Not So Invincible After All
Perhaps your Badass Longcoat
has developed a deadly cough
over the last few days, or perhaps the Big Bad
has enjoyed a few too many of those fancy cigars and develops lung cancer, or maybe the team's muscle
tests positive for Huntington's, or maybe the resident Genki Girl
's hyperactivity goes a little too far in the middle of traffic, and she ends up splattered on the street. In any case, a character that is portrayed as invincible and indestructible is brought down by disease or something relatively mundane that may have been hinted at all along, but not truly noticed until it's too late.
This usually tragic happening causes a character to prove that they're Not So Invincible After All
, a trope that all powerful characters fear.
Many times, this trope is used in high drama where everyone's fighting and killing each other to bring the cast down to earth for long enough to realize that, hey, they may be powerful, but they're still human.
When done poorly, may be regarded as a Dropped a Bridge on Him
. Such a moment may occur when a user of The Law of Diminishing Defensive Effort
takes a hit from something that can go through his defence.
This is a Death Trope, so beware of spoilers.
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Anime and Manga
- In DC's Hellblazer, John Constantine is known for going up against all manner of demons, supernatural entities, and the Devil himself, and cheating death at every turn. One of the finest Story Arcs of the series, "Dangerous Habits", begins with John discovering he's got terminal lung cancer. Over the course of the storyline, he attempts to call in every favor he can think of, only to discover that the few beings he knows who have the power to help him don't like him enough to do so. He eventually weasels out of the situation, in classic John Constantine style, by selling his soul to all three of the Lords of Hell. Since, if John were to die, they would be forced to go to war over his soul (destroying Hell in the process), they are therefore forced to cure his cancer to keep him alive. Naturally, this pisses them off unbelievably, and has consequences later in the series.
- In the movie he finally manages to redeem himself to void his earlier suicide which had damned his soul. Pissed at not getting Constantine's soul (John flipping him off as he was ascending to Heaven probably didn't help his mood), the Devil cures his cancer at the last moment, so he'll have time to sin again.
- Marvel Comics's version of Captain Marvel died not from a supervillain battle, but from cancer. (Admittedly, it was cancer caused during a supervillain battle, but.) The Death of Captain Marvel is probably the character's finest moment.
- DC's The Question was never a "Big Gun," he had no super powers and his foes were street-level criminals and human organizations, but he was still reputably badass and tough: the first issue of his Dennis O'Neil series (his most well-known series) ended with him defeated in a one-on-one fight by Lady Shiva, then his body was viciously beaten by the gang she was working for, then he was shot in the head with an air-gun and then he was thrown into a frozen river and left for dead. Not only did he survive, pulled out of the water by Shiva, but he was then given martial arts training by Richard Dragon (Regarded as the premier martial artist of the DCU and one of the trainers of Batman, Bronze Tiger and the afore-mentioned Shiva) so he came back even tougher... then, in 52, it is revealed that he has developed terminal lung cancer exacerbated by a lifetime of smoking. It has recently metastasized and now he is wasting away, physically and mentally. There is no mystical cure and no advanced alien treatment, his cancer is untreatable and he dies outside the gates of Nanda Parbat.
- Captain Britain foe the Fury was killed by Captain UK. This wouldn't be a good example compared to the rest if it wasn't Fury, the same being who killed all of it's Universe's superheroes, survived the destruction of the said Universe and get toe-to-toe with one of the most powerful Reality Warpers in the history and won. And yet, the Unstoppable Rage of one woman was enough to teach it the meaning of death and defeat.
- After countless times of escaping death, after being one of the most evil and powerful of super villains, after clashing and allying himself with the some of the greatest powers of the DC universe, both good and evil, how does the immortal Hank Henshaw finally die? He makes the mistake of transferring into a robot character who already has a soul, and then is soul-killed which Word Of God says is permanent.
- Annnnnd then Hank came back anyways, only to be knocked out and kidnapped by Doomsday.
Films — Live-Action
- Played for laughs in GoldenEye, where Playful Hacker Boris, after being the last survivor of the collapse of the Big Bad's lair (other than Bond and the girl of course), jumps up and hollers his Catch Phrase: "Yes! I AM INVINCIBLE!" A split second later, three tanks of liquid nitrogen explode and flash-freeze him to death.
- In the movie Rocky IV, Drago seems to be taking no damage whatsoever from Rocky's punches. However, at one point, Drago starts bleeding a little bit from the punches. This emboldens Rocky to win the fight.
- In the movie The Matrix Reloaded, after Neo stopped a hail of bullets, the Merovingian's mooks pick up swords and start fighting him. When Neo stops a sword with his outstretched hand, a drop of blood from his hand hits the floor. The Merovingian then says "See! He's just a man!" Cue Neo taking swords off the wall and defeating the mooks.
