A Sadistic villain of some sort — usually a Psycho for Hire or The Dragon, but occasionally the Big Bad — decides not to kill The Hero or Love Interest when they have the chance. Perhaps the villain needs them stronger; wants to Break the Haughty and/or Make an Example of Them; needs to flee; or just likes to watch them squirm. However, the villain, being a villain, is not about to let their captive go scot-free, and decides to etch a token of the encounter into their flesh.
The villainously hammy rationale given will probably be that the bad guy wants the subjugated to forever remember the humiliation and corruption the latter endured at the former's hands. Or, perhaps, the villain has committed so many atrocities that they can't be bothered to remember each one, and they themselves need a visual mnemonic. If the victim is indeed the Hero, the villain may leave the wound as a mark, confidently assuming they have invoked Death by Disfigurement. If the victim is the Hero's love interest, particularly the Chick, expect this trope to be narrowly averted, because Beauty Is Never Tarnished — unless they and the Hero are an Official Couple, and it's time for an Official Couple Ordeal Syndrome. (More mature works may later feature a wordless Scar Survey among the couple undergoing or having undergone the syndrome, though at least expect the scar to heal well or still be relatively "beautiful.")
More rarely, an Anti-Hero will dole out the wound as a "self-consolation prize" to an enemy who is wanted or needed alive. When the scar-giver marks their own flesh with memorabilia, they become a Human Notepad.
Sub-Trope of Every Scar Has a Story, though the scar was created deliberately and with a motive: the story behind which we often see play out, whether in the present or in a Flashback. Often a Mark of Shame, but permanent and focused more on sadistic purpose than on the sociological consequences. Related to Battle Trophy, Creepy Souvenir. Usually leads to Scars Are Forever. May overlap with Glasgow Grin; Good Scars, Evil Scars; Rugged Scar; or "X" Marks the Hero. Compare Zorro Mark, when a mark is left on walls or clothes rather than the skin as a Calling Card. If the work began lighthearted but has been growing Darker and Edgier, this trope is a symptom of Cerebus Syndrome.
Not to be confused with Dueling Scar, which is usually the result of a 1-on-1 encounter and is often coincidental rather than intentional.
- One Piece: In Baratie Arc (an early arc), Zoro - who dreams of defeating the Master Swordsman Mihawk to become one himself - got the (mis)fortune of running into the man himself in the seas, and challenged him to a duel. Mihawk won decisively, but he found Zoro's determination to win interesting, so Mihawk let him live and grow stronger so that he could become a Worthy Opponent - but not before slicing a huge gash on Zoro's chest as a reminder and a "gift" of sorts.
- Invoked in Tokyo Ghoul :re by Kaneki and Touka in a rare case of affectionate scarring; when they decide to marry as per ghouls' tradition of giving each other a bite that will not disappear, even after death.
- In Infinite Crisis, Superboy-Prime makes the S symbol with his heat vision into his own chest, leaving a scar on it by the end.
- Sin City:
- Though Dwight keeps him from killing the Mooks in A Dame to Kill For, Marv settles for popping the eye out of an unconscious Manute.
- The Big Fat Kill: After turncoat Becky explains herself as a Defector from Decadence, out to just save "[her] own neck," Gail determinedly bites a chunk out of her "precious, scrawny little neck." Because she later gets Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves, this also counts as Marked to Die and Death by Disfigurement.
- X, from Dark Horse Comics' short-lived Comics' Greatest World superhero universe, was a '90s Anti-Hero urban vigilante with a "two strikes" policy. If he caught you doing crime once, he'd put a diagonal scar across your face. If he caught you again, he'd kill you and add another diagonal slash to make an X.
- After Hiccup is given to Alvin as a hostage in Lost Boy, he is ceremoniously branded with an Outcast brand. This brand made him a criminal in the eyes of Berk law, taking what little place he had in the process. This brand is then thoroughly wiped clean by the burns he sustained in the battle against the Red Death, symbolically representing the clean slate the heroic moment granted him in the eyes of the village.
- Boulder in Blood! Rusty AU is a traitor to BloodClan who helped their enemies. When given a choice, he sides with the Forest Cats and decides to run away with them. Scourge lets him leave but claws one of his eyes as a reminder of his error.
- In Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Batman has started branding criminals he brings in with the Bat symbol as a sign that he is going a bit off the deep end.
- The Dark Knight: When the Joker is about to carve the same smile into Rachel Dawson, she sends him reeling back with a kick in the shin. This at first only seems to egg him on further, but Batman swoops in Just in Time.
- Gangs of New York: Cutter gives this to Amsterdam, after the latter's failed attempt on the former's life.
- Inglourious Basterds: This is Lt. Aldo "the Apache" Raine's Calling Card. He and his men leave a Sole Survivor in an ambush, who usually looks forward to Starting a New Life and "taking off [his] uniform." Lt. Raine then sets out to make sure he can't take his uniform off, as he carves a giant swastika into the Nazi's forehead.
- In Kill Bill, when talking about the titular Big Bad's coma-inducing gunshot that began the film, Esteban Vihaio states that he simply would've cut her face, were he Bill. Soon after, he summons one of his prostitutes, Clarita, who had a cleft cut into her lips and presumably met such a fate.
- Done twice in The Mask of Zorro: firstly by the original Zorro, Diego de la Vega, who leaves a Z-shaped scar on the neck of Don Rafael during a fight; then by Diego's protege, Alejandro Murieta, who leaves an M-shaped scar on the cheek of Rafael's henchman Captain Love.
- My Super Ex-Girlfriend: Played for laughs. G-Girl uses Eye Beams to smolder "DICK" onto Matt's forehead, making for some very literal, if disproportionate, Laser-Guided Karma.
- Pan's Labyrinth: Mercedes carves a half-Glasgow Grin into Captain Vidal, saying "You won't be the first pig I've gutted!" (However, the wound never actually scars, since Vidal dies later that night.)
- Kerry Greenwood's Away with the Fairies has pirates kidnap someone and carve ransom demands on the chest of that person's bodyguard.
- In Casino Royale, James Bond experiences a Villainous Rescue when a SMERSH assassin interrupts Bond being tortured and kills the villain who was torturing him. The Assassin then tells Bond that his orders didn't mention killing Bond, but carves a distinctive scar into the back of Bond's hand so that any other SMERSH agents Bond encounters will know he is a British spy and deal with him appropriately.
- In The Dark Tower: Wolves of the Calla, Father Callahan has a cross-shaped scar on his forehead. He explains that he got it from the Hitler Brothers, two criminals who attacked him in New York City: they tried to carve a swastika on his forehead with a knife, but were interrupted after finishing just the two center lines.
- In Deltora Quest, any humans enslaved by the Shadow Lord were branded with its symbol (a hand in a circle with a spot on the palm) like animals were.
- In The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth takes revenge on Bjurman, the social worker who raped her, by paralyzing him with a stun gun, then subjecting him to a humiliating sexual encounter which ends with her tattooing the words "I am a sadistic pig, a pervert, and a rapist" onto his torso.
- The Harry Potter series:
- In The Order of the Phoenix, Umbridge punishes students by forcing them to write lines with a magic quill that uses the student's own blood for ink and carves the line into the student's hand, leaving a scar as a permanent reminder of their punishment. Harry got "I must not tell lies" etched into his hand for trying to warn the school that Voldemort had returned.
- At Malfoy Manor, Bellatrix Lestrange carved "Mudblood" into Hermione's arm, upon her and Harry's capture in The Deathly Hallows. Of course, she and the Malfoys were probably meaning to do much more to her before Dobby intervened.
- Brutal teenage bully Henry Bowers of It cuts an H into Ben Hanscom's stomach, which is still visible as a scar 30 years later. Fortunately, he is interrupted before he can finish spelling out his name.
- The Princess Bride: When the six-fingered man killed his father, young Inigo Montoya tried to avenge the death. The killer quickly defeated Inigo and let him live, but deliberately cut both his cheeks to leave scars. At the end, Inigo confronts the six-fingered man again, and cuts his cheeks in exactly the same way...then kills him.
- Inverted in the backstory of The Wheel of Time with Sammael, one of the most infamous servants of the Dark One. When The Chosen One Lews Therin Telamon scarred his face, he refused to have it healed, saying he would only remove it after killing Lews Therin personally. 3000 years and one Reincarnation later, he gets unceremoniously snuffed by a third party after failing to do so.
- Warrior Cats: In The Blazing Star, when One Eye takes over, he scratches an eye-shaped wound into the paw pads of his new subjects so that it will leave a scar.
- Arrow. Along with his many scars, Oliver Queen has a dragon tattoo matching that worn by his love interest Shado from the island flashbacks. Season 2 reveals that Slade Wilson had it forcibly tattooed onto Oliver because he blamed him for Shado's death. As Oliver is inclined to agree he doesn't have the tattoo removed until the start of Season 4, having made the decision to leave the past behind and marry Felicity Smoak.
- Metal Gear Solid: Played with twice: when Cyborg Ninja amputates Revolver Ocelot's right hand, and when Sniper Wolf "le[aves her] mark on" Solid Snake (see top quote). Oddly, the former instance more than scars the victim, whereas the second one heals perfectly — possibly because Sniper Wolf was merely marking him as a target to kill later.
- In Goblins, Fantastically Racist Torture Technician Dellyn carves the word "Monster" onto the forehead of the goblin Fumbles, telling Fumbles that if he thinks he can walk into a human city and be treated as an equal by its inhabitants, then he needs a permanent reminder of what he truly is. During the prison break sequence, several of Dellyn's other victims are shown to have words like "Liar," "Thief," and "Coward" carved into their flesh in a similar manner.