Hey Captain, what's that? Willard:
Death cards. Lance:
Death cards. Lets Charlie know who did this.
A Calling Card
is a piece of evidence or item deliberately left at the scene of a crime to serve as perpetrator's "signature". Sometimes it's a literal playing card or gamepiece left near the scene of the crime, or perhaps the victims are arranged in strange poses.
Actual calling cards are rare in Real Life
, because it would make it very easy for the cops to track you down; but in fiction, it seems like every
villain has to have one for stamping their achievements with.
Occasionally, a Genre Savvy
character may even use another villain's calling card to frame them. If the villain is well known, and their calling card shows up before they're introduced in the current continuity, (or if said Villain has been missing or dead for some time), then it's a nice Sequel Hook
, or simply a hint of what's to come.
Sometimes, the calling card may be a result of the villain's M.O. or distinctive Weapon of Choice
. One obvious example: vampires
always leave their characteristic two-holed neck bite.
See also Criminal Mind Games
, Poetic Serial Killer
This has become a Dead Horse Trope
in Comic Books
, where it was once a staple. A hero may also have a Calling Card
, especially one who typically disappears after stopping the criminals rather than hanging around to discuss things with the police.
For actual calling cards (which a criminal may also leave, although it's a bit obvious), see My Card
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Anime and Manga
- In Dragon Ball when Tambourine is sent by his father Piccolo Daimao to murder martial artists to prevent them from sealing him away, at the site of each murder he would leave a piece of paper with the Japanese symbol for demon near the body.
- Phantom Thief X from Majin Tantei Nougami Neuro, who leaves a "red box" at the crime scenes (actually a clear glass box filled with the liquefied remains of his victims).
- The titular character from Mouse leaves his card, before the theft like several other Phantom Thieves.
- The Death Note allows its user to not only kill remotely but also control victims' behavior shortly before they die. Light Yagami uses this ability to send a taunting message to L.
- Speaking of Holden Caulfield, in Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, The Laughing Man had a smiley-face surrounded and a quote from Catcher in the Rye. As it turns out, all the crimes that were marked just by the smiley-face were performed by copycats, but following the J.D. Salinger quote eventually led Section 9 to the real Laughing Man.
- In one early episode of Sonic X, Rouge the Bat steals a very large diamond... and replaces it with a card with a stylized picture of her on it, along with the words "thank you".
- The titular thief of Lupin III often inverts this by sending calling cards before he pulls off his heists. It seems rather foolish, but often his targets' attempts to increase or alter their security end up playing right into one of his Batman Gambits and allow him to accomplish the theft. Also a reference to Arsène Lupin, his grandfather.
- Cat's Eye has two different calling cards. The titular girls leave a business card with a stylized cat and the words "Cat's Eye" on it, while the thief Masato Kamiya (nicknamed "The Rat" by the police) leaves a coin mounted on a pendant. Like many Gentleman Thief characters, the girls sometimes send calling cards before the heists: the police squad assigned to capture them has two members with the bad habit of confiding to them their strategies to capture Cat's Eye (and, in one memorable occasion, discussed the strategy in their coffee house), and live near their police station enough to use binoculars and lip-read the rare plans the officers won't discuss with the girls.
- While Kamiya does it for fun, the girls have a good reason for it: their assumed name as Cat's Eye and them stealing only Michael Heintz's paintings are part of a complicated and desperate attempt to contact their father, Heintz himself, or at least find out if he's still alive, without tipping off the men who tried to kill him and stole his paintings in the first place.
- Eroica in From Eroica with Love leaves a card with the series title on it.
- From The Golden Age of Comic Books through The Bronze Age of Comic Books, most of Batman's Rogues Gallery left Calling Cards, either explicitly (The Joker's playing cards and the Riddler's conundrums), or in the form of Signature Crimes: Two-Face's crime sprees always revolved around the number two, for instance. This was often Lampshaded; even in The Golden Age of Comic Books, the Riddler's compulsion was flat-out stated to be his downfall. In the current comics, however, it's a Dead Horse Trope.
- The serial killer from The Long Halloween would kill on a holiday and leave behind some knickknack related to the date—the press dubs them The Holiday Killer. And in the sequel Dark Victory, the next serial killer leaves behind incomplete Hangman games.
- The Joker is famous also for victims with a hideous grin on their faces due to Joker Venom (or in one case, carved Glasgow smiles).
- Hero example: Batman himself sometimes leaves a card with a bat-symbol next to unconscious thugs.
- In Watchmen, Rorschach's calling card is a piece of paper with a mirrored lowercase letter R written on it.
- In Spider-Man early in Carnage's killing sprees he would write "Carnage Rules!" in his victim's blood near the body.
- Spider-Man himself would occasionally leave a note to the police tacked onto a felon he had left webbed and hanging from a streetlamp, signed, "Courtesy of your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man".
- Lobster Johnson, of Hellboy fame, would burn his symbol, a stylised lobster claw, into his victims' foreheads using the palm of his hand. He also had actual calling cards that he would leave for the police.
- In V for Vendetta, V is fond of graffiting walls with a stylised V, which is meant to look similar to the symbol for anarchy.
- Captain America: The Red Skull used to have two calling cards: his Red Dust, a poison that made the victim's face turn red and skull-like, and a leitmotif of Chopin's "Death March" which he would arrange to have played when he struck, sometimes in very clever ways. He hasn't used either of these in years, having gone to more subtle evil schemes.
- The Phantom has two calling cards, both in the form of rings. He wears a ring with a skull emblem on his right hand, which leaves a permanent skull-imprint on the faces of his enemies when he punches them hard enough, forever branding them as the Phantom's enemies. On his left hand, he wears a ring with a symbol of four 'P's in a circle. By pressing the dye-emitting ring into the hand of an ally, he leaves the four-P emblem as a permanent mark on their skin, a sign to the world that they are protected by the Phantom.
- Parenthetically, the Phantom's skull ring was the subject of a Mythbusters episode, as the Build Team attempted to determine if a strong enough punch could leave a permanent indentation in someone's skull. For the record, it was busted; any punch hard enough to leave such a mark would also crack said skull like an egg. Perhaps the skull ring also had permanent dye like the four-P ring, and the Phantom just punched his enemy because he deserved to be punched. (Mythbusters also didn't consider making the edges of the ring sharper and seeing what happened.)
- One of the many serial killers in Judge Dredd was nicknamed Lefty due to his habit of always leaving his victims' left hands near the scene of the crime. Turns out there was a grisly justification for this: he was attempting to set a record for the number of people killed in a single night, and leaving behind the left hands ensured that all the kills would be credited to him.
- The Clock, from Centaur Publications and later Quality, leaves as his calling card an image of a clock-face over a domino mask along with a message.
- Mister Midnite, from Silver Streak Comics, leaves a watch dial with the hands set at midnight as his calling card.
- Black Diamond, from Black Diamond Western, has a playing card with the suit of diamond as his calling card.
- Mickey Mouse: The Phantom Blot's calling card is an ink blot. He'll usually leave a message with it, but sometimes not — one time Mickey finds himself framed by the Blot, and then notices there is an actual ink blot on his jacket.
- The Golden Age Sandman and Vigilante, both from DC Comics, left poems.
There is no land beyond the law
Where tyrants rule with unshakable power!
'Tis but a dream from which the evil wake
To face their fate, their terrifying hour!"
Some play games for sky-high stakes,
And some play penny-ante.
But those that gamble with the law,
Must pay the Vigilante!
- In Tomahawk, Lord Shilling's trademark (and hence his code name) was leaving a single shilling with a hole in the middle after a successful mission.
- The MAX version of the Foolkiller elaborately stages the bodies of those he kills and leaves a "Fool" tarot card at the scene, often with a message.
- Pinhead's mark in The Dark Angel:an intricate diamond design that he burns onto sinners to mark them for later, and which goes through and burns onto structures as well.
- "Kissin" Kate Barlow from Holes was famous for giving her victims The Kiss of Death, leaving a lipstick mark.
- Angels & Demons: Invoked by The Hassassin who engages in theme killing. He also brands each of his victims with the name of the element he killed them with. He does the killings this way frame an Ancient Conspiracy, that is already extinct.
- In The Stainless Steel Rat series, there's The Bishop, who leaves behind drawings of the chess piece in question. The titular character robs a bank, and leaves The Bishop's Calling Card in order to meet him.
- In the Hercule Poirot novel The ABC Murders, the killer always leaves an "ABC Alphabetical Railway Guide" near the victim, as he's framing some other guy as a serial killer.
- The Executioner. Elite sniper turned vigilante Mack Bolan leaves a miltary marksman's medal at the scene of his killings. Sometimes he has one delivered to a future target as psychological warfare. His enemies have been known to leave such medals at murder scenes, either to frame Bolan or cover up for their own internal disputes (one Mafia capo who cut the throat of a rival might have gotten away with it, if Bolan hadn't chosen that moment to attack in a completely different area). The latter tactic was used so often that one underling reporting a Bolan hit got beaten up "for pulling that stunt", until Bolan (who'd let him live so he could follow the man to his superiors) walked through the door and started shooting.
- Nancy Drew: The pirates in story would pierce the right earlobes of all the men on any ship they stole.
- Zorro and his carved 'Z'.
- The Spider marks his victims with a spider brand on the forehead; not all of them are dead first.
- Leslie Charteris's The Saint stories. Simon Templar used a hand-drawn picture of a stick-figure with a halo◊ as his signature/Calling Card.
- Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters would leave a Dark Mark whenever someone had been killed in Harry Potter.
- Weirdly used in Thud!, in which the Summoning Dark is its own calling card: wherever the Dark-inhabited Vimes goes, objects tend to fall in such a way as to form the eye-with-a-tail symbol.
- Technically, the fact Thieves and Assassins always leave a receipt could be considered a calling card. This is how you know you were visited by a licenced professional, and not a common criminal.
- The suspense novel The Caper of the Golden Bulls is about a retired thief coerced into a new caper; he laments that he can't get the aid of another master thief known as the "Ace of Diamonds." The Ace had a bizarrely elaborate signature: the ace of diamonds playing card, with a gryphon's head drawn on it, and then a stiletto driven through the card. It's eventually revealed that the gryphon's head referred to the thief being a lovely young woman named Grace — "gr" from "gryphon" plus "ace" — so she was telling the authorities her name every time she pulled a theft. And she turned out to be the hero's girlfriend, so the Ace of Diamonds was available to help.
- In Paul Doherty's novel The Mysterium, the Mysterium is an assassin in 14th century England whose victims are found with an M on their forehead, standing for "Mysterium Rei"; "the mystery of the thing".
- The Serial Killer Karkas, in Galaxy of Fear, cut a "K" into the forehead of anyone he murdered.
- CHERUB Series agent Bruce Norris once joked that he wanted to make business cards to leave in the mouths of the people he knocked out.
- James Bond
- In Never Send Flowers, a rare hybrid rose is delivered to the funerals of the high-profile assassinations, accompanied with the written message "This is the way it must end. Goodbye."
- The Number Killer in The Facts of Death always leaves numbers (which are counting to ten) and a statue of a Greek god to the scenes of the crime.
- The Union from Raymond Benson's Bond novels has its killers leave their victims with deeply cut throats as their signature, even when they killed them through other means.
Live Action TV
- Modesty Blaise: In "The Grim Joker", the murderous trio leave the words "Ho Ho Ho" on all of their victims.
- The Lone Ranger had his silver bullets. He would often leave one with those his rescued as a reminder.
Role Playing Games
- GURPS calls this disadvantage "Trademark,". The more they increase the character's risk of getting caught (by narrowing the list of suspects or requiring the character to spend extra time at the crime scene), the more points they're worth.
- Examples of the most elaborate Trademarks include dousing captured thugs in a certain colonge, painting an entire crime scene pink, and writing a long poem to the police.
- Fourth Edition Dark Champions had this as a disadvantage as well. It's not specifically noted in 5th edition, but several NPCs have one anyway.
- Hunter: The Vigil allows the characters to modify their Karma Meters to allow different breaking points in pursuit of the Vigil; to make up for it, though, they need to take certain "Triggers" that risk being activated in times of stress. One of them is "Calling Card"; you have to leave a sign at the scene of a kill. Needless to say, this Trigger carries over well if the hunter becomes a Slasher.
- Professional Killer Shelly de Killer in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice For All leaves a card with a seashell symbol on it near the bodies of his victims so his clients know for sure that De Killer successfully carried out his task.
- He actually states that he leaves the card to save the police the trouble of investigating, and to deflect suspicion from the one who hired him. Naturally it backfires.
- Mask☆DeMasque from Trials And Tribulations takes this Up to Eleven; he plants the card long before robbing the place.
- The Yatagarasu from Ace Attorney Investigations doesn't leave a card at the scene, but rather gives it to the media along with the item stolen, with the intent of exposing corrupt dealings.
- In the second case of Dual Destinies, Phineas Filch's grandfather left statues of himself in the place of the things he stole.
- Sly Cooper always leaves a raccoon-head-shaped card in place of the valuables he steals.
- The beginning of Condemned has you investigate a murder by "The Matchmaker", whose Calling Card involves seating the corpses of his victims at a table along with a disfigured mannequin.
- Heavy Rain: The Origami Killer, so called because he/she leaves an origami figure next to their victims.
- In Mass Effect 2, the Classy Cat-Burglar, Kasumi Goto, will tell Shepard that she left a rose in place of what she stole earlier in her career. She later says that her partner made her realize that continuing to do so wasn't a very smart thing to do.
- Mr. Valentine in Guilty Party always leaves rhyming Valentine's cards for his victims.
- From Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Fatman's calling card is placing cologne on his C4 explosives.
- Genocider Syo of Dangan Ronpa has two: writing "BLOODSTAIN FEVER" on the wall in the victim's blood, and leaving them crucified. A detail about the second— that said crucifixion is carried out with specially-made ornamental scissors— is kept secret from the press, which proves instrumental in determining if a certain murder was Syo's work or that of a copycat.
- Team Fortress 2 has several item sets, such as the Tank Buster and Gas Jockey's Gear, which leave a gravestone on the site where the victim was killed.
- One of the many categories of collectibles in Far Cry 4 are the "Masks of Yalung", demonic masks left by a Serial Killer at the scenes of their grisly murders. Radio DJ Rabi-Ray-Rana wonders on-air what his Calling Card would be if he were a serial killer: Playing cards are too overdone, masks are taken... so maybe he would just take a shit on his victims.
- In "Ayla and the Grinch" of the Whateley Universe, a serial killer is loose in Los Angeles, leaving the heads of the victims behind as an identifier. Heads that are apparently burned off the still-living bodies.
- The Washington DC Beltway Snipers left Tarot Cards with messages on them for cops to find.
- The Zodiac Killer wrote cryptograms for police, signing them with a sun cross.
- The ace of spades was left on dead Vietnamese soldiers by American troops in the Vietnam War, under the belief that the Vietnamese held the symbol to mean death and ill-fortune. This was inaccurate, but the gesture helped American morale.
- The US Playing Card Company went so far as to manufacture all-ace-of-spades card decks for the troops. See here.
- In one murder case the perpetrator did actually leave his calling card at the scene of the crime, by dropping a case of them not far away. Unsurprisingly, he was the primary suspect from the beginning to the end of the case, and the prosecutor had an I Always Wanted to Say That moment when he came to trial.