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Cerebus Retcon

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

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

While this trope will frequently be the consequence of a retcon, without Word of God, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish actual instances of retcon from situations where the author had planned for the tonal shift, with early gags always being meant to serve as foreshadowing for all the later drama. As such, this trope is used to cover both cases, since the audience is now told to perceive a lighthearted moment in a more serious light either way.

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

Compare Reimagining the Artifact, Doing In the Wizard, Backstory Horror, and Crapsaccharine World. Often related to Harsher in Hindsight and Rewatch Bonus. Sometimes overlaps with Arc Welding.

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


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

    Films — Animation 
  • La Muerte's annoyance when Xibalba was enthralled by Maria in The Book of Life, is far less funny when Word of God revealed that part of the reason they're estranged is because Xibalba appeared to be cheating with other goddesses.
  • In Finding Nemo, Dory's amnesia initially comes off as more of a comedic quirk than a genuine handicap, and it seems like a natural part of her Cute Clumsy Girl persona. But as the film goes on, it gradually becomes clear that she's deeply bothered by her inability to hold onto memories, particularly since it means that she can't remember anything about her real family, and it makes it almost impossible for her to form lasting relationships. As much as she might annoy Marlin, she does deeply value him as a friend...since he's one of the few friends that she's ever had. It becomes even worse in Finding Dory, where it's revealed that her memory problems caused her to lose her family, that she outright catches anxiety when faced with the thought that she will be left all alone, with nobody to help her, that even her parents were worried about her future and so much more... The sequel also turns several of her personality quirks from the original film (such as the "just keep swimming" Running Gag) and has them Played for Drama as a result of Parental Abandonment. That moment where Dory not knowing where her family is when she says her memory loss runs in the family is retconed to something far less humorous.
  • In the original Kung Fu Panda, Po having a goose for a dad was repeatedly Played for Laughs, with the issue not being touched upon at all aside from a slight tease during their last scene together. In Kung Fu Panda 2, the issue is touched upon, and it turns out that Po not only has a Dark and Troubled Past, but that the reason Mr. Ping never brought it up before is that he was afraid his son would leave him to find his real family.
  • Monsters University:
    • Monsters University touches on the backstory of Sully's scare assistant Mike. In Monsters Inc., Mike served mostly as a comedic Butt-Monkey and seemingly second-fiddle to Sully's accomplishment. But then the prequel reveals how much grief and failure Mike experienced to get the position he did today and come to terms with his shortcomings and ultimately be treated like an equal to the on-field Scarers despite only being a coach.
    • The film also reveals that Randal Boggs' competitive nature and antagonism stemmed from fraternity hazing and bullying; leading to his Start of Darkness. It also reveals that his perpetual squint is due to him ditching his Nerd Glasses on Mike's advice.
    • The film hilariously implies that the Adominable Snowman was banished in Monsters Inc. merely for mail tampering. In Monsters at Work, it's revealed Abominable was actually banished for discovering a letter implicating Waternoose in the scream extractor plot, and Waternoose didn't want him spilling the beans to anyone.
  • Olaf's Frozen Adventure actually inverts this. In the original movie, the song 'Do you wanna build a snowman' serves to represent Elsa and Anna drifting apart, showing how Anna comes to Elsa's door each year asking to build a snowman with her like they did at the beginning of the movie, but Elsa always refuses. In Olaf's Frozen Adventure, this is shown in a different light — the plot of the movie is Elsa being depressed that she and Anna never had any family traditions (largely because their parents died and Elsa became a shut-in and all), but in the latter half of the movie, they discover a box with several fake snowmen, made of paper or string, that Anna would sneak below Elsa's door when she would come by to ask about making snowmen. We see images of Elsa standing behind the door, wanting to say yes, but too scared to say anything. So in truth, those moments didn't mean they were drifting apart, necessarily, but rather showed that even in spite of everything, they were still thinking of each other. They did indeed have a family tradition after all.
  • Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse featured a bagel being used during Miles and Peter B. Parker as part of their escape from Alchemax; which was played comedically... until the sequel Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse revealed that this indirectly led to the creation of the Spot and his subsequent attempts to ruin Spider-Man's life.
  • The War to End All Wars – The Movie: The "Christmas Truce" segment reuses the sight gag from Yarnhub's earlier music video for the song where Gefreiternote  Adolf Hitler tries to tattle on the truce to the German Army brass, gets hit in the head with a football, and then glumly refuses to participate. This time, though, his message actually does get through, and prompts the German general to command the artillery to resume firing, ending the truce.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future Part II: In the last scene of the original Back to the Future, Doc, Marty, and Jennifer take off in the newly-modified DeLorean to travel to the future. In this movie, we see that Biff saw the time machine taking off and in the 2015, the elderly Biff sees it again and figures out its true nature, deciding to steal it for his own purposes.
  • Grandmother's Farm 2: In the first movie, while on their way to the farm, Yassir decides to drive their car through the sand and ends up running over some animal bones. We find out in this movie that those were the bones of the djinn's children, and his actions are revenge on Yassir.
  • The Hitman's Wife's Bodyguard, Michael's obsession with seat belts from the first film take a serious toll here, as it's revealed to be because his mother got killed when an obese man fell off a ride at the amusement park and crushed her because he wasn't wearing seat belts.
  • Jurassic Park
    • When the Spinosaurus first appeared in Jurassic Park III, it was thought of as just another one of InGen's cloned dinosaurs that went loose after the island's breeding facilities were abandoned, deadlier yes, but still a normal dinosaur (relatively speaking). However, the Masrani Global website of Jurassic World implies it to be one of the hybrid projects that Dr. Wu created in cooperation with Hoskins. Specifically, hybrids that are designed to be much more powerful and intelligent than normal dinosaurs. This was done to explain the discrepancies between the Spinosaurus in the movie compared to real-life spinosaurs, which have been found to be considerably different from the animal in the movie since its release, and probably why it goes through so much trouble in hunting the humans and why that poor Tyrannosaurus rex gets killed so easily.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • In The Avengers, Tony's flight through the Chitauri wormhole at the climax of the movie is just a good old fashioned fist-pumping action climax, and his resultant brush with death (which he obviously survives) is Played for Laughs, with Tony absentmindedly rambling about going to get shawarma immediately upon waking up. But then Iron Man 3 reveals that he actually got PTSD from the experience, and a minor plot point in the film involves him struggling to cope with anxiety attacks following the battle in New York.
      • Furthermore, his brief foray into outer space, as well as seeing the gargantuan Chitauri army there, instills in him the conviction that the biggest threats to Earth are those from alien invaders. His quest to preemptively combat these threats results in him creating Ultron, supporting the Sokovia Accords, and ultimately breaking up the Avengers, thus rendering Earth more vulnerable to the exact dangers he was trying to protect against.
    • Senator Stern from Iron Man 2 was more of a comedic pain-in-the-ass than an actual threat, and his attempts to confiscate Tony's armor never really panned out. Then in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, we find out Stern is a high-ranking agent of HYDRA, and was likely trying to take Stark's armor so that the organization could mass-produce their own versions.
      • Similarly, the World Security Council played Commander Contrarian in The Avengers, pushing Fury to use Tesseract weaponry instead of trying to assemble a Ragtag Bunch of Misfits. The councilman leading this charge later returned in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. as, like Senator Stern, a leading member of HYDRA, adding context to why he wanted high-powered weaponry so badly.
      • And let us not forget the Council's directive to "contain the invasion" by dropping a nuke on New York...
    • This is the whole point of the Sokovia Accords plot in Captain America: Civil War. It's shown that the Avengers' heroic deeds in the past movies have caused untold amounts of collateral damage, and the main villain of the movie is a man whose wife and son were crushed to death by falling buildings during the final battle in Avengers: Age of Ultron. To hammer this point home, footage of The Incredible Hulk fighting the Chitauri from The Avengers is shown, and it's revealed that he accidentally knocked debris onto a crowd of screaming civilians. To make it worse, Age of Ultron made it a specific point to show that the Avengers were doing everything they could to keep civilians out of the line of fire, and the implication was that they had essentially succeeded until Civil War showed otherwise.
    • In the Iron Man movies (especially 2), Tony suffers from unresolved issues due to his parents' death in a car accident when he was young. Captain America: The Winter Soldier puts a darker spin on it by dropping a heavy hint that their deaths were actually a HYDRA assassination, though this information is seen by Steve and Natasha, not Tony. Captain America: Civil War takes it further, as not only is the hint confirmed and revealed to Tony, but it adds the detail that Steve's brainwashed friend Bucky carried out the hit. Tony is furious that Steve had kept this from him for two years and is now protecting his parents' killer.
    • Guardians of the Galaxy (2014) has Yondu remark that Peter Quill's father was a "jackass" when one of the Ravagers laments they didn't deliver Quill to him. Come Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Yondu is proven right when Quill meets his biological father Ego the Living Planet, who wants to eliminate all life in the universe by replacing it with extensions of his Celestial self. Ego had even killed hundreds of his own children after they were delivered to him by Yondu and didn't have his Celestial gene. Yondu even dies trying to save Peter, meaning that he truly became Quill's father-figure after he was abducted. It also has the effect of taking the Running Gag of Yondu going soft and making it so he was fiercely protective of Peter and helped him learn to survive on his own.
    • The running gag in the series of Rocket disliking being called a raccoon or mistaken for other animals has taken on a much darker meaning after Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. The experiments done by the High Evolutionary to create him made it so he wasn't just resentful of his identity, but deliberately repressing the painful memories of his creation.
    • At the start of Thor, Odin banished Thor and stripped him of his power after Thor nearly started a war. Thor: Ragnarok shows that Odin had to imprison Hela after she grew out of control in her desire for conquest. Meaning now Odin's banishing of Thor was to stop Thor from becoming a monster like Hela, not just trying to teach Thor humility.
    • In Captain America: Civil War, Tony nicknaming his holographic therapy machine B.A.R.F. is treated as an offhand joke. In Spider-Man: Far From Home, we see that its inventor Quentin Beck was outraged that Stark ridiculed his life's work with such a demeaning nickname. This was the catalyst that led to Beck becoming a supervillain, and endangering thousands of lives, to make himself look like a hero. Though it's obvious that he was already mentally unstable and Tony would have taken him a lot more seriously than he probably imagined.
      • Which is why this trope also applies in-universe. Beck remembers people laughing at the name, but in Civil War, absolutely nobody laughed. Beck also mentally edits out Tony saying it needs a better name, represented by a jump in the footage.
  • Men in Black:
    • In the first two films, K was The Stoic, though this was mostly played for laughs. When Boris the Animal goes back in time in the third film to kill K, J goes back to save him, and finds that K is a likable person with emotion. The reason K has always been such a curmudgeonly old guy is because he witnessed J's father sacrificing himself to save K from Boris back in 1969, which ended up with K somewhat becoming a surrogate father to J.
    • The Worm Guys are always seen drinking coffee in MIB's kitchen. In the animated series, it's explained that coffee is a sacred beverage on their homeworld which only royalty can drink. Kind of a downplayed example, in that it's still funny in a Worthless Yellow Rocks kind of way; now if the Worm Guys noted on their planet that any non-royalty caught with coffee was subject to execution...!
  • Muppets from Space: After decades of Gonzo's species being Played for Laughs, this film has him undergo an identity crisis and go out to search for others like him.
  • In Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, it's something of a Running Gag that Jack Sparrow's compass doesn't point north—demonstrating that he's both too broke to buy a replacement and too nutty to realize that it's useless. But the compass becomes a major plot point in the sequel, which reveals why it doesn't point north: it's a powerful magical artifact that Jack bartered from a sea goddess, and it points toward whatever its bearer wants most.
  • The Twist Ending of the Framing Device to the horror/comedy anthology Scare Package II: Rad Chad's Revenge completely changes everything in both this movie and the original Scare Package, as it's revealed that Rad Chad himself — a Meta Guy seemingly killed in a moment of Wrong Genre Savvy in the first movie's climax — is in fact the mastermind of everything that happened in both movies, all of which was engineered to punish and kill all those who mocked his love of horror movies.
  • Star Wars:
    • In A New Hope, Luke Skywalker's Aunt Beru notes to his Uncle Owen "Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.", to which Owen says "That's what I'm afraid of." In The Empire Strikes Back, we learn that Luke's father is, in fact, Darth Vader, one of the most evil men in the galaxy. And it's even worse if you consider the Prequel Trilogy, as we see in Attack of the Clones, shortly after Anakin originally met Owen, he went on a rampage, slaughtering dozens of Sand People after his mother's death by their hands. It goes from mere apprehension that Luke might get himself killed to fears that Luke might turn genocidal.
    • There's also a comedic scene in A New Hope where Chewbacca refuses to go inside the chute to the Death Star's trash compactor because of the smell, and Han ends up having to kick him in. In the canonical Star Wars: Chewbacca mini-series from Marvel, we learn that tight, enclosed spaces trigger traumatic flashbacks to his time as a slave, making his unwillingness to go down the chute much more understandable.
    • One of the things Darth Vader is best known for in the Original Trilogy is Force-choking anyone who angers him. This gets very tragic in Revenge of the Sith, as the first person Anakin/Vader killed with the Force choke (albeit indirectly) was Padmé, the love of his life, which became the reason he joined the Dark Side.
    • In A New Hope, the gunner of the Death Star says "Stand by" twice when he can destroy Yavin IV, giving Luke enough time to destroy the station before it destroyed the Rebel base. Death Star shows that the gunner had a Heel Realization after Alderaan, and that was his way to put off firing long enough for the Death Star to be destroyed, knowing that he'd die in the process.
    • All those jokes about the Death Star having a Weaksauce Weakness acquire a darker context with the release of Rogue One. Not only that weakness was installed on purpose; it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears to install it in the first place.
    • There's also the matter of the rebellion only sending thirty ships to destroy the Death Star in A New Hope. Rogue One reveals during the battle where the Death Star plans were stolen, the entire Blue Squadron was destroyed and both Red and Gold suffered heavy losses. And before the battle occured, most of the Rebel Alliance members got intimidated by Death Star's power and decided to cut their losses and withdraw from rebellion, leaving only a handful of most determined rebels to keep on fighting. Those thirty ships were all they had left.
    • Anakin's line in Revenge of the Sith about how Obi-Wan and the Jedi Council don't trust him seems like a a line that is slightly exaggerative at the time, even if they are somewhat wary of him. Then Star Wars: The Clone Wars shows how previously they had lied to and outright manipulated him. Suddenly, the lack of trust he displays towards the Jedi makes a lot more sense.
  • In Superman II, Zod's Dragon Non was a silent brute upon whom Jor-El looked with contempt. This characterization carried over to the comics... and then it was revealed Non was once a close friend of Jor-El's until he was abducted and lobotomized.

  • The Courtship of Princess Leia had a rather stock villain duo in Warlord Zsinj and General Melvar, dim-witted and eeeheeheeeeevil sadistic bad guys who had the resources — a Super Star Destroyer and a device that cut off the sunlight from a particular planet — to threaten our heroes. Their resources were more of a plot point than they were; the only role they played was to leer menacingly and set up those things, then be killed quickly. In the X-Wing Series, set earlier, Aaron Allston made it a point to expand on those two, making them Faux Affably Evil, very intelligent, and quite essential to the plot. Their two-dimensional idiocy became Obfuscating Stupidity, and they actually turned into legitimate (and very entertaining) threats.
  • In early Discworld books, there are repeated references to the Battle of Koom Valley, a battle between trolls and dwarfs in which both sides claimed the other ambushed them, used as an illustration of Fantastic Racism and humorously over-the-top grudge-holding. In Thud!, it's revealed the original Battle of Koom Valley was a tragic misunderstanding in which an attempted peace talk between dwarfs and trolls was interrupted by a flood, washing away the entire peace party. When the rest of the armies arrived late, because of the floods, they all assumed that the other side must have ambushed their leaders and murdered them, leading to centuries more war and hatred.
  • The Dresden Files: "Rudolph the Brown-nosed Reindeer," Murphy's Internal Affairs Sitcom Arch-Nemesis, is an incompetent coward whose dismal personality is mostly Played for Laughs. However, in Battle Ground, Rudolph's panicky nature and disregard for proper firearm discipline turns very dark, and ultimately causes Murphy's death.
    • Battle Ground's Extra-Strength Masquerade has been previously played for Black Comedy before as just a result of both human stupidity and Selective Obliviousness. However, this book reveals another far more serious reason for the continued existence of The Masquerade: Namely, that the US government actually has a secret agency under the purview of the Library of Congress called the "Special Collections Division." Despite their innocent-sounding name, they're actually a ridiculously dangerous Creature-Hunter Organization tasked with both researching the supernatural and using The Conspiracy to silence any potential leaks to the public. To put it into perspective, the "Librarians" are so dangerously competent and viewed with such naked fear by the various signatories of the Unseelie Accords that even Lara Raith is visibly terrified of them. Suddenly, all of Dresden's previous snark about how people will just naturally delude themselves into thinking that shape-shifting Fallen Angels burning down buildings and the like were just terrorist attacks using chemical weapons that cause mass hallucinations seems laughably naïve.
  • In the first book of the Familias Regnant series, much of the light relief comes from an Upper-Class Twit character who is always Comically Missing the Point. The second book features the revelation that this character used to be much more intelligent and with-it before an assassination attempt left him with brain damage, which leaves those bits a lot less comic in retrospect.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Hermione's attitude towards House Elves in the series is always treated as your average tree-hugging annoyance. This is especially true in regards to Kreacher, as Sirius would crack sarcastic jokes about Kreacher obsessing over the family members' old belongings and make smart remarks about his death, which Harry and Ron openly laughed about. Then in the final book, we find out exactly what Kreacher has been through... Sirius's jokes and attitude don't seem so funny anymore.
    • Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers never stay on for more than a year, to the point where students often joke about the position being cursed. Turns out, it is: Voldemort himself wanted the position many years ago, but Dumbledore refused to give it to him. (Obviously, this was before he became known as wizard-Hitler.) Ever since, no one has been able to hold the job for more than a year without something happening to them.
    • Neville Longbottom is bumbling and forgetful, and most of the other characters (especially Snape) tease him for his incompetence while his grandmother relentlessly pushes him. We later learn that Neville's parents were Aurors that were tortured into total insanity, a significant part of his bumbling lack of self-esteem is fear of not living up to their example, and his grandmother's nature was to toughen him up to protect him from the same fate.
    • In Philosopher's Stone, Hagrid is presented as a goofy, over-sized character who is clumsy with his magic and hides his wand in an umbrella. This is presented as simple comic relief. It is later revealed that Hagrid is a half-giant and has been suffering from Fantastic Racism his whole life. He is clumsy with magic because he was framed for Tom Riddle murdering Moaning Myrtle, and was expelled from Hogwarts early in his education. Accordingly, he has to keep his wand in an umbrella not to maintain The Masquerade, but because he's not allowed to have a wand in the first place (and said wand was actually snapped into several pieces after his expulsion, which the umbrella somewhat rectifies).
    • An early chapter in Philosopher's Stone also shows Harry conversing with a snake at the zoo, which gets Dudley into trouble with his bumbling. At the time, the comical incident just seems to be a sign of Harry's magical abilities manifesting. Chamber of Secrets later reveals that the ability to speak in Parseltongue (the language of snakes) is actually a very rare ability among Wizards, and that it's one marker of the bloodline of the Salazar Slytherin — from whom Lord Voldemort is descended. Harry's ability to speak to snakes later becomes a sinister mark of his connection to Voldemort, and it foreshadows the revelation that Harry carries part of Voldemort's soul inside him.
    • Three about Dumbledore from Philosopher's Stone. One of the first things Harry notes about him is that his nose is crooked and has been broken before. He finds out in Deathly Hallows that his nose got broken at his sister's funeral by his own brother because he caused her death and never fixed it because he views it as a sort of embodiment of My Greatest Failure. When he catches Harry looking at the Mirror of Erised right after Christmas, he tells Harry to not look at it again because it's too intoxicating. Harry asks him what he sees in it and he tells him a pair of warm socks. Harry doesn't 100% buy it but lets it slide, he also finds out in the last book that he saw the same thing as Harry, the family he lost. The third is why he had James Potter's invisibility cloak when he died. Harry had just assumed it was to study it because it was so powerful. Turns out that it's tied to both of the aforementioned things, it's a Deathly Hallow and he couldn't helped but be drawn back to his youthful obsession with them, even though his search for them got his sister killed.
    • A lot of characters seem to view love potions as a harmless joke. Then it's revealed that Merope Gaunt spent months using them to mind-rape (and then just straight-up rape) Tom Riddle, leading to the birth of Voldemort. And not just that... it's revealed that Voldemort is what he is (utterly incapable of love, friendship and all that) not because of his messed up upbringing or family, but because that's what being conceived under the effects of a love potion does to the future person. He was screwed in an unfixable way through no fault of his own.
    • After her introduction in The Prisoner of Azkaban, resident Cloudcuckoolander Sybill Trelawney is treated almost entirely as comic relief, with the students and faculty of Hogwarts all dismissing her constant gloomy prophecies as nonsense. Not even Dumbledore seems to take her seriously, as he joins in on the snark-fest whenever she's not in earshot. But her prophecies seem a lot less funny after the end of The Order of the Phoenix reveals that Voldemort tried to kill Harry as an infant because Trelawney prophesied (rightly) that Harry was the only person in the world capable of defeating him, and that one of them was destined to kill the other. Dumbledore himself employs Trelawney at Howgwarts partially to protect her from Voldemort, as one of the few people who know about Trelawney's rare prophetic, trance-like episodes (that she herself is unaware of) inherited from her ancestor Cassandra.
    • In early books, the taboo against speaking Voldemort's name aloud is played for (slightly dark) laughs, because of the inherent ridiculousness of fully-grown adults collapsing into shivering fits at the mere mention of a Wizard's name—while the young Harry, who wasn't raised to fear Voldemort, can't understand what the big deal is. But in the seventh volume, we find out that there's actually a very good reason to be afraid of saying Voldemort's name: Tom Riddle placed a curse on the name "Voldemort" to keep tabs on his enemies, ensuring that his Death Eaters would be sent to dispatch anyone brave enough to speak his chosen name aloud. After we learn that, the taboo is played for deadly serious Paranoia Fuel.
    • Hogwarts resident ghosts are initially presented as whimsical comic relief side characters who help drive home the school's fantastical nature; generally speaking, they're all quite jolly and easygoing, and they don't seem to have any angst about being dead. But as the series goes on, and the Central Theme of Death becomes more prominent, it can seem rather odd that the ghosts are treated so light-heartedly. Well, in Order of the Phoenix, we learn that ghosts are actually regarded with great curiosity and scrutiny by Wizards, and that there's a secret department in the Ministry of Magic devoted to studying the mysteries of death and the afterlife. Nearly Headless Nick also outright states that becoming a ghost is a Fate Worse than Death chosen only by tormented wizards who are afraid — or unwilling — to face the afterlife. After Sirius' death, a devastated Harry even asks Nick if he might come back as a ghost, and becomes even more distraught when he learns that he won't. The idea grows another layer in The Deathly Hallows, when it's revealed that the Bloody Baron and the Grey Lady are a pair of tragic Star-Crossed Lovers who wound up Together in Death after the Bloody Baron killed her in a fit of rage, and later committed suicide.
  • At one point in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a Million to One Chance produced when Arthur Dent accidentally activates the Infinite Improbability Drive causes two missiles to be transformed into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias, which fall onto the surface of an alien planet. While the whale contemplates its brief existence at some length before its demise, all that the bowl of petunias thinks is, "Oh no, not again." This thought is left unexplained, with the comment: "If we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now." The bowl of petunias, however, is dismayingly explained in Life, the Universe, and Everything as being one of many incarnations through time and space of a creature called Agrajag, whom Arthur Dent has accidentally killed in each form (also counts as a Brick Joke).
  • The Hobbit:
    • Bilbo recovers a magic ring from Gollum's cave after winning a riddle contest. While the original story did make it plain that Bilbo was riddling for his life, the ring he retrieves is later treated as a precious prize, saving his life several times and leading to his happy ending. Years later, when it was time to release The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien retconned the story (actually rewriting The Hobbit) to tie in with the nature of the Ring as a malicious artifact made of pure evil that was using Bilbo to escape Gollum's ownership. The existence of the first edition of The Hobbit was even deconstructed: it records Bilbo's lies about how he got the Ring and what it was like.
    • To a lesser extent, Unfinished Tales of Númenor and Middle-earth reinterpreted the Quest for Erebor when telling it from Gandalf's perspective. In the original story, Gandalf's reason for helping Thorin on his way and arranging aid for him seemed to be purely altruistic, but Unfinished Tales implies that while Gandalf did see this as a nice thing to do, he had a secondary motivation that he wasn't telling Thorin about. Gandalf knew a war with Sauron might be imminent, and he wanted to get Smaug, a dangerous Wild Card of potentially immense destructive power, off the table before Sauron could try recruiting him. To that end, he threw Thorin on a path that might well have been a suicide mission—though, admittedly, Thorin's initial plan was no less of one.
  • The Hunger Games: Finnick Odair's flirtatious personality and Really Gets Around reputation in Catching Fire come across very differently when you learn in Mockingjay how few of his supposed Capitol trysts were voluntary.
  • Monster Hunter International has Earl's minotaur-skin coat. Originally, you would have assumed it was a trophy. In book 3, it turns out he wears it to remember his minotaur friend.
  • In the second book of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Percy and Annabeth, while trying to evade Circe, release a bunch of pirates turned into guinea pigs (one of whom is Blackbeard) who proceed to ransack Circe's palace, which is played as the series' typical comedic Hoist by His Own Petard to villains. Then it is revealed in the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, that Blackbeard's release did have an impact, a decidedly non-comedic impact, namely enslaving Circe's two servants: Hylla and her younger sister Reyna, for several years. They had to climb their way to release, which brings about a nasty case of Fridge Horror by itself considering that Blackbeard's pirate crew are all adult males surrounding two females, one of whom is about 10 years get the clue. No wonder Hylla hates Percy so much.
    • Reyna has a curious Berserk Button of being called by her preppy-sounding full name, which Rachel exploits in The House of Hades. That's because she's trying to avoid her past, or rather, avoid the memory of her father, Major Julian Ramírez-Arellano, who had a Fate Worse than Death due to a severe case of PTSD after participating in the Iraq War. She's even willing to serve Circe (though admittedly, the latter treated her decently).
    • Poor Reyna gets this example a lot. There's the case in The Son of Neptune where she's really interested in Percy, even saying a sentence ("I can help you") that Percy comically mistakes as something else entirely. Once we learn about her, uh, poor relationship with every man she meets (particularly Jason), it becomes rather sad and tragic.
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: As the series develops, it turns out that many of the characters' motivations and activities were tied up with the fraught history of a secret fire-fighting / peace-keeping organization.
  • Stephen King's story The Library Policeman starts off goofy and turns deathly serious, casting the earlier goofy parts in a new light. This reflects the very writing process of the story: King started off writing a goofy tale and found it turning into a deathly serious one, so he took it and ran with it.
  • The Wanderer:
    • Thirteen-year-old girl Sophie tells a couple of stories about her grandfather Bompie. Most stories end with Bompie ending up in the water, where "he was frightened, was nearly pulled under, had to struggle hard and long to get out, after which his father gave him a whipping and his mother gave him a pie", which at that moment was more funny than actually scary. But in the end of the book, we learn that this ending is imagined by Sophie. When she was four, her family was caught by a storm during sailing, their boat sunk, her parents died and she had to swim hours to reach the shore, all alone. For her, this wasn't funny, it was her Primal Fear.
    • Before that, we learn that the whippings Bompie received (which were part of the original story) weren't funny, either. They embittered Bompie to the point that he broke off all contact with his father and never reconciled until the father was gravely ill.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., even when the relatively light-hearted first season took a turn for the dark about three quarters through the season note , it still had a few comedic moments. One of these was the Running Gag that it was obvious to everyone around The Clairvoyant that he had gone insane from the alien blood used to treat his failing cybernetic body (well, Played for Drama with Ward and Reina, Played for Laughs with everyone else). Come the second season, which has a much more serious tone than the first, Coulson's biggest fear is that he too might go crazy since he was revived by that same blood, and this is played deadly serious.
    • Also in Season 1, every time Coulson was asked about Tahiti, the place he recovered after being wounded by Loki in The Avengers, he'd always say "It's a magical place," until even he started noticing it. It's after he goes through a memory machine that he realizes the awful truth: that he truly did die and that he was brought back to life against his will.
  • Billy on Ally McBeal got a hugely out-of-character haircut, became comically misogynistic, and started seeing amazing, wacky things everywhere. He is revealed to have a brain tumor and is Killed Off for Real.
  • Angel also applies a massive Cerebus Retcon in Season 4 in an attempt to inflate the season's Big Bad. The minor and previously played-for-laughs character Skip not only takes a hard turn in going from comedy to drama, but in one speech gives exposition about how the entire series up until that point has been orchestrated by the mystery newcomer: Though the speech does not factually contradict the storyline, it indicates a premeditated arc with every event previous to the speech for all main characters as well as the speaker itself which clearly had not existed in the story's mythos.
    "You have any concept of how many lines have to intersect in order for a thing like this to play out? How many events have to be nudged in just the right direction: Leaving Pyleanote , your sisternote , opening the wrong booknote , sleeping with the enemynote . Gosh, I love a story with scope."
  • Better Call Saul does this to several moments in its parent show Breaking Bad, where Saul Goodman (a.k.a. Jimmy McGill) had largely been a comic relief character:
    • In Breaking Bad, Skyler skeptically looking over Saul's degree from the University of American Samoa is Played for Laughs. Not so much here, where Chuck looks down on Jimmy because of his shady diploma mill degree and so takes every opportunity to tear down Jimmy's chances of going legit.
    • Similarly, we have Saul's freak-out during Jesse and Walt's plan to scare him in Saul's introductory episode, "Better Call Saul"; he screams in fear of someone named "Don Lalo" and tries to blame "Ignacio," which will stay as a hilarious Noodle Incident until the episode "Point and Shoot," where the circumstances will be revealed and Saul's fear of Lalo becomes very understandable.
    • It also makes the persona of "Saul Goodman" much darker than originally (as he was just meant to be Plucky Comic Relief), as the creators have discussed that they really needed to answer the question "what problem does becoming Saul Goodman solve?" and the only valid response was "...because Jimmy McGill hates himself."
  • The Big Bang Theory:
    • Sheldon has a habit of knocking on a door three times before he enters a room. This stays funny until "The Hot Tub Comtamination", where he tells Penny that he does this so that the people on the other side could get dressed in case they were doing amorous activities. This is due to a time when he came home early as a teen and walked in on his father having sex with someone else behind his mother's back.
    • Raj's inability to speak to women was originally attributed to Raj just being shy around pretty girls and there were a couple of occasions where he spoke to the guys while Penny was in the room. Later on, Leonard's mother diagnosed Raj with selective mutism and he not only couldn't speak to any woman who wasn't his mother or sister, he couldn't speak if a woman was present in the room at all (the sole exception being if he's speaking to a large audience that includes women). Raj's method of getting around this was by drinking alcohol or taking medication, neither being suitable long-term solutions and often bringing out his less-than-pleasant traits. If he wanted to speak when sober and a woman was present, he'd have to whisper what he wanted to say to one of the guys (usually Howard) and hope they'd repeat it. It also stopped being played as a joke after a while and was portrayed as a serious issue (among many) he had to overcome which he did in the Season 6 finale.
  • Though not a comedy, Bones managed this. Booth's increasing tendency to receive advice from famous people during dreams turns out to be caused by a brain tumor that's slowly killing him. (The fact that one of those famous people was Stewie Griffin was the final straw.)
  • Sometimes, a Cerebus Retcon happens naturally as the result of Character Development over a series. For example, Wesley was a one-note bumbling Upper-Class Twit when he first appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, completely played for laughs. Once he became one of the regular cast of Angel his character was fleshed out enough to reveal that his early awkwardness was largely the result of a painful childhood with an abusive father; throughout the series any mention of his father causes Wesley to momentarily revert back to his old bumbling. His father's visit in "Lineage" is an especially dark example. This being Season 5, Wes has become extremely badass (seriously, he'd have a chance against a top of his game Ripper at this point). Finally he has to shoot his father to save Fred's life. Luckily, it was a robot.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend changed their theme song in the second season to one called "I'm Just a Girl in Love." It has funny lyrics like "I'm just a girl in love/I can't be held responsible for my actions." And "I have no underlying issues to address./I'm certifiably cute and adorably obsessed." The lyrics become much, much less funny during the second season finale when there is a flashback showing Rebecca committed arson after being dumped by her ex-boyfriend and her mother was talking to the judge when she says, "She's just a girl in love, she can't be held responsible for her actions." After the judge recommends she go to a mental health facility, Rebecca then says, "But I have no underlying issues to address." Which is painfully and obviously untrue.
  • Bryan Fuller pulls off an inter-series Cerebus Retcon. Remember Georgia Lass of Dead Like Me, a grumpy dead girl who sends people off to the afterlife, and who is unrecognisable to anyone who knew her when she was alive? Well, Hannibal brings back Ellen Muth as another girl called Georgia. She's afflicted with many disorders: the delusion that she is dead (which is aggravated by a skin disease which makes her look corpselike), the inability to recognise human faces, and episodes of psychotic aggression. At the height of her delusion, she accidentally murders a friend from her former life.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Fourth Doctor's first story ("Robot") has him recently regenerated and acting clownish and crazy, and while there is a little bit of darker subtext (he tries to abandon Sarah Jane and the Brigadier because he wasn't really aware of what he was doing, although he later is sorry about it) it's almost entirely Played for Laughs. Come a turn for the Darker and Edgier and "The Face of Evil", and it's revealed that the Doctor's sneaking off around the universe in this state ended up creating a dystopian Cargo Cult that views him as a god of destruction that Eats Babies.
    • Before "Remembrance of the Daleks" aired, fans constantly made jokes about how the Daleks' greatest weakness was stairs, as the way they were constructed prevented them from climbing up the stairs. The cliffhanger of "Remembrance of the Daleks" involves the Seventh Doctor being stuck in between a locked door at the top of a stairway, and a Dalek that is levitating upwards towards him. This was re-introduced in Series 1 when a Dalek was mocked for not being able to climb up the stairs... only to proceed to levitate up the stairs.
    • In Series 6's "Closing Time", it's revealed the Doctor can 'speak baby', and characterizes the baby in question as a megalomaniac that addresses itself as "Stormageddon, Dark Lord of All," all of which is Played for Laughs. In Series 9's "The Girl Who Died", three series later, the Doctor translates a baby's speech in a much more haunting and poetic manner that is played as an otherworldly and beautiful moment.
    • In Series 9' "Under the Lake", there is a gag where Clara keeps cue cards to help the Doctor out in difficult social situations. When the cards show up again in "Face The Raven" during the same season, it's played as a dramatic moment, with Clara and the Doctor picking through cards together while Rigsy looks on, anticipating hearing something terrible (which, of course, is exactly what happens).
    • In 2016, Steven Moffat's Q&A column in Doctor Who Magazine retconned the humorous running business of the TARDIS not liking Clara Oswald in Series 7. Turns out it wasn't because of the seemingly impossible nature of her existence, but because the TARDIS knew Clara and the Doctor would have too close a relationship and become the Hybrid that almost destroyed the space-time continuum and was working its resentment out on her for events that not only wouldn't unfold until Series 9, but almost didn't happen at all because the original plan was for Clara to leave at the end of Series 8.
    • All those moments where the grumpy Twelfth Doctor expresses his distaste for hugging is initially played for laughs. Then "The Doctor Falls" has his regeneration start when he is electrocuted by a Cyberman hugging him.
    • Throughout the entire series, there's a Running Gag of the Doctor having a clear disdain-bordering-on-Absurd Phobia of hospitals, with it being meant to be an obvious joke concerning the Irony of someone who named themselves "the Doctor" being scared of a place where most real-world doctors work. However, Series 12 reveals that this silly-seeming fear is actually the result of repressed memories dating back to when the Doctor was "the Timeless Child" on primeval Gallifrey. Way back then, the Doctor was a child from both a physical and psychological viewpoint, and was repeatedly subjected to nightmarish torture past the brink of death in a hospital-like setting by their caretaker Tecteun as part of the latter's experiments into regeneration. Suddenly, all of the moments where the Doctor expresses a distaste for hospitals are now subtly horrifying.
  • In Farscape, originally Crichton was merely hallucinating Scorpius in the episode "Crackers Don't Matter", being driven mad like everyone else. The writers liked the idea of an invisible Scorpius acting as the devil on Crichton's shoulder so much, they retconned things so that the hallucination was actually due to a neural-chip implanted by Scorpius in a previous episode, eventually dubbed "Harvey".
  • Game of Thrones:
    • Hodor has consistently been portrayed as a hulking simpleton with childlike intelligence, and his Gentle Giant persona has always been used for comic relief — as has his inability to say anything but his own name. The books and the TV show had long cryptically hinted that there was something more to Hodor than the Starks suspected, with the eventual revelation that his birth name was actually "Walder" ("Wylis" in the show). Then come the events of the Wham Episode "The Door". It turns out that Hodor was once of perfectly normal intelligence, but suffered a massive seizure when Bran seized control of his younger self's mind, inadvertently splitting his mind between two time periods. He can only say the word "Hodor" because he heard Meera Reed shouting "Hold the door!" when he glimpsed into the future, and started to repeat that until it slurred into just being "Hodor" .
    • Jaqen H'ghar isn't exactly a comic relief character, but his odd speaking style initially comes off as a simple Funny Foreigner schtick. In particular, he doesn't seem to know how to use pronouns, consistently referring to himself as "a man" (never "I" or "me") and addressing Arya as "a girl" (never "you"). But as we delve further into the philosophy and worldview of the Faceless Men, we learn that there's a genuinely chilling reason that Jaqen talks like that: the Faceless Men believe in rejecting their sense of self so that they can better serve the organization, and they're expected to shed their old identities so that they can adopt new ones. As a veteran Faceless Man, he's so detached from his own identity that he genuinely just sees himself as "a man". Plus, "Jaqen H'ghar" is apparently a shared persona used by other Faceless Men too, so he's really not "Jaqen H'ghar", but just "a man" or "no one".
    • Season 3 has a few dry comedic moments where Tywin Lannister is only paying casual attention to people as he sits writing letters in his study. It only becomes apparent once you know what happens at the end of the season that these letters are orchestrating the Red Wedding — where Robb Stark, his wife, mother and bannermen are slaughtered.
  • Glee: Tina Cohen-Chang's Butt-Monkey status in Season 2 was played for laughs when we were meant to laugh at her getting hysterical during a rare solo, and her getting booed off stage in another episode when she worked on the performance for a week and cried about it for a month. In Season 3, after the strong backlash fans had against her getting neglected, she got her own Cerebus Retcon episode ("Props") in which the Glee Club is made to feel guilty about her lack of solos, lines or appreciation.
  • The Golden Girls:
    • Rose is generally a happy-go-lucky Cloudcuckoolander who is unaware of how dumb she seems to others. The exception is the episode 'Dancing in the Dark', where she first falls in love with Miles, in which she is so self-conscious about their different intellects that it almost sabotages their budding relationship.
    • Sophia's memory loss due to a stroke mostly appears in the early seasons as a joke and an excuse to make her a Deadpan Snarker. However a couple of episodes have confronted the fact that both Sophia and Dorothy fear she may be slipping into dementia and that she will one day no longer be able to take care of herself. Sophia is especially afraid of losing her memories of her dead husband Sal.
    • Blanche has apparently always been fairly promiscuous, but it has been hinted once or twice that her fear of commitment is because she never really got over the fact that the only man she ever really loved, her husband George, was killed out of the blue in a car accident.
  • In The Good Place, the Good Place committee are all shown as Extreme Doormats and Straw Optimists who seem almost incapable of being unhappy, and several members calmly resign on the spot at the slightest mistake. This stopped being funny in the penultimate episode, when they trick Michael into becoming the leader of the Good Place, before they all resign and run away. It turns out that the committee has spent several hundred years dealing with the issue of all humans in the good place becoming bored of immortality and pleasure, suggesting that everything they put up with in the other episodes is a welcome reprieve from the problem they can't solve.
  • It isn't exactly comedy, but the subplot in the first episode of Heroes about Angela Petrelli getting arrested for shoplifting socks and her sons bailing her out is certainly pretty lighthearted. That is, until Volume 4 rolls around. In the episode 1961, we learn that Angela had a sister who she left when she was a child, regretting it ever since. We also learn that whenever she finds herself missing her sister particularly badly, she, you guessed it, steals socks. Suddenly, that lighthearted moment in the series premier seems a lot more disturbing.
  • In How I Met Your Mother's 100th episode "Girls vs Suits", many of the titular Mother's quirks were played for laughs, such as painting pictures of robots and singing with her food during breakfast. In the 200th episode "How Your Mother Met Me", it was revealed her First Love Max's last present for her was a ukelele "so your breakfast doesn't need to perform acapella" and her robot paintings were an activity she tried to do to get over his death. Louis's lack of appreciation of her singing muffin was a sign that they wouldn't work long-term.
  • Karadoc being a Big Eater and Arthur being unwilling to have sex with his wife Guenièvre (because it's an arranged marriage and he doesn't find her attractive at all) are two of Kaamelott's Running Gags. In the sixth season that takes place before the rest of the series, it's explained that Karadoc was abducted and almost starved to death before joining the Knights of the Round Table, and Arthur promised to his first wife (who he married in secret and would never see again) that he wouldn't touch his new wife out of respect for her.
  • Kamen Rider
  • In Seasons 1-3 of M*A*S*H, Hawkeye was a bit crazy (especially when he's on no sleep) but mostly coping. But then Season 4 onwards (and Trapper leaving/Henry dying) started pushing that he had trauma beforehand too, with abandonment issues — like having Never Got to Say Goodbye with New Old Flame Carlye — plus bipolar tendencies and Trauma-Induced Amnesia twice. Alan Alda believes he didn't change from beginning to end of the series, he just had all his defences worn down.
  • Orange Is the New Black:
    • In the first season, Morello's obsession with her wedding to her fiancé Christopher is a running gag, consistently played for laughs. In the second season, we find out that Christopher isn't really her fiancé, and that Morello has deluded herself into believing that he loves her. She's in prison for violating the restraining order that he put on her after they had one date, and she proceeded to stalk him, threaten him, and try to hurt his actual girlfriend.
    • In most of the early episodes, Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren comes off as a rather generic take on the old "mentally unstable prison inmate" Stock Character, and her crazy antics are played for (very dark) laughs. Later in the season, as Piper gets to know her better, it gradually becomes clear that Suzanne actually struggles constantly to keep her mental illness in check in order to avoid being sent back to Litchfield's psychiatric ward, which she claims is even worse than solitary confinement. Even her nickname is deconstructed: Suzanne is genuinely hurt by the name "Crazy Eyes", as it serves as a constant reminder that she'll never be considered "one of the girls".
    • In the pilot episode, Caputo is seen taking out a bottle of lotion and masturbating in his office right after his first meeting with Piper. At the time, it seems like an Establishing Character Moment for Caputo, establishing him as a slovenly idiot with no professional standards. But later on, as the character's Hidden Depths become clear, we gradually see that he's actually one of the most decent employees at the prison, and one of the few who's not afraid to clash with his superiors to fight for the inmates' rights. In the third season, after he becomes the new warden, the masturbation scene from the pilot actually gets a surprising Call-Back, when Caputo reveals that he has a very good reason for doing it: when chewing out Bennett for impregnating Daya and getting Mendez fired for sleeping with her, he tells him that he regularly masturbates on the job so that he won't be tempted to make sexual advances on the women under his charge.
  • The Orville: "Old Wounds" (the pilot) starts off with a Plot-Inciting Infidelity that turns into a series of dodgy jokes about Ed's discomfort at getting his ex-wife as a first officer and how Ed only got a low-level exploration ship due to his career going into a tailspin due to distraction over the divorce. But come "Cupid's Dagger," we meet the guy who broke up the marriage. His species secrete pheromones that are as good as a date rape drug, their culture (supposedly) has such an open attitude toward sex that refusing an offer of it is considered rude, and the guy either has a very dim concept of sexual consent or is an outright predator, meaning the whole thing that kicked off the plot may have been a whopper of Double Standard: Rape, Sci-Fi.
  • Power Rangers did this a few times.
    • Ninja Storm retconned silly villain Lothor and his standalone plots to have been a long-term plan to overload the Abyss of Evil with dead monsters.
    • Power Rangers Jungle Fury did this with a character. Flit as presented in the first 17 episodes was just a fly stuck in Camille who occasionally went out to comment on battles. Then we get his backstory, and he becomes a much more tragic character, Trapped in Villainy, using his brief bouts of encouragement as one of the few things he can do with himself while being a prisoner.
    • Power Rangers RPM got gags out of Doctor K not going outside and her mention of growing up in Alphabet Soup, only to then reveal the utter horror of what Alphabet Soup did to her.
  • The French Canadian series La Princesse astronaute ("The Astronaut Princess"), is, for the most part, a fun and lighthearted family TV show about a princess living in a fantasy medieval world where, every once in a while, objects from modern day Earth fall from the sky (the people call it a heavy rain). The princess, Noémi, gets the idea to become an astronaut from an old magazine she found during such a rain. While they acknowledge the rains are dangerous (Noémi's mother was killed when a computer fell on her), they are usually treated as comedy, with the characters finding everyday objects and not understanding their use. However, at the end of the third season, Noémi makes her way to our Moon, guided by mysterious black boxes scattered around the galaxy. The final black box she finds on the Moon has this message, written by humans: "We are capable of the very best and the very worst. We have reached for the moon, yet may now destroy our own planet. Too many people, too much pollution, too much junk. Our best will save us, or our worst will destroy us. Anyone, please, help us."
  • When Nate on Six Feet Under is suddenly stricken with an inability to speak clearly while placing an order at a fast food drive-thru, it's played for laughs (albeit dark ones). Later in the same season, it turns serious when we learn that the incident was the first appearance of symptoms of Nate's AVM, which is the condition that eventually takes his life.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • When we're first introduced to Dr. Bashir, it's played for laughs that he's incredibly young and arrogant about what a great doctor he is. But it gets distinctly weird to look back on this after the fifth season episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" reveals Bashir's intelligence is the result of illegal genetic enhancements that were performed on him as a child to correct severe mental retardation.
    • In a more minor example, in an early episode, Bashir mentions that he confused a pre-ganglionic fiber with a post-ganglionic nerve during his medical finals. When fans pointed out that this is a mistake that no competent medical student would make, the explanation was retconned that he got the question wrong on purpose to avoid being valedictorian... to cover up his genetic enhancements.
    • In one example going back to the Original Series and played for humor; In "Trials and Tribble-ations", when Sisko, Dax, O'Brien, Worf, and Odo find themselves on the original Enterprise during the events of episode "The Trouble with Tribbles", Worf is visibly distressed at the sight of a tribble, explaining to Odo that they were an ecological menace on the Klingon homeworld before they were hunted to extinction. Puts the "Everybody Laughs" Ending from the original episode where Scotty jokes about beaming the tribbles onto a Klingon ship in a darker light.
  • Star Trek: Enterprise: The episode "Judgment" does this to the entire Klingon Empire, who were flanderized into Proud Warrior Race Guys over the years, showing that the Klingons had a more intellectual ruling caste which was slowly being eroded by the warrior caste, and by the late 23rd century, the warrior caste had taken over.
  • In Star Trek: The Next Generation, resident Proud Warrior Race Guy Worf makes an offhand comment about having a poor sex life due to most human women being physically fragile compared to him, lacking his Klingon physiology, meaning he has to restrain himself too much to enjoy sex. This same issue is later referred to in a much more dramatic fashion in the Deep Space Nine episode "Let He Who Is Without Sin...", when he explains that as a boy, he accidentally killed another boy during a football/soccer match when their heads collided, which led to his restrained and uptight demeanor as he feels he must always be careful to avoid harming other, more fragile beings. It also became relevant when he married Jadzia Dax, and she was constantly in Dr. Bashir's office for broken ribs. As was Worf. Not that they minded.
    • In the pilot episode "Encounter at Farpoint", when the Enterprise crew is placed on trial, Picard suggests that Q judge them based on their performance on the "long mission" they have ahead of them. Q dismisses the idea but says he will judge them just based on how they perform on this specific visit to Farpoint Station. Seven years later, in the final episode "All Good Things", Q reveals that he took up Picard's suggestion after all, and "the trial never ended".
    • Lwaxana Troi, Counselor Troi's mother, is very controlling, but it's clearly humorous. Then comes "Dark Page" (her last appearance on TNG) and we learn that Lwaxana had two daughters, and the older one, Kestra, drowned when Lwaxana wasn't paying attention.
    • The later seasons established that during the first two seasons, while the Enterprise was wandering around doing random tasks and showcasing the most laid-back, blatantly Mildly Military traits in the entire franchise, the Federation was in the tail end of a long and bloody war with the Cardassians. O'Brien especially had just left a front-line posting where he fought in several battles.
  • Supernatural: The Trickster, who first appears in Season 2, is a comic villain who torments jerks with reality-bending scenarios. This includes putting Sam, who is not a jerk but did try and kill him, into a time-loop in which he is forced to watch Dean die 100s of times. Season 5, it's revealed that The Trickster is really the Archangel Gabriel and had been hiding on Earth because he couldn't stand watching his brothers Michael and Lucifer kill each other. His interest in Sam and Dean is sparked by their destinies to be Michael and Lucifer's vessels.
  • In Ted Lasso, Rebecca Welton's constant abuse of her timid Beleaguered Assistant Higgins is initially played humorously, fitting into her image as an intimidating and no-nonsense Iron Lady. But it's eventually revealed that her treatment of Higgins is due to genuine anger and resentment: he previously worked for Rebecca's ex-husband Rupert when he owned Richmond AFC, and he helped Rupert cover up his numerous extramarital affairs when he and Rebecca were still married. Rebecca has never been able to forgive Higgins for staying quiet about her husband's infidelity, and takes her anger out on him by treating him horribly.
  • Twin Peaks: Commissioner Gordon Cole's hearing impairment in Season 3. While his 1990s hearing aid was much more obvious and thus a dead giveaway to his condition (especially when coupled with his loud speech), one would think he could just turn it louder. Well, he can. And it hurts.

  • Eminem's Running Gag about being the new Elvis Presley starts out as lighthearted mockery of panicky parents and racist critics, with him depicted in videos as a breakdancing Elvis winding up white people with Black music and becoming a megastar. By 2007, Eminem would, like Elvis, be a fading, fat, depressed drug addict and nearly die while using the toilet, an parallel that is not lost in his later Elvis jokes. In "Deja Vu", a dark song describing the misery of his drug addiction, Marshall comments, "what would Elvis do in your shoes?". In "Fly Away", Eminem analogises his survival of his near-death experience by quoting some Elvis lyrics before describing himself wiping his ass and rolling the paper back onto the roll.

  • The Adventure Zone: Balance: a lot of the Early-Installment Weirdness and goofy nature of the podcast was later retconned to be much more serious, especially anything related to the IPRE crew, the Starblaster, and the Hunger.
    • Why was Klarg so inexplicably susceptible to Charm Person, to the point that his entire personality changed, in Here There Be Gerblins? Crystal Kingdom reveals that Lucas Miller had done neurological experimentation to his entire family, transforming them into docile, harmless slaves.
    • Lucretia's assistant Davenport is a gnome only able to say his name — clearly not a trait of all gnomes, as Leon can speak in normal sentences. Davenport was the captain of a research mission, and when Lucretia erased the memories of the mission from the IPRE crew, his life was so entangled in it that all that was left over was his name.
      • Related; an early scene has Davenport briefly appear to succumb to the thrall of a Grand Relic, but he quickly gets over it. Because he's one of the people who made them and is therefore immune to their thrall. It's the same reason that Taako, Merle, and Magnus are immune; not, as they would have you assume, their sheer stupidity.
    • Magnus carries around a goldfish named Steven in a clear glass ball wherever he goes. It's a literal Replacement Goldfish for Fisher the Voidfish.
    • Barry Bluejeans, the bodyguard that the Boys rescue in Here There Be Gerblins, is actually a powerful necromancer, a lich, and the Starblaster's chief scientific officer. Also the Red Robe that's been stalking the party for nearly the entire show. Similarly — the skeleton holding the Umbrastaff in Wave Echo Cave? Taako's twin sister Lup, also a lich, whose soul was stored in the Umbrastaff after her death.
    • Garfield the Deals Warlock asking for samples of Magnus's blood is treated as creepy, but ultimately a harmless cost (simply a way to get around bartering without any in-game consequences). Until Reunion Tour, when Magnus needs a new body after losing his old one to a lich and wouldn't you know it, Garfield's been growing a Magnus clone for reasons we still don't know.
  • The first episode of Mission to Zyxx sees Pleck shoot Dar during a hasty retreat, showcasing both Dar's unaffected tough-guy status and Pleck's general ineptitude. The fourth season episode "Daming of the Crew" reveals that Dar actually died then and was replaced by a time-travel duplicate.

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

  • In BIONICLE, the traitor Metus got turned into a snake and banished to the wastelands. The DVD for the movie The Legend Reborn included a short, comedic bonus cartoon that Homaged the classic Wile E Coyote And The Roadrunner and Tom and Jerry cartoons, in which he attempts to drop a boulder on the heroes, but Team Pet Click foils his plans and his army of Scarabax beetles make short work of the snake. Metus's desperation is played entirely for laughs. Later, when other characters came across the snake Metus out in the desert, we found out he had survived all this time by eating rats, and was also suffering from a fatal mental disease that made him unable to dream (and thus, according to the story, release his stress), so he outright begs them to kill him, because he just couldn't take it anymore. Lucky for him, he later regained his ability to dream and his transformation has also become undone.
  • Ever After High: Briar is initially just a party girl, however the reason behind her partying is later indulged into. She's anxious about being put into a sleep for 100 years and realizes that all her friends will die before she wakes up.
  • Transformers: Arcee was orignally pink because Pink Means Feminine. Now, she's pink because pink is the color of energon, that is, the color of Cybertronian blood. In Transformers: Prime, she's blue and the energon in that series just so happens to be blue as well.

    Video Games 
  • The Omega Ending of the Japanese version of Ace Combat 3: Electrosphere was a Tomato in the Mirror as the Player Character, Nemo was revealed to be an Artificial Intelligence created by Simon Orestes Cohen, to kill Abyssal Dision. However, later games would go on to paint Nemo’s origins in a much darker light. In Ace Combat: Assault Horizon Legacy, a remake of Ace Combat 2, the Z.O.E. is retconned into being a primitive Artificial Intelligence that was created by the vengeful remnants of Belka. Fast forward to Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, the Z.O.E. project is given to the Eruseans, and the constant improvements upon the technology result in Hugin and Munin, who try to start a Robot War against humanity.
  • Many characters of Baldur's Gate have comic banters and interjection, sometimes portraying them as silly. But in Baldur's Gate II those who return assume a new, darker characterization, that sometimes puts the comedic relief of the first game in a different perspective. Particularly relevant are Jaheira and Khalid, who in the first game are portrayed like a bossy Grand Dame and her bubbling Henpecked Husband. Comes the sequel and we know how mature and deep they were and how passionate and sincere their affection was, particularly after the tragedy of Khalid's death. Siege of Dragonspear then gives more backstory to them, and Khalid's funny characterization is treated as an innocent quirk that made the bossy Jaheira only care for him more.
    • Skie in the first game is the caricature of the spoiled girl who complains for a broken nail and other facetious things. In Siege of Dragonspear, we learn that she is more of an inexperienced Action Girl (or better she's aiming to become one) who wants to grow up free from her noble heritage and her father's control (the latter grudgingly accepting that she needs to learn what real life is, to the point of letting her join the army). She is still used to the comfort of her previous life, but tries to adapt to the hardship of her choices. Then in the end she dies because of Irenicus' evil scheming, putting the blame on the protagonist.
  • Billy vs. SNAKEMAN has a New Game Plus method called "looping". Originally it's just treated as your character being signed on for a new season of a TV show. Then it's revealed that this is the result of a series of time-manipulating experiments, dating back to a massive war against Kaiju that caused horrible damage to the world. And it's just the first of several revelations.
    • Another aspect of the looping is that it allows you to shrug off failures during missions and quests as a general "oops, that didn't happen". During the War, the Kaiju were terrified of the ninja's ability to unmake their own missteps so they could achieve perfect victories against all but completely impossible odds. And then there are the MikuMikus. Originally benevolent beings of pure music who existed to aid and inspire the ninja. Somehow, the process of looping wholly unintentionally separated them from their wards and turned them progressively more deranged, until they were little more than roving, cannibalistic abominations. Neither side had any plans for this to happen at all.
  • Deadly Premonition uses many of its odd gags and bizarre humor for foreshadowing — everything from the idiosyncratic behaviors of the main character to some of the throwaway joke lines end up hinting at the true nature of what's going on. But one of the biggest examples involves a certain tattoo — in an early comedic scene, it's revealed that Thomas has an Embarrassing Tattoo, which protagonist York chuckles about and shrugs off: "We all lived through the 80's." Except the tattoo is actually a symbol of his fanatical devotion to the sheriff, who has been drugging him with red seeds and trying to frame him for the murders he committed. A devotion that gets even worse due to the insanity-inducing purple fog, which poor Thomas is especially susceptible to.
  • Aiba in Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth often spaces out or generally becomes absent-minded during long-winded conversations as a running gag. It's played for laughs until later in the game, when their boss and unofficial caretaker Kyoko theorizes that Aiba's "spacing out" is actually a symptom of their "half-cyber body" beginning to break down from the stresses of simply existing in the physical world, and that it will eventually dissipate completely.
  • Disgaea plays Laharl's aversion to big breasts entirely for laughs, hinting at worst that it's tied to his (nonsexual) mommy issues. The light novels released later jarringly retcon this to be a result of abuse by his babysitting. Disgaea D2: A Brighter Darkness takes the middle ground — his complex is because his babysitter smothered him one too many times, but the benevolent airhead didn't realize she was traumatizing him — only that hugs made him stop crying.
  • Doom had a rather corny comic book tie-in featuring Doomguy violently fighting demons while yelling "rip and tear" like a maniac, in prime 80s violent corniness. Come Doom Eternal, and the Doom Slayer is revealed to be Doomguy, having spent decades fighting a one-man war against the forces of hell... and the experience was so traumatic that when he got out, he could only mutter "rip and tear" as a Madness Mantra to himself.
  • Drakengard has Ending E, a Gainax Ending that is outright stated by Word of God to be a joke ending, in which Caim and Angelus get sent through time and space to 2003 Tokyo and fight the Queen-beast in a rhythm game battle before being shot down by JSDF fighter jets. This ending ultimately sets up the premise for NieR, in which the death of the Queen-beast inadvertently spreads a magical disease called White Chlorination Syndrome that is fatal to humans and results in the events of NieR taking place due to attempts to combat it going awry.
  • Fallout 4: When the Sole Survivor escapes from Vault 111 and meets back up with their robotic butler Codsworth after 210 years, the reunion comes across as darkly hilarious and a relative Breather Episode after the darkness of the intro sequence. This reunion has Codsworth complaining about the futility of dusting a collapsed house and how he can't wax radioactive fallout out of vinyl wood floors instead of going insane/psychotic like most other Pre-War robots in the series. However, if the Survivor has Codsworth join them as a companion throughout their journeys in the Commonwealth and sufficiently raises their affinity level, Codsworth will reflect far more seriously on the intervening decades. He admits that he nearly gave up on the hope that anyone would've come out of Vault 111 while he waited patiently for his master/master's family to return. He also claims to have seen countless innocent people either get torn to shreds by the Wasteland or resort to truly horrific means to survive... and all of that only makes Codsworth more and more impressed with the Sole Survivor for staying a good person.
  • Cait Sith's entry to the party in Final Fantasy VII is played as something of a video game visual shorthand joke, with neither Cloud nor the second party member actually wanting him to come along, but Cait walking into him forcibly anyway. Cait Sith's overall silly premise (a stuffed animal fortune teller) and forced mascot character appearance means one wouldn't expect him to have a big reason for joining the party. Later in the game it's revealed the reason he forcefully entered the party is because he's actually a Shinra spy.
  • Freddy Fazbear's Pizzeria Simulator implies that Michael Afton, son of William Afton was the true identity of many of the protagonists of all of the previous games, and that he was most likely a rotting corpse at the time, if Sister Location occurs before Five Nights at Freddy's 2. This casts the "Reason for Termination: Odor" of the pink slips from the first two games in a much darker light.
  • If the Player Character talks about their expectations for high school with Alicia in Growing Up, she hopes that it'll be just like on TV, including the Very Special Episodes. The PC worries about that, not wanting a car crash in real life, but Alicia doesn't mind "soooome people" dying because she thinks they're lame. This Black Comedy moment turns bleak in high school when she's forced to volunteer at the hospital, and she starts feeling bad for the dying patients, realizing that not everyone is as well-to-do as her and her wealthy family.
  • In Half-Life, there are only four scientist models and several of them die in ways which are intended to be comic. In Half-Life 2, three of those models have been given a specific name and arc. One has become The Quisling leader of humanity. One dies horribly at the end of Episode 2 in a very dramatic scene. Curiously the third remains the comic relief, however.
  • The "Get Jinxed" music video for the League of Legends champion Jinx prominently features a Cymbal-Banging Monkey. While at the time this seemed to be a gag related to her Ax-Crazy nature, the animated series Arcane revealed that when she was young, Jinx jury-rigged one of these into a bomb which ended up killing her father figure and two of her friends, for which Vi abandoned her.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword reveals that every appearance of Ganon/Ganondorf is the result of a curse laid on the bloodlines of the hero and the goddess Hylia (aka the first Zelda) by the ancient God of Evil Demise, who was destroyed by the first Link. The curse states that an incarnation of Demise's hatred will always return to torment the hero and the princess of Hyrule; no matter what, in every one of their lifetimes and reincarnations, Link and Zelda will never know true peace.
  • A Black Comedy example in LEGO Dimensions: the Sonic Level Pack implies that Sonic's Super Drowning Skills are a result of aquaphobia, likely caused by childhood trauma from his first visit to Labyrinth Zone.
  • Metal Gear:
    • In Metal Gear, Snake looked to be in his twenties — but he looked to be late-middle-aged in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake. For the sequel Metal Gear Solid, the character designer decided to go with a Solid Snake who appeared to be in his early-thirties, younger-looking than his previous incarnation. As a joke referencing this, the characters who knew Snake in Metal Gear 2 joke about his "age"; the sign that Gray Fox is back to normal is when he teases Snake with the throwaway line "You haven't aged well". However, in Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, which started the Patriots plot arc, Snake is explicitly mentioned in the script as looking almost unrecognisably older than his self in Metal Gear Solid, even though MGS2 starts only two years later. Liquid spells it out:
      "You're drowning in time! I know what it's like, Brother. Few more years and you'll be another dead clone of the old man!"
    • And it continues in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. The reason for the Plot-Relevant Age-Up was changed to fit in with Retcons introduced in the third game, but becomes entirely horrible. Snake now appears to be in his mid-to-late seventies and his health is suffering as a result. His own parents look about the same age as him. It's very alarming to remember that the whole plot element started as a Continuity Nod joke.
    • Applying Broad Strokes to Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake allowed their eight-bit wackiness to be taken fairly seriously in the Solid series. Snake didn't seem that affected by the events of Outer Heaven at the time (he also had to do things like avoid giant constantly moving rolling pins and use a bomb blast suit to make himself immune to a strong wind), however Metal Gear 2 reveals that Snake was left with nightmares after his expieriences in Outer Heaven, and returned to duty so he could put an end to them. Metal Gear Solid, and its Alternate Universe counterpart, Metal Gear: Ghost Babel, solidify this by confirming that Snake suffered immense guilt over his actions in Outer Heaven, got diagnosed with PTSD, and was forced to retire and go into hiding because he was unable to cope with the demands of everyday life.
    • One scene in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake involved Snake knowing a woman for all of five minutes. She tells him about her family's history, asks him about his (he says "I have no family"), and then she dies. Snake's over-the-top grief at her death was, at the time, a major Narm. In Metal Gear Solid, which established that Snake had been essentially growing up in near-total isolation and had never had anyone tell him about their life or ask him about his own, his instant attachment to her seems very justifiable and deeply tragic.
    • The reason why The Patriot in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, a copy of The Boss's weapon of choice, has infinite ammo, is that it has an infinity-symbol shaped drum magazine, giving infinite ammo. However, in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, it's explained that the Patriot has infinite ammo because "they say The Boss left a part of her soul behind inside it", making it more into a blessed memento of a supernaturally-gifted soldier rather than a cheap joke. It winds up a Voodoo Shark though, as the infinite ammo is explicitly noted about it before this could have happened. You only get the Patriot after you have killed The Boss, but when talking about it Snake had not yet killed his mentor, and the method that Snake gets it is lampshaded for being dubious. He isn't even supposed to have it until after he kills The Boss.
    • The final line of Big Boss in the original Metal Gear, "I won't die for nothing!", sounds lke typical defiant villian talk, and Miller's description of Big Boss as "a monster" seems to be a description how strong he is. After Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, with the revelation that the commander of Outer Heaven was in fact Venom Snake, a brainwashed body double who lived the lie until his death, and Miller having been abandoned by Big Boss, both comments are far more revealing with this context.
  • If one takes the game Sands of Destruction as the original, and the animenote  and manga as Retcons instead of Alternate Continuity, this trope is firmly in place as regards Morte's motivation. In the game, she merely wants to destroy the world because it's already ending itself and she can't come up with a better use for a dying world than assuaging her own boredom. Naturally, the moment she realizes both that the world can be saved and falling in love is even more fun than blowing stuff up, she changes her mind. She's incredibly upbeat throughout the game, rushing into things without a thought. In the anime, her motivation changes to revenge for the deaths of her parents and brother: she doesn't know who is responsible, and feels that the world is worthless, so killing everyone is her solution; she only changes her mind at the last minute when she realizes that revenge isn't going to bring her family back and that the world actually does have its good points as well as its problems. She's also more serious, fitting her grimmer motives. In the manga, she's just as upbeat as she was in the game but her motivation is instead changed to the fact that she's now the one who wished for the state of the world a thousand years ago, but she was tired and forgot to wish that humans and beastmen would be friends, so everyone's racism is all her fault and the only way she knows to fix the world is to wipe it out and start again from scratch; she's killed before she fully changes her mind, but Kyrie manages to bring her back at the end of the story — which, being the end, doesn't allow us time to know what she's really thinking.
  • Intentionally invoked in Persona 4. Try looking at Adachi as the Bumbling Sidekick after finding out who the killer is. His odd moments of talking out loud about the murders when the gang is around suddenly makes more logical and darker sense... Along with this, all of the party member's attitudes are revealed to be the cause of their major issues, like Kanji's homosexuality complex and Naoto's gender complex. Kanji's earlier comedic outbursts come off as tragic by that point.
  • Rei's entire character in Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth might as well be one of these. Her love of food, even things that don't seem edible and her ridiculously obvious crush on Zen are both played for comedy frequently throughout the game... until you find out the truth about her. Turns out Rei is the ghost of a girl who died of a terminal illness, and Zen is a Psychopomp who took pity on her and erased her memories. Her eating is a desperate, subconscious attempt to convince herself she's still alive, and her crushing on Zen and, implicitly, the entire Group Date Cafe dungeon (which is heavily Played for Laughs at the time) come from her regrets over never having had a chance to meet her own "destined partner".
  • Pokémon:
    • Pokémon Sun and Moon reveals that the Mega Evolution mechanic Pokémon X and Y introduced isn't some benign power up: It turns some Pokémon into mindless, heartless, fighting machines (for example, Mega Salamence may accidentally slice its trainer in half with its wings) and causes others injurious amounts of pain (Mega Scizor's body may melt if it stays Mega Evolved for too long). This may be the reason why Mega Evolved Pokémon don't stay Mega Evolved indefinitely.
    • Pokedex entries in the Pokémon games often feature elements about the power of the Pokémon in question, many of which have gross violations of physics, biology or gameplay (Magcargo's body is 18,000 degrees Fahrenheit or all the many tales of ghost type and psychic type Pokémon having supernatural abilities). The Sun and Moon Pokedex entries are much darker and more realistic about the Pokémon's strengths, abilities and appearances (such as Bewear being so strong that it has killed trainers or Glailie dislocating its jaw when it mega evolves).
    • Some Pokémon from previous generations are put in a new, and dark, light. The perpetually angry Mankey and Primeape from Gen 1, for example, were revealed to suffer constant loneliness both as a cause and result of their never ending uncontrollable anger, and they never get rest from it; they are woken up constantly because of it when sleeping. It only gets peace in death, which is often caused by getting so extremely angry its body shuts down.
    • Pokémon Sword and Shield has two characters with a Running Gag subject to this. The Galar Champion Leon is constantly joked about having No Sense of Direction until it's revealed that he's being deliberately misled by Chairman Rose so as not to interfere with his real plan. The rival Hop is portrayed as an energetic youngster who wants to follow in his brother Leon's footsteps until the game's main story reveals he's insecure about always being in the shadow of his brother and the player character, and his energetic personality is a way of displaying the self-confidence he wants to have like his brother .
  • Portal:
    • The Ratman's Companion Cube-related scrawlings in the first game are amusing (if a bit unsettling) because it's hard to imagine what sort of person would be that attached to an inanimate box. The Lab Rat tie-in comic reveals that Doug Rattmann was a formerly medicated schizophrenic, that his Companion Cube really was his only friend, and that he ultimately sacrificed everything to save Chell's life.
    • The Big Bad GLaDOS has a hysterical black comedy streak a mile wide. In the finale, you disassemble her cores (who are also individually hilarious) and destroy her. In the sequel, not only do you learn that GLaDOS has been reliving that "death" millions of times since you killed her (though you only have her word on this), but also that Aperture Science was killing people for decades before you came along, Chell has been trapped in the facility since she was a pre-teen, GLaDOS was made by uploading Cave Johnson's secretary (in the deleted content it's clear this was against her will), and that the facility has thousands of other test subjects to be tormented and murdered.
      • Portal 2 has Wheatley invoke this; at the beginning of the game, he falls off his rail comedically (it's impossible for the player to catch him). Post-Face–Heel Turn, he mentions his grief at you "purposefully" failing to catch him during his rant during the Final Boss fight.
    • During the game, GLaDOS repeatedly mocks Chell for being an orphan—though she also mocks Chell for a lot of things which aren't true, so it gets lost in the shuffle. In the sequel, it's revealed that Chell was the daughter of an Aperture Science researcher and that GLaDOS' massacre happened on "Bring Your Daughter to Work" day.
  • Recurring Nippon Ichi character Asagi's story in an alternate mode of Prinny: Can I Really Be the Hero? is mostly played for comedy between her claiming to be the game's main character thanks to the approval of some random producer (Whom Hero Prinny believes is just a random demon messing with her) and her rather silly death in which she's unable to remove the bomb in her costume because of a stuck zipper. Then, the sequel's Asagi Wars reveals that Asagi Kurosugi, an Evil Counterpart of Asagi, was the unnamed producer and the tailor who purposely sewed in the stuck zipper to keep Asagi from removing the bomb. She did this to kill Asagi and take her place as she had done with all the other Asagis throughout the game.
    • Then Disgaea 5 reveals that neither of the Asagi's mentioned is even real, actually being clones of the true Asagi. The only encounters that are "real" Asagi are Makai Kingdom, Disgaea 5, and possibly Disgaea 2.
  • Several comedic characters in Psychonauts are shown to have very depressing backstories:
    • In the first game, Dr. Loboto was The Dragon to the actual antagonist, and was portrayed as a Laughably Evil Mad Scientist dentist who doesn't seem to be all there. Psychonauts in the Rhombus of Ruin all but states outright that his insanity was the result of his psychic-hating parents forcing him to get a lobotomy that got rid of his budding psychic powers.
    • Also in the first game, a Running Gag was Ford Cruller showing up around the summer camp in various different jobs and personalities, such as as janitor, park ranger, or boathouse keeper. He claims these are disguises and that he "pretends" not to recognize Raz outside of his main persona, but it's later revealed that Ford's mind was shattered in a battle with a powerful psychic years ago, and that unless he's close to large amounts of Psitanium, he reverts to a Scatterbrained Senior. While this is already somewhat depressing, Psychonauts 2 reveals the actual reason his mind was shattered. The psychic he fought was the love of his life having gone through a trauma-induced Face–Heel Turn, and rather than kill her, he resorted to brainwashing her and her nephew, Augustus, into forgetting what she had done and believing that she was Augustus' mother. After this, he shattered his own mind out of guilt for what he had done.
  • A running gag in 10 Second Ninja X is Greatbeard's Heel-Face Turned mechanic Benji trying to join Ninja on his escapades at the start of every new set of levels, only to constantly get in the way and eventually get accidentally struck down the first time Ninja attacks. Benji eventually dies from his injuries as a result of this, which even causes Greatbeard to lose his motivation in getting revenge on Ninja. At least, that's what seems to happen. Once you gather enough stars he reveals that he's alive and disillusioned with both Greatbeard and Ninja, and tries to take out both by self-destructing the airship the game takes place on.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog:
    • Dr. Eggman was a typical evil cartoon villain who wanted to take over the world in the most indirect way, which was capturing animals and turning them into robots that would do his bidding. By the time Sonic Adventure came to be, Dr. Eggman took a darker approach to his evil schemes, such as trying to control a god with unlimited power and then deciding to fire a missile at a city when he fails in his original plan. Dr. Eggman even takes control of a weaponized space colony and fires a laser at the moon, blowing off a huge chunk! And that was only a warning shot! Dr. Eggman's darker persona stayed with him for a while, although Sega attempted to dial it back a bit by making Eggman a bit more cartoonish for the humor factor, which can be seen in Sonic Colors and Sonic Generations. Dr. Eggman does return to his roots with animal capturing in Sonic the Hedgehog 4 as a throwback to the classic games.
    • Sonic Adventure 2 gives Eggman a motive for his villainous behavior, besides just wanting to rule the world for kicks. His grandfather, Dr. Gerald Robotnik, was executed fifty years ago. Eggman has a high level of respect for Gerald and his desire to take over the world is, in part, retribution for his grandfather's arrest and death. Not only that, but the government also gunned down Gerald's other grandchild Maria when she was only a tween. Suddenly his idea of taking over the world is less "comically evil" and more Well-Intentioned Extremist, as he saw that the government Would Hurt a Child for absolutely no reason other than being ordered to purge all people on the Ark, making his family victims of a government-sponsored mass murder and cover-up.
  • Whenever Red and Elh visits Vizula in Solatorobo: Red the Hunter, Red is usually quick to tease Elh about her bug phobia, seeing it as cute if nothing else. The short story "Ragdoll Elegy" reveals that the last memory Elh has of her parents was their charred remains being swarmed by an endless amount of bugs.
  • Remember Splatoon 2's Salmon Run mode? The one where you splat numerous Salmonids for their Golden Eggs? Yeah, Splatoon 3 reveals that those eggs were being used to make a Mutagenic Goo to destroy all marine life. Uh...whoops?
  • In Super Smash Bros. Brawl's adventure mode, it is revealed that Mr. Game & Watch is actually made out of a special substance, that can be used to harvest shadow bugs, which are used to support the entire conflict of the story.
  • In Tales of the Abyss, Guy's gynophobia is a side effect of his childhood trauma. Namely, being trapped under the corpses of his entire female household. When Guy finally remembers this and reveals it to the rest of the party, the female party members are all horrified by how they've treated the subject.
  • This trope becomes strangely meta when Team Fortress 2s Heavy Weapons Guy is a character in Poker Night at the Inventory. Apparently, the Heavy experiences Team Fortress 2s respawn system as a series of semi-recurring nightmares.
  • In Yandere Simulator the Placeholder Club Leaders were...well, placeholder club leaders only meant to be in the game until the real club leaders (or their number twos in some cases) could be programmed into the game. However, they still proved popular enough that YandereDev found a way to put them into the main the demon legion of the Empty Demon, who come to replace the sacrificed club leaders and kill the students if Yandere-chan completes the Empty Demon ritual. (The Empty Demon herself also resembles the Placeholder Club Leaders, but with a spider-like face.)

    Visual Novels 
  • Ace Attorney:
    • In Justice for All, when Pearl learns who Phoenix is, she becomes all Shipper on Deck of him and Maya. Then in the following game, Trials and Tribulations, Maya reveals to Phoenix why Pearl is obsessed with the two of being happy together: the culture in Kurain Village is centered around the women, due to only females being able to become spirit mediums. Men feel left out of the affairs of the village, resulting in marriages that tend to end badly, especially if the marriage led to a daughter being born. Pearl grew up with her father leaving her at an young age and seeing other marriages failing, so she is very invested in Maya having a happy relationship with someone.
    • In Dual Destinies, Apollo Justice's catchphrase of "I'm fine!" is given some clarification. In Apollo's game of origin, it initially seemed like a nervous habit of Apollo's, since he usually said it when he was... well, nervous. Then Dual Destinies reveals that it was a catchphrase shared with his late childhood friend, Clay Terran, which they both shouted to cheer themselves up when their spirits were low.
  • Doki Doki Literature Club! is a horror game that masquerades as a quirky romance novel in its first act. Many of the moments in that first act are twisted into very depressing revelations later on. It's implied that Monika is invoking this in-universe, giving the characters horrible backstories in order to alienate the protagonist.
    • The first act has a lot of jokes about Sayori being a Cute Clumsy Girl who's always late to school, always disorganized, and always hungry, and how exhausted the protagonist gets about helping her. Near the end of Act 1, it's revealed that Sayori has very bad depression, which manifests as her not being able to get out of bed in the morning, keep herself tidy, or eat food because she doesn't see the point in anything. She also has a serious dependency on the protagonist. Sayori kills herself at the end of Act 1, completing the transformation of the game into horror.
    • Natsuki's small stature and fiery attitude is played for laughs in Act 1, but Act 2 reveals that she's malnourished due to her neglectful household, at one point passing out from hunger. Her aggressive demeanor and protective nature of the club is due to her father abusing her at home, as she needs the club to be her safe space.
    • Can't forget Yuri. In Act 1, references are made to Yuri's Serious Business attitude to the subject of literature, as well as the constantly dark subject matter that she prefers in her reading. As well, during a heated argument, Natsuki makes a reference to Yuri "cutting herself on that edge" before Sayori's upset causes the both of them to break off the argument. In Act 2, it's revealed that Yuri actually does cut herself, and several secret poems allude to this fact. And without Sayori around to stop the argument, both Yuri and Natsuki take meaner jabs at one another during the Act 2 version of the argument, including allusions to the abovementioned malnutrition and how that isn't an excuse for Natsuki's brattish behavior (likely caused by Monika in order to fully alienate the player.)
  • A lot are done in Hatoful Boyfriend's BBL route. Highlights include — Oko San isn't just an idiot, he's an older breed of birds that is less Uplifted than the others; Anghel isn't actually a fallen angel but has the ability to induce hallucinations in others; Ryouta's weak stomach and Oko San's insane speed are due to Shuu testing drugs on them; Nageki didn't actually kill himself by jumping from the library window due to being bullied (as was implied) but burned himself to death in an underground laboratory beneath the library to prevent himself being used as a biological weapon; and Kazuaki isn't just obsessively mourning the loss of the bird in the blacked-out photo, but is pursuing a Machiavellian Revenge scheme in his name.
  • Rin Tezuka from Katawa Shoujo appears for all intents and purposes to be your typical female Cloudcuckoolander, quirky, philosophical and inscrutable. Playing again through the beginning of her route feels very different indeed once you learn she actually has what is heavily implied to be an untreated case of schizophrenia.
  • Majikoi! Love Me Seriously!: Most scenes involving Touma, Jun, and Koyuki after clearing the Ryuuzetsuran path. Most notably, the ending of Chris's route is the only one where Touma opts not to continue in their family's line of work and instead decides to "live for love", a choice that the Ryuuzetsuran route's reveals really puts into perspective.
  • Early parts of A Profile joke about Masayuki's unathletic physique and easily running out of breath while running to school. But then it turns out he's so weak because he collapsed due to a hole in his lung and was hospitalized for a long time, leading him to become completely out of shape and ruining his love of the track field. After this, the jokes largely vanish.
  • In Rewrite Chihiya, Kotori, and Lucia's routes end fairly happily considering most of humanity is still alive. However the Terra route reveals that in the end the earth eventually dies taking humanity with it due to salvation taking place.
  • Umineko: When They Cry:
    • Jessica Megaton Punches one of her friends at school with a brass knuckle after being pissed off in Turn of the Golden Witch. This stance is seen as a joke. Later, in Alliance of the Golden Witch, she uses the brass knuckles again and they suddenly become conducts for Supernatural Martial Arts.
    • Another example is in the same arc, when Shannon brings up how Battler once told her "See you again! I'll come back and take you away on a white horse!". When he's reminded of this corny line, Battler becomes embarrassed and doesn't want to remember it. We later find out that Shannon actually took this promise seriously, and the fact that Battler forgot about it so easily is a major factor in her issues.

    Web Animation 
  • Another Rooster Teeth production, Camp Camp does this with the main character Max. Prior to the episode "Parents Day", Max would make sarcastic remarks about how his parents sent him to camp just to get him out of their hair. "Parents Day" reveals that his parents did just that — they didn't even sign him up for any activities like the other kids, they just signed the paperwork and let him loose. And it gradually becomes clear that this hurts Max more than he tries to let on.
    • Early in the series, Harrison, a camper who is there for magic camp, makes a rabbit disappear and when he can't make it reappear, remarks that "that's why I'm here.". Flash forward to the episode "Parents' Day" where it's revealed that he apparently did the same thing to his brother due to massive Power Incontinence and that it caused his parents to be openly terrified of him, a fact that he is not blissfully unaware of.
  • The titular character of Chikn Nuggit often does strange and unexplainable things. In earlier episodes, this was often Played for Laughs. After the introduction of Bezel, it's established that Chikn's strange abilities are godly abilities. It's also established that Chikn's abilities could potentially end the world as we know it.
  • One of the many quotable lines in Llamas with Hats comes from Episode 2, where Carl claims that he can hear "the sound of forgiveness"; when Paul points out that all he can hear is people drowning, Carl responds, "That is what forgiveness sounds like: screaming and then silence." Definitely pretty dark, but still very much Played for Laughs. Then comes the final episode, coming at the climax of an arc where Carl has gone on a worldwide rampage, wiping out all life on Earth aside from himself. Upon discovering Paul's corpse, he seems to have a Heel Realization and throws himself off a bridge; he screams all the way down as he falls, only for the scream — and the background music — to abruptly cut off as he hits the water. "The sound of forgiveness" indeed...
  • In the Mexican web animation Negas, the Pinchimono seems to exist solely to be an Evil Counterpart to Negas. A later Origins Episode reveals that a psychologist advised Negas to bottle up his emotions instead of insulting people. Negas bottled up so much anger, that his blood intoxicated and mutated into the Pinchimono.
  • Red vs. Blue's intentionally and inherently farcical premise has been retconned in later seasons, turning the series from a comedy to a dramedy centering around the vaguely plausible science-fiction story of the "Freelancers", who were originally introduced as soldiers able to be hired by both Red and Blue Team as part of the video game-ish setting.
    • The pointless fighting between the Reds and Blues for control of a box canyon? Just part of a live-fire simulation for the Freelancers to train in, and everyone else involved is a scrub soldier chosen for their expendability.
    • An early Running Gag is Grif forgetting or losing track of Red Team's ammo. Reconstruction reveals that he's been selling it to the other team, and when some other Red soldiers find out they put him up in front of a firing squad.
    • O'Malley and Gary were two evil AIs who by and large were ineffectual and comedic villains. The flashback episodes to their time in Project Freelancer, however, play Omega's violent and hateful threats, and Gamma's deceptiveness much more seriously. They even help torture a fellow AI (their father, no less) by forcing upon him countless scenarios where he makes choices that get those he cares for killed.
    • The last chapters of Reconstruction loosed a whole barrage of these. Church getting killed, becoming a ghost, and possessing a robot body? There's no such thing as ghosts, he's an AI. Not feeling anything when Omega possessed him, always agreeing with Delta? Church is the Alpha AI all the others came from, because he was tortured to the point of amnesia. His girlfriend Tex, who always seems to fail just when she's about to succeed? She's an AI too, based on the memory of the original Dr. Leonard Church's loved one, and will always fail because that's what he remembered the most about her. And that original Dr. Church was the template of the Alpha-Church AI.
    • The finale of Season 10 turns the last forty episodes on their head. Agent Carolina's bitter rivalry with Agent Texas for the esteem of the Director of Project Freelancer? She's the Director's daughter, meaning she's been unknowingly struggling against a copy of her mother the entire time. While the Director watched.
    • A Running Gag in Season 11 was one of the Reds and Blues having a flashback to something they did that might have caused their ship to crash on Chorus. In Season 12, it's revealed that the Space Pirates caused the crash (and others) with a massive tractor beam so they could loot the wreckage. The Reds and Blues' shenanigans instead caused the ship to break in half.
    • Episode 2-4 of Season 14 turned the entire first season on its head. Agent Florida himself picked out the Blood Gulch team, Sarge is so lost in his Patriotic Fervor that he murders his CO in cold blood thinking he was a Blue in disguise (while Florida simply watches) and we find out the identity of the Alpha AI host — Private Jimmy, the guy who was said to have been beaten to death with his own skull by Tex. Church's memory of that is a strange mix of Alpha's and Jimmy's memories. Even more, Caboose, Donut and Sister were never meant to go to Blood Gulch! Vic's eccentric personality is a computer glitch, caused by Flowers/Florida tripping on a power cable, as the AI was much more business-like before.
  • As SMG4 went on, the Mario recolors that were a big part of the main cast in the early years, simply vanished from the series. The 10 Year Anniversary Special reveals they were hunted down by an Eldritch Abomination named Zero in his pursuit of Mario.
  • Terrible Writing Advice: "Grimdark" suggests absurd ones like Contrivium being made of ground up widows and interstellar travel requiring travelling through Cthulhu's back lawn.
  • The whole concept of the characters going to a night school in Tsuki Desu feels like an Excuse Plot and it's used to emphasize Tsuki's supposed introversion. Later it's shown that she actually has a horrible phobia of the sunlight.
  • Two More Eggs: In "Hot Dip: End Game", Hot Dip reveals that when he said "Hot Dip is Not 4 Momz", it wasn't just a slogan: Hayden's mom getting her hands on some Hot Dip allowed her to conquer the world.
  • In the Mexican web animation Vete A La Versh, Darkar's reckless behavior and Never My Fault mentality is initially played for laughs. However, Season 5 later reveals that during his childhood, he absentmindedly walked into a poisonous flower, and his mother pushed him away at the last second, resulting in her death. It's quite likely that accepting responsibility for what he's done would break him.

  • Magic and the supernatural have always proved a nuisance to the good doctor of The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, and one could see it as an amusing science-magic conflict. The First Generation Ninja American story shows a young Doctor enjoying fighting the undead as an alternative to killing people in his missions. That changed when he picked a fight with a powerful ghost wizard he couldn't hit, forcing his grandfather to sacrifice himself to protect him from the ghost's curse. The usual Spoof Aesop end of chapter is the grown Doctor reflecting on the incident and reaffirming his hatred for magic and ghosts.
  • In Bittersweet Candy Bowl, Lucy's violent behavior towards Mike is initially Played for Laughs as typical Tsundere antics. However, Mike later reveals just how much he resents Lucy for her treatment through an understandable but cruel "The Reason You Suck" Speech. There are also a couple flashbacks to Mike relaying stories of Lucy's abuse to Sandy, who is appropriately horrified.
  • Pointedly averted in Casey and Andy: despite the comic having several dramatic storylines, the strip never gives any sort of explanation, serious or otherwise, as to why the protagonists can keep coming back from the dead. Especially when other characters come right out and ask for one. (In fact, the title characters never even acknowledge any such thing has happened).
  • College Roomies from Hell!!!:
    • For most of the main characters, what started out as "wacky quirks" seem darker and darker over time, turning into personality disorders, tragic pasts, or demonic influence, until it becomes clear that everyone is playing a part in the coming apocalypse. By the end of 2004, the strip is a Dysfunction Junction to rival Neon Genesis Evangelion.
    • Dave isn't exempt either. Early on, it's mentioned in a throwaway gag that he's deathly allergic to bee stings. Years later, in the Adversary storyline (responsible for tossing the comic into Darker and Edgier territory), as he and Margaret are running away from the Devil, they find that their path leads through a field of sunflowers... and bees.
  • A mild example in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures: a fairly early filler strip joked about various ways the comic could get more hits, including having a character coming out of the closet and introducing a Boys' Love story. Much later, it's revealed that Jyrras is not only bi, but also has a hidden crush on his best friend Dan, which he fears will ruin their friendship if ever revealed.
    • The comic constantly parodies the hero-vs-overlord formula with goofy heroes and Surrounded by Idiots villains. Then we see how much collateral damage can be taken when various 'demon overlords' try to acquire as much power as possible while ignorant or apathetic of the consequences. Dark Pegasus accidentally made a race of funny family-friendly undead, and then tried to make up for the humiliation by magically draining the life from H'Ann farm by farm, and he partially succeeded. Dan's grandmother accidentally devoured the souls of her own family and started a genocidal war... and she's the sympathetic one, because the dragon she usurped devoured the souls of his entire city for centuries.
  • Kiel'ndia in Drowtales early on has a habit of addressing the reader as a sort of "imaginary friend" that the author initially put in because he thought it was interesting. Much much later, after a 15-year timeskip, it's revealed that the reason she can do this is that the "seed" she's merged her aura with is actually a human-like demon, and the voices she hears are fragments of the demon's personality.
  • Eddie from Emergency Exit is a Cloudcuckoolander with a tendency to pull things out of nowhere. Why? Turns out it's because he FORCED A PORTAL THROUGH HIS SKULL in order to keep the villains from getting it. That's where he keeps all his random objects, and it apparently seriously messed with his mind.
  • On page 6 of Ennui GO!, Izzy dumps a bucket of whale cum off the top of her appartment building onto passerbys below because she's bored. At first, this just seems like a case of Vulgar Humor, but then it's revealed 590 pages later that the woman who was hit by it suffered an allergic reaction that horribly scarred her face, resulting in her trying to kill Izzy out of revenge.
  • Exiern has been going through a series of these, converting it from the original author's lighthearted fan-servicey gender-bender to something a lot grimmer. The current continuity explains by retcon, among other things why ferocious-barbarian-warrior-turned-fanservice female warrior Typhan-Knee/Tiffany is able to ride a unicorn, the true reproductive cycle of dragons and why Typhan-Knee was driven out of his tribe in the first place: after killing two women who he was unable to rape on his first raids as a young man, he realised why he had failed and was caught by his father, the tribe chief, as he was about to rape a young man. Some readers suspect that the young man in question may have grown up to be nearly-invincible knight Neils, who is one of the party accompanying Tiffany currently.
  • General Protection Fault:
    • An early arc titled "Secret Agent Geek" set the lovable slob Fooker as a James Bond knockoff secret agent, playing off as many spy-movie tropes as it could get its hands on, and finishing with a classic "It was all a dream — Or Was It a Dream?" closing. Then, years later, as the story takes a turn for the dramatic, it turns out that Fooker IS, indeed, a secret agent, possessing advanced combat skills, and access to high-tech gadgets and paramilitary troops.
    • Nick's Inventors Gene also starts out being played for laughs, and then later turns into the catalyst for a grand plan involving seduction, time-traveling, world conquest, and The Terminator.
    • Fred himself started out as a gag (Fooker's apartment is so filthy, the mold has achieved sentience), before becoming a major character and eventually revealed as not a slime mold at all.
  • Goblins did this in a big way. Word of God suggests that the apparent Cerebus Syndrome was intentional almost from the word go — this is supported by some bonus material in the PDF release of book one — the early farcical jokey stuff was originally written much earlier (with Kobolds), and apparently rewritten as an introduction to the story as it is today. However, it is noticeable that the comic has gotten significantly less jokey since its inception...
    • What was a farcical joke about how goblins inevitably receive appropriate names from the village seer became this huge plot point about the female goblin Saves-a-Fox who successfully struggled against the name given to her by killing said fox rather than saving it. It bears noting that she has saved the fox's pelt, even through being captured and held as a labor-slave by another tribe of goblins. Regarding Saves, it's revealed that the fox likely had a horrific disease and if so, she actually did "save" it by giving it a mercy killing.
    • The joke about how Chief was only the chief because he was named "Chief" was retconned, with Complains explaining to Chief that he only said that as a cruel joke, while Chief becoming actual leader was to avert a nasty prophecy.
    • Several of those early strips involved an outlandishly panicked coward very nearly dying horribly due to mishap caused by the carelessness of the other goblins, the joke being that the outlandishly panicked coward was, in fact, named "Dies Horribly". Dies went on to become a semi-regular character and was the one to reveal to Saves-a-Fox the truth about her name. When he does this, he is also stating and quite clearly that this joke was never a joke and that Dies Horribly is going to die. Horribly. He does, but he comes back. So, he both Died Horribly and is Horrible at Dying, since he keeps failing at it...
  • El Goonish Shive:
    • The Goo started out as a Freak Lab Accident, but returned in the "Sister" arc, revealed to be driven by a device sent by Tedd's alternate-dimension counterpart to kill him.
    • Furthermore, a gag character, the Demonic Duck, originally appeared as a one-shot gag when people would need a distraction and then point out his appearance, the joke being that the duck actually being there was far more ridiculous than someone using such a specific distraction. The duck turns out to be an actual character with dramatic effects on the plot later.
    • The Hammerchlorians storyline took the pre-Cerebus Running Gag of women pulling out a Hyperspace Mallet whenever a man did something sexist and gave it an in-universe explanation as well as advanced the plot and did some heavy character building for Susan. All while poking fun at this exact type of retcon (Star Wars reference, anyone?).
    • There are a lot of subtle examples of this in EGS as it moved from a wacky tone to a more serious one. A simple example is Sarah wearing a beret as part of a visual gag early on, and then a later strip showing a serious explanation on how she got that beret.
    • When Tedd's fondness for transforming into a woman starts being used to explore his actual gender issues, we get a flashback to his dad's reaction... and in this context, Mr. Verres's grumpy attitude looks very different. It seems like his mother leaving isn't the only reason Tedd's got anxiety problems.
    • Sister 3 has one for the PTTAOLUTASF in Sister 1. Originally the protagonists are able to infiltrate it with ease because it had a very, very low security budget. (An upper floor window not having a covering.) In Sister 3 it's revealed to be a mousetrap of sorts, meant to distract from a much more important secret facility. The poor security is a ruse used to fool thieves into thinking it's an easy job, with the real security system only activating if they do something to the guard or try to actively take something out of the building.
    • Twenty years after it was established that the Uryuoms get by in society perfectly well by loudly announcing they're human and it works because Tedd's dad is just that good at hushing things up, it turns out they can actually project an illusion that makes people think they're human, but it doesn't work on some people (including Tedd, who never even realised it was there) which is why Gil and Will want human clone-forms.
  • Homestuck has several.
    • Jade is a carefree Sleepyhead whose bouts of narcolepsy interrupt the plot in silly ways. These fits are caused by Vriska testing her psychic powers.
    • Karkat argues with his past and future selves in laughably-hostile Caps Lock. In an introspective moment, he reveals these arguments are an outpouring of genuine self-loathing and self-blame.
    • Gamzee is an easy-going doofus Joke Character, since Stoners Are Funny. He dresses like a clown and occasionally emits honks. He becomes a Lethal Joke Character Monster Clown whose honks are terrifying.
    • Squiddles are kid-friendly representations of the Horrorterrors. Tavros's severed legs are found in a chest in Alterniabound, which prompts the narration box to ask what the hell they were doing there. Vriska waves them in his face to goad him into attacking her before she murders him. Betty Crocker is a Running Gag... and Her Imperious Condescension, the troll Empress, who has taken over the Alpha universe's session. This could go on all day. Homestuck is like that.
    • The Guardians are all initially presented as amusing weirdos whose kids regard them with varying levels of fondness and exasperation, and Bro Strider is not singled out in this context. It's not until much later in the story that Dave's able to admit to himself that Bro alone crossed the line into child abuse. Dave's got the PTSD triggers to show for it, too, such as a severe reaction to the sight of blood.
  • In It's All Been Done Before, the entire comic was this trope. What started off as a light-hearted series of adventures of a man, his girlfriend, and their various animated toys, turned out to be the man refusing to put away his dead wife's toys on the day of her funeral.
  • The Last Days of Foxhound: Multiple early gags depend on Ocelot being vulnerable to Mantis's mind control and being relieved to have anti-telepathy nanites to protect him from it. Subsequent retcons to bring the comic in line with Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, which was released during its run, would establish that Ocelot, whose over-the-top espionage abilities had rendered him immune to mind control from the word go, had in fact been running an incredibly elaborate con at the behest of the Patriots, the Government Conspiracy that he would continue working for even as his teammates tried to rebel against them.
  • Life of Riley. What begins as a cheap throwaway joke about an artist who powers up a la DBZ when he works on computers, ends with same character resurrected as the second coming of the Messiah about to go toe-to-toe with arch-fiend Lillith over an artifact that can kill God.
  • Looking for Group started with the heroic Cale'anon meeting up with Richard, a lighthearted Omnicidal Maniac, who decides to travel with the empty-headed do-gooder because it'll be fun. Except now it turns out he's on a mission to protect Cale, under orders from Cale's former master — who, right after sending him into the world, killed his wife in cold blood so he'd have nothing to come home to.
  • One of the earliest MegaTokyo strips has Largo being fluent in l33t as a one-off gag. Later on, l33t becomes the official third language of the series.
  • In Narbonic, it initially appears (in the original timeline) that Dave hires on at the lab due to a help-wanted ad that mentioned smoking was permitted. Later it's retconned that Helen had already chosen him as the candidate because he was a latent mad genius and she wanted to study his case progression in order to find a cure for her own madness and that the ad was bait for him specifically. (In the second timeline, the ad must have mentioned something else besides "smoking permitted," since Dave has never smoked. Where did you get the idea that he smoked?)
    • A lot of the comedic "experiments" Helen does on Dave take on a different light knowing that experimenting on his brain really is the entire focus of her work, and most of the projects he's assisting on are meant to provide him ample ground to break through into mad genius—so that she can cure herself of the undesirable condition of being a mad scientist, or at least take the edge off.
    • And the events of the first arc, in which he repairs a doomsday machine for her are a total sham, as what he was told was a doomsday machine was a rusty mail-sorter, and he used his own mad genius unwittingly to build the weather control device from its parts. It was his first test.
  • The role of henchmen in Nodwick — though their inability to permanently die is still played for laughs in the later books, there's a good deal more attention paid to why things are that way.
  • The Order of the Stick is chock full of throwaway jokes whose darker implications are fully explored later on. Some examples:
    • Done when Haley's greed for treasure is revealed to be so that she can pay her father's ransom money. Later subverted when it turns out she was always pretty greedy in the prequel book. Word of God is that the subversion was deliberately intended to avoid it being Harsher in Hindsight.
    • A straighter example was done with the mother of the Black Dragon from the Starmetal cave, who was mentioned lightheartedly several times during the encounter in which Vaarsuvius disintegrated her son in a scene that was still more or less played for laughs. About three hundred strips later, she appears out of the blue seeking vengeance on Vaarsuvius. This leads to one of the darkest arcs the strip has done thus far and the start of a horrific Cycle of Revenge.
    • Blackwing's appearance and disappearance, Played for Laughs at first in parody of D&D players' tendency to ignore the existence of familiars except for when they are needed, later becomes a serious commentary on how Vaarsuvius treats other beings, and becomes a method by which to demonstrate Character Development.
    • Most of the first arc was written without an overarching plot in mind, with the Excuse Plot of a party of adventurers clearing a dungeon to defeat an evil sorcerer lich. Notably, the dungeon is full of goblin mooks, who are treated as disposable by everyone, including the protagonists. Needless to say, later plot developments, especially the prequel book Start of Darkness, put a much darker spin on this. The creator of the goblins got bored with them almost immediately, and other gods didn't care much, to the extent that goblins now believe they were deliberately created by the gods for the sole purpose of giving XP to adventurers, more specifically their own clerics. Their leader Redcloak — supposedly The Dragon of the story — is in fact horrified by everyone, including his master Xykon, needlessly throwing away goblin lives, and his secret plan is to blackmail the gods into giving his race fairer living conditions.
    • Durkon's exile was played for laughs during On The Origin of PCs, but the flashback during Utterfly Dwarfed shows a more somber look at it. Likewise, the same arc reveals Odin's Cloudcuckoolander attitude to be the result of divine brain damage.
    • In the strip "That's His Bad", Elan reminisces about their early adventures, and is genuinely hurt when he remembers how mean everyone was to him, while also acknowledging that his own Cloud Cuckoolander tendencies probably made things harder for the rest of the party.
  • In the deliberately terrible Powerup Comics, many punchlines involve the Butt-Monkey Dorkwinkle getting shot in the head, only for him to reappear in later strips without a scratch and without any explanation. Later, the comic gains pretensions of having an overarching story, and Dorkwinkle is explained as a genetic experiment who actually possesses the ability to recover from fatal injuries.
  • Questionable Content
    • Faye getting drunk starts out as just an excuse for her to talk with a Southern accent and engage in wacky hijinks, but it later becomes a plot point that she's an alcoholic due to trauma in her past.
    • Also, Hannelore's rather unusual quirkiness and OCD in her early appearances are explained in much later comics as being an incredible improvement over her near paralytic insanity during her early childhood.
  • A Redtail's Dream: Protagonist Hannu is a notoriously lazy Spoiled Brat, so at first it's just funny that in every stage of the dream journey he somehow manages to get whacked in the head, and even his village getting wiped off the map isn't enough to keep him from just wanting to take a nap. As the story progresses, however, Hannu starts to suffer incapacitating headaches and fatigue. Once the final stage has been completed, Puppy Fox reveals that these symptoms are an echo from the physical world. Hannu's fall just before entering the Spirit World inflicted a fatal skull fracture, and only Puppy Fox's spell has kept his body alive long enough to finish the quest.
  • Rusty and Co.: The Princess first appears as a Damsel out of Distress, explaining that she trained in a very powerful Prestige Class ("DM's Girlfriend") during her captivity, and is a deadly Action Girl from then on. Twelve real-life years later, she admits that she genuinely was a powerless figurehead before then, that she's no better a ruler now, and that she's afraid she's become a Doom Magnet for her subjects.
  • Fuzzy from Sam & Fuzzy is a mysterious bear-sized humanoid that nobody seemed to find mysterious at all, and his past was a complete unknown full of contradictions. Then, in book four, we learn that it's a literal unknown since his mind was erased and he's been making it all up to cover up for insecurities about who he really was. We also learn there's a world-wide conspiracy enforcing The Masquerade by confining the full level of Planet Eris to underground habitats and Fuzzy was one of the lucky few who slipped the net.
    • Fridge is very funny when he's a loud-mouthed possessed fridge who claims he won't escape by possessing Sam or Fuzzy because he's got standards. He gets less funny when he finally manages to escape, and sets in motion events that the main characters are still feeling the effects of over ten years later.
  • Schlock Mercenary:
    • The protagonists discover at one point that before dying their old company doctor created a modified cryogenic kit capable of providing illegal and extreme modifications and performing far more powerful reconstructive surgery than a normal kit should. Initially this is just an excuse to solve the fact that almost the entire main cast were reduced to heads in jars at that moment, but later they run into a bounty hunter hunting down said doctor and we discover that a massive government conspiracy is built around "Project Laz-R-Us" and the attempt to make humans effectively immortal, and certain government agents who discover that the protagonists know about it want them dead.
    • Petey is initially a high-level warship A.I. with issues about ghosts. Eventually, he becomes a nigh-omnipotent nascent A.I. god by fusing with virtually every other A.I. in the galaxy in a bid to prevent the galaxy's annihilation, and then sets out to subvert and dominate every other galactic power to build a power base big enough to fund and supply a genocidal assault on the Andromeda galaxy and its Paan'uri inhabitants. Inhabitants who are intangible, interact with normal matter solely through gravity, and tend to torment other species. Y'know... kinda ghostlike.
    • Schlock starts as a huge pile of shit with two mismatched eyes. Then he loses his eyes to diamond beetles and hires Tagon to find his home planet to get a new pair. And we find the amorph with mismatched eyes is quite famous there. He got his eyes from his "parents" who Fusion Danced each other to death. Schlock is just the residue, with much of their knowledge and skills, but little to no morals, feared and hated by his fellow tribesmen. To further complicate things, normally Fusion Dance merges enemies' personalities and such "wars" end up uniting tribes, but his "father" used a modified technique, which absorbed just the enemies' bodies and expunged personalities, and "mother" tried to stop the murderous psycho, even with her life; yet the former was a lonely hero fighting the slavers selling amorph slaves off-world and the latter was the slavers' Unwitting Pawn. Still, this being an early storyline, everything is Played for Laughs.
    • Another point about Schlock came around 2014. He spent a decade and half being beaten, frozen, exploded, sliced and partially burned, and didn't seem any worse for wear. Then a newcomer mentioned that since amorphs are effectively nothing but the carbosilicate equivalent of nerve tissue, all the damage to Schlock is like brain damage. Which would explain his sociopatic quirks.
  • In Shortpacked!, Robin was the wacky comic-relief character, and her "hijinks" generally played out that way. Even her treatment of Leslie was Played for Laughs, and since Leslie was (if you'll excuse the term) the Straight Woman, her annoyance was part of the joke. (Exception: the Jake Manley event, but they even managed to bounce back from that.) In Dumbing of Age, Robin has much the same character beats as before, including the whole "My Lesbian" business, and because DoA is a less wacky setting, she's clearly a self-deluded and potentially dangerous narcissist and her attachment to Leslie is deeply toxic. It's hard to see the Shortpacked! Robin (who ends up getting a Babies Ever After ending with Leslie) in the same light after this.
  • Sluggy Freelance:
    • Riff, an amateur Mad Scientist and "freelance bum", routinely invents pieces of advanced technology such as dimensional portals, giant robots, and ray guns. Originally there was little mention of where he got the materials to build these devices, even though he seemed to have no source of income. However, in a later story arc, Riff reveals that he was actually a freelance inventor for the villainous Hereti Corporation, who gave him a salary and a sizable expense account in exchange for the blueprints to all his inventions. After Riff rebelled against Hereti Corp, he lost access to their resources. While he still creates ridiculously powerful and dangerous devices, he hasn't been able to do so nearly as frequently after the Dangerous Days arc, and (much to his horror) has had to get a regular job in order to pay the bills. He still bemoans the fact that he can't afford as much cool stuff as he used to, wailing, "I used to have a budget!"
    • Similarly, in the early "vampire" story arc, one of Valerie's vampire compatriots asks her why she has a crush on Torg, upon which she has a flashback to her pre-vampirism husband, a double of Torg, accidentally impaling himself on his own lance. Cue the Stormbreaker Saga, when Torg is stranded in the Dark Ages and his attempts to save Valerie from becoming a vampire are played for drama. In the end, after Torg goes back to the present, Valerie's husband dies in the accident, and it is revealed that this tragedy made her decide to join the vampire circle. Also retconned the accident from being the clumsy mistake expected of Torg to the result of recovery from a debilitating curse, in a character who was otherwise a competent warlord.
    • Done intentionally — as in, planned from the start — in "bROKEN", a chapter summarised in the archives as "terrible things happen". Torg has a Prophetic Dream in which Oasis says she wants to show him some dead baby birds she... (significant pause) "found" and has put inside an open grave. This is the same Oasis who Torg is constantly afraid will kill his friends because of her paranoid delusions. Torg looks into the grave and says "These aren't baby birds. It's..." The answer turns out to be "fried chicken", and Torg awakens to Zoë offering her some. He reflects that the dream turned out well after all, and it's Played for Laughs. In the climax of the chapter, Oasis burns someone alive.
  • Scoob and Shag: Kerm's comedic introduction involves him asking if it's okay to smoke, taking out a blunt. A Whole Episode Flashback reveals that he was holding one when Velm wiped his memory, making it the sole thing he had on him at the time.
  • Most of the transformations in The Wotch are played for laughs, especially those of Ming-mei and the Jerk Jocks turned cheerleaders. In the "Consequences" arc, though, Anne is horrified that she screwed up so many lives. When Ming-mei remembers being transformed, she is clearly terrified and while the cheerleaders are more or less happy as girls, the webcomic Cheer shows that Jo still is driven to tears at one point when she realizes that no-one remembers anything good about their past selves. Cassie's love potions would also fit, starting as a running gag and ending with her realizing that she had selfishly been trying to Mind Rape someone into loving her. Same with Miranda West, who first appears to be an annoying mentor, but gradually shows signs of being more sinister.
  • Yosh!:
    • It started out as a manga-style comedy, and the protagonist was frequently subjected to the Megaton Punch, thrown out of windows, things like that. Then, once the comic went dramatic, it was revealed that he's a "Resistant" — a kind of rare, magical entity who has Nigh-Invulnerability — thus making him central to the plot of an Ancient Conspiracy of mages. Upon learning that, the character comments that it's not really a major surprise, considering what he's survived in the past.
    • Also, his Cat Girl roommate was a normal girl that got mutated during The Weirding, turning her into a chimera and making her life a living hell.
  • Zebra Girl:
    • Jack. Fire. Apparently he thinks he deserves it. More importantly, he feels it relieves Sandra of her stress and keeps her from falling over the edge. Turns out he was right: once Sandra really tortures someone for the first time, she snaps.
    • The comic substituted the Hyperspace Mallet with spontaneous combustion. Later, when the title character attacks her True Companions and uses the same power, hilarity does not ensue.
    • In that same vein, the spell originally used to banish Lord Incubus way back in the comic's wacky beginning (before the genesis of the title Zebra Girl, even) has a slightly less humorous feel now that it's been used on the former protagonist who is far more frightening than Lord Incubus ever was.

    Web Original 
  • The Adventure Zone has Davenport, the assistant to the head of the Bureau of Balance whose primary method of communication is Pokémon Speak; while he can say other things, he eventually defaults to saying "Davenport!" a lot. It turns out that, after he and the others fled their own dead universe, everyone's memories were wiped so another member of the crew could try to locate the artifacts formed from the Light of Creation. Davenport, the captain of the group, had made their mission his entire life, so when that information was erased all he had left was his name.
  • Ask King Sombra at first seemed like a fairly wacky, comedy blog. Then it was revealed that it was all in King Sombra's imagination after he was blown to bits by the Crystal Heart, reducing him to a horn, and Coffee Talk (an innocent mare who'd only gone to the north to report on the Crystal Empire) is there because he absorbed her in his shadow form. And Coffee Talk may be trapped there forever.
  • Atop the Fourth Wall
    • Linkara parodies this trope in his 15 Things That Are Wrong with Identity Crisis review, saying that he got his Miller Time watch by beating up a thug in a horrifying fashion, and then buried his corpse in Nevada... then reveals that he was just giving a bad example of a Cerebus Retcon, and that his watch was just a gift.
    • The backstory for his Magic Gun could have been an example of the trope, if not for that fact that he had always planned on giving the gun a dark backstory.
    • His bouts of amorality throughout the series received this treatment at the end of his "Catwoman: Guardian of Gotham" review when after a long journey to find a famous Wizard in order to discover why his Magic Gun no longer works, the Wizard proceeds to give him a "The Reason You Suck" Speech, outlining (with clips from the show, Kickassia, and the crossovers with other reviewers) how Linkara hasn't been acting like a hero at all.
    • During the four year, a new segment was introduced, Longbox of the Damned, featuring Moarte, a ghoul that now inhabited Linkara’s home. For years, he only showed up here or for brief cameos but never in actual events. In the 2022 Ashock the Fourth Wall story, it’s revealed that Linkara found the Longbox during the quest to find the Wizard and was nearly killed by Moarte, who spared him after learning his occupation. He put him in a Deal with the Devil - let him share the wonders of horror comics to the world and he won’t destroy his soul. As well, he is not to be involved in his “petty squabbles”, thus invoking Superman Stays Out of Gotham on previous storylines.
  • Demo Reel did this fast, as the Troubled Production Lighter and Softer pilot had Rebecca making a fool out of herself with sexualized one-woman-shows, and Karl always saying "when ze wall fell" because he was a German stereotype. One episode later, and it was Rebecca's sexually abusive history that made her want to take control back, and Karl lost his wife and family when the wall fell.
  • Dan Avidan of Game Grumps has repeatedly told stories about being in France as an exchange student of sorts, but it wasn't revealed until episode 19 of their Wind Waker playthrough that he went to France as a part of coping with his depression/OCD.
  • Bob the Dalek usually draws My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic comics featuring Octavia's mother (called Octamum), who has a habit of treating Vinyl Scratch like a baby - making her wear a bonnet and booties, giving her a bottle, etc. Then, in this comic, Vinyl asks her point blank why, if she wants another foal so badly, she doesn't just have another one with her husband...and Octamum reveals that she suffers from Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, which makes it almost impossible for you to have children.
  • Not quite so harsh, but The Nostalgia Critic used to be proud of how he and his generation got raised by television. But as his Dark and Troubled Past became more and more clear, the pride turned bitter and "raising your kids on TV" is now one of the many things movie parents do wrong in his eyes.
  • On The Spoony Experiment, it's hinted that the real "experiment" at work is on Spoony himself... and he isn't even aware it's happening.
  • The SCP Foundation has done this to recontextualize the Early-Installment Weirdness known as "lolFoundation".
    • Telekill alloy was changed from a "magic restraint" for psychic SCPs to an incredibly harmful substance that causes, among other things, mental retardation. This is because before the rewrite, it was starting to become a Boring, but Practical means of controlling a wide variety of SCPs with minimal risk; after the rewrite, a "no cross-testing SCPs" rule was established.
    • Several more recent Tales have reframed the original Foundation staff and their antics as coming from much darker and more traumatized places. Portraits of Your Father recasts Dr. Kondraki as a bipolar man who did his more outrageous stunts due to untreated alcoholism and bipolar mania, Major Tom and Code Brown have Dr. Bright's parents being missing and his siblings being murdered one by one because they are reality benders, and SCP-4231 claims that Dr. Clef has severe PTSD due to being trapped in an abusive relationship with a reality bender who regularly assaulted and gaslighted him.
  • There's a whole category of Creepypasta regarding supposed dark secrets of light-hearted children's shows and games, e.g. that an actor was actually a Humanoid Abomination, that the show was being used to summon an Eldritch Abomination, or that the show itself was an Eldritch Abomination.
  • In the third season of U Realms Live, in the Azveltara Z campaign, the players and characters continuously make jokes about the number 77 throughout the duration of the campaign. Two campaigns later, in the prequel campaign titled Lyn Azveltara Gaiden, it is revealed that 77 is the number of miscarriages Lyn Azveltara had prior to both campaigns.
  • Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series:


Video Example(s):


Bill's Explanation

The flashback of Nancy trying to liberate cows from the dairy farm only to be arrested from "Uncaged" is not played for laughs when Bill reveals she was doing that because the company was threatening the farm.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (10 votes)

Example of:

Main / CerebusRetcon

Media sources: