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Multiple-Choice Past

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Three conflicting origin stories, and none of them is the truth.

"What is it with you? What made you what you are? Girlfriend killed by the mob, maybe? Brother carved up by some mugger? Something like that, I bet. Something like that... Something like that happened to me, you know. I... I'm not exactly sure what it was. Sometimes I remember it one way, sometimes another... if I'm going to have a past, I prefer it to be multiple choice!"

Have you noticed that some characters have different origins when different people are writing the story? Sometimes this is done on purpose, to give an air of Unreliable Narrator. Sometimes it's caused by repeated retcons. Sometimes it's just because the writers got it wrong, sometimes the result of a deliberate retcon, rewrite or by creators Armed with Canon. This trope is particularly common in comic books, as a single character may be written by dozens of writers over their history. Sometimes, as evidenced in the Trope Namer, it is also done in order to depict the character giving his/her backstory as being too insane to give a true account of their past, believing every single account they gave about themselves; or to cultivate an air of personal mystery, a common play by a Consummate Liar. Having messed-up memories due to a case of Laser-Guided Amnesia that isn't so laser-guided, Trauma-Induced Amnesia, and/or implantation of Fake Memories also works just fine.


Video Games occasionally invoke this as part of a starting conversation to decide what your basic character build will be like, which may be the first part of Story Branching. Other games make you play through one of several origin levels before the story proper begins — this is known as Multiple Game Openings.

Along with multiple authors, this is a feature of the earliest recorded myths, making it Older Than Dirt.

Compare Broad Strokes, Comic-Book Time, Continuity Snarl, Depending on the Writer, Expansion Pack Past, Negative Continuity, and Origins Episode. Sounds similar to but has nothing to do with Multiple-Choice Future.



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    Anime and Manga 
  • The end result of Zigzagging Tomato in the Mirror in The Big O. Roger was born after the Event in Paradigm, but thanks to his burst of Memory, is revealed to be a cop (or a major in the army) from before the Event who quit once the first Megadeus was discovered underground and became Big O's pilot at some point, but then, after a final burst of memory, it's revealed that he might actually a robot mass produced to pilot Big O units. It's made even more confusing when you realize that none of the memories from before the Event actually existed, and Paradigm City was a virtual reality, one which looks suspiciously like New York City. Good luck trying to sort out that mess...
  • A Certain Magical Index: St. Germain is a chronic liar who gives a different origin story and motive every time.
  • To keep the revelations nice and fresh the manga and video game adaptations of Code Geass seem to have this, especially in regards to CC and Marianne. Nunnally hints in one manga that they're all multiple timelines or realities by explaining how she saw the events of the original series happen in one of them.
  • Hiruma from Eyeshield 21 is seen pulling this during a flashback chapter. Is his father a shogi player, a doctor, or a white-collar criminal? Apparently, it depends on what he feels like today. Eventually it is revealed he was an amateur chess champion.
  • A single-author example is Golgo 13; Taiko Saito prefers to keep his past a mystery, so there are several different histories for him.
  • The Lupin III franchise operates on a Negative Continuity basis, so characters have whatever backstory the writers feel like giving them. However, the writers do agree on some general principles, in a Broad Strokes sort of storytelling convention that explains the crew's Characterization Marches On as acknowledged Character Development. Notably, Episode 0: First Contact, The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and Lupin Zero all give completely different accounts of how Lupin and Jigen first met.
  • In Mobile Suit Gundam, there's an episode where Amuro returns to his hometown and reunites with his mother. According to a supplementary book, said hometown is located in the San'in Region of Japan. However, when the compilation movies changed the course of the White Base, it was moved to Prince Rupert, Canada instead.
  • A Team Rocket-themed episode of Pokémon Chronicles implied that Jessie and James didn't know each other before joining Team Rocket, but an early episode implied they knew each other fairly long before that. Hell, Team Rocket is full of these. Did Jessie go to nursing school or did she join a bike gang (though admittedly she could have gone to school after leaving the gang)? Did Jessie and James meet in the bike gang, at an academy they flunked out of, or when they joined Team Rocket? Was Meowth Giovanni's right-hand 'mon until Persian came around, or was he a servant?
  • One episode of Slayers Next has a chef who gives 4 different versions of his origin, one for each of the main characters. It is then subverted at the end when all four back stories turn out to be true.
  • In Sonic X, Maria's death changes every time. In episode 36 Maria is shot while running in the halls and survives to give Shadow a speech but episode 38 shows Maria lying on the floor already shot and then delivering the speech. Episode 37 has a completely different flashback, from the POV of Maria's killer, that shows Maria was shot right as she sent Shadow down to Earth (and with no dramatic speech either). The room also differs in each flashback. This is all chalked down to Shadow's memory being tampered with and his memory just being unclear after 50 years in stasis.
  • Excalibur in Soul Eater has a habit of telling long and rambling stories about himself with details that change as he's telling them. "It was the same day as today, Tuesday, or was it Wednesday, no I'm sure it was Monday. Anyways it was a fine Sunday and..."
  • Space☆Dandy from the show of the same name will happily give you the specifics of his past regardless of actual authenticity.
    • As the show goes on, it's implied that Dandy is remembering past selves and versions of himself from alternate timelines.

    Audio Play 
  • Blake's 7: "Solitary" gives us snippets of Vila's backstory, including a book-loving grandmother who read him Robin Hood, the fact that he used to sell amulets on the black market, and a childhood memory of Federation troops rounding up his schoolteachers and shooting them all. At the very end we learn that "Vila" is a gestalt being that absorbs identities, and all those memories are false. Or are they?
    Vila: To hangovers! Here's to getting merry! Here's to Roj Blake and his merry men!

    Comic Books 
Given that multiple reboots and sliding timelines are so endemic to DC Comics and Marvel Comics in general, almost every legacy comic-book character has this to some extent or another.

The DCU:

  • The DCU's Crisis Crossovers (and not just the ones actually bearing the Crisis name) alter reality, changing the pasts and presents of a variety of characters. Legion of Super-Heroes has had four such reality reboots (counting the original Crisis on Infinite Earths). Also, retellings of characters' origins will vastly alter them on occasion, with no Crisis-type justification. As such, most DC characters with a significant amount of history have multiple formerly canonical histories, as well as ones that are equally canonical but completely incompatible. One side-effect of all the Cosmic Retcons has been that since Infinite Crisis, the DCU itself now has multiple pasts which all happened.
  • Aquaman: Black Manta, oh Neptune, Black Manta. If DC had no idea what to do with Aquaman for most of his history, you better believe they didn't know what to do with his Arch-Enemy. Pre-New 52, he had at least three wildly different and convoluted backstories and motivations for his feud with Aquaman, not counting the brief period he claimed to be a militant Black nationalist. You really have to wonder why it took them until 2011 to come up with "Aquaman killed his dad".
    • Originally, he was kidnapped and enslaved on board a ship, saw a young Aquaman in the distance and called out to him for help, but Arthur didn't hear him and swam away.
    • The 2003 series claimed that he was a severely autistic child who grew up in an asylum and was obsessed with water, breaking out after being subjected to experimental electroshock therapy.
    • Post-Brightest Day, he was a treasure hunter who was exploring the Bermuda Triangle with his pregnant wife, and they were abducted and tortured by Xebelians. His wife died and his unborn child was experimented on and grew up to be Aqualad, and he really hated Mera, not Aquaman.
  • Batman:
    • An inconsistent past is almost canon for The Joker, as evidenced by his quote at the top of the page. Many have given him a different origin in the past fifty or sixty years, and all of them are half-canon, because the clown isn't sure himself. One constant factor is that he usually wore the Red Hood before he was dumped into that vat of chemicals. It's also unknown whether he was insane even before falling into the vat. As quipped by Batman: "Like any other comedian, he uses whatever material will work."
      • While being the Trope Namer, The Killing Joke ironically has little of this, since it shows flashbacks of a single, consistent Start of Darkness for the Joker. The trope is only suggested by the line about how he remembers multiple versions and prefers a multiple-choice past, but it's a highly plausible reading that what was shown is the real story and he just doesn't remember it. Both the story's artist Brian Bollard and writer Alan Moore have said afterwards that giving the Joker a fixed origin story wasn't such a great idea.
      • Also played with in one issue of Robin (1993) which starts off with a flashback about a green-haired, white-skinned boy in a purple shirt with a pony. "Or was it a bike?" the narration muses. "No, a pony." The little boy did something bad, and then his daddy shot the pony in front of him. Cut to the Joker, narrating, and he's actually weeping real tears. He's in a cell at Arkham, and a speaker on the wall asks him if the story is true, because it's the seventh Freudian Excuse story he's told them.
      • Another variation on the Freudian Excuse theme shows up in the story "Mad Love" from The Batman Adventures (later adapted into an episode of The New Batman Adventures):
        Harley Quinn: Joker told me things, secret things he never told anyone...
        Batman: What did he tell you, Harley? Was it the line about the abusive father, or the one about the alcoholic mom? Of course, the runaway orphan story is particularly moving, too. He's gained a lot of sympathy with that one. What was it he told that one parole officer? Oh, yes... "There was only one time I ever saw dad really happy. He took me to the ice show when I was seven..."
        Harley: [crying] Circus... He told me it was the circus.
        Batman: He's got a million of them, Harley.
      • A 2004 story arc in Batman: Gotham Knights suggests that the Killing Joke version is more or less Joker's real past, since a pre-Riddler Edward Nigma witnessed the murder of "Jack"'s wife and later offered to tell the Joker who did it (although the version told in The Killing Joke has it that his wife was killed in an accident, not murdered). Later writers have pretty much ignored it.
      • In Shadow of the Bat #38, "Tears of a Clown", the Joker celebrates his anniversary of the day he was a still sane, but hapless comedian, and was thrown out of an exclusive Stand-Up Comedy club for an unfunny act. Being desperately poor, this marks his Start of Darkness as he agreed to provide to his family by pulling a job for the Red Hood gang. He kidnaps all the patrons that didn't laugh with him and reenacts his act with control collars that will kill them when they laugh. The funny thing is that the patrons are hardcore Stand-Up Comedy fans, so they have seen so many acts that nobody remembers the act of a bad comedian. The Joker cannot even be sure that this Start of Darkness really happened.
        They throw me out, and I had a wife and an unborn child... or it was two cows and a goat? Sometimes it's so confusing...
      • An issue of The Brave and the Bold written by J. Michael Straczynski suggests that the Joker was a monster even before he fell into the chemicals, showing him as a Self-Made Orphan who killed neighborhood pets before graduating to violent crime as a young adult.
      • The New 52 Joker is probably Red Hood One from Batman: Zero Year... but might also be Alby Stryker from the retelling of "The Case of the Chemical Syndicate" in Detective Comics volume 2 issue #27, both of whom fell in vats of acid during a confrontation with Batman at Ace Chemicals.
      • In Batman: Endgame, the Joker is strongly implied to be a Humanoid Abomination of some sort, who may very well have existed in Gotham in some way since before the city was even built. At the very least he appears to be semi-immortal, which rather well-explains how he always manages to come back despite the horrible damage his body's been put through over the years. Then, at the very end, when Batman is claiming to believe in the Joker's immortality, the Joker is clearly worried that he's about to die. A backup story has the Joker tell different, completely contradictory origins to a doctor and a group of Arkham patients, tricking the former into writing a book by posing as a colleague. That same story has him change his stance on his past (described in the quote at the top of the page), showing that something's changed and that Joker is far more serious than he ever was before.
        The Joker: ...And then that night, over the wine and the candles, and that oh so beautiful music, you showed me your manuscript. I was so sad to see all the blanks you couldn't fill. I couldn't help but lend a hand. I might have been in hiding... but I can't help myself. I just like to make people smile. Hehehehe...
        Maureen: All the work we did...
        The Joker: Oh, it's a good story, isn't it? Not quite as good the one where I'm a secret robot. Beep boop beep. But a good one, nonetheless. I did my best to help come up with the story you wanted. The one you needed. The grim and grimy tale of woe. The one a publisher would lay down six figures for. And heck, all I had to do is pay off a few foster parents. Write a few government documents. It made you soooo happy.
        Maureen: ...Why?
        The Joker: The same reason I visited all of them. You wanted to know who I was. You wanted the truth. The deep down real truth. And here I am... giving it to you.
        Maureen: [handed a revolver] What's this?
        The Joker: Five bullets in the cylinder. Since we're pals, I'm giving you the chance to decide. Which story do you think is the real one? That's the one who gets to live. That's what I said from the beginning.
        Maureen: But... none of them are real, are they?
        The Joker: Hmmm... then here's a sixth. Just in case. Heh...
        Maureen: Where did you go?
        The Joker: Where I always go. To that little corner in the back of your head where all the bad things hide. That's where I'm really from. That's the real truth of it. Hah. Or not. I prefer not to think of it as multiple choice... it's more choose-your-own-adventure.
      • DC outdid themselves when DC Rebirth revealed that the answer to the multiple-choice is: all of the above. There are three Jokers!
    • In the 1980s, an issue of The Question reinvented the Riddler; his real name was Edward Nashton, and he changed it to Edward Nygma when he became the Riddler. His obsession with riddles wasn't born from cheating in a school competition and wanting to prove how clever he was; it was a compulsion to tell the truth due to a violent father. It also claimed that he was never a major Batman villain. Later, Neil Gaiman wrote a Secret Origins story in which Riddler retells his classic origin, before adding "Or maybe I'm a frustrated second-rater called Nashton with a meaningless schtick!" The Riddler's latest origin, post-Infinite Crisis, is largely his classic origin... but his real name is Edward Nashton. It has since been reverted back to Nigma.
    • The Scarecrow's first origin story begins with him frightening birds as a child. Skip forward a few decades to the Post-Crisis version, and in a 180 turn he's frightened by birds — namely, by a trained attack squad of crows in the old chapel which his great-grandmother liked to lock him in. Also, origin stories differ as to whether he was a child bully (i.e., his first episode in Batman: The Animated Series, which has a flashback of him chasing girls with handfuls of snakes) or a bullied child. The New 52 only makes things more complicated since in that aforementioned post-Crisis story, his mother was a teen mom from whom he was taken away at birth, and his dad was Glorified Sperm Donor. Here, his mom is given a (frankly unceremonious) Death by Origin Story, and his father is made into a Mad Scientist who was exactly like him. This was carried over into Gotham and is supposedly still canon to DC Rebirth, going by the official DC website.
    • Lady Shiva started out as a Chinese-American from New York with implied Japanese heritage as well whose well-off parents died in an airplane crash when she was at least in her later teen years. She's since been written as a Chinese national, someone who grew up in the slums of an unspecified South-East Asian country, and a Chinese-American who was orphaned at an early age and grew up homeless. Her sister's murder has happened a couple of different ways with different perpetrators as well.
    • Whatever Happened to The Caped Crusader? uses this trope to prove a point: there must always be a Batman, regardless of retcons and alternate realities. Thus, every time Batman dies, rather than heading to any sort of afterlife, he's reincarnated as another Bruce Wayne in another universe, to relive Batman's origin story and become a slightly different Batman. In another of the stories, a psychologist is sent to interview Poison Ivy and tries to sort out the different origin stories in the files and newspaper reports on her. Ivy bursts out laughing and says that sometimes she just makes stuff up for a joke, and she's surprised people took her seriously.
    • Played with in Batman: Joker's Daughter, which reimagines the character for the New 52; the Joker's Daughter has three entirely incompatible origins which she relives when the Anchorite uses her power on her. The twist is that not only are none of them true, but her big secret (that she can't even admit to herself) is that she never had an origin; she was living a life that was entirely unremarkable in every way, and just decided to become the Joker's Daughter.
    • Tom King's Batman run has an intentional invocation of this technique, as Batman and Catwoman argue about when and where they first met. Batman claims that it was when he caught a disguised Catwoman during a diamond heist (which is how they met in The Golden Age), and Catwoman claims that it was when Bruce Wayne was stabbed by a young Holly Robinson back during Selina's time as a prostitute (which is how they met in Batman: Year One). It's eventually revealed that they actually both remember both events; it's just that Selina thinks their encounter on the street was purely them, before the costumes and codenames, while Bruce thinks they didn't really meet each other until they did so as the Bat and the Cat.
  • Parodied in an issue of Blue Devil. The Phantom Stranger and Madame Xanadu narrate entirely different origin stories for Black Orchid (all of which are parodies of Marvel Comics characters' origins); when this is pointed out, they start arguing about whose version is right.
    Madame X: Orchids have no thorns!
    Stranger: These orchids did! They were special!
  • In his first appearance, Booster Gold villain Black Beetle claimed to be the Blue Beetle of the 27th century. When revealed as a villain, he claimed to be Jaime Reyes' greatest enemy, who blamed Jaime for a death (and the final issue of Blue Beetle would strongly hint as to who he was) making him from the very near future. In a later appearance, Booster calls him "The Black Beetle, direct from the 22nd century. Or the 27th." to which the Beetle replies, "Or 15th. Whatever I choose to say for the sake of misdirection". Later, he had his first (from Jaime's point of view) encounter with Blue Beetle, in which he initially claimed to be the character the Blue Beetle story hinted at, before saying he wasn't; he killed that character. He follows this up by claiming to be Jaime himself. Blue & Gold #8 finally reveals that (at least in current continuity) he's Booster's Earth-3 counterpart.
  • Doom Patrol: Suspecting a traitor among them, the Chief confides to Rita that he's actually an alien. He also confided other origin stories to Cliff and the Negative Man. It was actually an elaborate ruse to discover the traitor by checking which story got leaked. In the end, it turns out that none of those stories was the real one.
  • The Flash: Eobard Thawne/Professor Zoom/Reverse-Flash has quite a few different origins. There are five versions of Thawne's origin story, spanning over the various eras of DC:
    • In his pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths origin, he was a crook with a scientific background who discovered Barry Allen's Flash suit in a time capsule sent from the past to his home 25th century. Succeeding in using it to replicate Barry's powers, he then committed crimes with them before Barry arrived in his era and defeated him. Now enraged at Barry, Thawne decided to become the Flash's worst enemy, thus the whole time travel thing. He also developed a desire to replace Barry as Iris' husband and as the Flash.
    • In his post-Crisis origin, written by Mark Waid in the famous "The Return of Barry Allen" storyline, it was changed so that his reason for hating Barry before he met him was that Thawne was a Flash fanboy who even had surgery to look like Barry Allen, along with recreating Barry's accident to give himself powers. He became the Flash of the 25th Century. Thawne traveled back in time to run alongside his hero but missed the date and instead landed in the Wally West Flash era. He then discovers that he would become the Flash's worst villain, and all of this combined with the trauma of time travel made him snap. He impersonates Barry for a while but is eventually defeated by Wally and sent back through time. The experience is erased from his memory, but he holds onto an instinctual hatred of the Flash as well as his Reverse-Flash costume, and it just so happens that he meets Barry "first". This explains how his extensive knowledge of Barry Allen and his desire to replace him came about.
    • His post-The Flash: Rebirth origin is a combination of the above two. Here Eobard was still from the 25th century and was also genetically engineered to be intelligent. He formed an obsession with the heroes of the past, specifically the Flashes. He became his world's foremost leading expert on the Speed Force and head of the Flash Museum. Because of this, he was dubbed "Professor Zoom". Eventually, Thawne figured out how to replicate Flash's powers from a costume from a time capsule and aimed to become a hero like his idol — but in the super-safe 25th century resorted to causing accidents himself that he'd then save people from. He eventually encountered Barry Allen as the Flash, and after Barry "ruined his life", he resolved to ruin Barry's.
    • In the New 52, post-Flashpoint retelling of his origin, Thawne came from a 25th century that idolized the Flash as a god. After witnessing his mother murdered by his father as a child and later gaining time alteration powers, Thawne attempts to conquer Central City but is opposed by the populace who fight against him in the Flash's name, motivating him to travel back in time, gather a group of similarly powered acolytes, and kill the Flash so that he goes down in history as a failure, not as a hero. He also notably never used the name "Reverse-Flash", instead going exclusively by Professor Zoom. This version was undone in The Button, which merged this Thawne with the post-Flash: Rebirth Thawne, with the latter's memories — and his previous origin — now dominant.
    • The DC Rebirth version of Thawne's origin is essentially the post-The Flash: Rebirth origin, but it's expanded upon and there are some changes. Eobard is a child who grew up loving the Flash. Finding Barry's suit in a time capsule, he uses it to replicate Barry's powers in himself, becoming the Flash of the 25th Century. This time, he goes about causing accidents that he can save people from (it's not established if accidents are illegal like in the post The Flash: Rebirth origin). Encountering a time-travelling Barry Allen, the two bonded over their belief that time is valuable, and Thawne considers Barry telling him that "every second is a gift" the happiest day of his life. However, when Barry discovered Thawne's unethical ways of being a hero, he defeated him and turned him over to the authorities. Thawne genuinely repented, becoming curator of the Flash Museum (being dubbed a professor) and eventually donning a new costume based on Kid Flash's (it's basically his Rebirth suit but with the lightning bolt's direction the same as Barry's). However, when he travelled back in time to be with his hero once more, he discovered Barry was already mentoring Wally West. Seeing Barry tell Wally that "every second is a gift" and giving Wally his grandfather's watch with said quote engraved on it, Thawne was heartbroken. An enraged Thawne now believes his "bond" with Barry had all been lies on Barry's part and thus decided to fill Barry's life with the pain he was experiencing and make sure everyone knew what kind of person Barry really was.
  • Green Lantern:
    • The only thing for sure about Solomon Grundy's backstory is he was once a man named Cyrus Gold who died and came back as a zombie. The details of how Gold died vary: His debut in All-American Comics Vol. 1, #61 stated he was mugged and murdered; Batman: Shadow of the Bat #39 stated a pimp killed him after realizing his attempt to blackmail Gold wasn't working, Grant Morrison's Seven Soldiers of Victory stated he was the victim of a lynch mob who thought he was a child molester; and a self-titled miniseries that led into Grundy's involvement in Blackest Night stated Gold had in fact killed himself.
    • The Tangent Comics version of Green Lantern (a mystic woman who carries an Asian lantern able to temporarily resurrect the dead) tells three different versions of her origin in the Tales of the Green Lantern one-shot. "Brightest Light" states that she was an archaeologist and adventurer named Lois Lane who returned from the dead to get even with billionaire playboy Booster Gold after he had her killed in retribution for her refusal to aid in robbing the Sea Devils of their treasure, "Darkest Light" establishes that she was the twin sister of a sorceress with power over the dead called Darkside who was accidentally killed by Manhunter and obtained her enchanted lantern after helping Manhunter kill the real Darkside, and "Know Evil" gives the origin of the Green Lantern being a necromancer named Zatanna who intended to take the lantern in order to join an occult organization called the Dark Circle, only to become the new Green Lantern after agreeing to take the place of the lantern's previous owner Jason Blood. After the end of each take on her origin, Green Lantern admits that not even she knows which, if any, is her true backstory. It is later stated in the "History Lesson" back-up story of Superman's Reign that these three are just the most well-known of countless speculations regarding her backstory.
  • Hawkman's past has so many embedded possibilities that it's become a Continuity Snarl.
  • Hellblazer: In the Secret Origins issue looking at the New 52 version of John Constantine, the Framing Story is that a bunch of magic-happy idiots summon a creature to tell them Constantine's history. The creature simultaneously tells them three entirely contradictory stories, with the only points of similarity being that whatever John's childhood was like, he attracted the attention of a powerful blindfolded figure (probably Tannarak?) who taught him enough magic to (accidentally?) kill his family, and of course the Newcastle Incident (and even then, there are three possibilities of how John got involved in the Incident and what happened to him as a result — and they could easily be mixed-and-matched). In the end, John turns up to rescue the acolytes from their summoning, which has been feeding on them the more involved they become in the stories and points out there's no reason to believe any of it.
  • In Justice League Dark Vol. 2, Jason Woodrue claims to be remembering multiple contradictory pasts, including being an extradimensional being (his Silver Age "Plant-Master" incarnation), teaching Alec Holland and "a girl... Isley" in college (Neil Gaiman's Poison Ivy origin) and eating Swamp Thing as "the Seeder" (his New 52 origin). Confusing things further, having usurped the position of the King of Petals, he also remembers Oleander Sorrel's origin story (from the JLD annual) as if it happened to him. Papa Midnite just thinks he's crazy.
  • Legion of Super-Heroes:
    • DC's writers still have no idea what to do with Mon-El/Valor.
    • The Time Trapper has at various points been a Controller, a future version of his/her own sidekick, a future version of Cosmic Boy, a future version of Lori Morning, and a future version of Superboy-Prime. Following that last revelation, Brainiac 5 hypothesized that the Trapper is the Anthropomorphic Personification of failed timelines, and exactly what history leads to someone at the End of Time wearing a purple cloak and fighting the Legion changes every time the Trapper does anything.
  • In the Lois Lane maxiseries, Renee Montoya remembers the whole thing with teaming up with Vic Sage during 52, including his death, and also remembers that none of it happened. Meeting a Vic who somehow came back from the dead doesn't exactly help. (While it's not explicitly stated, this takes place after DC Rebirth, which restored significant elements of DC's pre-Flashpoint past.) The same goes for Sister Clarice, who remembers being the Radiant and dying in Final Crisis, and Jessica Midnight, who has the misfortune to suddenly remember being a Checkmate agent, just as everyone connected to Checkmate is being hunted down in Event Leviathan.
  • The Phantom Stranger: One issue of Secret Origins gave four different, mutually exclusive origins for the mysterious Phantom Stranger. According to the Word of God, they're all true.
    • When a Black Lantern tried to eat the Phantom Stranger's heart during Blackest Night, it saw three of those backstories, leaving it stunned long enough for the Stranger to spring a trap. The Stranger's response? "You have seen everything and you have seen nothing."
    • Then the New 52 reboot happened, and he actually does have a concrete origin now — he's heavily implied to be Judas Iscariot.
  • Plastic Man:
    • The 1966 comic book had a story in the second issue where Plastic Man's archenemy Dr. Dome tried to find out Plastic Man's origin so he could go back in time and prevent the hero from getting his powers. Dr. Dome has his daughter Lynx split into three women wearing different disguises to consult Captain McSniffe, Mrs. De Lute and Gordon K. Trueblood. All three give a contradictory origin for Plastic Man (McSniffe stating that Plastic Man was a crook known as the Eel who got his powers after the villain the Spider knocked him into a vat of putty, Mrs. De Lute claiming that Plastic Man was a Romani fiddler who gained stretching abilities from being exposed to acid and milk at the same time while chasing after the Japanese Beetle and Trueblood giving an account of Plastic Man being a yogurt farmer who got his powers from being accidentally injected with yogurt made from the milk of a goat that had diptheria while confronted by the Frog when Trueblood was a Boy Scout). The end of the story reveals Plastic Man made up all the origins to throw Dr. Dome off (his actual origin would later be revealed in issue seven, where he was established to be the son of the original Plastic Man and that he got his powers from drinking a bottle of the same acid that gave his dad his powers).
    • Plastic Man's sidekick Woozy Winks has had three different origins. The original Quality Comics continuity established that he gained the power to be immune to injury as a reward for saving a sorcerer from drowning and turned to crime until he encountered Plastic Man and was convinced to go straight, the 1988 miniseries by Phil Foglio made it so that Woozy was a former inmate of Arkham Asylum who became Plastic Man's sidekick by distracting him before he could jump off a bridge and a 1999 one-shot by Ty Templeton gave an origin where Woozy was once a physically fit secret agent named Green Cobra who became the dimwit we know as today when he was stuffed in a locker with a bleeding Plastic Man by a supervillain called the Dart and had his brain damaged from inhaling the fumes of Plastic Man's airplane glue-like blood.
  • Power Girl has a particularly interesting Multiple-Choice Past. Originally, she was Supergirl's equivalent from Earth-2. After Crisis on Infinite Earths retconned all the alternate Earths out of existence, Power Girl was kept around, but now lacked an origin or even a defined species, as Superman was now the only Kryptonian around. Over the years, different writers tried different takes, giving her a magical Atlantean past, an alien Daxamite heritage, and so on. With the return of the multiverse in Infinite Crisis, Power Girl's history has now become her origin: she was from Earth-2, but after it ceased to exist the universe spent years trying to make her fit, but her true Kryptonian heritage has now been re-established. (This doesn't apply to the New 52's first Power Girl, who's simply Supergirl's analogue from the new multiverse's Earth-2.)
  • Shazam!:
    • Freddy Freeman in particular. His age at onset of disability ranges from "young enough that his voice still hasn't shown the slightest tendency towards deepening yet, some time (maybe years) after leaving inpatient therapy" in Justice League: War to "old enough to have been a high school football star pre-injury" in Trials of Shazam. And since they were decoupled in one of those reboots, his age at onset of superpowers is even more complicated. And that's not even getting into his superhero name.
    • Mary Bromfield has at various times been Billy Batson's biological sister or unrelated foster sister and was originally his twin but has been both younger and older than Billy in different reboots.
  • King Shark was introduced in Karl Kesel's Superboy (1994) as possibly the son of a Hawaiian shark-god and a mortal woman. Later in the same run, Kesel introduced circumstantial evidence suggesting he was actually one of the mutated animals from the Wild Lands. Later still, Kesel's run of Aquaman confirmed the shark-god story.
  • Supergirl: The Post-Crisis has this in spades. When she first appeared, her backstory was simple — she was sent to Earth at the same time as Superman and was his older cousin and she was supposed to look after him when they got there, but she was trapped in Kryptonite and in suspended animation for years and didn't emerge until Superman was a full-grown adult. Then it was revealed that this origin might be partly false, that her whole side of the El family was evil, and that she was sent to kill her cousin. Then it was revealed that while she was sent to kill Kal-El, it was because there was a curse which he inherited that would break down the barrier to the Phantom Zone which Jor-El, Superman's father, had invented (this too would later be ignored), and that eventually Phantom Zone monsters would start crossing over to the real world unless Kal-El was killed. This origin was even verified as being correct by a Monitor... but then Supergirl's parents showed up and it turned out that her real origin was a modified version of her Silver Age origin (that a chunk of Krypton survived the destruction), and that everything else was the effects of Kryptonite poisoning making Supergirl crazy.
  • Superman:
    • Superman has a canonical multiple-choice past: one time, he was given the choice between two of his innumerable origin stories, and he picked the one that he liked more (and, incidentally, made more sense), while another time, someone travelled through his many origins while observing him.
    • Bizarro, although in this case it's a Justified Trope because, technically, Superman has been cloned more than once, and not always perfectly, and more than one of those imperfect clones have been named Bizarro.
    • Brainiac has not been able to keep his backstory consistent for more than a few years, not even getting into various adaptations.
      • From 1958 to 1964, he was an alien scientist from the planet Bryak who wanted to shrink and bottle cities so that he could create his own empire to rule. From 1964 to 1986, he was retconned as an alien android from the planet Yod (or Colu, depending on the story) out to dominate or destroy (depending on the story) the universe. He was absent for a couple years until 1988 declared that Post-Crisis, he was an (organic) alien scientist from the planet Colu who (via an accident) transferred his mind onto a swarm of nanites that then possessed various bodies both mechanical and organic. He went insane and went on killing sprees on Earth (though his motivation and scope was variable, going from an Earth-restricted serial killer who just wanted to hassle Superman to a Multiversal Conqueror). He was totally organic from 1988 to 1998 (possessing first human psychic Milton Fine, then a newly-created body resembling his Coluan one complete with green skin, Super Intelligence, and Psychic Powers, then finally stealing Doomsday's body), totally mechanical bar the origin of his mind from 1998 to 2008 (in his Brainiac 2.5, Brainiac 13, and nanoswarm forms), and took a couple breaks in both these periods to possess or build a cyborg form (such as Brainiac 6, who was a version of him from the future... long story).
      • The 2008 story Superman: Brainiac decisively retconned all previous versions of him as being robotic or cloned probes sent by the real Brainiac, who was definitively established as an originally organic, now cybernetic alien scientist from the planet Yod-Colu who was born the most intelligent member of a super-intelligent race, and used his inventions and various powers to go rogue and become a planet-destroying, civilization-stealing Galactic Conqueror. His motivation was now to obtain all knowledge in the universe (his standard MO being stealing all knowledge from a planet and then destroying it with his nigh-invincible custom-built ship so no one else could have the knowledge) and use it and his collection of stolen shrunken cities to remake the universe in his own image, with him "becoming everything." This was then interrupted in 2011 by the New 52 continuity rebooting his backstory again: it kept him as an organic turned cyborg scientist from Colu, but changed his motivation and made him a Tragic Villain and a Well-Intentioned Extremist instead of the cold greedy monster he always was, while also giving him a wife and kid in his backstory which no previous version had. (The previous continuity's version of Vril Dox II was a clone, and not one Brainiac felt affection for.) After the New 52 was soft-rebooted with 2016's DC Rebirth, he's back to more-or-less the 2008 version. Time will tell how long this will stick.
  • Teen Titans: The original Joker's Daughter, Duela Dent, claimed to be the daughter of several supervillainsnote  before revealing herself as the daughter of Two-Face and Gilda Dent. Sometime later, Dick Grayson realized that this couldn't be true because Duela is too old to be Two-Face's daughter, and Duela chides him for taking so long to figure that out. Post-Crisis, nobody was sure who she really was because her backstory kept changing, and not even she seemed to know who her dad was. It eventually turned out that she is the Joker's daughter... and Two-Face's... and the Riddler's. Duela originally came from Earth-3, where her biological parents were the Jokester and Three-Face, heroic versions of the Joker and (in this case, a female version of) Two-Face. Her stepfather was a heroic version of the Riddler. Duela somehow kept shifting between Earth-3 and the main DC Universe, explaining her confusion as a result of being shifted from universe to universe.
  • Wonder Girl: Donna Troy's past is so complicated that writers are more likely to spend more time attempting to clean it up rather than chronicling her current adventures. To sum it up as briefly as possible:
    • After she spent the first 21 issues of the original Teen Titans series with no backstory, Marv Wolfman would establish that she was an orphan rescued from a burning apartment building by Wonder Woman. He would later expand upon the story in New Teen Titans, revealing that the couple that died weren't Donna's biological parents and that her mother had died after giving her up for adoption.
    • After Crisis on Infinite Earths rewrote continuity, Wonder Woman became a newcomer to the DC Universe. Since this meant Donna would predate her as a superhero, Wolfman and Perez then revised Donna's backstory to state that she was rescued by the Titans of Myth and sent back to Earth at age 13 (with her memories wiped). She would then base her Wonder Girl costume off of the American flag.
    • In the late '90s, John Byrne decided to apply his own retcon: Donna was actually a magical twin of Diana, created from a mirror and kidnapped by Dark Angel, who would then curse her to live multiple lives of tragedy. Byrne would also reveal that Donna based her "Wonder Girl" identity off of Hippolyta's Golden Age stint as Wonder Woman (via a time-traveling paradox).
    • Allan Heinberg would finally use the mirror origin in stating that she was "born of magic" but would add that Wonder Woman rescued her and that the Amazons and Titans of Myth trained her.
    • Lampshaded by Stjepan Sejic in this one-off picture showing Wonder Girl signing copies of her new autobiography, "Your Guess Is as Good as Mine";
      Reader: Holy hell, this thing reads like a Choose Your Own Adventure!
      Donna: Yeah, pretty much...
    • Meredith Finch and Dan Abnett then created their brand new versions of Donna's backstory, wherein she's now a clay golem created by a group of Amazons to serve as a weapon. Under Finch's time as writer of Wonder Woman, Donna was never Wonder Girl and was created by the Amazon witch Derinoe to purge the island of the Amazon sons and usurp Diana as queen. Under Abnett's time as writer of Titans, Donna was indeed Wonder Girl at some point, and given fake memories by the Amazons to make her believe she'd been an abandoned orphan discovered by Wonder Woman.

Marvel Universe:

  • Marvel Comics' Hell Lords have one mutual origin, but most also have their own versions. It doesn't help that they are demons, so everything they say can be a lie and each story has set arguments and events that either supports or deny it.
    • The mutual story connects them to the Elder Gods, the first generation of Earth gods. When evil god Set found out that he could steal the power of other gods by killing them, he caused the first war between gods. Gaea gave birth to Atum, who promised to destroy all evil gods. But their evil energy corrupted him, and he turned into the monstrous Demogorge, the God-Eater. Demogorge killed all gods who didn't escape to another dimension. Then he released all power he couldn't contain. This power has been consciously or unconsciously shaped by young humanity into the form of their fears, creating Hell-Lords, the first demons.
    • Mephisto told his own version during The Infinity Gauntlet — in his version, an abstract-equal being called Nemesis was lonely, so she created companions from her own essence, but forgot to give them good nature. When they all turned evil, she destroyed them and committed suicide. But her creations have somehow been reborn and become the first demons in the universe. Mephisto claims to be one of them.
    • Marduk Kurios claims to be both the real Satan and the Babylonian god Marduk, having degenerated into a demon after realizing that he could gain much more power from human souls than their belief.
    • Satannish believes that he is the son of Dormammu, the Master of the Dark Dimension.
    • Lucifer has his classic biblical origin of the Fallen Angel and denies any connection between him and other Hell Lords, but he's not different from them at all.
    • Chthon has also claimed to be the first Demon.
  • Daredevil: Bullseye has multiple tales about his past life: he is either a CIA agent, a baseball star... he makes up so many stories that no one knows who he really is. The only thing that remains consistent in his claims is that he had Abusive Parents and that he killed them.
  • Deadpool has a large number of competing origins for his past. There's also some disagreement as to whether Wade Wilson is his real name or a name which he stole from someone else. Pretty much the only thing all the origin stories have in common is that his Healing Factor is the result of time spent as a Weapon X test subject. Like the Joker, Deadpool is insane enough that he probably has no idea himself which one is correct. He does seem fairly certain that Wade Wilson is his real name, however.
    • It's also somewhat ambiguous whether or not he really has an actual Multiple-Choice Past or not. The only person that ever brought up the possibility does so during a Mind Screw.
    • T-Ray even hints that 'Pool may not be Wade Wilson at all — instead, T-Ray himself would be Wade Wilson, and Deadpool stole the name from him. The comics seem to keep disproving this story but given how nuts DP is and in light of what's been exposed in this bullet point, the jury's still out.
    • Cable & Deadpool stated that Wade's father was an abusive military officer who was shot and killed by one of Wade's friends, while a later run seemed to imply that has father had walked out on him as a child and started a new family elsewhere.
    • The Marvel NOW! run eventually clarifies Deadpool's origin, as well as the various Plot Holes and retcons. It turns out the stuff with T-Ray being the real Wade, as well as all the conflicting stuff about his family, were the result of a scientist named Butler putting Deadpool in advanced hallucinations while he harvested his DNA over the years.
  • Fantastic Four: A minor example is Doctor Doom, specifically what caused the machine he made to scar his face. Did Reed Richards mess with it, the resulting explosion scarring Doom's face? Or did Doom simply miscalculate? Was Reed involved at all? Did Ben Grimm fuck with the machine? Hell, how scarred was his face from the explosion — in some versions, it was a minor scar and Doom put on his mask before it cooled and that burned his face.
  • Iron Man: The Mandarin was originally said to be the child of a British noblewoman and a wealthy descendant of Genghis Khan, with his youth spent receiving the finest education money could buy. Matt Fraction's run, however, would later suggest that the Mandarin was actually the son of an opium den prostitute, and that he'd been a gangster and smuggler before he lucked out and found his trademark Rings of Power. However, he could easily still be a descendant of Genghis Khan, since his descendants are about 10% of the population of Asia.
  • The Mighty Thor: The Asgardians' stories can also contradict themselves, which is generally Hand Waved by either claiming that it happened that way in a different Ragnarok cycle or going the Loki route and saying that they are living myth and metaphor, complete with invoking the Fiction Identity Postulate. (Loki claims this about almost all Marvel gods and demons, by the way, but he is not exactly trustworthy.)
  • Runaways: Did Chase kill someone because of/with his van? Even he's not sure — he later admits that he made up stories to attempt to justify his father's abuse of him, and eventually started believing some of them. At one point, he seems extremely certain that he didn't; later on, he seems totally certain that he did.
    Nico: You've told a few different versions of that story.
    Chase: Right, well, in this one...
  • Heavily used in regard to The Sentry, especially the relationship between him, his civilian identity Robert Reynolds and his Superpowered Evil Side the Void: is the Void the result of a "mind virus" implanted by Mastermind? Are Sentry and the Void the good and evil nature that exist in every person given form by the serum Reynolds took? Is the Void a Split Personality formed by Reynolds' repression of his past as a thief and junkie? Is the Void Reynolds' real personality and the Sentry is the fake one? Or is the serum a Red Herring and the Sentry is actually something else entirely like the Angel of Death? All of these were presented as equally likely. Which is pretty appropriate since Sentry is quite crazy. In fact, given that Sentry is crazy and is a Reality Warper, it's strongly suggested that the "true" version is whatever he believes at the time.
  • Spider-Man: Carnage, being Marvel's resident Practically Joker. Unlike a lot of examples, Carnage's backstories never have a Freudian Excuse, and he always insists that he doesn't need one.
    Carnage: I remember things wrong sometimes, but it all works if it feels right.
  • In Supreme Power, Zarda gives three conflicting origin stories that involve both her and Hyperion when he asks her where she came from. Since Zarda's demonstrably insane, it's safe to say none of them are even close to true.
  • Wolverine:
    • Wolverine is especially susceptible to this; his amnesia about his past is a common plot driver in early-'90s stories, and what we know keeps getting retconned. Even after it was made so that he could remember every single thing that ever happened to him, the series Wolverine: Origins still managed to milk the concept — remembering everything meant that his real memories were no stronger or more distinct than his Fake Memories.
    • Wolverine's arch-enemy Victor Creed, a.k.a. Sabretooth, likewise has multiple possible pasts. He was part of the same Weapon X program as Wolverine, which included false memory implants, so that's no surprise. A notable example is his mother: she was initially thought to have sacrificed her own life to protect Victor from his abusive father, only for a later one-shot to show a young Victor killing her himself for failing to stop the abuse. Then, years later, it turned out she was still alive and in a nursing home, and that Victor actually had a very close and loving relationship with her.
  • X-Men:
    • Arcade, the Amusement Park of Doom-themed Professional Killer who has menaced the X-Men on numerous occasions, has told a number of different versions of his origin story, although they all involve him murdering his rich dad for his money. Since Arcade's real name is unknown, it could all be lies.
    • The Phoenix is either Jean Grey's Superpowered Evil Side or a variation on Grand Theft Me who duplicated her rather than possessing her.


  • Archie Comics: Is Veronica from Massachusetts or New York? Early comics have her from Boston but later on this was retconned to New York and has mostly stayed that way since.
  • Crackerjack of Astro City has given many stories about his origins, none of which have been verified or even consistent. His longtime lover Quarrel has given up trying to figure it out.
  • Played for Laughs in The DNAgents with guest hero Lancer, the setting's most powerful superhuman, who would never tell the same story of where his powers came from twice.
  • King Mob from The Invisibles has a self-constructed multiple-choice past, the point being to stop enemies with telepathic powers from prying information about him and his group. If they try, they can't be sure which memories are true and which are part of a fake past.
  • Teddy "Red" Herring of Red Herring is said to have an obviously false right eye (though the art depicts it identically to his left), and always has a different explanation for it: a childhood accident, shrapnel from a grenade in Iraq, a flesh-eating virus, the heel of a jealous ex-girlfriend... In all likelihood, none of these are true.
  • Played with in Alan Moore's first twelve issues of Supreme, in which the retcons are part of the in-story universe, and the multiple past Supremes exist in their own dimension.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Mirage) (and later the movies and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003)), Splinter was originally the beloved pet rat of Hamato Yoshi, who saw his master's assassination and then later was mutated into a humanoid intelligent rat-being. In the '80s cartoon series and the spinoff comic books, Splinter is Hamato Yoshi himself, forced into exile and living in the sewer when he first encountered the mutagen. Having recently been in contact with sewer rats, the mutagen turned him into a humanoid rat. In his profile on the DVD of the first live-action movie, it's said that Splinter's origins are "shrouded in mystery" and that either one of them is possible.
  • The trope is played absolutely literally in The Unwritten, in which the origin of Lizzie Hexam is structured like a Gamebook comic: Is Lizzie Hexam actually a character who emerged from out of a Dickens novel, is she a victim of child abuse who gave up her body to a fictional construct, or simply a delusional girl? Did Wilson Taylor treat her like a daughter, like a prisoner, or like a science experiment? Interestingly, while the reader can choose multiple paths for Lizzie, they all end with her at the press conference from issue #1. The subtext of this meshes very closely with Tom's words to Lizzie in the hospital: which story you decide to follow is more important than which one is true.
  • Vampirella has two conflicting origin stories. Originally, she was a Human Alien from the planet Drakulon which, you guessed it, is a world inhabited by vampires. When her character was resurrected in the 90s she was made into the daughter of Lilith, who still ruled in Hell and birthed Vampirella so she could hunt down evil on Earth. The circumstances of her conception are also up in the air, with some stories presenting Cain as Vampirella's blood father, while others offer that Vampirella has no father and was created by Lilith through Blood Magic. The 2010 Dynamite series includes a blurb with every issue lampshading this Continuity Snarl, implying that both the Drakulon and Hell origins may be true. Eventually the two sort of mashed together, with Drakulon sometimes being presented as a corner of Hell, or Lilith as a native from the planet Drakulon.
  • The entire setting of Y: The Last Man has a Multiple-Choice Past. Throughout the series, we're given various theories about the Gendercide and what caused it, but none of these theories are ever proven true. The story ends with no real explanation and it's left up to the reader to decide which, if any, of the origin stories were correct.note 

    Comic Strips 
  • Bananaman: Why does eating a banana turn Eric Twinge into Bananaman? Maybe it's because he was sent to Earth from the Moon as a baby, and the crescent Moon is shaped like a banana. Maybe it's because General Blight concealed stolen Saturnium in a banana that was accidentally eaten by baby Eric. The second one makes more sense, but doesn't explain Bananagirl.
  • Calvin and Hobbes:
    • In the first strip, Calvin catches Hobbes in a rope trap and this is treated like their first meeting, but the cartoonist later changed his mind and decided that it was now unknown when they met. Hobbes once claimed that Calvin spent most of his infancy burping and spitting up, hinting that they knew each other since Calvin was a baby. Seeing as Hobbes might be just an Imaginary Friend, it's possible that Calvin simply imagined Hobbes knowing about his infancy, though.
    • Calvin's dad invokes this by telling conflicting lies about where Calvin came from. In one strip, he claims he and his wife bought him from Kmart, in another he says that Calvin was delivered by a pterodactyl, and in a third, he tells the truth (that Calvin grew in his mother's tummy).
  • Spoofed in this installment of Ink Pen.
  • Winslow in Prickly City rips off The Bible, Spider-Man, and The Godfather in telling Carmen his past.

    Fan Works 
  • The focus of a Fandom-Specific Plot with Fate/stay night fan works, basically, the plot answering "who was Shirou Emiya before the Great Fire of Fuyuki?" Two of the most notable examples are Fate/Reach Out and In Flight, with the idea that Shirou was originally the protagonist of the series each fic crosses over with. Because the fire completely changed his identity and personality, the end result for the plots involved is... Interesting, to say the least.
  • Pony POV Series:
    • Loneliness, the first Big Bad of the series. Is she a figment of Trixie's imagination? A Split Personality? A Draconequus? A piece of Discord's magic from his Discording? Something like Fluttercruel? A parasitic mental entity? An evil spirit? An Eldritch Abomination? A Spirit of Dark Magic? No one in universe knows and Word of God has no intention of ever revealing which if any is true.
    • Makarov. It's partly because he has the power to alter reality, allowing him to change the past, partly because he's constantly lying and exaggerating about himself. It completely gets on the Interviewers' nerves.
    Pegasus Interviewer: When we interviewed him, he praised his brother as some kind of amazing paragon of a warrior second only to himself just so when Dima 'died' it'd be more tragic! Now he's saying he was a coward?! Can't this idiot just bucking keep his backstory straight?!
  • In The Elements of Friendship, Discord tells a completely different story every time he explains his origin to someone.
  • In Sonic X: Dark Chaos, when Chris asks where Eric the Hedgehog comes from, Knuckles shrugs and says that Eric has a different (and "crazier") story every single time he's asked the question, so Sonic and friends gave up trying. Turns out every single one of them is true - not that Eric knows it, since he's pretty much insane.
  • In Lost and Better Off Not Found Harry becomes annoyed with people constantly questioning him about his pre-Hogwarts life and starts telling a different story to everyone who asks.
  • Peter Parker invokes this for laughs in Peter Parker: Intern. When the Avengers start wondering about how Spider-Man got his powers, he sets out to deliberately lie about it; so far, the origins of his powers include the internet and Castle Grayskull.
  • The MLP Loops: As a result of the botched nature of her self-awakening, Lyra gets several sets of contradictory Loop memories every time she Loops in. She eventually solves this by creating split personalities to handle her seperate backstories.
  • The Infinite Loops makes this trope kind of enforced: a part of the way the Loops work is that anything that wasn't explicitly stated in Baseline (i.e., a series' canon) is "Loop Variable", meaning it changes from one loop to the next; consequently, characters with a Mysterious Past will find that past being completely altered every Loop, which can be extremely disorienting for Awake Loopers. Cinder Fall was driven temporarily insane by having her past and motivations constantly changing, since her canon backstory wasn't revealed until eight-years into the show's run. Her fellow Remnant Loopers Ozpin, Torchwick, and Neo all suffered from this as well before their pasts "firmed up", but she was hit the hardest.

    Films — Animation 
  • The Lion King:
    • Scar has two Start of Darkness stories officially: His original story, as revealed in the licensed books A Tale Of Two Brothers, is that he was originally named "Taka". Taka resented the fact his father Ahadi chose his older brother to be the future king and not him. Mufasa was deemed the better choice because he understood the responsibilities needed while Taka was selfish and had too large of a temper. Taka tried to get his brother in trouble by getting a buffalo to attack him. One of the buffalos in the herd instead attacked Taka, giving him a permanent scar. His second origin story comes from The Lion Guard animated series. He was the previous owner of an incredibly powerful, magical roar ability and was the leader of the Lion Guard. The power went to his head and he ended up killing the other members of The Lion Guard. Due to this his powers were taken away, however he kept his hunger for power.
    • Timon's and Pumbaa's pasts are different between The Lion King 1 ½ and Timon & Pumbaa. The former is likely the canon interpretation as it is more in-line with the films compared to the Denser and Wackier series.
  • Chef Horst in Ratatouille has served a prison sentence, but nobody knows why because every time someone asks, he gives a different explanation ("I defrauded a major corporation." / "I robbed the second-largest bank in France using only a ballpoint pen."), none exactly plausible ("I created a hole in the ozone over Avignon.") and probably none true either ("I killed a man. With this thumb"). The thumb story comes back when he scares off former-Chef Skinner with it... with Skinner somehow being thrown out of the kitchen. There might be some truth in that one.
  • In Shrek, Princess Fiona says that a witch cursed her to turn into an ogress at night and locked her in a tower, while Shrek 2 says that she always turned into an ogress (though possibly the curse happened the day she was born) and her parents locked her up.

    Films — Live-Action 


  • Benny Rose, the Cannibal King: The exact origins of Benny Rose are never given, with it, being left unclear if he was a Serial Killer before or after a fire that burned down the hospital he worked at. It's left deliberately unclear whether he always hunted and ate children or only started it to save himself from dying in the basement of the hospital after the fire but than gained a taste for it which he now continues. The novel does lean in the direction at the end that he was a normal person before the fire at the hospital, but it's still left up to the reader to decide which, if any, is the real origin.
  • A mild case: Lord Emsworth, of P. G. Wodehouse's Blandings, acquires another otherwise unmentioned sister in nearly every story. (He consistently has just one brother, though.)
  • Lucien of Character Issues continuously claims that his father died in a variety of ways, ranging from crushed by a TV to poisoned by an Elf-like creature which snuck into his house at midnight every night. Depending on the viewpoint, this is either hilarious or horrific.
  • Various authors have taken up the stories of Conan the Cimmerian since Robert E. Howard died. ("Barbarian" is a movie thing.) Some, such as Robert Jordan, have tried to remain consistent to the relatively vague timeline; others... not so much.
  • H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos has details that differ from story to story. Part of this is because several authors contributed to the Mythos and they sometimes had quite different views, but even the stories written by Lovecraft himself are not always consistent. For example, it is not clear if Mt. Kadath and the plateau of Leng exist in the real world (their only actual appearance is in the Dreamland stories, but they're mentioned as real world locations in other stories) or whether Cthulhu himself is a Great Old One or not (in "The Call of Cthulhu" he's mentioned to be one of Them, in "The Dunwich Horror" he's referred as Their "cousin"). This is likely because H. P. Lovecraft didn't give a damn about canon and frequently recycled names and concepts, but varied the details depending upon the particular story.
  • Philbrick, the shifty butler in Evelyn Waugh's Decline and Fall, gives a different version of his backstory to everyone who inquires. When the other characters confront him after comparing notes, he admits that he lied but adds that they'll never find out the truth.
  • Terry Pratchett said "There are no continuity errors in Discworld, just alternate pasts."
    • And then he went and justified it with Thief of Time.
    • In The Light Fantastic, the universe itself has a Multiple Choice Past; the Eight Great Spells of the Creator claim to remember the creation of the universe, but they all remember it differently. Fridge Brilliance when Eric reveals the Creator wasn't really involved in the creation of the universe, just of the Disc itself, so his spells wouldn't remember it directly.
      • An additional universe-creation explanation was given in Soul Music.
  • Doctor Who Expanded Universe:
    • In the Past Doctor Adventures novel The Infinity Doctors, the Doctor meets four Knights at the end of the universe, who don't remember their pasts but who each have a separate theory as to who they are: the last surviving Thals; a group of human/Gallifreyan hybrids; the only People of the Worldsphere who didn't Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence; or the High Evolutionaries. Since a couple of these theories involve Alternate Continuities to the BBC books, this may be interpreted to give the entire Whoniverse a Multiple Choice Past.
    • In the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel Sometime Never one of the Council of Eight, a group of antagonistic beings who resemble the eight Doctors, absorbs the Doctor's personality and flees in a timeship with the Doctor's granddaughter Zezanne. If you take the view (popular at the time but thoroughly contradicted later) that Gallifrey was Ret-Gone thanks to the EDAs' Story Arc, this provides an alternate origin for the First Doctor and Susan.
    • Unnatural History suggests that the Doctor's many contradictory origins — being loomed, having parents, being half-human, coming from the 49th century, etc. — could all be true. This caused considerable debate at the time.
    • Irving Braxiatel is first implied to be the Doctor's brother in the post-Doctor Bernice Summerfield New Adventures novel Tears of the Oracle, representing yet another version of the Doctor's origins, as he's unaccounted for either in Lungbarrow or the novels' implied backstory about the Doctor's parents (derived from an unproduced pre-TV Movie film script). He can be reconciled with them, but as noted elsewhere, that's not really the point.
  • The book Earth Children are Weird shows the protagonists of The X-Files as children, even though in the show proper, they met as adults at work. Enforced, since the book is non-canon and more of a parody of the series than anything.
  • The Emperor's Soul: Shai's Essence Marks allow her to give herself various alternate pasts, each with useful skills and knowledge. For example, one Mark causes her to have spent ten years learning martial arts from a Proud Warrior Race, another causes her to have studied politics and sciences rather than art and Forgery, and so on.
  • Forest Kingdom: In the Hawk & Fisher spinoff series, Hawk tells people all kinds of improbable stories for how he lost his eye, such as he pawned it or lost it in a card game. The truth (that he got clawed in the face by a demon) isn't revealed until his real identity as Prince Rupert of the Forest Kingdom comes out in Beyond the Blue Moon.
  • In Dukaj's "Ice", the main character (and pretty much everyone else) seems subject to this. It's actually used as a resurrection technique to revive Nicola Tesla!
  • Princess Ozma of the Land of Oz series had retcons even within the books written by Baum himself. Originally the human daughter of Pastoria, she was also of the fairy lineage of Lurline. This creates confusion with her species. Is Ozma human, half-human/half-fairy, or fairy?
  • Every story about Gruad Greyface in Illuminatus! agrees that he was a significant figure in ancient Atlantis, but very few agree about what he did there. Depending on who's telling the story, he could have been a high priest who invented human sacrifice or the first bureaucrat to invent tyranny. Less sinister portrayals state he was a great scientist who tried to spread the light of knowledge. He also may have founded the Illuminati, may have personally caused the destruction of Atlantis, and may either have been friends with the more-sympathetically remembered Lilith Velkor or ordered her execution. The Dealy Lama, who asserts he is Gruad surviving to the modern day, says he created most of these stories himself and the truth is fairly mundane, but taking anyone's claims at face value in this book is unwise.
  • Invoked by Moomin Papa in The Moomins. He was found in a newspaper basket, but was embarrassed about it in his youth and so lied to his friends that he was found in a basket of leaves or a bowl of flowers.
  • Peter Pan in the original Peter Pan book by J.M. Barrie. He tells Wendy of how after being adopted into Neverland, he tried to return home to his parents only to find the window locked and another little boy in his room, and he uses this as his justification for disliking adults. The narration of the book says something along the lines of "this may or may not be what happened; but it's how Peter remembered it at the time and thus he wholeheartedly believed it." There are also a few inconsistencies between his origin story in Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and that in Peter and Wendy.
  • This applies to the entire reality in The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.: In order to achieve a change in the present, the time-traveling agents should change the majority of possible pasts that could lead to the current present. It can become rather complicated.
  • Jules Verne's Robur the Conqueror: François Tapage has a different explanation of Robur's backstory every time you ask him. None of which are compatible with any of the others.
  • A mystery novella serialized by the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper during The '90s, wherein the Big Bad offered up a different explanation for the huge scar across his face in every installment. In the final chapter, it's revealed that the wound was merely the result of a nasty fall at a grocery store.
    • Vlad Taltos of the Dragaera novels tells each of his acquaintances a different story for how he lost one of his fingers, from a very heavy weight to a botched bare-handed parry to a run-in with a hungry dzur. As Vlad's adventures are published in Anachronic Order, readers had to wait a while to find out that he'd actually lost it while undergoing interrogation by Eastern torturers, which he never admits because he really doesn't want to remember the details.
    • And Campbell in My Sister's Keeper tells us various different stories about why he has his service dog, until at the end it's revealed that The dog can detect when he's about to have a seizure.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has a lot of this thanks to that world's history mostly being based on legends. In-universe Sam made a game attempt to figure out the true history of the Night Watch, only to find out the organization had hit Legend Fades to Myth status centuries before anyone bothered to invent writing. It doesn't help that many myths have been updated with anachronisms, such as knights running around in the legendary era before the Andals invaded and made knights a thing in Westeros.
    • The Heroic Bastard Jon Snow's origin is the subject of conflicting theories in-universe, with his father Lord Ned Stark telling King Robert that his mother's name was Wylla (a wetnurse in service to House Dayne), yet Ned's wife Catelyn heard a rumor that Jon's mother was Lady Ashara Dayne, which Ned reacted to violently, and Queen Cersei believes this to be the case. Later, Ser Davos Seaworth is told a completely different tale by a Northern lord, in which Jon's mother was a fisherman's daughter who smuggled Ned to safety during Robert's Rebellion. Out-of-universe, many readers suspect that this is all misdirection and Jon is the son of Ned's late sister Lady Lyanna and the late Prince Rhaegar (who either abducted or eloped with her, depending on which character you listen to), which is confirmed as the truth in the TV adaptation Game of Thrones.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe gives Boba Fett as an in-universe/invoked example of this. While the viewer knows his true backstory, very few people in-universe know it and rumors have led to him getting numerous supposed origin stories, which Fett himself encouraged to aid his reputation. Amongst them include him being a stormtrooper who killed his commanding officer, a deposed leader of the Mandalorian people, and a law enforcement officer known as Jaster Mereel who was exiled from his homeworld for treason. Amusingly, it would eventually turn out that these various stories actually came about from chunks of Fett's actual origins; he's of Mandalorian descent, was once a law enforcement officer, killed his commanding officer, was exiled from his homeworld, and did work for the Empire. Also the name Jaster was actually the name of his adoptive grandfather.
  • In The Thirteenth Tale, one of the main characters is an author who tells a different life story every time she's interviewed. It's implied that she has difficulty breaking this habit, even when she starts out with the intention of telling the truth.
  • An odd case is the main character of This Immortal by Roger Zelazny, who time and again tells some different story about himself. The novel opens with Conrad/Konstatin's new wife finding out he's not twenty-something like she is, he's around eighty. Then other characters wonder if he's somehow connected to other Greeks named Konstantin, each with one brown eye and one blue eye, who happen to be even older, one of whom was a world-famous terrorist. Then more characters come into the story, and they have their own stories about his past. He's hundreds of years old, has never physically aged past 23, and he was every one of these people.
    • Either confusing pasts was a theme with Zelazny, or he just had trouble making up his mind when he was writing a story: the Chronicles of Amber involves dozens of "histories" for Corwin, and he spends much of the series trying to unravel which ones are true. (Adding to the confusion: Corwin is immortal, he can travel to as many worlds as he wants, there are "shadows" of him in a lot of those worlds, and he has about 15 siblings with similar powers who all lie and scheme and plot.)
    • Zelazny's Lord of Light mentions a woman who was Sam's "mother or daughter or wife, or perhaps all three," which seems tricky even with reincarnation. However, this turns out to be foreshadowing of the fact that the same woman, in three different bodies, may have ended up being all three to Yama. As Durga, she was of the correct generation to be Yama's mother; as Kali, she was Yama's wife; and, at the end, as the mentally damaged Murga, she is his adopted daughter.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien never managed to come up with a satisfactory backstory for the Orcs; he had created them so his bad guys had some Always Chaotic Evil mooks, but this clashed with his Catholic beliefs that no free willed being could be pure evil. Origins for the Orcs include: corrupted Elves (featured in the published Silmarillion), corrupted Men (although this doesn't fit the timeline), intelligent animals (Contradictory to The Cirith Ungol chapter of Return of the King) or simply primitive tribes.
    • Also true of Galadriel and Celeborn — Unfinished Tales gives multiple drafts of their history that Tolkien wrote, with no clear chronology to tell us which version is the latest (and presumably most authoritative, though some versions cause other continuity problems) and with more notes that suggest Tolkien was planning on revising it again before the publication of The Silmarillion. We don't even know whether Celeborn was a Sindarin or Telerin elf, or whether Galadriel was actually part of Fëanor's rebellion or just went along because she wanted to carve out her own kingdom in Middle-Earth. And those are some pretty major differences.
      • Often repeated is some variant of: "Of this matter two things are said, the truth of which is known only to the Wise Ones who are gone . . . ."
  • In Warrior Cats, Rock's backstory/significance. Is he the Guardian of the Tunnels from the Ancients, the first Stoneteller, an immortal cursed to be unable to save the Clans from their fate, a ghost, the Keeper of the Prophecies, the Creator of The Three, or some combination of these things? Not even Word of God can decide.
  • Winnie the Pooh: The intro claims that the reason Edward is nicknamed "Winnie-the-Pooh" is because he was (nick)named after a bear named Winnie and a swan named Pooh, but in "Winnie the Pooh and Some Bees", it claims that he was called Pooh due to the noise he made when he blew flies off his nose. Then, in My Friends Tigger & Pooh, Rabbit claims that "pooh bears" are a species of bear.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Most 30 Rock characters, due to the fact that most of the facts about their pasts are just throwaway punchlines ("My mother tried to send me to Vietnam to make a man out of me. I was 12.", " I definitely would have gone to my reunion, but the boat I was educated on sank.", etc.). If you try to compile them all together, they form a weird, somewhat contradictory, and definitely horrific image. The inconsistencies about Kenneth's past were turned into a Running Gag about him secretly being a long-lived immortal.
    • Lampshaded in Pete's case:
      Pete: Look at my life, Jack. My father was a congressman, I was valedictorian at St. Andrew's, an Olympic archer, fourth guitarist in Loverboy — as a teenager! It's almost unbelievable!
      Jack: If it weren't all true, I'd say it doesn't even make sense!
  • In the second season of The Aquabats! Super Show!, each episode has one of the Aquabats telling a story about how the group came together. Naturally, all of these stories contradict each other, and none is treated as being any less valid than the others (with the possible exception of Crash's).
  • Captain Peacock from Are You Being Served? could never quite keep straight his stories of just what he did in World War II. The most likely story, however, is that he was in the Royal Army Service Corps — the logistics division (he says it when pressed about it, and wears the RASC tie throughout the series). Important work, but not front-line combat.
    • Mr. Goldberg, however, offered a different story — he and 'Corporal Peacock' served together in a cushy job in the cookhouse for most of the war. Had Goldberg been fired, we might even have seen the photo to prove it.
  • Detective Kate Beckett of Castle has elements of this trope. Aside from conversational information for characterization, there are the things she teases Castle about that are never substantiated.
  • A Running Gag on Danger 5 is that we will frequently run into someone from Pierre's past, who knows him by a name other than Pierre. While it seems plausible enough within the show's universe that Pierre really has lived all of these lives, it's very unclear which of these best reflects who he actually is, what country he's even from, and indeed, whether "Pierre" is even his real name.
  • The character of John Black from Days of Our Lives. Originally, he was introduced as a guy with Identity Amnesia who'd undergone Magic Plastic Surgery as the apparent captive of a Big Bad. He escaped and took the name John Black from a sign on a wall. It was eventually revealed he was the Not Quite Dead Roman Brady and that was the role the actor was billed as for many years and lived through his "wife's" "death". Then they decided to bring back he original Roman/Marlena super couple, so it was revealed that "Roman" wasn't the real deal after all and went back to calling himself John Black. In the years since, he's had it revealed that he'd been a cop, private investigator, and a priest in his past. There have been at least two separate revelations about who his birth parents are. The current origin puts him as a cousin of some sort to Roman Brady and also related to the Big Bad. In the meantime, Wayne Northrop, the original Roman left the show again after a short time. That role was recast in a case of The Other Darrin and now played by someone who'd previously played a different role on the show. Then Northrop came back again in a completely different role.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Doctor has multiple conflicting backstories, due in part to the evolving nature of the show. They might be from the 49th century ("An Unearthly Child" pilot), they might be a child born into privilege ("The Deadly Assassin") or from apparent poverty ("Listen"), they might have learned spiritual lessons from Time Lord hermits on the hill where they lived ("The Time Monster") or have been raised in the metropolis of the Capitol ("Invasion of Time"), have been woven as a young adult on a genetic loom, incorporating the biodata of the Other, an enigmatic Gallifreyan founding figure ("Lungbarrow") or been born half-human (the TV Movie), they might have had multiple incarnations before the First Doctor ("The Brain of Morbius", "Cold Fusion"), might have abandoned their family ("An Unearthly Child") or have some sort of relationship with their mother ("The End of Time"), might have built the TARDIS themself ("The Chase") or stolen it ("The War Games"), and their madness might originate from a childhood visit from Clara ("Listen"), staring into the Time Vortex as a child ("Utopia") or political issues forcing them to escape, with the time travel itself causing their madness along the way (audio drama "The Beginning" and the Gallifrey series). They could also be an adopted being possibly from another universe known as "The Timeless Child" who was used as the source of the early Gallifreyans' ability to regenerate, enabling them to become the Time Lords, and may have lived enough lives for all of these backstories to be true without them even knowing it entirely. ("The Timeless Children"). Sometimes they even have a Multiple Choice Future where they enounter what might be later regenerations (besides the ones that actually are). Some of these are reconcilable, others aren't, and overall the show doesn't care about nailing the character down like that, as it's not really the point.
    • Then there are the ones from the Sixties when their being a Time Lord hadn't been established yet - they might be something disguised as an Earth creature ("The Daleks' Master Plan"), they might be more than human due to too much time travel ("The Evil of the Daleks"), their regeneration might be a property of the TARDIS rather than an innate ability ("The Power of the Daleks"), etc.
    • There's also the "all of the above" option: "Unnatural History" proposes that the Doctor has multiple pasts in-universe as their timeline changes behind them, observing that trying to establish a single consistent origin isn't really what matters about them, they're not something to be contained like that, indeed perhaps they enjoy that they can't be easily figured out.
    • For a short time in the Eighth Doctor Adventures there were two versions of the Third Doctor's regeneration into the Fourth (the Reset Button eventually got hit, restoring the original regeneration).
    • Susan, the Doctor's granddaughter, receives this to a lesser extent, primarily as a result of expanded universe stories desexualising Gallifrey/the Doctor — if she isn't the Doctor's granddaughter, then she might be the Other's granddaughter, and thus the Doctor's via reincarnation ("Lungbarrow"), an orphaned descendant of Rassilon ("Birth of a Renegade"), the daughter of a Time Lord President ("A Brief History of Time Lords"), or perhaps the Doctor's granddaughter from a previous regeneration cycle ("Cold Fusion").
    • Doctor Who has explained away the creation of the Daleks in four different ways. Once in their debut story "The Daleks" (which didn't actually show it), a second time in a spin-off comic The Dalek Chronicles (which didn't contradict the first origin story), a third time in the short story We Are The Daleks! written by Terry nation (which claimed that the Daleks were a future offshoot of humanity brought into existence early by Ancient Astronauts who transplanted them to another planet… yeah, everybody ignores that one) and finally in "Genesis of the Daleks".

      Terry Nation wrote a book in the late '80s that reconciled "The Daleks" with "Genesis of the Daleks." Basically, the Daleks in "The Daleks" were a prototype Davros made before "Genesis of the Daleks." Their city was an experiment to see if Daleks could function autonomously. After he left them alone and got buried in rubble in the Kaled/Thal genocide, those Daleks wrote Davros out of their official history, preferring to ignore the fact that an "inferior" being had created them.
    • The series explained in "The Three Doctors" that Omega created the Time Lords by creating a black hole artificially. "The Deadly Assassin" says Rassilon did it. Later stories have reconciled the two explanations. (Rassilon and Omega were partners, Omega did the actual testing and got sucked into the black hole, Rassilon brought home the results)
    • Averted in New Who with the Cybermen: an alternative origin story, in which the Cybermen are invented on Earth by a wealthy human attempting to prevent his own death, is set in an alternate universe. The Mondas Cybermen didn't show up until 2010 (not counting the museum piece in "Dalek").
    • In the 2017 series finale, the Doctor claims the various origins of the Cybermen across the show's media are actually a case of "parallel evolution". They're all true, as the Cybermen will come into being wherever the right technology exists.
      Doctor: They always get started. They happen everywhere there's people. Mondas, Telos, Earth, Planet 14, Marinus...
    • Amy Pond complains to the Doctor in the short "Good Night" that she can remember two different pasts, one in which she was raised by her aunt and had "never had parents," and another in which she'd "always had parents" who raised her. Unusually, the Doctor points out, and Amy agrees, that it's all fine, that there's no problem caused by having two incompatible pasts — although Amy feels like there should be. She is, in fact, remembering an alternate timeline that actually happened, but then the entire Universe got rebooted.
  • Friends: Done very subtly with Chandler. You get the basics of childhood (his mother was an erotic novelist, his father was a gay drag queen, they divorced when he was nine and sent him to boarding school) but what's confusing is their treatment of him. On one hand he talks about how his dad was too enthusiastic coming to all his swim meets, and you see his mom saying on national television that she loves him. Yet he also recounts how they preferred his imaginary friend to him, abandoned him on his first parents' day and were callous enough to announce their break up during Thanksgiving dinner. It's not clear if they were just Amazingly Embarrassing Parents who made poor decisions or uninterested and put him through Parental Neglect or full out emotionally Abusive Parents.
  • The Golden Girls tended to have extended families that varied over the years. Blanche seemed especially vulnerable to this. She was the middle of three sisters, then a gay brother appeared. She had three sons and a daughter, but two different daughters were named during the show's run. It is also unclear whether or not she was faithful to her husband George — one episode says yes, another says no. And don't anyone ask her age. Sophia also liked to make up preposterous stories about her past ("Picture it..."). These were played for laughs, usually inserting herself into trysts and feuds with famous people, and were (mostly?) made up.
  • Gotham does this with The Joker, but with a twist. Since the series is set when Bruce Wayne had yet to become Batman or face any of his iconic adversaries, the Joker doesn't actually exist yet, but Word of God is that one of the apparent Canon Foreigners will eventually become him... but we don't know which one. Is it the nameless comedian at Fish Mooney's club? Fish's own bodyguard, Butch? The murderous circus kid who can't stop laughing? Or even just some random kid who put on a discarded red hood?
    • In later seasons, there is an even more unique variation on this. Jerome Valeska (the laughing mad circus kid), goes full-on monster clown by the time he escapes from Arkham in Season 2, and is the Joker in all but name from Seasons 2 to 4. However, at the end of Season 4, it is revealed that he has an identical twin brother, Jeremiah, who appears to be his good counterpart until Jerome dies and drives his brother mad with laughing gas to get revenge on him, turning him into the show's true version of the Joker.
  • This was done intentionally on Green Acres. Each season featured an episode in which Oliver and/or Lisa tell the story of how they met, but it's always a different story.
  • In Heroes Sylar's reason for being a killer was changed so often, he probably doesn't know himself anymore why he is one: inferiority complex, "hunger" as side effect of his ability, being manipulated by the Company and finally simply being a psychopath. This may be justified by the notion that he was lying (and possibly lying to himself) about his motives.
  • On Homicide: Life on the Street Det. John Munch was a lifelong Baltimore native, well demonstrated as he was the only main character with a childhood flashback episode. This did not stop Law & Order: Special Victims Unit from making him a native New Yorker.
  • On one episode of I Love Lucy, Lucy casually mentions that she met Ricky on a blind date. Later, the first episode of The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour gives an extended depiction of how they first met, and it's a totally different story.
  • The latter portion of the season of The Late Late Show that was hosted by Craig Ferguson was co-hosted by ... this. He gave many different conflicting accounts of how he died, over the course of the show, and once even accidentally gave two within a single episode. This prompted Craig to respond, upon hearing the second, with the joke "How the heck does someone drive a motorcycle into a shark?!" (The two accounts given that episode being first that he had died in a shark attack, and the second being a motorcycle accident resulting from failure to wear a helmet.)
  • Mentioned in-universe in one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, in which a sex offender's psychiatrist tells Benson and Stabler that the offender in question was constantly telling contradictory stories about his past, to the point where she had no idea what his real backstory was.
    Psychiatrist: He was molested by his mother, or his mother was an angel. He moved around because his father was in the military, or he never knew his father. After a while, you realize he's just playing you.
  • Parker from Leverage has had several flashbacks to her past, which appear to all be true, but are somewhat contradictory: the first episode shows Parker, age 9 or so, running away from home after blowing up her foster parents after they yelled at her for stealing, another episode indicates that she was raised as an orphan, and another revealed she had a younger brother who was killed in an accident when she was twelve. All of these can be rationalized by her having one or more foster families, but it's still confusing.
  • MacGyver presented two completely different versions of the title character's original meeting with Pete Thornton: a first-season version told in passing to give the characters' relationship a quick backstory and sense of long-term depth, and a full-blown (and totally incompatible) second-season version, told in flashbacks, that formed the focus of an entire episode (Partners). The underlying reason was that the show had a new producer, the concept had been overhauled and Mac's backstory was rewritten to eliminate his association with the military. The retcon also added a retroactive Arch-Nemesis, Murdoc.
  • Married... with Children: Al and Peggy's marriage has a few different versions, but they all have alcohol and/or shotguns in common.
  • In The Mighty Boosh, Howard and Vince frequently flash back to their shared past - but without any continuity about what this shared past has been. At one point they insist they are the same age, at another that Howard is ten years older than Vince. Vince may have been raised in the jungle by Brian Ferry or he may have gone to school with Howard. It comes down to Rule of Funny, of course.
  • The Odd Couple (1970) had multiple episodes depicting how Felix and Oscar first met.
  • An in-show version in the Sanctuary episode "Hero" — a comics-loving ordinary citizen discovers a suit which gives him superpowers. When Magnus' crew capture him, he feeds Will a made-up origin that's a hodge-podge of The Juggernaut, The Phantom and Green Arrow. Will buys it, until his comic-book loving friend Henry tells him.
  • The Janitor from Scrubs has given many contradictory tales of his past, from massively different stories about his tortured childhood, to forgetting whether he went to Harvard or Yale. It's implied he does this largely to mess with J.D.
    • He is, however, a world-class track runner, capable of sprinting a hundred meters, with hurdles, in about ten seconds.
    • Then there are the hints he's just Neil Flynn, his actor, fallen on very hard times.
    • Best summed up in this exchange after a particularly long anecdote about how The Janitor learned sign language:
      J.D.: Was any of that true?
      Janitor: Someone would have to read it back to me.
    • Word of God is that the Janitor was originally going to be revealed as JD's hallucination in the finale; in the first season, he coincidentally avoids interacting with any other characters besides JD. However, once the show was renewed past the original two seasons, this plan was dropped, and the Janitor started interacting with other characters.
    • In lieu of the Janitor in Season 9, Drew seems to have taken his place as 'dude with weird past'. So far we know that he had a meltdown his first time through med school which ended with him in prison, dressed up in a 'very flammable' dinosaur suit as part of community service, has been married, never uses public bathrooms after spending a month living in a gas station restroom, his parents believe him to be dead, he has an ex-wife and stage-managed the Western leg of the `05 tour of Wicked.
  • In Smallville, Moira Sullivan, mother of Chloe Sullivan, has a past which varies slightly every time in her few appearances, the difference usually including the time when she left Chloe.
  • In Stargate SG-1, Jack O'Neill's backstory throughout most of the series was that he was ex-Special Ops, and O'Neill wore a master parachutist's badge and later a space and missile operations badge on his dress uniform but never pilot's wings, but in an episode of Season 8, Samantha Carter pointed out that he used to be a test pilot. This is likely an ass-pull by the writers, but given that he did pilot some experimental aircraft and that this backstory was never mentioned again, and that the only occasion when the viewers find out anything about O'Neill's background is when someone else mentions it, it's possible that Carter herself was mistaken.
    • Also, Vala's past. She was brought up on a nice planet with a conventional life (and fiancé) until she was chosen by Qetesh, OR she was sold to a weapons dealer and killed him to earn her freedom, OR she was brought up by her bitchy stepmother and conman father, and also how many times was she married? Vala is a habitual liar and loves to tell fanciful stories (especially in her earlier appearances, before her character development). The only things we know for sure is that she really was host to Qetesh at some point in her past, and she really does have a conman father. Beyond that, we may never know.
  • Star Trek:
    • The Borg are described by Guinan in their debut episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation as having been expanding and assimilating for countless centuries, but she doesn't give anything more specific than this. Star Trek: Voyager says that the Borg's own memory of their beginning is fuzzy as well. The Star Trek Expanded Universe has produced many mutually contradictory origin stories for them: The Star Trek Encyclopedia and Star Trek: Legacy say that they were spawned by V'ger, while Star Trek: The Manga and the Star Trek: Destiny novel trilogy each tell of different alien species accidentally creating them as a means of survival.
    • Doctor Bashir on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had about four different stories explaining how he first realized he wanted to be a doctor as a child (either he was inspired to become one after repairing his childhood teddy bearnote , he became a doctor to get over his fear of doctors, he was pressured to go to med school by his parents, or he went to med school after becoming a professional athlete didn't work out). This was later explained as a result of him trying to hide his actual origin story — he received illegal genetic enhancements as a child.
      • Garak also had a Multiple Choice Past. The second-season episode "The Wire" had him confess to three different, contradictory stories about why he's on the station, all of which are proven to be false (it's also not the only time he "explains" why he was exiled, and none of those stories hold water either). At the end of the episode, Bashir confronts him about it, only to have Garak declare that they were all true.
      Bashir: Even the lies?
      Garak: Especially the lies.
      • The non-canon book A Stitch in Time has Garak remember his childhood and the real reason he was exiled, while walking through the ruins of Cardassia. He killed a high-level official, who caught Garak with his wife (all three went to school together). Interestingly, his boss and father Enabran Tain actually ordered the assassination, but it was the semi-public way Garak did it that got him kicked out of the Obsidian Order.
  • Stephen Colbert's character shares some of his history with the actor (ten brothers and sisters, born in South Carolina) but the rest of it tends to change from episode to episode according to the Rule of Funny — including the names of his wife and children. Some fans have theorized that the character may be making it up as he goes along.
    • His book I Am America (And So Can You!) starts with his "first memory" involving a babysitter. A few chapters later, he off-handedly mentions that that he made that up.
  • Writers on The X-Files generally did a good job to keep the back-stories consistent, regarding what Mulder and Scully did before they started working on the X-Files and their family background, except when the ambiguity was the point. However, there was one deliberate change that did not please fans. Dana Scully's gold cross necklace, a frequent Tragic Keepsake and the symbol of her faith, has two possible origins. In Season 2 episode "Ascension", Mrs Scully says she gave it to Dana on her fifteenth birthday, and Season 5 episode "Christmas Carol" shows in flashback that teenage Dana and her sister Melissa both get their crosses for Christmas. The writers said they had known about the change, but they simply couldn't resist to use it in their Christmas Episode.

