Dark Lord on Life Support

"A life support system. In a society that despises cyborgs. I've had to hide away for years, running the company by hologram!"
Max Capricorn, "Voyage of the Damned", Doctor Who

An event has left a villain severely injured or drained of power. So, his minions hook him up to a device that will keep him alive for the time being. It doesn't have to be a machine; it can be the inability to survive without attaching to another body.

This can be a way of creating sympathy for the villain by showing that he is weak or dependent. The weakness can be exploited by someone attacking him — the Evil Overlord may not have full strength because of what's happened to him, or may be stuck in one place. Dependance means that The Hero can destroy the support system to destroy his enemy. Frequently, the very thing that made the Dark Lord this way was done by the hero, sometimes in a battle that didn't succeed in completely killing the villain. This can be a sign that the hero wasn't ready to fight the villain, that he did so rashly, etc..

This may result in a Dragon-in-Chief. May or may not be an Evil Cripple. See also Man in the Machine, Brain in a Jar and No Immortal Inertia. May also be a trait of a villainous Symbiote. Compare and contrast We Can Rebuild Him for when this makes a villain stronger, not weaker.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • In The Vision of Escaflowne, Big Bad Dornkirk (actually Isaac Newton transported to Gaia) is perpetually hooked up to a massive life-support machine keeping him alive well past when he should have died of old age. In the last episode, he rips free of it and lets Folken kill him to set in motion his Thanatos Gambit.
  • Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid: Gauron has been reduced to lying in a bed tied to a machine after he was defeated in the previous season, but still manages to ruin everyone's day.
  • After having his life saved by Heaven Canceller, Aleister Crowley from A Certain Magical Index has only once ever been seen someplace other than floating upside down in his tube. It's debatable if he was actually physically present at that one time.
  • Kagemaru, the Big Bad of Yu-Gi-Oh! GX 's Sacred Beast/Phantom Demon arc, is at first confined to a full-body life support mechanism.
  • Naruto:
    • Orochimaru becomes this after getting his arms sealed by the Third Hokage, and eventually he gets progressively weaker and more sickly when he has not transferred his mind to a new body every three years. Sasuke takes advantage of this, and defeats him in his sickly state.
    • Madara Uchiha was also this. After the First Hokage defeated him, he transplanted cells from the First into his own body. On the verge of death, he awoke the Rinnegan and was able to summon and control the corpse of the Ten Tails. Among other things, it was used as life support. However this left him too weak to make proper use of his new abilities, so Madara had create a very long-term plan that started with his own death to allow himself to be restored at full power in the future.
  • Episode villain Dr. Londes in Cowboy Bebop, who is revealed to be a teenaged hacker on life support who used his connection to the internet to become digitized and create a virtual persona.
  • Queen's Blade Rebellion has an interesting twist in this trope: The physical body of the Swamp Witch, the Bigger Bad of the series, is the one from a demon princess named Werbellia, who needs her for being able to survive in the mortal realm, since the Swamp Witch uses her body in a Grand Theft Me scheme, as Werbellia turns to be a Noble Demon at worst. When the Swamp Witch is defeated for good, Werbellia is forced to return to her realm, leaving her daughters Annelotte and Aldra behind her.
  • In the Monster Rancher anime, after being weakened by the sun, Moo is in bad shape and is kept alive via life support while he waits for the Magic Stone as a cure.

    Comic Books 
  • Mr. Freeze from Batman can't survive outside his suit for long due to his heat sensitivity. Exploited in Batman & Robin where Arkham Asylum's administrators build a Tailor-Made Prison out of some sort of refrigeration beam.
  • Dimitri of Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog was quickly drained of his Enerjak power and left decrepit. The Dark Legion was forced to turn him into a cyborg to keep him alive. Dr. Finitivus, seeking to learn the power of Enerjak, disassembled him, leaving him as just a head in a floating bubble.
  • Lex Luthor was twice afflicted with terminal illness during the '90s, first cancer contracted from his kryptonite ring, then later a degenerative illness caused by Cloning Blues. The latter left him in a near vegetative state, unable to so much as close his own eyes.

  • Star Wars:
    • Darth Vader is probably the Trope Codifier. Following his duel with Obi-Wan Kenobi on Mustafar, Vader had lost the rest of his limbs and suffered third- to fourth-degree (yes, those exist) burns all over his body and his lungs had collapsed from smoke inhalation. His sealed black armor contains life support systems (his Vader Breath is his cybernetic lung doing the breathing for him) and removing it for any significant period of time would be fatal (which is unfortunate for him, since it's relatively badly crafted and leaves him in constant pain, exactly as Sidious planned). Incidentally, this is the reason he never uses "Force Lightning"; it would short out his systems. Hence his death at the end of Return of the Jedi.
    • General Grievous is Vader Up to Eleven: after an engineered shuttle crash nearly killed him, his brain and vital organs were transplanted into a robotic frame.
  • In the Disaster Movie parody The Big Bus, the Big Bad lives in an iron lung.
  • Brainiac is this in the unproduced Superman Lives script by Kevin Smith.
  • Bane in The Dark Knight Rises wears a metallic mask which constantly supplies him with anesthetic gas to keep the crippling pain from his old injuries at bay. It's frightening to say the least. Unlike many examples, unless it is damaged, the apparatus does little to hamper his combat ability. As a matter of fact, the cocktail of drugs dispensed by the mask suppresses his sense of pain, which contributes to his durability.
  • Jigsaw in the second through fourth Saw movies. His cancer has finally reduced him to the point that he's permanently bed ridden and relying on his assistants to carry out his plans.
  • Overdog in Space Hunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone is a cyborg who is linked to a life-support system that lets him suck the life force out of his victims and infuse it into his body. The apparatus also serves as a means of moving around in his lair as he has no lower body and instead is connected to a crane-like structure.
  • The current page image comes from the 1963 B-movie They Saved Hitler's Brain, where Adolf Hitler's head has been saved in a jar by Nazi scientists and is orchestrating a plot to restart the Holocaust.
  • Immortan Joe from Mad Max: Fury Road is introduced being put into his armor, allowing us to see that his back is covered in angry, raw red flesh and weeping sores that need to be debrided regularly. He also always wears a mask that seems to provide him supplemental oxygen and/or medicine that gives him Vader Breath, and while he's a Badass Driver par excellence his mobility is limited. It's not clear what exactly caused him to get like this but radiation poisoning or some manner of massive infection seem likely, and while not explicitly stated it's implied he's Secretly Dying, making his moniker an Ironic Name.

  • In Mistborn, the Lord Ruler maintains his youth by being a Compounder who can use atium. Without constant contact with his atium, he has No Immortal Inertia
  • Harry Potter:
    • Voldemort lives off Quirrel in Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Since he was nearly destroyed, he is too weak to survive alone and even has to have unicorn blood to stay alive. This means he's weak enough that he can barely talk; when Quirrel is killed, he flees like a ghost.
    • And even more repulsively when he's reduced to a helpless fetus that relies on Wormtail's care-giving and lives on a cocktail of snake venom and unicorn blood. Even then, he's still got an attitude.
  • Mason Verger in the film and book Hannibal is a depraved child molester who was attacked by Hannibal Lecter but survived as a disfigured paraplegic, and therefore utterly depends on his caretaker to carry out his scheme of vengeance against Lecter. As a result of what Lector did to him at their last meeting, he is now on a respirator, bedridden and relies on a machine to moisten his lidless right eye. In both versions, Lecter convinces his caretaker to kill the helpless Verger in retaliation for years of abuse.
  • The Authority from His Dark Materials is so old and withered that he has to live in a crystal globe to prevent air currents from disintegrating him.
  • In Otherland, Felix Jongleur is nearly 200 years old, having been born prior to World War One. Throughout his long life he's devoted himself to the singular purpose of conquering death, and through his wealth has constructed a fantastic virtual reality simulation that he can play God in (and to the world, via his VR avatar). The truth is that his real body is a shriveled, useless thing that lives permanently in a life support tank, with little more than the heart and brain functioning. The horror of his circumstances is one of the few things he fears to confront, and his ultimate plan is to achieve immortality through Brain Uploading.
