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Unreliable Narrator / Comic Books

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Comics are the easiest medium to accomplish this in, since you can have the narration saying one thing above the panel and the panel show what's really happening, whereas in Film, Western Animation, and Live TV you might have the narrator's speech conflict with the scene, necessitating a more "flashback" style to show this. It is very common to have a narrator say one thing and the below panel completely contradict it.


  • It should be obvious at the beginning of Earth X that Uatu the Watcher is an unreliable narrator: he's an alien from a culture that has very different values from humanity's. It should be further obvious when Uatu does things like object to World War II on the grounds that "humanity was not yet ready for a master race". But most readers were used to Uatu's style of narration and problematic "neutral" moral stance from What If?, so Uatu manages to carry on the illusion that he's a friend of humanity for several more issues.
  • At the beginning of Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, Kara tells a tale of abusive parents banishing her to Earth because she requested seasoning. Superman gives her an "Okay, now tell me the real story" stare and she relents.
  • Rorschach in Watchmen is a good example of this, especially when he talks about himself. The artwork actually uses an unreliable framing device (one of many the work contains) to show "Rorschach" in the first person and Walter Kovacs in the 3rd person (walking around in the background of the same chapter), leading to The Reveal. This both misdirects the audience as to who Rorschach is behind the mask, and contributes to the sense of Rorschach's disconnection from "the man in the mirror", so to speak.
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  • Ed Brubaker's Books of Doom miniseries tells the origin story of classic Marvel Comics supervillain Doctor Doom, seemingly narrated by Doom himself. However, at the story's end, it is revealed that the narrator is actually one of the Doom's Doombots, telling the story that Doom has programmed into it, leaving to question how much of it was true.
  • Dreadwing, the main antagonist of Gold Digger, has a mymior, a magical journal of sorts for dragons. He lost his original one, but he was able to create a "new and improved" mymior for himself and it's clear that Dreadwing's jaded and evil mindset has heavy influence over his writing, such as putting everyone except him in a negative light, trying to justify his many crimes and giving questionable overviews of his relationships with other characters.
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  • Word of God states that Dilios of 300 is an unreliable narrator; all of the supposed inconsistencies with actual history are actually bare-faced lies, with Delios stretching the truth about who did what and how many there were. This naturally justifies the comic's explicit use of Rule of Cool and Refuge in Audacity.
  • Injustice: Gods Among Us deserves a mention as it is narrated by Harley Quinn who grossly exaggerates her involvement with the Insurgency.
  • The Scott Pilgrim series. It's revealed in the final book of the series, Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour, that Scott's memories of his past experiences with his ex-girlfriends were altered by Gideon Graves, meaning some of the events shown in the previous books may/may not be entirely false.
  • John Constantine from Hellblazer tends to get unreliable, especially if he's depressed or drunk. If there was a scene where he actually didn't see it (but we readers do), he will tend to second guess everything and can only imagine what could have happened. Although not an accurate description, John's gory imagination makes up one hell of a comic panel.
  • Done in Steelgrip Starkey and the All-Purpose Power Tool via thought balloons and dialog from Flynn "Flyin'" Ryan. Although he's secretly the tool's inventor and the mastermind behind Mr. Pilgrim, his thoughts often read like he's unaware of the big picture. Done particularly egregiously when he and a cohort are making plans, and he still refers to Mr. Pilgrim in the third person.
  • In Twisted Toyfare Theatre, the perpetually drunk Iron Man tells Spider-Man about how Bucky died (again).
    Iron Man: I shtood my ground, but it wash too late! The Shweathogs got him...
    Captain America: "Sweathogs"? I thought Pez Dispensers were chasing you!
    Iron Man: Thash the weird part...
  • Vincent Santini, the narrator from Brooklyn Dreams, tells us in the first page he can't remember much from his past, so he'll tell us the best he can. The whole story is him telling us about his life the way he wants to remember it. He even says "I'll weave you some lies about my life, and who knows they might be true."
  • This is one of the rules governing the stories in Mouse Guard: Legends of the Guard.
    • June states that the stories can be neither "complete truths", nor "complete falsehoods." Exactly how much of any given story is true or false is left as an exercise to the reader, and they vary from the relatively plausible (a story of brief and unlikely companionship between mouse and bat), to the truly outlandish (a mouse king who rode into battle upon a weasel, a Guardmouse who saved a town from a flash flood and drought by swallowing the flood waters then spitting them back out to serve as a reservoir).
