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Secret Identity Apathy

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Spinnerette: I'm curious, Dr. Universe. Why didn't you remove my mask when I was unconscious? Aren't you curious who I really am?
Dr. Universe: I know exactly who you are. You're Spinnerette.

In most cases, a villain's standard plot is to try to figure out the hero's Secret Identity, usually so he can capture the hero's family for blackmail and so on.

Sometimes, however, the villain doesn't care. To him, his enemy is the superhero; any civilian identity is irrelevant to their contest. The extreme end of this involves the villain actually discovering the hero's identity and either ignoring it completely or even actively helping cover it up.

Heroes who try to bring masked criminals to justice are sometimes faced with a Dramatic Unmask moment, as well. They should, according to law, share the information they've learned with the police, but even the heroes can find a Worthy Opponent, or begin Dating Catwoman, and find themselves unable to betray their enemy's secret. The hero must still dismiss the possibility of sharing the revelation of their foe's Secret Identity for it to qualify as an example.

See also Secret-Identity Identity, for when the hero starts confusing which is the "real" them.

Related to Dramatic Unmask. This trope tends to defy Anti-Climactic Unmasking. Can also be related to The Only One Allowed to Defeat You.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Dragon Ball Z, Babidi wants revenge on Piccolo, Goten, and Trunks. Since he doesn't know their names, he has Majin Buu blow up cities one by one and gives a general description to the people of Earth while demanding they show themselves. A man recognizes the description and tells Babidi their names, only for Babidi to say he couldn't care less what their names are (he wants to know where they are, not who they are) and kill him.
  • In Sailor Moon, when Queen Beryl goes You Have Failed Me on Jadeite, he tries to explain that he learned Sailor Moon, Sailor Mercury, and Sailor Mars' secret identities, only for Beryl to say she doesn't care, placing him in Eternal Sleep.

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • The Joker, as revamped by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams in Batman #251, is the Trope Maker. Prior to that story, the Joker had occasionally tried to learn Batman's secret; O'Neil and Adams, however, had the Joker ambush and knock out Batman by chance, only to refuse to kill or unmask him because that wasn't the perfect end to the conflict between them.
    • In Death of the Family, Joker starts dropping hints that he knows who Batman really is, and Bruce realizes there was a time when he could have figured it out. However he also realises Joker would have rejected the opportunity, because he doesn't want to think of Batman as being anyone but Batman.
    • Another Joker example from Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth:
      Black Mask: I say we take off his mask. I want to see his real face.
      The Joker: Oh, don't be so predictable, for Christ's sake. That is his real face. And I want to go much deeper than that.
    • The Joker also threatened a mob boss who'd tried to buy Batman's secret identity from Hugo Strange, declaring that learning the truth of Batman's identity would ruin all his fun.
    • In "The Black Glove" Story Arc of Batman (Grant Morrison), Batman actually unmasks himself in front of the Joker while trying to break out of a room and pursue the Big Bad of the story, but it's treated as an Unusually Uninteresting Sight and it's not clear if the Joker even notices. The implication appears to be that the Joker already knows who Batman is and Batman knows that he knows, but Joker simply doesn't care and Batman knows this too.
    • In the New 52, it's revealed that Two-Face managed to figure out Batman was Bruce Wayne but never did anything about it.
    • In most versions of the mythos, it's stated that this is Commissioner Gordon's opinion on Batman's identity; it's often implied that he's smart enough to figure out that Batman and Bruce Wayne are one and the same, but chooses not to in order to preserve Batman's effectiveness and maintain his own Plausible Deniability. In fact, in the No Man's Land storyline, Batman tries to regain Gordon's trust by revealing himself, but Gordon refuses to look at him after the Dramatic Unmask, stating that if he wanted to know Batman's identity, he could have figured it out years ago, even cryptically saying, "And for all you know, maybe I did."
    • In Batman (Tom King) #85 (specifically the epilogue, written by Tom King's successor James Tynion IV as a prelude to the Joker War storyline), it was confirmed that the Joker knew Batman's secret identity all along. In response to Superman publicly revealing himself as Clark Kent in issue 18 of Superman (Brian Michael Bendis), the Joker is convinced to make his big play at exposing Batman while he still has leverage, even if it means the end of their ongoing feud as they know it.
    • As a quite obvious consequence of the Hush storyline, the Riddler finds out that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person, however Batman is able to convince him to not reveal it by playing on his pride; just as a riddle is worthless if everyone already knows the answer, if Batman's identity is common knowledge, then the Riddler isn't special for figuring it out. Thus, the Riddler's own obsession with proving himself the smartest means that he'll never tell anyone. Nygma reluctantly concedes the point.
    • Batman '66: In "The Sandman Says Goodnight", the Sandman has used his sand to put Batman to sleep and is asked by his underling Aurora why he isn't taking the opportunity to unmask Batman while he's asleep. The Sandman answers that he prefers to see Batman as the disguise rather than the man wearing it and therefore has no interest in finding out Batman's secret identity.
  • The Flash: During The Flash (Rebirth), Barry unmasks himself to the anti-hero Fuerza to try and get her to trust him... as she points out, she has no idea who he is, and doesn't have any reason to care, so his gesture doesn't mean anything to her.
  • Spider-Man:
    • An interesting variant happens in several different Silver Age issues of Amazing Spider-Man, where the police consistently refuse to unmask a captured or unconscious Spider-Man regardless of the public's demands... well, J. Jonah Jameson's demands, anyway.
    • Logically speaking, Carnage likely knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, as the symbiote is both the offspring of Venom (who absolutely knows) and at one point was bonded with Peter's clone Ben Reilly, when the latter thought he was the real Spider-Man. Carnage almost never brings this up though, so it is ambiguous if he doesn't know or simply doesn't care- Carnage after all being For the Evulz incarnate might regard this as irrelevant to his goals of bloodshed and chaos.
    • Kraven the Hunter doesn't care who Spider-Man is because he considers Spider-Man his true opponent, not the man beneath the mask.
    • This is what led to the end of Spidey's relationship with Black Cat; she unambigously knows he is Peter Parker, but it was Spider-Man that turned her on, and she wasn't interested on his more, let's say, mundane side.
  • In Ultimate Spider-Man, Deadpool doesn't want to unmask Spider-Man when he's kidnapped the young hero, since he respects masks.
  • Superman:
    • In post-Crisis continuity, Lex Luthor refuses to believe Superman even has a secret identity. The idea that someone with all that power would pretend to be a normal person just doesn't make sense!
    • Mr. Mxyzptlk is sometimes shown to know Superman's secret identity, but, being nigh-omnipotent and way too alien to the concept of human society, he doesn't understand how important the alter-ego is for Superman and doesn't occur to him to use this knowledge as a weapon against Supes. There's also the fact that it doesn't really mean much to his game with Superman. He's a godlike Reality Warper whose one weakness is something he gave himself to make it interesting. He was never fooled by a pair of glasses, but the kind of things a normal villain might try if he learned who Supes was (kidnap the Kents and blackmail him, throw a chunk of Kryptonite through his bedroom window at night, etc.) is nothing that would interest him.
    • Darkseid and Brainiac definitely know that Superman is Clark Kent and both have shown up at the Kent farm to antagonise him or attempt to kill his parents... when they are feeling angrier-than-usual with him. For the most part, both being Galactic Conquerors means that it doesn't seem to occur to either of them that this gives them any sort of real advantage over him whatsoever, since in the cosmic scheme that they operate his secret identity probably seems very trivial. Both villains usually refer to him either as Superman or as Kal-El, rarely if ever calling him by Clark, which probably gives you an idea of what they think of the human race that adopted him.
  • In V for Vendetta, Evey has the opportunity to unmask V after his death. However, after fantasizing various faces under the mask, including her father, Evey decides that even if he were her father, that would still not be worth diminishing what V stood for and so decides never to learn the literal truth.
  • Wonder Woman (2006): Despite having Wondy's secret identity as Diana Prince tossed in his face Nemesis (Tom Tresser) does nothing with it, even though it's his job at the time to track down and help imprison Wonder Woman.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In The Batman (2022), the Riddler mocks the people's attempts to unmask the Batman, stating that they're all missing the bigger picture: that Batman's mask is the real face, not the man behind it. It's why he never figures out that his beloved vigilante idol is also the rich boy orphan that he despises in his childhood days. This is interesting because in the comics, the Riddler seeks to uncover Batman's secret identity, seeing it as proof that he's smarter than Batman (and when he finally does, he gloats about his success right to Batman's face).
  • The Dark Knight Trilogy:
    • In The Dark Knight, the Joker starts out demanding Batman remove his mask, but eventually decides that would be boring, and puts a hit out on a man who threatens to reveal Bats' identity. Mind you, that was as much about driving ordinary people to violence as it was anything else.
    • A non-villainous version occurs in The Dark Knight Rises when a policeman asks Commissioner Gordon if he ever wanted to know who was behind the mask. Gordon responds that he knows exactly who Batman is. He's Batman, and that's all that matters. A sentiment shared by Batman himself at the end of the movie, when Gordon says that even though he personally doesn't care who Batman is, the people of Gotham will want to know the identity of the man who gave his own life for theirs. Batman drops a hint to his identity by referencing an interaction between Gordon and a young Bruce Wayne right after his parents were killed but says that the point of Batman is that Batman can be anyone, and it's better if nobody knows. After Batman leaves, Gordon remembers the interaction and realizes who Batman is, but chooses not to reveal the secret.
  • In Man of Steel, General Zod tracks Superman right to the Kent farm and although Supes arrives just in time and even leaks out that Martha Kent is his mother, Zod really doesn't seem to care or act upon it, since this info really doesn't affect his main plans and since Superman can't really hide from him.
  • In Spider-Man, Norman Osborn (a.k.a. the Green Goblin) honestly doesn't care that much about Spidey's secret identity. At first he just wants to work with him. He isn't even trying to find him when he accidentally learns his identity and then only goes after him because his son's feelings were hurt. He earlier actually had Spider-Man captured and unconscious, but evidently did not unmask him. Then he changes his mind and brutally exploits his knowledge once he learns of it later.
  • V for Vendetta has a somewhat different take on this than the source material above. Evey initially wants to know the face beneath the mask, but V convinces her that the "identity" beneath the mask really doesn't matter:
    V: Evey please... There is a face beneath this mask, but it's not me. I'm no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it... or the bones beneath them.
    Evey: I understand.

