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Stranger Behind the Mask

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"You tricked and fooled your readers for years. You've tortured us all with surprise endings that make no sense. You've introduced characters in the last five pages who were never in the book before!"
Lionel Twain, Murder by Death

So you've got this mystery, such as the identity of the villain. There are many theories on this, and audience is kept busy speculating to the very last moment. And well, would you look at that!? The heroes have captured the villain and are about to remove his mask. It is finally time for The Reveal!

Wait, who's that?

You have just met the Stranger Behind the Mask, where The Reveal proves to be something or someone we've never heard of before, and had no reasonable way of expecting. This can often result in an Anti-Climax, and is almost always an Ass Pull. Both Ronald Knox and S.S. Van Dine attempted to create rules for Detective Fiction, one of which was created in order to either prevent or avert this trope from occurring. Knox, indeed, made it his first commandment: "The criminal must be someone mentioned in the early part of the story..."

Typically a Writer Cop Out. If what is revealed also isn't particularly consistent with the story, it's an Ass Pull. Compare with Deus ex Machina, where the unpredictable event is a solution to an otherwise unsolvable problem, and with The Dog Was the Mastermind, where it is revealed that it was a minor character that nobody would have suspected, but had been previously introduced. Often relies on Contrived Coincidence to keep the audience interested.

Though often seen as unsatisfying, this is often a case of Truth in Television. Detectives who investigate a crime almost never, ever know who the perpetrator is unless they are a repeat offender known to the authorities; the phenomenon of the culprit being someone they know personally or had run into earlier is actually quite unusual. It makes sense though, since there's no logical reason that happening to personally know a detective should make one more likely to commit crimes. And in fact, if one thinks about it for a moment, the trend of the detective happening to personally know the perp itself probably started out as a twist ending, and detective stories having a rule where the person behind the mask is always someone the detective knows makes about as much sense as if romance novels had a rule where the charming stranger who strolls into town and catches the eye of the protagonist always turns out to be a long lost sibling!

But that usually doesn't make for the most interesting story, so this trope is rarely used in fiction.

When Played With, this can turn from Bad Writing into a very skillful twisting of the story. See Anticlimactic Unmasking for In-Universe versions. Contrast Charlie Brown from Outta Town and Resemblance Reveal.

May be considered The Un-Twist.

By the nature of this trope, all examples will inherently be mild spoilers.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • A sort of meta-example, with Doki Doki! PreCure. While the show was airing, it was leaked that the show would have a Sixth Ranger character, Cure Ace. The fans began to wonder which character would become Cure Ace, as almost every Sixth Ranger character in the Pretty Cure franchise had been a preexisting character. The show even had a Dark Magical Girl character who looked like she could become Cure Ace. As you might guess from being an example on this page, the episode after Cure Ace's introduction revealed she was a character that hadn't appeared before- a nine year old girl named Aguri Madoka, who wasn’t even named until the third episode she appeared in. Near the end of the series, this is Zag Zagged. It's revealed that the Dark Magical Girl was actually Cure Ace's Enemy Without, and both of them were Literal Split Personalities of the princess the characters were trying to save.
  • The driving motivation of Kill la Kill's main character, Ryuko Matoi, is to find the person who killed her father. The person in question (Nui Harime) appears about midway through the series, is no one that has been seen before, and is revealed to be the killer in the same episode the character is introduced in. It also would take later to confirm that Ragyo Kiryuin was the person who ordered it, as at the time, she was someone who hadn't made a full appearance yet.
  • Subverted in World Conquest Zvezda Plot: Asuta is certain that White Robin is his classmate Renge. Her mask comes off, and it's a woman we've never seen before. Later, it turns out Renge was wearing a latex mask between her face and the other mask .
  • In Naruto, the leader of the Akatsuki criminal group was a mysterious figure usually seen in shadow or astral projection. A popular fan-theory held that he was actually the Forth Hokage, who he bore a passing resemblance to, but when he takes an active role in the plot, it's revealed that they are entirely separate characters. The Akatsuki leader, Pain, is a figure from Jiraiya's past, but is completely unknown to the audience. The outline we see isn't even really his- it's a corpse that he's puppeting. And then subverted with the real leader of the Akatsuki, Tobi, who is Kakashi's old teammate Obito Uchiha under the mask.
  • Despite being a decades-long love letter to Golden Age mysteries, Case Closed did dip into this a few times; most memorably, the "With A Bang" storyline took huge pains to hide the Mad Bomber behind the classic "shadowman" feature while teasing out his backstory a little bit at a time, but when it's time for the big face-to-face showdown he's... some shmuck who's completely new to the story.
  • Done repeatedly in Tiger Mask, as most masked wrestlers are people unknown to both the title character and the readers, and the only reason he bothers to unmask them in public is to shame them and insure they couldn't wrestle with a mask again. In fact, when a masked wrestler turns out being someone recognized by anyone it's always a big deal in-universe, the biggest example being Mr Question whose real identity makes the referee go to his knees and Tiger Mask admit he'd have been crushed if his opponent had not been well past his prime.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix: In "Asterix and the Chariot Race", features a mysterious, masked racer named Coronavirus, who upon being unmasked turns out to be a man named Testus Terone, whom neither the protagonists nor the readers ever saw before. Averted later when a new character takes up the identity of Coronavirus; it's Julius Caesar.
  • Captain America: The conclusion to the "Scourge of the Underworld" cross-through. A serial killer goes around shooting various C-list villains until Cap lures the man into a trap and unmasks him to find... someone he's never seen before, who even calls Cap out on this, asking if he was expecting to see someone he knew under there. Then he gives his origin anyway... and is shot out out of nowhere by another Scourge.
  • Crisis on Infinite Earths: For the first several issues, the villain was kept shrouded in darkness, his identity a mystery, leaving readers to guess who it might be. At least one letter-writer guessed that it was Darkseid, probably because a similar technique had been used to hide his identity as the villain of The Great Darkness Saga. Then, when the villain's identity was finally revealed, it was the Anti-Monitor, a character who had never been seen or mentioned before, and who had been created solely to serve as the antagonist of Crisis.
  • Justice League of America: In-universe example in the Elseworlds mini-series The Secret Society of Super-Heroes as Batman confronts the Kyle Rayner Green Lantern after he murdered the Wally West Flash and is shot for it. In the scuffle, one strike knocks off Kyle's mask and, when the former hero is down, Batman ruefully muses "How come in real life, when you unmask the bad guy, you've never seen him before in your life?"
  • Spider-Man:
    • There was an early storyline where the masked Crime Master was built up as a major threat, similar to his predecessor Big Man (who had been Daily Bugle reporter Frederick Foswell). However, unlike Big Man, when Crime Master is shot and killed by police during the story climax, it's revealed that the man is completely unknown to both Spider-Man and the reader, though the police identify him as a fugitive. Spidey lampshades it by thinking "Sometimes, the culprit isn't always the butler."
    • The page image is of Electro, an electrician who suffered an accident that gave him electric powers. Peter unmasks him, but he has no connection to Electro's civilian identity Max Dillon and so has no idea who it is.
    • Despite lots of foreshadowing that he may be Harry Osborn (among others) when the fifth Green Goblin was unmasked, he turned out to be... nobody. Literally, it was some kind of Artificial Human created by Norman Osborn.
    • It's easy to forget this, but Venom was originally done like this. During Venom's introductory story arc, Spidey was being stalked by this maniac in the black symbiote suit he'd discarded who seemed to know his identity and monologued angrily to himself about how Spider-Man had ruined his life. He was seen unmasked early in the story, but the readers were unable to identify him, leaving them puzzled about who this mystery man actually is. Then when he finally captures Spider-Man and unmasks himself before him... he's a completely original character, whose backstory was Retconned into an existing Spider-Man story (the infamous Sin-Eater arc). Even worse, Peter knows who Brock is (although not to the extent that they knew each other in Spider-Man 3), making this a Stranger Behind The Mask for the readers only, verging on Remember the New Guy?.
    • Happened again during The Clone Saga, thanks to an editorial screwup. In an attempt to clean up the out-of-control storyline, Marvel retconned everything into being the work of a mystery man named Gaunt. He was intended to be Norman Osborn, the only villain with the credibility to pull off such a wide-ranging plot, but one writer didn't get the memo and dropped hints that Gaunt was serving a more powerful villain. They did an Author's Saving Throw by making Osborn this more powerful villain, and Gaunt was eventually unmasked as... Mendel Stromm, Osborn's business partner in his pre-supervillain days and a D-list villain called "The Robot Master" who'd had all of two previous appearances: the first in 1966 and the second in 1986, a full ten years before The Clone Saga.
    • Subverted at the end of Superior Spider-Man (2013). For over a dozen issues, the Goblin King has been dropping increasingly broad hints that he's Norman Osborn but always refuses to take the mask off. At the climax, Spider-Man rips off his mask, only to discover it's... some redheaded guy with a mustache he's never seen before. It turns out it really is Norman Osborn — he'd gotten plastic surgery since his original face had gotten too well-known.
    • Flipped on Spidey himself during the Mark Millar run in Marvel Knights: Spider-Man #4, in which an injured Spider-Man is abducted from his hospital bed by the Vulture, who angrily tears off the bandages covering his face and is completely deflated by the realization that he and his criminal buddies have been losing to a "nobody" for all this time.
  • The Ultimates: The third volume began with the assassination of the Scarlet Witch. It is unknown who did it, and the mystery remains for some issues. Magneto, in vengeance for the betrayal? Some other mutant terrorist of the Brotherhood? The conservative Captain America, horrified by her open incest? Black Panther, who may be a villain? Hawkeye, one of the few who could make such a sure shot, and who has taken several levels in jerkass since his family died? It's... none of them: it was Ultron. A known character of Marvel, but who had never appeared before in the Ultimate universe, except as a series of Faceless Goons.

