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.
- 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.