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Death by Secret Identity

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Clark says, "Hey, Ma. You remember the last person I told the secret to? I forget her name, but I recall she died of a slow, hanging, asphyxiation style death while I screamed to the Heavens. Alexia...Alena...I don't know, doesn't matter. I only married her. Point being, when I tell people my secret, they often DIE." Ma Kent says, "Hey, Tom, that's not in the script."
Neal Bailey on Smallville ("Lockdown")

This is when, normally in a movie or television adaptation of a superhero story, the villain discovers the hero's secret identity, but is killed in that same story/arc/episode/whatever two minutes after.

This is done to heighten the dramatic tension between the two enemies, as now both are on a level playing field and the villain's threat level is elevated. However, the writers (normally) don't let the villain last that long, since if there's a bad guy out there who knows the biggest secret of the mythos, he'd definitely eclipse all other bad guys and would never cease to be a threat, at least not until he's put down for good.

This includes non-lethal alternatives that prevent the villain from exploiting the secret such a coma, amnesia, mental breakdown, or imprisonment.

A sub-trope of It's Personal and Killed to Uphold the Masquerade, but in this situation it's normally the writers' decision to pull the Secret Identity trigger when they need to raise the stakes on a particular story/arc/series, but don't want to deal with long-term consequences.

As this is a Death Trope, unmarked spoilers abound. Beware.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Sailor Moon: Jadeite, Nephrite, and all of the Animamates in Stars are killed by their own leaders after finding out the at least one Senshi's secret identity. Sailor Aluminum Siren and Jadeite both died pleading that they had that knowledge, but Sailor Iron Mouse didn't even get a chance to say anything about it to Galaxia, she was so scared and blabbering about unanswerable Japanese riddles.
  • Case Closed:
    • Pisco, a member of the Black Organization, figures out Ai's identity, but he's executed by Gin for screwing up on an assassination before he can say anything. (On the other hand, Vermouth also knows, but keeps mum due to her friendship with Shinichi's mother and perhaps also a desire to see whether or not Shinichi succeeds in taking the organization down.)
    • Subverted with Irish in the 13th film (Raven Chaser). He is shot to death yet not specifically due to this trope, but shielding Conan himself from Gin's attempt to shoot him down. Then again, Irish was probably aware of the trope and decided to go down in his own terms, since he uses his last words to challenge Shinichi/Conan to take down the Black Organization.
    • Averted in Lupin III vs. Detective Conan by Lupin III and his gang, who somehow figured out Conan's true identity but kept his secret.
  • In an issue of Go Nagai's ecchi superhero manga, Maboroshi Panty, when Waki, the Villain of the Week, unmasks the title heroine (in a most unusual way), she immediately pulls out a hunting rifle and offs him.
  • Subverted big time in Code Geass. After Villetta walks in on Shirley's discovery that Lelouch is Zero, she goads her into turning him in. Shirley, who has been in love with Lelouch, yet wanting to avenge her father's death that he was responsible for as Zero, freaks out and shoots Villetta... who gets better, courtesy of Ohgi.
  • Bubblegum Crisis: Brian J. Mason takes on the Knight Sabres in combat, and forces the visor of Sylia's helmet open, exposing her identity. It takes but a second for him to recognize her, and only a second longer for Sylia to silence him.
  • A more literal example than most in Basara. Series heroine Sarasa has disguised herself as her dead brother Tatara to lead a rebellion against the Red King, the man who had Tatara killed. Under her real identity, she met and fell in love with a guy named Shuri... who is secretly the Red King. Lord Shidou, one of the Red King's Co-Dragons, lures Tatara into a trap and is about to kill "him"... until he recognizes her as Shuri's girlfriend and freezes just long enough for one of her supporters to shoot him with an arrow.
  • Superior: Inverted. The king figures out that Sheila is the demon queen after he's been fatally injured and is too weak to tell anyone.
  • In Fairy Tail: Dragon Cry, Animus pieces together that Natsu is E.N.D., the "destroyer of all", after Natsu survives getting Impaled with Extreme Prejudice and starts beating him to a pulp. Because the events of the film happen before Natsu learns of his own identity for himself, Natsu doesn't let him say more than the first two letters before shouting at him to just shut up as he's charging up his Finishing Move. Animus obliges and tries a last-ditch attempt to kill Natsu, but fails and is fatally wounded in turn before expiring shortly afterwards, more focused on his last conversation with Sonya than attempting to say the truth again.
  • In Science Ninja Team Gatchaman, Dave is sent to Utoland City, to try and find out the identities of the Science Ninja Team. Well, through a stroke of luck, and Jinpei being lazy, he gets a job at Jun's eatery, and he and Jinpei become frineds. Dave figures out at least one of the patrons is possibly a KNT member... but gets ambushed sneaking around G-2's car. While the four older team members have him at bay, word comes through their communicators that the injured Jinpei has headed off to face Galactor's latest (and rather ridiculous) threat. The team hauls Dave along on the mission, but loses track of him during the fight. But Dave refuses to tell Katse their identities, preferring to go out in a heroic sacrifice.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Diamond is Unbreakable:
    • Inverted when Shigechi finds out that Yoshikage Kira is the serial killer responsible haunting Morioh for 15 years, leading Kira to kill him to maintain his peaceful life. However, Shigechi in his dying breathe has his Stand Harvest delivers a loose button to Josuke, allowing the heroes a clue to find Kira.
    • Kira would have a weaponized inversion in the form of Killer Queen's third bomb Bites the Dust, which kills anyone that finds out his identity through Hayato Kawajiri, then turns time back an hour for Hayato and makes sure the deaths will still happen as long as Bites the Dust is still active. It's subverted if one finds out Kira is Kosako not from Hayato, as Josuke and Okuyasu had in the third loop.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Batman: Hush: The Riddler learns Batman's identity after using one of Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pits, and is convinced not to blab it since a riddle ("Who is Batman?") is worthless if everyone knows it, not to mention that doing so would alert Ra's al Ghul that he used a pit without permission. Later, he got both Easy Amnesia and a Heel–Face Turn as well.
