There are two parallel definitions of a gimmick:
- A cheat; either a method of doing something that appears impossible, or some device used for cheating.
- A feature that distinguishes something (in this case, a character or series) from the competition (with strong connotations of not adding any functionality or value).
This is about that second, as applied to characters.
The power of sheer gimmickry, when properly used, cannot be underestimated; a properly executed gimmick can make a character truly memorable.
The true definition of a gimmick is if an Alternate Universe or Continuity Reboot equivalent (or a Captain Ersatz) isn't "really" that character without the gimmick, then that's this.
Most common in Comic Books and Professional Wrestling, gimmicks are so important to the latter that professional wrestling was the first category to get its own sub page, but gimmicks can show up elsewhere. See also Idiosyncrazy, for when a character's gimmick is driven by his insanity, rather than out of universe considerations. Compare the Dancing Bear. A whole team of people with a shared gimmick tends to result in a Gang of Hats.
Compare Gimmick Matches.
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- Batman's gimmick in the Justice League is either his detective skills, or his sheer intellect.
- Batman's Rogues Gallery is filled to the brim with these. To name some particularly famous cases:
- The Joker provides an example of how far you can go without going outside your Gimmick: outside of the Silver Age, he defines the human version of the Monster Clown. Within the Silver Age and Silver Age-styled settings, he's merely a prankster Villainous Harlequin. He and his minions generally just focus on the abstract theme of humor or play up the clown shtick for all it's worth: depending on the medium, they will style themselves as standard circus-style clowns, jesters, mimes, classic comedians of vaudeville and Hollywood, or on at least two occasions the Pierrot-type whiteface clown from Leoncavallo's I Pagliacci. And this doesn't even include those non-Joker villains who occasionally disguise themselves or their henchmen as clowns for some reason, probably much to the Joker's annoyance. You have to wonder why Gothamites haven't learned to react with screaming paranoia whenever a buffoonish character appears on the scene.
- The Riddler, in some versions, is actually an interesting case, in that his gimmick is also explicitly his motivation and downfall: His superiority and inferiority complexes are such that he has to leave clues, to prove that he's smarter then everybody else.
- The Penguin has flip-flopped over the years from snobbish social climber to cold-blooded gangster to mutant bird-man, often depending on the medium. His umbrella and beak-like nose seem to be the only constants.
- Similarly, the Mad Hatter's gimmick has vacillated between hats and Alice in Wonderland. Or sometimes both at once.
- Most Batman villains are like this to either a small extent (Catwoman is fond of going after Cat related valuables) or a huge extent (the Riddler as previously mentioned). Appropriately, Two-Face can't seem to decide whether his theme is opposites or the number two. Maybe he should just flip for it.
- Gimmicky villains are so common in DC that some even wind up sharing gimmicks. Riddler's niche is crowded by Baffler, Puzzler, and Cluemaster, while Joker has to compete with Punch and Jewelee, Trickster, Prankster, and maybe Toyman to a degree.
- Toyman is an excellent example of a character whose only real continuity between versions is his Gimmick, ranging from a harmless nuisance, to a psychotic child murderer, to child-loving toymaker seeking revenge for his destroyed robo-wife, to a heroic Japanese teenage Gadgeteer Genius.
- An example of a poorly implemented gimmick: Paste Pot Pete. (Pete later changed his name, because it was too silly, even for the Silver Age.)
- Spider-Man's gimmick, in universe, is his spider theme (less important) and sharp wit (more important); but out of series, his gimmick is that he's one of us: he's an average person who got hit with the superpower stick, and now has an extra set of responsibilities.
- Captain America's gimmick is Patriotism and embodying the American Fighting Spirit.
- Green Arrow has a whole Robin Hood and Bow And Arrow gimmick going.
- As well as his very outspoken left-wing political views, which, since the '70s, have been a defining character trait of his.
- The Flash's Rogues Gallery was full of gimmick themes with obvious names: Captain Cold, Heat Wave, Captain Boomerang, Mirror Master, Rainbow Raider, The Top (in that he spun like one).
- The Punisher's willingness to kill and torture bad guys. And having a skull on his tunic.
- When they started out, the Doom Patrol's gimmick was being former beautiful elites who became outcasts and freaks through cruel twists of fate. However, the outcast hero niche got more and more crowded throughout the 60s, and today their gimmick is more like "really damn bizarre".
- Mystery Men has dozens of gimmicky superheroes and supervillains, most of them second-rate at best (though the main characters eventually do Take A Level In Badass. The Blue Rajah is notable in that he doesn't seem to know whether he's a British-sympathizing Indian prince or a guy who throws forks at people, and eventually settles on calling himself "a limey fork-flinger."
