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Gambit: Is it already time for another trip to yo' mysterious past, Logan?
Psylocke: I'm starting to think we need a chart to keep up with.
X-Men '92 #1

Sometimes, characters just have over-complicated origins. They may start off reasonable, but slowly and surely, different writers swoop in and reveal more and more of their past via Flashbacks until it's a confusing muddle of nonsense and clutter.

This tends to happen to characters with a Mysterious Past. The writers explain a bit, but not all of it, so they can milk the Mysterious Past some more. Unfortunately, they then repeat this trick so often that there's practically no room left for even more mysterious-pastness. It's unclear that the character ever had time to have a mysterious past with all the revelations we've already seen; and it's ironic that, for all their supposed mystery, these characters tend to have more backstory than any of the other characters.

In extreme cases, when the bits of the backstory simply cannot be chained together, we get a Multiple-Choice Past.

Compare New Job as the Plot Demands. Briefer Than They Think is a related idea on a much larger scale.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Astro Boy: Most incarnations of Osamu Tezuka's Shunsaku Ban. Amusingly, he looks a bit like Jamie Hyneman.
  • In Fullmetal Alchemist, the viewer gradually learns more and more details about what happened when the Elric brothers tried to revive their mother with alchemy, especially what's behind the Gate of Truth. The Ishval Rebellion receives this treatment to some degree.
  • Parodied with Ginji in Magical Project S, who is often alluded to having done tons of improbable things and has a wallet full of licenses to prove it.
  • In Naruto, there were no less than three separate flashbacks for Sasuke to the night Itachi massacred the Uchiha clan. The last one feels tacked on; it would have painted Itachi in a completely different light had it been included in the first place, but Sasuke claimed that he had simply tried to forget those specific memories. This makes some degree of sense, given that Sasuke's memories of the most traumatic event of his life (during which he was brutally tortured psychologically) are bound to be at least a little hazy, and the clearer flashbacks are like the result of him coming to terms with what actually happened that day. It also does answer the continuity error of why Sasuke's Sharingan was activated by fighting Haku and not Tsukuyomi (namely that it was, he just didn't realize it for several years).
  • Negima! Magister Negi Magi seems to do this with Asuna after the Genre Shift made the story much more dramatic, although there are a few hints in the earlier chapters that imply it was planned all along. To wit: Negi was not an Inept Mage when he accidentally erased Asuna's clothes. Her Anti-Magic aura screwed up the spell.
  • One Piece
    • Luffy's background was initially established in the first chapter (which became a flashback in the 4th episode of the anime) where he befriended his idol Shanks, ate the Gum-Gum Fruit, and vowed become a great pirate. More elements to his past were revealed throughout his present-day journey, such as his brother Ace, his grandfather Garp the Hero, and him finding out his father is Dragon the Revolutionary. The events post-Marineford expand on Luffy and Ace's childhood, including introducing their late blood brother Sabo.
    • Sanji's backstory was given in the arc that he debuted in: him meeting his mentor Zeff and barely avoiding starving to death, which lead Sanji to become a cook and vow to never let anyone starve. Then in the Jaya arc, we find out that he's actually from the North Blue rather than an East Blue native like the Straw Hats that joined before him. Finally in the Whole Cake Island arc, we learn about his past before meeting Zeff. That when he was in the North Blue, he was a prince of the infamous Vinsmoke Family, the leader of the conquering Germa 66 army. His father and brothers had ruthlessly abused him for his compassion and locked his face in an iron mask. He got to the East Blue because his sister was able to help him escape.
    • Nico Robin's backstory is, like Sanji's, given an entire arc to expand upon. She starts out a Mysterious Stranger who was The Dragon in a previous arc due to being valued for her skills as an archaeologist and having no other options for undisclosed reasons. It's eventually revealed that the reason why is that she's the only survivor of a government-sanctioned genocide, she's been hunted by the government ever since she was a child, and she can't trust anyone due to constantly being sold out to collect the bounty on her head. In this case, this is justified by Robin keeping her past a secret out of necessity, and trying to keep emotional distance from the crew that she was planning to abandon once it became convenient. It's only after they try to save her from the government that she finally opens up and reveals who she is.
  • The Pokémon: The Series writers like introducing new elements into Team Rocket's past in any episode centered around them. After 16 years of this, their backstory has become extremely convoluted. One of the characters lived in 4 different regions, flunked out of medical school, was trained in the art of ninjitsu, held a position as a weather forecaster, worked as a professional model, and was in a biker gang at some point. All this was BEFORE becoming an internationally wanted criminal. Oh, and she apparently doesn't know this, but her Missing Mom used to be second in command of Team Rocket before presumably dying on a mission to recover Mew. To make matters worse they're in their late teens at earliest, mid twenties at oldest. Further compounded by the fact that we are repeatedly told that Musashi / Jessie was dirt-poor growing up, to the point that she had to eat snow to avoid going hungry. Not the standard background for such a dilettante.
  • Polar Bear from Polar Bear's Cafe tells a touching story about his reasons for opening the cafe, and then Sasako brings up that he had told her a completely different version of events. He then shrugs and says both versions work. Penguin thinks he's making it all up.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman in all of his versions (but mainly the comics) has this for the time between the death of his parents (and sometimes even before) and the first time he put on the cape and cowl.
    • Especially concerning the events leading up the fateful day they went out to see Zorro. Grant Morrison has it so Bruce's dad decided to have a family day to cheer Bruce up because the kid escaped being decapitated by an immortal, Satan-worshipping school teacher. No, really.
    • Speaking of Bats, The Joker enjoys the fact his past is, to him contradictory and muddled.
  • Big Trouble in Little China likes to talk about all the previous Mrs. Burtons. It turns out Jack has had run-ins with the occult before, and just never caught on.
  • Captain America's war service between 1940 (yes, his Nazi-punching days predate the formal entry of the USA in the war) and 1945. He's probably had more adventures in World War II than there were days in the war; there's a tendency for stories involving him to feature a one or two-page flashback to some World War II event to contrast with whatever's happening in the present. Famous World War II events (D-Day, for example), have been retold frequently with conflicting information about what he was doing then.
    • His latest series as part of the Marvel NOW! relaunch further elaborates Steve's past prior to becoming Captain America by showing the hardships he and his family had to endure as an immigrant family in an America that was faced with the coming of the Great Depression.
    • Bucky Barnes has this even more, since he ended up as a brainwashed Soviet assassin that was kept on ice when not on assignment.
  • Of the three main characters and two main recurring characters of Diabolik, only the recurring character Gustavo Garian (the only one whose debut included his Origin Story) doesn't have this, expanding on many Noodle Incidents:
    • It took years for Diabolik's past to be revealed: he was an orphan who didn't know his real name and was raised on an island of only thieves, where he learned the trade and invented Latex Perfection before having to kill his father figure King (who baptized him Diabolik, as it's the name of a panther that had nearly killed King years before) when he decided to have him tell the formula of the masks and then kill him. Then we discovered what he did between his escape from King's Island and his arrival in Clerville, explaining that he learned part of his trade and to be paranoid in another place, where he also replaced Walter Dorian, a rich arts smuggler identical to Diabolik whose identity was used by our protagonist before being outed as Diabolik. Then we discovered what happened to him as he settled in Clerville before the series. Then we discovered what happened between the first and the story of the series. Then we discover a few facts about Diabolik's past on King's Island. And Word of God says there are still tales to tell about his past, including his real identity (King has hidden documents revealing it in an extremely resistant time capsule hidden somewhere);
    • When she appears, Eva Kant is immediately stated to have acquired her last name by marriage to a man who died devoured by a panther (an accident, Eva explains), and that she spent most of her money to ward off blackmailers. A later story explains she married her husband because he was her uncle and she wanted to take back her last name, and that she was innocent of what she had been blackmailed for. Then a later story explains exactly how all of that happened, that she had paid off the blackmailers because she had still been their accomplice (so they did have some dirt on her, only less than what they believed), and that the panther killing her husband being explained as an accident was her proving herself the greatest Deadpan Snarker of the series: her husband had set the panther on her to try and kill her, but Eva set the beast on him by accident;
    • Ginko's past was alluded to in multiple Noodle Incidents, before being explained in the story Ginko: Before Diabolik. Then a previously unknown part was told in a following story, enacting this trope but still giving him the less complicated past of the main characters;
    • Altea first appears as a liberal duchess in Benglait, a kingdom on the verge of the revolution. After the revolution it's discovered her mother is from Clerville, and she still has some properties there. Later it's discovered she became a duchess by marriage, and she's the daughter of an admiral. Then it's discovered her late husband, who had died attacked by a shark, was on the first line in the battle against a terrorist organization that he actually controlled to start a civil war, and he faked his death to avoid being exposed.
  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Scrooge McDuck, as written by Carl Barks, was neck deep in this until Don Rosa came along and, in a Crowning Moment of Arc Welding, made most of his backstory fit together in The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck. However, since other writers are usually not so concerned with continuity, they tend to introduce new elements of Scrooge's past which typically serve the needs of a single story and are never heard of ever again.
  • ElfQuest did this for Bearclaw, Mantricker and Kahvi. Although most of Bearclaw's stories are pretty solid, Mantricker's timeline is broken beyond all help - and for the family trees to still make sense, some of the later writers literally had to have Kahvi fall into a magical plot hole for a few thousand years.
  • Elisa Cameron, the eponymous hero of the comic book Ghost, has an incredibly convoluted backstory that fits into this trope, although it's all explained, more or less, by the end of the series. The second series, that is, after they canceled the writer of the first 36 shaggy-dog issues and started a new volume at #1. The blinding rate of actual revelations in the second series contrasts with the three-year tease of the first series.
  • In Marvel's G.I. Joe comics it got ridiculous how one by one it was revealed that Snake-Eyes had connections to almost every major villain in his past. Trying very hard to make this brief: He served with Storm Shadow in Vietnam. Baroness' brother was also killed in Vietnam while Snake-Eyes was nearby, and she ended up falsely believing he had killed her brother. Destro and his father come to the scene shortly afterwards just as Baroness is leaving, and note that her brother was wearing a bulletproof vest which would have stopped the bullets from Snake-Eyes' pistol. When he returned home, he learned that his family had all perished in a head-on collision with a drunk driver, who also died. The person driving the other car was the brother of the man who would later become Cobra Commander. Next, Snake-Eyes heads to Japan to join the Arashikage clan...which turns out to be the clan Storm Shadow was born into. His time there comes to an end when Zartan murders the clan head and frames Storm Shadow for it. Finally, it was later revealed that Firefly was with the Arashikage clan as well under the persona of "Faceless Master". Out of all the most enduring villains that only leaves Major Bludd with no ties to Snake-Eyes.
  • Following Green Lantern: Rebirth, the colored lanterns of the Emotional Spectrum are introduced to the Green Lantern mythos, having retroactively existed alongside the Green Lantern Corps. Their past can then be elaborated on with flashbacks or time travel, often sharing a history with the Green Lanterns.
  • In Hellblazer, the list of occultist phenomena and people Constantine interacted with in his past only seems to get longer and longer, with a colorful, long-forgotten old friend showing up almost once per story arc.
  • Hellboy has gotten quite a bit of mileage of Hellboy's adventures during his earlier career (between the 40's and late 80's).
  • Spider-Man tends to have parts of his backstory added to, such as what happened to his parents, or what happened to the other students when Peter was bit by a radioactive spider, or what happened to Peter's Long-Lost Relative that he never knew about.
  • Jessica Drew, the original Spider-Woman, kept getting additions to her origin that made it seem awfully complicated. Some recent attempts to streamline it have generally just made it muddier by using blatant retcons that contradict even the basic stuff most readers agreed on.
  • Superman :
    • Superman was so successful that by the mid 40s he got his alternate Superboy story lines where the reader got to see adventures he had during his teenage years when he lived in Smallville with his foster parents the Kents. It also introduced Clark Kent's childhood friends Pete Ross and Lana Lang. A lot of the elements presented in the Superboy storylines became canon.
      • For example, he was made an honorary member of the Legion of Super-Heroes as a teenager.
      • And becoming pals with a teenager Bruce Wayne!
      • He found his old Kryptonian super-pets, especially Krypto, the super-dog.
      • Then he also got a college girlfriend named Lori Lemaris.
    • Clark Kent's Kryptonian roots: during the first decade of the Superman comic books, Supes had at best a very nebulous idea of his origins. Only in the late 40s did he learn his extraterrestrial past for sure. From then on, the comics kept elaborating on this theme.
    • When John Byrne took over the series in the mid 80s, DC also expanded on what happened to the mysterious years in between Clark leaving the Kent farm and him getting a job as a journalist for the Daily Planet.
      • For example, Clark worked as a dishwasher to pay for college, becoming involved with a waitress. Plus he also spent a few months in a monastery in Red China before Bruce Wayne became a pupil in that same place.
      • Also, it turns out that during Kent's childhood the Manhunters manipulated all of Smallville's children to look out for Superman.
      • The Conduit saga introduced Kenny Braverman as another of Clark Kent's childhood friend.
      • After Infinite Crisis, Lana Lang got two previously unacknowledged brothers who got in the way of the Clark/Lana relationship..
    • Lex Luthor also got an expanded past during The Silver Age of Comic Books when Jerry Siegel himself wrote that he had been a childhood friend of Superboy.
      • Then, after the Byrne reboot Luthor was a Corrupt Corporate Executive who was Perry White's childhood friend and killed his own parents for the insurance money.
    • Other Superman villains also got a dose of this trope during both the classic and the Post-Crisis eras such as the Prankster who under John Byrne's revamp became a disgruntled former TV star driven to crime by Morgan Edge who fired him from his show.
      • Brainiac became so popular during the Silver Age that got his background expanded quite fast. At first another alien invading Earth, later appearances would explain he had a centuries long lifespan, that he came from dead planet Bryak and he's trying to repopulate it, hence the city-shrinking mania he has. Then Bryak got changed to Colu. Later it was explained that he was actually a robot.
  • Wonder Girl Donna Troy was essentially created by accident, with a writer taking stories involving a teenage Wonder Woman to be stories of Wonder Woman's little sister. Neal Adams then gave Donna a backstory, where she was rescued from a fire by Wonder Woman and taken back to Paradise Island where Hippolyta adopted her, to make her a proper character. This backstory was further expanded in Who Is Donna Troy? which named her birth mother and explored how the toddler came to be in that fire at all.
  • The X-Men:
    • Deadpool, in addition to having a legitimate Expansion Pack Past, also pokes fun at the idea. Among his time with Weapon X, Flirtations with Death (literally), and time with the X-Men, he's done all sorts of wacky oddjobs. This includes being trained as a Sumo Wrestler (a clear parody of Wolverine's samurai training).
    • X-Men member Nightcrawler's teleportation abilities involve him slipping into another dimension, traveling very quickly through it, then popping out elsewhere. The exact nature of this dimension varies from adaptation to adaptation, but usually, when we do get to see it, Hyperspace Is a Scary Place. In the "main" Marvel Universe of the comics, it's eventually revealed that the dimension Nightcrawler teleports through is Hell.
    • Storm got hit with this even earlier than Wolverine. When she first appeared, she was simply a young woman in rural Kenya whose tribe worshiped her as a goddess due to her power to control the weather. Then it turned out she was born in the United States and even has a Western last name (Munroe). Then when she was a baby, she and her parents moved to Cairo where her parents were killed in the Arab-Israeli Conflict. Afterwards she spent her childhood living as a petty thief, then as a teenager she traveled east to Kenya—discovering her mutant powers along the way and having a fling with T'Challa—where she was taken in by her mother's tribe and worshiped as a goddess. When she was approached by Xavier to join his new team of X-Men, it's implied that she had never left Kenya before, but given what we now know about her background and the fact that she was in her early 20's when recruited, she couldn't have possibly lived in Kenya longer than a few years.
    • Arguably the most famous example of this trope is Wolverine: He's a soldier, mutant, science experiment, ninja, assassin, Super Hero, miner, aristocrat's son, biker with amnesia, and so on. His time in World War II alone is an example of this trope, where Wolvie has fought in different battles spanning from France, to North Africa, to Russia, to Italy... all the while spending months being tortured and killed over and over in a concentration camp just to mess with some Nazi's head. Somehow during this period, he managed to also spend the key war years in Japan being trained as a samurai, taking a Japanese wife, and having a son. And you thought being in multiple squads of the X-Men and the Avengers, while also going on his solo adventures, was an incredible accomplishment.
    • Professor Xavier himself often falls victim to this trope. While it's certainly within character that he led a colorful life before founding his school, most of his past was well-established...until the Deadly Genesis miniseries which revealed that the All-New All-Different X-Men were actually Xavier's second attempt at reforming the team following the original X-Men's abduction by Krakoa. The rescue team he originally cobbled together were all killed or presumed to be killed until one of them, Vulcan, came back for revenge.

    Film — Animation 
  • When Puss in Boots debuted in Shrek 2, he was nothing more than a hired assassin famous for killing ogres who ends up befriending Shrek and Donkey. He makes a casual mention to having been a thief in that film, but nothing beyond that. His prequel film fleshed out his origin as an orphan who became an outlaw after being betrayed by Humpty Dumpty, his show chronicles his adventures as the protector of a small town, along with other pieces of media showing his adventures as a wandering hero and thief.

    Film — Live Action 
  • In Highlander, Connor MacLeod has quite a history, being an Immortal, and it just may happen that a newly introduced Big Bad will share some backstory with his past that hasn't yet caught up to him until the present day.
  • The Moustache in Irma la Douce has a remarkable resume. But that's another story....
  • Lampshaded in MacGruber. When MacGruber is introduced, we are told of his many tours of duty in pretty much every branch of the military. Many would be impossible, because they occur at the same time or the war was simply too short to accommodate all of them. MacGruber would have to be a hundred-year-old man with a time machine to squeeze them all in.
  • As a film character, for decades James Bond would be a rather mysterious agent with very little background. The original novels did outline a sketchy Bond bio that the films would never bother acknowledging much for decades. Yet, even the earliest films would have flimsy elements to interconnect the film franchise, mainly the presence of Spectre during the Sean Connery / George Lazenby era; Bond's marriage to Tracy in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, which would be referenced very fleetingly in a handful of the subsequent movies, the revelation of Bond's family motto in that same film (OHMSS would remain the most intimate portrayal of Bond for decades). Also, a few villains and allies would return for more than one film (for example Blofeld and Jaws, as well as Moneypenny and Felix Leiter). Still, every film essentially remained a self-contained movie with little to no background development for Bond until Daniel Craig's tenure in the title role:
    • Casino Royale (2006) would be the first film to refer to Bond's childhood and early youth when Vesper Lind performs an armor piercing Sherlock Scan on Bond.
    • Following this, Quantum of Solace would build up on the events of Casino Royale, with Bond looking for closure over Vesper Lynd's death, searching for her employers and killers.
    • Then Skyfall would acknowledge Bond's past as hinted in the novels by showing his childhood home and mentioning Bond's parents.
    • Spectre would up the ante by not only delving deeper into Bond's past but also by relating his childhood with the Big Bad himself, for the first time making Bond's past youth an important plot point.
    • No Time to Die does it too, but with Bond's Second Love Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) this time, by connecting her past to the new Big Bad, who turns out to be the man she said she shot at when she was still a child in the previous film.
  • In Transformers Film Series, the Transformers involvement with the Earth's past is shown in the first movie, while the sequels reveal even more involvement with the Earth's history.

  • In Artemis Fowl, Domovoi Butler has been hinted to have had an. . . interesting job history before taking up as Artemis's bodyguard.
  • Faolan from Juliet Marillier's The Bridei Chronicles. In the first book, he's a spy and bodyguard with a Mysterious Past. In the second and third books, we find out that he started out as a bard in Ireland, then became an assassin, then was in prison for awhile, then somehow made his way to Scotland and made a career there. Despite all that, he's still in his 20s. There doesn't seem to have been time for him to actually do everything he's supposed to have done, particularly given the time it must have taken for a member of an enemy tribe to win the trust of the Priteni king.
  • In the Sword of Truth series, Sister Nicci originally had little background besides being one of the Sisters of the Light and secretly being aligned with the Keeper of the Underworld. However, starting in Faith of the Fallen, her complex past is delved into during chapters from her point of view.
  • Nathan Brazil, the guardian of the Well of Souls from Jack Chalker's Well World saga. Sort of inevitable considering he's rebooted the universe (and subsequently relived the whole course of all human history) at least five times. (Or so he says, he's also an Unreliable Narrator.)
  • "The Wheel of Time". A late-arrival character Androl Genhald has had a remarkably varied past. So far as we know, he's fought in a minor rebellion, sailed two seas, been apprenticed to a leatherworker AND a wisewoman (usually reserved for women), worked as a farmer and a surveyor, and was trained as a swordsman. All of this in the thirty years before joining the Black Tower.

    Live Action TV 
  • During the first season of 24, Jack Bauer is shown to be a relatively competent (and unassuming) government agent with some special ops training. Subsequent seasons, Expanded Universe tie-in's and supplemental books show that he worked for the LAPD's SWAT Team, Delta Force and the CIA, worked extensive field cases that called on him to do extraordinary feats, indirectly worked for/met with five of the series' major villains (including two members of his own family) years before they would put their plans to overthrow the U.S. into motion, sold out several of his CTU colleagues when they accepted bribes, went undercover in several different gangs and cartels and rescued his wife from a Big Bad who planned to massacre her and several other civilians on live television.
  • Kenneth from 30 Rock has been alive forever. Or since the American Civil War. We think. Unless he was born in the 1980s. Maybe.
  • Blake's 7:
    • Season C newcomer Del Tarrant claimed that he was trained as a Federation captain, then worked as a smuggler and mercenary before taking part in the battle against the Alien Invasion from Andromeda. Unfortunately when this Back Story was written, the character was meant to be played by an actor at least ten years older than Steven Pacey. It's handwaved by a suggestion that Tarrant is lying about some of it, and an Alternate Character Interpretation is that he deserted from the Federation military during the battle and is trying to appear more acceptable to the gang of rebels and ex-criminals he finds himself in with.
    • Dayna Mellanby was raised in isolation with only her father and step-sister for company. In "Animals", she's required to have a New Old Flame, a private tutor called in to educate her. Unfortunately this Teacher/Student Romance has distinctly creepy overtones once you do the math (it's been over six years since they met, and Dayna is still quite young when she joins the crew). As with Tarrant, this came about because the script was originally written for an older crewmember (Cally, who left the series).
  • Brooklyn Nine-Nine: Detective Rosa Diaz is revealed to have gone to ballet school, medical school (for three years) and business school. She was a competitive gymnast, has a pilot's licence, and has lived in Osaka, Berlin, Macau, Stockholm — and, it's implied, at least a couple of other cities around the world. Somehow she fit all this in before attending the police academy at the same time as Jake Peralta, who is implied to be older than her (a sonic weapon which only affects under-35s is felt by her but not by him), and who seems to have no past more complicated than "grew up, became a cop".
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Justified with Angel and Spike, since they are centuries-old vampires. Angelus grumbles that Angel's was mostly puppy rescues and Manilow concerts. We learn that Spike's entire persona is a fabrication by himself. "Spike" who used to go by "William the Bloody" was William Pratt, a wimpy poet who got the first nickname because of his "bloody awful poetry" and was considered the runt of his original pack when he was first turned. His current name possibly originates from another critic saying his poetry is as painful as driving a railroad spike through your head. Later he genuinely made a name for himself as a badass by killing two slayers.
    • This gets really excessive for the title character in the second season of Angel. While some of the things are understandable in that he has been a vampire for 200 years, and has had a soul for a hundred years, sometimes you wonder exactly what is consistent with his character. The best example is the fourth season, "Orpheus", which had a type of It's a Wonderful Plot that actually explained some of what was going through his mind.
  • Criminal Minds: In order for all of the things in Aaron Hotchner's past to be true, he had to have gone to college at 13. Seriously, the guy was an established prosecutor before joining the BAU and then working his way up to Lead Profiler, which he's been for about five years... yet he's barely 45.
    • Yet he's nothing compared to Reid...who really did graduate high school as a twelve-year-old and still doesn't have enough time in life for all the things he's supposedly done.
  • CSI likes this trope in all its versions. Enough past is revealed to flesh out a character, and them more and more is revealed as things progress. Listing all the stuff associated with the main characters could be a page in itself.
  • Slowly revealing the history of the Doctor and his people from Doctor Who in bits and pieces over multiple decades and production teams has led to a less than clear vision of his past. It gets even worse when you bring the Expanded Universe into it. Of course, this sort of thing is pretty much an occupational hazard once you make it past 500. Which he has.
  • Despite being an utter failure at almost 40, Johnny Drama on Entourage has a story about anyone and everyone in show business, just because he's been around so long. Oddly, his own brother and best friends have never heard most of these stories before.
  • Phoebe from Friends often makes passing allusions to unusual jobs or situations she was involved in before the series started, although she does have an ordinary backstory as well. And as she's a firm believer in reincarnation, there was at least one flashback scene to Phoebe in a previous life. Whether this is supposed to be purely imaginary is, one supposes, left to the viewer. Lampshaded once when she makes one such reference to her past, gets a lot of blank looks, smiles and says "There's so much you don't know".
  • Nessa from the British comedy Gavin & Stacey has a ridiculously impressive and convoluted past, revealed in brief reminiscences and anecdotes, although how much of this history is true is debatable - she could be making it all up for all we know, though the other Barry characters will often back her up and are sometimes even involved. Many of the stories she recounts are of bizarre sexual liaisons with high-profile celebrities, made all the more hilarious by her dead-pan delivery of these lewd stories. Hilariously, politician John Prescott showed up at her wedding as one of her exes, meaning at least one of her stories is true.
  • Greek has this in all of Cappie's majors (and one-time photography minor). Of course, he could be lying, but that's part of Cappie's mystery (just like his name...)
  • In Heroes, they've somehow managed to shoehorn in a third dark past for Angela, who seems to switch secret conspiracies every few years. Said dark past also involves Chandra Suresh, someone who positively couldn't be part of any of these conspiracies (he wasn't even sure evolved abilities existed until he was killed by someone with powers) but apparently now was part of one all along.
  • Highlander: Duncan MacLeod has done just about everything imaginable, and lived in (or at least visited) virtually every culture on Earth, in the course of flashbacks doled out throughout the series. Justified to some extent due to the fact that he's over 400 years old. Several of the other characters have similarly varied pasts, which is also justified because they're usually even older than MacLeod. For example, his drinking buddy Hugh Fitzcairn is 800 years old, his on-and-off girlfriend Amanda is nearly 1200, and Methos is so old that even most immortals think he's a myth; he says his earliest memories date back to 5500 years ago, but he was already an adult and had already experienced his first death (activating his immortality) before that point.
  • Wilson W. Wilson, on Home Improvement, speaks multiple languages, has been to dozens of countries, has studied several esoteric religions and philosophies, and engages in such myriad hobbies as wine-tasting, ant farming, and fire walking. He is revealed in-universe to be a retired intelligence operative, which would make for an eclectic past.
  • Just Shoot Me!: Nina van Horn is a former supermodel, who back in The '70s ventured into acting and singing careers. She has also apparently slept with every male celebrity she's ever met, has converted back and forth to various religions, and has even been brainwashed several times into joining cults.
  • Law & Order: Criminal Intent: Robert Goren knows everything.
  • Happened to most of the main characters in Lost as the show progressed. Locke's time in a hippie commune, for example, was never mentioned before or since in the series. Somewhat fixed in the fourth season by giving the main characters Flash Forwards instead of Flash Backs.