    • In various continuities, Batman tells Joe Chill that he's the son of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and he dies soon after.
      • In Batman #47 (1948), Chill blurts out to his gang that he "created" Batman, and they shoot him; subverted in that they realize that Chill knows Batman's identity and Batman has to take down the gang in Chill's final moments.
      • In Modern Age Batman: Year Two, Batman confronts Chill in an alley and unmasks to confront him over his role in the Waynes' deaths, but although Bruce gets Chill at gunpoint, the criminal is killed by the Reaper, a ruthless vigilante who kills his opponents.
    • Averted by Ra's al Ghul as well as his daughter Talia al Ghul. Ra knows Batman is Bruce Wayne, but has no desire to tell anyone. Not because he wants to protect Bats, he just thinks it's irrelevant. Bane knows as well, but like Ra's, doesn't really care.
    • Perhaps a reason why the Joker has Joker Immunity is that he has had opportunities to learn Batman's Secret Identity, but for the most part, he does not care to know. For him, matching wits against Batman is what interests him most and having that air of mystery removed from his nemesis would make him less entertaining a foe.
      • Death of the Family reveals that Bruce Wayne once visited the Joker in Arkham Asylum, effectively admitting he was Batman without saying anything. However, he didn't even register even standing in front of the Joker — the Joker has such tunnel vision that anyone not Batman simply doesn't exist.
      • The miniseries Batman: Three Jokers ends with the surviving Joker admitting that he knows all of the Bat-Family's identities, but he'd never tell anyone because he fears Bruce would give up being Batman if that knowledge went public.
      • Joker tries to invoke this trope in the Elseworld Superman & Batman: Generations, in which all of DC's characters age in real-time. By 1975, he's an old man on his deathbed, and asks Batman (now Bruce Wayne, Jr.) to unmask as a final request. Batman cheerfully tells him to go fuck himself.
    • In the "Mike and Allie" issue, three thieves try to break into Wayne Manor by digging in from the sewers, accidentally come across the Batcave and put two plus two together to figure out Batman's true identity. The thieves make their way back to the sewers, thinking that they can make a fortune selling the information. Two of the crooks are killed by the leader of the trio for tying Alfred up instead of killing him (plus she gets a bigger share of the profits that way) while she meets her end when she pisses off a girl who has a Psychic Link with a very large Sewer Gator.
    • Subverted with Hugo Strange. When he discovered Batman's secret identity, he was seemingly killed by Rupert Thorne's henchmen who tried to make him reveal it to their boss. However, it was later revealed that he faked his death and escaped. Later encounters where Strange tried to use this knowledge ended with Bruce playing various psychological games to make Strange doubt his deduction, ranging from claiming that he hypnotized Strange to make him believe he remembered a false identity to Bruce deliberately making himself forget that he's Batman so Strange will doubt his own deduction.
    • In the Shadow of the Bat story "The Nobody", a homeless drunkard accidentally discovers Batman's identity when Batman's cowl is torn off in battle with the crook Johnny Zero. He runs to another criminal called Doc Creasey, intending on getting a payout, only to get a knife in the back and the info for free. He's able to tell Bruce his story before dying and Bats goes to stop Creasey. Creasey also suffers this fate as the Joker also decides to get the information for free as well and Creasey is killed by one of the Joker's goons as he thought the whole thing was a set up.
    • In Nightwing (Infinite Frontier), Blockbuster is able to hit Nightwing hard enough his mask pops off, revealing him as Dick Grayson. Dick is able to defeat Blockbuster, but he escapes, vowing to make Dick's life a living hell. However, before he can do so, he's killed by new villain Heartless, who rips his heart out.
    • In Batman volume one, issue 134, the story "Batman's Secret Enemy" has a non-villainous example where Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson get letters signed "Mr. X" claiming he has proof that they're Batman and Robin. After the letters inadvertently help the Dynamic Duo thwart several criminal schemes that were operating under their noses, they eventually deduce that the true identity of "Mr. X" is Tod Allens, who unfortunately died in a plane crash shortly before Bruce and Dick receive his final letter, but they rest easy reading that Allens had no intention of outing their secret identities.
  • Spider-Man:
    • The comic book incarnation of the Harry Osborn Green Goblin and, after coming Back from the Dead, Norman Osborn, both knew Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and have frequently acted on this knowledge. So did Venom. This is part of the reason the Goblin and Venom used to be his most dangerous enemies.
    • The original Green Goblin actually had known Spider-Man's secret for a long time, but he did suffer from a convenient partial amnesia (when he wasn't Goblin-crazy, he couldn't remember what he had done as the Goblin and therefore also forgot that Peter Parker was Spider-Man) that later also affected his son Harry.
    • The Amazing Spider-Man #200 featured Spider-Man's confrontation with the burglar who killed Uncle Ben. After Peter unmasked in a scene that reads like a Shout-Out to the Batman-Joe Chill showdown, the burglar suffers a fatal heart attack. In the first movie, the robber dies in a self-inflicted accident after Spider-Man pulls his mask off while confronting him in an abandoned house.
    • In the Alternate Continuity Spin-Offspring series The Amazing Spider-Girl, the Mindworm is hired by the Hobgoblin to use his telepathy to track down Spider-Girl and mess with her head. The Hobgoblin eventually has no recourse but to kill Mindworm for betraying him. The Mindworm pleads for his life by claiming to have learned Spider-Girl's true identity by reading her mind, but his words fail to convince Hobgoblin to spare him.
    • During a confrontation with the Absorbing Man while the villain was employed by the Owl, one of the Owl's henchwomen found Peter Parker's wallet, but when she initially tried to threaten Spider-Man with this he webbed her mouth shut and informed her that SHIELD put people like her in a dark prison where she would never share such knowledge. However, whether this was true became academic when new hero Virtue appeared on the scene and the woman was crushed by the building he had just destroyed.
    • Invoked, defied and played with in the storyline Go Down Swinging. Norman Osborn rediscovers Peter's identity after J. Jonah Jameson accidentally gives him a clue as to who it was and proceeds to use it to torture the webhead and his friends and loved ones. At the end of the story, Jameson has Osborn at gunpoint and attempts to kill him because he was so dangerous. Peter takes the bullet instead. However, Peter later learns that, by destroying the Carnage symbiote when it was trying to rebond with Osborn, the attack scrambled Osborn's brain so badly that he now thinks he's Cletus Kassidy.
  • Averted in an Astro City story in which a small-time hood accidentally discovers Jack-in-the-Box's identity. He considers selling the information to the hero's enemies... until it occurs to him that those enemies are ruthless enough to use cheaper methods to make him talk, after which they would no longer need him alive and indeed would prefer him dead. He leaves town, apparently intending to forget the whole thing.
  • Superman:
    • An early Golden Age story had a random crook catch Clark changing into Superman, but trip on the stairs and die before he could tell anyone the secret.
    • In the Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? story, the Toyman and the Prankster successfully expose Clark Kent as Superman for the whole world to see. This precipitates attacks from several members of Superman's Rogues Gallery which ends in the death of several villains, who kill several of Clark Kent's friends along the way and ends up with the final disappearance of Kent/Superman.
    • Happens to Amanda Marie McCoy. She is hired by Lex Luthor to find out Superman's identity. She does, he doesn't believe her. She steals Luthor's Kryptonite ring and sets out to prove herself right. She confronts Clark Kent in a graveyard, proving her theory correct, but retreats when he passes out from exposure to the kryptonite. While on her way back to her apartment, McCoy was killed by a couple of common street thugs completely unrelated to her discovery.
    • Lex Luthor himself learns that Superman is Clark Kent in The Black Ring/Reign of Doomsday, just pages before he disappears for good in that mainstream continuity.
    • In the Ending Battle storyline, Manchester Black learns via telepathy that Superman is Clark Kent and communicates the secret to Lex Luthor. When Superman spares Black's life after he apparently kills Lois Lane and despite all the taunting and goading, he realizes that Superman's ethics are for real. Manchester Black is deeply impressed by this, so he then decides to make Luthor forget Superman's identity and he commits suicide taking the secret to his grave.
    • In Worlds Finest #173, "The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!", Dr. Arron develops a Psycho Serum that turns the drinker into their most feared enemy and doses both Batman and Superman. He's hit with his own serum at the end, and since he fears both heroes equally, he turns into a half and half version of them. He's also learned their secret identities, but overexposure to the serum leaves him a raving lunatic.
    • In "Supergirl's Big Brother", a crook impersonating Supergirl's adoptive brother Jan Danvers learns her secret identity. The man intends to take advantage of her, but ultimately he ends up sacrificing his life to save hers.
    • In Superman Family #209, George Taylor, ex-boss of Earth-Two Clark Kent, figures out Superman's secret identity, and he even obtains proof. Although George has no intention whatsoever of exposing Clark, he is gunned down by crooks wanting to get their hands on his piece of evidence.
    • In The Strange Revenge of Lena Luthor, Mind-Bomber discovers Supergirl's secret identity and dies in battle with her a couple of days later.
    • The Plague of the Antibiotic Man: Amalak dies shortly after revealing that he has spied on Superman and discovered his secret identity.
    • The K-Metal from Krypton: "Rocks" Gordon and his gang are buried under a stone avalanche shortly after seeing Clark Kent taking off his clothes and revealing his Superman costume.
    • In Action Comics #1050, Lex Luthor enforces this as he places most of the world, save for those who were at the Kent Farm and those with mental blocks set up by the likes of the Martian Manhunter, under a powerful mental suggestion that kills anyone who tries to discover Superman's identity via brain aneurism. Perry White nearly dies from this and a Chinese reporter does die from it as well as (briefly, at least) Kong Kenan, the Super-Man of China.
  • Green Arrow: In a Silver Age story, a petty criminal stumbles upon the heroes' secret lair and discovers their secret identities. He uses the knowledge to blackmail them into letting him hide out there, and gives his criminal buddies their patrol schedule so they can commit crimes without worrying about running into the archers. When he discovers they plan to kill Green Arrow and Speedy, not just avoid them, he performs a Heroic Sacrifice to save their lives.
  • The Mighty Thor: The first time a (non-Loki) villain learned Thor's secret identitynote  zig-zags this trope. The villain, a Mad Scientist with a duplication ray named Professor Zaxton, unceremoniously falls to his death by the story's end — but moments before, he'd created a double of himself, who gleefully defies No Ontological Inertia and survives even after the ray's been smashed. Thor, knowing the ray reverses the morality of any human it duplicates and that Zaxton's clone is therefore good, lets the double live on so his scientific genius can be put to good; no mention is made of whether the double also knows his secret identity.
  • Played for Laughs in a gag from the DC sixties humor comic Plop. Lois Lane falls out of a window on purpose so Clark has no time to change into costume and has to fly down and save her, giving away his secret. When she reveals this, he promptly drops her to her death.
  • The Incredible Hulk: Way back when the Hulk had a secret to keep, in the very first issue the villain called the Gremlin discovers Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner. He dies soon after by nuking himself and his Soviet superiors.
  • Green Lantern: Zigzagged in Vol. 2, Issue #181. Corrupt congressman Jason Bloch had learned many issues ago that Hal Jordan was Green Lantern. He didn't expose the secret, but was using that information to help destroy Ferris Aircraft. In this issue, Bloch is attacked in his government office by the villainous Predator and left mortally wounded. A bystander rushes to his aid, and with his dying words he reveals "Hal Jordan is Green Lantern!" Readers are expected to know that the woman, an Air Force major named Diana Prince, already knew Hal's secret, just like Hal knows that she's Wonder Woman.

    Comic Strips 
  • This happens every time someone -who isn't his wife or children- sees the face of The Phantom - quite in line with the Old Jungle Saying that says that anyone who does so will die a horrible death. This is despite the fact that The Ghost Who Walks really doesn't have a secret identity - and neither is he the supernatural being the Old Jungle Sayings assume he is.

    Fan Works 
  • In Ultimate Spider-Woman, Wesley Danson finds out Spider-Woman's identity, but is murdered by the Brothers Grimm before he can share it.
  • The Seven Misfortunes of Lady Fortune has half a dozen people die after learning Ladybug's identity, starting with Gabriel Agreste.
  • What You Already Know features Daniel Jackson acquiring powerful psychic abilities, with the Jaffa referring to him as "Dan'yar" when confronting the Goa'uld, which essentially serves as a secret identity as it ensures the Goa'uld won't increase their efforts to target Earth to eliminate this new threat. The first System Lord to learn that Dan'yar is Daniel Jackson is Ba'al, and he is captured and killed before he can share this information with anyone else.
  • In FIRE! (DarkMark), villain Firebrand dies five minutes after learning Iron-Man's secret identity.
  • Fairy May Cry: In the sequel Retribution, Sanctus during the Neo Oracion Seis arc realizes that Natsu is related to Zeref (though he doesn't deduce that Natsu is in fact Zeref's brother) because Natsu is able to enter the Savior after it had absorbed the Infinity Clock when only those who were the Clock's original owners (Sparda, Anna Heartfilia, or Zeref) or their descendants would be capable of the same. Since it was a fact that Natsu isn't related to the first two, he could only be related to Zeref. Naturally, he dies fighting Natsu and Nero without ever managing to reveal this to anyone else. While others do note the oddity of Natsu being able to do this, most of them either brush it off due to being busy fighting for survival to consider the implications.

  • Spider-Man Trilogy:
    • Spider-Man:
      • Green Goblin is impaled soon after he discovers Peter's secret.
      • The robber who (apparently) killed Uncle Ben dies in a convenient accident seconds after Spider-Man unmasks to him.
    • Spider-Man 2:
      • A big part of the movie marketing was that Harry would learn Peter's secret, but Harry's death wouldn't come until he made the full transition to baddie in the third movie... and even then it got somewhat subverted in the end.
      • Peter also reveals his identity to Doc Ock during the climax. This may not apply entirely to him, as by this point Ock was no longer under full control of his arms, and Spider-Man revealing his identity is a way to convince Ock to do a Heel–Face Turn. He might no longer be considered a villain by the time he performs his Heroic Sacrifice, leading this to a case of Redemption Equals Death.
      • Averted by the people in the runaway train, thanks to Peter willingly turning himself over to Doc Ock soon after. Probably helped that they gave him his mask back and decided to keep his secret.
    • Spider-Man 3: In the final movie, this works against Eddie Brock/Venom, but actually leads to the redemption of the Sandman.
  • Subverted in the The Amazing Spider-Man: of the four people who learn that Peter is Spider-Man, the only one who dies after discovering this is Police Chief George Stacy. Dr. Connors, Gwen, and the construction worker's son are all spared, despite being in dangerous situations either at the time of or soon after their respective revelations, with one of them being the film's Big Bad to boot (although the son only saw Peter's face without learning his identity).
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe:
    • Subverted in Spider-Man: Homecoming, where the Vulture learns of Spider-Man's identity and is nearly killed afterwards, but Spidey saves his life and he ultimately chooses not to reveal it out of gratitude for both this and a previous incident where Peter saved his daughter.
    • Played with in Spider-Man: Far From Home when the Big Bad Mysterio learns Spider-Man's identity and then is killed in the final battle. He still manages to record a video framing Spidey for his death and outing him, and then has it sent to the Daily Bugle.
  • Frequently occurs around Batman.
    • In the 1949 serial adventures of Batman and Robin, Jimmy Vale (who is working for the Big Bad) discovers that an unconscious Batman is his sister's boyfriend. He puts on the suit and leads the other bad guys away from Bruce. Unfortunately, "away" means up to the top of a building where he then ends up in a fight with the thugs as Batman and falls out a window.
    • In the Tim Burton film series, Bruce Wayne inadvertently reveals his identity to Max Schreck during the climax of Batman Returns, and Max is deep-fried soon after.
    • In Batman Forever, Two-Face and the Riddler get taken out soon after they learn the truth: Two-Face suffers a Disney Villain Death and The Riddler goes mad from his Box technology getting destroyed by Batman, and is later seen in Arkham proclaiming that he is Batman and laughing.
    • Vicki Vale and Catwoman, however, manage to survive after learning Bruce Wayne's secret in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns.
    • In the Nolan series, Ducard/Ra's al-Ghul knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman in Batman Begins, but is spared by this knowledge due to Bruce thinking of Ducard as an ally. When Ducard reappears in the finale as the Big Bad, he's toast. Rachel Dawes, for her part, is spared...
      • ...until halfway through The Dark Knight, thanks to that lying Joker. On principle, breaking her promise to wait for Bruce and agreeing to marry Harvey Dent mere moments before her untimely demise probably didn't help her odds, either. This is actually a subversion, however, since knowing Batman's identity had nothing to do with her death beyond her close association with him.
      • Invoked with Mr. Reese who is targeted by the Joker to prevent him airing Batman's identity, because that would ruin the Joker's fun.
  • Inverted in Mystery Men: The main baddie knew for years his archenemy's secret identity, but was in prison. When he gets out, it doesn't take too long before the Big Bad uses his knowledge to kill him, leaving a bunch of D-lister to pick up the slack.
  • In the 2004 action film The Incredibles, Syndrome learns not only the real identities of the titular super-family, but knows where they all live by the end of the movie. He ends up in a jet turbine thanks to his flashy cape he uses for theatrical effect.

  • Played with in the first 'episode' of Relativity:
    Overcast: As much as I hate to say it, Yule does have a point. You get carried away sometimes and say things that might get you in trouble. I mean, there was that time down at the pier.
    Black Torrent: Yeah, I know.
    Overcast: And that time with Master Blankard. It’s a good thing he hit his head and forgot everything. Oh, and then there was that time with Vera Barracuda—
    Black Torrent: Whose side are you on anyway?
    • This trope is also mentioned when Greg learns Dark Flame's identity:
      Yule: Don’t you read the comic books? You figured out the identity of the superheroes. That means you need to die.
      Greg: Really?
  • Star Wars Expanded Universe: Leia, Princess of Alderaan has an unusual example. On a visit to Naboo's moon Onoam, Leia visits the planet's governor, Moff Panaka, with Queen Dalné. Panaka, as the former captain of Queen Amidala's guards, notices Leia's resemblance to her birth mother and realizes she is probably Padmé's daughter. Just after Leia and Dalné leave, Panaka is coincidentally assassinated by the extremist Partisans before he can tell the Emperor anything. The example is unusual because Leia, the one with the Secret Identity, is unaware of it. Her parents, however, realize the implications when Leia describes Panaka's behaviour towards her during their meeting, giving them mixed feelings over the assassination.
  • One of the Last of the Jedi novels Star Wars Legends (a sequel series to the Jedi Apprentice series) has an Imperial Inquisitor suffering this fate right after discovering that Padme's children survived, after interrogating her grandmother (who prepared her body for burial).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Two criminals in The Adventures of Superman stumble onto Superman's secret identity. Unfortunately for them, in this series he doesn't have other superheroes in disguise, holograms, or such to throw them off the trail. He takes them off to a remote cabin high in a mountain range and tells them he'll keep bringing them supplies. They don't believe him and try to escape, dying in the process.
  • In Agent Carter, a captured hostage details how he was beat up by a female agent with a British accent. Agent Kreminski seems on the verge of realizing that he's talking about Peggy, but at that point he is gunned down by an assassin.
  • Arrow:
    • In the pilot, Oliver (who hasn't even donned his costume yet) gets kidnapped by a bunch of masked goons. He proceeds to slip his bonds and kill them all, specifically breaking the last one's neck so he can't tell anyone how a rich playboy has the fighting skills to do all that.
    • When the Count returns in Season 2, he catches Felicity investigating his operation, and from her working relationship with Oliver and Oliver posing as a Vertigo buyer the previous season, the Count quickly deduces that Oliver is the Arrow. One hostage situation later, and he's been Killed Off for Real via three arrows to the chest and a multi-story drop out of a window.
    • Also in "Seeing Red" Moira reveals that she has long known Oliver's secret identity and is impaled by Slade's sword later in the episode.
    • To show his renewed ruthlessness in Season 5, Ollie escapes his bonds while a crooked cop is tormenting him. He easily overpowers the cop and the cop pleads for mercy when he realizes Ollie is trying to break his neck. Ollie apologizes but says he can't let the cop live as he now knows his secret.
  • One episode of Batman (1966) had King Tut break into the Batcave and deduce Batman and Robin's secret identities. As luck would have it, just before he could reveal it, a rock hit him on the head and reverted him back to his mild-mannered professor half of his Split Personality. It also caused him to forget the whole escapade as well.
  • Breaking Bad: A Villain Protagonist example in "Phoenix". Jesse tells his girlfriend Jane that he's been cooking meth with his former high school chemistry teacher during a period when he's upset with Walt for not giving him half of their earnings (due to Jesse becoming addicted to heroin and Walt refusing to give up the money until Jesse gets clean). Jane uses this knowledge to blackmail Walt into giving them the share of the money and threatens to rat him out even when he does. Later that night, Walt comes back to Jesse's flat to make amends and discovers the two shot up and out cold. Jane starts to asphyxiate in her drugged up state, and Walt decides not to help her to get rid of a liability.
  • Strangely averted by Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Everyone seems to believe that it's incredibly important for no one to realize that Buffy is, in fact, a slayer, even her mother. Most of the villains already know, however, and when the muggles eventually find out, by and large there are no ramifications whatsoever.
    • It's more the fact that any time a vampire comes across a lone, blonde teenage girl who, instead of screaming in terror, makes threats and pulls out a stake, they can be reasonably sure that it's the Slayer; most of the time, they dismiss her until she gets to ready to fight, and then their eyes bug out and they say "It's the Slayer!" Her house hasn't really even been attacked by vampires (though that could also be because they can't come into dwellings without an invitation). Still completely averted with Glory though, a non-vampire Big Bad who knows Buffy's name and address and even visits her house to have a "nice" chat; Glory doesn't die until many episodes after that.
  • A Villain Protagonist example in Dexter - Sergeant James Doakes eventually finds out Dexter is the Bay Harbour Butcher and tracks him down to one of his kill rooms...where Dexter manages to subdue him and lock him in a cage. There he spends a couple of episodes, with the two bouncing back and forth on the nature of Dexter's murders and his code. Ironically, it's Dexter's code that prevents him from outright murdering Doakes; while Doakes has technically killed, he's done so as a soldier and in the name of the law rather than senselessly, which doesn't fit the M.O. of Dexter's targets. It's Dexter's Psycho Ex-Girlfriend Lila who does the deed, accidentally stumbling upon Doakes' location while stalking Dexter, finding out from Doakes about Dexter's secret, and then blowing up the cabin to make sure he doesn't squeal to anyone about it.
    • Indeed, most of Dexter's long-term antagonists who find out he's a killer end up dead...usually by his hand. This includes the Ice Trucker Killer a.k.a. his brother Brian, though he technically knew the whole time, the aforementioned Lila, Miguel Prado, The Trinity Killer, The Barrel Girl Gang, the Doomsday Killer, and the Brain Surgeon.
  • An episode of 1990 The Flash live-action series has a baddie discovering his Secret Identity and blackmailing him (even with a They Would Cut You Up threat). He ended up killed by other baddies, with a Car Starter Bomb.
  • The 2014 Flash series sees several people learn Barry's identity:
    • After Barry defeats Girder, his Schoolyard Bully All Grown Up, he reveals his identity in order to gloat in front of his former tormentor. In the very next episode, Wells sics Girder on that week's villain and the bully is killed in the fight. The other villain also recognizes Barry as the Flash and dies at the end of the episode.
    • Subverted with Captain Cold. He learns the Flash's identity, but Flash plays on Cold's desire for a Worthy Opponent and they strike a deal not to escalate their fights. While Cold does eventually die, it takes a long time (billions of years, technically) and a whole other show.
    • General Eiling reveals to Wells that he's identified Barry after seeing him unmask in an earlier confrontation. At the end of the episode, Wells abducts Eiling and reveals his own identity as the Reverse-Flash - just before he delivers Eiling to Grodd, a Killer Gorilla with a grudge. Subverted when Eiling turns up alive later - Grodd made him Brainwashed and Crazy, but didn't kill him. He's freed from Grodd's control at the end of the episode and lets Barry know that he still knows the Flash's identity and still intends to antagonize him.
    • In Season 4, Iron Heights warden Wolfe learns Barry's secret identity. He ends up being killed by DeVoe in the next episode.
  • In the Highlander episode "Methuselah's Gift", Watchers Daniel Geiger and Nathan Stern find out that Adam Pierson is an Immortal. Geiger kills Stern as part of his plan to become immortal and is subsequently killed by Amanda to thwart said plan.
  • Lois & Clark:
    • When Clone Lois tells Lex Luthor she's learnt that Clark is Superman, the Karmic Death is just a matter of time.
    • Earlier, Jason Trask threatens Clark with revealing his secret identity if he goes to prison. Conveniently, he's soon shot by a policewoman defending Clark, who wasn't present at the scene when Clark used his powers.
    • Later, Lex Luthor, Jr. and his hired lackey find a recording of Lex Luthor revealing Superman's identity. Both are dead by the end of the three-part arc.
    • Somewhat surprisingly averted with Jason Masick, who finds a diary written by a time traveling villain who knew Superman's identity. While he uses the knowledge to blackmail Clark for a time, Clark eventually finds and destroys the diary and believes that the lack of proof will be sufficient to keep Jason's knowledge from being a problem. Jason himself simply goes to prison and nothing more ever comes from it. The same episode plays it straight with Luthor's former right-hand man, Nigel, who worked with Jason: Jason poisons him rather than share the spoils of his criminal acts.
    • Perhaps the fastest discovery-to-death example is District Attorney Mayson Drake: badly injured in a car bomb, her death was all but assured when she noticed that the blast had ripped open Clark's shirt, revealing the Superman suit beneath.
  • Ringer: Gemma learns that it's Bridget pretending to be Siobhan, and gets murdered, or at least disappeared, soon after.
  • Smallville: Practically all villains who learn Clark's secret are killed off, thrown into a mental institution or have their memory wiped. Lex Luthor himself went through all three.
  • The Grand Finale of Spider-Man (Japan) had Amazoness confirm her long-held theory that Takuya Yamashiro was Spider-Man's secret identity. Professor Monster ends up killing her for failing to kill Spider-Man.
  • It happened to any bad guy who learned Zorro's secret identity in Disney's live action Zorro series.

    Video Games 
  • The main story in Hitman: Contracts. The Big Bad Albert Fournier discovers 47 at the start and tries to kill him. Surprisingly it later comes back to bite him as 47 kills him by the end of the game in order to protect his identity.
  • Batman: Arkham City: Hugo Strange deduces Batman's secret identity, but lords it over him instead of revealing or copying his knowledge, and is killed by Ra's al Ghul before the game ends. Ra's and Talia also know and are also killed later, along with the local Lazarus Pit for good measure.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins: Bane deduces that Bruce Wayne and Batman are one and the same, attacks the Batcave and (temporarily) kills Alfred. However, in order to beat Batman, he takes an even more unstable version of Venom called TN-1, which proves to be a Deadly Upgrade, inflicting severe memory loss on him as Batman defeats him regardless.
  • Batman: Arkham Knight:
    • Played With. The Scarecrow lost his mind to his fear toxin shortly after unmasking Batman as Bruce Wayne, reduced to a gibbering wreck unlikely to function anytime soon. But he had the foresight to broadcast the unmasking live on television, and unlike most examples, he successfully pulled it off without a hitch. With everyone (including the surviving members of his Rogues Gallery) now knowing Batman's secret identity, Bruce and Alfred are forced to go underground after their work is done, destroying Wayne Manor with them seemingly inside.
    • Averted with Hush, who forces Batman to unmask during his side-quest. Bruce and Lucius Fox simply knock him out and stow him somewhere until the current crisis is resolved. As the above example indicates, the finale makes his knowledge a moot point.
    • Ra's al Ghul returns, as is his habit, during a DLC mission. Whether he survives that is down to you.
  • At the end of Season One of Batman: The Telltale Series, Batman is given the option to unmask himself before Lady Arkham in order to save Alfred. Regardless of his decision, she ends up getting crushed by falling debris.

  • Towards the end of Joe vs. Elan School, Gino dies of a drug overdose two days after learning that Joe was "Dave Westminister," the man who had anonymously fueled the Internet Counterattack against the titular abusive school. The villainous angle of the trope is subverted, however, as Joe actively refuses to investigate a claim he'd seen online that Gino had worked for Elan School as a recruiter, instead choosing to remember Gino simply as his best friend.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman: The Animated Series:
    • This is subverted as Ra's al-Ghul actually knew Bruce Wayne's secret for a long time, but never planned to expose it to the world or even hold it over Bruce's head, and his death came years and years after the first conflict with Batman.
    • Hugo Strange also learns it, and lives. However, Batman sets him up and makes the supervillains he's trying to sell the info to think he fabricated it. Consequently, none of them believe him when he tells them the truth. Even Strange himself is left baffled when he sees Batman and Bruce Wayne (the latter actually Dick Grayson in disguise) simultaneously.note 
    • Dirty Cop Gil Mason removes Batgirl's mask and realizes it is Barbara Gordon, whose father he'd been framing and being said girl he likes. He is so horrified by the discovery he lets her go and hits his head. Mason falls into a coma and is never seen or mentioned as having come out of it.
    • "Night of the Ninja": Kyodai Ken, a rival of Bruce's who is still ticked Bruce told their master Kyodai was a thief, manages to figure out his identity by comparing his fighting style to Batman's. For some reason he doesn't reveal this to anyone but Bruce, and Dick and Alfred know the problem as well. In "Day of the Samurai", his second appearance, Ken insists on pursing his vendetta against Bruce, and winds up dying due to an erupting volcano. Part of it is his own pride; he won't accept help from Batman after losing to him.
  • Batman Beyond:
    • Before he can expose Bruce and Terry's secret on a tabloid television program, Ian Peek suffers from complete Power Incontinence, becomes completely intangible and falls to the Earth's core never to be seen again.
    • Barely averted in another episode "Unmasked". Terry had to unmask himself to comfort a scared little boy named Miguel that he was trying to rescue from a burning building. When Kobra agents see a news report with Miguel saying that Batman's a normal guy without his mask, they kidnap the boy to pry the image of Batman's face out of his mind and plan to drop him into a snake pit afterwards. Terry rescues him and is relieved when he sees that the image of him that Kobra pulled from Miguel's mind has the face of Miguel's favorite action figure superimposed on it. Terry figures that Miguel didn't get a good look at him in the first place and doesn't remember what he looks like but the end of the episode reveals that Miguel remembers him and is keeping his secret safe.
    • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Joker dies not long after telling Bruce he learned his secret identity after torturing Tim Drake. Twice, technically. This is subverted by Harley Quinn, who learned their identities the same way and seemingly fell to her death shortly afterward. The very last scene of the movie reveals she survived and is Dee and Dee's grandmother, apparently having quit her life of crime after Joker died.
  • Batman: The Brave and the Bold double-subverts this. Joe Chill learns who the face behind Batman is and decides to immediately take it to his rogues gallery so they can take him out in his personal life, but he uses the wrong wording and only gets out that "[He's] the reason Batman exists!" Before he can drop his identity, the villains immediately latch onto this and get ready to kill Chill. Batman eventually breaks free and takes them all down, and seems prepared to Save the Villain despite it being the end of his life as Bruce Wayne...then the building collapses in such a way that Batman can't save him even if he wanted to, and is forced to let Chill die in the destruction.
    The Phantom Stranger: Funny how Chill just happened to be standing under that crumbling ceiling when it came down.
    The Spectre: I wouldn't know anything about that.
  • Harley Quinn: Scarecrow pulls a Dramatic Unmask on Batman in the first season finale. Joker points out that he's had Batman imprisoned for weeks by this point and never unmasked him because he never wanted to know. He then melts Scarecrow's head with acid for reducing his Arch-Enemy to 'a boring billionaire with parental issues'.
    • The Joker himself gets this — well, as close as he's ever likely to get it — at the end of the episode when he's turned into an ordinary guy using the trap he had planned for Harley. Although the cure is undone the next season, it's not clear if he still remembers Bruce Wayne is Batman.
  • Superman: The Animated Series:
    • "The Late Mr. Kent" has a corrupt police officer attempt to kill Clark Kent with a car bomb to stop Kent's investigation into him. Clark survives (for obvious reasons), and after getting the cop convicted as Superman, manages to figure out a cover story of Clark having been blown clear of the blast and just recovering at a friend's house in order to re-establish his civilian self. As the officer is sent to the gas chamber, he can't figure out how Clark could have survived, and then makes the inevitable conclusion — "He's Superman!" — just as the switch is pulled.
    • Parasite has learned it a couple of times in the TAS as well. He didn't die, but the necessary Laser-Guided Amnesia was usually delivered in a very unpleasant manner, if the expiration of what he absorbed didn't take care of it. In one episode, Superman in a kryptonite-proof suit hits a Kryptonian-charged Parasite with kryptonite. When Parasite absorbs, he absorbs everything.
  • The New Adventures of Superman: In the 60's Superman cartoon, Parasite immediately learns Superman's identity when he drains Clark, which for the genre savvy is a clue that he is going to die at the end of that episode. And he does, by absorbing so much energy from Superman that he explodes.
  • The Batman:
    • Shortly after Wrath and Scorn threaten to reveal Bruce's and Dick's secret identities, The Joker doses them with his Joker Venom because he wants to be the one who destroys Batman.
    • Also happens to D.A.V.E. He actually just reasons out Batman’s identity on his own and could do something with the info, but thanks to his Complexity Addiction he can’t bring himself to publicly reveal it without putting Batman through a Sadistic Choice death trap first. Suffice it to say that by the end of the episode D.A.V.E. is the one who ends up getting killed by it.
  • In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, three villains have learned Iron Man's secret identity. One of them got slapped by Laser-Guided Amnesia and the other was put in a coma for the trouble. The third, ever the pragmatist, decided to keep it a secret so he could blackmail Tony with it after Tony had some major financial assets to his name. Since the secret identity was revealed to the public in the end of Season 2, him cashing it in seems unlikely.
  • In the Miraculous Ladybug Bad Future episode Chat Blanc, Hawk Moth learns the identities of both Ladybug and Chat Noir, and is even able to Akumatize the latter... only to die immediately afterward to Chat Blanc's Angst Nuke. And then Marinette prevents the events of the timeline from occurring altogether.
  • In the Spider-Man: The Animated Series episode "Attack of the Octobot" Spider-Man reveals his identity to a sick girl who is a fan of his and wanted to meet him. At the end we find out the reason he was willing to reveal his secret identity to her was because she was terminally ill.
  • The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie gives us a subversion. Plankton finds out the Krabby Patty secret formula, but while he doesn't die he is arrested and Word of God confirms this is canonically the end of the series.
  • Static Shock:
    • Edwin Alva Jr. finds out Virgil's secret identity by using X-ray vision to see through his mask. At the end of the episode, he turns to stone. Later on, he gets turned back, but since Virgil's powers were used to help restore him, it's implied he kept quiet out of gratitude.
    • Three other villains managed to learn the secret throughout the series, but none of them were so fortunate. Madeline Spaulding got a lightning bolt to the face that shorted out her telepathy and wiped her memory; Speedwarp was trapped between time; and Omnara got short-circuited by a virus.
  • In one episode of SWAT Kats, the Metallikats discover Razor and T-Bone's true identities as Jake and Chance, the salvage yard workers. At the end of the episode, after the robotic villains are defeated and cornered by Commander Feral with a device that would permanently deactivate them, they offer to tell him the SWAT Kats' identities, on the condition they not be deactivated, reprogrammed, or sent back to jail. Despite his animosity to the vigilantes, Feral refuses to make a deal with the Metalikats and uses the device to deactivate them. Later on in the series, the Metalikats are revived by Dark Kat, but it appears their memories of the SWAT Kats' identities were erased.


Video Example(s):


He's Superman!

Murderer Bowman realizes how Clark Kent survived his murder attempt...a little too late.

How well does it match the trope?

4.98 (47 votes)

Example of:

Main / DeathBySecretIdentity

Media sources: