Heroes Unmasked: How secret are secret identities?

By: Matt Hunt
A comic illustration of two masked superheroes.
If 28 people know a secret, is it still a secret? yogysic / Getty Images

Quick show of hands -- who can tell me who Wally West is?

Those of you not raising your hands probably had girlfriends in high school. Those of you with your hands flailing through the air probably spent your youth debating whether or not Wolverine's claws could cut through Captain America's shield.

Yes, any connoisseur of the comic medium will tell you that Wally West is the civilian identity of the super-speedster known as The Flash, an identity kept hidden from both the general public and his super-powered adversaries. But why bother with maintaining a secret identity anyway? In the current realm of comicdom, secret identities are heading the way of DC's Infinity Earths. Well-hidden alter egos are few and far between. Between the big two (Marvel and DC), only five major heroes have yet to fully reveal their civilian personas -- Superman, Spider-Man, Batman, Daredevil and The Flash. Maybe it's a conscious choice on the part of the superheroes, or maybe it's just loose lips. In the world of comic books, as in life, it's tough to keep a bunch of loudmouths quiet.


So let's find an empty phone booth and examine which of the five comic book icons are most likely to lose their social camouflage. Read on as we investigate which superhero's secret identity stands at greatest risk of being outed by those in the know.


The Fast And The Curious

Turns out The Flash is easily forgettable.
Photo courtesy DC Comics

Comic Book Icon: The Flash

Secret Identity: Wally West, one-time Kid Flash and nephew of the Silver Age Flash, Barry Allen


Allies aware of true identity: Linda Park (Wife), The Justice League of America (Each current member of the JLA revealed their identities to each other. This includes Aquaman, Batman, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Plastic Man, Superman and Wonder Woman.)

Enemies aware of true identity: None

Total: 8

Chances of being exposed in the near future: Minimal. The Flash's identity was once public knowledge, but after losing his unborn child to arch-foe, Professor Zoom, Wally West agreed to accept an offer from the supernatural being known as the Spectre to make the entire world forget that he was the Flash. Only those closest to Wally, including his wife and members of the JLA, have eventually remembered his dual identity. With no villains quick enough to decipher the truth, The Flash is in the clear ... for now.


Supe's On

Clark should probably ditch the "IM SUP-R-MAN" vanity plate just to be on the safe side.
Photo courtesy DC Comics

Comic Book Icon: Superman

Civilian Identity: Clark Kent, Daily Planet reporter


Allies aware of civilian identity: The JLA (Aquaman, Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Plastic Man and Wonder Woman), Black Racer, Dr. Occult, the Eradicator, Green Arrow, Jon and Martha Kent (his "parents"), Lana Lang (ex-girlfriend), Lois Lane (wife), Lori Lemaris (former girlfriend), Nightwing, Phantom Stranger, the Spectre, Steel, Superboy, Supergirl, Waverider

Enemies aware of civilian identity: Bizarro, Brainiac, the Cyborg, Dominus, Mr. Mxyzptlk

Total beings aware of civilian identity: 28

Chances of being Exposed in the near future: Not likely. While most of those aware of his public persona are fellow heroes, the few villains privy to this knowledge are either currently out of commission (Dominus and the Cyborg are trapped in the phantom zone, Brainiac is stuck at the beginning of time) or could care less (Bizarro and Mxyzptlk only care for the challenge of battling Superman). Though it wouldn't hurt to be a little more hesitant to let his pals in on the secret, Supes should be ducking into phone booths for a long time.


Dangling by a Thread

Reason number 12 to knock before entering a port-a-john
Photo courtesy Marvel Comics

Comic book icon: Spider-Man

Secret identity: Peter Parker, Daily Bugle photographer


Allies aware of his secret identity: Angel, Aunt May (aunt), the Black Cat, Bounty, Daredevil, Dr. Strange, Ka-Zar, Kaine (Peter Parker clone), Kraven, Madame Webb, Mary Jane Watson-Parker (wife), Nick Fury, the Sentry, Spindrifter, Thor, Wolverine

Enemies aware of secret identity: Chakra, Dr. Octopus, Green Goblin, Judas Traveller, Mendel Stromm, Mephisto, Nightmare, Puma, Stunner, Thanos, Venom

Total: 28

Chances of being exposed in the near future: Even. With many of his knowledgeable enemies either comatose (Mendel Stromm, Stunner), amnesic (Doc Ock, Venom), inactive (Puma), or too powerful to care (Nightmare, Mephisto, Thanos), one would think Spider-Man is sitting pretty -- right? Wrong. The only thing keeping Spidey's deadliest foe, the Green Goblin, from exposing his secret ID is the Goblin's insanity coupled with his twisted sense of honor and respect. On numerous occasions, Norman Osborne has thrown monkey wrench after monkey wrench into Parker's personal life, including purchasing the newspaper where he works, orchestrating a plot to make him believe that he is a clone, kidnapping his newborn child, and even replacing his Aunt May with a genetically altered actress. After his public identity was revealed and he was sent to prison, exposing everyone's favorite wall crawler to be Peter Parker might be Norman Osborn's last act of vengeance.


The Bat's Out of the Bag

Is that a target on my back?
Photo courtesy DC Comics

Comic book icon: Batman

Secret identity: Billionaire playboy and Gotham City socialite, Bruce Wayne


Allies aware of true identity: The JLA (Aquaman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Martian Manhunter, Plastic Man, Superman and Wonder Woman), Azrael, Batgirl, Sasha Bordeaux (Bruce Wayne's bodyguard), Catwoman, Henri Ducard (Bruce Wayne's arms dealer), Green Arrow, Carleton LeHah, Man-Bat, Nightwing, Nomoz, Oracle, The Outsiders ( Black Lightning, Geo Force, Halo, Katana, Metamorpho), Alfred Pennyworth (Bruce Wayne's butler), Robin, Sentinel (original Green Lantern, Alan Scott), Leslie Thompkins (friend and mentor to Bruce Wayne), Waverider, Wildcat.

Enemies aware of true identity: Bane, Bird (Bane's minion), David Cain (Batgirl's father), Deathstroke, Hush, Lady Shiva, Nyssa, Ra's Al Ghul, the Riddler, Talia, Trogg (Bane's minion), Ubu (Ra's Al Ghul's servant), Zombie (Bane's minion)

Total: 43

Chances of being exposed in the near future: Highly likely. The villain Bane showed just how dangerous letting the secret slip can be when he ransacked stately Wayne Manor and broke Bruce's spine. With such a large rogue's gallery of villains aware of his public persona, the threat of retaliation towards those close to Bruce Wayne is ever present. Plus, the large group of civilians who know Batman's identity make easy prey to those determined to learn who is underneath the mask and pointy ears. Even worse -- it is hinted at, though not confirmed, that Batman's greatest foe, the Joker, is aware of his civilian identity (but is probably too psychotic to care). Better beef up Wayne Manor security and add another padlock to the Batcave door.


The Devil's Overdue

Oh well, there's always paralegal work.
Photo courtesy Marvel Comics

Comic book hero: Daredevil

Secret identity: Matt Murdock, lawyer


Allies aware of his secret identity: The Black Cat, The Black Panther, The Black Widow, Luke Cage, Captain America, Dr. Strange, Milla Donovan (girlfriend), Echo, Elektra, Falcon, Iron Fist, Jessica Jones, Lora (friend of Milla Donovan), Moondragon, Nick Fury, Foggy Nelson, Ivan Petrovitch (Black Widow's mentor), Cecelia Reyes, Reed Richards, Sister Maggie (Daredevil's mother), Spider-Man, Stick, Nathanial Taggart, Tork, Ben Urich

Enemies aware of his secret identity: Bullseye, Crossbones, Vanessa Fisk (Kingpin's Wife), John Garrett, Kingpin, Mephisto, Micah Synn, Mr. Fear, Silke, Typhoid Mary, Voodoo Priest Mambo

Total: 36

Chances of being exposed in the near future: Inevitable. A tabloid once exposed Matt as Daredevil which led to him eventually faking his own death. Recently, the villain Silke revealed that Matt Murdock is Daredevil in order to cut a deal with the FBI. While the government military organization known as S.H.I.E.L.D. is attempting to keep this information secret, a desperate agent sells out Daredevil to the Daily Bugle Newspaper. In response to a front page outing, Matt Murdock held a press conference stating that he is not Daredevil and continues to deny that he is the man without fear. With the list of high caliber villains that know DD's identity and the number of times he's been publicly unmasked, it's going to take a deal with the devil to keep the law offices of Murdock and Nelson open much longer.

Know another character who is privy to the identity of one of our five spotlighted heroes? Drop us a line and prove your mastery of the comic medium.