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"I gotta hand it to that Kurata, he really knows his monsters. Guess it takes one to know one."
—Ivan, Digimon Datasquad

Every horde of monstrous mooks will be lead by a powerful and (relatively) human-looking figure. If the mooks are already vaguely human, the leader will be downright gorgeous. There's no stated reason for the use of this trope, but it allows for the heroes to have someone in the enemy camp with whom they can interact, and a slavering monster does not good drama make (fear, revulsion, terror, yes. Drama? Not so much). Otherwise, they're essentially fighting an enemy with all the charisma of a wave of lava.

Frequently, the mooks are themselves incapable of organizing into a vast army. Those dirty monsters can't do anything without a proper HUMAN leading them! Subversively, they may turn out to have been Good All Along and bullied by the Big Bad into evil. Beauty Equals Goodness on its ear, as it were.

Anime has a similar phenomenon in the Bishonen Line. The analogue here is that the leader (who is the most powerful) looks the most human, and the weaker the subordinate, the more wild or mindless they become. The Dragon and his lieutenants occupy a curious niche in all this: while they also benefit from this trope and, in fact, tend to look the most human on the villainous side, it's because they aren't so powerful as the leader. Confused? So are we. It does, however, tend to telegraph a Heel Face Turn.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, evil members of good or neutral species are generally more monstrous than their good counterparts.

Contrast Not Even Human, where only the boss is a monster.

Examples of The Man Behind the Monsters include:


Anime and Manga

Comics

  • Marvel comics seems to love this trope. Among others, you have the Subterraneans, led at times by the handsome ancient roman scientist, Tyrannus, and the ugly misshapen victorian-era explorer, Mole Man, the Trolls and Ice Giants of Asgard, who will often find themselves rallying behind such villains as Loki and the dark elf Malekith, and the Inhuman's subhuman slaves, the Alpha Primates, who are always a ready army for Maximus the Mad.

Fan Fiction

  • This trope is used as an explanation for why advanced robots were outlawed between the Mega Man Classic and Mega Man X series in The Prototype. After Dr. Wily's death, King takes control of the remaining robot master armies. The narrator notes that people were more or less okay with being attacked by killer robots because they knew that a human was in control of them, and it was something they could understand. But when a robot is in control, that scares the populace so much that they outlaw advanced robots like the deceased Mega Man and Roll, at least until X is discovered.

Film

  • In Star Trek, the Borg, being a Hive Mind collective, didn't have a leader...until some writer decided to create the Borg Queen, who fits this trope.
  • The Wicked Witch of the West and her Flying Monkeys from The Wizard of Oz. Notable in that the monkeys were the first to cheer when the witch died, as they weren't serving her willingly.
  • The Coachman from Pinocchio is actually revealed to have large, ape-like monsters forcing young boys which the Coachman had turned into donkeys into crates headed for either the salt mines or the circus.
  • The Avengers film has Loki and his alien army. Played with in that the army is a loan.

Literature

  • In The Runelords, Raj Ahten's mooks consist of ordinary humans backed up by enhanced humans and monstrous Nomen and Frowth Giants. Ahten himself is an androgynous, incredibly beautiful, and charismatic human. This is because he's taken so many endowments of glamour from his subjects, which force anyone who looks at him to percieve him as beautiful. This effect is so powerful that it still works later in the series, when half his face has been burned off.
  • Vord from the Codex Alera series come in a wide variety of monstrous forms, but the queens are humanoid in shape and capable of speech.
  • In The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Lord Foul's minions include a wide variety of monstrous beings, but in his true form (or at least, the form he reverts to after Covenant's Wild Magic injures and weakens him), Foul himself resembles a dignified, elderly human.
  • In The Wheel of Time, the Trollocs are an Always Chaotic Evil horde of beast-men. Their superiors are the Myrddraal, who look like pale-skinned, eerily graceful humans except for the fact that thay have smooth skin where eyes should be. Their commanders are the Forsaken, who are a group of actual humans (albeit very, very powerful channelers). Subverted in that the level above the Forsaken is occupied by the Dark One himself, who isn't remotely human and is implied to be an Eldritch Abomination.

Live Action TV

  • Davros and the Daleks from Doctor Who. Davros only barely qualifies as "human", but at least you can have a conversation with him. Among other minor examples, the new-series episode "School Reunion" features Tony Head as the leader of a group of bat-like, flying aliens - he says he keeps a human-like body as a "personal preference".

Real Life

Tabletop RPG

  • The Dragonlance setting for Dungeons and Dragons. Each dragon army was made up of an assortment of monsters and led by a human(oid) Dragon Highlord.
  • Dungeons and Dragons, as seen here.
  • Averted in Warhammer 40000 with Genestealer cults. The genestealers start off looking human, then the next generation gets a few extra limbs or extending jaws, and so on, until purestrain genestealers, who look like like beefy xenomorphs. They're led by a Magus, who looks like a human with a huge, veined cranium, anda Patriach, a disgustingly obese, multilimbed monstrosity.

