten smaller and less intimidating, but has acquired various weapons where he previously only used his body and had to prepare himself to face Ben by conquering other planets first. Not to mention he's resorted to using the law so he, the warlord once feared across the universe, can legally take Earth if he defeats Ben. Conclusion: Vilgax gets his ass handed to him by Diamondhead, an alien who literally could not scratch him when they first fought.
    • Even worst with the Forever Knight, who went from a mysterious evil organisation to ridiculously weak villains who basically served as the heroes' punching ball (to the point in one episode, Gwen felt like it was more important for Ben to assist his girlfriend's tennis match than keeping an eye on them). Fortunately corrected in season 2 of Ben 10: Ultimate Alien.
    • Charmcaster may not have suffered any decay in Ben10, but she was hit by it pretty hard in her second Alien Force appearance, where she killed Gwen of an alternate timeline and kept on boasting about it to the present Gwen...only to get her ass kicked by Gwen several times afterwards despite her claims of power. Her first appearance in Ultimate Alien then made it worse, turning her into a mook who barely held off Kevin, the team Worf, for a few minutes, and needed the help of two other bad guys to stand a chance against the heroes.
    • Darkstar was fairly threatening in Alien Force, but was hit by decay when he reappears in the first season finale of Ultimate Alien. He is so starved for energy that he's been reduced to skulking in alleyways preying on stray animals just to survive. He has also become predictable in his treachery -- the heroes stop his attempt to backstab them in the very end with a literal push of a button and he gets taken out with a single punch.
  • In Gormiti the Lords of Nature Return, this was the fate that befell Orrore Profondo (Deep Horror), who, in the backstory narrated in the toyline, was a terrifying opponent, feared by all the Gormiti siding with the Wise Old One. He even managed to trick the Air Gormiti into doing a Face Heel Turn...but in the series (which takes place many millennia after the toyline story), he seems to play second banana to Evil Overlord Magmion and doesn't really show the competence a villain of his caliber should. Note, however, that this only seems to apply to his anime self: in the comics, as of now, he has retained all of his credentials and Magmion is just one of his underlings.
  • Satan was big and scary in his first appearance in South Park, but he's become "a whiny little bitch" in God's own words ever since he was first established as the lover of Saddam Hussein. It's arguable that he started out pre-decayed, though. He LOOKED intimidating, but his master plot in his first appearance was conning the city out of a lot of betting money, rather than, you know, the End of Days or anything like that.
  • Mandark's first appearance in Dexter's Laboratory established him as clearly superior to Dexter in terms of brains, to the point where he could read minds, and saying his name invoked The Scottish Trope. He was quickly brought down to being Dexter's equal, with his telepathy disappearing. In fact, "Ego Trip" even stated he had to resort to stealing Dexter's ideas to get ahead. Justified in that Mandark was badass until meeting Dee-Dee in that very episode, so as long as she's around, he's too lovestruck to do anything, even while she wrecks his lab. The real Villain Decay for Mandark came in the final season where he has a Flashback episode, revealing his birth name was "Sue," an innocent flower child that met Dexter years ago, taking the name Mandark after being refused friendship by Dexter, despite the fact that his debut ep introduced his real name as Ivan Astronomonov with the aforementioned nickname Mandark.
  • Metallo from Superman: The Animated Series became less and less of a credible threat with each appearance. Probably intentional, too. Metallo's appearance over the episodes maintained the damage he suffered from each prior appearance, implying that he wasn't getting internal repairs, either.
  • While Phineas and Ferb's Heinz Doofenshmirtz has always been a Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain, Buford was introduced as a truly nasty bully. By the second season he's mostly just cranky and posturing and is in fact a friend of Phineas and Ferb. Also, Tri-State Unification day episode contains both of these elements. He tries to ruin the parade, but also has a With Friends Like These... relationship with Baljeet whom he used to pick on.
  • The Diesels and Spencer from Thomas the Tank Engine suffered a lot from this trope. Diesel 10 as well. In The Movie, he tried to have every single steam locomotive destroyed and ended up being thrown off a bridge and onto a barge full of sludge, but in one of the sequels he actually wants to take over the Steamworks because of the Dieselworks' poor conditions, and later trapping Thomas and Percy inside the Dieselworks and setting the entire place on fire only to end up being scolded by Sir Topham Hatt at the last minute and is forced to put out the fire he started and repair the entire Dieselworks as punishment because of this!
  • All villains from The Powerpuff Girls other than HIM suffered villain decay, especially Mojo Jojo, who was actually able to take over Townsville with an army of monkeys in the movie, which takes place before any other event in the series. Even Him suffered a few degrading roles in the show as well (in the writers' defense, he was an insane effeminate crossdresser, how could they resist?), as did Mojo continue having the odd threatening role however. While a lot of other villains got progressively worse, the competence for both former characters was arguably more a case of Depending on the Writer.
  • The '90s X-Men animated series did an interesting variation on this with Magneto. While he didn't lose any of his effectiveness or charisma, almost every appearance of his after his first battle with the X-Men ended with an Enemy Mine situation, painting him as less of a villain, or even an Anti-Villain, and more of an Anti-Hero who wouldn't join the X-Men for...some unknown reason. So, it wasn't so much his effectiveness that decayed, but more his villainous status itself. Made even more confusing because every time he appeared, the X-Men still reacted to him as if he were a bad guy, though he almost never attacked them anymore.
  • Fantastic Four: World's Greatest Heroes has this happen to Doom, unlike in the comics. By the fourth appearance, his dignity is lost.
  • Hotstreak from Static Shock started out as the biggest bully in school and the leader of a local street gang who becomes even more dangerous when he got exposed to the big bang gas with the ability to control fire. He was a genuine threat for his first couple of appearances but as the series went on he became more and more pathetic. He was decayed so badly that on one occasion when one of the heroines gave him a wedgie he ran away crying. What is he now, Jack Spicer?
  • Cedric, The Dragon from WITCH, was quite menacing and monstrous in his first few appearances. As the series went on, though, his purpose largely became to get his clock cleaned by the heroines every few episodes, quickly robbing him of any serious threat. The series finale even yanked his chain by having him become supremely powerful...only to not realize he didn't know how to properly utilize it, and he gets beaten up rather easily AGAIN. Lampshaded in the first season finale, when Phobos chewed Cedric out for his failures epically, then used his newly-heightened magic powers to curse him into a pathetically small and weak version of his One-Winged Angel form.
  • Wolverine and the X-Men had the Brotherhood of Mutants first appear with a relatively clever plan that framed the X-Men for attempted assassination. As the series went on and on, however, Pietro became more stupid and the effectiveness of them decreased.
  • Disney originally had Captain Hook be somewhat dangerous in Peter Pan, with him being decently competent against Peter. However, by Jake and the Never Land Pirates, he is now absolutely stupid and even has a small ball on the end of his hook. Maybe small children are scared by pointy hooks, but it just seems silly.
  • Spider-Man: The Animated Series: The Hobgoblin experiences this, being totally outclassed by the Green Goblin in his last appearance.
  • Robotnik from Sonic the Hedgehog. Season 1 played him as a genuine threat, but Season 2 introduced a Story Arc in which his continued failures and increasing irrationality start to grate on assistant Snively.

Notes

  1. In fact, of the two listed 2-parters, only one of them featured the actual Borg collective (the Borg in the other were part of a wussy, de-powered break-away group that had become infected with an Individuality Meme), so in all seven seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Borg at full power were defeated precisely once, and then only barely, and on a technicality, to boot!

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