    • Amusingly, one of the most plausible stories — a play on "Androcles and the Lion" in which an African mouse manages to befriend a lion that's impressed with its bravery and resourcefulness (pulling the thorn out of the lion's paw is in there, but is outright established to be a secondary factor at best) — is discarded out of hand because the North American mice of the series have never seen or heard of lions or hyenas before, as well as the fact that it's told by a known lunatic who claims to have heard it from a beetle, which aren't talking animals in Mouse Guard.
  • In the first annual for Thunderbolts Citizen V tells new member Jolt how the team formed. As Jolt is unaware they're really villains in disguise, V (aka Baron Zemo) alters details from locations (he says he met Techno in Minneapolis when the Fixer was in Atlanta) to their origins and the true reasons they formed.
  • In his debut in Supreme Power Emil Burbank shares his story to a military contact, making himself sound a promising and eager scientist. The panels show the truth, which is that Burbank is a murderous sociopath who doesn't care who he steps on to get ahead.
  • An annual had Iron Man villain The Mandarin telling his life story to a film maker, with the captions showing his version of the events, and the panels showing the complete opposite.
  • Fantastic Four #15 offers this introduction to the Thing.
  • Common in Twisted Tales. Examples include:
    • "Banjo Lessons": A man narrates, in increasingly detailed flashbacks, the circumstances that led him to have a psychotic break and murder his friends. He claims it's due to his suppressed rage over an incident where they killed and ate a dog while on their hunting trip, but a court sees through him and realizes the truth - "Banjo" the dog was actually their (black, while the men were white) hunting guide.
    • "Me An' Ol' Rex": A mentally disabled hick boy is beaten by his abusive father, but finds solace in "Rex", his dinosaur friend. Rex eventually grows bigger and begins eating people who the boy feeds to him. The boy eventually commits suicide because he knows he'll be blamed for the people's disappearance. We then discover that "Rex" is not a dinosaur, but his father, who was driven to cannibalism when locked in the shed for the boy's own protection. The dinosaur story was his delusion or lie.
  • In The Mighty Thor #356, Hercules and Jarvis are taking a stroll in the park, and a group of kids ask him if he's stronger than Thor or not. Hercules begins to narrate their last encounter. Humbled and ashamed by the vast superiority of Hercules over him, Thor asked him for an arm wrestle, to see if he could regain the will to live. Jarvis laughs at the idea of Thor trying to defeat Hercules, and points out that he doesn't remember any such scene. "Oh, of course, it happened while you were on vacation, dear Jarvis!". So, Thor was defeated in a second, hit Hercules in the head with his hammer, began to destroy the city in a tantrum... Mr. Hercules, that doesn't make sense, aren't you making it up? Oh, this Jarvis may be a prince among butlets, but as a spectator he leaves much to desire. Where were we? Oh, that the fight got into the Empire State Building which was destroyed... but such a thing never made it to the newspapers, because the Avengers repaired it immediately! And he goes on, on, and on... that is, until he realizes that the kid asking isn't his fan but a fan of Thor, who feels sad for his hero. Where were we? Oh, that Thor was about to receive the final blow... and suddenly showed that he was holding his strength, beat the crap out of Hercules, and sent him to another state with a single punch. Yes, it really happened! Would Hercules lie to you?
  • The Sandman: Invoked with a story that Cluracan tells in a tavern. He tells of when he was sent as an envoy to an impoverished nation, imprisoned, and managed to escape as well as destroy the corrupt ruler. The other patrons call him on this, and he freely admits to adding and removing parts of the story to make it more interesting, though the only thing he admits to fabricating is a sword fight he had with the guards (he added that part to make the story interesting). He states they can choose to believe him or not. How much of it is true is left to the audience's interpretation, though in story Cluracan is still an amoral ditz and a drunk who gets himself in trouble, requires Dream to save him, and dethrones the ruler out of revenge rather than duty, none of which is out of character.
  • In Druid City, no one character in particular serves as a narrator in a traditional sense, but it does become clear that certain details about how some characters are drawn change after the character in question is disassociated with the lead character. For example, once Hunter Hastings (the lead) and Misa Saito (a character in question) end their second relationship and potential lasting friendship, Misa's hair is drawn in a completely different style and certain qualities that she has disappear. All of these changes are not commented upon by any other characters, so the assumption could be that Hunter's opinion was shaping her appearance for the audience to some degree.
  • In the Batman series Arkham Reborn, Jeremiah Arkham turns out to be just a tad loopy, to the point where it turns out his "beauties", three patients who seem relatively functional but have to be kept apart for their own safety, don't actually exist, and some of the time he's the supervillain Black Mask (another one). When he recovers his memories as to where his marbles actually went - it involves the Joker, Hugo Strange, and a suggestibility-enhancing drug, and even that is left ambiguous regarding how much of it is true - in his reflection, he sees himself as Black Mask.
  • In Phonogram, one issue of "The Singles Club" has a back-up strip that tells the story of the previous story, "Rue Britannia", from the perspective of a minor character in the previous work. The minor character is a friend of David Kohl, the protagonist of the previous story, and tagged along for part of it. As the minor character is not part of the world of the 'phonomancers' like Kohl, it's pretty clear from his telling that he really had no clue exactly what was going on, but it's nevertheless a reasonably faithful version of events. Until the end, whereupon the minor character suddenly produces a big gun, shoots what he thinks was the bad guy, saves Kohl's life and then swaggers off to have a threesome with two beautiful women. Kohl, needless to say, is not particularly impressed with this addition to the narrative.
  • Done in-universe with Astro City's Manny Monkton, a comic book publisher who encourages his writers to play fast and loose with the facts to make their stories more exciting.
    "The kids don't want facts. They want drama! THRILLS!"
  • Happens once in a while in Diabolik, as the characters may gloss over some particulars (for example, when narrating the flashback of "Diabolik, Who Are You?" the title character didn't say numerous important particulars), not know the truth (some of the facts from "Diabolik, Who Are You?" are later shown wrong in "The True Story of King's Island", as King flat-out lied to Diabolik), or flat-out lie (in "Diabolik's Secret" Eva is forced to tell a journalist a story about Diabolik that nobody knew... And lied, before mailing to their competitors evidence that it was a lie).
  • Done by Vladek in Maus. He tells his story to his son and real-life author of the comic Art Spiegelman, but the sections shown from Spiegelman's creates a clear dissonance between Vladek's past and present self, to the point of where one would wonder how much of what he's saying about himself is true. He often portrays himself as generous to others going through the same struggle as him, but in the modern day he's shown to be extremely selfish and concerned with money. And one point, he even exclaims to Art, "At that time it wasn't anymore families. It was everybody to take care for himself!"
  • This is the thing that is going on in Captain America: Steve Rogers and the Secret Empire storyline. With Steve's mind altered by the Red Skull and Kobik during Avengers Standoff, our hero is believed to be an agent of HYDRA introduced to the group as a young boy. We know this to be fake as we're shown how this happened. However, as the story keeps going, we go further into the rabbit hole and it even calls our recollections into question as it seems to be revealed that the Nazis were actually going to win World War II and the Allies' use of the Cosmic Cube prevented that at all, turning Cap into the big blue boy scout we all know and love. For the most part, those who are confronted with these revelations have automatically called bullshit on them.
  • Teen Titans Go!:
    • In Issue #40, some H.I.V.E. 5 villains recall past run-ins with the Teen Titans. The flashbacks show that, in most cases, escaping the heroes took more luck and less skill than their narrations suggest.
    • When Beast Boy narrates his origin, he messes up several details and keeps forgetting where his parents were and which creature they were dealing with.
  • May be the case for Batman villain the Wrath, as the Wrath's successor tells Batman that his mentor was inspired to adopt his identity following the traumatic death of his parents when they were shot, unprovoked, by a Gotham police officer when the original Wrath was a child. However, as the officer who killed the Wrath's parents was his future ally James Gordon, Batman knows for a fact that events didn't play out that way, but it is left up to the reader if the first or second Wrath are just unreliable or victims of a Self-Serving Memory.
    • Also applies to Lincoln March, AKA 'Owlman'; an agent of the Court of Owls, he claims to actually be Bruce Wayne's younger brother, Thomas Wayne Junior, born disfigured and left in an orphanage until the Court took him in and gave him various treatments to restore him to health. Bruce doesn't believe that his parents would have hidden the existence of a brother from him, and speculates that the Court twisted the facts he could find out about March's history just to convince him that he was Thomas Wayne Jr., but admits that there's no way to be certain without a DNA test.

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