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

One solution that writers have utilized is to write a story that features those established characters... albeit in the guise of someone completely different. Sometimes, they have the name of another character, but act nothing like them. More often, they don't look like any famous character from the main work's canon nor even have that recognizable name. If done well, fans will speculate who that "mysterious character" is. Maybe they don't believe that the "new" character would be anyone special. Maybe they will think that the "new" character is a Badass Normal with a Mysterious Past. Or maybe they'll think that the "new" character will be a groundbreaking addition to a work's mythos. But, if done successfully, fans will certainly not think that "new" character is someone already established in a work's canon.

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

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

Beware of unmarked spoilers.


Examples

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    Anime and Manga 
  • In the manga adaptation of The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, new character Ganty transforms into a boss from the game, Trinexx.
  • One of the new pilots in Getter Robo Armageddon is Benkei's Action Girl daughter, a tomboyish young woman named Kei Kuruma. It's eventually revealed that Kei is actually a Grown Up and Gender Fliped version of Genki, Professor Saotome's son from the original series; Benkei went from Genki's Big Brother Mentor to Kei's Parental Substitute.
  • Tory/Tohru Froid from Mega Man NT Warrior seemed to be an Canon Foreigner, but it turns out he's the son of IceMan.EXE's Net Op in the games, who was only seen as a generic child sprite. He ended up being a Ascended Extra...until after Axess.
  • Norn Mikihara from Digimon Next is revealed to be the human form of Yggdrasill, the God of the Digital World (or close to that).
  • F-Zero Falcon Densetsu introduces two new characters, Bart Lemming and Roy Hughes, who eventually turn out to be the anime versions of Captain Falcon and Mighty Gazelle, respectively.
  • In the Fate/Zero anime, the metafictional "Einzbern Consultation Room" shorts feature a Genki Girl named Zecchan, who somehow gets pulled into the Grail and becomes friends with Irisviel. She's a time-traveling, amnesiac Taiga Fujimura.
  • FLCL Progressive features a Motor Mouthed teacher with Opaque Nerd Glasses in the first episode, who's also featured in trailers for the series. By the end of the episode, she's revealed to be Haruko in disguise. There's also a semi-example in Jinyu, who turns out to be a Literal Split Personality of Haruko, namely her few good qualities and desire to stop chasing Atomsk and let him be free, as well as a red-headed, mildly tan-skinned man constantly wearing a baseball cap that conveniently covers his eyebrows at all times who actually doesn't turn out to be Commander Amarao, but his Identical Son.
  • The Magi: The Labyrinth of Magic prequel series Adventures of Sinbad:
    • Ja'far's name is not mentioned, nor is his face fully seen, until the end of his redemption arc. Then again, he's clearly an albino with Youthful Freckles, so one wonders if this was even supposed to be a secret.
    • A straighter example is Harun, the merchant who cheats and then mentors Sinbad, who turns out to be Alibaba's father, King Rashid of Balbadd.

