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"You know kids, a lot has changed while your old uncle Joker’s been away. New Gotham. New rules. Even a new Batman. But now I'm tanned, I'm rested, and I'm ready to give this old town a wedgie again!"

In the natural progression of the Sorting Algorithm of Evil, when a Big Bad of an installment or arc is defeated but the story continues, a new one will take their place. However, just because they've been defeated, it doesn't mean that the heroes will no longer have to worry about them anymore.

There will be times in a story where, after a period of absence, a former Big Bad will return to reclaim their role. This tends to occur in a story with multiple arcs, each having its own Big Bad. They might have come Back from the Dead or escaped from imprisonment, and may have been intentionally brought back by a lesser villain. Usually, the villain will be more dangerous than ever before, to ensure that they remain a threat despite being defeated in the past.

Note that the villain has to be returning as the main villain after a period of absence to apply. If they return to serve as a minion of the new Big Bad, that's Demoted to Dragon, though the two may overlap if the villain successfully takes over as the Big Bad. Compare Hijacked by Ganon, where an old villain is revealed to be behind a new one. Contrast Ex-Big Bad, where a former Big Bad reappears but no longer as the main threat. Not to be confused with Dragon Ascendant, where a former minion of a previous Big Bad takes their place later on. A Super-Trope to Villain on Leave, a more specific trope when villains skip an installment of their franchise before coming back.

As this trope is about the return of previous villains, many of the examples below are spoilers.


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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Myotismon, the Big Bad of the third arc of Digimon Adventure was seemingly destroyed. However, Digimon Adventure 02 reveals his spirit survived, and has been orchestrating the events throughout all of the second series.
  • In Dragon Ball, Frieza takes back the reins twice after his initial defeat on Namek, once with a new form in Resurrection F and later as part of the Big Bad Duumvirate in Broly.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Dio Brando, the main villain of Phantom Blood was seemingly stuck at the bottom of the sea at the end of that Part. However, under the moniker "DIO", he later returns in Stardust Crusaders, having escaped the sea along with taking over Jonathan's body, The Hero of Part 1, intending to wipe out the Joestar bloodline.
  • Marvel Disk Wars: The Avengers: Loki is the first big bad till episode 22, where he is defeated and send to the Dark Dimension. He returns in episode 40, now Demoted to Dragon for new big bad Dormammu, but in episode 50 he rebels against his master and absorbs his powers, thus restoring him to Big Bad status for the series finale.
  • The Lifemaker, the central antagonist of Negima! Magister Negi Magi returns in the sequel UQ Holder! roughly halfway through the series. In UQ's timeline, the Lifemaker was never completely defeated, whereas in the timeline that Negima ultimately ends in, the Lifemaker was completely eradicated.
  • Pokémon Adventures:
    • Giovanni, the main villain of Red and Blue, makes scattered appearances after his first defeat. However, in Firered Leafgreen, Giovanni acts as the main villain again, taking control of Deoxys to find his missing son and to further Team Rocket's goals.
    • The main villain of the Emerald arc, Guile Hideout, turns out to be Archie, one of the two main villains of Ruby and Sapphire.
  • The first season of Ronin Warriors ends in the defeat and apparent death of Talpa, the Master of the Evil Dynasty invading the human world. The next season sees the heroes dealing with the fallout of this as a new, Noble Demon villain begins to try to consolidate his power and become the new leader of the underworld, only to be defeated. Come the final season and it turns out Talpa isn't dead, he's just been gathering his power for a new invasion, and preparing to unleash his newest warrior, the vicious Lady Kyra.
  • In Yatterman Night, the identity of Lord Yatterman turns out to be Dokurobei, the Big Bad of the original Yatterman, who stole the identity of his arch-enemies and took over the world under it purely to spite them by besmirching their name.

