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Outside-Context Problem

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"An Outside Context Problem was the sort of thing most civilisations encountered just once, and which they tended to encounter rather in the same way a sentence encountered a full stop."

The Outside Context Problem is, quite simply, a curve ball that no one saw coming or could see coming.

He, she or it may be a mysterious foreigner from the next town over or a continent away, with skills, technology or mystic powers no one heard of, much less imagined. Or they may be a Time Traveler from the future... or the past, an invader from a parallel universe, outer space, or even stranger places. When they arrive, the heroes won't have any defenses in place capable of stopping them, no idea how to defend against their onslaught, and no clue what their end goal might be. It might even be a mysterious object, or just some unexplained supernatural phenomenon.


Finding out the answers to the above questions will be the heroes' top priority. With luck they'll find scattered legends foretelling their arrival and possibly how they were beaten last time. If not, The Professor might theorize all new means to defeat them. One popular method is to summon a hero from the same place or era to battle them, because this villain is so bad that even a random Joe from the villain's home will at least have an idea how to stop them. Of course, said villain will likely assimilate better to the environment than such Fish out of Water heroes. If the Outsider is an interloper in an existing conflict, he may become a Conflict Killer that forces an Enemy Mine situation if he turns out to be Eviler Than Thou.

Named for the Outside Context Problem from the Iain M. Banks book Excession (as seen in the quote above). The classic example he gives is a stable, powerful, and wealthy society suddenly facing a hostile invader whose advanced technology and bizarre philosophy are completely alien to them.note 


Supertrope to Technologically Advanced Foe and Outside-Genre Foe. Compare Giant Space Flea from Nowhere, but played dramatically. Cosmic Horror Reveal is a subtrope, where Eldritch Abominations appear with little foreshadowing. Compare also Diabolus ex Nihilo, where such a villain is used to shake things up and then discarded, and The Spook, which might fit in the context but is still a surprise apparition. See How Unscientific! for moments that break the conventions of the story's main genre, which is a major part of these villains. Contrast Generic Doomsday Villain and Normal Fish in a Tiny Pond. Compare/Contrast Genre Refugee. Frequently found in the Alien Invasion genre.



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    Comic Books 
  • Watchmen:
    • Dr. Manhattan. He's the only Super in the world (other "capes" do exist, but nearly all of them are Badass Normals who rely on gadgets, martial arts, or a combination of the two with the only one who even approaches "superhuman" levels being Ozymandias), and sports godlike powers. World politics are changed forever when he shows up. This leads to moments like him ending the Vietnam War in about a week, and the escalation of the Cold War because the Russians are scared shitless. A noted scientist comments that Manhattan is for all intents and purposes God and that absolute terror in response to that statement is, in fact, the sane response.
    • A giant squid monster attacks New York, and the world governments unite to fight this terrible threat. The all-too-human Big Bad created the alien-looking monster as a Batman Gambit to prevent human extinction through nuclear war.
  • The Anti-Monitor in Crisis on Infinite Earths was out of context for the entire DC Multiverse. A being that could and did successfully annihilate nearly all the universes and forced the heroes to collapse the five remaining universes into one, forever transforming the DC Universe and everyone in it. His power was so overwhelming even an assemblage of the mightiest beings from all remaining worlds proved little more than a distraction. Even with its shell torn away, its power drained, and its power source dismantled, it took Superman and Superboy (along with some help from Darkseid) to finally finish it off... which in turn triggered a supernova. He was that nasty.
  • The Authority have most of their story arcs based around these.
  • Bane functions this way in Batman: Knightfall. A villain who has been cut off from the outside world for almost his entire life, his existence is at best an urban legend to most Gotham City natives. When he murders six prostitutes and carves images of bats into their flesh, the Gotham police naturally blame Batman. Even after he and his gang launch rockets at Arkham Asylum, enabling the world's most dangerous criminals to escape and wreak havoc on the city, most Gothamites are too preoccupied with trying to stop The Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, and all the rest that they remain ignorant of Bane's ultimate plan for the city: to permanently cripple Batman, seize control from Gotham's mob bosses, and rule over the city as its "king."
  • Doomsday showed up out of freaking nowhere to curbstomp most of Earth's heroes before going off to accomplish what no one else dreamed was even possible: kill Superman.
  • Chaos appears randomly in the middle of Metropolis City, uses his ability to induce extreme fear in his opponents to catch the Freedom Fighters off guard completely and kills Johnny Lightfoot, becoming the only villain to successfully kill a Freedom Fighter.
    • Colonel Granite and Operation Starwatch also serve as this, being completely unknown to Mobius par the Freedom Fighters leading an Alien Invasion from Planet Earth, invading Mobius, trouncing the Freedom Fighters with superior firepower, and planning to sell off the conquered Zones to human industrial developers (and rename Mobius "Planet Percy" after his first name).
  • Paperinik New Adventures has this happen rather often:
    • The series started as a continuation of the then-lagging stories of Paperinik, Donald Duck's Superhero/Anti-Hero alter ego who usually fights normal criminals or human-level supervillains. Then, during a normal patrol, he stumbles on a pair of Coolflames, and has no idea of what the hell they are. Never mind their their masters the Evronians, a mighty empire of Planet Looters feeding on emotions that are preparing an Alien Invasion...
    • The second issue has the Raider, a human-level supervillain... Who owns a Time Machine and has a penchant for Save Scumming;
    • The third issue brings us Xadhoom, who turns the tables on the Evronians. While they were curious about Paperinik, they apparently had already encountered such exceptional individuals and knew how to deal with them (indeed, issue #10 reveals that The Well, their prison planet, is full of those they felt they may be useful in the future and may be "pulld out" (hence the name)). A Physical Goddess coming from nowhere and bent on exterminating them? Nope!;
    • The above is just the first three issues. The rest of the series brings us a telepathic-telekinetic hitman, a wizard who wants to open a gate to hell on Duckburg, a Mad Scientist planning to sink the US West Coast with an earthquake to raise more habitable land for all of mankind... Really, it says a lot when Paperinik barely reacts to a Humongous Mecha spreading terror in Duckburg's harbor...
    • Another noteworthy example turns out to be Paperinik himself for the Evronians. As said above, they had already met exceptional individuals and knew how to deal with them, and in issue #10 they decide to take the appropriate measures to make sure he dies, in this case they pull Trauma from The Well and send him to Earth with orders to kill Paperinik. And then Trauma loses, sending his handlers into the same panic Xadhoom caused as, for the first time, their measures to take out a troublesome individual have failed and they literally have no idea how to deal with him anymore.
  • This happens quite frequently to the Runaways, since they are a bunch of kids with very little training:
    • Early in the first volume, the team encounters a vampire. In the Marvel Universe, vampires are so far outside the expertise of most established heroes as to necessitate the existence of specialist like Blade or Hannibal King, and thus this lone vampire wipes the floor with the Runaways.
    • During Civil War, the Runaways run afoul of S.H.I.E.L.D., which sends a Brainwashed and Crazy Kree assassin after them, resulting in several of them being gravely injured and sent to a Black Site.
    • The Runaways inadvertently become Outside-Context Villains in the "Dead End Kids" arc when they are sent back in time to 1907. With so few other superpowered individuals around, they stick out like a sore thumb and their attempts to secure the parts needed to return to their own time accidentally starts an arms race between two superpowered gangs, resulting in widespread destruction and mayhem.
    • During Secret Invasion, the team happens to be in the middle of New York City at the very moment that the Skrulls are invading en masse. Xavin, normally the person most likely to seek out a fight, takes one look at the size of the invading force and panics, clocking all of their teammates and trying to carry them as far away from the Skrulls as possible.
    • In the "Homeschooling" arc, the Runaways find themselves being targeted by the US Military. The opening salvo alone kills Old Lace and leaves Klara injured and scared out of her mind (which is a serious problem because her powers go haywire when she's scared.) In the end, the only thing they're able to do is flee through a hidden tunnel as the military burns their house down.
  • In the DC Rebirth, there's Dr. Manhattan, who is revealed to be the one who turned the pre-Flashpoint DC Universe into The New 52. Up until this point, the Watchmen universe and the DCU were never even connected. He's apparently outside of every context.
  • American Vampire takes place in a setting featuring vampires of many breeds and bloodlines. And then after a long timeskip in Second Cycle, its introduced an Eldritch Abomination seemingly unrelated to them that can turn humans and even vampires into her puppets. In one hand, the Vassals of the Morning Star (an prominent vampire-hunting organization) is revealed to have been originally created to destroy the Beast millennia ago, but they failed ever since their founder went evil and hid the creature and with the rise of the Carpathian vampires, they have been focused in fighting vampires primarily. The heroes have no way of fighting it conventionally (nukes have proven ineffective as the US nuclear tests were in fact attempts to destroy the Beast) and they are particularly outgunned specially by the time they are facing it as the Beast's minions infiltrated positions of power in the government to freeze the VMS.
  • In one story in the early X-Men comics, both Professor X and Magneto assumed that the Stranger was a mutant, and tried to recruit him for their respective teams. It turned out that he was actually an extremely powerful alien, who did not appreciate it when Magneto tried to hector him into joining the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and he proceeded to curb-stomp the annoying little villains before going home to his own planet.
  • The opening of Revival shows the US government responding to nonantagonistic undead with a quarantine like an infectious disease. CDC scientists examine the problem but are helpless to address it since it arises from Hindu mysticism. Routine police investigation of a conventional murder somehow leads to attack by a ninja assassin. This all emphasizes how death itself is an Outside-Context Problem.
  • Galactus is this for the entire Ultimate universe when he shows up in Cataclysm: The Ultimates' Last Stand. After the events of Age of Ultron, he tears his way into the Ultimate universe where he bumps into his Ultimate counterpart, the Gah Lak Tus swarm, which proceeds to fuse with him, amplifying his hunger. Following a short fight with Captain Marvel, who manages to wound him with a last ditch effort attack, he travels to Earth to consume it and recharge. Once he gets there, there's no fanfare, no warning, nothing. Galactus just drops out of the sky on a normal sunny day and proceeds to blow up New Jersey. The rest of the series centers around the Ultimates scrambling in a desperate attempt to figure out who he is, where he came from, and how they can possibly stop him.
  • First Strike: Baron Ironblood has decades of experience with weird super-science, allowing him to be prepared for anything Cybertron throws at him. But both Ironblood and Cybertronians as a whole are completely caught flat-footed by magic, in the form of it's most powerful wielder.

    Film - Animated 
  • Terry becomes this in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker to defeat the Joker once and for all. The Joker is so used to dealing with Bruce's Batman (who is a stoic, honor-bound fighter with a strict no-kill policy) that he loses it when Terry mocks him and gives him a vicious "The Reason You Suck" Speech that utterly deconstructs him. Terry also has no problem fighting dirty and revoking the Joker Immunity.
  • Beast and all his servants from Beauty and the Beast. The setting for the story is a peaceful and normal, French countryside. We then have Beast's castle, where all the humans have been transformed into moving and talking inanimate objects; and there's Beast, who lives up to his name. Because of Beast's appearance, Gaston uses this to rally a mob to kill him. They're mostly foiled because they never expected the castle's furniture to come alive and beat them up.
  • Frozen: Elsa's powers are leagues above anyone else in the entire film, which is one of many reasons why she is depressed. She's so out there and powerful that the antagonists have no real means of countering her, except to attack her very human side. On the other side of the scale, Prince Hans comes completely out of nowhere as a scheming, politically minded manipulator. In a story about magic and the bond between sisters, no one was expecting the villain to have based their plans on medieval laws of succession.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Any character who game hops into another game falls into this. Ralph is completely out of context for the people in Sugar Rush since the characters tend to be cute little anime-style characters or anthropomorphic candy, while he's a giant brute able to shatter jawbreakers with his bare hands, something that is thought to be impossible. Vanellope is quick to take advantage of this.
    • The Cy-bugs deserve special mention. They're a Horde of Alien Locusts, capable of rapidly reproducing and then devouring everything in sight. In their own game, where they serve as the antagonists, they're kept in check by a Reset Button that kills them all off between games. If one escapes into another game without such a Reset Button, it can quickly grow an unstoppable army. And of course, the world of Sugar Rush happens to be entirely made out of high-calorie food...

    Film - Live Action 
  • Common in Batman films:
    • At the beginning of Batman (1989), the city officials are concerned with Boss Carl Grissom and his gangsters. They're completely unprepared and baffled by the arrival of The Joker, who decapitates the existing criminal underworld and focuses exclusively on pointless mayhem.
    • In The Dark Knight, Batman is so beyond anything the mob has ever dealt with that they are on the brink of collapse. They reach out to The Joker as a desperate act to get rid of Batman and their other enemies. To say that this backfired would be an understatement. Batman, the cops, and organized crime all have their own brand of rational goals; nobody was prepared to deal with a mastermind who was exclusively in it For the Evulz.
    • In The Dark Knight Rises, the Gotham police dismiss Bane as just another gangster, but he turns out to be the commander of a revolutionary army that invades and occupies Gotham, which becomes a national concern.
  • Casper: When the hero is a ghost and the primary antagonists are mortals who didn't even believe in ghosts at the beginning of the movie, it puts Casper firmly in this trope.
  • Cowboys & Aliens. The Alien Invasion plot is enough of an outside-context problem in contemporary settings where there's a good chance of characters being a little more savvy, but a bunch of 19th-Century cowboys obviously won't have any idea what they're really up against. Indeed, the heroes refer to the invaders as "demons" in the film, because they actually have a concept of those.
  • DC Extended Universe:
    • The Kryptonians in Man of Steel are a race of indestructible, super-strong Human Aliens capable of tearing humans apart with their bare hands and impervious to any weapons, that absolutely no one in the military has any idea to fight against, let alone defeat. It's only with the help of another member of their race that they have a chance.
    • Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is all about how humanity reacts to the events of previous movie and the unnerving knowledge of this trope hanging above their heads. The government fears Superman acting on his own without because of his immense power and their inability to stop him and Batman is outright plotting to bring him down because of the danger he represents.
    Alfred: Everything's changed. Men fall from the sky. The Gods hurl thunderbolts. Innocents die. That's how it starts — the fever, the rage, the feeling of powerlessness, that turns good men cruel.
    • Wonder Woman (2017) is chronologically the first example of this trope with the titular Amazon warrior making her presence known during World War I, long before the Kryptonians' arrival in Man of Steel. The moment Wonder Woman steps into the battlefield, the Germans are unable to stop her advance, as she is able to liberate a town in matter of minutes what took a year for Allied soldiers to achieve. The only things capable of slowing her down are General Ludendorff on strength-enhanced drugs and her half-brother Ares, the God of War, is the only one capable of outright matching her. Ares himself qualifies as this too, since Steve instantly recognizes him as this since there is nothing his crew can do against him, leaving Diana to handle a god herself.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy is built on this, from the discarded Coke bottle to Xi's response to white society.
  • Often an issue in Godzilla films. Largely due to the monsters being so incomprehensibly huge, but also due to several of them having Bizarre Alien Biology. Militaries and conventional weaponry (and, on occasion, even NUCLEAR weaponry and alien technology) are often proven useless. Japanese giant monsters are usually only killed by either an incredibly advanced weapon (example: the Oxygen Destroyer) or by another monster (usually Godzilla himself).
  • A Kid in King Arthur's Court: Calvin is a everyday 90s kid teleported to the 6th century by the spirit of Merlin to help King Arthur. Although he's far from physically impressive and doesn't have any special powers, what keeps him ahead of Lord Belasco is his knowledge of future technology, which is created by a friendly blacksmith, along with his knowledge of King Arthur's story.
  • Multiple in the Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Iron Man: There was nothing like Tony's power armor before he burst out of his captives' hideout using an extremely flawed prototype. When he did perfect the Iron Man design, he easily beat up a gang of terrorists and out-flew the US Air Force. It took someone stealing his technology just to match him. In the sequel, Tony uses his outside context status to deter terrorists and other hostile forces.
    • Thor: Thor himself, being a visitor from another dimension, is nothing anyone has dealt with before. The people he befriends originally consider him a crazy hobo who thinks he's a mythological character. And in The Avengers, Nick Fury explains how the presence of someone from another world (whose "grudge match leveled a small town") left S.H.I.E.L.D. reeling.
      Nick Fury: Not only were we not alone, but we were hopelessly, hilariously, outgunned.
    • The Avengers: The Avengers to the Chitauri's invasion force. It is made very clear that the Chitauri were expecting to simply waltz in and easily conquer the human race. Instead, their invasion is repelled in less than an hour by a team comprised of two Badass Normal soldiers, an Asgardian warrior, a guy in powered armour, a super-soldier... and the Hulk. Best summed up in The Stinger;
      • The Chitauri themselves are one of these. While aliens and monsters had been seen before in the MCU (Abomination, Hulk, Thor and Loki), for the most part the antagonists had been humans or lone aliens with technological boosts. Cue an alien army bursting into Manhattan, in stark contrast to the human mooks Loki had made use of before then.
      Steve Rogers: An army. From outer space.
    • Doctor Strange (2016): The Eye of Agomotto is this for Dormammu, given its ability to bend time. Dr. Strange beats him by using the Eye to trigger a time loop wherein Dormammu can do nothing but keep killing Strange over and over again, preventing his planned invasion of Earth. Because Dormmamu's dimension is a Place Beyond Time, Dormmamu doesn't even have a concept of what time is, much less the ability to counteract its effects, so he's forced to agree to Strange's bargain.
    • Doctor Strange himself is this for Loki, and Thor to a lesser extgent, in Thor: Ragnarok. It's implied that Strange knows he's vastly physically outmatched by the two Asgardians, so he does his best to incapacitate them. He immediately traps Loki in a pocket dimension where he falls indefinitely, and is constantly teleporting himself and Thor around so quickly that he spills his beer and breaks bookshelves trying to get his balance back.
  • By the end of the The Matrix, Neo evolves into a Matrix-warping super being like none have seen before. He can fight off and even kill an agent with ease, something that is thought to be impossible. Once he's finished with Agent Smith, the other two agents can only run. In the sequels, the agents fare better (and it's revealed Neo is not the first of his kind), but they're still completely outmatched by Neo.
    • Another problem is Agent Smith surviving their final encounter from the first movie and becoming a virus that infects almost everyone in the Matrix by the third. The machines barter with Neo to stop the threat.
  • Imhotep in The Mummy (1999). He was an Ancient Egyptian priest who was mummified alive and cursed. The result of this curse is that, when he comes back, he's practically invincible and no one except for the Medjay really know how to deal with him—and the only way they had to deal with him on hand was to simply prevent him from being released in the first place.
  • Col. George Taylor from Planet of the Apes (1968). Despite being captive, enslaved, and thought to be mute, Taylor is out of context to the apes once they realize that he can write, is quite intelligent, and eventually talk once his throat is healed. All the other humans in the film are kept as pets who can't talk or think intelligently.
  • This is the basic setup of the first two Predator movies. Take a relatively generic action film premise, such as a jungle commando mission or an inner-city gang war, with all the regular tropes and plots in play...and then drop an intergalactic alien trophy-hunter into the mix.
  • RoboCop (1987): After Murphy is rebuilt into a cyborg, he spends most of the film relentlessly hunting and taking down criminals in Old Detroit. RoboCop is so beyond anything they have ever experienced that they're completely helpless before him and he takes down the drug lords who murdered him without taking any damage. A newscaster in the movie compared it to a comic book hero coming to life. It takes the criminals gaining access to military weapons and help from the big number two at OCP just to slow RoboCop down.
  • In Star Trek: Into Darkness, the USS Vengeance is this from Kirk's perspective. Bad enough that The Dreaded Dreadnought is bigger and more powerful than the Enterprise, leading Kirk to decide that a Hyperspeed Escape is the best option, but he simply does not figure on the Vengeance being able to catch up with them at warp, leading to an epic Curb-Stomp Battle. If not for Scotty sabotaging her from the inside, the Enterprise would've been destroyed.
  • Star Trek Beyond has the Swarm of Mecha-Mooks that Krall has at his disposal. They're too numerous for phasers to destroy many of them, they're too small and nimble for torpedoes to lock onto them, and they have tech that lets them pass straight through shields. They behave in much the same way as piranhas in movies do, and can destroy a starship in minutes.
  • Darth Maul comes across as this in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Since the Sith Lords had supposedly been wiped out a millennium before, no Jedi figured on having to fight him. Adding to this is his choice of weapon: a double-bladed lightsaber, extremely rare by anyone's standards. It's no surprise that he gives two Jedi the fight of their lives (and in the case of one of them, the last fight of his life).
  • Invoked by Reese during his interrogation by the LAPD in The Terminator, when he explains frantically and vainly that the title character is unlike any threat they are familiar with:
    "You still don't get it, do you? He'll find her! That's what he does. THAT'S ALL HE DOES! You can't stop him! He'll wade through you, reach down her throat and pull her fuckin' heart out!"
  • Invoked in Rogue One by the titular taskforce. The entire plan to infiltrate the Citadel is built around the fact that the Empire thought the Rebels wouldn't attack a secure facility in the heart of Imperial space and they didn't know the Death Star plans were stored there.
  • The creatures in A Quiet Place are described in newspaper clippings we see as having mostly overwhelmed the world's militaries due to their nearly impenetrable armor, speed, agility and incredibly sensitive hearing.

  • Jake Epping aka George Amberson is this to the FBI in Stephen King's 11/22/63. They believe him to be a spy, but cannot explain his existence or seemingly impossible knowledge of events, since he is actually a time traveler from the future. Jake even has his own Outside Context Problem in the form of the Yellow Card Man.
  • In 1632, a whole West Virginia town is transported to that year in Thuringia during the 30 Years War. The resources of a hardscrabble coal mining town make it an immediate badass player in the war filled countryside. Imagine buckets of napalm fired from a trebuchet to break a castle siege and you get the idea. Also almost everyone in town, man and woman alike, is a hunter and pretty gun savvy. Automatic weapons and long range rifles with telescopic sights vs. wheel lock pistols is not much of a contest.
  • Like the Disney film, most literary versions of Beauty and the Beast use this trope. It starts by following the realistic fortunes of a merchant and his children who lose their wealth and become peasants, with no hint that magic even exists in their world. Then the father stumbles across the Beast's castle...
  • As mentioned, the Trope Namer is from The Culture series; the Excession. And when a civilization like the Culture considers something "Outside Context", things are about to get hairy...
    • The Culture is itself an Outside Context Problem for almost every other civilisation in the galaxy, being so technologically advanced that as of Excession, when OCPs are first discussed, they could easily "Sublime" and Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence, but have chosen not to.
  • Domina:
    • The titular city was a crime-ridden island where gangs used Bio-Augmentation to turn themselves into monsters and kill each other. It was easily one of the most dangerous cities on the planet (it's mentioned that foreign spies rarely survive more than a week), but there were clear political lines and people generally understood what was going on. Then the Composer showed up with super-powered zombies and decided to start a Zombie Apocalypse For the Evulz. It takes a significant amount of time to get the gangs to stop killing each other long enough to fight the real enemy; one gang even continues a civil war while they're under attack by zombies. It's eventually revealed that the Composer is a sociopathic immortal from a far distant future, let loose like a wild dog as part of an excuse to give powers to the entire city.
    • Speaking of the Composer, nobody expected Silk to show up. Not only is she also an immortal from the future, but the Composer is her clone. Silk refers to her as her sister. When she arrived to retrieve the Composer, hundreds of people immediately attacked her. She ignored them and teleported straight to the people who could give her what she wanted.
    • And then there are the para, who surprised even Silk. They were aliens heading to Earth at light speed; in the original timeline, they arrived some time around 2200, so Silk was working under the assumption that it would be the same this time. But the same process that sent her back in time scattered a few artifacts across the universe, and the para stumbled across an FTL drive that they were able to jury-rig into a tow boat, allowing them to arrive in Sol two hundred years ahead of schedule.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The appropriately named Outsiders, who come from outside reality and do not play by the normal rules that govern supernatural beings. Particularly Nemesis, an entity that can infect people's minds and warp their personalities to sway them to the Outsiders' cause. It can alter the fundamental mental nature of the beings it infects, such as removing the Cannot Tell a Lie restrictions that normally bind the fae, something that everyone believes to be impossible.
    • On a smaller scale, Shagnasty the naagloshii from Turn Coat walks right over Dresden, the Alphas, and everything Lara Raith's security forces can throw at him, because he's a Native American entity and largely impervious to non-Native magic or conventional attacks.
  • David Eddings:
    • The Malloreon lists off every individual who is required to take part in the final confrontation of the Prophecies, as recorded by ancient oracles. And then the Big Bad starts conjuring up demons and making pacts with the King of Hell. This throws all sides for a loop — to the point that the heroes theorize this is why Beldin, one of the most powerful mages in the world and someone not in any of the prophecies, is tagging along with their group: because the Prophecies insist on keeping their battle equal, as anything else would render the results invalid (and wipe out all existence).
    • Early in The Hidden City, the bad guys get really desperate and summon an Eldritch Abomination. Of all the good guys' side, only Aphrael and the Bhelliom had any idea what Klæl even was at that point. This leads to a scene where the armies of the Church Knights, who have no idea this has happened, coming across what — to them — appears to be the King of Hell, who summons armies of alien warriors, and losing thirty thousand men, plus twenty thousand wounded, in a comparatively brief engagement.
  • Humans in the Fairies Of Dreamdark series. When the Djinni sealed away the demons, they enchanted the seals on the demon bottles so that no creature, force, or sapient they had created could open them. But since the Djinni did not create the humans (and have no idea where the hell they did come from), they are capable of releasing the sealed demons.
  • Foundation series:
    • This is a major plot point in Foundation and Empire, when the Mule, a mutant with Mind Control and Emotion Control powers, shows up out of nowhere and starts conquering planets. Hari Seldon's predictions, which have been infallibly running the show for centuries, are suddenly no longer accurate because his science could only predict the aggregate behavior of large groups of people and could not account for the Million-to-One Chance of a single individual being born with the ability to alter the behavior of large populations. However, Hari knew that something was bound to happen in his thousand-year plan, so he put together a secret team to make sure the unexpected could be fixed. The fact that the plan still works on time after the Mule is defeated is a tip-off to one protagonist that something is up.
    • By the end of Foundation and Earth, Golan Trevize comes to the conclusion that this trope is the main reason why he chose Gaia over the Second Foundation — Psycho-History and the Second Foundation's means of manipulation and planning are based on human behaviour (the Mule thought like a human, he just had an ability others did not), leaving them open for problems if faced with truly alien ways of thinking.
  • In Gulliver's Travels the title character is a fairly normal human, but because the Lilliputians are only about six inches tall he becomes an One-Man Army (or more accurately a Navy) for them. The reverse goes for Brobdingnag, who treat Gulliver like a circus attraction. Taken to a new level in Houyhnhnm-Land, where the Houyhnhnms had never encountered an intelligent Yahoo before.
  • The Great Evil from Humanx Commonwealth, is so far out of context that it turns out to be from another universe entirely. In fact it's revealed that its nature as an outside-context villain is the whole reason it's dangerous in the first place; in its own universe it was a harmless and benevolent force but due to the physics of the HC universe being different from its birthplace, its powers became destructive. Flinx ends up "defeating" it by dropping it back into its own realm, causing to instantly become friendly again.
  • Similar to Superman, John Carter from John Carter of Mars is an ordinary human soldier born with no super powers. He ends up one of the strongest people on Mars because of that planet's lower gravity, much like how Superman gains his ability from the Earth's yellow sun.
  • Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings. While other races have long history of heroic deeds (and a long history in general), hobbits are the youngest folk in Middle Earth, and have never achieved anything noteworthy (although centuries of peaceful existance in a world as violent and dangerous as theirs is arguably a achievement in itself). They don't travel, so they are practically unheard of on the other side of Misty Mountains. The only one viewing them as potential heroes is Gandalf (and later Saruman, who noticed other wizard's fondness of them). Sauron probably didn't even know that hobbits existed until he got info on One Ring's location from Gollum - and it just so happens that they exhibit extraordinary resistance to its corrupting power. And Frodo even uses his status as Outside Context Hero on Rivendell Council.
  • Inverted in Out of the Dark, which seems like a typical Alien Invasion novel. Then Dracula gets pissed and wipes out the invaders.
  • Safehold:
    • Merlin Athrawes. In a world deliberately engineered to be stuck in Medieval Stasis, he's an advanced cyborg with superhuman personal abilities, a secret cave full of futuristic technological goodies, and a mission to break that medieval stasis.
    • In turn, Merlin is worried that there's something under the headquarters of the Church of God Awaiting that could prove to be an Outside Context Problem for him. There's a "prophecy" made by the "archangels" about something happening a few years in the future, something there is producing a lot of power, he can't get himself or any recon drones in close enough to find out what it is due to concerns about tripping security measures, and there's a functional Kill Sat that could be involved.
  • In the Shadowleague books, Lord Blade is this for the people of Callisoria, and possibly even his fellow Loremasters.
  • George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire has this crop up as part of the "it doesn't matter how clever you are, you're going to get spannered" discourse. And, these are, naturally, the biggest, baddest spanners of all:
    • The Seven Kingdoms are ripping themselves apart in civil war, blissfully unaware that the demonic Others are amassing their army of the undead just north of the Wall. Only the Night's Watch has taken any (tottering) steps to actively fight them, and they are woefully outnumbered. Worse, much of the shakey knowledge they used to have about the Others has been lost. Even the current Watch took some convincing that what they are facing aren't just myths, and is having trouble coming to terms with the fact they're not. The only authority figure in the Seven Kingdoms who takes the threat seriously is Stannis Baratheon.
    • Westeros had a long and storied history of intrigue and conquest long before Aegon the Conqueror and his two sisters flew in with a dragon apiece and curb-stomped five of the seven native kingdoms in quick succession, forcing a sixth to surrender rather than be conquered by force. The trope is best expressed by Harrenhal, a massive and impregnable castle that was nonetheless defenseless against dragonfire.