  • MacGyver (1985) has a college degree in physics, comprehensive knowledge of mechanics, chemistry, and any other specialty required by a given plot, worked as a deck hand on a tramp steamer, was a bomb disposal expert for the Special Forces in Vietnam, was a professional racing car driver, played Olympic-calibre ice hockey but had a Tragic Accident that kept him out of the Olympics, worked as an apprentice and assistant to a noted archaeologist (played by BRIAN BLESSED), trained as a pilot, worked as a backwoodsman in the Rockies, a lumberjack and a taxi driver, all before becoming a secret agent. Adding to the confusion, the first and second seasons gave two incompatible versions of his initial meeting with Pete Thornton. Furthermore, the final episode reveals he has a long-lost son. Oh, and a seemingly infinite number of old girlfriends, every one of whom still considers him a nice guy and good friend.
  • Howard Moon is supposed to be like this in the Crack Fox episode of The Mighty Boosh.
  • Jamie and Adam from MythBusters love playing with this. A lot of it is for humor, but much is also true - for instance, Jamie once ran a pet shop, used to give diving lessons, and turns out to be qualified for many odd tasks that crop up in the course of mythbusting work.
  • The "somewhat eponymous" main character of New Amsterdam (2008), as a consequence of his immortality. In the last 400 years he's been a cop, a lawyer, a soldier, a sailor, a hobo, a conman, a carriage rider, etc.
  • Larry, Darryl, and Darryl from Newhart had an extremely packed past.
  • Medical Examiner Donald "Ducky" Mallard of NCIS always has a story to share about his past, whether he's sharing it with the team or the bodies in Autopsy. Considering that he's perhaps the oldest person in the building with a career that involves a lot of traveling, it makes sense that he'd have plenty of interesting backstory.
  • In The Office (US), Creed's personal history is never laid out, but frequently alluded to, each time suggesting a different dark chapter which is never fully explained, and they're rarely mentioned again.
    "I've been involved in a number of cults, both as a leader and a follower. You have more fun as a follower. But you make more money as a leader."
  • Power Rangers really gropes when it tries to come up with what Rangers returning for team-up episodes have been doing since they were last seen. Being a member of the original team, after fifteen years on and off of the screen, Tommy Oliver has been a martial artist, a football player, a race car driver, a paleontologist, a Mad Scientist (seriously!), a high school science teacher, and highly involved in Ranger-ness behind the scenes while between power sources, having made contact with every team even if they were based in space, just visiting from a lot more than 20 Minutes into the Future, etc. If there's anything "Dr. O" has not been, he will have by the next anniversary teamup to bring him back.
  • This trope is the entire premise behind the title character of The Pretender.
  • Pretty Little Liars is very guilty of this. Alison Di Laurentis did more on the night of her disappearance (and apparent murder) than people do in their entire lives.
    • And it got much worse with the introduction of Charles/Charlotte Di Laurentis and Alex Drake.
  • Shawn Spencer of Psych travelled a lot and had 57 jobs prior to opening the titular private detective agency.
  • Quantum Leap is rife with this.
    • Al has led a storied life before becoming the main character's Holographic Sidekick. He ran away from the orphanage he lived in to join the Circus, traveled with a Pool master, boxed semi-pro, flew for the Navy the Cuban Missile Crisis and then Vietnam, was a POW, was the subject of a Pulitzer Prize photo, attended MIT, marched in the 60s, became an Astronaut, was promoted to Rear Admiral, has been married 5 times (between countless liaisons), was acquitted of murder, speaks Italian, and is a great cook.
    • Sam, on the other hand, just studied to an unholy degree. He speaks 7 languages, has 7 doctorates (including his MD), has a Nobel Prize, played piano at Carnegie Hall, sings, dances, has a photographic memory, went to MIT at 15, won the big game in high school (apparently at 14), grew up on a farm, Studied Tae Kwon Do, invented a time machine, and is also a good cook.
      • Note that revelations about what Sam can do, knows, or even important details of his own life are justified not just from the perspective of the audience, but the perspective of Sam himself, as going through time has 'swiss-cheesed' his brain. Thus, if he doesn't know/remember things he should in earlier episodes based on what we later learn about him, it has a very neat in-story explanation, and they really can (and do) just continue adding to his history and list of skills throughout much of the series.
  • Scott Sherwood of Remember WENN had one of these.
  • Many an episode of Remington Steele revolved around someone from the main character's past coming around to reveal another piece. He's known to have been a thief, con man, and boxer. Along the way, he picked up numerous skills and bits of information.
  • Hilda, Zelda, and cat Salem of Sabrina the Teenage Witch are centuries-old witches who have apparently screwed every historically famous person ever and were everywhere for everything that has ever happened in history. Zelda dated Columbus. Hilda dated Shakespeare and Mercury, the Roman messenger God. Also, Salem totally coined the phrase "let me have liberty or let me have death." Also, in one episode Sabrina mentions that her Aunt Irma didn't like some guy named Ben so she turned him into the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament commonly known as "Big Ben".
  • Blair Sandburg in The Sentinel has some odd skills learned on summer jobs, or acquired from his free-spirited mother's various lovers, or picked up in his anthropological/archaeological studies.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Former Cardassian spy-turned tailor Elim Garak always adds more details to his past. Played with in that you can never know for sure if any of his supposed backstory is true, since That Liar Lies. His backstory was finally revealed in a thick book, A Stitch in Time, written by the actor who portrayed him.
    • Whenever the writers wanted Dax to have an unusual skill or know something unexpected, they just attributed it to one of her past hosts. Given that there were seven such prior hosts, adding up to over 350 years of experience, this was reasonable enough. One extreme example was Ezri Dax, who has no police or security training whatsoever, being the best-suited to stop a serial killer on the station...because one of the previous Dax hosts was a serial killer. (And in fairness, the current host is a trained psychiatrist, giving her more than just the past host's life experiences to use in profiling a serial killer.) And even that was expanded from a previous episode where that particular host killed just one person..
    • O'Brien ran into this twice. On TNG, where he was simply the most prominent recurring crewman, he was used a few times when they wanted a known character to add a personal touch to the plot, but didn't want to invest the main characters in it. His past fighting Cardassians with Captain Maxwell being the best example. Also, for several years he wore the rank insignia of a Lieutenant ("Chief" was presumed to be just a shortening of his job title), but he was retconned into being a Senior Chief Petty Officer and thus one of the very few named enlisted personnel in the entire franchise. Then when he moved to Deep Space 9 as a main character, expanding his past became a matter of necessity.
  • Star Trek: Discovery: For all the many hours of screen time Spock has had over the course of the franchise, it came as somewhat of a surprise when Discovery revealed that he has a hitherto unmentioned adoptive sister, Michael Burnham, also a prominent Starfleet officer. But the truth is, this has been happening since The Original Series, with no less than three surprise reveals about his family that not even his best friend Kirk was aware of (those being Sarek, T'Pring, and Sybok). It's quite clear that Spock never talks about his family unless he absolutely has to, meaning there could be any number of other people in his life that no one yet knows about.
  • And then there was "Bon Chance Louie", proprietor of the Gold Monkey Bar in Tales of the Gold Monkey, who apparently had been everywhere and done everything — including being part of Mallory's expedition, in his last, unsuccessful, attempt to climb Mt. Everest, and nearly being guillotined.
  • Jack Harkness from Torchwood started that series with his backstory from Doctor Who as a Time Agency agent who became a time-traveling con man after two years' worth of memories were swiped, and then was made immortal, and then travelled back in time, overshot his destination, and got stuck on The Slow Path, which forced him to live through WWII twice - which became three times by the end of the first series of Torchwood. It also doesn't help that there was a Flashback to Jack's time as a teenager in which we learn valuable things, but not his real name.
  • On Twin Peaks, as Laura Palmer's past is revealed episode by episode, we learn she's been quite the busy girl. She tutored Josie Packard in English, tutored Johnny Horne, worked at the perfume counter in Horne's department store, worked as a private escort and as a prostitute at One Eyed Jack's, and also delivered food for Meals on Wheels. Still she had time to juggle two boyfriends, feed her cocaine habit, and maintain two diaries (a public one and a secret one), all while dealing with major problems at home.
  • Happened to the character of Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati. He got so many contradictory backstories (he was a former soldier, a former teacher, or else a very experienced DJ from New Orleans) that finally they had to make an episode to reconcile the inconsistencies, establishing that he and Andy had simply lied when they said he was an experienced DJ in the first episode.
  • Before meeting Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess has been an Amazon, Valkyrie, mother, student of a Chinese mystic (in China, no less), lover of Caesar, and warlord. She has travelled most of the known world, including Scandinavia, northern Africa, and all of Asia. It's a wonder she never found herself in the New World.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Champions has the Universal Contact, Universal Profession, Universal Scholar, and Universal Translator perks for just this sort of occasion. The players can use these perks to basically have friends everywhere, to have done everything, to have learned everything, and to speak all the languages they might happen to find a need for. These abilities are prohibitively expensive, though, so most characters only have one if they have any at all.
  • Exploited by the creator of Old Man Henderson, by giving said character a Door Stopper of a backstory, with frequent perspective, subject, tense, format, and language shifts, to ensure the GM wouldn't actually read it and thus he could make up whatever skills Henderson needed whenever they were needed.
  • Pretty much every game-product or novel author who wrote about Ravenloft's Strahd von Zarovich in the 2E era has added something to his past. Partially justified, in that he's been a vampire for centuries; however, the number of subplots that got crammed into the last year or so of his mortal life is a bit over-the-top.

    Video Games 
  • In the Ace Attorney series, this happens with just about every flashback case. Through them, we learn about Mia's first case, how she and Phoenix met, her and Phoenix's lovers (who showed up in present-day cases), Edgeworth's first prosecution case (against Mia, no less), Edgeworth's meeting of Kay and Detective Gumshoe, and his initial involvement in the KG-8 case.
  • Shiro of Guild Wars literally has an expansion pack past. Introduced in Factions, we learn that he killed the emperor of Cantha because a fortune teller told him that the emperor would try to assassinate him. Nothing more is said about this in the game, and he shares the fate of every Big Bad. But in the next expansion, Nightfall, we learn that the fortune teller was a minion of Abaddon, tricking Shiro into killing the emperor.
  • The Boss in Metal Gear Solid 3 reveals her past, claiming she's never talked this much about herself before. But in Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker, both Strangelove and EVA reveal all kinds of juicy details about top-secret missions she'd been on in between (and in one case, instead of) the missions she'd told Snake about.
  • Resident Evil seems to cram their lead characters with all sorts of talents for their young ages (everyone is in their 20s), which even leads into some research failure (such as saying Jill was a member of Delta Force when, in fact, they don't accept women). This could be explained by the Resident Evil universe just being a bit less sexist, but as the developers have never said anything about that, it is likely just some standard research fail.
  • Sunless Skies' leveling system for the captain often works like this. Every time you level up, you get to pick a "facet", which adds something to the captain's backstory (which raises stats) and gives you a choice in how you participated in it back then (giving you pick of which secondary stats you want). As a result, high-level captains have done a lot of things before they ever even grabbed a steering wheel, regardless of profession.
  • World of Warcraft can do this to ludicrous degrees at times. As of the Expansion Pack Dragonflight, it turns out Deathwing, who had already done much evil things before, created a race of draconic humanoids, the Dracthyr, who were conveniently put in stasis and forgotten for thousands of years in yet another cave where he did his Mad Scientist experimentations.

  • Candy in Dragon Mango is a Caller. But as she frequently points out, before she decided to become a Caller, she studied something else. What that something else is depends on what's currently useful for the plot. That includes martial arts, lockpicking, carpentry, weight training, and a few other jobs. She's usually not particularly good at the skills, but it's usually enough for the situation.

    Web Original 
  • Etzel von Gerhart of Shadowhunter Peril isn't too great at keeping his former life as a mercenary and assassin under wraps.

    Western Animation 
  • Roger the Alien from American Dad! originally had a two-sentence origin: He was an alien being held at Area 51 who saved Stan's life. To repay him, Stan lets him live in his house. Over time, though Roger's past has been much more colorful — in one episode it was revealed that he's actually been on Earth for over sixty years (he was the alien who crashed in Roswell) and stories of his past exploits keep popping up. Like how during the 70's, he was a millionaire music producer who "invented" disco by exploiting a Stable Time Loop, then lost everything when disco died. Or that he's inexplicably an Olympic-class figure skater. Or that he's inadvertently responsible for the death of Biggie Smalls. Or that he fought in the Vietnam War, against the Americans. And he invented MDMA.
  • Batman: The Animated Series was a pretty good example of this trope especially if you add The MovieMask of the Phantasm, what with the extensive and varied training that Bruce had undergone in the past — everything from samurai training to magic lessons. Plus the aforementioned movie that gave him a lost Love Interest, Andrea Beaumont.
  • In The Boondocks: Robert Jebediah "Granddad" Freeman has this in spades. The backstory of the family has them coming from Chicago, and one season one episode clarifies that, having him live in the same neighborhood as fellow Tuskegee Airman pilot Moe Jackson after World War II. Other instances, however, have him living in the segregated south, both when he was very little (his brief flashback about "a funny lynching story"), and when he was a full-grown adult, placing him in general civil rights marches. In what turned out to be All Just a Dream of Huey's, he was also Rosa Parks' accomplice on the bus, though his attempts at defying segregation were ignored in that instance.
  • Code Lyoko:
    • Jim from Season 2 onward, as a Running Gag, often tangentially mentions being involved in all sorts of different odd jobs (space program test subject, special forces, something about submarines, something else about professional skateboarding, etc.) that he would "rather not talk about". It's implied that he's either Older Than He Looks or he's embellishing his past because he's bored. The fact we do have confirmation of several 'interesting' parts of his backstory, like the disco film he stared in or his nephew whose a famous drummer, means there is certainly some truths in there.
    • Played straighter with Aelita, who was first described as an AI before it was revealed in Season 2 she was human, and the daughter of the creator of Lyoko, with flashbacks in the form of fuzzy dreams and regained memories adding in details ranging from being born in the mountains to losing her mother to being chased by government men. Too little is known of her past is known to make the rare flashbacks contradictory, though.
  • Duckman exaggerated this for a running gag, as the titular character's super-competent sidekick, Cornfed Pig, always appeared to have expertise and an extensive background in any task at hand. The trope was subverted to an extent when it was revealed that in all of Cornfed's many adventures, he had never successfully lost his virginity, and a Lampshade Hanging for Cornfed's ridiculous past was attempted, perhaps inadvertently, by showing at least three different flashback scenarios at different times in the series of how he came to be friends with Duckman.
  • Family Guy also plays this trope straight, and usually for laughs, mainly due to its fondness for using quick, random flashbacks for jokes. It doesn't just apply to all the random jobs and activities characters have performed in the past (namely Peter, Brian, and Stewie), but also to how some of the characters met each other. Multiple flashbacks have happened which show Peter meeting Lois, Peter meeting Brian, or Peter meeting Cleveland and/or Quagmire.
  • In Gargoyles, almost every episode featuring Demona delved further into her complex backstory.
  • In the Generator Rex episode A Brief History of Time, Van Kleis ends up thousands of years in the past. The episode shows several scenes and montages of him putting himself in suspended animation and waking up some time later. During those waking periods, he was shown being an adviser to the Egyptian Pharoahs, a Roman Gladiator, a Viking warrior, a Samurai and about a thousand other things that make no sense unless for some reason his sarcophagus was constantly being shipped thousands of miles while he was in it.
  • Phineas and Ferb plays this for laughs with Doofenshmirtz's increasingly surreal and traumatic childhood, which somehow involves his parents being absent from his own birth, repeatedly causing his family to lose prestige, and being ignored in favor of a dog, forced to pose as a lawn gnome, losing a science fair and poetry contest to a baking soda volcano, inexplicably being banned from Albania, and being disowned and raised by ocelots while smelling like pork and also being used as the ball in a dunk tank. These last four are never explained.
  • The Simpsons:
    • Played for laughs with the numerous backstories assigned to Grandpa. Among other things, he spent 40 years as the night watchman at a cranberry silo, lived in the Statue of Liberty's head as a child, earned a commission as an under-aged officer in World War 1 (so under-aged that he still took naps and cried) worked as a strikebreaker during the Depression, fought in World War II as an Army infantryman in Europe, Piloted bombers in the Pacific, and so on. However, despite small hints that some of this is probably true, it's usually chalked up to his delusional senility.
    • A more controversial example would be the episode "That 90's Show", which is half sliding timescale, and half Homer-being-aged-up-from-34-to-38. Set during the period of Marge and Homer's relationship after they had graduated high school but before Bart was conceived/their shotgun marriage, it mainly expanded upon Marge's background by revealing that she was a college graduate and that Homer spend his years after high school as a member of both an R&B boyband (based on Color Me Bad) and a grunge rock group (that was part Nirvana and part Bush), that made him a household name. The fact that logically this occurs after he became world famous for singing barbershop in 1986, as shown in a flashback episode which showed him as older and already married with kids, is probably responsible for most of this controversy.