  • The Beatles gave varying accounts of where they got their band name from. John Lennon used to joke to reporters that he had had a vision of a man on a flaming pie who told him, "You are Beatles with an 'a'." In later years, he said that he had simply made it up in imitation of Buddy Holly's band, the Crickets. Other versions say that the name was suggested not by Lennon, but by early bassist Stu Sutcliffe. They were briefly known as the Silver Beatles, which may have come out of a suggestion to call them Long John and the Silver Beatles. Another theory comes from George Harrison suggesting that they got the name from the Marlon Brando film The Wild One, in which a motorcycle gang is referred to as "The Beetles."
  • There are various versions of *NSYNC's origin story. Chris Kirkpatrick being the founding member and Lance Bass being the last to join is indisputable, but stories as to how Chris first came into contact with Pearlman or how Chris and Justin Timberlake knew each other vary.
    • According to Lance's memoir and Backstreet Boys member Howie Dorough, Chris met Pearlman through Dorough, who attended college with Kirkpatrick. There have also been stories of Chris forming NSYNC after not making the Backstreet lineup, which Chris has refuted. The "official" story as told in VH1's Driven series is that Pearlman approached Chris after seeing him perform with The Hollywood Hi-Tones.
    • Pearlman also claimed JC Chasez had once worked for him as a personal assistant. The common narrative states Justin was the second member to be recruited, and then JC, followed by Joey Fatone. However, in the *N The Mix video, Justin also acknowledges JC and Chris having previously known one another through Chris's job at Universal Studios.
  • Gorillaz's bass player / leader Murdoc Niccals can't decide if he was an abused child that grew up in the 1960s/70s, or if he is an immortal being who has watched time since its very beginnings. Then again, you get a different answer from him on generally anything, depending on how knackered he is.
  • The origin of the band name Chumbawamba. Explanations that they gave involved it being a particularly coherent string found in the results of a Monkeys on a Typewriter experiment; that it was the mascot of a defunct football team, Walford Town; that it was derived from the chanting of African street musicians that two of the band members overheard while busking in Paris; or that one of the band members had a dream in which they needed to use the bathroom and weren't sure which one to enter because one bathroom was marked "chumba" and the other "wamba". Eventually they conceded that it doesn't mean anything and they just wanted something that would never become dated, and what better way to avoid tying yourself to a particular era than to name yourself utter gibberish?

    Myths and Religion 
  • In any body of mythological stories, this tends to happen over time as multiple authors have their own ideas, and whole towns or regions may have different versions of a story.
  • In Classical Mythology, for example, different authors gave different parents to many heroes, monsters and deities, and told events in their pasts differently. The Kabeiroi, Kouretes, and Korybantes, related sets of minor deities, had several different genealogies and origin stories. Humanity itself had separate creation myths in different cities, along with different explanations for how they got fire, writing, and so forth.
    • There were two stories of why Hephaestus had a bad limp: either he was born lame, or Zeus threw him off of Mount Olympus during a quarrel and he was injured in the fall. Homer told both versions in The Iliad.
    • Aphrodite has three mutually exclusive accounts of where she came from. One version of her myth says she's the daughter of Zeus and the titaness Dione, the second version says she was created when Ouranos' severed testicles landed in the sea and the third version (the most obscure version, mostly exclusive to the Spartans and a few others) doesn't completely specify her origins, but depicts her as a goddess of both love and war instead of just love.
    • Athena was either born from Zeus alone, or she is the daughter of Zeus and his first wife Metis (in both origins, she still bursts out from Zeus's head, but for different reasons).
    • There are several myths concerning different accounts of what Dionysus was doing in the mortal world before he joined the rest of his family in Olympus. Some say he was a wanderer who walked the Earth, others say that he was a madness-inducing conqueror who developed a mad cult of debauchery who brought chaos to whoever opposed Dionysus, other origin stories have varying accounts of those events and other origins stories don't mention what he was doing before becoming a god at all.
    • Several monsters in Greek mythology are also prone to this. Arachne and Medusa are good examples. In well-known versions of their stories, they both got screwed over by Athena and got turned into monsters out of anger and spite. However, earlier versions of those stories instead suggest that Athena didn't turn Arachne into a spider out of anger or spite, but for other reasons (because in those versions, Arachne commited suicide after their weaving contest and when Athena learned this, she decided to resurrect Arachne by turning her into a spider out of respect and pity). And earlier versions of Medusa's story suggest that her origin has nothing to do with Athena or Poseidon and that she was always a gorgon.
  • Ancient Egyptian authors also differed on the parentage of various gods. This isn't surprising, given that such family relations were often more a matter of local cult rather than "myth" as such. By the end of the New Kingdom, many gods were worshipped in threesomes identified as husband, wife, and son, and temples in different regions used different combinations of gods.
  • Nobody can agree on the origins of the Kuchisake-onna, or Slit-Mouthed Woman, a monster of Japanese urban legends and folklore. Some say she was the wife of a cruel samurai who mutilated her when she had an affair. Others say she was the victim of a horribly botched dental procedure. Still others say she was disfigured by a romantic rival who was jealous of her beauty. And then there are the claims that she's not a ghost at all and was never human; rather, she's a youkai and the slits are her natural mouth.
  • Seeing as Santa Claus is a Public Domain Character, there are many different stories about how he came to be. Some say that he was Saint Nicholas, some say he inherited the title of Santa from his father, and there are many other origin stories. See also: The Santa Clause.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • The childhoods of The Undertaker and Kane (who are half-brothers) have come to be subject to this. The original story was that The Undertaker was an arsonist who burned down his parents' funeral parlor, killing both parents and leaving Kane horrifically disfigured. Other versions, however, pointed to Kane as being responsible for the fire.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The first three Muppet films gave completely irreconcilable versions of how the Muppets came together and became stars. (The first one has a Framing Story that calls it "approximately how it happened", and both it and the sequel reminds us all the way through that this is just a movie).
    • The Muppet Movie establishes that Kermit went on a journey to Hollywood in dreams of becoming a star, meeting Fozzie and the others along the way.
    • The Great Muppet Caper had Kermit and Fozzie portrayed as identical twin brothers working for a newspaper along with Gonzo and the three investigating the theft of jewels belonging to Lady Holiday. After the flight to England, Kermit meets Miss Piggy and is initially misled into thinking she is Lady Holiday, with the rest of the Muppet cast met at the Happiness Hotel.
    • The Muppets Take Manhattan establishes that Kermit, Fozzie, Miss Piggy, Rowlf, Gonzo, Camilla, Scooter, Dr. Teeth, Floyd, Zoot, Animal and Janice went to the same college and aspired to put on a Broadway show shortly after they graduated.
  • Sesame Street has one for Oscar the grouch in the same episode, namely the Christmas special. A woman claims that Oscar was nice and positive as a baby but became mean and grumpy as he grew older. However, Oscar claims that he's always been mean and grumpy. At least for the grumpiness, the idea that he was grumpy from birth is supported by his niece, Irvine, who's about one and a Bratty Half-Pint, which is said to be normal for grouch babies.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Various examples throughout the history of Dungeons & Dragons:
    • Done with the entire species of illithids (aka Mind Flayers). One of the earlier versions says that they're mutants outcast from a long-gone human society in the Astromundi crystal sphere (solar system). Another version puts them as emerging when parasites from "the Outside" entered the game's reality and began bonding with and mutating humanoids, and went on to rule an interstellar empire millennia ago which has since fallen. An old Dragon magazine article depicts them as invaders from an alternate Prime Material Plane, trying to reshape whatever world your characters are from in the image of their homeworld. A later version says they're from the future and traveled back in time to escape a nameless enemy that was destroying them, and to prepare better for that enemy while in the past. It's ultimately left up to the Game Master to decide which of these is the "truth," or if perhaps they're all successive layers of lies used to disguise the illithids' origins and that the latest retcon is just another lie. However, in the 4th Edition rules, Mind Flayers are once again from the Far Realm — beyond the borders of the universe. This certainty may be only because there haven't been enough years into the new edition to let their webs of deceit get fully developed yet, however.
      • An interesting but ultimately unrelated note on the time-traveling origin: A person can still take "Heritage" feats, special character options that indicate one's bloodline co-mingles with that of the relevant race/species (Fey Heritage, Draconic Heritage, etc) for Illithids. For most heritage feats, this implies an ancestry speckled with Interspecies Romance. However, in this case Illithid Heritage actually means you're actually one of the ancestors of the Illithid bloodlines.
      • An issue of Dragon had an "Illithid Bloodline" feat, but it stated that the bloodline didn't come from illithids themselves. Rather, it came from escaped slaves who were experimented upon by the illithids. A clever storyteller might decide the two possibilities aren't mutually exclusive...
    • The game's 4th Edition default setting Nentir Vale does this with pretty much all of the deities. Fairly justified; they've been around for so long that the details of their origins are wrapped up in legends. Notably, Asmodeus has been given probably the most information on his origins, most of them being at least somewhat contradictory.
      • And then there's the Raven Queen. Depending on what you look at, she's a True Neutral goddess of death as part of the life cycle, an evil former consort of Nerull who overthrew him to gain his title as God of the Dead and now plots to destroy the other Gods so she can gain that title that she believes is rightfully hers rather than her lesser title of Goddess of Death, or a selfish and power-hungry goddess that epitomizes the reason True Neutral is now Unaligned.
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Warhammer: The origins of Voland, the leader of a notorious mercenary company, are the subject of wild theorizing, due in large part to him keeping a tight lid on the subject. The more sedate speculations assume him to be a disgraced noble from the Empire, some believe him to be the Emperor's bastard son, and the wilder theories include one where he's the child of the Fay Enchantress of Bretonnia and a one-pig named Eric.
    • In Warhammer: Age of Sigmar, opinion is divided amongst the scholars of the Mortal Realms as to the origins of the Aleguzzler Gargants. Some think they are the degenerate dependents of a race of titanic builders while others theorise that they are the offspring of the zodiac godbeast Behemat. There is even a theory that they are refugees from somewhere outside the Mortal Realms. As for the Gargants themselves, they are generally too drunk to care about their origins.
    • Warhammer 40,000:
      • The God-Emperor has had a number of official backstories over the years. Originally he was created by a group of incredibly powerful shamans in the year 8,000 BC. Newer versions keep the 8,000 BC date but drop the shamans. Then there's the possibility that the Emperor was actually born in the Age of Strife (26,000 AD or so). The current backstory, and Horus Heresy series of novels, mention all of the above (with the second being what he told Horus), but have him intentionally obscuring the issue even before ten thousand years of conflicting dogma.
      • Primarch Alpharius as befitting to a character that thrives on secrecy and mind-games has five different origin stories. All of them are lies, but all have a grain of truth... Or so we are told. He also has three stories of his death, and no one knows which (if any) of them is true. It's made more complicated by the fact that he has a Backup Twin, whose fate is similarly mysterious, and thousands of body doubles.
      • As a means of explaining some of the changes that the C'tan have gone through over the course of the various editions of the game, the 8th Edition Codex: Necrons mentions that the in-universe knowledge of the C'tan is often fragmentary and contradictory, with even the records held by the Aeldari in the Black Library, on Ulthwé and on Alaitoc being unable to agree on hard facts.
  • In the New World of Darkness, multiple explanations are given for several aspects of the game world so that the Storyteller may pick and choose which ones she likes.
    • In Changeling: The Lost, for example, there are several possible reasons for why the Gentry may kidnap humans and how the True Fae come to be:
      • Their existence in Arcadia was actually totally devoid of emotion or nuance until they experienced the Glamour from human proximity,
      • Or they're actually constructs of wild magic and chaotic emotions, and exposure to humans gave them sentience,
      • OR they're actually what remains of the mages who climbed the Celestial Ladder and entered the Supernal Realm, but their imperfect human desires ran amok and destroyed their humanity.
      • Or they're latecomers to Arcadia of unknown origin, and will one day leave.
      • Even if one (or more) of the above are true, it didn't explain how there could be so many of the True Fae until you read the supplement book that says that Changelings who reach Wyrd 10 and Clarity 0 are likely to become True Fae themselves.
    • So far, we have two separate explanations for The Tunguska Event: a Promethean tried to summon an arch-qashmal, or one of the Knights of St. George tried to summon a Faceless Angel. Or that those are actually two versions of the same story...
    • And then there's Atlantis. Atlantis could have been a real ancient city ruled by mages, or it could be an allegory made real by the minds of Awakened souls, or it could be a far-future event whose collapse was felt eons in the past. The sourcebook mentions that some members of the Free Council believe Atlantis is a lie that the other factions made up to justify their dominance.
    • And the Uratha have so many tales of lost Pangaea it's not worth sorting here.
    • Also, in contrast with the Old World of Darkness, where they had a defined and known origin, vampires in the New World of Darkness have long forgotten exactly how they came to be, meaning each faction has its own ideas of their origin. (Indeed, there's a fair case to be made that vampires have multiple origins.)
    • Was the first Frankenstein created by Victor Frankenstein, as in the original novel, or was he created by Mary Shelley and John Polidori from the remains of the last of the previous choler-aspected Lineage, the Amirani? Dark Eras Companion explicitly brings up this trope in a sidebar, declaring it's up to the Storyteller to decide the circumstances around the Frankensteins' creation.
    • On a similar note, did the first Zeka start being created in 1945, beginning with the Trinity bomb test, or did they originate before that?
  • In Paranoia, what exactly was the nature of the catastrophe that destroyed human civilization and confined the remains to Alpha Complex? Whatever Friend Computer says it is this week! (It was probably Communists)
    • Actually, what is known about the catastrophe, that is constant between all of the various distortions, half-truths, and outright fabrications, is above your security clearance, citizen. Have a nice daycycle!
  • The origin story for Strahd von Zarovich, the Ravenloft setting's most iconic villain, has been recounted in two novels, four to six adventures (depending on whether or not updates count), and dozens of fragmentary anecdotes throughout the product line. Not only do they contradict one another in numerous details, but it's openly acknowledged that many such accounts are propaganda and that Strahd himself probably doesn't remember (or want to remember) the truth anymore. Plus, there's a completely separate and irreconcilable version of Strahd in Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill that even the publishers wrote off as a Riddle for the Ages.
  • World of Darkness gamelines tend to play with this. In Werewolf: The Apocalypse, pretty much everything regarding the how and why of the War of Rage, the creation story of the Triat, and the birth of the were-races are told from the point of view of a member of whichever race the book you're reading is about, and so every version is from an Unreliable Narrator.
    • Similarly with Vampire: The Masquerade, which isn't surprising, given the Kindred raise Unreliable Narrator to an artform. The primary account of vampire origins is the story of Caine, and it's the one that's treated as essentially true by the setting. But there's no consistent account of what happened after Caine became a vampire, how many of the Second and Third Generations there actually were, or how each of the clans came to be — not to mention that some clans, like the Ravnos and Setites, have versions of their origins that say they arose independently of Caine.
    • Beckett's Jyhad Diary throws in what the Laibon, the African vampires, have to say on the subject, holding that vampires have been around as long as humans, and that Caine, though historically significant, was not the first vampire. One Laibon NPC says he cursed himself with vampirism, rather than being Embraced by another.
    • There's also the Rasputin situation. Numerous historical characters were written into the Old World of Darkness. Two different writers used Rasputin as a character, not knowing about the other's use of him, and their versions had two different backstories. When this discrepancy was pointed out, the company decided to run with it. Several writers began using Rasputin as a character, giving him a different backstory each time. These multiple versions of Rasputin became one of the unsolved mysteries of the original World of Darkness, though Wraith: The Oblivion tried to reconcile them by saying that Rasputin is actually a body-hopping wraith who likes possessing various supernaturals, while Vampire: The Masquerade suggested the Rasputins know about their other versions, seeing themselves as "brothers", and that there's a terrible truth behind them.
  • 13th Age has a supplement called the Book of Ages, detailing a total of 14 previous ages, from which the GM is encouraged to mix and match from to keep the players guessing.

    Theme Parks 
  • Disney Theme Parks:
    • The backstory to The Haunted Mansion is basically whatever the cast members decide it is that day. Spin-off material has attempted to clarify things, but not without invoking this trope (particularly with regards to the backstories of certain characters).
    • The burning cabin on Tom Sawyer Island was originally due to an Indian attack. As The Savage Indian fell out of favor, the backstory was changed several times before it became a regular cabin.
  • The soundtrack played at Great America's roller coaster "The Demon" variously traces the ride-possessing demonic entity's origin to the Louisiana bayou, the bottom of the Hudson River, or debris from a battle between alien spaceships that crashed in the Southwest.

  • Cobra Commander, the Big Bad of G.I. Joe, has had multiple origin stories. G.I. Joe: The Movie made him a snake person scientist from an ancient civilization called Cobra-La sent out to destroy humanity, whereas every other version has had him human, but also with wildly different backstories. G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero (Marvel) had him as a former used car salesman with an ax to grind against Snake-Eyes, when the future Commander's own brother, Dan, got drunk and caused an accident that not only took Dan's own life, but also that of Snake-Eyes's family; G.I. Joe (Devil's Due) kept the same origin as Marvel, but modified it to where the Commander and Snake-Eyes did know each other before the accident and the Commander turned on Snake-Eyes after he refused to kill a corrupt judge who ruled against Dan; G.I. Joe (IDW) has the Cobra Commander mantle as a Legacy Character; the live-action movies made him a former solider named Rex Lewis who once served in the army alongside Duke and is the brother of the Baroness; and G.I. Joe: Renegades reimagined the Commander as a Corrupt Corporate Executive using the alias "Adam DeCobray" who is in poor health.
  • LEGO Castle:
    • Cedric the Bull, the main villain of the Knights Kingdom 1 sub theme of Castle, has two completely different backstories depending on what you read. A US Lego Mania Magazine says that he used to be one of King Leo's knights who got a little power hungry and betrayed the king wanting to rule the kingdom for himself. However according to a story book called Medieval Mischief and Mayhem, the manual for the PC Creator Knights Kingdom game and a flash book from the theme's old and now gone website instead states that he's the 13th son of an unknown king(thereby making him a prince)of a land faraway from Leo's kingdom. Then when the king died he left his land to be divided up and ruled by his his sons, all the princes got a share of land except for Cedric which resulted in him traveling far away from his homeland, going rogue, finding Leo's kingdom and developing an obsession of taking over and ruling Leo's land for himself. While is not clear on which is the canon backstory it possibly is the latter one due to it being used in three different sources while the former one is only used in one source. Plus the latter story does make Cedric a more interesting villain and it kinda makes you feel a little sorry for him, the former story is rather bland, cliche and makes Cedric sound waaay to similar to Vladek from the second Knights' Kingdom
  • Transformers:
    • Given that continuity in Transformers is, well, pretty tangled, Multiple Choice Canon is more of a rule rather than an exception, meaning aspects like the origins of the Transformer race differ between franchises and even series within said franchises (e.g. the G1 cartoon claims the Quintessons made the Transformers, while the concurrent Marvel comic established the godlike Primus as their creator).
    • Then you have characters like Unicron. Originally, he was a random planet-eating Transformer with no backstory (until the cartoon claimed he was made by an ancient space monkey). Then Simon Furman's run on the The Transformers (Marvel) turned him into a godlike Satanic archetype opposed by a being named Primus; this interpretation caught on more in later adaptations than the original Primacron story. However, Unicron (as well as a few other legendary figures) was once established as a "multiversal singularity", which basically means that every depiction of him across the franchise was the same individual... before the concept was done away with almost a decade later and every iteration of him became a different individual with a different past. Does your brain hurt yet?
    • The Dinobots are also known for various origins on if they where pre-existing Autobots or not and how they got their namesake Dinosaur modes. The original cartoon explained they were built by Wheeljack and Ratchet based on fossils found in the Autobot base. The Marvel Comics said they were an existing subgroup of Autobots who were on the Ark and were given their Dinosaur modes by the ship's computer to fight Shockwave in the Savage Land note  with the dinosaurs inspiring their beast modes. GI Joe Vs The Transformers Marvel has the Dinobots being Autobots being sent back in time and given their Dinosaur modes to fit into the past. Spotlight: Shockwave reveals the Dynobots were Autobots with a personal grudge against the the titular Decepticon scientist who tracked him down to prehistoric Earth and adopted Dinosaur modes to protect from the Energon Radiation.
    • That's just for the G1 incarnations of the group. The Beast Machines toyline had the Dinobots as a group of Maximals reformatted by The Oracle with their Dinosaur modes coming from the fact The Oracle used Dinobot's spark. Transformers: Animated had them as Dinosaur animatronics turned into attack drones by Megatron then accidentally becoming self-aware thanks to the Allspark Key. Transformers: Fall of Cybertron had them be Autobots who were captured and given their Dinosaur modes by Shockwave based on his observations of prehistoric Earth. Transformers: Age of Extinction had them being the ancestors of modern Cybertronians who based their Alternative Modes on Earth's Dinosaurs. Transformers: Robots in Disguise (2015) had them being a subspecies of Tranformers who had the modes naturally similar to the Insecticons of Transformers: Prime.

