Skeleton Motif YKTTW Discussion

Skeleton Motif
Skeleton imagery makes anything darker
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(permanent link) added: 2011-04-01 14:49:02 sponsor: FrodoGoofballCoTV edited by: DAN004 (last reply: 2016-02-04 05:57:42)

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DAN 004 wuz ere takin over ur druft

When you find a complete skeleton, it's a strong sign that its former owner is Deader Than Dead. Thus it's only natural that skeletons symbolize death, evil, and, well, scary things. So, to symbolize a character's darker side or to give them that "Dead Serious" (pun intended) edge, it's only natural to use imagery associated with bones, skeletons, or skulls.

This trope can take many forms. While some characters may use real bones, photographs, or detailed drawings of bones to construct their motif, something as subtle as a pattern on a T-shirt or a piece of jewelry that vaguely resembles a skull can be just as effective. Sometimes the writer chooses a skeletal appearance for a character to make them scarier, and sometimes the character will use skeletal imagery deliberately, perhaps to frighten enemies, or to make themselves seem edgier.

For "bad" characters in particular, a Big Bad, or a member of a Five-Bad Band or Quirky Miniboss Squad will use a Skeleton Motif for their own appearance or for that of their mooks. This is often done deliberately by a Card-Carrying Villain or a Harmless Villain looking for respect. Not surprisingly, this is especially common in franchises with Black and White Morality that make use of Dark Is Evil, or when the villains are Putting on the Reich.

On the other hand, many AntiHeroes also use a Skeleton Motif as part of a Dark Is Not Evil or Good Is Not Nice personna.

Typically, because Beauty Equals Goodness and Evil Is Cool, heroes with a Skeleton Motif usually have a normal or mostly normal face underneath their skeleton mask, while that's less true of villains.

Subtropes and closely related tropes:

Note: please put examples that fit one of the tropes above on the appropriate page rather than here.
  • Age Without Youth: an immortal character looks their age, often resembling a skeleton.
  • Bad with the Bone: a character uses a bone as a weapon.
  • Dem Bones: an undead creature made entirely of bone.
  • Desert Skull: Nothing better to immediately show the ominous imagery of dangerous deserts than by showing a skull (tends to be bovine) on the desert grounds.
  • Flaming Skulls: Because fire makes everything better - for a certain meaning of "better" in skulls' case.
  • Nothing but Skulls: A pile of skulls without other bones evoke horror and sense of danger.
  • Our Liches Are Different: a highly magical undead creature that retains the personality they had in life even as nothing but bits of a decaying skeleton remain; these creatures are usually very bad guys.
  • Skele Bot 9000: a robot looks like a skeleton.
  • Skeletons in the Coat Closet: a character wears real bones as part of their clothing.
  • Skull Cups: When skulls are turned into drinking cups. Those who own it are typically dark and have a thing for the macabre; if they're warriors, it's often the skull of the enemies he's slain, showing superiority.
  • Skull for a Head: a character's face or head looks like a skull, either due to disfigurement or supernatural phenomena.


Anime and Manga:
  • From Berserk, the Skull Knight is a very good Anti-Hero example.
  • In Skull Man, the title character is a masked Type V Anti-Hero.
  • Ichigo of Bleach has always been a prime example of Dark Is Not Evil, as black clothes and flames have always been associated with his character. However, during the "Lost Substitute Shinigami" arc, Ichigo gains a new ability known as a "Fullbring", whose ultimate form is to cover his body in a skeleton-themed armor.
    • Later in the same arc, Ginjou does a Face-Heel Turn and steals those powers, and then he REALLY gets good use out of the imagery.
  • This motif is played with in One Piece in Chopper's past: while he's making a soup for his ill foster father, he's reading a book of kinds of mushrooms; he comes across one noted with skull and crossbones near it. He thinks that it's like the pirates' jolly rogers, i.e symbolizing their free spirit, so he tries to obtain it. Of course, unbeknownst to Chopper, said mushroom turns out to be poisonous (the true meaning of such skull symbol), but his father just chooses to eat the soup with it so he won't let Chopper down.

Comic Books:
  • Batman, not surprisingly, has multiple examples:
    • In Streets of Gotham, after being accidently disfigured, Judson Pierce decides to adapt Skeleton imagery as his symbol, and takes on the name "Skel".
    • The Jackies, Mooks for the evil organization Jackal. More of a parody example, as they are much less fearsome than their appearance would imply.
  • In the Marvel Universe, the Punisher is a vigilante who kidnaps, tortures and kills criminals. He wears a uniform/shirt with a skull insignia on the chest. It is deliberately done so that people aim for his better-armoured chest, rather than his head or joints.
  • Long before the Punisher, a Golden Age superhero called Black Terror wore a black costume with a skull and crossbones insignia. He also had a sidekick who wore a similar costume; together they were known as "Terror Twins". During The '80s Golden Age revival, the character was several time reimagined as a grim and gritty Anti-Hero under different aliases like "Terror", "Holy Terror" and even "Terrorist". He also appeared in Alan Moore's Tom Strong. He sometimes appears in more recent comics as well: e.g. in one comic series he was given a Race Lift and called himself "Blackest Terror".

Film Animated
  • The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad features a house party scene in which Brom Bones recounts to Ichabod Crane the legend of the Headless Horseman (and turning it into a musical number, natch). One of the party guests is a skeletal-looking fellow who sings the line, "And some don't even wear their skin!"
  • In Toy Story, Sid (something closest to a "villain" in the movie) wears a skull T-shirt.
  • In Ratatouille, food critic Anton Ego has a gaunt, skeletal appearance befitting his role as The Dreaded among restauranteurs. To bring the point home, his office is shaped like a coffin, and his typewriter resembles a skull.

Film Live Action
  • In Major League Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn has a skull and crossbones on the nosepiece of the Nerd Glasses that he wears while pitching.
  • In Cecil B. Demented, Raven wears an outfit with rainbow-colored bones down the front of it.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road: Immortan Joe's empire is resembled by a flaming skull emblem. Joe's pale hue and breathing apparatus also personally makes him resemble a skeleton.

  • In the novel Rivers of London the badge of The Skeleton Army is an important clue in tracking the spectral serial killer.
  • Discworld's Death, being an anthropomorphic personification of, well, death, lives in a pocket dimension where nearly everything - furniture, tools, his house, etc. - has some kind of bone-and-skull motif to it. Things that aren't are usually something that was brought in from the real world.
  • Irvine Welsh's novels feature skeleton imagery as an metaphor for heroin addiction (particularly the cover artwork).

Live-Action TV
  • That Mitchell and Webb Look: Discussed in a sketch wherein two Nazi SS soldiers begin to notice that they're wearing uniforms with skulls on them. The junior one points out that he can't really think of any positive symbolism for a skull, and meekly asks if they're the baddies.
  • On Red Dwarf, the Inquisitors' helm. It's not quite shaped like a human skull, though.

Tabletop Games:
  • Warhammer 40K is full of skeletal imagery. Particularly with the Imperium of Man and even more so with worshippers of Khorne.
  • Rifts:
    • The Coalition States uses skull motifs for their body armour helmets, and some vehicles. Their giant robots also carry this motif frequently, and the newer powered armours can carry a lot more of the skeleton in their design; as do the newer model body armours. And of course they have Skele-bots.
    • When the Naruni came to Earth for the second time, skull and skeleton motifs appeared on some of their newer products.

Video Games:
  • The Mortal Kombat franchise features multiple examples of skeletal imagery:
  • To show that Scarecrow is not fucking around anymore in Batman: Arkham Knight, he radically alter his appearance to resemble an undead soldier ready to spread fear into the world.
  • In MediEvil, the Kingdom of Gallowmere uses a skull as its symbol; it adorns its forces' shields and its former King Peregrine had his throne placed inside the mouth of a giant one.
  • Skullomania of Street Fighter EX wears a full body suit that has skeletons painted over his whole body. Subverted in that not only he's a hero, he's a clear-cut and rather silly one as well.
  • Ghost from Modern Warfare 2 has a skull painted on the lower half of his balaclava.
  • Blazblue Centralfiction: Hades Izanami is the Goddess of Death and she has a lot of bones forming her special logo. In her Exceed Accel her face also briefly turns into a skull with a Slasher Smile.
  • XCOM 2's cover depicts a Sectoid made of human skulls.
  • In Borderlands 2, the game's way of warning you about a seriously dangerous unit (typically one that is several levels higher than the player) by putting a skull next to their name and health bar. Loading screens outright encourage you to run if you come across one of these.

Web Comics:
  • In Goblins, an alternate - universe Forgath is missing the lower part of his face, revealing the bones underneath, as the result of owning a "Ring of Undeath".
  • Kurloz from Homestuck, one of the most unambiguously evil characters in the story (and arguably the most evil troll of all), wears a sweatshirt with a skeleton torso on it.

Western Animation:
  • In The Simpsons, Bully Jimbo Jones wears a skull t-shirt.
  • Mighty Max is obsessed with this. The Big Bad is Skullmaster who lives in Skull Mountain. In the finale he resurrects various villains from earlier in the series including a skull-faced cyborg, a skeletal cyclops, a giant flying skull and a big spider with a skull-like marking on its face.
    • For good measure, the toyline also included Skull Warrior, Skull Dungeon, Skull Crusher, a skull with a snake wrapped around it and a spaceship shaped like a wolf skull, along with Skullmaster's fortress (which looked like a skull).

Real Life:
  • During the "Golden Age of Piracy" in the late 1600's and early 1700's, pirates developed the skull and crossbones, called "Jolly Rogers", as their symbol to invoke crippling fear in their intended victims, because they hoped merchant ships would surrender without firing a shot.
  • When the Salvation Army was set up to combat public drunkeness and loose morals, opponents of the movement set up The Skeleton Army, whose members wore little dancing skeleton badges and patches, to follow the Salvos around, pelt them with refuse, beat them up, and generally cause trouble for them.
  • The Nazi SS had tiny skulls on their uniform insignia.
  • On Whale Wars, the Sea Shepherd organization's flag was clearly inspired by the skull and crossbones flag.
  • The Death Hussars, an important branch of Chilean liberation soldiers during the independence wars used skulls as motif. They acted more radical and aggressive toward the Spanish empire and used this trope to showcase that they would liberate Chile by all means necessary.
  • Poisonous chemical substances are often noted with a skull (crossbones optional) to denote its danger.
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