"You see, Mr. Potter, everyone knows that Dumbledore's madness is a mask, that he is sane pretending to be insane. They pride themselves on that clever insight, and knowing the secret explanation, they stop looking. It does not occur to them that it is also possible to have a mask behind the mask, to be insane pretending to be sane pretending to be insane."Why settle for a secret identity or wearing a mask, when you can let your secret identity have a secret identity and wear a mask under your mask? This can be done by individuals or organizations, and it can be done in a physical, social or metaphorical sense. Easily combined with a Gambit Pileup. Popular in the world of Ancient Conspiracy. Contrast Secret Identity Identity, where there's only one secret identity but it's becoming the person's real identity. Compare Second Super-Identity, when someone has more than one costumed identities A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery Inside an Enigma and Infraction Distraction. If pretending to be the opposite sex in one layer is part of the deception it may involve Recursive Crossdressing. As a Reveal Trope, expect unmarked SPOILERS!
— Quirinus Quirrell, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality
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Anime & Manga
- Kakashi in Naruto is a literal case — he wears another mask under his mask.
- In Code Geass, Lelouch has three or four identities: Lelouch Vi Britannia, Lelouch Lamperouge, Zero, and the king of geass. The second series adds another identity, since there are two different Lelouch Lamperouge identities depending on who he says his real sibling is. People who are close to him, like Nunnally, Suzaku, and Milly might know two of the identities, but C.C. is the only other person who knows all of them. In the last five episodes, he complicates it further by pretending that Lelouch Vi Britannia is a monster. And like the Naruto example above, he wears a second, ninja-like mask underneath his iconic Zero helmet. Doesn't stop Shirley from seeing right through it, though.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos, Melvin Voyager, the escaped convict from Central Prison, reveals that he is actually Ashleigh Crichton, the long-lost brother of movie protagonist Julia Crichton. Except that he actually isn't; he is Julia and Ashleigh's family's old bodyguard Atlas, with Ashleigh's face grafted over his own as part of his Batman Gambit.
- Medabots: Hikaru Agata (Henry) with his two alter egos, the Phantom Renegade and Space Medafighter X. At one point Space Medafighter X's golden mask is cracked which reveals the white mask of Phantom Renegade. Note that Space Medafighter X's mask is EXACTLY THE SAME as the Phantom Renegades' mask, just with gold plating and different colored eyes. Yet nobody suspects a thing.
- In Fairy Tail's Galuna Island arc, there is an Enigmatic Minion named Zolty, a middle-aged man always wearing a mask. At the end of the arc, after he'd revealed he was trying to take control of the Sealed Evil in a Can the rest of Lyon's team were trying to kill, Zolty takes off his mask in private. This face, which is neither out of the ordinary nor anyone we've seen before, is inconsequential because seconds later it turns out his entire appearance was a magical disguise used by someone who looks completely different—namely, Ultear, the young-adult woman we had seen was part of the Magic Council.
- In Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple the fight between Diego Carlo and Ma Kensei thoroughly parodies this trope. "Laughing Iron Fist" Diego has the fighting style of a luchador and so constantly wears a mask. During his fight with with Kensei he gets mad and rips off his mask to reveal another mask, that of the "Angry Iron Fist". When he is finally defeated by Kensei he takes off this mask in surrender, revealing that he is still wearing a domino mask underneath to protect his modesty. Kenichi's reaction at this point is along the lines of "... seriously?"
- Kinnikuman's match against Warsman has Warsman keep trying to unmask him, but he has a mask under a mask under a mask ad nauseam.
- Daredevil: For a while, Matt Murdock pretended to also be his non-blind twin brother Mike, who everyone suspected was secretly Daredevil.
- Moon Knight sometimes did this. His original identity is Marc Spector, a onetime soldier of fortune trying to make amends. He also took on the Bruce Wayne-ish identity of financier Steven Grant and - to catch up with street level gossip - cab driver Jake Lockley. As part of his multiple personality psychopathy sometimes even he didn't know who the "real" person was under all the double- and triple-personalities.
- Twice in the Intercontinuity Crossover Batman vs. the Incredible Hulk Batman wears a Latex Perfection mask over his Batman cowl. Here's◊ one of them — he even manages to keep his extra long pointy bat-ears under the disguise. Batman has also used the same trick in older comics, including a rather infamous one where he wore a Batman cowl, over a Bruce Wayne mask, over another cowl, over his real Bruce Wayne face. All so he could pretend he wasn't Bruce Wayne, just disguised as him.
- In Superboy #107, Red Kryptonite makes Clark jealous of himself as Superboy. He proceeds to reveal his superpowers and starts doing his fantastic feats openly. Some out-of-town criminals who arrived in Smallville to kill Superboy with Green Kryptonite learn of this and make plans to strike Clark at his home. Eventually the Red K's effect wears off and Clark proceeds to extricate himself from the crisis via the trope◊. He makes up a story explaining that he knew that the criminals wanted to kill Superboy but didn't know when they'd strike, so he posed as Clark in cooperation with the Kents to force their hand.
- Batman: More indirect than most examples, Oracle has set up false identities for each of the Bat Clan in case someone takes their fingerprints or obtains their DNA.
- One issue of Young Justice had the team playing Truth Or Dare, with Impulse daring Robin to take off his mask. He did... only to reveal that he had put on another mask, figuring that the game would come up.
- In one of the earliest team ups between Spider-Man and The Punisher, Frank gave Spider-Man some make up in case he was caught and unmasked by the bad guys.
- The Vertigo Comics Human Target series featured 2 characters who would layer on so many disguises and so frequently lose track of who they really were that it quickly became a Mind Screw.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe: Paperinik (the superhero alter-ego of Donald Duck]]) has to involuntarily do this in one story. At one point he decides to demonstrate (for no reason and to no-one in particular) how his masks work, and too late realizes that he's out of the spray that would let him take the sticky mask off. Since the mask he is trying on is one of a caricatural alien, he is forced to wear a new mask on top of this one. (Later on, however, he manages to avoid having his secret identity exposed because he is wearing this additional mask).
- An early Spider-Man comic has Spidey caught unmasked by Alistair Smythe's surveillance camera. His solution is to make a latex Peter Parker mask (which averts Latex Perfection, as it's noticeably not quite right), return to the camera, and take off his Peter mask to reveal the Spider-Man mask underneath. It works: Smythe concludes Spidey was probably screwing with him, and doesn't follow up on trying to put a name to the face.
- During the Batman storyline War Games, Black Mask assumes Orpheus's identity by applying make up over his own black mask. On top of that, he also had to wear Orpheus's helmet. He did the same thing while impersonating Batman in War Crimes.
- Sandman. During a nightmare, one character is confronted with Dorothy from the Wizard Of Oz movie, who pulls her mask off to reveal the Wicked Witch, then that mask off to reveal another mask...
- G.I. Joe (Devil's Due): During the second Cobra civil war, having apparently defeated him, Serpentor forces Cobra Commander to remove his helmet, only to discover he is wearing a ski-mask underneath. Cobra Commander then detonates the explosives in the helmet so it explodes in Serpentor's hands.
- In The Phantom, the secret leader of the jungle patrol is The Phantom itself — the masked superhero identity, rather than its mundane counterpart "Mr Walker".
- Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:
- With Draco:
Just pretend to be pretending to be a scientist. Draco didn't have words to describe exactly what was wrong with Harry's mind (since Draco had never heard the term depth of recursion).
- Which leads to:
Draco had heard the word 'recursion' by this point, and he knew a Harry Potter plot when he saw one. (Unfortunately Draco had not heard of autoimmune disorders, and the thought did not readily occur to him that a clever virus would begin its attack by creating symptoms of an autoimmune disorder so as to get the body to distrust its own immune system...)
- Then there's Harry and Snape:
Snape: I cannot help but wonder if that is the Cloak of Invisibility.
Harry: Oh, possibly. I trust you realize the implications, if it is?
Snape: You have no idea what I'm talking about, do you, Potter? A rather clumsy try at fishing.
Either Severus was in fact modeling Harry as a one-level player, which made Severus himself two-level, and Harry's three-level move had been successful; or Severus was a four-level player and wanted Harry to think the deception had been successful.
- Comes up in relation to Quirrell's true identity.
Harry: The obvious next thought is that this 'David Monroe' person died in the war after all, and this is just someone else pretending to be David Monroe pretending to be Quirinus Quirrell.
McGonagall: That's obvious? Dear Merlin...
Moody: Really, boy? I'd say that's a little... paranoid. Not paranoid enough!
- With Draco:
Films — Live-Action
- From Tropic Thunder: Kirk Lazarus in character as Lincoln Osiris disguises himself as a farmer. Or, if you want to get meta about it, Robert Downey Jr. playing Kirk Lazarus in character as Lincoln Osiris disguises himself as a farmer.
Downey/Lazarus/Osiris/Farmer: I'm the dude playing a dude disguised as another dude!
- When Dawson and Martina subdue the killer in Shriek if You Know What I Did Last Friday the Thirteenth, they unmask him to reveal another mask. They continue for some time, accumulating a pile of masks on the floor, until they get to the last one and they (finally) find his true identity: Doughy's identical cousin Hardy.
- In Charade, Peter Joshua is revealed to be the victim's brother Alex Dyle, who is then revealed to be professional thief Adam Canfield, who is then revealed to be undercover government agent Brian Cruikshank (who is being portrayed by Hollywood actor Cary Grant).
- A literal version of this trope can be found in Who Am I, where the hacker MRX unmasks his rival WhoAmI only to find another mask below, and another, and another.
- Played for laughs in Deadpool. When Deadpool is unmasked by Vanessa, he reveals that he stapled a crude paper Hugh Jackman mask to his face beneath it, in case his regular mask fell off.
- In Illuminatus!, every ancient secret is actually a cover-up for some other ancient secret. And yes, that same principle applies to pretty much every level, thus creating an infinite loop of The Reveal.
- In Making Money, the protagonist Moist Von Lipwig (former Boxed Crook, now sort-of reformed) meets Topsy Lavish, who owns Ankh-Morpork's bank. Being a businesswoman, she immediately sees him for what he is, decides he's the perfect person to keep the bank out of the hands of her evil relatives and proceeds to lampshade his relationship with Adora Bell Dearheart with this trope.
Lavish: I suspect you like her because she can see your inner self. Or at least an inner self you've left inside just in case.
- Shows up as part of the plot for Jingo too. When an assassination attempt on the Klatchan ambassador seems to point to Klatch as the culprit, Commander Vimes is quick to point out the ease with which the evidence could be a frame up. He spends most of the book thinking his primary suspect is in league with rogue Ankh-Morpork elements to start a war with Klatch, only to find out from 71-hour Achmed that the flimsy evidence had been specifically planted to make him think that due to his own predisposition to distrust his own countrymen.
- Undarl in Elminster: The Making of a Mage is a Malaugrym who pretends to be a Yuan-Ti posing as an aspiring Magelord who wants to prove himself and join the magical oligarchy of Athalantar on good terms. Which is how he is given the task to destroy one of the legitimate heirs they don't control, along with the whole village.
- The Agatha Christie novel Towards Zero includes one set of obvious clues that point to a particular person having committed the murder. However, the killer anticipated that the police would see through these clues, so left a different, less obvious set of clues that pointed to a second person having committed the murder. The killer figured that once the police had run across one set of faked evidence, they would be unlikely to believe that the second set was also a fake.
- Heralds of Valdemar: When the protagonists of the Winds trilogy need to hide their Companions — blue-eyed, white, intelligent Cool Horses that always stand out in a crowd and can't take dye — from a foe who can easily sense and pierce illusions, they simply layer one illusion over another. When the enemy mage peers through the illusion of high-bred horses and sees a pair of broken-down nags, he chuckles to himself and doesn't bother to look further, believing the horses' owners are simply hiding their neglect from potential buyers.
- In the Revelation Space Series novel Chasm City, the protagonist is shocked to discover that, due to a Memory Gambit, he himself has a Multilevel Facade: he had the memories of Tanner Mirabel implanted to cover the identity of notorious armsdealer Cahuella, which is itself an alias hiding immortal Magnificent Bastard (and mass murderer) Schuyler Haussmann. Amnesiac Dissonance from the Memory Gambit assists him in Becoming the Mask.
- In the Jack Higgins novel Night of the Fox, an operation to rescue an American officer from behind enemy lines is disrupted by the arrival of no less a personage than the Desert Fox - Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. Only "Rommel" is actually Erich Berger, a corporal in the German paratroopers acting as the real Rommel's double... and Berger himself is actually Heini Baum, a Jewish man who took on the identity of a dead German to escape the Holocaust.
- The White Queen in The Unexplored Summon://Blood-Sign pulls this on the main character Kyousuke. At one point, she disguises herself as a person he was planning on teaming up with, seemingly to disrupt his strategy to kill her. Kyousuke sees through this disguise, avoids her surprise attack, and successfully kills her... then she shows up again, and reveals that it was all part of the plan. She actually wanted him to succeed in defeating her (and managed to survive through unknown means), because in doing so, he would unleash an even greater monster into the world. This would force him to work together with her, which is what she really wanted. Additionally, the real purpose of the disguise was to get him used to working with her.
- In Lost, Ben pretends to be the victim of a group of savages. He's actually the leader of this group of savages, which doesn't exist except as a front for an Ancient Conspiracy. However, Ben is not in control: Indeed he is the leader of this Ancient Conspiracy, but the conspiracy itself is also a front for something else, something which Ben cannot even reach, much less control.
- Parodied on Police Squad! when Frank pulls off a woman's wig and reveals he knows who she really is. He then does it several more times, describing different identities she's apparently lived under, while pulling off multiple wigs.
- In Jack-of-All-Trades, under the mask of the Daring Dragoon is... another identical mask!
- In the Chinese drama Nirvana In Fire, when the hero first returns to the capital to begin his revenge plot, he introduces himself as "Sir Su" a mere visiting scholar. When his enemies get suspicious, they do a background check and discover his "real" identity, the powerful Mei Changsu. This prevents them from thinking to dig deeper and discover his actual Secret Identity, the presumed dead traitor Lin Shu.
- In the Grand Finale of The Prisoner Number Six takes off Number One's mask, revealing a gorilla mask. Six takes that off to reveal... himself?
- In CMLL, The second El Bronco (or at least the second El Bronco to work in CMLL as there have been many) was unmasked by Black Warrior to reveal another mask underneath. That's right, El Bronco was Spider-man! Further confusing things, a third Bronco later debuted in CMLL and has been seen at the same time as Spider-man.
- 80's tag team The Killer Bees would wrestle under masks and do the 'switching gimmick behind the ref's back' known as 'Masked Confusion' to gain the advantagenote In one match, their opponent got pissed off and tried to remove this advantage by yanking off one of the Bee's masks, only to reveal he was wearing another mask under it.
- At WWE's The Bash in 2009, Rey Mysterio Jr. fought against Chris Jericho in a Mask vs Title match. Rey losing would mean that he'd have to surrender the right to wear his mask. During the match, Jericho tried to remove Rey's mask to leave him open to a finisher (the loss of a mask is considered shameful to a Masked Luchador), only for Rey to have been Genre Savvy and wear an extra mask underneath, allowing him to win the Intercontinental Championship.
- Kent Allard, better known as The Shadow, has several of these — most famously Lamont Cranston.
- In BIONICLE: Legends of Metru Nui, Makuta Teridax, who mainly wears the Kanohi Kraahkan, Mask of Shadows, wore Dume's Kiril over it while disguised as the Turaga.
- Team Fortress 2: The spy's arsenal is effectively this. You can disguise as your enemy, only to turn invisible once your enemies catch on, or use a backup watch that creates a dummy of your character while you turn completely invisible instead of taking fatal damage. The Your Eternal Reward knife causes you to instantly steal the identity (but not the abilities) of the player you kill with it, allowing you to combo a series of stealth kills while harnessing near-seamless combos of disguises.
- Xenogears. Hoo boy. The mysterious masked man called "Wiseman" who fights in Fei's style, the mysterious Darth Vader Clone Grahf who hunts him, and Fei's own father are all actually the same person. And to make things even more complicated, said person is actually the remnants of one of Fei's past lives, who is currently possessing his father.
- In Nancy Drew: Ransom of the Seven Ships, Jamaican Johnny Rolle is revealed to be Australian John Poole, who later is revealed to be Dwayne Powers, a previous culprit who wants to prove he still has acting skills. And get back at Nancy for ruining his life.
- Meta example: in the ending of Halo: Combat Evolved, there is a scene where the Master Chief takes off his helmet, but part of the ship obscures his head. If you move the camera so that you can get a good look, you can see that under his helmet is another helmet.
- Meta example: having a helmet cover another helmet for an Un Reveal is actually very common in video games, since it takes a lot less effort for the art team to simply cut out a character's helmet for use as a prop and then hide their head with clever camera angles than it does to make a new model for the uncovered version of that character. Examples include Tali in Mass Effect 2 and Vanitas in Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep.
- An example featuring Cool Shades - one piece of concept art for Proto Man from Mega Man has Proto Man holding his helmet, which has shades attached as a visor... and he's wearing another pair of shades. So either this trope is in effect, or he wears shades under his shades.
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney :
- The third game has the following line: "I'm afraid you are neither a proud thief, nor an Ace Detective. You're a blackmailer and a murderer." This happens after Magnificent Bastard Luke Atmey says he's an Ace Detective who had a fight with the thief Mask DeMasque. When you prove that this is false, he says that Mask DeMasque attacked him from behind. When you prove that false, he says that he's Mask Demasque. The truth is that he's been blackmailing Mask DeMasque into letting him pretend to be an Ace Detective, and that he then decided to falsely confess to being Mask DeMasque in an attempt to hide the fact that he's a murderer.
- Done quite literally in Dual Destinies with the phantom, an international assassin who can perfectly mimic anyone. He wears mask upon mask to the point that he's forgotten his own identity. His list of fake identities include Detective Bobby Fulbright, when you initially catch him, as well as every other culprit in the game, several witnesses and defendants, Prosecutor Blackquill, and most disturbingly, Phoenix Wright himself!
- From Umineko: When They Cry we have Beatrice, who not only has several different versions of her from different arcs and different time periods (her mother and grandmother also had the name Beatrice) but is also the same person as Shannon and Kanon. And to top that off, the three of them are just idealized personas created by Yasu. Flowcharts have been made in order to explain it.
- Happens in the flash video Mega Man and the Pompous Robots, during a fight between Tenguman and Bass. At one point, Bass says something amongst the line of "Let's see who's under that mask", pulls off Tenguman's mask... to reveal another one. This then gets repeated for a ludicrous number of masks which were all stacked on Tenguman's face.
- In TOME: Terrain of Magical Expertise'', d-buggers is revealed to be Tigerlilly, who is revealed to be the Mysterious Red Cat, who is revealed to be Kizuna.
- In Blip, the Adversary uses in-universe Pixellation to hide his face, and wears a mask underneath that.
- The Order of the Stick: Tarquin disguises himself as Thog by wearing a face-concealing helmet and copying Thog's style of Hulk Speak. Roy quickly figures out that he isn't fighting Thog and yanks the helmet off to see who's underneath... only to reveal that Tarquin is also wearing a purple balaclava with "Nope!" written across the forehead. Ironically, the complexity of the facade pretty much confirms their genre-savy suspicion that it was Tarquin after all.
- Parodied in a Sluggy Freelance guest-penned filler arc here.
- In El Goonish Shive, Elliot's superheroine spell has not one but three alternate civilian alter ego forms (each with distinctive personalities and clothes) in addition to the super one. This allows him to avoid having to reveal either his true identity or his most discreet alter ego form to those he doesn't trust fully while still having a form with a largely normal appearance to fall back on. Unfortunately for him, this form is the least discreet in terms of personality as this and the following pages demonstrate.
- Invoked and subverted in a Zero Percent Discount parody of Scooby Doo: Fred takes off a skeleton mask, but assumes there might be another mask under it. He decides to check with a knife.
Fred: Wow, gang, look! He really is a skeleton!
- Batman: The Animated Series: "The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy" has a villain hired to obtain Batman's cape and cowl. When he ultimately succeeds, Batman reveals a second mask underneath the cowl to protect his identity. The villain, bemused, leaves. After all, he was only hired to obtain the cape and cowl, not to expose Batman's secret identity. And Batman was the guy who hired him in the first place.
- Dog City had an episode about a "masked vandal". When that vandal is caught, the mask is pulled off to reveal Miss Kitty, but Ace realizes it can't be her because she's never caught. He then proceeds to pull off another mask, revealing Baron von Rottweiler, then his henchman, then more people, and ultimately Eliot Shag.
- In The Justice Friends, Krunk tries to take off the mask of Major Glory — only to reveal several layers of masks beneath it.
Major Glory: When I say secret identity, I mean secret identity.
- The Legend of Korra: Amon is lying about his mask covering burns from a firebender, but he wears makeup under it just in case he loses it or wants to "prove" he isn't lying.
- In the Johnny Bravo episode "Bravo Dooby-Doo", a crossover with Scooby-Doo, the villain turns out to wear multiple masks on top of each other. The masks are, in order: two Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! characters, Bigfoot, Don Knotts, and Joseph Barbera ("Who's that?"). The gang shouts in surprise-like unison each time they reveal a new mask.
- A few other Scooby-Doo villains often did this, sometimes wearing a latex mask of a different human under the monster or ghost disguise. In "The Haunted Candy Factory," Velma unmasks one of the "Green Globes" as Mr. Franklin, a watchman at the titular candy factory. But then Velma unmasks him again to reveal the true criminal. It's lampshaded near the end, when the real Mr. Franklin is found, and Shaggy wonders if he is also an impostor as well.
- In "Never Ape an Ape Man," the titular villain (whom is, of course, someone in an ape costume) slips on a rubber Scooby-Doo mask over his Ape Man mask to pull a Mirror Routine with the real Scooby.
- In "The Exterminator," the actor Lorne Chumley, known as the "man of a million faces", is filming a new movie with his butler, and has assumed numerous disguises to keep people from the bank away while he prepares his comeback. When guest star Don Adams unmasks the "monster" Lorne is portraying, he initially tugs off various human masks (including a woman mask, but once he reveals Lorne's true face, he thinks it's also a mask and ends up pulling on his scalp.
- Parodied in Teen Titans Go!: Beastboy attempts to remove Robin's mask, only to find more and more masks underneath it. In a couple days time, the whole tower is filled with masks. And then his actual face turns out to be a mask too.
- In Young Justice Miss Martian's shapeshifting has created these layers: whatever disguise may be needed for the current situation including a humanized version of her preferred form, her preferred human with green skin form, her true Green Martian form, and her actually true monstrous White Martian form.
- Certain Russian citizens are protesting against officials who use removable blue sirens as an excuse to disregard traffic laws by wearing blue buckets as a parody and getting in their way. Footage from Russia Today shows a blue bucketeer having his bucket knocked off◊ by an enraged official car driver only to reveal another blue bucket. Really, what did you expect?
- Proxy chains and similar in IT - a computer pretending to be a computer pretending to be a computer...
- Part of the way deniable encryption schemes work is that it's mathematically impossible to determine how many layers are in the facade. This plus an Infraction Distraction means that at any point you can insist you've given up all the passwords and there'd be no easy way to prove otherwise. You could store a Porn Stash in the top layer, squickier and questionably-legal porn in the second, and military state secrets in the third.