    Comic Books 
  • Alan Moore's Miracleman Retconned the original 50s adventures as dreams induced via Lotus-Eater Machine. However one part of those stories is true. The main bad guy of the original comics, and the man behind the curtain of the Miracleman project is Dr. Emil Gargunza.
  • Grant Morrison's New X-Men run featured a bunch of new characters, with the most prominent being the Chinese Buddhist Xorn. Then in the twist near the end, it turns out that Xorn was Magneto in disguise the whole time. Since this version of Magneto was a genocidal junkie (and by the end of the run, was thoroughly dead), the controversy was enough that Marvel's editors decided to retcon Xorn into not being the true Magneto the instant Grant Morrison left. Professor X went to Genosha to bury Magneto and found... Magneto. Excalibur Genosha begins, the Ho Yay between the two as they lead the new team in saving what's left of Genosha skyrockets, and in that title, Xorn is never brought up again. However, in the other books, who Xorn really was rapidly became a Continuity Snarl, most infamously being twin brothers with the same name.
  • Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #57 opens with Spidey being attacked by a mysterious new villainess called the Silencer. Halfway through the issue, it's discovered that the Silencer is actually Emma Frost, who'd joined the book's supporting cast several issues prior.
  • The Punisher MAX:
    • In the one-shot comic The Cell, Frank menaces imprisoned members of the Drago mafia family for an unknown reason. At the end, it's revealed that the Dragos are this universe's name for the Costa family: i.e., the mafia family that killed Frank's family.
    • The Heavy from "Girls in White Dresses" turned out to be the series' version of Punisher's archenemy Jigsaw.
  • The Swordsman seen in Heroes Reborn had nothing to do with Jacques Duquesne or Philip Javert. When the world was revisited in the Heroes Reborn: Remnants one-shot, it was revealed he was his Earth's counterpart of Deadpool.
  • In the New 52 version of Secret Six, only Catman and Black Alice return from the previous continuity. Strix and the new Ventriloquist come from Simone's Batgirl (2011) and Porcelain and Big Shot appear to be entirely original. Over the first few issues it's established that Big Shot is a Private Investigator, has the ability to expand in size and a rubbery face, is obsessed with his late wife, and has a sensitive nose. Oh, and Mockingbird calls him "Mr Dibney". It is later revealed that he is, indeed, the world-famous Elongated Man.
  • Arrow's Malcolm Merlyn/the Dark Archer was always established as the Arrowverse counterpart of Arthur King/Merlyn the Archer. However, the comic spin-off The Dark Archer establishes that his real name was actually Arthur King all along.
  • A Marvel miniseries called Battle Scars (an epilogue to Fear Itself) introduced a black Marine named Marcus Johnson and his war buddy nicknamed "Cheese". The event eventually revealed that Marcus is the son of Nick Fury and therefore the mainstream continuity's equivalent of the Samuel L. Jackson-style Fury introduced in Ultimate Marvel and popularized by the Marvel Cinematic Universe; and that Cheese is Phil Coulson (also from the MCU).
  • The Dead Man appeared in 2000 AD featuring a burnt amnesiac being left for dead and subsequently heading off to find out who he is. He discovers that he's Judge Dredd who had taken the Long Walk and was attacked by the Sisters Of Death. To keep the secret, Dredd strips were still run concurrently and the Dead Man story was credited to Keef Ripley. Lobster Random and Sinister Dexter homaged this storyline using similar techniques.
  • In Donny Cates’s Thanos run, we’re introduced to Cosmic Rider, a wacky cosmic variant of Ghost Rider. His personality and design doesn’t match up with any of the previous Ghost Riders, so he seems to be a new character. Thanos eventually asks if they know each other, since Cosmic Rider seems oddly familiar. Realizing he forgot to introduce himself, Cosmic Rider sticks out his hand and says his name: Frank Castle.
  • Ultimate Marvel:
    • One Ultimates issue has Nick Fury going undercover to infiltrate HYDRA, where he befriends a deeply conflicted young henchwoman called "Nails." In the following issue, he's able to convince Nails to defect from HYDRA and join the Howling Commandos, and asks her what her real name is. She turns out to be the Ultimate version of Abigail Brand, a character from the X-Men comic books.
    • When Thor was first created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, he had two identities: he was the human doctor Donald Blake, and could turn into Thor By the Power of Grayskull!. When remade for The Ultimates, Thor is just Thor. Blake appears, as an unrelated person, in Ultimate Thor. As seen later, Donald Blake is still the human identity of a god, but in this case it's Balder the Brave.
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye has some of the crew share a prison cell with a new character named Minimus Ambus, who shows some familiar quirks. Rung eventually figures out that he is none other than Ultra Magnus, who was secretly a much smaller bot in Powered Armor (as well as a Legacy Character) all this time. Ratchet had figured this out, but no one else knew.
    • Another seemingly new character is the Senator who was a friend of a young Optimus Prime and helped him along in his career. His identity is deliberately obscured, with his name never being uttered on page, and frequently changing his color scheme out of vanity. The final twist of his storyline reveals that after being brainwashed and deformed, he became the famously emotionless Decepticon scientist Shockwave.
    • Subverted with Tarn, who was foreshadowed as secretly being Optimus' old friend Roller, who went missing many years ago...only to have Roller turn up intact just before The Reveal that Tarn was actually a minor character introduced in this series named Glitch.
    • Subverted again with The Grand Architect. After being set up as a shadowy figure, he seems to finally be revealed as Scorponok!...Only to have it turn out later that Scorponok and the Architect are not the same being, and Scorponok merely works for him. The actual identity of the Grand Architect remains a mystery.

