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Face Stealer
"Parker! I never get tired of seeing that face. No matter how times I've cloned it, masked it, unmasked it— ...liquified it...or worn it as a little hat."
The Jackal, Spider-Island

Voluntary Shapeshifting is a really powerful and useful ability for a character to have. But occasionally they run into a problem of logistics (other than the usual ones); how do they get the information to change shape? Sometimes it is enough just to look or touch whatever the character wants to change into.

Other times, nastier things have to be done. Some face stealers— almost exclusively villains— must kill a person in order to take their form. While sometimes any body part will do, the purest form involves removing the target's face. Occasionally the victim will even survive, perhaps being left as The Blank until he can steal his face back. Either way, this has the added benefit of making it impossible for the original guy to show up and ruin the charade.

Named for One-Scene Wonder Koh of Avatar: The Last Airbender, who steals any face he sees that doesn't have an emotionless expression.

Occasionally an application of Cannibalism Super Power in which case its You Are Who You Eat, although skinning the target is just as common. See Kill and Replace, which is what this trope often leads to. Contrast Clone by Conversion, where the victim is the one who assumes a different form. See Beast with a Human Face for when the character has a human face for another reason.

Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Chriopterans in Blood+ can take on the form of anybody whose blood they have drunk. Used for extra squick points when Diva walked around as Riku, the protagonist's little brother, who she had previously raped and killed
  • In InuYasha, one of Naraku's henchmen was Muso alias the incarnation of his human feelings for Kikyou, a faceless man who wore the faces of people he'd killed. Being based on Naraku's human side, he was faceless so the viewers wouldn't learn what Onigumo looked like before he was Naraku, though in this series it's not much of a secret.
  • Orochimaru from Naruto does this early on during the chunin exams to a team of Grass Village genin. He and his underlings literally take the faces from the victims either while or after killing them and wear them as disguises. However, after that instance the technique is never used again. This could be explained by the fact that there are other (less drastic) ways to copy someone's appearance. Like E-Ranked technique every Academy Student is supposed to know.
    • Zetsu can mimic the chakra of people he transforms into, but he needs to take some chakra first
    • Actually, he also used it when impersonating the Kazekage. After that he simply hasn't been in disguise.
  • Hanzo in Ultimate Muscle slices the faces off his defeated opponents.
  • In Nurarihyon No Mago, Rikuo fights a guy who cuts off girls' faces.
  • Etzali (Unabara Mitsuki) of Toaru Majutsu no Index.
  • The twist at the end of Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos involves this trope but is also a huge spoiler: The person who we've been led to believe is Ashleigh Crichton for the entire movie is actually the Crichton family's security chief Atlas, who had Ashleigh's face alchemically implanted over his own to impersonate Ashleigh, gain his sister Julia's trust, and use her to create a Philosopher's Stone (the eponymous "sacred star"). Ashleigh, meanwhile, survived the attack and took on the identity of Colonel Herschel, from Creta; he ultimately confronts Atlas about the latter's deception and isn't too happy about it.
  • One from Japanese Mythology is seen in GeGeGe no Kitaro. In the 96's series, a cute young woman's face is stolen right before her wedding and she's left as The Blank; her little brother decides to write to Kitaro and ask him for help, and this leads Kitaro and his friends to a face-off with the youkai who's to blame...

     Comic Books 
  • The Chameleon from Spider-Man comics. Usually he uses a special gas to make a mask out of his target's skin, but some continuities have him actually eat the target.
  • The Chitauri in Marvel's The Ultimates needed to consume a human to take their shape.
  • The Marvel Universe also has the Dire Wraiths.
  • An obscure Iron Man villain was a Japanese demon called the Face Thief, who was exactly that.
  • Another comic-book example: the Warwolves, creatures from Marvel's Excalibur series, could drain a living target's life force and then assume its form by wearing the empty skin that remained.
  • Orlando, a minor demon from The Invisibles series skinned his victims' faces off and, pretending to be them, went on to kill their relatives.
  • Everyman in 52 needs to eat a part of something in order to turn into that shape. He mentions many nails and hairs when discussing combat shapes (And some of the shapes he uses just for fun), but as time goes on he begins to take more than he needs and take advantage of the wide variety of meats available in the DC universe.
  • Mazikeen in Lucifer tries to restore her face to half-destroyed this way (Its Complicated) and manages only to turn someone else's face into The Blank (non-consensually).
    • The Jin en Mok in Lucifer do this too, more successfully.
  • Skulljacket was a one-shot villain from Spider-Man, using former-Soviet technology. He mimicked appearance by means of holograms, but could copy enough of a person's memories for a better-quality impersonation by taking a small sample of flesh (getting the memory info from RNA), usually leaving victims rubbing an aching neck. After taking on a police detective's semblance, he made a snide, mock-sympathetic remark implying that the memory absorption told him the detective's grown son was homosexual and dad was having trouble dealing with it. Skulljacket typically left those he mimicked alive, so they could take the fall for any crimes he committed wearing their appearance.
  • The female Dire Wraiths introduced in Rom Space Knight didn't need to kill, but by sucking out the target's brain would also gain access to their memories, making impersonation easier.
  • Transformers: More than Meets the Eye introduces us to Vos, a member of the Deception Justice Division, who inverts the trope. His favorite method of torture is to give his face to others. His spike laden, nightmarish face.
  • For the Comic Books section, Jane Doe from the DC universe is a rare non-supernatural variant of this trope. She studies her victims movement and mannerisms before she ambushes them and surgically removes their face to steal their identity.

