Canon Character All Along

Long-Runners often face the challenge of keeping established characters fresh. Sometimes, the audience gets bored with a particular character. Sometimes, the writer ran out of fresh situations to give to that character. And sometimes, the writer wants to reimagine or explore new depths of a character, but finds it challenging to convince fans to give their interpretation a chance (especially if one depiction of a character is seen as the standard for all subsequent depictions of that character to follow). For whatever reason, a writer wants to develop new material involving certain characters but doesn't want to run the risk of either beating a dead horse or dividing the fanbase.

One solution that writers have utilized is to write a story that features those established characters... albeit in the guise of someone completely different. Often, they don't look like any famous character from the main work's canon nor would they even have that recognizable name. If done well, fans will speculate who that "mysterious character" is. Maybe they don't believe that the "new" character would be anyone special. Maybe they will think that the "new" character is a Badass Normal with a mysterious background. Or maybe they'll think that the "new" character will be a groundbreaking addition to a work's mythos. But, if done successfully, fans will certainly not think that "new" character is someone already established in a work's canon.

Until one day... Wham! It turns out they were a canon character after all!

Compare with Red Herring Shirt or Canon Foreigner. Sometimes overlaps with Adaptation Name Change or Hijacked by Ganon.

Beware of unmarked spoilers.


Examples

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     Anime and Manga 

     Comic Books 
  • Alan Moore's Miracleman Retconned the original 50s adventures as dreams induced via Lotus-Eater Machine. However one part of those stories is true. The main bad guy of the original comics, and the man behind the curtain of the Miracleman project is Dr. Emil Gargunza.
  • Grant Morrison's New X-Men run featured a bunch of new characters, with the most prominent being the Chinese Buddhist Xorn. Then in the twist near the end, it turns out that Xorn was Magneto in disguise the whole time. Since this version of Magneto was a genocidal junkie (and by the end of the run, was thoroughly dead), the controversy was enough that Marvel's editors decided to retcon Xorn into not being the true Magneto the instant Grant Morrison left. Professor X went to Genosha to bury Magneto and found... Magneto. Excalibur Genosha begins, the Ho Yay between the two as they lead the new team in saving what's left of Genosha skyrockets, and in that title, Xorn is never brought up again. However, in the other books, who Xorn really was rapidly became a completely insane Continuity Snarl.
  • The Punisher MAX:
    • In the one-shot comic The Cell, Frank menaces imprisoned members of the Drago mafia family for an unknown reason. At the end, it's revealed that the Dragos are this universe's name for the Costa family: i.e., the mafia family that killed Frank's family.
    • The Heavy from "Girls in White Dresses" turned out to be the series' version of Punisher's archenemy Jigsaw.
  • The Swordsman seen in Heroes Reborn had nothing to do with Jacques Duquesne or Philip Javert. When the world was revisited in the Heroes Reborn: Remnants one-shot, it was revealed he was his Earth's counterpart of Deadpool.
  • In the New 52 version of Secret Six, only Catman and Black Alice return from the previous continuity. Strix and the new Ventriloquist come from Simone's Batgirl (2011) and Porcelain and Big Shot appear to be entirely original. Over the first few issues it's established that Big Shot is a Private Investigator, has the ability to expand in size and a rubbery face, is obsessed with his late wife, and has a sensitive nose. Oh, and Mockingbird calls him "Mr Dibney". It is later revealed that he is, indeed, the world-famous Elongated Man.
  • For a brief period in the 1990s, a series ran in 2000AD called The Dead Man following the adventures of a hideously-scarred amnesiac drifter in the post-apocalyptic wasteland of the Judge Dredd universe. It is eventually revealed that the Dead Man is in fact Dredd himself, whose place in Mega City One has been taken by the clone Kraken.
  • One Ultimates issue has Nick Fury going undercover to infiltrate HYDRA, where he befriends a deeply conflicted young henchwoman called "Nails." In the following issue, he's able to convince Nails to defect from HYDRA and join the Howling Commandos, and asks her what her real name is. She turns out to be the Ultimate version of Abigail Brand, a character from the X-Men comic books.
  • Arrow's Malcolm Merlyn/the Dark Archer was always established as the Arrowverse counterpart of Arthur King/Merlyn the Archer. However, the comic spin-off The Dark Archer establishes that his real name was actually Arthur King all along.