    Fan Works 
  • MCU Rewrites: In Age of Ultron: Redux, Pietro and Wanda Maximoff's father seems to be Spared by the Adaptation from Avengers: Age of Ultron as the twins' mother raised them on her own and he was not present when the Maximoff's house was destroyed by a missile from Stark Industries. In New Avengers, Wanda tells Vision about how she and Pietro were found by a man who could do some parlor tricks such as setting down a cigarette lighter and that it could not be picked up not matter how hard someone tried and making a coin float. The man takes the two children to a Jewish family to raise them. The final scene of the story has an unknown man, who goes unnoticed by everyone attending except Wanda, visiting Pietro's grave and he is wearing a ring with an "M" on it, confirming that Pietro and Wanda's father is Magneto.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Sage of Darkness.
    • Link's father is a Posthumous Character, but he is resurrected near the climax of the film as Dark Link.
    • Inverted with the main antagonist, the Skull Kid, who's revealed to be the alter ego of the seemingly friendly and helpful new character Davik.
  • Inverted in We Are the Chatroom Gems. Ms. Agate, one of the teachers from the first chapter, is revealed by the ask blog to not be Holly Blue Agate, but rather her sister.
  • Fall of Starfleet, Rebirth of Friendship: A few characters (whether Dakari-King Mykan's "Original Characters" or seemingly new characters by the author Legendbringer are revealed to be characters who exist in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic.
    • Early in the story it is revealed that Goldwin is actually Discord in disguise.
    • Beast Boy, one of the Unicornicopians brought in to replace members of Lightning's team, is revealed to be Thorax about half a chapter after his introduction.
    • The Dark King and his followers (Giant, Demon, Ogre, Alien, and Bad Horse) are retconned into being the Bad Future counterparts to Shining Armor, Big MacIntosh, Pound Cake, Zephyr Breeze, Sweetie Belle, and Soarin, respectively.
    • Inverted with Dementia, Mysterious, Rep-Stallion who are revealed to be entirely new characters Galaxia Shine, Blackened Myst, and Swift Blade before becoming Titan's minions.
    • Also inverted with Lord Titan who is revealed to be King Titan, the father of Princess Celestia and Princess Luna.
  • In the Pokémon fangame Pokémon Zeta and Omicron, the main antagonist, Odin (in Zeta) or Zeus (in Omicron) is revealed to be The protagonist of Pokémon Gold and Silver, who had his Lugia (in Zeta) or his Ho-Oh (in Omicron) turned into a Shadow Pokemon and stolen from him by your Evil Twin, and turned evil in an effort to gain enough power to take it back.
  • In the Worm x Dishonored crossover fanfic A Change of Pace, The Bone Carver, an antagonist who becomes Taylor's rival and is also marked by the Outsider, is Trevor, the character who would become Chariot in the source story.
  • In the Death Note fanfic Second Chances, L is haunted by a shinigami named Rae in the afterlife who's attempting to tempt him into using a Death Note. Rae turns out to be Light Yagami, L's archenemy.
  • The short The Avengers (2012) story Exclusive has a reporter come in to look in on the daily lives of the Avengers living in Stark Tower. It's only the last few lines that reveal that the reporter is actually Peter Parker.
  • A retro active example happens in the Bride of Discord "verse", where Red Shoes an OC that goes on to marry Pinkie Pie is revealed to be Cheese Sandwich, using a fake identity, to avoid his ex-mare friend, who he thinks is out to get him, after said said character was introduced in the show proper and the creator began to ship him with Pinkie.
  • In the Homestuck fanfic Cultstuck, the titular cult is lead by a Really 700 Years Old man known as the Grand Elder, who in turn is advised by his friend, a rarely-seen "outsider" known as the Messenger. Only when the two finally meet in-story and address each other with their Alternate Universe's selves' given names does it become clear that the Grand Elder is Expatriate Darkleer, who predates the cult, and the Messenger is Grandpa Harley, a human with a teleporter.
  • Pokémon Reset Bloodlines has two characters who are revealed, though not named, by Sabrina as being people Ash had met in the anime before time reset: his father and the Bloodliner King. The same character.

    Film — Animated 

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

    Literature 
  • Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones is a sequel to her novel Howl's Moving Castle. Initially it appears to be an unrelated story set in a different part of the same fantasy world, with all-new characters. However, late in the book it's revealed that several of the supporting cast are actually characters from the first book, who've been transformed and/or enchanted by djinn magic. Furthermore, the titular castles of both books are one and the same.
  • Older Than Steam example is in Don Quixote. The second part of the book introduces a minor character called Maese Pedro, a master puppeteer whom we think is one of the many side characters we encounter along the way. Then we find out that it's actually Gines de Pasamonte, the same con-man who handed Don Quixote his major defeat in Part I.
  • In A Study in Emerald, the protagonists initially seem like lawyer-friendly expies of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson. Their names aren't explicitly said and their backgrounds are kept rather vague. The ending reveals the real reason for this: They're not expies of Holmes and Watson, or even the real deal. They're James Moriarty and Sebastian Moran. The real Holmes and Watson are the "killers" (actually freedom fighters) that the detectives are investigating.
  • Jane Yolen's Arthurian novel Sword of the Rightful King includes a character named Gawen who comes to Cadbury and gets a job as Merlinnus' assistant. He winds up getting as much focus as the canon characters before the end, when we find out that he is actually a crossdressing Guinevere.
  • Tortall Universe: In The Numair Chronicles, the gladiator slave Musenda is eventually revealed to be "Sarge" who was first introduced as a free man at a much later point in his life in The Immortals. However, this is only a surprise to people who didn't read the Dramatis Personae of Trickster's Choice, in which he makes a brief cameo.

    Live-Action TV 
  • From the TV sections of the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
      • Skye. Throughout the first season, she's a normal human hacker with a Mysterious Past. At the beginning of the second season, the team starts suspecting she may have an alien origin. But it isn't until the tenth episode that it's revealed that she is actually Daisy Johnson aka Quake, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent from the comics.
      • Andrew Garner, May's husband, is nothing more that a regular psychoanalyst and professor - until at some point between seasons 2 and 3 he became an Inhuman, a canon supervillain named Lash (whose human identity in the comics is someone else, as with Deathlok).
      • Speaking of Deathlok, he was introduced in the very first episode as Mike Peterson, a factory worker given superpowers due to a modified version of the Extremis serum from Iron Man 3 called Centipede. He was captured by SHIELD and became a SHIELD agent until he was seemingly killed by Hydra and turned into a cyborg. His identity as Deathlok wasn't revealed until a close-up on one of his bionic parts showed that he was part of a Project Deathlok.
      • In the first half of Season 3, the central plot is an attempt by HYDRA to bring back an ancient Inhuman banished to another planet thousands of years ago. Finally, the inhuman possesses Ward, a SHIELD agent who turned out to be a HYDRA agent, and turns out to be the MCU version of Hive (with overtones of Apocalypse), making it a double case of the trope.
      • Anton Ivanov, the "Superior" of the Watchdogs, received a lot of build-up, only to be ignored by Coulson (who Ivanov considers his greatest foe) and soundly defeated by Daisy (who Ivanov considers scum). Then Aida gets a hold of him and gives him a remote-operated LMD controlled by his severed head in a jar, revealing that he is Red Guardian. Part of the reason this worked is because the MCU averts One Steve Limit; Ivanov is not the first character named Anton. And then in later episodes, he learns how to pilot multiple mobile LMD bodies at once, which he describes as "designed only for killing." So he's also the MCU's M.O.D.O.K.. (A further clue is that the current version of M.O.D.O.K. in the comics is a cloned brain of the original who was introduced as controlling an army of LMDs, and he calls himself M.O.D.O.K. Superior.)
      • AIDA is already drawn from the comics for the fourth season, but late in the season she traps the cast in a virtual simulation where she runs a tyrannical regime under a much better-known comics identity of Madame Hydra.
    • Nobu in Daredevil: an episode late in the first season reveals that the organization he represents is the Hand, a clan of ninjas that often clash with Daredevil. His full name is later given as Nobu Yoshioka; in the comics Kagenobu Yoshioka was the founder of the Hand.
    • Will Simpson in Jessica Jones seems to be an original character who wasn't based on any previous Marvel hero or villain. It's later revealed that he is the Marvel Cinematic Universe's version of Daredevil villain Nuke, aka Frank Simpson.
  • Elementary reveals some Sherlock Holmes characters this way:
    • A tough-guy baddie known as "M" is introduced, who the viewer might assume will be revealed to be this series' incarnation of the Big Bad, Moriarty. He turns out to be a different canon character, Moriarty's Dragon Sebastian Moran.
    • Then one canon character is whammed into another with the revelation that Irene Adler was Moriarty all along.
  • Molly's colleague Jim in Sherlock seems like an ineffectual Straight Gay background character, until it's revealed that his last name is Moriarty.
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Theon spends most of Season Three tortured by a nameless Bolton follower portrayed by Iwan Rheon. It isn't until the finale that he's finally called Ramsay, Roose Bolton's son.
    • The show combines this with Composite Character in regards to Jon Snow. Unlike his book counterpart, he's established as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen, and it's revealed that his true birth name is Aegon Targaryen. This makes him the show's version of Aegon Targaryen VI, a.k.a Young Griff.
  • Smallville:
    • Zig-Zagged with Chloe Sullivan who, when she writes her first piece for the Daily Planet, uses her cousin's Lois Lane's name as her nom de plume - setting up that Chloe is the Smallville-verse Lois. But later in the series Lois proper shows up. Chloe becomes the series' version of Oracle instead.
    • Tess Mercer is eventually and gradually revealed to be a Composite Character of Eve Tessmacher, Lena Luthor, Mercy Graves and Big Barda.
    • Also Inverted: after spending several seasons with Jimmy Olsen, he's killed off and we find out that his hereto unseen brother will become the canon character. As it turns out, the name he was identified by was his middle name, his first name was Henry. His younger brother has the actual canon name.
    • In the final season, Tess adopts a young clone of Lex known as LX-15 in hopes of him avoiding the same path as his donor as he ages rapidly into a teenager. At first it seems he's going to be a new Lex Luthor, but eventually becomes scared of what he's becoming and gives in. Tess tries to end his suffering by injecting cyanide, but finds his skin is invulnerable. After more tests and his memories as LX-15 disappear, it turns out he has Clark Kent's DNA. He adopts a new, friendly attitude and is welcomed by Clark with a new name, Conner Kent.
  • When From Dusk Till Dawn was adapted into a television series, Jake Busey showed up early in season one as a Professor Aiden Tanner. Professor Tanner never appeared in any of the films, so you could assume he's a Canon Foreigner. You can stop assuming a few episodes later when he shows up as the biker Sex Machine.
  • Arrowverse:
    • Arrow:
      • This show gives Oliver Queen a younger sister named Thea. Her Affectionate Nickname is "Speedy", the name of Green Arrow's Sidekicks in the comics, and her middle name is revealed to be "Dearden"; Mia Dearden is the name of the second Speedy. The pilot also shows several archery trophies in her room. While it seems to be a Mythology Gag at first, and the third episode of Season Three even has her using "Mia" as an alias, it later officially confirms that she is indeed the show's version of Mia when she dons Roy Harper's (canonically the first Speedy) vigilante gear and uses her nickname as a Code Name the following season.
      • The show also gives Dinah Laurel Lance a younger sister named Sara. She's presumed dead for the first season, but resurfaces in the second season donning the identity of "The Canary", making her the equivalent of Dinah Drake-Lance (who's also in the show, by the way, but never holds the mantle), the first Black Canary in the comics until she passes the mantle to her daughter Dinah Laurel Lance. True to form, Laurel dons the mantle after Sara's death. However, after Sara's later resurrection, Laurel is Killed Off for Real by Damien Darhk, asking Oliver on her deathbed to pass the mantle to someone else. In the middle of Season Five, a new character named Tina Boland, a former Central City cop who has the metahuman Canary Cry as a result of the particle accelerator explosion, is introduced to take up that mantle. At the end of her first episode (second counting her cameo at the end of the preceding one), she reveals that "Tina Boland" is just her undercover alias; her real name is Dinah Drake, making this an odd case of coming full circle.
      • Edward Fyers' silent right-hand man wears a Deathstroke-styled costume, but after escaping him, Oliver meets and teams up with Deathstroke's civilian identity, Slade Wilson. In his second episode, Slade reveals that the man in the costume is William "Billy" Wintergreen, who was Slade's butler and comrade in the comics.
      • An unusual case occurs with Vigilante. In the comics, he's been various people, most notably Adrian Chase, but in Season Five of Arrow, Chase turns out to be an alias of Big Bad Prometheus, whose real name was never revealed in the comics and is given here as Simon Morrison. However, early in Season Six, Dinah Drake's old cop partner, Vincent Sobel, who was believed to have died years ago, is unmasked as Vigilante.
    • The Flash:
      • Dr. Harrison Wells, the Big Bad of Season One, appears at first to be an original character. However, it is later revealed that Wells is not only the Reverse-Flash, but the original Reverse-Flash, Eobard Thawne, who stole the identity of the real Harrison Wells fourteen years before the events of the series. Word of God also confirms that Wells is the counterpart of both Dr. Robert Meersman and Dr. Garrison Slate, the founders of S.T.A.R. Labs in the comics. In Season Two, we are introduced to an Alternate Universe analogue of the real Wells, whose daughter is Jesse Quick, making him this universe's version of Johnny Quick.
      • The mysterious masked man from the second half of Season Two turns out to be none other than Jay Garrick, the original Flash in the comics. Furthermore, Jay is the Earth-3 doppelganger of Earth-1's Henry Allen, Barry's father. Meanwhile, Earth-2's "Jay Garrick" turns out to be the Big Bad Hunter Zolomon/Zoom putting on an act (and later making use of a time remnant to fake his own death), making him, like "Adrian Chase" above and "Hank Henshaw" below, a different canon character than the one he was presented as.
      • Tom Felton joins the cast in Season Three as a young CSI named Julian Albert. In the seventh episode, Julian is revealed to be the civilian identity of Doctor Alchemy, The Dragon to the current Big Bad Savitar, and in the ninth episode, his full name is revealed in a Freeze-Frame Bonus to be Julian Albert Desmond (the first Doctor Alchemy's real identity was Albert Desmond).
      • Savitar comes off as an In-Name-Only version of his comics counterpart, who was a long-haired, shirtless, and highly muscular Eastern European man with sparse red, gold, and black armor; this version looks more like a walking suit of silvery armor with glowing blue Tron Lines. However, there's one phrase he keeps repeating when confronted, and in the twentieth episode, it proves to be a Sarcastic Confession of his true identity: "I am the Future Flash." He's really the show's version of Barry's evil future self from the New 52 comics, as hinted by the Tron Lines having the same design as they did on the comics' black Flash suit, and it's indicated that he merely took the name "Savitar" from myths about the God of Motion.
      • Throughout Season Four, the members of Team Flash encounter a mysterious girl. It's eventually revealed that she she's Barry and Iris' daughter from the future. She introduces herself as Nora, indicating that she's the show's version of Nora Allen II from the Bad Future in the Justice League (Rebirth) storyline "Legacy".
    • Supergirl:
      • Season One combines this with Composite Character in a similar fashion to the "Harrison Wells" reveal. Hank Henshaw, the head of the D.E.O., initially comes off as a gruff and secretive Scary Black Man, basically a Gender Flip of Amanda Waller, who has already become the evil Cyborg Superman (indicated by his eyes occasionally glowing red), but in the seventh episode, he reveals his true identity: J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter. Henshaw has been merged with the human detective John Jones, who is the Martian's standard disguise in the comics. The real Henshaw, thought long dead, does appear in Season Two as Cyborg Superman, but has yet to obtain a body that will let him resemble the Man of Steel.
      • Season Three features a sinister, nameless witch who exists as an interactive hologram and pushes Samantha Arias into becoming Reign, then further manipulates her and the other two Worldkillers to bring about the cleansing of Earth. In the twentieth episode, Kara and Mon-El arrive in Argo City, where the witch turns out to be alive, a member of the High Council, and named Selena; she's this universe's version of the Big Bad from the Supergirl movie.
    • Legends of Tomorrow:
      • After being resurrected, re-ensouled by John Constantine, and briefly rejoining Team Arrow, the aforementioned Sara Lance decides to leave her identity as "The Canary" behind and becomes the White Canary, an existing comics character who's usually villainous (and black-haired).
      • Ray Palmer's fiancée (later wife) in the comics is named Jean Loring. In Arrow, Jean was given an Age Lift and is the Queens' family friend and lawyer while Ray had a late fiancée named Anna instead. On Legends, he finally reveals Anna's surname as Loring, making her and Jean a Decomposite Character. The women's relationship is not stated, though.
    • Black Lightning:
      • Khalil Payne appears to be the average high school athlete who dreams of becoming a professional until a Dream-Crushing Handicap turns him into a paraplegic. However, thanks to the machinations of Tobias Whale, who provides him with reconstructive spinal surgery, Khalil returns as a Dreadlocked enforcer for Tobias with Super Strength and wearing bracers firing anesthetic needles, thus becoming the villain Painkiller, part of Black Lightning's Rogues Gallery in the comics.
      • Lala appears to be nothing more than a drug dealer who works for Tobias. After getting arrested and killed, it looks like that's all there is to him. However, he returns, brought back to life thanks to Tobias and money he put into researching resurrection, with the ability to gain the images of people he's killed tattooed into his skin. Tobias then gives him the name of lesser known DC villain Tattooed Man.
  • The Spartacus series:
  • Gotham:
    • In Season One, The Electrocutioner seemed to be a new creation, given his name of "Jack Gruber", much like Batman: The Animated Series creating Temple Fugate for its Clock King or Lois & Clark creating Kyle Griffin for its Prankster rather than respectively using the canonical William Tockman or Oswald Loomis. Then Jack's real name is revealed to be "Buchinsky", the last name of two of the canonical Electrocutioners in the comics (who are also brothers), meaning he's either the original undergoing Named by the Adaptation (as his first name was never revealed) or he's the third Electrocutioner, Lester, undergoing Adaptation Name Change with his first name.
    • In Season Two, Theo Galavan seems to be a brand-new villain invented for the show. All throughout his arc, nothing seems to change this. Then the next Arc Villain brings him Back from the Dead, and his memories are kind of scrambled, leading to him taking on the identity of a mythical knight from his family's mythology... Azrael.
    • In the Season Three finale, Butch Gilzean, Fish Mooney's former lap dog turned Penguin's then turned Barbara's, has fallen into a coma, and the nurses discover that his real name is Cyrus Gold, aka Solomon Grundy. Sure enough, in the very next season, he returns as the famed villain.
  • The second season of the horror Massive Multiplayer Crossover series Penny Dreadful reveals that the werewolf Ethan Chandler was actually born Ethan Lawrence Talbot.
  • Throughout the first season of Legion, David is tormented by several psychic entities, including one that has assumed the guise of his friend Lenny, a monster called the Devil with the Yellow Eyes, a children's book character called the Angry Boy, and his childhood dog, King. In Episode 7, we find out that all of these individuals are actually forms of Amahl Farouk, a.k.a. the Shadow King, a prominent villain from the X-Men comics.
  • In the Death Note live-action drama, the Task Force is joined by a former FBI agent named Shoko Himura. She is eventually revealed to be a Race Lifted version of Halle Lidner from the manga.
  • Riverdale:
    • Inverted with Miss Grundy, who turns out to be an imposter who stole her current identity from a dead woman of the same name.
    • Zigzagged with the man who attacked Fred in the Season One finale. Season Two reveals that the assailant is the show's version of Black Hood, but it turns out that his true identity isn't anyone who took on the mantle of the Black Hood in the comics, but rather fellow canon character Hal Cooper.

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

    Video Games 
  • The ending of Assassin's Creed Origins reveals that Aya, Bayek's wife, renounces her old identity and becomes Amunet - one of the Assassins with a statue dedicated to them under the Villa Auditore, who was famous for killing Cleopatra with a poisonous snake.
  • Batman: Arkham Knight does this with its titular villain. Up until the game's release, Rocksteady insisted that the Arkham Knight was an original character who stood as Batman's antithesis. While the Arkham Knight as an identity was new, the person behind the mask, Jason Todd aka Red Hood, was an already established character in the comics.
  • The main antagonist of Batman: The Telltale Series also turned out to be a canon character. Few people probably expected that said character was Vicki Vale. Also played with regarding John Doe. Upon first seeing him in Episode 4, it's obvious he's going to become The Joker, and Season 2 is set up as John Doe's Start of Darkness. The twist is he only becomes The Joker, as we know him, in one of Season 2 Episode 4's Multiple Endings. In the other, he becomes a Vigilante Man inspired by Batman, fighting against The Agency.
  • In the 2016 Doom (2016) reboot, Olivia Pierce is a human Mad Scientist who organized the invasion of Mars by the demons from Hell so that she would be given vast supernatural powers by their leader. Exposure to the energies of Hell has left her an Evil Cripple who can only move with help from a cybernetic exoskeleton. When the demons finally give her the powers she wanted, she and her cybernetics are gruesomely transformed into the Spider Mastermind, the original Big Bad and Final Boss of the first game.
  • God of War Series:
    • Had the series continued under David Jaffe's vision, Kratos would have been revealed to have been one of The Three Wise Men of Christian mythology.
      • Kratos turns out to be a different canon character by the fourth game as the series version of Fárbauti by virtue of being Loki's father and Fárbauti is norse for cruel striker.
    • God of War (PS4) takes place in Norse Mythology and reveals that Kratos' son Atreus is supposed to be the trickster Loki, who is responsible for causing Baldur's death and triggering Ragnarok.
  • The Legend of Zelda:
  • Metroid: Other M features a chicken-legged rabbit creature called "Little Birdie" encountered on the Bottle Ship several times. Despite its cute appearance and small size, it has an aggressive parasitic nature and leaves Samus spooked for reasons she can barely articulate. It later molts into a larger hairy lizard form and attacks Samus until it is fought off. Following its blood trail, she finds that the creature has molted again, and that its adult form is none other than Ridley, her Arch-Enemy.
  • While the Ancient Minister, the field leader of the Subspace Army in Super Smash Bros. Brawl's Subspace Emissary, appears to be an Original Generation character, when his clothes burn off, it's revealed that he's actually R.O.B.
  • Tactics Ogre: The Knight of Lodis, despite being a prequel to Tactics Ogre initially does not seem like it has any real connection to it. However, in the game's canon ending, the protagonist of KoL, Alphonse Loehir, has his name changed by the Pope to Lans Tartare, who is the primary antagonist of Tactics Ogre (the remake translates his first name as "Lanselot").
  • Metal Gear:
    • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (a prequel set some thirty years before the original game) stars Naked Snake, a Suspiciously Similar Substitute of the series' protagonist Solid Snake. At the end of the game, Naked Snake receives the title of Big Boss, the Big Bad of the original Metal Gear 1 games and Solid Snake's clone-father. Subverted in that it was a Captain Obvious Reveal — the game was known to be Big Boss's Start of Darkness long before it was released.
    • Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots: The Patriots, the shady Bilderberg-esque group in control of the American government, is revealed to be your support team from Snake Eater.
    • Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain inverts this trope and plays it straight; Venom Snake IS NOT JOHN 'Big Boss' Doe but a player-generated character who is then surgically altered to become the body double of Big Boss, but technically he is the canon Big Boss because he's the final boss from the original game, and Eli is a Liquid Snake lookalike that doesn't share Snake's DNA because Venom Snake didn't get gene therapy to go with his Big Boss plastic face. Possibly the biggest character reveals of the series, even outdoing the above.
  • Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor: The elven wraith turns out to be Celebrimbor, a character who figured heavily into the Ring's history.
  • The sequel Middle-earth: Shadow of War reveals the protagonist Talion became one of the Nine Ringwraiths in service to Sauron in the Golden Ending.
  • King's Quest (2015) has a few examples of this, being a reimagining of the original series.
    • Manny is introduced as one of the Knight Hopefuls who befriends the young Graham, but ends up becoming Chapter 1's main villain. Chapter 2 introduces a human who was Switched at Birth by goblins and raised by them, who initially is only called "Goblin Man", and The Stinger of the episode has him teaming up with Manny. Chapter 3 reveals Manny to be a goblin himself, which you'd think would mean this trope wouldn't apply, until The Stinger, which has him drinking a potion to turn himself into an elderly human, implying he is Manannan, the main villain of King's Quest III. Meanwhile the Goblin Man's real name is Mordon, and he and Manny consider eachother brothers due to being Switched at Birth, making him Mordak, the villain of King's Quest V. Chapter 4 confirms both of these.
    • Chapter 3 retells the story of Graham meeting his future bride, except instead of one princess, there's two, Vee and Neese. Whichever one he ends up romancing turns out to be Valenice, Graham's wife from the original games. Whichever he doesn't ends up becoming Queen Icebella.
  • The Five Nights at Freddy's series did this twice, one of which is a It Was His Sled moment these days.
    • The first is Five Nights at Freddy's 3 with the character of Springtrap. Originally people thought it was a counterpart to Golden Freddy which, as 4 shows, wasn't exactly untrue or an animatronic salvaged from various parts. However, certain shots and images of Springtrap show an actual corpse inside of him, and Night 5 reveals that the corpse belongs to William Afton (or Purple Guy, as he was known at the time). You know, the guy who murdered all those kids and kickstarted the whole story? Yeah, him. As said above, this is more-or-less a It Was His Sled moment nowadays, and Pizzeria Simulator doesn't even bother to hide that fact.
    • Speaking of, Pizzeria Simulator. All of the animatronics you face represent previous games in the franchisenote ...except for Lefty, a dark-coloured Freddy suit that seemingly has no relation to the story. Until its rare image and the Golden Ending reveals it to be The Puppet from 2, in disguise.

    Visual Novels 
  • Dai Gyakuten Saiban, a prequel to the Ace Attorney series features Sherlock Holmes and incorporates elements of Holmes' mythos, actually takes pride in inverting this trope, possibly to make its mystery solutions more surprising for Holmes readers.
    • In the first game's second case, Grimesby Roylott, a canon character from The Adventure of the Speckled Band, turns out to be a disguise for 15 year old Russian ballerina Nikomina Borshevik, an original character. She's still the culprit though.
    • The second game reveals that one of the first game's Holmesian characters wasn't who you thought he was. Namely, John H. Watson isn't the "Watson" of Holmes' stories, rather, the literary Watson was based on Yuujin Mikotoba, a Japanese law professor who's Holmes' actual best friend and investigative partner in this universe.
    • By extension Iris Watson isn't John Watson's daughter either, she turns out to be the child of a totally original character with no connections to Holmesian canon at all.
    • That said, the trope is somewhat played straight with street urchin Gina Lestrade, who at first seems to be just an In-Name-Only nod to the trope-naming Scotland Yard detective of the same name, but ends up being made into an actual detective in the sequel (albeit an in-training one).

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

    Western Animation 
  • Done routinely on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2012). Most of the major mutants have had their origin stories totally revamped. Seemingly original humans will get slimed by mutagen, and the turtles will give them a nickname that matches an established mutant from another continuity. Shredder's new apprentice Chris Bradford got mutated twice before he became Rahzar from the films, arms dealer Steranko and master thief Zeck get mutated into a Rhino and Warthog and take on the names Bebop and Rocksteady from the '87 show, the seeming One-Shot Character Victor Falco becomes long-time TMNT villain The Rat King, etc.
  • Transformers Animated:
    • A Whole Episode Flashback introduces Longarm, an Autobot who Bumblebee was in boot camp with. Only at the end of the episode, back in the present day, is he revealed to be a deep-cover Decepticon spy and this continuity's version of Shockwave, disguised by use of a second robot mode.
    • From the same episode, Wasp (the first character in the franchise with that name) ends up imprisoned and goes insane. In a later episode, he is transformed into a large wasp-like machine and goes by the name Waspinator, same as the character from Beast Wars.
  • In Young Justice Season 2, Jaime Reyes has a Canon Foreigner friend named Tye Longshadow. Tye and a group of other teens are later kidnapped by the Reach, who are experimenting on human children in order to activate their dormant superpowers. After Tye and some of the other teens are rescued by the heroes, he is revealed to be the show's version of Apache Chief, with the other survivors turning out to be Static, El Dorado and Samurai.
  • In LEGO Star Wars: The Padawan Menace, a ten-year-old orphan stowaways with some Padawans on a field trip. Since everyone else is wearing name tags, he finds some letter decals and puts "IAN" on his shirt. It's only at the end of the episode that Yoda addresses him by that name, at which point he looks down and realizes that he put the "H" in his name sideways. His name is Han Solo.
  • Ben 10 (2016): In the season finale of the reboot, Ben unlocks a new alien, a Chimera Sui Generis he called "Gax". He meets another member of Gax's race named "Vil". Vil trains Ben to use his Gax form to its fullest, but then absorbs Gax into himself. He reveals that the Omnitrix took his powers when it sampled his DNA, so he has regained his power and reveals his real name: Vilgax.
  • DuckTales (2017):
    • We're introduced to new character Lena, a teenager who befriends Webby and the triplets and helps them deal with the Beagle Boys. Then at the end of her debut episode, we learn that she's Magica De Spell's niece, making her the show's equivalent of Minima De Spell (a character from the 1987 show's Recursive Adaptation). This turns into a double example when it's revealed Lena is also Magica's shadow (a one-time antagonist in the 1987 cartoon).
    • The dark, skull-faced demon from the Title Sequence and pilot episode turns out to be the ghost of Duckworth.
  • The Spectacular Spider-Man: The Green Goblin's identity was questioned at the end of his arc, believed to be Harry, as his father Norman was at Oscorp when the Goblin committed a theft. Peter believed it, until Harry mentions seeing Green Goblin. Believing his first guess was correct, Spidey confronts Norman but is proven wrong. Another false lead was brought up, but Goblin attacks him as well. Finally, it's revealed to be Norman Osborn all along, the Norman seen at Oscorp during the theft was the Chameleon.
  • Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters: Only Stretch Armstrong and his Arch-Enemy Stretch Monster are pre-existing characters, everyone else is an original character created for the series. However, Stretch's boss and benefactor, Jonathan Rook, turns out to not be as original as perceived. He's revealed to be Stretch Monster's civilian identity.
  • Throughout the fifth season of Samurai Jack, Jack is tormented by what appears to be a deranged hallucination of himself. It later turns out that the "hallucination" is Mad Jack, having reappeared in Jack's psyche.

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