A Carnival Of Killers occurs when a villain either hires the best assassins from around the world and sends them after the hero, or offers an open bounty on the hero's head that attracts a variety of assassins. A typical Carnival Of Killers will involve a large collection of assassins with radically different styles (e.g. a Cold Sniper, a Knife Nut, a Mad Bomber, etc), and sometimes will include last season villains that have since fallen below the Sorting Algorithm of Evil's current threshold. Sometimes one of the assassins will decide the best way to win the bounty is to take out the competition before taking out the hero.
Compare Legion of Doom and Quirky Miniboss Squad. Not comparable to Circus of Fear, unless being chased by the worlds top assassins posing as clowns is the hero's worst fear.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
In Berserk we have the "Bakiraka" an elite group of Kushan Assassins led by Silat. Then there's the "Black Dog Knights" a not so elite group of murdering scum led by the biggest murdering scumbag of them all: Wyald. Both are employed by the King of Midland to track down the outlawed band of the hawk.
Happens twice in Black Lagoon, once in response to the Vampire Twins, and once in response to Greenback Jane. In the second example, one of the episodes of the arc is even called "The Roanapur Freakshow Circus". (It sums up a lot about Black Lagoon when you point out that several of the characters involved then end up working with the heroes in the "Baile de la Muerte" arc.)
It sums up more when you realize that two of the characters defending the target during the second carnival participated in the first.
The second half of the anime Trigun is about Vash trying to stay alive while keeping the 12 Gung Ho Guns at bay as they come at him.
The many and various groups and individuals trying to kill Bambi and retrieve the stolen child in Bambi And Her Pink Gun, which include a gang of smuggling truckers in rigs bigger than most battleships, a powerful mafia family, a posse of biker cowboys, a cyborg luchadore, and psychopathic rock star Gabba King
The Seven Warlords of the Sea in One Piece, to a degree as not all are antagonistic towards Luffy. CP9 probably counts as a straighter example, and they're actual assassins as opposed to the Warlords...
Baroque Works plays this straight
Happens in the Yorknew City Arc of Hunter × Hunter. After the Phantom Brigade has proven to be too much for the Mafia to handle alone, by killing their Praetorian Guard, the Elders call in the most famous assassins in the world to finish them of, including Killua's father and grandfather
In Until Death Do Us Part, one of these was called against Mamoru by Edge Turus. Notable in that the "target" then spread the word that he'd be in a certain location at a specific time, and when they gathered there, took out the assassins all at once.
In Yaiba the Seven Revenant Swordsmen summoned by Onimaru during the Ryuujin Orbs arc, who are all famous warriors from the past, including monks, ninjas, samurai and a Warrior Poet assassin.
In Yu-Gi-Oh!, Seto Kaiba creates an almost literal carnival of killers with "Death T", the "Theme Park of Death" he made specifically for Yugi.
In Arachnid, Alice Fuji is made the target of such a game by an organization of insect-themed assassins. However, the reward for killing her gets increased for every assassin that dies, implying one purpose of this is to set them against each other and weed out the weak members of the organization.
An early arc in Punisher: War Zone had the New York mob hiring the seven best assassins in the world to hunt down the Punisher. Such things are something of an occupational hazard for The Punisher.
One of the Batman Versus Predator mini-series had this running as B plot. An open bounty on Batman brought a variety of hitmen to Gotham to attempt to collect.
In the "6 Gun War" arc in Jonah Hex, Quentin Turnbull recruits a variety of assassins from around the world to bring him Jonah's head, including an Irish boxer, a Persian assassin, a Masai lion-hunter, and a Mexican Dual Wielding machetes.
These groups get sent after the Secret Six all the time. In fact, the roster of the Six themselves read as a veritable carnival of killers:
Deadshot: World class marksman with a death wish.
Catman: Feral tracker and knife expert.
Scandal: Strategist with a healing factor and great at close combat.
Ragdoll: Contortionist and thief with surgically augmented flexibility.
Cheshire: Assassin and poison expert with a penchant for killing members of her own family.
Knockout: Superhumanly strong former gladiator and enforcer for an evil space god.
Parademon: Mindless drone of aforementioned evil space god who gained sentience.
Jeanette: Practically immortal banshee dominatrix with super strength.
Mad Hatter: Head wear and Lewis Carroll obsessed murderous dwarf with mind control technology.
Bane: Legendary mercenary who's been on and off an experimental steroid that makes him insane.
Fiddler: Genius musician who kills with hypersonic violin.
Harley Quinn: Crazed psychologist, gymnast and Joker's ex-girlfriend.
Red Robin (DCU) introduces the Council of Spiders, a spider-themed carnival of killers that decides to take on another carnival of killers, the League of Assassins.
Hawkeye was subject to one of these in Avengers Spotlight #24-25 when Crossfire put a bounty on his arm.
In the 14th issue of Daredevil, after word spreads about Ka-Zar's vibranium medallion, a motley crew of "agents from every nation and killers without a nation", in addition to the Plunderer and the police, all start gunning for Ka-Zar and Daredevil.
In the Sin City tale, Hell and Back, the protagonist deals with one assassin after another. All of the assassins belonged to the same guild, however.
Also done in the first story. Marv has to deal with a SWAT team, two hitmen, a cannibal Serial Killer, and a group of federal agents all asigned to take him down.
The Spider-Man storyline "Identity Crisis" is about Spider-Man being framed for murder and a $5,000,000 bounty on his head, dead or alive. Eventually he assumes several different costumed identities so he can keep up the superhero game without being harassed, but before he thought of that he was fighting off dozens of bounty hunters every day. The guys after the 5 mil ranged from mundane gun nuts and thrill seekers (like the Hunters) to professionals (like Shotgun) to actual costumed villains (like Override and Aura).
In World's Finest #8, a mob boss puts an open contract on the Huntress's life, causing a large number of assassins to start targeting Helena in an attempt to collect.
The Gray Riders, a group of twelve mercenaries and assassins hired to hunt down and kill Red Sonja in the Legends of Red Sonja mini-series.
Le Scorpion: In The Mask of Truth, Cardinal Trebaldi puts a 1,000 gold coin price of the Scorpion's head. Every assassin in Rome tries to claim it.
In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Dreyfus demands that Clouseau be killed or he will destroy the world. Several nations send assassins to kill Clouseau at Oktoberfest in Munich, only for the assassins to wind up killing each other by accident.
In another Pink Panther movie, the main villain's henchman hired a whole Carnival of Killers. When the Big Bad saw them he said "are these the men you have hired to kill Clouseau?" The henchmen replied he had hired these men to kill Mr. Chong. The Carnival of Killers had been hired merely to test the skills of the real killer they were sending after Clouseau . . .
The whole premise of Smokin' Aces is that a huge bounty is placed on a mob rat and a whole lot of colorful assassins swarm on his location at the same time trying to collect.
The finale of The Last Dragon, where Bruce Leroy fights off everyone from a wrestler with a white Mohawk to an acid bath murderer...
The Superposse in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which includes Indian tracker Lord Baltimore and lawman Joe leFors and which has been paid to stay on the trail of the outlaws till they are dead.
The bounty hunters in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.
The lineup of killers sent to kill Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Running Man includes a homicidal hockey player, a chainsaw-wielding biker, an opera-singing lightning-man and a pyromaniac with a jetpack.
The Three Stooges face one in The Outlaws Is Coming. The eponymous outlaws called in to wipe out the heroes are Rob Dalton, Wyatt Earp, Johnny Ringo, Billy the Kid, Jesse James, Bat Masterson, Cole Younger, Wild Bill Hickock and Belle Starr.
Pretty-boy gangster Dorian Tyrell promises $50,000 to whoever can kill the title character in The Mask (no mean feat, since the green-faced creature is practically immortal).
In Flag of Iron, an old Shaw Brothers kung fu film, the main character is hunted by the Ten Killers of the Underworld. One of the killers is The Accountant who uses a weaponized abacus. Another is a Hitman with a Heart who ends up aiding the hero.
The Assassination Bureau is about a member of a Carnival of Killers who challenges his fellow assassins by putting a bounty on himself. Things do not bode well for those other assassins.
In the Roger Zelazny book Roadmarks the antagonist declares a "Black Decade" on the protagonist, legally permitting ten attempts to kill him. Agents may be employed... and so ten highly skilled assassins/hunters have been hired from the entire range of Earth's histories (including alternate pasts and futures). This includes an assassin robot, a genetically enhanced and cybernetic super soldier, and a martial arts master.
In A Song of Ice and Fire, Tywin Lannister employs a carnival of killers for "foraging" missions, which is essentially sending armed men to plunder and murder the enemy's peasants. His troupe includes a mercenary gang nicknamed the Bloody Mummers, which is almost a carnival of killers, right down to a Monster Clown.
The Destroyer: The Last Alchemist had an interesting variation of this. The Dragon as part of his backstory, participated in an open contract on a crimelord. After he killed the target, he was given a job as the personal assassin of the Big Bad who had placed the contract simply to find a suitable person for the position. The trope appeared in a few other books in the series as well.
In Nobody Lives for Ever, the dying leader of SPECTRE places (literally) a prize on the head of James Bond, which brings opportunistic killers from various organizations after him. However, SPECTRE has no intention to pay any of them, and instead uses them to find and herd Bond to their base in Florida, where they are going to claim his head by themselves with a guillotine.
In Kill Dusty Fog! by J.T. Edson, General Trumpeter offers a $1,000 bounty on the head of Captain Dusty Fog, despite this being against the rules of war. Several guerillas make attempts to claim the bounty, before Dusty decides to confront Trumeter directly.
A nice subversion is in the episode "Angel," where the Master hires the Three, three apparently badass vampires to take down Buffy. In their first encounter with her, she manages to barely escape with Angel's help (who kills one of them)...and the Master, incensed that they failed, has Darla kill all of the Three, making their scenes a total of two. They weren't the real threat of the episode; that happened to be Darla herself.
Max faces one in the Get Smart episode "Someone Down Here Hates Me" when KAOS puts a $250,000 on his head (and later ups it to $500,000).
In the Amazing Extraordinary Friends episode "Quality Time", Renfield hires the 'world's greatest super assassins' (the Invisible Ninja, Captain Tardy, Geyser Girl and the Easter Bunny) to eliminate the Friends.
Inverted in the "Black Seal" episode of Blackadder when the protagonist assembles a team of the biggest bastards in all of England (including himself, naturally) to carry out a fiendish plan. They all turn on him in favor of an even BIGGER bastard by the end of the episode.
There was an episode of the 80s Bret Maverick TV series where an authur who writes westerns hires a Carnival of Killers to take out professional gambler Bret Maverick, so he'd have an ending to his latest book that's more exciting than "And he retired with a saloon and a cattle ranch."
White Collar had one of the protagonists calling on a carnival of killers, when Mozzie places a six million dollar bounty on Keller who killed one of their friends and was threatening them.
Sherlock: In "The Reichenbach Fall", a group of international assassins appear around Sherlock, although initially they appear to be keeping Holmes alive. Ultimately, it is revealed they have been hired by Moriarty to kill Holmes' friends if Holmes refuses to kill himself.
The A-Team episode Deadly Maneuvers had a syndicate of crime lords pay Major Douglas Kyle to assemble a Dream Team of mercenaries to hunt down the A-Team.
Babylon 5 had another protagonist example. In "Objects in Motion", Garibaldi learns, but can't prove, that the board of Edgars Industries is trying to have him assassinated. As part of his response, he arranges to put large bounties on all their heads if anything happens to him or Lise.
The Aaron Stewart-Ahn video for The Decembrists' "O Valencia!" features Colin Meloy protecting a woman from assassins.
In his final appearance in the Dick Tracy strip, 'Big Boy' Caprice created an open contract: an offer of one million dollars to anyone who killed Tracy. This led to multiple attempts on Tracy's life. (New writer Max Allan Collins used this storyline to kill off Moon Maid, Creator's Pet of the series; killed by a car bomb meant for Tracy.)
Steven Richards, Thuggin and Buggin Enterprises, La Résistance, Tommy Dreamer and Dave Batista all tried to get the money Triple H was offering to whoever would take out Goldberg for him
Vince McMahon issued a contract on D-Gneration X (Shawn Michaels and Triple H) in the summer of 2006 when DX was running amok on Monday Night Raw. Both Chris Masters and Eugene (who, being a babyface, didn't bear DX any ill will but just liked the idea of getting a reward) failed to collect, so Vince enlisted the help of Cuban businessman Armando Alejandro Estrada, who actually succeeded for a time in getting Triple H sent to jail after framing him for having smuggled Cuban cigars into the country.
A staple of Suda51 console games; You play as one of these in Killer7, and fight your way to the top of a different group in No More Heroes.
In Knights of the Old Republic II, the gangster Goto hires dozens of bounty hunters to bring in the Player Character. Goto wants you alive, but the people he hired don't pay attention to that part so much.
Team Fortress 2 consists of a team of these being pitted against another team of them. To wit:
A constant theme in the first Baldur's Gate game is a never-ending stream of bounty hunters and assassins attacking the protagonist. Unusual in that the protagonist didn't do anything to screw the Big Bad's plans; all the assassination attempts are simply for him or her existing.
Subverted in Dragon Age: Origins. Arl Howe approached the Antivan Crows about assassinating the Grey Wardens, but since it's considered in poor taste (and often suicidal) to go after members of that order, only Zevran stepped up to accept the contract. Once he makes his attempt, no more Crows bother the Warden for the rest of the game. When they do return, it's more because they are after Zevran for failing to get his target.
The basic premise behind Batman: Arkham Origins is that Black Mask put a fifty million dollar bounty on Batman's head, and eight professional killers show up trying to collect, though Lady Shiva and Deadshot are only encountered in side quests missions, and the third side-mission-only mini-boss Anarky is not one of the eight.
Also the various groups that tried to catch Danny Phantom after Vlad put out a bounty on him, including the Guys in White and the Extreme Ghostbreakers.
On The Boondocks, Gin Rummy tells the tale of Bushido Brown fending off a group of these hired by the beef industry to take out Oprah Winfrey, including pastiches of Walker, Texas Ranger and Billy Jack.
Gin Rummy: Apparently only one guy actually managed to get his hand on Oprah's door, they say Bushido Brown kept that hand.
Ed the Third: Dang, I think I just shit myself.
The Young Justice episode "Infiltrator" dealt with the heroes protecting a scientist from a group of assassins.
However, all of the assassins were working for the same group—The League of Shadows—and operated as a team with zero infighting.