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Anti-Climactic Unmasking
"What did you expect? A Monster?
Machine, 8 MM

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 Just Like Everyone Else, when the villain 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. Secret Identity Apathy tends to defy this.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime And Manga  
  • In the second season of Jubei Chan, Mikage pulls off the face mask on the mysterious antagonistic swordswoman who is threatening Jiyu. ....nothing. It means nothing; because Freesia ages up when she transforms; and her older face isn't similar enough to her child face.

     Comics  
  • In one Marvel Knights Spider-Man comic, the Vulture abducts a battered Spider-Man from a hospital bed and finally gets a good look at his face. He's dismayed to realize that his archenemy, who he'd assumed was someone famous, could be stacking shelves or pumping gas for a living. "You could be anybody . . ." he says, disheartened. "Geeze, this is depressing...all those years of getting beaten by a nobody."
    • An early issue of Ultimate Spider-Man had Peter get unmasked by the Kingpin and his thugs, but not know who he was. When Spidey starts fighting smarter and proves he's an actual threat, this comes back to bite them - all they have to go on is "teenage white boy".
    • Steve Ditko did this even earlier in Spider-Man with Electro's first appearance. Spidey defeats him, and unmasks Electro but sees 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.
    • The same thing happened when he learnt who Crime Master was. According to some versions, one of the reasons Steve Ditko quit was because he wanted the same anti-climax with the Green Goblin, but Stan Lee felt they'd been building the mystery of the Goblin's real identity up for long enough that the fans would revolt.
    • A relatively common reaction from villains who manage to see Spidey's face is to lament how average or unimpressive-looking he is.
    • Another story had Spidey thoroughly beaten... when one of the paramedics objects to removing his mask, a more experienced paramedic literally tells him to grow up and cuts him out of the mask. However, he was so beaten and bruised that he wouldn't be recognizable even to people who did know him.
    • In what may be a Mythology Gag, Superior Spider-Man ends with Peter (back in his own body) unmasking the Goblin King. He expects Osborn, but finds Mason Banks, who Peter has never met in his life. "Banks" then claims he is Osborn, post-Magic Plastic Surgery.
    • This is Older Than They Think, since this situation first occurred in a Golden Age Green Lantern story. The thugs didn't recognize an unmasked Alan Scott, since he wasn't anybody particularly prominent, but his buddy Doiby Dickles DID.
  • 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 sign that reads "the end is near". Because the character was not notable at all, it was easy for readers to dismiss him as being an extra.
  • In Empowered, when some villains unmask the eponymous 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 Astonishing X-Men as written by Warren Ellis, the X-Men spend the better part of a story arc hunting down a man named Kaga who is using dead X-Men, Brood and Sentinels to try and kill them. Kaga turns out to be an old cripple in a wheelchair. Even better, his motivation for trying to kill them is anticlimatic in itself, amounting to hatred of them for being gorgeous, picturesque mutants, rather than like him, a deformed old freak whose more mundane mutation was a result of Hiroshima. Kaga himself lampshades this, sneering "What were you expecting? A master plan? A scheme to turn off the sun? This is the real world. Hatred and disgust are good enough reasons to want to kill people."
  • The long-running Scourge of the Underworld storyline in the Marvel Universe ended when Captain America caught and unmasked Scourge, only to discover that he was no one we'd ever seen before, and claimed to be the previously unmentioned brother of one of the villains killed by Scourge. Naturally, this turned out to be a lie used by Scourge operatives when captured (the use of a vaguely credible backstory tying them to one of their victims) and the real mastermind was Golden Age hero the Angel, who financed and oversaw the villain-killing outfit. Admittedly this was as much a left-field reveal as the original unmasking, doubly so, since it occurred seven years after the first reveal.
  • In a Silver Age issue of The Flash, Heat Wave manages to unmask the Flash and is disappointed to find that he's a total stranger. It was still a cause for concern for Barry, since Heat Wave could've identified him if he ever ran across Barry in his civilian life, but by the time Heat Wave put two and two together he'd already reformed.
    • In another story, Barry has a psychic teenage stalker who draws him to her and makes him unmask himself...and then rejects him and leaves, let down that he looks so "ordinary". Barry can't help but feel a little insulted.

