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Epic Hail
"Sharp and quiet, lads. They'll likely try to come by stealth, so be ready for the signal."
"What is the signal?" wondered Brocmael aloud.
"You'll know it when you hear it," answered Scarlet, "for you've never heard the like in your whole sweet life entire."
from Tuck by Stephen R Lawhead

This is where someone, often a protagonist or group of them, sends a dramatic signal to a powerful ally. The purpose of the message is usually to ask for assistance or send a warning in desperate circumstances. The act of sending the message is often dramatized through problems with the person or device used to signal, thereby necessitating last minute repairs or improvisation. Epic Hails usually occur prior to a Final Battle, semi-apocalyptic situation, or (if the ally is traitorous) a Big Bad Friend reveal.

Somewhat less often, an Epic Hail is used by the villains. When this happens, it's almost always an Evil Overlord who wants to signal his armies to attack and can't be satisfied with a messenger on horseback.

See the related Gondor Calls for Aid for the trope of calling for aid in general. If successful, can result in The Cavalry coming over the hill to the rescue. Often serves as the conclusion of a Bring News Back plot (where instead of trying to run all the way themselves, the goal of the news-bearers is to reach and activate the Epic Hail).

See Bat Signal for the specific case of projecting a hero's logo into the sky.

This trope has nothing to do with the weather condition. Or with Soviet salvo launcher name. Or the type of fail. Usually.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Happens thrice or so in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, first with a broadcast to the scattered settlements to tell them of the Brigade's plight on the surface, a few episodes later with Nia to keep those who responded to the first Epic Hail from needlessly sacrificing themselves, and once again near the end from the Brigade to any galaxy in hearing distance.
  • Happens in Full Metal Panic! when Sōsuke signals to Mithril that he is alive by spelling out the words with gasoline and lighting it just as Mithril's satellite passes over head. He then uses the grass fire he created as cover.
  • Vandread does this epicly in the second-to-last episode in the second season. They send a message to both warring planets of Tarrak and Mejale, and not just via a video message either, but also by demonstrating the eponymous Combining Mecha, the Vandreads. This is very important due to the message of unity between the two planets as Vandreads are made up from both planets' technology (albeit heavily modified by the Paexis Pragma). Not too long after, several elite squads from both planets defied their planets' order to standby and reinforces the Nirvana fleet followed by the most epic act of drawing the first blood by a Tarrakian wizened elder warrior.
  • Durarara!! has Mikado calling on the Dollars, with all their cell phones going off at once.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman: The Bat Signal.
  • At the climax of Earth X, moments before Black Bolt is torn apart by the Celestials, he uses his cosmically-powered voice to call across the universe for the one being who can fight them: Galactus.
  • The Avengers: AVENGERS, ASSEMBLE!
  • Superman: Jimmy Olsen's signal watch. Though people usually just shout for Superman to come get them. One issue of Green Arrow features Ollie dramatically yelling "CLARK!" into air in order to get him to rescue his son Connor who had just been shot while they were out in the middle of the ocean.
  • De cape et de crocs has one doubling as a Shout-Out to The Lord of the Rings.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Mulan, the Huns scale the Great Wall of China. The leader, Shan Yu, confronts a sentry, silently daring him to light the fire basin that would begin the signal relay informing the Emperor of the invasion. He does, of course, and very dramatically:
    Guard: Now all of China knows you're here!
    (Shan Yu snaps the Emperor's flag from its post, burning it in the signal fire)
    Shan-Yu: Perfect.
  • In The Rescuers Down Under, after Cody is kidnapped, the audience follows the radio signals as they travel mouse-to-mouse from Australia to New York City to summon help from the Rescue Aid Society.
  • In 101 Dalmatians, Pongo and Perdita use the "Twilight Bark" as a last ditch effort to locate their missing puppies. To humans, it's just wild, sudden barking that causes other dogs within earshot to follow suit (and remember, dogs have really good hearing).

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings supplies one for the good guys and one for the villains.
    • One of the best examples of Epic Hail is the lighting of the Beacons of Gondor to signal the Rohirrim.
    • And the Witch-King sends up the Great Signal from Minas Morgul to announce the onslaught of Mordor.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End. "Hoist the colours!"
  • Bumblebee shining the signal light to call the Autobots in the live-action Transformers movie.
  • Pretty much the ending to Serenity, where Mal sends a signal across the entirety of the Alliance that lays out the events that happened on Miranda.
  • The Rock. Goodspeed (Nicholas Cage) has to prove he accomplished the mission on Alcatraz (and that he's still alive) with a set of green flares, to prevent being vaporized by the thermite airstrike sent as a failsafe. Problem is, he's currently busy dying from a nasty poison, and the antidote has complications of its own.
  • The Axe Gang uses one of these in Kung Fu Hustle.
  • Happens near the end of the film Virus when the Russian ship explodes after the survivors escaped in the makeshift rocketsled. The fireball is big enough to be seen by an approaching rescue ship amidst a hurricane.
  • Parodied in Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy: Ron blows on a conch shell, then proclaims loudly "NEWS TEAM, ASSEMBLE!", only to discover his cohorts are right behind him.

    Literature 
  • The Song of Roland: Roland's horn.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings:
    • The warning beacons in the White Mountains being lit as warning to Southern Gondor. Gondor requests Rohan's help through the formal delivery of the Red Arrow.
    • Boromir's horn-splitting call at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring, which we later learn was heard by Faramir on the other side of Gondor.
    • Even more epic is the Horn-call of Buckland. The mostly peaceful hobbits, who have no military, are able to jump up and organize in the middle of the night under the guidance of the returned hobbits, to defeat an army of Saruman's men in the Battle of Bywater, which is the turning point of the occupation of the Shire.
    • And even more epic is Eärendil sailing to Valinor to plead for the Valar to come to Middle-earth and aid the Free Peoples in their fight against Morgoth, at the end of Quenta Silmarillion. Oddly, the actual hail we get is from them to him:
    "Hail Eärendil, of mariners most renowned, the looked-for that cometh at unawares, the longed-for that cometh beyond hope!"
  • In James Swallow's Warhammer 40,000 Blood Angels novel Deus Encarmine, Rafen is deeply troubled by the events and goes to speak with his dead mentor, Koris. He finds his vox, with its command codes, not yet disabled. Using it, Rafen sends a message to their headquarters, detailing all that has happened.
  • The Dark Mark of Harry Potter is a more sinister example of this. It is generally used to call the Death Eaters (who, keep in mind, are a group of murderous racists) together, and does so by causing a tattoo on their forearms to burn. An alternate version acts as a giant, floating, glowing, signpost which they use to mark the sites of their atrocities. Also, it looks rather unpleasant (being a putrid skull with a snake for a tongue).
  • In Myth Conception Skeeve wanted to use enemy signal tower to tell the enemy he defeated their company, as they ran too quickly to do it themselves. While his advisors try to remember flag code, he realises there's a simple way to do it. Burning the whole tower is clear enough "signal".
  • Robert A. Heinlein's juvenile novel Have Space Suit – Will Travel:
    • A dramatic and agonizing sequence details Kip's attempt to set the intergalactic distress beacon to alert the All-Powerful Beneficent Aliens to the Wormfaces' actions on Earth. This involved going out in a winter storm. On Pluto.
    • A variant in "If This Goes On...". The hero, being arrested by the Inquisition, stands on his right to be taken away in full uniform... and manages to leave a spare sweater on his bed, the arms accidentally arranged into the Grand Hailing Sign of Distress. His roommate and co-conspirator sees the warning, and not only escapes himself but the rest of their cell breaks the hero out of the Inquisition and takes him to their hidden hospital. Not too shabby for someone who got arrested inside the evil overlord's palace.
  • The Dresden Files
    • In White Night, Harry has to get a telepathic message to Elaine in a hurry. The resulting magic takes a lot out of him but definitely qualifies, as it is enough to temporarily drown out the despair inflicted by the White Court vampire who is gradually killing her.
      Harry: "Elaine Lilian Mallory!" I called, and in my head, my voice rumbled like thunder. "I am Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, and I bid thee hear me! Hear my voice, Elaine!"
