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Anti-Climactic Unmasking

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Lex Luthor: [standing in front of a mirror in the Flash's body] If nothing else, I can at least learn the Flash's secret identity...
[removes mask, stares at the face for a few seconds]
Lex Luthor: ...I have no idea who this is.
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Someone rips off another character's mask or costume and reveals...

...an average, completely unremarkable joe.

Well, that was completely pointless. 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.

When an Everyman hero is subject to this trope, it turns out that, in addition to his mask, The Hero has something much more powerful protecting his Secret Identity: obscurity.

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, as you'll eventually find people that do recognize the face and will fill in the blanks for everyone else. The mask helps keep the face beneath it obscure enough to keep him Hidden in Plain Sight.

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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 Un-Reveal, 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.


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Examples:

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

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man:
    • 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 has 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 happens when he learns 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 is so beaten and bruised that he won't be recognizable even to people who do 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.
    • In one What If? comic about possible ends to Civil War, Spidey gets killed, and nobody knows who he is when they remove his mask and try to identify him.
    • Nor is Peter the only Spider-Man to have this happen. When Black Cat and Hammerhead capture and unmask Miles Morales, they have no idea who he is. Given the level of technology available they try using facial recognition software, only to discover that all record of his identity has been erased. Which leaves them still with no clue as to who Miles is, but since only S.H.I.E.L.D. could've pulled off such a trick it tells them that he's considered way more important than a rookie hero ought to be.
    • Inverted in one issue dealing with the death of Sandman, who Spiderman is comforting before he passes away. Spidey offers to unmask to show his old enemy who he'd actually been fighting and Sandman refuses, fearing it might be a little tooclimactic for him:
      What? Nah, don't. You're Spider-Man, the #$@% thorn in my side. Besides, I always liked to picture you as butt-ugly under that mask. Last thing I need before I shuffle off is to see some Chris Evans %$#@ under there...
  • 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 catches and unmasks Scourge, only to discover that he is no-one we'd ever seen before, and claims to be the previously unmentioned brother of one of the villains killed by Scourge. Naturally, this turns 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 is 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.
  • The Flash:
    • In a Silver Age issue, Heat Wave manages to unmask the Flash and is disappointed to find that he's a total stranger. It is 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.
  • In her first appearance, non-Paperinik New Adventures Paperinik villain Zafire hypnotizes our hero into committing a caper, and he later gives her the loot in his secret identity of Donald Duck... But, being from out of town, she has no idea of who Donald Duck is. Knowing Paperinik's fondness for wiping the memory of anyone who finds out his secret identity and that she's captured immediately after, we can guess she never got a chance to find out (and in fact in her next appearance the point doesn't come up).
  • The Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye: When Megatron kills the Decepticon Justice Division with dark matter he reveals their original names as he does it and when he goes for Tarn, Megatron removes his Decepticon insignia mask (which Tarn earlier said was his true face) and... it looks like any random Cybertonian face, however it's instantly said that he was Glitch.
  • In one issue of Marshal Law, a gang of Jerkass supers ambush Law while he's trying to get something done and rip his mask off. They then let him go in disappointment when he doesn't turn out to be a celebrity.
  • Defied in Identity Crisis, during the Darker and Edgier retelling of a story where the Injustice Gang swapped minds with the Justice League. While the villains didn't know exactly who the heroes are, they had enough forethought to take a camera along, so they could analyze the heroes' secret identities at leisure.
  • In Red Menace, rookie superhero the Grey Falcon (in reality a young delivery truck driver) is unmasked at gunpoint in a jazz club full of gangsters. They're all a little perplexed and disappointed to see he's nobody they know.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Halloween, Michael is unmasked while struggling with Laurie, and he is revealed to be a normal looking 20-something. The most unusual thing about his appearance is the injury that Laurie inflicted to his left eye in the previous scene. This just makes him even more terrifying.
  • 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 meet on an empty track. When Speed claims that X is his older brother, X removes his mask to show that he is just some guy—not Speed's older brother, Rex Racer. 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.
  • Combined with Stranger Behind the Mask during the ending to 8mm: When Nicolas Cage takes the mask off Machine, he's just a bald fat guy who "does it because he enjoys it". Machine even makes a speech about the fact his unmasking was inevitably going to be anti-climactic.
    Machine: What'd you expect? A monster? [puts on a thick set of glasses] My name's George.
  • Played with at the start of The Evil That Men Do. A Torture Technician in a black hood is demonstrating the use of Electric Torture. When he takes off the hood, he's a white-haired, distinguished-looking doctor.
  • The Force Awakens: When Rey calls Kylo Ren a "creature in a mask", he takes his helmet off to show her that he's entirely normal-looking. It's not covering a deformity, concealing his identity (at least not from her), or serving a practical purpose, it's just part of his obsession with emulating Darth Vader. His intention, which is to unnerve her, pays off, as Rey realizes that she could've passed him in the street and not realized who he was; her bemused expression can be accurately summed up as, "I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't that." Shortly into The Last Jedi, he abandons the mask entirely.