     Film  
  • In Spider-Man 2, Spider-Man's mask is removed after he saves a train full of innocent civilians. They take a glance at him and realize that he could be anyone. One guy even states that Peter Parker looks a lot like his own son.
  • Played with in the 2009 Speed Racer movie. Right after the Monte Cristo 5000 race, Speed and Racer X note  meet on an empty track. When Speed claims that X is his older brother note , X removes his mask to show that he is just some guy—not Speed's older brother, Rex Racer note . 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 8 MM when Nicolas Cage takes the mask off Machine and he's just a bald fat guy who "does it because he enjoys it". He even has a speech about the fact his unmasking was inevitably going to be anti-climactic.

     Literature 
  • In the Relativity story "Candy Corn", Overcast is captured by a pair of idiot bad guys named the Buffalo Brothers. He taunts them for not removing his mask while he was helpless, so they immediately remove it. They're rather disappointed to discover that under the mask he's "just some guy".

     Live Action TV 
  • In Graceland, after Briggs shoots Jangles, he removes the mask and then scolds himself for being disappointed to find an ordinary man he doesn't recognize. This is subverted because the man Briggs unmasked was really Inspector Antagonist Agent Badillo attempting an ill-conceived scheme to prove that Briggs is a Dirty Cop. Later , this is Double Subverted when the real Jangles is revealed to be a different ordinary man who Briggs doesn't recognize.

     Professional Wrestling 
  • Rey Mysterio Jr when unmasked in WCW was a short babyfaced guy, and whilst his athletic ability was certainly intact, he no longer looked like a superhero, which was part of his appeal. This is the reason WWE was so eager for him to regain his mask despite it generally being against lucha libre's rules.

     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.

     Videogames  

     Western Animation  
  • In Justice League, Lex Luthor has swapped bodies with The Flash. As he's being chased through the Watchtower by the rest of the League, he stops in a bathroom and muses that at the very least, he has the opportunity to learn Flash's secret identity.
    "At least I can discover the Flash's secret identity..." *Removes mask* "...I have no idea who this is."
    • The director's commentary for this episode reveals that they'd been wanting to do this joke for a while, since there's no way that Lex would know everyone in the entire world. Flash is neither from the same area nor remotely famous.
  • In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Peter is Brought Down to Normal and is facing off against the Insidious Six. Because he lacks his powers and is facing off against six super-powered foes, he is quickly beaten and unmasked before Kingpin and dissatisfied members of his criminal empire like Silvermane... only for Doctor Octopus to declare that Peter Parker could not be Spider-Man, as Peter did not have any powers. This pisses off Silvermane and he mocks Kingpin for supposedly kidnapping an old woman and forcing her desperate nephew to play along.
  • Batman: The Animated Series
    • Batman's unmasking of Bane reveals not Venom-twisted monstrosity, but simply a vaguely handsome, boyish face with nothing really remarkable about it.
    • Done in a real Tearjerker fashion with Calendar Girl. She spends the whole episode obsessing about how no-one can see her face, leading us to think that it's some hideous botched plastic surgery she got after being forced out of modeling. Instead she looks perfectly normal, but can only see the tiny flaws from her aging.
  • Defied in Batman: The Brave and the Bold (see here)—The Joker doesn't want to unmask Batman because it's Batman he's obsessed with. Finding the person under the hood would just ruin the fun.
  • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker had the Joker find out who Batman was, and was disappointed it was just Bruce Wayne.
    The Joker: It's true, Batsy! I know everything. And kinda like the kid who peeks at his Christmas presents, I must admit, it's sadly anti-climactic. Behind all the sturm and batarangs, you're just a little boy in a playsuit, crying for mommy and daddy! It'd be funny if it weren't so pathetic... Oh, what the heck, I'll laugh anyway! AH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAH-HAAAH!!
  • Wild West COW Boys Of Moo Mesa: When Shock Holiday was captured and unmasked, the characters witnessing the unmasking were disappointed by the lack of any special features at his face. Then again, it was overshadowed by the previous unmasking of the crimi

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