How Other Superheroes Have Tried To Erase Public Knowledge Of Their Secret Identities

Whether it be on the big screen, the small screen, or the pages of comic books themselves, superhero secret identity names are a big part of the genre - for better and for worse. While keeping an alter ego hidden can be stressful, there’s a litany of unmasked superheroes and superheroes who went public who can attest that the alternative is even more aggravating. Just ask Peter Parker (who?) after Spider-Man: No Way Home.

With that in mind, it should come as no surprise that most superheroes who end up having their secret identity exposed will go to great lengths to erase that information from the public's consciousness. Some of the biggest names in comic books have lied, cheated, and cut deals with the devil in order to regain some semblance of a private life - and some of those decisions have been seriously morally ambiguous, too.

  • The pain of losing one’s secret identity is familiar to Peter Parker no matter the medium. In the comic books, at least, Spider-Man unmasked voluntarily and publicly as a show of his support for Team Iron Man and the Superhuman Registration Act during the Civil War - though he also almost immediately came to regret it.

    When a Kingpin-hired assassin shot Aunt May trying to get to Peter, it caused the webslinger to reevaluate his priorities and switch over to Team Captain America, but it didn’t do anything to help the issue of the public knowing his greatest secret. Saving May’s life was the more important goal at the time, but soon an opportunity came up to fix both problems in one fell swoop.

    After approaching the world’s foremost scientific and magical minds searching for a way to cure May, Spider-Man encountered Mephisto, the Marvel Universe’s most prominent devil. Mephisto offered up a tantalizing deal: He would save May’s life, and he would erase all public knowledge of Spidey’s true identity, but only if Peter and Mary Jane gave up their love and marriage in return. 

    Left with no other recourse, the couple took the offer - though they themselves would remember a spell performed by Doctor Strange a la No Way Home, instead of a deal with the devil. Peter and MJ eventually got back together anyway, but his alter ego remains mostly a secret. 

  • In the modern era, Marvel Comics’ mutants have formed their own island nation of Krakoa, from which they have quickly ascended into the world’s foremost superpower. Amongst all the wonderful and natural technology the island has been pumping out, however, the mutants are hiding a big secret - they’ve combined several mutant powers together to ensure unlimited resurrections for any mutant who might perish from here on out. In other words, the mutants have conquered mortality.

    Obviously, this isn’t a state secret that the Krakoans want the sapien world to know about, so they’ve tried to keep it locked down tight. When reporter Ben Urich discovered evidence that Cyclops had been brutally murdered, only to pop up again good as new a few days later, the mutants had to switch tactics.

    The X-Men used the opportunity of another very public demise for Scott Summers, leading to worldwide mourning and tributes, to make their move. They then debuted his replacement, one “Captain Krakoa” - who just so happened to be Cyclops in disguise. Using Krakoan technology, Cyclops was able to harness his concussive eyebeams into a host of new powers, including flight, making it appear to all outside the nation that the X-Men’s leader had perished and been replaced, all without Summers ever having to leave the superheroic game. 

  • Mr. Mxyzptlk Combined Continuities So Superman Could Live A Private Family Life Again
    Photo: DC Comics

    All of DC Comics continuity got a little more complicated after the total reboot of the New 52, but that was especially true of the Man of Steel. The New 52’s Superman was young, single, and wore jeans, but readers struggled to connect him to the Kal-El they’d come to know and love over the years prior. And so, with the Convergence crossover, DC brought the classic Superman back into the fold, along with his wife Lois Lane and son Jonathan.

    For a time, there existed two Supermen on the DC Earth-Prime. Then the New 52 Superman seemed to perish, leaving the classic Superman in the tricky spot of being familiar to fans, but a total stranger to his fellow superheroes. A little while after that, as if Clark Kent’s life had not become complicated enough, the digital villain known as Hordr revealed his secret identity to the public and, for a time, everyone knew that Kent was Superman and vice versa. 

