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"Well, as far as brains go, I got the lion's share, but when it comes to brute strength, I'm afraid I'm at the shallow end of the gene pool."

It seems that heroes in fiction are held to higher standards of physical strength than villains are, and that depending on the style of the work, villains are held to higher standards of intellect than heroes are, (see also The Law of Bruce) leading to an apparent trend in some styles of works (especially those of the Disney-style variety) that evil uses brains while good uses brawn.

This often results in Dumb Is Good, whereas evil tends to be smarter but comparatively lacking in the strength department, as if to imply that physical strength represents moral strength. Occasionally, the villain is actually merely Feigning Intelligence, or the hero just has the Idiot Ball until the climax, ready to pass it to the villain.

Since it follows that qualifications in fighting/military leadership are therefore nobler than academic ones, see The Good Captain and Morally-Ambiguous Doctorate.

Of course, this trope has some Fridge Logic (if not Fridge Horror) to it in that characters who are less intellectual might be more prone to poor moral judgement. Then again, villains tend to use their intellect for rationalization of what they do rather than sincere moral thought, so the point is often moot.

See also Thud and Blunder, the subgenre of Heroic Fantasy that make gratuitous use of this trope. Contrast Guile Hero and Science Hero, who often overcome physically threatening foes with trickery or brainpower respectively.

Examples of Brains Evil Brawn Good include:


Anime & Manga


Comic books

  • As a general rule, DC Comics tend to favor this trope pitting morally upright "average" icons against a Diabolical Mastermind (Lex Luthor, Ultra-Humanite, Sivana, etc.); while Marvel Comics as a rule tend to pit the Guile Hero against The Brute (Carnage, Juggernaut, Abomination, Sentinels).
  • Superman vs. Lex Luthor. Not that Superman is a dummy, but he does solve many of his problems with his fists.
    • Also the Ultra-Humanite, the first comic-book supervillain, was designed to be the opposite of Superman, and was given "the most learned and agile brain on Earth" to contrast Superman's strength.
  • Captain Marvel and Dr Sivana. Though Marvel has the Wisdom of Solomon.
  • The Incredible Hulk and The Leader. Though Hulk, depending on versions, is smart. And Bruce Banner is a genius.
    • Though more recent stories tend to play with Banner being a less than morally outstanding individual, himself.
  • Somewhat inverted by Spider-Man who has a lot of villains stronger and dumber than him. (The Rhino, Venom, Carnage).
    • Played straight by some of his more prominent foes (the Green Goblin and Doc Ock) where they tend to edge him out in terms of brains and he edges them out in strength.
  • The Mighty Thor and his evil half-brother, Loki.
    • Only in comparison to each other. Loki is actually super-stong, durable, and able in combat by Earth standards. He's only weaker in that area by Asgardian standards, since the kids there are, by Word of God, as strong as Spider-Man. And Thor is not particurally slow on the uptake, either, he's just surrounded by too many geniuses like Loki, Iron Man, and Odin, for it to show.
  • The prequel comic to Doctor Horribles Sing Along Blog reveals that this is the reason Billy decided to become a supervillain in the first place. Another one also reveals that Captain Hammer has deeply anti-intellectual beliefs, telling kids that anyone who is "different", such as being good at math or science, is a potential supervillain and should be reported to the police.
  • Averted in Watchmen: Ozymandias is reputed to be the smartest man in the world, but he's also more than a physical match for most other heroes. Dr. Manhattan, in turn, is the most powerful hero and a scientist too.
  • M.O.D.O.K. and Captain America follow this trope as well. Although both are pretty smart, M.O.D.O.K. is essentially a living supercomputer. M.O.D.O.K. even mentions this trope in MvC3.
  • In Scott Pilgrim, Scott isn't very bright but he is the "best fighter in the province" according to Kim. Gideon, on the other hand, is a genius inventor who cannot defeat Scott without stealing his sword or utilizing his technology.
  • Granted everyone in The Tick seems to have a few screws loose, but The Tick himself is most definitely Brawn=Good.