    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 FBI Agent Briggs shoots the infamous Cartel assassin known as Jangles, (who always wears a mask and played a major role in ruining Briggs' life years earlier) Briggs 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, who was attempting an ill-conceived scheme to prove that Briggs is a Dirty Cop which included posing as Jangles. Later, this is Double Subverted when the real Jangles is revealed to be a different but still ordinary man who Briggs also doesn't recognize.
  • In the first version of The Flash (1990):
    • The Trickster explicitly invokes this trope when refusing to unmask the captured Flash. Without the mask, the Flash is "just some guy".
    • When 1950s villain the Ghost captures and unmasks Nightshade, he's nonplussed to discover his old adversary is an African-American, and he certainly has no clue who he is.
  • In the Victorious episode "Robbie Sells Rex", after capturing the Flour Bomber: someone in a mask who runs around the school throwing tins of flour at people, the group unmask him, only for it to turn out to be just a random guy who doesn't even go to that school. Andre, Beck, Jade, and Cat all comment on how anti-climactic this was

    Pro Wrestling 
  • Feeling that Sting and Ric Flair needed a break from feuding, WCW started an angle around a new "Black Scorpion" gimmick, to give Sting a new opponent. The problem here being that the Black Scorpion was supposed to be a figure from Sting's past, so when Ultimate Warrior and Ole Anderson both ended up unavailable, WCW ended up in a corner. It could be no one other than Ric Flair!
  • 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. CMLL initially forced him to stay unmasked, as per lucha libre tradition, but the reactions from the crowd to unmasked Rey Misterio Jr were so negative and nobody really liked WCW forcing the switch on him anyway (they apparently either didn't understand or just didn't care how big a deal unmasking is to a luchador) that the Wrestling Y Box Commission allowed Rey to remask on the grounds he was no longer Rey Misterio Jr but in fact taking up the identity of the original Rey Misterio.

    Theater 
  • 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.

    Video Games 
  • Batman: Arkham Series:
    • Much like the quote here, The Joker defies this trope in Batman: Arkham City when Harley Quinn tries to remove Batman's mask.
      Joker: Get back here, Harley.
      Harley Quinn: But I wanna know who he is, sweetie.
      Joker: No-one's who you think they are, my dear. Why spoil the fun?
    • And in Batman: Arkham Knight, when Commissioner Gordon unmasks Batman on live TV, Scarecrow (who held Robin at gunpoint to force Gordon to unmask Batman) only expresses mild surprise at Batman's Secret Identity. Justified, as Dr. Jonathan Crane doesn't have any personal grudge against Bruce Wayne.
  • In Knights of the Old Republic II: The Sith Lords, Visas Marr decides to look under the mask of Darth Nihilus. His face isn't revealed to us, but when asked what she saw she replies: "Just a man. Nothing more."
  • Choosing to unmask Killbane in Saints Row: The Third will reveal that Eddie Pryor is just an average-looking, middle-aged white man with a receding, blond buzz cut.
    Bobby: We have seen the face of the Walking Apocalypse and to be honest, it's a man with a receding hairline.

    Western Animation 
  • In an episode of American Dad!, Roger uses one of his personas to cover his antics although everyone knows it's him. At the end when he's defeated he pulls off the disguise and says "It was me, Roger, all along." Duh.
  • 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 is disappointed it is 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!!
  • In Hulk and the Agents of S.M.A.S.H., The Collector pulls off Spider-Man's mask and angrily rants that he's so ordinary looking that it's a wonder why he would bother concealing his face.
  • 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.note 
      Lex Luthor: If nothing else I can at least learn the Flash's secret identity... [removes mask] ...I have no idea who this is.
    • There are several jokes throughout season 1 of Justice League Unlimited about how ugly The Question must be for him to wear a mask. But when Huntress finally takes off The Question's mask after he's been tortured by Cadmus, he looks like a generically handsome guy, though pretty beaten up.
  • Men in Black: The Series: Frank is an alien who spends most of his time disguised as a dog. When he reveals himself without the suit to J after teasing it for an episode, it turns out Frank looks like the same dog with blue skin and antenna. J isn't impressed.
  • In Spider-Man: The Animated Series, Peter is Brought Down to Normal and is facing off against the Insidious Six because they realized the dude who was always taking Spider-Man's pictures might have a connection to him, and kidnapped Aunt May. Because Peter lacks most of his powers and is facing off against six super-powered foes, he is quickly beaten and unmasked before the 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 accuses the Kingpin of kidnapping an old woman and strong-arming her desperate nephew to play along.
  • 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 criminal's impersonator. (Marshall Moo Montana and Sheriff Terribull made a bet over who captures Shock Holiday and agreed the loser would leave Cow Town).
  • Rick and Morty: The post-apocalyptic warrior Hemorrhage wears a bucket for a helmet, painted with an intimidating visage, and boasts that nobody has seen his true face and lived. Beneath that helmet, he looks like a conventionally handsome young man... with a slightly lame moustache.

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