  • Ah Ling/Hendrik van Eeden/Tzaddik from the Sally Lockhart series is this. Although Sally shoots him in The Ruby In The Smoke, we find out in The Tiger In The Well that he survived, but her bullet had pierced his spinal cord, leaving him paralyzed.
  • The Limper spends most of The Silver Spike in this state. The events of The White Rose left him as nothing but a disembodied head, but a temporary alliance with the demon, Toadkiller Dog, see him resurrected as "The Wicker Man." In this state, he can walk and exercise the full force of his sorcerous might, but can speak only as a loud whisper (and that's an improvement over the first draft of his wicker body, which initially didn't let him speak at all) and is painfully aware of the threat that fire poses to his "toy body." Later in the novel, he gets a new body, this time made of enchanted clay, and goes full-on One-Winged Angel.
  • The James Bond novel Nobody Lives for Ever by John Gardner reveals that current SPECTRE head Tamil Rahani ended up on life support after his previous encounter with Bond in Role of Honour and is slowly dying. The conflict of the book stems from Rahani putting a price on Bond's head (literally) in the hopes of seeing him dead before he goes.
  • Variation in The Wheel of Time. Ishamael used the True Power way more than was good for him, which did quite a number on his body (superficially, he may still look like a handsome middle-aged man, but those flames constantly coming out of his eyes and mouth? They're real). Apparently the only thing keeping him alive was his connection to the Dark One, and when he dies his body has burnt-out holes where eyes and mouth should be, and rots away almost immediately. It's no wonder that Rand mistakenly thought Ishamael was the Dark One in the first book.
  • The Wizard King Ahm Y'Zir, youngest son of Xhum Y'Zir from The Psalms of Isaak is eventually revealed to be this; kept alive for more than two thousand years by a combination of Blood Magic and being turned into a cyborg. Of course, either the process or his great age has left him quite insane, and he's the guiding hand of the Empire of Y'Zir, the most powerful and aggressive nation on the planet...
  • In "Donovan's Brain", a scientist recovers said organ from an evil millionaire killed in a plane crash unaware that, freed of its physical body, the brain would grow and gain telepathic powers. The brain takes over the body of the scientist and even hypnotizes someone who knows too much into crashing their car, killing them.
  • In Artemis Fowl, Opal Koboi goes into a self-induced coma after her goblin uprising fails, and depends on others to feed, wash, and otherwise take care of her.
  • In The Belgariad, Torak spent thousands of years in a near-coma after his attempt to use the Orb crippled him. After the Battle of Vo Mimbre, he spent another couple of centuries recovering from the fatal stab wound he received during a one-on-one duel.

    Live Action TV 
  • The Cigarette-Smoking Man of The X-Files was eventually confined to a wheelchair due to alien technologies implanted into his brain and heavy smoking.
  • Doctor Who:
    • All the Daleks. Inside those fearsome 'travel machines', they're just these helpless little squidlike things.
    • Davros, the creator and for a while the ruler of the Daleks, kept alive by a life-support system inside his high-tech wheelchair which can be turned off by pressing a button.
    • Dr. Lumic, the creator of the new series' Cybermen, due to an illness. He created the Cybermen partially as a way to help him find a way to extend his lifespan. When his machine is damaged, the Cybermen forcefully install him into their Cyber-controller.
    • Max Capricorn in the Christmas special "Voyage of the Damned". Thanks to an almost two-century long lifespan, he's only a head attached to a machine.
    • Lady Cassandra O'Brien.Δ17 considers herself to be the last human being, but has undergone 708 cosmetic operations and is now nothing more than skin with a face, stretched over a screen, with her brain in a jar underneath.
  • Mobius from Team Knight Rider, who is left confined to a wheelchair and needing the use of tubes to talk due to an unspecified illness.
