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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.

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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.

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


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 as Arc Villain 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.

    Comic Books 
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): In #200, Eggman is seemingly defeated for good, and mentally breaks down after too many defeats at the hands of Sonic. After several issues of Eggman being locked in asylum, he slowly starts to regain his sanity, and after many more issues of the Freedom Fighters facing various different threats, Eggman finally returns in #224 to reclaim his role as the main villain.
  • Dark Empire: Emperor Palpatine is Back from the Dead in clone bodies while still commanding a large military, and he has more super-weapons than ever before.
  • Spider-Man: Doctor Octopus is a mainstay in Spider-Man's Rogue Gallery since his first appearance in the 1960s, recurring as a Big Bad in the 60s and 70s. Some of its major recurring appearances include:
    • Founding of the Sinister Six ("Amazing Spider-Man Annual" #1, 1964): he is the mastermind behind the joining of forces of Spider-Man's then major villains: Sandman, Vulture, Mysterio, Electro and Kraven the Hunter. He still leads new incarnations of the Sinister Six decades later in two 1990s storylines, in Return of the Sinister Six (ASM #334-339) and Revenge of the Sinister Six ("Spider-Man" #18-23), and Ends of the Earth (ASM #682-687) in 2012.
    • The Master Planner Trilogy or If This Be My Destiny...! (ASM #31-33): Dr. Octopus takes on the moniker of "Master Planner", commiting heists of technological equipment.
    • The Owl vs. Octopus War ("Spectacular Spider-Man" #72-76): in the early 1980s, Dr. Octopus comes into blows against The Owl, a Daredevil villain and another aspirant to the position of New York crimelord.
  • The Shredder was the Big Bad of the first issue of the Mirage Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, in which he was killed off. He returned several story arcs later and took up his role as the Turtles' main adversary once again.
  • X-Men:
    • Magneto (Erik Magnus Lensherr) is a mainstay of the X-mythos since 1963, but was supposed to die for good in 1991, in Chris Claremont's (then) last arc for the X-titles. However, he resurfaces in the 1993 crossover Fatal Atractions, where he suffers a mindwipe by his friend/enemy Professor X and becomes catatonic. For the most of the '90s X-titles, Magnus is down for the count as far as X-Big Bads go. A Red Herring appears in 1996, with Joseph, at first thought to be a younger version of Magnus, but later revealed to be a clone, but he only reappears with a bang with 1998's crossover Magneto War. In the meantime, the X-titles contend with the alien Phalanx (in 1994's Phalanx Covenant), Apocalypse (in 1995's Age of Apocalypse), Onslaught (in 1996) and Bastion/Operation: Zero Tolerance (in 1997).
    • Immortal mutant Apocalypse debuted as a X-Factor villain -first- in the late-1980s, during The Fall of Mutants (1987). He later appears as the villain for the last arc for the original X-Factor team before the creation of the Blue and Gold X-Men Teams in 1991. Despite a short appearance during The X-Cutioner's Song and Onslaught and being Cable's ultimate nemesis, he only comes to the forefront of the X-vllains with Apocalypse: The Twelve and Ages of Apocalyse in 2000. It should be noted, however, that The Age of Apocalypse (1995's crossover) does feature him as the Big Bad, but occurs in an alternate reality that is undone by time travel.

    Fanfiction 
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    Films — Live-Action 

    Literature 
  • 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 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 
  • 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, back in the Showa Era, had a tendency to reveal that the Big Bad of every season was actually the first season's villain, the Great Leader of Shocker, in disguise, even though he was destroyed by the heroes Once a Season. 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 it still happens, most recently, the Great Leader returned in 2015!
  • 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:
  • In 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 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 a hunger for the Morphing Grid.
  • 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.
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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, 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.
  • ReBoot: In the second arc of season 4, "My Two Bobs," Guardian-Bob is really Megabyte, recently revived and now a Trojan Horse virus.
  • 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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