<b>SPOILERS for this week’s <i>The Flash Annual</i>, and also for several comics going back to the 1960s. So um, you’ve been warned.</b> <p>A moment many pre-52 loyalists have been waiting for happened in <b>The Flash Annual #3</b> this week - and no, we’re not talking about Wally and Barry’s first meeting. We’re talking about The Flash revealing his identity as Barry Allen to Iris West! <p>Of course, there’s a catch. You see, this reveal happened 20 years in the future, and apparently they had a long relationship where he never did reveal himself (er, um, his ID). That future, if he has anything to say about, won’t be happening either. Still, it was a nice moment… for a moment. <p>Likewise, the Crime Syndicate revealed Dick Grayson’s identity as Nightwing to the world back at the start of <b>Forever Evil</b>, a moment that will have ramifications this summer as Dick gives up the superhero ID, pretends he’s dead to the rest of the world, and takes on his new role as a super secret agent in <b>Grayson</b> <p>A superhero's secret identity is an important, necessary tool in their crime –fighting kit. But the concept of revealing their identity to the world isn't a new one – and, as you're about to see, just because the world learns who you are behind the mask, that doesn't mean that they'll necessarily remember that information forever.
One of the first superheroes – well, one of the first <em>Avengers</em>, at least – to lose their secret identity, Bruce Banner found himself revealed in 1967's <em>Tales to Astonish #87</em> when, in the midst of a showdown, Hulk found himself transforming back into puny Banner. On the plus side, Banner's smarts managed to defeat the unsubtly-named "Hulk-Killer," but by the time the whole thing was over, the secret was out: The Hulk and Bruce Banner were one and the same, and the final part of the series' status quo was finally, firmly, in place.
What's that, you say? Doctor Strange doesn't <em>have</em> a secret identity? His name is <em>actually</em> Strange, and he doesn't wear a mask? Well, as – ahem – strange as it may seem, that wasn't always the case. For a short period in the late 1960s, Strange went under the pseudonym of "Stephen Sanders," and <em>did</em> wear a mask while slinging magic around, leading to a moment in <em>Dr. Strange #180</em> (1969) when he reveals his magical powers to save a crowd in Times Square from mystical danger. "I'll worry about my precious secret identity <em>later</em>!" he thought. <p>Obviously, he still hasn't gotten around to it.
The very structure of Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris' <em>Ex Machina</em> meant that we knew from the very first issue that Mitchell Hundred's double identity would become public at some point (In fact, it already had, from the point of view of the main narrative), yet it was still a surprise to read the 38th issue of the series and see that the point where he chose to unmask was also the point where he chose to announce his candidacy for the Mayor of New York. <p>It worked, of course – how better to get a city on your side than demonstrate that you've literally put your life on the line for it on multiple occasions? – but, surprisingly, none of the current New York Mayoral candidates in the real world have followed his lead as yet. Anthony Weiner, there's still time! On second thought, let’s not ask for any more “reveals” from him.
Leave it to Captain America to choose a suitably dramatic reason to reveal his double life. In <em>Tales of Suspense #95</em>, Steve Rogers goes public as Cap just as he announces his retirement from superheroing (Obviously, it didn't take). It's worth noting that this secret identity reveal not only made little sense – Wouldn't Cap's identity have become public knowledge after his assumed death in WWII? – but was quickly undone two years later when Cap faked his own death and "revealed" that Steve Rogers was a fake identity, all to trick Hydra. Not only one of the first secret identity reveals, but one of the first quick retcons to undo it, as well – Captain America, a true American trailblazer.
John Stewart – who, by the time of <em>Green Lantern #188</em> in 1985 was the only GL on Earth – learned that you really, really shouldn't trust the press when reporter Tawny Young went on television and blew his secret identity for all of America to see. <p>To his credit, he took it in his stride, as did most people in his life – with the exception of Hal Jordan, who understandably worried that it meant that someone would be able to track down his own secret identity as a result. John, however, never went back to having a secret identity, setting a bar for maskless Green Lanterns that Guy Gardner would follow within a year.
And then there was the time that the Flash was unmasked in court, and it wasn't actually Barry Allen's face underneath. In <em>The Flash #345</em>, the Flash's long-running murder trial was slowly drawing to a close, and attorney Cecile Horton believed she had a masterstroke to get the jury to acquit – simply reveal that the Flash killed Professor Zoom to save the life of his fiancee. The only problem with this was that the Flash had recently had his face rebuilt by ape technology (No, don't ask), and so didn't look anything like Barry at all. "Great, just what I <em>need</em>," he griped in thought balloons. "My <em>new face</em> plastered across millions of newspapers and TV screens all across the country. No, thank you!" Hey, it worked out well for John Stewart…!
Clearly, there was something in the water over at DC in the mid-80s – Green Lantern and Flash were both unmasked in continuity, and then in 1986's <em>Superman #423</em>, Alan Moore and Curt Swan had Clark Kent revealed to be Superman right in the middle of a live TV broadcast. <p>In "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow?" the Toyman and Prankster pull one final grand scheme and, having discovered Superman's secret identity by torturing Pete Ross to death, attack Clark Kent while he's on air, knowing full well that he'll be revealed as Superman to the world. Yes, it wasn't officially in continuity – and within a month of the story's publication, John Byrne would reboot the Man of Steel altogether – but nonetheless, the Crime Syndicate would've been proud.
If there was an award given out for the superhero who has gone public with his identity – and then walked it back – the most times, it would likely have to go to Tony Stark as Iron Man. <p>In the 1998 <em>Iron Man/Captain America</em> annual, Stark used a villain's technology to make the world forget that he was Iron Man, only for <em>Iron Man #55</em> to see him unmasked again – and then, for it to happen one more time in <em>Civil War</em>, as well. None of these match up to Robert Downey Jr.'s off-hand remark at the end of the original <em>Iron Man</em> movie, of course, but there are very, very few things in the world that can really beat Downey when he's on his disarming, off-handedly troublemaking best.
Here’s another example of just why superheroes should never, ever trust the press – except, of course, for the members of the press who also happen to hold membership cards for either the Avengers or the Justice League. <p>In <em>Daredevil #33</em>, a tabloid paper, the Daily Globe, ruined Matt Murdock's life for at least three concurrent writers' runs by outing the blind lawyer who crusades for justice tirelessly as the Marvel Universe's only blind superhero who crusades for justice tirelessly. Unlike other secret identity revelations, this one stuck – and made its impact felt when Murdock had to deal with the consequences of what he'd gotten up to while wearing the red tights and seining around the city. Even today, it's a genie that remains stubbornly out of the bottle, as Mark Waid's run demonstrates, despite Murdock’s public insistence that he is not in fact Daredevil.
It was the secret identity reveal that changed everything – and, for some fans, the beginning of the end. <p>When Peter Parker went public as Spider-Man in the second issue of 2006's <em>Civil War</em>, it set in motion a series of events that culminated not only in a near-death experience for Aunt May – not that that's anything new for comics' most invincible frail old lady, of course – but in the demonic dissolution of Parker's marriage to Mary Jane Watson, and the cosmic reboot that was <em>Brand New Day</em>. <p>Consider it a sign of just how important some secret identities really are, perhaps – or maybe just another example of the bad decision making that Peter was making at the time. I mean, did you <em>see</em> that Iron Spider outfit?