But remember if you kill him then you'll be unemployed"
Let's face it some Big Bads are popular enough that it might be a bad idea to kill them for real. Because of this, even though the good guy usually beats him, the villain always finds a way to come back. It's a specific form of Contractual Immortality, which could be for any one of a number of reasons:
- The villain is so popular and lucrative that getting rid of him risks losing the fans' interest in the franchise. This is especially true in a Villain-Based Franchise or works where defeating the villain is the Series Goal, so killing off the villain will effectively end the series.
- The story exists in Comic-Book Time, so even though it seems like the villain has been active for a long time, we're really seeing a short reign of terror stretched out over several installments.
- The installments are in Anachronic Order and the villain's death has already been established or shown; logically, he'll survive any story that occurs before then chronologically.
- The villain is a real person Ripped from the Headlines who isn't dead yet; this is rare nowadays, but you see it often in Wartime Cartoons, where the characters fight Adolf Hitler but can't kill him because he hasn't died yet in Real Life.
- The villain is very heavily identified with a particular hero, and their exploits are thus part of the hero's overall story. This is what happened with the Trope Namer, the Joker; he's so influential to Batman that killing him off would essentially rob the series of a big part of its identity, even if it could continue in theory without him.
In-Universe, the explanations tend to be somewhat flimsier. The strongest such explanation is that heroes with a strong moral code against killing aren't just going to kill the villain even if doing so makes things easier on them in the long run because that would place them on the same level of immorality as their nemesis. Writers who go overboard with this trope risk losing the audience's patience, undermining the hero's perceived effectiveness, or forcing the villain over the Moral Event Horizon such that the audience will demand his immunity revoked, but Joker Immunity can be revoked eventually, if the villain indeed crosses the Moral Event Horizon, suffers Villain Decay, or gets overshadowed by something even more evil (who will often revoke the immunity himself to show how much of a threat he is). Out-of-universe, this tends to happen only when the villain has either declined in popularity or the writers are running out of ideas for new stories with him. Or a villain's immunity may be revoked in the Grand Finale.
The heroic equivalent is an Invincible Hero. Compare Villain: Exit, Stage Left (where the heroes stop the villain's plan but do nothing to stop him escaping), as well as Cardboard Prison and Tailor-Made Prison (where the heroes think they've stopped the villain but he breaks out of confinement). Strongly related to Reports of My Death Were Greatly Exaggerated and its subtropes, as well as to the Death Is Cheap trope (a.k.a. Comic Book Death). Contrast Superhero Movie Villains Die (villains who otherwise have Joker Immunity get Killed Off for Real in the film adaptation). See also Just Eat Gilligan (someone other than the direct villain has the immunity); Popularity Power (the character gets his way because the fans like him); and Karma Houdini (the villain escapes legal and cosmic punishment).
- In Pokémon: The Series, James and Jesse of Team Rocket try something villainous Once per Episode and always fail, but they're always back to try again. This in spite of them occasionally being last seen in situations where No One Could Survive That!, only to be right back at it next episode with no explanation as to how they survived. Over time, their consistent failure to do anything meaningful has led to Villain Decay, so on the rare occasions that Ash actually bothers to tell the authorities about them, they're not considered a priority (at least compared to their more villainous teammates). They're also very adept at escaping custody. Their boss Giovanni shares this immortality, surviving Mewtwo's destruction of Team Rocket's headquarters without so much as a scratch in Mewtwo Strikes Back.
- Inuyasha was infamous for its repeated use of Naraku, who's the only antagonist still causing trouble after several hundred issues, despite half of feudal Japan wanting his head. Author Rumiko Takahashi knew the fans wouldn't believe he would be gone unless he was Deader Than Dead, so Kagome wishes what was left of his spirit out of existence along with the Shikon no Tama.
- The three main bandits in KoihimeMusou. Simply why can't the Black-Haired Bandit Hunter just kill them?
- In Bleach, Aizen was the Big Bad for about 400 chapters. His eventual defeat left room for a vague comeback because he's not dead, only depowered, partly because he actually has complete immortality.
