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One tactic of Cerebus Syndrome is to retroactively deconstruct previous wackiness and then play it straight. As a result, a comedy standard (such as Non-Fatal Explosions) passes over into drama as something serious, perhaps being reframed as a superpower of one of the characters. A character may make a heartfelt speech about how a previous wacky-seeming escapade was actually quite emotionally or physically scarring ("I didn't just slip on that banana peel... that day, my heart slipped on that Banana Peel... and it never really got back up.")

Compare Reimagining the Artifact, Doing in the Wizard and Crap Saccharine World. See Funny Aneurysm Moment and Harsher in Hindsight for the unintentional versions, and Hilarious in Hindsight for an inversion.

Unmarked plot spoilers are abundant in this page, as the mere title of this trope is already suggestive. Tread carefully.

Examples of Cerebus Retcon include:

Anime and Manga

  • Shinobu in Urusei Yatsura is an example. She starts out with the comedy ability to hit really hard when she gets angry. After a while, it becomes a real ability. The series never stops being a comedy, though oddly enough in movie 3 (Remember My Love) the aliens leave, and without the genre shift brought by the presence of aliens, Shinobu also loses the power.
  • The destruction of F City in Excel Saga episode 22 was played straight (well, at least as straight as Excel Saga could ever get), with persistent effects spanning into the next three episodes. Before that, it had been destroyed at least twice and reset to normal by the next episode.
    • Another example: In episode 1, Il Palazzo shoots and kills Excel twice (the show's living Reset Button resurrects her each time). It's played for laughs. Him shooting her in episode 23, however, is played morbidly straight.
      • It was serious this time because of the way she reacted, which was because he didn't just shoot her, he shot her and fired her.
      • Plus the Reset Button had problems of her own at the moment.
  • At some point in Love Hina, Ken Akamatsu must have realized that Keitaro was surviving in too many instances where he simply should not have. With the choice between toning down the girls' Comedic Sociopathy and simply hoping the fans chanted the MST3K Mantra, he made Keitaro's durability a part of the story, with at one point Kitsune ordering that it was alright to use lethal force while hurting him, as he was immortal.
    • At a point where the manga became serious near the end, when Keitaro is dangling from a great height, he lets the audience know it's serious by even referencing his own ability to walk away from excessively violent slapstick injuries by saying that "at this height, I'll die, even if I'm immortal!" I guess people die when they are killed, after all...
  • The 6th One Piece movie starts out as the usual lighthearted ridiculous shenanigans, then slowly descends in to madness as you find out more and more about the island. Why do the inhabitants have leaves on their heads? because they are fake representations created by a sentient "flower". Why does the Baron have the cute little flower on his shoulder? it's really the Lily Carnation, or a part of the Lily Carnation, which is a giant Eldritch Abomination that devours people whole. What about the funny short guy with the toothbrush mustache? He lost his True Companions to the Baron and the Lily Carnation, and has been in hiding on the island, trying to stop him.
    • Post-timeskip Sanji gets a major nosebleed every time he looks at a woman with Chopper making a mention that Sanji is using up his blood transfusions. When he arrives at Fishman Island where the mermaids were, he got a serious nosebleed and Chopper isn't able to help him because there were no blood transfusions left. Fortunately, they were able to find the right donor and he gets better.
    • Initially played straight with Nami's greed and distrust of pirates. Turns out her hometown was taken over by pirates, and she struck a deal with the leader to buy back the town from him if she could gather up enough money. Ultimately subverted, however, when the arc that deals with the pirates comes and goes, and she's still obsessed with treasure.
  • Great Teacher Onizuka does this gradually. During one of his later admissions to the hospital, the eponymous character gets what looks like a serious nosebleed until everyone comes to the conclusion that it was only because he was turned on by the nurses' uniforms and got a peek under their skirts after "pretending" to fall down. Later in the same chapter, a panel suggests that the nosebleed actually is as serious as it first appeared. In the final story arc, the audience learns that Onizuka has had chronic internal bleeding and cerebral aneurysms in the head for quite sometime, which shines a different light on some of the nosebleed gags throughout Great Teacher Onizuka as well as the various head injuries, comedic or serious, he has gained throughout the entire series.

Comic Books

  • In the comic version of Wanted, the supervillains use an actual, massive in-universe Cerebus Retcon in order to erase all memory of superheroes and supervillains. During this transformation, it shows in vivid detail how Golden Age visual styles and themes eventually shifted into a more realistic, Darker and Edgier style seen in more modern comics.
  • Batman R.I.P and the events leading up to it are one big Cerebus Retcon. All that Silver Age Batman wackiness? All either hallucinations caused by Scarecrow or Joker gas, or delusions of a young Batman as he took part in a dangerous mental experiment to try to understand the Joker's mind.
  • Cassidy, hard-drinking roguish Irish vampire in Garth Ennis' Preacher (Comic Book), was a fun and charismatic guy. Then, later in the series, we got an uncompromising look at how pathetic, dangerous and destructive he genuinely was. Several moments you thought were simply gags and fun moments got a nasty pay-off. A joke where Cassidy says something "tastes like semen!" and then hurriedly tries to get out of suggesting he knows what that tastes like? He does know because he got so desperate for a heroin fix that he paid for it with oral sex.
    • It should also be noted that when his then-girlfriend walks in on him, he beats the shit out of her.
  • The supervillain brainwashing plot arc which began in DC Comics' Identity Crisis used this trope in two ways:
    • Prior to Identity Crisis (and particularly during the Silver Age), heroes used "mindwipes" and other forms of selective memory erasure all the time, frequently to preserve the heroes' secret identities. Ethical issues relating to this were seldom (if ever) addressed. Suddenly, in Identity Crisis, the ethics of mindwiping came to the forefront, and was revealed as the cause of a major past schism in the Justice League.
    • In addition, several changes in the supervillain behavior were attributed to the effects of mindwiping. Most notably, this was used to explain how Dr. Light went from being a serious threat to the Silver Age Justice League to a joke villain constantly bested by the TeenTitans, by revealing that he was given, not just a mindwipe, but a personality aleration after an attempted rape in Identity Crisis.
  • The Trope Namer is Cerebus, which in later issues liked to go back and explain some of the more humorous characters and situations of the early issues as being much more serious than originally thought. For instance, a minor gag in the fourth issue was later retconned (over 180 issues later!) as having been a tremendously significant event which kicked off a chain reaction that changed the course of Cerebus's life and led directly to all his eventual misery. Had said gag not occurred, Cerebus would have actually ended up as ruler of the world.
  • Kid Eternity is a comic character from 1942. A clerk in heaven made an error and he died before his time while boating with his grandpa. He was resurrected to do good stuff by summoning heroes of the past. Then Grant Morrison got his hands on the poor kid in the modern age. Demons - ours aren't different, these are The Legions of Hell - made up all that misfiling stuff. The clerk is a minor demon. The "historical figures" he becomes are demons as well. It's all a Xanatos Gambit about earning their way back into heaven by "helping" humanity via evilution. Oh, and he's an orphan; the man he calls "grandpa" is actually a child molester. Dammit, Morrison!
    • At least the 'revive dead people' part was retconned back in again. Kid Eternity is seen reviving Marvin. Who was killed by his dog. Who was really a demon. So, yeah. More Cerebus Retcon.
  • The Mad Hatter was always slightly creepier than most, but in the first Secret Six miniseries it became canon that he was a serial rapist, a drug addict, only ate food with hats on it, and was afflicted with macrocephaly. For a villain whose hat (harhar) is casual mind control and was drawn after a Tenniel illustration, this worked surprisingly well.
  • In the final Scott Pilgrim book, Scott leans from Kim that the very quirky flashback of book 2 wasn't very quirky at all. Basically he beat up the shy Chinese boyfriend of Kim, Simon Lee, to get with her, and to top it off, he told his best friend Lisa Miller that he was leaving and neglected to tell Kim so Lisa had to, even though Kim ended up shunning her for a month after that. Kim does admit that she was partially at fault for leaving Lee that easily though. It also turns out that all his quirky memory losses were part of Gideon's plot to mess up Scott.
  • Angel and the Ape was a Silver Age comic about a girl named Angel and a gorilla named Sam fighting crime in the city, with the oddity of the latter never being mentioned. When it was revived in 1991 it was explained that Sam was actually the grandson of Gorilla Grodd, a DC Universe simian supervillain. Like Grodd, Sam has psychic powers, which in his case make him look human to others as long as he concentrates.
  • The Alan Moore run of Miracleman explained that the Silver Age adventures of the character (then named "Marvelman") were hallucinations generated by the Lotus Eater Machine the government kept him in when he wasn't needed.

Fan Fiction

Film — Animated

  • Probably the quickest one in history is towards the end of the original Land Before Time movie- which is also something of an in-universe example. Cera screams for help when what appears to be some sort of tar monster approaches and picks her up, only for Ducky to reveal -after Cera's fit of panic, of course- that it is herself and their friends covered in tar. Cera irritably pries herself free, squeals as she falls to the ground, and defensively claims that she knew it was them the whole time. The others laugh rather mockingly at Cera, (who, up to this point, has been boastful and overly-proud) which continues as she slips in tar and bumps into things in a comic way, as she marches out of the cave. Cut to her alone outside of the cave, where her facade finally breaks and she begins to cry.
  • A rather disturbing one can be found in the Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy movie, where it explains why Eddy is such a jerk. He's not, he's just been acting all this time because he didn't want anyone to know that he's just a scared kid like everyone else and that his brother, heralded as a heroic protector, is actually an abusive Jerkass.
  • In Liloand Stitch, when Lilo's home gets destroyed by a bunch of aliens, it's played for laughs. When Nani and social worker Cobra Bubbles come back (just after Nani was able to convince him NOT to separate her from Lilo) leads to the social worker deciding to take the little girl away, much to Nani and Lilo's despair.
    • Along the same lines, it's hard to not laugh when a young Hercules accidentally sets off a Disaster Dominoes that destroys an entire agora. But when the understandably upset townspeople proceed to yell at and insult the poor guy...
    • And near the beginning of The Aristocats, the evil butler kidnaps the titular cats so he can leave them all for dead in the French countryside. However, in the process he is attacked by a pair of dogs leading to an entire three minutes of slapstick. When the butler finally escapes the two dogs, we find out that the basket containing the cats fell out of the butler's motorcycle while the dogs were still attacking him, and the cats immediately realize upon waking up that they are all no longer with their owner, and at the same time, said owner goes crazy when she finds out that her cats are gone.
    • And the scene in The Hunchback of Notre Dame where Quasimodo is crowned the King of Fools by Clopin because of his hideous appearance, only to be tied to a torture wheel and immediately humiliated. Cue Esmeralda.

Film — Live Action

  • In Superman II, Zod's Dragon Non was a silent brute upon whom Jor-El looked with contempt. This characterization carried over to the comics... and then it was revealed Non was once a close friend of Jor-El's until he was abducted and lobotomized.
  • In the first Star Wars film A New Hope, Luke Skywalker's Aunt Beru notes to his Uncle Owen "Luke's just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him.", to which Owen says "That's what I'm afraid of.". In The Empire Strikes Back, we learn that Luke's father is, in fact, Darth Vader, one of the most evil men in the galaxy. And It Gets Worse in the Prequel Trilogy, as we see in Attack of the Clones, shortly after Anakin originally met Owen, he went on a rampage, slaughtering dozens of Sand People after his mother's death by their hands.


  • At one point in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a Million-to-One Chance produced when Arthur Dent accidentally activates the Infinite Improbability Drive causes two missiles to be transformed into a sperm whale and a bowl of petunias, which fall onto the surface of an alien planet. While the whale contemplates its brief existence at some length before its demise, all that the bowl of petunias thinks is, "Oh no, not again." This thought is left unexplained, with the comment: "If we knew exactly why the bowl of petunias had thought that we would know a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now." The bowl of petunias, however, is dismayingly explained in Life, the Universe, and Everything as being one of many incarnations through time and space of a creature called Agrajag, whom Arthur Dent killed in each form (also counts as a Brick Joke).
    • Though to be fair, knowing that reincarnation exists does somewhat qualify as "[knowing] a lot more about the nature of the Universe than we do now."
    • Knowing that reincarnation exists and it's screwing with this guy for no reason tells us even more...
      • Mostly Harmless reveals the entire truth: The Guide Mark II somehow used Reverse Temporal Engineering to screw with Agrajag's reincarnations so that Arthur would be brought to the Cathedral of Hate before he ducked an assassin's gunshot at Stavromula Beta. This is not a paradox, although it does ensure Arthur's eventual arrival. The Guide's purpose in this was simply to ensure all remaining humans (Arthur, Trillian, Tricia, and Random) were back on Earth before it was demolished again, this time for good, by the Vogons.
  • Stephen King's story The Library Policeman starts off goofy and turns deathly serious, casting the earlier goofy parts in a new light. This reflects the very writing process of the story: King started off writing a goofy tale and found it turning into a deathly serious one, so he took it and ran with it.
  • The Courtship of Princess Leia had a rather stock villain duo in Warlord Zsinj and General Melvar, dim-witted and eeeheeheeeeevil sadistic bad guys who had the resources - a Super Star Destroyer and a device that cut off the sunlight from a particular planet - to threaten our heroes. Their resources were more of a plot point than they were; the only role they played was to leer menacingly and set up those things, then be killed quickly. In the X Wing Series, set earlier, Aaron Allston made it a point to expand on those two, making them Faux Affably Evil, very intelligent, and quite essential to the plot. Their two-dimensional idiocy became Obfuscating Stupidity, and they actually turned into legitimate (and very entertaining) threats.
  • Hermione's attitude towards House Elves in the Harry Potter series was always treated as your average tree-hugging annoyance. Especially in regards to Kreacher as Sirius would crack sarcastic jokes about Kreacher obsessing over the family members' old belongings and even making death jokes about him which Harry and Ron openly laughed about. Then in the final book and we find out exactly what Kreacher has been through...Sirius's jokes and attitude don't seem so funny anymore.
    • A more notable example would be the way a Defense Against The Dark Arts teacher never stays on for more than a year, to the point where people joke about the position being cursed. Turns out, it is: Voldemort himself wanted the position many years ago, but Dumbledore refused to give it to him. (Obviously, this was before he became known as wizard-Hitler.) Ever since, no one has been able to hold the job for more than a year without something happening to them.
    • Neville Longbottom is bumbling and forgetful, and most of the other characters (especially Snape) tease him for his incompetence while his grandmother relentlessly pushes him. We later learn that Neville's parents were Aurors that were tortured into total insanity, a significant part of his bumbling lack of self-esteem is fear of not living up to their example, and his grandmother's nature was to toughen him up to protect him from the same fate.
  • JRR Tolkien did this with The Hobbit. Bilbo recovers a magic ring from Gollum's cave after winning a riddle contest. While the original story did make plain that Bilbo was riddling for his life, the ring he retrieves is later treated as a precious prize, saving his life several times and leading to his happy ending. Years later, when it was time to release The Lord of the Rings, Tolkien retconned the story (actually rewriting The Hobbit) to tie in with the fact that the Ring is in fact a malicious artifact made of pure evil that was using Bilbo to escape Gollum's ownership. The existence of the first edition of The Hobbit was even deconstructed: it records Bilbo's lies about how he got the Ring and what it was like.
  • In Sharon Creech's The Wandeer thirteen years old girl Sophie telle a couple of stories about her grandfather Bompie. Most stories end with Bompie ending in the water, where "he was frightened, was nearly pulled under, had to struggle hard and long to get out, after which his father gave him a whipping and his mother gave hip a pie", which at that moment was more funny than actually scary. But in the end of the book, we learn that this ending is imageined by Sophie. When she was four, her family was cought by a storm during sailing, their boat sunk, her parents died and she had to swim hours to reach the shore, all alone. For her, this wasn't funny, it was her Primal Fear

Live Action TV

  • Though not a comedy Bones managed this. Booth's increasing tendency to receive advice from famous people during dreams turns out to be caused by brain cancer that's slowly killing him.
  • Billy on Ally McBeal got a hugely out-of-character haircut, became comically misogynistic, and started seeing amazing, wacky things everywhere. Like Booth in the Bones example above, Billy had a brain tumor. Unlike Booth, he was Killed Off for Real.
  • When we're first introduced to Dr. Bashir on Star Trek Deep Space Nine, it's played for laughs that he's incredibly young and arrogant about what a great doctor he is. But it gets distinctly weird to look back on this after a fifth season episode reveals Bashir's intelligence is the result of illegal genetic enhancements that were performed on him as a child. It's even vaguely implied that prior to the procedure, he had some degree of outright mental handicap.
    • Fortunately, it was well-established that Bashir always used his full, gene-enhanced intelligence on any medical/important problem.
    • In a more minor example, in a early episode, Bashir mentions out that he confused a pre-ganglionic fiber with a post-ganglionic nerve during his medical finals. When fans pointed out that this is a mistake that no competent medical student would make, the explanation was retconned that he got the question wrong on purpose to avoid being valedictorian. This is later retconned further to explain that he wanted to avoid showing his full abilities to disguise his genetically engineered background.
    • Which needed a retcon because brilliant people never, ever make any bizarre elementary mistakes or confusions.
  • In Star Trek the Next Generation, resident Proud Warrior Race Guy Worf makes an offhand comment about having a poor sex life due to most human women being physically fragile compared to him, lacking his Klingon physiology, meaning he has to restrain himself too much to enjoy sex. This same issue is later referred to in a much more dramatic fashion in Deep Space Nine, when he explains that as a boy, he accidentally paralyzed another boy during a football/soccer match when their heads collided, which lead to his restrained and uptight demeanor as he feels he must always be careful to avoid harming other, more fragile beings.
    • It also became relevant when he married Jadzia Dax, and she was constantly in Dr. Bashir's office for broken ribs.
      • So was Worf.
      • And Quark, after being intimate with a Klingon woman.
      • And the Klingon woman. Which is quite impressive, since Quark is a very short and slender person.
  • Power Rangers did this a few times. Ninja Storm retconned silly Genre Savvy villain Lothor and his standalone plots to have been a long-term plan to overload the Abyss of Evil with dead monsters. Power Rangers RPM got gags out of Doctor K not going outside and her mention of growing up in Alphabet Soup, only to then reveal the utter horror of what Alphabet Soup did to her.
  • It isn't exactly comedy, but the subplot in the first episode of Heroes about Angela Petrelli getting arrested for shoplifting socks and her sons bailing her out is certainly pretty lighthearted. That is, until Volume 4 rolls around. In the episode 1961, we learn that Angela had a sister who she left when she was a child, regretting it ever since. We also learn that whenever she finds herself missing her sister particularly bad, she, you guessed it, steals socks. Suddenly, that lighthearted moment in the series premier seems a lot more disturbing.
  • Kamen Rider Decade's female lead, Natsumi, is mostly Tsundere Comic Relief owing to her the Laughing Pressure Point, used on Tsukasa when he gets a little too smug or rude. In the Big Damn Movie, she gains her own Rider powers and actually kills Tsukasa after he goes on a Roaring Rampage of Revenge against the Kamen Riders. She even uses the Laughing Pressure Point as an actual fighting move in the final battle.
  • Sometimes, a Cerebus Retcon happens naturally as the result of Character Development over a series. For example, Wesley was a one-note bumbling upper-class twit when he first appeared on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, completely played for laughs. Once he became one of the regular cast of Angel his character was fleshed out enough to reveal that his early awkwardness was largely the result of a painful childhood with an abusive father; throughout the series any mention of his father causes Wesley to momentarily revert back to his old bumbling. His father's visit in "Lineage" is an especially dark example.
    • This being Season 5, Wes has become extremely badass (seriously, he'd have a chance against a top of his game Ripper at this point). Finally tired of his father, he shoots him in cold blood. Luckily, it was a robot.
  • Angel also applies a massive Cerebus Retcon in Season 4 in an attempt to inflate the season's Big Bad. The minor and previously played-for-laughs character Skip not only takes a hard turn in going from comedy to drama, but in one speech gives exposition about how the entire series up until that point has been orchestrated by the mystery newcomer: "You have any concept of how many lines have to intersect in order for a thing like this to play out? How many events have to be nudged in just the right direction: Leaving Pylea (indicating Lorne's arrival in the Angel Universe), your sister (indicating Gunn's sister who turned vampire causing him to align with Angel's path), opening the wrong book (indicating Fred's transport to Pylea and thereby entering the Angel story), sleeping with the enemy (indicating Wesley's relationship with Lilah, causing one of the major recent internal conflicts), gosh, I love a story with scope." Though the speech does not factually contradict the storyline, it indicates a premeditated arc with every event previous to the speech for all main characters as well as the speaker itself which clearly had not existed in the story's mythos.
  • In Community's "Regional Holiday Music" has the insane music teacher murder the old glee group by cutting the brakes on the bus, resulting in their crash. Abed says this started happy and ended darkly.

Newspaper Comics

  • Funky Winkerbean did this as part of its descent into Cerebus Syndrome. For starters, the once humorous bullying of Bull Bushka against hapless nerd Les Moore was revealed to be the result of an abusive parent after the first time skip.


  • In Bionicle, the traitor Metus got turned into a snake and banished to the wastelands. The DVD for the movie The Legend Reborn included a short, comedic bonus cartoon that Homaged the classic Wile E Coyote and The Road Runner and Tom and Jerry cartoons, in which he attempts to drop a boulder on the heroes, but Team Pet Click foils his plans and his army of Scarabax beetles make short work of the snake. Metus's desperation is played entirely for laughs. Later, when other characters came across the snake Metus out in the desert, we found out he had survived all this time by eating rats, and was also suffering from a fatal mental disease that made him unable to dream (and thus, according to the story, release his stress), so he outright begs them to kill him, because he just couldn't take it anymore. Lucky for him, he later regained his ability to dream and his transformation has also become undone.

Traditional Games

  • Plenty of things from Tabletop Game/Warhammer40000 when it became more serious after the silly first edition. Eldar lived on Craftworlds and had a boring life because they were retreating from Slaanesh and if you aren't disciplined he would devour your soul. The Emperor, originally implied to have been confined to the Golden Throne because of old age, had to be put on life support after a duel with his most beloved son.

TV Tropes (Wiki)

  • Many Wild Mass Guessing entries for comedic or children's series fall into this, as they take an amusing character or location and go on to speculate that said character is a Time Lord, is slowly starving to death while trying to stay sane while imagining the rest of the series, in a coma, or is suffering from PTSD.

Video Games

  • The Darkness Beyond Time from Chrono Cross in relation to the time travel from Chrono Trigger. Basically all discarded timelines are dropped into the area. So for example, the people from the Lavos destroyed future are down there.
  • Wolf Link from Videogame/The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess is this to the Bunny Link from A Link to the Past.
    • Heck, it also happens in A Link to the Past - players are introduced to the dark world via Link turning into an adorable bunny. Then it becomes apparent that almost all of the other people stuck there have transformed into monsters or even trees. One of the most tragic examples is the guy whose father asks Link to look for, and after you find him, he gives you his Ocarina and turns into a tree, permanently... until you destroy Ganon, then he gets better.
      • Even better examples, within A Link to the Past, two of the official manga released for the game have Link turn into a wolf or werewolf instead of the pink bunny.
  • In Mass Effect 3 turns out the Asari are so great because a Prothean came to them and helped them out a lot. This alone wouldn't qualify but the revelation is treated ingame as if it was some deep dark secret.
  • Metal Gear:
    • In the original game, Metal Gear 1987, Snake looked to be in his twenties - but he looked to be late-middle-aged in Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake. For the sequel Metal Gear Solid, the character designer decided to go with a Solid Snake who appeared to be in his early-thirties, younger-looking than his previous incarnation. As a joke referencing this, the characters who knew Snake in Metal Gear 2 joke about his 'age'; the sign that Gray Fox is back to normal is when he teases Snake with the throwaway line "You haven't aged well". However, in Metal Gear Solid 2, which started the Patriots plot arc, Snake is explicitly mentioned in the script as looking almost unrecognisably older than his self in Metal Gear Solid, even though MGS2 starts only two years later. Liquid spells it out:

 "You're drowning in time! I know what it's like, Brother. Few more years and you'll be another dead clone of the old man!"

      • And it continues in Metal Gear Solid 4. The reason for the Plot-Relevant Age-Up was changed to fit in with Retcons introduced in the third game, but becomes entirely horrible. Snake now appears to be in his mid-to-late seventies and his health is suffering as a result. His own parents look younger than he does. It's very alarming to remember that the whole plot element started as a Continuity Nod joke.
    • Knowing the developer, it was probably intentional that the gameplay obstacle before fighting the final bosses of Metal Gear and Metal Gear Solid 4 was the same - a linear area which damages Snake as he crosses it, and there's no way he can prevent it sapping his health. In Metal Gear, you were told by one of the support characters to eat Rations (which immediately restored your health bar) in order to get across the electric floor. In Metal Gear Solid 4 Guns of the Patriots - I'd rather not think about it.
    • Applying Broad Strokes to Metal Gear and Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake allowed their eight-bit wackiness to be taken fairly seriously in the Solid series. Snake didn't seem that affected by the events of Outer Heaven at the time (he also had to do things like avoid giant constantly moving rolling pins and use a bomb blast suit to make himself immune to a strong wind), and Metal Gear 2 attempted to paint him as a very traditional action hero who retired after Outer Heaven because he was a loose cannon and too badass to take orders from authority. Metal Gear Solid, and its Alternate Universe counterpart, Metal Gear Ghost Babel, claimed that Snake suffered immense guilt over his actions in Outer Heaven, got diagnosed with PTSD, and was forced to retire and go into hiding because he was unable to cope with the demands of everyday life.
    • One scene in Metal Gear 2: Solid Snake involved Snake knowing a woman for all of five minutes. She tells him about her family's history, asks him about his (he says "I have no family"), and then she dies. Snake's over-the-top grief at her death was, at the time, a major Narm. In Metal Gear Solid, which established that Snake had been essentially growing up in near-total isolation and had never had anyone tell him about their life or ask him about his own, his instant attachment to her seems very justifiable and deeply tragic.
    • The reason why The Patriot in Metal Gear Solid 3, a copy of The Boss's Weapon of Choice, has infinite ammo, is that it has an infinity-symbol shaped drum magazine, giving infinite ammo. However, in Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, it's explained that the Patriot has infinite ammo because "they say The Boss left a part of her soul behind inside it", making it more into a blessed memento of a supernaturally-gifted soldier rather than a cheap joke. It winds up a Voodoo Shark though, as the infinite ammo is explicitly noted about it before this could have happened.
      • Partially true. you only get the patriot after you have killed the boss, but when talking about it Snake had not yet killed his mentor, and the method that Snake gets it is lampshaded for being dubious. He isn't even supposed to have it until after he kills The Boss.
  • Promotional material for Conker: Live & Reloaded in the form of a letter from the titular character himself featured him acknowledging the two games he was in before the Darker and Edgier Conker's Bad Fur Day saying of them, "things were different...I was different". Of Diddy Kong Racing He claims that the cast are a bunch of "freaks" he wouldn't hang around now, and "Last [he] heard at least one of 'em was in jail, anyway". He also states Conker's Pocket Tales Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time and that he doesn't regret it because he "got a Ferrari out of it."
  • The Ratman's Companion Cube-related scrawlings in the first Portal are amusing (if a bit unsettling) because it's hard to imagine what sort of person would be that attached to an inanimate box. The Lab Rat tie-in comic reveals that Doug Rattmann was a formerly medicated schizophrenic, that his Companion Cube really was his only friend, and that he ultimately sacrificed everything to save Chell's life.
  • Arguably, the entirety of Final Fantasy XIII-2 is one to the original Final Fantasy XIII.
  • In the first Ace Attorney game, many people are surprised that Manfred von Karma was only penalized when he presented forged evidence in court. Even by the standards of the ridiculously unfair justice system of the series, this seems odd, since come Apollo Justice Phoenix was fired for doing the same. Then, in Investigations 2, you learn that the reason von Karma only got off with a penalty was because the (at the time) chief prosecutor was just as corrupt as he was, and was in on the forgery.
  • Valve has a thing for this:
    • In Half Life, there are only about 3 scientist models and several of them die in ways which are intended to be comic. In Half-Life 2, each of those models has been given a specific name and arc. One has become The Quisling leader of humanity. One dies horribly at the end of Episode 2 in a very dramatic scene. Curiously the third remains the comic relief, however.
    • In Portal, the Big Bad G La DOS has a hysterical black comedy streak a mile wide. In the finale, you disassemble her cores (who are also individually hilarious) and destroy her. In the sequel, not only do you learn that G La DOS has been reliving that "death" millions of times since you killed her (though you only have her word on this), but also that Aperture Science was killing people for decades before you came along, Chell has been trapped in the facility since she was a pre-teen, G La DOS was made by uploading Cave Johnson's secretary (in the deleted content it's clear this was against her will), and that the facility has thousands of other test subjects to be tormented and murdered.
    • This trope becomes strangely meta when Team Fortress 2's Heavy Weapons Guy is a character in Poker Night At the Inventory. Apparently, the Heavy experiences Team Fortress 2's respawn system as a series of semi-recurring nightmares.

Visual Novels

  • Early parts of A Profile joke about Masayuki's unathletic physique and easily running out of breath while running to school. But then it turns out he's so weak because he collapsed due to a hole in his lung and was hospitalized for a long time, leading him to become completely out of shape and ruining his love of the track field. After this, the jokes largely vanish.
  • In Umineko no Naku Koro ni, Jessica Megaton Punches one of her friends at school with a brass knuckle after being pissed off in Turn of the Golden Witch. This stance is seen as a joke. Later, in Alliance of the Golden Witch, she uses the brass knuckles again and they suddenly become conducts for Supernatural Martial Arts.
  • Maji De Watashi Ni Koi Shinasai: Most scenes involving Touma, Jun, and Koyuki after clearing the Ryuuzetsuran path. Most notably, the ending of Chris's route is the only one where Touma opts not to continue in their family's line of work and instead decides to "live for love", a choice that the Ryuuzetsuran route's reveals really puts into perspective.
  • A lot are done in Hatoful Boyfriend's BBL route. Highlights include - Oko San isn't just an idiot, he's an older breed of birds that is less Uplifted than the others; Anghel isn't actually a fallen angel but has the ability to induce hallucinations in others; Ryouta's weak stomach and Oko San's insane speed are due to Shuu testing drugs on them; Nageki didn't actually kill himself by jumping from the library window due to being bullied (as was implied) but burned himself to death in an underground laboratory beneath the library to prevent himself being used as a biological weapon; and Kazuaki isn't just obsessively mourning the loss of the bird in the blacked-out photo, but is pursuing a Machiavellian Revenge scheme in his name.

Web Animation

  • The intentionally and inherently farcical premise of Red vs. Blue has been retconned in the later series, which are trying to turn the series into a dramedy centering around the vaguely plausible science-fiction story of the "Freelancers". The pointless fighting between the reds and the blues were just simulations for military training.
    • All of Red vs. Blue's plot points seem to come about this way. Tex being a "freelancer" who can be hired by either Red Army or Blue Army has gone from just being part of the surreal intentionally video-game-ish setting to becoming the major plot arc of the series, with the "Freelancer Project" now front-and-center in the setting.
    • Chapter 16 of Reconstruction managed about five of these at once: You know how Church can become a ghost that can possess people and his robot body, wasn't affected by possession by Omega, always agreed with Delta, was able to Time Travel, and is continually reassigned to back-water jobs where nothing is likely to happen? Those are all because he is Alpha, a freaking AI.
      • Heck, he's THE AI every other AI in the show is based on. Due to horrible torture. This one's a biggy, folks
      • Not to mention that his personality is what spawned the series' Big Bad.
      • Also, Tex is an AI based off of the Big Bad's wife/girlfriend, which is likewise why she came back as a "ghost".
    • One of the original series' Running Gags was that Grif was in charge of holding onto the Red Team's spare ammo, but would always forget or lose it. Reconstruction reveals that he didn't lose or forget about the ammo, he sold it to the Blue Team for a quick buck. This has rather bad consequences.

Web Comics

  • In Questionable Content, Faye getting drunk starts out as just an excuse for her to talk with a Southern accent and engage in wacky hijinks, but it later becomes a plot point that she's an alcoholic in part due to witnessing her father's suicide.
    • Also, Hannelore's rather unusual quirkiness and OCD in her early appearances are explained in much later comics as being an incredible improvement over her near paralytic insanity during her early childhood.
  • The Goo from El Goonish Shive started out as a Freak Lab Accident, but returned in the "Sister" arc, revealed to be driven by a device sent by Tedd's alternate-dimension duplicate to kill him.
    • Furthermore, a gag character, the Demonic Duck, originally appeared as a one-shot gag when people would need a distraction and then point out his appearance, the joke being that the duck actually being there was far more ridiculous than someone using such a specific distraction. The duck turns out to be an actual character with dramatic effects on the plot later. Not to mention specific rules laid out for the creation and use of comedy relief hammers...
    • There are a lot of subtle examples of this in EGS as it moved from a wacky tone to a more serious one. A simple example is Sarah wearing a beret as part of a visual gag early on, and then a later strip showing a serious explanation on how she got that beret.
  • In Sluggy Freelance Riff, an amateur Mad Scientist and "freelance bum," routinely invents pieces of advanced technology such as dimensional portals, giant robots, and ray guns. Originally there was little mention of where he got the materials to build these devices, even though he seemed to have no source of income. However, in a later story arc, Riff reveals that he was actually a freelance inventor for the villainous Hereti Corporation, who gave him a salary and a sizable expense account in exchange for the blueprints to all his inventions. After Riff rebelled against Hereti Corp, he lost access to their resources. While he still creates ridiculously powerful and dangerous devices, he hasn't been able to do so nearly as frequently after the Dangerous Days arc, and (much to his horror) has had to get a regular job in order to pay the bills. He still bemoans the fact that he can't afford as much cool stuff as he used to, wailing, "I used to have a budget!"
    • Similarly, in the early "vampire" story arc, one of Valerie's vampire compatriots asks her why she has a crush on Torg, upon which she has a flashback to her pre-vampirism husband, a double of Torg, accidentally impaling himself on his own lance. Cue the Stormbreaker Saga, when Torg is stranded in the Dark Ages and his attempts to save Valerie from becoming a vampire are played for drama. In the end, after Torg goes back to the present, Valerie's husband dies in the accident, and it is revealed that this tragedy made her decide to join the vampire circle.
      • Also retconned the accident from being the clumsy mistake expected of Torg to the result of recovery from a debilitating curse, in a character who was otherwise a competent warlord.
  • For all of the main characters of College Roomies from Hell (except possibly Dave), what started out as "wacky quirks" seem darker and darker over time, turning into personality disorders, tragic pasts, or demonic influence, until it becomes clear that everyone is playing a part in the coming fucking apocalypse. By the end of 2004, the strip is a Dysfunction Junction to rival Neon Genesis Evangelion.
    • Dave isn't exempt either. Early on, it's mentioned in a throwaway gag that he's deathly allergic to bee stings. Years later, in the Adversary storyline (which is pretty much solely responsible for tossing the comic into Darker and Edgier territory), as he and Margaret are running away from the Devil, they find that their path leads through a field of sunflowers... and bees.
  • In Schlock Mercenary, the protagonists discover at one point that before dying their old company doctor created a modified cryogenic kit capable of providing illegal and extreme modifications and performing far more powerful reconstructive surgery than a normal kit should. Initially this is just an excuse to solve the fact that almost the entire main cast were reduced to heads in jars at that moment, but later they run into a bounty hunter hunting down said doctor and we discover that a massive government conspiracy is built around "Project Laz-R-Us" and the attempt to make humans effectively immortal, and certain government agents who discover that the protagonists know about it want them dead.
    • Something similar happens with Petey, initially a high-level warship AI with issues about ghosts. Eventually, he becomes a nigh-omnipotent nascent AI god by fusing with virtually every other AI in the galaxy in a bid to prevent the galaxy's annihilation, and then sets out to subvert and dominate every other galactic power to build a power base big enough to fund and supply a genocidal assault on the Andromeda galaxy and it's Paan'uri inhabitants.
      • Paan'uri inhabitants who are intangible, interact with normal matter solely through gravity, and tend to torment other species. Y'know... kinda ghostlike.
  • Goblins did this in a big way. What was a farcical joke about how goblins inevitably receive appropriate names from the village seer became this huge plot point about the female goblin Saves A Fox who successfully struggled against the name given to her by killing said fox rather than saving it—and the joke about how Chief was only the chief because he was named "Chief" was retconned, with Complains explaining to Chief that he only said that as a cruel joke, while Chief becoming actual leader was to avert a nasty prophecy.
    • Word of God suggests that the apparent Cerebus Syndrome was intentional almost from the word go - this is supported by some bonus material in the PDF release of book one - the early farcical jokey stuff was originally written much earlier (with Kobolds), and apparently rewritten as an introduction to the story as it is today. However, it is noticeable that the comic has gotten significantly less jokey since its inception...
    • It bears noting that she has saved the fox's pelt, even through being captured and held as a labor-slave by another tribe of goblins.
    • Recently, regarding Saves, it's revealed that the fox likely had a horrific disease and if so, she actually did "save" it by giving it a mercy killing.
      • Which in turn makes that original joke far, far darker. Several of those early strips involved an outlandishly panicked coward very nearly dying horribly due to mishap caused by the carelessness of the other goblins, the joke being that the outlandishly panicked coward was, in fact, named Dies Horribly. Dies went on to become a semi-regular character and was the one to make the above-spoilered reveal to Saves A Fox. When he does this, he is also stating and quite clearly that this joke was never a joke and that Dies Horribly is going to die. Horribly. He did. Then came back.
  • Zebra Girl substituted the Hyperspace Mallet with spontaneous combustion. Later, when the titular character attacks her True Companions and uses the same power, hilarity does not ensue.
    • In that same vein, the spell originally used to banish Lord Incubus way back in the comic's wacky beginning (before the genesis of the titular Zebra Girl, even) has a slightly less humorous feel now that it's been used on the former protagonist who is far more frightening than Lord Incubus ever was. Although, the spell still appears in the form of a magical toilet that sucks the unwanted guest in.
  • See also the role of henchmen in Nodwick - though their inability to permanently die is still played for laughs in the later books, there's a good deal more attention paid to why things are that way.
  • An early General Protection Fault arc titled 'Secret Agent Geek' set the lovable slob Fooker as a James Bond knockoff secret agent, playing off as many spy-movie tropes as it could get its hands on, and finishing with a classic "It was all a dream - Or Was It a Dream?" closing. Then, years later, as the story takes a turn for the dramatic, it turns out that Fooker IS, indeed, a secret agent, possessing advanced combat skills, and access to high-tech gadgets and paramilitary troops. Nick's Inventors Gene also starts out being played for laughs, and then later turns into the catalyst for a grand Xanatos Gambit involving seduction, time-traveling, world conquest, and The Terminator.
    • Lampshadeed in the above quote when Trent, whose apartment Nick and Fooker had broken into to clear Trudy's name, sues Fred for libel.
  • The Life of Riley. What begins as a cheap throwaway joke about an artist who powers up a la DBZ when he works on computers, ends with same character resurrected as the second coming of the Messiah about to go toe-to-toe with arch-fiend Lillith over an artifact that can kill God.
  • Pointedly averted in Casey and Andy: despite the comic having several dramatic storylines, the strip never gives any sort of explanation, serious or otherwise, as to why the protagonists can keep coming back from the dead. Especially when other characters come right out and ask for one. (In fact, the titular characters never even acknowledge any such thing has happened).
  • Done in Order of the Stick when Haley's greed for treasure is revealed to be so that she can pay her father's ransom money./ Later subverted when it turns out she was always pretty greedy in the prequel book.
    • A straighter example from OOTS was done with the mother of the Black Dragon from the Starmetal cave, who was mentioned lightheartedly several times during the encounter in which Vaarsuvius disintegrated her son in a scene that was still more or less played for laughs. About three hundred strips later, she appears out of the blue seeking vengeance on Vaarsuvius. This leads to one of the darkest arcs the strip has done thus far and the start of an horrific Cycle of Revenge.
  • Yosh! started out as a manga-style comedy, and the protagonist was frequently subjected to the Megaton Punch, thrown out of windows, things like that. Then, once the comic went dramatic, it was revealed that he's a 'Resistant' — a kind of rare, magical entity who has Nigh Invulnerability—thus making him central to the plot of an Ancient Conspiracy of mages. Upon learning that, the character comments that it's not really a major surprise, considering what he's survived in the past.
    • Also, his Catgirl roommate was a normal girl that got mutated during The Weirding, turning her into a chimera and made her life a living hell.
  • Most of the transformations in The Wotch are played for laughs, especially those of Ming-mei and the Jerk Jocks turned cheerleaders. In the Consequences arc though, Anne is horrified that she screwed up so many lives. When Ming-mei remembers being transformed, she is clearly terrified and while the cheerleaders are more or less happy as girls, the webcomic Cheer shows that Jo still is driven to tears at one point when she realizes that no one remembers anything good about their past selves. Cassie's love potions would also fit, starting as a running gag and ending with her realizing that she had selfishly been trying to Mind Rape someone into loving her. Same with Miranda West, who first appears to be an annoying mentor, but gradually shows signs of being more sinister.
  • Looking for Group started with the heroic Cale'anon meeting up with Richard, a lighthearted Omnicidal Maniac, who decides to travel with the empty-headed do-gooder because it'll be fun. Except now it turns out he's on a mission to protect Cale, under orders from Cale's former master - who, right after sending him into the world, killed his wife in cold blood so he'd have nothing to come home to.
  • Eddie from Emergency Exit is a Cloudcuckoolander with a tendency to pull things out of nowhere. Why? Turns out it's because he FORCED A PORTAL THROUGH HIS SKULL in order to keep the villains from getting it. That's where he keeps all his random objects, and it apparently seriously messed with his mind.
  • A mild example in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures: a fairly early filler strip joked about various ways the comic could get more hits, including having a character coming out of the closet and introducing a Boys Love story. Much later, it's revealed that Jyrras is not only bi, but also has a hidden crush on his best friend Dan, which he fears will ruin their friendship if ever revealed.
  • Homestuck has several. Jade's narcolepsy: Vriska testing her psychic powers. Karkat's arguing with his past and future selves: an extreme sense of self-loathing which tends to manifest as him blaming himself for everything. Gamzee's honking: becomes terrifying after the goes Ax Crazy.

Web Original

  • There's a whole category of Creepypasta regarding supposed dark secrets of light-hearted children's shows and games, e.g. that an actor was actually a Humanoid Abomination, that the show was being used to summon an Eldritch Abomination, or that the show itself was an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Linkara parodies this trope in his 15 Things That Are Wrong With Identity Crisis review, saying that he got his Miller Time watch by beating up a thug in a horrifying fashion, and then buried his corpse in Nevada...then reveals that he was just giving a bad example of a Cerebus Retcon.
    • The backstory for his Magic Gun could be an example of the trope, if not for that fact that he had always planned on giving the gun a dark backstory.
  • Back in season 1 of Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series, there involves a scene where Joey is trying to "teach" Serenity how to drive. In Episode 54, however, it turns out said incident was actually the cause of Noah's "untimely death".

Western Animation

  • The "Kenny Dies" episode of South Park, where he is Killed Off for Real...not in the usual over-the-top fashion, but slowly, due to a debilitating illness, with the episode's main plot revolving around his friends trying to get embryonic stem cell research legalized in the hope that a treatment can be developed before Kenny dies. The writers eventually brought him back anyway, after which he started dying very rarely.
    • Many of the scenes in the episode are genuinely heartfelt, although it comes to a pretty amusing thud when it's revealed that Cartman was hoarding stem cells not in an attempt to save his dying friend, but so they could clone him his own pizza parlor.
    • It's being played absurdly straight in the "Coon and Friends" saga. Kenny, who is revealed to be the real Mysterion, has stated that his Superpower is that he cannot die, and that even when he does die, no one ever remembers it happening to him, implying that he not only remembers but has experienced every death he's gone through in the series so far. One might even see it as a Deconstruction of Negative Continuity.
      • And then there are hints throughout the episode that his ability is somehow connected to none other than Cthulhu...
    • In the ep "City Sushi", its revealed Mr.Kim is an insane caucasian psychiatrist with multiple personalities that everyone just lets him be Mr.Kim by the end.
  • In The Venture Brothers, how Master Billy Quizboy got his mechanical hand is told through The Rashomon, and the end of the episode has him saying he doesn't really remember. A later episode shows this was because he had his mind wiped. His arm was bitten off by a pit-bull, and was given the replacement which had a monitoring device so he could act as The Mole.
  • Helga's family life in Hey Arnold was originally played for laughs. This included her father calling her by her sister's name, her mother always falling asleep on the couch and all of them generally neglecting her. Then came "Helga on the Couch"... and no one was laughing anymore.
  • In the Family Guy episode "Jerome is the New Black," Quagmire tells Brian that Cheryl Tiegs was the love of his life who left him and the break-up is the reason why Quagmire is a sex addict. Three past episodes had clues that make the revelation logical (and not just something the writers pulled out of their butts): in "Emission Impossible," Quagmire has a poster of Cheryl Tiegs on his refrigerator (during the scene where Chris shows Quagmire the objects he found on the scavenger hunt), in "The Perfect Castaway," Quagmire's reason for being blind (in a game the guys are playing) is because every woman he has sex with will, in his mind, be like Cheryl Tiegs, and in "Barely Legal" (the one where Meg becomes obsessed with Brian), Quagmire gives Meg the Shel Silverstein book The Missing Piece and tells her that he reads it whenever he feels that he needs to find the one thing in his life that's missing.
  • In Futurama, a joke in "Where The Buggalo Roam" where Kif thought that kissing Amy (while buggalo stampeded) was making love to her was eventually fleshed out in a later episode - Kif has Bizarre Alien Biology which means that when he feels a great sense of love for someone else, his skin becomes receptive to genetic material, which is how his species reproduces. In other words, kissing Amy really was making love to her.
    • In a season one episode, for a bit gag, Amy is shipped with Kif. In the season three premiere, we learn that Kif has been hopelessly pining for Amy for years but has been too scared to ask her out again.
    • The first episode makes Fry's life in the year 2000 seem utterly miserable, so that it's understandable how he celebrates after being unfrozen a millennium later. Since then episodes have gone back and explored his previous life more closely, creating drama as Fry remembers his brother, beloved dog, etc.
    • Mutants were shown to live in the sewers in one episode, and a Running Gag developed where they would stick their heads out of the ground to yell at people. The mutants' situation is Played for Drama later, when it's revealed that Leela is a mutant, whose parents gave her up so she could pass as an alien and live on the surface.
  • Re Boot started off as a series of standalone episodes, with Bob fighting Megabyte and Hexadecimal's schemes but never outright ending them (except one time he almost did, in Infected). Then the third ep of the Daemon Rising arc revealed that this had all been an authorised experiment, with the Guardians allowing the viruses to roam free in Mainframe to see if Bob could stop them by reprogramming instead of killing.
    • In the final episode, Megabyte went and Cerebus Retconned that by pointing out that changing someone to that extent was "a fate worse than deletion. And they call me a monster".
  • Parodied in "Behind the Laughter," the outside-of-canon Animated Actors episode of The Simpsons, in which we're told that Homer became addicted to painkillers after falling down Springfield Gorge (in a well-known early episode), and that that enabled him to do "the bone-cracking physical comedy that made him a star."
    • There is also, in the same episode, Homer feeding Lisa and Bart growth stunters via executive order in order to keep them looking the same age for the show to explain them never aging
  • In the finale of Beast Wars, the victorious Maximals set off back to their own time and place with Megatron strapped to the front of their ship. Then comes the Darker and Edgier Beast Machines, where it turns out that because Megatron was strapped to the outside of the ship, he was able to break free during time travel, allowing him to get to Cyberton much earlier than they did and take the planet over.
  • A minor version of this happened with Pinkie Pie in the My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic episode "Party Of One". Throughout the whole show, she's been obsessed with parties. In this episode, she's actually scary and is so desperate for friends that when she thinks the others have abandoned her, she has a deranged tea party with inanimate objects.
    • More generally, she's always been seen as the "wacky" character, to the point where some fans joking said that she might be a little mentally ill.
  • Ice King's origin story in "Holly Jolly Secrets". It will be hard to laugh at him now...
  • The Ed, Edd 'n' Eddy Grand Finale Movie, reverses Eddy's claims about how cool his brother is by revealing what he really is, as well as revealing why Eddy was such a jerk all this time.