Joker Immunity

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"Do you have any idea how many suits I go through because of these situations?"

"You... you just couldn't let me go, could you? This is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object. You truly are incorruptible, aren't you, huh? You won't kill me, outta some misplaced sense of self-righteousness... and I won't kill you, because you're just too much fun. I think you and I are destined to do this forever."

Face it, some Big Bads stay popular enough it might be a bad idea to kill them for real. So they may stick around or keep coming back, but too much of this can start to undermine a (super)hero's perceived effectiveness. While a work focusing on a single hero or group can Hand Wave this as perhaps what's necessary to end the villain for good being beyond their moral code, it can get more egregious if the fictional universe starts to get larger and more interconnected, and the villain keeps pissing off more and more people. This leads to the question of why some of those other folks with a lot fewer qualms against killing haven't put a bullet in them yet.

This ends up being a question of whether the villain is just that good, or the writers are delaying things and stretching the patience of the audience. (Or maybe it's just that A Wizard Did It.)

Aside from rationalizations given in the story itself, most reasons for trope are outside the story in the form of Contractual Immortality:

  • The villain is very popular and lucrative, so franchises with indefinite continuity are hesitant to get rid of them. Particularly the Trope Namer: every would-be Batman writer dreams of writing a good Joker story and to get rid of him with any sense of finality would seemingly rob future writers of such a coveted opportunity. Ironically, a villain could be ostensibly lame, and killing them off is seen as too 'serious' a treatment rather than just putting them on a bus.
  • The story exists in a particular continuity or on a sliding timescale; the actual time the villain has been around for a particular story may be smaller than we suppose. Again regarding the Trope Namer, it may seem like the Joker's been mass-murdering people for however-many-decades in Real Time, but in the comic book universe it's only been a handful of years at most.
  • The villain, especially those in a Rogues Gallery, are so heavily identified with a particular hero their exploits are specific to him out of a kind of authorial respect (e.g. Marvel's Carnage is heavily identified with Spider-Man, but is both monstrous-looking and much less popular lately, and thus can be killed).
  • The struggle against a single major villain is the Series Goal and if that villain is defeated, the series would be over. If this is the case, then the Grand Finale will occasionally revoke Joker Immunity.
  • The series is being shown in Anachronic Order, and their death has already been shown. This can apply to any character, not just villains.

Note that in all cases this immunity can and will be revoked if the character is waning in popularity; victims of Villain Decay can become outright C-List Fodder for any author wanting to show off. Also, when the next step in the Sorting Algorithm of Evil appears, the dethroned villain is liable to lose his Joker Immunity (often at the hands of the new villain, showing how badass he is).

Compare: Villain Exit Stage Left; Moral Dissonance; Cardboard Prison; Tailor-Made Prison; and occasionally Villain Sue. For the heroic equivalent, see Invincible Hero. Also see Just Eat Gilligan when it's not a direct villain that's the problem. See also Villain Based Franchise for one of the products of this kind of thing. See also Popularity Power, where a character will get things his way because of his popularity, and Karma Houdini, where the villain escapes temporal as well as cosmic punishment.

Examples of Joker Immunity include:

Anime and Manga

  • A heavy subversion comes in the form of Friend, the evil mastermind Big Bad of 20th Century Boys. He's responsible for near every bad thing that happens in the story and has hidden personal ties to the heroes but even he can't survive a gunshot to the chest. This happens exactly halfway through and they reveal his identity soon after.
  • Team Rocket of Pokémon. You have to wonder why Ash simply won't tell the police about them. Considering they could get arrested for stalking alone, you'd think he would have at least considered it.
    • They do go to jail once (ironically when they are framed by Butch and Cassidy), but escape by digging a tunnel.
    • As time goes on, they've become less of a threat and more of a joke compared to the bigger and incredibly threatening Story Arc villains of the particular arc. Even in the many cases where a group of officers are exposed to their presence, they either escape single-handedly, or the officials in question ignore them for the bigger threat. One episode had an Officer Jenny go after Team Rocket but was disappointed to see them escape but remarked that there were more dangerous members of Team Rocket around she had to take care of.
    • They end up in at the end of episodes in often inescapable situations, yet they always return without any explanation as to how they did. Also, they survive what would have killed Ash and the gang, such as falling into the river directly under a boat, falling over a waterfall, and at one point James gets knocked over a cliff into a canyon by a boulder, and should have been crushed to death or at least killed by the fall. Twice they survive a fall that THEY THINK is going to kill them: Once in Haunter vs. Kadabra, when Haunter makes them fall over a balcony toward a concrete road, and another in Pokémon 2000 where they let go of Lugia and supposedly fall to their deaths, yet clearly survive the fall and return in the ending sequence to throw another sledgehammer at the fourth wall.
    • Even Giovanni, the boss of Team Rocket, is immortal. In Mewtwo Strikes Back, Mewtwo blows up Dr. Fuji's lab and kills him. When he blows up Giovanni's gym, however, Giovanni survives without so much as a scratch, even though when the Team Rocket trio witnesses this they initially think him to be dead.
    • They Took a Level in Badass in the Best Wishes arc, and often don't bother with Ash and his friends most of the time; just concentrating on individual missions.
  • Inuyasha was infamous for its repeated use of Naraku, who after a hundred episodes was still causing trouble (it can even be safely said that he's the only antagonist still standing, and has been for several hundred issues). By that point, probably half of feudal Japan wanted his head, yet he still managed to stay alive. He also lasted through nearly all of the original manga too.
    • Naraku's ability to cheat death was so infamous that Rumiko Takahashi, the author, had Kagome wishing what was left of his spirit out of existence along with the Shikon no Tama to assure readers that he was Deader Than Dead.
  • The three main bandits in Koihime Musou. Simply why can't the Black-Haired Bandit Hunter just kill them?
  • Aizen from Bleach. He was the Big Bad for about 400 chapters. He's been defeated, but he's still not dead, leaving the possibility for a comeback.
  • Sasuke from Naruto just before the killing blow strike.... Diabolus Ex Machina/Cliffhanger Copout strikes EVERY SINGLE TIME!!
  • Johan Liebert as shown in Another Monster, three years after Monster.
  • Michio Yuki in the end of MW.
  • Katsuhiko Jinnai and the Bugroms from El Hazard. They always ran away so they could return in the sequels or the next episode depending if you watch the OVA or TV version.
  • If any villain in Digimon deserves this designation, it's Myotismon. Like the vampire he resembles, he just refuses to stay dead. After being blown to little bits by Angewomon, he returned as VenomMyotismon. Then he was torn apart by WarGreymon, only to return in the Sequel Series as MaloMyotismon. And of course, being a Digimon, he Took a Level in Badass with each evolution, as if he needed it, having defeated the DigiDestined multiple times even in his original form.

Comic Books

  • The Joker's had this from day one. He was originally conceived as a one-off villain, and Batman didn't even have his no-kill code back in those early days, but the Joker proved too good a villain to waste by killing after one issue so a last minute edit had him survive. He's been laughing at readers ever since. Joker has become something of a Base Breaker in the wider DC comics fandom due to this trope. Go to any comic board, and the thread that most often pops up is why Batman hasn't shrugged off his no-kill policy just this once and snapped Joker's neck.

Jason Todd: Why? I'm not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I'm talking about him. Just him.

  • Sergio Aragonés Destroys DC: Parodied and Lampshaded:

Batman: Tell me one reason why I should not kill you just now!
The Joker: Merchandising! The WB cannot afford to lose your principal villain!