     Fan Works 
  • MCU Rewrites: In Age of Ultron: Redux, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff's father seems to be Spared by the Adaptation from Avengers: Age of Ultron as the twins' mother raised them on her own and he was not present when the Maximoff's house was destroyed by a missile from Stark Industries. In New Avengers, Wanda tells Vision about how she and Pietro were found by a man who could do some parlor tricks such as setting down a cigarette lighter and that it could not be picked up not matter how hard someone tried and making a coin float. The man takes the two children to a Jewish family to raise them. The final scene of the story has an unknown man, who goes unnoticed by everyone attending except Wanda, visiting Pietro's grave and he is wearing a ring with an "M" on it, confirming that Pietro and Wanda's father is Magneto.
  • Inverted in The Legend of Zelda: The Sage of Darkness. The main antagonist is the Skull Kid, who's revealed to be the alter ego of the seemingly friendly and helpful new character Davik.

     Film 
  • The Dark Knight Rises
    • Miranda Tate appears to be a love interest invented for the film but late into the film it is revealed that it is an alias for Talia Al-Ghul, the daughter of Ra's Al-Ghul.
    • Near the end, John Blake reveals that his first name is Robin and follows Bruce's footsteps, showing that he is a Composite Character of several of the Robins.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness:
    • Benedict Cumberbatch's character is introduced as "John Harrison", but halfway through is revealed to be this universe's Khan Noonien Singh.
    • The new character Carol is revealed to be the evil Admiral Marcus's daughter, making her Carol Marcus, Kirk's love-interest from the TOS films.
  • In G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, Destro's M.A.R.S. armaments company is the main villain, but the members are the usual members of Cobra (The Baroness, Storm Shadow, Zartan, etc). The only Canon Foreigner is the Doctor...or so it seems. At the end of the film, the Doctor reveals that he is taking control of M.A.R.S. and turning it into Cobra with himself as Commander. Yes, the Doctor is Cobra Commander.
  • Young Sherlock Holmes. In The Stinger at the end, the Big Bad Rathe is revealed not to have died in his fight with Holmes. He checks into an inn by signing his name as "Moriarty", showing that he will become Holmes' nemesis in the years to come. Sherlock Holmes media seems to love this trope; see more examples below.
  • James Bond
    • The MI-6 field agent Eve from Skyfall has her last name revealed at the end to be Moneypenny.
    • The villain Oberhauser from Spectre is revealed to be Ernst Stavro Blofeld, Bond's old nemesis from the earlier films.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
  • House of the Dead has a Wham Line in its closing moments where the protagonist, Rudy reveals his last name: Curian. Dr. Roy Curian is the Big Bad of the games who descended into madness and kick started the Zombie Apocalypse. In fact, the entire film is essentially retroactively a Start of Darkness for the character.
  • In Ghost in the Shell, the Major's name is Mira Killian. Later, it's revealed that it was a false past and that her family was never killed in a terrorist bombing, and her true name is actually Motoko Kusanagi.
  • Had Sam Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy continued, Bruce Campbell's various cameos would have been revealed to all be disguises of Quentin Beck, aka Mysterio.
  • The seemingly Reasonable Authority Figure Sir Patrick Morgan in Wonder Woman (2017) is really Ares, the god of war and Diana's half-brother.

     Literature 
  • Older Than Steam example is in Don Quixote. The second part of the book introduces a minor character called Maese Pedro, a master puppeteer whom we think is one of the many side characters we encounter along the way. Then we find out that it's actually Gines de Pasamonte, the same con-man who handed Don Quixote his major defeat in Part I.
  • Jane Yolen's Arthurian novel Sword of the Rightful King includes a character named Gawen who comes to Cadbury and gets a job as Merlinnus' assistant. He winds up getting as much focus as the canon characters before the end, when we find out that he is actually a Sweet Polly Oliver named Guinevere.
  • Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones is a sequel to her novel Howl's Moving Castle. Initially it appears to be an unrelated story set in a different part of the same fantasy world, with all-new characters. However, late in the book it's revealed that several of the supporting cast are actually characters from the first book, who've been transformed and/or enchanted by djinn magic. Furthermore, the titular castles of both books are one and the same.

