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"As is the case with comic continuity, Magneto supposedly died, but then it turns out that he just faked his death by impersonating a new character, and it was all some plan to take over the world and engage in hypocritical acts before he's killed again, but then it turns out it's not really him and-the-character-he-made-up-was-actually-a-real-person-who's-still-alive-so-Magneto-was-actually-some-guy-impersonating-another-guy-impersonating-Magneto."
Linkara, Atop the Fourth Wall
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A new character appears on the scene, usually with a noticeable air of mystery surrounding him or her. Eventually, the mask (literal or metaphorical) is removed, and the stranger turns out to be a disguise created by an established character for some purpose.

But — by this point, the creator(s) have had to devote a significant amount of creative effort detailing the false guise; it has a name and an image, and from a legal standpoint represents a potential trademark. It'd be a waste to just throw it away.

So, naturally, another heretofore unknown character pops up to become the "real" bearer of that identity. Sometimes this is simply an opportunist taking up the unused mantle; sometimes, it involves a retcon establishing the guise as a preexisting character.

Named for the TV series Remington Steele, whose premise had P.I. Laura Holt concoct a fictitious male employer to head her detective agency and thus appease chauvinist expectations of potential customers — only for an anonymous rogue to hijack the identity (and thus the agency) himself.

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See also Impersonation-Exclusive Character, Invented Individual, Masquerading As the Unseen, and Fake–Real Turn. Result of the same motivation as the Legacy Character. Compare Charlie Brown from Outta Town and Accidentally Real Fake Address. Contrast with Dead Person Impersonation.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Eyeshield 21, protagonist Sena Kobayakawa is forced to play football disguised as the titular player, who allegedly played football at a prep school for Notre Dame. In the arc for the Poseidons team during the Fall Tournament, he learns that there actually was a Japanese player at Notre Dame's prep school only known as "Eyeshield 21" — and that he's one of the other athletes in the tournament. It was revealed eventually that Hayato Akaba of the Bando Spiders was Eyeshield 21... but not the player Kakei had faced, who turned out to be Yamato Takeru of the Teikoku Alexanders. In the final chapter, it's revealed that eventually Sena himself becomes the real Eyeshield 21 at Notre Dame prep for a time.
  • Gall Force featured a girl named Catty, who turned out to be one of a series of androids. Another Catty appears in the sequel, and in the third story, the original Catty the androids were based off of appears.
  • Gundam:
    • Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin, an alternate retelling of Mobile Suit Gundam, introduces a real Char Aznable, who befriended Identical Stranger Casval Deikun shortly before both enrolled in the Zeon military. Casval then sets Char up, switching their ID papers and having Char take a shuttle Casval knows is rigged to explode in an assassination attempt. Following this, Casval assumes Char's identity and the rest is history.
    • The novel Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn briefly toyed with the notion that Full Frontal, the story's Char Clone, was in fact the real Char, who survived the shuttle bomb all those decades ago.
    • According to the spinoff manga MSV-R: The Return of Johnny Ridden, this was also the case for Quattro Bajeena. The real Quattro Bajeena was a crewmember on a Federation ship destroyed in the One Year War. Because military regulations required physical remains to be recovered for a soldier to be officially declared dead, the majority of those killed in space battles were listed as MIA rather than KIA. As a result of this, some corrupt Federation bureaucrats began selling off the identity papers of soldiers who were still considered to be alive but almost certainly never coming back, and Char was one of their customers.
  • In Ikki Tousen Great Guardians... The "Saji Genpou" we know is actually Ouin Shishi (Wang Yun); the big bad of Great Guardians is the Fighter with the real magatama of Zuo Ci, a Little Miss Badass young woman who is the true Saji Genpou as well as the local Dark Magical Girl, and the "other" Saji might be in love with her or at least care sincerely for her.
  • Probably two of the most Wham-tastic examples of this trope: Madara Uchiha and Obito Uchiha in Naruto. In an interesting twist, it's the former's very entrance that immediately reveals the previously supposed Madara as a fake.
  • An unusual version of this happens in One Piece as it involved someone's appearance rather than a name, which was wrong by mistake: When Sanji got a wanted poster, they didn't have a picture so they used a sketch. This sketch barely looked like Sanji, but looked almost exactly like another guy named Duval. This lead to numerous bounty hunters coming after Duval until he started wearing a mask, then he came after Sanji for revenge.
  • Around the halfway point of Star★Twinkle Pretty Cure, it is revealed that Bakenyan was just another one of Blue Cat's disguises, used to infiltrate the Notraiders so she could gather information on them in hopes of saving her planet. A later episode has the girls going to see an astrologist that had previously helped Yuni out, a Blind Seer named Hakkenyan, who looks like an older version of Bakenyan. A flashback later seems to confirm that Yuni based the disguise off of an image Hakkenyan showed her of himself at a younger age.
  • In Toei's Yu-Gi-Oh! (first anime series), in episode 8 Count Sheldon impersonates the school nurse using a life-size puppet. In episode 11, the nurse appears for real when treating Yugi's friends.

    Comic Books 
  • The Avengers:
    • "Ronin" seems to be the current go-to identity at the moment for The Avengers. It was first used by Echo (though original plans meant for it to be Daredevil), and then Hawkeye used it. And when a "Ronin" shows up in Ultimate Spider-Man (an Alternate Universe), it turns out to be Moon Knight.
    • Speaking of Ultimate Marvel, the Ultimate version of Black Panther turns out to be Captain America, covering for the real Panther.
  • Batman:
    • Inversion: one of the hinted identities for the villain Hush was Batman's dead sidekick Jason Todd, the second Robin. While this turned out to not be the case, the writers at DC Comics decided to bring back Jason Todd for real in a later story arc.
    • One arc explained how Batman had appropriated the identity of dead criminal 'Matches' Malone as cover for infiltrating the underworld. However, it turns out the real 'Matches' is not dead and he comes back, wanting to know who has been impersonating him... which, ironically, gets him killed by a gang lord who started to suspect the connection between Malone and Batman but wrongfully assumed that 'Matches' was an informant. The shock of finding a dying Malone gave Bruce a short-lived case of identity crisis.
    • Cassandra Cain might have been created simply to have someone wearing the costume of the new Batgirl introduced in Batman: No Man's Land. That new Batgirl was introduced near the beginning of the story, while Cassandra was introduced several months later. After her two-part introduction, Cassandra's next appearance was in an issue that revealed the new Batgirl's identity as existing character Huntress. In that issue Huntress was then forced to abandon the costume, which was promptly given to the just-introduced Cassandra.
  • Shortly after the Watergate scandal and resignation of President Richard Nixon, Steve Rogers abandoned the identity of Captain America and adopted the new identity of Nomad, the man without a country. After a few months, Rogers returned to fighting crime as Captain America. Years later, Jack Monroe (aka Bucky), formerly the sidekick of the Captain America of the 1950s, took up the mantle of Nomad. Played with in a later storyline, when the U.S. government attempts to assert control over Captain America. Steve Rogers allows them to take the name, costume and shield away from him rather than become a government lapdog, only to don a Palette Swapped costume and fight crime as simply "The Captain". When Rogers eventually reclaimed the Captain America identity, he swapped uniforms with the other individual the government had placed as Captain America, who was re-dubbed "The U.S. Agent".
  • In Deadpool, Deadpool himself is convinced he's Wade Wilson (I am!), and though Agent X claimed to be him, it was because Black Swan absorbed Deadpool's powers while trying to save himself, which led to Nijo obtaining his regeneration and part of his memories when he was revived. T-Ray also claimed to be the real Wade Wilson. For a while who the real Wade is varied Depending on the Writer, now it's just Who the Hell Knows. (Both 'Pool and T-Ray are kind of nuts, so you really can't take either of them at their word.)
  • Diabolik has Walter Dorian. In the first stories Walter Dorian is an alias used by the titular Villain Protagonist as a Secret Identity, abandoned after Ginko arrested Diabolik and exposed his true face. Years later, reasoning that when he first arrived in Clerville Diabolik didn't have the means to create a convincing fake identity yet, the authors created a real Walter Dorian, an Identical Stranger of Diabolik whose identity was stolen by the title character after nearly killing him in another country (Dorian was left for dead and was imprisoned as a spy by soldiers who were about to rebel).
  • The Invincible Man from Marvel Comics. The first person in the costume was the Super Skrull. Not only was he in a full costume, but he was pretending to be Dr. Franklin Storm, father to Susan and Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four. The Skrulls kidnapped Franklin and pretended he had gone mad and given himself super powers while in prison. Reed Richards saw through the deception when he noticed Invincible Man's powers were similar to their own. The second person was Reed himself, who was kidnapped and brainwashed into becoming the Invincible Man to help kidnap the rest of the Fantastic Four. Ultimately, this was a plan created by Doctor Doom. Reed's version used technology from the Psycho-Man to play with people's emotions and create hallucinations. The third Invincible Man was Doom himself. Prior to the Secret Wars, he lost his body during the battle between Silver Surfer and Terrax and was forced to body-swap with a random pedestrian before he died, created a makeshift costume and weapons, and attacked the Latverian embassy. Doom's ultimate plan was to get to his resources, including his spare suit of armor, and recreate his body. The story arc ended with Doom getting his body back and leaving the innocent man's body once his mind was transferred by the Beyonder, whom he accidentally called to the scene (due to temporal paradoxes the Doom who fought in the Secret Wars was Doom from THAT point in time, with no knowledge of the Secret Wars).
  • When Domino was first introduced, it wasn't actually the real Domino, but rather another character named Copycat impersonating her. The real Domino wouldn't show up for another year after the fact.
  • Justice League of America: An apparent sorcerer named Bloodwynd joined the Justice League in the early 1990s. Eventually this turned out to be the Martian Manhunter, forced to impersonate the real Bloodwynd, who was trapped inside the magic gem the Manhunter had been wearing during the impersonation. This sometimes got really screwed up when Martian Manhunter appeared on the cover at the same time...
  • The fifth issue of the 1966 Plastic Man comic had Plastic Man attempt to thwart a gang's plan to reward a fortune to the first crook that can off Plastic Man by pretending to be a brute known as the Assassin and tossing his friend Gordon K. Trueblood into the water while the latter was disguised as Plastic Man (Trueblood was in on the trick and Plas fished him out when no one was looking). When Plastic Man as the Assassin shows up to claim the prize money, his deception is ruined when the Assassin turns out to be real and desires to kill Plastic Man for impersonating him.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog (Archie Comics): Fiona Fox was originally introduced as a robot created by Dr. Robotnik to seduce Tails and ultimately roboticize him, but ended up being destroyed. A few years later, we find out that the robot was based on the real Fiona, who had been Robotnik's prisoner. The real Fiona became a recurring character, and ultimately, recurring villain, as she ended up pulling a Face–Heel Turn to be Scourge's girlfriend.
  • Spider-Man:
    • During the "Identity Crisis" storyline, Spider-Man adopted four separate disguises (Dusk, Hornet, Prodigy, and Ricochet) to operate while framed for murder. This was actually quite a clever move on Spidey's part; he realized that if he went off the radar and a new costumed hero immediately showed up with similar abilities and body build, people would be suspicious. But if four such people showed up, it didn't matter if his enemies suspected one of them was a disguised Spider-Man because who could possibly suspect all of them? And it gave him plenty of margin for error, since if one identity was blown he still had others to fall back on. To further the trickery, two of the fake identities (Dusk and Ricochet) were supervillains. After the storyline's resolution, a Golden Age hero who had nothing to do with Spidey obtained the abandoned costumes and gave them to four new characters, who he trained to form the short-lived Slingers.
    • Spider-Man introduced a new heroine called Jackpot, who is probably best known so far for maybe possibly potentially being Mary Jane Watson. It wasn't, but no sooner did we find that out than the girl was killed. This girl was intended to be the "Uncle Ben" for the original Jackpot, who came up with the identity but passed it off to someone else as she didn't want the Great Responsibility. The "original" Jackpot (Sara Ehret) then received an epic chewing out by Spidey for her Refusal of the Call resulting in an innocent's death which prompted her to take the identity for real... and shortly afterwards a villain learned her true identity (by utter coincidence) and sent a thug to kill her husband in front of their daughter, forcing both to go into hiding under false identities.
  • Squadron Supreme started as JLA supervillain Expies, but later it was retconned that they're evil duplicates of alternate universe heroes.
  • Superman:
    • In The Silver Age of Comic Books, Superman and Jimmy Olsen occasionally adventured inside the shrunken Kryptonian city of Kandor where Superman's powers didn't function, and adopted the Batman-and-Robin-inspired identities of Nightwing and Flamebird. They were later replaced by Kandorian scientist Van-Zee (Superman's Identical Stranger) and his lab assistant Ak-Var. Then Nightwing became Dick Grayson's post-Robin identity; Flamebird has also been used by established characters Post-Crisis (including, the first Bat-Girl Betty Kane who Post-Crisis got rebooted into Bette"e" Kane who went by Flamebird). And now all of the Kandorians have been set loose. There was also a brief period when Supergirl and Power Girl assumed the identities of Flamebird and Nightwing while operating inside Kandor.
    • The blue lightning-themed costume worn by Superman during his "Electric Superman" phase was passed on to a woman, who adopted the name "Strange Visitor".
  • Alan Moore's run of Swamp Thing famously revealed that the titular character wasn't Alec Holland, but rather a living mass of plant life that had consumed his memories and personality. After the events of Brightest Day, the real Alec Holland was brought Back from the Dead and became Swamp Thing for real.
  • Thunderbolts: In the original version, Baron Zemo was disguised as "Citizen V", a Legacy Character for an obscure patriotic hero who fought alongside La Résistance during World War II. After the betrayed The Commissioner Gordon character Dallas Riordan assumes the identity, and much other Hilarity Ensuing, a disembodied Zemo finds himself in possession of the body of a real descendant of the original Citizen V.
  • A double example from the WildStorm universe, the android Spartan/Yon Kohl/John Colt turned out to be imprinted with the mind of the original Yon Kohl/John Colt, who had died in the sixties. Later, it was revealed that Colt was Not Quite Dead and had created the identity of Kaizen Gamorra, an insane dictator. After he was killed again (by the same guy, in the same way, but this time he's definitely, totally, for real dead. Probably.) Then we discover that there was a real Kaizen Gamorra who's not happy that Colt imprisoned him and stole his identity.
  • The character of "Wonder Girl" originally appeared as the teenaged incarnation of Wonder Woman in Wonder Woman (1942) (just as the original Superboy was the youthful identity of Superman). When the Teen Titans were created in the 1960s, Wonder Girl was added to the team... but the Titans were contemporaries of the Justice League of America, and by extension of Wonder Woman. Thus the Titans' Wonder Girl was explained four years later to be Donna Troy, an orphan rescued by Wonder Woman and raised among the Amazons. (This explanation would be subjected to repeated further revisions due to The DCU's constant reboots and retoolings, with the result being that Donna has an impossibly convoluted history even for a comic book character. For a while it was even said that she is left over from The Multiverse as it existed before most dimensions were destroyed and the survivors merged during Crisis on Infinite Earths, making her a walking Temporal Paradox who has multiple conflicting histories by nature! However, DC's continued inability to leave well enough alone means that that is now no longer true and she's still getting new origins every few years - some of which are actually impossible due to the revised histories of related characters!)
  • X-Men:
    • In the 1960s, Cyclops adopted the identity of "Erik the Red" to infiltrate a villain's confidence. In the 1970s, a new Erik the Red appeared, this time an alien agent named Davan Shakari with no connection to the original plot and no particular reason to use the identity (or for that matter, any reason to not use his real name; it's not like he had a civilian life on Earth to conceal). Cyclops actually expressed his confusion at this, pointing out that "Erik the Red" was simply his own disguise. In the '90s, another storyline saw the return of the Erik the Red identity, who was even lampshaded in the text as being someone else we knew in disguise. Later, it turned out that he was Magneto, who has at times gone by the alias of "Erik Lehnsherr".
    • In 2001, writer Grant Morrison added a character named Xorn to the X-Men, a Chinese dissident sealed behind a skull-like metal mask to contain his powers. In 2003, Xorn unmasked himself as a disguise for Magneto. But the editors didn't like the idea of Magneto (and Xorn, technically) being Killed Off for Real at the end of the arc (nor did they care much for the way Magneto's character was portrayed despite Morrison's rationalizations), and asked incoming writer Chuck Austen to handle the situation. Under Austen's changes, it was now the real Xorn who had pretended to be Magneto, who had pretended to be his identically masked twin brother, also named Xorn, who joined the team.
    • That Xorn has since turned up: turns out he was just misguided, and has since decided the world needs the real Magneto again, repowering him after his depowerment in House of M. Some fans are angry, but most are just confused. (It helps that both "who was Xorn really?" ideas were written by people who didn't check with each other. One version of him having a brother who looks pretty much the same mostly lets you say "Ah, that's who that other Xorn origin belongs to" but there are still conflicts. Notably, the story that establishes that Xorn wasn't Magneto totally ignores the whole question of who he was. Charles returns to Genosha to bury Erik, and finds... Erik. From there it was basically "We thought that guy was you." "I used to be evil but not that evil." "Yeah, you're right. Anyway, on with this comic's actual plot!" and the mess was mostly forgotten. Needless to say, many wish that had been the end of it.)
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    Comic Strips 
  • Luann: A plotline culminated in the revelation that the Gunther she'd been talking to for several weeks was actually her longtime crush Aaron Hill in an elaborate costume, trying to make some kind of point.

    Fan Works 
  • In the Pokémon anime Ash disguised himself as "Ashley". in Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Ash meets a waitress who looks a lot like his old disguise, except older, and even has the same name. And given what the plot has hinted so far, they might be half-siblings.
  • The plot of Mega Man 6 has Dr. Wily start a Robot Master tournament under the disguise of Mr. X. Fangame Mega Man 8-Bit Deathmatch starts with the real Mr. X announcing the second Robot Master tournament.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Irma La Douce, Nestor Patou impersonates a Quintessential British Gentleman and is ultimately jailed for murdering his alter-ego. He's unexpectedly freed at the end when a real person who looks and acts exactly like his fake identity shows up.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Editing (and desperate retcon) created an example of this involving the Mandarin:
      • As originally written, Aldrich Killian's plan involved False Flag Operations, implicating the independent terrorist organization the Ten Rings in several bombings around the world, and casting out-of-work actor Trevor Slattery as their leader, a historical Legacy Character called the Mandarin. However, much of this material was cut from the movie, leading a viewer to safely assume that Killian's declaration that he was the real Mandarin "all along" meant he was indeed The Man Behind the Man going back to the first Iron Man film. Word of God declared otherwise, leading to...
      • All Hail the King, which sets the record straight: The Mandarin is a historical legacy, he's real, and active, and, well:
      Jackson: There's somebody who wants to meet you.
      Trevor: Do I know him?
      Jackson: No, but you took his name and now he wants it back.
      • Said real Mandarin would finally make his debut seven years later in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, where his real name is Xu Wenwu, and while "The Mandarin" moniker was made up, Wenwu accepts it as a title because he thinks it's Actually Pretty Funny that Killian managed to terrify America with a character named after a type of orange.
    • In Spider-Man: Far From Home, the Elementals take on the identities of classic Spider-Man foes such as Sandman, Hydro-man, Molten Man, and Cyclone, but aren't actually the characters, being illusions meant to prop up Mysterio as a superhero. Spider-Man: No Way Home introduces Peter to the real Sandman, as in the one from the Spider-Man Trilogy.
  • In The Over-the-Hill Gang Rides Again, a bandit adopted the Baltimore Kid's identity and held up the Wells-Fargo office in Waco. What he did not know was that the real Baltimore Kid was now the town drunk.

    Literature 
  • In an example that's like Remington Steele the series, rather than strictly this trope, Marco Denevi's noirish novel Rosaura at 10 O'Clock concerns a shy man who tells his neighbours he's having a secret affair with a rich woman named "Rosaura", and he sends himself perfumed letters. Therefore, he's shocked when one day Rosaura shows up at his door.
  • Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Was Not: In "The Investigation into the Dawning Od", Arthur Conan Doyle has written a series of short stories about Secret Agent Holmes, based on series of outlandish rumours he had heard in Whitehall. He is shocked when the real Sherlock Holmes turns up, not at all happy about having his cover blown.
  • The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch novels revisit the TV series episode in which Cardassian Legate Tekeny Ghemor was tricked into believing that Bajoran Major Kira was daughter Iliana, surgically altered and given False Memories as a Sleeper Agent. It turns out that contrary to what Legate Ghemor believed for the rest of his life, the real Iliana Ghemor was still alive the whole time. When she escapes from a secret prison, she is not happy to learn that her father "replaced" her by becoming a father figure to Kira.
  • Aoi Meinokawa is the Girl of the Week in the seventh volume of The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign. Kyousuke seeks her help in summoning an entity capable of permanently killing his nemesis, the White Queen. It turns out that the White Queen had actually taken the place of Aoi from the beginning, and deliberately helped out Kyousuke to further her own plans. This is a somewhat unusual example, because Aoi is an Artificial Human originally designed to resemble the White Queen, so no disguise was necessary — the White Queen only had to get the real one out of the way and copy her behavior. But it turns out that Kyousuke had actually figured out the deception before the Queen revealed herself, and was merely playing along. At the end of the volume, the real Aoi is found alive, having been dismembered and dumped in a lake.
  • Daniel Pinkwater's Young Adult Novel contains a variant: the Wild Dada Ducks, a group of schoolboys, amuse themselves by writing chapters from an imaginary novel called "Kevin Shapiro, Boy Orphan" (which contains many examples of Death by Newbery Medal). When they find out their school has a real Kevin Shapiro, they embark on a new project — to make him the most popular kid in school. Shapiro isn't too happy with their helpful meddling, and concocts plans of his own...

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.: Brisco's go-to alias when going undercover amongst ne'er-do-wells is Kansas Wiley Stafford. Then in one episode the real Kansas Wiley Stafford comes to town, calling out the man who is claiming to be him.
  • The Blacklist:
    • Subverted when a stranger arrives at the Post Office and tells the task force that he's the real Raymond Reddington, and the one they've been working with is an impostor. It turns out this stranger is just a conman hired by Reddington to squash the rumors that he had been working with the FBI. The deception allowed Reddington to convince the criminal underworld that the conman was the one working with the FBI all along.
    • Years later it was revealed that Raymond Reddington is indeed an impostor, when Tom Keen found the real Reddington's dead body.
    • When Liz met her grandfather, he let her believe that Raymond Reddington is actually Ilya Koslov, an old friend of her mother, Katarina Restova. When Katarina comes back into Liz's life, she convinces Liz to turn against Reddington, by introducing her to the real Ilya Koslov.
    • Then it turned out that the woman who claimed to be Liz's mother was an impostor, the real Katarina Restova had been masquerading as Raymond Reddington all along.
  • In Earth: Final Conflict, when Liam is born and grows up, he decides to create himself an identity. He researches William Boone and finds that he served with a soldier named Liam Kincaid, who is now nowhere to be found after the war. One episode has Liam encounter the real Liam Kincaid, who has joined a black ops unit after the war. Kincaid eventually says he's okay with Liam using his name.
  • Family Matters: The "Stefan" character started out as a chemically-induced, temporary transformation of Urkel. Eventually, Steve was cloned, and the clone decided to permanently become Stefan. This one was a case of Real Life Writes the Plot, as Jaleel White had become so fed up with the Urkel character that he wanted a chance to play someone more normal, and this was his chance to do so. Reportedly one of White's favorite roles to play was the Bruce Lee Clone, who was neither Steve or Stefan and in many ways was more ridiculous than both of them could ever be.
  • The Flash:
    • Season One features Dr. Harrison Wells, who is eventually revealed to be Eobard Thawne, having stolen the body of the real Harrison Wells and murdered the original. Following this, due to the popularity of Tom Cavanagh's acting, no less than four Harrison Wellses from four different Earths have played important roles in the show (in addition to Thawne returning with Wells' body), with a variety of others performing cameos.
    • Season Two features Jay Garrick arriving from Earth-2 and warning the team of the evil, demonic speedster Zoom, but being unable to help them much due to his powers being missing. However, it turns out in the second half of the season that "Jay" (whose real name is Hunter Zolomon) was deceiving them all, and he and Zoom were the same person. Only in the season finale does he reveal that he didn't just make up the name, but rather stole it from the real Jay Garrick, the Flash of Earth-3, whom he's been keeping imprisoned behind an iron mask in his lair. By this point, poor Barry has some major trust issues.
  • Motive: In "Fallen", the Victim of the Week is a graffiti artist who claims to be a famous anonymous street artist known as 'Contagion', so he can sell out and make money out of Contagion's name and fame. For much of the investigation, the detectives are working on the assumption that the victim was Contagion, until one of the suspects turns out to be the real Contagion.
  • On Scrubs, Elliot gets tired of "Dr. Eliot Reid" being presumed to be a man, so she pretends to be "his" nurse in order to quiet down a sexist patient. When he becomes skeptical, she gets the Janitor to fill in as "Dr. Reid".
  • In Snowpiercer, the audience gets the revelation very early on that, unlike the original comic and film, Mr. Wilford is not on the train — instead, Melanie Cavill pretends to be him in between doing her own work, and she mentions at one point that she left him behind when the train took off because the colossal Jerkass is the one who rearranged the train from The Ark to the Crapsack World that it is purely for the money. The final minutes of the first season end with the supply train that is the prototype to Snowpiercer coupling to it after several years of trying to catch up, and the very first thing that is revealed about this train is that the survivor society in it is led by the real Mr. Wilford, who is most definitely not happy about being left to die. This is most probably one of the few times when this trope is Played for Horror (especially for the people in-universe).
