Follow TV Tropes


Joker Immunity / Comic Books

Go To

Really, as with Karma Houdini, almost every comic book supervillain will benefit from this trope. Only those who are notably unpopular or have since been replaced by different characters using the same gimmick will be done away with for good (even then it doesn't always stick).

    open/close all folders 

    The Joker 
  • The Joker's had this from day one. He was originally conceived as a one-off villain (co-creator Bill Finger worried that Batman, and law enforcement would look pretty incompetent if the villains kept returning), and Batman didn't even have his no-kill code back in those early days, but the Joker proved too good a villain to waste by killing after one issue so a last minute edit had him survive. He's been laughing at readers ever since.
    • There was even a comic book from the 1940's where the Joker got the death penalty and was brought Back from the Dead, only to be conveniently ignored later on when he couldn't be punished again for the same crimes.
    • Jason Todd even asked this of Batman in Batman: Under the Red Hood:
      Jason Todd: Why? I'm not talking about killing Penguin or Scarecrow or Dent. I'm talking about him. Just him.
    • Batman knows he's always this close to permanently snapping; he probably thinks Jason could have a point on anyone else, but even if he wanted to, he just couldn't go back after killing intentionally a first time. Besides, for the victims of Two-Face or Scarecrow and their loved ones, it's dubious the Joker's superior bodycount would make much of a difference on the subject.
    • Death of the Family has a new reason: Batman confides to Alfred that the main reason he refuses to kill Joker is because he sincerely believes killing Joker wouldn't make things any better. Gotham would just send someone worse, or bring Joker back from the dead, or something. To Bruce, the Joker is just one facet of the true Big Bad of his story: Gotham City itself. Still hasn't explained why the police have not killed the Joker the moment he resists arrest.
    • Sergio Aragonés Destroys DC: Parodied and Lampshaded:
      Batman: Give me one good reason why I shouldn't finish you off once and for all, right now!
      Joker: Merchandising. You can't afford to lose your best villain.
    • The Elseworld comic Kingdom Come's backstory in fact starts when a rising Superhero violates The Joker's own Joker Immunity. The Joker had just killed the entire staff of the Daily Planet - Lois Lane included. Superman apprehends him, but while in custody of the Metropolis Police, Magog shoots and kills the Joker as he's being taken in by the cops, in a scene that mirrors the shooting of Lee Harvey Oswald. When Magog is acquitted, and most civilians agree with Magog's move, Superman leaves in disgust. Magog's example is then used by all the new generation of superheroes as inspiration that they do not have to pull their punches. The Novelization explains that Lois Lane's Heroic Sacrifice (stalling The Joker til Supes arrived) became a Senseless Sacrifice thanks to Magog, and that is why Superman finally gave up.
    • Explicitly lampshaded in the Knightfall novelization, when Batman listed several of the times Joker should've died:
      Would the world finally be rid of the Joker? No way to be sure. Batman had seen him survive explosions, gunfire, electrocution falling from aircraft, and yes, even plunging to the bottom of the Gotham River. What reason was there to believe the odds would finally catch up with him?
    • Surprisingly, the Joker is resistant to death in Batman: The Animated Series, as well. He can survive long falls and explosions that would kill just about anyone else. One would suspect that, like Team Rocket, the Joker is actually immortal, if he wasn't ironically one of the few characters to actually die in the show's continuity, although in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker rather than shown in the show proper. Granted, Return of the Joker has Tim be transformed into a clone of the Joker through a microchip, so the Joker returns once again, but it's far from unexplained, and that resurrect Mr J is quickly destroyed himself with no reprieve. However, Harley falls to her "death" in the same sequence, and later turns out to be reformed and is the grandmother of Dee Dee, two of the Jokerz. And she's very disappointed in them for turning to a life of crime.
    • "Laughter After Midnight", a story by Paul Dini in The Batman Adventures Annual #1 uses this trope. It begins with the Joker falling out of a police blimp after a climactic fight with Batman, and proceeds to show how he spends the rest of his night getting back to one of his lairs. First he survives by falling into a park's lake. Understandably angry that his archenemy threw him from a blimp, he begins a massacre of Gotham's midnight denizens while buying donuts and a paper. He asks Harley to pick him up, but the police are with her. A Red Shirt patrolman tries to arrest him and the Joker steals his patrol car. Batman is The Only One who can stop Joker, but he believes the Joker's dead for some reason despite the fact that the Joker has survived all of the other times he should have died. For some hours, Joker is unstoppable. The comic ends in an eerie scene with the Joker trying to get home.
      The Joker: I wonder whose home it's gonna be?
    • In an episode of future Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the Joker himself lampshades this trope after being thought dead.
      Joker: Oh who cares? I've been blown up, thrown down smokestacks, fed to sharks; I'm the Joker! I always survive!
    • Averted once again in Batman (1989), where Joker unambiguously dies by falling off the top of Gotham Cathedral and breaking his skull on the pavement. They even have a long, rotating Dies Wide Open shot to hammer it in. Subverted in that while lying there he appears to still be laughing until a police officer on the scene checks his pockets and finds a recorder that's making the chuckling sound.
    • In The Batman vs. Dracula, the Joker appears to have died from electrocution by falling into a river after using his Electric Joybuzzer. Of course, he comes back halfway into the film.
    • The Dark Knight: In a bit of dark, bitter irony, the Joker survives the events of the film, but the character can't come back either way because of actor Heath Ledger's real life demise.
    • In Suicide Squad (2016), the Joker is seemingly killed when his helicopter is shot down and blown up with him in it, but he shows up alive and well by the end in dramatic fashion.
    • Discussed in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns where The Joker kills himself just so Batman will be blamed for it.
      Batman: How many people have I murdered by letting you live? (comic book)
      Batman: No more! All the people I've murdered... by letting you live. (animated adaptation)
    • In fact, most Batman Elseworlds comic books seem to enjoy killing off Mr. J, as they're not in continuity. The Red Rain trilogy, the one where Batman and Joker were both pirates, etc.
    • Turned on its head in the Batman: Vengeance videogame, where Joker attempts to revoke his own Joker Immunity by killing himself. Only your saving him will prevent a Non-Standard Game Over.
    • In one Batman/Punisher crossover, Batman stops The Punisher from killing the Joker (although Batman fails to provide a convincing reason why the Joker shouldn't be killed). At least Frank managed to wipe the smile from the Joker's face on realizing Frank really was going to pull the trigger.
    • Lampshaded in Batman & Captain America, The Joker is nuked. Captain America openly doubts The Joker was really killed by the nuke.
    • There was one vigilante named the Wyld Carde whose family was killed by the Joker. Problem with the Wyld Carde that he was so obsessed with killing the Joker that he didn't know what to do once the Joker was killed. Upon confronting the Joker, the Wyld Carde kept hesitating to pull the gun trigger (leaving a Joker enough time to escape, and infect the opponent with Joker gas).
    • In fact, the DC wiki lists the Joker's powers as Cheating Death and "Comic Awareness".
    • Spider-Man comes very close to killing him in a Batman/Spider-Man crossover. The Joker taunts him when he refuses to go through with it. Spider-Man decides that beating the crap out of him is justified however.
    • Batman's moral code isn't the only flawed aspect of this, Joker has been spared the death penalty in the past due to being insane and as such its seen as unjustified to execute him. Now becomes Hilarious in Hindsight: Gotham is said to be in New Jersey. As of 2007, New Jersey has abolished capital punishment, so there is some justification for this.
    • Rationalized in an issue of The Spectre. The Spectre is the embodied Wrath of God, and his whole shtick is executing murderers in ironic ways. When the Joker guest stars in his comic, the writers have to explain why the Spectre doesn't just kill him (by turning his smile inside-out or somesuch). The Spectre ends up discovering that the Joker has no functioning conscience, and thus can't tell right from wrong — and it would be unjust to kill him when he isn't consciously evil. (There's almost no good reason to believe that the Joker can't tell right from wrong, though.) Still doesn't explain why he doesn't go after Lex Luthor, though...
    • The Batman: Arkham Series as a whole does a Decon-Recon Switch of this trope. True to form, Batman won't kill Joker, but there's a good inadvertent reason for that: the other supercriminals are terrified of him after what he did to Black Mask. Joker's hilarious chaos has resulted in all of Gotham's criminals becoming paranoid and turning on each other at the slightest provocation; thus, ironically, Joker's continued existence makes Gotham safer. This is further looked into in Batman: Arkham City and into Batman: Arkham Knight: With Joker dead by his own foolishness, all it takes is one year for Gotham's criminals to put aside their differences and launch a full-scale military invasion of Gotham City. And even then, Joker arguably attempts a return from beyond the grave, through the blood of the Joker's Infected. Batman himself nearly becomes the Joker.
    • Injustice: Gods Among Us averts this big time in the very beginning of the game. The Joker creates a plan that ultimately leads to Superman killing Lois Lanenote . Sometime later during Batman's interrogation of the Joker, Superman interrupts them by promptly stabbing the latter with his hand, killing him! Of course, this all took place in an Alternate Universe, where Superman eventually becomes a Fallen Hero. In the main universe of the game, the Joker is alive and remains that way.
    • Played with in Injustice 2, which takes place entirely in the aforementioned alternate universe, and where the Joker is a playable character despite his death in the last game. His interactions with other characters in Arcade Mode provide different explanations for why he's here, including being the Joker from the main universe, being this universe's Joker returned from the dead, or being a hallucination from Scarecrow's fear toxin. Canonically, this trope is still averted, and his only role in the story is a fear toxin-induced nightmare from Harley Quinn.
    • In the final episode of the second game of Batman: The Telltale Series with the Joker as a villain, he seems to die after a fight with Bruce but is resurrected by him.
  • During Batman: No Man's Land, after the Joker murders Gordon's wife, Batman still refuses to execute the villain, but he tells Gordon he will not stop him from doing so. (And Gordon almost does. He backs down after deciding there's been too much death already.)
  • In an interview Grant Morrison interpreted that Batman did kill The Joker at the end of The Killing Joke.
  • This is all nicely parodied in one strip of The Far Side, where the Joker is gunned down by a random Gotham citizen who simply says it was about time someone did it.
  • Parodied in a Robot Chicken skit featuring Hamill as The Joker. Batman literally beats him within an inch of his life before lamenting that he's promised to let the justice system do its job and pondering what he should do. The scene then cuts to Joker having been given the death sentence after a testimony from the Batman, to which he says that it's now out of his hands.
  • The 1989 Batman game mirrors the movie, except Batman throws the Joker out of the cathedral. Joker's still dead. Then the sequel came up: Batman: Return of the Joker. The Joker got better, somehow and the game ends with his capture. The Sunsoft games never mention the Joker again, so it's assumed that he stayed in jail for the rest of the continuity.
  • Even Garth Ennis wasn't able to overcome this; in one story of his Hit Man series, Hitman is hired to assassinate the Joker. Everyone except for Batman thinks it's a good idea, or at least is really, really uncomfortable with stopping him. But Hitman can't go through with it. Because doing so will allow a pair of demon lords with dominion over guns to forcibly claim his soul and make him into their herald.
  • In Batman #37 it's revealed that the Joker might be straight up immortal....maybe...he survives a gunshot to the heart...
  • Explored multiple times in the webcomic Shortpacked!.
  • Double subverted in the Elseworlds story Batman of Arkham, where Bruce Wayne runs Arkham Asylum to try and cure the inmates he turns in as Batman during the early 20th century. When Batman foils the Joker's plan to make all of Gotham go crazy from inhaling his gas, he nearly lets the Joker burn to death when his balloon explodes in flames, but realizes that letting the Joker die goes against his belief that the mentally ill can be cured, so he saves the Joker's life and has him sent to Arkham like the rest of his enemies.
  • Inverted in one issue of Robin, which was just Joker talking to doctors in Arkham. He reasons that if there are replacement Robins, then there might be replacement Batmen, and he actually did kill him all those times. While he likes the work, he says, he'd really like to see a death stick for a change.
  • Adrian Tullberg's "Improv"; a bunch of cops decide to execute Joker and make it look like a failed escape attempt. It fails.
  • The 2001 crossover Joker's Last Laugh was originally intended to have the Joker kill the Elongated Man. Out of disgust, Superman would kill the Joker. The Clown Prince of Crime would then be replaced by a psychic who could help bring out people's worst fears.
  • Batman: Hush provides a reason why Batman just can't kill the Joker: because if he does, Gordon will just consider him yet another of the mad-dog costumed maniacs running around Gotham and will bring him down by any means necessary. Acknowledging that he needs Gordon to have a degree of effectiveness in his war, he doesn't beats him to death like he wanted to because the Joker apparently killed Bruce's childhood friend Thomas... serious emphasis on "apparently".
  • Horrifically averted and exploited in Dark Nights: Metal. From the depths of the Dark Multiverse (a multiverse where worlds are made out of decisions from hopes and fears of individuals before rotting away into oblivion), one world shows Batman being forced to kill the Joker out of sheer rage due to the latter ravaging Gotham and killing Commissioner Gordon before his very eyes. All of this was because he was apparently dying and wanted to makes something new for the "both of [us]". But when some form of nanotoxin seeping from the Joker's mouth entered Batman's body, his mind was later rewritten to become The Batman Who Laughs, where his moral compass is twisted as the Joker's whilst maintaining his intellectual and combat prowess like Batman. He then proceeds to gun down his Batfamily in cold blood when he realises that they'll be the first ones to recognise his transformation (and that's just BEFORE he becomes twisted both physically and mentally), then slaughtered the entire Justice League, saving Superman as the last, and then finally (albeit offscreen) armies of villains and alien tyrants. He even manages to take down the Wrath of God with just only precision and blood.
  • With Joker as the Villain Protagonist of his own self-titled film from 2019, it's kind of a Foregone Conclusion that this trope would come into play. The most noteworthy example came at the end during the clown riots, where a hijacked ambulance rams into the police car Joker was arrested in. It manages to kill the cops driving the car, but Arthur Fleck himself was merely unconsious. Eventually he managed to wake up, and despite being shaken up and severely injured, he's still well enough to perform a dance for the rioters.

    DC Comics 
  • Batman:
    • This trope doesn't only apply for the Joker. Most of Batman's Rogues Gallery never get killed off (in principle) no matter what happens to them. The common in-story explanation is Batman realizes he's quite capable of killing opponents, but doesn't trust himself not to come up with excuses to do it again if he can rationalize it the first time. Often forgotten is that other characters have been insistent on stopping Batman if they think he's really been tempted. Jim Gordon explicitly informs Batman that he, the police, and citizens of Gotham tolerate him because of his moral code, and would not hesitate to deal with him if this was broken. Still doesn't explain why the GCPD does not kill these super villains the moment they resist arrest, and present a clear, and present danger, as the police are legally authorized to do.
    • In DC's Flashpoint alternate reality, Batman has privatized the Gotham City Police Department and has killed off Killer Croc, Hush, Scarecrow, and Poison Ivy. However, even that extremely bitter version of Batman can't bring himself to kill Joker for the excellent reason that Bruce was the Wayne that got killed in Crime Alley that fateful night; Thomas became Batman and Martha... well, perhaps you can guess.
    • Occasionally a Batman villain DOES get killed off (i.e. Ventriloquist, KGBeast, Blockbuster I, Clayface II, Black Spider II, Ten-Eyed Man, Magpie etc.), by someone other than Batman, but, alas, being a comic, Death Is Cheap and they usually end up coming back anyway.
    • The KGBeast was originally an aversion to this trope, made to upheld the trope, and then became an aversion again. Batman realized that the villains sheer physical, and mental cunning made him too dangerous to leave alive. Thus Batman left the KGBeast locked inside a sewer room. The implication was that the KGBeast starved to death. Later comics rebooted the event to state that Batman later came back and took him to jail. Eventually, the villain was killed with shocking ease by an even more minor villain, the second Tally Man, who did it to frame a temporarily reformed Two-Face.
    • Maintained with the New 52 version of Harley Quinn, and Deadshot who shot through the spine and then completely healed with a Lazarus Pit injection from Amanda Waller.
  • Originally justified in Legion of Super-Heroes (pre-Crisis) with Roxxas, the murderer of Element Lad's race the Trommites. Upon being about to be killed by Element Lad, Roxxas is confronted by, and terrified by the ghosts of all his victims. The Legion realize that it would be a greater punishment to leave him alive. The trope is eventually maintained once Roxxas gets over his fears, is driven insane, and goes on another mass murder spree.
  • Manhunter (the one who's a working mother, and former prosecutor) began her career as a superhero because she's sick of this trope. Her successful kills include Copperhead (who escaped the death penalty under being not guilty by reasons of genetic anamoly), Monocle, and Dr. Moon. She decided not to kill Shadow Thief, on the basis that she wanted to give the criminal justice system a chance to actually work.
  • In John Ostrander's writing of The Spectre, his human host (Jim Corrigan) asks Father Cramer why the Spectre never responded to the murder of Coastal City. Father Cramer suggested that the Spectre was designed by God only to respond to certain cries for vengeance.
  • Superman:
    • Superman deals with this trope as well. Lex Luthor for example, despite being a Badass Normal, has long been so embedded into the Superman mythos, that he escapes virtually any hairy situation he gets into. Other Superman villains with varying degrees of Joker immunity might be Brainiac, Mr. Mxyzptlk, The Toyman, Zod and Metallo.
    • Why can't Superman just send Lex Luthor to the Phantom Zone to prevent him escaping from prison? Luthor's crimes occur under Earth's jurisdiction, and whenever Luthor stands trial in American courtrooms, he must serve his sentence in American prisons, and in order to be banished to the Phantom Zone, he would have to commit an intergalactic crime against other galaxies or even the universe.
    • Superman lampshaded this trope in Superman/Batman Story Arc Public Enemies.
      Superman: Why is it that the good villains never die?
      Batman: Clark, what the hell are "good villains"?
    • Prior to Darkseid's death in Final Crisis, the villain seemed to be an apt representation of this trope. One time when the Hal Jordan The Spectre "killed" Darkseid, the villain was instantly resurrected. The suggested implication was that Darkseid was a universal necessity needed to represent evil.
    • The Death of Superman: Doomsday has a version of this trope, as he can die, but will return with total immunity from whatever it was that killed him.
    • Originally this trope was averted with major DC villains such as the Phantom Zone kryptonians, and Sinestro were killed off by their heroic counterparts Superman, and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan). Eventually, it was reversed when continuity was retconned to establish that the villains were actually not killed.
  • In the New 52 universe, heroes such as Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Superman, and Hal Jordan seem to be fine with killing alien invaders in battle. Nevertheless, human villains such as Joker and Deathstroke continue to remain at large.
  • Speaking of, this is generally averted with Wonder Woman - in the original Golden Age comics, she would often reform her (usually-female) enemies, and those reformations generally stuck. In more modern times, she still tries to reform them, but if that doesn't work she has zero problem killing them outright if they're mythological monsters or gods, and post Infinite Crisis will even kill irredeemable humans. This often causes... friction with her more Thou Shalt Not Kill teammates in the Justice League.
    "There's a reason I don't have a list of villains as long as Bruce's, Barry's, or even yours. When I deal with them, I deal with them."
    • That said, there is one straight example (barring outright Gods like Ares or Circe, who are usually above her weight-class; a "victory" against them usually consists of convincing them to leave humanity alone for a few months) among her villains: the Depraved Dwarf Dr. Psycho. This is a guy with zero interest in reforming, very deadly Psychic Powers, and an oh-so-breakable human body; he's survived so long mostly because he's usually The Heavy in some other Big Bad's scheme, and is smart enough to get the hell out of dodge before or shortly after Wonder Woman discovers his involvement.
    • In Wonder Woman (1987) Cheetah gets put through the wringer and is presumed dead on numerous occasions, but every new writer on the book brought her back usually with nary an explanation.

    Marvel Comics 
  • X-Men:
    • If not for the Joker, this trope would be named Magneto Immunity, for the X-Men's premiere villain, who may hold the record for the highest number of sincere and permanent deaths, lobotomies, and depowerings of any villain in comic book history, but could no sooner be removed from X-Continuity than the Joker could from Batman. The fact that he often goes back and forth through the Heel–Face Revolving Door, and is seen as one of the most sympathetic and compelling characters in the Marvel Universe, doesn't help. Also, he has forcefields that have shrugged off blasts from the Phoenix.
    • Lampshaded in a story of West Coast Avengers where Magneto falls into a factory chimney (a la the Joker pic above) from a fight with the Avengers and the whole building blows up. One of the Avengers asks the rest of the group if they really believe Magneto to be dead; the response was a unanimous, "Naaaaah!"
    • One issue is a Lower-Deck Episode about a guy who has it out for Magneto for killing his brother. The issue starts with Magneto being considered absolutely finally dead by everyone but him, and he has to convince people that the anti-Magneto weaponry he wants created is actually needed. Surprise, surprise, Magneto is alive. As the point of the story was 'revenge is bad,' this guy actually gets the chance to kill Magneto but doesn't go through with it. Magneto was on the good side of the Heel–Face Revolving Door at the time, and so didn't do anything to him.
    • Every story featuring X-Men villain Apocalypse ends with him being finally killed off permanently. And this time we mean it. For now.
    • Mystique has been suffering from this in the last 5 years. No matter how many times she screws with them and how much Darker and Edgier and willing to kill the X-Men get, they always let Mystique escape.
    • Sabretooth beats even Mystique's example on this one. There's this sword, right? It's basically magical, and can cut through anything and no Healing Factor can do anything with the wounds it makes. An arc of Wolverine's solo comic ends with him relieving archnemesis Sabretooth of his head using this blade. We see him again soon enough... in Hell. In a battle in hell, Sabretooth gets his head lopped off again. (It could happen to anyone once, but twice and you're just being careless.) With a magic hell sword SPECIALLY CRAFTED TO DESTROY SOULS. Farewell, Sabes. You were a great villain, and you'll be mi-what do you mean he's back alive and well in less than a year?note 
    • With X-Men comics taking Death Is Cheap to the limit even by comics standards, by now, nobody takes anybody's death seriously anymore, even in-universe because the writers could no longer keep the cast so epically Genre Blind as to have people hold funerals at every single No One Could Survive That! moment. Sure enough, the character always returns and nobody's that surprised. Heck, Siryn even refuses to accept that her dad passed away because of the X-Men's experience with resurrections! Beast even says it about the villain of the previous arc when it wasn't a bad guy with a long history and a wide fanbase. "The more certain the death, the more sure the resurrection," he says of... some purple guy. However, we haven't seen Khan since.
    • As of Jonathan Hickman's X-Men, they've given up any pretence of maintaining death, with a key part of the premise being that via Cerebro based back-ups and several Reality Warpers, the X-Men can resurrect any mutant they like, whenever they like. This method requires five specific mutants to each be alive, so if anyone kills one of those five, presumably there goes the mutant revolving door. They also have a rule forbidding the resurrection of any mutant with Precognition or future knowledge, so if anyone out there is waiting for Destiny or X-Man to turn up, better not hold your breath.
  • Captain America:
    • The Red Skull practically invented this trope. He doesn't even have his original body anymore. Lampshaded in issue two of Ed Brubaker's "Captain America", where Cap refuses to believe that Red Skull is truly dead after A GUNSHOT WOUND TO THE HEAD! Unsurprisingly, Cap was right - Skull had used the Cosmic Cube to transfer his mind into someone else's body at the last second.
    • Baron Zemo must have been somewhat popular to constantly return from certain death time and again, always having some barely-acceptable excuse at the ready. He'd fall into boiling-hot glue... but come back to reveal that there had been an escape trap in the vat just in case of an accident. He'd fall off a mansion roof to the concrete waiting below... only to return with a neckbrace, but other than that doing pretty good. Even Zemo once compared one of his deaths to a comic book "demise" and narrated it thusly for Spider-Man.
  • Fantastic Four:
    • Doctor Doom is almost built on this trope, as it has become nearly a certainty that we are never witnessing the man himself in battle. His character dies in most engagements, turning out to be Actually a Doombot, programmed to impersonate him. Which happens so often that fans have half-jokingly theorized that the real Doom has never actually appeared on-panel. It took damnation to Hell itself to keep the character down, and even then, he escaped. He's actually a more prolific villain than Magneto.
    • Another poster child for this trope would be Galactus, who has slaughtered untold trillions of seintient aliens in his hunger for planetary energy. As Galactus laid dying during John Byrne's run on Fantastic Four, Mr. Fantastic saved the villains life with NO conditions attached (i.e. staying away from planets with sentient life, stupidity beyond belief).
  • Finally averted with Bullseye (arch-enemies of Daredevil) who used to be a representation of this trope. Having been left paralyzed, Daredevil refrained from killing him, only to have the villain regain his mobility through an adamantium skeleton. Eventually, a demonic possessed Daredevil killed Bullseye in Shadowland. Lady Bullseye then resurrected her male counterpart, only for him to be a quadriplegic with no sight, hearing, smell, taste, or feel, truly a fate worse than death. Prior to that, though, he'd been a definite example; despite being a normal human with no power besides Improbable Aiming Skills, he repeatedly wound up going up against opponents whom he shouldn't even have been able to physically damage, let alone beat.
  • The Punisher:
    • Jigsaw of The Punisher stands out because his enemy usually kills any adversary he comes across — very few Punisher villains are recurring, and nobody's taken more swings at the Punisher than Jigsaw. Frank did clearly and explicitly kill Jigsaw at one point — and he was revived in the next issue with voodoo.
    • Only shows up twice in the Garth Ennis run: During the Marvel Knights series, where the Russian was brought back with experimental technology that also gave him enormous breasts (and is finally killed with a nuke) and in the MAX run with Barracuda (who got his own miniseries) who survived death the first time due to being dumped in shark-infested waters (when the sharks had just eaten a boatful of Corrupt Corporate Executives and thus weren't interested in him), and Frank made very sure he was dead the second time around.
  • Spider-Man:
    • The first Green Goblin (Norman Osborn) is an apt representation of the "Joker Immunity". After being dead for around 20 years, Norman was resurrected. He later got pardoned and was promoted to being head of the national security agency H.A.M.M.E.R and the Avengers during Dark Reign. After being arrested again for launching war against Asgard, Norman then got pardoned again and led his new band of Avengers.
    • Doctor Octopus. He has been resurrected once, and had his mind transferred into Spider-Man's body, seemingly replacing the hero, although traces of Peter Parker's memory still remains. At the end, he gave up and Peter Parker takes full control over his body.
      • Doc Ock plays with this trope a bit as well. After Spider-Verse, he creates a copy of himself and eventually transfers it too a new body thanks in part to Ben Reily...with no memory of what he did as Spider Man after Spider Verse.
    • The Hobgoblin was originally a Legacy Character identity taken up by a succession of villains, but after Roderick Kingsley decisively claimed the mantle (or reclaimed, according to Retcons), he acquired the full VIP Joker Immunity package along with generous helpings of Actually a Doombot to wave away any of his defeats. Notably, he was outright killed by the Phil Urich Hobgoblin as part of that character's Jumping Off the Slippery Slope, only for it to be retconned later that the beheaded Hobgoblin was in fact just another physically identical relative. Eventually Kingsley's going to run out of relations and readers will be treated to a Hobgoblin that's actually Roderick Kingsley's brother's nephew's cousin's former roommate.
    • Minor Spider-Man villain Mirage has died twice. The first time he was shot dead only to later be revived by the Hood. The second time he got shot by the Punisher. The Superior Foes of Spider-Man retconned this into him being put in a coma. It's also lampshaded and discussed; when Mirage is reintroduced he's in a support group for people trying to retire from the supervillain business and complains openly about dying and coming back.
    • The original Mysterio, Quentin Beck, eventually acquired this. Originally Driven to Suicide after trying and failing to drive Daredevil insane, Marvel tried to respect this story and kept Beck dead for a time, introducing (well, reintroducing) an old stunt double for Mysterio named Daniel Berkhart and then a mutant named Francis Klum to take up the Mysterio identity. Neither of these replacements was well-received, however, and eventually Quentin Beck was returned to life via an appropriately Ambiguous Situation (long story short, either he was resurrected by some vaguely defined suicide-hating "superiors" who tasked Beck with maintaining a cosmic balance, or he simply faked his own death yet again). Neither of Mysterio's replacements have been seen since this story, and any time Mysterio has popped up since, for simplicity's sake it's been Beck.
    • Notable aversion with the Crime Master; there's been three people to hold the identity, two of whom are dead and have never come back. The first one was killed fighting the cops and the third was shot dead by Betty Brant. The second one is still alive but he gave himself up to the police and has zero-desire to be a supervillain again.
  • Marvel's Ultimate Universe series seems to be making a conscious effort at averting this trope, along with many of the other cliches from the mainstream Marvel universe. When a character dies (even major legacy ones like Red Skull, Dr. Doom, and the Kingpin), they STAY dead.
    • Ultimate Hammerhead has returned to life with no explanation as to how he survived having his skull detonated by Ultimate Gambit (though the incident did leave him complaining about constant headaches).
    • Some Ultimate Universe villains (Dr. Doom and Kingpin) completely averted this trope. They were killed by opponents who just casually walked into the villains' headquarters and executed these nemeses with little effort. Other villains such as Dr. Doom, have been resurrected in the Ultimate Universe.
    • The Ultimate Universe version of Dr. Octopus upheld this trope. Twice he either avoided or had his prison sentence reduced by lending out his scientific talents to the FBI, and Roxxon corporation. He would of been killed by one of Reed Richards terrorist attacks, but was saved by Peter Parker's female clone. Subverted when ended up getting killed by Green Goblin.
    • Nick Fury actually lampshades this trope in an issue of Ultimate Spider-Man; after Spidey's shaken up over the apparent death of Venom (who was his childhood friend in this continuity) Fury reassures partly by admitting that in the superhero business, the guy ain't dead unless there's a corpse that can be definitively proven as theirs.
    • In fact Spider-Man was the first to begin playing this straight. As a side-effect of their Meta Origin, Spider-Man and his enemies have a degree of Resurrective Immortality.
  • Wolverine's former Sensei Ogun was beheaded. Came back all the same under numerous guises, be it ghost or demon, apparation or possession.
    • Wolverine foe Omega Red enjoyed the full package of this trope throughout the 90's when he was at the height of his popularity. Come the 2000s, his Karma Houdini Warranty kicked in and he was Killed Off for Real, only for Death Is Cheap to kick in in the pages of X-Men: Gold. As of 2019 Red's got a full Joker package again and is even being sold to readers as a sympathetic character in the pages of Uncanny X-Force.
  • The Mandarin from the Iron Man comics is also protected by this trope, as he has survived quite a few examples of both being killed off and disappearing from the comics, largely due to the fact that the Mandarin's Yellow Peril persona is rather problematic in a 21st century context. Inspite of this, his status as Iron Man's ArchEnemy have prevented modern writers from permanently retiring him, as well as the fact that the Mandarin has gotten away with said Yellow Peril shtick since it was acceptable when he was created.

    Other Comics 
  • Played with slightly in the Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog. In the "Endgame" arc, Julian Robotnik is indeed killed by his vengeful minion and nephew Snively; twenty or so issues played with the concept of other villains and problems following his defeat, only for a second Robotnik from an alternate timeline to enter and take over from his position. This Robotnik would later take the modern "Eggman" form seen in later games and continues being the Big Bad until the comics were cancelled in 2017.
  • Cobra Commander, the Big Bad of G.I. Joe, is an apt representation of this trope. In the first comic book series, he was shot dead, only to find out that it was actually an impostor who was killed. In the first animated movie, he was turned into a snake, and later got better. He has also been caught in numerous explosions that should have left him killed or maimed, only later to return without a scratch or an explanation of how he escaped.
  • 2000 AD:
    • Judge Dredd:
      • Perhaps justified (EVENTUALLY) with Orlok the Assassin, responsible for millions of Mega-City One deaths during the Apocalypse Wars. Eventually, a psychic bombardment reformed his evil ways. In return he journeyed to the planet of Zerbia to fight the genetic cleansing dictatorship of that planet.
      • An apt representation would be the teenage serial killer PJ Maybe. He was able to assume the form of Mega City-One's mayor, and thus avoid detection from the Justice Department. Nevertheless, as mayor, PJ Maybe brought much improvement to the city such as bringing human unemployment to an all-time low of 92%, and allowing mutants greater access to the city.
      • Another apt representation are the Dark Judges who have murdered tens of millions, but are already "dead" so are repeatedly confined to orbs which they manage to escape from. They even teamed up with the Joker once in Mega-City One. Conveniently (yet once again) for the Joker, he was instantly teleported back to Arkham Asylum before Judge Dredd (who has a lot fewer qualms against killing) could issue a sentence to our trope namer.
    • Nemesis the Warlock: Torquemada is overthrown or killed several times, but he always returns to threaten the galaxy once again. This is intentional on Nemesis' part, who set out to make Torquemada his Arch-Enemy.
  • Darkhell from Les Légendaires, thanks to his Arch-Enemy status, got apparently killed twice and came back both time. Surprisingly, however, he was eventually Killed Off for Real during the Anathos Cycle. And while Word of God confirmed he wouldn't be back this time, his inheritance keeps taking a large part in the plot...
  • Deconstructed in Alan Moore's Promethea. The Captain Ersatz of the Joker, the Painted Doll, is revealed to have been a series of robots built by a traitor in the hero team Five Swell Guys, each robot being programmed to activate and climb out of the river with hazy memories when the previous one was deactivated. When they're all activated at once, they kill each other, and the last one standing decides to become a good guy.
  • Spirou and Fantasio (especially in the Animated Adaptation) has various criminals who routinely escape, but also Cyanure, the evil Robot Girl: Even when her creator decides to fully disassemble her, he eventually puts her back together out of loneliness.
  • Lampshaded in the first arc of Tom Strong with a subversion; whilst being led on a tour of one of his old bases by his resurfaced arch-nemesis Paul Saveen, Tom comes across a row of waxwork statues of some of his old enemies, one of whom "actually died that last time [you fought]" by falling into the Niagara Falls and snapping her neck, implying she (and the others) had a tendency to stage deaths of this nature. Subverted again when it turns out Saveen, himself thought to be dead, actually is dead as well; the 'Saveen' involved here is an imposter.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder. Since Mirage was originally meant to be a one-shot, the Big Bad was killed by having Donatello bat a grenade in his face, knocking him off the building as it exploded. As the issue got unbelievably popular, Shredder was brought back to life through a kind of semi-mystical cloning involving a kind of worm that mutates into the tissue it devours. However, this only worked once as the Turtles burn Shredders remains on a floating raft to keep him from ever returning. He hasnt been seen since, the closest to a resurrection was a cluster of surviving clone worms briefly infesting a shark, but it's specifically pointed out as not being the Shredder. (The main difference between the original Mirage comics and every adaptation ever: The Shredder was originally intended to be a Token Motivational Nemesis, more the burglar who killed Spider-Man's uncle than the biggest Big Bad. While nigh-unkillable in every cartoon and film series, and even every non-Mirage-created comic series, Mirage Shredder has no Joker Immunity because he was never their Joker.)
  • The Transformers:
    • Starscream, despite his prominence in the cartoon, was out of action for quite a while, being blown apart and imprisoned by Omega Supreme in issue 24. The UK comic had him break free in "Target: 2006" not long afterwards, and though he remained off-panel afterwards, he returned to prominence in the US comic for the Underbase Saga... in which he's destroyed by the titular power. Despite this, Megatron has him rebuilt a few issues later.
      • Regeneration One goes even further: Megatron revives several dead Transformers as zombies, Starscream (who was on the Ark when it crashed again) among them. However, he manages to escape annihilation from orbit and surpass several mental blocks placed on him, preventing him from being fully cognizant.
    • Megatron seemingly kills himself via blowing up the Space Bridge in a fit of insanity after Optimus Prime's death. Though he remained dead in the US book, the UK book had him survive and continue playing an active role. Then, Simon Furman took over the US book and had Megatron return there as well, retconning the Megatron in the UK book up to that point into being a clone (it's complicated).
    • Shockwave supposedly meets his end after falling into Earth's atmosphere in issue 39. The UK book (yes, it does this a lot) not only let him survive, but featured him in the very next issue (also allowing the above instance of Megatron's immunity to happen). When Furman became the writer for the US book, Shockwave returned without explanation there, too.
    • Galvatron has a long history of not staying dead on both sides of the pond:
      • The UK comic brought Galvatron into the story via Time Travel for "Target: 2006". Afterwards, he became a recurring antagonist that took immense amounts of punishment, yet would always come back none the worse for wear. In his final appearance, "Time Wars", he had half his face blown off by a weapon whose recoil kills the user, was attacked by nearly every living character in the book, and only because of a time-space rift was Galvatron finally killed off.
      • Once Simon Furman took over the US book, he brought in another Galvatron from a parallel timeline (the US book didn't include the The Transformers: The Movie cast prior to this). Though he wasn't as recurring as his UK counterpart, Galvatron still managed to survive a crash that wrote Megatron, Starscream, Shockwave and Ratchet out, and was still able to return in Regeneration One for up until the final issue (where he met his end at Ultra Magnus's hands).
      • That wasn't even the first time Furman resurrected Galvatron: The UK comic storyline continued with the Autobots from the movie-era future who had helped destroy Galvatron returning to their own time... only to run into Galvatron. It turns out that their intervention in the past had changed history so Galvatron never went back in time and never died.
    • An even more and extreme example is Galvatron's creator (sort of) Unicron. Unicron appears in The Transformers: The Movie and dies. His head survived as Cybertron's new moon and is revealed to still be functional in several cartoon episodes. The comics set after the movie, which follow a different continuity than the cartoon, also depict him surviving and nearly having a new body built before his head gets blown up, but his essence gets absorbed by the Matrix and occasionally emerges in a demonic spiritual form to wreak havoc. To then confuse things, Furman then proclaimed that a ton of time travel in the comics had changed the timeline so that the movie never happens, allowing the Unicron of the present (1990, in that case) to show up and attack Cybertron before getting killed.
  • Subverted as early as 1965 in Gilbert Shelton's Help! magazine strip Wonder Wart-hog. At the end of "The Return of the Masked Meanie," Wonder-Wart-Hog feeds the Meanie into a hand-cranked meat grinder. "And this," says the Hog of Steel, "will insure [sic] that you don't come back and pester us, Meanie." Below the panel, a breathless narration box intones: "Will the Masked Meanie survive the meat grinder and return to harass society? Will he? What a stupid question!" Except, of course, that the Meanie did return in "Wonder Wart-Hog and the Merciless, Menacing Masked Meanie."
  • Tannarak, foe of The Phantom Stranger, took this to ridiculous levels. He was killed by a falling statue in his first appearance. Then he came back, and died when a temple fell on him. Then he came back again, and was killed when the phoenix he was riding on fell to the ground. Then he came back yet again, and was de-aged into nothingness - and then returned in Batman and the Outsiders where he died again, of course. Tannarak gleefully lampshaded this phenomenon, always telling the Phantom Stranger (with a completely straight face): "Hah! Did you expect a falling statue/collapsing temple/etc. to really kill me?"
  • Iznogoud is a rare case where this trope applies to the protagonist. While the titular character never dies, nearly all of his plans (with a few exceptions) usually end with him about to die, in a Fate Worse than Death or trapt in an otherwise inextricable situation, only to come back alive and well in the next book with no other explanation than Rule of Funny. A book titled Iznogoud's Returns actually was dedicated to explain how he came back from some of these situations, but even that book had some of his "returns" involving him escaping an inextricable situation only to end up in another one (something the reader actually is warned about at the beginning of the book).
  • Disney Comics' Phantom Blot, the Criminal Mastermind who has demonstrated his will to Take Over the World and his willingness to murder all in his path, is somehow never sentenced to death whenever he gets arrested, allowing him to escape into the next issue. This is obviously because Disney's Moral Guardians would not allow it, but does not make sense in-universe, because the death sentence does exist in Calisota.
  • Olrik in Blake And Mortimer is a downplayed example. Most stories end with him either in prison or still at large, clearly leaving the door open for his return in the next story. The very first story arc, however, ended with him getting nuked, along with the entire capital city of the Evil Empire he was then serving. It's never explained how he was the only member of the imperial leadership to survivenote  despite their having all been in the same room. A few books later, the story ends with him left behind in a vast underground cave, just as the Atlantic Ocean caves in through the top and wipes the whole place clean. Somehow, he survives that too.
  • Lady X in Buck Danny plays this trope absolutely straight, somehow surviving a stunning series of story endings that absolutely should have killed her. This was actually lampshaded in her second appearance, with the story providing an explanation for how she survived her previous near-death experience, and showing her as having been badly scarred and traumatized. Later stories, however, drop this completely, more or less accepting that she's good enough to survive anything, and handwaving the lack of obvious scars or other consequences as plastic surgery.


How well does it match the trope?

Example of:


Media sources: