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"Alfred, go get that device that can tell us if someone is Clayface, a Martian, or a robot."

A character, usually one relatively high on the power scale, loses a fight. Sometimes they die, other times they're just humiliated. The point is, they just got their butt handed to them by the other guys in a largely fair fight. Is this the end of our eternal rivalry between good and evil? Has one side truly triumphed!?

Not really, no. It turns out that the truly epic character we just saw get beaten up was Not Himself. Rather, he was Actually a Doombot, either a proxy robot or an impersonator who was pretty much impossible to distinguish from the genuine article until the writer told us so at the last minute or later.

The narrative role of this trope is obvious- it works to prevent The Worf Effect, and also insure that characters don't "really" die, thus allowing them to come back on next week's program. This can, nonetheless, still come off as an Ass Pull writ Shaggy Dog Story since there are rarely ever any clues given that the character was really a doombot, nor does it have any future relevance in the story.

A semi-popular form of Retcon. Often involves by necessity Ridiculously-Human Robots. See Opening a Can of Clones for some of the negative results that crop up when this trope is used over a long period of time. Compare Fighting a Shadow, Backup Twin, Cloning Gambit, Remote Body, and Robot Master. If the original simply comes back with little or no explanation, then it's a case of Joker Immunity.

Examples of Actually a Doombot include:


Anime and Manga

  • Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, in multiple cases. Since lots of people are cyborgs with fully mechanical bodies it's just so easy.
    • Noteworthy are the episodes when a criminal turns out to have not only one Doombot, but a whole number of them, and the one in which the Major "dies", which is straight from the manga.
  • Done in one occasion in Naruto when the good guys struggle against two very powerful villains and finally defeat them, only to find out they merely defeated inferior copies made off of animated corpses. From exchanges made beforehand, it then becomes clear that the copies only had 30% of their chakra to work with.
    • There was a partial example later: When Kisame fought Killer Bee, the real him was there for most of the fight but was switched with a much weaker duplicate by the end. Granted, there's a very good chance that Killer Bee and the Raikage really could have beaten the real him together.
  • Inuyasha Big Bad Naraku uses this repeatedly with dolls to the point where later in the series the heroes just assume certain incarnations are fakes.
  • Outlaw Star does this in episode 9 when Gene is attempting to collect a bounty on the criminal Zomba. Gene wins the fight and is surprised that the guy's a cyborg and takes him in only to find out the real Zomba wasn't a cyborg. subverted immediately after when Suzuka walks out of the police station and as she's walking away some people come running up and announce that she's the one who took down the legendary Zomba (completely offscreen).
  • .hack//Sign does this in episode 26. Tsukasa, Subaru and Mimiru are in a secluded location separated from the others. As the three encounter each other they find themselves being hostile. Tsukasa calls out a fake Mimiru which dissolves into several small data bugs before taking them into Morganna's lair.
  • In Mega Man Megamix', near the beginning of the The Greatest Enemy in History story arc, after Copy Mega Man foils Dr. Wily's plans, he shoots him in the forehead, only for the head to start bouncing on a spring, revealing it be a robot fake. The real Wily observed the event from his Wily Capsule, shocked at how Mega Man would shoot a human.

Comic Books

  • The name comes from Doombots which are used by writers in the Marvel Comics Universe to explain how Doctor Doom rarely ever actually "loses" battles.
    • This has been pulled so often, there's a fan theory that the real Dr. Doom has never appeared in a comic.
      • Or maybe there is no "real" Dr. Doom.
    • A doombot also appears in Runaways, but it's actually Ultron's.
    • Inverted in a 2005 Hercules miniseries, where Herc was tasked with a modern version of his twelve labors for a reality television series. One of his new labors was to sneak into Latveria and run off with a Doombot, but it's suggested that Herc screwed up and grabbed the real Doom instead (he gets credit for succeeding anyhow).
    • Early in Walter Simonson's run on Fantastic Four, he has the FF face a Doctor Doom who's wearing a new suit of armor -- and who claims that every single Doom they've fought for the past 25 years of real time (since the Lee/Kirby days) has been a Doombot. Since this retcon includes things like Doom's appearance in Secret Wars and the entirety of John Byrne's run (regarded as one of the definitive eras for Doom), everyone since has assumed he was lying or a deluded Doombot himself, as there have been other Doombots that thought themselves the original.
      • The first arc of the Winter Soldier comic implies that Doom actually programmes several Doombots to believe themselves to be the real Doom, to make them more life-like.
    • Hilariously, one of Doom's only defeats that never got an official Doombot retcon was when Squirrel Girl took him down (more info on her page).
  • There was a Punisher story where he killed Nick Fury, later revealed to have been an android.
    • Happens quite a bit with Nick Fury, who has had "Life Model Decoy" robots as a standard part of his stock-in-trade ever since he joined SHIELD.
  • In the Marvel Universe, Big Bad Thanos has duplicates called Thanosi that are indistinguishable from the original. Like Doombots, these are used (usually by Thanos creator Jim Starlin) to explain away defeats. Particularly more embarrassing ones.
    • There was a War of the Retcons about the Thanosi and Squirrel Girl, where S.G. defeated Thanos offscreen in a Great Lakes Avengers miniseries, and the Watcher was dragged on to say "This is definitely the real Thanos" -- and then in a different book some time later, Thanos casually mentions that he can create Thanosi that can fool even the Watcher. Just to make this even more ridiculous, the original story and the Retcon were written by the same guy.
      • Squirrel Girl's entire gimmick is defeating powerful villains like Doom and Thanos, usually off-panel, with it being left ambiguous whether it was Actually a Doombot she fought.
  • Marvel's Mephisto has sometimes been impersonated by lesser demons who imitate his form. Such demons are defeated far more easily than the virtually invincible Mephisto.
  • Superman himself was prone to using this, having an army of identical but unreliable robot duplicates of himself and Clark Kent for when he needed to be in two places at once.
  • Iron Man's enemy/occasional love interest Madam Masque had had so many contradictory interpretations and seeming deaths over the years that Kurt Busiek finally declared in an issue of The Avengers that the real Madam Masque was a reclusive paranoid who interacted with the outside world mainly through Expendable Clones who occasionally went rogue and defied her wishes.
  • This is revealed to be the case during Final Crisis for the New Gods and Darkseid. All that earth has ever seen is somewhat limited projections of the real gods which operate on a higher plane of reality.
  • And then there's Prometheus, a DC villain who was created to be a sort of anti-Batman who was so intelligent and well-trained he could almost take out the entire Justice League on his own. Except that he had long since fallen prey to Villain Decay and had been reduced to just another generic baddie who gets his butt kicked by whatever hero happens to be around. The Justice League miniseries Cry For Justice attempted to fix this by revealing that the real Prometheus had been in hiding since he almost killed the JLA, and the loser who kept getting kicked around all these years was an impostor, who Prometheus had killed. But now the real deal was back, ready and able to...get killed off in short order by Green Arrow. It was quite a waste, but not nearly the worst thing about that series.
  • Professor X's first "death" in the X-Men comics was actually the shapeshifter Changeling having taken Xavier's place some issues earlier since he knew he was going to die anyways.
  • Every single appearance by Brainiac in the Post-Crisis DCU, prior to Geoff Johns' "Brainiac" storyline in Action Comics was actually a "Brainiac probe". Even Milton Fine wasn't posessed by Vil Dox's disembodied intelligence, but by nanoprobes.
  • Inverted Trope: Also by Geoff Johns was the revelation that Ax Crazy Toyman was a robot designed to fool even Superman, and the real Toyman was still a Harmless Villain. (A Harmless Villain who was still indirectly responsible for Adam Grant's death, but still...)
  • Viper/Madame Hydra is a long-running Marvel villain who has appeared in many series. She had an out-of-character appearance in a storyline featured in Punisher War Journal #45-47 (August-October, 1992). Where she served as an ally to Daredevil, Nomad, and The Punisher. A year later, Gregory Wright wrote a story where it was revealed that Viper has been using look-alike "Pit-Vipers" to act in her name. The "Viper" appearing in the Punisher storyline was a rogue Pit-Viper with her own agenda.
  • In one of the Batman Adventures comics, it was revealed that the redesigned green-skinned, elfin Poison Ivy that appeared in the later episodes of Batman the Animated Series was actually a Plant Person created by the real Ivy to keep up appearances in Gotham while she went on the lam and shacked up with Alec Holland. Disturbingly, the plant actually thought she was the real Ivy right up until the end when she fell victim to Clone Degeneration.
  • The Marvel crossover Secret Invasion took this trope and ran. Basically, the Skrulls, a race of shapeshifting aliens, invade Earth and make known that they had abducted several heroes and placed sleeper agents in their stead. This conveniently retcons out several less-than-well-received plotlines with "It was a Skrull!"


Fan Fic


Literature

  • In order to maintain Cthulhu's aura of menace and mystery, some stories and fan theories say that the Cthulhu that was driven back to sleep in the original short story "Call of Cthulhu" was merely a Spawn of Cthulhu instead of the Real McCoy.