- In the older film adaptation of The War of the Worlds, the alien tripods lay waste to human military without breaking stride. However, they all are defeated by bacteria—against which they are not immune
- The death of the alien invaders in The War of the Worlds is a classic case, although not a very well foreshadowed one.
- In the Dale Brown book The Tin Man, Patrick McLanahan is warned that the first version of the titular Powered Armor he's using is vulnerable to knives, something that turns out to be a Chekhov's Gun. Hal Briggs gets this in Strike Force after running into a Russian trap.
- Porthos the giant member of our band in "The Three Musketeers" and "The Man in the Iron Mask" so big and strong that he can't even kill himself by hanging (though it does cure his impotence which is why he was doing it) is killed holding up a huge rock in "Thirty Years After."
- In Mistborn, everyone regards the Lord Ruler as a terrifying invincible god. Turns out that his power (or rather, a particularly significant part of it) comes from the mystically empowered bracelets he wears on his upper arms which provide him with a limitless supply of youth and vitality- when they get torn off, he immediately begins to revert to his actual age of approximately one milennium. Though he still has his other powers, he can't use them at all effectively while time is rapidly decaying his own body out from under him.
- One hallmark of the Cosmic Horror Story genre is that everything, even abominations like Cthulhu, is insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Even great Cthulhu is ultimately doomed to die, cold and alone, in the depths.
- A rather metaphysical example from the distant past of the Perry Rhodan universe: in a backstory vignette, we learn of the fight of the last still-active Knight of the Deep, Armadan of Harpoon, against an entity called Nabel that controls a large and spreading sector of space. Nabel's strength and weakness both is her unconditional commitment to an idea — specifically, the idea of her own ultimate power. (This is a universe in which superbeings with vast psychic powers do canonically exist, so the concept isn't as outlandish as one might first think.) After years of trying to find a way to fight such an enemy all on his own, with no support whatsoever and his immortality having given out, Armadan fails as far as he knows; he dies of old age with Nabel's position no weaker than before. Yet it's also his death that for the first time in her entire existence inspires Nabel to consider her own mortality — and being who she is...
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer was brought low by a bout of flu in "Killed by Death". Handily, this gave her a reason to investigate a series of deaths in the local hospital.
- Joss Whedon has a habit of giving main characters senseless, non-heroic deaths, from stray bullets to C-list villains who have simply gotten further in their plans than anyone thought. While the characters weren't ever built up as particularly invincible, their main character status would tend to create viewer expectations of their survival, or at least going out in a blaze of glory.
- One particularly tearjerking example is Cassie, a minor but much-loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer character who had prophesied her own death. Buffy manages to save her from a cult looking to perform a human sacrifice, when she is almost cut down by a Booby Trap that comes out of nowhere. But this too, Buffy stops. At which point, Cassie drops dead from a heart defect.
- The Judge cannot be harmed with any weapon. The Judge declares himself invincible. It took an army to stop him before, and even they could only stop him temporarily. That army did not have a missile launcher, which Buffy uses to blow him away.
- Sarah Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles suffers from a unique version of this trope, when she learns that in her uninterrupted timeline, after she had fought to keep John alive and saved the world twice, she died from leukemia. She immediately heads to a hospital in an attempt to stop this.
- Gai Yuuki/Black Condor in Choujin Sentai Jetman. One full year of fighting Vyram, extraterrestrial invaders, and he survived them all! Cue 3 years later, a random mugger kills him with a mere stab.
- In Power Rangers Jungle Fury, Grizzaka is in a huge battle with the Rangers. The fight has proceeded to a giant Megazord fight and at one point during that massive showdown he taunts the rangers with "It's your turn to learn the same lesson all of my enemies have. There is no one as powerful as Grizzaka, and never will be," which, unfortunately for him, ends up tempting the Rangers to form the Jungle Master Stampede Formation and use it to destroy him. Before exploding, he gets a huge surprise and shouts "Impossible... I am invincible... no one is stronger than Grizzaka...!" After that, his Critical Existence Failure is instantaneous.
- In an episode of Farscape, the protagonists find the wreck of the Zelbinion, a legendary Peacekeeper command carrier. Everybody is stunned, as the ship was believed to be indestructible. When they tell this to Crichton, he calmly tells them to talk to Leonardo DiCaprio about indestructible ships. In a later episode, it's revealed that the ship was destroyed by the Nebari, who claim not to have any warships. However, their civilian ships are fully capable of engaging any warship of a galactic power. It's implied that even the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans would have trouble dealing with the Nebari.
- Jason, of the famous ancient Greek myth "Jason and the Argonauts," is a notable example. He survived all manner of crazy adventures, battling against impossible odds. He even betrayed his extremely homicidal wife and lived to tell about it. What did him in? A piece of his ship, the Argo, fell on his head and killed him instantly while he was asleep.
- In one version, he sat under it, told it that it was the only friend he had... and then it fell on his head and killed him.
- The mighty Hercules, son of Zeus, a man who stole Cerberus from Hades, who choked an indestructible lion to death, who slew the Hydra: killed by a shirt with some poisonous blood on it.
- In some version of the myth, it didn't actually kill him, just caused him constant, unending agony, so he set himself on fire to escape the pain.
- Achilles was rendered invulnerable because his mother Thetis dipped him into the River Styx as a child; however as she was holding onto his heel, it was never made invulnerable. Many years later during the Trojan War, Achilles is the greatest hero on the field...until he is killed by a single arrow in the foot.
- As with any mythology, there are varying versions. Most of them do make some mention of the arrow being poisoned.
- In the World War II superhero RPG Godlike, The Invulnerable Man is invulnerable to anything, as long as he knows about it. He dies of lung cancer from smoking; he didn't see that coming.
- Meta example: How many times have you died in a video game seconds after your invincibility power-up wore off? Or during its effects, due to Bottomless Pit or similar?
- Ukyo Tachibana from the Samurai Shodown video game series was set up for this with his tuberculosis, but due to his popularity, SNK has never followed through, except in the obscure and disliked Warrior's Rage.
- Zato-1 from Guilty Gear is a straight video game example, although he was originally intended to dodge the bullet. The unexpected death of his voice actor forced the designers to call in a Not So Invincible After All moment to explain the voice change, as he was consumed by Eddie, the shadow parasite he used to fight.
- Metal Gear Solid 3 features a unique gameplay-affecting example. One of the harder bosses in the game is The End, an incredibly skilled sniper who's also an incredibly old man. If you take a long enough break from the game (or, if you're a cheating bastard, advance the PS2's internal clock), he'll have died of old age when you load back up.
- And in Metal Gear Solid 4 example, Solid Snake, who's survived Outer Heaven, Zanzibar Land, Shadow Moses, the sinking of the Discovery, and the Big Shell Incident is slowly dying of advanced cell degeneration. It doesn't kill him, though. At least, not for LONG after the game ends.
- Metal Gear Solid 2 had a much more sudden and shocking example. Throughout the game, Fortune has been invincible, where bullets literally go around her, and explosives that get close to her don't explode (why nobody takes a knife to her is anyone's guess). She and the other characters dismiss this as supernatural, and the player is convinced of this with an eventually subverted handwave. When the characters begin to pull at the threads of the twist ending, Fortune moves to shoot Ocelot with her BFG, and he quick draws his gun and shoots her, having previously deactivated the device protecting her without her knowledge (before revealing that he was responsible for it in the first place).
- Shinjiro Aragaki of Persona 3 certainly seems to be headed this way after it's discovered that he's been taking Persona suppressants that have been shortening his lifespan, but it ends up being subverted when he ends up Taking the Bullet for Ken Amada instead.
- Beldr the Immortal of Devil Survivor, who has before made a pact with the earth saying that nothing can hurt him. This makes him Nigh Invulnerable to every one of your attacks, unless you use the one thing that didn't make the pact: the Devil's Fuge, or Mistletoe, which has been made into a cell phone strap. Not so immortal after all, huh?
- In Langrisser (Warsong in North America), Volkov/Baldarov permanently dies from a random arrow in a cutscene at the end of a battle, even though in-game you can take up to nine arrows at a time and still be as good as new after three turns of self-healing (or less, if someone casts a heal spell on you as well).
- Sgt. Johnson in Halo 3, felled by 343 Guilty Spark at the end of the game.
- One of Francis's quotes in Left 4 Dead reads "Good thing I'm indestructable."
- Tubba Blubba from Paper Mario. His invincibility is the plot point of the chapter: you know he has a weakness, you just don't know what it is or where to find it. It's his heart, separated from his body, which is still very vulnerable. After defeating it, it flees and rejoins its owner, making him not only vulnerable but weak enough to take out in one turn.
- Warcraft3: Many boss characters are not only very powerful, and possess game breaking spells, they also have Divine armor type which almost completely ignores all damage types, making them practically invincible. When the game requires the player to defeat them, a main quest will have them aquire one or more units that do Chaos damage, which completely ignores all armor types including Divine.
- To be completely precise, Divine Armor only ever gets on the order of 01% of damage dealt from non-Chaos attacks. There have been recorded instances when seemingly-invincible enemies (Chaos!Grom, Cenarius, and Archimonde) were notably damaged. The game, however, gleefully thwarts such an act, railroading the plot regardless.
- In a Borderlands DLC there is a mission that requires you to defeat a giant crayfish like enemy called Crawmerax the Invincible, and he is by far the hardest boss in the game. Once you defeat him, you can get an achievement called "Vincible"
- In Prince Of Persia Warrior Within, the Prince is hunted by the Dahaka, an apparently invincible agent of time sent to kill the Prince to correct the Prince's meddling with the timestream via his use of the Sands of Time. The only thing tha temporarily halts the Dahaka's pursuit is flowing water. In the best ending, the Prince finds the magical Water Sword. When the sword actually manages to hurt the Dahaka in their final encounter, the Prince mentions that it isn't so invincible after all.
- A Running Gag in Captain SNES: The Game Masta. Anyone who says the phrase "I am invincible!", regardless of how powerful they are, will end up getting hurt in some way, even if they're only correcting someone else or quoting someone else who said it. In the world of Final Fantasy IV, an explosion threw a number of treasure boxes all over the world; every single one so far has landed on someone foolish enough to say "I am invincible!" And it happens every single time, without fai... * gets hit by a treasure chest from the sky
- In Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, much of Captain Hammer's cocksure Jerkass attitude comes from the fact that he is apparently impervious to damage, but when Dr. Horrible's death ray malfunctions and explodes in his hands, the aftermath has him lying on the floor and crying "I'm in pain! I think this is what pain feels like!", before he runs away like a little girl and spends the next many months in therapy.
- In Futurama, That Guy was cryogenically frozen because they were unable to find a cure for his terrible "boneitis". He turns out to be a cold, skilled businessman, and is just about to sell Planet Express to their biggest rivals, Momcorp, when he keels over and dies, Chekhov's Gun-style, of his boneitis. "I was so busy being an Eighties guy," he laments, convulsing with agony, "that I forgot to cure it..."
- His one regret was that he had boneitis.
- Also, during an episode set on a planet of robots who believe humans are evil, a horror film ends with the heroes pontificating that a human was immune to their "most powerful electromagnetic fields," but could be killed by a simple pointy stick in the back.
- Madame Souza of The Triplets of Belleville is a virtual Implacable Man who crosses the Atlantic in a pedal boat and manages to wipe out the French Mafia with no more aid than three other elderly women and an incredibly fat dog. The ending implies that she died of old age sometime after the events of the film proper.
- In the opening of the first episode of Batman Beyond, Bruce Wayne hangs up the Bat-mantle after a bad heart forces him to pull a gun on someone.
- In the second Care Bears movie the villain Darkheart falls out of a rowing boat and nearly drowns, needing to be rescued by his own reluctant minion. For reference, this is the same guy who at the beginning of the movie menaced the Care Bears on their boat in the middle of a storm-tossed ocean by taking the form of an enormous serpent, and possesses huge mystical powers. Who'd have guessed he'd be as vulnerable to the old "banana peel on the floor" trick as anyone?
- Starscream from Transformers Animated. After Megatron tore his spark out of his chest, Screamer immediately discovered that there is a piece of the AllSpark lodged in his forehead. Cue the Starscream Death Montage. In the finale, Prowl removes the fragment and Starscream dies for good.
- Bugs Bunny, one of Western Animation's most iconic Comically Invincible Heros was occasionally granted a rather humiliating loss, often at the hands of underestimated foes such as Elmer Fudd or Cecil Turtle. Double points in that the usually unflappable Bugs was prone to temper tantrums in most of these instances.
- Speedy Gonzales, while not as commonly done, had similar moments. Being even more infallible than Bugs, his one true loss was at the hands of Daffy Duck hitting him on the head with a mallet.
- There have been seven ships of the Royal Navy named HMS Invincible.
- HMS Invincible (1747) was originally a French ship named Invincible. Which proved to not be invincible when she was captured by the British and renamed HMS Invincible. HMS Invincible sank in February 1758 when she hit a sandbank in the East Solent.
- HMS Invincible (1765): She was wrecked off the Norfolk coast in 1801, with the loss of 400 lives.
- HMS Invincible (1808): Amazingly, survived until scrapped.
- HMS Invincible (1861): Renamed HMS Black Prince before her launch.
- HMS Invincible (1869): Foundered in a storm in 1914.
- HMS Invincible (1907): The first battlecruiser ever built. She blew up and sank after taking a hit from SMS Lützow during World War I, with the loss of 1,026 crew. Only six crew members survived. SMS Lützow later sank from the shell damage caused by HMS Invincible.
- HMS Invincible (R05) was a light aircraft carrier, the first of three in the Invincible class. She served from 1980 to 2005, including service in the Falklands War. She was scrapped in Turkey in 2011.
- In the novel The Hunt for Red October, Soviet Captain Ramius sarcastically mentions the name Invincible to his crew when he spots the ship on his periscope, stating it was an arrogant name for a ship. It is very likely he was well aware of the history of the ships with that name.