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Behold, the Escape Artist! Death-defying man of adventure! No bonds can hold him! No trap can kill him! With a smile and a wink, he slips out of the tightest straitjacket, breaks out of the most hermetic cage, rises unharmed from the deepest ocean!
The Escape Artist (or Escapologist) is exactly that: a character whose ability to escape dangerous situations is practically superhuman. However, do note that it's not actually superhuman: a true escape artist relies merely on skill, guile and misdirection to make his escapes. After all, breaking free with Super Strength, escaping death with Super Speed or surviving with Nigh Invulnerability, well, that would be cheating, and this character is ALL about doing things the right way.
Escapology, the art and science of escape(and not to be confused with Escapism, mind you), has long been associated with stage acts since the early days of the 20th century, with Harry Houdini being the man to elevate it into a bonafide art form. In Real Life, stage magicians perform acts of escapology relying on both illusionism and actual skills such as contortionism, lock-picking and even plain brute-strength. As a long-time tradition of stage acts, escape stunts are suitably dramatic and suspenseful, utilizing the apparent (or sometimes even actual) danger to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, and giving them rapturous release when he manages to escape.
As a character type in fiction, escapologists will always escape on pure skill. Though they may use tools to free themselves, those tools still require intense training to use, as well as a high amount of cunning to conceal in case of being trapped. They are also always incredibly nimble and of cat-like dexterity. This lends itself to excelling in other talents, like gambling (especially at high stakes), gadgeteering, misdirection, etc. Also, the ability to escape also usually goes hand-in-hand with the ability to infiltrate, and so escapologists can usually be found as the mastermind or a high profile member of a group performing The Caper. Also, expect an escapologist to know kung-fu, for when guile and skill alone won't get him out of trouble.
Because of its association with the stage, escapist characters are also usually pretty hammy and melodramatic. They tend to be roguishly charming to boot. Basically, if a character's gimmick is escapology, he's gonna be larger than life. Escapology is, obviously, quite an universally useful skill, so you see both good and bad guys relying on it, but even bad guys tend to be pretty charming and charismatic if they're this kind if character. They will always show confidence in their skill, to the point of sometimes bragging about it or even using it as a signature of their character. There is no such thing as a timid or subdued escapist, since their ability to survive traps and bonds depends on being brave and confident of one's abilities. Even when an escapologist is actually a very serious character, he'll still tell you to your face that a trap won't work on him. For example, Batman, one of fiction's greatest escapologists, may be serious and not prone to bragging, but if you tie him up, he'll be the first to tell you "This won't hold me for long."
- Good ol' Lupin the Third. He's even actually let himself be caught in order to later escape as part of a plan.
- The wizard Zatara and his daughter, Zatanna. True, they possess actual magic as well, but they are both perfectly capable of escapology on their own, and have done so numerous times when not able to utilize their magic skill. Also, Zatara was teacher of escapology to...
- ...Batman. Always prepared with the right tools and skills, from lockpicks to acid to liquid nitrogen. It's almost a cliche for villains to put Bats in a deathtrap and having him "miraculously" escape.
- Scott Free, AKA Mister Miracle, is the DCU's(and perhaps all of fiction's) greatest escapologist. He has New God technology he uses when fighting crime but never uses it to escape anything, and literally no one has his level of skill in escape. He's so good at escaping, he managed to escape Apokolips. Darkseid's planet. Let that sink in.
- Yorick, protagonist of Y: The Last Man, is an amateur escape artist. In his first scene, he's talking to his girlfriend on speaker-phone while hanging from the ceiling and working his way out of a straitjacket.
- Sartana has this amongst his many, many skills.
- Robert Angier and Alfred Borden of The Prestige.
- Captain Jack Sparrow has pulled this several times. Wiggling out of handcuffs via lantern oil in the second film, using the 'leverage' trick in the 3rd film and getting his hands free in the 4th film and using the palm tree's as an improvised catapult with him as as the missile.
- "You will remember this as the day you almost caught, Captain jack Sparrow!"
- James Bond.
- The Escapist, from The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay.
- Sherlock Holmes has, in quite a few stories, proven himself to be notoriously hard to entrap. He sure as hell likes rubbing it in, too.
- Jo Grant, companion to the Third Doctor on Doctor Who, was very handy at getting out of handcuffs, manacles, and the like. The lock picking course seems to be the only UNIT agent course that she excelled in.
- The Doctor himself is an example. It helps that he's been trained by Houdini.
- Parodied in the Monty Python's Flying Circus "Life of Tchaikovsky" sketch, in which a pianist freed himself from a sack while pounding out the opening chords of Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto in B-flat minor.
- Would the titular character of MacGyver count? He certainly has the technical expertise, seeing as he can escape almost any dangerous situation using any means at his disposal.
- Boardwalk Empire had a performance by Harry Houdini's brother who claims to be a much better escape artist than his famous brother The audience at the show seems unimpressed since he lacks the showmanship of his brother.
- Basil Mouse, of The Great Mouse Detective, is basically just a rodent-version of Sherlock Holmes - so of course, he's also a superb escape-artist, demonstrating it in the movie by escaping a ludicrously lethal Death Trap.
- Trope Codifier is Harry Houdini, the archetypal stage escape artist.
- Many Real Life stage magicians, including Criss Angel, David Blaine and Penn & Teller.
- As a species, orangutans are Real Life escape artists. You can find several stories of orangutans wandering around zoos, and the general public thinks it's just a normal part of zoo life. Nowadays the way zoos test whether any (air-breathing) habitat is secure is, put an orangutan in it. If it can't get out, nothing can get out.
- Similarly, octopi are extremely difficult to keep in a tank. They are strong enough to lift the lid off, and flexible enough to squeeze through extremely small holes.