A typical Heel–Face Turn comes with a fair amount of buildup. Maybe The Hero had to beat it into them. Maybe they sat through a "No More Holding Back" Speech, or maybe they discovered that they're not that different.
A Heel-Face Return is a complete aversion of this. In this case, an antagonist leaves the scene showing no sign of redemption. At any rate, the next time you see him, he's gone through some off-screen redemption, and is suddenly siding with the heroes. His reason for this will likely be explained later on, but it generally takes awhile to earn the heroes' trust, though it may be a mere necessary alliance.
Simply put, this is an odd variation of a Chekhov's Gunman with a dose of Heel–Face Turn. This trope almost always applies to a noteworthy but technically minor antagonist, or occasionally to a Disc-One Final Boss.
The inverse of Sudden Sequel Heel Syndrome.
Warning: by their very nature, all examples of this trope are technically spoilers. Therefore, spoilers will be unmarked.
- Battle Angel Alita: Mars Chronicles features the return of Super Nova, an incarnation of Desty Nova last seen acting as The Dragon to Mbadi. Owing to his vested interest in observing Alita's progress, Nova agrees to help her restore her Imaginos body and figure out a way to resurrect Einherjar in order to save her old frenemy Erica.
- The finale of Dragon Ball Z features Goku fighting a boy named Uub in the World Martial Arts Tournament. As it turns out, Uub is the reincarnation of Majin Buu, the final and most powerful villain in the series. However, Uub is not fighting Goku out of revenge, but because he entered the tournament to try and support his village with the prize money, and Goku just happens to be his opponent; Uub doesn't even remember his life as Majin Buu! Goku sees enough physical & emotional strength in the kind Uub that he trains him to become his successor as the guardian of Earth. Majin Buu's reincarnation as Uub was a favor granted by King Enma to Goku, though Goku doesn't actually know this.
- In Fairy Tail, when Natsu and his friends return from a mission, they suddenly discover that Gajeel has joined their guild. They are not amused. This is someone mitigated by Juvia, who had also joined the guild at the same time, explaining that she asked Makarov to take Gajeel in as he wasn’t finding any work.
- We later get a flashback that explains the details about his recruitment and why he went from enemy to a member of Fairy Tail, but he does play the trope straight by having some problems making the others trust him.
- Ryoko Asakura pulls one of these in the tenth installment of Haruhi Suzumiya, serving as a Boxed Crook. This is the same girl who tried to kill Kyon simply to get a reaction out of Haruhi.
- Loki from Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple was once a leader of the antagonistic group Ragnarok, and an all-around unrepentant jerkass. In a later arc, he was shown spying on Yomi for Nijima.
- Pokémon: The Series: After being Put on the Bus for fourteen years in real-time following their last appearance in the Diamond and Pearl series, Cassidy and Butch return in an episode of Pokémon Journeys where it's revealed that both quit Team Rocket and have gone their separate ways with Cassidy running a restaurant and Butch running a bakery.
- YuYu Hakusho: Hiei gets caught by Yusuke for stealing from his boss, but he returns a couple arcs later as an Anti-Hero Aloof Ally, and stays that way for the rest of the series. In this case it's explained early on that he's been assigned to help Yusuke as a condition of his parole. Refusal to do so would have meant jail time.
- Happens to Fidget the bat in a sequel comic based on The Great Mouse Detective.
- In The Prayer Warriors, this happens when Grover, Annabeth and Clarisse return in "Threat Of Satanic Commonism," on the side of the Prayer Warriors, despite having served the Greek Gods in "The Evil Gods Part 1". To make matters worse, all three of them had been killed before, and Grover died more than once. Similarly, in "The Titans Strike Back," Ginny Weasley returns from the dead and willingly converts to the Prayer Warriors' side.
- Gunnar Jensen spends most of The Expendables as one of the main villains, before disappearing at the end of the second act. He reappears in the final scene and is forgiven by the heroes, and he spends the rest of the film series as a hero himself.
- Cecil and his cohorts in the third installment of Night at the Museum.
- Barbossa from Pirates of the Caribbean does this when he returns unexpectedly from the grave as one of the good guys at the end of the second movie. It turns out that that death didn't remotely change him but rather the control of his resurrector Tia Dalma that he is under and will now have to align with his killers in order to keep himself from becoming obsolete to her as well as survive the end of piracy. Since most everyone has differing interests and goals by the third film and can turn against almost anyone else because of them, he doesn't stand out much.
- Also, to a lesser extent, Pintel and Ragetti at the beginning of the same movie, for no real reason other than to serve as comic relief.
- In Terminator,
- In The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays the main villain. In Terminator 2: Judgment Day, his seemingly otherwise identical character's goal is to protect John Connor against the main villain. This is because the second T-800 was captured and reprogrammed by the human resistance.
- Sort of happens in the third film as well (although the "heel" part was off camera) since the Terminator had killed John in the future before it was reprogrammed and sent back.
- And then in Terminator: Dark Fate, the Terminator killed John and, when its mission to kill him was complete, had time to realise why killing him and having Skynet win was bad.
- This happened to Hollyleaf in Warrior Cats. When last seen in Sunrise, she tried to murder her mother and confessed another murder she'd committed. She returns in The Forgotten Warrior as a friendly cat who helps defeat real villain Sol and a potential candidate for the fourth cat in the prophecy. A short story was later released to explain this change.
- In The Stormlight Archive, this was originally set to happen with one of the villains, but the author eventually decided that this would be skirting too close to an Ass Pull, and so wrote the Edgedancer novella to defy this trope.
- Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, unless you saw her arc on Angel.
- Lytton does this in the Doctor Who serial "Attack of the Cybermen", as (possibly) does the Master in "The Five Doctors". The latter eventually gets so sick of nobody believing him that he just gives up and decides to kill everybody anyway.
- In Dollhouse Epitaph 2, Alpha is one of the good guys, having experienced some redemption during the ten years between episode 2.12 and the first Epitaph, despite having been a psychopathic serial killer throughout the duration of the show.
- Kamen Rider Ex-Aid plays with it with Kuroto Dan, who acts as the Big Bad for the first half of the show but immediately joins the heroes upon his revival. He hasn't, however, actually turned good, and remains totally unrepentant for his actions as a villain: it's just that the new antagonists are worse than he is, and he himself has it in for them, though it means he easily becomes a trustworthy and useful ally despite no one really liking him. It's more of a half-Boxed Crook, half-Enemy Mine situation. Given the lack of an actual morality change, he's back to being a Big Bad in the direct-to-video specials after the show, albeit a Hero with an F in Good Well-Intentioned Extremist angle to his madness due to being somewhat fleshed out during his stint among the heroes.
- This happens a lot when a Heel (Triple H or Kurt Angle come to mind) leaves due to injury; when they come back they get a giant pop and likely as not are treated like Faces, at least until they do something Heelish - and maybe not even then.
- John Cena arranged for a double Heel Face Return in August 2010. Chris Jericho and Edge, who had been unrepentant Heels up until then (Edge had had an earlier Heel Face Return when he'd won the Royal Rumble in January, but he'd subsequently turned heel again after failing to win the World Heavyweight Championship and attacking Randy Orton.) were persuaded by Cena to join him in a coalition consisting mostly of faces (Bret Hart, Great Khali, John Morrison, and R-Truth rounding out the group) after they were all individually attacked by The Nexus. Edge quit the group out of parnoia, while Jericho's egotism and desire to be the leader of Cena's army led to a match between the two that he lost and left due to the match stipulation. However, they eventually decided to fight beside Cena at SummerSlam after all. However, both promptly turned heel again at the actual event (granted, it was largely due to a misunderstanding on Cena's part); Jericho remained a heel for what remained of his WWE career, while Edge turned face for a third time that year after a confrontation with the RAW General Manager shortly afterward - leading to his final run prior to his untimely retirement.
- Then when Chris returned in 2012, he managed to do this and then turn back heel in the span of ten minutes. And he did it by saying nothing instead of a return promo and basically trolling to the crowd while shouting out things like "Yeah, baby!" for those ten minutes, for the sole purpose of turning the crowd against him. When he finally spoke on the February 6, 2012 episode of RAW, fully completing a heel turn, he outright admitted that he trolled the entire audience and called them all Jericho wannabes.
- It doesn't always take an especially long absence, either. R-Truth, who was in a tag team with The Miz, fell victim to Miz's Chronic Backstabbing Disorder. Miz gave him a sneak Skull Crushing Finale, which almost did (in Kayfabe) crush his skull. Truth was out with a concussion for an even four weeks. (Because the Miz remained a heel, it was R-Truth who was likely turning.) At his next appearance a month later, his wrath had turned on the Miz. And "Little Jimmy" - his apparent Arch-Enemy during his heel run - was now his imaginary friend and spiritual advisor.
- Jeff Hardy in 2011-12 is an example of how a wrestler returns as a face and still gets heat for their past actions. Not only did he align himself with Immortal, but also fell terribly short on his performance at Victory Road 2011. So a few months later, Jeff returns and becomes The Atoner, apologizing to the fans and the locker room for his unprofessional behavior, yet the locker room wasn't receptive to this matter until a few months later. At Bound For Glory 2012, Jeff won the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, thus completing his road to redemption.
- CM Punk did it without changing his characterization at all. He just came back and people cheered him — though returning at a PPV in Chicago and ditching Paul Heyman probably helped.
- Rufus Shinra is a major antagonist in Final Fantasy VII, who is last seen apparently being killed. In Advent Children, he shows up again and explains he's seen the error in his ways and is working to undo the damage he did. His repentance kind of makes sense in that the consequences of Shinra Company's activities were extremely dramatic by the end of the game, and nearly were even worse.
- Levi the Slasher, Fate's Evil Twin from the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's Portable games. In all the routes of the first game, The Battle of Aces, she Disappears into Light while cursing the name of her opponent, remaining an unrepentant Ax-Crazy Omnicidal Maniac until the end. However, when she appears in the The Gears of Destiny sequel, she's a more friendly and child-like Boisterous Bruiser Challenge Seeker. Her explanation is that her first appearance wasn't her real personality, since she had just woken up from her sealing and was thus acting in a sort of half-sleep state. In addition, there was apparently another route that the players did not see, where she was able to face Fate and got a Heel–Face Turn out of the meeting (In the actual game, Fate confronted a past copy of herself at the end of her route instead of Levi).
- Ben 10
- Kevin was a recurring antagonist in the Original Series, but becomes one of the main three protagonists in Alien Force. The explanation for his change was eventually explained in the following series, Ultimate Alien.
- Gwen's Arch-Enemy Hex appeared in the first three series as an antagonist, but when he returned as this trope in Omniverse. Which was particularly odd given that he was generally depicted as being more evil and with less justification than his niece Charmcaster, Gwen's trapped-in-the-Heel–Face Revolving Door rival. Although she too would have applied for this trope if Gwen's college spin-off had happened.
- In Yin Yang Yo! episode "Upstanding Yuck", Yuck once came back as this but Ying and Yang rejected him so many times he decided to go bad again.
- This happens to both Man-Bat and the original Clayface in The Batman. With Clayface, this is contradictory to what was shown earlier in the series unless you read an issue of the comic series The Batman Strikes which sets it up.
- Transformers: Rescue Bots Academy:
- The episode "Museum Mystery" features the return of Evan and Myles from the show's predecessor, who have now renounced their past as criminals.
- "More Than Meets the Eye" features a comeback by Decepticon Laserbeak from Transformers: Prime and Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015). As with Evan and Myles, he is established to have reformed in spite of being a villain in prior appearances. He even allows Optimus Prime to reformat him as an Autobot by the end of the series.
- Storm Shadow started off affiliated with Cobra in the Sunbow Entertainment seasons of G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, but the DiC Entertainment continuation had him as a member of the Joes and established that he defected from Cobra off-screen.