    Film — Animated 
  • Incredibles 2: When the Screenslaver is captured by Elastigirl after trying to bring down the Ambassador's helicopter, he's unmasked to reveal a random blonde pizza delivery guy that had made no appearances up to that point. That's because he's not actually the Screenslaver. The real Screenslaver is Evelyn Deavor.

    Film — Live-Action 
  • Murder by Death: Lionel Twain cites this as one of his guests' myriad crimes against their readers during his "The Reason You Suck" Speech at the end of the movie. Then he takes off a mask to reveal himself as Yetta, the supposedly deaf-mute cook.
  • Phone Booth: Near the end, it's revealed that the mysterious sniper was the pizza delivery guy Stu humiliated in the beginning of the film. But then this is reversed a few minutes later, when it turns out he was actually some guy who had never before appeared in the film. Though this would only be a reveal to people who didn't recognize Keifer Sutherland's distinctive voice.
  • In the original Friday the 13th (1980), the killer turns out to be Pamela Voorhees, who first appears seconds before The Reveal, and whose only foreshadowing was a random throwaway line about a boy (her son, Jason, who would go on to be the killer in sequels) who drowned in the lake decades ago uttered around the beginning of the film. Actress Betsy Palmer (Pamela Voorhees) even went to the director, Sean S. Cunningham, and asked to be put in the coffee shop scene at the beginning in order to give the audience some kind of foreshadowing, knowing full well her appearance at the end would result in the audience feeling cheated. Her request was denied since it was deemed inconsequential to the story. She relates this story on several DVD special features.
  • Speed Racer plays with this one. Speed is convinced that the masked Racer X is actually his brother Rex, but when Racer X does unmask himself, he's just some guy we've never seen before. At the end of the film, it's revealed (to the audience, not to Speed or his family) that he really is Rex, just with Magic Plastic Surgery to hide his identity.
  • Donnie Darko — but it actually works. Rather than being a plot-related reveal it deepens the surreality of the film. Justified by the involvement of Time Travel, the masked stranger knows Donnie, but Donnie (and the audience) hasn't met him yet.
  • The House on Sorority Row leads us to believe the killer is the Not Quite Dead Mrs Slater. Turns out it was her before-unmentioned son Eric born mentally unstable and physically deformed and saw the girls from the attic window. It's not fully explained in the film and you'd have to look up a full synopsis to get the proper details.
  • The killer in The Remake turns out to be just a random, psychotic horror fan who hates remakes. Makes him hiding his face under a hood up until the finale completely pointless.
  • Cop: When Hopkins finally faces down the killer in the climax for an extended shoot-out, it's a completely unfamiliar face. No foreshadowing, nothing.
  • In the new Star Wars trilogy. The first movie spends a long time building up the identity of Rey's parents, who abandoned her as a child, only for the second to reveal that they were no one we know; Rey just happens to be skilled in the Force. Then the third film reveals that her father is actually Emperor Palpatine's son, who had also never been mentioned before.
  • Scream 3 features this in-universe, when the killer dramatically unmasks in front of heroine Sidney Prescott, revealing himself to be... Roman Bridger, who was a supporting character in the movie, but whom Sidney had never met before that moment and was, from her perspective, just some random guy.
  • Black Christmas (1974): in the end it is revealed that the real killer was almost certainly someone never introduced in the movie.
  • Rio Lobo: While McNally finds Ketcham is indeed the traitor who sold out his gold shipments (having served in the Union Army under a different name), Ketcham wasn't one of the many Union soldiers to appear under McNally's command in the first act of the movie.
  • The January Man: After the killer's unmasked, he's just a random guy. It's lampshaded by Nick, who after being asked who the guy is, says "He's no one". We never even learn the man's name.
  • In Masquerade (2021), the female intruder turns out to be a previously unseen woman.