Live-Action TV

  • Used with the Buffybot from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a robot replica of the title heroine. A good example is the end of season 5, where Buffy apparently gets decapitated by the Big Bad, Glory. Lo and behold, the real Buffy then reveals herself, showing the first one to be a fake.
    • Season nine opens with Buffy's arms feeling funny. Later in the series we see a shot of Andrew working on a robotic arm, then in a fight Buffy's arm is torn off to her horror. When it turns out that it's a robotic arm, remembering how upset she was when there was a robot version of her before, Buffy\robobuffy gets even more upset.
    • An instance of this appears on Angel, as well. A cyborg uses a Glamour to imitate Wesley's father. When the cyborg threatens Fred, Wesley shoots it dead, revealing its true nature. Unlike most cases of this trope, the duplicate was not operating on behalf of the original.
  • Stargate SG-1: System Lord Ba'al inherited Asgard Cloning Technology from his old master, Anubis. This let the writers kill him at least once almost every time he appeared after that. One episode revolved around SG-1 tracking down the lot of them. Or did they? Turns out, they didn't. Either that, or he just made more clones afterward.
    • Also on Stargate SG-1, in the season 4 episode Double Jeopardy, SG-1 finds out that their robot clones from season 1's Tin Man have been going on their own adventures. The second indication that SG-1 isn't really SG-1 is when Carter was surprised to be referred to as a Major rather than a Captain.)
  • Farscape: Unbeknown to the audience, Aeryn Sun is swapped with a biomechnical replica to hide the real one's abduction. John Crichton doesn't awaken to the situation until the "bioloid" inadvertently fails at a Trust Password. Crichton draws a gun on her and, during an increasingly-agitated round of questioning, the faker tries to draw hers as well. Crichton blasts the side of her head off, revealing her inner components for all to see.
  • Doctor Who: The Doctor is apparently killed off for real at the start of Series 6. When this scene is revisited in the finale it is revealed that it was really the Tesselecta from "Lets Kill Hitler" impersonating him.
    • An interesting variant occurs in "A Good Man Goes to War" when it is revealed that the baby Melody Pond the Doctor and his allies have just rescued is a Ganger.
  • Smallville: Lana Lang is caught in a car bombing, with enough DNA evidence to confirm the death, in season 6 finale. In the next season it is revealed that it was actually her clone created by Lex.

Tabletop Games

Video Games

  • In Marvel vs. Capcom 2, one of Dr. Doom's Victory Poses is of five Doombots swooping down from the sky to partake in some evil chortling. Obviously, this calls into question whether the victorious Doom was even the real one.
  • Chrono Cross pulls this early on, when building up Lynx as the Big Bad, before the party finally fights him...a third of the way through Disc One? Don't worry, after you beat him, he turns into a strange mix between a cat and a Displacer Beast, and the real Lynx reveals that it was Actually A Shadow. There was no way he was going to risk fighting against Kid, who was so hell-bent on finding him.
  • Dr. Eggman pulls this stunt after you first defeat him in Sonic Heroes, regardless of which team you play as. Subverted when the robot melts into goo, then reforms into Metal Sonic, revealing the whole thing to be a ploy.
  • Super Mario Bros.: In the original game you beat Bowser every four levels. However, each time but the last "Bowser" just turns out to be a different mook in disguise.
    • This returns in Super Mario 3D Land, with the fake Bowsers being a Goomba (World 1) and a Magikoopa (World 5) with Tanooki Suits.
    • In the fangame Super Mario 63, the Bowser in the Koopa Clown Car you fight before ascending the Meteor Tower is a robot.
  • Luigis Mansion The "Bowser" towards the end of the game is clearly a mechanical decoy (though fairly accurate/lifelike) used by King Boo with his magitek on it. Therefore, King Boo is a boss in disguise here. This idea may very well be based on the fake Bowsers from Super Mario Bros..
  • In Streets of Rage 3, at the end of stage 5, you fight Mr. X much like you did in the previous two games, but he is revealed to be a robot. Given that the back story of the Western version is about robots replacing important public figures, you already fought a robot Axel in stage 3, and there are three more stages after stage 5, it didn't come as a huge surprise.
  • The Magic Emperor's first boss battle in Lunar: The Silver Star and its various remakes.
    • Actually not the case in the original, you fight real thing in your first fight with him and then leave him for dead, then one scene later and reveals he's alive and turns into a monster for the final fight.
  • Star Fox 64 has this happen during the standard ending: the Big Bad you just killed was actually his robot duplicate. The true ending has you battle the real Big Bad.
  • In World of Warcraft, Mekgineer Thermaplugg was recently revealed to have done this (Zalazane too, with Hollywood Voodoo), but after a final assault, Thermaplugg is still alive. Zalazane is dead, though. Right?.
    • Zalazane is not only dead, but was explicitly dragged off to voodoo hell or whatever. He ain't coming back.
  • Dr. Wily has pulled this on multiple occasions, to the point that Mega Man 9 lampshades it.
    • Sigma has also done this frequently, coming back inexplicably in a arsenal of different forms- until his current defeat in Mega Man X 8. Justified by the fact he is a living virus and can exist as a digital entity, then integrate into a new body at will. In X8 Lumine, a seemingly gentle Reploid director, forcefully states at the Sigma is gone for good, standing over his broken remains- only to reveal his true intentions a half-second later. Some time in the distant future, this is disproven: Sigma still lives on in viral form. However, with the end of the Maverick Wars, his programming was forcefully and permanently deleted by the antivirus program of the Mother Elf.
      • Subverted in Mega Man Zero 4: Both Dr. Weil and Zero (although debatable) die, but live on as individual Biometals in the Mega Man ZX series. Double Subverted if you count Model Z's sacrifice in ZX Advent.
  • In Jet Set Radio Future, a story arc has team member Yo Yo betray the entire group. Or so the Golden Rhinos would have you think, as they kidnapped Yo Yo and built a robot clone and loosed him on Tokyo to wreak havok.
  • In Scott Pilgrim, The final fight with Gideon turns out to be an example. Overlaps with Clipped-Wing Angel in that after beating the robot, the real Gideon goes down in a single hit.
  • Lord Nemesis in City of Heroes has so many mechanical duplicates of himself running around that when fighting his minions, it's not uncommon to find multiple enemies named Fake Nemesis in the same building, or even in the same patrol.
    • There even a bug which can occasionally result in a group of enemies composed solely of a half dozen or so Fake Nemesis.
  • The Game Cube version of Mortal Kombat Deception retcons Shao Kahn's apparent death at the beginning of Mortal Kombat Deadly Alliance into this in order to explain his canonical Gamecube-exclusive playable appearance.
  • In Vanquish, you fight with seemingly two Victor Zaitsevs, one red and the other blue. After killing the first one, no matter which, Zaitsev will say you killed the wrong one. Unfortunately, Zaitsev was never there to begin with; they are both just doombots.
  • In the Game Boy version of Kid Dracula, the first Garamoth you fight turns out to be a robot being piloted by an alien.


Web Comics

  • Towards the end of Bob and George, Bob kills Dr. Wily. Or rather, he kills one of the many robotic clones Wily leaves scattered around his fortress on the off chance a deranged psychopath breaks in and attempts to kill him.

 Wily: It worked, didn't it?

  • Least I Could Do mocked the hell out of this trope during their Crisis Crossover parody arc: Rayne gets killed off more than once, and every time, "It's cool. Was a clone."; after a while, his roommate decides to give it a try by snapping Rayne's neck; turns out he was the real Rayne, who gets quickly replaced by a clone who spent a year in a prehistoric cave with Batman. No, really.
  • In Sluggy Freelance Dr. Schlock has had inflatable, robot decoys deal with dangerous people in his place many times, particularly as he's become more paranoid over the years.
  • In Trigger Star after defeating Black Licorice, Avocado convinces the others that it was a Doombot since it was way too easy. It wasn't.

Western Animation

  • Used on more than one occasion in episodes of Superfriends to explain how the latest scheme by Lex Luthor didn't actually work, since the heroes were being represented by robotic duplicates. Raises the question of why the Legion of Doom doesn't bother with autopsies, or why they throw away their latest superweapon the minute the Superfriends "appear" to be dead.
  • In the first season finale to Filmation's Flash Gordon, Ming appears to die, but the corpse is revealed as a Ming-bot, and the real Ming flies away cackling that he will regain his throne and have revenge. The implication, at least, is that it was the real Ming who had lost a fight with Flash a few minutes earlier, but that he had pulled the switch when he and Flash were briefly separated.
  • Megamind. In the final battle against Tighten, Megamind rescues Roxanne but is killed—only to be revealed as Minion wearing a holographic disguise.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man, whenever Quentin Beck/Mysterio is captured or defeated, it always turns out to be a robotic double.
  • Used several times by Slade on Teen Titans. At least one was rigged to explode if defeated, and most had monitors behind their masks to facilitate last-minute megalomaniacal gloating.
  • In an episode of Batman the Brave And The Bold, Superman and Batman captured Lex Luthor early in the episode. It turns out that Lex Luthor is actually a Lexbot.
  • In the Young Justice episode "Welcome To Happy Harbor", Miss Martian shockingly executes Bromwell Stikk, the pilot of the Mister Twister mecha. We quickly discover that Stikk himself was an android built to resemble the real pilot, and that he had a built-in camera meant to spy on the kids.
  • Loonatics Unleashed: Otto the Odd utilized plenty of these, enough to fall well into the realm of Crazy Prepared.


Real Life

  • Dictators usually have an array of body doubles and impersonators, although it rarely works in this age of DNA and medical records.
    • It works in the sense that the doubles are often the target of assassination attempts.
  • Part of military strategy involves disguising one thing as another in order to steal a march on the enemy. For example, as part of the Raid on St Nazaire in WWII, the British destroyer Campbelltown was disguised as a German frigate (hoisting its flag before firing, of course).
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