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Becoming The Mask / Comic Books

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People Becoming the Mask in comic books.


  • Played with in Spider-Gwen: In her backstory, she allowed her overconfidence in her abilities as Spider-Woman to blind her to Peter’s feelings. After his death, she is more careful to define her mask before letting her be defined by it, but she’s clearly not immune to this trope, considering how she reacts to losing her powers.
  • Batman: In the Silver Age, Batman was the mask Bruce Wayne wore, in a nod to Zorro. Bruce Wayne is now merely Batman in disguise and not the reverse, and his subconscious calls him Batman, as seen in Batman Beyond. Like everything with Batman, how much this is true varies from writer to writer.
    • Summarized in the novelization of Knightfall, Alfred explains to Tim Drake that Batman uses the cowl to become a different personality, hearkening back to primitive beliefs that wearing the mask of a god is to become that god.
      (Batman puts his mask on)
      Bane: Stop hiding.
      Batman: I'm not hiding. I'm becoming.
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    • By now, he's gone so far that in Batman Inc. #3, El Gaucho even remarks "Why the hell is Batman masquerading as Bruce Wayne, anyway? I've met Bruce Wayne and you don't fool me."
    • There was also a three-part story in which Batman Became A Completely Different Mask; his undercover identity of Matches Malone. In "Close Before Striking", the real Matches Malone returns to Gotham, and gets shot by Scarface's gang, since Scarface has concluded that Malone is in cahoots with Batman. As Batman blames himself for this, he spends more time in his Matches identity, and both Bruce Wayne and Batman start adopting Matches's mannerisms and attitude. Nightwing is able to snap him out of it before he kills the Ventriloquist.
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    • Another suggested reason why Batman keeps the Bruce Wayne persona is because it's the last little bit of humanity he has left. In Bruce Wayne: Fugitive, he tells the rest of the Bat-family that he's dumping the Bruce Wayne identity to be Batman 24/7, seeing it as a liability. Nightwing, in particular, doesn't take that well and goes at it with him. It takes encounters with both Superman and Catwoman to realize that he kinda does need Bruce Wayne.
    • On the other hand, when the League had their personalities divided in JLA and Bruce and Batman were temporarily separated people, Batman became an empty shell, even faceless. Bruce, on the other hand, had all the rage and anger, but none of the training or ability to channel it into anything positive.
      • From a purely psychological point of view, this makes sense, as it's Bruce Wayne, not Batman, who suffered the trauma of seeing his parents cut down, who needed an outlet for his pain. Batman on the other hand, didn't come into existence until Bruce had become a fully grown adult.
      • In the same story arc, a similar problem leads Eel O'Brian to reunite the alter-egos and reverse the process. He finds that, in the process of becoming a superhero for money (in his Post-Crisis incarnation), he grew to love the trust and respect he received. After the split, however, his old desire to commit crimes returns, making him desperate to reverse the process before he does something unforgivable.
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    • In Generations, he reveals to his son, the third Batman, that he assumed control of Ra's al Ghul's criminal empire and changed the organization so that charities which once acted as its fronts were now the entire operation with the criminals still working for them none the wiser.
    • In the first Wonder Woman (Rebirth) Annual, the Trinity holds the lasso as a way for Diana to make sure they speak the truth. She asks it who they are. Diana answers that she is Diana of Themyscira, and daughter of Queen Hippolyta. Superman answers that he's Clark Kent, Kal-El. Batman answers... that he's Batman. Yep, the thing that channels the very concept of truth, that, in this version, actually calls on the absolute truth of matters and not just what people believe... has Batman say that he's Batman.
  • In some incarnations, becoming the mask may be what led Dr. Harleen Quinzel to become Harley Quinn. In her origin story, Mad Love, the possibility was brought up that she interned at Arkham Asylum to cash in on the infamy of its highly abnormal inmate body. Ultimately, she really does end up giving a damn about a certain patient.
  • Jean-Paul Valley starts suffering this at the end of his Sanity Slippage during Knightfall, ultimately declaring that if he wasn't Batman, he was nothing.
  • Played with with Superman. In the Silver Age, Clark Kent was the mask worn by Superman. Beginning with John Byrne's reboot, Superman became the mask Clark Kent wore.
    • The Silver Age Superman had a story in which Clark Kent tries to prevent the demolition of his old home. Pete Ross assumes it's because he's afraid the workers will find something that'll give away his secret identity, but it's really because of Supes' sentimentality. Pete's last line is pretty much the trope (remember, this is when writers had decided that Superman was the "real" identity and Clark Kent a mere disposable mask.)
    • It eventually came back around to Clark Kent and Superman both being masks that he wears. Even as Clark, he has to pretend and hide things about his character and nature.
      • In a way, the only time he doesn't wear a mask is when he's married to Lois Lane. He can be down to earth Clark, but also share about all the troubles of being Superman with her.
  • From the Marvel Universe, we have the Thunderbolts, who were originally the newest incarnation of the Masters of Evil, posing as superheroes to win the public's trust while the major superheroes were apparently dead for a year. Their leader, Baron Zemo, eventually leaked their true identities to try to avert a Heel–Face Turn before he could Take Over the World. It didn't work; the majority of the team defeated him, and tried — for various reasons — to actually become heroes. To the best of their moral abilities, anyway.
    • Only the first incarnation of the Thunderbolts counts as this. During Civil War the new Thunderbolts team was no longer "Reformed villains trying to actually be the heroes they'd originally pretended to be" and was instead "a bunch of violent thugs we stuck mind control chips into so we could use them for black ops" who they put under the direction of Norman Osborn and by Dark Reign had morphed into "Norman Osborn's especially vicious group of thugs because the Dark Avengers weren't bad enough."
    • The Heroic Age incarnation, on the other hand, is a specific attempt by the Avengers to induce this. They're using incarcerated supervillains to do good in the hopes that they'll start liking it, and then try to redeem themselves.
  • Interestingly used in Lucifer, where a shapeshifter is trapped in the form of a grieving father (whom it had killed to assume his shape, to try (and apparently succeed) at killing his daughter) and gradually becomes more the grieving father than the ancient shapeshifter from before the universe. This doesn't seem come about entirely honestly, though — much of the father's mentality seems to be forced onto the shapeshifter by the same magic that traps it in his form.
  • Walter Kovacs from Watchmen, a formerly abused but relatively normal superhero, takes on the persona of his alter ego Rorschach after an event of intense psychological trauma, becoming a Principles Zealot in the process.
    • Rorschach later describes the early years of his hero career as "I wasn't Rorschach then. Then I was just Kovacs. Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach". During his bail hearing he refused to respond to anything other than "Rorschach". He also refers to his mask as his face, and once referred to removing it as "removing the skin from my head". He's kinda sensitive about it.
    • "It was Kovacs who closed his eyes. It was Rorschach who opened them again." If that doesn't define this trope, nothing does.
    • It was portrayed wonderfully with the art too, when the reader sees Rorschach in the past, he stands differently and looks odd compared to the Rorschach we know in the present. There's something very human about him that adds a quiet tragedy to the man we know now.
  • Happened several times to the Skrull impostor(s) posing as Hank Pym during the Secret Invasion. Apparently a side-effect of the enhanced shape shifting they were using to escape detection. One issue revealed that they went through no less than 4 different Skrulls who EACH KEPT TRYING TO DEFECT once they settled into the role.
  • The Vertigo version of Human Target written by Peter Milligan was all about this. The main character, Christopher Chance, was so good at imitating the people he was meant to protect that he needed post-hypnotic triggers to resume his "normal" personality. This problem largely presents itself when he's not in contact with the person he's impersonating, and especially when that person is dead. In the most advanced cases, he has literally forgotten that he was ever Christopher Chance.
    • Christopher's protégé Tom McFadden actually has it even worse. Not only does he disappear into his adopted personas completely, but the inverse is also true — Chance describes Tom as "leav[ing] something behind" when he discards an identity, and eventually he has no real sense or memory of who "Tom McFadden" is. At one point he's unable to name a single thing about himself that he can't see in the mirror.
  • Marvel's first Captain Marvel was a Kree soldier named Mar-vell, who came to Earth to spy out humanity. He eventually came over to Earth's side for real.