  • Played with in Action Figures. It’s not hard for the reader to figure out the secret identity of the adult hero Concorde. When Lightstorm, the first-person narrator, gets to see him without his mask, it’s played up as a shocking revelation … for a few sentences, before she reveals she has no idea who he is. Later, Concorde very sternly impresses on her that she must not reveal his secret identity to the world … only to be subtly chagrined that, despite his secret identity’s fame, she didn’t recognize him.
  • Hercule Poirot:
    • Invoked in Murder on the Orient Express and its many adaptations. There is a murder. It takes place on the Orient Express. Hercule Poirot, who happens to be on board, investigates and discovers that Everybody Did It. However, it turns out that the victim was very much the asshole variety, having committed a heinous crime he would never otherwise be brought to justice for. In the end, Poirot chooses to tell the authorities that a random stranger sneaked on board, murdered the man, and then escaped - the only other remotely plausible explanation at this point.
    • Discussed but subverted in Peril at End House. When Poirot creates an alphabetical list of all the suspects, he includes "J" to represent a potential murderer they know nothing about at this point. It eventually turns out there is a J, but they're not the murderer. The actual murderer was "K" — someone they did know about but didn't think to include on the list.
  • Gaston Leroux's The Mystery Of The Yellow Room is a partial example. The killer is a character that was introduced early on, but is also revealed to be someone else the reader never heard about, and this revelation comes from off-page knowledge of the protagonist's.
  • The villains of at least two Kitty Norville short stories. The werewolf she helps isn't the killer; it's just some random psycho they hunt down together. The guy who created the zombie borders on this; he's not a recurring character and didn't do it for any plot more complicated than being a possessive, sexist asshole. Tropes Are Not Bad; those stories and the series in general are more focused on her personal growth and place in the world than on the Monster of the Week anyway.
  • Cirque du Freak plays with this concerning the identity of the Vampaneze Lord. At first it seems obvious to readers that the Vampaneze Lord is Steve... until he shows up and reveals that he is actually a vampire hunter now. The Vampaneze Lord is later revealed to be ... some completely ordinary looking middle aged man that none of them had ever seen before. Then it's subverted: Steve was the Vampaneze Lord all along and was fooling them, the other man was his willing Fall Guy.
  • In Edward Marston's Murder on the Brighton Express, the police theory is that there are two villains: the Big Bad, and his Dumb Muscle henchman who actually committed the murders. They have a good idea who the henchman is, and several suspects who might be the Big Bad. They're right about the henchman, but the Big Bad is a character introduced in the last few chapters, whose existence nobody suspected.
  • In A Feast for Crows, this is subverted when Pate ("Not the Pig Boy!") asks to see the face of the stranger bribing him to steal a key. Pate does not recognize the man and says as much, but the description is familiar to savvy readers. Ironically, the murder happens after this point, as Pate realizes as he's walking away that the strange man put poison on the payment he gave to Pate.
  • Maul: Lockdown: One of the Driving Questions of the book is which prisoner is the mysterious Arms Dealer Iram Radique. He turns out to be a man who is hiding in the tunnels and has never met Maul, rather than one of the many prisoners who Maul meets throughout his search.
  • Teen Power Inc.: The penultimate chapter of Crime in the Picture reveals that the thieving villains of that book are...two men who the gang have never met or even heard of before.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Bones:
    • In an episode, after much investigation, and with only a couple of minutes of program left, it was suddenly discovered that the Victim of the Week was killed by a random burglar who the victim had walked in on during the burglary, whom we hadn't seen before.
    • The Gormagon arc had a similar ending - he turns out to be just some guy who'd never appeared in any of the previous episodes. His apprentice on the other hand...
  • Starting around season five, 24 set up a huge conspiracy with who was behind the events that carried over for that day, and partly leaked over to season six as well. Come the second half (and especially the last third) of season seven, the conspiracy is played out once again, and assumed to be reaching its endgame, come the season seven finale. Finally, the viewers watch rogue agent Tony Almeida get to The Man Behind the Man, and he made some rather nasty decisions to reach him. So when we see the guy, it's... Alan Wilson, someone the viewers never spotted at any point or have any connection to, whatsoever. What made this twist even more jarring is that during this very season, the writers introduced Jonas Hodges, a much more engaging and charismatic villain who could've been a worthy choice to be the conspiracy leader. But instead, we have this.
  • Jeremiah: The second parts of both the season 2 premiere and finale reveal the identities of spies for The Valhalla Sector and the Army of Daniel who have been sabotaging Thunder Mountain in serious ways that have been felt in earlier episodes. In both cases, the spies are random soldiers who have never been seen earlier in the show.
  • Power Rangers Zeo did this with the identity of the Gold Ranger. After former Ranger Billy kept turning up missing around battles, after Tommy's brother was introduced to the main cast, after even Skull had a couple of moments where he disappeared unexpectedly when the Gold Ranger was around, it turned out to be... some alien from another planet that had never even been mentioned prior to that point. And he's losing his powers, so we get a not-quite-so-out-of-nowhere-but-still-unexpected case of this when Tommy elects Jason, the original Red Ranger, who hasn't been on the show for TWO WHOLE SEASONS by this point to take the powers (admittedly, Billy had a Hand Wave excuse.)
  • Kamen Rider Wizard had a Mysterious Protector known as the White Wizard. When his identity was revealed, he turned out to be...a guy who first appeared at the end of the previous episode. It's then subverted when we learn the guy has another mask...the Big Bad Wiseman.
  • On the Angel episode "Harm's Way", Harmony wakes up after a one-night stand to find the guy dead, and though she doesn't quite remember what happened, she eventually realizes that she was set up for the murder. It turns out the real killer was... some random other vampire chick named Tamika working at Wolfram and Hart, who was upset that Harmony beat her out for her job through nepotism. (Arguably more The Dog Was the Mastermind, since Tamika had appeared very briefly earlier.)
  • In "A Study in Pink", the first episode of Sherlock, the serial murderer turns out to be a random taxi driver, whose reason for killing the people he did had nothing to do with the victims themselves.
  • After three seasons' worth of build-up, Jack, the mysterious serial killer on Profiler, turns out to be... some random guy we've never seen before.
  • Psych: The Serial Killer Yin turned out to be his partner Yang's father, a character who had never appeared or even been mentioned on the show outside of his Yin persona prior to The Reveal.
  • Done in the series finale of Monk. The Big Bad of the series, the man responsible for the murder of Monk's wife, ends up being a fairly boring character introduced earlier within the same episode, and in a way that makes it obvious he'd end up being the murderer a few minutes later. Thankfully this reveal only happens halfway through the finale; the bigger case ends up being trying to determine his motive after he kills himself, which is a much more satisfying mystery, followed by a good ending focused less on the detective work and more on the characters themselves and the conclusions to their development in the story.
  • Criminal Minds often did this in its early seasons, and did it well, being that the mystery was figuring out what kind of person the killer was before using it to actually reveal who the killer was.
  • How I Met Your Mother has, after 8 seasons, finally revealed The Mother's face. She is no one we have seen before, and not particularly noteworthy looking. Then again, this makes perfect sense, as a show about how Ted meets his children's mother would naturally end with that event finally happening.

  • Played with in a George and Gracie radio show. Gracie has been listening to a detective show and George comes into the room near the end. The killer is announced to be... Ebenezer Macgonogal! Gracie said she would never have guessed. Cue George asking, "Who is Ebenezer Macgonogal?" Gracie: "I don't know. That's the first time his name was mentioned."
  • One episode of The Goon Show is announced as "The Story of a Crime-Type Murder". The murder mystery comes to a premature halt after the first musical break, with the arrest of a character no-one's ever heard of:
    Greenslade: The Sock-Jelly Murder, Part Two.
    Seagoon: Stop! Hello, folks, good news, folks! Whilst Max Geldray was playing, they captured the Sock-Jelly murderer. A man called Arthur Plin.
    Greenslade: I say, that's a bit disappointing for the listeners.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • This is generally accepted in pro wrestling, especially the Lucha Libre sub genre, so long as the unmasked wrestler has been around for the mask itself to became familiar to the audience. Everyone has history, after all, even strangers, and in Lucha Libre tradition an unmasked luchador will tell the crowd who he is and how he got there, enough of a reveal on its own. For this reason, along with following the example of El Santo's famous efforts to maintain his secret identity, luchadors try very hard not to unmask for any reason and removing a luchador's mask in a match is grounds for disqualification.
    • One of the most famous gimmicks of this type was The Masked Marvel, a long running Legacy Character going back to at least the 1920s. Typically a bully, The Masked Marvel would usually be unmasked by a local baby face only for another man in the black leather mask to pop up not long afterwards. While some Masked Marvels did turn out to be well known roughians like the Russian Ray Steele, just as many were relative unknowns who became notable wrestlers because they were revealed to be the current Masked Marvel, like Johnny Plummer.
    • Ditto the similar Red Devil gimmick. Jimmy Coffield wouldn't get much notoriety until he work in the mask and became an even bigger deal after it was taken from him. Granted, Jimmy put the mask back on(which is usually a no no unless you win a match for the right to put it back on), so this only applied the first time.
    • The Spider Lady's career was infamously wrecked precisely because this trope was averted. She was supposed to be a mysterious brute who was studying under The Fabulous Moolah, who may or may not have ever been unmasked. When Moolah wore the mask in the match where Wendi Richter was supposed to defeat Spider Lady and Richter revealed Moolah under the mask, well everyone lost interest in the original since Moolah was now an even bigger deal and the still masked Spider Lady became a jobber who faded into obscurity.
    • WCW's aversion to this trope is what killed The Black Scorpion angle retroactively. He was supposed to be a new opponent for Sting, since the feud with Ric Flair was getting stale. But they booked themselves into a corner by implying the Black Scorpion was supposed to be a figure from Sting's past. The only significant wrestler in WCW at the time would could work was Ole Anderson, so when he was unavailable when it was decided The Black Scorpion mask would come off, who would we see but Ric Flair!
    • On the other hand, a really popular luchador's career can be wrecked if fans grow too accustomed to their mask like Silver King, or if they just don't look very impressive underneath it, like Rey Mysterio Jr.. The latter was especially bad, because Rey Misterio original never did lose his mask, so fans had no frame of reference, but it also allowed a loophole for Jr. to put his mask back on by simply dropping the Jr. from his name. No one could say he wasn't Rey Misterio Sr, at least not based on his face.
    • This was the plot of TNA wrestler Suicide, specifically for TNA's first home console video game, which was marketed around its create a wrestler feature. So the angle was after Suicide was taken out by jealous wrestlers on the TNA roster, he would return as the player(whatever features chosen being explained away as reconstructive surgery) without the mask. Perhaps to represent the variable nature of this create a wrestler, several different wrestlers wore the Suicide Suit. Some were prominent TNA figures like Christopher Daniels, Low Ki and Frankie Kazarian, some weren't of any real significance to TNA like Kazuchika Okada, and some had made most of their TNA appearances under a different mask like Puma.
    • Another TNA example that might have been better off this way was Aces And Eights. Or perhaps not going with the unmasking angle at all, but after booking themselves in a corner they had to scramble when fans really stopped taking the invading biker gang seriously after they learned one of them was Brother Devon.
    • Shine Wrestling had an unintentional example in Maria Maria, a masked luchadora gimmick shared by at least two wrestlers. Both were supposed to be big stars but while fans knew Allysin Kay well they were still apathetic to the wider World Wrestling Network's attempts to push Bradi Lauren as a hot new star and responded with "Who's that ginger" when Kay found Lauren under the mask. This embittered Lauren, who insisted on being announced as an "EVOLVE Superstar" and being catered to for being on the shows of larger promotions.

