What's in a name?1 of 12Marvel and DC have had an interesting relationship with secret identities lately, with many of their top superhero legacies changing hands and making way for new heroes under the masks. Last week, Marvel revealed yet another new secret identity, confirming, after weeks of teasing, that the star of their new Totally Awesome Hulk is in fact Amadeus Cho.
A superhero's secret identity is an important, necessary tool in their crimefighting 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. <
Hulk2 of 12One of the first superheroes – well, one of the first Avengers, at least – to lose their secret identity, Bruce Banner found himself revealed in 1967's Tales to Astonish #87 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.
Doctor Strange3 of 12What's that, you say? Doctor Strange doesn't have a secret identity? His name is actually 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 did wear a mask while slinging magic around, leading to a moment in Dr. Strange #180 (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 later!" he thought.
Obviously, he still hasn't gotten around to it.
The Great Machine4 of 12The very structure of Brian K. Vaughn and Tony Harris' Ex Machina 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.
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, no major political candidates in the real world have followed his lead as yet.
Captain America5 of 12Leave it to Captain America to choose a suitably dramatic reason to reveal his double life. In Tales of Suspense #95, 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.
Green Lantern6 of 12John Stewart – who, by the time of Green Lantern #188 in 1985 was the only Green Lantern 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.
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.
The Flash7 of 12And then there was the time that the Flash was unmasked in court, and it wasn't actually Barry Allen's face underneath. In The Flash #345, 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 need," he griped in thought balloons. "My new face plastered across millions of newspapers and TV screens all across the country. No, thank you!" Hey, it worked out well for John Stewart…!
Superman8 of 12Clearly, 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 Superman #423, Alan Moore and Curt Swan had Clark Kent revealed to be Superman right in the middle of a live TV broadcast.
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.
And now, Superman has undergone a similar revelation in his recent comics, with Lois Lane having outed him as Clark Kent to save him from the villainous Hordr.
Iron Man9 of 12If 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.
In the 1998 Iron Man/Captain America annual, Stark used a villain's technology to make the world forget that he was Iron Man, only for Iron Man #55 to see him unmasked again – and then, for it to happen one more time in Civil War, as well. None of these match up to Robert Downey Jr.'s off-hand remark at the end of the original Iron Man 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.
Daredevil10 of 12Here’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.
In Daredevil #33, 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 swinging around the city.
After fighting a losing battle for years, Matt Murdock finally melded his civilian identity and Daredevil in Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's recently concluded Daredevil run.
Spider-Man11 of 12It was the secret identity reveal that changed everything – and, for some fans, the beginning of the end.
When Peter Parker went public as Spider-Man in the second issue of 2006's Civil War, 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 Brand New Day which restored Peter's secret.
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 see that Iron Spider outfit?
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