  • I can accept why Batman doesn't do it; Bruce already knows his psychological stability is problematic and thus can't trust himself to make justifiable homicide decisions. Batman's decision-making process has a justification for being irrational here, because 'irrational' is exactly what Bruce's slightly fractured psyche is. What I can't accept is why literally no one else on the planet has put a bullet in the Joker already. For goodness' sake, he has committed multiple acts of terrorism on US soil, resulting in mass casualty situations, using weapons of mass destruction. (Chemical is obvious, biological is covered by the Joker virus in 'Last Laugh', and he even went for nuclear once in a BIRDS OF PREY arc). The US government has invaded entire countries for less provocation.
  • In fact, most of Batman's Rogues Gallery never get killed off (in principle) no matter what happens to them. The common in-story explanation is Batman realizes he's quite capable of killing opponents, but doesn't trust himself not to come up with excuses to do it again if he can rationalize it the first time. Often forgotten is that other characters have been insistent on stopping Batman if they think he's really been tempted. Jim Gordon explicitly informs Batman that he, the police, and citizens of Gotham tolerate him because of his moral code, and would not hesitate to deal with him if this was broken.
    • To be fair, occasionally a Batman villain DOES get killed off (by someone other than Batman), but, alas, being a comic, Death Is Cheap and they end up coming back anyway.
    • Which Batman villains has this happened to? The only serious villains that come to mind are KGBeast and the Ventriloquist.
    • The Elseworld comic Kingdom Come's backstory in fact starts when a rising Superhero violates The Joker's own Joker Immunity. The Joker had just killed the entire staff of the Daily Planet - Lois Lane included. In a rare moment of competence, he's caught by the Metropolis Police. Magog shoots and kills the Joker as he's being taken in by the cops, in a scene that mirrors the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. When Magog is acquitted, and most civilians agree with Magog's move, Superman leaves in disgust. Magog's example is then used by all the new generation of superheroes as inspiration that they do not have to pull their punches.
    • Explicitly lampshaded in the Knightfall novelization, when Batman listed all several of the times Joker should've died:

Would the world finally be rid of the Joker? No way to be sure. Batman had seen him survive explosions, gunfire, electrocution falling from aircraft, and yes, even plunging to the bottom of the Gotham River. What reason was there to believe the odds would finally catch up with him?

  • And yet averted in the DCAU, where Joker is actually killed by Tim Drake, even if Joker put a microchip into Drake that turned him into the Joker many years later. However, Harley falls to her "death" in the same sequence, and later turns out to be the grandmother of two of the Jokerz. And she's very disappointed in them for turning to a life of crime.
  • Averted once again in the 1989 Batman film, where Joker unambiguously dies by falling off the top of Gotham Cathedral and breaking his skull on the pavement. They even have a long, rotating Dies Wide Open shot to hammer it in.
  • Similarly, other live-action Batman films have done this to other villains. Two-Face dies in both The Dark Knight and Batman Forever, The Penguin dies in Batman Returns and Ra's Al Ghul apparently dies in Batman Begins, though we can't be too sure about that one yet.
  • And in The Dark Knight Returns where The Joker kills himself just so Batman will be blamed for it.

Batman: How many people have I murdered by letting you live?

  • In fact, most Batman Elseworlds comic books seem to enjoy killing off Mr. J, as they're not in continuity. The Red Rain trilogy, the one where Batman and Joker were both pirates, etc.
  • In DC's Flashpoint alternate reality, Batman has privatized the Gotham City Police Department and has killed off Killer Croc, Hush, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy.
  • Turned on its head in the Batman: Vengeance videogame, where Joker attempts to revoke his own Joker Immunity by killing himself. Only your saving him will prevent a Nonstandard Game Over.
  • Rationalized in an issue of The Spectre. The Spectre is the embodied Wrath of God, and his whole shtick is executing murderers in ironic ways. When the Joker guest stars in his comic, the writers have to explain why the Spectre doesn't just kill him (by turning his smile inside-out or somesuch). The Spectre ends up discovering that the Joker has no functioning conscience, and thus can't tell right from wrong—and it would be unjust to kill him when he isn't consciously evil. (There's almost no good reason to believe that the Joker can't tell right from wrong, though.) Still doesn't explain why he doesn't go after Lex Luthor, though...
  • In one Batman/Punisher crossover, Batman stops the Punisher from killing the Joker (although Batman fails to provide a convincing reason why the Joker shouldn't be killed).
  • Lampshaded in the Batman/Captain America (comics) crossover, The Joker is nuked. Captain America openly doubts The Joker was really killed by the nuke.
  • There was this one vigilante named the Wyld Carde whose family was killed by the Joker. Problem with the Wyld Carde that he was soo obsessed with killing the Joker that he didn't know what to do once the Joker was killed. Upon confronting the Joker, the Wyld Carde kept hesitating to pull the gun trigger (leaving a terrified Joker enough time to escape).
  • In fact, the DC wiki lists the Joker's powers as Cheating Death and "Comic Awareness".
  • Spider-Man comes very close to killing him in a Batman/Spiderman crossover. The Joker taunts him when he refuses to go through with it. Spider-Man decides that beating the crap out of him is justified however.
  • If not for the Joker, this trope would be named Magneto Immunity, for the X-Men's premiere villain, who may hold the record for the highest number of sincere and permanent deaths, lobotomies, and depowerings of any villain in comic book history, but could no sooner be removed from X-Continuity than the Joker could from Batman.
    • Lampshaded in a story of West Coast Avengers where Magneto falls into a a factory chimney (a la the Joker pic above) from a fight with the Avengers and the whole building blows up. One of the Avengers asks the rest of the group if they really believe Magneto to be dead; the response was a unanimous, "Naaaaah!"
    • One issue is a Lower Deck Episode about a guy who has it out for Magneto for killing his brother. The issue starts with Magneto being considered absolutely finally dead by everyone but him, and he has to convince people that the anti-Magneto weaponry he wants created is actually needed. Surprise, surprise, Magneto is alive. As the point of the story was 'revenge is bad,' this guy actually gets the chance to kill Magneto but doesn't go through with it.
    • Likewise, every story featuring X-Men villain Apocalypse ends with him being finally killed off permanently. And this time we mean it. For now.
    • Mystique has been suffering from this in the last 5 years. No matter how many times she screws with them and how much Darker and Edgier and willing to kill the X-Men get, they always let Mystique escape.
    • With X-Men comics taking Death Is Cheap to the limit even by comics standards, by now, nobody takes anybody's death seriously anymore, even in-universe because the writers could no longer keep the cast so epically Genre Blind as to have people hold funerals at every single No One Could Survive That moment. Sure enough, the character always returns and nobody's that surprised. Beast even says it about the villain of the previous arc when it wasn't a bad guy with a long history and a wide fanbase. "The more certain the death, the more sure the resurrection," he says of... some purple guy. However, we haven't seen Khan since.
  • Doctor Doom is almost built on this trope, as it has become nearly a certainty that we are never witnessing the man himself in battle. His character dies in most engagements, turning out to be Actually a Doombot, programmed to impersonate him. It took damnation to Hell itself to keep the character down, and even then, he escaped.
    • Don't forget the good Doctor is also a sorcerer who can swap minds with nearby bystanders and had to do so to avoid being killed by Terrax once (and left the bystander's mind to die in his body). This means he's not even in his original body anymore and thus death need not take should you somehow destroy the 'real' Doctor Doom.
    • Victor's gotten so adept at escaping death that the Fantastic Four won't even pretend to believe he's dead anymore. Hickman's FF run ended with Doom on the other side of a collapsing dimensional portal, trapped in a universe facing imminent destruction, and surrounded by four berserk Celestials. (For the non-reader, the power gap between a Celestial and your average superhero is roughly comparable to the gap between the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs and a slap with a wet noodle). The FF's reaction was to start a betting pool not on whether Doom would finally die this time, but on how long it would take him to come back. (IIRC, the winning bet was "six months").
  • Built into the concept of Hack Slash, but the characters who obtrusively show this are Laura, Ashley, and Cassie's mom.
  • Marvel's Ultimate Universe series seems to be making a conscious effort at averting this trope, along with many of the other cliches from the mainstream Marvel universe. When a character dies (even a major legacy one like Magneto), they STAY dead. (Then again, the series is still young, and down the line they may end up bringing back dead baddies when they start to run out of villains).
    • Recently Ultimate Hammerhead has returned to life with no explanation as to how he survived having his skull detonated by Ultimate Gambit (though the incident did leave him complaining about constant headaches).
    • Some Ultimate Universe villains (Dr. Doom and Kingpin) completely averted this trope. They were killed by opponents who just casually walked into the villains' headquarters and executed these nemeses with little effort. Other villains such as Magneto, have recently been resurrected in the Ultimate Universe.
  • Jigsaw of The Punisher, to the point that the story arc in Punisher War Journal by Matt Fraction about him specifically deals with this, as Jigsaw has become Genre Savvy over the years and even calls the Punisher out on this... mentioning others' opinions that it's due to Foe Yay. What makes this a notable example of Joker Immunity is that despite letting him go several times, Frank DID kill Jigsaw several years ago—he was brought back with voodoo or something. In general, Jigsaw is notable because his enemy is the Punisher, who usually kills any adversary he comes across -- very few Punisher villains are recurring; it's really just Jigsaw and Rapido.
    • However, at the end of this arc, Jigsaw finally is killed by his allies Lynn Michaels and Ian. Soon after, however, Stuart Clarke, briefly Frank's "new Micro" before he discovered Frank killed his girlfriend, was horribly scarred on his face in a bloody fight with Frank, effectively becoming the new Jigsaw.
    • Recently revealed that he isn't dead after all.
  • Galvatron in the UK Transformers comic. Simon Furman brought in Galvatron from the Transformers movie, thanks to the magic of time travel, and used him as his principal villain (since the US comics weren't going to use the movie characters at all, meaning Furman didn't have to worry about contradicting the US continuity). Galvatron was used for two years, in which time he got shot, blown up, blasted with missiles and trapped inside a volcano which then exploded with ten times its normal force (due to his own dubious plan to tap the volcano with an energy-siphoning device), but survived each time due to reader popularity. For his final appearance, Galvatron had half his face blown off by an energy weapon so powerful its recoil killed its wielder (Roadbuster) and was then attacked by just about ever single still-breathing character in the comic. He finally died when a rip in the fabric of space/time tore him down to a robotic skeleton and finally consumed him, causing most of the comic readership to breathe a massive sigh of relief.
    • Furman then took over the US comic and decided it was a shame that the US readership had missed out on the Adventures of Insane Unkillable Uber Galvatron, so brought a new version of Galvatron into the comic from a parallel timeline. This Galvatron was somewhat saner than the previous one and wasn't the primary antagonist of the entire series, but him coming back in a new form seemed a bit cheesy given the lengths needed to kill his predecessor.
    • An even more and extreme example is Galvatron's creator (sort of) Unicron. Unicron appears in Transformers: The Movie and dies. His head survived as Cybertron's new moon and is revealed to still be functional in several cartoon episodes. The comics set after the movie, which follow a different continuity to the cartoon, also depict him surviving and nearly having a new body built before his head gets blown up, but his essence gets absorbed by the Matrix and occasionally emerges in a demonic spiritual form to wreak havoc. To then confuse things, Furman then proclaimed that a ton of time travel in the comics had changed the timeline so that the movie never happens, allowing the Unicron of the present (1990, in that case) to show up and attack Cybertron before getting killed. Unicron then makes a cameo appearance in Beast Wars before going on to be a primary antagonist in the Unicron Trilogy. Furman later ruled that Unicron (and his enemy, Primus) exists in every single dimension, timeline and reality of the Transformers Multiverse, and his destruction in one reality has no impact on the others, giving him carte blanche to resurrect Unicron at will no matter how many times or completely he dies.
      • However, Furman seemed to change his mind and decide this was rather silly: the new Transformers comics from IDW will apparently not feature the Unicron/Primus mythos at all. Granted, he said that about Female Transformers, too, then gave us Arcee anyway...
      • The Powers That Be have said that the same goes for Transformers Animated. However, the Transformers "powers that be" changing their minds would not be unprecedented. (However however, after three whole shows in which Unicron was highly prominent, letting the idea rest so as not to wear out his threat value with overuse - just ask the Borg what that's like - seems logical.)
    • Another Transformers example should surely include Starscream, who repeatedly came back in the cartoon, even after he was killed for real in the movie, as a ghost mind. Heck, he even came back in Beast Wars. Also his most recent incarnation in Animated came back after being killed, thanks to an All Spark fragment, which allowed him to repeatedly come back from then on. There's even a Montage of him being killed by Megatron, his body dumped, and him coming back again.
    • Beast Wars also had another example in Waspinator, though, unusually for this trope, he was the Butt Monkey of the series. Still, not only did he get blown to bits only to come back again afterwards (to be blown to bits again), but in a very true sense of this trope, he was supposed to be Killed Off for Real at the end of one season, but his Popularity among fans meant they decided against it. Similarly, Inferno was shown to be destroyed - hell, vaporized - at the end of one season, but at the beginning of the next season he was just shown to be extra scorched, though that one was more that the writers hadn't been expecting to get another season...
    • Megatron himself should count, given his longevity on the series and repeated monstrous acts.
  • Archie Comics Sonic the Hedgehog plays with this concept. Though Robotnik Prime (the Big Bad from the main universe) died, he was succeeded by another, roboticized version of himself from an alternate who was originally capable of surviving death for a period in the series. However, he is human again. And continuity tends to treat them as the same character, more or less.
  • While he isn't really an A-lister, Captain America (comics)'s enemy Baron Zemo must have been somewhat popular to constantly return from certain death time and again, always having some barely-acceptable excuse at the ready. He'd fall into boiling-hot glue...but come back to reveal that there had been an escape trap in the vat just in case of an accident. He'd fall off a mansion roof to the concrete waiting below...only to return with a neckbrace, but other than that doing pretty good. Even Zemo once compared one of his deaths to a comic book "demise" and narrated it thusly for Spider-Man.
    • Although we're on the second Baron Zemo right now, the first having died in WWII, so at least one of them took.
  • Lampshaded in the first arc of Tom Strong with a subversion; whilst being led on a tour of one of his old bases by his recently-resurfaced arch-nemesis Paul Saveen, Tom comes across a row of waxwork statues of some of his old enemies, one of whom "actually died that last time [you fought]" by falling into the Niagara Falls and snapping her neck, implying she (and the others) had a tendency to stage deaths of this nature. Subverted again when it turns out Saveen, himself thought to be dead, actually is dead as well; the 'Saveen' involved here is an impostor.
  • Subverted as early as 1965 in Gilbert Shelton's Help! magazine strip Wonder Wart-hog. At the end of "The Return of the Masked Meanie," Wonder-Wart-Hog feeds the Meanie into a hand-cranked meat grinder. "And this," says the Hog of Steel, "will insure [sic] that you don't come back and pester us, Meanie." Below the panel, a breathless narration box intones: "Will the Masked Meanie survive the meat grinder and return to harass society? Will he? What a stupid question!" Except, of course, that the Meanie did return in "Wonder Wart-Hog and the Merciless, Menacing Masked Meanie."
  • Deconstructed in Alan Moore's Promethea. The Captain Ersatz of the Joker, the Painted Doll, is revealed to have been a series of robots built by a traitor in the team, each programmed to activate and climb out of the river with hazy memories when the previous one was deactivated. When they're all activated at once, they kill each other, and the last one standing decides to become a good guy.
  • The Red Skull practically invented this trope. He doesn't even have his original body anymore. Lampshaded in issue two of Ed Brubaker's "Captain America", where Cap refuses to believe that Red Skull is truly dead after A GUNSHOT WOUND TO THE HEAD!
    • And with good reason. The Red Skull has seemingly died numerous times throughout history but he always finds a way to cheat death to the point of being a Running Gag. Buried within the rubble of a bombed building? He gets put into suspended animation by experimental gas. Death by old age? He just had his mind put into a clone of Captain America. Obliterated by the cosmic cube? He reconstituted himself using the cube's power and sheer force of will. Assassinated by the aforementioned gunshot? He used another cosmic cube to transplant his mind into the very person who ordered him killed before dying. His host is ventilated by a machine gun? Armin Zola puts his mind into a robot body. Plots to transfer his mind into Captain America's body only to have it cast out? He transfers his mind into an even bigger robot body! Giant robot body blown up by missiles? Just wait.
  • Really, as with Karma Houdini, almost every comic book supervillain will benefit from this trope. Only those who are notably unpopular or have since been replaced by different characters using the same gimmick will be done away with for good (even then it doesn't always stick).
  • Tannarak, foe of The Phantom Stranger, took this to ridiculous levels. He was killed by a falling statue in his first appearance. Then he came back, and died when a temple fell on him. Then he came back again, and was killed when the phoenix he was riding on fell to the ground. Then he came back yet again, and was de-aged into nothingness - and then returned in Batman and the Outsiders where he died again, of course. Tannarak gleefully lampshaded this phenomenon, always telling the Phantom Stranger (with a completely straight face): "Hah! Did you expect a falling statue/collapsing temple/etc. to really kill me?"
  • Manhunter (the one who's a working mother) began her career as a superhero because she's sick of this trope. Her first successful kill was of Copperhead.
  • Cobra Commander is an apt representation of this trope. In the first comic book series, he was shot dead, only to find out that it was actually an impostor who was killed. In the first animated movie, he was turned into a snake, and later got better. He has also been caught in numerous explosions that should of left him killed or maimed, only later to return without a scratch or an explanation of how he escaped.
  • Averted big time in "Punisher Kills The Marvel Universe" a What If? where the Punisher (whose family in this universe were accidentally killed in a superhero battle rather than a mob slaying) kills off every superhuman on Earth, often using no more than common sense and real world weaponry.
    • Although, the "Joker Immunity" applied to the Punisher in the story as he kept escaping prison over and over again with nobody killing him before he could create new methods to kill off more superhumans.
  • Deadpool's Joker immunity is actually rationalized by his extreme healing factor, possibly even faster than Wolverine's, as a result of being "Cursed with Life" by Thanos - literal Plot Armor. But really who wouldn't love the 4th wall breaking merc with a mouth?
  • In John Ostrander's writing of the Spectre, his human host (Jim Coorigan) asks Father Cramer why the Spectre never responded to the murder of Coastal City. Father Cramer suggested that the Spectre was designed by God only to respond to certain cries for vengeance.
  • In the DC Universe, it seems significantly easier to qualify for the insanity defense than in the real world. Take the Scarecrow for example, the extent to which he prepares and analyzes his crimes suggests that he is aware of the difference between right and wrong.
  • Let us not forget Shredder. Since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Mirage was originally meant to be a one-shot, the Big Bad was killed by having Donatello bat a grenade in his face, knocking him off the building as it exploded. As the issue got unbelievably popular, Shredder was brought back to life with no explanation.
  • Prior to Darkseid's death in Final Crisis, the villain seemed to be an apt representation of this trope. One time when the Hal Jordan Specter "killed" Darkseid, the villain was instantly resurrected. The suggested implication was that Darkseid was a universal necessity needed to represent evil (after all, you supposedly can't have good if there is no evil).
  • In the Warrior (the professional wrestler the Ultimtate Warrior) comic book, an evil spirit possessing the Ultimate Warrior's body murders over 40 major world leaders. Apparently secret service was a joke and there was only one witness who was able to testify on television. You can see the laughable absurdity here
  • The first Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) is an apt representation of the "Joker Immunity" After being dead for around 20 years, Norman was resurrected. He later got pardoned and was promoted to being head of the national security agency H.A.M.M.E.R and the Avengers during Dark Reign. After being arrested again for launching war against Asgard, Norman then got pardoned again and led his new band of Avengers.
  • In the new DC Universe, heroes such as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Superman, and Hal Jordan seem to be fine with murdering aliens in battle. Nevertheless, human villains such as Joker and Deathstroke continue to remain at large.
  • Maintained with the New DC Universe version of Harley Quinn who shot through the spine and then completely healed with a Lazarus Pit injection from Amanda Waller..
  • Superman lampshaded this trope in Public Enemies.

Superman: Why is it that the good villains never die?
Batman: Clark, what the hell are "good villains"?

  • Wolverine's former senei Ogun was beheaded. Came back all the same under numerous guises, be it ghost or demon, apparition or possession.
  • Max Allan Collins, second writer on Dick Tracy, once said that it's true Tracy himself would never die, by virtue of being the main character, but all of the other characters were mortal. It is worth noting that both Collins, and the strip's originator Chester Gould, were never afraid of injuring the living daylights out of poor Dick, though.



  • Subverted by CS Lewis in Prince Caspian, and played up in the movie version, with the villains' failed plan to resurrect The White Witch.
    • Then played straight when she (maybe) comes back in The Silver Chair.
      • It could be a different witch.
  • In Warrior Cats, Tigerstar takes this to the logical extreme, since he keeps appearing even though he died over two series ago. However, his limited interaction with the living world makes him much less of a threat then when he was alive, and his involvement in the earlier books of tPoT was somewhat lacking. But on the other hand, the author has made some Word of God statements regarding whether or not dead cats can die again, and it sounds as if there is simply no way to get rid of him.
  • Averted in the Magic: The Gathering novels for the Ravnica setting. The leader of House Dimir (Ravnica's Big Bad) was actually arrested (and killed) at the end of the first book. This actually bites Our Heros in the butt in the third book, when it's revealed that the reason why Ravnica has experienced a rash of major disasters: because the complex system running the world was dependent on having a Big Bad being a Big Bad.
    • Lampshaded too:

Agrus Kos: So I should've just let Szadek drain Selesnya's life away? That makes no sense.
Grand Arbiter Augustin IV: It is a paradox.

  • Yawgmoth would almost fit the trope, if anyone cared about the Onslaught cycle. And even if anyone did, unfortunately (for this editor and other Yawgie fans) the Time Spiral cycle confirmed it was All Just a Dream Karona was having.
  • Brutally subverted in Stationery Voyagers with Clandish Consto. In spite Nonpriel's use of the Idiot Ball to bring Consto back from S-chip retirement, he gets trapped by Maurice in the Haragad Cavity, making Nonpriel's bending over backwards to bring him back look that much more ridiculous to the rest of the RMM. It then takes over 60 years before he can get out and go back to being himself.
  • In the Harry Potter books, the Series Goal is to defeat Lord Voldemort, so obviously he can't be killed until the end of the last book.
    • Justified in universe - indeed the entire plot was about the heroes trying to find a way to overcome the magicks Voldemort was using that allowed him to return from death. Once they finally found and destroyed all the artifacts Voldemort was using to tether himself to unlife, actually killing him required one scene.
  • Artemis Fowl and Captain Holly Short will stop being tormented by Opal Koboi when readers stop finding her mania amusing. And considering all she's survived so far, it doesn't look like that world's most insane pixie will be going anywhere any time soon.
  • Visser One in Animorphs ended at least two books in some kind of highly ambiguous, possible-death situation only to reappear in later books.
  • In the Percy Jackson series, the monsters of Classical Mythology have an in-universe Joker Immunity. Some sort of divine law makes them unable to truly die; doing so might banish them to the Underworld for a century or so, but they'll be back eventually. This is, of course, a Plot Device to explain how iconic mythological beasts like the Minotaur, Medusa, and the Hydra can challenge Percy and his friends in modern times, despite having been slain by Theseus, Perseus, and Heracles, respectively.
  • Rincewind in Discworld, maybe.
    • No, as in "The Colour of Magic" it is openly written that the gods of Discworld, who played their strategic board game (where the board was Discworld itself and their figures were the well known Heroes of Discworld) were controlling these heroes, and basically everything, to such an extent that even Rincewind himself realised by the end of the book that someone or something 'must be keeping them alive'; well played, since the happenings were just the descriptions of the gods Lady and Fate battling the longest in the game. When Rincewind and company literally flies out of the disc of the Discworld it is an established fact that Lady, who was a notorious cheater, succeeded in not letting Fate win over her in the game.
    • Word of God is that Granny Weatherwax, despite being an old woman when we first met her thirty-something books ago, is "probably immortal".

