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Skeleton Motif
To show your character is dark, use skeleton imagery.


(permanent link) added: 2011-04-01 14:49:02 sponsor: FrodoGoofballCoTV (last reply: 2013-06-12 05:49:14)

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Exactly What It Says on the Tin; Seen It a Million Times.

NEW: Revised Description.
When you find a complete skeleton, it's a strong sign that it's 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 "deadly 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.

Often, 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 Good Is Beautiful 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.

Examples:

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.

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.
  • The Punisher uses a cartoon skull as his Chest Insignia.

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.

Film: Western Animaton:
  • 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 wears a skull T-shirt.

Literature:
  • In the novel Rivers of London the badge of The Skeleton Army is an important clue in tracking the spectral serial killer.

Tabletop Games:
  • Warhammer 40K is full of skeletal imagery. Particularly with the Imperium of Man and even more so with worshippers of Khorne.

Video Games:

Webcomics:
  • 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".

Western Animation:

Real Life:
  • During the "Golden Age of Piracy" in the late 1600's and early 1700's, pirates developed the skull and crossbones 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.
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