    Film 
  • Invasion of the Body Snatchers, of course.
  • In The Thing (1982), the titular alien is able to infect and take over anyone who comes into contact with a single cell of it.
  • The Bug in Men In Black
  • The Zandozan assassin in The Last Starfighter
  • The Djinn from the first, third, and fourth Wishmaster movies. In the second he used the same human form he had in the first, a corpse from the morgue. In the third and fourth it gets worse as he skins living people, a hapless college professor and a lawyer played by Michael Trucco, respectively.
  • The gingerbread... thing in The Brothers Grimm only got a face after she stole that of a girl, leaving her with a blank face.
  • Pavi Largo in Repo! The Genetic Opera, a vain playboy whose own face was scarred horribly by some unseen accident, and who now wears the skinned-off flesh of women's faces bolted over his mutilated flesh like masks. (It's implied that he takes them from women he rapes- and that he possibly even stole them as trophies anyway even before he was disfigured. After all, we see a picture of him with a normal face cutting away a dead woman's skin in an alley...)
  • In The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lecter breaks out of a Cardboard Prison, kills a guard, cuts of his face and wears it like a mask, so that he can play possum and pose as the guard in order to escape while being taken to the hospital.
  • A literal double example, done with surgery and much squick, in Face/Off, with Sean Archer receiving Castor Troy's face and vice-versa.
  • Leatherface from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise.
  • Lazlo Soot does this in Smokin' Aces and in Smokin' Aces 2
  • The T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day
    Terminator: The T-1000's highest probability for success now would be to copy Sarah Connor and to wait for you to make contact with her.
    John: Great. And what happens to her?
    Terminator: Typically, the subject being copied is terminated.
  • Leonard from Mask Maker.

    Literature 
  • Even Aesop's Fables used this trope, making it Older Than Feudalism.
    • It should be noted, though, that neither the donkey nor the wolf actually killed any animals for the skins, but merely found the skins lying around.
    • Given a Shout-Out in The Chronicles of Narnia when Puzzle the donkey impersonates Aslan by wearing an old lion's skin given to him by the ape Shift. (Just like in the original Aesop fables, though, Shift didn't actually kill a lion, but just found the skin lying around.)
  • The Karas Demons in The Cycle of Fire have to eat their targets to keep their shape for long, and in the process they also acquire access to the target's memories.
  • In Ozma of Oz, the third Land of Oz book, Princess Langwidere can change her head at will. She takes a liking to Dorothy's head and wants to add it to her collection. (She does offer Dorothy one of her cast-offs in return, and it's implied that it wouldn't have killed Dorothy, but still...)
  • Abeloth from the Fate of the Jedi books. Unlike other examples, she doesn't seem to consume anything physical just her victim's presence in the Force.
  • In the seventh Harry Potter book, Nagini the evil snake (Voldemort's familiar) impersonates an old woman by hiding inside her corpse.
  • The changeling demon from the High Druid of Shannara trilogy takes forms this way, by literally wearing the skin of the person it is impersonating.
  • The Kandra in the Mistborn series. To take a person's form they have to consume their bones and use those as a skeletal structure and an imprint for their flesh to imitate.
  • Legion, The Mole in The Banned and the Banished, turns into any animal he wears the skin of. It isn't that disgusting until he kills and skins a friendly Shapeshifter . . .
  • The creatures in The Apocalypse Door by James D. Macdonald remove and wear the face of the person they're imitating. They also apparently take part of the brain, giving them access to the person's memories.
  • The Guild of the Faceless Men in A Song of Ice and Fire use several different means to hide their appearance, one of which involves removing people's faces and using magic to temporarily graft them onto their assassins. This is used both for impersonations as well as to blend into a particular environment.
  • In The Taking by Dean Koontz, a group of people are discovered literally faceless, and the shapeshifting demonic invaders use Molly's father to torment her after he is dead.
  • In The Kingkiller Chronicle, some "demons" have this ability, but when they are in someone else's skin, it is very obvious that they are not human, as they only speak gibberish.
  • Thursday Next: Acheron Hades took the face from his dying Mook Felix and applied it to a succession of abducted and brainwashed replacements. He later threatened to make Thursday the next Felix.
  • In a rare heroic example, Patton Burgess from the Fablehaven series recalls wearing goblin skin to disguise himself as a goblin and fool a dragon.
  • Ian Covey in Everyman is a person who, by taking important possessions, can assume the shape of another person. Pretty much the textbook definition of this trope.
  • The protagonist of Sergey Volnov's Army of the Sun has been cursed by a witch. Now, he periodically has to kill in a certain manner (rip out the heart and stare into the fading eyes of the victim) to stay alive. After this, he can, for a short time, take on the appearance of the victim, even if it's a Human Alien. He doesn't like this, and his main motivation is to find Earth so that the curse can be broken.

     Live Action TV 
  • The Slitheen in Doctor Who kill humans and fashion their skins into alien-tech disguise suits, as do the cyborgs in the episode "Deep Breath."
  • The Skinwalker from the pilot of The Dresden Files TV show.
  • The Shapeshifters on Fringe are a Squick-y example of this, as the transformation looks exceedingly painful, requires that the victim be dead, and involves a three-pronged metal thing jammed into the roof of their mouth. The second group of shapeshifters from the fourth season require an even more nightmarish and biological Body Horror to take their victims' form.
  • Accidental usage. There was a character in Heroes who had the ability to mimic people with just a small physical sample for their DNA. Then Sylar met him, stole his ability and became a Face Stealer in his own right.
  • In an episode of The Mighty Boosh, Vince starts to tell a story about his childhood about an ape who needed to steal a man's face to be king, or something... it ends on a sort-of cliffhanger as Vince (in the story) falls asleep, leaving him susceptible to the ape's intent, but obviously the adult Vince telling the story has a face, so to an extent it's obvious how it ends.
  • There also was a monster from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers with this name. Victims are left as an Empty Shell and The Blank. Needless to say, the scene in which some of the Rangers had their faces stolen was terrifying to some kids.
  • In season 1 episode 6 of Supernatural, a Shapeshifter is the Monster of the Week. He takes on many people's appearances and uses the ability to frame others for murder. The Leviathans from season 7 can also take on the faces of others.
  • In the fourth season of True Blood, we learn that shapeshifters can take the form of humans only if they have killed a member of their immediate family.
    • The concept of "killed" in this case is a little broad. The first time we hear this is from a female Shifter whose mother died at childbirth. According to this definition, she is the one who killed her mother and is able to shift into humans.
  • One episode of Are You Afraid of the Dark? invokes this with an ancient woman who traps young girls and steals their faces in order to retain her youth. She stores their faces in a book, and uses the featureless girls as masked servants.

     Music Videos 
  • A literal Face Stealer (similar to the Avatar: The Last Airbender example below) appears in "Maskara" by Filipino band The Eraserheads.

     Other Sites 

     Tabletop Games 
  • The Ganabe in Chill.
  • The Lunars from Exalted all have a spirit animal they can shapeshift into at will, but can also assume the form of any creature whose heart blood they consume following a ritualistic hunt. And yes, this applies to humans, as well.
  • In Legend of the Five Rings, there is a species of all-female troll-like monsters who pretend to be human women by killing them and wearing their skin (the illusion holds as long as the skin is more or less fresh.)
  • The Pisanob bloodline of the Giovanni clan in Vampire: The Masquerade has a ritual that allows them to skin someone alive, then "wear" the skin to change their appearance into that of the victim.
  • The D&D splatbook Monster Manual IV introduces the Defacer, an undead shapeshifter that turns its kills into The Blank, which can't even be restored with magic because the defacer also has the victims soul. Only killing the defacer restores the face and frees the soul.