    • In Small Favor, Harry brings a couple guns to his showdown with Nicodemus. These particular guns are incendiary rounds, which shoot a very large fireball, which is capable of melting metal. This is dual purpose; the first use is to surprise Nicodemus and the Nickelheads, and get them to back off for a few minutes. The second is to signal Miss Gard to bring in the helicopter (mounted with a machine gun) while blaring ''Ride of the Valkyries''.
  • Partial example of Horton Hears a Who!: The Whoville residents set up an Epic Hail of "We Are Here!" in order to save themselves from complete annihilation.
  • ''Listen, my children, and you shall hear / Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere...''
  • In The Chronicles of Narnia, Prince Caspian using Queen Susan's horn to call the Pevensies to Narnia to help him in his battle for Narnia's freedom, could be considered one of these.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: Violet Baudelaire does this with a bucket, a hairnet, a piece of canvas, a lens and an oar in The Wide Window.
  • A miniaturized version occurs in The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin, when Rachel takes to the skies on her Flying Broomstick to warn the other students of Roanoke Academy of coming danger.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Partially in the Firefly episode "The Message", when they call the baddies on not calling the station.
  • Babylon 5
    • A ship sent on a rescue gets its communications down and its engines damaged, but the allied ship doesn't know which way to go. So he shoots in the direction of the jump point, despite the fact that he's spinning out of control.
    • The extremely brutal Earth-Minbari war started right when two ships of each of the races met for the first time. Identyfing the unknown vessel as a warship, the Minbari wanted to greet them with an Epic Hail that all fellow warriors would deserve. Apparently it was so epic that the humans completely freaked out and almost shot the Minbari ship into oblivion befor turning around and getting the hell away as fast as possible. Unfortunately the ship was transporting the Minbaris Emperor-Pope, whose death caused the Minbari to start killing all humans.
  • With the exception of series 2, every series of Doctor Who RTD era has involved an Epic Hail in the finale (all examples spoilered for obvious reasons):
    • Series 1: Rose Tyler signals herself by scattering the words "Bad Wolf" across all of space and time.
    • Series 3: The Master has hypnotized the human population on Earth using Archangel communication software. Martha Jones has spent the last year spreading the word (in this case, Doctor). At the proper moment, everyone thinks "Doctor!" and the Epic Prayer restores the Doctor's strength, allowing him to battle the Master.
    • Series 4: Sarah Jane, the Torchwood team and Harriet Jones all band together with their respective technologies to contact the Doctor.
    • The 2009 Specials: The Time Lords send an Epic Hail to the Master, first with a four-beat rhythm transmitted through the Time Vortex into his mind, and then by hurling a White-Point Star diamond to Earth, where it plummets from the sky in a trail of fire.
    • And with the first episode of the Eleventh Doctor in series 5 the tradition continues: all digital displays on Planet Earth turn to 000000 to indicate the presence of Prisoner Zero.
    • Not quite as big as the other examples, but in "Let's Kill Hitler", Amy and Rory create a giant crop circle spelling out "Doctor" to get his attention. He then lampshades this with a deadpan "Really?"
    • Don't forget Dr. River Song trying to get the Doctor's attention by defacing the oldest known formation in the universe, knowing he'd show up there sooner or later.
  • Ultra Series
    • In the finale of Ultraman Tiga, Tiga has been defeated by Gatanazoa and sent to the bottom of the sea. However, the children of Earth call out Tiga's name all at once, sending their inner light to him, not only bringing Tiga back to life but transforming him into Glitter Tiga, who proceeds to own Gatanazoa.
    • Happens again in Ultraman Dyna's movie when Queen Monera kills Dyna by sucking out his energy. A kid with a Tiga figure has everyone give their light to summon Tiga to revive Dyna. Once more, butt-kicking ensues.
  • On Game of Thrones, when Robb decides to rally the Stark bannermen and march south, the show depicts dozens of messenger ravens flying from Winterfell in all directions.
  • On the MythBusters "MacGyver" special, Adam and Jamie had to improvise one of these using parts acquired from an abandoned campsite. Though the campsite was set up so that the guys would have the materials to build a potato cannon, they ended up building a giant kite instead. It still worked.
  • Sherlock: One version of Sherlock Holmes considers gunfire a quite reasonable method of summoning police.

    Myths & Religion 
  • Dragons of Hungarian Folklore will often use their mace for this purpose. Whenever they wish to announce their arrival, they will throw it from several miles distance to knock open the gates of their own castle. Anyone strong enough can throw the mace back at them from the same distance to challenge them to a duel. Some adaptations will usually skim over this detail, while others will make it the hero's Crowning Moment Of Awesome.

    Video Games 
  • In Master of Orion 2, the intro culminates in one of these.
  • In Mother 3, Wess sends Flint's dog Boney to fetch Duster when faced with an otherwise insurmountable obstacle, as evidenced here.
  • Siren: "Mrs. Takato! Help! Mrs. Takato!" Loud enough that Prof. Takeuchi hears from the water tower across town.
  • Left 4 Dead
    • In Left 4 Dead 2, the Dark Carnival campaign ends with the players signalling the rescue helicopter with a pyrotechnics-heavy rock concert at an abandoned stage.
    • In one of the DLC campaigns for Left 4 Dead, the Survivors attempt this at a lighthouse, but fail.
  • In Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan and to a lesser extent Elite Beat Agents, most of the levels begin with a desperate scream for help, which summon the title characters.
  • Modern Warfare 2 imitates the scene from The Rock above when you stand atop the ruins of the White House to call off a massive airstrike on Washington.
  • In Video Game/Riven, the sequel to Myst, you signal Atrus by opening a fissure into outer space. Opening the "Star Fissure" (as it's called) causes The Age of Riven to ''die'' as the strain of the rift begins to literally bring the sky crashing down around you. This was the only way to "Signal" Atrus because the blurry gateway in the Linking Book you used to get there in the first place made it so he could only detect "large changes in the fundamental aspects of the Age". However, the Age was already dying before you got there, and (if Gehn can be believed) already in it's final hours, meaning you merely accelerated the inevitable.
  • The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
    • After you slay your first dragon, the Greybeards call you up to their mountaintop temple by demonstrating the power of The Voice: even from tens of miles away it packs enough force to be accompanied by deafening thunder!
    • Later, you can do this yourself, to summon either an undead Dragon from the Soul Cairn, or one of Alduin's former allies from his mountain home
  • In LEGO Batman 2, when struggling to defeat the giant Joker robot rampaging around Gotham City Batman uses the corrosive leakage of the robot to draw a giant Joker face around Gotham that's visible from space, thus signalling the Justice League
  • The "Hope" trailer for Star Wars: The Old Republic features the few Republic survivors of a harsh battle against Sith forces firing a lone flare up into the sky to signal their victory. As the camera pans back, more flares can be seen across the country side, and then a view from orbit shows pinpricks of light all across the planet Alderaan as a Republic Fleet cruises into view.
  • In Dragon Age: Origins, the Warden and Alistair are tasked with lighting a massive signal fire on top of a tower to call reinforcements for King Cailan's battle. However, once the signal's been lit, the leader of the reinforcements betrays you and Cailan is killed along with much of the army.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue: Washington sneaks into a base, and tells Church "Wait for my signal." He runs into the base without telling Church what the signal is. Suddenly a gigantic chain of explosions occurs in the distance.

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • The lantern signal from the Old North Church in Boston, warning would-be Yankee rebels to the whereabouts of British troops, is certainly one of the more dramatic 'hails' in history. Also, the legendary (meaning, largely fictionalised) Ride of Paul Revere. The British are coming! The regulars are coming!
  • In Ancient Greece, the hero Pheidippides is credited with running a total of 240 km to ask for aid from Sparta prior to the Battle of Marathon (Sparta refused on the grounds that there was a holy festival taking place). Then he fought at Marathon, and ran an additional 40km to notify Athens: "Nenikikamen!" (We are victorious), thus also qualifying this event as Bring News Back..
  • Hadrian's Wall, the edge of the Roman empire, located on mainland Britain had a series of keeps complete with troops and smaller look-outs along the complete stretch. If one section of the wall was attacked they would set alight a fire, the next guy along would then set his fire alight until it reached one of the keeps. Then the garrisoned troops would rush to the defense. Probably Tolkien's inspiration for the above examples.
  • China has had a similar system since antiquity (being able to make Epic Hails was one of the reasons the Great Wall got built)—in fact, one regime got invaded because the king was having too much fun raising false alarms and the troops refused to mobilize when a real emergency hit.
  • In Scotland and other parts of Northern Europe, there is a tradition of sending out the Fiery Cross, a charred, sometimes bloody piece of wood, in cases of emergency. (No, it has nothing to do with that other burning cross.)
  • The British coast for much of the mediaeval and early modern period had beacons that could be lit in the case of enemy landing or full-scale invasion. The system went all the way to London.
  • Possibly one of the greatest military engineering projects in history was the Lines of Torres Vedras. The Duke of Wellington built them in secret (from both his own government and the French) — a network of interlinked forts than covered the Lisbon region. Their best feature — a semaphore system that could transmit a message around the entire network in 7 minutes, or a message from HQ to any part of the lines in four minutes, which was practically FTL-speeds in the Napoleonic Wars. As an interesting side note, their development was so secret that the British Government was stunned when Wellington informed them in despatches that he had retreated to them, and Marshal Masséna had this exchange with his staff:
    Masséna: Why did we not know of this?
    Staff Officer: Wellington has made them.
    Masséna: The devil with you! Did Wellington make the mountains!
  • The French had a similar semaphore system, allowing them to quickly send important information back and forth, particularly concerning the whereabouts and actions of the Royal Navy.
  • The use of white or black smoke to inform awaiting crowds of the outcome of a papal election is a sufficiently-dramatic signaling method to rate as an Epic Hail, albeit a peaceful example of one rather than a cry for help. Prior to technology marching on, it was also one of the few ways to broadcast the announcement to an entire city quickly.
  • One example which (thankfully) was never actually used: in Britain after World War II started going badly with the fall of France and the Low Countries, the ringing of church bells was banned — except in case of invasion, in which case all the bells across the country would be used as a mass signal to prepare for immediate ground war.
  • One familiar to all watchers of TV in the United States: "This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. If this had been a real emergency, you would have been given information...."
  • In some areas, there are no (or very few) full-time firefighters in a given community. Instead, they have a force of part-time firefighters who usually have other jobs to pay the bills. When they are needed, a loud alarm will sound at the fire station to alert the firefighters to drop what they're doing and meet up. In more modern times, pagers and cell phones are also used, with the station bell being kept usually out of tradition.
  • Similar to the above, many parts of the US have Tornado Sirens, immensely loud sirens mounted on telephone poles intended to sound the alarm in the event of a tornado. However, their primary purpose is not to call for help, but to warn everyone to seek shelter immediately.
  • Deconstructed in World War I during the Battle of Caporetto. Anticipating the Austro-Hungarians to break through Italian lines at the obvious weak point of Volzana, general Pietro Badoglio placed a large concentration of artillery there with instruction of not firing without his orders, but when the offensive came and broke through he found his phone lines had been interrupted by artillery and the misty weather made his semaphore signals invisible. The Austro-Hungarians were relieved when they captured the guns that should have stopped them, while Italian general Cadorna, commander in chief sacked precisely because of the defeat, was livid that Badoglio not only disobeyed his orders (that called for a fighting retreat), but did it in such an incompetent way and got away with it thanks to his friendship with the king and his prime minister and his Freemasonic membership.


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Epic FlailJust for PunThe Eponymous Show

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