    • Dragons coming back from apparent extinction took the Free Cities of Essos (and the not-so-free cities of Slavers Bay) a little by surprise. But, that was nothing compared to Daenerys Targaryen living up to the stubbornness of her Valyrian blood. And, the fire.
    • The eastern religion of R'hllor was virtually unknown in Westeros at the start of the series, yet evangelical inroads made by the clergy have allowed them to quickly shift the balance of power in the Seven Kingdoms. Also, unlike the two dominant religions of Westeros, the followers of R'hllor are capable of using real magic with some requiring a great sacrifice. That this is suspiciously close to the Targayen motto of "Fire and Blood" and the old myths and legends surrounding the rise and dramatic fall of Valyrian magic has not escaped readers... and, links back to the above examples, too. Magic is full of nasty outside-context surprises.
    • The less magical, more mundane version also crops up: paradigm shifting. Major power-players like Petyr Baelish, Varys and Maester Pycelle, as well as even more minor ones like Bronn, Qyburn and Thoros of Myr to historical leverage points like Ser Duncan the Tall, the Great Spring Sickness or the formation of the city state of Braavos all manage to take the various established powers by surprise thanks to flying in under the collective radar to engineer, take part in or spark paradigm shifts almost nobody could predict until after the once-taken-for-granted sociopolitical landscape is yanked from under them.
    • Euron Greyjoy enters the scene in the third book, and seems to come from an entirely different genre, bringing elements of high fantasy and Lovecraftian horror into the low fantasy world of Westeros. Few people in Westeros even know who he is beyond his role in the Greyjoy Rebellion, but when he returns with a ship full of Valyrian artifacts and deformed mutes, he begins to establish himself as the biggest threat to Westeros save the Others themselves. Not to mention, while most human villains desire wealth, power, or are simple sadists, Euron seems to want something much more: The end of the world.
  • This is the central concept behind Area X in The Southern Reach Trilogy. Everything about it is just so utterly alien to human science that it's implied we aren't even capable of comprehending what it is, how it works, who/what caused it and why.
  • Star Wars Legends: The Yuuzhan Vong in the novel series New Jedi Order. They hail from outside the galaxy far far away and have a truly alien culture, where pain is a glorified state of living and killing is a sacrifice to their gods, which put them at extreme odds with all the other inhabitants of their galaxy and guaranteed a war as soon as they arrived. And they used completely unique organic-based technology. If that wasn't enough, they existed completely outside the Force and were completely immune to it.
  • The Stormlight Archive: The plot of the series is that the Voidbringers, ancient demons from fairytales, are returning to the world to finally defeat humanity after being driven off countless times before. The problem is, the last time they were driven off was four and a half thousand years ago. Not only has that time faded into myth so much that most people don't believe the Voidbringers existed in the first place, but at the Last Desolation the Heralds of the Almighty abandoned their oaths and told humanity that they had finally won for good. That means that the few people who do believe the Voidbringers existed also believe they're never coming back. Very, very few people recognize the signs and know what to expect. And a number of those are operating under the belief that because the return of human magic users is a harbinger of the return of the Voidbringers, killing off said magic users will prevent the Voidbringers from coming back.
  • Warhammer 40,000: In the stories about Ciaphas Cain, the necrons are presented as even more ancient, mysterious and deadly than the other enemy groups. In a galaxy where fighting invincible armies of inhuman monstrosities is routine, people still tend to be clueless and helpless against the necrons, both because most have never heard of them and because they're so exceedingly deadly and able to do things like teleport at will. Even after Cain has encountered them, about all he can draw from his experiences is an attitude in the lines of "Even if I was a real hero, I'd still run away from them." They even surprise and Curb Stomp the armies of Chaos in the same way on one occasion.
  • H. G. Wells The War of the Worlds. This trope works in both directions. The humans had no idea about the alien invaders and the alien invaders had no idea about human diseases.
  • The Worldwar series involves a reptilian alien species interrupting World War II by invading the planet in anticipation of a later colonization fleet, forcing the democratic and totalitarian regimes that were previously at each others' throats to work together against the aliens. Ironically, this goes both ways - the Race had scouted out "Tosev 3" some eight hundred years ago and were unimpressed by their probes' images of scruffy knights in crappy armor, and had no idea a species could go from that to radio, planes and atom bombs in a matter of mere centuries. Despite being advanced enough to travel between worlds on Sleeper Starships, the aliens' actual military consists of jet fighters, tanks and helicopters that are the equivalent of our modern armed forces, so while they have the advantage over the armies of World War II, it isn't enough of an advantage.
  • The characters of World War Z repeatedly lampshade that nobody even believed in zombies, let alone knew anything about how to defeat them. note 
    • Additionally, Iran gets one in the form of Pakistan. Iran considered itself (and, early on, genuinely was) safe and secure, with abundant natural resources, highly mountainous terrain that was extremely unforgiving to zombies, and cities located far away from one another that could be easily isolated if one of them were to be overrun. Unfortunately, Iran's attempts to stop the flow of refugees from neighboring Pakistan - including blowing bridges at the border - enraged Pakistan's government and triggered a nuclear war that destroyed both countries. The man being interviewed describes how, unlike longtime rivals and nuclear powers India and Pakistan, the lack of historic enmity between Iran and Pakistan and the relative infancy of Iran's nuclear weapons program meant that the two countries had never developed the mechanisms and diplomatic channels to prevent war between them.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons offers a thousand and one options for this. In general, pulling new monsters, character classes and abilities from splatbooks that the players aren't familiar with or have yet to be incorporated into the campaign would create examples of the trope - upset the usual arcane/divine magic divide with something like psionics, incarnum, pact magic, throw monsters and classes from a Far Eastern setting into your standard Western fantasy campaign, and so forth. Examples with the trope already built into them include:
    • Summon Magic can literally pull a villain from some other context, or have a party pull this on someone else after getting summoned by another spellcaster.
    • Inevitables are robots from another plane that enforce the natural laws of the universe.
    • The Bodak, depending on which sourcebook you read, is a Fraal from the d20 Modern setting that has been raised from the dead after coming in contact with pure evil. Except they aren't. They're the spirits of people who voluntarily cut their own hearts out in service to Orcus, and can reproduce through eye contact.
    • Illithids are this to the Aboleths, a race of aquatic aberrations from the dawn of time, who have Genetic Memories that stretch back further than lesser races' creation myths. They remember a time before deities, but as far as the Aboleths can tell the Mind Flayers just showed up a couple of centuries ago, which is one of the few things that freaks them out. Depending on which edition you're using, this is because the Illithids used Time Travel to escape their civilizations' collapse at the end of the universe, or arrived on the Material Plane after sailing between worlds on their irreplaceable interplanar warships.
    • The Expedition to the Barrier Peaks module is an entire campaign of this, as the players have to deal with a crashed alien spacecraft and all the technology it contains. Generally regarded as one of the toughest early D&D modules.
  • Exalted:
    • There are quite a few of these. In the past five years, Abyssal and Infernal Exalted—types of Exalted no one's seen in all of history—have started crawling out of the woodwork after their respective bosses got their hands on half of all the Solar Exaltations ever crafted. And for the recently-returned Solars, the eventual return of the Scarlet Empress can seem like this...especially since she's now a puppet for the Yozis.
    • The Abyssals and Infernals apply doubly so to the Sidereals, who were watching the shop while the Solars were dead and the Lunars were on the run. They have the ability to track all things which reside within Fate... which the Abyssals (who have technically died and surrendered their fates) and the Infernals (who were reforged in Malfeas) don't count under.
    • The quintessential example might be the conquest of Thorns. An army of ghosts and undead, led by the horrifically powerful ghost Mask of Winters, supplemented by the aforementioned Abyssals (being seen for the first time) and a gigantic dying monster, leading to the city being not only taken over, but converted into a Shadowland expanding at a terrifyingly unprecedented rate.
    • The event of the Alchemical Exalted (or Autochthonians in general) entering Creation would play out like this in scenarios with a military context. The reverse holds true as well; the Autochthonians have very little idea what Creation is actually like and it disturbs them fairly badly.
    • In a rare inversion of this trope, the Primordials are terrifying lovecraftian planes of existence which are also sentient and compromised of greater demons and lesser ones as well as being Genius Loci with Malevolent Architecture topped of with Blue and Orange Morality. The only thing that saves them from this trope is that they made the universe and have been running things from day 1. That, and the protagonists were literally created to destroy them makes the titular Exalted outside context problems to them.
  • The Eldrazi in Magic: The Gathering, being Eldritch Abominations from the spaces between planes of existence which feed on said planes, and don't obey the basic rules of magic. Until their escape, the plane of Zendikar where they were imprisoned was presented as an adventure world. To quote the Rise of the Eldrazi Player's Guide, "Previous quests have been for treasure and glory. In the new Rise of the Eldrazi set...only one goal remains: survival."
    • Also the case for New Phyrexia's attack. Even when the Mirrans knew they were at war, they expected their opponents to wage war on the people...not the ecosystem.
    • During the Conflux of Alara, all five Shards got hit with this. Each one had been without two colors of magic for so long they had forgotten those colors even existed, meaning that each one suddenly found themselves running into two mini-worlds defined by magic they had never experienced. Best exemplified by Esper, the white-blue-black Shard, which developed into a land of cyborgs who infused etherium into their bodies because only one of their three colors was even capable of artifact destruction, and then suddenly found itself running into red and green, two colors of magic that excel at blasting artifacts into shrapnel.
  • Baba Yaga was this to the Linnorm Kings in Pathfinder. She suddenly arrived from Earth in her Dancing Hut one winter 1400 years ago, conquered half their territory with her army of trolls and fey, established one of her daughters on the throne, and just as quickly left, leaving her army behind to protect the newly-established kingdom of Irrisen. Reign of Winter even reveals why she bothered; she sustains her immortality by consuming the Life Force of her female descendants/daughters. Irrisen, then, ensures she always has a steady supply of that precious bloodline protected and kept ready for her when she needs a pick-me-up.
    • The same adventure path has the players both become, and encounter, this trope. Book five, Rasputin Must die! has the fantasy adventurers arrive in 1916 Russia. The party encounters land mines, tanks, and modern infantry and firearms, while the Russians, shell-shocked and largely numb from the horrors of the Great War, steady their rifles against flying wizards and armored paladins with steely resolve. After all, after watching your village get shelled and drown on dry land from mustard gas, at least the elf casting Cloudkill is something you can shoot back.
  • In Warhammer 40,000, this is the problem with a lot of the newer enemies. Humanity had gotten used to "ordinary" aliens like Orks or Eldar, and then here comes the swarm of extra-galactic, hyper-evolving locusts. Or ageless metal skeletons with a grudge against organic life. Or a bunch of little grey communists who went from primitives to mini mecha with railguns in just a few thousand years.
    • Standard Imperial policy is only so outrageously cruel and draconian because otherwise they would get suckerpunched by every out of context problem in the galaxy (for reference, soul-eating psychic jellyfish out of nowhere are one of the more expected, planned-for, and familiar threats). And they're still getting suckerpunched.
    • The Emperor inadvertently set one up prior to the Horus Heresy. His Imperial Truth was a rational, secular philosophy that had no room for gods or "daemons," despite the Emperor knowing damn well that the Chaos Gods were out therehe hoped to starve them of faith. So when half of the Space Marine legions fell to Chaos, not only did the loyalists have to deal with fighting soldiers just as superhuman as they were, but soldiers with access to Demonic Possession or summoned daemons.
      • The Space Marines had to deal with another problem early on in the Heresy, which was their unshakeable belief that no Astartes would ever turn on another, to the point where one Ultramarine was censured for even considering the possibility. Part of the reason Horus engineered the Istvaan massacre was to burn that tendency out of his own troops (who started suffering from a different problem). The loyalist Legions ended up fighting on the back foot for a good part of the early Heresy until they could come to grips with what was happening.
    • The Harrowing, an event mentioned in Dark Heresy. Fluff indicates that it was an entire eldritch universe barging into the Materium and kicking the shit out of everyone so badly that all the habitable worlds in a sector or three are nothing but lifeless desert. It may well have been an even more devastating conflict than the Horus Heresy, but almost nothing remains outside of Astartes battle sagas and a few third-hand fragments in some obscure and seemingly unreliable sources. Which isn't even covering what the Imperium had to do to survive.
    • Slaanesh for most of the Eldar. Some seers tried to warn their people that their hedonism was feeding a gestating god, but few listened (and of those who did, some actually started taking it Up to Eleven, in the hopes of experiencing sensations beyond their wildest dreams once the god came into existence. They did). Those who did hid inside the Webway or built Craftworlds to flee in, but they did not understand just what would happen when Slaanesh was "born". The god's birth tore a hole in reality, plunging the heart of the Eldar empire into the Warp and instantly consuming the souls of almost the entire species. Most of those who fled did not make it far enough to escape having their souls eaten. And while those hiding in the Webway initially seemed unaffected, they soon discovered that Slaanesh was still consuming their souls, just very slowly.
    • The Tau's first proper contact with the Imperium was this for both sides; the Tau thought that the human worlds they gathered up were just some isolated backwaters (they were), but were completely caught off guard by the massive amount of resources the Imperium threw at them in retaliation, while the Imperium were surprised by how an advanced civilization of aliens could develop so fast under their noses, and then stall their invasion fleet for so long.
    • The Tau are still also blissfully ignorant of the Warp and Chaos. They have first hand accounts of manifested psychic powers, and they have no psykers except for the ones that come from their client races (human members of their empire included), and may even have access to a few formerly-Imperial Navigators; but for the large part they are still ignorant of the Warp, its nature, and how it can be utilized for and against their empire. As for Chaos, they're also dangerously ignorant of it and the theology of its worshipers. One Tau commander encountered a Chaos cult, and surmised that their leader was named "Slaanesh". One would be curious what they think of Chaos daemons invading their planet, or just what sort of damage their right of religion has allowed for a subtle Chaos cult, but it's possible that this works both ways, and that the Tau as a non-psychic race are this trope for Chaos. It's established that, to be affected by Chaos, one needs a soul. Soulless people, called "blanks", are utterly repugnant to anyone else, but they are also immune to everything chaos related, i.e. demonic magic, psychic powers, corruption, possession and so on (non-chaos-enhanced bolt rounds fired by a Chaos Space Marine still kill, of course). Since the Tau have such a low compatability with the warp that it prevents from warp travel, this could also imply that their society is essentially immune to fall victim to Chaos worship, or daemon attacks. Of course, the setting being as it is, it's not stated clearly.
    • During the first encounter, the Tau got hit with yet another one: When they heard about the Imperium having battle titans (specifically the gigantic, walking-cathedral kind) they assumed it to be more superstitious propaganda as they believed walkers of that size were nowhere near sensible enough to deploy as war machines (their own battlesuits at the time stood, at most, 20 feet high, with everything else larger being fulfilled by aircrafts and hovertanks). Then they crossed the Godzilla Threshold for the Imperium and came face to face with the Warlord Titans. It was then hilariously subverted when they demonstrated their original point and used a slightly upgunned conventional aircraft to immediately kill it. One wonders what they will do when they encounter the Imperator Titans or Ordinatii, which are the size of a village standing up.
    • Back in the days of the Great Crusade, the Imperium encountered a species who had long ago ritualized their warfare to enormous arenas where armies would slaughter each other. The Space Marines wasted no time in destroying the keylekid from afar.
  • Rifts is basically "Outside Context Problem: The Game." In a World... where cyborgs duke it out with mages, vampires, demons, Eldritch Abominations, alien CorruptCorporateExecutives, The Empire, and even combinations of any or all of the above fight for territory, it gets a little crazy.
    • In the backstory, the Coming of the Rifts was this for the people of Earth. A small nuclear war caused the very fabric of existence to fall apart, pouring horrific creatures onto an unsuspecting planet, while nature itself seemed to be trying to tear the planet to pieces. Something like a billion people died in the opening salvos, and their deaths only triggered more chaos and insanity. Three hundred years later, the earth is still recovering, and humans are only just starting to reclaim their world.

  • Beast Wars: Uprising: "Cultural Appropriation" has several sides running into a set of Go-Bots from another universe. Thanks to their being Go-Bots, their tech means they could take the hyper-advanced mankind by surprise, since mankind have become more than a little self-assured of their superiority.

    Web Animation 
  • In RWBY, this is the reason why Professor Ozpin and his inner circle are so hesitant about what they're doing. They know precisely who they're fighting, but the situation they're in is so unprecedented that they're not sure what to do, and Ozpin and General Ironwood are at odds over how best to proceed. The Fall Maiden's magic, which normally transfers from host to host along predictable patterns, was partially stolen by Cinder. As a result, they don't know what will happen if/when the previous Fall Maiden dies and where her power will go. Whatever plan they can come up with is a shot in the dark, and all they can do is try to stack the deck in their favor.

    Web Comics 
  • In 8-Bit Theater, Red Mage serves as this with his Munchkining with RPG rules despite the fact that no one else even understands them, forgetting to record massive amounts of damage from an Eldritch Abomination to slice it open from inside and polymorphing into himself to undo an undesirable shapechange.
  • Demonically sapient dream-invading dolphins in Awful Hospital. Bear in mind that the heroine is nowhere near any body of water at the time they contact her. Later revealed to be full-on Animalistic Abominations and strongly hinted that not even the Parliament Assimilation Plot, the putative Big Bads, know why the dolphins are getting involved.
  • The Old Ones in Cthulhu Slippers are this to humanity, and are so powerful they conquer earth in a night and a day. Like almost everything in the comic, it's Played for Laughs.
  • In Erfworld, the Anti-Hero protagonist, Parson Gotti qualifies. He originates from a different universe, giving him a radically different perspective of reality from the locals. Though Erfworlders frequently describe him as a transcendent military genius, the real reason he poses such an overwhelming threat to the world is that he is a Munchkin, summoned into an RPG-Mechanics Verse suffering from Creative Sterility. The actual Big Bad, Charlie, also shows signs of this, and has been secretly subverting the Fantasy Gun Control Erfworld has been subject to because of Medieval Stasis.
  • The Last Halloween involves the world being invaded by monsters without any sort of warning. Not only are most of these monsters capable of slaughtering dozens of humans with ease, but there are billions of them; one for each human. Humanity is nearly wiped out after a single night.
  • One-Punch Man's Saitama is somewhat of an Expy of Superman while living in a World of Badass running on Anime-tropes.note  This makes Saitama highly overpowered compared to all the other characters and is Played for Laughs most of the time.
  • In Stand Still, Stay Silent, we get the Rash, that created the post-apocalyptic setting within only a few months of appearing in a group of refugees of unknown nationality, 90 years before the story really starts. Among mammals, it crosses the species barrier without a problem, except for cats, which have some kind of firewall. Among the infected, the 90-odd% who die a slow and apparently very uncomfortable death (involving skin loss in later stages) are the lucky ones. The rest get horribly mutated into Plague Zombie monsters who can, occasionally, have periods of lucid awareness, mainly to beg for death. This resulted in the disease having an impact well beyond the Black Death combined with the Columbian Exchange on both human population and biome. By the time the story starts, the Nordic countries possibly house what's left of humanity, with just under a quarter million souls, only about 11% of which belong to immune people. All their medical attempts to find either preventatives or cures have either flat-out not worked, or Gone Horribly Wrong. The story hints that the disease may have a magical component to it, meaning that addressing its biochemistry can only ever form part of the solution. It's little wonder it came as a bit of a surprise.
  • In Tower of God, this is more or less why the Irregulars are called that. They're beings who enter the Tower under their own power, rather than being chosen the way everyone else is, and they have a reputation for being mysterious and immensely powerful. Phantaminum entered the palace of the King of the Tower for unknown reasons and killed many of the most powerful people in the Tower easily before disappearing. Enryu killed one of the near-omnipotent Administrators of the Tower, altering that Administrator's floor forever and leaving behind a weapon meant for killing the king. Urek Mazino "merely" showed himself to be more powerful than basically anyone and created a new, feared political faction in the Tower. And then there's the comic's protagonist... He seems pretty weak at first, but as the story advances, he keeps causing jaws to drop by breaking more and more rules of what's supposed to be possible.

    Web Original 
  • The Salvation War zigzags this trope. Angels and demons being very real certainly was a surprise, as were their abilities, but humanity understood them and adapted. In turn, the former two have a much harder time dealing with the humans having suddenly turned from helpless cattle into ruthless and efficient killers.
  • The entire premise of Rplegacy's Dark Clouds Gathering fantasy crossover RPG is that a war breaks out between the Legion of Light and the Army of Shadow, which is thrown for a loop when the Phantom-lord Grogna summons his equals from other dimensions to bolster his forces, introducing people, monsters, technology, and magic that are completely unfamiliar to that world. It's then turned around on the Army of Shadow when the Legion of Light does the exact same thing to bring the heroic champions that held the villains at bay.
  • The Endbringers in Worm are massive, unstoppable monstrosities that regularly obliterate major population centers. Their origins and motivations are completely unknown though the characters theorize that someone is creating them. The entire Hero/Villain dynamic was shaped specifically with the Endbringers in mind once they showed up. They're powerful enough to force cooperation and an unwritten code of conduct between the two sides.
  • While the appearance of Israphel in the Yogscast Minecraft Series was certainly unexpected, since Lewis Brindley and Simon Lane initially assumed that they were all alone, they adapted to him fairly quickly. What really took them by surprise was the appearance of the Sentinels, bizarre, mechanical Eldritch Abomination lifeforms, not that unlike the Reapers of Mass Effect in that they corrupt the thoughts of beings, driving them insane. They also did this to the Sand, which was formerly the thing keeping them prisoner. Their appearance had received little foreshadowing, and on top of that, Simon and Lewis only travelled on the inside of one. We still have no idea what they are doing, how they are linked to Israphel, or what they even look like externally.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender:
    • Toph becomes this after she learns how to metal bend, something no one thought was even possible.
    • Aang's Avatar State merged with the ocean spirit, La, at Season 1's finale. It is so out there that they destroy the Fire Nation's entire navy fleet and killed their captain without them being able to do a thing to stop them.
    • Aang himself is out of context since, on top of being the Avatar, he is the last airbender, an art thought to be lost for one hundred years. Aang with airbending alone was enough to take down an army unit since no one had any experience with dealing with an airbender.
  • Captain Planet and the Planeteers: Despite his name being in the title, Captain Planet and to a lesser extent the Planeteers themselves are completely out of context. We have a group of five kids with magical rings that can control the elements and a person's heart, and who can summon a super hero who rivals Silver Age Superman, against regular humans. Even the villains who are mad scientists and mutants don't stick out as much as them and most villains have no clue how to handle the Planeteers, let alone Captain Planet. Gaia is even worse since she is the spirit of the freaking Earth. Only other god-like beings can even consider challenging her.
  • Gargoyles: The titular Gargoyles were under a spell that made them sleep for a thousand years before waking up in mid-90s New York where they are the only supernatural creatures around (at least early on). Outside of Xanatos and Demona, most of their earlier enemies were at a loss dealing with them.
  • A Cryptid Episode pulled this off for Generator Rex, where the non-E.V.O Chupacabra throws the entire cast for a loop after expecting a E.V.O. Similarly non-E.V.O threats popped up later, including a T.Rex and Ben Tennyson were the same way.
  • Bill Cipher of Gravity Falls certainly qualifies. In a show that normally deals with slightly paranormal things like gnomes and living golf balls, he's a reality-warper from another dimension with Blue and Orange Morality that can possess people, enter minds through dreams, and is utterly powerful in our dimension, once he manages to break through. No wonder he easily takes over the town when he invades.
  • The Legend of Korra
    • Season 1 gives us Amon, the leader of the Equalists, who via bloodbending is able to permanently remove a person's bending. Before him, the only person with this ability was Avatar Aang, a Physical God.
    • Season 2 gives us the Dark Spirits, spirits who have been corrupted and turn violent. They are completely indestructible and bending can only repel them temporarily. Before Season 2, spirits were rare in the human world and never harmed humans unless provoked.
    • Season 3's villains are all masters of an unusual form of bending: lavabending, combustionbending, water tentacles, and airbending.
    • Season 4; everyone knew Kuvira would march on Republic City. No one knew she would use a Humongous Mecha armed with a spirit Wave Motion Gun to do so.
  • Mega Man:
    • Just as Vile and Spark Mandrill in "Mega X" are completely out of context for Mega Man, X himself is an out of context foe to Wily and his robots. When they did try to fight him, he catches Cut Man's weapon and crushes it like it's tinfoil.
    • Mega Man himself was this when he was still just Rock, a regular robot helper. When Wily was about to reprogram Roll, Rock made Wily stop by lying about how Dr. Light built an army of warrior robots, and that they were coming to stop him. Wily believed Rock, because robots couldn't lie. Rock then gets Dr. Wily to release him on the promise that he would show him how to stop the warrior robots, and uses the opportunity to escape with Roll. Wily could only scream in outrage and confusion over the fact that a robot lied to him, when robots couldn't even lie in the first place.
  • My Little Pony
    • If there was one villain in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic that almost no one, in and out of universe, saw coming, it was the Changelings appearing at the very end of the second season. The only pony to know of their presence was trapped underneath Canterlot, imprisoned by the Changeling Queen and it's implied that she had no idea they existed until she was imprisoned in the first place. As for out of universe? Most theories for the finale didn't factor in shapeshifting insects, and the few that did guess something involving impersonation probably didn't think of something like that. Heck, the villain even used this to their advantage and struck at the best possible moment.
    • The Dazzlings from My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, being Emotion Eaters that use Mind Manipulation, would be normal for one of the show's season openers/finales... but they appear in the High School A.U., where magic doesn't normally exist. When Twilight Sparkle and friends try confronting them the usual way, nothing happens, and she spends the rest of the film struggling to find an alternate method while the Dazzlings operate unchallenged until the finale. Even then, beating them is more the result of brute force than actual strategy: their final attack fails until the previous film's villain, who's spent the entire movie trying to atone for her actions, is properly accepted into the group, giving them enough power to defeat the sirens.
  • Played for Laughs on Rick and Morty—while usually a sci-fi show with villains who are aliens or extra-dimensional beings, in one episode Rick casually affirms that vampires exist in their world, and acts like the others are dumb for not suspecting this might be the case when somebody is found dead and completely drained of blood. Particularly silly because this isn't even the main plot of the episode, just a subplot that gets tied up off-screen and serves as an excuse for Rick to test out the new experimental technology that the episode actually focuses on.
  • School For Vampires: In "The Vampire who cried werewolf", usual Harmless Villain Vampire Hunter Paulus Polidori temporarily takes a level in badass and actually becomes a threat to the vampires with his latest weapon, a machine that can mimick sunlight. Too bad for him that there was a Werewolf exchange student staying at the school, on whom the machine had the same effect as the light of a full moon...
  • In Spider-Man Unlimited, Spidey becomes one after traveling to an alien world where Beast Men rule over humans. Mainly because he's not quite a normal human or one of the aforementioned beast men. The villains are even unable to remove his new Nanomachine costume (which he "borrowed" before leaving Earth) after having Strapped to an Operating Table despite the Cyberpunk setting.
  • Steven Universe:
    • "Laser Light Cannon": A massive eyeball appears in the sky and attempts to perform a Colony Drop. Word of God says that it, unlike every other enemy, was not a Gem Monster and thus not a Corrupted Gem, making its only connection to the cast the fact that Rose Quartz had a weapon capable of defeating it.
    • Almost every aspect of the show's timeline deviating from the real world involves the Gems in some manner — all villains are Corrupted Gems, or Homeworld Gems, or robots created by Gems. Unusual artifacts and sites were left by Gems ages ago... Except for the evil scroll in "Together Breakfast", which has nothing at all to do with anything else in the show, and seems to display real, genuine magic that differs from the Gems' technological and self-inherent powers. Word of God eventually subverted this one too, explaining that the pigments the scroll was painted with were made from ground Gems, making it a particularly horrific Gem Monster.
    • Steven himself — being a Half-Human Hybrid makes him something completely foreign to everybody. This has its ups and downs, mostly the latter in early episodes, but it proves beneficial when it turns out his physiology lets him No-Sell the technology used by the the first major antagonists and perform feats previously thought to be impossible, like Fusing with a human being.
    • The Cluster Gems. They're forced Fusions of shattered Gems that cannot take a coherent physical form. Before their first appearance, the Crystal Gems had no idea that such a thing was even possible, let alone that Homeworld had done it. And then there's The Cluster, which is made of millions of shattered Gems. While the smaller Cluster Fusions can be poofed, if the Cluster ever gets to the point of taking form, it will rip the Earth to pieces, with absolutely no way to stop it. It can't be destroyed, either, as the Crystal Gems just don't have the resources to do the amount of damage to it that would be required.
    • From the non-canon crossover with Uncle Grandpa — the Gems have no clue who he is or where he came from, and are completely unused to his reality warping, fourth-wall breaking antics. And given the list of other Cartoon Network series he checks at the end, they're probably not the only ones who were at a loss dealing with him (no doubt the SWAT Kats, who were also on the list, were incredibly baffled).
  • Teen Titans: Happens to Cyborg when he is pulled back in time to the Bronze Age by a witch to help save her people from monsters. Subverted that the summoning was part of an evil scheme all along.
  • Unicron in The Transformers series. Originally he was a terrifying Galactus Expy in The Movie before he was fleshed out as a god of chaos later on. Still, no-one had any idea how to deal with him in the first place when he showed up. This was lampshaded in the original movie. Kup, the eldest of the surviving Autobots had at least one story for every occasion, usually a bad one. However, upon seeing the massive Unicron, all he could mutter was "nope, never seen anything like this before."
    • Beast Wars: Tigerhawk. Not only was he far stronger than any Transformer seen in the series, except for maybe Rampage, he has mystical abilities never seen by any Transformer that allows him to curb stomp any foe he ever faced. It took a warship firing maximum weapons at him to take him down.
  • Wander over Yonder: Lord Dominator, the Big Bad in season 2, shows up from another galaxy and takes all of the characters by surprise when she shows to be a much more effective and dangerous adversary than anyone they have ever encountered.