- Orochimaru from Naruto just won't stay dead or sealed, even if he can be Put on a Bus for quite long periods. By the time of the Sequel Series he's outright a Karma Houdini kept around because he's a potential asset as well as the fact that he became slightly less villainous over time.
- Monster's sequel Another Monster shows that Johan Liebert is still inexplicably active.
- The end of MW shows Michio Yuki is still around.
- Katsuhiko Jinnai and the Bugroms from El-Hazard: The Magnificent World always ran away so they could return in future installments.
- Yami Bakura consistently comes back from defeat. By the Duelist Kingdom arc, he is believed to have been sent to the card graveyard, but he takes over Mokuba's body, gets banished again, and comes back a second time at the end of the arc. Yami Marik banishes his soul to the Shadow Realm in the Battle City arc, but he returns to normal when Marik is defeated. In the last arc, multiple versions of him return as the Big Bad; only here is he finally destroyed for good. This is somewhat excusable in that hes actually an Eldritch Abomination within a Clingy Macguffin which physically cant be separated from Ryou Bakura for very long. In the manga he never actually left Bakura until Marik seemingly killed him only to be revived later.
- Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's has Divine, Aki's Evil Mentor. His confrontation with Dark Signer Carly ended with him plummeting about thirty stories from the top floor of the Arcadia building; somehow, he survived, and appeared in a later episode, only to be swallowed by Earthbound God Ccarayhua. Word of God claims that, despite not appearing again, he survived that too, recovering along with the other victims of the Earthbound Gods, but that doesn't mean he was a Karma Houdini; he was quickly caught by Sector Security and hauled to jail.
- Hao from Shaman King has been defeated and killed in ages past over and over; not only does he keep coming back, but he also retains his knowledge from his previous lives and grows more powerful each time. Even at the end of the series, after becoming the Shaman King, he's not turned good, but merely been convinced to wait a bit and see how humanity is doing, instead of just killing everyone outright. In the anime, this is finally averted has Yoh kills him in the end.
- If any villain in Digimon deserves this designation, it's Myotismon. Like the vampire he resembles, he just refuses to stay dead. After being blown to little bits by Angewomon, he returned as VenomMyotismon. Then he was torn apart by WarGreymon, only to return in the Sequel Series as MaloMyotismon. And of course, being a Digimon, he Took a Level in Badass with each evolution, as if he needed it, having defeated the DigiDestined multiple times even in his original form.
- Dragon Ball:
- Death Is Cheap in Dragon Ball Z, but that same Plot Armor doesn't extend to villains, except for Vegeta. Originally just intended as an Arc Villain, his popularity caused him to survive his intended death and return to act as a supporting villain for the next major saga, surviving multiple brushes with death before he's killed by Freeza. And then he's brought back to life when a wish is made to revive all of Freeza's victims, and joins the main cast as the Token Evil Teammate for the series, with all the Plot Armor to be expected if he were one of the good guys. After a Face Realization in the final arc, Vegeta makes a Heroic Sacrifice that was once again intended to have him Killed Off for Real, but once again his popularity has him brought Back from the Dead again, but by this point he's made a full HeelFace Turn so the trope no longer applies.
- A better example would be Freeza. No matter what happens, Dragon Ball doesn't have a cat in a Hell's chance of ever getting enough of Freeza. Originally introduced as the main villain of the Namek Saga, Freeza shows up as a minor villain in the following saga, and thanks to his immense popularity, has unceasingly returned to the franchise through the non-canonical movies, anime filler and GT. After his grand return as the main villain in Resurrection 'F', Freeza had major appearances in the Tournament of Power and DBS: Broly. At this point, Freeza is a deeply-rooted part of the lore who is unlikely to go anytime soon, having become not only the most iconic villain of the franchise, but also the closest thing that Goku has to an arch-nemesis.
- Sword Art Online has an organizational case of this with Laughing Coffin, a gang of player killers who show as early as the Aincrad arc. With Sword Art Online shut down, several members escape unscathed and able to torment the heroes. It takes several more arcs and the former brass getting stopped to finally make dents in Laughing Coffin.
- Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf's main villain Wolffy is always subjected to some sort of slapstick, such as being whacked by his wife Wolnie's Frying Pan of Doom, while trying to catch the goats; a number of episodes end with him being blown into the sky. Despite this, he's always back in perfect shape by the next episode, ready to try to catch the goats again.
- Referenced in The Two Sides of Daring Do. Apparently, Yearling's audience complains about Ahuizotl having Joker Immunity. It's also justified with the real Ahuizotl; he's actually immortal and can't die.
- Soul Eater: Troubled Souls gives Medusa Gorgon Joker Immunity. She survives expulsion from Rachels body via Majin Hunter by using the same spell she used to live in her battle against Stein and Spirit. Now, she is the Arc Villain of one of the fic's darkest Story Arcs. This woman refuses to stay dead.
- Ask Ernst Stavro Blofeld survived death at least three times. He survived getting his neck apparently snapped when it hit a branch while he was bobsleighing, being in the middle of his oil rig lair while it burst into flames, and being dropped down a factory's chimney from a helicopter while wheelchair-bound.
- Invoked and subverted in Absolute Power Sucks Absolutely. Deus is aware of how Joker always seems to get away and knows it's because of his popularity in the comics. So when the two of them meet while the latter is in the middle of a mass murder spree, the first thing Deus does is wipe Joker from existence.
- Discussed and subverted in Kara of Rokyn. After Lex Luthor's latest plan has almost succeeded in killing Superman and taking over the world, Lois Lane complains that he'll be thrown into a cell, which he will break out of time whenever he wants, and then he will start the cycle over again. Then she is told Luthor has passed away.
Lois: And all that'll happen to him is that he'll go back to jail.
Lois: All thatll happen, after all this, almost killing you a hundred times, almost conquering the world, is that he'll go back to a nice, comfortable cell that he can break out of, anytime he wants, and
Superman: Lois. Lex Luthor won't be going anywhere.
Lois: What? What are you saying?
Superman: Lex and I, we've done a strange dance for thirty years or so. I'm not sure who was leading, most of the time. We always wondered how long the dance would last. Now, I know. Lex Luthor and I... we've just had our last waltz, Lois.
- A Diplomatic Visit: Discussed in chapter 12 of the sequel Diplomat at Large, where Daring says that this is the narrative reason why Caballeron keeps escaping - she needs recurring villains to make the stories more exciting. The in-story reason (and the truth, based on her real life, though the readers don't know that part) is that he really is just that good at escaping from the guards.
- In It's An Unliving, Destiny of the Endless steps in before the Self-Insert Black Lantern can kill the Joker. Subverted when Destiny explains it was the best chance to talk to himnote and allows him to kill the Joker.
- In Shazam! story Here There Be Monsters, Mary Marvel expresses frustration at the endless "Fighting super-villain > Turning them over to the cops > Fighting them again when they invariably break out of jail" cycle which has been going on and on during the last fourteen years. It is frustrating, tiresome, and something the Marvels cannot do anything about because they are not killers, and all in all their nemeses have not murdered anyone so far... as long as they know or are able to prove.
Mary Marvel: Both of the guys think their Sivana is the worst, but I can tell you, Mom, Georgia has got to be the nastiest one of the pack. She's actually killed somebody, do you know that? Took a newspaper editor and shot him in cold blood. They couldn't pin the rap on her, but we know she did it."
Edith Bromfield: "Why don't you put her away?"
Mary Marvel: "We do, but they never stay in for very long. They know so much. They can always cook up a new way of getting out of jail. In the old days, Doc Sivana could even walk through walls. Can you believe that? Even I can't do that. It's more like, we go out there, we dance with them, and we bring them back home when the dance is over."
- Funeral for a Flash: The Flash and his Rogues have become so accustomed to -and indifferent towards- the "Rogues commit new crimes after serving their sentence/breaking out of jail, and Flash inevitably catch them once again" cycle that the latter have developed tricks such like hiding their loot in anticipation of their eventual and assured capture.
One of the tips was: always stash a good portion of your loot where it won't be found when you get sent back to the joint. Because, fighting the Flash, you were inevitably going to be sent back to the joint. But you'd also get out, and it paid to have a nest egg.