  • In Last Son of Krypton and Miracle Monday, Elliot S! Maggin's Superman novels, Superman's archnemesis Lex Luthor uses multiple false identities in the course of his schemes, all of them disposable masks that he's prepared to drop immediately if they're discovered or cease to be useful. He doesn't make any effort to discover Superman's secret identity because he assumes that it's equally disposable and Superman will just switch to a new one.
  • In Please Don't Tell My Parents I'm a Supervillain, determining secret identities is considered taboo by both heroes and villains. Unless someone has really crossed a line in other behavior or is really sloppy about concealing their identity, looking too hard at who they might be with the mask off isn't done.
  • Phanthro in Relativity. He knows all of the heroes' identities, he just doesn't care. He's from the distant future, he's read their biographies. Where he comes from, their identities are already public knowledge. Revealing them in the past (our present) would certainly muck things up for them, but he doesn't see any reason to.
  • Discussed in Soon I Will Be Invincible. Doctor Impossible offers to let Corefire go and spare the world if Corefire can remember Doctor Impossible's real identity. When the evil doctor unmasks, Corefire has no clue who he is. Enraged, Doctor Impossible informs him that he would have accepted "Doctor Impossible" as his real identity because of this trope.

    Live Action TV 
  • Batwoman (2019). In "If You Believe In Me Ill Believe In You", The Mafia captures Batwoman and decide to sell her in an Auction of Evil without unmasking her. No one's going to pay for Kate Kane, real estate tycoon, after all (though it's strange that none of her captors were curious enough to peek under the cowl).
  • In Daredevil (2015), Frank Castle declines to unmask Daredevil even after he captures him because he just doesn't care about the man's secret identity. Castle himself doesn't bother with a mask—he's a soldier and feels no need to hide behind one, either to protect his identity or separate his actions from the man who commits them.
    Castle: Don't give a shit who you are.
  • In the classic Doctor Who story "Silver Nemesis", Lady Peinforte claims to have learned the Doctor's true identity and threatens to reveal it to the Cybermen if he doesn't give her the titular Nemesis. Unfortunately for her, the Cybermen have no interest in learning the Doctor's secrets, as she finds out when the Doctor calls her bluff.
  • In The Flash (1990), The Trickster actively prevents his sidekick from removing the captured Flash's mask, saying that under there "he's just some guy".
  • In Smallville, a subversion occurs in that Toyman agrees to keep "The Blur's" secret identity to continue the Game only after Clark convinces him to do so.

  • Red Panda Adventures: The Red Panda's self-proclaimed Arch-Enemy, the Mad Monkey, is generally more concerned with duking it out with the Man in the Mask more than anything else, and has no particular concern about the man behind the mask. This is shown in "The Final Problem" when the Mad Monkey calls the Red Panda and Flying Squirrel by their real names, revealing that he's known who they were since an Enemy Mine incident years ago, but never did anything about it because he didn't care. His fight was with the Red Panda, not one of the city's wealthiest men.

    Video Games 
  • In Batman: Arkham City, Batman is unconscious and in the Joker's custody, but he keeps Harley Quinn from unmasking him.
    Harley: But I wanna know who he is, sweetie!
    Joker: Nobody's who you think they are, dear. Why spoil the fun?
    • In Batman: Arkham Knight, Scarecrow couldn't care less who Batman really is, but knows that if he reveals Batman's identity to the world, he will reduce his legend to a mere man. Indeed, when he does find out Batman's identity in the endgame, he only has a few seconds of mild surprise followed by a "Meh" attitude about it. Considering that, unlike some other members of Batman's rogues-gallery, Scarecrow has no personal history with Bruce Wayne, it makes some sense. If you talk to captured villains in the GCPD post-game, they range from mild amusement to complete apathy.
    • Averted for The Penguin, who is utterly livid after learning his family's archrivals really are responsible for all of his misfortunes, and The Riddler, who refuses to believe his nemesis is "a superhero hobbyist".
    • A flashback/hallucination shows Joker passing up the opportunity to learn who Batman is.
      Joker: Hey, I never asked. What's the big secret? Who is the big, bad bat? His name. Tell me!
      Jason Todd: Of course, sir. It's—
      Joker: Never could stand a tattletale. That's why I like to work alone. No one to spoil the punchline.

  • In A Modest Destiny, there's actually a company rule in Team Evil against unmasking KO'd heroes. Besides...
    Gilbert: Maybe he wears a mask because he's grotesquely deformed like you?
    Hechter: Oh...that's a good point. Don't want to get nightmares...
  • Spinnerette:
    • Alexis Woodrow (a.k.a. "Evil Spinnerette") manages to figure out Spinny's secret identity. She uses this information to force Spinny to fight her, while one of her minions gets the whole thing on tape. After beating Spinny, however, Alexis just ties her to a tree, which leads to the following conversation:
      Evil Spinnerette: I'm leaving this city. I doubt we'll meet again. Don't worry, your secret identity is safe with me.
      Spinnerette: [koff] Why? Why did you bother fighting me, if you're not going to kill me? Why not reveal my identity and ruin me?
      Evil Spinnerette: Why does Gary Kasparov choose to fight Deep Blue at chess when he could simply pull its plug?
    • Another supervillain, Dr. Universe, later captures Spinnerette and uses his genetic infusion device to save her life, leading to this very heartwarming exchange:
      Spinnerette: I'm curious, Dr. Universe. Why didn't you remove my mask when I was unconscious? Aren't you curious who I really am?
      Dr. Universe: I know exactly who you are. You're Spinnerette.

    Western Animation 
  • Batman:
    • In The Batman, criminal duo Wrath and Scorn figure out Batman and Robin's secret identities, and try to blackmail them by threatening to expose them to Gotham's criminal community. However, Joker decides there's no fun to be had in letting someone else bring about Batsy's downfall, and poisons them with Joker gas before they have the chance to tell anyone.
    • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker has this overlap with Anti-Climactic Unmasking. A flashback shows how the Joker kidnapped and tortured Tim Drake into a version of himself, discovering Batman's identity in the process. However, it's strongly implied from how he sets everything up that he still views him as Batman and would keep the secret to himself for his own amusement. Demonstrating how he doesn't actually need to learn his identity to personally get to him.
    • Another Joker example. In Batman: The Brave and the Bold, Joker has gained reality-warping powers and has Batman at his mercy. Harley asks him if he's going to take off his mask, but Joker refuses, saying that he doesn't want to "reduce [his] primal enemy to a mere man".
    • In the season 1 finale of Harley Quinn (2019), a Black Comedy series that's not even trying to be a serious adaptation of the comics, Scarecrow unmasks Batman in front of Joker, who is so annoyed that his arch-nemesis is revealed to be "some boring rich asshole with parental issues" that he melts Scarecrow's head with acid. Pointing out how he always could have done it himself, but "half the fun of [their] relationship was the mystery". Furthermore, when he does rant to Bruce afterward, it's about Bruce's company not delivering an electric car they'd promised, not really anything related to Batman.
  • In Danny Phantom, most of Danny's villains already know his secret identity from the start; he's well-known in the Ghost Zone for being half-ghost. However, in the episode "Flirting With Disaster", Technus warns Danny against transforming and battling him in the open by motioning to a security camera, saying that Danny has a secret identity to protect. Technus is already taking advantage of Danny's civilian identity in this episode, so his reasons for stopping Danny from fighting is to screw with him and his new girlfriend Valerie.
  • In Dragon Booster, near the season 3 finale Artha and his racing rival Moordryd both discover each other's super identity as the Dragon Booster and Shadow Booster, respectively, but both agree to keep it a secret between them (and their respective companions, of course) since that knowledge could get them kicked out of a racing competition for the city's prestigious racing academy, and each of them has made enemies in their super identities.
  • (The second) Red X in Teen Titans (2003) is a villain whose identity the heroes don't care about. Once they affirm he's not Robin pulling a trick on them like the first time, the Titans figure the new Red X is just a Stranger Behind the Mask, and dismiss any more detail as irrelevant—except Beast Boy, who's too wrapped up in ridiculous theories about him being some kind of copy of Robin. (The practical benefits of knowing someone's Secret Identity are something the show broadly ignores.)


Video Example(s):


Joker learns Batman's Identity

Scarecrow reveals to the Joker finds out that Batman is Bruce Wayne...and the clown is furious, as he only cares about Batman. Not who he really is. Though, he does take this opportunity, to ask Bruce where his electric car is.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (42 votes)

Example of:

Main / SecretIdentityApathy

Media sources: