Created By: KingZeal on July 4, 2011 Last Edited By: KingZeal on August 3, 2011
Troped

Anti-Climactic Unmasking

An infamous character is finally unmasked, but turns out to be average and unremarkable.

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Do We Have This One?

Machine: What did you expect? A Monster?
--8mm

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...

...an 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.

Examples

Comics
  • 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.

Film
  • 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.

Theatre
  • 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!".

Community Feedback Replies: 32
  • July 4, 2011
    arromdee
    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.
  • July 5, 2011
    terrafox

    Can't get the hottip functions to work right, but you get the idea.
  • July 5, 2011
    Confusion567
    • Inverted 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.
  • July 5, 2011
    randomsurfer
    In the "Trial of The Flash'' Story Arc, Barry Allen had gotten quite beaten up during a fight with a villain, so he took the opportunity while getting his face repaired to have Magic Plastic Surgery just in case he was forced to unmask in court. He was forced to unmask in court.
  • July 5, 2011
    ryanasaurus0077
    Dr. Claw, anyone?
  • July 5, 2011
    JohnDiFool
    Dark Helmet, anyone? A parodic version of the trope of course.
  • July 5, 2011
    MetaFour
    The opposite of Dramatic Unmask, of course.
  • July 5, 2011
    KamenZero
    At least one Scooby Doo episode had the gang unmask the villain, but not even know who he is.
  • July 5, 2011
    KingZeal
    For a trope pic, does anyone have that issue of Spider-man where Vulture unmasks him? I think it was drawn by Terry Dobson.
  • July 6, 2011
    DexterLecter
    How does one make it so I can write the name of the character Machine but make it so it links to the page for Complete Monster? And why isn't 8MM linking to it's page/
  • July 6, 2011
    DexterLecter
    TheyLookJustLikeEveryoneElse might be a little to close to this one.
  • July 6, 2011
    tustin2121
    Gasp! You don't yet have the South Park Example?!

    In the first South Park episode where the Cartman dresses up like a super hero, he has a rival with a mysterious kid who goes by Mysterion. At the end of the episode, 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!".

    Also, this unmask scene could be perfect for the trope pic! :P
  • July 6, 2011
    Psychobabble6
    ^ XD I was actually gonna add that but I wasn't sure if it fit. It's an inversion, I guess, because it means something to the characters but not the viewers, which is the opposite of usual with this trope.

    ^^^ Put two brackets in front followed by "CompleteMonster" then a space, then Machine, then two closing brackets:

    ((CompleteMonster Machine)), but with [ instead of (.
  • July 6, 2011
    Confusion567
    As a side point, I think this Needs A Better Title. As is, it sounds too close to The Unreveal, which is about an unmasking that's anti-climactic for the audience.
  • July 6, 2011
    Koveras
    There is a YKTTW currently titled Yahg Reveal, where the unmasking reveals something that nobody has ever heard about before, which can be a form of this one.
  • July 6, 2011
    KingZeal
    Yahg Reveal and They Look Just Like Everyone Else are both Sister Tropes to this one, it seems. One is about a reveal that means jack shit to the audience, and the other is about a villain hiding in plain sight.

    As for a better title, go for it. I went for this one because it fit better than the original one I was going to give it: You Could Be Anyone, named after the aforementioned scene in the Spider-man comic.
  • July 10, 2011
    hotrods4ben
    Is this related to The Unreveal?
  • July 11, 2011
    KingZeal
    Related to, yeah. The Unreveal is when the revealing fails to give any extra information about the person's identity.

    This trope is when the information you DO get turns out to be worthless.
  • July 13, 2011
    TheThirdSet
    Code Geass, When he shows his face it's usually to erase your memory or have you kill yourself
  • July 13, 2011
    KingZeal
    The Code Geass example is not this trope.
  • August 1, 2011
    Koveras
    "Yahg Reveal" has been launched under Stranger Behind The Mask. Would be a subtrope.
  • August 1, 2011
    OmarKarindu

    Comics
    • 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.

  • August 1, 2011
    Duncan
    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.
  • August 1, 2011
    benstarwolf
    Does the bald man in Amelie count? Nino is searching for the bad man with straight faces whose photos are always torn up by the photobooths. In the end it turns out that he was just the photobooth repair man.
  • August 1, 2011
    Aielyn
    Is it just me, or is this trope effectively the in-universe equivalent of Stranger Behind The Mask? In Stranger Behind The Mask, the audience has no way to recognise the character, because if that character appeared at all, it was in the background and completely innocuous. In this trope, it's the people in the universe who would (and do) fail to recognise the person, because they're unremarkable.

    This similarity and contrast should be emphasised more, I think.

    EDIT: Also, for a trope name, how about something like... Unmask Next Door, or something like that? Play off the fact that the character could be your next door neighbour, or something along those lines. Alternatively, Masked Unremarkable Guy (which has a minor Fun With Acronyms - MUG, referring to a rather ordinary face) - the downside, of course, is that it sounds like it could mean that the guy is entirely unremarkable, rather than just in terms of appearance. Maybe replace "Guy" with "Guise", to emphasise that they have unremarkable appearance.
  • August 2, 2011
    KingZeal
    You're absolutely right that it's the in-universe equivanet of Stranger Behind The Mask.
  • August 2, 2011
    madelinemary
    In The Wizard Of Oz, The Wizard turns out to be just an old man (modeled after Professor Marvel, in Dorothy's real life world) pulling levers and turning cranks to produce the scary wizard face. "Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!"
  • August 2, 2011
    randomsurfer
    ^That spoiler is expired, I think. Note that the part about Professor Marvel is only in the film version, not the book.
  • August 2, 2011
    Aielyn
    So, does that mean that, in the book, The Wizard's identity is a case of Stranger Behind The Mask?
  • August 3, 2011
    TheChainMan
    ^Well, maybe, but the surprise was the Wizard was a small normal guy, not someone imposing. I think we have a trope for that, but I can't recall the name.
  • August 3, 2011
    Xtifr
    • 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.
  • August 3, 2011
    Arivne

Three days must pass before this YKTTW is Launchworthy or Discardable

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