- As many Slasher Movies are part of a Villain-Based Franchise, their antagonists tend to have severe Joker Immunity. These include Freddy Krueger of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Michael Myers of Halloween, Jason Voorhees of Friday the 13th, and Chucky from Child's Play (who explicitly references his immunity in Bride of Chucky, gloating that he can always come back from death). These characters are all extremely difficult to kill, and even when they are killed, they always are resurrected somehow. In fact, the ending of the original A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was altered to ensure that Freddy survived (which really pissed off Wes Craven). Discussed in The Monster Squad where the dad is confused by how horror movies keep having all these sequels when the last one was said to have killed the villain once and for all. The Scream franchise averts this, however. Even though Ghostface appears in every film, it's always a different person assuming the identity (usually two people per movie), as they are always killed off.
- James Bond:
- Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me is Made of Iron and routinely survives otherwise catastrophic disasters by just dusting himself off. This allowed him to survive for Moonraker, where he underwent a HeelFace Turn.
- Live and Let Die has voodoo master Baron Samedi thrown into poisonous snakes, only for the film's last shot to show him laughing on the engine of Bond's train.
- Ernst Stavro Blofeld appears to die thrice; in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he comes back in the same movie. He was technically killed off (off camera) in For Your Eyes Only, and later an unnamed character obviously meant to be Blofeld is killed in the pre-credit scene of For Your Eyes Only (the name was not use because of a copyright dispute) apparently killing him for good on this continuity. Once resolve a legal dispute; he came back decades later in the Continuity Reboot film Spectre, where Bond refuses to kill him when he has the chance and has M arrest him instead.
- Most kaiju have this ability, Godzilla being the best example. Future appearances had him dropped into lava, or blown up by some super-weapon. He always returns to menace Tokyo (and other cities) again. However, the continuity for Godzilla movies is loopy at worst, tenuous at best. The original monster killed by the Oxygen Destroyer often stays dead, and it's an all new mutated monster attacking this time. Or time traveling aliens messed with history. Or they abandon all notion of the '54 Godzilla existing and that Godzilla is the first encounter (as in Shin Godzilla).
- Although comic book villains are very prone to lose their immunity in film adaptations, Loki in the Marvel Cinematic Universe :survived the first four films he appeared in, despite faking his death in both Thor and Thor: The Dark World. In Avengers: Infinity War, his immunity is finally revoked in when an even greater villain, Thanos, kills him. And even then, the Timey-Wimey Ball "revives" Loki in sequel Avengers: Endgame, as when the Avengers time travel, the Loki from the past escapes captivity. After that, he would go on to star in his own streaming series
- The Doctor Mabuse films apply this trope to the extreme. Mabuse dies in The Last Will of Dr. Mabuse; the rest of the movie concerns an insane and possessed psychologist enacting his plans. In the '60s films from Die 1000 Augen des Dr. Mabuse onward, he dies in seemingly every installment but comes back for each sequel. When he finally dies for real in The Terror of Dr. Mabuse, he comes back as a ghost in the next movie.
- In Flash Gordon (serial), Ming the Merciless had the annoying tendency to not stay dead. In the first movie, he supposedly fakes his death by walking inside a crematorium, but they Never Found the Body. In the second movie, he is trapped inside a chamber and bombarded with death rays, and the characters are sure he's dead this time (and his body is now shown to the viewer), but in the third movie, he inexplicably returns to life once again. Flash finally finishes him off by crashing a spaceship into his tower while he's locked inside it.
- Ultraman Belial, the Satanic Archetype from the Ultra Series, has survived being defeated by Ultraman Zero several times. This trope seems to be subverted as of Ultraman Geed, where he's killed off by his own son, the titular Geed, in the final episode.
- The Mission: Impossible Film Series has Solomon Lane, first introduced in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation and is also in Mission: Impossible Fallout. Both movies end with him being captured, not killed, making him the only villain in the series to not die.
- Megatron from the Transformers movies definitely qualifies. Despite dying in nearly half the movies, he always comes back and sometimes simply leaves. This has led to criticism of the franchise, as the films are simply too predictable now.
- Cipher from The Fast and the Furious franchise. The Fate of the Furious ended with her escaping justice, making her the first villain in the franchise to still be at large.
- Lampshaded by Slappy in Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, as he shows up in R.L. Stine's home in the final scene, mocking him for this trope before sealing him in one of his books.
Slappy: You know I always survive. You wrote me that way.
- The Chronicles of Narnia:
- C. S. Lewis manages to subvert this trope in Prince Caspian, where the villains' plan to resurrect the White Witch fails after all. The movie played this up even more.
- In The Silver Chair, a villain shows up who appears to be the White Witch resurrected, but it's uncertain whether it's really her; nobody was left at the end of Prince Caspian to follow through on Nikabrik's plan, but she was the last member of her race (by her own doing), so it's not as if she could conceivably be a different witch.
- In Warrior Cats, Tigerstar takes this to the logical extreme, since he keeps appearing even though he dies in the first series. However, his limited interaction with the living world makes him much less of a threat then when he was alive, and his involvement in the earlier books of tPoT was somewhat lacking. Eventually, after four series, they do manage to finally make him Deader Than Dead.
- Averted in the Magic: The Gathering novels for the Ravnica setting. The leader of House Dimir (Ravnica's Big Bad) was actually arrested and killed at the end of the first book. But this bites the heroes in the butt in the third book, when it's revealed why Ravnica has experienced a rash of major disasters: because the complex system running the world was dependent on having a Big Bad.
- In the Harry Potter books, the Series Goal is to defeat Lord Voldemort, so obviously he can't be killed until the end of the last book. Their encounters earlier in the series mostly consist of trying to avoid getting killed. Justified by the fact that the main characters are eleven years old in the first book and have just begun learning magic, while Voldemort is an adult generally regarded as one of the most powerful Wizards in the world. Even if they wanted to fight they really aren't prepared for it until much later in the series. Additionally in the second to last book it's revealed that it's impossible to permanently kill Voldemort until his Horcruxes are destroyed. Thus killing the Big Bad early wasn't actually an option until after the heroes Fetch Quest in the final book to gather and destroy said Horcruxes.
- Artemis Fowl and Captain Holly Short will stop being tormented by Opal Koboi when readers stop finding her mania amusing. And considering all she's survived so far, it doesn't look like that world's most insane pixie will be going anywhere any time soon. In the final book, she finally gets a rather nasty death in which her black magic essentially eats her from the inside out.
- Visser Three (or, after his promotion near the end, Visser One) in Animorphs ended at least two books in some kind of highly ambiguous, possible-death situation only to reappear in later books.
- Downplayed by Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events, as he is rarely in explicit danger; what he repeatedly avoids is arrest, which serves the same goal as ordinary Joker Immunity. The straight form of this trope is subverted in The End, where he dies in the thirteenth chapter of the thirteenth book, and there's still one chapter left.
- The Man in Black (a.k.a. Richard Fannin, Randall Flagg, Marten Broadcloak, etc.) from The Dark Tower seems to have a form of Joker Immunity. He always turns up again even if defeated, and none of the protagonists are able to kill him. Mordred, however, gobbled him up because he was hungry, effectively ending his immunity.
- Black Company has Soulcatcher, chronic backstabber, who cannot be killed off no matter what the villains try despite being their primary source of grief. Similarly, the Limper can escape or survive punishment from both the good guys and the bigger villains, until it stops being funny and he's Killed Off for Real.
- In Robert A. Heinlein's The Rolling Stones Hazel Stone is considering killing off the bad guy in a TV Series she created, but realizes unless she also wants the hero to die too (the series ends because the hero no longer has a purpose), you have to bring in Son of Villain, with bad breath as bad as his father and balls of steel to match.
- The Space Pirates Rat and Jolly U in Alice, Girl from the Future. The author actually does kill off Jolly U in the first book featuring the two, but the First Law of Resurrection applies and Jolly U appears in later books alive and well without any explanation of his survival. Further on, they become firmly fixed in the plot as Alice's best-known enemies, escaping punishment after each defeat to reappear again (leading to Fanon assumptions that there is no death penalty in the franchise's universe). In the later books, they are friendly enemies with Alice, so they don't want to kill her anymore and she doesn't want them dead.
- Fairies Of Dreamdark has an interesting variant: the heroes go out of their way to seal demons in the demon bottles instead of killing them because demons have souls just as fairies do, so killing them would just leave them running around the Moonlit Gardens and ruining that for all the dead.
- The song "The Cat Came Back" plays the trope for laughs (and named its own trope in turn). The feline nuisance will come back no matter what anybody does to get rid of it. Some versions have the cat actually die eventually (for reasons almost entirely unrelated to the owner's attempts to dispose of it, like in the original, where it somehow dies after hearing an organ grinders song), only for it to come back as a ghost.
- Played for laughs in "Scary Song", by the Frankenstein Drag Queens from Planet 13:
The boogeyman only wants to take your life
Can't kill him off, he'll just come right back in Part 2.
- In Norse folklore, Thor repeatedly battles the Midgard Serpent, yet prior to Ragnarök it always escapes.
- In Egyptian Mythology, Set is spared the full wrath of Horus when his mother Isis takes pity on him, and he is allowed to flee. Thus, in the Egyptian mythos, evil could be defeated temporarily, but never permanently.
- The Mark of Cain in The Bible is often interpreted as having given him Joker Immunity. In the text itself, however, God never states that Cain won't be killed; just that if he does, whoever responsible is going to get a Fate Worse than Death.
- The Undertaker is the embodiment of this trope in the world of Professional Wrestling. During his career, he has been locked inside several flaming caskets, been buried alive, had his career ended following high profile matches, and at least once died and ascended to Heaven. Despite this, he always returns, once Mark Callaway's nagging injuries have recovered or his holiday time is up. Promos for his match against Mark Henry at Unforgiven 2007 explicitly billed him as "The Man Who Can't be Destroyed".
- Edge is a Heel who made a name for himself by always coming back (and being a Karma Houdini in the process); not even Hell can stop him.
- Vince McMahon, being the owner of WWE both in Kayfabe and in Real Life, naturally gave himself Joker Immunity which only he can revoke. This makes him extraordinarily powerful, especially given that he can revoke any wrestler's own immunity as well. In-Universe, he's survived such events as limo explosions which allow him to take breaks from television in real life. As he plans to run the company until the day he dies, it's unlikely we'll ever see him revoke his own immunity.
- Subverted by Kaiju Big Battel; they really did kill off their Big Bad and Series Mascot, Dr. Cube. People thought he might have Joker Immunity when he came back thanks to Time Travel, but it was later revealed that this Cube was an impostor wearing his helmet.
- Dungeons & Dragons:
- The tarrasque embodies this trope as the memetic "nigh-invincible monster" of the game. It takes a Wish spell on top of massive damage and disintegration to make them stay dead. With Wish gone in fourth edition, the description of the tarrasque outright states it to be impossible to kill permanently without launching it into outer space. One campaign setting is dedicated to its functional immortality; the one civilization that did defeat it uses it as a never-ending food source (which also mutates them horribly, but whatever).
- Strahd von Zarovich has his own personal Revolving Door Afterlife. He's played the starring role in two 1st Edition modules, a pick-a-path book, an entire 2nd Edition campaign setting, and a 3rd edition hardback adventure; in most he winds up destroyed at the end, yet it never seems to take. Ads for the hardback actually urged 3E gamers, "This time, make sure he's DEAD dead!"; yet the Count's back 'gain in 4E, for a board game and appearance in Open Grave.
- The Quori in Eberron are designed to have Joker Immunity. They are spirits possessing mortal vessels, so the host's death does not kill the inhabiting Quori. Their actual bodies live in another plane of existence which cannot be reached by normal planar travel. This makes them an ideal enemy to throw repeatedly at the party.
- Numerous characters in Warhammer 40,000 can and have been killed, but due to the general nature of the Warp, this is rarely permanent.
- Eldar Phoenix Lords live on within their armor, their spirit inhabiting the next person who wears it until they are killed.
- Lucius the Eternal (and most probably other Champions of the Chaos Gods) is effectively immortal, as anyone who kills him becomes him, becoming yet another person trapped within his armor.
- The Daemon Princes and Greater Daemons (also present in Warhammer) can normally never be killed, upon death they are banished to the Warp where they can be summoned again though usually with downtime before they can return to realspace. They can still be permanently killed (mainly by certain artifacts like the Sword of the Emperor) but this is rare.
- The Tyranid Swarmlord can die, but if it does, its consciousness will be reabsorbed into the Hive Mind and stored until the Swarmlord is needed again.
- Kharn the Betrayer was actually killed during the Siege of Terra by Imperial forces, but Khorne deemed him too worthy of a champion to slip into the realm of the dead and granted him a perpetual body. No one has been able to kill him since.
- In Warhammer, Vlad von Carstein had a magic ring that would allow him to resurrect every time he was killed, so no matter how many times the Empire thought they put him down, he and his undead hordes would return. Unfortunately for Vlad, his son Mannfred betrayed this secret to the Empire, who sent a master thief to steal the ring before Vlad was destroyed for real during the Siege of Altdorf.
- Nagash the Undying didn't get that name solely because he invented necromancy; he was killed four times in the old Warhammer universe, and not only did he come back every single time to wreck havoc on the world, he survived the universe collapsing and being reborn to become the de facto God of Death in Warhammer: Age of Sigmar.
- In Magic: The Gathering, the nation/world/culture/force of Phyrexia has Joker Immunity. It affected the storyline of most of the game's sets and was the unambiguous villain of a dozen of them. When it looked like they were finally defeated for good, one single drop of oil on Mirrodin was enough to ultimately turn that world into New Phyrexia. Worse yet, any plane Karn has been on is potentially infected.
- In Rippers, the Count is given a handwaved escape from the climax of the book, temporarily fooling the heroes into thinking he was slain while really misting himself as he was staked. Apparently, having another vampire lord rise to villainy wouldn't have proven sufficient motivation for the Harkers to form a group of hunters in the setting.
- The Servitors of the Apocalypse in Deadlands. The designers, understandably, didn't want PCs making things difficult by slaying them all, so they made up the most difficult quests possible: e.g. Stone can only be re-killed by the bullets that killed him (which are in him), and Reverend Grimme can only be killed by his original magic stick (which he threw into the sea and is not the one he carries).
- The card-based version of Marvel Super Heroes has a section in the rules acknowledging that only lame, unmemorable villains actually die, and otherwise it goes down a list of possibilities to explain how a villain who seemingly died in the campaign is back later.
- Both used and averted in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, which is partially inspired by Batman. Certain villains won't seem to die at the end of the story arc despite the Doc not considering prison an option for his foes, including Ronald McDonald, Dracula, and King Radical. However, in the "DARE" arc, which was more inspired by 80's action movies, the villain dies NOT!, and Doc shows no mercy toward pirates.
- When the creators decided to call it a day, almost every bad guy in the comic had their immunity revoked and got killed off. The only two exceptions were Sparklelord, who was content to simply leave after taking care of Radical and too powerful for the heroes to kill anyway, and a very minor lobster-man mobster who was literally told to get lost because nobody cared about what happened to him.
- Oasis from Sluggy Freelance fits this trope perfectly, regularly returning from the dead. The comic even lampshaded the trope after another of her deaths. "Yes, a dynamic character with a proven ability to return from certain death falls from a great height leaving no sign of a corpse? Yeah, We'll never see her again."
- The cast of Adventurers! are aware of this trope. When Khrima's fortress is destroyed in an accident fairly early in the strip, Ardam asks Drecker if he thinks they've seen the last of him. Then they both burst out in laughter.
- Jack Noir/Spades Slick of Homestuck. We have seen four different incarnations of the same Archagent, and the only time one of them was seen dead was in an averted timeline. Andrew Hussie even goes so far as to somehow rescue Spades Slick from the destroyed A2 universe and nurse him back to health in an as-of-yet unspecified location.
- Played literally with the revelation that Gamzee cannot die, not because he's God Tier, but because he's a clown.
- Inverted in Crushed The Doomed Kitty Adventures. As MMORPG characters, the protagonists can't be permanently killed; they just respawn at the nearest temple. Villains and monsters, however, have but one life to live. The first Big Bad's plan is permanently undoing this, allowing the villains' greater numbers to win the day.
- In Scandinavia and the World the countries are naturally hard to kill; however, this is really done with Nazi Germany, a nation that "lived" for twelve years but still comes back to scare the crap out of Germany.
- Dr. Insano from The Spoony Experiment arguably becoming a Breakout Villain for Channel Awesome as whole, has made a number appearances in other reviewers' shows as well as his series of origin, and his popularity and Laughably Evil nature means it's unlikely he'll ever be killed off. Even Noah Antwiler's departure from Channel Awesome hasn't removed him.
- Atop the Fourth Wall:
- The series' original Knight of Cerebus Mechakara, whose introductory arc ended with him getting turned to scrap, only for him to rebuilt by Lord Vyce and sent after Linkara and destroyed a second time; the episode's commentary by Lewis Lovhaug stating he had plans to use him again in the future. Sure enough, Mechakara returned in To Boldly Flee with no explanation for his recovering, Word of God being he regenerated with the magic coin. In short, it's unlikely he's finished.
- Likewise Lord Vyce; Linkara originally abandoned him in a parallel dimension, only for Vyce to turn himself into living data and infect Linkara's Robot Buddy Pollo. After getting Thrown Out the Airlock, he spends several real-world months uploading himself into Comicron-1note , making it look like Linkara's benevolent A.I. Nimue was going HAL-9000 on him. Nimue gets restored and apparently deletes Vyce in a Battle in the Center of the Mind, but the end of the episode reveals that Vyce downloaded himself into the body of one of his Mooks and escaped. At this point, the immunity gets lampshaded by an angry Linkara, who rants that he's spent the last five years dealing with this villain and he's sick of it.
- Jack Slash from Worm has survived as leader of the Slaughterhouse 9 for more than 20 years, carving a blood swatch across America even as every other member of the group has been killed and replaced. It's actually a secondary power. His power subconsciously communicates with the minds of other parahumans, allowing him to understand how to manipulate them to bring out their worst urges and alerts him if other parahumans are attacking. It also causes other parahumans to hesitate when they have a clear shot at Jack, rationalising away their reason for not attacking then, serving as a deconstruction of Plot Armor. Jack doesn't actually know that he has this ability; he thinks that he's just that good at figuring out what makes a given person tick. Between this, and Siberian and Bonesaw making him Nigh-Invulnerable he always manages to avoid his well-deserved death. Even at the end of the story he's not technically dead.
- Ask That Guy with the Glasses. Ask That Guy has had a fatal heart attack, passed out from drinking his own blood, shot himself in the mouth, and been erased from existence by Doug Walker. He's always back by the next scene. Until the finale, that is.
- SCP-682 of the SCP Foundation, as the entire point of 682 is that any attempt to kill it (or even send it to another universe) will fail.
- Defied with SCP-3922, where they killed the Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke so thoroughly that it lasted for three hours, which has lead to other supervillains of Batman's rogues gallery to surrender out of fear. To enforce it even further, they captured Alan Moore and forced him to say this at gunpoint:
Alan Moore: "...really, really, really, honestly, 110% perma-dead, will not come back, will not be resurrected, will not have his death retconned, has no backup plans, no machiavellian schemes to turn anyone else into his successor, and will not be missed, so if you're going to ask us to bring him back, don't, or suffer the consequences."
- Defied with SCP-3922, where they killed the Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke so thoroughly that it lasted for three hours, which has lead to other supervillains of Batman's rogues gallery to surrender out of fear. To enforce it even further, they captured Alan Moore and forced him to say this at gunpoint:
- This page of Texts from Superheros, showing the in-universe consequences when someone tries to ignore Joker's own Joker Immunity.
- In the Springhole article on how to write arch-nemesis characters, Syera deconstructs this trope by stating that a superhero who refuses to kill off a dangerous supervillain because the former can't ''function'' without the latter isn't qualified to stay a superhero, as the "hero" will end up risking many innocent lives to keep said arch-nemesis alive.