Cerebus Retcon

"I've experienced death, countless times. Sometimes, I see a bright light. Sometimes, I see Heaven, or Hell. But eventually, no matter what, I wake up in my bed, wearing my same old clothes. (voice cracks) And the worst part? Nobody even remembers me dying! I go to school the next day, and everyone is just like, 'Oh, hey, Kenny.' Even if they had seen me get decapitated with their own eyes. You wanna whine about curses, Hindsight? You're talking to the wrong fucking cowboy."

One of the side effects of Cerebus Syndrome is that some gags from the early part of the story may no longer seem to fit the more serious tone of later portions. There is however a way to make these early funny elements consistent with the rest of the story: giving them a Cerebus Retcon. The Cerebus Retcon gives a rational, often cynical, In-Universe explanation or interpretation of early gags, frequently by giving them a late Deconstruction, either for drama or Black Comedy.

While this trope will frequently be the consequence of a Retcon, it may be hard to distinguish retcons that bring little alteration to the initial continuity from the author using the early gags as Foreshadowing of their serious explanation/interpretation, that can be part of The Reveal. This trope can hence cover both cases. For a trope in a similar situation, see Arc Welding, which sometimes overlaps with Cerebus Retcon.

If the lighthearted moment is only referenced or alluded to in a serious scene without being outright retconned, it's a Cerebus Call Back.

Compare Reimagining the Artifact, Doing In the Wizard, Backstory Horror, and Crapsaccharine World. Often related to "Funny Aneurysm" Moment, Rewatch Bonus, and Harsher in Hindsight.

Unmarked plot spoilers are abundant in this page, as the mere title of this trope is already suggestive. Tread carefully.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Fullmetal Alchemist: Ed's short stature gets used for comical characterization for most of the series. Then it turns out he hasn't grown since the disastrous ritual because Al's body on the other side of the Gate is drawing nourishment from him to survive. It's still played for comedy even after this reveal because his rants are so fricken hilarious. This doesn't apply to the 2003 anime, where Ed is just naturally short.
  • Great Teacher Onizuka does this gradually. During one of his later admissions to the hospital, the eponymous character gets what looks like a serious nosebleed until everyone comes to the conclusion that it was only because he was turned on by the nurses' uniforms and got a peek under their skirts after "pretending" to fall down. Later in the same chapter, a panel suggests that the nosebleed actually is as serious as it first appeared. In the final story arc, the audience learns that Onizuka has had chronic internal bleeding and cerebral aneurysms in the head for quite some time, which shines a different light on some of the nosebleed gags throughout Great Teacher Onizuka as well as the various head injuries, comedic or serious, he has gained throughout not just this series, but its predecessor, Shonan Junai Gumi.
  • "Tray King" Yuda from Toriko , while not intentionally comedic, his full of Narm catchprase that he "would not miss even a single millimeter" or any variation thereof. His Full Course are also revealed to be much weaker (capture level 0-20) compared to less experienced chef, defying the Power Level inflation that has been going Up to Eleven until now. Oh, and he's more than 100 years old and No.4 Chef in the human world. But why it's very important to him? In a Flashback, His master set him out on a journey, especially to learn the taste of failure. He arrived on a village that plagued by a disease, where he used his medicinal cooking to heal the whole village. He had a talk with a boy he met earlier... and then the kid died. Turn out there should be a slight difference when cooking the antidotal food when given to children. The difference? You guess it, 1 millimeter. And the weak full course? It's that child's full course and dream. Turn into Crowning Moment of Awesome when back to the present time, he chastises Condor Window of doing a 'megaton-class' mistake of overlooking the property of his environment. Yuda use a narrow world lines within the Multi-gravity space. Their width? 1 millimeter.
  • Medaka Box:
    • Medaka has a habit of copying everyone else's poses, as part of comic relief. After the Genre Shift, it's revealed she does this since she doesn't have her own identity.
    • Shiranui, among other things, is known for her incredible Big Eater tendencies, as well as a rather comical opposition to the title character. Turns out that she's Medaka's double, designed to help her from the shadows, eating more than she needs to, and having no true identity.
  • At some point in Love Hina, Ken Akamatsu must have realized that Keitaro was surviving in too many instances where he simply should not have. With the choice between toning down the girls' Comedic Sociopathy and simply hoping the fans chanted the MST3K Mantra, he took a third option and made Keitaro's durability a part of the story, with at one point Kitsune ordering that it was alright to use lethal force while hurting him, as he was immortal. At a point near the end where the manga became serious, when Keitaro is dangling from a great height, he lets the audience know it's serious by even referencing his own ability to walk away from excessively violent slapstick injuries by saying that "at this height, I'll die, even if I'm immortal!" Later on, he yells at Narusegawa for her reckless behavior that put them both in danger, "Don't ever do anything this crazy again! I'd survive, but I doubt you would."
  • In Mahou Sensei Negima!, Akamatsu's next series, the protagonist Negi was originally portrayed as something of an Inept Mage, despite being a child genius who graduated from the magical equivalent of university at age 9. As the story began moving in a more serious direction, it's said that Negi's early magical malfunctions were the result of the spells being performed on or around Asuna, who (unknown to herself at the time) has latent Anti-Magic abilities.
  • Shinobu in Urusei Yatsura is an example. She starts out with the comedic ability of super strength when she gets angry. After a while, characters become explicitly aware of it, and Ataru takes advantage of it to get the group out of a jam at least once. The series never stops being a comedy, though oddly enough in the third movie (Remember My Love) the aliens leave, and without the genre shift brought by the presence of aliens, Shinobu also loses her power.
  • Dragon Ball Z, Goku's tail is revealed to indicate he is actually a Saiyan rather than just a boy with a tail, and the giant were-ape form he turns into on a full moon is revealed to be a trait of all Saiyans that he never learned to fully control. His kindly nature is also revealed to be the result of brain damage; if he'd never injured his head, Goku would have grown up to be a Blood Knight. Or a more sociopathic one than he already is.
  • Ah! My Goddess: Early chapters show "the system" preventing anyone from interfering with Keiichi and Belldandy's relationship. Chapter 285 gives this a rather dark spin. The system is also preventing their relationship from advancing, and it does so by altering Keiichi's feelings.
  • Revolutionary Girl Utena:
    • The fact that Nanami gets constantly chased and/or attacked by all kinds of animals is hilarious, of course until The Reveal that Anthy, whom Nanami constantly bullies, is actually a witch and is strongly hinted that she cursed her because of it. Nanami's awful luck with animals takes on additional significance after it's revealed that years ago, she drowned her brother's kitten out of jealousy. Those animals have a good reason to hate her, even without Anthy's influence.
    • Anthy herself has this in the form of some of her more subtle backhanded comebacks with her otherwise Extreme Doormat personality, which tend to be pretty funny the first time you hear them. Then you find out her Manipulative Bastard brother has emotionally anaesthetized her through years of emotional and sexual manipulation leaving it so that the only way she can fight back is passive aggressively.
  • Tamahome of Fushigi Yuugi was initially portrayed as a huge mercenary, even charging people for rescuing them. This is later revealed to be because he is giving the money to his huge, impoverished family. Once they've been slaughtered, he still makes reference to this trait.
  • Haiyore! Nyarko-san has the character Ato-ko Shirogane, first introduced in the Gag Series Remember my Love(craft-sensei) as a Covert Pervert who browses porn sites by the hundreds simultaneously and drops a Cluster Bleep-Bomb when describing what she would do to Cuuko. Her only "appearance" in the main anime is near the end of the second season, when she sends a box of Love Potion-laced chocolates to Nyarko, causing hilarity to ensue. When Ato-ko pops up in the novels, however, it turns out that she steals other womens' boyfriends/lovers because she literally feeds on the emotional pain it causes. This effect also extends to all the friendly, polite interaction she has with the show's stars Nyarko and Mahiro, since she's trying to steal the latter away from the former, and makes the chocolate incident darker by implying that she was trying to artificially speed their relationship along so it'd be "tastier" to destroy.
  • Josuke in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure getting irrationally pissed whenever someone makes fun of his hair just seems like a funny Berserk Button gag, until it's eventually revealed that Josuke was saved as a child by a mysterious stranger with the same hairdo. He eventually grew up to adopt the same hairstyle out of respect, and considers any insults towards it as an insult toward the man who saved his life. The hair gag is never used again after that.
  • In one chapter of Kaguya-sama wa Kokurasetai, Kaguya is shown looking for fireworks in her bedroom while delirious from a fever, and in a later chapter is shown to go starry eyed when the possibility of going to a fireworks festival with Shirogane comes up. At first, this just seems like a fun little quirk, but then we get to chapter 44 and find out that fireworks represent the summer memories that she's never had due to her overbearing and emotionally neglectful father.
    I want to see the fireworks with everyone.
  • In Naruto, Kakashi’s chronic lateness and horrible excuses (combined with Naruto and Sakura’s shouts of “Liar!”) were played entirely for laughs, but then we find out that Kakashi’s real reason for being late is that he visits the memorial stone every day in honor of his dead best friend. He stays there for HOURS lost in thought, and even talks to it like he’s talking to Obito. Oh, and those lame excuses? They were Obito’s. Using them is Kakashi’s way of keeping Obito’s memory alive. This becomes even more depressing when Kakashi finds out that Obito is still alive, and is evil, since Obito is the reason Kakashi is the person he is today… so in effect, everything in Kakashi’s life that he believed in has become a lie.
  • One Piece has a few examples, turning otherwise cute gags into tragedies when examined closely:
    • While more heartwarming than serious, the reason Genzo, a father figure to Nami from her home village, wore a pinwheel on his hat was because his face scared Nami as a baby, but wearing the pinwheel made her laugh. Once she departed with Luffy and was finally happy, he placed the pinwheel at Belle-mere's grave, saying he didn't need it anymore.
    • Kokoro, an older Gonk introduced in the Water 7 arc, is introduced as a Lady Drunk played for comic relief. Then you find out that she used to have a thinner figure and didn't drink until the day Tom, her friend and employer (and the mentor of Franky and Iceburg) was sent to Enies Lobby to be executed. Since then, she hasn't stopped.
    • Portgas D. Ace has the word ASCE tattooed on his arm, with the S crossed out. It was obviously a mistake on the tattoo artists part, right? Much later on, we learn that when Luffy and Ace were kids, they were friends with a boy called Sabo, who was apparently killed by the World Nobles. Ouch.
    • During the Fishman Island Arc, ever wondered why the two princes, Ryuuboshi and Manboshi act goofy by singing and dancing in scales and mambo respectively?? It turns out it's a way to cheer their sister up… right after their mom was murdered, right in front of them.
    • Baby 5's Extreme Doormat tendencies were initially played for laughs, but a brief flashback showed that when she was a toddler, she was abandoned by her family for being useless. Her crewmates never corrected this Freudian Excuse, as they found a person who would do anything to feel needed was too convenient.
    • A guy called Senor Pink who dresses up like a baby and rejects all women around him? Hilarious. A guy called Senor Pink who dresses up like a baby not only because he hopes his late wife will find it funny from heaven as it was the only thing that made her smile when an accident rendered her comatose, but as a tribute to his own infant son who died at a very fragile age and rejects all women around him because his heart belongs to said late wife? Not so funny.
  • Pokémon:
    • A meta-example: according to the novels by Takeshi Shudo, Brock's numerous siblings are the result of his mother's several relationships and marriages that ended in divorce. And this was before she even appeared in the anime. The anime itself ignores the novel and implies that all her children are from the same husband.
    • Team Rocket is also subject to several of their humorous quirks stemming from tragic backstories. Jessie's vanity and desire to lead the group is due to the fact that her mother was an operative that went missing, presumed dead on a mission and was subsequently shuttled around in foster care before enlisting herself. James' goofy persona and cowardice were the result of him running away from home to avoid the pressures of his aristocratic upbringing and a controlling fiancé. Meowth's desire to be "top cat" instead of Giovanni's Persian came from the his having scrounged for food under the tutelage of a Persian in Hollywood. Furthermore, his walking upright and human speech were to impress a rich Meowth that didn't appreciate what he did.
  • If one takes the game Sands of Destruction as the original, and the animenote  and manga as Retcons instead of Alternate Continuity, this trope is firmly in place as regards Morte's motivation. In the game, she merely wants to destroy the world because it's already ending itself and she can't come up with a better use for a dying world than assuaging her own boredom. Naturally, the moment she realizes both that the world can be saved and falling in love is even more fun than blowing stuff up, she changes her mind. She's incredibly upbeat throughout the game, rushing into things without a thought. In the anime, her motivation changes to revenge for the deaths of her parents and brother: she doesn't know who is responsible, and feels that the world is worthless, so killing everyone is her solution; she only changes her mind at the last minute when she realizes that revenge isn't going to bring her family back and that the world actually does have its good points as well as its problems. She's also more serious, fitting her grimmer motives. In the manga, she's just as upbeat as she was in the game but her motivation is instead changed to being now the one who wished for the state of the world a thousand years ago, but she was tired and forgot to wish that humans and beastmen would be friends, so everyone's racism is all her fault and the only way she knows to fix the world is to wipe it out and start again from scratch; she's killed before she fully changes her mind, but Kyrie manages to bring her back at the end of the story - which, being the end, doesn't allow us time to know what she's really thinking.
  • Luluco's desire for normalcy in Space Patrol Luluco starts making a disturbing amount of sense once we see what her childhood was like. This doesn't keep it from being funny though.
  • A major Running Gag in Soul Eater is the Viewer Gender Confusion regarding the character of Crona. Later on, it's revealed that Medusa Gorgon doesn't even consider Crona human despite being her child.
  • YuYu Hakusho: Koenma originally was Really 700 Years Old but looked like a baby, with a pacifier. He could occasionally become a teenager, but the joke was that he still has the pacifier. Later, the pacifier was "explained" as an energy storage device to give him a non-comedic reason for having it when not a baby (although this doesn't explain why such a thing would look like a pacifier to begin with).
  • Yugioh Arc V: Early on, the series poked fun at Yuya's mom's habit of taking strays animals into their house, first by Yuya realizing one morning there are more pets whose names he doesn't even know, then after taking in Sora. He tells her that she can't just pick up people the same as animals. It's all played for laughs both at Yoko's weakness for cuteness and Sora's antics in order to get what he wants. Fast forward to episode 127 where it's revealed that Yuya's existence is due to him being the fragment of Zarc's split soul and most definitely not Yusho's nor Yoko's biological son since the former realizes he has no memories of his son being born, meaning Yoko might have picked up Yuya long, long before Sora.

    Comic Books 
  • The Trope Namer is Cerebus the Aardvark, which in later issues liked to go back and explain some of the more humorous characters and situations of the early issues as being much more serious than originally thought. For instance, a minor gag in the fourth issue was later retconned (over 180 issues later!) as having been a tremendously significant event which kicked off a chain reaction that changed the course of Cerebus's life and led directly to all his eventual misery. Had said gag not occurred, Cerebus would have actually ended up as ruler of the world.
  • In the comic version of Wanted, the supervillains use an actual, massive in-universe Cerebus Retcon in order to erase all memory of superheroes and supervillains. During this transformation, it shows in vivid detail how Golden Age visual styles and themes eventually shifted into a more realistic, Darker and Edgier style seen in more modern comics.
  • Bucky Barnes, Captain America's Kid Sidekick during the The '40s, underwent this when brought back by Ed Brubaker. The original version of his origin was that he was a cheery fanboy of Cap who accidentally discovered his secret identity and thus was recruited as his partner to keep the truth from getting out. Then Bucky died in a plane explosion and after that putting kids in harm's way looked like a less appealing idea for Marvel. Captain America: Winter Soldier then retconned his first origin as propaganda, with the truth being that Bucky was an orphan who grew up on a military base most of his life and when partnered with Steve was essentially a teenage assassin, intended to do the black ops work Captain America couldn't be seen doing. So Bucky went from kid sidekick to Child Soldier and then to Anti-Hero when he was brought back as Winter Soldier.
    • And long prior to that, there was the retcon that The Falcon was a former pimp and drug dealer who was brainwashed by the Red Skull to be his Mole in the superhero community. The whole thing is so contentious that it's been retconned in and out of continuity several times.
  • Batman R.I.P. and the events leading up to it are one big Cerebus Retcon. All that Silver Age Batman wackiness? All either hallucinations caused by Scarecrow or Joker gas, or delusions of a young Batman as he took part in a dangerous mental experiment to try to understand the Joker's mind. Also, the original Batwoman was retconned into being a spy who was hired to find out Bruce's identity, before she fell in love with him and ended up Becoming the Mask.
  • Black Panther originally joined The Avengers after Captain America #100, where Cap asked him to become an Avenger as a personal favor. Decades later, Christopher Priest's Black Panther run revealed that T'Challa only agreed to join so he could spy on the Avengers, a revelation that subsequently created tension with his teammates.
  • Cassidy, hard-drinking roguish Irish vampire in Garth Ennis' Preacher, was a fun and charismatic guy. Then, later in the series, we got an uncompromising look at how pathetic, dangerous and destructive he genuinely was. Several moments you thought were simply gags and fun moments got a nasty pay-off. A joke where Cassidy says something "tastes like semen!" and then hurriedly tries to get out of suggesting he knows what that tastes like? He does know because he got so desperate for a heroin fix that he paid for it with oral sex.
  • The supervillain brainwashing plot arc which began in DC Comics' Identity Crisis used this trope in two ways:
    • Prior to Identity Crisis (and particularly during the Silver Age), heroes used "mindwipes" and other forms of selective memory erasure all the time, frequently to preserve the heroes' secret identities. Ethical issues relating to this were seldom (if ever) addressed. Suddenly, in Identity Crisis, the ethics of mindwiping came to the forefront, and were revealed as the cause of a major past schism in the Justice League.
    • In addition, several changes in certain supervillains' behavior were attributed to the effects of mindwiping. Most notably, this was used to explain how Dr. Light went from being a serious threat to the Silver Age Justice League to a joke villain constantly bested by the Teen Titans by revealing that he was given, not just a mindwipe, but a personality alteration after he brutally raped Sue Dibny in Identity Crisis.
    • One of the most controversial revelations was that Catwoman's turn towards Anti-Villainy (and sometimes outright heroism) during her 2000s series was not the result of Character Development, but rather a mindwipe and personality alteration dealt by Zatanna.
  • Kid Eternity is a comic character from 1942. A clerk in heaven made an error and he died before his time while boating with his grandpa. He was resurrected to do good stuff by summoning heroes of the past. Then Grant Morrison got his hands on the poor kid in the modern age. Demons made up all that misfiling stuff. The clerk is a minor demon. The "historical figures" he becomes are demons as well. It's all The Plan about earning their way back into heaven by "helping" humanity via evilution. Oh, and he's an orphan; the man he calls "grandpa" is actually a child molester. Dammit, Morrison! At least the "revive dead people" part was retconned back in again. Kid Eternity is seen reviving Marvin. Who was killed by his dog. Who was really a demon. So, yeah. More Cerebus Retcon.
  • The Batman villain the Mad Hatter was always slightly creepier than most, but in the first Secret Six miniseries it became canon that he was a serial rapist, a drug addict, only ate food with hats on it, and was afflicted with macrocephaly. For a villain whose hat (harhar) is casual mind control and was drawn after a Tenniel illustration, this worked surprisingly well.
  • In the final Scott Pilgrim book, Scott learns from Kim that the very quirky flashback of book 2 wasn't very quirky at all. He ended up with Kim after some sort of altercation with a guy Kim was dating, Simon Lee (the circumstances aren't known, but Kim mentioned hugging and its implied it was Poor Communication Kills). Furthermore, he told his best friend Lisa Miller that he was moving to Toronto and asked her to tell Kim instead of him doing it himself, which led to Kim and Lisa not talking for a month. Though the incident with Simon was mentioned beforehand (Kim called Simon a jerk and called Scott one too, though half-heartedly with the latter). She later admitted it was partially her own fault for her reaction. Also, Scott's memory problems revealed to be the result of Gideon tampering his memories For the Evulz.
  • Angel and the Ape was a Silver Age comic about a girl named Angel and a gorilla named Sam fighting crime in the city, with the oddity of the latter never being mentioned (except everyone assumed Ape was a very hairy human). When it was revived in 1991 it was explained that Sam was actually the grandson of Gorilla Grodd, a DC Universe simian supervillain. Like Grodd, Sam has psychic powers, which in his case make him look human to others as long as he concentrates.
  • The Alan Moore run of Miracleman explained that most of the Silver Age adventures of the character (then named "Marvelman") were hallucinations generated by the Lotus-Eater Machine the government kept him in when he wasn't needed.
  • The changes made with Crisis on Infinite Earths combined this with Cosmic Retcon, warping the entire DC Universe to usher in The Dark Age of Comic Books.
  • John Dee, a.k.a. Dr. Destiny: originally a supervillain defeated by the Justice League, he had a magic ruby that could make dreams come to life. Sounds dangerous, but since this was The Silver Age of Comic Books, he was handily defeated and not thought of again for a long time. Come The Sandman, it was revealed that it was Dream's own ruby amulet, and that while in Arkham Asylum Dee had gone completely, omnicidally insane. When he stole the ruby back, he plunged the world into twenty-four hours of horrific madness straight out of nightmares and warped desires before finally being stopped by Dream's direct intervention.
  • Street Fighter: Chun Li has the death of Dan's father, Go Hibiki. Depictions of Go Hibiki's death have been comical, showing how Dan is a stereotypical character with a generic backstory. In this comic... it's played completely straight. Go is brutally beaten to death by Sagat and Dan is left traumatized. Then, in a much later series, a now remorseful Sagat actually offers to let Dan kill him as penance.
  • Planet Hulk was kicked off by the Hulk killing 26 people during a fight with the Thing, leaving The Illuminati no choice but to send him into space. The fight in question took place in Fantastic Four #533-535, and was nowhere near as tragic as the subsequent retcons would establish. For one, Thing's dialogue strongly suggested that nobody had been killed, and the fight actually came to a peaceful resolution after Banner managed to regain control of himself. The story was even filled with humorous moments, such as civilians placing bets on who would win.
  • Gilbert Hernandez's Love and Rockets and related work: Dios mio, poor Fritz. Initially introduced as a sexy, funny, kinky, Really Gets Around Cloudcuckoolander, once she starts getting stories centering around her it becomes increasingly obvious that she's an incredibly damaged but heartbreakingly, unjustifiedly, optimistic woman who's been sexually and financially exploited and emotionally abused by just about everyone she's ever known except her sisters.
    • Jaime's half of the series also featured at least one major retcon of this type. Early stories of the Hoppers 13 (aka Locas) books were slightly campy, pulpy affairs, lending the "Rockets" to the "Love & Rockets" title of the larger comic. These stories had Maggie interacting with aliens, dinosaurs, robots, rocketships, interplanetary travel, and hovercars, all occupying a fictional retrofuturist setting. Later stories eliminated the science fiction elements completely and shifted the settings to the real world. Later comics retconned the early stories by saying that Maggie's memories of that period had become muddled by LSD use and too many 1950's sci-fi comic books.
  • The long-forgotten Marvel Universe mini-series Conspiracy implied that most of the Freak Lab Accident and Million-to-One Chance-based Origin Stories from the Silver Age were actually the work of a shadowy government cadre called "Control." So any silly story conceits that could be dismissed as a Plot Hole or Theory of Narrative Causality were actually implied to have been caused deliberately. The reason Reed Richards and his friends were easily able to sneak into space, as well as the reason their rocket didn't have proper radiation shielding? Control. The gamma bomb test that transformed Bruce Banner into The Incredible Hulk? Control. The wildly unsafe radiation experiments witnessed by a certain schoolboy from Queens? Control.
  • At the end of her arc in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (IDW), Chrysalis and her Changelings got a humorous defeat when her castle partially crumbled around them, trapping them inside with nobody except themselves and a magically animated costume of Pinkie Pie for company. In her issue of Fiendship is Magic, it's revealed that Celestia has rebuilt the ruins into a fully-functional prison, complete with magical barriers, anti-exfiltration scans and a dedicate troop of guards. Oh, and they're going to stay in there for at least a thousand years before being considered for parole. And Chrysalis has had a Villainous Breakdown due to learning about Twilight ascending to Alicorndom, scribbling insanely all over the castle as a result.
  • Convergence reveals that Brainiac has never been subjected to the retcons that have repeatedly altered the DC Universe. He is a being existing outside of time and space ever since Crisis on Infinite Earths, and just about every version of him seen since his first appearance have been more or less puppet constructs acting out his will.
  • The first issue of the official Invader Zim continuation comic does this in regards to Zim's relationship with his Friend in the Black Market/Knowledge Broker, Prisoner 777. On the show, 777 seemed to be helping Zim purely for the hell of it (or, with some Alternative Character Interpretation, as a way of messing with the Irkens), but the comic reveals that Zim is actually holding 777's kids hostage in exchange for his services.
  • Green Lantern:
    • Back in the Silver Age, Hal Jordan seemed to have the least dramatic backstory of any DC superhero: he was a cocky, handsome, all-American test pilot who spent his free time trying to woo his boss's daughter, and was on uncannily good terms with his family. But Geoff Johns' post-Crisis run went into a bit more detail about Hal's background, and revealed that his arrogance actually masks some truly sad experiences. For starters, he saw his father die in a test flight when he was just a child, and his brown bomber jacket is actually a memento of his father. For another thing, his mother disowned him after he ran away from home to join the Air Force on his 18th birthday, and refused to speak to Hal on her deathbed. This led a guilt-ridden Hal to intentionally get himself kicked out of the Air Force by punching his commanding officer so he could speak to her. But he arrived too late and she died of cancer. Hal's brother Jack blamed him for driving her to an early grave. That mistake is the reason Hal got his job as a test pilot for Ferris Aircraft, since they were the only aviation company that would hire him after his dishonorable discharge.
    • The Green Lantern's weakness to the color yellow has long been the butt of jokes from comic book readers (and other superheroes) for its perceived silliness, and even Green Lantern fans long dismissed it as an artifact of the Silver Age. But the weakness didn't seem nearly as funny after Geoff Johns finally revealed its origin in Green Lantern: Rebirth: it turns out that the "yellow impurity" in the Central Power Battery that caused the power ring's ineffectiveness against yellow objects was actually a malevolent alien Eldritch Abomination called "Parallax"—the living embodiment of fear, which was imprisoned in the power battery by the Guardians to stop it from enslaving the universe.note  Parallax's mastery of fear was so great that it led to Hal Jordan's corruption and Face–Heel Turn in Emerald Twilight, which culminated in him rebelling against the Green Lantern Corps and successfully draining the Central Power Battery. So, yes...the Green Lantern's weakness to the color yellow brought the largest peacekeeping force in the galaxy crashing down.
    • In Justice League International, there was a gag where a Tap on the Head would transform Guy Gardner from his usual Jerkass personality to being all hearts and flowers (or vice versa). Much later, Guy's own comic would reveal that every time he lost consciousness the demonic half-Vuldarian Dementor was screwing around with his personality, and had been ever since he entered a coma pre-Crisis (before which he was neither a jerk nor sappy).
  • Antoine D'Coolette, the easily scaring comic relief of the group who Sonic loves to make fun of is discussed by Bunnie in Issue 46 of Archie Comics' Sonic the Hedgehog. Turns out he was once much more valiant and composed way before Sonic joined the Freedom Fighters, and clever enough to save Bunnie's life on one occasion. He lost his way after his father was roboticized, wearing his father's uniform and attempting desperately to win Sally's love for the purpose of filling the emotional void his loss left him.
  • In most versions of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the Turtles' famous color-coded ninja headbands are one of the most unabashedly goofy elements of the Turtles' design. Even when the franchise is at its Darkest and Edgiest, there's something inherently silly about seeing four giant turtles walking around a crowded city wearing nothing but tiny cloth scarves around their heads. But the IDW comic book series explores the idea that the Turtles weren't just randomly mutated by ooze, but are actually reincarnations of Hamato Yoshi's four biological children who were murdered by Oroku Saki. When they were alive, Yoshi's sons always wore red, blue, purple and orange, respectively; as the Turtles, they still wear those colors as a marker of their previous lives, even if they don't understand why.
  • When Captain Atom was retconned after Crisis on Infinite Earths, his Silver Age adventures were turned into a cover story by the government to establish his superhero identity.
  • In The Vision, it is retconned that Vision's half-brother, Victor Mancha, developed a vibranium addiction almost immediately after joining the Runaways, as a way of coping with the pain that comes with being an untrained teen superhero.
  • Nextwave was insanely violent and nonsensical, utterly hilarious, and completely non-canon. And then in Mighty Avengers (2013), Spectrum finds out that the villains of Nextwave, the Beyond Corporation, are back. She goes off on a quiet, angry rant about the impossible things she faced, being forced to kill, being changed by the Corporation, and nobody ever believing any of it really happened, even thinking it was a joke. Then she flashes into her Nextwave outfit.
    Spectrum: I bet it was funny. From the outside. I bet everybody had a real good laugh. Well. Auntie Monica's not ☠☠☠☠ing laughing.
  • The 2016 The Flintstones comic, being a Darker and Edgier Black Comedy gives us some very grim explanations for traits of gags from the show, such as Fred's "Yabba-Dabba Do" Catchphrase being a nonsense mantra for his post-traumatic stress disorder from his time as a veteran, how all of the animal appliances are sapient and hate being used as such (the word "appliance" to them even equals to an explicit word), so they're essentially enslaved, and once they become obsolete, they're "recycled", and the Great Gazoo is an extraterrestrial game warden who protects the native wildlife (read: humans) from alien threats. You'll hardly believe this is the comic of a family comedy with a Laugh Track.
  • You know how Jughead from Archie Comics wears that crown hat thingy? In The '40s when the comic began it was an actual trend to cut up fedoras; decades later this is forgotten and Jughead wears a funny hat because he's Jughead. Archie Comics (2015) on the other hand has him as the son of a wealthy family who was swindled out of everything and became poor. He cut up the hat he once wore as a sign of being all high-society.