  • Magica De Spell goes through this in the Donald Duck story "Date with a Munchkin" by Kari Korhonen, where she kidnaps Daisy Duck and takes her place in order to get close to Scrooge McDuck's #1 Dime. During her time as Daisy, she receives Donald's affection for Daisy and takes a liking to their romance. (It helps that she's accidentally also dosed herself with the Love Potion she's using to forestall Donald's suspicions.) It culminates in a Duckburg ball where Magica originally intended to steal the dime, but chooses not to leave Donald's side. However, Daisy has escaped her restraints and crashes the ball, confronting Magica. When Donald takes Magica's side, believing that she's the real Daisy, Magica ends her illusion and flees the scene rather than break Daisy's heart. She later reflects that although she didn't manage the theft, she has experienced "a new feeling," and maybe that's worth something.
    • Magica manages it again in "A Gal For Gladstone": she hexes away Gladstone Gander's luck so he'll have to work for Uncle Scrooge, then disguises herself as a wholesome girl and seduces him to get close to the dime. She's genuinely touched by his devotion, though, and ends up giving up her chance at the dime in order to save his life.
  • Punch/Counterpunch in Dreamwave's Transformers Generation One comics. Punch is an Autobot spy sent deep undercover into the Decepticon ranks as counterintelligence expert Counterpunch. However, in developing Counterpunch's "character" and establishing him as a dedicated Decepticon, Punch may have caused an entirely new personality to develop within him; Lately, he's been having blackouts as Counterpunch and is unable to account for his whereabouts or activities, though he suspects Counterpunch is asserting himself and doing his job.
  • In the Sonic X comic book, Dr. Eggman disguises himself as the heroic wrestler El Gran Gordo to earn extra cash, but soon finds he likes being praised and adored by his fans. This leads him to almost pull a Heel–Face Turn, and even after going back to villainy, he later returns to being El Gran Gordo for the thrills, fame, and loving fanbase. He also pummels a wrestler about twice his size, and considering how big Eggman was to begin with, that's quite a feat.
  • V from V for Vendetta. Who he is under the mask is unimportant, as the mask is a symbol of what he truly is.
  • In Silver and Bronze Age Superman comics, Lex Luthor initially only helped an alien race rebuild its civilization in order to gain their cooperation—but when they hailed him as a hero (even renaming their planet Lexor!), he realized he liked being considered a good guy. Lexor became his home away from home for years, until the planet was accidentally destroyed in a fight with Supes. This tragedy caused a major Villainous Breakdown.
  • Captain Atom was originally a government agent pretending to be a superhero so as to spy on the Justice League. Eventually he found himself becoming a superhero for real, leading to his Crowning Moment Of Awesome, seen here.
  • In the Fantastic Four story "This Man, This Monster," an unnamed scientist steals Ben Grimm's appearance, voice, and power in order to kill Reed Richards, whom he both envies and considers motivated solely by glory. However, in the course of working with him on a dangerous research project, the scientist becomes so convinced of Richards' selflessness that he sacrifices himself to save his life.
    • An Affectionate Parody of this story, "And Men Shall Call Him... Hero" from Doom Patrol, has a villain steal Cliff Steele's robotic body in order to kill his Doom Patrol teammates, only to feel unexpected compassion when a lost, frightened blind girl instinctively clings to him. As a result, he sacrifices himself in order to prevent the Omnicidal Maniac Celestius from absorbing her life energy.
  • Gentle Giant Vathek from the original W.I.T.C.H. comic begins as a villain, but is sent by Cedric to act as a The Mole among the rebels. Vathek, however, decides that Good Feels Good and ends up genuinely changing sides. (In the cartoon Vathek has a smaller role and acts as The Mole among the bad guys while being genuinely on the side of good all along.)
  • Happens both ways in Judge Dredd
    • On the one hand, Wally Squad Judges face a constant mental battle to avoid either becoming the criminals they're supposed to be undermining, or simply thinking too much like a normal human being. Many fail; at present, Dirty Frank is right on the precipice.
    • On the other end, Serial Killer PJ Maybe stole the identity of Byron Ambrose, a wealthy philanthropist, and got himself elected Mayor of Mega-City One. In order to keep up the charade, he had to do as many good deeds as were possible for the mayor - and during this time, he gradually came to enjoy being good so much that he risked his own life and reputation in attempting to assassinate Martin Sinfield for no other reason than that he felt it was for the good of the city (sure, he may randomly kill people for fun, but he was still the best mayor Mega-City One has ever had... which speaks for the city).
  • A long running plot-point of Strangers in Paradise was the "Parker Girl" operation, women who would assume long-term, deep-cover identities and get involved with influential men in order to manipulate politics from behind the scenes. However, when the operation collapsed after the death of Darcy Parker, many Parker Girls were trapped in their cover identities, unable to extricate themselves from the lives they had established. In Echo, the next series written by author Terry Moore, there is a crossover with SiP as a character makes contact with some of the women still living their cover identities. Lieutenant Laura Higgs, who used be a Parker Girl named Stephanie who was infiltrating the U.S. Military, asserts that she has a life now and refuses to give up the world she has built. "Stephanie's dead. I'm Laura Higgs now."
  • Zachary T. Paleozogt IS Zot!
  • In Classic Star Wars, a set of Star Wars newspaper strips, Vader once hires an actor to pretend to be Obi-Wan in order to lure Luke into a trap. The thing was, the actor was moved by how Luke respected him, and started having thoughts like "What would the real Obi-Wan do?" He still led Luke into the trap, but then sprung it, dying himself. From Luke's utter lack of reaction before the panel at the top of the page, it's a little ambiguous whether Luke was really oblivious about what was going on.
  • In The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye this happened to Minimus Ambus, the current holder of the title of "Ultra Magnus". Originally a mere soldier in the Autobot army, he had long admired Ultra Magnus, for being the epitome of law and order, and aspired to be a lawman just like him. When the former holder of the title died, and Ambus was offered the chance to actually become his idol by Chief Justice Tyrest, he leapt at the opportunity, throwing himself completely into the role. He's briefly forced to take the mask off during the "Remain in Light" storyline when Tyrest takes away the Magnus armor and replaces Ambus with his new Enforcer Star Saber, but when he learns that the now insane Tyrest plans to use the Universal Killswitch to kill all Cybertronians who were constructed cold, Ambus announces that Ultra Magnus would never stand for that, and turns against his former boss. By the end of the storyline, he has once again become Ultra Magnus, and is even told by Ratchet that he is the true Ultra Magnus.
  • Loki is on the way to this if the powers that be let them with the mask being their child-self. He died to be reborn as a child (Journey into Mystery), but also left a copy of his old consciousness behind to obliterate the child and take over his body when the time is right, to basically pull a Memory Gambit. Now the new Loki born out of this is stuck between two different roles (Young Avengers), and tries very hard to become the mask (Loki: Agent of Asgard), because it's preferable to the alternative.
  • Issue #20 of The Powerpuff Girls (DC run), "Bow Jest," posits how Blossom becomes ineffective as both a fighter and leader of the team after she loses her hairbow. Buttercup steals it and won't give it back. Mojo Jojo thinks that if Blossom can be reduced to a sobbing mess without her bow, then it must possess some intangible powers. He manages to obtain it during a confrontation with the girls and feels invincible... until Bubbles (of all people) clocks him, takes the bow back, angrily slams it on Blossom's head and gives her a dressing down about the bow being nothing more than Hair Decorations.
  • Inverted in The Judas Contract arc of Teen Titans. Terra is The Mole for Deathstroke. Over the course of the comic there are few signs (such as when the Titans throw her a surprise birthday party) that she has grown to like them. In the end, Terra does betray them and even declares her undying hate for them. She ends up accidentally killing herself while trying to kill them and Deathstroke (who she thought had betrayed her after his son Jericho possessed Deathstroke and freed the Teen Titans).
  • In Beast Wars: Uprising, Wolfang is eventually revealed to be a Predacon Secret Police operative who underwent this; he was ordered to pose as a Maximal cop, but steadily came to enjoy solving murders and helping people far more than he ever enjoyed being a spy. When Tarantulas tricks his handlers into thinking he's turned traitor and sends them to kill him, he doesn't mind too much because, in his own eyes, he's a cop first, Predacon second.
  • All-New Ultimates: Crossbones was a SHIELD agent, sent as a mole to infiltrate Renee Deladier's gang, and get info about her drugs. Renee was actually working for Hydra. However, he liked being a bad guy, so he abandoned the "mole" part and joined them for real.


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