    Video Games 
  • ANNO: Mutationem: The Masked Woman that appears repeatedly overtime appears to much of what's going on behind the scenes when she drops a variety of exposition to Ann. In the final area, she removes her mask, revealing herself that while she certainly looks human, she's actually The Watcher who solely wants Ann to defeat the Big Bad from enacting his master plan.
  • The identity of the Shadow Broker in Mass Effect 2 is widely discussed, both by the fans and in-universe. The announcement of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC drove speculation to a fever pitch. In the end, it's revealed that the Shadow Broker is a yahg, a species never before seen or mentioned in the Mass Effect universe. On top of that, it's also revealed that the yahg isn't even the original Shadow Broker, but rather a former minion of theirs who killed them and assumed their role, and we never find out who the first Shadow Broker was.
  • In Star Wars: The Old Republic, the members of the Star Cabal, the ultimate antagonist of the Imperial Agent's storyline and really, of the entire game, are revealed in the IA's ultimate mission as a bunch of individuals never hitherto seen by the players (though obviously recognizable by some supporting NPCs). The only person you can recognize is the Cabal's chief enforcer, who turns out to be wearing a holographic mask herself—over another complete stranger's face. However, if you've played the other class stories, this trope may no longer apply. That matronly Twi'lek leading the peaceful villagers on the Jedi starter world? The crime lord from the Smuggler's story? The droid that won the Great Hunt? Yup, all of them are members of the Star Cabal.
  • Umineko: When They Cry: Discussed and invoked by Battler; in order to avoid having to accuse one of his family members of murder, he insists that the culprit of his family's massacre, the Golden Witch Beatrice, is a total stranger who is not part of the family. He's technically right (the culprit is a maid named Sayo Yasuda) and wrong (Sayo is also known as Shannon and Kannon, who Battler knows very well, and the real killers are Battler's parents).
  • At the end of the first Nancy Drew game, Secrets Can Kill, Jake's murderer ultimately turns out to be a suspect who was never seen or mentioned in the game until the third act. The Remastered version fixed this by introducing the suspect halfway through the game, and then including another culprit—this time, Nancy's contact Detective Beech.
  • In Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate, you'll spend much of the game wondering about the Lost Soul, a mysterious masked entity who inhabits Dracula's castle and acts like he knows the heroes. It's never revealed in the story. However, beating the game unlocks the Lost Soul's bestiary entry — which explains that he's a personification of Fate and not a character at all!
  • Commander Keen 3 promises a Twist Ending... but the villain is never mentioned in the story until The Reveal, which is followed by obligatory Exposition.
  • The character of Aethas Sunreaver in World of Warcraft was always shown with an ornate mask covering his face. This lead to many fan theories regarding his true identity, with some suggesting that his character marked the return of popular villain Kael'Thas Sunstrider. However, for his appearance in the Siege of Orgrimmar raid he was given a new model with no mask, confirming that he did not have a hidden identity at all.
  • Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies: Zigzagged. The phantom, the Big Bad spy responsible for several murders and a courtroom bombing, essentially turns out to be a complete stranger to the protagonists and players, but we do meet him extensively beforehand- in disguise as Bobby Fulbright, whom he killed in the past. Also unique in that he does not even have a name or face of his own, being that he has been in several disguises so long that he has forgotten his own identity.
  • When masked serial killer Jhin hit the rift in League of Legends, players speculated whatever he was hiding some hideous disfigurement behind his mask, or any other secret involving his identity, idea that was reinforced by the fact that his animated login was depicting him facing a broken mirror. However, Word of God subsequently said that Jhin's mask is a simply aesthetic choice, and behind it there is nothing but a completely unremarkable face.
  • In Disco Elysium, the true culprit behind the murder the Player Character is investigating turns out to be this. You can find evidence of his presence and notice inconsistencies in the various theories you and your partner Kim come up with, but you can't actually meet the man until the closing hour of the game, after the mercenary tribunal has turned the case into something far more significant than a mere murder investigation.
  • Overwatch's third story event, Storm Rising, ends with a cinematic of Doomfist talking to an unseen figure, offering them Talon's help, said person lowers their hood as the camera cuts to their face... all to reveal a character the audience had never been introduced to before. The character was eventually revealed as Null Sector’s leader Rammatra, three years after the event was released.
  • Cemetery Mary: One of the big mysteries of the story is the identity of the person behind the Mystery Number. In the true end, it is revealed to be Ovidius, a person who has never been seen before or referred to. However, he IS revealed to be a subordinate of Crowven who did everything on his orders.
  • Played with in Xenoblade Chronicles 3. The party quickly realizes the war between Keves and Agnus is masterminded by their mysterious masked Consuls. The first Consul to be unmasked, at the end of Chapter 2, turns out to be someone both the party and the players have never seen before. The moment emphasizes more on the fact that this Consul's face is wrinkled, suggesting he and other Consuls are a great deal older than the soldiers of Keves and Agnus, whose lifespans last up to ten terms (for context, they are born in bodies equivalent to the age of ten years and expire at twenty). The Consul unmasked at the end of Chapter 3, however, is someone known to both the party and the audience.

    Web Animation 
  • DR. BEES: In a Dramatic Unmask When Dr. Bees unmasks the Comforter, it turns out to be someone he suspected all along, an individual he did not recognize.

    Web Comics 
  • Batman: Wayne Family Adventures: In "Enough", Spoiler pounces on a masked man stealing jewelry. When she unmasks the thief, she realizes that not only is he not who she thought he was, but also she has no idea who he is. She has to bring in Oracle to find out.
  • In Homestuck, Vriska's appearing suddenly in the fifth act and proceeding to dominate the plot afterwards is stated by Word of God to be an experimental attempt to make the entire plot dependent on a character who had not been previously encountered.
    • And then there's Lord English. For the longest time, we only saw his coat and eyes, leading us to wonder who he is. When he is finally shown, he is... clearly nobody we've seen before, unless they've changed a lot.
      • In this case however, the readers were the only ones who supposed that Lord English was someone that the readers had seen before — the comic itself indicated no such thing. Ultimately, the reason only his coat and eyes were ever shown was both to build up suspense and to hide certain facts about his appearance; namely that he is quite obviously possessing Doc Scratch's now hideously mutated body and that he bears a resemblance to Demonic Dummy Lil' Cal, who was used to make Scratch and English. Note that the Cal connection was Foreshadowed in advance.
  • In Sluggy Freelance, when Kusari's mask gets taken off, it's a genuine Dramatic Unmask played straight, with the reveal that she and Sasha are one and the same. But later, this trope is deliberately invoked when a different character, Zoe, borrows Kusari's mask and takes it off, causing Frog to remark that Kusari was some person he didn't know the entire time!

    Web Videos 
  • Solid jj: The guy unmasked by the Mystery Gang in "Fred's Last Mystery" turns out to be some random guy named Paul that the gang haven't met,note  frustrating them since that means their attempt to deduce who is behind the mask amount to nothing.
  • Parodied in Yu-Gi-Oh! The Abridged Series when Paradox finally removes his mask. The three protagonists all act like they are stupefied to recognize someone they knew... before admitting they have no idea who this is. Paradox then points out they couldn't know anyway, since he is from the future, prompting Yugi to ask him why he was wearing a mask to begin with if they couldn't have recognized him anyway. After weakly trying to deny he was wearing a mask at all to deflect the question, he admits that it was just to make his character design more interesting.
  • Also parodied with Les Chevaliers du Zodiaque : La Série Abrégée, where the villain himself questions why the writers were so obsessed with hiding his face until the finale, since he was someone none of the protagonists had ever seen before.

    Western Animation 
  • Gravity Falls: While the Society of the Blind Eye contains a few minor characters as members, their current leader Blind Ivan was never seen before. Lampshaded by Ivan himself, who tells his captives that if they did see him before, he would have made them forget.
  • Scooby-Doo:
    • Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!:
      • The episode "Spooky Space Kook". The villain at the end (the guy wearing the costume) was someone the audience had never seen before.
      • The same thing occurred in "Hassle in the Castle" and "Bedlam in the Big Top." It almost happened again in "A Gaggle of Galloping Ghosts," but the villains had been seen before, disguised as a fortune-teller.
      • Subverted in "A Clue for Scooby-Doo" where the gang captures a ghostly diver and unmask him, but have no idea who he is. But then Shaggy remembers seeing his picture earlier and recognizes that it's actually the seemingly deceased diver all along pretending to be his own ghost.
      • The episode "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Werewolf?" took this to the extreme—not only was the titular werewolf completely unknown (though he'd been identified as a wool smuggler), he wasn't even named.
    • A Pup Named Scooby-Doo:
      • In one episode, the villain is someone who was not mentioned earlier in the episode, to the utter confusion of the main characters... but then it's immediately subverted in that the character actually had appeared earlier in the episode disguised as an old woman; it was merely the fact that he wasn't really an old woman that hadn't been revealed.
      • Done again in two separate episodes, but less clearly—the villains are people the gang met, but weren't immediately recognizable upon being unmasked (one was wearing a mask, the other a toupee).
    • What's New, Scooby-Doo?:
      • Played with in an episode where the Monster of the Week is actually a scientist who faked her own abduction in the episode's Action Prologue. As a result, the audience (and side characters) had seen her, but the heroes never met her, which frustrates Velma (who declared she had deduced who it was before triumphantly removing the mask and finding out she was wrong) so much that she tried to declare the case void.
      • In another episode, the culprit was a man from the military who was completely unknown to the heroes, however it turns out that he had appeared earlier disguised as a shaman.
  • Invoked in Teen Titans (2003) when the Titans discover someone stole Robin's Red X suit and took the identity as his own. As soon as they affirm it's not Robin pulling another trick, they write off his real identity as unimportant, reasoning that he's likely no one they knew or heard of before.
    Raven: Face it, Red X could be anyone. Anyone smart enough to find the suit and dumb enough to take it for a joyride.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • The identity of the anti-bending terrorist Amon turns out to be Tarrlok's brother Noatak, a character who had never been mentioned before.
    • It's never stated who the fathers of Toph's two daughters, Lin and Su are despite their identities being fodder for much speculation. Turns out Lin's dad was some random guy named Kanto who'd never been mentioned before. Su's dad is never mentioned at all.
  • Parodied in The Spectacular Spider-Man when ol' Web Head unmasks Mysterio and finds a complete stranger. Said stranger, Quentin Beck, angrily reminds Spider-Man that they've met before and that he was the false waiter on the cruise ship, and is absolutely livid that Spider-Man still barely (if at all) remembered him.
  • Justice League plays it for laughs in "The Great Brain Robbery". Lex Luthor ends up switching bodies with the Flash and spends most of the episode trying to avoid the rest of the League chasing after him. In the bathroom, still trying to figure things out, he tries to salvage the situation by removing his mask to figure out that the Secret Identity of the Flash is... nobody Lex recognizes.note .
    Lex: I have no idea who this is.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Left Field Reveal, Unfair Play Reveal



When Paradox finally removes his mask, the trio are shocked to find out that he's... nobody they recognize.

How well does it match the trope?

4.75 (8 votes)

Example of:

Main / StrangerBehindTheMask

Media sources: