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Villains Wiki
Aquaman: If I had discovered Black Manta was a part of something like this...
Flash: Right? How can we ensure any kind of justice if criminals are being given a hall pass?
~ A conversation between the Justice League regarding how their enemies can escape punishment by being enlisted into the Suicide Squad.
That's right, I committed the crime, but I'm not the one who gets punished... because I'm a winner.
~ Mai Mashiro

A Karma Houdini is a villain who is never punished (or is insufficiently punished) for their evil actions. As such, when the story is over, this villain is not really defeated; he/she remains in position to continue his/her misdeeds, either towards the protagonists or a new target or, in the most extreme cases, is still as much of a threat as he/she was before, or even worse.

This also concerns corporations, species, organizations, or teams who are not disbanded at the very end of the story, thus they are still able to pose a threat even if some of their majors or agents were killed or imprisoned (e.g. Dead Tube).

A Karma Houdini happens when:

  1. The villain is thwarted but not aptly punished in the resolution. This often happens when a villain is simply humiliated or harmed in a comical manner, but only faces a temporary punishment when they deserve worse, not enough to prevent them from striking again in the next episode, season or installment. Example: Courtney from Total Drama.
  2. The villain makes an escape at the story's climax. Probably the most common type. Often, the villain escapes while the heroes are preoccupied with some other danger (usually that they created), sometimes because, in most stories, preventing whatever disaster was caused by a villain is more important than going after the villain himself. Sometimes this is done to set up a sequel, or at least leave the story open for one. Examples of this include Doctor Claw from Inspector Gadget 2, Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, Scarecrow from The Dark Knight Trilogy, Invictus from Final Space and Joker from The LEGO Batman Movie. However, this does not count when they do get their just desserts in the sequel/final installment. Examples include Emperor Palpatine crushing the Galactic Republic and the Jedi Order in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith but being obliterated in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, Lord Voldemort conquering the Ministry of Magic and procuring the Elder Wand in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 but being destroyed and the Ministry falling into good hands in the sequel, Thanos conquering all of the heroes in Avengers: Infinity War but getting what he deserves in Avengers: Endgame, Azula conquering Ba Sing Se in the second season of Avatar: The Last Airbender but receiving her comeuppance in the third season, Dodge winning against the Lockes in the first season of Locke & Key but losing to them in the second, and Alfrid Lickspittle successfully detaining Bard and enabling the unleashing of Smaug in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug but dealing with Bard's escape and being put in his place and realizing he has no power in Dale in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.
  3. The villain simply exits the story after performing their action, and is not encountered by the hero again. This usually occurs with minor antagonists (as opposed to central ones), as the most common scenario for this type of Karma Houdini is that the protagonist simply escapes the villain, who is not seen again because they are not relevant to the rest of the story. Examples: Honest John Worthington Foulfellow, Gideon, Stromboli and the Coachman in Disney's Pinocchio, Scratcher from Rudolph and Frosty's Christmas in July, Bomb Voyage from The Incredibles and The Underminer from Incredibles 2, DJ from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, School Mystery No.6 in Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, Bulldog from Tom and Jerry: The Movie, Ryuk from Death Note, and Poppy's Killer from Married... With Children.
  4. The villain is forgiven at the last second, without being truly redeemed. These villains spend the story causing strife, but when the conflict is over, the protagonists do not bear them any ill will, and in some case welcome them into their group of friends. They do stop doing evil, but never apologize and do not display any intention to bettering themselves, and their misdeeds are swept under the rug. Examples: The Misfits in Jem and the Holograms, Isabela Keyes from Dead Rising, Lucius Malfoy in Harry Potter, or Mothiva from Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling.
  5. The villain outright wins at the end of the story, defeating the hero (or other villains) and succeeding in all their evil plans. For extremely obvious reasons, this is, by far, the least common type and can reasonably be expected to occur only in the very darkest of stories, and is in fact very common in modern horror stories. Examples: Mai Mashiro in Dead Tube, Shao Kahn in the Original Timeline, Audrey II in the most common ending of Little Shop of Horrors, Mary Shaw in Dead Silence, Anton Chigurh in No Country for Old Men, Freddy Krueger in Nightmare on Elm Street 2010, Gao Qiu in The Water Margin, Foxy Loxy form Chicken Little, Noah Cross from Chinatown, Rustal Elion in Mobile Suit Gundam IRON-BLOODED ORPHANS, the Fruit Winders Gang in all of their comic strips, Bagul in Sinister, and the incarnation of the Joker from Suicide Squad.
  6. The villain is more of a jerk and thus many don't see the need to punish them (in general, they punish themselves). These kinds of villains are usually from sitcoms, children's cartoons or even racing films (If the protagonist wins) and thus are not really threats. Because of this, many heroes simply let the villain do what they want as long as they don't cause too much harm. Example: Chick Hicks from Cars.
  7. The villain is ousted and/or exiled but not brought to justice. These villains are driven out by the hero or some other force of good, but is not aptly defeated and often given the chance to come back and cause further harm. Examples: Idi Amin, Doc Hopper, Puffy Fluffy, Sergeant Crushida Pepper, Dr. Wily, Mina Loveberry, Agatha Trunchbull and Parker Selfridge.

Important Notes

  • By definition, a Karma Houdini is the strict opposite of a Scapegoat. Therefore, the two categories cannot overlap.
  • Redeemed villains can never qualify as Karma Houdinis as they have faced redemption and have no reason to be punished, regardless of if their redemption seems forced.
  • Deceased and Presumed Deceased villains usually do not count as Karma Houdinis; the only way for a dead or presumed dead character to count is if the death/presumed death happens because of environmental forces and not because someone killed them (e.g. Noah Cross, Solomon Goode, Former Head Trancy, Toplofty and O'Bloat, Sozin, Pharaoh Seti I, Donald Love, Mr. Grasping, Warren T. Rat, Oh Il-nam, Theodore Lagerfeld Jr., King Fritz, Perseus and Nefretiri), if they are more likely to have survived and escaped rather than actually died (e.g. Rasmin Yelkov and Tord), or if their Karma Houdini is status dependent on version where they face Karma Houdini in one ending and are defeated in another (e.g. Audrey II)
    • Undead villains who were killed, but returned and continue to commit atrocities without punishment may also qualify in certain circumstances (e.g. Hatbox Ghost).
      • This also applies to villains who were slain, but were completely brought back to life and escaped punishment as well. (e.g. Frieza, Chucky, and Evolt).
    • This also goes for Damned Souls as by there them being damned means that they are dead, even in the rare cases in which the damned villain is not dead the damnation is always sufficient enough punishment to be considered a damnation to begin with.
  • Regardless of how painless their imprisonment, Imprisoned villains do not count as they are unable to pose a physical threat (outside their confinement). Of course, former inmates who successfully escape imprisonment can count (e.g. Azula).
  • Villains whose status is dependent upon player choice cannot qualify unless they do not receive punishment for their actions in any possible ending of the game (e.g. Richard Perkins).
  • Villains who took their own lives CANNOT count even if they try to or managed to escape punishment (e.g. Andre and Cal, Samuel Norton, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille and Viktor Zakhaev).
  • Villains who are killed by another villain or a neutral character before they were punished CANNOT count even if they didn't get caught by a more powerful character (e.g. Yashiro's Brother who was killed by Yashiro himself).

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