    Comic Strips 
  • Funky Winkerbean did this as part of its descent into Cerebus Syndrome. For starters, the once humorous bullying of Bull Bushka against hapless nerd Les Moore was revealed to be the result of an abusive parent after the first time skip.

    Films — Animation 
  • Monsters University:
    • Monsters University touches on the backstory of Sully's scare assistant Mike. In Monsters Inc., Mike served mostly as a comedic Butt-Monkey and seemingly second-fiddle to Sully's accomplishment. But then the prequel reveals how much grief and failure Mike experienced to get the position he did today and come to terms with his shortcomings and ultimately be treated like an equal to the on-field Scarers despite only being a coach.
    • The film also reveals that Randal Boggs' competitive nature and antagonism stemmed from fraternity hazing and bullying; leading to his Start of Darkness. It also reveals that his perpetual squint is due to him ditching his Nerd Glasses on Mike's advice.
  • In Finding Nemo, Dory's amnesia initially comes off as more of a comedic quirk than a genuine handicap, and it seems like a natural part of her Cute Clumsy Girl persona. But as the film goes on, it gradually becomes clear that she's deeply bothered by her inability to hold onto memories, particularly since it means that she can't remember anything about her real family, and it makes it almost impossible for her to form lasting relationships. As much as she might annoy Marlin, she does deeply value him as a friend...since he's one of the few friends that she's ever had. It becomes even worse in Finding Dory, where it's revealed that her memory problems caused her to lose her family, that she outright catches anxiety when faced with the thought that she will be left all alone, with nobody to help her, that even her parents were worried about her future and so much more... The sequel also turns several of her personality quirks from the original film (such as the "just keep swimming" Running Gag) and has them Played for Drama as a result of Parental Abandonment.
  • In the original Kung Fu Panda, Po having a goose for a dad was repeatedly Played for Laughs, with the issue not being touched upon at all aside from a slight tease during their last scene together. In Kung Fu Panda 2, the issue is touched upon, and it turns out that Po not only has a Dark and Troubled Past, but that the reason Mr. Ping never brought it up before is that he was afraid his son would leave him to find his real family.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Superman II, Zod's Dragon Non was a silent brute upon whom Jor-El looked with contempt. This characterization carried over to the comics... and then it was revealed Non was once a close friend of Jor-El's until he was abducted and lobotomized.
  • Star Wars:
    • In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker's Aunt Beru notes to his Uncle Owen "Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.", to which Owen says "That's what I'm afraid of." In The Empire Strikes Back, we learn that Luke's father is, in fact, Darth Vader, one of the most evil men in the galaxy. And it's even worse if you consider the Prequel Trilogy, as we see in Attack of the Clones, shortly after Anakin originally met Owen, he went on a rampage, slaughtering dozens of Sand People after his mother's death by their hands. It goes from mere apprehension that Luke might get himself killed to fears that Luke might turn evil.
    • There's also a comedic scene in A New Hope where Chewbacca refuses to go inside the chute to the Death Star's trash compactor because of the smell, and Han ends up having to kick him in. In the canonical Star Wars: Chewbacca mini-series from Marvel, we learn that tight, enclosed spaces trigger traumatic flashbacks to his time as a slave, making his unwillingness to go down the chute much more understandable.
    • One of the things Darth Vader is best known for in the Original Trilogy is Force-choking anyone who angers him. This gets very tragic in Revenge of the Sith, as the first person Anakin/Vader killed with the Force choke (albeit indirectly) was Padmé, the love of his life, which became the reason he joined the Dark Side.
    • In A New Hope, the gunner of the Death Star says "Stand by" twice when he can destroy Yavin IV, giving Luke enough time to destroy the station before it destroyed the Rebel base. Death Star shows that the gunner had a Heel Realization after Alderaan, and that was his way to put off firing long enough for the Death Star to be destroyed, knowing that he'd die in the process.
    • Han Solo's Arbitrary Skepticism towards the Force and Obi-Wan in A New Hope take on new meaning after The Force Awakens, where he goes through a similar pattern of a mentor that lost someone he cared for to the Dark Side to the point of dying at the hands of Kylo Ren, who was once Ben Solo before he was corrupted by Supreme Leader Snoke.
    • All those jokes about the Death Star having a Weaksauce Weakness acquire a darker context with the release of Rogue One. Not only that weakness was installed on purpose; it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to install it in the first place.
    • There's also the matter of the rebellion only sending thirty ships to destroy the Death Star in A New Hope. Rogue One reveals during the battle where the Death Star plans were stolen, the entire Blue Squadron was destroyed and both Red and Gold suffered heavy losses. Those thirty ships were all the rebellion had left.
  • Men in Black:
    • In the first two films, K was The Stoic, though this was mostly played for laughs. When Boris the Animal goes back in time in the third film to kill K, J goes back to save him, and finds that K is a likable person with emotion. The reason K has always been such a curmudgeonly old guy is because he witnessed J's father sacrificing himself to save K from Boris back in 1969, which ended up with K somewhat becoming a surrogate father to J.
    • The Worm Guys are always seen drinking coffee in MIB's kitchen. In the animated series, it's explained that coffee is a sacred beverage on their homeworld which only royalty can drink.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In The Avengers, Tony's flight through the Chitauri wormhole at the climax of the movie is just a good old fashioned fist-pumping action climax, and his resultant brush with death (which he obviously survives) is Played for Laughs, with Tony absentmindedly rambling about going to get shawarma immediately upon waking up. But then Iron Man 3 reveals that he actually got PTSD from the experience, and a minor plot point in the film involves him struggling to cope with anxiety attacks following the battle in New York.
    • Senator Stern from Iron Man 2 was more of a comedic pain-in-the-ass than an actual threat, and his attempts to confiscate Tony's armor never really panned out. Then in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we find out Stern is a high-ranking agent of HYDRA, and was likely trying to take Stark's armor so that the organization could mass-produce their own versions.
      • Similarly, the World Security Council played Commander Contrarian in The Avengers, pushing Fury to use Tesseract weaponry instead of trying to assemble a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. The councilman leading this charge later returned in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as, like Senator Stern, a leading member of HYDRA, adding context to why he wanted high-powered weaponry so badly.
    • This is the whole point of the Sokovia Accords plot in Captain America: Civil War. It's shown that the Avengers' heroic deeds in the past movies have caused untold amounts of collateral damage, and the main villain of the movie is a man whose wife and son were crushed to death by falling buildings during the final battle in Avengers: Age of Ultron. To hammer this point home, footage of The Incredible Hulk fighting the Chitauri from The Avengers is shown, and it's revealed that he accidentally knocked debris onto a crowd of screaming civilians. To make it worse, Age of Ultron made it a specific point to show that the Avengers were doing everything they could to keep civilians out of the line of fire, and the implication was that they had essentially succeeded until Civil War showed otherwise.
    • In the Iron Man movies (especially 2), Tony suffers from unresolved issues due to his parents' death in a car accident when he was young. Captain America: The Winter Soldier puts a darker spin on it by dropping a heavy hint that their deaths were actually a HYDRA assassination, though this information is seen by Steve and Natasha, not Tony. Captain America: Civil War takes it further, as not only is the hint confirmed and revealed to Tony, but it adds the detail that Steve's brainwashed friend Bucky carried out the hit. Tony is furious that Steve had kept this from him for two years and is now protecting his parents' killer.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy has Yondu remark that Peter Quill's father was a "jackass" when one of the Ravagers laments they didn't deliver Quill to him. Come Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Yondu is proven right when Quill meets his biological father Ego the Living Planet, who wants to eliminate all life in the universe by replacing it with extensions of his Celestial self. Ego had even killed hundreds of his own children after they were delivered to him by Yondu and didn't have his Celestial gene. Yondu even dies trying to save Peter, meaning that he truly became Quill's father figure after he was abducted. It also has the effect of taking the Running Gag of Yondu going soft and making it so he was fiercely protective of Peter and helped him learn to survive on his own.
  • Muppets from Space: After decades of Gonzo's species being Played for Laughs, this film has him undergo an identity crisis and go out to search for others like him.
  • In Tim Burton's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Willy Wonka always seems to stop short and becomes hesitant whenever he is about to say "parent", which is initially played up as one of his (multiple) eccentricities. Then we find out about his Freudian Excuse (which doesn't exist in the books): he is estranged from his father, a strict dentist who didn't allow him to even eat a single candy. This experience motivated him to start the whole chocolate business, actually.

    Literature 
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: As the series develops, it turns out that many of the characters' motivations and activities were tied up with the fraught history of a secret fire-fighting / peace-keeping organization.
  • At one point in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a Million-to-One Chance produced when Arthur Dent accidentally activates the Infinite Improbability Drive causes two missiles to be transformed into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias, which fall onto the surface of an alien planet. While the whale contemplates its brief existence at some length before its demise, all that the bowl of petunias thinks is, "Oh no, not again." This thought is left unexplained, with the comment: "If we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now." The bowl of petunias, however, is dismayingly explained in Life, the Universe, and Everything as being one of many incarnations through time and space of a creature called Agrajag, whom Arthur Dent has accidentally killed in each form (also counts as a Brick Joke).