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, it turns out that the Klingons were being manipulated into fighting The Federation by a shapeshifter, and so our heroes go undercover to expose the Klingon leader Gowron... only it's not Gowron, it's Gowron's right hand man, Martok. The producers so liked J. G. Hertzler's performance of Martok that they soon had the real Martok be discovered at a Dominion prison and eventually rescued, becoming a major Recurrer, eventually becoming the new leader of the Klingon Empire.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The Undestined in Godbound usually can't be remembered by most people, and their actions tend to be attributed to others because they're snared in the gears of fate. They can work around this by creating false identities for themselves, but if they're discovered in this, there's a chance that their false identity will be created as an actual person, who won't be happy with the "imposter."
  • Red Dwarf: The Vindaloovians were introduced in the Parent Series has a race made up by the Cat and Lister in an attempt to outwit a rogue Simulant. However, the rulebook reveals that they were an actual form of GELF who exist.

    Video Games 
  • Used in Dragon Quest IX, with the first Lleviathan being Johanna's dead father affected by a Fygg. The real one makes an appearance in the Playable Epilogue, but only if you accept Johanna's quest after defeating the Big Bad.
  • Final Fantasy Brave Exvius:
    • MAYOR spoilers for Season 2. Read under your own risk: The Akstar that joins the team at the beginning of the season is actually Rain from a Bad Future where the entire team were killed by Emperor Vlad. As the Sole Survivor, he concocted a plan with the aid of the vision of Dark Fina and convinced the real Akstar to let him take his place in the past. Rain then acted as a rather trollish Sink-or-Swim Mentor to Lasswell in order to harden his heart as Rain thought that Lasswell's hesitation to strike both him and Vlad during the Final Battle was the beginning of the end. The real Akstar joins Fina's group eventually in Season 3 and he's not so different from the way Rain acted as him, just swap the insulting nicknames for some reluctance at being a mentor and taking pupils.
    • MAYOR spoilers for Season 3. Read under your own risk: The Hollow Keepers that Fina and co fought for much of the season are revealed to be the actual Hollow Breakers, having been manipulated by the True Hollow Keepers into doing the grunt work. This sends all the protagonist into a collective Heroic BSoD, specially Fina and Chorale.
  • In the Kingdom Hearts franchise, we have the name and identity of Ansem, which is initially used by Xehanort. Unusually for the trope, the real Ansem is practically nothing like the fake one, in terms of looks, personality, motivations, or moral alignment (the imposter only interacted with those who had never met the real deal).
  • Planescape: Torment: The nameless protagonist has the option to tell almost everyone he meets that his name is "Adahn". Since the game is set in the belief-shaped Outer Planes, if he does this enough, a "real" Adahn will appear.
  • Professor Layton and the Curious Village: Don Paolo disguises himself as the well-known Inspector Chelmey. The real Chelmey turns up in the second game.
  • In the first Silent Hill, Lisa Garland is revealed to have been Dead All Along in a plot twist; the Lisa we meet is a manifestation of Alessa's memories of her. We get to meet the real Lisa for the first time in the prequel Silent Hill: 0rigins.
  • In the Imperial Agent's prologue in Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Agent adopts the cover identity of a pirate known as the Red Blade, with your contact telling you that the real thing is far away. At the end, just as you're leaving, the real deal comes to Hutta and you're forced to kill him to avoid blowing your cover. Ironically, he implies in conversation that he's not the original Red Blade either.
  • Super Mario Bros. 2 turned out to be All Just a Dream, but the enemies in it later turned up in non-dream Super Mario Bros. games.

    Web Comics 
  • El Goonish Shive: Early on in the story, Elliot gets accidentally turned into a girl, and quickly creates the alias of "Ellen" to cover things up until he can find a way to change back. Complications with his attempted method of changing back then cause the girlification enchantment to become incarnated as a permanent Opposite-Sex Clone, who adopts the "Ellen" identity and proceeds to become one of the main characters.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender Super Deformed Short "School Time Shipping", Haru, Jet, and Zuko compete to see who will accompany Katara to the dance; who does she go with? Zuko's Secret Identity, the Blue Spirit!
  • Buzz Lightyear of Star Command featured the character Shiv Katall, a bounty hunter hired by Zurg to hunt down defectors from his organization. Unknown to him, Katall was actually Buzz in disguise (and before him, Commander Nebula), who used the identity to aid the defectors. Unfortunately the ruse was inadvertently exposed by Buzz's team. Some time after this however, Shiv Katall mysteriously reappears, his identity taken by Evil Buzz Lightyear.
  • A variation of this trope occurs in Gargoyles. In the "City of Stone" arc, baddie Macbeth has appropriated the legacy of The Hunter, an identity used by several characters roughly a thousand years ago as part of several vendettas (including several against him). Later on in the season, it is revealed that the original legacy had survived, and we meet a trio of "real" Hunters.
  • Throughout King of the Hill, Dale often uses the fake name "Rusty Shackleford", apparently the name of an old classmate who died when he was in the third grade. In a Season 11 episode, the real Rusty Shackleford confronts him. Turns out he just moved away.
  • The Simpsons:
    • In "Flaming Moe's", one of Bart's crank calls to Moe's involves asking for a "Hugh Jass". The difference is that this time, Moe actually finds a guy named Hugh Jass in his tavern, which Bart does not anticipate. The guy turns out to be nice enough to let him off the hook however.
    • In a similar gag in "The Last Temptation Of Homer", Homer tells Moe that he has this friend named Joey Joe-Joe Jr. Shabadoo. Moe replies that that's the worst name ever, only for a man actually named Joey Joe-Joe Jr. Shabadoo to run out of the bar crying.
  • A variation: The South Park episode "Not Without My Anus" — treated as an in-universe work of fiction — features a journalist/court prosecutor named Scott as a villain. Years later, in "It's Christmas in Canada" the kids meet a real Scott. This Scott was introduced with five words: "That's Scott. He's a dick." A later episode sees the debut of a real Ugly Bob, who moved to America because Americans think all Canadians look alike.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • An episode has Mr. Krabs attempt to get SpongeBob to give up the soda drink hat he sold him by claiming that it belonged to someone who is dead now, making up the name of Smitty Werbenjeggermanjenson. Later, it turns out that there actually is a fish in Bikini Bottom Cemetery by that name and that the hat did belong to him prior to his death.
    • A later episode has SpongeBob trying to cover up the fact that he got a black eye trying to open a tube of toothpaste by saying he was attacked by Jack M. Crazyfish, telling multiple conflicting stories of the encounter, until the real Jack M. Crazyfish enters the Krusty Krab looking for SpongeBob. Although SpongeBob panics and admits he made up those stories about Crazyfish, it turns out Crazyfish wasn't coming to attack SpongeBob but to get a Krabby Patty.
  • In Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2003), during the Turtles' third showdown with the Shredder, it's revealed that he's actually an Utrom in a Mobile-Suit Human, and we soon leaarn his real name is Ch'Rell, rather than Oroku Saki. Soon afterwards, the Turtles learn that Ch'Rell wasn't the one who created the Shredder persona. The original Oroku Saki existed in ancient Japan, and became the Shredder after bonding his soul with a Tengu demon. Ch'Rell had been inspired by the legends and took up the mantle for his own.
  • In Teen Titans (2003), a mysterious new criminal named Red X appears and seeks to partner with the Titans' enemy Slade. He turns out to be an alias of Robin, used in a ploy to investigate and/or capture Slade. In later episodes, the Red X costume is stolen by an unknown thief, essentially identical to the persona being portrayed by Robin. It's never revealed who stole the Red X suit, although Word of God is that he was not any previously introduced character.
  • In The Venture Bros., Dr. Venture's family "abduct" him, and while he's bound and blindfolded they adopt some false personae as his kidnappers. One of these is simply a talking toy bear named Ted (a parody of Teddy Ruxpin). In a later episode it's seen that Hank and Dermott have kept the Ted fiction going. Dr. Venture has now befriended Ted (although he's never seen him), and they take advantage of his long phone "conversations" to sneak out of the house. When Dr. Venture finds that he can't get Ted on the phone any more (because they just couldn't keep it up), he concludes that Ted is in trouble and goes looking for him. He takes Sgt. Hatred, who was in on the original abduction but doesn't piece together that this is the same Ted. When Hatred finally figures it out, he's about to confess to Dr. Venture that Ted doesn't exist, when the real Ted suddenly appears. It's actually the toy's voice actor, coincidentally just escaped from a mental institution where he had been since he cracked and became Lost in Character. Unlike the classic form of this trope, Ted never reappears.

    Real Life 

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