Live Action TV

  • Off-and-on Big Bad Scorpius was only supposed to be part of a two episode arc on Farscape but ended up sticking around and becoming very popular and kept returning, even after being shot and buried on screen. He even earned a Promotion to Opening Titles after we learned that he's actually a Well-Intentioned Extremist with an enemy in common with the heroes.
  • The Master of Doctor Who. Despite causing widespread death and destruction in his very first appearance, he returned for every episode of the season and then some. Sure, the Doctor may be a Technical Pacifist, but UNIT and The Brigadier would have no qualms about a quick execution. To further the trope, he was killed off in "Planet of Fire", then in the Made for TV Movie, and most recently in the new series - twice. No one expects it to stick.
    • It's especially strange in the Master's case when they usually don't even bother explaining his survivals by having him regenerate.
    • The Daleks rival the Master for the amount of times they've been "killed off completely", with a total of seven times (one off-screen). In order: The Daleks, The Evil of the Daleks, Rememberance of the Daleks, the Time War, "Dalek", "The Parting of the Ways", and "Journey's End." (They also get nearly wiped out in "Doomsday" and "Evolution of the Daleks," though in both cases a survivor or four escapes using "E-MER-GEN-CY TEM-POR-AL SHIFT!") Thankfully, Steven Moffat left out an escape route for the Daleks in the first story under his tenure. Davros has a similar reputation, apparently being killed off in every appearance apart from Remembrance of the Daleks.
    • The Cybermen are frequently killed off or otherwise sealed away, though due to severe Anachronic Order of their stories and multiple factions of Cybermen this can muddle things incredibly.
  • Heroes' Sylar for whom the universe will bend over backwards to let continue killing people and acquiring powers. Possibly the most ridiculous case is the Volume 4 opener where a squad has been given orders to shoot to kill, and instructions on how to make it stick...and when they get the shot, managing to take him by surprise and everything, they use tasers.
    • Even more egregious given that he was "dead" at the end of Volume 3 and then re-appeared without so much as a Hand Wave at the start of Volume 4. After a number of Volume 4 episodes they did handwave it, but it was pretty stupid even for a handwave.
    • In the penultimate episode of Volume 4, he gets knifed in the back of the head by Danko, only to get right back up in complete violation of the show's Magic A Is Magic A for regeneration.
      • Which was handwaved in the finale as his shapeshifting allowing him to move "the button" that turns the brain off. Um, as in the brain stem??
    • In the Volume 4 finale, the heroes finally render him unconscious and have this one chance to end him for good. But Angela and Noah collectively grab the Idiot Ball and order Matt Parkman to erase his memories and force him to assume Nathan Patrelli's life (whom he had Killed Off for Real). This genius idea only holds for 4 episodes before Sylar reverts, and meanwhile a Sylar Durden hallucination has been tormenting Parkman.
    • In Volume 5, not one but two major characters try to take him down with heroic sacrifices. Neither work. Nathan's, which involved jumping off a building, was undone before he even hit the ground.
    • Making this even more ridiculous is how he was originally intended to die at the end of the first Volume, involving him being impaled through the chest.
  • Murdoc the Assassin in MacGyver. He keeps "dying" in over the top ways (died in a collapsing building, took a fatal dive off a mountain after cutting his own rope, plunged into a fiery pool after being electrocuted, been careless with dynamite, drowned in a flooded mine shaft, drove a Jeep off of a cliff) and even if he's pronounced dead each time, they never find his body though he couldn't possibly have survived that! It's never adequately explained how he just keeps surviving certain death. After a while, MacGyver simply assumes that if there isn't a body, Mudoc will turn up to try to kill him again eventually, an expectation that causes him increasing tension in time, and understandably so.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer had lots of opportunities to kill Spike and Dru, but she kept letting them get away.
  • Apophis is like this in the early seasons of Stargate SG-1. When they finally manage to make his death stick, Anubis takes on the mantle.

O'Neill: Son of a bitch! Someone's gotta teach that guy how to die.

  • Ben Linus from Lost is too adored by the fan base to get rid of. He lies, manipulates and murders to his hearts content. He's tried to kill Locke so many times we lost count, and he succeeded in season 5. Sayid has been the only one that actually tried to kill him. This is more of a What the Hell, Hero?-moment seeing as Ben is just a kid at the time, and it is heavily implied this attempted murder is what makes Ben what he is today. The writers make up for all this though by having him beat up a lot.
    • By the end of the show he killed (directly or indirectly) four of the main characters, namely Charlie Pace (by giving Mikhail the order to do it), Michael Dawson (by killing Keamy and triggering the explosives), Charlotte Lewis (by initiating time-travel which fried her brain) and John Locke (straight) and several supporting allies, including Jacob himself, and the audience still adores him!
  • Lex Luthor in Smallville. He's been shot, stabbed, and mindwiped. He's had the Fortress of Solitude collapse on his head reducing him to an Evil Cripple, and been blown up in a truck explosion shortly afterwards. The series concludes with his resurrection from the dead, which was of course, a Foregone Conclusion.
  • "Dead Larry" Sizemore of Burn Notice, partly because of his Badass spy skills and his relationship to The Hero, partly because he's just too cool to kill off. In the season 5 summer finale, it looked like death had finally caught up with him... and then a newspaper article said that two people had been found dead. There were three people in that building. Of course, he was literally inches away from the bomb that supposedly killed him, so there might not have been enough left to recognize.
  • Weyoun in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine got a version of this. In his very first appearance, he was killed at the end of the episode. The character proved popular, however, and eventually the show brought him back...or, rather, a clone of him (the Vorta, apparently, have good cloning technology). We eventually meet five different clones of Weyoun throughout the show's run.



  • In Norse folklore, Thor repeatedly battles the Midgard Serpent, yet prior to Ragnarök it always escapes.
  • It can be argued that Norna-Gest from the Old Norse Tale of Norna Gest possesses this kind of immortality. The prophecy that says he won't die before a certain candle that he always carries with him is used up seems to contain the guarantee that he cannot be killed by violence or accidents.

Pro Wrestling

  • The Undertaker is the embodiment of this Trope in the world of Wrestling. During his career, he has been locked inside several flaming caskets, been buried alive, had his career 'ended' following high profile matches and actually 'died and ascended to Heaven'. Despite this, he always returns, once Mark Callaway's nagging injuries have recovered or his holiday time are up.
  • Edge, anyone? For Christ's sake, the man got sent to Hell! And yet he managed to benefit from both this trope and Karma Houdini!

Tabletop Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons:
    • The Tarrasque embodies this trope. How many other monsters' descriptions explicitly state that it takes a Wish spell on top of massive damage and disintegration to make them stay dead? And even if you do apply this solution, nothing says some evil archmage can't use his own Wish to restore it...
      • With wish gone in fourth edition, the description of the tarrasque outright states it to be impossible to kill permanently without launching it into outer space.
      • Back in 3rd edition, it's still possible, however. It can be done in 13 levels or less . For example, you can use duplicates, a pit of water and a giant weight, an army of level 1's with massive magic weapons, a one-man magical army, a bunch of bards playing "Macross" or "Elan" :-), hitting it when it sleeps (find it?), or just plain being badder and nastier than it is.
      • Pfffft. Pikers. Back in 1st edition when men were men and green slime was green slime, you could do it at 1st level with one Unseen Servant spell and, yes, a jar of green slime.
  • Ravenloft
    • Strahd von Zarovich has his own personal Revolving Door Afterlife. He's hogged played the starring role in two 1st Edition modules, a pick-a-path book, an entire 2nd Edition campaign setting, and a 3rd edition hardback adventure; in most he winds up destroyed at the end, yet it never seems to take. Ads for the hardback actually urged 3E gamers: "This time, make sure he's DEAD dead!", yet the Count's back again in 4E, for a boardgame and appearance in Open Grave.
    • Pretty much all the Darklords of the Ravenloft campaign setting (of which Strahd is the most prominent) have it. The true nature of Ravenloft is left intentionally vague, but it functions like a prison dimension from which even death is no escape. All but the weakest Darklords either physically can't die or will return to life in short order if killed.
  • The Quori in Eberron are designed to be this: They are spirits possessing mortal vessels and the death of the host does not kill the inhabiting Quori. Their actual bodies live in a plane of existence (Dal Quor) that cannot be reached by normal planar travel, and only the death of it's actual body will kill a Quori, making them the ideal enemy to throw at the party repeatedly. Oh, and to make things tougher, time in Dal Quor goes by a lot faster than on the material plane, meaning Quoris gets a lot more planning time then the party has access to.
  • Numerous characters in Warhammer 40,000 can and have been killed, but due to the general nature of the Warp this is rarely permanent. Eldar Phoenix Lords live on within their armor, their spirit inhabiting the next person who wears it until they are killed. Lucius the Eternal (and most probably other Champions of the Chaos Gods) is effectively immortal, as anyone who kills him becomes him, becoming yet another person trapped within his armor. Then there's the Daemon Princes and Greater Daemons (also present in Warhammer Fantasy Battle), which can never be killed, only banished to the Warp where they can be summoned again.
    • Lucius only Body Snatches if the opponent takes satisfaction in his kill. So, Tyranids or Necrons or Wraithguards/lords (basically, any emotionless race/character) should all be able to kill him permanently. They never do, though.
    • The Tyranid Swarmlord could also count, in a sense. While it can die, its consciousness will be reabsorbed into the Hive Mind and stored until the Swarmlord is needed again.
      • In the same vein, any Tyranid Tyrant also counts, although unlike the Swarmlord, they're tied to their particular hive fleets, and Hive Fleets can be destroyed.
    • One of the justifications for having "named characters" dying in tabletop games is that they're not really dead, just suffered a horribly incapacitating wound. This allows the players to also create their own characters and build stories for them, without needing to come up with flimsy justifications on how they suck at living.
  • In Magic the Gathering, the nation/world/culture/force of Phyrexia has Joker Immunity. It affected the storyline of most of the game's sets and was the unambiguous villain of a dozen of them, but was finally defeated, apparently for good... but one single drop of oil on Mirrodin was enough to ultimately turn that world into New Phyrexia.

Video Games

  • Axel from Kingdom Hearts. He seemed to die towards the end of Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, only to come back in Kingdom Hearts II (though his screen time reduced significantly), seemingly die in the prologue, then come back again and actually die towards the end of the game when Sora travels to the World That Never Was. He was scheduled to actually die in the prologue; it was his popularity with the fans that bought him some extra time.
    • Also, the new Prequel game, Kingdom Hearts: Birth By Sleep, features Axel's Somebody, Lea.
    • Lea returns in "Kingdom Hearts 3D", this time looking and acting like Axel.
    • The main villain, Xehanort/Ansem seems to be falling into this one as well. Sora killed his Heartless in the first game, but Chain of Memories makes it clear that he's still bumping around inside Riku's mind. He returns in two forms in Kingdom Hearts II with his Nobody, Xemnas and Riku taking his form, having somewhat lost his battle with his Darkness. Both are defeated by the game: Xemnas is dead for good, and Riku is back to normal. However, according to Word of God, this just means his Nobody and heart will merge to form a whole person again, and Xehanort will eventually be back for another round. The prequel game reveals that he's been doing this for a while now, having stolen Terra's body after being defeated for the first time.
    • Maleficent and Oogie Boogie are confirmed dead in the first game. That doesn't stop them from coming back in Kingdom Hearts II, however.
    • They're Disney villains. What do you expect? Ursula was the same, dying in the first game but coming back in the second, while apparently forgetting the events of the first game.
    • Tetsuya Nomura says it best:

Nomura There is no concept of death in the Kingdom Hearts series.

  • For a rather shocking and ironic exception to this trope, there's the ending of Batman for the NES.
    • The game is based (more or less) on the movie, where, as mentioned earlier, The Joker plummets to his death.
      • Nevertheless, this hasn't stopped Sunsoft from making a sequel to said game (called Batman: Return of the Joker), playing it straight.
  • Super Mario franchise:
    • Bowser has almost complete immunity to actually being killed - it's very hard to explain how he comes back from just about every single thing thrown at him listed here, without actually ever being killed off for real. Also, no matter how many bad things he does, he still rules the Koopas, and is still free to kidnap Peach over and over again.
    • Lampshaded in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door - during the Super Mario Bros.-style segments where you play as him, Bowser has infinite lives. Not that he particularly needs them.
    • Super Mario Galaxy is a particularly weird example. Bowser apparently "dies", but then again, the entire universe is sucked into a black hole, resulting in a Big Crunch and a new Big Bang, recreating everything... So he DOES die, he's just regenerated with everything else.
    • In Super Paper Mario, it is revealed he is one of four heroes (with Mario, Peach, and Luigi as the other three) who will stop Count Bleck and the prophecy of doom that threatens to destroy all worlds. Near the end, when Bowser is seemingly crushed, Peach says she isn't worried about him because he isn't easy to get rid of, and has survived worse. Sure enough, Bowser survives due to his tendency to fall through the floor.
    • Played with in New Super Mario Bros., where he's killed 3 times over the course of the game but actually has to be brought back to life.
    • Also played with and invoked in Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story, where his body has a special desperation Hulk Out that the Bros. have to activate to save Bowser from otherwise-certain death.
    • Invoked in Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, where Bowser deliberately leaps off a cliff and seemingly to his doom... only to return in his full giant form, having used the adrenaline of the near-fatal fall to transform. Mario and Giant Luigi must fight him as the last Giant Boss of the game.
  • In the same vein as Bowser, rival team Star Wolf in the Star FOX series are more resilient than any major villain. Even the ex-members manage to come back in Star Fox Command, and in the default ending, Star Wolf manage to attack the enemy base in an acidic ocean and come back in one piece.
    • Similarly, the Star Wolf trio lured the Aparoid underlings away from Star Fox so that the player could finally finish off the Aparoid Queen. At the end, they thought Star Wolf was done for, but then they saw Peppy alive with some minor bruises, and Fox smiles and says that Wolf and the others are alive and well.
    • In a subversion to this, Mission 7: Corneria in Star Fox Assault has a segment where Fox rides Wolf's Wolfen: if Fox fails to protect the Wolfen, Wolf actually dies as his ship explodes, while Fox falls to his death while yelling.
  • Carmen Sandiego; no matter what genre or version she appears in, she's a thief who can be caught, but never held. For instance, in the kids' game show, winning the bonus round meant she was captured, but that only lasted until the next episode. It seemed they simply couldn't build a jail that could hold her.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ganondorf/Ganon continues to appear in the series no matter how many times he gets killed. It's been an actual plot point since Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, where the goal is to prevent him from being resurrected by his minions. At least in The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, which shows Ganondorf's origins, he isn't killed, but sealed in another dimension, explaining his presence in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, which takes place long after he breaks out of the seal.
    • So far, the Wind Waker timeline is the only one where Ganondorf has stayed dead.
    • The ending of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess seemed to indicate that he was Killed Off for Real in the "child" timeline as well, but this Ganondorf reincarnates just in time to hijack The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.
    • Just to clarify, Ganon is the only character in the Zelda series with this kind of immunity. Link and Zelda get old and die after every couple of games, and the next one stars a new version of them in the distant past or future. Ganon is pretty much the same person in every game, meaning that he seems to have all the time in the world to achieve his final victory.
    • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword seemingly gives an explanation for Ganondorf/Ganon's inability to fully die; he's part of a curse laid on Link/Zelda and all of their descendants by Big Bad Demise, though the Triforce of Power also seems to play a part in it as well.
  • Gilgamesh from Final Fantasy V. He survived getting tossed into the void, and EXPLODING himself on an enemy. And he has appeared in half the games in the series (with a few retcons). In ALL of his appearances save for 8, he gets his ass handed to him by the main party and apparently recovers enough for the next game where the cycle restarts again. Now this is all despite the fact that most of the time he is portrayed has utterly incompetent, which is the reason he got his ass hurled into the void in the first place.
  • In Final Fantasy VII, Sephiroth has died a total of three times so far and keeps coming back for more. The novellas Lifestream Black and Lifestream White deal with the specifics in further detail - basic idea is that as long as Jenova cells exist in some way on the Planet, Sephiroth can use their shapeshifting powers to craft a new body for himself. Besides that, as long as he can maintain his sense of self to avoid dissolution, The Lifestream can never claim him and he'll float around the planet for eternity trapped between life and death. Sephiroth's penchant for avoiding death has carried over to the spin-offs: in Kingdom Hearts II and Dissidia Final Fantasy he's defeated but isn't killed, because only Cloud is capable of killing him.
  • M. Bison in Street Fighter may be getting this despite his most chronologically recent death having his soul sent to hell. Street Fighter IV takes place a year after II and a few years before III. Additionally, Akuma's Dynamic Entry with his Shun Goku Satsu on Bison was retconned, according to Word of God. In Ties That Bind, a canon animated feature that came with IV, Bison is shown killing himself to prevent capture at the hands of the heroes, his soul hovering around post-mortem until a suitable replacement body is made (much like in Alpha 3). His fate after IV is still undetermined, although Urien's cryptic remarks with Chun-Li in 3rd Strike at least suggest that Shadaloo was dismantled in the interim.
  • Doctor Robotnik/Eggman hasn't even been in prison for his crimes (except for the one time he broke in deliberately...)
    • Not to mention all the inescapable explosions he's been caught in where he survives with nothing but a coat of ash on him. He has apparently survived the repeated crashes or explosions of his enormous bases with little more than Amusing Injuries in nearly all interpretations of the franchise (his Death Egg burst into flames and crash landed on Angel Island in the climax of Sonic the Hedgehog 2 only for Sonic 3 and Knuckles to reveal he nearly immediately started work on his next scheme just following that).
    • Inverted slightly for the Archie comics depiction. In the Endgame arc Julian Robotnik is indeed killed by his vengeful minion and nephew Snively, twenty or so issues played with the concept of other villains and problems following his defeat, only for a second Robotnik from an alternate timeline to enter and take over from his position (this Robotnik would later take the modern "Eggman" form seen in later games and continues being the Big Bad to this day).
    • Metal Sonic (who was created as a replacement for the deceased Silver Sonic and Mecha Sonic) seemed to get this trope as well. Supposedly killed in Sonic CD, he returns in Knuckles Chaotix, is supposedly killed along with Eggman, returns in Sonic Triple Trouble... He even transforms into a final form when he's the main villain in Sonic Heroes, but unlike the similar battle with Black Doom/Devil Doom in the following game, Metal Sonic survives. He has appeared in 10 games (11 once Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Episode II comes out) - even when completely pulverized (such as his defeat in Sonic Generations), he'll just be rebuilt again at some point...
  • Dr. Albert W. Wily from Mega Man. When Mega Man finally lands his ass in prison, he easily breaks out of it (albeit six months later).
    • In Mega Man 7, Mega is literally a trigger-pull away from killing Wily once and for all, but when Wily brings up the first law of robotics (A Robot must never harm a human) he hesitates just long enough for Bass to save the day (or Wily, whatever). In 8, after Mega's apparent sanity break, Wily never actually gets cornered, so Mega doesn't get to try killing him again (Duo takes care of things, keeping Mega from a final blow). 9 apparently has Mega back to his non-killing attitude for no readily apparent reason, but then, considering he lost his charge shots and his slide ability, it's no wonder he's lost a few other things.
    • Sigma keeps getting killed in the Mega Man X series, only to continue as long as the Sigma virus does. However, this finally came to an end in X8, where his virus was spread out too thinly to kick in his regenerative abilities.
  • Ridley in the Metroid series. He has appeared in all games in the series apart from Metroid II: Return of Samus, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes and Metroid Prime Hunters. Often serves as the (literal) Dragon to a specific game's Big Bad, but he is considered to be Samus' Arch Enemy more than any of the other Big Bads (including Mother Brain), as he is personally responsible for the attack on Samus' homeworld that resulted in the death of her parents. Appearances listed in order of the universe's internal chronology:
    • He is killed in Metroid/Zero Mission, and accompanied by a robot double in Zero Mission.
    • He is then revived as Meta Ridley in Metroid Prime, and guards the entrance to the Impact Crater.
    • Meta Ridley is apparently killed again at the start of Corruption, but returns as the guardian of the Pirate Homeworld Leviathan as Omega Ridley.
    • He is killed yet again (as his original form, somehow) in Super Metroid.
    • A cloned Ridley appears in Metroid: Other M, gets wounded by Samus, and consumed by the Metroid Queen.
    • His drained, frozen husk turns up in Fusion, is consumed by an X, and is later fought as Ridley X.
  • Eliphas the Inheritor of Warhammer 40,000: 'Dawn of War. He's suppose to be dead in Dark Crusade, but due to his popularity he was somehow resurrected for Dawn of War II Chaos Rising. He gets killed there to then he's resurrected again. Likewise for the wonderfully hilarious Gorgutz, who canonically didn't win any of the campaigns he appeared in, but keeps getting away; he's not shown up in Dawn of War II yet, unfortunately, but there's no evidence he's dead either.
  • Geese Howard from Fatal Fury. Oh, and The King of Fighters.
  • Monkey Island's Ghost Pirate LeChuck. As the Voodoo Lady notes, true evil can never be destroyed completely, as LeChuck seems to find a way to come back again in every new game. The inverse of this occurs in The Curse of Monkey Island, where Guybrush begs LeChuck not to kill him, because if Guybrush dies, they can't make any more Monkey Island sequels, and LeChuck would be out of a job, and to prove his point, he ask LeChuck if he's ever heard of Bobbin Threadbare.
  • Arguably Dr Neo Cortex from the Crash Bandicoot series who has survived numerous supposedly inescapable demises, then again due to the slapstick nature, the large majority of the series' Rogues Gallery is the same par maybe the Evil Twins being eaten by Evil Crash in Crash Twinsanity). It helps that Cortex and a lot of other villains take the role of Iron Butt Monkey.
  • Destroyman is sliced in half by Travis Touchdown in the first No More Heroes. This doesn't stop him from returning in the sequel (as two separate people with cybernetics replacing the missing halves). Same goes for Letz Shake, but it's hard to tell if the rocker and the machine merged together by the second game, or if just the machine survived!
  • Zigzagged with Dracula in the Castlevania series. He spent most of the series being defeated and resurrected over and over again, before finally being defeated offscreen in 1999...and then being reincarnated as Soma Cruz in Aria of Sorrow.
  • Mara Aramov from the Syphon Filter series gets headshot twice, but survives until Dark Mirror.
  • In Batman: Arkham City, Joker stays dead for all of five seconds before reviving to trap Batman. The trope then gets a lampshade hung on it via the Enemy Chatter (I mean, it's not like the Joker ever dies, is it?) Then, it's completely subverted, as the Joker actually dies at the end.
    • Arguably Deconstructed in the game, as Joker seems to be banking on his own Joker Immunity throughout the game and Batman's insistence on Thou Shalt Not Kill and Save the Villain. This is despite that Joker's dying the whole game due to Titan poisoning from Batman: Arkham Asylum. It seems that Joker's Joker Immunity pays enough when he suddenly pops up healthier than ever before, but it is Clayface masquerading as him. Later, when Batman stops him from using a Lazarus Pit to cure himself, he stabs Batman when Batman wonders if he should save Joker from dying. Batman knows if he does, Joker will continue killing. But due to Joker stabbing Batman, Batman drops the antidote for Titan poisoning, and Joker loses his only remaining chance to live. And he then dies, averting his own Joker Immunity.
  • Every character ever in Mortal Kombat. For a game that's all about killing your defeated opponents, none of the heroes ever manage to permanently put down the villains, unless they're being replaced by someone bigger and badder the next game.
    • And don't forget the reboot.
  • King K Rool in Donkey Kong Country. Many, many games (three SNES platformers, the Nintendo 64 game, most spinoffs prior to Returns) and despite going through things that would kill any normal individual (blown up, punched through windows, attacked by sharks, caught in a volcano, electrocuted and attacked by the Kongs multiple times), he keeps coming back for more. Yes, even after his actions destroyed his home country.
  • Averted in Deus Ex, where nearly every boss can be killed before the big confrontation. Sometimes they can be killed while they are still aligned as friendly and through surreptitious and underhanded ways.
  • Executioners: The Executioners defeat the Final Boss Cannibal Ed Bujone. Ed blows up the factory with dynamite strapped to in a Taking You with Me maneuver, but the Es escape. Later, the Es are at a restaurant, ordering a fine meal to celebrate their victory. The waiter suddenly says the Catch Phrase, "So much meat, so little time!" The Es can only look up in horror as their waiter turns out to be Ed, alive, well(?), and letting out an Evil Laugh! Word of God states that Ed is his favourite character, which would explain how he survived and returned so quickly!
  • In MadWorld, this is something of a Running Gag with the Black Baron, the Final Boss and emcee of the Deathwatch competition. Regularly, he will show up to explain how each Bloodbath Challenge works, and then his assistant Mathilda appears to provide a visual demonstration, using him as the victim. However, he reappears at each and ever Bloodbath Challenge and she kills him again and again, only seemingly Killed Off For Real in the actual Boss Battle, where again, Mathilda shows up to give Jack a weapon he uses to finish him off. (Mathilda clearly doesn't like him much.) Possibly the introductory events are simply staged using special effects, but stranger things happen in this game....
  • The true overreaching antagonist of Five Nights at Freddy's, William Afton (aka the Purple Guy, Springtrap, Scraptrap, Glitchtrap, and Burntrap); a child-killer and sadist who is a Hate Sink and Hated By His Own Men, he nonetheless seems too essential to the franchise's plot to truly be killed. In fact, he has been killed, more than once, only to come back as either an undead being or living computer virus. He even boasts about it from time to time, his Catchphrase being, “I always come back!”


  • Both used and averted in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, which is partially inspired by Batman. Certain villains won't seem to die at the end of the story arc despite the Doc not considering prison an option for his foes, including Ronald McDonald, Dracula, and King Radical. However, in the "DARE" arc, which was more inspired by 80's action movies, the villain dies NOT!, and Doc shows no mercy toward pirates.
  • Oasis from Sluggy Freelance fits this trope perfectly, regularly returning from the dead. The comic even Lampshaded the trope after another of her deaths. "Yes, a dynamic character with a proven ability to return from certain death falls from a great height leaving no sign of a corpse? Yeah, We'll never see her again."
  • The cast of Adventurers! are aware of this trope. When Khrima's fortress is destroyed in an accident fairly early in the strip, Ardam asks Drecker if he thinks they've seen the last of him. Then they both burst out in laughter.
  • Jack Noir/Spades Slick of Homestuck. We have seen four different incarnations of the same Archagent, and the only time one of them was seen dead was in an averted timeline. Andrew Hussie even goes so far as to somehow rescue Spades Slick from the destroyed A2 universe and nurse him back to health in an as-of-yet unspecified location.
  • The Bob and George web comic has the two characters mention several times that they can't die because they're title characters.
  • All the Light Warriors in 8-Bit Theater have/suffer under this, but Black Mage stands out in particular. How so? The author has explicitly stated that every event in the comic is a set-up to Black Mage being hurt, which is to say that no matter what happens, he will continue to exist just to be harmed.

Western Animation

  • In action shows geared towards kids, the hero rarely kills, for obvious reasons, allowing villains like Dr. Drakken from Kim Possible or Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget to be let off the hook every time.
  • Instead of being sent to jail, most Batman villains are sent to an easily escapable insane asylum. One episode of Batman: The Animated Series featured a guard at the asylum fired for his (relatively minor, all things considered) abuses of the prisoners. He then quickly became an incarceration-themed Knight Templar supervillain called Lock-Up.
    • Clay Face should get a mention here since he has had at least 2 on screen deaths only to get back up later.
    • The Joker, the namesake of this trope, is resistant to death in the animated series. He can survive long falls and explosions that would kill just about anyone else. One would suspect that, like Team Rocket, the Joker is actually immortal, if he wasn't ironically one of the few characters to actually die in the show, although in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker, Tim is transformed into a clone of the Joker through a microchip, so the Joker returns once again, but is later destroyed. Harley, however, falls into a pit in the same sequence where the Joker dies, and nonetheless lives, reforms, and has kids and grandkids, popping up at the end of the movie.
    • One of the Batman Adventures comics written by Paul Dini begins with the Joker falling out of a police blimp after a climactic fight with Batman, and proceeds to show how he spends the rest of his night getting back to one of his lairs.
  • Ernie the Giant Chicken on Family Guy always returns for another round of his eternal blood feud with Peter Griffin, despite having suffered a twenty-story fall (although Peter himself survived that), been eviscerated by an airplane propeller, and suffered massive cranial trauma.
  • Also, The Simpsons' Sideshow Bob, but that's mainly a case of Cardboard Prison.
    • Well, that, and, as he explained to Edna Krabappel on a date once, he's never actually successfully killed anybody (Mrs. Krabappel looks more than a little disappointed to hear this).
    • This is mutual, as when Sideshow Bob had the chance to finally kill Bart, he can't do it because he's grown accustomed to his face, owing his very existence to hating him.
  • In Teen Titans, Slade plays this one straight, but with surprisingly good in-story justification. In the first two seasons, he's The Chessmaster, so the Titans never actually face him directly until the season finales. Season one gives him a Villain Exit Stage Left, but season two (seemingly) averts this trope by actually killing him. His only appearance in the third season is as a hallucination tormenting Robin, and he's specifically resurrected to serve as The Dragon by season four's new Big Bad, Trigon. As a result, this is clearly a case of the writers wanting to keep the villain around because they like him, but it's always justified in-story (which is actually somewhat surprising, seeing as the Teen Titans team used plenty of tropes without bothering to justify them with anything but Rule of Cool).
  • In an episode of future Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the Joker himself lampshades this trope after being thought dead.

Joker: Oh who cares? I've been blown up, thrown down smokestacks, fed to sharks; I'm the Joker! I always survive!

  • Interestingly Disney seem to have granted this to Shere Khan of The Jungle Book (despite being killed by Mowgli in the original novel). The Disney animated adaption and its sequel are among the very few films in Disney Animated Canon to omit a Disney Villain Death, while he is about the only villain not to be killed off in the live action adaption. He is also a recurring Anti-Villain in Tale Spin and Jungle Cubs.
  • The Shredder/Oroku Saki/Ch'rell from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2003 has survived so many instances where he was thought dead, only to come back, that even when he actually does seem to be Killed Off for Real in Turtles Forever, Splinter still doesn't doubt the possibility of survival.
  • Metalocalypse‍'‍s Doctor Rockso the rock n' roll clown. He does cocaine. He is also the only known friend of Toki who did not die before the episode was over.
  • Vilgax from the Ben 10 franchise. He's been strapped to a missile, thrown into the void of space, trapped in another dimension, and had a spaceship explode in his face three times—but the squid-faced bastard just keeps coming back. Even in another alternate timeline, when a grown-up Ben tore Vilgax to pieces and froze what was left, Vilgax was quickly revived and no less dangerous. It's gotten so ridiculous that Vilgax himself lampshades his miraculous survival in "The Flame Keeper's Circle".
  • In Batman Beyond, the villain Mad Stan points out how he'll just break out of prison and keep coming back over and over after Batman foils his latest terrorist bombing, prompting Batman to beat him to death. It was really Barbara Gordon getting a hallucination from the villain Spellbinder; Mad Stan was alive and returns in another episode.
    • That said, Batman Beyond has a startling tendency to avert Joker Immunity a number of times, mostly because Terry is unable or unwilling to save villains from themselves
  • Albert W Wily's immunity is even more noticeable in the Mega Man Ruby-Spears cartoon than in the games; his Skull Castle is incredibly conspicuous and immovable, yet the military never once tries to attack it. To add insult to injury, he and his robots slip out of Mega Man's grasp every single episode, no matter how close he was to finally apprehending him. It's a wonder Mega hasn't snapped yet.
  • ReBoot‍'‍s Megabyte has this in spades. He's in a city that doesn't have the capacity to delete him, protected by a Guardian who doesn't want to (Except for that one time.), and has a much more powerful sister who, despite having ample capability and opportunity to do so, doesn't. Even when they finally manage to get rid of him, he comes back, with whole new powers, and his sister conveniently taken out of the picture not long before.

Real Life

  • In the beginning of the Iraq war, before Saddam Hussein was actually captured, Patton Oswalt referred to people believing he was already dead, saying "That's how the Joker dies every month in Batman!"
  • Clearly, the untimely death of Heath Ledger subverted this trope. In The Dark Knight Saga, Ledger's Joker even mentions how they're destined to fight without killing each other all but promising to bring the character back.
  • Fidel Castro outlived a dozen U.S. administrations, several of which had actively been trying to kill him with a series of increasingly Wile E. Coyote-esque plots. Ultimately Old Man Time is what did him in. His bodyguard claimed there had been 638 assassination attempts.
  • Adolf Hitler. The man survived 42 assassination attempts, some of which failed only due to the sort of Contrived Coincidence that would lead to any work of fiction being pitched into the near wall.
  • Osama Bin Laden had managed to evade the American military, who had been actively pursuing him for at least a decade. It reached the point where when bin Laden was reported to have been shot dead, a fifth of Americans didn't believe it happened.
    • Likewise, during the 2011 Libyan revolution, there'd been so many prior false reports of Gadhafi's death or capture that news services and government officials had to await solid verification before acknowledging that he'd finally been killed.
  • North Korea is an apt example of this trope. Despite having ruinous famines (an equal percentage of both soldiers and civilians perished during the 1990s famine) the regime still continues its economically-/humanitarian-disastrous policies. The third and most recent ruler, Kim Jong Un, gives no indication of changing the country's policies.