    Fanfiction 

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • Artemis Fowl: While every odd-numbered book in the series has its own Arc Villain, the even-numbered ones always have Opal Koboi in the role of antagonist. She's a Corrupt Corporate Executive in book 2, escapes prison to go on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge in book 4, acts as the Man Behind the Man in book 6, and kills her past self to ascend to godhood in book 8.
  • In Dune, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is killed by his granddaughter, Alia Atreides. He comes back in Children of Dune where he ironically possesses Alia via Genetic Memory in an attempt to destroy House Atreides once and for all.
  • In Warrior Cats, the Big Bad Tigerstar is killed at the end of the first series. However, he returns to the books in the latter half of the second series, visiting his sons Hawkfrost and Brambleclaw, and later on his believed grandson, Lionblaze, in their dreams and trying to get them to follow his plans; ultimately, by the time of Omen of the Stars, his spirit is able to physically fight living cats and he faces The Hero Firestar once more.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Happens quite a bit in Doctor Who thanks to the large Rogues Gallery. You'll have villains like the Daleks and Cybermen who serve as the Big Bad for one or a few seasons, dip out for a bit only to return as the Big Bad for a later season.
    • After spending four seasons absent from the series, the Daleks make their triumphant return in Season 9's "Day of the Daleks." A season later, they return again when they are revealed to be behind the Master, employing him to start an interstellar war.
    • The Master himself did this also, disappearing after Season 10 only to return in Season 14 (in real life this was due to his actor, Roger Delgado, dying and the writers deciding to put the character on hiatus). He then dips out again only to return in Season 18 as the main antagonist.
    • The Black Guardian was the Big Bad for the season-long Story Arc of Season 16. After being foiled, he returns in Season 20 to get revenge on the Doctor.
    • Series 1 of the revival of course has the Daleks as the main antagonists. Series 2 follows suit and has the Cybermen (and the Daleks again). The next two seasons follow the same trend as well with the Master and Davros each returning to be the Big Bad.
  • House of Anubis: When Rufus failed at the end of season 1, he ran off falsely believing himself to be immortal. In season 2, the characters initially believed him to have died, but he was actually back as "The Collector". However, it wasn't until he was unmasked that he began to really reprise his role, going back to his old habits of stealing, kidnapping, betraying, and attempting to swipe the treasure from the students and Victor.
  • In the Arrowverse, this has become a gimmick of sorts with Eobard Thawne/Reverse-Flash, the Arch-Enemy of Barry Allen. He starts off as the first Big Bad of The Flash, but after his defeat, he has returned as a key player on several occasions. In Legends of Tomorrow Season 2, he leads the Legion of Doom, making him the overall Big Bad of the season. In the Crisis on Earth-X crossover, he joins the New Reich of Earth-X and ends up as part of the Big Bad Duumvirate. In Season 5 of The Flash, he is revealed to be The Man Behind the Man who manipulated the two Cicadas, both of whom served as the heavies that troubled Team Flash. Then in Season 6, it's revealed that Crisis On Infinite Earths reduced Thawne into a spectral state and lost his body, where he continues to menace Team Flash as a wraith by possessing Nash. In Season 7, Thawne regains his body and forms an Enemy Mine with Barry to take down Godspeed because he won't let someone else defeat Barry, but after finding himself outmatched he retreats, where one year later in Season 8, Thawne returns as the Arc Villain of the Armageddon arc, where it's revealed he screwed with the timeline once again to create a Reverse-Flashpoint and swap lives with Barry. He's defeated at the end of that arc, left depowered and imprisoned, but returns again at the end of the season when the Negative Forces re-empower him as their combined avatar.
  • Gul Dukat in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Dukat first appeared in the pilot episode and was the de-facto Big Bad of season 1, which mostly had Villain of the Week stories, and was a recurring villain throughout the seasons 2 and 3. In season 4 he was eclipsed by the Dominion and went through a quasi Heel–Face Turn, but midway through season 5 he joins up with the Dominion and becomes The Heavy of the Dominion War arc, even capturing the titular station. After being defeated be again becomes a recurring villain until the end of season 6, where he starts worshipping the Pah-wraiths. He is one of the two main villains of season 7, alongside the Female Changeling, culminating in him becoming The Antichrist. He is the last villain to be defeated in the show, dying in a duel with Sisko in the last few minutes of the finale.
  • Kamen Rider: Most series in the Showa Era had the first season's villain, the Great Leader of Shocker, return as the Big Bad no matter how many times he's defeated. The explanation is that he's an evil spirit more than he is a man. This has become much rarer since the franchise came back with Kamen Rider Kuuga, but Shocker still has the tendency to pop up whenever there's a big crossover.
  • Stargate SG-1: The Goa'uld Apophis served as the Big Bad for the first two seasons, even attempting an invasion of Earth that destroyed much of his Fleet. By season 3 his position was usurped by his rival Sokar, who killed Apophis and resurrected him several times before dumping him on a moon made to resemble Fire and Brimstone Hell. However, eventually Apophis managed to turn the tables, taking over Sokar's entire Fleet after the latter's death and became the Big Bad once again for season 4.
  • Super Sentai:
  • Power Rangers:
    • Power Rangers Beast Morphers: the Big Bad Evox is a sentient virus that was after the Morphing Grid. The second season revealed that he is actually Venjix from Power Rangers RPM, having hidden his code in Scott's Cell Shift Morpher, as hinted in the RPM finale. When the Morpher was experimented on by Nate using Morph-X and snake DNA, the components mixed with the Venjix virus, turning him into Evox and granting him a hunger for the Morphing Grid.
    • Power Rangers Cosmic Fury: Lord Zedd from Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers returns in Dino Fury, and becomes the main villain for the 30th anniversary season.
  • The Ultra Series is rather fond of bringing back past villains.