    Mostly Harmless reveals the entire truth: The Guide Mark II somehow used Reverse Temporal Engineering to screw with Agrajag's reincarnations so that Arthur would be brought to the Cathedral of Hate before he ducked an assassin's gunshot at Stavromula Beta. This is not a paradox, although it does ensure Arthur's eventual arrival. The Guide's purpose in this was simply to ensure all remaining humans (Arthur, Trillian, Tricia, and Random) were back on Earth before it was demolished again, this time for good, by the Vogons.
  • Stephen King's story The Library Policeman starts off goofy and turns deathly serious, casting the earlier goofy parts in a new light. This reflects the very writing process of the story: King started off writing a goofy tale and found it turning into a deathly serious one, so he took it and ran with it.
  • The Courtship of Princess Leia had a rather stock villain duo in Warlord Zsinj and General Melvar, dim-witted and eeeheeheeeeevil sadistic bad guys who had the resources — a Super Star Destroyer and a device that cut off the sunlight from a particular planet — to threaten our heroes. Their resources were more of a plot point than they were; the only role they played was to leer menacingly and set up those things, then be killed quickly. In the X-Wing Series, set earlier, Aaron Allston made it a point to expand on those two, making them Faux Affably Evil, very intelligent, and quite essential to the plot. Their two-dimensional idiocy became Obfuscating Stupidity, and they actually turned into legitimate (and very entertaining) threats.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Hermione's attitude towards House Elves in the series was always treated as your average tree-hugging annoyance. Especially in regards to Kreacher as Sirius would crack sarcastic jokes about Kreacher obsessing over the family members' old belongings and even making death jokes about him which Harry and Ron openly laughed about. Then in the final book and we find out exactly what Kreacher has been through... Sirius's jokes and attitude don't seem so funny anymore.
    • A more notable example would be the way a Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher never stays on for more than a year, to the point where people joke about the position being cursed. Turns out, it is: Voldemort himself wanted the position many years ago, but Dumbledore refused to give it to him. (Obviously, this was before he became known as wizard-Hitler.) Ever since, no one has been able to hold the job for more than a year without something happening to them.
    • Neville Longbottom is bumbling and forgetful, and most of the other characters (especially Snape) tease him for his incompetence while his grandmother relentlessly pushes him. We later learn that Neville's parents were Aurors that were tortured into total insanity, a significant part of his bumbling lack of self-esteem is fear of not living up to their example, and his grandmother's nature was to toughen him up to protect him from the same fate.
    • In Philosopher's Stone, Hagrid is presented as a goofy, over-sized character who is clumsy with his magic and hides his wand in an umbrella. This is presented as simple comic relief. It is later revealed that Hagrid is a half-giant and has been suffering from Fantastic Racism his whole life. He is clumsy with magic because he was framed for Tom Riddle murdering Moaning Myrtle, and was expelled from Hogwarts early in his education. Accordingly, he has to keep his wand in an umbrella not to maintain The Masquerade, but because he's not allowed to have a wand in the first place (and said wand was actually snapped into several pieces after his expulsion, which the umbrella somewhat rectifies).
    • An early chapter in Philosopher's Stone also shows Harry conversing with a snake at the zoo, which gets Dudley into trouble with his bumbling. At the time, the comical incident just seems to be a sign of Harry's magical abilities manifesting. Chamber of Secrets later reveals that the ability to speak in Parseltongue (the language of snakes) is actually a very rare ability among Wizards, and that it's one marker of the bloodline of the Salazar Slytherin—from whom Lord Voldemort is descended. Harry's ability to speak to snakes later becomes a sinister mark of his connection to Voldemort, and it foreshadows the revelation that Harry carries part of Voldemort's soul inside him.
    • A lot of characters seem to view love potions as a harmless joke (although, notably, Harry himself doesn't appear to share this attitude). Then it's revealed that Merope Gaunt spent months using them to mind-rape (and then just straight-up rape) Thomas Riddle, leading to the birth of Voldemort.
    • After her introduction in The Prisoner of Azkaban, resident Cloudcuckoolander Sybil Trelawney is treated almost entirely as comic relief, with the students and faculty of Hogwarts all dismissing her constant gloomy prophecies as nonsense. Not even Dumbledore seems to take her seriously, as he joins in on the snark-fest whenever she's not in earshot. But her prophecies seem a lot less funny after the end of The Order of the Phoenix reveals that Voldemort tried to kill Harry as an infant because Trelawney prophesied (rightly) that Harry was the only person in the world capable of defeating him, and that one of them was destined to kill the other.
    • In early books, the taboo against speaking Voldemort's name aloud is played for (slightly dark) laughs, because of the inherent ridiculousness of fully-grown adults collapsing into shivering fits at the mere mention of a Wizard's name—while the young Harry, who wasn't raised to fear Voldemort, can't understand what the big deal is. But in the seventh volume, we find out that there's actually a very good reason to be afraid of saying Voldemort's name: Tom Riddle placed a curse on the name "Voldemort" to keep tabs on his enemies, ensuring that his Death Eaters would be sent to dispatch anyone brave enough to speak his chosen name aloud. After we learn that, the taboo is played for deadly serious Paranoia Fuel.
    • Hogwarts resident ghosts are initially presented as whimsical comic relief side characters who help drive home the school's fantastical nature; generally speaking, they're all quite jolly and easygoing, and they don't seem to have any angst about being dead. But as the series goes on, and the Central Theme of Death becomes more prominent, it can seem rather odd that the ghosts are treated so light-heartedly. Well, in Order of the Phoenix, we learn that ghosts are actually regarded with great curiosity and scrutiny by Wizards, and that there's an entire secret department in the Ministry of Magic devoted to studying the mysteries of Death and the Afterlife. Nearly Headless Nick also outright states that becoming a ghost is a Fate Worse Than Death chosen only by tormented wizards who are afraid—or unwilling—to face the Afterlife. After Sirius' death, a devastated Harry even asks Nick if he might come back as a ghost, and becomes even more distraught when he learns that he won't. The idea grows another layer in The Deathly Hallows, when it's revealed that the Bloody Baron and the Grey Lady are a pair of tragic Star-Crossed Lovers who wound up Together in Death after the Bloody Baron killed her in a fit of rage, and later committed suicide.
  • The Hunger Games: Finnick Odair's flirtatious personality and Really Gets Around reputation in Catching Fire come across very differently when you learn in Mockingjay how few of his supposed Capitol trysts were voluntary.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien did this with The Hobbit. Bilbo recovers a magic ring from Gollum's cave after winning a riddle contest. While the original story did make it plain that Bilbo was riddling for his life, the ring he retrieves is later treated as a precious prize, saving his life several times and leading to his happy ending. Years later, when it was time to release The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien retconned the story (actually rewriting The Hobbit) to tie in with the nature of the Ring as a malicious artifact made of pure evil that was using Bilbo to escape Gollum's ownership. The existence of the first edition of The Hobbit was even deconstructed: it records Bilbo's lies about how he got the Ring and what it was like.
  • Monster Hunter International has Earl's minotaur-skin coat. Originally, you would have assumed it was a trophy. In book 3, it turns out he wears it to remember his minotaur friend.
  • The Wanderer:
    • Thirteen-year-old girl Sophie tells a couple of stories about her grandfather Bompie. Most stories end with Bompie ending up in the water, where "he was frightened, was nearly pulled under, had to struggle hard and long to get out, after which his father gave him a whipping and his mother gave him a pie", which at that moment was more funny than actually scary. But in the end of the book, we learn that this ending is imagined by Sophie. When she was four, her family was caught by a storm during sailing, their boat sunk, her parents died and she had to swim hours to reach the shore, all alone. For her, this wasn't funny, it was her Primal Fear.
    • Before that, we learn that the whippings Bompie received (which were part of the original story) weren't funny, either. They embittered Bompie to the point that he broke off all contact with his father and never reconciled until the father was gravely ill.
  • In early Discworld books, there are repeated references to the Battle of Koom Valley, a battle between trolls and dwarfs in which both sides claimed the other ambushed them, used as an illustration of Fantastic Racism and humorously over-the-top grudge-holding. In Thud!, it's revealed the original Battle of Koom Valley was a tragic misunderstanding in which an attempted peace talk between dwarfs and trolls was interrupted by a flood, washing away the entire peace party. When the rest of the armies arrived late, because of the floods, they all assumed that the other side must have ambushed their leaders and murdered them, leading to centuries more war and hatred.
  • In the second book of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy and Annabeth, while trying to evade Circe, release a bunch of pirates turned into guinea pigs (one of whom is Blackbeard) who proceed to ransack Circe's palace, which is played as the series' typical comedic Hoist by His Own Petard to villains. Then it is revealed in the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, that Blackbeard's release did have an impact, a decidedly non-comedic impact, namely enslaving Circe's two servants: Hylla and her younger sister Reyna, for several years. They had to climb their way to release, which brings about Fridge Horror by itself considering that Blackbeard's pirate crew are all adult males surrounding two females, one of whom is about 10-year-old...you get the clue. No wonder Hylla hates Percy so much.
    • Oh, speaking of Reyna, there's her curious Berserk Button of being called by her preppy-sounding full name, which Rachel exploits in The House of Hades. That's because she's trying to avoid her past, or rather, avoid the memory of her father, Major Julian Ramírez-Arellano, who had a Fate Worse Than Death due to a severe case of PTSD after participating in the Iraq War. She's even willing to serve Circe (though admittedly, the latter treated her decently).
    • Reyna gets this example a lot. There's the case in The Son of Neptune where she's really interested in Percy, even saying a sentence ("I can help you") that Percy comically mistakes as something else entirely. Once we learn about her, uh, bad relationship with pretty much every man she meets (particularly, Jason), it becomes rather sad.
  • In the first book of the Familias Regnant series, much of the light relief comes from an Upper-Class Twit character who is always Comically Missing the Point. The second book features the revelation that this character used to be much more intelligent and with-it before an assassination attempt left him with brain damage, which leaves those bits a lot less comic in retrospect.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Though not a comedy, Bones managed this. Booth's increasing tendency to receive advice from famous people during dreams turns out to be caused by a brain tumor that's slowly killing him.
  • Billy on Ally McBeal got a hugely out-of-character haircut, became comically misogynistic, and started seeing amazing, wacky things everywhere. Like Booth in the Bones example above, Billy had a brain tumor. Unlike Booth, he was Killed Off for Real.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • When we're first introduced to Dr. Bashir, it's played for laughs that he's incredibly young and arrogant about what a great doctor he is. But it gets distinctly weird to look back on this after a fifth season episode reveals Bashir's intelligence is the result of illegal genetic enhancements that were performed on him as a child to correct severe mental retardation.
    • In a more minor example, in a early episode, Bashir mentions out that he confused a pre-ganglionic fiber with a post-ganglionic nerve during his medical finals. When fans pointed out that this is a mistake that no competent medical student would make, the explanation was retconned that he got the question wrong on purpose to avoid being valedictorian... to cover up his genetic enhancements.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, resident Proud Warrior Race Guy Worf makes an offhand comment about having a poor sex life due to most human women being physically fragile compared to him, lacking his Klingon physiology, meaning he has to restrain himself too much to enjoy sex. This same issue is later referred to in a much more dramatic fashion in Deep Space Nine, when he explains that as a boy, he accidentally killed another boy during a football/soccer match when their heads collided, which led to his restrained and uptight demeanor as he feels he must always be careful to avoid harming other, more fragile beings. It also became relevant when he married Jadzia Dax, and she was constantly in Dr. Bashir's office for broken ribs. As was Worf. Not that they minded.
    • In the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint", when the Enterprise crew is placed on trial, Picard suggests that Q judge them based on their performance on the "long mission" they have ahead of them. Q dismisses the idea but says he will judge them just based on how they perform on this specific visit to Farpoint Station. Seven years later, in the final episode "All Good Things", Q reveals that he took up Picard's suggestion after all, and "the trial never ended".
    • Lwaxana Troi, Counselor Troi's mother, is very controlling, but it's clearly humorous. Then comes "Dark Page" (her last appearance on TNG) and we learn that Lwaxana had two daughters, and the older one, Kestra, drowned when Lwaxana wasn't paying attention.
    • The later seasons established that during the first two seasons, while the Enterprise was wandering around doing random tasks and showcasing the most laid-back, blatantly Mildly Military traits in the entire franchise, the Federation was in the tail end of a long and bloody war with the Cardassians. O'Brien especially had just left a front-line posting where he fought in several battles.
  • Power Rangers did this a few times.
    • Ninja Storm retconned silly villain Lothor and his standalone plots to have been a long-term plan to overload the Abyss of Evil with dead monsters.
    • Power Rangers Jungle Fury did this with a character. Flit as presented in the first 17 episodes was just a fly stuck in Camille who occasionally went out to comment on battles. Then we get his backstory, and he becomes a much more tragic character, trapped in evil, using his brief bouts of encouragement as one of the few things he can do with himself while being a prisoner.
    • Power Rangers RPM got gags out of Doctor K not going outside and her mention of growing up in Alphabet Soup, only to then reveal the utter horror of what Alphabet Soup did to her.