    The events of Rebirth and Superman: Reborn, however, finally put things right. The multidimensional shenanigans of Mr. Mxyzptlk - who had been posing as a nonpowered Clark for a stint - accidentally resulted in the two continuities (and their respective Supermen) effectively merging. After that, it was as if there had only ever been one Superman, and as if he had always had a family, and as if the public had never learned his secret identity.

    Then, a few years after that, Superman voluntarily revealed himself to the world again anyway.

  • Tony Stark got by for decades on the fib that Iron Man was just a bodyguard he’d hired to protect him - one that, somehow, was never in the same room at the same time as Stark, which doesn’t make for a great bodyguard. Of course, rumors flew over the years, until at one point Tony was forced to call a press conference in which he insisted he was not Iron Man.

    Just at that moment, however, a high-speed police chase zoomed by, and Stark saw that an adorable puppy was about to get squished. So, he burst from the press conference, assembled his Iron Man armor, and saved that dog, revealing his true identity to the world at the exact same event where he’d originally hoped to hide it. His girlfriend at the time was not pleased with the circumstances of the revelation.

    A while later, when he wanted a secret identity again, Stark simply called another press conference and lied again, this time stating that he’d retired from superheroics and hired someone else to pilot the Iron Man suit. The public only half-bought this explanation, however, and Stark eventually decided to abandon all attempts at privacy and just live his life as Tony Stark: Iron Man. Then he became the secretary of defense. 

  • By most modern interpretations, Captain America is a historical figure who reemerged in the current day after decades trapped in ice, and long after everyone had learned that his real name was Steve Rogers. However, that wasn’t always the case.

    When Rogers first came out of the ice, only a couple of decades had passed since WWII, and documents about Project Rebirth had not yet been declassified. So, he was able to maintain a private life as Rogers all the while leading the Avengers publicly as Captain America. 

    That all changed when Rogers briefly decided to retire, declaring to the press, “The time has come for Captain America to finally die, so that Steve Rogers can begin to live!” Of course, Steve only lasted a few issues before he felt the itch to return to superheroics, which left him with the problem of his now-public identity.

    Cap cooked up a kooky scheme that involved his diving in front of a hail of Hydra gunfire into a harbor and leaving behind a bullet-riddled costume... along with a rubber Steve Rogers mask. This led the police and the public to reach the conclusion that Rogers had never existed, after all, and had merely been a front for the real Captain America.

    But Cap still wanted to live his life as Rogers, too, and that was no longer possible in a world that thought “Steve Rogers” was fictional. Thankfully, an ill-fated plan by a Space Phantom to take over Cap’s body for his own purposes involved the brainwashing of the entire planet to forget the entire concept of Cap having a secret identity, so the genie was put back in the bottle. Years after that, Rogers went public again, and he’s never looked back. 

  • As The Spectre, Hal Jordan Rewrote The Flash’s Public Identity Out Of Reality
    Photo: DC Comics

    Talking about the true identity of a character like the Flash is always complicated, because there’s a whole slew of Flashes jogging around in DC Comics continuity. In any case, however, it seems like keeping that identity a secret is always the best practice, because bad things tend to happen when it gets out.

    Barry Allen, the most famous Flash, revealed his identity via a time capsule, only to have Reverse Flash come back in time and ruin his life. That didn’t stop Barry’s successor, Wally West, from going public, which brought him the attention of Zoom, a villain who nearly took out Wally’s wife. Fortunately, that prompted ol’ Barry to come out of his exile in the Speed Force and set things right.

    The temporarily restored Allen reached out to Hal Jordan, who at the time was serving as the all-powerful Spectre after a stint as a world-threatening supervillain. Still seeking redemption, Hal agreed to rewrite history so that neither Barry nor Wally’s identities had ever been made public, even going as far as to alter statues that had been built in Barry’s name. 

    Wally would use this opportunity to briefly quit his career as the Flash, though he eventually returned to action shortly before Barry made his full-time return.