Toys

  • Bionicle's Visorak horde, an army of Giant Spiders, are led by the humanoid Sidorak and Roodaka on behalf of the also-humanoid (usually) Brotherhood of Makuta.

Video Games

  • Many old RPGs use this. Some examples include Garland from Final Fantasy I and The Dragonlord from Dragonquest. Oftentimes, they'll eventually turn into monsters themselves.
  • Starcraft: Brood War has Kerrigan, the (human with shoulder-mounted extensible claws) leader of the insectoid Zerg after the Overmind's fall.
  • While not human, Tabuu from Super Smash Bros Brawl's Subspace Emissary mode.
  • Magus from Chrono Trigger, leading the Mystics/Fiends.
  • Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda, but only when he's Ganondorf rather than Ganon. The other villains flip between doubly monstrous Eldritch Abominations and humanoid/Ambiguously Human demons or sorcerers who tend to transform into monsters at some point.
    • Ganondorf is also an example of the inversion, as he and Twinrova, by far the evilest members of the race, have inhuman green skin in contrast to the dark skin of all other Gerudo.
  • Dracula in Castlevania.
  • Possibly Super Paper Mario - Count Bleck and Dimentio may or may not be human. It's ambiguous, but most others in the setting look far less human.
    • Count Bleck is, in fact, of the Tribe of Darkness (which is implied to be the same species as Merlon, or similar). Dimentio isn't clear.
  • Warcraft I averts this. In most fantasy series, orcs have to be led by a human to be a real threat, but orcs were able to bring humanity to its knees on their own without any human help. Even a civil war didn't stop them from victory.
    • Blackmoore tried to do this with the orcs, but it backfired. Subverted with Lord Victor Nefarius, who had better success but was actually a black dragon in disguise.
    • The Lich King might count, as he looks pretty much as he did in life, exept all pale and dead, while the common soldiers of the Scourge are skeletons, barely humanoid ghouls, and abominations stitched up from corpses. In fact, most of high ranking Scourge (exept the liches, who look like floating ghotly skeletons, and crypt lords, who are giant undead insects) look more human than their underlings, as the dark magic that sustains them also helps to preserve their bodies.
  • The Locust Queen appears in Gears of War 2. Lampshaded by Cole.
  • Although Saren from Mass Effect isn't exactly a human, his species is generally treated as equivalent to human by the game. The geth that serve him are not.
  • This is the case in most Kingdom Hearts games. The hordes of monstrous Heartless and Nobodies eventually turn out to be under the control of a being (or collective of beings) who look and act entirely human, but looks are deceiving.
    • The Unversed are also under the control of Vanitas, as they are incarnations of his feelings. Vanitas himself is under Xehanort's control as he is his master, although the exact degree of control he is under is debatable.
  • In Prototype, Elizabeth Greene is the organizing force behind the infection; most of the monstrosities infecting Manhattan are under her direct command. She looks normal enough, but is essentially "burned out", with Greene being less of an independent personality than a personification of The Virus. Alex Mercer suggests he could take control of the infection after Greene's death, but he's more focused on killing them than leading them.
  • In the indie PC game Galaxia Chronicles, HE is a noticeably ordinary-looking person (at least, what we see of HIM) compared to the biomechanical Siris, who he is collaborating with as part of HIS Evil Plan. At one point, HE and Maxx draw blood simultaneously after White Shell attacks the latter, implying that they share some kind of connection to each other, or that HE is possibly a future version of Maxx. The game never elaborates on it.
  • Andross from Star Fox, although technically not human, was the closest to a human compared to the other characters, genetically speaking, and he was either directly responsible for the events of the series or manipulated the enemy into doing his bidding. In Star Fox: Farewell Beloved Falco, Andross was resurrected via cloning by a rogue Cornerian officer. In Star Fox Adventures, due to his hijacking the plot, he was implied to have manipulated Scales and the rest of the Sharpclaw army into doing his bidding. In Star Fox Command, it was implied that he was the one who created the main threat of the game, the Anglar Race. In fact, the only main villainous group never affiliated with Andross at all was the Aparoids.
  • Professor Hojo in Final Fantasy VII created the Big Bad, Sephiroth, both naturally and artificially (Sephiroth was Hojo's birth son, and he was injected with Jenova's cells as an embryo), and was implied to have had some involvement in creating Deepground. In addition, it was also heavily implied that he manipulated Sephiroth into becoming evil, as well as concocting most of Sephiroth's plans (barring, of course, his choice of Cloud) with the intention of seeing the results of his experiment come into fruition (the intended results implied to be the destruction of the planet), possessing Sephiroth shortly before the final battle (according to the Novellas), and later, doing it again digitally with the Tsviets (specifically, Weiss).
  • Trema from Final Fantasy X 2.
  • Ein in Pokémon Colosseum, The Evil Genius of the Cipher syndicate who created the Shadow pokemon used by Cipher. He's the last and most powerful of the admins.
  • Captain Syrup in Wario Land 1 and 2 who is the only other human member of the game's cast and the Big Bad. Also possibly The Shake King in Wario Land Shake It, who while probably not quite human looks a heck of a lot more so than any of other enemies in the game.
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