    Video Games 
  • Devil May Cry 5: Vergil returns as the true Big Bad of the game after serving as a member of the Big Bad Ensemble in Dante's Awakening despite seemingly being defeated back in Devil May Cry.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Ganondorf comes Back from the Dead in many games, often being behind the supposed new villain of these games.
  • Mega Man Battle Network: Lord Wily, leader of the syndicate called WWW, is the Big Bad of the first game. He comes back in the third game with a bigger scheme, but he's defeated again. He's thought to be missing until he reappears near the end of the fifth game; the 6th (and final) game has him be the main villain again for the last time.
  • Metal Slug 7 sees General Morden and the Rebel Army finally getting to be the main antagonists again, after they were hijacked by the Mars People in the second and third games, had their likeness stolen by the Amadeus Syndicate in the fourth game, nowhere to be seen in the fifth game, and forced into an Enemy Mine with the protagonists and the Mars People against the Invaders in the sixth game. Thanks to the Future Rebels coming back in time to help them out, the Rebel Army is finally able to pose a credible threat again.
  • Pocky & Rocky: Reshrined sees Black Mantle, the main antagonist of the first SNES game, returning to get his revenge on Pocky.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, Sith Emperor Vitiate, the Big Bad of the Jedi Knight's story (and Greater-Scope Villain to many of the other stories), returns to life at the end of the Shadow of Revan story and is the Big Bad of Rise of the Emperor, the start of Knights of the Fallen Empire (until he dies again), and the end of Knights of the Eternal Throne (when he reveals his death and everything since was all part of his plan). Then he's finally Killed Off for Real.
  • Street Fighter: M. Bison (known in Japan as Vega), the most recurring villain in the Street Fighter series, has returned in numerous games and spin-offs as the main villain even after being defeated, replaced, or even killed by other villains like Akuma, Gill, or Seth.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, after Luke's group defeats Van Grants at the Absorption Gate, a new conflict arises as the God Generals return and are under the command of Grand Maestro Mohs, who seemingly takes the role as Big Bad for the third act of the game. However, it's later revealed that the God Generals were only using Mohs as an Unwitting Pawn for their schemes, and Van Grants eventually reveals himself to have survived his supposed demise, returning stronger than ever and reclaiming his role as the Big Bad, since he has absorbed Lorelei in the planet's core.
  • The original Ubersoldier has the main villain, the Nazi Mad Scientist Dr. Schaeffer who spearheads the titular Super-Soldier creation project. The sequel introduces a new threat in the form of a rogue Ubersoldier unit led by one Commander Dietrich... until the final stage, where it's revealed that Dietrich is just Dr. Schaeffer's lackey, and the still living Schaeffer has been pulling the strings behind the sequel's plot.

    Western Animation 
  • Ben 10: Vilgax, the most recurring villain in the franchise, has returned after being dealt with on several occasions. He gets trapped in the Null Void in Season 2 of the original series, only to return in the canonical Grand Finale Ben 10: Secret of the Omnitrix, which ends with him defeated for quite a long time. After not being heard from for years, he returns as the main villain of Season 3 of Alien Force. After his defeat there he returns in Season 3 of Ultimate Alien, having seemingly been Demoted to Dragon for Diagon, only to betray his master and seize his power for himself. After being defeated once again, he returns again in Omniverse, creating a device that will wipe out every dimension in existence.
  • The second season of The Lion Guard has Scar eventually be revived in the form of a fire demon who wants to get revenge on Simba and destroy the Pride Lands.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • In the season six finale, "To Where and Back Again", Queen Chrysalis, the antagonist from the season two finale "A Canterlot Wedding" comes back and launches a near-successful takeover of Equestria which includes capturing the main heroes, only for to be defeated thanks to Starlight Glimmer alongside Trixie, Discord, and reformed changeling Thorax.
    • A unique version in the final season: Throughout the season, Chrysalis, Lord Tirek, and Cozy Glow were recruited and Demoted to Dragons by Grogar, but began plotting behind his back. In the Grand Finale, they successfully double-cross him, with it revealed that he was actually Discord in disguise as part of a crazy plan to help boost Twilight's confidence to help her become ruler of Equestria, leaving the villainous trio free to take back their roles as a Big Bad Triumvirate.
  • Ninjago: Season 15's Big Bad, the Crystal King, is revealed in "A Sinister Shadow" to be the latest incarnation of the Overlord, the Big Bad of Seasons 2 and 3. Despite last being seemingly killed by Zane, the Overlord, being the embodiment of evil, can never be destroyed. He's been biding his time, resurrecting Harumi after her death in Season 9, and has instructed her to build an army out of Vengestone. This means he's also the Greater-Scope Villain for King Vangelis, Season 13's main villain, who had been supplying him with Vengestone before his defeat.
  • ReBoot: In the second arc of season 4, "My Two Bobs," Guardian-Bob is really Megabyte, recently revived and now a Trojan Horse virus.
  • One of the main villains of Rick and Morty is Evil Morty, a Magnificent Bastard who repeatedly manages to accomplish his goals and outsmart plethoras of other Ricks and Mortys in the multiverse, including the main duo. The Season 5 finale, "Rickmurai Jack", sees him succeed in escaping the Central Finite Curve, and this same episode also introduces a new Greater-Scope Villain: Rick Prime, the man who killed Main Rick's family decades ago. The next season and a half focuses heavily on Rick's efforts to track Rick Prime down for Revenge, and only manages to do so while part of an Enemy Mine with Evil Morty in Season 7's "Unmortricken". By the end of it, Rick has successfully killed Rick Prime, while Evil Morty has once again gotten what he wanted and leaves unimpeded, with leverage to keep Rick from coming after him and hinting that he may have use for Rick again in the future.
  • Star vs. the Forces of Evil: Ludo is the original main villain of the series, always trying to steal Star's wand, though he is played for laughs and presented as ineffectual. Toward the end of the first season, he is usurped by Toffee and removed as a villain. Then during season 2, he makes his return, having grown in power to the point of being a serious threat, and succeeds in stealing Star's spellbook, directly fueling much of the conflict of the rest of the season.
  • Winx Club: Valtor returns as the Big Bad for Season 8, having revealed he wasn't really destroyed when Bloom extinguished his fire.

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