  • Samson Grey from Heroes was found by his son, Gabriel "Sylar" Grey, hooked up with tubes and IV because of his terminal disease. He reminisced on his younger days when he was a great hunter
    • Also, another Father Figure in the series was Arthur Petrelli, bedridden until he managed to absorb the healing-factor of another superhuman.
  • Scorpius in Farscape. A Sebacean-Scarran hybrid, his body chemistry was literally at war with itself and so he required an extensive cybernetic cooling system just to maintain a functional condition. Enemies who learned of this weakness frequently tried to take advantage of it to kill or disable him.
  • Stargate SG-1:
    • The Goa'uld are a form of this, due to requiring a host body to do anything more complicated than swimming in a lake.
    • Anubis as well. Due to having ascended and then getting kicked partway back down to our plane of existence, he currently exists as an Energy Being that requires some form of assistance in order to interact with our world. From season 5 until "Lost City", that assistance was a force-field suit. After its destruction, he had to Body Surf between hosts whose bodies reacted to him as if he were a disease and eventually suffered immune system failure.
  • Hector Salamanca from Breaking Bad pretty much fits this trope, since he used to be a cruel killer for the Cartel and is now confined to a wheelchair, needs a nasal cannula and can only communicate by using a bell. Fring loves rubbing it in his face.
  • Jackie "The Chemo-sabe" Aprile Sr. in The Sopranos is a realistic example, until the cancer finally kills him.
  • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. plays with this trope a bit in the latter end of the first season:
    • "End of the Beginning" has Garrett and Coulson track down Thomas Nash, who they believe to be the Clairvoyant. They discover that he's in a wheelchair and requires breathing tubes, and can only communicate through a speech synthesizer. He's a subversion; the real Clairvoyant set him up as a fall guy and had someone else running the synthesizer before having Ward shoot him.
    • "Ragtag" reveals that Garrett, the real Clairvoyant, really is one. He actually has a cybernetic implant feeding him Centipede serum, yet he has no super strength because he's so far gone that the serum only brings him up to "normal". And he's going to die without the GH serum even with it.
  • Season 8 of Smallville turns Lex Luthor into one. Strapped into the back of a truck, fed by tubes, and hooked up to a respirator after the Fortress of Solitude landed on him, Lex is reduced to acting through his intermediary, Winslow Schott.
  • Forever ends with the immortal sociopath Adam confined to a hospital bed after Henry injects an oxygen bubble into his brain, leaving him with locked-in syndrome. In a flashback, Adam avoids a similar fate in a hospital by slitting his own throat, thus triggering his Resurrective Immortality, which returns him to the same state as before the injury.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Von Bolt, the Big Bad of Advance Wars: Dual Strike, has to be kept in a life-support chair with his head in a dome of liquid to keep him alive. Three guesses what his goal is.
  • El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron has Semyaza on angelic life support after his fall from heaven.. Worse, he seems to have died down to the soul before you even reach him.
  • Ex-hitman Volkov in No One Lives Forever 2 rolls around in a wheelchair, following his fight against Cate in NOLF 1. The wheelchair has a built-in rocket launcher, though, so it's all good.
  • The Domz Priest from Beyond Good & Evil. The weird statue is the only thing that's keeping it alive.
  • Portal:
    • Technically, GLaDOS falls under this trope, since she is bound to the facility and dependent on the emotion cores and the local power supply.
    • By the end of his life, Cave Johnson counted as this too, slowly dying from moon-rock poisoning.
  • Sludge Vohaul, the primary antagonist of the Space Quest series and an expy of Darth Vader, is permanently attached to a life support machine, as first seen in Space Quest II.
  • ICO plays with this. The Queen has been living in her own body, but she'll soon need to sacrifice Yorda and use her as a host to keep living.
  • In Sonic Adventure 2, the Biolizard, the original "Ultimate Life-Form", while Nigh Invulnerable, needs to be hooked up to a life-support system to survive. As such, the system itself is his Achilles' Heel, and is what you have to attack. Makes sense, considering it's the prototype ultimate life. The final product, Shadow, gets along just fine without any such equipment.
  • The Joker from Batman: Arkham City has to be kept on life support because he's dying from Titan poisoning. The Titan serum that mutated him and gave him superhuman strength at the end of Arkham Asylum actually had unforeseen side-effects; he has a sickness that is slowly killing him.
  • Resident Evil: Umbrella president Ozwell E. Spencer is reduced to being confined to wheelchair and life support system three years before Resident Evil 5 due to his old age. He expects Alex Wesker to reverse this condition by engineering an Immortality virus, although Albert Wesker kills him to become the Big Bad after Spencer reveals that Wesker was one of many Unwitting Pawns for Umbrella known as "Wesker children" in a project done to create the perfect breed of humans.
  • Extreme inversion: Mother Brain, big bad from the Metroid series is a giant brain in a highly impact resistant glass casing. After breaking through the shield you still have to fire multiple missiles (regular beams do nothing) directly at her bare grey matter in order to finish her off proving that the transparent casing is clearly for protective reasons only.
    • Samus' Arch-Enemy Ridley was subject to this over the course of the Prime series, where after being defeated by her in the events of the first Metroid, he survived crippled, and the Space Pirates gave him cybernetic implants to restore him to battle capacity. Eventually, thanks to his strong Healing Factor, he sheds the implants by the time of Super Metroid and is back to being fully organic.
  • Fallout series:
    • Starts at the very beginning. The Master in the original Fallout is integrated into his Vault lair and cannot leave it.
    • Frank Horrigan, the final boss of Fallout 2 is essentially welded into his power armor.
    • Fallout 3:
      • Mad Scientist Dr. Stanislaus Braun has spent the past 200 years in a VR/life support pod overseeing the Tranquility Lane simulation, and is terminally dependent on it, as he tells the Lone Wanderer in the sim.
      • The "Point Lookout" DLC features a feud between the ghoul Desmond and the Brain in a Jar Professor Calvert. Calvert is the more obviously villainous of the two (though you can side with him if you like) and is utterly dependent on machinery to survive.
    • Fallout: New Vegas:
      • Mr. House (though his villainy depends on who you ask), who has managed to prolong his life by confining himself to a sophisticated life support chamber. Opening the chamber will ensure his eventual death due to being exposed to outside contaminants.
      • Caesar isn't technically on life support, but has a crippling brain tumor, hence Lanius being Dragon-in-Chief.
      • The six scientists of Big Mountain in the "Old World Blues" DLC are all little more than a Brain in a Jar, having being converted to "Think Tank" life support systems in order to continue their research long past their natural lifespans. Their "Dark Lord" status is a little nebulous, but in true Fallout fashion, the player can side with either group of them, or with neither.
  • Team Fortress 2:
    • The teams' owners, Blutarch and Redmond Mann, are (or rather were) among the closest things to evil overlords in this universe. Both of them are on life support/extender machines to try and outlast each other. Since the machines are about a hundred years old, they don't run perfectly, and thus the brothers die every now and then.
    • Gray Mann, the heretofore unknown third brother, has a life extender machine embedded into his spine. It works far better, as its is smaller, is never shown malfunctioning, and has left him ambulatory and in much better shape than his brothers after all these years. The Ring of Fired comic reveals that it runs off liquid Australium, which is why he seeks to retake Mann.Co and Hale's stash of Australium.
  • Zachary Hale Comstock in BioShock Infinite is revealed early on to be suffering from terminal cancer and is in the process of grooming his daughter Elizabeth to rule Columbia in his place and carry out his plan to destroy the world below. Later in the game, it's also revealed that the cancer, his apparent old age, and his sterility are the result of over-exposure to the Luteces' dimensional travel device; he's actually the same age as Booker.
  • Major Zero is revealed to be this at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, right before he gets unplugged by Big Boss.
    • Life support nothing...he's pretty much a vegetable!
  • Makaan in Homeworld 2 qualifies: He is Unbound, and as such requires machinery to keep his body alive and linked up. While it is entirely possible for an Unbound to be extracted the process is extremely difficult and potentially fatal.
  • Mr Hat in the Dishonored DLC The Brigmore Witches is unwillingly hitched up to one while his "nurse" usurps his leadership. To stop anybody from ending his life he's hooked up to a kill switch that'll flood the building with a deadly toxin.
  • Pyramid in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West turns out to be an old man hooked up to a variety of tubing and wires feeding his memories of the old world to survivors his robots kidnapped. Trip unplugs him while he is showing Monkey the old world.
  • Jade Empire has a more magical version in Death's Hand. He is the ghost of a dead prince, whose soul was bound into his brother's armor by his other brother.
  • Crime boss syndicate Mr. X in the Streets of Rage series is brought down to this by the end of the 3rd game via Brain in a Jar.

    Web Comics 
  • Irregular Webcomic!: Hitler was burnt at the Reichstag fire and is a brain in a jar.
  • In Erfworld, the Big Bad, Charlie, was reduced to a pitiable state by his treacherous sociopathic daughter, Olive Branch. At first, she tried to control him with a Fantastic Drug and tried to murder him with poison when that failed. While he managed to survive, it was at a terrible price. In the present era, his body is overweight, mostly limp, and cold to the touch. He is hooked up to machinery and requires the aid of his closest followers to even move his hands.
  • Count Tarrorviene of Annyseed is hooked up to a blood machine which he is dependent on for survival. He also keeps his most capable servant at his side all the time, rather than sending her out to accomplish tasks that are difficult for his lesser servants, because he's incapable of defending himself and fears for his safety.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Hector con Carne of Evil Con Carne, a spinoff of The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy, is a Brain in a Jar (and stomach, in a separate jar) set atop a bear. He's a possible parody of Brain from Doom Patrol.
  • Krang's android body from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a variation. He doesn't need it to survive, just needs it to survive as anything but a barely mobile brain-like creature.
    • This is also carried over to the Utrom Shredder, Ch'Rell, in the 2003 version of the series. Much like Krang, Ch'Rell is a barely mobile brain-like creature inside a very capable robotic double of this series's original incarnation of Oroku Saki, who is the actual Shredder in every other version of the franchise (an ancient Oroku Saki appears as a demon Shredder down the line, but Ch'Rell Shredder is the main antagonist of this series).
  • Monstroso from the fourth season of The Venture Bros., after recovering from a mid-season surgery.
  • Transformers:
    • After being heavily damaged in the pilot movie of Transformers Prime, Megatron has to be attached to extremely large power cables just to remain in a catatonic state, leaving him very vulnerable especially with his subordinates threatening to unplug him. He eventually recovers.
    • This is a common way for saving the big battle with Megs for a big moment. The movie keeps him frozen until the climax, and Animated keeps him a disembodied head until the first season finale.
    • Another example came from Transformers Cybertron, where Megatron ends up in a life support bubble of some kind after having Atlantis, an ancient Cybertronian starship, explode with him aboard. He fully recovers several episodes later, but in his absence Starscream starts plotting to usurp him, as per usual.
  • Vilgax must command his armies from a tank of goop until the first season finale of Ben 10 due to the space battle in the series premiere. Ultimate Alien also sees him needing to work through others while regaining his strength.
  • In Young Justice, this is the case for the real T.O. Morrow, who is extremely old and in a coma. The person running his plans is Actually a Doombot.
  • Bane in Batman Beyond is wholly dependent on life support, his life of Venom use having turned him into a shell of the man he once was (unlike what some think, it wasn't from Venom abuse; THAT does the same to you within months).
  • Example from the Teen Titans film In Trouble in Tokyo: this is the villain, capable of creating an entire ink monster army. He's not actually the villain; the real villain took over him and keeps him in that condition.
  • Jeremiah Surd from Jonny Quest The Real Adventures. Quadriplegic and wholly dependent on life support after being shot by Race Bannon, Surd's main strength lies in his ability to hack the QuestWorld.