Villain Dies WIthout Hero Killing Him
April 28, 2005 12:25 AM   Subscribe

What's it called when the villain of a story dies without the hero actually killing anyone directly? For instance, in Spider-Man the petty thug trips over a pipe and falls out the window and the Goblin becomes his own victim when his final attempt to kill Spider-Man backfires.
posted by will to Writing & Language (22 answers total)
Poetic justice?
posted by NekulturnY at 12:39 AM on April 28, 2005

The Comics Code in action?
posted by grouse at 12:41 AM on April 28, 2005

Response by poster: Good answer grouse, but it happens a fair deal in movies that aren't based on comics. The Nazi that falls off the cliff with the tank in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade springs to mind as an example.
posted by will at 1:33 AM on April 28, 2005

klutz ex machina?
Colonel Klnk ex machina?
posted by BrotherCaine at 2:01 AM on April 28, 2005

Hoist by his own petard. But only for that subset of cases where the villan is killed by a device he was going to use against the hero.
posted by mono blanco at 2:23 AM on April 28, 2005

Good question! This also happens to Gollum in the LOTR. (At least in the book. It's different in the movie.)
posted by alms at 4:48 AM on April 28, 2005

posted by lotsofno at 4:56 AM on April 28, 2005

posted by ajbattrick at 5:11 AM on April 28, 2005

A climax is the turning point in a story, the point in the story of greatest emotion. The rest is resolution. It would be a climax if the hero had a great battle with the villain, defeated the villain, and commenced with kissing the leggy babe.

An anticlimax also is the turning point in a story, but this time the story does not meet expectations -- the peak of emotion everyone expected turns out to be a gentler hill and the resolution rolls out from that milder height. You walk away "vaguely dissatisfied," as they say.

It sounds as if it was an anticlimax when this Goblin tripped and fell through a window instead of sticking around to be punched out by the Spider-Man. Though isn't that the key to all sequels -- the bad guy doesn't go to jail, he falls and disappears or perhaps is revived? Or was he really most sincerely dead?
posted by pracowity at 5:18 AM on April 28, 2005

pracowity, the Green Goblin isn't only merely dead, he's absotively, posilutely, really, most sincerely dead. It was a petty crook who fell through a window-- GG's demise was far more (please forgive) pointed.

Back to the thread, I'll have to second NekulturnY on "poetic justice." It's not fancy, but I think it's really what we're describing.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:01 AM on April 28, 2005

Pathos; more specifically, aposiopesis, as the antagonist pre-empts his/her own mechanism(s).
See also: Ineptitude.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:09 AM on April 28, 2005

For the layman, irony works just as well.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:14 AM on April 28, 2005

I tend to call it a cop-out. In Spiderman, I got the sense that the filmmakers wanted to have it both ways -- kill the bad guy, but don't make the hero a killer.
posted by Zonker at 6:20 AM on April 28, 2005

From another angle, these are cases of death by (criminal) misadventure, rather than by lawful killing (to use British terminology), as well as being instances of poetic justice, come-uppance & the getting of just deserts.
posted by misteraitch at 6:32 AM on April 28, 2005

posted by SPrintF at 7:02 AM on April 28, 2005

A (Boba the) Fetting End?
posted by sourwookie at 7:14 AM on April 28, 2005

I'm going to second karma. I was thinking einfrocement of the Golden Rule, you get what you give, etc. but karma captures my thoughts nicely.
posted by lorrer at 7:50 AM on April 28, 2005

In Spiderman, I got the sense that the filmmakers wanted to have it both ways -- kill the bad guy, but don't make the hero a killer.

In Spider-Man's case, it is an integral part of the character that he's always being blamed for things he didn't actually do -- by the police, by Harry Osborne (original Green Goblin's son), etc. And of course he always finds it difficult to clear himself. In other words, the way the Green Goblin fight ends is a setup for the next bit of plot. Of course if you only see the one movie, and are otherwise unfamiliar with Spider-Man, you might think it's is a cop-out.
posted by kindall at 9:22 AM on April 28, 2005

Zonker nails it. It's a cop-out so that the hero's integrity remains unblemished, and no moral questions have to be raised. This way, all the simpletons clearly understand who to root for: the good guy never does bad things, the bad guy never does good things. If only life were so black and white.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:47 AM on April 28, 2005

If there isn't an existing name for it, I hereby nominate "getting eaten by the croc."
posted by RobotHero at 10:42 AM on April 28, 2005

There's a Latin term felo-de-se, meaning "evildoer upon himself:"

Main Entry: felo–de–se
Pronunciation: "fel-Od-&-'sA, -'sE
Function: noun
Inflected Form: plural fe·lo·nes–de–se /f&-"lO-(")nEz-d&-/ or felos–de–se /"fel-Oz-d&-/
1 : one who commits suicide or who dies from the effects of having committed an unlawful malicious act
2 : an act of deliberate self-destruction : SUICIDE

So while it commonly means suicide, it's also the only word I know that has, among its definitions, anything that comes close to the bit I boldfaced.
posted by blueshammer at 10:52 AM on April 28, 2005

posted by Doohickie at 2:11 PM on April 28, 2005

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