     Live-Action TV 
  • From the TV sections of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
      • Skye. Throughout the first season, she's a normal human hacker with a mysterious background. At the beginning of the second season, the team starts suspecting she may have an alien origin. But it isn't until the tenth episode that it's revealed that she is actually Daisy Johnson/Quake, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from the comics.
      • Andrew Garner, May's husband, is nothing more that a regular psychoanalyst and professor - until at some point between seasons 2 and 3 he became an Inhuman, a canon supervillain named Lash (whose human identity in the comics is someone else, as with Deathlok).
      • Speaking of Deathlok, he was introduced in the very first episode as Mike Peterson, a factory worker given superpowers due to a modified version of the Extremis serum from Iron Man 3 called Centipede. He was captured by SHIELD and became a SHIELD agent until he was seemingly killed by Hydra and turned into a cyborg. His identity as Deathlok wasn't revealed until a close-up on one of his bionic parts showed that he was part of a Project Deathlok.
      • In the first half of Season 3, the central plot is an attempt by HYDRA to bring back an ancient inhuman banished to another planet thousands of years ago. Finally, the inhuman possesses Ward, a SHIELD agent who turned out to be a HYDRA agent, and turns out to be the MCU version of Hive (with overtones of Apocalypse), making it a double case of the trope.
      • Anton Ivanov, the "Superior" of the Watchdogs, received a lot of build-up, only to be ignored by Coulson (who Ivanov considers his greatest foe) and soundly defeated by Daisy (who Ivanov considers scum). Then Aida gets a hold of him and gives him a remote-operated LMD controlled by his severed head in a jar, revealing that he is Red Guardian. Part of the reason this worked is because the MCU averts One Steve Limit; Ivanov is not the first character named Anton. And then in later episodes, he learns how to pilot multiple mobile LMD bodies at once, which he describes as "designed only for killing." So he's also the MCU's M.O.D.O.K.. (A further clue is that the current version of M.O.D.O.K. in the comics is a cloned brain of the original who was introduced as controlling an army of LMDs, and he calls himself M.O.D.O.K. Superior.)
    • Nobu in Daredevil: an episode late in the first season reveals that the organization he represents is the Hand, a clan of ninjas that often clash with Daredevil. His full name is later given as Nobu Yoshioka; in the comics Kagenobu Yoshioka was the founder of the Hand.
    • Will Simpson in Jessica Jones seems to be an original character who wasn't based on any previous Marvel hero or villain. It's later revealed that he is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Daredevil villain Nuke, aka Frank Simpson.
  • Elementary reveals some Sherlock Holmes characters this way:
    • A tough-guy baddie known as "M" is introduced, who the viewer might assume will be revealed to be this series' incarnation of the Big Bad, Moriarty. He turns out to be a different canon character, Moriarty's Dragon Sebastian Moran.
    • Then one canon character is whammed into another with the revelation that Irene Adler was Moriarty all along.
  • Molly's colleague Jim in Sherlock seems like an ineffectual Straight Gay background character, until it's revealed that his last name is Moriarty.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Theon spends most of Season Three tortured by a nameless Bolton follower portrayed by Iwan Rheon. It isn't until the finale that he's finally called Ramsay, Roose Bolton's son.
    • The show combines this with Composite Character in regards to Jon Snow. Unlike his book counterpart, he's established as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and it's revealed that his true birth name is Aegon Targaryen. This makes him the show's version of Aegon Targaryen VI, a.k.a Young Griff.
  • Smallville:
    • Zig-Zagged with Chloe Sullivan who, when she writes her first piece for the Daily Planet, uses her cousin's Lois Lane's name as her nom de plume - setting up that Chloe is the Smallville-verse Lois. But later in the series Lois proper shows up. Chloe becomes the series' version of Oracle instead.
    • Tess Mercer is eventually and gradually revealed to be a Composite Character of Eve Tessmacher, Lena Luthor, Mercy Graves and Big Barda.
    • Also Inverted: after spending several seasons with Jimmy Olsen, he's killed off and we find out that his hereto unseen brother will become the canon character. Because they go by the same name, apparently.
  • When From Dusk Till Dawn was adapted into a television series, Jake Busey showed up early in season one as a Professor Aiden Tanner. Professor Tanner never appeared in any of the films, so you could assume he's a Canon Foreigner. You can stop assuming a few episodes later when he shows up as the biker Sex Machine.
  • Arrowverse:
    • Arrow gives Oliver Queen a younger sister named Thea. Her Affectionate Nickname is "Speedy", the name of Green Arrow's Sidekicks in the comics, and her middle name is revealed to be "Dearden"; Mia Dearden is the name of the second Speedy. The pilot also shows several archery trophies in her room. While it seems to be a Mythology Gag at first, and the third episode of Season Three even has her using "Mia" as an alias, it later officially confirms that she is indeed the show's version of Mia when she dons Roy Harper's (canonically the first Speedy) vigilante gear and uses her nickname as a Code Name the following season.