- The 2008 live-action film version of Speed Racer is played almost like Wacky Races, with all kinds of colorfully costumed race-car drivers fighting and plotting against each other in order to win. Noteworthy entrants include Snake Oiler, who is sort of a combination of a cowboy and a rock star, while another racing team consists of Horny Vikings. It's interesting that the (non-racing) colorfully-suited Cruncher Block gang (a pastiche of all the different British and American "Mob" stereotypes) looks downright non-gimmicky by comparison. The title character, of course, doesn't have a gimmick beyond the fact that, well, he's a racer (not that he really had much choice in the matter, since "Racer" is literally his family name). That, and he has a pet chimpanzee.
- The Stalkers in The Running Man all have pro wrestling gimmicks and weaponry to match. Bonus points for most of them actually being played by pro wrestlers.
- Captain America: Civil War: When Bucky and Sam meet Spider-Man, Sam comments "everyone's got a thing now." Ironic, considering that Sam himself has been leaning a bit more heavily on his bird theme in this movie (such as by naming one of his drones and treating it like a pet).
- Nero Wolfe was best known for solving cases while never leaving his house. His narrator, Archie Goodwin, did all of the relevant legwork; the combination of the the Hard Boiled-styled detective and the very Defective Great Detective was the gimmick of the series as a whole.
- Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain:
- Penny decides to have candy be her main gimmick as a Mad Scientist, and starts designing weapons based around sugar. Some are simple (such as a water knife that uses soda instead of water), but others are more involved, like a wand that covers enemies in a candy coating, freezing them in place.
- Apparently it's common for mad scientists to have a theme to their inventions. In fact, one of Penny's distinguishing features is that she isn't bound by a theme. Nearly all mad scientists are restricted to a single general theme in their inventions (lasers, clockwork, candy, etc). Penny can make just about anything. This means that she is one of the best Mad Scientists seen in generations, to the point that several adults think she can't possibly be making all her gear herself. If she was, she'd be a better scientist than Nikola Tesla.
- When Penny makes things outside her supervillain persona, she pretends to be limited to clockwork in order to keep people from realizing who she is. Even limiting herself like that, people still think she's the second best Mad Scientist in the world. The first, of course, being her supervillain persona Bad Penny.
- Manhattan Love Story: The series tries to set itself apart from the pack by having voiceovers read the main characters' minds.
- In the musical Gypsy, the three strippers that Rose and Louise meet sing about how "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" in order to stand out from the crowd. Electra covers herself in lights, Tessie Tura uses refined ballet moves, and Mazeppa uses a trumpet. Later, when Louise is more or less pushed into a stripper role, she takes their advice to heart. Her gimmick is speaking directly to the audience.
- Gimmicks were common in the action figure lines of The '80s, most of which were spun off into Merchandise-Driven cartoons.
- C.O.P.S. and Robocop and the Ultra Police: The figures have working cap guns.
- Masters of the Universe (and too many others to list): The figures have built-in action features.
- Transformers and Challenge Of The Gobots: Robots that convert into vehicles. Transformers was such a smash hit that it led to competitors with similar gimmicks, such as M.A.S.K. (the characters' ordinary vehicles deploy hidden weapons) and Centurions (the heroes wear Assault Weapon Systems with interchangeable parts).
- Even within the Transfomers franchise itself, several gimmicks exist to make various characters stand out and vary up the standard robot with one alternate mode formula. These include Triple Changers (Transformers with a robot mode and two distinct alternate modes), Combiners (A group of Transformers who can merge with each other into an even larger robot), Headmasters, and Headmasters, Targetmasters, and Powermasters (a Transformer with a symbiotic relationship with a smaller sized being who forms said Transformer's head, weapon, or engine, respectively).
- Visionaries: Each figure and vehicle uses at least one holographic sticker to represent its magical powers. Unfortunately, the holograms wound up dooming the line — they were expensive to make and easily damaged, and the toys didn't sell well enough to compensate for this.
- The Warriors. Even more than in the 1979 movie that started it all, the 2005 game is jam-packed with colorful street gangs you won't be confusing for each other. Sometimes the gimmick is merely wearing a particular kind of clothing (the Jones Street Boys and their zebra-striped "referee" shirts, or the Saracens in their Adidas tank tops), or something having to do with race or sex (the Hurricanes are all Puerto Ricans, the Lizzies all girls). Beyond that, things start getting weird. You have the Hi-Hats (clowns), the Boppers (1930s gangsters), the Savage Huns (kung-fu experts straight out of a Bruce Lee movie), and the Furies (who apparently can't decide whether they're baseball players or multicolored demons). Even the Warriors themselves have a well-defined gimmick, although it actually informs their character (they all dress vaguely or sometimes blatantly like American Indians, and indeed maintain a tribal form of government that is roughly egalitarian, with a "war chief" being informally designated as circumstances warrant).
- Homestar Runner: Parodied in the Strong Bad Email "yes, wrestling", where Strong Bad contends that the most important thing in wrestling is having a catchy gimmick. He discusses several gimmicks he had when he got started in wrestling, riffing on Foreign Wrestling Heel, Wrestling Doesn't Pay, and other pro wrestling gimmicks and tropes.