  • It isn't exactly comedy, but the subplot in the first episode of Heroes about Angela Petrelli getting arrested for shoplifting socks and her sons bailing her out is certainly pretty lighthearted. That is, until Volume 4 rolls around. In the episode 1961, we learn that Angela had a sister who she left when she was a child, regretting it ever since. We also learn that whenever she finds herself missing her sister particularly badly, she, you guessed it, steals socks. Suddenly, that lighthearted moment in the series premier seems a lot more disturbing.
  • Kamen Rider Decade's female lead, Natsumi, is mostly Tsundere Plucky Comic Relief owing to her the Laughing Pressure Point, used on Tsukasa when he gets a little too smug or rude. In the Big Damn Movie, she gains her own Rider powers and actually kills Tsukasa after he goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Kamen Riders. She even uses the Laughing Pressure Point as an actual fighting move in the final battle.
    • Kamen Rider Gaim becomes this to the Kamen Rider franchise as a whole. As it turns out, almost all of the Monsters of the Week were humans that ate the fruits from Helheim Forest. Unlike the past human turned monsters from other Kamen Rider shows, save for Kamen Rider Wizard, they can't be saved (though it becomes all the more darker that it's revealed that they can be saved). It becomes worse when the Beat Riders are eventually blamed by the public for all monster attacks occurring in the city. Considering that Gen Urobuchi is the head writer, many saw something like this coming.
  • Sometimes, a Cerebus Retcon happens naturally as the result of Character Development over a series. For example, Wesley was a one-note bumbling Upper-Class Twit when he first appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, completely played for laughs. Once he became one of the regular cast of Angel his character was fleshed out enough to reveal that his early awkwardness was largely the result of a painful childhood with an abusive father; throughout the series any mention of his father causes Wesley to momentarily revert back to his old bumbling. His father's visit in "Lineage" is an especially dark example. This being Season 5, Wes has become extremely badass (seriously, he'd have a chance against a top of his game Ripper at this point). Finally he has to shoot his father to save Fred's life. Luckily, it was a robot.
  • Angel also applies a massive Cerebus Retcon in Season 4 in an attempt to inflate the season's Big Bad. The minor and previously played-for-laughs character Skip not only takes a hard turn in going from comedy to drama, but in one speech gives exposition about how the entire series up until that point has been orchestrated by the mystery newcomer: Though the speech does not factually contradict the storyline, it indicates a premeditated arc with every event previous to the speech for all main characters as well as the speaker itself which clearly had not existed in the story's mythos.
    "You have any concept of how many lines have to intersect in order for a thing like this to play out? How many events have to be nudged in just the right direction: Leaving Pyleanote , your sisternote , opening the wrong booknote , sleeping with the enemynote . Gosh, I love a story with scope."
  • Glee: Tina Cohen-Chang's Butt-Monkey status in season 2 was played for laughs when we were meant to laugh at her getting hysterical during a rare solo, and her getting booed off stage in another episode when she worked on the performance for a week and cried about it for a month. In season 3, after the strong backlash fans had against her getting neglected, she got her own Cerebus Retcon episode ("Props") in which the Glee Club is made to feel guilty about her lack of solos, lines or appreciation.
  • In Farscape, originally Crichton was merely hallucinating Scorpius in the episode "Crackers Don't Matter", being driven mad like everyone else. The writers liked the idea of an invisible Scorpius acting as the devil on Crichton's shoulder so much, they retconned things so that the hallucination was actually due to a neural-chip implanted by Scorpius in a previous episode, eventually dubbed "Harvey".
  • Bryan Fuller pulls off an inter-series Cerebus Retcon. Remember Georgia Lass of Dead Like Me, a grumpy dead girl who sends people off to the afterlife, and who is unrecognisable to anyone who knew her when she was alive? Well, Hannibal brings back Ellen Muth as another girl called Georgia. She's afflicted with many disorders: the delusion that she is dead (which is aggravated by a skin disease so severe that she's basically rotting), the inability to recognise human faces, and episodes of psychotic aggression. At the height of her delusion, she accidentally murders a friend from her former life.
  • In How I Met Your Mother's 100th episode "Girls vs Suits", many of the titular Mother's quirks were played for laughs, such as painting pictures of robots and singing with her food during breakfast. In the 200th episode "How Your Mother Met Me", it was revealed her First Love Max's last present for her was an ukelele "so your breakfast doesn't need to perform acapella" and her robot paintings were an activity she tried to do to get over his death. Louis's lack of appreciation of her singing muffin was a sign that they wouldn't work long-term.
  • When Nate on Six Feet Under is suddenly stricken with an inability to speak clearly while placing an order at a fast food drive-thru, it's played for laughs (albeit dark ones). Later in the same season, it turns serious when we learn that the incident was the first appearance of symptoms of Nate's AVM, which is the condition that eventually takes his life.
  • Orange Is the New Black:
    • In the first season, Morello's obsession with her wedding to her fiancé Christopher is a running gag, consistently played for laughs. In the second season, we find out that Christopher isn't really her fiancé, and that Morello has deluded herself into believing that he loves her. She's in prison for violating the restraining order that he put on her after they had one date, and she proceeded to stalk him, threaten him, and try to hurt his actual girlfriend.
    • In most of the early episodes, Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren comes off as a rather generic take on the old "mentally unstable prison inmate" Stock Character, and her crazy antics are played for (very dark) laughs. Later in the season, as Piper gets to know her better, it gradually becomes clear that Suzanne actually struggles constantly to keep her mental illness in check in order to avoid being sent back to Litchfield's psychiatric ward, which she claims is even worse than solitary confinement. Even her nickname is deconstructed: Suzanne is genuinely hurt by the name "Crazy Eyes", as it serves as a constant reminder that she'll never be considered "one of the girls".
    • In the pilot episode, Caputo is seen taking out a bottle of lotion and masturbating in his office right after his first meeting with Piper. At the time, it seems like an Establishing Character Moment for Caputo, establishing him as a slovenly idiot with no professional standards. But later on, as the character's Hidden Depths become clear, we gradually see that he's actually one of the most decent employees at the prison, and one of the few who's not afraid to clash with his superiors to fight for the inmates' rights. In the third season, after he becomes the new warden, the masturbation scene from the pilot actually gets a surprising Call-Back, when Caputo reveals that he has a very good reason for doing it: when chewing out Bennett for impregnating Daya and getting Mendez fired for sleeping with her, he tells him that he regularly masturbates on the job so that he won't be tempted to make sexual advances on the women under his charge.
  • Karadoc being a Big Eater and Arthur being unwilling to have sex with his wife Guenièvre (because it's an arranged marriage and he doesn't find her attractive at all) are two of Kaamelott's Running Gags. In the sixth season that takes place before the rest of the series, it's explained that Karadoc was abducted and almost starved to death before joining the Knights of the Round Table, and Arthur promised to his first wife (who he married in secret and would never see again) that he wouldn't touch his new wife out of respect for her.
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even when the relatively light-hearted first season took a turn for the dark about three quarters through the season note , it still had a few comedic moments. One of these was the Running Gag that it was obvious to everyone around The Clairvoyant that he had gone insane from the alien blood used to treat his failing cybernetic body (well, Played for Drama with Ward and Reina, Played for Laughs with everyone else). Come the second season, which has a much more serious tone than the first, Coulson's biggest fear is that he too might go crazy since he was revived by that same blood, and this is played deadly serious.
    • Also in Season 1, every time Coulson was asked about Tahiti, the place he recovered after being wounded by Loki in The Avengers (2012), he'd always say "It's a magical place," until even he started noticing it. It's after he goes through a memory machine that he realizes the awful truth: that he truly did die and that he was brought back to life against his will.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Fourth Doctor's first story ("Robot") has him recently regenerated and acting clownish and crazy, and while there is a little bit of darker subtext (he tries to abandon Sarah Jane and the Brigadier because he wasn't really aware of what he was doing, although he later is sorry about it) it's almost entirely Played for Laughs. Come a turn for the Darker and Edgier and "The Face of Evil", and it's revealed that the Doctor's sneaking off around the universe in this state ended up creating a dystopian Cargo Cult that views him as a god of destruction that Eats Babies.
    • Before "Remembrance of the Daleks" aired, fans constantly made jokes about how the Daleks' greatest weakness was stairs, as the way they were constructed pretty much prevented them from climbing up the stairs. The cliffhanger of "Remembrance of the Daleks" involves the Seventh Doctor being stuck in between a locked door at the top of a stairway, and a Dalek that is levitating upwards towards him. This was re-introduced in Series 1 in 2005 when a Dalek was mocked for not being able to climb up the stairs, only to proceed to levitate up the stairs.
    • In "Closing Time", it's revealed the Doctor can 'speak baby', and characterises the baby in question as a megalomaniac that addresses itself as 'Stormageddon', all played for laughs. In "The Girl Who Died", two series later, the Doctor translates a baby's speech in a much more haunting and poetic manner that is played as an otherworldly, beautiful moment.
    • In "Under the Lake", there is a gag where Clara keeps cue cards to help the Doctor out in difficult social situations. When the cards show up again in "Face The Raven" it's played as a dramatic moment, with Clara and the Doctor picking through cards together while Rigsy looks on, anticipating hearing something terrible (which, of course, is exactly what happens).
    • In 2016, Steven Moffat's Q&A column in Doctor Who Magazine retconned the humorous running business of the TARDIS not liking Clara Oswald in Series 7. Turns out it wasn't because of the seemingly impossible nature of her existence, but because the TARDIS knew Clara and the Doctor would have too close a relationship and become the Hybrid that almost destroyed the space-time continuum and was working its resentment out on her for events that not only wouldn't unfold until Series 9, but almost didn't happen at all because the original plan was for Clara to leave at the end of Series 8!
  • Better Call Saul does this to several moments in its parent show Breaking Bad:
    • In Breaking Bad, Skyler skeptically looking over Saul's degree from the University of American Samoa is Played for Laughs. Not so much here, where Chuck takes every opportunity to tear Jimmy's chances of going legit down because it's implied to be a shady diploma mill.
    • Similarly, we have Saul's freak-out during Jesse and Walt's plan to scare him in Saul's introductory episode, "Better Call Saul", once you take "Mijo" into account. What at first seems like Saul simply fearing for his life turns into Jimmy thinking Tuco's men have decided to finally kill him. Especially after he says that whatever they think he did, Ignacio aka. Nacho was the real one to blame.
      Saul: Oh, thank God! Oh, Christ! Oh, I thought... (hyperventilating) What can I do for you, gentlemen?
      • Speaking of that episode, we have a line that takes on a whole other meaning thanks to this show:
      • Watching "Pimento", you can probably imagine Chuck's brutal "Slippin' Jimmy with a law degree is like a chimp with a machine gun" speech echoing throughout Saul's mind on a daily basis, reminding him that he is, and forever shall be, Slippin' Jimmy, which can make all of Saul's comic one-liners and amusing cowardice in Breaking Bad less amusing.
  • Game of Thrones:
  • The Big Bang Theory has Sheldon knocking on a door three times before he enters a room. This stays funny until "The Hot Tub Comtamination", where he tells Penny that he does this so that the people on the other side could get dressed in case they were doing amorous activities. This is due to a time when he came home early as a teen and walked in on his father having sex with someone else behind his mother's back.
  • The Golden Girls:
    • Rose is generally a happy-go-lucky Cloudcuckoolander who is unaware of how dumb she seems to others. The exception is the episode 'Dancing in the Dark', where she first falls in love with Miles, in which she is so self-conscious about their different intellects that it almost sabotages their budding relationship.
    • Sophia's memory loss due to a stroke mostly appears in the early seasons as a joke and an excuse to make her a Deadpan Snarker. However a couple of episodes have confronted the fact that both Sophia and Dorothy fear she may be slipping into dementia and that she will one day no longer be able to take care of herself. Sophia is especially afraid of losing her memories of her dead husband Sal.
    • Blanche has apparently always been fairly promiscuous, but it has been hinted once or twice that her fear of commitment is because she never really got over the fact that the only man she ever really loved, her husband George, was killed out of the blue in a car accident.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • When Samuel Shaw's stalker angle began in TNA, he was an independent man with his own apartment who jealously attacked anyone he thought was trying to "take" Christy Hemme's attention away from him. Later, this was changed to a man who lived with his mother, a woman of the same phenotype as Christy, who it was implied he previously had an incestuous relationship with.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Plenty of things from Warhammer 40,000 when it became more serious after the silly first edition. Eldar lived on Craftworlds and had a boring life because they were retreating from Slaanesh and if you aren't disciplined he would devour your soul. The Emperor, originally implied to have been confined to the Golden Throne because of old age, had to be put on life support after a duel with his most beloved son.
    • The Tau when first introduced in late 3rd Edition, were unequivocally the very closest thing the 40k verse had to an entire race of good guys. A heroic goal of fighting for the Greater Good of their empire, very honorable, and completely willing to negotiate peacefully with other races (if occasionally done while the Imperial planetary governor was signing peaceful surrender due to staring down the wrong end of a Railgun barrel), to the point that one fluff quote in their first Codex, had an Eldar Farseer mention that the Tau were probably the Galaxy's best hope. This actually annoyed fans as they felt they were too good for a setting that was supposed to be, well.. grim and dark. Come latter editions, and Tau were Retconned to possibly using brainwashing devices disguised as simple "communication helms", forced reeducation camps or worse, and that their Ethereals may not be as good and noble as they want others to believe.

