Anti-Climactic Unmasking YKTTW Discussion

Anti-Climactic Unmasking
An infamous character is finally unmasked, but turns out to be average and unremarkable.
(permanent link) added: 2011-07-04 22:43:45 sponsor: KingZeal (last reply: 2011-08-03 08:28:14)

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Do We Have This One?

Machine: What did you expect? A Monster?

The Hero's been captured by his Arch-Nemesis, who is fed up with all his meddling and wants to dispose of him once and for all. But first, the villain is curious to find out just who exactly has been plaguing him and disrupting his schemes for all this time. Who is behind that mask? With eager glee, the villain takes off the hero's mask and reveals... average, completely unremarkable joe.

Well, that was completely pointless. It turns out that, in addition to his mask, The Hero has something much more powerful protecting his Secret Identity: obscurity. The guy under that super suit could be the same guy bagging your groceries at Walmart. He could be your kid's soccer coach. He could be the President's niece's boyfriend. He's just one of a billion average faces amongst the entire human race.

Please note, however, that this doesn't mean that the mask is useless. All it would take is enough people getting a good look at his face (such as in print, on television, or--worse yet--on the internet) and the hero's identity is blown for good. The mask helps keep the face beneath it obscure enough to keep him Hidden in Plain Sight.

Do not confuse with They Look Like Everyone Else, when the antagonist has no alter ego and is simply too plain to distinguish from ordinary people or The Unreveal, when taking away one mask simply reveals another. This can overlap with Stranger Behind the Mask, if the audience has never seen the unmasked party before. But this trope, emphasizes that it's a stranger to the in-universe characters.


  • In one Spider-Man comic, the Vulture finally manages to unmask Spider-man after years of their cat and mouse games and is dismayed to realize that his archenemy could be just some guy pumping gas for a living. "You could be anybody . . ." he says, disheartened.
    • An early issue of Ultimate Spiderman had Peter get unmasked by the Kingpin and his thugs, but not know who he was.
    • Steve Ditko did this even earlier in Spider-Man with Electro's first appearance. Spidey defeats him, he unmasks him only to see a stranger and remarks that he shouldn't have been surprised that the new villain turned out to be just some guy he'd never met.
  • Deconstructed (like many other things) in Watchmen. Long before Rorschach is unmasked, his alter-ego is shown on-page many times as a random kook with a "the end is near" sign. Because the character was not notable at all, readers dismissed him as being an extra.
  • In Empowered, when some villains unmask the titular heroine and are surprised not to recognize her, she stalls for time by trying to convince everyone that she's really a cross-dressing man (despite her ultra skin-tight costume), and so are all the other members of her super-team. This works, and she's rescued, but the story turns up on the news the next day.

  • In Spider-Man 2, Spider-man's mask is removed after saving a train full of innocent civilians. They take a glance at him and realize the he could be anyone. One guy even states that he looks a lot like his own son.
  • Done in the 2009 Speed Racer movie. Right after the Monte Christo 5000 race, Speed and Racer X [[hottip:*: who is really Speed's older brother, Rex Racer]] meet on an empty track. When Speed claims that X is his older brother [[hottip:*: which he really is]] ]], X removes his mask to show that he is not Speed's older brother, Rex Racer [[hottip:*: even though he is Speed's older brother, Rex ]]. This turns out to be a ruse pulled off thanks to Magic Plastic Surgery, because as we all know, Racer X is Speed's older brother, Rex Racer ..
  • Quietly played straight in Kick-Ass. Our hero is beaten down by thugs early into the film and stripped of his costume by the paramedics. They toss the suit out and never tell his father. Later, when Kick-Ass becomes all the rage, it seems no one remembers that geeky kid who was just one more random mugging victim.
  • Inverted and combined with Stranger Behind the Mask during the ending to 8mm when NicolasCage takes the mask off Machine and he's just a bald fat guy who "does it cause he enjoys it." He even has a speech about the fact his unmasking was inevitably going to be anti-climactic.

  • Played with in The Mystery of Irma Vep- since all the characters are played by only two actors, when Jane the Creepy Housekeeper is unmasked, for a moment the other character thinks it's actually her husband.

Western Animation
  • In the Justice League cartoon Lex Luthor has swapped bodies with the Flash. He takes off his mask to see his face and learn his secret identity, but has no idea who it is.

  • At least one Scooby-Doo episode had the gang unmask the villain, but not even know who he is.

  • There's a clever meta-example in the first South Park episode where the Cartman dresses up like a super hero. At the end of the episode, his rival, Mysterion, is about to be unmasked. After the huge build up, the kid takes off his mask to reveal his face. The crowd gasps and exclaims "That's who it is!" and "I knew it all along!" right before the police take the kid away to jail. The problem is, South Park's signature style makes it so all the kids have the same face! Further, the dialog was specifically constructed to not give away the child's gender, nor did Mysterion talk after being unmasked. South Park Studios still does not give any hints as to who it was, beyond "You didn't see?! Mysterion was plainly unmasked at the end of the show!".

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