    • The show also gives Dinah Laurel Lance a younger sister named Sara. She's presumed dead for the first season, but resurfaces in the second season donning the identity of "The Canary", making her the equivalent of Dinah Drake-Lance (who's also in the show, by the way, but never holds the mantle), the first Black Canary in the comics until she passes the mantle to her daughter Dinah Laurel Lance. True to form, Laurel dons the mantle after Sara's death. However, Sara is later resurrected and dons the identity of the White Canary, yet another existing comics character (albeit one who's usually a villain), in the spinoff Legends of Tomorrow. Then Laurel is Killed Off for Real by Damien Darhk, asking Oliver on her deathbed to pass the mantle to someone else. In the middle of the fifth season, a new character named Tina Boland, a former cop from Central City who has the metahuman Canary Cry as a result of the particle accelerator explosion, is introduced to take up that mantle. At the end of her first episode (second counting her cameo at the end of the preceding one), she reveals that "Tina Boland" is just her undercover alias; her real name is Dinah Drake, making this an unusual case of coming full circle.
    • Dr. Harrison Wells, the Big Bad in Season One of The Flash, appears at first to be an original characternote . However, it is later revealed that Wells is not only the Reverse-Flash, but the original Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne, who stole the identity of the real Harrison Wells fourteen years before the events of the series. Word of God also confirms that he's the counterpart of both Dr. Robert Meersman and Dr. Garrison Slate, the founder of S.T.A.R. Labs in the comics. In Season Two, we are introduced to an Alternate Universe analogue of the real Wells, whose daughter is Jesse Quick, making him this universe's version of Johnny Quick.
    • Ray Palmer's fiancée (later wife) in the comics is named Jean Loring. In the show, Jean was given an Age Lift and is the Queens' family friend and lawyer while Ray had a late fiancee named Anna instead. On Legends of Tomorrow, he reveals Anna's surname as Loring, making her and Jean a Decomposite Character. The women's relationship is not stated, though.
    • The mysterious masked man from the second half of The Flash Season Two turns out to be none other than Jay Garrick, the original Flash in the comics. Furthermore, Jay is the Earth-3 doppelganger of Earth-1's Henry Allen, Barry's father. Meanwhile, Earth-2's "Jay Garrick" turns out to be the Big Bad Hunter Zolomon/Zoom putting on an act (and later making use of a time remnant to fake his own death), making him a different canon character than the one he was presented as.
    • Tom Felton joined the cast of The Flash in Season Three as a young CSI named Julian Albert. In the seventh episode, Julian is revealed to be the civilian identity of Doctor Alchemy, The Dragon to the current Big Bad Savitar, and in the ninth episode, his full name is revealed in a Freeze-Frame Bonus to be Julian Albert Desmond (the first Doctor Alchemy in the comics was Albert Desmond).
    • Savitar comes off as an In-Name-Only version of his comics counterpart, who was a long-haired, shirtless, and highly muscular Eastern European man with sparse red, gold, and black armor; this version looks more like a walking suit of silvery armor with glowing blue Tron Lines. However, there's one phrase he keeps repeating when confronted, and in the twentieth episode, it proves to be a Sarcastic Confession of his true identity: "I am the Future Flash." He's really the show's version of Barry's evil future self from the New 52 comics, as hinted by the Tron Lines having the same design as they did on the comics' black Flash suit, and it's indicated that he merely took the name "Savitar" from myths about the God of Motion.
  • The Spartacus series:
  • Gotham:
    • In Season Two, Theo Galavan seems to be a brand-new villain invented for the show. All throughout his arc, nothing seems to change this. Then the next Arc Villain brings him Back from the Dead, and his memories are kind of scrambled, leading to him taking on the identity of a mythical knight from his family's mythology... Azrael.
    • In the Season Three finale, Butch Gilzean, Fish Mooney's former lap dog turned Penguin's then turned Barbara's, has fallen into a coma, and the nurses discover that his real name is Cyrus Gold, aka Solomon Grundy.
  • The second season of the horror Massive Multiplayer Crossover series Penny Dreadful reveals that the werewolf Ethan Chandler was actually born Ethan Lawrence Talbot.
  • Throughout the first season of Legion, David is tormented by several psychic entities, including one that has assumed the guise of his friend Lenny, a monster called the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, a children's book character called the Angry Boy, and his childhood dog, King. In Episode 7, we find out that all of these individuals are actually forms of Amahl Farouk, a.k.a. the Shadow King, a prominent villain from the X-Men comics.
  • In the Death Note live-action drama, the Task Force is joined by a former FBI agent named Shoko Himura. She is eventually revealed to be a Race Lifted version of Halle Lidner from the manga.

     Theater 
  • In the original West End staging of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Charlie encountered an old tramp in the garbage dump near the former's house at the top of the show, who later encouraged him to buy the Wonka Bar that turned out to contain the last of the Golden Tickets. The very last scene revealed that this character was actually Willy Wonka, who had taken a shine to the creative boy and thus rigged his own contest to make sure Charlie could visit the factory. This plot twist was removed for the Broadway and subsequent stagings. Notably, the show didn't Cast as a Mask and there are only a few hints in the libretto that these characters could be connected.

     Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham Knight does this with its titular villain. Up until the game's release, Rocksteady insisted that the Arkham Knight was an original character who stood as Batman's antithesis. While the Arkham Knight as an identity was new, the person behind the mask, Jason Todd aka Red Hood, was an already established character in the comics.
  • The main antagonist of Batman: The Telltale Series also turned out to be a canon character. Few people probably expected that said character was Vicki Vale.
  • In the 2016 DOOM reboot, Olivia Pierce is a human Mad Scientist who organized the invasion of Mars by the demons from Hell so that she would be given vast supernatural powers by their leader. Exposure to the energies of Hell has left her an Evil Cripple who can only move with help from a cybernetic exoskeleton. When the demons finally give her the powers she wanted, she and her cybernetics are gruesomely transformed into the Spider Mastermind, the original Big Bad and Final Boss of the first game.
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Metroid: Other M features a chicken-legged rabbit creature called "Little Birdie" encountered on the Bottle Ship several times. Despite its cute appearance and small size, it has an aggressive parasitic nature and leaves Samus spooked for reasons she can barely articulate. It later molts into a larger hairy lizard form and attacks Samus until it is fought off. Following its blood trail, she finds that the creature has molted again, and that its adult form is none other than Ridley, her Arch-Enemy.
  • Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, despite being a prequel to Tactics Ogre initially does not seem like it has any real connection to it. However, in the game's canon ending, the protagonist of KoL, Alphonse Loehir, has his name changed by the Pope to Lans Tartare, who is the primary antagonist of Tactics Ogre (the remake translates his first name as "Lanselot").
  • Metal Gear:
  • King's Quest (2015) has a few examples of this, being a reimagining of the original series.
    • Manny is introduced as one of the Knight Hopefuls who befriends the young Graham, but ends up becoming Chapter 1's main villain. Chapter 2 introduces a human who was Switched at Birth by goblins and raised by them, who initially is only called "Goblin Man", and The Stinger of the episode has him teaming up with Manny. Chapter 3 reveals Manny to be a goblin himself, which you'd think would mean this trope wouldn't apply, until The Stinger, which has him drinking a potion to turn himself into an elderly human, implying he is Manannan, the main villain of King's Quest III. Meanwhile the Goblin Man's real name is Mordon, and he and Manny consider eachother brothers due to being Switched at Birth, making him Mordak, the villain of King's Quest V. Chapter 4 confirms both of these.
    • Chapter 3 retells the story of Graham meeting his future bride, except instead of one princess, there's two, Vee and Neese. Whichever one he ends up romancing turns out to be Valenice, Graham's wife from the original games. Whichever he doesn't ends up becoming Queen Icebella.

     Visual Novels 
  • Dai Gyakuten Saiban, a prequel to the Ace Attorney series features Sherlock Holmes and incorporates elements of Holmes' mythos, actually takes pride in inverting this trope, possibly to make its mystery solutions more surprising for Holmes readers.
    • In the first game's second case, Grimesby Roylott, a canon character from The Adventure of the Speckled Band, turns out to be a disguise for 15 year old Russian ballerina Nikomina Borshevik, an original character. She's still the culprit though.
    • The second game reveals that one of the first game's Holmesian characters wasn't who you thought he was. Namely, John H. Watson isn't the "Watson" of Holmes' stories, rather, the literary Watson was based on Yuujin Mikotoba, a Japanese law professor who's Holmes' actual best friend and investigative partner in this universe.
    • By extension Iris Watson isn't John Watson's daughter either, she turns out to be the child of a totally original character with no connections to Holmesian canon at all.

     Web Comics 
  • The Aladdin fancomic Diamond in the Rough starts out with seemingly new protagonists, until The Reveal that they are the flying Carpet and the Tiger head of the Cave of Wonders in human form.

     Western Animation 
  • Done routinely on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012). Most of the major mutants have had their origin stories totally revamped. Seemingly original humans will get slimed by mutagen, and the turtles will give them a nickname that matches an established mutant from another continuity. Shredder's new apprentice Chris Bradford got mutated twice before he became Rahzar from the films, arms dealer Steranko and master thief Zeck get mutated into a Rhino and Warthog and take on the names Bebop and Rocksteady from the 87 show, the seeming One-Shot character Victor Falco becomes long-time Turtles' villain The Rat King, etc.
  • In Transformers Animated, a Whole Episode Flashback introduces Longarm, an Autobot who Bumblebee was in boot camp with. Only at the end of the episode, back in the present day, is he revealed to be a deep-cover Decepticon spy and this continuity's version of Shockwave, disguised by use of a second robot mode.
    • Also from the same episode, Wasp (the first character in the franchise with that name) ends up imprisoned and goes insane. In a later episode, he is transformed into a large wasp-like machine and goes by the name Waspinator, same as the character from Beast Wars.
  • In Young Justice Season 2, Jaime Reyes has a Canon Foreigner friend named Tye Longshadow. Tye and a group of other teens are later kidnapped by the Reach, who are experimenting on human children in order to activate their dormant superpowers. After Tye and some of the other teens are rescued by the heroes, he is revealed to be the show's version of Apache Chief, with the other survivors turning out to be Static, El Dorado and Samurai.
  • In LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace, a ten-year-old orphan stowaways with some Padawans on a field trip. Since everyone else is wearing name tags, he finds some letter decals and puts "IAN" on his shirt. It's only at the end of the episode that Yoda addresses him by that name, at which point he looks down and realizes that he put the "H" in his name sideways. His name is Han Solo.
  • Ben 10 (2016): In the season finale of the reboot, Ben unlocks a new alien, a Chimera Sui Generis he called "Gax". He meets another member of Gax's race named "Vil". Vil trains Ben to use his Gax form to its fullest, but then absorbs Gax into himself. He reveals that the Omnitrix took his powers when it sampled his DNA, so he has regained his power and reveals his real name: Vilgax.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CanonCharacterAllAlong