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"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king."—Desidarius Erasmus, Dutch Philosopher (1466-1536)
This trope is a character or other idea that, in their own reality/universe, are fairly normal, if not underpowered. They'd be a Red Shirt back home, or someone fairly low key. Or maybe back home they're weak because they have to measure up to god-level opponents or Eldritch Abominations. Whatever the reason, they're not considered strong.
However, due to the nature of the world they are dropped into, they are unbelievably powerful. Let's use a spaceship as the first example. Maybe you have a shield that is considered weak in your home reality? In a world that has no shield technology, you are the king of the playground. Or an FTL drive. Or better sensors. "In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king," after all.
What about humans? If you have psychic powers, but so does everyone else, then you aren't that special. But what if you were dropped into a world where subterfuge and spy work were the order of the day, but no one could read minds? You're suddenly the biggest VIP on the planet.
This trope is about when Power Creep, Power Seep does not come into play. To be a Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond, you don't have to be a Mary Sue, but you must be much more powerful than the locals, without gaining anything you didn't have before. Also, no attempting to Nerf powers.
Compare Like a Fish Takes to Water, where the individuals transplanted have some unique gifts or knowledge. This one is just a normal guy or person in his/her universe, but is special in another. Fish Out of Water goes hand-in-hand with this trope. This is a staple of comic book alien supers. Invoked Trope for Summon Everyman Hero. See also Those Were Only Their Scouts. Contrast Outside Context Villain.
- Ginta from MAR is a relatively normal boy in his home universe. However, when he comes to MAR, he's considered super strong because of the difference in gravity.
- Dragonball Z
- Goku may be one of the strongest fighters on earth but on his home planet he was called a weakling among Saiyans.
- Raditz is the weakest among his fellow Saiyans, but still strong enough to catch bullets from a farmer's shotgun and curbstomp Goku and Piccolo in his first (and only) appearance.
- The concept is also consistently used for training; characters will train in harsh, high-gravity environments so that they'll be even stronger under normal conditions.
- This comes up several times in One Piece, where characters, usually oneshot, are hyped up as the strongest in whatever nation or island the story is taking place in at the time, only to be Worfed by a more worldly, and therefore more powerful, fighter. Zoro had this happen to himself in his "epic duel" with Mihawk at the Baratie;
Mihawk: You may have a reputation, but you're still just a bunny. [...] You're a little frog, croaking in your puddle. Time you learned how big the world is.
- This was called back to after Zoro trained under Mihawk during the timeskip. His first "serious opponent", an octopus drunken swordsman, bragged about being the strongest swordsman in Fishman Island. Zoro kept calling him a frog, until the swordsman was sufficiently incensed, at which point Zoro stated he was bragging like a frog in a well, unaware of the world.
- Booster Gold was originally less than a muggle, he was a total loser: an ex-football player from the 25th disgraced by betting on his own games who ends up as the security guard of a museum. He steals a time travel device and a Robot Buddy and transports himself to present day... and has surprisingly become a great hero despite himself.
- The Flash, of DC Comics fame, is considered a bit of an inversion when DC and Marvel did one of their crossovers. In the Marvel Universe, there's no Speed Force (the source of his super-speed), so he's basically an ordinary man.
- Inverted in Tim Boo Ba, a pre-FF Monster story from Stan Lee & Steve Ditko. TBB is the absolute monarch of his world, brought down by a drop of water spilled by a preteen boy on the model world he lives on.
- Inverted at the start of the Planet Hulk storyline, where Hulk (who is the strongest one there is) lands on a planet where he's not all that strong compared to the natives.
- One story in the Silver Age had Jimmy Olson go to another world, where the low gravity meant he had the equivalent of Superman-level abilities.
- Mr Mxyzptlk, the imp who occasionally pops over from the Fourth Dimension to bug Superman, was said in his first appearance to be a nobody in his home dimension, where his powers are nothing out the ordinary.
- Superman himself is an example; he's a completely normal Kryptonian, but the completely normal ability of Kryptonians to absorb solar energy makes him on Earth, well, Superman.
- Same can be said about Martian Manhunter - completely normal Martian but compared to humans he is extremely powerful.
- While Loki is often more of a schemer than a fighter when dealing with Asgardians, and is supposed to be a weakling compared to fellow giants, it's sometimes acknowledged that he's still way beyond the physical capacity of any human. For instance, in Hulk Vs, he's shown giving Bruce Banner a weak slap that is strong enough to launch Banner across the room, and as discussed by Tom Hiddleston, who will play him in The Avengers, being a god, Loki can easily take down the Badass Normal heroes, even World's Strongest Man Captain America.
- Some of Thor's commrades like Warrior's Three or Balder also qualify - they are pretty average if skilled warriors among their own people, but each of them is much stronger than human.
- Nemesis the Warlock is well-respected among his race, but is not potrayed as being extraordinary powerful. In fact, his crazy uncle Baal is said to have much greater power than him and he can be put on a spell even by young and unexperienced female Warlock (as they are by default more powerful than males) and the only thing that makes him special is being in the posession of Sword Sinister, through it's unexplained why. Compared to humans and other races he is however seen almost as a godlike bieng and Galaxy's only hope against Termight Empire.
- In Thousand Shinji, in a later chapter, Shinji unleashes four Chaos Space Marines against NERV special forces. While normal for Warhammer 40000, a Space Marine against normal humans is a textbook example of this trope.
- Warhammer 40000 fan fiction in general tends to do this, partially because they take so much Refuge in Audacity. Heck, one of the primary weapons is a gun that shoots automatic, armor-piercing, rocket-propelled grenades. This is considered one of the tamer weapons in the setting. More exotic guns include ones that fire monomolecular shards of metal, acid, fire, hypersonic projectiles, lasers, sound, horrible energy that strips you down to your core, molecule by molecule, and the power of Hell itself.
- Inverted in Sleeping with the Girls as the protagonist finds himself suddenly far more fragile in other universes due to them involving over the top Slapstick violence with everyone trying to give him a Megaton Punch and him just being a normal human.
- This trope is played straighter, though, as the protagonist comes from our world, which has no magic. Thusly, when he goes to other worlds that do have magic, he isn't hurt by magical attacks at all. He can still be hurt or killed by magical side effects, such as the heat of a fireball causing his clothes to burn or to boil water he's drinking.
- This trope applied to humans is the basis of many a "Humanity, Fuck Yeah!" story: See Humans Are Warriors and related tropes.
- The Thessalonica Legacy: Ramirez's Valkyrie is a Light 'Mech, bottom of the totem pole, and not even the best of that bottom-dweller pack. Without any other 'Mechs in Equestria to compete with, though, it is the absolute sovereign of the battlefield.
- Essentially the premise of Idiocracy: The soldier who was frozen was chosen specifically for being perfectly average in every way, but humanity evolved to be stupider, so when he wakes up, he's the smartest man alive, and the person who was frozen with him is the smartest woman alive.
- In the Star Trek reboot, Nero's ship Narada goes back in time and defeats a fleet of Klingon Warbirds, yet it's only a simple mining vessel in his day. A comic book prequel series averts the trope by stating that Nero added Borg technology to the Narada before going back in time.
- Several of The Forsaken from The Wheel of Time series have shades of this. In The Age of Legends, when the Forsaken were born, Traveling (the ability to cross great distances in a single step) was commonplace and Balefire (a spell that destroys a target then erases their actions several moments backwards in time) was used as a tool of war by both them and their enemies. Fast forward 3000 years and several nigh-apocalyptic wars and Traveling and Balefire are both mostly forgotten skills. When The Forsaken step back into the flow of time these abilities which they take for granted suddenly make these channelers (all of whom were the most powerful of their day to begin with) into extremely powerful and dangerous individuals.
- It's also mentioned that channelers are born weaker and in lower numbers with each generation following the Age of Legends, believed to be a result of those that are born failing to breed (because the men go insane and either kill themselves or get hunted down, and the women get whisked away to the all-female Aes Sedai and don't have kids). Lost knowledge aside, an Aes Sedai who is exceptionally powerful in the modern world would have been average at best when the Forsaken were born, though some exceptional modern channelers like Nynaeve stand out because they actually can go toe-to-toe with some of the Forsaken in sheer raw power.
- In Isaac Asimov's "Azazel" stories, it is implied that the title character, a demon, is comparatively weak and unimportant in his own plane of existence, which is why he likes to entertain himself by granting wishes for people on Earth.
- It's also suggested that the way one becomes more important and powerful in his plane is by helping others -- another reason he grants wishes... and the fact that a combination of his own vague-at-best understanding of humanity and his incompetent intermediary lead to his "boons" only causing trouble ensure he'll stay weak and unimportant for a long time.
- An example that appears to make this Older Than Radio: in John Carter of Mars, the main character is a random American soldier... who ends up one of the strongest guys around on Mars because of that planet's lower gravity. (Thoroughly confused in one of the later books where he visits Jupiter and doesn't seem to have a problem walking there...)
- The protagonist of the first three books of the Spellsong Cycle is an opera singer Trapped in Another World in which music is literally magic - sing something, and it happens. Because being a musician in that world makes you a Person of Mass Destruction, knowledge of music theory never got very far and much of the world is locked in Medieval Stasis. Her real-world education ends up making her an extremely dangerous and powerful individual.
- Dragonlance: The Dragon Overlords of the War of Souls trilogy, dragons hundreds of feet in length, came from a world near where Takhisis moved Krynn to so she could be the dominant goddess. They came to Krynn because they were weaklings on their planet of dragons. Scary place.
- In Gulliver's Travels, the title character is a classic example among the lilliputians: Gulliver is a fairly normal human, but because the lilliputians are about six inches tall he becomes like a One-Man Army (or more accurately, Navy) for them.
- There is a similar story titled "Gift of a worthless man" (don't know the author) where a low criminal crashlands on a planet inhabited by sentient roach-like creatures stuck in Ancient Ages. He teaches them agriculture and basic craftsmanship and essentially uplifts their society, so that 100 years later, they are already have industry.
- Alan Dean Foster from the ...Who Needs Enemies anthology
- Maxim Kammerer in "Inhabited Island" (Aka "Prisoners of Power") by Strugatsky Brothers. For Earth, he is ordinary, but on Saraksh, his Bullet Time capabilities and ability to survive heavy wounds make him very powerful. Even more important however, is that being a non-native, he is immune to the mind-control beams...
- In the first radio version of Superman, his abilities were the norm on Krypton, even though since it was the golden age, that's just superstrength and limited invulnerability - no heat/x-ray vision, and technically no flight (but they could "jump hella high"). One of the first scenes is Lara and Jor-El marveling that humans have to take hundreds of steps to get around.
- Necromunda of the Warhammer 40000 verse in a sense. Everywhere else, Imperial Guard technology (for example Flak Vests and Lasguns) is only good enough to allow a Zerg Rush against the various super-powered enemies, in the underhive of Necromunda, it's top class equipment.
- Going across different game systems can do this to the players themselves. In 40k, most models can only move 6 inches, with a select few allowed to move 12 inches, and a very small amount of them being able to charge an additional 12 inches (for a total of 24 inch threat radius). In fantasy, a 6 inch movement is one of the fastest base movements a foot model can have without being a horse (and even then, it's only a modest increase). This is because most models only have an average movement rate of 3-4 inches per turn, which in turn is hampered by certain equipment (especially horses, where barding trades speed for protection). Similarly, the Bolter's stats would be considered wildly powerful within fantasy, mainly because there are so few actual ranged weapons to compete with it (not to mention with the game's rules, it will completely obliterate most armors in the game).
- Sealed events in Magic: The Gathering uses this trope to balance its pool of cards and not create massive game-breakers across multiple formats. Cards like Galvanic Juggernaut are horrible in preconstructed decks, but in a sealed enviroment where creatures die easily and most creatures not reaching even half it's power, it's one of the biggest bombs (it helps that it's much more easier to pull one of these than a mythic, giving you a better chance of both getting multiples to draw him out and to play).
- In the Mega Man animated series, there was an episode where Mega Man X chases Sigma, Vile, et al back in time and meets the original Mega Man and crew. Though X is analogous to Mega Man in terms of strength in his own continuity, in Mega Man's time he is extremely powerful, as are the villains - the Mega Buster can't harm them.
- When you start the first night time levels in Plants Vs Zombies, the amount of Sun available to you is greatly lessened. As a result, you will tend to rely more on the cheap (and weaker) mushroom defences. This trope comes into effect because defences like the Pea Shooter, the first and most basic unit of daytime levels, suddenly becomes an expensive and powerful unit.
- In regular Battlestar Galactica Reimagined, the Battlestars and Basestars are par for the course. In Battlestar Galactica Online, though, where even the strongest starships a player has regular access to are much weaker, they can bitchslap whole fleets.
- In the Love and Capes webcomic, Amazonia is this. She's one of 12 sisters in a dimension where everybody has powers like hers, and she likes the fact that on Earth, she's something special.
- In Bob and George, the title characters are originally from a Superhero-esque webcomic universe, however, once they enter to the Mega Man Universe, they are considered Sue Tier (Bob even lampshades this on one occasion). Also, since time and interuniversal travel are common topics here, we've only seen one "native" (from the Mega Man Universe) big bad invasion (two if you count the whole "X going rogue" incident) and on top of that, he was the local version of a previous big bad who attacked first.
- Kid Radd: Radd is a Four Hit Point Wonder from an 8-bit game, but when he visits a fighter-game universe, it's noted that he gets Mercy Invincibility when injured. And since the fighter-game characters rely on combo moves...
- His girlfriend is an NPC (at least initially) meaning that she doesn't have a health bar to be taken away from, so she is effectively invulnerable to any attacks.
- Also, Radd has a Charged Attack that's only limited by the word size of the system he's in. In his original 8-bit game, he is able to do a max of 255 damage, a 16-bit video game allows him to do 65,536 damage, and in the 32-bit Internet he's able to cause The End of the (Digital) World as We Know It if he spends enough time charging. Mercifully, 64-bit systems weren't yet widespread when the comic had its run...
- Discussed in Magellan during a support group for extra-terrestrial and extra-dimensional students.
- Three Panel Soul pokes fun at the concept in this strip.
- In Red vs. Blue, the later seasons show that Agent Washington is Weak but Skilled compared to the other Freelancer agents, especially the powerhouses like Tex, Carolina, and Maine. He's a complete badass compared to the regular Blood Gulch crew, though, especially in his first few appearances.
- Inverted for Orco in He Man and The Masters of The Universe. He is an archmage in his home dimension, but a difference in how magic works reduces him to comedy relief on Eternia.
- And he lost his wand.
- Certain episodes of The Simpsons imply that Lisa is this. She's a smart kid, but only brilliant by comparison with Springfield's stupid children and horrible school system. Upon attending Waverly Hills school, she finds out that she's really only a B student, which traumatizes her.
- In another episode, she gets to skip to the third grade early, but finds it difficult (made more embarrassing for her because Bart was demoted a grade and found it easy):
Principal Skinner: Lisa, you have a choice: you may continue to be challenged in third grade or return to second grade and be merely a big fish in a small pond.
Lisa: Big fish! Big fish!