"Something like that... happened to me, you know? Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another; if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"
Have you noticed that some characters have different origins when different people are writing the story? Sometimes this is done on purpose, to give an air of Unreliable Narrator
. Sometimes it's caused by repeated retcons
. Sometimes it's just because the writers got it wrong, or They Just Didn't Care
, sometimes the result of a deliberate retcon
or by creators Armed With Canon
. This trope is particularly common in comic books, as a single character may be written by dozens of writers over their history. Sometimes, as evidenced in the trope namer, it is also done in order to depict the character giving his/her backstory as being too insane to give a true account of their past, believing every single account they gave about themselves.
occasionally invoke this as part of a starting conversation to decide what your basic character build will be like.
Along with multiple authors, this is a feature of the earliest recorded myths, making it Older than Dirt
Compare: Continuity Snarl
, Expansion Pack Past
, Negative Continuity
, Sliding Timescale
, Broad Strokes
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Anime and Manga
- A single-author example is Golgo 13; Taiko Saito prefers to keep his past a mystery, so there are several different histories for him.
- The end result of Zigzagging Tomato in the Mirror in The Big O. Roger was either born after the Event in Paradigm, but thanks to his burst of Memory, is revealed to be a cop (or a major in the army) from before the Event who quit once the first Megadeus was discovered underground and became Big O's pilot at some point, but then, after a final burst of memory, it's revealed that he might actually a robot mass produced to pilot Big O units. It's made even more confusing when you realize that none of the memories from before the Event actually existed, and Paradigm City was a virtual reality, one which looks suspiciously like New York City. Good luck trying to sort out that mess...
- Hiruma from Eyeshield 21 is seen pulling this during a flashback chapter. Is his father a shogi player, a doctor, or a white-collar criminal? Apparently, it depends on what he feels like today.
- Eventually it is revealed he was an amateur chess champion.
- Subverted in Tsukihime: with each separate route, the minute-but-important details of Shiki's childhood appear to change or even be downright inconsistent with the other routes. Only after finishing all the routes can the actual backstory be inferred, by piecing together the revelations and details from each route (like a convoluted puzzle).
- In some ways, this is the entire premise of Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni. Except all choices wind up being true.
- To keep the revelations nice and fresh the manga and video game adaptions of Code Geass seem to have this, especially in regards to CC and Marianne.
- A Team Rocket-themed episode of Pokémon Chronicles implied that Jessie and James didn't know each other before joining Team Rocket, but an early episode implied they knew each other fairly long before that.
- Hell, Team Rocket is full of these. Did Jessie go to nursing school or did she join a bike gang? Did Jessie and James meet in the bike gang, at an academy they flunked out of, or when they joined Team Rocket? Was Meowth Giovanni's right-hand 'mon until Persian came around, or was he a servant?
- Kai Hiwatari from Beyblade. It even creates confusion about his nationality.
- One episode of Slayers Next has a chef who gives 4 different versions of his orgin, one for each of the main characters. It is then subverted at the end when all four back stories turn out to be true.
- DC Comics still has no idea what to do with Mon-El/Valor.
- King Mob from The Invisibles has a self-constructed multiple choice past, whose point is to stop enemies with telepathic powers from prying information about him and his group. If they try, they can't be sure which memories are true and which are part of a fake past.
- Wolverine, of the X-Men, was especially susceptible to this; his amnesia about his past was a common plot driver in early-90s stories, and what we knew kept getting retconned. Even after it was recently made so that he could remember every single thing that ever happened to him, the series Wolverine: Origins is still trying to milk the concept.
- Wolverine's arch-enemy Sabretooth likewise has multiple possible pasts. He was part of the same "Weapon X" program as Wolverine, which included false memory implants, so that's no surprise.
- The Phoenix is either Jean Grey's Superpowered Evil Side or a variation on Grand Theft Me who duplicated her rather than possessing her.
- The DCU's Crisis Crossovers (and not just the ones actually bearing the Crisis name) altered reality, changing the pasts and presents of a variety of characters. Legion of Super-Heroes has had three such reality reboots (counting the original Crisis.) Also, retellings of characters' origins will vastly alter them on occasion, with no Crisis-type justification. As such, most DC characters with a significant amount of history have multiple formerly-canonical histories, as well as ones that are equally canonical but completely incompatible.
- Superman, for example, has a canonical multiple-choice past: he was given the choice between two of his innumerable origin stories, and he picked the one that he liked more (and, incidentally, made more sense).
- A Multiple-Choice Past is almost canon for the Joker, as evidenced by his quote at the top of the page. A number of writers have given him a different origin in the past fifty or sixty years, and all of them are half-canon, because The Joker isn't sure himself.
- This is played with in The Dark Knight, as The Joker gives two wildly different tragic origins for his scars.
- Also played with in one issue of Robin, which starts off with a flashback about a green-haired, white-skinned boy in a purple shirt with a pony. "Or was it a bike?" the narration muses. "No, a pony." The little boy did something bad, and then his daddy shot the pony in front of him. Cut to the Joker, narrating, and he's actually weeping real tears. He's in a cell at Arkham, and a speaker on the wall asks him if the story is true, because it's the seventh Freudian Excuse story he's told them.
Harley Quinn: Joker told me things, secret things he never told anyone...
Batman: What did he tell you, Harley? Was it the line about the abusive father, or the one about the alcoholic mom? Of course, the runaway orphan story is particularly moving, too. He's gained a lot of sympathy with that one. What was it he told that one parole officer? Oh, yes... 'There was only one time I ever saw dad really happy. He took me to the ice show when I was seven...'
Harley: (crying) Circus... He told me it was the circus.
Batman: He's got a million of them, Harley.
- A 2004 story arc in Batman: Gotham Knights suggested that the Killing Joke version is more or less Joker's real past, since a pre-Riddler Edward Nigma witnessed the murder of "Jack"'s wife and later offered to tell the Joker who did it (although the version told in The Killing Joke has it that his wife was killed in an accident, not murdered). Later writers have pretty much ignored it.
- Whatever Happened to The Caped Crusader? uses this Trope to prove a point: there must always be a Batman, regardless of retcons and alternate realities.
- In the 80s, an issue of The Question reinvented the Riddler; his real name was Edward Nashton, and he changed it to Edward Nygma when he became the Riddler. His obsession with riddles wasn't born from cheating in a school competition and wanting to prove how clever he was; it was a compulsion to tell the truth due to a violent father. It also claimed that he was never a major Batman villain. Later, Neil Gaiman wrote a Secret Origins story in which Riddler retells his classic origin, before adding "Or maybe I'm a frustrated second-rater called Nashton with a meaningless schtick!"
- The Riddler's latest origin, post-Infinite Crisis, is largely his classic origin... but his real name is Edward Nashton.
- The Scarecrow's first origin story begins with him frightening birds as a child. Skip forward a few decades to the Year One version, and in a 180 turn he's frightened by birds — namely, by a trained attack squad of crows in the old chapel his great-grandmother likes to lock him in. Also, origin stories differ as to whether he was a child bully (i.e. his first episode in the animated series, which had a flashback of him chasing girls with handfuls of snakes) or a bullied child.
- Deadpool of Marvel Comics also has a large number competing origins for his past. There's also some disagreement as to whether Wade Wilson is his real name or a name he stole from someone else. Pretty much the only thing all the origin stories have in common is that his regeneration abilities are a result of time spent as a Weapon X test subject. Like the Joker, Deadpool is insane enough that he probably has no idea himself which one is correct. He does seem fairly certain that Wade Wilson is his real name, however.
- Somewhat ambiguous whether or not he really has an actual Multiple-Choice Past or not. The only person that ever brought up the possibility does so during a Mind Screw.
- In Supreme Power, Zarda gives three conflicting origin stories that involve both her and Hyperion when he asks her where she came from. Since Zarda's demonstrably insane, it's safe to say none of them are even close to true.
- In the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics (and later, the movies and the '00s cartoon), Splinter was originally the beloved pet rat of Hamato Yoshi, who saw his master's assassination and then later was mutated into a humanoid intelligent rat-being. In the '80s cartoon series and the spinoff comic books, Splinter is Hamato Yoshi himself, forced into exile and living in the sewer when he first encountered the mutagen. Having recently been in contact with sewer rats, the mutagen turned him into a humanoid rat.
- In his profile on the DVD of the first live-action movie, it's said that Splinter's origins are "shrouded in mystery" and that either one of them is possible.
- One issue of Secret Origins gave four different, mutually-exclusive origins for the mysterious Phantom Stranger. According to the Word Of God, they're all true.
- When a Black Lantern tried to eat the Phantom Stranger's heart during Blackest Night, it saw three of those backstories, leaving it stunned long enough for the Stranger to spring a trap. The Stranger's response? "You have seen everything and you have seen nothing."
- Aaaaaand then the reboot happened and he actually does have a concrete origin now, where he's heavily implied to be Judas Iscariot.
- Parodied in an issue of Blue Devil. Madame Xanadu and The Phantom Stranger narrate entirely different origin stories for Black Orchid; when this is pointed out they start arguing about whose version is right.
Madame X: Orchids have no thorns!
Stranger: These orchids did! They were special!
- Additionally, all of these stories were parodies of Marvel characters' origins.
- Bizarro, although in this case it's a Justified Trope because, technically, Superman has been cloned more than once, and not always perfectly, and more than one of those imperfect clones have been named Bizarro.
- Power Girl has a particularly interesting multiple choice past. Originally, she was Supergirl's equivalent from Earth-2. After Crisis on Infinite Earths retconned all the alternate Earths out of existence, Power Girl was kept around, but now lacked an origin or even a defined species, as Superman was now the only Kryptonian around. Over the years, different writers tried different takes, giving her a magical Atlantean past, an alien Daxamite heritage, and so on. With the return of the mutiverse in Infinite Crisis, Power Girl's history has now become her origin: she was from Earth-2, but after it ceased to exist the universe spent years trying to make her fit, but her true Kryptonian heritage has now been re-established.
- Post Crisis Supergirl also had this in spades... when she first appeared her backstory was simple, She was sent to Earth at the same time as Superman and was his older cousin and she was supposed to look after him when they got there, but she was trapped in Kryptonite and in suspended animation for years and didn't emerge until Superman was a full grown adult. But then it was revealed that, that origin might be partly false and that her whole side of the El family was evil and she was sent to kill her cousin. But then it was revealed that, while she was sent to kill Kal-El it's because there was a curse he inherited that would break down the barrier to the Phantom Zone which Jor-El, Superman's Father, invented (this too would later be ignored) and that eventually phantom zone monsters would start crossing over to the real world unless Kal-El was killed; this origin was even verified has being correct by a Monitor... but then Supergirl's parents showed up and it turned out that her real origin was a modified version of her Silver Age origin (that a chunk of Krypton survived the destruction), and that everything else was the affects of Kryptonite poisoning making Supergirl crazy.
- Donna Troy's past is so complicated, writers are more likely to spend more time attempting to clean it up rather than chronicling her current adventures. To sum it up as briefly as possible:
- After she spent the first 21 issues of the original Teen Titans series with no backstory, Marv Wolfman would establish that she was an orphan rescued from a burning apartment building by Wonder Woman. He would later expand upon the story in New Teen Titans, revealing that the couple that died weren't Donna's biological parents and that her mother had died after giving her up for adoption.
- After the Crisis on Infinite Earths rewrote continuity, Wonder Woman became a newcomer to the DC Universe. Since this meant Donna would predate her as a superhero, Wolfman and Perez then revised Donna's backstory to state that she was rescued by the Titans of Myth and sent back to Earth at the age 13 (with her memories wiped). She would then base her Wonder Girl costume off of the American flag.
- In the late '90s, John Byrne decided to apply his own retcon: Donna was actually a magical twin of Diana, created from a mirror and kidnapped by Dark Angel, who would then curse her to live multiple lives of tragedy. Byrne would also reveal that Donna based her "Wonder Girl" identity off of Hippolyte's Golden Age stint as Wonder Woman (via a time-traveling paradox).
- Allan Heinberg would finally use the mirror origin in stating that she was "born of magic", but would add that Wonder Woman rescued her and that the Amazons and Titans of Myth trained her.
- In his first appearance, Booster Gold villain Black Beetle claimed to be the Blue Beetle of the 27th century. When revealed as a villain, he claimed to be Jaime Reyes' greatest enemy, who blamed Jaime for a death (and the final issue of Blue Beetle would strongly hint as to who he was) making him from the very near future. In a later appearance, Booster calls him "The Black Beetle, direct from the 22nd century. Or the 27th." to which the Beetle replies, "Or 15th. Whatever I choose to say for the sake of misdirection."
- More recently, he's had his first (from Jaime's point of view) encounter with Blue Beetle, in which he initially claimed to be the character the Blue Beetle story hinted at, before saying he wasn't; he killed that character. He follows this up by claiming to be Jaime himself.
- Spoofed in this installment of Ink Pen.
- Played with in Alan Moore's first twelve issues of Supreme, where the retcons are part of the in-story universe, and the multiple past Supremes exist in their own dimension.
- Hawkman's past has so many embedded possibilities, it's a Continuity Snarl.
- Marvel Comics' Hell Lords have one mutual origin, but most also have their own versions. It doesn't help that they are demons, so everything they say can be a lie and each story has set arguments and events that either supports or deny it.
- The mutual story connects them to the Elder Gods, the first generation of Earth gods. When evil god Set found out that he could steal the power of other gods by killing them, he caused the first war between gods. Gaea gave birth to Atum, who promised to destroy all evil gods. But their evil energy corrupted him, and he turned into the monstrous Demogorge, the God-Eater. Demogorge killed all gods who didn't escape to another dimension. Then he released all power he couldn't contain. This power has been consciously or unconsciously shaped by young humanity into the form of their fears, creating Hell-Lords, the first demons.
- Mephisto told his own version during Infinity Gauntlet crossover - in his version an abstract-equal being called Nemesis was lonely, so she created companions from her own essence, but forgot to give them good nature. When they all turned evil, she destroyed them and committed suicide. But her creations have somehow been reborn and become the first demons in the Universe. Mephisto claims to be one of them.
- Marduk Kurios claims to be both the real Satan and Babylonian god Marduk, who has degenerated into a demon, after he found that he could gain much more power from human souls than their belief.
- Satannish believes that he is the son of Dormammu, The Master Of Dark Dimension.
- Lucifer has his classic biblical origin of the Fallen Angel and denies any connection between him and other Hell Lords, but he's not different from them at all.
- Bullseye he has multiple tales about his past life, he is either a CIA agent, a baseball star...he makes up so many stories that no one knows who he really is.
- Chthon has also claimed to be the first Demon.
- Runaways: Did Chase kill someone because of/with his van? Even he's not sure—he later admits that he made up stories to attempt to justify his father's abuse of him. At one point, he seems extremely certain he didn't; later on, he seems totally certain that he did.
Nico: You've told a few different versions of that story.
Chase: Right, well, in this one...
- Arcade, the theme park-themed Professional Killer who has menaced Spider-man and the X-Men on numerous occasions, has told a number of different versions of his origin story, although they all involve him murdering his rich dad for his money. Since Arcade's real name is unknown, it could all be lies.
- And the trope is played absolutely literally in Vertigo Comics' The Unwritten, where the origin of Lizzie Hexam is structured like a Choose Your Own Adventure comic: Is Lizzie Hexam actually a character who emerged from out of a Dickens novel, is she a victim of child abuse who gave up her body to a fictional construct, or simply a delusional girl? Did Wilson Taylor treat her like a daughter, like a prisoner, or like a science experiment?
- Interestingly, while the reader can choose multiple paths for Lizzie, they all end with her at the press conference from issue #1. The subtext of this meshes very closely with Tom's words to Lizzie in the hospital: which story you decide to follow is more important than which one is true.
- King Shark was introduced in Karl Kesel's Superboy as possibly the son of a Hawaiian shark-god and a mortal woman. Later in the same run, Kesel introduced circumatantial evidence suggesting he was actually one of the mutated animals from the Wild Lands. Later still, Kesel's run on Aquaman confirmed the shark-god story.
- Heavily used in regards to The Sentry, especially the relationship between him, his civilian identity Robert Reynolds and his Superpowered Evil Side the Void: is the Void the result of a "mind virus" implanted by Mastermind? Are Sentry and the Void the good and evil nature that exist in every person given form by the serum Reynolds took? Is the Void a Split Personality formed by Reynolds repression of his past as a thief and junkie? Or is the Void Reynolds' real personality and the Sentry is the fake one? All of these were presented as equally likely. Which is pretty appropriate since Sentry is quite crazy. In fact, given that Sentry is crazy and is a Reality Warper, it's strongly suggested that the "true" version is whatever he believes at the time.
- The Time Trapper from the Legion of Super-Heroes, who at various points has been a Controller, a future version of his/her own sidekick, a future version of Cosmic Boy, a future version of Lori Morning, and a future version of Superboy-Prime. Following that last revelation, Brainiac 5 hypothesised that the Trapper is the Anthropomorphic Personification of failed timelines, and exactly what history leads to someone at the End of Time wearing a purple cloak and fighting the Legion changes every time the Trapper does anything.
- Teddy "Red" Herring of Red Herring is said to have an obviously false right eye (though the art depicts it identically to his left), and always has a different explanation for it: a childhood accident, shrapnel from a grenade in Iraq, a flesh-eating virus, the heel of a jealous ex-girlfriend... In all likelihood, none of these are true.
- In both versions of Funny Games, the dominant killer gives several accounts of the other's backstory, one after another. Ultimately, their origins are never resolved. They exist simply to be characters in the film.
- The Kid Stays In The Picture opens with the following quote:
"There are three sides to every story: my side, your side and the truth. And no one is lying. Memories shared serve each one differently."
- In Phone Booth, the sniper hints at his own past on at least two different occasions, then writes them off again (mocking Stu while he does it) inside of a minute.
- The Joker again, this time from The Dark Knight, gives two or three totally different stories explaining "how I got these scars". The last time he does this, while he has Batman pinned, Batman pulls a Shut Up, Hannibal! and shanks him in the face with his gauntlet blade-launcher.
Joker: Say, did I ever tell you how I got these scars?
- Spacegodzilla was either created by Godzilla's DNA from Biollante being sucked into a black hole after she (Biollante, not Godzilla) went into spore-form and drifted into outer space, OR when Godzilla's cells that somehow got onto Mothra were carried into outer space by said giant moth and were pulled into a black hole. And, depending on if you count the toys, the DNA may or may not have fused with a crystalline alien creature after falling through the black hole.
- In the film adaptation of Battle Royale, Shougo claims his dad is a doctor, a cook, and a boat pilot at various points in the movie to explain whatever useful skill he's displaying at the moment.
- In the film adaptation of A Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor tells the story of how he got into radio.
- Played for Laughs in Hot Shots!!: Admiral Benson (a very old man who is depicted as senile or maybe just a Cloudcuckoolander) seems to remember having participated in every American war of the past 150 years!
- He also lost a body part in each of these conflicts.
- Chef Horst in Ratatouille has served a prison sentence, but nobody knows why because every time someone asks, he gives a different explanation ("I robbed the second-largest bank in France using only a ballpoint pen."), none plausible ("I created a hole in the ozone over Avignon.") and probably none true either ("I killed a man. With this thumb"). The thumb story comes back when he scares off former-Chef Skinner with it... with Skinner somehow being thrown out of the kitchen. There might be some truth in that one.
- There isn't really a uniform origin for Herbie, "The Love Bug", and each movie reinforces that fact. Details on the works page.
- Princess Ozma of the Land of Oz series had retcons even within the books written by Baum himself. Originally the human daughter of Pastoria, she was also of the fairy lineage of Lurline.
- H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos has details that differ from story to story. Part of this is because several authors contributed to the Mythos and they sometimes had quite different views, but even the stories written by Lovecraft himself are not always consistent. For example, it is not clear if Mt. Kadath and the plateau of Leng exist in the real world (their only actual appearance is in the Dreamland stories, but they're mentioned as real world locations in other stories) or whether Cthulhu himself is a Great Old One or not (in Call of Cthulhu he's mentioned to be one of Them, in The Dunwich Horror he's referred as Their "cousin"). This is likely because H. P. Lovecraft didn't give a damn about canon and frequently recycled names and concepts, but varied the details depending upon the particular story.
- Lucien of Character Issues continuously claims that his father died in a variety of ways, ranging from crushed by a TV to poisoned by an Elf-like creature which snuck into his house at midnight every night. Depending on the view point, this is either hilarious or Nightmare Fuel.
- Terry Pratchett has said "There are no continuity errors in Discworld, just alternate pasts."
- And then he went and justified it with Thief Of Time.
- In The Light Fantastic, the universe itself has a Multiple-Choice Past; the Eight Great Spells of the Creator claim to remember the creation of the universe, but they all remember it differently. Fridge Brilliance when Eric reveals the Creator wasn't really involved in the creation of the universe, just of the Disc itself, so his spells wouldn't remember it directly.
- An additional universe-creation explanation was given in Soul Music.
- A mystery novella serialized by the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper during The Nineties, wherein the Big Bad offered up a different explanation for the huge scar across his face in every installment. In the final chapter, it's revealed that the wound was merely the result of a nasty fall at a grocery store.
- Likewise, Hawk from the Hawk & Fisher novels tells people all kinds of improbable stories for how he lost his eye, such as he pawned it or lost it in a card game. In fact, he got clawed in the face by a demon in Blue Moon Rising, back when he still went by his given name as Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom.
- And Campbell in My Sister's Keeper tells us various different stories about why he has his service dog, until at the end it's revealed that The dog can detect when he's about to have a seizure.
- Peter Pan in the original Peter Pan book by J.M. Barrie. He tells Wendy of how after being adopted into Neverland, he tried to return home to his parents only to find the window locked and another little boy in his room, and he uses this as his justification for disliking adults. The narration of the book says something along the lines of "this may or may not be what happened; but it's how Peter remembered it at the time and thus he wholeheartedly believed it."
- Also there are a few inconsistencies between his origin story in 'Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens' and that in 'Peter and Wendy'.
- An odd case is the main character of This Immortal by Roger Zelazny, who time and again tells some different story about himself. The novel opens with Conrad/Konstatin's new wife finding out he's not twenty like she is, he's around eighty. Then other characters wonder if he's somehow connected to other Greeks named Konstantin with his same (very distinctive likeness), who happen to be even older, one of whom was a world-famous terrorist. Then more characters come into the story, and they have their own stories about his past. He's hundreds of years old, has never physically aged past 23, and he was every one of these people.
- Either confusing pasts is a theme with Zelazny, or he just has trouble making up his mind when he's writing a story: the Chronicles of Amber involves dozens of "histories" for Corwin, and he spends much of the series trying to unravel which ones are true. (Adding to the confusion: Corwin is immortal, he can travel to as many worlds as he wants, there are "shadows" of him in a lot of those worlds, and he has about 15 siblings with similar powers who all lie and scheme and plot.)
- In The Thirteenth Tale, one of the main characters is an author who tells a different life story every time she's interviewed. It's implied that she has difficulty breaking this habit, even when she starts out with the intention of telling the truth.
- J. R. R. Tolkien never managed to come up with a satisfactory backstory for the Orcs; he had created them so his bad guys had some Always Chaotic Evil mooks, but this clashed with his Catholic beliefs that no free willed being could be pure evil. Origins for the Orcs include: corrupted Elves (featured in the published Silmarillion), corrupted Men (although this doesn't fit the timeline), intelligent animals or simply primitive tribes.
- Also true of Galadriel and Celeborn—Unfinished Tales gives multiple drafts of their history that Tolkien wrote, with no clear chronology to tell us which version is the latest (and presumably most authoritative, though some version cause other continuity problems) and with more notes that suggest Tolkien was planning on revising it again before the publication of The Silmarillion. We don’t even know whether Celeborn was a Sindarin or Teleri elf, or whether Galadriel was actually part of Fëanor’s rebellion or just went along because she wanted to carve out her own kingdom in Middle-Earth. And those are some pretty major differences.
- In Dukaj's "Ice" the main character (and pretty much everyone else) seems subject to this. It's actually used as a resurrection technique to revive Nicola Tesla!
- In the Past Doctor Adventures novel The Infinity Doctors, the Doctor meets four Knights at the end of the universe, who don't remember their pasts but who each have a seperate theory as to who they are: the last surviving Thals; a group of human/Gallifreyan hybrids; the only People of the Worldsphere who didn't Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence; or the High Evolutionaries. Since a couple of these theories involve Alternate Continuities to the BBC books, this may be interpreted to give the entire Whoniverse a Multiple-Choice Past.
- In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Sometime Never one of the Council of Eight, a group of antagonistic beings who resemble the eight Doctors, absorbs the Doctor's personality and flees in a timeship with the Doctor's granddaughter Zezanne. If you take the view (popular at the time but thouroughly contradicted later) that Gallifrey is Ret Gone, this provides an alternate origin for the First Doctor and Susan.
- Various authors have taken up the stories of Conan the Cimmerian since Robert E. Howard died. ("Barbarian" is a movie thing.) Some, such as Robert Jordan, have tried to remain consistent to the relatively vague timeline; others... not so much.
Live Action TV
- In Smallville, Moira Sullivan, mother of Chloe Sullivan, has a past which varies slightly every time in her few appearances, the difference usually including the time when she left Chloe.
- Doctor Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had about five different stories explaining how he first realized he wanted to be a doctor as a child. This was later explained as a result of him trying to hide his actual origin story - he received illegal genetic enhancements as a child.
- The Janitor from Scrubs has given many contradictory tales of his past, from massively different stories about his tortured childhood, to forgetting whether he went to Harvard or Yale. It's implied he does this largely to mess with J.D.
- Stephen Colbert's character shares some of his history with the actor (ten brothers and sisters, born in South Carolina) but the rest of it tends to change from episode to episode according to the Rule of Funny - including the names of his wife and children. Some fans have theorized that the character may be making it up as he goes along.
- His book I Am America And So Can You starts with his "first memory" involving a babysitter. A few chapters later, he off-handedly mentions that that he made that up.
- This was done intentionally on Green Acres. Each season featured an episode in which Oliver and/or Lisa tell the story of how they met, but it's always a different story.
- Doctor Who has explained away the creation of the Daleks in three different ways. Once in their debut story "The Daleks" (which didn't actually show it), a second time in a spin-off comic The Dalek Chronicles (which didn't contradict the first origin story) and finally in "Genesis of the Daleks".
- Terry Nation wrote a book in the late '80s that reconciled "The Daleks" with "Genesis of the Daleks." Basically, the Daleks in "The Daleks" were a prototype Davros made before "Genesis of the Daleks." Their city was an experiment to see if Daleks could function autonomously. After he left them alone and got buried in rubble in the Kaled/Thal genocide, those Daleks wrote Davros out of their official history, preferring to ignore the fact that an "inferior" being had created them.
- The series explained in "The Three Doctors" that Omega created the Time Lords by creating a black hole artificially. "The Deadly Assassin" says Rassilon did it. Later stories have reconciled the two explanations. (Rassilon and Omega were partners, Omega did the actual testing and got sucked into the black hole, Rassilon brought home the results)
- Averted in New Who with the Cybermen: an alternative origin story, in which the Cybermen are invented on Earth by a wealthy human attempting to prevent his own death, is set in an alternate universe. The Mondas Cybermen didn't show up until 2010 (not counting the museum piece in "Dalek").
- The Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Unnatural History suggests that the Doctor's many contradictory origins - being loomed, having parents, being half-human, coming from the 49th century, etc. - could all be true. This caused considerable debate at the time.
- MacGyver presented two completely different versions of the title character's original meeting with Pete Thornton: a first-season version told in passing to give the characters' relationship a quick backstory and sense of long-term depth, and a full-blown (and totally incompatible) second-season version, told in flashbacks, that formed the focus of an entire episode (Partners). The underlying reason was that the show had a new producer, the concept had been overhauled and Mac's backstory was rewritten to eliminate his association with the military. The retcon also added a retroactive Arch-Nemesis, Murdoc.
- The Odd Couple had multiple episodes depicting how Felix and Oscar first met.
- On one episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy casually mentions that she met Ricky on a blind date. Later, the first episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour gives an extended depiction of how they first met, and it's a totally different story.
- Parker from Leverage, has had several flashbacks to her past, which appear to all be true, but are somewhat contradictory: the first episode shows Parker, age 9 or so, running away from home after blowing up her foster parents after they yelled at her for stealing, another episode indicates that she was raised as an orphan, and another revealed she had a younger brother who was killed in an accident when she was twelve. All of these can be rationalized by her having one or more foster families, but it's still confusing.
- In Stargate SG-1, Jack O'Neill's backstory throughout most of the series was that he was ex-Special Ops, and O'Neill wore a master parachutist's badge and later a space and missile operations badge on his dress uniform but never pilot's wings, but in an episode of Season Eight, Sam Carter pointed out that he used to be a test pilot. This is likely an ass-pull by the writers, but given that he did pilot some experimental aircraft and that this backstory was never mentioned again, and that the only occasion when the viewers find out anything about O'Neill's background is when someone else mentions it, it's possible that Carter herself was mistaken.
- Also, Vala's past. She was brought up on a nice planet with a conventional life (and fiancé) until she was chosen by Qetesh, OR she was sold to a weapons dealer and killed him to earn her freedom, OR she was brought up by her bitchy stepmother and conman father, and also how many times was she married? Vala is a habitual liar and loves to tell fanciful stories (especially in her earlier appearances, before her character development). The only things we know for sure is that she really was host to Qetesh at some point in her past, and she really does have a conman father. Beyond that, we may never know.
- In Heroes Sylar's reason for being a killer was changed so often, he probably doesn't know himself anymore why he is one: inferiority complex, "hunger" as side effect of his ability, being manipulated by the Company and finally simply being a psychopath. This may be justified by the notion that he was lying (and possibly lying to himself) about his motives.
- Captain Peacock from Are You Being Served? could never quite keep straight his stories of just what he did in World War II. The most likely story, however, is that he was in the Royal Army Service Corps—the logistics division (he says it when pressed about it, and wears the RASC tie throughout the series). Important work, but not front-line combat.
- Detective Kate Beckett of Castle has elements of this. Aside from conversational information for characterization, there are the things she teases Castle about that are never substantiated.
- An in-show version in the Sanctuary episode "Hero" — a comics-loving ordinary citizen discovers a suit which gives him superpowers. When Magnus' crew capture him, he feeds Will a made-up origin that's a hodge-podge of The Juggernaut, The Phantom and Green Arrow. Will buys it, until his comic-book loving friend Henry tells him.
- In The Mighty Boosh, Howard and Vince frequently flash back to their shared past - but without any continuity about what this shared past has been. At one point they insist they are the same age, at another that Howard is ten years older than Vince. Vince may have been raised in the jungle by Brian Ferry or he may have gone to school with Howard. It comes down to Rule OF Funny, of course.
- Married... with Children: Al and Peggy's marriage has a few different versions, but they all have alcohol and/or shotguns in common.
- Most 30 Rock characters, due to the fact that most of the facts about their pasts are just throwaway punchlines ("My mother tried to send me to Vietnam to make a man out of me. I was 12.", " I definitely would have gone to my reunion, but the boat I was educated on sank.", etc.). If you try to compile them all together, they form a weird, somewhat contradictory, and definitely horrific image. The inconsistencies about Kenneth's past were turned into a Running Gag about him secretly being a long-lived immortal.
- Usually, this happens on a character-by-character basis. Transformers, though? Well, several characters, most notably Primus and Unicron, have the normal sort of Multiple-Choice Past... But, given that that the Transformers as a race have a Multiple-Choice Past, and the timeline is, well, pretty tangled... Well, let's just say it's Multiple Choice Canon as rule rather than exception.
- The Constructicons were, in the same series, built by Megatron in 1984, changed into Decepticons by Megatron a few million years ago, and built Megatron in the first place.
- At Disney Theme Parks, the backstory to The Haunted Mansion is basically whatever the cast members decide it is that day.
- Also, the burning cabin on Tom Sawyer Island was originally due to an Indian attack. As The Savage Indian fell out of favor, the backstory was changed several times before it became a regular cabin.
- The soundtrack played at Great America's roller coaster "The Demon" variously traces the ride-possessing demonic entity's origin to the Louisiana bayou, the bottom of the Hudson River, or debris from a battle between alien spaceships that crashed in the Southwest.
- Gorillaz's bass player / leader Murdoc Niccals can't decide if he was an abused child that grew up in the 1960s/70s, or if he is an immortal being who has watched time since it's very beginnings.
- Then again, you get a different answer from him on generally anything, depending on how knackered he is.
- In any body of mythological stories, this tends to happen over time as multiple authors have their own ideas, and whole towns or regions may have different versions of a story.
- In Greek Mythology, for example, different authors gave different parents to many heroes and deities, and told events in their pasts differently. The Kabeiroi, Kouretes, and Korybantes, related sets of minor deities, had several different genealogies and origin stories. Humanity itself had separate creation myths in different cities, along with different explanations for how they got fire, writing, and so forth.
- There were two stories of why Hephaestus had a bad limp: either he was born lame, or Zeus threw him off of Mount Olympus during a quarrel and he was injured in the fall. Homer told both versions in The Iliad.
- Ancient Egyptian authors also differed on the parentage of various gods. This isn't surprising, given that such family relations were often more a matter of local cult rather than "myth" as such. By the end of the New Kingdom, many gods were worshipped in threesomes identified as husband, wife, and son, and temples in different regions used different combinations of gods.
- The childhoods of The Undertaker and Kane (who are half-brothers) have come to be subject to this. The original story was that The Undertaker was an arsonist who burned down his parents' funeral parlor, killing both parents and leaving Kane horrifically disfigured. Other versions, however, pointed to Kane as being responsible for the fire. Thirteen years later, it was revealed that Kane's father actually survived the fire - and that he was none other than Paul Bearer.
- Done with the entire species of illithids (Mind Flayers) in Dungeons & Dragons. One of the earlier versions says that they're mutants outcast from a long-gone human society in the Astromundi crystal sphere (solar system). Another version puts them as emerging when parasites from "the Outside" entered the game's reality and began bonding with and mutating humanoids, and went on to rule an interstellar empire millennia ago which has since fallen. An old Dragon magazine article depicts them as invaders from an alternate Prime Material Plane, trying to reshape whatever world your characters are from in the image of their homeworld. A more recent version says they're from the future and traveled back in time to escape a nameless enemy that was destroying them, and to prepare better for that enemy while in the past. It's ultimately left up to the Game Master to decide which of these is the "truth," or if perhaps they're all successive layers of lies used to disguise the illithids' origins and that the most recent retcon is just another lie. However, in the 4th Edition rules, Mind Flayers are once again from the Far Realm - beyond the borders of the universe. This certainty may be only because there haven't been enough years into the new edition to let their webs of deceit get fully developed yet, however.
- An interesting but ultimately unrelated note on the time-traveling origin: A person can still take "Heritage" feats, special character options that indicate one's bloodline co-mingles with that of the relevant race/species (Fey Heritage, Draconic Heritage, etc) for Illithids. For most heritage feats, this implies an ancestry speckled with Interspecies Romance. However, in this case Illithid Heritage actually means you're actually one of the ancestors of the Illithid bloodlines.
- World of Darkness gamelines tend to play with this.
- In Werewolf The Apocalypse, pretty much everything regarding the how and why of the War of Rage, the creation story of the Triat, and the birth of the were-races are told from the point of view of a member of whichever race the book you're reading is about, and so every version is from an Unreliable Narrator.
- There's also the Rasputin situation. Numerous historical characters were written into the Old World of Darkness. Two different writers used Rasputin as a character, not knowing about the other's use of him, and their versions had two different backstories. When this discrepancy was pointed out, the company decided to run with it. Several writers began using Rasputin as a character, giving him a different backstory each time. These multiple versions of Rasputin became one of the unsolved mysteries of the original World of Darkness.
- In the New World of Darkness, multiple explanations are given for several aspects of the game world so that the Storyteller may pick and choose which ones she likes.
- In Changeling The Lost, for example, there are several possible reasons for why the Gentry may kidnap humans and how the True Fae come to be. At least, until you read the supplement book that says that True Fae are what happen to Changelings when they hit Wyrd 10 and Clarity 0, and they kidnap humans because that's how they reproduce.
- So far, we have two separate explanations for the Tunguska event (a Promethean tried to summon an arch-qashmal, and one of the Knights of St. George tried to summon a Faceless Angel). Anyone's guess how many we'll have by the time the line folds.
- And then there's Atlantis. Atlantis could have been the real first city, Atlantis could have been an allegory that the minds of mages made real, Atlantis could be a far-future event whose collapse was felt eons in the past...
- And let's not even go into how this interacts with the Uratha tales of lost Pangaea...
- Dungeons & Dragons 4e core setting Points Of Light does this with pretty much all of the deities. Fairly justified; they've been around for so long that the details of their origins are wrapped up in legends. Notably, Asmodeus has been given probably the most information on his origins, most of them being at least somewhat contradictory.
- And then there's the Raven Queen. Depending on what you look at, she's a True Neutral goddess of death as part of the life cycle, an evil former consort of Nerull who overthrew him to gain his title as God of the Dead and now plots to destroy the other Gods so she can gain that title that she believes is rightfully hers rather than her lesser title of Goddess of Death, or a selfish and power-hungry goddess that epitomizes the reason True Neutral is now Unaligned.
- In Paranoia, what exactly was the nature of the catastrophe that destroyed human civilization and confined the remains to Alpha Complex? Whatever Friend Computer says it is this week! (It was probably Communists)
- In Warhammer 40000, the God Emperor has some shades of this. Originally he was created by a group of incredibly powerful shamans in the year 8,000 BC. Newer versions keep the 8,000 BC date but drop the shamans. Then there's the possibility that the Emperor was actually born in the Age of Strife (26,000 AD or so).
- Plot Hole (yes, that's his real name) from Acrobat, during a story that was supposed to tell his secret origin, told multiple stories, ripping off the origins of Superman, Batman and partly Spider-Man, making Plot Twist a villain in every single one - they don't match with each other, or Plot Twist's origin, and hint that Plot Hole doesn't even know what his Arch-Enemy really looks like. The only thing he's sure is that he was somehow created by Plot Twist, but even that cannot be found as absolute truth, because he's obviously obsessed with him.
- In this Super Stupor webcomic, a character is grieving that her background was retconned (you know, it never happened), yet she still remembers it.
- In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions, Tacoman had several different backstories, Mr. Absurd had two.
- Used as an alternative to All Myths Are True in Tales of MU, as seen in the myths of different races.
- Doctor Insano, enemy of Linkara and Spoony is this trope. He has so many multiple origins, including ones where he's Spoony from future, where he's Canadian science geek Wayne Schlumper, and where he was a woman before Linkara punched the fabric of The Multiverse, that when people tried to put it together in any continuity, Word Of God said there's no continuity. There is only Insano.
- So far he's been a failed clone of Spoony, from the future, a different person, the same person but not somehow (left unexplained), and an alternate personality that was given up "in the past". All of these origins are equally canon.
- In CR's overview of Insano, he theorizes that there's really three of them—one a time-travel duplicate generated by Time Compression who violently tries to kill Spoony, one a clone made by Linkara who lives with Spoony and is more friendly, and the alternate personality. He finishes by guessing that Original Spoony also had an Insano persona, and thus there could be a fourth, Black Lantern Insano as well.
- According to To Boldly Flee, Insano and Spoony have always been separate people, and Spoony's ability to transform into Insano in Kickassia was a temporal anomaly retroactively caused by the Plot Hole. Of course, this is just yet another alternate backstory.
- There is no single definitive version of The Slender Man Mythos. Even his appearance, though built around a basic template, varies from story to story. The central tenet is simply the Rule of Scary. This extends to Slendy's origin story. If it comes up it will completely contradict another story's idea of it. This is probably the reason most stories avoid giving Slender Man a definitive origin (that and to avoid a Voodoo Shark).
- Marble Hornets season two features the protagonist doing this (badly). Jay goes through three contradictory stories explaining his presence in the hotel to Jessica, much to her confusion, and, eventually, disbelief. The real answer, of course, is that he doesn't remember. And neither does Jessica remember how she got there.
- SCP Foundation: Dr. Clef has alternatively claimed to be a Reality Warper who accidentally destroyed Challenger, Biblical Adam, and Satan.
- The Foundation itself according to SCP-001 propositions. In fact, according to the article, it's possible that two or more of the different stories are true at the same time.
- In one Legion of Net.Heroes story, a Cosmic Entity decides to rewrite a mortally-wounded Squid Boy to both save his life and make him easier to use as a character. (The LNH has never had much use for the fourth wall.) As part of the process, Squid Boy (now Squidman) is asked to describe his origin story. Since Squid Boy dated from the very early days of the LNH when the whole thing was a joke, he'd never actually had an origin story, and suggested several possibilities before finally settling on one, which locked it into continuity as his actual origin.
- The Venture Brothers gives several varying explanations for both the origin of Phantom Limb and how Billy Quizboy ended up with a robotic hand, with the Monarch's being the most plausible. When Dr. Venture finally asks him about it, point blank, Billy merely replies "Excellent question. I have no idea."
- They later gave them both a definite past. The Monarch's version, while not complete, did get most of the facts right (Phantom Limb was Billy's professor, not roommate and the latter had already lost his arm to a rabid pitbull prior to the incident). The comment about him not knowing ended up becoming a Cerebus Retcon because of this. Turns out he dosen't remember because OSI wiped his memory. When Billy learns of the deception, he rather suitibly flips the fuck out.
- Darkwing Duck is given at least three mutually incompatible origin stories over the course of the series. Word Of God says this was a deliberate invocation of Rule of Funny - and if they'd had more episodes, they'd have written even more...
- Darkwing's origins "multiple origins" were always Played for Laughs, but there were never any real inconsistencies. Two of them were obviously Darkwing making stuff up (his baby alien story and his adventures as a privateer), and the rest were pretty compatible. He was first inspired by his time-travelling older self. Then, he took up the Coat Hat and Mask at his senior prom, while battling Megavolt, and finally, he went to China to study Quack Fu under Master Goose Lee.
- The Tale Spin episode "The Time Bandits" (itself a Recycled Script from DuckTales) says that Rebecca inherited Higher For Hire from her father, despite the Five-Episode Pilot having introduced her as buying Baloo's air cargo company after it was foreclosed upon.
- As the information in The Time Bandits was given by a government employee of Thembria. Nothing's saying that official facts have to be truthful.
- The Simpsons not only has a multiple choice past for pretty much every character, but even a multiple choice future. As the show exists in a floating timeline however, this is pretty much unavoidable. Heck, one of the show's flashback episodes was set throughout the 90s...the decade which started right along with the show itself. Talk about trippy.
- One of those multiple choice futures takes place... in 2010. Kind of weird to think about, since Maggie was now born in 2009.
- This trope was originally supposed to be played straight for the origins of Herman's (the fellow who runs Springfield's military surplus store Bloodbath and Beyond) missing arm, but this idea was dropped after his first appearance (to this day, he's only told us that he lost his arm when he stuck it out the window of a moving school bus).
- The series had multiple explanations for why Homer lost his hair including having torn out his hair after finding out Marge was pregnant and as a side effect from an army experiment he participated in to avoid dinner with Marge's sisters.
- In Western Animation/Futurama, the circumstances of Bender's "birth" change every time the event is brought up.
- On The Fairly Oddparents, Timmy's mom and dad have several different versions of how they met. When it was first shown, it was stated that they began dating as kids and became a couple when Mr. Turner gave her a trophy he won. The second time it was show Mrs. Turner dated Dinkleberg until college, when Mr. Turner got her on the rebound. Other episodes say they met through a "threatmantic" letter or "in the sports aisle".
- Timmy and his fairies have screwed around with time so much they could all be possible.
- Pinky And The Brain had four different episodes with flashbacks to the duo's childhood and when they were first genetically altered. They all contradict each other.
- Sponge Bob Square Pants had different versions on how Mr. Krabs got the Krabby Patty Secret Formula: one has him tell it was an old Krabs family recipe, the other as passed to him from his grandmother, an entire episode showing that his then-friend-now-enemy accidentally made it, and so on and so forth...
- Rocko is stated in some episodes to have known Filburt as a kid, and in another, he says they met Heffer in high school. In other episodes, though, he apparently left Australia and came to O-Town as an adult. Word Of God says that the latter is definitive, anything else is just the characters misremembering.
- Filburt meets Rocko in different scenarios. Word Of God said this is actually because Filburt just has bad memory.
- On Invader Zim, Ms. Bitters gives multiple back stories, such as imploding in a spaceship when she was a child and being a fairy princess in a magical forest (before running into a bug zapper). According to Word Of God, however, she's always been in the same place she is now; the "skool" was actually built around her.
- On Jimmy Two Shoes, Lucius VII froze his father, Lucius VI, making him a psuedo Self-Made Orphan. Exactly how always varies. At first it was because they had a heated argument, then because Lucius VI lost a bet, then because Lucius VII's talking bird told him to.
- Codename Kids Next Door: Originally, Father's backstory (an Ancient Conspiracy that Numbuh One had figured out and told his class instead of a report on the Declaration of Independence) had him as Mr. Wigglestein, the first adult (adults being the creation of kids themselves) to employ discipline (by spanking a kid who refused to stop demanding him to play "Giddyup"/"Horsie"), leading to the exile of the adults to Cleveland. Operation ZERO retconned this, instead making him the cowardly, disgruntled brother of the eponymous legendary operative. He's also revealed to be Numbuh One's Evil Uncle (and by proxy, this makes Sector Z/The Delight Children from Down the Lane his adoptive cousins and Grandfather his actual grandfather), as Numbuh Zero is Numbuh One's Bumbling Dad.
- Jerrica Benton (AKA: Jem) either inherited Starlight House from her father, or lived there with Kimber (her sister) Aja, and Shana all her life. In fact, it may have even been both.
- In Transformers Generation 1, the Constructicons had no less than three wholly separate and contradictory origins in the cartoon alone. First, that they were built on Earth by Megatron in 1985. Then, that they were Autobots from Cybertron reprogrammed by Megatron millions of years ago. Then that they were Decepticons who built Megatron in the first place years before that.
- The Batman version of Killer Croc, who is either a former carnival freak, government experiment, or the result of voodoo.
- It's implied in an Arthur episode where Buster "saves" a cat on a tree that Buster invokes this trope when he lets heroism get to his head. Buster is seen bragging to some reporters about how he got the cat down, Francine mentions that she's starting to get bored with Buster's heroism stories, and then Binky arrives and says that he's not bored of his stories, as they're "always different."
- Archer's origins are left deliberately vague. In Double Duece, Archer is stated to have been born in Morocco while Malory was running from Nazi spies (around 1938), one of his possible fathers was an Italian executed by Fascist Italy for speaking out against the government and was about six or seven when World War II ended. He's also shown listening to Woodhouse read a telegram from Malory about Operation Ajax in 1953, which would make him 15, but he looks younger than that, and "Once Bitten" states he was six when Malory was involved in the CIA-backed Guatamalan coup d'état, which took place in 1954, which would place Archer's birthdate in 1948. One possible explaination is an Alternate History.
- In various interviews, Yul Brynner gave several inconsistent accounts of his early life to make himself seem mysterious to the public.
- Over the years, comedian Dave Allen's act incorporated a huge number of different stories about how he came to lose part of his left index finger.
- Leon Redbone is notorious for giving various stories of his birthdate & his parentage, as well as claiming authorship of many songs which existed prior to his probable birth.
- Joe Kucan became Kane from a scratch off lotto ticket. He won a special election. He won a carnival game. He found the prize in a crackerjack box. He was in the right place, at the right time.
- Meat Loaf often tells people how he got that name, only he never tells the same story twice.
- People who are lying tend to do this when asked to repeat details of a story.
- The origins of baseball are subject to this trope, as it's hard to exactly pinpoint A. When/where the first game of baseball was played, B. Whether a sport referred to as "base ball" in early documents from the American Revolution was an early form of the current sport, or just a similarly-named but unrelated sport, or C. Which game counts as the first "official" game: any of the games played during the American Civil War, the early game played at Hoboken, New Jersey (depending on whether this early version counts as a version of the modern game or just a precursor), or perhaps an unknown, unrecorded game. The game played at Cooperstown, supposedly organized by Abner Doubleday, is now considered fictitious, but it used to be considered a contender to be one of the great game's possible origins. Many historians view all of these early games as being partial examples of the game we know today, but that the game evolved a bit with each one.