WikEd fancyquotesQuotesBug-silkHeadscratchersIcons-mini-icon extensionPlaying WithUseful NotesMagnifierAnalysisPhoto linkImage LinksHaiku-wide-iconHaikuLaconic
"I'm sick of adventure -- and peril!! I just want to live a normal life! I want to set up housekeeping as Mrs. Reed Richards -- I want to be involved with super-markets -- instead of super-villains!"
Sue Richards, Invisible Girl in the 1960s, Fantastic Four
"You're pathetic. One of the best minds on the planet and you waste it for years, doing magic tricks -- then trying to best a man who'd never really harm you, despite your endless provocation. But that's the difference between my husband and me. He doesn't understand revenge. Me? I can't decide which of the many ways I can hurt you I'm going to use."
Sue Richards, Invisible Woman in the 2000s, Fantastic Four

  • Just about every single character who comes into contact with some kind of weird Green Rocks that give them superpowers.
  • Sue Storm/Invisible Woman from Fantastic Four is the poster girl of this trope. (Literally-- see the top level page.) Originally the Invisible Girl, she was very meek, [1] and her power was only personal invisibility. She was so useless (not many opportunities for stealth came along), the best her writers could say in response to constant fan outcry against The Load (even in-universe) was, "Having a pretty girl around makes the boys fight harder." Her force field power was added (less than two years after her introduction), and she gradually became better and more versatile with it, especially under John Byrne. More dramatic was the shift from her original meek personality to her current confident one, which her new choice of codename signifies. These days, Doctor Doom himself considers her the strongest of the Fantastic Four.
  • Joke character Hammerhead from Spider-Man got this treatment, as part of becoming The Dragon for Big Bad Mr. Negative. He got a reinforced skeleton (made out of canonical Nightmare Fuel) and strength and durability upgrades. The very first thing he does is utterly stomp Spidey. As Peter is lying on the floor with a dislocated jaw, he says "Why aren't you a joke anymore?"
    • Current Spider-Man writer Fred Van Lente has been doing this in general with a few F-list villains, taking them and making them into genuinely capable threats. The best example is the Spot, who is developed by Van Lente into a mute killer who's been driven insane by his being trapped in an alternate dimension and who can now only communicate by writing in his own incomprehensible language of dots. We also see just how legitimately terrifying the powers of even the lowliest super-villains can be. More recently, Van Lente has been writing background stories featuring some of the classic Lee/Ditko/Romita villains in the new Web of Spider-Man series that began in late 2009.
      • The Spot always had what should have been extremely dangerous abilities. He was just too stupid to use them effectively.
      • In their first encounter, the Spot beats Spider-Man badly. In their next encounter, Spidey knows what to expect and has the endurance to take his "only" normal human level hits until the Spot has used his powers too much and has given an open spot for him to attack. Thus he is only defeated by his overconfidence.
      • Note that this predated Fred Van Lente's work. The first definitive example of the modern age of Spider-Man comics was Scorpion, formerly an incredibly dim C-List villain at best, becoming the new Venom and thus gaining not only knowledge and experience of how best to fight Spider-Man, but also getting a considerable physical boost despite already being physically (if not mentally) capable of going toe-to-toe with Spidey.
        • And now, after a pretty successful stint as Venom (see Thunderbolts and Dark Avengers), he is back as the Scorpion in an even MORE powerful scorpion suit. Spidey still bests him, but he certainly has the powers to be a threat these days.
  • Spider-Man's writing team is currently making all his classic villains either take a level in badass or be replaced by stronger and more dangerous counterparts (Vulture, Rhino). Doctor Octopus took control over all of New York's technology with his last appearance, Chameleon (written by, already mentioned above, Fred Van Lente) returned to his original ways, becoming a perfect -- and dangerous -- impersonator and assassin. Electro can now turn into lightning and destroyed the Daily Bugle building, Sandman can make multiple copies of himself ( some of them are murderous), Mysterio took control over the Mafia Maggia with his tricks. Not so classic White Rabbit has been turned from a complete joke into a dangerous drug dealer and crazy killer and together with the Spot and a bunch of C-List Fodder villains -- Scorcher, Speed Demon, Bloodshed, Squid, Lightmaster and Answer -- almost destroyed Mr. Negative's criminal empire and defeated his immortal servants and Hammerhead (they lost only because Negative brainwashed Spider-Man and sent him to fight them).
    • During Peter David's run on Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man (shortly before One More Day), he put Betty Brant through this trope. The highlight has to be saving Flash and Spidey from Arrow using a shotgun with silver bullets (she's a Daily Bugle reporter).
