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Era-Specific Personality

Some characters can have very long careers, and a few stretch all the way back to the silent era. Due to the simple passing of time and countless writers, older shorts can feature characters very different from their later incarnations. Sometimes it's a wardrobe or design difference, but occasionally it's their nature.

Fans will form camps as to which personality is canonical, but some companies (especially Warner Bros.) are famous for treating their characters as actors playing a role. You'll still have fans commenting which incarnation they prefer best. In the case of Looney Tunes characters, this mainly affected those with prolific acting careers — Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck were originally the same kind of character, in practice. In that case, differing personalities were based on writers' choices that caught on.

The most obvious example of this idea is seen in 1930s character designs. With only a slight design change (and some White Gloves) Bosko, Felix, Buddy, Oswald, and Mickey look like relatives.

Anime seems to never do this; Art Shift gags usually refer to a completely different style, never an old one. An anime may tweak or simplify designs over the years, but you can guarantee an Osamu Tezuka adaptation is going to loyally stick to the oldschool design.

See also Characterization Marches On, Interpretative Character.

Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Benkei from the Getter Robo franchise has had a different personality in every appearance. Original Manga: pretty much Murashi. 70s Anime: A pacifist coach with stout strength. Getter Robo Armageddon anime: Team Dad and while a bad ass something of the Only Sane Man. New Getter Robo anime: a composite with Murashi, a reformed monk that's chaotic good.

    Comic Books 
  • Throughout the first year-or-so of Batman's existence, he's a menacing outlaw who recklessly taunts criminals, often kills them, sometimes using a handgun, and then he adopts a young boy named Dick Grayson, who joins him in the butt-kicking of evildoers... and swiftly becomes an upstanding noble hero with a code against killing (possibly before Superman) who's fully deputized by the police. By the 1950s, this characterization has become the rule, though it lets up just a bit in the mid-'60s. In the '70s, he's still basically a noble hero, but becomes more cynical and fallible. Beginning in 1983, Batman is more of a maverick, but it's the 1986/1987 reboot/retcon of DC Comics as a whole wherein Batman becomes more introverted and violent and yet, he's also even more fallible than in the '70s. The events of 1988 (Barbara being shot and paralyzed, Jason being killed) cement this notion, as does the 1993 injury at the hands of Bane, and yet, by the end of 1996, Grant Morrison portrays him as an infallible genius—at-least in JLA stories—though still introverted and often violent (though not like "darker" anti-heroes). This has essentially been Batman's mode in the comics since that period.
    • One issue of Superman (Superman: The Man of Steel #37), during the 1994 Crisis Crossover, Zero Hour, had a barrelful of Batmen show up, each based on a particular artist's rendition (e.g., Frank Miller, Neal Adams, Carmine Infantino, Dick Sprang, Bob Kane).
    • A Planetary crossover had them running into various versions of Batman as they shifted between Gotham realities. Batmen they encountered were, in order - modern Batman, Adam West Batman, TDKR Batman, Denny O'Neil Batman, original Batman and future Batman.
    • So it's no surprise that his most longtime recurring villain is the same. The Joker was a gangster with a gimmick, then a Harmless Villain, then the Clown Prince of Crime we all know and love in personality but different in motive. Will you finding him robbing banks? Planning to kill a whole bunch of people For the Evulz? Involved in a big Take Over the World conspiracy with a coalition of villains? ...yes. How dangerous he was would vary with the darkness of the era; in a grittier story he's murder incarnate. In a lighter story he's shooting acid from his lapel flower until going down in one punch. Eventually, it was decided that all versions of the Joker are equally valid: with his madness, nothing is stable about him, including what sort of villain he is. Making smiley-faced fish today, ending a talk show appearance with "I released poison gas when I came in the studio just 'cause I felt like it and the thousand or so people in the audience will drop dead in 3-2-1...!" tomorrow - that is what it means to truly be Chaotic Evil.
    • One issue of the Fanboy miniseries by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragonés has Finster taking the role of Robin in one of his imaginary adventures. Along the way, Batman gradually shifts through just about every major portrayal from his original Golden Age depiction to the Batman: The Animated Series version.
  • Superman. Early Golden Age, he had no problem sending a carload of gangsters to their deaths and was seen as an outlaw. His Kryptonian heritage is rarely referenced. Late Golden Age/Silver Age, he had a no-killing rule that extended to even the most vile of supervillains, and was a symbol of the establishment. His Kryptonian heritage was paramount to almost everything he did. The 1986 reboot established Superman as closer to the later but more independent in his thinking. He also had a resentment toward his Kryptonian heritage. After about the turn of the century, the answers sort-of blew in the wind until the New 52 reboot in 2011.
    • Grant Morrison's take on Superman's early years for the "New 52" relaunch is based on the earliest Golden Age character: an anti-establishment radical who appeared in stories like "Superman In The Slums". These stories took place in the past and his "present" character is somewhat more defined, except when written by Scott Lobdell.
    • Morrison's All-Star Superman, by contrast, is an ode to the Silver Age and Superman acts almost exactly as one would expect him to if they grew up on those comics.
  • In his earliest appearances, Wolverine was more of a wise-guy and gradually drifted toward the savage we know him as today. This peaked at some point, and by the time Wolverine & the X-Men (the comic book series) came around, he'd become much more tame and a more strict adherent to Xavier's dream than former noble leader Cyclops.
  • Alan Moore's run on the Supreme comic starts this way, with Supreme encountering various iterations of himself stretching back to the 1930s, at least. His arch-nemesis Darius Dax has a similar experience, including an encounter with "edgy Eighties serial killer Dax."
  • The Question big time. First created for Charlton Comics by Steve Ditko, he was more of a mouthpiece for his creator's Objectivism. When he joined DC and got his own series in the 80s the character become zen-like and tried to control his berserker urges. Then there's his famous expy from Watchmen, Rorschach, who was intended to be Ditko's Question but had to be changed, dialed up closer to psychopath. The reason why Rorschach is here is because The Question's DCAU version is more like a toned down cloudcuckoolander conspiracy theorist Rorschach. Then of course there's the second Question.

    Film 
  • In the 1951 film Superman & the Mole Men, Superman is a rough & tumble crusader. In the 1978 film Superman: the Movie and its sequels, Superman is a noble figurehead of the establishment.
  • In the 1966 film, Batman: The Movie, Batman is a noble figurehead of the establishment. In the 1989 film Batman and its immediate sequel, he's a rough & tumble crusader.
  • James Bond and the world around him change via decade, along with expectations of what a spy character should be like. Naturally, the Daniel Craig version's got a little Jason Bourne in him.
  • For his first decade on the screen, Godzilla was a fearsome force of nature meant to be a physical incarnation of the atom bomb. The later Showa films of The Sixties and The Seventies portrayed him as a protector of humanity who was grumpy at worst. With his reintroduction in The Return Of Godzilla and through the subsequent Heisei era films in The Eighties and The Nineties, he was once again a fearsome creature hostile to humans, albeit one that often saved humanity by accident in his battles with other Kaiju. This portrayal continued into the Turn of the Millennium, with the exclusion of Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack!, where he is a being of pure evil. Godzilla (2014) once again makes him the terrifying force of nature he was in his earliest films but also continues the Heisei/Millennium portrayal of him being an unintentional defender of humans from other monsters.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • In the case of the Doctor, the show provides a notable justified version of this trope. Thanks to the regeneration plot device, Time Lords are in fact expected to change their personality whenever they're recast.
    • Some Doctors even change personality while still being the same Doctor thanks to different showrunners and fanbase preferences -
      • The First Doctor is totally different in his original comics line, and in his merchandising line again, shows up in two Dalek films played in a totally different way by Peter Cushing, shows up with a completely different appearance and personality in "The Five Doctors" and gets another totally different characterisation in a lot of his Expanded Universe stuff (especially the 50th Anniversary book A Big Hand For The Doctor, which Word of God has was intentionally written out-of-character to represent how he'd imagined the first Doctor as a child from reading Target novels). Even in the show itself, he gets a different characterisation starting from Innes Lloyd's tenure as showrunner, mostly making him more of a central character but more emotionally vulnerable and fallible.
      • The Fourth Doctor has three different personalities to go with his three different showrunners, between their conscious attempts to dictate the show's tone to the writers (first Gothic Horror Black Comedy, then witty Campy comedy, and finally very serious mystical science fiction) and the actor reinterpreting his performance to fit those.
      • The Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Doctors were, and still are, drastically reinvented by the Expanded Universe by those Running the Asylum. The Eighth Doctor is probably the most extreme case, as due to the limited amount of television featuring him, his characterisation is flexible enough that he can be used as a sort of 'generic Doctor' with lots of Depending on the Writer scope, and so tens of different arms of the EU developed him in tens of wildly different ways. The Sixth Doctor is a milder example - he has a totally different personality in the 80s comics featuring him because they switched to using him before his on-screen characterisation was known, had to invent a personality for him out of educated guesswork, and decided to keep running with that personality even after it was Jossed.
    • The Daleks, like many popular monsters, reflect popular anxiety of the time.
      • In 1963, the height of the Cold War, they were a Nuclear Nasty.
      • The nuclear radiation concept was soon dropped to focus on a string of Space Opera stories where they tended to be shouting, imperialist 'space-Nazi'-like characters - playing up the Putting on the Reich elements of the Daleks to put a transparent allegory for the Battle of Britain in "The Dalek Invasion of Earth", Those Wacky Nazis in "The Chase" and cunning political machinators using networks of spies and trying to complete an allegory for a nuke in "The Daleks' Master Plan".
      • "Power of the Daleks" switches to a Red Scare allegory with an apparently harmless Dalek 'worker' that makes humans see things its way and subverts the political structure of the entire colony. "Evil of the Daleks" carries on in this vein - the Daleks discover how to 'Dalekise' humans and make them think like them.
      • The revival series saw them retooled as religious fanatics with a distinctly Post-9/11 Terrorism Movie vibe under RTD's tenure as showrunner.
      • Moffat made them more into shifty politicians exploiting recession fears - under him Daleks have a complicated parliamentary democracy, find hatred beautiful, and claim to care about their people but beg for personal mercy. Notably, the WWII allegory is subverted by having WWII-era Daleks fighting on the side of the British.
  • The evolution of Star Trek's Captain Kirk:

    Multiple Media 

    Music 
  • Marilyn Manson's discography can be broken up into eras by album, with each album bringing a new look, sound and on-stage mannerisms.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WCW once did this when Sting, a veteran wrestler who had drastically changed his look several times over the years, was attacked during a match by a series of assailants, each of whom wore a different-era Sting costume.
  • Another wrestling example might be Wrestling Society X's Matt Classic, a wrestler who was "in a coma for 40 years" and therefore uses moves, mannerisms, and phrases from 1960s pro wrestling.
  • The Undertaker has had several different "eras" with his persona, such as his original zombie gimmick, his Ministry Of Darkness persona, and his biker gimmick.

    Videogames 
  • In a later self-reference, the "Timeless River" subworld in Kingdom Hearts II takes place in the past, where the Disney Castle counterparts are depicted in their original incarnations (specifically, those of the 1928 short Steamboat Willie). Sora specifically mentions Mickey and Black Pete looking and acting strange.
    • And even the anime-influenced Sora himself is affected designwise, as he wears a simpler version of his first-game outfit and looks more akin to anime art done by Osamu Tezuka in the Timeless River.
  • In earlier plans for Epic Mickey, which way you went on the Karma Meter would determine which incarnation of Mickey you played: the scrappy fighter of his original appearances, the straight man of the late 1930s, or the more modern 'hero' Mickey.
  • Kusanagi, a clone of Kyo Kusanagi from The King of Fighters 2002 and 2003 is essentially Kyo's older version from the previous games, as he has Kyo's old appearance, quotes, and movelist.
    • Not entirely. If his demeanor and appearance are to be taken into account, Kusanagi is quite possibly an Ax-Crazy Pyromaniac Blood Knight who is even more Hot-Blooded than the real Kyo ever was. However, some of this was done to diversify him from not only Kyo, but also Kyo-1 and Kyo-2, the other clones of Kyo who appeared in KOF '99. Kyo-1 is serious and somewhat mellow (like Kyo was in the later chapters of the Orochi Saga and beyond), whereas Kyo-2 is cocky and arrogant to the point of underestimating his opponents (much like how Kyo acted in '94 and '95). Ironically, Kyo-1 uses Kyo's '94-'95 moveset, whereas Kyo-2 adopts Kyo's moves from '96-'98.
  • Lara Croft of Tomb Raider has had six wildly different personalities.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has gotten fan backlash over the years for not quite having the attitude he had back in the 16-bit days, though this is mostly in America where he was marketed that way.
    • Sonic Generations places the Genesis-era Sonic and (post-)Dreamcast-era Sonic side-by-side, freely inviting comparisons between the two.
  • Ganon(dorf) existed as a hammy villain up through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. He has gotten more subtle nuances since then, but whether he is a Tragic Villain or just an Evil Overlord sans ham seems to depend on which timeline we see him in.

    Web Original 
  • The webcartoon Homestar Runner has an "Old Timey" universe which mirrors 1930s cartoon character designs and personalities.
    • Also, the Chapmans parody their own earlier style: the Strong Bad Email "flashback" parodies the style of the children's book that predates the website, and "lady-ing" parodies the very first Homestar Runner webcartoon.
  • The trope is also used in the Mega Man centric sprite comic Bob and George. The time frame is measured by bittage: 8 bit is the past, 16 bit is the present, and 32 bit is the future.
  • At one point in Marvel/DC After Hours, Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man go back in time to shortly before Marvel Comics was founded. Superman and Batman briefly revert to their Silver Age personalities, which was signified by the use of older action figures. When they revert to their modern personalities, Superman remarks that he'd forgotten how nice Batman used to be.
    • Lampshaded again in the "movie tournament" series. Captain America faces off against 50s Superman, who tells him to look up Superdickery.

    Western Animation 
  • Both Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse were much more mischievous and aggressive in their earlier appearances.
    • Referenced in a Quack Pack episode where Donald Duck was being age-regressed. Instead of getting younger looking, he started reverting to older character designs and became more of a troublemaker (at first; eventually, he actually did become younger-looking).
  • The Warners from Animaniacs are deliberate throwbacks to 1920s- and 1930s-era designs, per their Back Story.
  • The Batman: The Animated Series episode "Legends of the Dark Knight" featured children speculating about what Batman's really like; their interpretations are pretty much directly lifted from the '60s Batman series (and the '70s cartoons based on it, as well as Dick Sprang's work in the comics), Frank Miller's graphic novel Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, and Joel Schumacher's much-maligned "Batman in a tight rubber suit" movies. (The kids themselves are Classic Dick Grayson, Carrie Kelly and, er, a kid version of Joel Schumacher.)
  • When Woody Woodpecker was revived in the 1990s, they used the wilder, more irreverent 1940s version, rather than the softer 1950s version that had been used until then.
  • In the Looney Tunes shorts, Daffy Duck went from being a wacky trickster to cowardly and non-too-bright to being rather serene and positive, and from there on became cunning and greedy, to be used as a foil to Bugs Bunny.
  • Shaggy from Scooby-Doo was stripped of all his hippie during the 80s, but got it back in the 90s.
    • Velma's also gotten snarkier as time went on.
    • The 90s-and-later incarnations of the franchise are generally more self-aware and willing to play with the series tropes, where the originals played it all straight.
  • When Betty Boop first appeared in the early 30's, she was portrayed as a teenage (sometimes young-adult) flapper-girl with an outgoing personality and loads of sexuality. After The Hays Code of the mid-30's however, Betty was aged up to her mid-twenties, wore long, conservative dresses and became more passive and less wild. However, as she experienced a re-birth in popularity after the 50's, she reverted back to her sexy, Jazz Baby persona in most portrayals and is remembered by these images and behaviours mostly today.
  • Parodied in The Fairly OddParents episode "The Crimson Chin meets Mighty Mom and Dyno Dad"- The Crimson Chin has wildly different Era-specific personalities, from 30's pulp-fiction Chin, to edgy 1985 Chin, who got cancelled for swearing.
  • The My Little Pony franchise tends to do this with reoccurring ponies. Most of the characters in the current series My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic who were carried over from the earlier G3-series have personalities that are completely different from the ones they had in G3. This is because, while those Friendship is Magic-characters do have the names and color-schemes of characters from G3, their personalities are actually based on characters from G1, the original My Little Pony version from the 1980's. A curious special case is the character of Applejack, a Friendship is Magic-character who has the name and color scheme of a G1 pony, but whose personality is completely different from that Pony.
    • The page image is Rainbow Dash. In G3, she was a fashionista and spoke with a British accent. G4 Rainbow Dash is a Tomboy with a Girly Streak (among other things)
    • The MLP franchise is hit with this hard. In, say, Transformers, Hasbro's foremost boys franchise, the different series have their own styles but Optimus is a paragon of good, either Ratchet or Red Alert is The Medic and often has a Red Oni, Blue Oni relationship with the Kid-Appeal Character, Megatron is the Big Bad, Starscream isn't known for his loyalty, etc. In My Little Pony, characters may share nothing but the names with past incarnations. Even the association with G1 characters is less than many who haven't actually seen G1 think: Twilight Sparkle is a magic prodigy, Adorkable, and has more than a touch of OCD, and has teleportation among her many spells. G1 Twilight… teleported a couple of times. Most characters are less "same character, updated for the new decade" and more "new character entirely, with a name we already had trademarked."
  • Thomas the Tank Engine went through various changes throughout the evolution of the original The Railway Series novels and the TV series. In the earliest of Rev W Awdry's books, Thomas was established as a "cheeky" Bratty Half-Pint, then as more engines were introduced he developed into a more mature but highly arrogant hard worker. Both Christopher Awdry's books and early stages of the show referted to both enterpretations when fitting, though as the series became more iconic, Thomas was mellowed into a more altrustic and gentle protagonist. Hit Entertainment's Lighter and Softer tenure makes something of a compromise of the former and latter, turning Thomas into a well intentioned Keet.


Early-Bird CameoDerivative WorksExternal Retcon
Decomposite CharacterImageSource/Western AnimationMy Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic

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