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Black Spot

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"Give me the Black Spot, will he?! If they want to serve a death summons on Billy Bones, they'll have to send a far better man than Black Dog, the fools!"

Someone with a Dark and Troubled Past is happily living out their life — frequently a Cool Old Guy or Older Sidekick — until, out of the blue, they receives a cryptic message. It might not even be composed of words; it may be a piece of paper with a symbol, a scratched casino chip, a daub of paint on his door, or a melody whistled by a passing stranger. Few people, if any, aside from the recipient knows what it means.

They alone now know that the seemingly nice people who have befriended have marked them for death - or something equally nasty - or that someone from his past is seeking him out for retribution, and they are likely be coming in person to enforce it. This was his fair warning, part of an honor code, because Even Evil Has Standards.

Related to Trouble Entendre. Compare Marked to Die.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Claymore inverts this trope: The black spot is a cue for the receiving Claymore to go mercy-kill another Claymore. Sent BY the Claymore who wants to die, no less.

    Comic Books 
  • In an issue of Hellblazer where one of Constantine's friends finds himself stalked by characters from fiction, he is warned of his fate by Blind Pew from Treasure Island slipping him the black spot.
  • The character X from Dark Horse Comics would send his victims a photograph of themselves with one stroke through it as a warning. If they did not heed the warning, they would receive a photo with a second stroke (forming an 'x') telling them he had marked them for death.

    Fan Works 
  • In the third story in The Vinyl and Octavia Series, Vinyl and Octavia Are Forcibly Shipped, it's parodied. Octavia panics when she thinks that Vinyl has the Spot, only for it to be revealed to be some grease.

    Film — Animated 
  • Like its source material, Planetata na Sakrovishtata has Billy Bones die of shock shortly after being given the Black Spot. But not without a prolonged and bizarre chase sequence first.
  • Treasure Island (1988) brings back the Black Spot, but unlike the original book, the one given to Long John Silver wasn't written on a page of the Bible.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Air America, after the plane he and Billy are flying gets shot down, Jack Neely says "I knew it. The golden BB. I saw it in the mirror this morning when I cut myself shaving."
  • I Know What You Did Last Summer. A group of teenagers kills a man while drunk driving and covers it up. Someone decides they must pay for their crime and sends the title message.
  • Muppet Treasure Island:
    • Billy Bones in the beginning gets one of these delivered to him right before he dies.
    • Subverted/spoofed later on with Long John. He points out that it was written on the page of the Bible and scares his crew into releasing him and reappointing him as captain.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest: In a probable homage to Treasure Island, Jack Sparrow receives an actual black spot from Davy Jones, which is used to attract Jones' kraken.
  • The golden bullet from The Man with the Golden Gun, which is sent to James Bond to let him know he's being targeted by Scaramanga. It's a fake clue meant to get MI:6 investigating the assassin.
  • In Seven (1979), Kimo delivers a lei to his targets, so his hitmen will know who they aiming at.
  • In Sherlock Holmes and the House of Fear, the murders start after the first member of the Good Comrades receives a envelope containing seven orange pips. After he dies in a fiery car wreck, a second member receives an envelope containing six pips. The pattern continues, with each man marked for death receiving a an envelope containing a number of orange pips corresponding the number of surviving Good Comrades.

  • In some iterations of the werewolf legend the werewolf's victims are marked with a pentagram on the palms that only the werewolf can see.

  • Used in Sherlock Holmes a few times:
    • "The Adventure of the Dancing Men" - The Black Spot is a cypher that reveals the intent only when it's decoded.
    • "The Five Orange Pips" - The five orange pips are sent by The Klan, and the recipients have the choice between fleeing or being killed. Played with a bit, in that while the first person who receives the message knows what it means, the others — who are only tangentially connected to the matter — do not, and so don't take the precautions that it turns out are necessary. Holmes finds out who was responsible, then proceeds to send them five orange pips to make them think they're marked for death, or at least that someone is now on to them. The ship they flee on, however, is lost with all hands in a gale before they could ever receive the message.
  • The Trope Namer is Treasure Island:
    • The old sea-dog at the Benbow is "tipped the Black Spot". Subverted when he dies of a heart attack straight after he's given it.
    • Subsequently, Long John Silver himself is black-spotted twice: once "off-screen" when the ship arrives at the island and the pirates are eager for action at once, and later when they decide they want a new captain. Silver thwarts the mutiny against him when he points out that the Black Spot was drawn on a page of the Bible, making it a curse against the pirates who gave it to him. The actual Spot ends up in Jim Hawkins's possession as a keepsake.

    Live Action TV 
  • Breaking Bad: When their initial assassination attempt on Walt is thwarted by Mike and Gus, the Cousins slip out of Walt's house unnoticed, but later leave a chalk drawing of a scythe on the street outside. Walt never sees it, but Mike does, and reports it to Gus, who diverts the Cousins' focus to Walt's brother-in-law Hank, because he still needs Walt alive.
    Mike: Your friends were at his place again, by the way. They drew something on the street outside his house. The scythe.
    Gus: Animals.
  • A variation occurs in the first season of Desperate Housewives. Mary Alice Young receives a note that says: "I know what you did. It makes me sick. I'm going to tell." No one else knows what it is, but Mary Alice knows one of her friends has discovered she murdered a woman and stole a baby. And now her whole life is about to come crashing down. She preempts any death threat, though, by taking her own life.
  • Played with in the Doctor Who episode "The Curse of the Black Spot" (series 6, episode 3). Turns out it was a tissue sample, not a death note, and the "victims" weren't killed, they were brought to the sick bay of a space craft.
  • Heroes, when certain persons are marked for murder by Adam with their photo marked with the "Godsend" symbol.
  • Horrible Histories: In a sketch on the pirate tradition of the Black Spot, a pirate who expected to be marked for death kept seeing the Black Spot everywhere; even going into shock when he sees a dalmatian. At the end, having been persuaded that he has not been marked for death, he leaves, only to reveal a huge black spot pinned to his back.
    Pirate: Well. What he doesn't know can't hurt him.
    Pirate: Oh. I stand corrected.
  • The reality series Pirate Master used letters bearing ink blots, referred to as black spots, to mark players for elimination.
  • In Would I Lie to You?, Greg Davies revealed he used to plant an ominous drawing of an owl, called the Hoot Owl Death Sign in the pockets of his "deadly enemies."

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, entry into the Dark Brotherhood begins when you pretend to be one of their assassins and perform a job in their stead. Upon completion, you receive a letter with nothing but a black handprint and "WE KNOW" printed on it. The next time you sleep, you're kidnapped and forced to use your intuition and deductive abilities to determine which of three people tied up in front of you deserves to die. Or kill the test giver and take her key.
  • Bounty Hunter Piastol from the Legends Updated Re-release of Skies of Arcadia sends these to her marks through the nearest Sailor's Guild. In-game, getting one of these announces that she's available to fight as an Optional Boss.

    Web Comics 
  • Spoofed twice in Hark! A Vagrant.
    • Here (second comic), where a group of gangsters give a man the Black Spot, to which he responds "You've mixed up genres."
    • In "Pirates", the third comic has an old pirate grumbling that the Black Spot was only made up in Treasure Island when a young pirate tries to give him one. So the younger pirate just shoots him there, and sheepishly laughs "Haha, he must have been like, what a loser."

    Web Original