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It took more time to strap him to that thing than it'll take for him to get out.
Behold, the Escape Artist! Death-defying man of adventure! No bonds can hold him! No trap can kill him! With a smile and a wink, he slips out of the tightest straitjacket, breaks out of the most hermetic cage, rises unharmed from the deepest ocean!
The Escape Artist (or Escapologist) is exactly that: a character whose ability to escape dangerous situations is practically superhuman. However, do note that it's not ACTUALLY superhuman: a true escape artist relies merely on skill, guile and misdirection to make his escapes. After all, breaking free with Super Strength
, escaping death with Super Speed
or surviving with Nigh-Invulnerability
, well, that would be cheating, and this character is ALL about doing things the right way.
Escapology, the art and science of escape (and not to be confused with Escapism, mind you), has long been associated with stage acts since the early days of the 20th century, with Harry Houdini being the man to elevate it into a bonafide art form. In Real Life
, stage magicians perform acts of escapology relying on both illusionism and actual skills such as contortionism, lock-picking and even plain brute-strength. As a long-time tradition of stage acts, escape stunts are suitably dramatic and suspenseful, utilizing the apparent(or sometimes even actual) danger to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, and giving them rapturous release when he manages to escape.
As a character type in fiction, escapologists will ALWAYS escape on pure skill. Though they may use tools to free themselves, those tools still require intense training to use, as well as a high amount of cunning to conceal in case of being trapped. They are also always incredibly nimble and of cat-like dexterity. This lends itself to excelling in other talents, like gambling
(especially at high stakes
, misdirection, etc. Also, the ability to escape also usually goes hand-in-hand with the ability to infiltrate
, and so escapologists can usually be found as the mastermind or a high profile member of a group performing The Caper
. Also, expect an escapologist to know kung-fu
, for when guile and skill alone won't get him out of trouble.
Because of its association with the stage, escapist characters are also usually pretty hammy
and melodramatic. They tend to be roguishly charming
to boot. Basically, if a character's gimmick is escapology, he's gonna be larger than life. Escapology is, obviously, quite an universally useful skill, so you see both good and bad guys relying on it, but even bad guys tend to be pretty charming and charismatic
if they're this kind if character. They will ALWAYS show confidence in their skill, to the point of sometimes bragging about it or even using it as a signature of their character. There is no such thing as a timid or subdued escapist, since their ability to survive traps and bonds depends on being brave and confident of one's abilities. Even when an escapologist is actually a very serious character, he'll still tell you to your face that a trap won't work on him. For example, Batman
, one of fiction's greatest escapologists, may be serious and not prone to bragging, but if you tie him up, he'll be the first to tell you "This won't hold me for long."
Not to be confused with the 2013 BBC TV series of the same name, although it does involve this trope in the legal sense.
Anime and Manga
- Pictured above is Scott Free, AKA Mister Miracle, The DCU's (and perhaps all of fiction's) greatest escapologist. He has New God technology he uses when fighting crime but never uses it to escape anything, and literally no one, except possibly his protegé, has his level of skill in escape. He's so good at escaping, he managed to escape Apokolips. Darkseid's planet. Let that sink in. Because that was just his first escape.
- Shilo Norman, the second Mister Miracle, in his Seven Soldiers miniseries, successfully escapes, in order: a black hole, the Omega Sanction (being serially reincarnated in his own mind, in ever more depressing and hopeless lives.) and finally, in the finale, death itself, after being chained and shackled, shot in the head and buried.
- The wizard Zatara and his daughter, Zatanna. True, they possess actual magic as well, but they are both perfectly capable of escapology on their own, and have done so numerous times when not able to utilize their magic skill. Also, Zatara was teacher of escapology to...
- ...Batman. Always prepared with the right tools and skills, from lockpicks to acid to liquid nitrogen. It's almost a cliche for villains to put Bats in a Death Trap and having him "miraculously" escape.
- Also, The Joker can usually wriggle out of a straitjacket rather quickly (probably because he's had so much practice, given how often he breaks out of Arkham. In fact, this is even lampshaded in one episode of Batman: The Animated Series where he puts Batman in a Death Trap that involves a straitjacket. Batman gets out of it rather fast, and the villain comments, "They don't make straitjackets the way they used to...I should know..."
- John Constantine, the Hellblazer, is a master of this, but uses more of his wits to get out of sticky situations.
- Yorick, Non-Action Snarker protagonist of Y: The Last Man, is an amateur escape artist and magician, which is the one useful skill he has that badass bodyguard Agent 355 doesn't. In his first scene, he's talking to his girlfriend on speaker-phone while hanging from the ceiling and working his way out of a straitjacket.
- Sartana has this amongst his many, many skills.
- Robert Angier and Alfred Borden of The Prestige.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: Captain Jack Sparrow has pulled this several times. Wiggling out of handcuffs via lantern oil in the second film, using the 'leverage' trick in the 3rd film and getting his hands free in the 4th film and using the palm tree's as an improvised catapult with him as as the missile.
- "You will always remember this as the day you almost caught, Captain Jack Sparrow!"
- James Bond.
- Henley Reeves in Now You See Me
- Jo Grant, companion to the Third Doctor on Doctor Who, was very handy at getting out of handcuffs, manacles, and the like. The lock picking course seems to be the only UNIT agent course that she excelled in.
- The Doctor himself is an example. It helps that he's been trained by Houdini.
- This is subverted in the episode "Planet of The Ood" where the Doctor and Donna have been handcuffed.
Donna: You're the one with all the tricks. You must have met Houdini!
The Doctor: These are really good handcuffs.
Donna: Well, I'm glad of that. I mean, at least we've got QUALITY!
- Parodied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Life of Tchaikovsky" sketch, in which a pianist freed himself from a sack while pounding out the opening chords of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B-flat minor.
- Would the titular character of MacGyver count? He certainly has the technical expertise, seeing as he can escape almost any dangerous situation using any means at his disposal.
- Boardwalk Empire had a performance by Harry Houdini's brother who claims to be a much better escape artist than his famous brother The audience at the show seems unimpressed since he lacks the showmanship of his brother.
- This is all straight from history: The Great Hardeen actually invented a good deal of the tricks his brother made famous, but Houdini vastly eclipsed him with his idea to do his escapes in plain sight, making it clear that there was no trick involved and he really was that good at getting out of straightjackets and the like.
- Used as, ahem, a punchline in Big Bad Beetleborgs. The Villain of the Week has captured Flabber, and has challenged him to a drawing contest. Flabber draws an abstract, brownish oval with a smaller oval at one side. Baddie complains, "Hey, what kind of an artist are you?!" The phasm replies, "An escape artist!" as the shape—a spring-loaded boxing glove—leaps out of the canvas and K.O.s his captor.
- Taken with a different spin in the BBC drama The Escape Artist, in which it's more about escaping the law through complex understanding of it and being manipulative. There's more than one political escape artist; Liam Foyle starts as the escape artist but by the end William Burton ends up doing the same thing to get away scot free.
- The magician in Theatre of Magic, who has three illusions centered around escapes: "Trunk Escape", "Safe Escape". and "Strait Jacket".
- In Pinball Magic, one of the tricks for the player to perform is to escape from a locked trunk.
- Swedish improv comic Hasse Alfredson occasionally used a gag about either working for or being the world's worst escape artist in his Lindeman routines. "He told us to cuff him, tie him up, chain him up, put him in a box, weld it shut, wrap chains around it and toss it in the river...like hell he could escape."
- Basil Mouse, of The Great Mouse Detective, is basically just a rodent-version of Sherlock Holmes—so of course, he's also a superb escape-artist, demonstrating it in the movie by escaping a ludicrously lethal Death Trap.
- In one episode of The Real Ghostbusters, the team was having a hard time with a ghost that their trap could not hold. No matter how many times they trapped it, it kept breaking out. They later found out that the ghost was the spirit of Harry Houdini; clearly, he hadn't lost his touch.
- Trope Codifier is Harry Houdini, the archetypal stage escape artist.
- Many Real Life stage magicians, including Criss Angel, David Blaine and Penn & Teller.
- Comicbook writer and artist Jim Steranko was an amateur escapologist, and an influence on both Mister Miracle and Joe Kavalier, mentioned above.
- As a species, orangutans are Real Life escape artists. You can find several stories of orangutans wandering around zoos, and the general public thinks it's just a normal part of zoo life. Nowadays the way zoos test whether any (air-breathing) habitat is secure is to put an orangutan in it. If it can't get out, nothing can get out.
- Similarly, octopuses are extremely difficult to keep in a tank. They are strong enough to lift the lid off, and flexible enough to squeeze through extremely small holes.