The Spook

Mayor: What do we got?
Jim Gordon: Nothing. No matches on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name... no other alias.
The Dark Knight, regarding The Joker

Nothing Is Scarier than someone you know nothing about. He has nothing to identify him, nothing that even states that he is real. If this person simply disappears, you are terrified because you don't know if he is watching. Sometimes he is established as a myth, a ghost story to scare people. This person lacks not only a past, but also a present and a future. He just is, and you don't know why.

The Spook is someone whose identity is a paradox, they exist but don't exist at the same time. No one can prove that he is there except by showing someone the warm body, if you even have it. If a name is given it is likely to be Shrouded in Myth; you can't be certain of anything you hear about them but you don't want to underestimate them all the same. Or they may use an obvious pseudonym like Mr. Smith.

In some cases, this may overlap with a Legacy Character: the myth is more important than the person.

All There in the Manual may have extra information that is confirmed by Word of God, but that doesn't count: this is about how this character is perceived by others. What matters is how the characters in the story behave in regard to the stranger. If the people in the story know all about the character, then it does not qualify as The Spook even if the audience knows nothing.

This kind of character is often seen as either an Enigmatic Minion, or the guy the villains (or even the heroes) bring in to do the job right... even if they don't know what they're dealing with. Also frequently The Nondescript.

Compare The Faceless, but The Faceless is only important based around the eventual reveal (whether or not they actually have a face). The Spook will usually remain an enigma even if caught and defeated. Also compare The Men in Black, who are often mooks with this characteristic, and The Cowl, when a hero tries to be this to the villains. The Chessmaster can sometimes be a Spook and combined with this trope makes them all the scarier. Finally, compare/contrast Unperson, where someone else does this to a person as a form of punishment. See also Outside-Context Problem, which appears out of nowhere, and Diabolus ex Nihilo, a villain without any backstory.

Not to be confused with The Shadow, The Ghost, or especially The Spock. Nor to be confused with the Spook from The Wizard of Id.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • All members of ACROSS in Excel Saga must maintain this secrecy to ignorant citizens, which is why they can only get temp jobs.
    • Much of the manga is a comical Deconstruction of the trope, noting how difficult it is actually to live without any kind of identifications, steady job or social security. The protagonists end up getting mistaken for illegal immigrants several times over.
  • L, Mello and Near from Death Note. Justified, as the titular notebook can kill anyone whose name is written in it. Thus, the only people who could challenge the Death Note's user would be those with entirely unknown names.
    • Light Yagami initially becomes a spook when he gets his Death Note from Ryuk—a mysterious killer with the ability to kill off anyone in the world, location be damned, so long as he knows the real name of his victim. He exacts the power of the Death Note enough that the world notices the sequential killings and dubs the culprit "Kira." That would've been the end of it, had Light not fallen for a trap set out by L by writing down the name "Lind L. Taylor," a man being used as a decoy proxy for the real L. Taking the bait allows L to start hunting him down relentlessly, opening the biggest can of worms he'll ever know.
  • Johann tries to become one in Monster by destroying all traces of his past. Even without him doing that, he essentially is one already due to the circumstances of his birth and upbringing. Finding out how he became the way he is is one of the plot's driving forces.
  • Hazama is this in BlazBlue: Alter Memory. Between attempts to help Noel, Makoto (Hazama's own subordinate, by the by) has been trying to gather information that could link him to the Imperator, and found absolutely jack about him in the NOL database. Whatever justification exists cements to Makoto that Hazama is not to be trusted, and she arranges for a pickup with Sector Seven to get Noel out of Kagutsuchi. It's not a spoiler to say this doesn't work out.

    Comic Books 
  • The Octopus in The Spirit. In the entire run of the series, neither the heroes, the villains, nor anyone else ever saw his face or learned who he was. In his first appearance, he ran through fire to avoid revealing his identity.
  • Mr. Nobody in Spider-Girl. Even when he's apprehended by the police, it's found that he literally has no fingerprints and that what was thought to be a full facial mask is apparently his actual face.
  • The Boys: The unnamed Vought-American exec is this. The Homelander, a Kryptonian-class superhuman, is more than a little scared of this apparently ordinary human; even half-jokingly theorizing that the executive might be some sort of quintessential corporate lifeform.
  • Cobra Commander in IDW's G.I. Joe comics. We never learn his name, facial appearance, or backstory only receiving vague suggestions. It's implied that he may actually be "Chimera", a villain the Joes encountered years ago, having survived his battle with them and taken a new identity but even this is conjecture. And later it's revealed he's not even a singular person, just the most recent holder of the title. There's been hundreds of Cobra Commanders throughout human history, each more inscrutable than the last. After the Commander we started with is shot dead, he's replaced by a nameless man called "Krake" in under a month.
  • Spider-Man villain Façade, a professional thief/merc who wields a powerful suit of biomechanical armor. He's most well-known for killing off Lance Bannon, one of Spider-Man's longtime allies and to this day we've never learned his identity or backstory (the evidence given narrowed it to about two possible suspects but we're never told which is correct). It's become an enduring mystery that's haunted Spidey ever since they first fought. In-Universe the only people who know are Façade himself and Norman Osborn, who probably isn't interested in telling.
    • This one is rather notable in that he initially wasn't planned to be the Spook, but became one after the writer's plans were derailed by The Clone Saga.
  • At VForVendetta Finch discuss this trope with Susan. V had Kill Them All Larkhill personnel that tortured him. The interesting part is that the only proof the goverment has of that story is the documents V had left for them to find. What if this is just a smokescreen? What if this was done not as a Roaring Rampage of Revenge, but to erase all proof of Vs past? What if this is only the beginning of something more great? How can they hope to stop him?
  • Diabolik started out as this before some of his past started being discovered. In the Alternate Continuity DK, his counterpart, known as the Shadow of the Night, is this, to the point that he doesn't even have a name (Shadow of the Night is how some people call the urban legend based on him).
  • The Joker has a revolving door of backstories, which makes it unknown who he is, where he came from, and what made him the way he is. Because of this, some writers depict him as a literal and/or figurative avatar of madness and chaos.

    Fan Works 
  • As The Games We Play progresses, Jaune begins to realise that he knows terrifyingly, worryingly little about who Ozpin really is. Even gaining a True Sight ability doesn't help.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Joker was portrayed this way in The Dark Knight. He had no backstory, and was only "The Joker", nothing more elaborate but nothing to diminish the personality. The premise of the movie was that the heroes have to deal with someone they had no damn clue about. They could not anticipate what he was going to do, and that is why he was so effective. In Batman Begins, the League of Shadows nearly put Gotham into a riot because of poisonous gas, while the Joker nearly did the same thing just from the legend he established for himself.
    • Incidentally, this is also what makes Batman so scary to the bad guys. He's essentially the Joker, but wearing a mask and acting against the villains. The difference, that Sal Maroni makes clear, is that Batman is The Fettered. Once they figure out his "one rule" Batman's status as this is diminished. The Joker has absolutely no rules.
  • Keyser Söze of The Usual Suspects was something similar to this. The nature of the movie made his shadow-ness even more obscure and vague. But even with the things confirmed by the police interrogators, Söze was someone who has never had a confirmed sighting, regarded as a myth, has multiple versions of his backstory and you don't know what is fact or fiction about him.
  • This is what is often overlooked in the Terminator movies because of the Time Travel and evil robot sci-fi, but the original movie was primarily a person being hunted by someone she knew nothing about, even the reason why she was being hunted.
  • When you join the Men in Black, you become one of these people.
    From now on you'll have no identifying marks of any kind. You'll not stand out in any way. Your entire image is crafted to leave no lasting memory with anyone you encounter.
  • Jason Bourne is an example of the "made anonymous by support from powerful intelligence agency" variety.
    • All the field members of Treadstone are made to become this. And with Bourne losing his memory, it shows what happens when one of these people do a Heel–Face Turn.
  • Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, who grew up as a gardener for a rich old man who had secluded himself and Chance from the outside world. After his master dies, and he has to go out in the world, he becomes a mysterious figure without a past.
  • In Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, the bad guys refer to Remo as "The Faceless Wonder" because they can find absolutely no information on him at all other than a picture and the fact that he's interfering with their nefarious scheme.
  • The whoever-it-is who keeps showing up and giving cryptic advice to Bruce Willis' character in 12 Monkeys.
  • Cobb from Following. The police have no record of his existence, and he tricks his fall guy into dressing and looking just like him. The final shot of the film is Cobb stepping into a bustling street and completely disappearing.
  • Harry thinks Chad is this in Burn After Reading.
  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld is this is the James Bond movies. He is one of the few Bond villains to be given no backstory whatsoever, either from his own lips or from a government dossier. This is not the case in the novels the films were based on, however.
  • Roat, the villain of Wait Until Dark. Roat, incidentally, is not his real name.
  • The villain of The Hitcher is called a ghost because there is nothing that identifies him.
  • The Operative from Serenity
    Dr Mathias: I see no listing of name or rank.
    The Operative: I have neither. Like this facility, I don't exist.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness portrays Section 31 as this. All of their doings are very hush-hush and under the table, while some of its operatives, like John Harrison/Khan, are given false identities to hide their true nature.
  • In No Country for Old Men, practically nothing is known about the relentless assassin, Anton Chigurh. The only thing we know is his name, maybe.
    Accountant: Are you going to shoot me?
    Anton: That depends. Do you see me?
  • Captain America: The Winter Soldier has the titular villain. Natasha literally calls him a "ghost," and notes that most of the intelligence community doesn't believe he exists. Nobody knew anything about him or who really he was until Steve saw his face and realized that he was Bucky, who didn't recognize him. From there, he was able to deduce how Bucky ended up as the Winter Soldier.
  • Josef in Creep. The Police Are Useless to Aaron because he can't give any concrete information on Josef's name, age, location, or any other identifying details.
  • The Caller in Phone Booth is a complete mystery. He doesn't identify himself or reveal anything about his past (beyond having a happy childhood and being too young to have served in Vietnam), and even his face isn't seen until the end.


    Live-Action TV 
  • Burn Notice invokes this several times. One of Michael's plans was based around infiltrating a family of gun dealers by playing off of one of the brothers. By skillfully stealing their supplies, he then simply dropped off the face of the Earth. He explained that nothing scares you more than a spook, someone you know nothing about. He could have been FBI, a rival group, the Mafia; the point was they didn't know who he was and if he was going to return. The group was so spooked, they left the city.
    • Chuck Finley is everyone, and no one. He's simply Chuck Finley.
  • Pick pretty much any member of the shadow government on The X-Files (particularly Deepthroat and X). The Cigarette smoking man is the only one that we ever learn anything about and what we know is vague and occasionally contradictory.
  • Papa Lazarou on The League of Gentlemen. He's implied not to even be human.
  • This is how Moriarty is treated in Sherlock, though he gets to meet our heroes face-to-face in the last episode. Twice.
  • The Silence from Doctor Who. Once you look away from them, you forget that they even exist. They often use this ability to plant commands in people's subconscious.
    • The Doctor was this for much of the original series' run, as very little about his origins or his true identity were ever dwelt upon. On several occasions he's taken steps to remove himself from the historic record. The "Cartmel Masterplan" was supposed to restore this aspect by gradually Ret Conning what was already revealed about the Doctor to be a lie and that he was actually a more powerful figure than he appears, but it was derailed by the show's cancellation.
  • The Greek of The Wire. By the end of the series, we only know one thing about him: he's not really Greek.
  • Razer from The Cape is this.
    • Chess is also this, but only In-Universe, and for the first episode.
  • Spooks, aptly enough. Although we, the audience, know quite a bit about the MI-5 officers, the regular people they interact with are regularly fed fake identities, fake credentials, and fake beliefs.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • LLF had spent half a decade carving out a niche in Monterrey by introducing new foreign talent to Mexico, then one night in 2005 a woman whom no one knew anything about appeared with the goal of destroying them. It was only later that more information would surface on Tsunami.
  • Midsummer 2010, PGWA was visited by a masked woman calling herself Hecate who claimed to be from Mexico. An inquiry was sent to LLF at the start of 2011, as by that point it had booked talent from all over Mexico but none of them had heard of her either.
  • Los Abusadores Internacional in Valkyrie Women's Pro. No one knows who they are or where they came from, just that they're devoted to La Rosa Negra and even though there aren't very many of them, they have connections to people] whom only slightly more is known about. Subverted though in that they can call on intimidating individuals but are not themselves.

  • Of all people, The Shadow was, in his original continuity, one of these. His secret identity was so secret that even the audience didn't know who he was, leading to much Wild Mass Guessing.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Thanks to the Arcane Fate, the Sidereals of Exalted turn this Up to Eleven. Not only are they completely unknown to the vast majority of Creation's inhabitants, but within a week or two of meeting them, you will forget them. And any records of their existence will be lost, accidentally destroyed, vanish mysteriously, or otherwise be rendered useless. A Sidereal could murder your parents right in front of you, and in a month you wouldn't be able to pick them out of a lineup or even remember the incident clearly—were they even murdered at all, or was it a freak accident of some kind?
  • In Warhammer40000, the Dark Angels Space Marines are served by the indigenous population of The Rock, the Watchers In The Dark. They are covered head to toe in robes, and have never let anyone see what's underneath. Ever. Games Workshop's official models for them don't have heads, just hollow hoods. Librarians can't probe them because they resist all psychic powers and forms of Warp contact. Are they aliens? Undead spirits of the Fallen forced to serve penance? The latter is unlikely, considering that people of Caliban have encounters with them before the Fallen are even conceived of, but otherwise... they're the only ones with answers, and they literally ain't talking.
  • The GURPS Advantage "Zeroed", created for GURPS Cyberpunk and popular in conspiracy games, makes a PC the Spook.
  • The Occultation ability in Mage: The Awakening opposes any attempt to uncover a mage's identity: magical inquiries are resisted and mundane records mysteriously vanish. The Blank Badges Legacy refine this into the ability to use their Occultation score as Status, so people see them as authoritative and respectable but have no idea why or who they are.

    Video Games 
  • The G-Man from the Half-Life series.
  • The eponymous mask from The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is an odd variation. You know his background (standard Sealed Evil in a Can stuff) but the sheer amount of Mind Screw going on around him makes him unknowable. The Happy Mask Salesman, while apparently a good guy, is a straighter example.
  • In Halo, operatives from the Office of Naval Intelligence get this trope name as a nickname for the exact reasons mentioned here. Reflecting this, The Men in Black-esque organization itself is more commonly referred to as ONI, a wordplay on a certain youkai type. Additionally, for the majority of the Human-Covenant War, the Master Chief himself and his fellow Spartans were this to most people on both sides.
  • Yume Nikki: There's no explanation for anything whatsoever, no Back Story, no dialogue, nothing. Madotsuki, the main (and only) character is a Hikikomori in a flat. She keeps a very trippy dream diary. The building she lives in is apparently only as wide as her flat. Who is she? What is she? How did she come to be there? Where does she get those ideas and dreams from? Is one of Madotsuki's dream characters based on a piano teacher? Is another based on a friend? Is said friend dead? Is another based on a horribly mutilated and/or bullied girl? Is the highly sexual Kyuukyuu-kun based on rape or something? She's basically Mesme without the Psychic Powers. It is safe to say that this singular character has spawned Epileptic Forests on her own. The ending of the game itself leaves all questions unanswered, leaving things open to interpretation: Madotsuki commits suicide by jumping off her balcony by using stairs that were never there. Your guess is as good as ours.
    • Even the creator of the game, KIKIYAMA, is this. Do the ideas for Yume Nikki come from alchohol, drugs, a very twisted imagination or a completely normal person who just wanted to make a scary game? There are a few emails that indicate she is female, however.
  • The Pyro from Team Fortress 2 has no backstory, name, face, or set gender. The fact that s/he just loves burning things is all we know for sure. Even after learning in "Meet the Pyro" that The Pyro thinks that everything s/he does is give candy and happiness to other people (which s/he imagines as cupids and other such cute creatures), we still don't know anything about their Back Story. Or anything else. The only reason s/he's on the team in the first place is because s/he's insane enough to do what s/he's asked (that is, mercilessly kill the other team); Pyro's own teammates are scared of him/her/it.
    The Heavy: I fear no man...but that scares me.
    The Scout: I ain't talkin' about that freak, all right? He's not here, is she? How do I get this (microphone-thump)ing thing off?!
    The Spy: One shudders to imagine what inhuman thoughts lie behind that mask...what dreams of chronic and sustained cruelty?
    • The Spy is a downplayed example - we know he's from somewhere in France, and we know that he's a Man of Wealth and Taste with an immature streak, but we don't know his name or backstory, and his accent is pretty obscure too.
  • Albatross and Steven Heck in Alpha Protocol. The dossiers you build on them are about 90% conjecture.
    • Albatross is the head of an entire organisation of spooks: G22 oppose Halbech and have dirt on nearly everyone, but anything beyond that is pure guesswork. Unless the player gives them away, the Big Bad (and thus Alpha Protocol itself) doesn't know they even exist.
    • Steven Heck, on the other hand, is on a class of his own due to not really being tied to any organization at all; he claims he's a CIA agent, but further investigation shows no proper agenda or ties with them. In fact, he'll be loyal to you and do as you ask so long as you don't piss him off because he doesn't have any plans or orders you could screw up. Some theorize he is simply a complete lunatic who started playing Wannabe Secret Agent one day and became scarily good at it.
  • In Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies, the villain of the final case turns out to be a Master of Disguise known only as the phantom, able to perfectly impersonate anyone... to the point where all traces of their original identity are completely gone. We never learn their real name or see their real face: they're always shown wearing a mask of someone else. They feel no emotions except fear of being caught. Their Villainous Breakdown has them freaking out about their "real face" not even existing as they pull off masks of nearly every other character in the game. They collapse into the shadows after removing the final one, so no-one ever finds out what they really look like.
  • Mike Toreno in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Even his name is suspect, since he was working undercover when CJ was introduced to him.
    • The U.L. Paper Contact from Grand Theft Auto IV is an even better example: not only does he never give out his name but when Niko asks if he's worried that Niko will get caught and lead the authorities to him, the Contact claims that they're inside a building with hundreds of people matching his description and that by the time Niko rats him out to the cops, they will find an empty office "leased to a man who died in the final years of Vietnam" and a non existent phone number.
  • Zero from Kirby's Dream Land 3 is given no foreshadowing, no motive, no origin, and no clear goal, but his fight and death sequence is quite possibly the most terrifying boss fight in the entire Kirby franchise.
  • Flemeth from Dragon Age. With the revelations (or lack thereof) in Witch Hunt and Dragon Age II, we really know nothing definitive about her at all. She goes mostly by Flemeth but she also has many names, she looks human but this is cast into great doubt by Morrigan, Fenris, and Anders. Her past is Shrouded in Myth, with no clear way to know if it's true. And on top of all of this, her powers and precognition are at a level that aren't seen anywhere else in the series. Her motivations are also completely unknown, but hints are dropped that it is on a scale outside of any other in the franchise. Her identity is revealed in Dragon Age: Inquisition: She's a human vessel for the Elven Top God Mythal.
  • The Devil Z from Tokyo Xtreme Racer is an unknown rival that only appears when the player beats every last racer in the game. Everything about him/her/it is shrouded in mystery to the point where he/she/it's beginning cutscene heavily implies that he/she/it might be a demon or a ghost. The rivals index only labels him/her as ???? and gives a description about his/her/it's 280 Z's performance tune-up. Info on the driver? Absolutely none.
  • The Serial Killer seen and mentioned throughout the backstory of the Five Nights at Freddy's series - it's not known who he is (barring some Wild Mass Guessing), where he came from, why he killed kids, why he used Freddy Fazbear's Pizza in particular or why he decided to return to the shutdown pizzaria to dismantle the animatronics. He's never even seen in person outside of a purple Atari-esque sprite in various minigames (until the third game, but by then he's a mummified corpse with few identifiable features left).
  • The Joker in Batman: Arkham Origins. He comes completely out of nowhere and after finding his DNA at the site of a particularly brutal murder, Batman puts it through the National Criminal Database to find out who he is, and comes up completely blank. No name, no true origin outside of a flashback that may or may not be accurate, and no real motives. Batman and Alfred are both completely taken aback by this.
  • Q from Street Fighter III is a mysterious figure wearing a trenchcoat, fedora and iron mask. His true name, origin, and motivation for fighting are all unknown. It's not even clear if he's a human being, since he tends to move in a very robotic manner. All that is known about him is that the CIA is after him, and that he appears in photos from around the world, and at similar times, implying that Q might just be one of many.
  • Alvaro Vasquez in Driver 2 is stated to have no known information, not even a driver's license. The captain giving orders to Tanner and Jones claims "Maybe he don't even exist. Maybe he's just a name."
  • Zer 0 from Borderlands 2. What's his real name? What is he doing on Pandora? What does he look like? Is he even human, or is he an alien or a robot? Nobody really knows. Not even Jack's subordinates really know. And if the devs have any say in it, nobody ever will.

    Web Original 
  • We may know a great deal about the Slender Man and what he does, but even then there is no way to know his true nature/origin without being taken or worse, especially as he is said to change depending on the mind encountering him. He is everywhere and nowhere. By believing in him you open the door. Attempts to capture or study him almost always go hideously wrong. Marble Hornets gives a possible origin story for him but it's left highly ambiguous if it's true or not. note  His eyes are closed, his mouth is open, and his arms are outstretched.

    Western Animation 
  • Combustion Man from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The heroes don't know his name, never heard him speak (the only noises he makes are grunts which aren't even credited by a voice actor), and know nothing about his past. In their first encounter with him, they only escaped by the skin of their teeth. Zuko apparently knows more about him (name, past, etc.) but his portrayal is that of a relentless shadow.
  • From the Sequel Series, The Legend of Korra, absolutely nothing is known about about the Big Bad, Amon. He gave a backstory but whether it's true or not is up for debate. We don't know what he looks like, what his real name is (if Amon isn't his real name), we don't know what exactly he does to take away peoples' bending or how he even has the ability, we don't know if he's being honest about his intentions or if he has ulterior motives, and we don't know how he's able to resist bloodbending. That is, until the Book One season finale.
  • The DCAU Joker also has elements of this, especially in Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. We actually see what he was like before he fell in the vat of chemicals: a nameless, voiceless, perpetually smirking mob hitman who might just be creepier than the Monster Clown he turned into. He sparks a good chunk of the plot by killing Andrea Beaumont's father.
  • The Teen Titans cartoon version of Slade ends up as this. Unlike his comics incarnation, he never learn his backstory or see his face under the mask. Instead of a hitman, he's an aloof mastermind figure whose only clear goals seem to be finding an apprentice and crushing the Titans' hopes.

    Real Life 

Alternative Title(s): The Shadow Character