Films -- Animated

  • This seems apparent in Disney Animated Canon movies, especially the more recent ones.
    • The Lion King has the strong and noble Mufasa versus the Lean and Mean Scar, who comments on their differences in strength and intellect before even revealing his evil nature.
      • Subverted, since while Scar is a cunning and Machiavellian politician, Mufasa is wise, just and existential.
      • During the second half of the film, Mufasa's son Simba actually takes over as the brawny hero.
    • The Hunchback of Notre Dame has Quasimodo using his strength for usually justified (or at least well-intentioned) purposes, whereas the physically weak (and morally weak) elderly Manipulative Bastard Frollo emotionally abuses Quasimodo into an extreme of self-loathing that is in some ways comparable to being weak until he overcomes said self-loathing.
    • Disney's Hercules pits sleazy Manipulative Bastard Hades against naive farmboy-ish Hercules who trades almost solely on his superstrength
    • The Emperors New Groove's villains include Yzma, the main villain, who is Lean and Mean but clearly cleverer than the physically-stronger Anti-Villain Kronk. Its "heroes" include Anti-Hero Kuzko, also skinny, and profoundly self-centered, and Pacha, a more unambiguously good character who is noticeably physically stronger and nowhere near as self-centered.
    • Sort-of inverted in Beauty and the Beast, which has the smart Belle on the side of good and the dumb, muscle-bound Gaston as the main villain. Still, Gaston is defeated in a physical battle with the Beast, who is not particularly intelligent.
      • Whether or not Gaston was even that dumb in the first place is subject to Alternate Character Interpretation anyway; it is plausible that he was just Obfuscating Stupidity. That he thought up that scheme for blackmailing Belle into marriage shows some level of cleverness, and that the people he associates with call thinking a dangerous pastime would easily provide an incentive to play dumb.
      • Could be just Book Dumb.
    • Also inverted in Atlantis: The Lost Empire, with scrawny but brainy Milo up against muscley and only slightly less intelligent Rourke.
      • Inverted with The Great Mouse Detective as well. Basil and Ratigan are evenly matched in wits. However, Ratigan far outweighs Basil in physical abilities.
  • Megamind vs Metro Man. Inverted at the end with Megamind and Titan.
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 has the burly, dim-witted panda Po pitted against the evil, scrawny but superintelligent albino peacock Shen.
  • Despicable Me has the hulking Villain Protagonist Gru and the more sinister and intelligent but inept Vector.
    • Well, Gru is a supergenius too - it's by no means a given that Vector is the smarter of the two, that's really the main point of their rivalry - and is only "hulking" in that he's taller than Vector and rather rotund ... on the other hand, Gru and Vector are both villains, Gru just happens to be the more sympathetic one. So the movie definitely has the "Brains = Evil" part of the trope at the very least.


Films -- Live-Action


Literature

  • The original Dragonlance book series. Raistlin Majere was sickly and physically weak, highly intelligent and gradually turned to evil. His brother Caramon is strong, slow-thinking and a good guy.
  • Harry Dresden regulary gets his ass handed to him by more experienced and skilled opponents, but in terms of raw magical power he actually surpasses most of them. Moments where he gets this power properly applied to a strong enemy and/or enhanced by some planning tend to be crowning and sometimes terrifying.
    • Inverted in the same author's Codex Alera. Tavi, our hero, is physically unimposing and the only person in his civilization outside of small children not to have elemental powers, meaning that his enemies tend to heavily outpower him in terms of brute strength and even after he gets millitary training and starts developing powers, his enemies scale accordingly. Consequently, he has to use his brain to get out of most of his problems and is a full blown Guile Hero by the second book.
  • A prime source of Alternate Character Interpretation when it comes to Odysseus, hero of The Odyssey. According to different sources, Odysseus' cleverness and wiliness were what set him among the greats of the Greek heroes, or else they were signs of a weak and cowardly nature too pathetic to fight like a real man.


Live Action TV

  • Inverted with Doctor Who. As Craig Ferguson put it, the one constant of the show is the triumph of "intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism".
  • The selection of the two tribes during Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains' pre-production was geared toward this. Before the merge, the Villains won 7 out of 8 challenges on the merit of their cleverness--the only challenge the Heroes won over this stretch was an unprecedented 8-0 sweep in a purely physical, one-on-one sumo wrestling challenge.


Professional Wrestling

  • Most face/heel rivalries in Professional Wrestling play out like this with most of the drama centered around the heel cheating and tricking his way to victory against a more powerful and/or skilled babyface. Whereas a heel who's legitimately skilled gets cheered a lot of the time, the heel gets booed because the fans know he doesn't "deserve" to keep winning and are waiting until he finally gets demolished.
    • Prominent examples (as heels, of course):
      • Ric Flair
      • Chris Jericho
      • The Miz
      • Jerry Lawler was pretty much the Ric Flair of Memphis.
      • Triple H is a perfect example of both. As a heel he can't win a match clean to save his life yet as a face all he needs are his fists and maybe a sledgehammer in order to take out the rest of the roster.
    • A variant exists specifically as the standard psychology of a tag team match. Typically, the heel team will often times be more skilled at actual tag team wrestling, isolating one face and utilizing numerous tag team maneuvers. This builds tension for the Hot Tag, whereupon the fresh babyface finally tags in and demolishes the heels singlehandedly, usually until a pinfall is broken up, all parties end up in the ring, and anything goes from there.


Video Games

  • Mega Man is a naive little robot who can bench-press a small building. His greatest villain is the brilliant but maniacal Dr. Wily. Then again, Mega Man has at least two benevolent scientists backing him up (one of which is Dr. Light, being Wily's equal).


Web Original

  • Slightly inverted in Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog with the Evil Genius Dr. Horrible, who is actually, a nice guy when he's not doing evil things, and the superhero Captain Hammer, who is a dumb Jerk Jock. The prequel comic seems to indicate that brains and brawn are polar opposites here. When Dr. Horrible previously tries to inject himself with a Super Serum made from Captain Hammer's DNA, he becomes as strong and tough as Hammer but also just as dumb. They just keep Megaton Punching each other until Dr. Horrible decides to go back to being smart.
    • Averted with the other heroes and villains in the related comics. For example, Johnny Snow (mentioned in the show itself) is smart enough to build himself a Freeze Ray, which he uses to stop the Evil League of Evil, when Captain Hammer is out of town.
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