  • Hell, Spider-Man is all about taking a level in badass. That's essentially what happened to Peter Parker from the very start!
    • And now in Spider-Island, after losing his spider-sense and having to learn how to fight without it (Spider-Fu), it has returned and now Spider-Man is even more dangerous! Baddies beware.
    • He's done this multiple times over the course of his career as he has grown from a raw teen hero into a mature adult one. He's added tools, refined his webshooters, even gotten training from Captain America (who had pointed out to him that relying on instinct in a fight isn't always a good idea.)
  • Grunge of the newly rebooted Gen 13 series is a slightly different example. He starts out as your more-than-average nerd with genius IQ and photographic memory. And the first name... Percy. So he starts working out, hides his book smarts and his photographic memory, starts using his middle name, trains in martial arts and starts skateboarding. And turns into a stereotypical 'stupid' musclebound frat boy slacker by the start of the series when we first see him. And then he gets superpowers.
  • Storm from X-Men is an interesting example; she started off as a fairly strong Claremont Woman, but a bit unsure of herself. After some time with the team and a radical makeover in Japan, however, she became less an African Proper Lady and more of an ethnic Action Girl. She still used Spock Speak, however, and continues to do so to this day.
    • Kitty Pryde. Hints of her ability were dropped from day one, but few who read her of late would believe the Genki Teen Genius Tagalong Kid of a Distressed Damsel she once was... scratch that, the Character Development was well done enough that she remains wholly recognizable.
    • It happens with anyone from X-Men, perhaps due to the 'school' theme. When a character is first introduced, he or she will be able to use his or her power in its most basic, obvious form (shoot Eye Beams, make stuff fly around, etc.) but as they get better and better at using it, power and proficiency will increase, as well as the ability to make the Required Secondary Powers work for you. Next thing you know, the girl who can walk through walls is standing on air[2] while threatening to make an intangible object tangible while inside your skull, or the guy who can make ice proves what a person who truly has total control over water and temperature can do.[3] Basically, if anyone's existed longer than ten years, you'll barely recognize them in their first appearances. Even Nightcrawler once had a much shorter range, ran out of energy for teleporting quicker, and taking passengers was an extremely dangerous and extremely agonizing strain.
  • In the Sonic the Hedgehog comic book (Archie version), Antoine D'Coolette used to oscillate between cowardly, uppity jerk and Cheese Eating Surrender Monkey. Then about 45 issues in, he fell in love with Bunnie Rabbot. He proceeded in growing a backbone, becoming a competent swordsman, leading up to his survival in the Anti-Mobius dimension (from which Anti-Sonic, below, came). One can actually track each time he takes up a level in badass over the series, up to his current level. Now he's a respected leader and fighter, and Bunnie's husband.
    • Evil Sonic, Sonic's Evil Twin (duh), is nothing more than a minor pest, at best. He spends his time either playing underling for more powerful villains, or behaving like a glorified thug. However, when the new writer comes into the comic, Evil Sonic gets jacked up on chaos energy, gets a makeover, changes his name to "Scourge", and proceeds to kick his threat level up a notch. It doesn't stop there, however -- after a few "inspiring" words from Sonic, he returns to his home dimension, applies himself, and conquers his own version of "Moebius" in a matter of DAYS.
  • Yorick in Y: The Last Man starts as an inept loser who's often beaten up by women (including his sister) but with the help of some traumatic incidents, and training by Agent 355, becomes more adept at defending himself. Subverted also in one scene when a non-action character suddenly whips out a sword in an apparent elevation to Badass, only to be easily defeated by the more experienced villain.
  • Lawrence Dobson from Firefly received a Level of Badass in the Serenity comic books.
  • In the Villains United and Secret Six comics, former Batman whipping boy Catman has graduated to a capable threat, fighting the Caped Crusader to a standstill in one issue.
    • Just to give you an idea how big the change was, the last time we saw Catman before Villains United was Archer's Quest where he was a fat slab doing grunt work for the Shade. First scene with him in Villains United has him, very fit, leading a pride of lions and telling the Secret Society of Super Villains where they could put their recruitment drive.
      • This is more a case of Rescued From the Scrappy Heap. When he first showed up in the Silver Age, Catman was a skilled fighter who took on Batman and nearly won. Later writers just made him more and more pathetic (the crowning example would be Green Lantern 80-Page Giant #1, in which he is captured by G'Nort. A ringless G'Nort).
  • In the first issue of G.I. Joe: Cobra, we watch Chuckles gain Badass XP in a training sequence with Jinx.
    • Chuckles has always been badass in the comics. He has consistently been shown as a competent combatant, and as a veteran undercover agent he's one of the most skilled intelligence analysts and operation planners in G.I. Joe. On top of that is the undercover work itself, where his Nerves of Steel show best. The problem is that most people take one look at him, and decide he's a joke based purely on appearance.
  • In the Marvel Universe, Anthony Davis was a second-rate C-List Fodder supervillain known as the Ringer, who was humiliated by Spider-Man before being unceremoniously murdered along with 17 other supervillains by the villain-killing Scourge. A later Retcon would reveal that Davis was Not Quite Dead when he was found by a group of agents from the technological terrorist group A.I.M., who were investigating the site of the massacre to steal the technology of the dead villains. He got better when A.I.M. turned him into a cyborg with advanced laser weapons and teleportation powers. Now calling himself Strikeback, Davis proved to be a much better fighter than he ever was as the Ringer, defeating the Vulture, Stegron, Boomerang and Swarm one after another when he reappeared in the Spider-Man comics.
  • The first volume of French comic Dungeon pretty much revolves around initially helpless and cowardly lead character Herbert the duck Taking a Level in Badass over and over again. By the end, he has a magic sword he's one Great Deed away from being able to wield, that, if touched by another, will turn him into one of its previous bearers to defend itself -- unfortunately, not all of them are awesome, and it can be exploited by forcing him to cycle through forms too quickly to actually react -- can't be killed by normal means because his heart was first removed, then eaten by a Bewmew -- granting it a soul, and the now-sapient... blob-thingy now acts as his loyal servant and bodyguard in thanks -- and is a master of the stick and the feather -- since he's a duck and covered with feathers, this means he can dismember and eviscerate opponents completely unarmed.
  • An issue of Ambush Bug from the 1980s once listed a bunch of corny Silver Age characters that should never be mentioned again because they could not possibly work in modern comics. Grant Morrison has since made them all awesome.
  • Recently in the Incredible Hulk book (the one written by Greg Pak), Bruce Banner took a level in Badass. Proving he's not as useless as people think he is.
    • For that matter, the members of the Intelligencia all took one. The members? Red Ghost, MODOK, Leader, Mad Thinker and Wizard. The fact that these guys (who apart from the Leader, have become jokes in recent times) have become credible threats and even being able of capturing Doom, Black Panther, Hank Pym, Beast and Reed Richards is nothing short of impressive.
  • Seems to be standard for a character when they're managed by Geoff Johns.
    • The revamping of throwaway Green Lantern villain Black Hand being a prime example.
  • Valkyrie from Ultimate Marvel. She started out as a delusional superhero wannabe. Then she kicks the crap out of Venom and nearly cuts him in half with a sword and gives a few A-list villains like Magneto a run for their money.
  • In Final Crisis Aftermath: Run!, the Human Flame gets tired of being a joke villain and decides to take so many levels in badass that he will never have to run away again. He takes too many of them and ends as a monster so big, that he cannot move under his own weight.
    • More a subversion. The Human Flame desperately wants to be a badass, but as hero and villain alike both note, he's really just a selfish, dimwitted slob and most of the carnage he causes is out of stupidity, not real supervillainous skill. He probably kills more people by accident than some of Batman's rogues have on purpose.
  • Deconstructed by Brian Bendis with The Hood: he was becoming more powerful and getting New Powers as the Plot Demands, but was also making the link between him and the source of his powers, Dormammu, stronger. When it was strong enough, the demon turned him into his slave.
  • The New Mutants/X-Factor/Excalibur/X-Men/X-Factor (again)/X-Force/X-Factor (for a third time) character Wolfsbane seems to have this intermittently, from killing someone and beating the living heck out of Feral in the original X-Factor series to eating her father and clawing up Mortis' throat (with an accompanying SHRRIP! sound effect) in X-Force, and now she's been given some Asgardian powers to help her survive the Asgardian wolf baby in her stomach. She tends to veer wildly between taking this trope to heart and being The Woobie. Of course, YMMV.
    • Fellow New Mutant member Cypher underwent some severe level-up after coming Back From the Dead. Originally, his mutant power was "read and understand any language", meaning he was simply an Omniglot when he died in the 80s. Revived in the 2000s, we learn that "language" includes "body language", meaning he can predict his opponents' moves and actually held off all his old teammates single-handedly. It also includes computer language, making him an imminently skilled hacker and programmer, as well as letting him "read" the structure of a building and discover the easiest way to destroy it.
      • Cypher could do the computer language thing prior to his death - but it's much more impressive now. Cypher just debuted a decade or so too early.
  • Donald Duck took a level in badass back in the 60's in the Italian Disney comics, when he stumbled upon the suit and equipment of an old-time gentleman thief/vigilante, and used it to create his own secret identity of Paperinik. At first he just used it to get even with Uncle Scrooge and other people who crossed him, but pretty soon he started working as a superhero, keeping the streets of Duckburg safe at night. Then he took another level when he got his own series and was suddenly fighting alien invasions, mad scientists, and major disasters on a regular basis in Paperinik New Adventures.
  • Quackerjack in the 2010 Darkwing Duck comic. In the actual series, he was a rather goofy, silly villain. Now he's blowing up buildings, ripping up robots for mentioning Negaduck, and generally taking control of the Fearsome Five Four.
  • For a long time, the Purple Man was just another gaudily-dressed C-List Fodder villain who would turn up every five years or so to get his ass handed to him by Daredevil. Then the writers realized what a guy with his level of Mind Control powers could really do. Cue a year-long storyline, in which the Purple Man secretly took over a Fortune 500 company (whose chairman was the father of Daredevil's girlfriend), used its resources to wage a campaign against Daredevil, framed the chairman for his crimes (eventually driving him to suicide), broke up Daredevil's relationship, and mind controlled four of Daredevil's toughest enemies into trying to kill him all at once. Basically, a toned-down preview of what the Kingpin would later do in "Born Again." The Purple Man was never a joke in any Marvel book again.
    • Before that, he was an Adaptational Badass in X Men the Animated Series, as a Villain with Good Publicity (and good makeup to hide his purple skin) who was mind-controlling the X-Terminators as his personal army. Using his real name instead of ever calling himself "The Purple Man" helped a lot, too, when it came to being taken seriously. (When your real last name is Killgrave, you don't need a villain handle!)
    • As the Dark Age of comics started, the more unsavory uses of his power become kosher to mention, and he took a level in creepy, as well...
  • Maxwell Lord without a doubt.
  • Iron Man. Extremis. Which would be good enough on its own, but then he got the Bleeding Edge armor. And if I read what just happened in Invincible Iron Man correctly, he's just taken a whole other level by upgrading his armor with some dwarven/Asgardian magic.
    • Oh, you know, Iron Man's armor power doubles every 18 months. Look at Armor Wars. One chapter before last, the big bad easily beats him. Last chapter, he builds a new armor and easily beats the villain. Or look at the modular armor's debut (destroys a robot which previously defeated a dozen armors). But Iron Man stays at the same power level compared to Hulk or Thor.
  • Dick Grayson as Robin is about the only character seen as a bigger joke than Aquaman to the general public. He has come from far from being a Distressed Dude who Batman would constantly need to rescue. As Nightwing he’s generally a Supporting Leader whenever he appears outside his own series, this includes leading the Teen Titans, The Outsiders and the Justice League. He has even been Batman twice.
    • Jason Todd, when he became the second Red Hood, deserves a mention as well.
  • X-Men villain Apocalypse debuted in an early X Factor arc as a fairly generic mutant terrorist with inconsistent powers and an annoying tendency to refer to himself in the third person. He's also defeated pretty easily. Cut to X-Factor vol. 1 #18-19, the big man returns with a beefier physique, a more intimidating demeanor, and an elite mutant guard known as the Horsemen of Apocalypse. Add in some backstory and the creation of Archangel, and the rest is history.
  • Bucky Barnes is another great example - just compare his depictions before Brubaker's run on Cap to Brubaker's depiction of the character.
    • Just how many levels of badass did Bucky take? He became Captain America.
  • DC crossover Underworld Unleashed" Nero offers to grant wishes in exchange for souls and makes this deal available to the villains first. Many of them use this opportunity to take levels in badass. For example, Blockbuster, a big dumb guy, wished to be a Genius Bruiser and eventually ended up as the crimelord of Bludhaven in the Nightwing title years later.


  1. She practically lived in a classic feminine drawing-back-in-surprise pose. C'mon, you've seen it before. Leaned sorta backwards, hand raised just so, probably saying "Oh!!" in reaction to whatever it is. You'll find female victims doing it just before fainting at the sight of the bad thing the heroes are up against.
  2. It's never explained why an Intangible Man doesn't fall through the floor, but you can use the ability to do so even if not on an actual floor. "Down" is what you make of it, as the floor wasn't what was holding you up before you stepped off of it. By pretending she's on stairs, Kitty can even walk into the air.
  3. And his greatest feats are not his maximum potential, said to be on par with Phoenix.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.