     Video Games 
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, the three transformation masks are actually made from the souls of dead characters - or possibly a manifestation of their Ghostly Goals, the game isn't exactly clear about the mechanics. Regardless, the character has to die in order for you to get their mask.
    • Note that you get the mask by playing the Song of Healing, implying that the mask-transformation process is in some way beneficial to the soul of the departed.
  • In the N64/PSX Mission: Impossible game, the Face Maker not only duplicates people's faces, but their clothing as well.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
  • Alex Mercer from Prototype eats people and uses this so often he starts body surfing.
  • The Spy in Team Fortress 2, upon getting a Back Stab with the "Your Eternal Reward" knife, instantly disguises as the person he stabbed.
  • In Thief III this is how Gamall, the main antagonist infiltrates the Keepers. This involves skinning people, so it's a very literal example.
  • Doctor Thomas Elliot / Hush in Batman: Arkham City. In the comics, he made himself look like Bruce Wayne through Magic Plastic Surgery. In the game, he does the same thing...by murdering people, carving off parts of their faces, and replacing his own face with the assembled pieces.
  • Fallen London has the Snuffers, which apparently rip the skin off people and wear it.
  • A popular (yet technically incomplete) Minecraft mod called "Morph" allows the player to shapeshift into any mobs they killed.

     Web Comics 

     Western Animation 
  • One of the latter appearances of Sideshow Bob on The Simpsons has him surgically trade faces with his cellmate in order to escape from jail.
    • One episode has Chief Wiggum taking a count of various prisoners and asks about the whereabouts of a guy who eats people and steals their faces. The guy, who is totally normal looking, cheerfully indicates his presence.
  • Koh, The Face Stealer in Avatar: The Last Airbender, is the Trope Namer. This centipede-like Eldritch Abomination takes the faces of people and animals who show any facial expression in front of him, whilst keeping the appearances around to use as masks. And even worse, his victims don't dienote , if the faceless monkey outside his lair is any indicator. When Aang is first told of him by Roku, he is warned that he can only save himself by not showing any facial expression near him, which helps him a lot when he meets him for the first time in "The Siege of the North, Part 2"; when he nearly blows it when he smiles behind his back, he's at least Genre Savvy enough to resume his straight face at the last moment.
    • The tie-in comics make him look more like a Woobie than a monster when it's revealed why he steals faces: he's been estranged from his mother, the Mother of Faces - who, as her name implies, creates all faces - since time began, and he steals faces because of how much he misses her.
  • According to the Cartoon Network version of MAD, Megan Fox got her looks by stealing Kristen Stewart's hair, Scarlett Johansson's eyes, and Angelina Jolie's lips. Before this, she was an actual fox.
  • The Mysteronsnote  appear to be doing something like this in The New Adventures Of Captain Scarlet, with the target's corpse disappearing in a swirl of motes of weird green light to reconstitute as an evil, Mysteron-controlled duplicate. It's not clear exactly how necessary this is, because they have shown the ability to out-and-out possess animals and remotely interfere with machinery: If you subscribe to the notion that the whole War of Nerves is really just the Mysterons trolling humanity For the Evulz and/or For the Lulz, one could argue that they think it's more dramatic that way.

     Real Life 
  • A certain sea slug called the nudibranch eats jellyfish and uses their stinging cells to protect itself from predators.
  • Hermit crabs, though they don't actually hurt anyone, they just use the shells of dead sea creatures.
  • Assassin bugs will "wear" the exoskeletons of prey on top of their bodies. Due to size disparities this may cause them to appear as a pile of insects rather than one. It still works.
  • Quite possibly the most sinister of real life face-stealers is a queen Polyergus breviceps. This ant queen goes into another colony's anthill of another genus (Formica) and finds the queen of the colony. She then cuts open the queen with jaws designed just for this task and proceeds to bathes in the fluids of her victim for around 25 minutes while the victim is still alive. Moments after the death of the Formica queen, the Formica colony thinks the murderous outsider is their real queen. Furthermore, if the colony in question has more than one queen, she kills all of them, even though she only needs to bath in the blood of one queen to be accepted, and with her new identity, she is in no hurry to find them after the first one is taken care of, because to the duped guards, she is their queen.
  • Man possesses the ability to wear products made from dead animals. But instead of the nudibranch's usage of assimilating jellyfish or the hermit crab's obvious naturality, the skins that humans wear are instead transformed into numerous varieties that are totally unrecognizable from where they came.


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