    Toys 
  • In BIONICLE, the traitor Metus got turned into a snake and banished to the wastelands. The DVD for the movie The Legend Reborn included a short, comedic bonus cartoon that Homaged the classic Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner and Tom and Jerry cartoons, in which he attempts to drop a boulder on the heroes, but Team Pet Click foils his plans and his army of Scarabax beetles make short work of the snake. Metus's desperation is played entirely for laughs. Later, when other characters came across the snake Metus out in the desert, we found out he had survived all this time by eating rats, and was also suffering from a fatal mental disease that made him unable to dream (and thus, according to the story, release his stress), so he outright begs them to kill him, because he just couldn't take it anymore. Lucky for him, he later regained his ability to dream and his transformation has also become undone.

    Video Games 
  • Chrono Cross does this to its predecessor, Chrono Trigger. The best example is the Darkness Beyond Time, which takes what happened to Marle when she was briefly erased from history and runs with it. The Darkness Beyond Time is where all timelines (and the people in them) that no longer exist due to the actions of time travellers end up. You thought you were saving the world? Nope, you were condemning millions to a Fate Worse Than Death.
  • Metal Gear
    • In the original game, Metal Gear, Snake looked to be in his twenties - but he looked to be late-middle-aged in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. For the sequel Metal Gear Solid, the character designer decided to go with a Solid Snake who appeared to be in his early-thirties, younger-looking than his previous incarnation. As a joke referencing this, the characters who knew Snake in Metal Gear 2 joke about his "age"; the sign that Gray Fox is back to normal is when he teases Snake with the throwaway line "You haven't aged well". However, in Metal Gear Solid 2, which started the Patriots plot arc, Snake is explicitly mentioned in the script as looking almost unrecognisably older than his self in Metal Gear Solid, even though MGS2 starts only two years later. Liquid spells it out:
      "You're drowning in time! I know what it's like, Brother. Few more years and you'll be another dead clone of the old man!"
    • And it continues in Metal Gear Solid 4. The reason for the Plot-Relevant Age-Up was changed to fit in with Retcons introduced in the third game, but becomes entirely horrible. Snake now appears to be in his mid-to-late seventies and his health is suffering as a result. His own parents look younger than he does. It's very alarming to remember that the whole plot element started as a Continuity Nod joke.
    • Applying Broad Strokes to Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake allowed their eight-bit wackiness to be taken fairly seriously in the Solid series. Snake didn't seem that affected by the events of Outer Heaven at the time (he also had to do things like avoid giant constantly moving rolling pins and use a bomb blast suit to make himself immune to a strong wind), and Metal Gear 2 attempted to paint him as a very traditional action hero who retired after Outer Heaven because he was a loose cannon and too badass to take orders from authority. Metal Gear Solid, and its Alternate Universe counterpart, Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, claimed that Snake suffered immense guilt over his actions in Outer Heaven, got diagnosed with PTSD, and was forced to retire and go into hiding because he was unable to cope with the demands of everyday life.
    • One scene in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake involved Snake knowing a woman for all of five minutes. She tells him about her family's history, asks him about his (he says "I have no family"), and then she dies. Snake's over-the-top grief at her death was, at the time, a major Narm. In Metal Gear Solid, which established that Snake had been essentially growing up in near-total isolation and had never had anyone tell him about their life or ask him about his own, his instant attachment to her seems very justifiable and deeply tragic.
    • The reason why The Patriot in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a copy of The Boss's Weapon of Choice, has infinite ammo, is that it has an infinity-symbol shaped drum magazine, giving infinite ammo. However, in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, it's explained that the Patriot has infinite ammo because "they say The Boss left a part of her soul behind inside it", making it more into a blessed memento of a supernaturally-gifted soldier rather than a cheap joke. It winds up a Voodoo Shark though, as the infinite ammo is explicitly noted about it before this could have happened. You only get the Patriot after you have killed The Boss, but when talking about it Snake had not yet killed his mentor, and the method that Snake gets it is lampshaded for being dubious. He isn't even supposed to have it until after he kills The Boss.
  • In Super Smash Bros. Brawl's adventure mode, it is revealed that Mr. Game & Watch is actually made out of a special substance, that can be used to harvest shadow bugs, which are used to support the entire conflict of the story.
  • Fallout 4: When the Sole Survivor escapes from Vault 111 and meets back up with their robotic butler Codsworth after 210 years, the reunion comes across as darkly hilarious and a relative Breather Episode after the exceptionally dark intro sequence. To further elaborate, this reunion has Codsworth complaining about the futility of dusting a collapsed house and how he couldn't wax radioactive fallout out of vinyl wood floors instead of going insane/psychotic like most other Pre-War robots in the series. However, if the Survivor has Codsworth join them as a companion throughout their journeys in the Commonwealth and sufficiently raises their affinity level, Codsworth will reflect far more seriously on the intervening decades. He admits that he nearly gave up on the hope that anyone would've come out of Vault 111 while he waited patiently for his master/master's family to return. Codsworth also claims to have seen countless innocent people either get torn to shreds by the Wasteland or resort to truly horrific means to survive... and all of that only makes Codsworth more and more impressed with the Sole Survivor for staying a good person.
  • Portal:
    • The Ratman's Companion Cube-related scrawlings in the first game are amusing (if a bit unsettling) because it's hard to imagine what sort of person would be that attached to an inanimate box. The Lab Rat tie-in comic reveals that Doug Rattmann was a formerly medicated schizophrenic, that his Companion Cube really was his only friend, and that he ultimately sacrificed everything to save Chell's life.
    • The Big Bad GLaDOS has a hysterical black comedy streak a mile wide. In the finale, you disassemble her cores (who are also individually hilarious) and destroy her. In the sequel, not only do you learn that GLaDOS has been reliving that "death" millions of times since you killed her (though you only have her word on this), but also that Aperture Science was killing people for decades before you came along, Chell has been trapped in the facility since she was a pre-teen, GLaDOS was made by uploading Cave Johnson's secretary (in the deleted content it's clear this was against her will), and that the facility has thousands of other test subjects to be tormented and murdered.
      • Portal 2 has Wheatley invoke this; at the beginning of the game, he falls off his rail comedically (it's impossible for the player to catch him). Post-Face–Heel Turn, he mentions his grief at you "purposefully" failing to catch him during his rant during the Final Boss fight.
    • During the game, GLaDOS repeatedly mocks Chell for being an orphan. Considering she also mocks Chell for a lot of things which aren't true, it gets lost in the shuffle. In the sequel, it's revealed that Chell was the daughter of an Aperture Science researcher and that GLaDOS' massacre happened on "Bring Your Daughter to Work" day.
  • In Half-Life, there are only four scientist models and several of them die in ways which are intended to be comic. In Half-Life 2, three of those models have been given a specific name and arc. One has become The Quisling leader of humanity. One dies horribly at the end of Episode 2 in a very dramatic scene. Curiously the third remains the comic relief, however.
  • This trope becomes strangely meta when Team Fortress 2s Heavy Weapons Guy is a character in Poker Night at the Inventory. Apparently, the Heavy experiences Team Fortress 2s respawn system as a series of semi-recurring nightmares.
  • Billy vs. SNAKEMAN has a New Game+ method called "looping". Originally it's just treated as your character being signed on for a new season of a TV show. Then it's revealed that this is the result of a series of time-manipulating experiments, dating back to a massive war against Kaiju that caused horrible damage to the world. And it's just the first of several revelations.
    • Another aspect of the looping is that it allows you to shrug off failures during missions and quests as a general "oops, that didn't happen". During the War, the Kaiju were terrified of the ninja's ability to unmake their own missteps so they could achieve perfect victories against all but completely impossible odds. And then there are the Miku Mikus. Originally benevolent beings of pure music who existed to aid and inspire the ninja. Somehow, the process of looping wholly unintentionally separated them from their wards and turned them progressively more deranged, until they were little more than roving, cannibalistic abominations. Neither side had any plans for this to happen at all.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, Guy's gynophobia is a side effect of his childhood trauma. Namely, being trapped under the corpses of his entire female household.
  • Intentionally invoked in Persona 4. Try looking at Adachi as the Bumbling Sidekick after finding out who the killer is. His odd moments of talking out loud about the murders when the gang is around suddenly makes more logical and darker sense.... Along with this, all of the party member's attitudes are revealed to be the cause of their major issues, like Kanji's homosexuality complex and Naoto's gender complex. Kanji's earlier comedic outbursts come off as tragic by that point.
  • Rei's entire character in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth might as well be one of these. Her love of food, even things that don't seem edible and her ridiculously obvious crush on Zen are both played for comedy frequently throughout the game... until you find out the truth about her. Turns out Rei is the ghost of a girl who died of a terminal illness, and Zen is a Psychopomp who took pity on her and erased her memories. Her eating is a desperate, subconscious attempt to convince herself she's still alive, and her crushing on Zen and, implicitly, the entire Group Date Cafe dungeon (which is heavily Played for Laughs at the time) come from her regrets over never having had a chance to meet her own "destined partner".
  • Deadly Premonition uses many of its odd gags and bizarre humor for foreshadowing—everything from the idiosyncratic behaviors of the main character to some of the throwaway joke lines end up hinting at the true nature of what's going on. But one of the biggest examples involves a certain tattoo—in an early comedic scene, it's revealed that Thomas has an Embarrassing Tattoo, which protagonist York chuckles about and shrugs off: "We all lived through the 80's." Except the tattoo is actually a symbol of his fanatical devotion to the sheriff, who has been drugging him with red seeds and trying to frame him for the murders he committed. A devotion that gets even worse due to the insanity-inducing purple fog, which poor Thomas is especially susceptible to.
  • Dr. Eggman in the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise was a typical evil cartoon villain that wanted to take over the world in the most obscure way, which was capturing animals and turning them into robots that would do his bidding. By the time Sonic Adventure came to be, Dr. Eggman took a more dark approach to his evil schemes, such as trying to control a god with unlimited power and then deciding to fire a missile at a city when he fails in his original plan. Dr. Eggman even takes control of a weaponized space colony and fires a laser at the moon, cutting it in half! And that was only a warning shot! Dr. Eggman's darker persona stayed with him for a while although Sega attempted to dial it back a bit by making Eggman a bit more cartoonish for the narm factor, which can be seen in Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations. Dr. Eggman does return to his roots with animal capturing in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 as a throwback to the classic games.
  • Cait Sith's entry to the party in Final Fantasy VII is played as something of a video game visual shorthand joke, with neither Cloud nor the second party member actually wanting him to come along, but Cait walking into him forcibly anyway. Cait Sith's overall silly premise (a stuffed animal fortune teller) and forced mascot character appearance means one wouldn't expect him to have a big reason for joining the party. Later in the game it's revealed the reason he forcefully entered the party is because he's actually a Shinra spy.
  • Recurring Nippon Ichi character Asagi's story in an alternate mode of Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? is mostly played for comedy between her claiming to be the game's main character thanks to the approval of some random producer (Whom Hero Prinny believes is just a random demon messing with her) and her rather silly death in which she's unable to remove the bomb in her costume because of a stuck zipper. Then, the sequel's Asagi Wars reveals that Asagi Kurosugi, an Evil Counterpart of Asagi, was the unnamed producer and the tailor who purposely sewed in the stuck zipper to keep Asagi from removing the bomb. She did this to kill Asagi and take her place as she had done with all the other Asagis throughout the game.
    • Then Disgaea 5 reveals that neither of the Asagi's mentioned is even real, actually being clones of the true Asagi. The only encounters that are "real" Asagi are likely Makai Kingdom, Disgaea 5, and possibly Disgaea 2.
  • If one takes the game Sands of Destruction as the original, and the animenote  and manga as Ret Cons instead of Alternate Continuity, this trope is firmly in place as regards Morte's motivation. In the game, she merely wants to destroy the world because it's already ending itself and she can't come up with a better use for a dying world than assuaging her own boredom. Naturally, the moment she realizes both that the world can be saved and falling in love is even more fun than blowing stuff up, she changes her mind. She's incredibly upbeat throughout the game, rushing into things without a thought. In the anime, her motivation changes to revenge for the deaths of her parents and brother: she doesn't know who is responsible, and feels that the world is worthless, so killing everyone is her solution; she only changes her mind at the last minute when she realizes that revenge isn't going to bring her family back and that the world actually does have its good points as well as its problems. She's also more serious, fitting her grimmer motives. In the manga, she's just as upbeat as she was in the game but her motivation is instead changed to the fact that she's now the one who wished for the state of the world a thousand years ago, but she was tired and forgot to wish that humans and beastmen would be friends, so everyone's racism is all her fault and the only way she knows to fix the world is to wipe it out and start again from scratch; she's killed before she fully changes her mind, but Kyrie manages to bring her back at the end of the story - which, being the end, doesn't allow us time to know what she's really thinking.
  • The game world of the original The Legend of Zelda I is notably lacking in signs of civilization but otherwise remains as upbeat and cheery as the later titles that have towns and villages. The 2012 book Hyrule Historia reveals that this game occurs at the end of a possible timeline where the Link of Ocarina of Time failed and died, causing wars and destruction across Hyrule. This, combined with the sleeping spell put on the princess from Zelda II's backstory, caused the kingdom to degenerate into a savage wilderness that took over the land.
  • Pokémon Sun and Moon reveals that the Mega Evolution mechanic Pokémon X and Y introduced isn't some benign power up. It turns Pokemon into mindless, heartless, fighting machines and causes some of them injurious amounts of pain if the trainer does not have a strong bond with the Pokémon.
    • Pokedex entries in the Pokémon games often feature elements about the power of the Pokémon in question, many of which have gross violations of physics, biology or gameplay (Magcargo's body is 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit or all the many tales of ghost type and psychic type Pokémon having supernatural abilities). The Sun and Moon pokedex entries are much darker and more realistic about the Pokémon's strengths, abilities and appearances (such as Bewear being so strong that it has killed trainers or Glailie dislocating its jaw when it mega evolves). These entries also confirm that some Pokémon eat each other.
    • Some Pokémon from previous generations are put in a new, and dark, light. The perceptually angry Mankey and Primeape from Gen 1, for example, were revealed to suffer constant loneliness both as a cause and result of their never ending uncontrollable anger, and they never get rest from it; are woken up constantly because of it when sleeping. It only gets peace in death, which is often caused by getting so extremely angry it's body shuts down.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Dual Destinies, Apollo Justice's Catch-Phrase of "I'm fine!" is given some clarification. In Apollo's game of origin, it initially seemed like a nervous habit of Apollo's, since he usually said it when he was... well, nervous. Then Dual Destinies reveals that it was a catchphrase shared with his late childhood friend, Clay Terran, which they both shouted to cheer themselves up when their spirits were low.
  • A lot are done in Hatoful Boyfriend's BBL route. Highlights include — Oko San isn't just an idiot, he's an older breed of birds that is less Uplifted than the others; Anghel isn't actually a fallen angel but has the ability to induce hallucinations in others; Ryouta's weak stomach and Oko San's insane speed are due to Shuu testing drugs on them; Nageki didn't actually kill himself by jumping from the library window due to being bullied (as was implied) but burned himself to death in an underground laboratory beneath the library to prevent himself being used as a biological weapon; and Kazuaki isn't just obsessively mourning the loss of the bird in the blacked-out photo, but is pursuing a Machiavellian Revenge scheme in his name.
  • In Rewrite Chihiya, Kotori, and Lucia's routes end fairly happily considering most of humanity is still alive. However the Terra route reveals that in the end the earth eventually dies taking humanity with it due to salvation taking place.
  • Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai!: Most scenes involving Touma, Jun, and Koyuki after clearing the Ryuuzetsuran path. Most notably, the ending of Chris's route is the only one where Touma opts not to continue in their family's line of work and instead decides to "live for love", a choice that the Ryuuzetsuran route's reveals really puts into perspective.
  • Early parts of A Profile joke about Masayuki's unathletic physique and easily running out of breath while running to school. But then it turns out he's so weak because he collapsed due to a hole in his lung and was hospitalized for a long time, leading him to become completely out of shape and ruining his love of the track field. After this, the jokes largely vanish.
  • Umineko: When They Cry:
    • Jessica Megaton Punches one of her friends at school with a brass knuckle after being pissed off in Turn of the Golden Witch. This stance is seen as a joke. Later, in Alliance of the Golden Witch, she uses the brass knuckles again and they suddenly become conducts for Supernatural Martial Arts.
    • Another example is in the same arc, when Shannon brings up how Battler once told her "See you again! I'll come back and take you away on a white horse!". When he's reminded of this corny line, Battler becomes embarrassed and doesn't want to remember it. We later find out that Shannon actually took this promise seriously, and the fact that Battler forgot about it so easily is a major factor in her issues.
  • Rin Tezuka from Katawa Shoujo appears for all intents and purposes to be your typical female Cloudcuckoolander, quirky, philosophical and inscrutable. Playing again through the beginning of her route feels very different indeed once you learn she actually has what is heavily implied to be an untreated case of schizophrenia.

    Web Animation 
  • Red vs. Blue's intentionally and inherently farcical premise has been retconned in later seasons, turning the series into a dramedy centering around the vaguely plausible science-fiction story of the "Freelancers," who were originally introduced as soldiers able to be hired by both Red and Blue Team as part of the video game-ish setting.
    • The pointless fighting between the Reds and Blues for control of a box canyon? Just part of a live-fire simulation for the Freelancers to train in, and everyone else involved is a scrub soldier chosen for their expendability.
    • An early Running Gag is Grif forgetting or losing track of Red Team's ammo. Reconstruction reveals that he's been selling it to the other team, and when some other Red soldiers find out they put him up in front of a firing squad.
    • O'Malley and Gary were two evil AIs who by and large were ineffectual and comedic villains. The flashback episodes to their time in Project Freelancer, however, play Omega's violent and hateful threats, and Gamma's deceptiveness much more seriously. They even help torture a fellow AI (their father, no less) by forcing upon him countless scenarios where he makes choices that get those he cares for killed.
    • The last chapters of Reconstruction loosed a whole barrage of these. Church getting killed, becoming a ghost, and possessing a robot body? There's no such thing as ghosts, he's an AI. Not feeling anything when Omega possessed him, always agreeing with Delta? Church is the Alpha AI all the others came from, because he was tortured to the point of amnesia. His girlfriend Tex, who always seems to fail just when she's about to succeed? She's an AI too, based on the memory of the original Dr. Leonard Church's loved one, and will always fail because that's what he remembered the most about her. And that original Dr. Church was the template of the Alpha-Church AI.
    • The finale of Season 10 turns the last forty episodes on their head. Agent Carolina's bitter rivalry with Agent Texas for the esteem of the Director of Project Freelancer? She's the Director's daughter, meaning she's been unknowingly struggling against a copy of her mother the entire time. While the Director watched.
    • Episode 2-4 of Season 14 turned the entire first season on its head. Agent Florida himself picked out the Blood Gulch team, Sarge is so lost in his Patriotic Fervor that he murders his CO in cold blood thinking he was a Blue in disguise (while Florida simply watches) and we find out the identity of the Alpha AI host - Private Jimmy, the guy who was said to have been beaten to death with his own skull by Tex. Church's memory of that is a strange mix of Alpha's and Jimmy's memories. Even more, Caboose, Donut and Sister were never meant to go to Blood Gulch! Vic's eccentric personality is a computer glitch, caused by Flowers/Florida tripping on a power cable, as the AI was much more business-like before.
  • Another Rooster Teeth production, Camp Camp does this with the main character Max. Prior to the episode "Parents Day", Max would make sarcastic remarks about how his parents sent him to camp just to get them out of their hair. "Parents Day" reveals that his parents did just that — they didn't even sign him up for any activities like the other kids, they just signed the paperwork and let him loose.
  • The whole concept of the characters going to a night school in Tsuki Desu feels like an Excuse Plot and it's used to emphasize Tsuki's supposed introversion. Later it's shown that she actually has a horrible phobia of the sunlight.
  • In the Mexican web animation Negas, the Pinchimono seems to exist solely to be an Evil Counterpart to Negas. A later Origins Episode reveals that a psychologist advised Negas to bottle up his emotions instead of insulting people. Negas bottled up so much anger, that his blood intoxicated and mutated into the Pinchimono. Basically, the Pinchimono is an Eldritch Abomination.

    Web Comics 
  • Questionable Content
    • Faye getting drunk starts out as just an excuse for her to talk with a Southern accent and engage in wacky hijinks, but it later becomes a plot point that she's an alcoholic due to trauma in her past.
    • Also, Hannelore's rather unusual quirkiness and OCD in her early appearances are explained in much later comics as being an incredible improvement over her near paralytic insanity during her early childhood.
  • El Goonish Shive
    • The Goo started out as a Freak Lab Accident, but returned in the "Sister" arc, revealed to be driven by a device sent by Tedd's alternate-dimension counterpart to kill him.
    • Furthermore, a gag character, the Demonic Duck, originally appeared as a one-shot gag when people would need a distraction and then point out his appearance, the joke being that the duck actually being there was far more ridiculous than someone using such a specific distraction. The duck turns out to be an actual character with dramatic effects on the plot later.
    • Not to mention the Hammerchlorians storyline — a simple, running joke gone supernova. Not only did he explain the joke (Star Wars reference, anyone?), but he wound up putting an immortal, extremely powerful entity in a main character's debt, and giving her new spells and an angst-splosion to boot.
    • There are a lot of subtle examples of this in EGS as it moved from a wacky tone to a more serious one. A simple example is Sarah wearing a beret as part of a visual gag early on, and then a later strip showing a serious explanation on how she got that beret.
    • When Tedd's fondness for transforming into a woman starts being used to explore actual gender issues we get a flashback to his dad's reaction ... and in this context Mr Verres's grumpy attitude looks very different and it seems like his mother leaving isn't the only reason Tedd's got anxiety problems.
  • Sluggy Freelance
    • Riff, an amateur Mad Scientist and "freelance bum", routinely invents pieces of advanced technology such as dimensional portals, giant robots, and ray guns. Originally there was little mention of where he got the materials to build these devices, even though he seemed to have no source of income. However, in a later story arc, Riff reveals that he was actually a freelance inventor for the villainous Hereti Corporation, who gave him a salary and a sizable expense account in exchange for the blueprints to all his inventions. After Riff rebelled against Hereti Corp, he lost access to their resources. While he still creates ridiculously powerful and dangerous devices, he hasn't been able to do so nearly as frequently after the Dangerous Days arc, and (much to his horror) has had to get a regular job in order to pay the bills. He still bemoans the fact that he can't afford as much cool stuff as he used to, wailing, "I used to have a budget!"
    • Similarly, in the early "vampire" story arc, one of Valerie's vampire compatriots asks her why she has a crush on Torg, upon which she has a flashback to her pre-vampirism husband, a double of Torg, accidentally impaling himself on his own lance. Cue the Stormbreaker Saga, when Torg is stranded in the Dark Ages and his attempts to save Valerie from becoming a vampire are played for drama. In the end, after Torg goes back to the present, Valerie's husband dies in the accident, and it is revealed that this tragedy made her decide to join the vampire circle. Also retconned the accident from being the clumsy mistake expected of Torg to the result of recovery from a debilitating curse, in a character who was otherwise a competent warlord.
  • College Roomies from Hell!!!
    • For all of the main characters (except possibly Dave), what started out as "wacky quirks" seem darker and darker over time, turning into personality disorders, tragic pasts, or demonic influence, until it becomes clear that everyone is playing a part in the coming fucking apocalypse. By the end of 2004, the strip is a Dysfunction Junction to rival Neon Genesis Evangelion.
    • Dave isn't exempt either. Early on, it's mentioned in a throwaway gag that he's deathly allergic to bee stings. Years later, in the Adversary storyline (which is pretty much solely responsible for tossing the comic into Darker and Edgier territory), as he and Margaret are running away from the Devil, they find that their path leads through a field of sunflowers... and bees.
  • Schlock Mercenary
    • The protagonists discover at one point that before dying their old company doctor created a modified cryogenic kit capable of providing illegal and extreme modifications and performing far more powerful reconstructive surgery than a normal kit should. Initially this is just an excuse to solve the fact that almost the entire main cast were reduced to heads in jars at that moment, but later they run into a bounty hunter hunting down said doctor and we discover that a massive government conspiracy is built around "Project Laz-R-Us" and the attempt to make humans effectively immortal, and certain government agents who discover that the protagonists know about it want them dead.
    • Something similar happens with Petey, initially a high-level warship A.I. with issues about ghosts. Eventually, he becomes a nigh-omnipotent nascent A.I. god by fusing with virtually every other A.I. in the galaxy in a bid to prevent the galaxy's annihilation, and then sets out to subvert and dominate every other galactic power to build a power base big enough to fund and supply a genocidal assault on the Andromeda galaxy and its Paan'uri inhabitants. Inhabitants who are intangible, interact with normal matter solely through gravity, and tend to torment other species. Y'know... kinda ghostlike.
    • Schlock starts as a huge pile of shit with two mismatched eyes. Then he loses his eyes to diamond beetles and hires Tagon to find his home planet to get a new pair. And we find the amorph with mismatched eyes is quite famous there. He got his eyes from his "parents" who Fusion Danced each other to death. Schlock is just the residue, with much of their knowledge and skills, but little to no morale, feared and hated by his fellow tribesmen. To further complicate things, normally Fusion Dance merges enemies' personalities and such "wars" end up uniting tribes, but his "father" used a modified technique, which absorbed just the enemies' bodies and expunged personalities, and "mother" tried to stop the murderous psycho, even with her life; yet the former was a lonely hero fighting the slavers selling amorph slaves off-world and the latter was the slavers' Unwitting Pawn. Still, this being an early storyline, everything is Played for Laughs.
    • Another point about Schlock came around 2014. He spent a decade and half being beaten, frozen, exploded, sliced and partially burned, and didn't seem any worse for wear. Then a newcomer mentioned that since amorphs are effectively nothing but the carbosilicate equivalent of nerve tissue, all the damage to Schlock is like brain damage. Which would explain his sociopatic quirks.
  • Goblins did this in a big way. Word of God suggests that the apparent Cerebus Syndrome was intentional almost from the word go — this is supported by some bonus material in the PDF release of book one — the early farcical jokey stuff was originally written much earlier (with Kobolds), and apparently rewritten as an introduction to the story as it is today. However, it is noticeable that the comic has gotten significantly less jokey since its inception...
    • What was a farcical joke about how goblins inevitably receive appropriate names from the village seer became this huge plot point about the female goblin Saves-a-Fox who successfully struggled against the name given to her by killing said fox rather than saving it. It bears noting that she has saved the fox's pelt, even through being captured and held as a labor-slave by another tribe of goblins. Regarding Saves, it's revealed that the fox likely had a horrific disease and if so, she actually did "save" it by giving it a mercy killing.
    • The joke about how Chief was only the chief because he was named "Chief" was retconned, with Complains explaining to Chief that he only said that as a cruel joke, while Chief becoming actual leader was to avert a nasty prophecy.
    • Several of those early strips involved an outlandishly panicked coward very nearly dying horribly due to mishap caused by the carelessness of the other goblins, the joke being that the outlandishly panicked coward was, in fact, named "Dies Horribly". Dies went on to become a semi-regular character and was the one to make the above-spoilered reveal to Saves-a-Fox. When he does this, he is also stating and quite clearly that this joke was never a joke and that Dies Horribly is going to die. Horribly. He actually does die horribly, but it's not as big of a deal as it would seem since he came back.
  • Zebra Girl
    • Jack. Fire. Apparently he thinks he deserves it. More importantly, he feels it relieves Sandra of her stress and keeps her from falling over the edge. Turns out he was right: once Sandra really tortures someone for the first time, she snaps.
    • The comic substituted the Hyperspace Mallet with spontaneous combustion. Later, when the title character attacks her True Companions and uses the same power, hilarity does not ensue.
    • In that same vein, the spell originally used to banish Lord Incubus way back in the comic's wacky beginning (before the genesis of the title Zebra Girl, even) has a slightly less humorous feel now that it's been used on the former protagonist who is far more frightening than Lord Incubus ever was. Although, the spell still appears in the form of a magical toilet that sucks the unwanted guest in.
  • The role of henchmen in Nodwick — though their inability to permanently die is still played for laughs in the later books, there's a good deal more attention paid to why things are that way.
  • General Protection Fault
    • An early arc titled "Secret Agent Geek" set the lovable slob Fooker as a James Bond knockoff secret agent, playing off as many spy-movie tropes as it could get its hands on, and finishing with a classic "It was all a dream — Or Was It a Dream?" closing. Then, years later, as the story takes a turn for the dramatic, it turns out that Fooker IS, indeed, a secret agent, possessing advanced combat skills, and access to high-tech gadgets and paramilitary troops.
    • Nick's Inventors Gene also starts out being played for laughs, and then later turns into the catalyst for a grand plan involving seduction, time-traveling, world conquest, and The Terminator.
    • Lampshaded in on the quote page when Trent, whose apartment Nick and Fooker had broken into to clear Trudy's name, sues Fred for libel.
    • Fred himself started out as a gag (Fooker's apartment is so filthy, the mold has achieved sentience), before becoming a major character and eventually revealed as not a slime mold at all.
  • Life of Riley. What begins as a cheap throwaway joke about an artist who powers up a la DBZ when he works on computers, ends with same character resurrected as the second coming of the Messiah about to go toe-to-toe with arch-fiend Lillith over an artifact that can kill God.
  • Pointedly averted in Casey and Andy: despite the comic having several dramatic storylines, the strip never gives any sort of explanation, serious or otherwise, as to why the protagonists can keep coming back from the dead. Especially when other characters come right out and ask for one. (In fact, the title characters never even acknowledge any such thing has happened).
  • The Order of the Stick is chock full of throwaway jokes whose darker implications are fully explored later on. Some examples:
    • Done when Haley's greed for treasure is revealed to be so that she can pay her father's ransom money. Later subverted when it turns out she was always pretty greedy in the prequel book. Word of God is that the subversion was deliberately intended to avoid it being a "Funny Aneurysm" Moment.
    • A straighter example was done with the mother of the Black Dragon from the Starmetal cave, who was mentioned lightheartedly several times during the encounter in which Vaarsuvius disintegrated her son in a scene that was still more or less played for laughs. About three hundred strips later, she appears out of the blue seeking vengeance on Vaarsuvius. This leads to one of the darkest arcs the strip has done thus far and the start of a horrific Cycle of Revenge.
    • Blackwing's appearance and disappearance, Played for Laughs at first in parody of D&D players' tendency to ignore the existence of familiars except for when they are needed, later becomes a serious commentary on how Vaarsuvius treats other beings, and becomes a method by which to demonstrate Character Development.
    • Most of the first arc was written without an overarching plot in mind, with the Excuse Plot of a party of adventurers clearing a dungeon to defeat an evil sorcerer lich. Notably, the dungeon is full of goblin mooks, who are treated as disposable by everyone, including the protagonists. Needless to say, later plot developments, especially the prequel book Start of Darkness, put a much darker spin on this. Goblins and other monster races were deliberately created by the gods for the sole purpose of giving XP to adventurers, more specifically their own clerics. Their leader Redcloak — supposedly The Dragon of the story — is in fact horrified by everyone, including his master Xykon, needlessly throwing away goblin lives, and his secret plan is to blackmail the gods into giving his race fairer living conditions.
  • Yosh!
    • It started out as a manga-style comedy, and the protagonist was frequently subjected to the Megaton Punch, thrown out of windows, things like that. Then, once the comic went dramatic, it was revealed that he's a "Resistant" — a kind of rare, magical entity who has Nigh-Invulnerability — thus making him central to the plot of an Ancient Conspiracy of mages. Upon learning that, the character comments that it's not really a major surprise, considering what he's survived in the past.
    • Also, his Cat Girl roommate was a normal girl that got mutated during The Weirding, turning her into a chimera and made her life a living hell.
  • Most of the transformations in The Wotch are played for laughs, especially those of Ming-mei and the Jerk Jocks turned cheerleaders. In the "Consequences" arc, though, Anne is horrified that she screwed up so many lives. When Ming-mei remembers being transformed, she is clearly terrified and while the cheerleaders are more or less happy as girls, the webcomic Cheer shows that Jo still is driven to tears at one point when she realizes that no-one remembers anything good about their past selves. Cassie's love potions would also fit, starting as a running gag and ending with her realizing that she had selfishly been trying to Mind Rape someone into loving her. Same with Miranda West, who first appears to be an annoying mentor, but gradually shows signs of being more sinister.
  • Looking for Group started with the heroic Cale'anon meeting up with Richard, a lighthearted Omnicidal Maniac, who decides to travel with the empty-headed do-gooder because it'll be fun. Except now it turns out he's on a mission to protect Cale, under orders from Cale's former master — who, right after sending him into the world, killed his wife in cold blood so he'd have nothing to come home to.
  • Eddie from Emergency Exit is a Cloudcuckoolander with a tendency to pull things out of nowhere. Why? Turns out it's because he FORCED A PORTAL THROUGH HIS SKULL in order to keep the villains from getting it. That's where he keeps all his random objects, and it apparently seriously messed with his mind.
  • A mild example in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures : a fairly early filler strip joked about various ways the comic could get more hits, including having a character coming out of the closet and introducing a Boys Love story. Much later, it's revealed that Jyrras is not only bi, but also has a hidden crush on his best friend Dan, which he fears will ruin their friendship if ever revealed.
  • Homestuck has several.
    • Jade's narcolepsy: Vriska testing her psychic powers.
    • Karkat's arguing with his past and future selves: an extreme sense of self-loathing which tends to manifest as him blaming himself for everything.
    • Gamzee's honking: becomes terrifying after he goes Ax-Crazy.
    • Gamzee's reaction to Dave linking him to a video of Insane Clown Posse's "Miracles"? It's what pushed him over the edge and made him start killing people. Squiddles? Kid-friendly representations of the Horrorterrors. Finding Tavros's severed legs in a chest in Alterniabound, which prompts the narration box to ask what the hell they were doing there? Vriska waves them in his face to goad him into attacking her before she murders him. The Running Gag about Betty Crocker? She's Her Imperious Condescension, the troll Empress, and she's taken over the Alpha universe's session. Hell, this could go on all day. Homestuck is like that.
    • According to Word of God, Gamzee's religion, which started out as being a Fantasy Counterpart Culture Juggalo, does not worship Insane Clown Posse like we assumed. The "Mirthful Messiahs" are actually Doc Scratch and Lord English.
    • The Guardians are all initially presented as amusing weirdos whose kids regard them with varying levels of fondness and exasperation, and Bro Strider is not singled out in this context. It's not until much later in the story that Dave's able to admit to himself that Bro alone crossed the line into child abuse. Dave's got the PTSD triggers to show for it, too, such as a severe reaction to the sight of blood.
  • One of the earliest MegaTokyo strips has Largo being fluent in l33t as a one-off gag. Later on, l33t becomes the official third language of the series.
  • In the deliberately terrible Powerup Comics, many punchlines involve the Butt-Monkey Dorkwinkle getting shot in the head, only for him to reappear in later strips without a scratch and without any explanation. Later, the comic gains pretensions of having an overarching story, and Dorkwinkle is explained as a genetic experiment who actually possesses the ability to recover from fatal injuries (although dying and recovering still hurts like hell).
  • In It's All Been Done Before, the entire comic was this trope. What started off as a light-hearted series of adventures of a man, his girlfriend, and their various animated toys, turned out to be the man refusing to put away his dead wife's toys on the day of her funeral.
  • Exiern has been going through a series of these, converting it from the original author's lighthearted fan-servicey gender-bender to something a lot grimmer. The current continuity explains by retcon, among other things why ferocious-barbarian-warrior-turned-fanservice female warrior Typhan-Knee/Tiffany is able to ride a unicorn, the true reproductive cycle of dragons and why Typhan-Knee was driven out of his tribe in the first place: after killing two women who he was unable to rape on his first raids as a young man, he realised why he had failed and was caught by his father, the tribe chief, as he was about to rape a young man. Some readers suspect that the young man in question may have grown up to be nearly-invincible knight Neils, who is one of the party accompanying Tiffany currently.
  • Kiel'ndia in Drowtales early on has a habit of addressing the reader as a sort of "imaginary friend" that the author initially put in because he thought it was interesting. Much much later, after a 15 year timeskip, it's revealed that the reason she can do this is that the "seed" she's merged her aura with is actually a human-like demon, and the voices she hears are fragments of the demon's personality.
  • Mike from Bittersweet Candy Bowl is frequently the Butt-Monkey of the cast, especially in regards to Lucy, and it's treated as lighthearted comic relief and a Running Gag for a great portion of the comic. However, it's eventually revealed that Mike never saw it that way, and only put up with it because he was waiting for Lucy to change; turns out that Lucy's abuse of him, along with it constantly being ignored by his friends took a toll on him both emotionally and personally, and he gets tired of it. And eventually he finally cuts loose on them all. Especially Lucy.
  • Fuzzy from Sam & Fuzzy is a mysterious bear-sized humanoid that nobody seemed to find mysterious at all, and his past was a complete unknown full of contradictions. Then, in book four, we learn that it's a literal unknown since his mind was erased and he's been making it all up to cover up for insecurities about who he really was. We also learn there's a world-wide conspiracy enforcing The Masquerade by confining the full level of Planet Eris to underground habitats and Fuzzy was one of the lucky few who slipped the net.
    • Fridge is very funny when he's a loud-mouthed possessed fridge who claims he won't escape by possessing Sam or Fuzzy because he's got standards. He gets less funny when he finally manages to escape, and sets in motion events that the main characters are still feeling the effects of over ten years later.
  • Magic and the supernatural have always proved a nuisance to the good doctor of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, and one could see it as an amusing science-magic conflict. The First Generation Ninja American story shows a young Doctor enjoying fighting the undead as an alternative to killing people in his missions. That changed when he picked a fight with a powerful ghost wizard he couldn't hit, forcing his grandfather to sacrifice himself to protect him from the ghost's curse. The usual Spoof Aesop end of chapter is the grown Doctor reflecting on the incident and reaffirming his hatred for magic and ghosts.
  • A Redtail's Dream: Protagonist Hannu is a notoriously lazy Spoiled Brat, so at first it's just funny that in every stage of the dream journey he somehow manages to get whacked in the head, and even his village getting wiped off the map isn't enough to keep him from just wanting to take a nap. As the story progresses, however, Hannu starts to suffer incapacitating headaches and fatigue. Once the final stage has been completed, Puppy Fox reveals that these symptoms are an echo from the physical world. Hannu's fall just before entering the Spirit World inflicted a fatal skull fracture, and only Puppy Fox's spell has kept his body alive long enough to finish the quest.
  • In Shortpacked!, Robin was the wacky comic-relief character, and her "hijinks" generally played out that way. Even her treatment of Leslie was Played for Laughs, and since Leslie was (if you'll excuse the term) the Straight Woman, her annoyance was part of the joke. (Exception: the Jake Manley event, but they even managed to bounce back from that.) In Dumbing of Age, Robin has much the same character beats as before, including the whole "My Lesbian" business, and because DoA is a less wacky setting, she's clearly a self-deluded and potentially dangerous narcissist and her attachment to Leslie is deeply toxic. It's hard to see the Shortpacked! Robin (who ends up getting a Babies Ever After ending with Leslie) in the same light after this.

    Web Original 
  • There's a whole category of Creepypasta regarding supposed dark secrets of light-hearted children's shows and games, e.g. that an actor was actually a Humanoid Abomination, that the show was being used to summon an Eldritch Abomination, or that the show itself was an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Atop the Fourth Wall
    • Linkara parodies this trope in his 15 Things That Are Wrong with Identity Crisis review, saying that he got his Miller Time watch by beating up a thug in a horrifying fashion, and then buried his corpse in Nevada... then reveals that he was just giving a bad example of a Cerebus Retcon, and that his watch was just a gift.
    • The backstory for his Magic Gun could have been an example of the trope, if not for that fact that he had always planned on giving the gun a dark backstory.
    • His bouts of amorality throughout the series received this treatment at the end of his "Catwoman: Guardian of Gotham" review when after a long journey to find a famous Wizard in order to discover why his Magic Gun no longer works, the Wizard proceeds to give him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, outlining (with clips from the show, Kickassia, and the crossovers with other reviewers) how Linkara hasn't been acting like a hero at all.
  • Not quite so harsh, but The Nostalgia Critic used to be proud of how he and his generation got raised by television. But as his Dark and Troubled Past became more and more clear, the pride turned bitter and "raising your kids on TV" is now one of the many things movie parents do wrong in his eyes.
  • On The Spoony Experiment, it's hinted that the real "experiment" at work is on Spoony himself... and he isn't even aware it's happening.
  • Back in season 1 of Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series, there is a one off flashback gag where Joey is trying to "teach" Serenity how to drive. In Episode 54, however, it turns out said incident was actually the cause of Noah's "untimely death".
  • Ask King Sombra at first seemed like a fairly wacky, comedy blog. Then it was revealed that it was all in King Sombra's imagination after he was blown to bits by the Crystal Heart, reducing him to a horn, and Coffee Talk (an innocent mare who'd only gone to the north to report on the Crystal Empire) is there because he absorbed her in his shadow form. And Coffee Talk may be trapped there forever.
  • Bob the Dalek usually draws My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic comics featuring Octavia's mother (called Octamum), who has a habit of treating Vinyl Scratch like a baby - making her wear a bonnet and booties, giving her a bottle, etc. Then, in this comic, Vinyl asks her point blank why, if she wants another foal so badly, she doesn't just have another one with her husband...and Octamum reveals that she suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which makes it almost impossible for you to have children.
  • Demo Reel did this fast, as the Troubled Production Lighter and Softer pilot had Rebecca making a fool out of herself with sexualized one-woman-shows, and Karl always saying "when ze wall fell" because he was a German stereotype. One episode later, and it was Rebecca's sexually abusive history that made her want to take control back, and Karl lost his wife and family when the wall fell.
  • Danny Sexbang of Game Grumps has repeatedly told stories about being in France as an exchange student of sorts, but it wasn't revealed until episode 19 of their Wind Waker playthrough that he went to France as a part of coping with his depression/OCD.
  • The Adventure Zone has Davenport, the assistant to the head of the Bureau of Balance whose primary method of communication is Pokémon Speak; while he can say other things, he eventually defaults to saying "Davenport!" a lot. It turns out that, after he and the others fled their own dead universe, everyone had to wipe their memories to avoid drawing the attention of the Hunger. Davenport, as the captain of the group, had to wipe his own memories so thoroughly that all he really had left was his name.

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