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Mayor: [regarding The Joker] What do we got?

Jim Gordon: Nothing. No matches on prints, DNA, dental. Clothing is custom, no labels. Nothing in his pockets but knives and lint. No name, no other alias...

Nothing Is Scarier than someone you know nothing about. He has nothing to identify him, nothing that even states that he is real. If this person simply disappears, you are terrified because you don't know if he is watching. Sometimes he is established as a myth, a ghost story to scare people. This person lacks not only a past, but also a present and a future. He just is, and you don't know why.

The Spook is someone whose identity is a paradox, they exist but don't exist at the same time. No one can prove that he is there except by showing someone the warm body, if you even have it. If a name is given it is likely to be Shrouded in Myth, you can't be certain of anything you hear about them but you don't want to underestimate them all the same.

In some cases, this may overlap with a Legacy Character: the myth is more important than the person.

All There in the Manual may have extra information that is confirmed by Word of God, but that doesn't count: this is about how this character is perceived by others. What matters is how the characters in the story behave in regard to the stranger. If the people in the story know all about the character, then it does not qualify as The Spook even if the audience knows nothing.

This kind of character is often seen as either an Enigmatic Minion, or the guy the villains (or even the heroes) bring in to do the job right... even if they don't know what they're dealing with. Also frequently The Nondescript.

Compare The Faceless, but The Faceless is only important based around the eventual reveal (whether or not they actually have a face). The Spook will usually remain an enigma even if caught and defeated. Also compare The Men in Black, who are often Mooks with this characteristic, and The Cowl, when a hero tries to be this to the villains. The Chessmaster can sometimes be a Spook, and is often the reason why the character is popular. Bonus points if he is an Implacable Man.

Also not to be confused with The Ghost, The Shadow or especially The Spock. Nor to be confused with The Spook.

Examples of The Spook include:


Anime and Manga

  • All members of ACROSS in Excel Saga must maintain this secrecy to ignorant citizens, which is why they can only get temp jobs.
    • Much of the manga is a comical Deconstruction of the trope, noting how difficult it is actually to live without any kind of identifications, steady job or social security. The protagonists end up getting mistaken for illegal immigrants several times over.
  • L, Mello and Near from Death Note.
  • Johann tries to become one in Monster by destroying all traces of his past. Even without him doing that, his past is still very foggy due to the circumstances of his birth and upbringing. Finding out how he became the way he is is one of the plot's driving forces.

Comic Books

  • The Octopus in The Spirit. In the entire run of the series, neither the heroes, the villains, nor anyone else ever saw his face or learned who he was. In his first appearance, he ran through fire to avoid revealing his identity.
  • Mr. Nobody in Spider-Girl. Even when he's apprehended by the police, it's found that he literally has no fingerprints and that what was thought to be a full facial mask is apparently his actual face.
  • The unnamed Vought-American exec is this. The Homelander, a Kryptonian-class superhuman, is more than a little scared of this apparently orinary human; even half-jokingly theorizing that the executive might be some sort of quintessential corporate lifeform.

Film

  • The Joker was portrayed this way in The Dark Knight. It did not give him any Backstory, the reason being that he is simply "The Joker", nothing more elaborate but nothing to diminish the personality. The fact of the movie was that the heroes have to deal with someone they had no damn clue about. They could not anticipate what he was going to do, and that is why he was so effective. In Batman Begins, the League of Shadows nearly put Gotham into a riot because of poisonous gas, the Joker nearly did the same thing just from the legend he established for himself.
  • Keyser Söze of The Usual Suspects was something similar to this. The nature of the movie made his shadow-ness even more obscure and vague. But even with the things confirmed by the police interrogators, Söze was someone who has never had a confirmed sighting, regarded as a myth, has multiple versions of his backstory and you don't know what is fact or fiction about him.
  • This is what is often overlooked in The Terminator movies because of the Time Travel and evil robot sci-fi, but the original movie was primarily a person being hunted by someone she knew nothing about, even the reason why she was being hunted.
  • When you join the Men in Black, you become one of these people.

 From now on you'll have no identifying marks of any kind. You'll not stand out in any way. Your entire image is crafted to leave no lasting memory with anyone you encounter.

  • Jason Bourne is an example of the "made anonymous by support from powerful intelligence agency" variety.
    • All the field members of Treadstone are made to become this. And with Bourne losing his memory, it shows what happens when one of these people do a Heel Face Turn.
  • Chauncey Gardiner in Being There, who grew up as a gardener for a rich old man who had secluded himself and Chance from the outside world. After his master dies, and he has to go out in the world, he becomes a mysterious figure without a past.
  • The Serial Killer from Se7en.
  • In Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins, the bad guys refer to Remo as "The Faceless Wonder" because they can find absolutely no information on him at all other than a picture and the fact that he's interfering with their nefarious scheme.
  • The whoever-it-is who keeps showing up and giving cryptic advice to Bruce Willis in ~12 Monkeys~.
  • Cobb from Following. The police have no record of his existence, and he tricks his fall guy into dressing and looking just like him. The final shot of the film is Cobb stepping into a bustling street and completely disappearing.
  • Harry thinks Chad is this in Burn After Reading.
  • Ernst Stavro Blofeld is this is the James Bond movies. He is one of the few Bond villains to be given no backstory whatsoever, either from his own lips or from a government dossier. This is not the case in the novels the films were based on, however.
  • Roat, the villain of Wait Until Dark. Roat, incidentally, is not his real name.
  • The villain of The Hitcher is called a ghost because there is nothing that identifies him.

Literature

  • Captain Nemo from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
  • Vying with Nemo for the earliest use of the trope is Professor Sunday, from The Man Who Was Thursday, as described in the page quote.
  • Mister Teatime is this way in Hogfather.
  • The Jackal from The Day of the Jackal is this. That's what makes him a perfect assassin.
  • The first James Bond villain, Le Chiffre of Casino Royale, is known only by aliases that amount to "The Cipher", and doesn't seem to have a personal history beyond where he sprung up in post-WWII Dachau... but this doesn't stop MI6 from having a dossier covering what they do know about him, detailed physical appearance included, with some acknowledged educated guesses based on that.

Live Action TV

  • Burn Notice invokes this several times. One of Michael's plans was based around infiltrating a family of gun dealers by playing off of one of the brothers. By skillfully stealing their supplies, he then simply dropped off the face of the Earth. He explained that nothing scares you more then a spook, someone you know nothing about. He could have been FBI, a rival group, the Mafia; the point was they didn't know who he was and if he was going to return. The group was so spooked, they left the city.
  • Pick pretty much any member of the shadow government on The X-Files (particularly Deepthroat and X). The Cigarette smoking man is the only one that we ever learn anything about and what we know is vague and occasionally contradictory.
  • Papa Lazarou on The League of Gentlemen. He's implied not to even be human.
  • This is how Moriarty is treated in Sherlock, though he gets to meet our heroes face-to-face in the last episode. Twice.
  • The Silence from Doctor Who. Once you look away, you instantly forget them, but you subconsciously carry out any command they give you.
  • The Greek of The Wire. By the end of the series, we only know one thing about him: he's not really Greek.

Radio

  • Of all people, The Shadow was, in his original continuity, one of these. His secret identity was so secret that even the audience didn't know who he was, leading to much Wild Mass Guessing.

Tabletop Games

  • Thanks to the Arcane Fate, the Sidereals of Exalted turn this Up to Eleven. Not only are they completely unknown to the vast majority of Creation's inhabitants, but within a week or two of meeting them, you will forget them. And any records of their existence will be lost, accidentally destroyed, vanish mysteriously, or otherwise be rendered useless. A Sidereal could murder your parents right in front of you, and in a month you wouldn't be able to pick them out of a lineup or even remember the incident clearly--were they even murdered at all, or was it a freak accident of some kind?

Video Games

  • G-Man from the Half-Life series.
  • Majora from The Legend of Zelda is an odd variation. You know his background (standard Sealed Evil in a Can stuff) but the sheer amount of Mind Screw going on around him makes him unknowable. The Happy Mask Salesman, while apparently a good guy, is a straighter example.
  • In Halo, operatives from the Office of Naval Intelligence get this trope name as a nickname for the exact reasons mentioned here, they collide with the The Men in Black Trope.
  • Oh, God, Yume Nikki. Madotsuki, the main character (and only character) is a Hikikomori in a flat. She keeps a very trippy dream diary. She commits suicide with stairs that come out of nowhere. The building she lives in is only as wide as the flat. There's no explanation for anything whatsoever. Epileptic Trees about the game are filled with her. Is one of her dream characters based on a piano teacher? Is another based on a friend? Is aforementioned friend dead? Is another based on a horribly mutilated and/or bullied girl? Was she raped? Where does she get these ideas from? Is the highly sexual Kyuukyuu-kun based on rape or whatever? Who is she? What is she? How did she come to be there? She's basically Mesme without the Psychic Powers. And don't even get started on KIKIYAMA, the creator of Yume Nikki. Is KIKIYAMA male or female? Do the ideas for Yume Nikki come from alchohol, drugs, or just a very twisted imagination? Needless to say, Yume Nikki has no Backstory whatsoever.
  • The Pyro from Team Fortress 2 has no backstory, name, face, or set gender. The fact that s/he just loves burning things is all we know for sure.
  • Albatross and Steven Heck in Alpha Protocol. The dossiers you build on them are about 90% conjecture.

Web Original

  • We may know a great deal about the Slender Man and what he does, but even then there is no way to know his true nature/origin without being taken or worse, especially as he is said to change depending on the mind encountering him. He is everywhere and nowhere. By believing in him you open the door. Attempts to capture or study him almost always go hideously wrong. His eyes are closed, his mouth is open, and his arms are outstretched.

Western Animation

  • Combustion Man from Avatar: The Last Airbender. The heroes don't know his name, never heard him speak (the only noises he makes are grunts which aren't even credited by a voice actor), and know nothing about his past. In their first encounter with him, they only escaped by the skin of their teeth. Zuko apparently knows more about him (name, past, etc.) but his portrayal is that of a relentless shadow.
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