    Video Games 
  • In Alpha Protocol, each of the classes Mike can choose will result in him having a different backstory prior to his induction into the eponymous agency.
  • In Amnesia: Memories, the café manager Waka has a mysterious past and background that changes for each route the player is currently going through, which also changes his personality. Heart World implies that he's trained in theater and dance and acts rather Camp Straight, while Spade World and Joker World make his background be military-based. In the former, he's a hothead and treats his business like a battlefield, while the latter has his background closer to that of an assassin and specifically mentions guerilla-fighter tactics.
  • Assassin's Creed Origins: Reda the merchant child gives several different explanations for why he's a wandering merchant, which Bayek eventually points out. Reda just shrugs it off. However, Assassin's Creed: Valhalla shows Reda is a Sage of some kind, so all those origins are probably true... for each different life he's lead.
  • The Joker, unsurprisingly, has one of these in Batman: Arkham City. He's just finished telling his Start of Darkness story to Hugo Strange (it's the mostly same one from The Killing Joke), and Strange points out just how many different stories the Joker has. The only common link is that he blames Batman in every one. The Joker even cites this trope verbatim:
    "A wise man once said, 'If you're going to have a past, make it multiple choice.'"
    • Notably, Strange accuses Joker of just using this trope as an excuse to never face up to his past and what he's become. Unlike the other rogues Strange interviews, he fails at getting under the Joker's skin.
      • Batman: Arkham Asylum has Joker try to do the same thing to Doctor Young during one of his interview tapes. Specifically he goes from claiming he grew up in a fishing village with a father who wouldn't let him join the circus to his dad being a cop who was killed by the mob one week before retirement, with Doctor Young not buying either story. Given the above comment by Strange in Arkham City, it would interesting to see how he fit Batman into those origins.
      • Batman: Arkham Origins seems to indicate the story he told Strange was not completely made up, as during a segment where you play as Joker in flashbacks Dr. Harleen Quinnzel plays through scenes taken from The Killing Joke in an interview; of course it could be he just remembers that origin more than once.
  • In the original game Betrayal at Krondor, Gorath was from the Green Heart, and moved his tribes to the Northlands during the Riftwar (Possibly making his tribe the one that Longbow tricked into fighting the Tsurani during the seige of Crydee). In the novelization, Krondor: The Betrayal, his tribe was originally based near Sarth, and moved to the Northlands over a century earlier when the Keshians colonized the region.
  • The final boss of Borderlands, the Destroyer. In the first game, it's said by Angel to be a Precursor Killer Eldritch Abomination, sealed away by the Eridians. However, later games suggest that it's really "just" a powerful Eridian superweapon, and that the story Angel fed the Vault Hunters on Jack's orders was a lie.
  • In The Cat Lady, this trope is invoked during one of the consults with Dr. X, which he asks Susan a couple of questions about her parents. The player can choose if she had a good or bad relationship with her father and her mother respectively (or if they even are around during her childhood), which means that part of Susan's backstory can diverge from different players and/or different playthroughs.
  • Cyberpunk 2077 follows in the footsteps of Mass Effect by giving players three different backstories inspired by the original tabletop game: the player can start as a Corpo looking to make their way up the corporate ladder, a Nomad come to Night City in search of work, or a Street Kid who just came back from out of town.
  • In Disco Elysium, the defining events of the amnesiac Detective's past are set in stone. However, his dominant political views and "copotype" (the quirks that defined him as a cop) are eventually retroactively applied to his past. If the cop runs around preaching communism and declaring he's a superstar cop, for instance, a group of bums he met pre-amnesia will remember him as having been such last time they met.
  • Dragon Age: Origins:
    • The game takes this to a whole new level with its Player Character: each of the six available "Origins" for the Warden has a separate starting quest chain, with a follow-up in one of the main story quests later on. It is implied that all six origins occurred, but the five not chosen by the player were killed because of Duncan's absence. The origins include: a Human Noble who was betrayed, a City Elf suffering under a cruel human noble, a Dalish Elf who is exiled from their clan, a Magi (either human or elven) undertaking a trial by fire, a Dwarf Commoner seeking a means to rise above their station, and a Dwarf Noble caught in a web of political intrigue.
    • In-story, Flemeth combines this trope with Unreliable Narrator. At least two different versions of her story, the legend and the story she told Morrigan, have been told thus far, and Morrigan even says she doubts Flemeth told her the truth.
      • Her true origins are finally revealed in Inquisition: She was once a human woman who was imbued with the soul of the Elven God Mythal. However, she speaks vaguely enough about her past life that the previous stories could potentially have happened as well, at least if you substitute Mythal for the demon that supposedly possessed her.
  • Dragon Age II provides one of three choices for how the game begins from the first game (aside from importing a save file from Origins): "Hero of Ferelden" (a Big Good Human Noble defeated the Archdemon and survived the fifth Blight, Alistair is king of Ferelden), "The Martyr" (a cynical Dalish Elf sacrificed herself to kill the Archdemon and end the blight, Alistair and Anora marry and rule Ferelden together), or "No Compromise" (a Determinator Dwarven Noble let another Grey Warden die to defeat the Archdemon, Alistair is exiled from Ferelden, and Anora is queen).
  • Dragon Age: Inquisition: The player can choose to be either a Human, Elf, Dwarven or Qunari (well, Vashoth) Inquisitor. They have different explanations for being at the cataclysmic event at the beginning of the game, but they aren't playable like in Origins - the story always starts in the same place. The player does, however, get to flesh out their backstory in conversations, either describing past events of their lives or simply stating their opinion on certain parts of their background. Like the Warden, it is implied that all four were present at the Conclave, but the three not chosen were killed by the Breach.
    • In a semi-continuation from Dragon Age II, Varric's codex mentions that he will always give a different story for how he got Bianca. He'll tell you how he got her early in the game, but multiple playthroughs will reveal that he changes that story as well. But in a late-game sidequest, we finally learn Bianca's true story... we think.
  • The Elder Scrolls:
    • Was Talos a divinely chosen warrior from the ancient Atmora who achieved apotheosis by his own merit or just a shrewd politician from High Rock with powerful friends? Possibly both. After achieving divinity, it is possible that he retroactively re-wrote his life. Many things credited to Talos were originally actions and traits of different individuals, including Tiber Septim, Zurin Artcus, and Wulfharth Ash-King. (With the latter two also possibly merged into the same "Underking" identity.)
    • Similarly, the history of Vivec and the entire account of the events during the Battle of Red Mountain have several vastly different and conflicting versions, all of which can be true at the same time. Vivec may have originally been a low-born, devious general of Nerevar's but similar to the above example of Talos, might have made his fantastic origin story as a demigod warrior poet true retroactively with his acquired divine power.
    • Sources conflict greatly on the early history of the races of Men. The most popular theory, espoused most prominently by the propaganda of the Septim Empire, is that all of the races of Men (save for the Yokudan Redguards) descend from the Nedes, who originally hailed from the northernmost continent of Atmora. However, other sources indicate that the Nedes were among Tamriel's many indigenous human tribes (or may have been the collective name for these tribes) from whom the Imperials and Bretons get their human ancestry while the actual Atmorans were a distinct race of Men who came over in the early 1st Era and settled in Skyrim, interbreeding with the Nedes to create the modern Nords. In either case, there is evidence of habitation by humanity in Tamriel which predates the earliest known dates of Atmoran migration. Even the creation of the races of Men is unclear. The most prominent theory is that the Ehlnofey who would become the races of Mer and the Ehlnofey who would become the races of Men ("Wanderers") split very early in world history following a great war between the two factions. However, Altmeri religious beliefs (dating back to the ancient Aldmer) state that Men were created by Lorkhan out of the "weakest souls" to spread chaos throughout all corners of creation.
    • The Tsaesci are supposedly an Akaviri race of Snake Vampires complete with serpentine lower bodies. However, sources differ radically as to whether they are actually serpentine or humans just like those found in Tamriel.
      • On the "human-like" side: Several in-game books outright state that they are humans little different from those in Tamriel. One account specifically mentions a Tsaesci soldier with an injured leg. The most recent (and probably most reliable) account, Uriel V's campaign report from the 3rd Era, does not describe them as snake-like at all. It also mentions them having "mounted raiders," which would be a difficult task for a species without legs. The Akaviri ghosts and skeletons who appear at a few points in the series are completely humanoid in appearance.
      • On the "serpentine" side: Mysterious Akavir, a work of admittedly dubious accuracy, supports this side. Additionally, the in-universe historical fiction (loosely based on in-universe historical events) 2920, The Last Year of the First Era also describes them as having serpentine lower bodies. Other chronicles, such as "History of the Fighter's Guild" indicate that the Tsaesci couldn't wear human armor at all, indicating a non-humanoid shape. The Elder Scrolls Online has an item, an Akaviri Silver Mask, which depicts a reptilian-looking appearance.
      • The Take a Third Option-option: Since the "races" of Akavir share their names with the name of their nation, it's possible that they aren't one single "race," but multiple races living within those nations. The "Tsaesci" could include serpentine snake vampires as well as the former Men of Akavir and/or their cross bred descendants.
    • Likewise, there are many conflicting theories regarding the origins of Giants:
      • One of the most popular, especially among the Nords, is that they share an ancestry with the ancient Atmorans. The Atmorans were known to be tall, strong, and somewhat primitive. According to this theory, after coming to Tamriel from the northern continent of Atmora, the Atmorans split into two groups — one who would interbreed with Tamriel's Nedes to become the modern Nords - and another who would, through unknown means, become the progenitors of the Giants.
      • Other sources, however, make it clear that Giants existed in Tamriel before the Atmorans crossed the sea. The Dwemer were said to have gotten the nickname "Dwarves" from Giants they encountered in the Velothi Mountains after splitting off from the Aldmer, which occurred well before the Atmoran migration. The Aldmer themselves drove a "multi-eyed" race of Giants known as the Ilyadi to extinction when they first settled the Summerset Isles, which was even earlier. Standard Giants also have pointed, tapered ears like those of the Mer (Elves).
      • In either case, there are known instances of Giants interbreeding and producing offspring with the other races of Tamriel, particularly Nords. This would suggest that, at the very least, Giants have a shared ancestry with the other races dating back to the Ehlnofey, a progenitor race from whom all extant races (save for perhaps the Lizard Folk Argonians) descend.
    • Similarly, the origin of Vampires in Tamriel is not clear cut. While the general scholarly consensus is that Lamae Beolfag was indeed the first vampire, there are other origin stories as well. Given the numerous other vampire bloodlines and tales of other individuals acquiring Vampirism directly from Molag Bal as well, it's possible that each of these stories has some truth to them.
    • In Daggerfall, the player can choose to determine their character's class, reputation, ethics, abilities, etc, through an extensive survey of his background... or can choose to have it all automatically generated. One of the questions asks what item you received as a gift from the emperor. If you choose the Ebony Dagger, you start the game with that weapon, which is substantially superior to other weapons at that level.
    • The recurring character of Barenziah, a particularly controversial Dunmer queen, has at least three (or four, counting a revision) different in-story backgrounds as seen in books, all following roughly the same story but presenting her in different lights. There's an official one that paints her as saintly and misled by Evil Sorcerer Jagar Tharn, and several that suggest she was a promiscuous manipulator in the mold of the traditional view of Cleopatra VII. That's not even counting her involvement in the "Warp in the West" at the end of Daggerfall.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, there are several contradicting stories about the past of Legate Lanius, from being a Legionary at the age of 12 to being press-ganged into joining the Legion. Even Joshua Graham, the former Legate states that he's never even heard of Lanius during his time in the Legion. In Lonesome Road, Ulysses, a former Legion spy, considers the idea that Lanius wasn't always the same person considering that no one has ever actually seen him without his mask.
    • Lonesome Road also fills in the backstory of the Courier, though only by choosing certain dialogue paths. There's an achievement for getting all six, and as a result is arguably this trope.
  • Deacon from Fallout 4 will tell you multiple, often conflicting versions of his own backstory, including being one of the first Gen 3 Synths liberated from the Institute, being one of the Founding members of the Railroad, and being it's real leader while it's apparent leader, Desdemona, is a puppet he installed to keep suspicion away from himself. If challenged on this, he'll freely admit that most of what he tells the Player Character is lies and that he's trying to groom them into embracing the "trust no one, don't believe everything you hear" attitude that's allowed him to survive so long as a Railroad spy. That being said, the version of his backstory that most players consider canon is the one he tells you when you reach maximum affinity with him — he was part of a gang of anti-synth extremists as a teen, but fell in love with a synth woman who the gang killed, and murdered the entire gang in retaliation.He sees working with the Railroad and supporting synths as a way to atone for the evils in his past.
  • Final Fantasy VII:
    • About five versions of Cloud's past in Nibelheim have been officially released so far. At least one of these (the most detailed) is eventually revealed as a lie within the story, although due to the circumstances of the lie and due to it covering more than the others do, it's still debatable whether huge chunks of it are true or not.
    • The other four are wildly divergent, with Crisis Core and Final Fantasy VII`s "true" account having roughly equal canonicity despite Crisis Core having an entirely new character provoke Sephiroth's downwards spiral and the fact that Zack doesn't get the opportunity to do all the silly things Final Fantasy VII'`s "lie" account implied he did.
    • The OVA Last Order is also diverging, but probably the most radical in terms of what it implies about Cloud's past — it contains a strange scene where Cloud summons a great strength and his eyes begin glowing, causing Sephiroth to ask "What are you?", long before Cloud was granted Mako abilities in the original Final Fantasy VII, implying that Cloud isn't human or was experimented on previously. The events of Last Order have been explained that since most of the animated-special takes place from the Turks' point of view (the opening scene shows the report on the Nibelheim incident, which implies that the whole flashback is from what the official Shin-Ra history report says) its account is different from what was shown in the original game and Crisis Core.
    • When asked about all this, scenario writer Kazushige Nojima has said that there is no definitive version of the Nibelheim story because it's impossible to be objective about memories.
  • This happens in Hyperdimension Neptunia and Hyperdimension Neptunia mk2, due to the two taking place in alternate continuities. In the original, Compa meets Neptune after she falls out of the sky, and IF is met (and unknowingly tricked) into joining Neptune and Compa's party a little later. In the sequel, Compa and IF were childhood friends, and they met Neptune (and Nepgear, who is exclusive to the sequel) after she fell off the top of a 10,000 story tower.
  • You get to do this in Guild Wars 2. However, all it changes in game is your personal story for the first twenty levels.
  • The premise for Hail to the Chimp is that former king, the Lion, resigned in disgrace due to a "scandal" that neither the box nor the instructions describe in any way. There are several possibilities as to what this scandal is, one of which is chosen at random each time you load the game.
  • In Harvest Moon: Back to Nature, the protagonist meets a girl whom he befriended during his childhood visit to the Mineral Town farm. Said girl will turn out to be whoever bachelorette he chooses to marry. Similarly, Harvest Moon Back To Nature For Girl has your life being saved by a mysterious person, who always turns out to be the person you marry, regardless of who you choose. Even Kai, though it makes no sense since he only appears in summer.
  • In Injustice 2, the Joker was unambiguously killed during the original game and shows up only as a fear toxin hallucination. However, in non-canon fights, he's a playable character. Pre-fight banter often has his opponent wondering how he's still alive. The Joker will list some of the many possible sources of resurrection in the DC Universe or, if his opponent makes a specific guess, the Joker will confirm it. He even sounded perked-up when Atrocitus mentioned something specific drove the Monster Clown to nihilism, but the exact reason remains a mystery.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, you have the option in several conversations to choose certain aspects of what happened in your past, as well as what happened in the first game. You can even choose the non-canon Dark Side endings for the first game, and the rest of the game will change to fit with those events instead.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask applies this to the entire country of Termina. Anju's grandmother says Termina was an ancient land created by the Giants. The manual repeatedly refers to it as a parallel world to Hyrule. Some sources say that Termina is an offshoot of Hyrule created when the goddesses sent their power through the cracks of the land. Hyrule Encyclopedia claims that Termina is a figment of the Skull Kid's imagination given life by Majora's Mask.
    • The Skull Kid himself is given this treatment. In The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time he was said to be a child who got lost in the Lost Woods and was cursed into his current form. According to Anju's grandma however he is an ancient being who was once friends with the Four Giants and became a trickster due to his resentment that his friends left him and was threatened into exile by them as punishment.
  • When starting a game in Liberal Crime Squad, the player may choose events in the squad founder's past, or let the events be randomly selected. These events inform their in-game attributes and skills.
  • In The Love Boat Isaac tells Jenny, who's over-eager to get married, that he pushed the girl he loved into marrying before she was ready and it didn't work out. Later on he tells Ronald, a Manchild who's scared of commitment, that he refused to tell the girl he loved how he felt and another guy snapped her up.
    Gopher: Who are you?
  • This is quite literally true for Commander Shepard in Mass Effect. At character creation, Shepard's appearance, gender and military specialization are filled in by the player, as well as two different sets of background details, with three choices each. The backgrounds offer unique missions and dialogue during the games, and affect the amount of Paragon and Renegade points you start with.
    • The Pre-Service History choices are these:
      • Colonist: Shepard was born in the colony of Mindoir, which was later sacked by the batarians, with Shepard barely escaping being sold into slavery. Choosing this background grants you a middling amount of Paragon/Renegade points, and grants access to a unique mission where Shepard helps out Talitha, a fellow Mindoir survivor who was Made a Slave by the Batarians and is now traumatized.
      • Earthborn: Shepard was an orphan raised on the streets of Earth, escaping poverty and gang violence by enlisting in the military as soon as s/he could. Choosing this background grants you the most Renegade points, and gives you a unique assignment where you deal with your old gang, the Tenth Street Reds, and their attempt to free a member arrested by the turians.
      • Spacer: Shepard's parents were both in the military, and s/he spent your childhood transferring around ships and stations as they went from posting to posting, never having a permanent home. Choosing this background grants you the most Paragon points, and means that Shepard's mother, Hannah Shepard, is still alive and a captain in the Alliance military, allowing you to have several conversations with her and a unique mission meeting someone who once served with her before a mission involving a batarian slave raid caused him to develop PTSD.
    • The Psychological Profile choices are these:
      • Sole Survivor: Shepard's squad was massacred by a Thresher Maw on Akuze. Choosing this background grants a mix of Paragon and Renegade points, and alters the playthrough of a mission where you meet another survivor of the Thresher Maw attack (who was the sole survivor of the squad if this background was not chosen), who reveals that Cerberus was behind the attack, and kidnapped and experimented on him.
      • War Hero: Shepard was recognized as a war hero for his/her role in repelling the Skyllian Blitz, an attack on the colony of Elysium by Batarian slavers (Whatever the background, Shepard was present at the Blitz, but War Hero Shepard rallied the colonists against the invaders and single-handedly sealed a breach in their defenses). Choosing this path grants extra Paragon points, and alters the playthrough of a mission where you tangle with the mastermind behind the Blitz.
      • Ruthless: Shepard was involved in the Alliance's attack on Torfan in retaliation for the Skyllian Blitz, and took heavy losses to massacre all the Batarians there, even the ones who surrendered, giving him/her the title "The Butcher of Torfan". Choosing this path grants extra Renegade points and alters the playthrough of a mission where another soldier who was at Torfan (and knows Ruthless Shepard) has started to amass a biotic cult.
    • Thanks to the save import feature in both Mass Effect sequels, Multiple Choice Past extends to the storyline of later games in the trilogy, which can be affected in subtle (and not-so-subtle) ways based on choices you made in a previous game. To compensate for those without save games to transfer, Mass Effect also offers DLC that allows you to make the biggest choices in the prior game, such as saving or killing the council and which teammate dies on Virmire in Mass Effect, or whether you destroyed or saved the Collector Base in Mass Effect 2 by making a choice on a multiple-choice style quiz in the prologue.
  • Metal Gear:
    • Psycho Mantis has multiple Freudian Excuses for his madness and sexually damaged behaviour. Calling Naomi on the Codec leads her to explain that he was once a sane and ordinary, if unusually powerful, police psychic who developed his madness after looking 'too far' into the mind of a serial killer and becoming infected with his mind. However, upon death, Mantis explains that he's obsessed with the concept of reproduction ("the selfish and atavistic desire to spread one's seed") due to his mother dying in childbirth, finding out his father hated him, and burning down his village in fear. Material released in Japan-only supplemental material explained that he naturally had a split personality which he refers to as "the parasite" or "the Mantis". What's more, production documents and concept art reveal that he was intended at first to have developed his psychic powers due to surgery and sexual torture (probably he was originally intended as an Expy of the villain from the cult Japanese horror movie Rubbers Lover, who had this origin) - while nothing from this backstory is stated in game or any supplemental material, he still has heavy cranial surgery scars and a bondage aesthetic with no accompanying explanation. (Shinkawa's note on Mantis's character design sheet lists his main character traits and sarcastically notes, "it all came together!") A young version of Mantis later emerges as Tretij Rebenok in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, in which he's a child soldier who psychically feeds on the strong negative emotions of others - his nationality is also adjusted from Russian to Czech.
    • In the original Metal Gear Solid, "Naomi Hunter" is revealed to be an imposter, and to have taken on a fake identity based on a real doctor who went missing in the Middle East; her real name goes unknown. However, the character who informs us of this is Liquid Snake, and Naomi's brother knows her as "Naomi". Supplemental materials on the Metal Gear Solid 2 disc detail the past of the real Naomi and how the main Naomi was able to usurp her identity. In Metal Gear Solid 4, this element to Naomi is forgotten about; everyone calls her Naomi and there's no indication that she was ever an imposter.
  • Planescape: Torment dances around between this and Expansion Pack Past thanks to the nature of the Nameless One's immortality — he suffers magical Trauma-Induced Amnesia every time he is "killed" and comes back to life, which happens so many times that his personality and behavior have been radically different many times across his long lifespan. The "multiple choice" in his past is really the question of "which version of him are we talking about now?" It's effectively an In-Universe version of these two tropes, even from the Nameless One's own perspective.
  • Mix Ore gives Kantarou, the Amnesiac Hero, three different backstories with each route he selects. Nagisa's route reveals that he was a normal guy who was dating Sanae and was being stalked by Nagisa. Rikana's route reveals that he was a recently orphaned rich kid who was hit by a car and was discovered by Rikana. Ayano's route reveals that he was a popular high school boy who sexually harassed Ayano.
  • Mount & Blade has a set of questions in the character creation that asks you about your character's past. This sets up your character's starting stats and equipment.
  • In the opening of Night in the Woods, the player makes a series of choices about what Mae remembers most about the year her grandfather died, including the disasters that struck Possum Hollow (the flood or the new highway taking away all the traffic from town), his favorite quote from the Prayer of the Forest God, and what he was staring at in his final moments.
  • The Outer Worlds incorporates this into its character creation system with "Aptitudes", previous careers your character pursued before arriving in the Halcyon system, which also has a small effect on their abilities. These include, but are not limited to: "Beverage Service Technician" (small increase to the duration of drink effects), "Construction, Electrician Class, Wire Spooler" (increased defense against electrical damage), "Tossball Team Mascot" (increased determination, which affects party members), and "Sub Sous Chef" (increased damage with one-handed weapons).
  • Pentiment has you choose what Andreas is like as a person at the beginning of the game, including what sort of things he learned at his university, and where he spent most of his Wanderjahre. In Act II, which takes place after a Time Skip, you get to pick where he spent his time in the last 7 years. At the start of Act III, you get to similarly choose elements of Magdalene's backstory... though part of it is also determined by what book Andreas bought her when she was still a small child.
  • Pillars of Eternity gives you a literal Multiple-Choice Past, by letting you shape your character's backstory through dialogue options or the character creation screen. You can invoke this further by deliberately giving your Watcher a mysterious and self-contradictory past, or simply refusing to elaborate on said past when asked about it. It is even taken to a higher level as you also get to choose what kind of a person your character was in their past life and what relationship they had with the Big Bad and the Big Good respectively.
  • Plague Inc.:
    • The Necroa Virus has several backstories, depending on where you start and what transmissions and/or you start with (quite a few are Whole Plot References to zombie media):
    • The Shadow Plague also has a few backstories. They require you to stay hidden for a long time.
      • The Shadow Pool backstory has the first vampire emerging from the deepest cavern on Earth somewhere in Turkey, with an unknown pathogen in the very deepest pool being responsible for infecting them.
      • The Stonehenge backstory involves the vampire in question having been buried in a sacrificial pit under one of the titular structure's standing stones, unearthed when tourists accidentally toppled it.
      • The Dracula backstory, as one can imagine, involves the vampire being Dracula after finally reawakening in his castle deep in Transylvania.
  • In Pokémon Sword and Shield, everyone in Crown Tundra can agree that Calyrex, the ancient king of Galar, rode a signature horse-like Pokémon. However, legends both mention of a horse as white as ice and a horse as black as shadow, and nobody can agree which is correct, if either one even is. Some time after meeting Calyrex himself, in a rather literal case of this trope, the Player Character gets to decide which of these is correct by growing the corresponding steed's Trademark Favorite Food to lure it over.
  • The titular Rayman has had several conflicting origins. The original game depicted him as an ordinary member of a species who all looked like him, only for Rayman 2: The Great Escape to claim he wasn't native to the Glade of Dreams and was found by a fisherman (and he had no species). Rayman Origins claims he was created by the fairies to fight nightmares, and the Play Station Vita version (and oddly, only the Vita version) deepens the hole by showing him as originally being bald with a wife.
  • Roadwarden has you pick the roadwarden's backstory and goals at the beginning of their journey. Throughout their adventure, you are also presented with multiple-choice options that let you shape certain elements of their home city of Hovlovan, and how the roadwarden spent their time there.
  • Like his rival Mario, Sonic the Hedgehog has a fairly inconsistent past as well, though the video games themselves have never done much to elaborate on his past. Tails, Eggma..., er, "Dr. Robotnik" and especially Blaze have similar inconsistent pasts:
    • Sonic's origin is not concrete in the games. Sega of Japan originally created a backstory of Sonic coming to life after a human ace pilot, who had him as a mascot, died. This was later used in the first manga with slight alterations. Sega of America went with their own backstory about Sonic being an antisocial brown hedgehog who befriended a human scientist named Dr. Kintobor. An accident turned Sonic blue and turned the friendly doctor into Dr. Robotnik. This origin story was reused in the British Sonic the Comic. Shortly after this, Sega of America gave him yet another origin that had him learning his abilities (including his super speed) from his animal friends. They were unable to make up their mind, however, as they used the previous origin years later in the official website. Later on, Sega of Japan changed Sonic's backstory to remove the mystical element. He's just a hedgehog who was born on Christmas Island and decided to leave because he wanted adventure. This hasn't been mentioned in over two decades, so Sonic largely has a Mysterious Past.
    • Eggman had no origin in Japan but internationally he received one where he was the benevolent Dr. Kintobor before an accident transformed him into the evil Dr. Robotnik. Why he lives on a World of Funny Animals is not explained. This backstory was used in the prerelease promo comic and the British Sonic the Comic, but American adaptations ultimately used different backstories. Sonic Adventure introduced human NPCs, giving an explanation to Eggman being a human, and Sonic Adventure 2 gave him a motive for being villainous.
  • In StarCrawlers, you select the backstory of your starting crawler, defining their childhood, adulthood, and work history. Your choices affect things like dialogue options, starting favor with certain corporations, and your initial equipment.
  • BioWare really does love this trope. In Star Wars: The Old Republic, most classes (barring the Warrior and Inquisitor) touch on the player's past but both the Republic Trooper and the Imperial Agent have certain backstory details revealed based on particular factors.
  • Steambot Chronicles had a literal version of this, where after meeting with Mallow you can recover from your amnesia and reveal your past. Or not, if you didn't feel inclined. Unfortunately, this leads to some incredibly stilted dialog in the following scenes.
    [Name] is... the son of a baker... fast... ...and a lone wolf.
  • Street Fighter: Charlie Nash encountered M. Bison (North America; "Vega" in Japan) during a [wartime mission/secret operation/solo assignment] in [Cambodia/America/Venezuela/a Shadaloo base near Thailand]. Charlie prevailed over the dictator but tragically [turned his back and got zapped/was blasted by a Shadaloo gunner/failed to escape the base before it blew up/suffered some mysterious terrible fate]. Guile wanted to prevent it, of course, but [didn't know Charlie was in danger/wasn't strong enough/wasn't fast enough/realized Charlie did what he had to do]. One thing is certain, though, [he's dead/he's missing, presumed dead/he got turned into Shadow/suffered the previously mentioned mysterious terrible fate].
  • In The Suffering, your actions in the game dictate how Torque's family died via Karma Meter. There are three endings. In the good ending, they were murdered and you were framed. In the neutral one, Torque killed them by accident, and in the bad ending, he murdered them all.
  • Super Mario Bros.:
    • Having a canon that's basically built on Rule of Fun (as well as implied), has a few different origin stories. Americans of the 80's and early 90's might have known Mario and Luigi as two plumbers from Brooklyn who got sucked into a pipe and ended up in the Mushroom Kingdom, but that was only invented by DIC for their three animated series based on the games. Yoshi's Island and its sequels imply that they've always lived in the Mushroom Kingdom. Other regions just avoid origin stories. Note that the Mario Bros. have never been seen in the Mushroom Kingdom between the time they were babies and the present. It can be pretty easy to put the pieces together and say that they were taken to Brooklyn to be protected, because, seriously, who in their right mind wouldn't move after all the stuff that happened to Baby Mario and Baby Luigi?
    • The Brooklyn thing, in part, came from the fact that Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. seemingly takes place in New York City. In Super Mario Odyssey, Donkey Kong is now stated to take place in New Donk City, an NYC-like city that appears to be set in the same world as the Mushroom Kingdom.
    • Mimi from Super Paper Mario doesn't have a concrete past, either. Carson theorizes that Mimi was either a failed Pixl created by the ancients or that she was created by a witch who was researching shape-shifting potions. She could also maybe be a robot, given the fact that her transformed form has gears inside of her head.
    • There are contradicting backstories to the original Donkey Kong. The titular character is either Mario's pet gorilla who decided he had enough of his abuse, or he is a gorilla that escaped from the zoo.
  • Tangledeep has a downplayed version of this with Mirai. Depending on what Job she starts the game with, she'll give a slightly different Opening Narration, reflecting her past and her worldview. A few details are always the same; she's Happily Adopted, and she's setting out to Tangledeep for some reason. This can extend a bit further than normal with the final class to unlock, the HuSyn class, wherein Mirai herself mentions that she was built, not born, though her narration notes that despite this, she is still loved by her friends and family in Riverstone Camp.
  • In the Tomb Raider series, Lara's origin seems to be "whatever the designer of the current game/movie/comic feels like", and has therefore changed drastically each time it's been told.
  • Touhou Project:
    • Almost but not quite literally the case for Sakuya, who has knowledge and skills far beyond her physical age (late teens to twenties), is a Time Master, and was seemingly recognized by Eirin, an immortal being who hadn't been to Earth in over 1000 years. Perfect Memento in Strict Sense mentions several rumors going around the human village, including her being a fallen Vampire Hunter or a Lunarian, but said book also says that they're all just rumors and more than likely none of them are actually true.
  • The Amnesiac in Town of Salem can choose to have a different role each game, which can affect the outcome.
  • Tyranny allows you to not only choose the background for your Fatebinder but also detail their actions during the conquest of the Tiers, which can have significant consequences during your playthrough due to how your actions have affected the various factions.
  • Unavowed gives gives you three possible origin stories for the Player Character, bartender, actor, or police officer, all three coming with their own playable prologue.
  • The player character gets to choose his/her own past in the character creation of Vampire: The Masquerade - Bloodlines. This only affects stats though, not the actual story.
    • This was originally cut from the game and was reintroduced by an official patch.
  • As if the Warcraft lore didn't see enough changes/retcons, the setting also features a fair dosage of time travel. Certain forces can tamper with the timeline, while the Bronze Dragonflight tries to fix it. In World of Warcraft, the Caverns of Time feature a set of dungeons where the players assist them by whatever means possible. For instance, there are two versions of Thrall's escape from imprisonment: either a bloodless escape during a distraction, or a group of strangers assaulting the keep and a nearby town. Although at the end of that one, the bronze dragon that was guiding you implies that after you've destroyed the last of the Infinite Dragons who were trying to alter the time stream, he would alter events so that the original bloodless escape is what everyone will remember.
  • In Wasteland 3, part of creating your character entails deciding on a background that tells of their history before arriving in Colorado. Each background also grants different bonuses:
    • Bookworm: Raised in the Ag Center in Arizona among scientists, giving access to a plethora of books. Grants a 5% bonus to EXP earned.
    • Desert Cat: Survivalist who is well acclimated to navigating the wastes in Arizona. Grants +1 Perception.
    • Disciple of the Metal: Proud wasteland warrior. 15% bonus to fire damage.
    • Explodomaniac: Joined with the Desert Rangers because they have explosives, and you like things that go boom. 15% bonus to explosive damage.
    • Goat Killer: You kill goats because it will bring you closer to the monster goat that killed your mother. No, really! 15% boost to critical chance.
    • Grease Monkey: A skilled mechanic. 15% bonus damage vs. vehicles.
    • Lethal Weapon: A wannabe Cowboy Cop who hunts down bad guys and doesn't play by the rules. 10% bonus to melee damage.
    • Mannerite: Raised in the good part of LA to mind your manners. +1 bonus to Kiss Ass.
    • Moneybags: Grew up in affluence, but your family was killed by those who coveted your wealth. +1 bonus to Barter.
    • Mopey Poet: You are an Emo. +1 to Evasion.
    • Paladin: A Knight Templar determined to see justice mete out. 10% bonus to critical resistance.
    • Raider Hater: You hate raiders. Tried raiding for a time, didn't work out. 10% bonus damage vs. human enemies.
    • Sex Machine: You like sex, and just as importantly, you're good at it...but not much else. +0.1 bonus to Combat Speed.
    • Stoner: The world's a messed up place, but through it all, you're chill as hell. 10% bonus to status ailment resistance.
    • The Boss: It's your way or the (nuclear devastated) highway. +1 bonus to Hard Ass.
    • Viscious Avenger: You were Made a Slave, but you fought your way to freedom, and woe befall any who stand in your way. +2 bonus to Penetration.
  • World of Horror has several different character backgrounds which affect the game, including:
    • "World of Horror": the default background, which has no effect.
    • "Medical History": Your character has a history of physical illness and injury. As such, they begin the game with a bandage for treating minor injuries and a medical discharge paper that grants extra EXP, but they are more prone to suffering injuries when sustaining damage.
    • "Hunted by the Cult": You're on the run from the cult trying to summon the Old Gods. As such, you're more likely to face combat encounters, which now includes unique cultist enemies, but the Doom counter will reduce by a larger amount when a mystery is cleared.
    • "The Seventh Curse": Thanks to a Deal with the Devil, you start the game with more Funds than usual, but because everyone around you tends to die, you're barred from recruiting any allies.note 
    • "Ill-Fated": Your luck is so incredibly bad that all of your skill checks will automatically fail, but you're used to it enough that you start the game with enough experience to immediately level up.
    • "Knight-Errant": Your determination to save the town of Shiokawa is such that completing mysteries with anything short of "Ending A" will result in a steep Doom penalty.
    • "Scars": You suffered scars from a perilous encounter in the past. As a result, you start the game with your maximum Stamina and Reason reduced by 3, but enemies deal less damage in combat.
    • "Curious Birthmark": You have an unusual birthmark that seems to change shape. Similar to "Medical History", you're more likely to suffer curses when you take damage in battle, but you start the game with an Old Coin that can be used to remove a curse.
    • "Eldritch Parasite": Something evil is lurking and growing inside your body. You start the game with maximum Stamina and Reason increased by 20, but you cannot recover Stamina or Reason at all.
    • "Exquisite Taste": Your character is very peculiar, thus reducing your options for additional locations in each area of the town to one.
    • "Fatalist": So resigned are you to your fate that you can only investigate each mystery in the order they appear, and you won't know what mysteries they are until you start them.

    Visual Novels 
  • In some ways, this is the entire premise of Higurashi: When They Cry. Except all choices wind up being true.
  • One Running Gag in Monster Prom involves Polly responding to a dangerous stunt or situation by cheerfully claiming that it's how she died. One of her hidden routes reveals her true cause of death: she was killed in a car accident when her father drove while drunk.
  • Inverted at the end of Really? Really! with Asa's hair length. Kaede asks whether Rin prefers Asa's hair short or long and allows you to choose which one you prefer. A few in-game minutes later, Asa appears with the hair length that was chosen, despite being nowhere near Rin and Kaede when the answer was chosen.
  • Subverted in Tsukihime: with each separate route, the minute-but-important details of Shiki's childhood appear to change or even be downright inconsistent with the other routes. Only after finishing all the routes can the actual backstory be inferred, by piecing together the revelations and details from each route (like a convoluted puzzle).
  • In Umineko: When They Cry, we're presented with two different versions of Beatrice's past, one fantastic and magical and one more mundane and rather tragic. It's all but stated that the latter is her true past.

  • Plot Hole (yes, that's his real name) from Acrobat, during a story that was supposed to tell his secret origin, told multiple stories, ripping off the origins of Superman, Batman and partly Spider-Man, making Plot Twist a villain in every single one - they don't match with each other, or Plot Twist's origin, and hint that Plot Hole doesn't even know what his Arch-Enemy really looks like. The only thing he's sure is that he was somehow created by Plot Twist, but even that cannot be found as absolute truth, because he's obviously obsessed with him.
  • Dimanika from Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures ascended either by destroying a star, somehow turning a Phoenix Oracle male, or from a pie eating contest.
  • In this Super Stupor webcomic, a character is grieving that her background was retconned (you know, it never happened), yet she still remembers it.

    Web Original 
  • Doctor Insano, enemy of Linkara and Spoony is this trope. He has so many multiple origins, including ones where he's Spoony from future, where he's Canadian science geek Wayne Schlumper, and where he was a woman before Linkara punched the fabric of The Multiverse, that when people tried to put it together in any continuity, Word of God said there's no continuity. There is only Insano. (So far he's been a failed clone of Spoony, from the future, a different person, the same person but not somehow (left unexplained), and an alternate personality that was given up "in the past". All of these origins are equally canonical.)
    • In CR's overview of Insano, he theorizes that there's really three of them — one a time-travel duplicate generated by Time Compression who violently tries to kill Spoony, one a clone made by Linkara who lives with Spoony and is more friendly, and the alternate personality. He finishes by guessing that Original Spoony also had an Insano persona, and thus there could be a fourth, Black Lantern Insano as well.
    • According to To Boldly Flee, Insano and Spoony have always been separate people, and Spoony's ability to transform into Insano in Kickassia was a temporal anomaly retroactively caused by the Plot Hole. Of course, this is just yet another alternate backstory.
  • Since her core gimmick is that she exists in an infinitely large number of incarnations across The Multiverse, all of whom have a telepathic link and consider themselves ultimately one being, any individual version of Jenny Everywhere might have her own origin story and ancestry. Additionally, there is no real agreement on how Jenny Everywhere as a whole came to be, with many stories hinting at different answers (or non-answers). The Secret Origin of Jenny Everywhere highlights this by providing a completely straightforward origin story for Jenny's multi-dimensional nature, only for the last page to reveal it was an in-universe comic-book based on Jenny's fame, which the real Jenny is only "sorta" accurate.
  • In the League of Intergalactic Cosmic Champions, Tacoman had several different backstories, Mr. Absurd had two.
  • In one Legion of Net.Heroes story, a Cosmic Entity decides to rewrite a mortally-wounded Squid Boy to both save his life and make him easier to use as a character. (The LNH has never had much use for the fourth wall.) As part of the process, Squid Boy (now Squidman) is asked to describe his origin story. Since Squid Boy dated from the very early days of the LNH when the whole thing was a joke, he'd never actually had an origin story, and suggested several possibilities before finally settling on one, which locked it into continuity as his actual origin.
  • SCP Foundation: Dr. Clef has alternatively claimed to be a Reality Warper who accidentally destroyed Challenger, Biblical Adam, and Satan.
    • The Foundation itself according to SCP-001 propositions. In fact, according to the article, it's possible that two or more of the different stories are true at the same time.
    • Also, there are at least three different origins for the Chaos Insurgency.
    • SCP-106 has three origin stories: "The Young Man" suggests he was once a Corporal in the British Army in World War One; "Once But Not Now" suggests he is the last survivor of a race of inter-dimensional predators who preyed on humans since prehistoric times, he is trapped in a confusing and terrifying prison and it is implied he will soon die and render his species extinct; "Until Death" suggests he is what Dr. Robert Scranton eventually turned into.
    • SCP-682 gets a new origin practically every time it appears, being everything from a child of the Scarlet King to the Anthropomorphic Personification of a state between life and death to the mount of the Horseman of Death to a projection of a higher-dimensional being to a human rendered immortal by dark rituals to simply a very strange form of wildlife. And that's not even getting into the question of why it hates humanity so much.
  • There is no single definitive version of The Slender Man Mythos. Even his appearance, though built around a basic template, varies from story to story. The central tenet is simply the Rule of Scary. This extends to Slendy's origin story. If it comes up it will completely contradict another story's idea of it. This is probably the reason most stories avoid giving Slender Man a definitive origin (that and to avoid a Voodoo Shark).
    • Marble Hornets season two features the protagonist doing this (badly). Jay goes through three contradictory stories explaining his presence in the hotel to Jessica, much to her confusion, and, eventually, disbelief. The real answer, of course, is that he doesn't remember. And Jessica doesn't remember how she got there either.
    • The Slender Man fic By the Fire's Light features an origin for the Slender Man that might only be retroactively true since people in-story believe it. Whether the Slender Man existed before this in its current form in-story is left up to debate.
  • Used as an alternative to All Myths Are True in Tales of MU, as seen in the myths of different races.

    Western Animation 
  • Archer's origins are left deliberately vague. In "Double Deuce", Archer is stated to have been born in Morocco while Malory was running from Nazi spies (around 1938), one of his possible fathers was an Italian executed by an Operation Gladio operative for speaking out against fascism and was about six or seven when World War II ended. He's also shown listening to Woodhouse read a telegram from Malory about Operation Ajax in 1953, which would make him 15, but he looks younger than that, and "Once Bitten" states he was six when Malory was involved in the CIA-backed Guatamalan coup d'état, which took place in 1954, which would place Archer's birthdate in 1948. One possible explaination is an Alternate History.
  • It's implied in an Arthur episode where Buster "saves" a cat on a tree, called "Buster Baxter, Cat Saver", that Buster invokes this trope when he lets heroism get to his head. Buster is seen bragging to some reporters about how he got the cat down, Francine mentions that she's starting to get bored with Buster's heroism stories, and then Binky arrives and says that he's not bored of his stories, as they're "always different."
  • The Batman version of Killer Croc, who is either a former carnival freak, government experiment, or the result of voodoo.
    • When D.A.V.E. is asked what his villainous backstory is, he begins rattling out a bunch of mutually exclusive backstories taken from various supervillains. He soon realizes that he's a computer program only a couple days old.
  • The Beetlejuice animated series hasn't been consistent on whether Beetlejuice used to live as a human and ended up an inhabitant of the Neitherworld after dying or was born undead and lived his whole life there.
  • In the Cars Toons series, Mater, the resident Cloud Cuckoolander, always boasts about his past where he was involved in something big such as being a famous racer, a spy, a firefighter, or an elite detective. Lightning never believes his claims, but the end of each episode always proves that every single one of Mater's narratives is a true story.
  • In Codename: Kids Next Door, Father's original backstory (an Ancient Conspiracy that Numbuh One had figured out and told his class instead of a report on the Declaration of Independence) had him as Mr. Wigglestein, the first adult — adults being the creation of kids themselves — to employ discipline (by spanking a kid who refused to stop demanding him to play "Giddyup"/"Horsie"), leading to the exile of the adults to Cleveland. Operation: Z.E.R.O. retconned this, instead making him the cowardly, disgruntled brother of the eponymous legendary operative. He's also revealed to be Numbuh One's Evil Uncle (and by proxy, this makes Sector Z/The Delight Children from Down the Lane his adoptive cousins and Grandfather his actual grandfather), as Numbuh Zero is Numbuh One's Bumbling Dad.
  • Darkwing Duck is given at least three mutually incompatible origin stories over the course of the series (one of which was something he rather obviously was making up as he was telling it). Word of God says this was a deliberate invocation of Rule of Funny — and if they'd had more episodes, they'd have written even more...
  • The Fairly OddParents! has several instances of characters having multiple backstories that contradict each other.
    • Timmy's mom and dad have several different versions of how they met. When it was first shown in "Father Time", it was stated that they began dating as kids and became a couple when Mr. Turner gave her a trophy he won. "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker" instead established that Mrs. Turner dated Dinkleberg until college, when Mr. Turner got her on the rebound. Other episodes say they met through a "threatmantic" letter ("Information Stupor Highway") or that Mrs. Turnet met Mr. Turner in the sporting goods department (which she tells Timmy in "Who's Your Daddy?")
    • It is established in Abra-Catastrophe! that Timmy was stuck at home with his parents for the first eight years of his life. This is at odds with "The Good Old Days" showing in a flashback that the last time Timmy's parents let his grandfather Pappy look after him while they left the house rather than Vicky was when Timmy was an infant and the first part of Wishology having Timmy bring up that he's had a crush on Trixie since they were in kindergarten.
    • Mr. Crocker's origin as revealed in the appropriately titled "The Secret Origin of Denzel Crocker" is that he used to have Timmy's fairy godparents Cosmo and Wanda as his fairy godparents when he was a kid, but lost them and therefore grew up to become the insane and ill-tempered adult we know him as because his fairy godparents' existence was inadvertently revealed to the public by Cosmo (as well as a time-traveling Timmy). This is contradicted by "Birthday Bashed" showing young Crocker with a different set of fairy godparents who left him when he became too old to have fairies and "Let Sleeper Dogs Lie" once again depicting him with Cosmo and Wanda as his godparents (in addition to having Sparky when he was a puppy), losing them this time because they had to leave him on his 11th birthday.
    • In-universe, comic book hero The Crimson Chin has two origin stories. One, described in the show, is that he was a talk show host bitten by a radioactive actor. Then, in a Nickelodeon Magazine comic involving Timmy following the Crimson Chin's Rogues Gallery through different incarnations of the comic, they eventually go to an origin story where he was an alien sent to Earth as a baby. Cosmo expresses confusion at this, bringing up the radioactive actor origin, which Timmy says is a Retcon that they had to come up with invoked"after the lawsuit".
  • Joe Swanson from Family Guy originally claimed that he lost the use of his legs when he fell off a roof chasing the Grinch and broke his legs. Many seasons later, he reveals that he lied out of shame and that a drug lord shot him in the legs repeatedly.
    • The founding of Quahog. Originally, it was stated that the town's founder was thrown overboard for being a Motor Mouth, only to be saved by a magic clam, who gave him advice about founding a town where they washed ashore. A later episode claimed that the former was just a legend, and the real founder (one of Peter's past lives) was a commoner who recently wed into money, but was exiled to the New World by a lecherous king, where he ended up founding the town with his fellow exiles.
  • In Futurama, the circumstances of Bender's "birth" change every time the event is brought up. Additionally, he either went to "bending college," where he majored in bending and belonged to a robot fraternity, or had his knowledge programmed directly into him by a "bending school" on the assembly line that produced him (he's also mentioned attending high school). What does remain consistent is that he was only four-years-old at the start of the series, so the experiences he had must have unfolded quickly.
  • On Goof Troop Max and PJ met at age 11 (shown in "Everything's Coming Up Goofy" and "Good Neighbor Goof" and mentioned in "Goodbye Mr. Goofy" and "Pistolgeist"). Except that "Wrecks, Lies, and Videotape", "Tee for Two", "Goof Troop Christmas", and "Tub Be or Not Tub Be" all suggest that Max and PJ have always known each other. The backstory is irrelevant to most things except for the nature of Max and PJ's relationship—namely, the first backstory provides an explanation for PJ's Undying Loyalty towards Max; the second does not. This can be a little jarring considering "Tub Be or Not Tub Be" supports the second backstory and features an undyingly loyal PJ and a relatively unsympathetic Max.
  • On Invader Zim, Ms. Bitters gives multiple back stories, such as imploding in a spaceship when she was a child and being a fairy princess in a magical forest (before running into a bug zapper). According to Word of God, however, she's always been in the same place she is now; the "skool" was actually built around her.
  • Jem:
    • Jerrica Benton (AKA: Jem) either inherited Starlight House from her father, or lived there with Kimber (her sister), Aja, and Shana all her life. In fact, it may have even been both.
    • There is a possible Series Continuity Error, made noticeable by the fact the two episodes are from the same season. In "The Stingers Hit Town", Riot mentions that his father was stationed in Germany and that he went to high school with Rapture. In his limelight Villain Episode, "Riot's Hope", he is shown to having not met either of his bandmates until he was an adult stationed in the military. He saw Minx perform with her old band in Germany then joined himself and eventually met Rapture when the three of them later.
  • On Jimmy Two-Shoes, Lucius VII froze his father, Lucius VI, making him a psuedo Self-Made Orphan. Exactly how always varies. At first it was because they had a heated argument, then because Lucius VI lost a bet, then because Lucius VII's talking bird told him to.
  • Kaeloo: Mr. Cat's life before coming to live in Smileyland, and why he went there. For example, in one episode he explains that he was raised by a salmon after being tied in a sack and thrown in a river, but another one says he ran away from home because of his abusive family. Though all of the backstories he's given are sad enough to give him a Freudian Excuse, and a reason for being as psychologically messed up as he is.
  • A minor one in The Loud House regarding when Luna got into rock. We know that it was during a Mick Swagger concert, but in "For Bros About to Rock", she claims to have been a seventh-grader (so about thirteen), but in the official podcast, she says she was nine.
  • Several of the Mighty Mouse theatrical shorts involved giving him an origin of some sort, and these varied greatly.
  • A running gag in The Penguins of Madagascar involves Manfredi and Johnson, two penguins that Skipper continually cites as examples of what could happen if someone doesn't follow his orders. Almost all of these wildly different stories imply their deaths, and the other penguins will corroborate them, so what actually happened is difficult to determine. The fact that they are seen alive (but not well) in the finale only raises further questions.
  • Subverted with Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz's many Freudian Excuse backstories in Phineas and Ferb. The details of Doofenshmirtz's past may initially seem like contradictory backstories, but they're occasionally shown to belong to a coherent, if crowded and somewhat confusing, timeline, most clearly laid out in the episode "This Is Your Backstory."
  • Pinky and the Brain had four different episodes with flashbacks to the duo's childhood and when they were first genetically altered. They all contradict each other.
  • Rocko's Modern Life: Rocko is stated in some episodes to have known Filburt as a kid, and in another, he says they met Heffer in high school. In other episodes, though, he apparently left Australia and came to O-Town as an adult. Word of God says that the latter is definitive and anything else is just the characters misremembering, though does suggest that Rocko may have briefly spent some time in the United States as a child, with said memories prompting his later immigration.
  • Rugrats: In "Moving Away", it's stated Tommy met Angelica and the other babies that year, but "A Step at a Time" has Chuckie claim he met Tommy a year ago. Perhaps the Pickleses moved away the previous year and then moved back, and Tommy, due to his young age, couldn't remember the others.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • When did Shaggy get Scooby? In A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, it was apparently when the former was about ten or eleven, though one episode showed Shaggy as a baby with a similar-looking dog (though that possibly wasn't Scooby). In the movie, he was still a teen when he adopted Scooby, but in What's New, Scooby-Doo?, Scooby is shown when Velma was five (and so Shaggy would've been about seven).
    • Scooby also has a multiple choice past regarding his name. In SCOOB!, Shaggy named him after Scooby Snacks, but The 13 Ghosts of Scooby-Doo claims he was named after the noise he made when he was a puppy.
  • The Simpsons not only has a multiple choice past for pretty much every character, but even a multiple choice future. As the show exists in a floating timeline however, this is pretty much unavoidable. Heck, one of the show's flashback episodes was set throughout the 90s... the decade which started right along with the show itself. Talk about trippy.
    • One of those multiple choice futures takes place... in 2010. Kind of weird to think about, since Maggie was now born in 2013.
    • This trope was originally supposed to be played straight for the origins of Herman's (the fellow who runs Springfield's military surplus store Herman's Military Antiques) missing arm, but this idea was dropped after his first appearance (to this day, he's only told us that he lost his arm when he stuck it out the window of a moving school bus, though Abe says it was because he stuck it out on a street trying to hail a car and it got torn off by a passing dogcatcher truck driven by Chief Wiggum).
    • The series had multiple explanations for why Homer lost his hair including having torn out his hair after finding out Marge was pregnant and as a side effect from an army experiment he participated in to avoid dinner with Marge's sisters.
    • According to "Boy Meets Curl," Lisa's signature pearl necklace was a gift from Marge to celebrate her learning to read at a twelfth-grade level, while in "How Lisa Got Her Marge Back," Marge gave it to her on her first day of school. Most episodes before and since then depict Lisa as having worn the necklace since she was a baby. Marge's red necklace is, according to "Homer the Vigilante," a "priceless Bouvier family heirloom" (as are all the identical ones in her drawer), while in "Adventures in Baby-Getting" Homer bought it for her using money he earned by donating sperm.
    • Maggie's pacifier-sucking habit: "And Maggie Makes Three" shows her grabbing one off a table and popping it in her mouth moments after being born, while "Mr. Lisa's Opus" has her developing the addiction instantly upon a desperate Marge giving her one to deal with her early colic.
    • The boat painting hanging over the family's TV is said to have been painted by Marge in "The Trouble With Trillions" and by Lisa in "Barthood" (though Lisa herself derides it as a "derivative amateur seascape" in the Couch Gag of "The Cad and the Hat"); other episodes, such as "Diatribe of a Mad Housewife," treat it as an outside purchase, with its value ranging anywhere from the family having a closet full of identical replacements ready to go ("Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass") to its destruction being seen as a loss and the family searching garage sales for an affordable substitute while implying that the original was more expensive ("The War of Art").
    • Two different episodes in the same season ("The Musk Who Fell to Earth" and "The Kids are All Fight") imply, respectively, that Bart and Homer named Maggie.
    • Principal Skinner's had several different stories about how he became a POW during the Vietnam War and his time during his imprisonment. In addition, "The Principal and the Pauper" claims he was actually a street thug named Armin who got swapped with the real Seymour Skinner during the war, but this was retconned by a later episode showing Mrs. Skinner pregnant with him.
    • Grandpa Simpson is a Scatterbrained Senior notorious for his nonsensical, historically impossible autobiographical stories, meaning he wouldn't be a credible source of information on his early life even if the series had actual continuity. He has had flashbacks showing him in the Army, Navy, and Air Force. When called on this, he said that this sort of confusion was common when he was in the Marines. In "Havana Wild Weekend" Marge describes him as "a veteran of every branch of the service."
    • Mr. Burns has this in spades, primarily due to his Vague Age being drawn out to absurd lengths (it was once implied he was born in Pangaea); thus, his backstory has wavered quite a bit (ie. sometimes he had poor parents, but other times he had rich parents; he was shown fighting in the US Army in world War iI alongside Abe Simpson, but other episodes showed he worked with the Nazis, etc.).
  • SpongeBob SquarePants mostly has Negative Continuity with the occasional character return or Continuity Nod, so unsurprisingly it runs into this. Details such as the origin of the Krusty Krab, Patrick's family background, and how Sandy came to Bikini Bottom will vary from episode to episode. The most notable example is the relationship between Mr. Krabs and Plankton. Though earlier episodes had implied that they met as adults and were rivals from the onset, "Friend or Foe" later Retconned this to having met as kids and been friends until an argument over the formula split them apart. This version of events then became one of the few things set in stone whenever the topic came up in future episodes.
    • There are also many versions on how Mr. Krabs got the Krabby Patty Secret Formula: one has him tell it was an old Krabs family recipe, the other as passed to him from his grandmother, an entire episode showing that his then-friend-now-enemy accidentally made it, and so on and so forth...
  • The TaleSpin episode "The Time Bandits" (itself a Recycled Script from DuckTales (1987)) says that Rebecca inherited Higher For Hire from her father, despite the Four-Episode Pilot having introduced her as buying Baloo's air cargo company after it was foreclosed upon.
  • In The Transformers, the Constructicons had no less than three wholly separate and contradictory origins in the cartoon alone. First, that they were built on Earth by Megatron in 1985. Then, that they were Autobots from Cybertron reprogrammed by Megatron millions of years ago. Then that they were Decepticons who built Megatron in the first place years before that.
  • The Venture Bros. gives several varying explanations for both the origin of Phantom Limb and how Billy Quizboy ended up with a robotic hand, with the Monarch's being the most plausiblenote . When Dr. Venture finally asks him about it, point blank, Billy merely replies "Excellent question. I have no idea."
    • They later gave them both a definite past. The Monarch's version, while not complete, did get most of the facts rightnote . The comment about him not knowing ended up becoming a Cerebus Retcon because of this. Turns out he doesn't remember because OSI wiped his memory. When Billy learns of the deception, he rather suitably flips the fuck out.
  • Xavier of Xavier: Renegade Angel tends to give conflicting accounts of various events of his life. One flashback ends with his own death and noting in the present day that it would've been tragic if any of that had happened.

    Real Life 
  • In various interviews, Yul Brynner gave several inconsistent accounts of his early life to make himself seem mysterious to the public.
  • Raymond Burr told several mutually contradictory stories about his past over the years, stories that got increasingly improbable over the years. He was allegedly six feet tall by the time he was twelve, and worked as a ranch hand in New Mexico through his teen years; at the same time, he travelled Canada and the US as an actor; at the same time, he was a regular performer on San Francisco radio shows; at the same time, he was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps, and so on. He also told stories of having been married (pre-fame) to a woman who died in a plane crash in 1943, and that his son died of luekemia at the age of 10 in 1953; he allegedly took his son on a year-long world tour before his death. No records of any of this exist, no one ever met the wife or son, and multiple sources show that Burr was working steadily in Hollywood during the supposed year-long tour. It's generally assumed that Burr felt he had to make up stories to cloak his homosexuality, which would have been career-destroying if revealed during the height of his fame. Producer Dean Hargrove explained: "I had always assumed that Raymond was gay, because he had a relationship with Robert Benevides for a very long time. Whether or not he had relationships with women, I had no idea. I did know that I had trouble keeping track of whether he was married or not in these stories. Raymond had the ability to mythologize himself, to some extent, and some of his stories about his past ... tended to grow as time went by."
  • Over the years, comedian Dave Allen's act incorporated a huge number of different stories about how he came to lose part of his left index finger.
  • Leon Redbone is notorious for giving various stories of his birthdate and his parentage, as well as claiming authorship of many songs which existed prior to his probable birth.
  • Joe Kucan became Kane from a scratch off lotto ticket. He won a special election. He won a carnival game. He found the prize in a crackerjack box. He was in the right place, at the right time. He was the Dramatic Director on a project with almost no funding. Using employees was cheaper than hiring actors.
  • Meat Loaf often tells people how he got that name, only he never tells the same story twice.
  • In The Ragman's Son, Kirk Douglas said that while Robert Mitchum loved to tell stories about his youth, the facts would be different every day.
  • The origins of baseball are subject to this trope, as it's hard to exactly pinpoint A. When/where the first game of baseball was played, B. Whether a sport referred to as "base ball" in early documents from The American Revolution was an early form of the current sport, or just a similarly-named but unrelated sport, or C. Which game counts as the first "official" game: any of the games played during The American Civil War, the early game played at Hoboken, New Jersey (depending on whether this early version counts as a version of the modern game or just a precursor), or perhaps an unknown, unrecorded game. The game played at Cooperstown, supposedly organized by Abner Doubleday, is now considered fictitious, but it used to be considered a contender to be one of the great game's possible origins. Many historians view all of these early games as being partial examples of the game we know today, but that the game evolved a bit with each one.
  • Pinball designer Kevin Kulek became this when it was discovered he was making pinball machines themed on the Predator films without approval from 20th Century Fox: Sometimes, he would say he misinterpreted the permission he received from Fox, and sometimes, he would say he never received permission at all.
  • Tullimonstrum is so strange that palaeontologists can't agree on whether it was a vertebrate or an invertebrate. For over half a century, the creature's classification remains a mystery, despite countless theories put forth. Was it a proto-fish? Or a lamprey? Mollusc? Arthropod? Perhaps a conodont? Whatever Tullimonstrum was, it's anatomy is so unusual that it will significantly expand the diversity of whatever taxon it is apart of.
    • On a similar note, Nanotyrannus is hands-down the most polarizing member of the Tyrannosauridae family of theropod dinosaurs thanks to a controversial debate amongst palaeontologists on whether its fossils represent a distinct genus, young T-rexes‭ ‬or even a dwarf species of another genus. However, significant recent evidence leans towards the three critical skeletal finds of Nanotyrannus being those of juvenile T-rexes‭.
  • Twitch streamer GrandPOOBear does this as a Running Gag — whenever people ask him where his screen name comes from, he always comes up with a different, ludicrous story explaining its origins. (Answers include: it being a name passed down from generations, him coming from a circus family who wanted his act to be him fighting a bear despite being five years old, being called that by a voodoo woman, being a child actor who was called "bear" due to being cranky, but eventually softened and became "Poo Bear"...)
  • The time between Ho Chi Minh's first stay in France and his education in France is this trope according to him. He claims several jobs such as working for a wealthy family in Brooklyn, working as a line manager for General Motors, and working as a pastry chef in England just to name a few.
  • Like many Soviet era politicians, the biography of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko is malleable, to say the least. Among the more absurd elements is Lukashenko's claim that his father died fighting in World War II, despite the fact that Alexander Lukashenko was born in 1954.
  • William Fisher, brother of British First Sea Lord Sir John Arbuthnot Fisher, earned himself the name "Uncle Bill" for the large number of nieces he claimed to have, all unique and many never seen more than once. They were almost all young women he was seeing, whom he introduced as such to deflect suspicion.


Video Example(s):


"Especially the lies"

Garak tells several contradictory stories about his past and how he came to be on DS9. To this day, we still don't know how much of any of them is the truth.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (13 votes)

Example of:

Main / RiddleForTheAges

Media sources: