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Secret-Identity Identity

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"There is a face beneath this mask, but it's not me. I am no more that face than I am the muscles beneath it, or the bones beneath that."

Often someone with a Secret Identity will have an identity crisis. Who are they? The "normal" person or the superhero? Sometimes they will have one as their real identity and the other as the construct, and sometimes they have a dual-life. Some even get into a Two-Person Love Triangle with their love interest and themselves, or lose said love interest over this crisis.

One common line to suggest this is, if discussing a character's disguise or costume, it's suggested that the mask is the "real face", and the civilian is the disguise.

Related to Beneath the Mask. If the identities are separate enough, can grow into Mask of Confidence. If the character is shown to have completely forgotten their base identity, then this can overlap with Loss of Identity.

Seen also with undercover agents who are in danger of Becoming the Mask.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Kaitou Saint Tail: Meimi's original motive for becoming Saint Tail was that she could have some self-worth from putting her magic tricks to use, but while it works at first, what ultimately happens is that she ends up pouring all of it into the "Saint Tail" persona while her self-worth as "Meimi Haneoka" becomes virtually nonexistent, and she mentally traps herself in a whole bunch of assumptions about how her Love Interest Asuka Jr. would never be interested in her the same way he is in Saint Tail. In fact, not only has he only ever been in love with Meimi for reasons that didn't have much to do with Saint Tail in the first place, he's actually perceptive enough to figure out the real source of the problem: it's not that Saint Tail is an entirely different person from Meimi, but the world will only see Saint Tail as an "ideal" that can be worshipped, scapegoated, or have her name value exploited, and the fact there's still an actual human being underneath won't get any acknowledgment unless someone like him goes out of their way to find out whoever's Beneath the Mask.
  • Light/Kira from Death Note, to the extent that by the end of the series, Kira has abandoned nearly all of the ideals which Light used to stand for.
  • Sailor Moon:
    • Mamoru Chiba in the manga version can sometimes slip into this. The accident that killed his parents left him with no memory of them or his life before that point. It's also implied that unlike the Sailor Senshi his powers are "on" all the time, and he doesn't transform, he simply changes clothes.
    • Also from the manga version, Usagi is shown being confused about which of her three identities (Usagi Tsukino, Sailor Moon, Princess Serenity) is the "real" her.
    • In the manga version Minako's personality slowly changes during the run of Codename: Sailor V, becoming more serious and rather ruthless while sometimes changing back to the original. In the main series it's clear that Minako isn't the clumsy but well-meaning student she once was nor the legendary hero Sailor Venus is seen as but something in the middle... But it's still unclear what, as she's extremely skilled at hiding her emotional pain behind a mask of Obfuscating Stupidity.
  • Alto Saotome from Macross Frontier had a variation of this; he gave up a promising career as an actor (while heir to a renowned family of such) seemingly inexplicably, with it being strongly implied in the show and directly stated in the movie as being due to a sense that his stage roles (as well as his expected role as heir to the family tradition) left him unsure as to what his own identity was.
  • Princess Tutu is essentially a role assumed by Duck, predating the Secret Identity and granted by Drosselmeyer. While the two are clearly the same person, their behavior is markedly different, and not just because Duck is the worst dancer in the series while Tutu is probably the best.
    • And add in another layer that Duck is also uncertain if she's really a Bird, a Girl, or a Princess. That's three competiting identities.
  • Hei in Darker than Black has two identities, dorky Nice Guy Li Shenshung, a Chinese exchange student, and the Black Reaper, a remorseless mass-murdering assassin and spy. When he's talking to people as Li, it's easy to tell when someone hits a nerve because his eyes will go so ice-cold that he looks mind-controlled. And when he's the Black Reaper, he wears a white mask. At the beginning of the series, it seems like the Black Reaper is his true character, but it gradually becomes clear that while neither persona is the real Hei, he's actually closer to Li, but ended up stuck playing a different role due to his Dark and Troubled Past.
  • Code Geass plays with this trope when it comes to resident Anti-Hero Lelouch: Lelouch Lamperouge is, of course, the civilian identity he adopted to hide from The Empire. Lelouch vi Britannia is his birth identity, which is legally dead. And finally, we have Zero, the over-the-top dark avenger/terrorist/freedom fighter/resistance leader persona. However, the question as to which one is real is largely subverted. Lamperouge is completely made up; however, it is the identity he uses with his friends and sister, seeming to be the most "real" near the end. Vi Britannia is the identity he truly hated, due to his hatred of Britannia, but it was also the one his royal sibling recognized him as. Zero, meanwhile, seems to represent his Large Ham tendencies, as well as his inner hatred and desire for justice. At times, he seems to consider Zero what's really Beneath the Mask. Near the finale he seems to come to terms with this and states "I finally know who I really am!" when he kills his parents. He later uses the vi Britannia identity to take over the world and initiate the Zero Requiem, becoming known to the masses by that name. As Emperor Lelouch, he displays traits common to all his personas: Zero's hamminess, vi Britannia's royal bearing, and Lamperouge's (very well hidden) kindness. The debate as to who he really is ended up being so divisive to fans that claims to his survival or death are often attributed to which "identity" has died.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Vinegar Doppio has a rather unclear case of this. Despite his alter ego as Diavolo, he isn't aware of it himself, but it acts as an actual split personality. It's never revealed which was the original persona, though it's implied that Doppio was Diavolo's persona he used to seem inconspicuous before the two personalities split apart.
  • At one point of the manga version of Cat's Eye, the girls decide to try and draw Toshio into their thieving gang, with Hitomi (who is also Toshio's girlfriend) materially attempting the job with her hair dyed blonde and green contact lenses. At first, she's just doing the attempts and flirting with him... But at one point, Hitomi realizes that she's jealous of the blonde Cat's Eye, and the blonde Cat's Eye is jealous of Hitomi! Hitomi openly wonders what's wrong with herself...
  • Reiner Braun from Attack on Titan suffers an extreme version of this. The stress and guilt of being The Mole causes him to begin slipping so far into his "Soldier" persona that he forgets it isn't real. The two identities don't appear to be that different, other than the obvious conflict of duty — the real mission to infiltrate and attack humanity, in opposition to the false mission to defend humanity as a soldier on the front lines. The identity he's currently assuming depends on whether he calls himself a "soldier" or a "warrior"(the name for the Eldians who inherit the power of the Nine Titans and serve Marley).

    Comic Books 
  • Batman:
    • Throughout the mythos, there is a common but far-from-universal idea that is Batman is the real identity, while Bruce Wayne is a construct.
      • In Batman Beyond, he realizes that the voice in his head telling him to kill himself is a fake when it refers to him as Bruce. "That's not what I call myself in my head." Then Terry asks him, "What do you call yourself?" He gets a look. (Of course, knowing Bruce, this might be less "Batman is the real identity" and more "Batman is so Crazy-Prepared he trained himself to call himself Batman in his head to prevent mind-reading villains from learning his identity".)
        Terry: I suppose you would. But that's my name now.
        Bruce: Tell that to my subconscious.
      • One Expanded Universe novel implies that Bruce Wayne has, in fact, "subdivided" his mind between the two separate identities, and that the "Bruce" aspect is physically weaker than "Batman", despite Wayne's training.
    • The extent to which this is true varies over time, tending to oscillate from one extreme to the other in a manner reminiscent of a Cyclic Trope. As of October 2007, most current portrayals are tending away from this trope; no doubt it will change back in a few years. And given the speech about Bruce being the mask at the end of Batman Begins, and the way movies tend to set the next few years of the comics they're based on, that may already be starting.
      • In the "Batman RIP" storyline, a villain-induced psychological trauma "kills" Bruce Wayne, and as a result, Batman takes on an emergency backup persona as a garishly-costumed version of "Batman without Bruce", The Batman of Zur-En-Arrh,note  and goes around Gotham beating criminals with a Bat-bat along with a (maybe) hallucinatory Bat-Mite.
      • The idea was deconstructed during the "Bruce Wayne: Murderer/Fugitive" storyline. In an issue leading up to the arc, Bruce was toying with the idea that while Batman can't kill, his alter ego Matches Malone can (he backed down from that). After being framed for murder, going to prison and then escaping, Batman decided to abandon the Bruce Wayne identity entirely, losing most of his compassion in the process. The rest of the Batfamily are shocked when he tells them point blank that there is no Bruce Wayne, and refuses to answer Nightwing when he asks who adopted Dick Grayson if that's true. One of the main writers for the storyline summed it up pretty well. "Somewhere in the Bat Bible, it's written 'Bruce Wayne is the mask, not Batman. Oh, and he's not crazy'. That always bugged me. If that's not crazy, then what is?".
      • In Arkham Asylum, when he's captured by the Joker and the inmates want to take off his mask, the Joker tells them not to be stupid; that mask is his face.
      • Grant Morrison tried to establish in their Batman works that there is no "Bruce is Batman's mask" or "Batman is Bruce's mask" since it was that kind of thinking that nearly destroyed him just around the time that Infinite Crisis was going on. So Bruce Wayne attempted to rid himself of his demons and start anew during the missing year. Nowadays, he is both Bruce Wayne and Batman, neither less than the other, both more human than either one could be alone. One blogger (Chris Sims) cleverly pointed out that not only does Batman fight crime, but Bruce does as well through humanitarian efforts such as funding rehab centers and hiring former criminals at Wayne Tech to help them get a fresh start. Furthermore, he remembers each of them.
      • Bruce's humanitarian work really took off during No Man's Land, where he actually took time off as Batman to fight congress, among other things, as Bruce Wayne. Also, this is where Dick Grayson decides to become a cop (thus fighting crime as both Dick and Nightwing) and Batman tells him "You're better than me, Dick.", saying he has made both Robin and Nightwing "an extension of who [he is]", rather than just becoming the mask.
      • This is also the path that The Dark Knight Trilogy took from the start. The playboy idiot Bruce Wayne "persona", such as it is, was a kind of on-the-spot bullshit maneuver Bruce used to deflect suspicion. Judging from his immediately previous living conditions, Bruce never has been that sort of man. In turn, Alfred's role in the films is to constantly remind Batman that he IS Bruce Wayne too and that he shouldn't cast that away as eagerly as he seems to be doing.
      • The Arkham games seem to follow this as well; at the beginning of Arkham City, Bruce Wayne is campaigning to have the prison closed, because he can't really do any open political activism as Batman. But the games very rarely depict Bruce Wayne outside of the batsuit, and about half the times it does are actually Hush impersonating Bruce Wayne.
      • Many would say that the truest Bruce is the detective in the cave, in costume but not the cowl, often with his True Companions at his side. In public, whether as Bruce Wayne or as Batman, he has to put on an act. As Bruce Wayne he has to come off as completely non-threatening so nobody would suspect he's Batman, and as Batman he has to be inhumanly terrifying to keep the criminal element in check. It's only when he doesn't need to hide either of his identities that he can truly be himself.
      • The first Wonder Woman (Rebirth) annual shows the "current" take on the Big Three's first meeting. They all lay hands on the Lasso of Truth and introduce themselves.
        Wonder Woman: Diana of Themyscira, daughter of Queen Hippolyta.
        Superman: Clark Kent. Kal-El.
        Batman: Batman.
        Superman: Seriously? That's your name?
        Batman: Shut up.
    • Averted by the Joker: the story "Going Sane" shows him believing that he killed Batman and suddenly becoming Bored with Insanity (Joker's speech is painted to reflect an Art Shift from madness to sanity):
      I really did it. But... what exactly did I do? I know you're supposed to kill the audience — but, after they’re dead... you're stuck. If there's no one out there in the dark to play to... then what's the point? If there is no Batman to drive crazy, then what's the point of being crazy? I... I think I'm gonna puke. I think I'm gonna cry. But I can't cry: My make-up'll run. But it's not makeup, is it? It's me! No, it's not me. Not me at all. It's a role I've been playing, to keep the audience amused. But the audience is gone now. The theater's empty. And I don't have to play anymore. Ah, what a lovely night. Sky's clear, air's so crisp and invigorating. But it's been a long day. I need to go find a nice hotel — cheap, but nice — get a good night's sleep. Tomorrow I'll get up early, start pounding the pavement: I just know I'll find a job right away.
  • Dick Grayson publicly fought "Nightwing" in order to legally marry his long time girlfriend Koriand'r/Starfire, as Nightwing doesn't exist on paper. It was also about his habit of dating her in various disguises. She was getting a bad reputation for "cheating" on Nightwing. Of course given how bad the Titans of that era were at keeping Dick's identity secret, one wonders why they bothered. Too bad the wedding was crashed by an ex-teammate turned evil...
  • Robin (1993): Tim Drake originally had no trouble with acting as Robin and considering it nothing more than a job he would eventually leave, but he would sometimes address himself in the third person in his internal monologues, either as 'Robin' or 'Tim Drake' indicating which of his ids he was feeling more like at the time.
  • Spider-Man:
    • Spider-Man is mostly Peter Parker. The witty quips he makes when fighting supervillains are usually belied by his internal monologue about his life as Peter Parker. On occasion, though, after a particularly traumatic adventure, he has sealed himself up behind the Spider-Man persona, and once or twice, a darker persona, referred to as "The Spider", has emerged.
      • Peter David did a series where Peter Parker was locked up and doped up in a sanitarium, where Peter came to terms with "The Spider". And it wasn't particularly darker than Peter or Spider-Man.
      • "The Spider" is the nickname his Rogues Gallery has given to Spider-Man whenever he's not talking and joking. This more than anything else scares the crap out of them.
      • One of the scariest things in the entire Marvel universe isn't Wolverine, or Venom, or even Carnage. It's Spider-Man, in the black costume and not talking.
      • A few instances have suggested that Spider-Man is essentially the disinhibited version of Peter Parker. Peter Parker is normally introverted and socially reserved. Spider-Man is Peter Parker with anonymity and an audience and as a result his own social restraint has been removed. Spider-Man is much more assertive and has an inability to stop telling bad jokes.
    • The Green Goblin is a rare villainous example, one of the few bad guys who continues the life of a secret costumed villain long after being exposed (to the hero and readers, and then even to the in-universe public). In his case, the identity problem is due to actual mental illness, as he suffers from schizophrenia, manic depression and psychotic breaks from reality, and originally and occasionally full-blown disassociative identity disorder, not to mention the odd bout of Identity Amnesia, and this all apart from his base anti-social, obsessive-compulsive, paranoid and narcissistic tendencies. To explain:
      • Norman Osborn originally was basically a bad man, a Corrupt Corporate Executive at the best of times, struggling with being a single father and his own anger problems, while engaging in barely legal activities aimed at increasing his money and power.
      • The Green Goblin is the Ax-Crazy alter ego he originally assumed after the accident that gave him superpowers caused him to snap, and became a sort of fantasy life for him to live out his more megalomaniacal dreams in, such as controlling the criminal underworld. The Goblin is violent, sadistic, reckless and utterly psychopathic, and represents Osborn's homicidal impulses. Osborn is initially not in total control of himself as the Goblin and, if pressed (such as reminding Osborn of his son) the Goblin can manifest as a Split Personality who will argue with the slightly meeker Norman.
      • Osborn became nicer after his first bout of amnesia; his first thoughts were to ask where his son was. He seemed shaken by his previous events even if he didn't quite remember what happened, but though he seemingly made a genuine effort to be better around people — notably supporting Peter — he could still engage in petty and morally questionable acts; in a retcon it was this Osborn (subconsciously with the Goblin) who took advantage of Gwen Stacy, and suffered from anger and stress problems that, when they overwhelmed him, resulted in the goblin taking over.
      • Following his record breaking 27-year Comic Book Death, Osborn came back and this, the modern version, is generally considered to be the "real" Osborn, the man he always wanted to be — a confident, disciplined, wealthy, ruthless, sadistic power-hungry sociopath with a positive public image who swings from seeking bloody vengeance on Peter Parker, to viewing him as a surrogate son and trying to turn him to The Dark Side, to simply resigning himself to enjoying their "games" and viewing their fights as a fun hobby that saved him from a life as "just another boring industrialist". For a long time, he appears to have his mental issues more or less under control and the Green Goblin becomes basically just a costume he puts on for thrills or when he needs to get his hands dirty. However, during Dark Reign, the Goblin persona starts assuming a life of its own again and he finds it harder and harder to control his murderous and maniacal urges, eventually killing subordinates for petty criticisms and even painting his face green during the final battle.
      • At the end of Goblin Nation, the Goblin serum is completely flushed from Osborn's body, and he ends it monologuing that for the first time in years he is entirely sane and knows exactly who he is. And Spider-Man's never faced that Green Goblin before...
  • Deadpool has said that Wade Wilson died during the Weapon X project. Whatever remained of his shattered psyche was Deadpool. He still answers to Wade Wilson, but his grotesque appearance makes a civilian life impossible. Oh, and there's that whole thing of whether or not he ever was Wade Wilson or if that was T-Ray.
  • Superman goes up and down the spectrum, depending on series and writer. During the Silver Age, the "real" persona seemed to be Kal-El; Post-Crisis, it's more Clark Kent. He's always "Clark" with his adopted parents, though. A key point in the plot of Kingdom Come is that Superman has begun to lose his humanity, becoming less "Clark" and more "Kal-El".
    • Bronze Age story DC Comics Presents #85: The Jungle Line by Alan Moore featured Superman getting infected by a Kryptonian disease. The disease causes hallucinations comprised of two figures, similar to a Good Angel, Bad Angel, one of whom thought he should accept it because death comes to us all, while the other one insisted he had a duty to fight it off. The defeatist appeared as an empty suit with glasses hovering above it, and the fighter as an empty Superman costume. Both referred to him as "Kal" and to each other as "Clark" and "Superman". At the end he wakes up, insisting he invented both of them, and neither are real.
    • In team-ups with Batman, it is generally accepted that Superman is the mask of Clark Kent whereas Bruce Wayne is the mask of Batman. The idea is that (implied or not, even true or not in the universe at the time) these relations reflect the divergent nature of the two. Bruce is a human that has grown to hate humanity and has symbolically abandoned it, embracing darkness. Clark Kent on the other hand is an alien that has largely embraced the ideas of humanity (in some continuities, he has gone so far as to embrace them for a lack of morality in his Kryptonian heritage e.g. in Smallville, many Kryptonians believe him to be weak for caring for the Puny Humans), and finds strength in the light.
    • This aspect is probably best demonstrated in Lois & Clark when - during a phone conversation with his parents, they warn him that he's started talking about himself in third person.
      • Notably: In the scene he refers to both Clark and Superman in third person.
      • But in another scene in Lois & Clark, after Lois finally understands the real relationship between Clark Kent and Superman, he says "Superman is what I can do. Clark is who I am", which contradicts the points above.
    • The revised Superman: Birthright posits that Clark Kent and Superman are masks, and that the "real" Kal-El is "Smallville Clark", i.e. the way he acts when around his parents and close friends who know his true origins.
      • Essentially, Clark Kent, renowned reporter, is the man he must be in order to protect the secrets of Superman, who is the man he must be in order to fulfill the moral obligations he feels.
    • Smallville provides a new option. Superman is the real persona, but only because that's the man Jonathan and Martha Kent raised him to be.
      • Or perhaps more precisely: Superman is Clark Kent, minus the need to keep his abilities secret.
    • Superman: The Animated Series makes it pretty clear that Clark is the real identity. In "The Late Mr. Kent", when Clark Kent "dies", Superman is much more upset about it than Ma and Pa Kent.
      Pa Kent: It's not like he's really dead Martha, he just can't be Clark anymore.
      Superman: But I am Clark, I need to be Clark. I'd go crazy if I had to be Superman all the time!
    • Interestingly, Quentin Tarantino posited a rather nihilistic and controversial view of a Secret-Identity Identity in Kill Bill; granted, it was his Big Bad delivering the lines, in an attempt to convince the Action Girl Anti-Hero that she's not cut out for being anything other than an assassin — to force the exact same identity crisis on her:
      "Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears — the glasses, the business suit — that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He's weak... he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race."
      • Tarantino largely cribbed this speech from Jules Feiffer's 1965 book The Great Comic Book Heroes:
        "Remember, Kent was not Superman's true identity as Bruce Wayne was Batman's or (on radio) Lamont Cranston, The Shadow's. Just the opposite. Clark Kent was the fiction... Superman only had to wake up in the morning to be Superman. In his case, Clark Kent was the put on... The truth may be that Kent existed not for the purposes of the story but the reader. He is Superman's opinion of the rest of us, a pointed caricature of what we, the noncriminal element, were really like. His fake identity was our real one. That's why we loved him so."
      • Others accept the premise that Clark is the mask, but come to the opposite conclusion: that Clark Kent is what Superman thinks a man ought to be. Thus Clark is the "good side", and evidence of Superman's admiration for the human race, which can produce men of good character despite the lack of physical power that he has. This concept was best demonstrated in the famous Superman vs Clark Kent scene in Superman III, (usually agreed to be the only redeeming scene of that movie).
      • Clark may not be much, but look at what he can do. Super-Speed helps with the deadline, yes, but ultimately he will do a Pulitzer Prize-winning interview all by himself –- without superpowers. He has a family, and friends – people who know and care about him as a person, not some Flying Brick Physical God in tights (and definitely not someone who can’t come up with a better name for his "comfort zone" than "Fortress of Solitude"). Clark Kent IS Superman's critique on the whole human race. It's about how awesome the common man can be. Enough for him to wish to be us.
      • It's brought to a head in Superman: Man Of Steel #96, when Kem-L (manifested by the Kryptonian Eradicator program) comes to "cleanse" Superman of human infestation, calling him "Kal-El" and telling him to fulfill his legacy. The response?
        Clark: My name is Clark Kent. Get out of my home. Get off my planet.
    • In Who Took the Super out of Superman?, Superman finds himself with a "split-effect", leaving him with no superpowers while wearing civilian attire. He decides to spend at least a week as Clark and finds that he has more backbone — standing up to those who antagonize him as Clark, being more romantic with Lois, and engaging in a low-gravity battle with Intergang. However, helplessly watching huge disasters unfolding was too much for him to bear. Later, he decides not to fall back on Clark as Superman, forced to be fully committed to world welfare and leaving him unable to unwind and spend time with his muggle friends. In the end, he decides not to discard either identity, and figures out the source of the split-effect in time to stop the years-long scheme of The Chessmaster trying to destroy the world.
    • In the New 52 reboot, Clark's landlady (after discovering his secret identity) asks him if he's Clark Kent pretending to be Superman, or if he's Superman pretending to be Clark Kent. He doesn't answer her.
    • Michael Fleischer speculated that if Krypton had not been destroyed, Kal-El would have been more like Clark Kent. Like his dad, he'd have a brilliant mind and do extraordinary things, but might be a bit shy and diffident, unsure if he could live up to Jor-El's reputation. After all, on Krypton he wouldn't have been physically extraordinary, he'd be just like everyone else. It would be his mind and his morality that would make him stand out.
    • A third option has been suggested: he has three personas, doing some acting as both Superman and Clark, and #3, the real him, is who he can be with Ma and Pa Kent, and eventually Lois.
  • Supergirl:
    • Back in the Silver and Bronze Ages, Kara Zor-El was torn between her responsibilities as Supergirl and her desire to be a normal woman and lead a normal life. Unlike her cousin -whose "real" person was Superman in those decades-, she thought of herself as "Linda Danvers", and sometimes she felt frustrated because she spent so long being Supergirl that she forgot what being "Linda" was like. In Supergirl Vol 2 #1:
      Supergirl: Besides, I could do with the time to myself... to sit back and think. It's selfish, I know, but I deserve... Whoa! There you go again, Linda!
      There's nothing selfish about wanting to get into yourself for a while instead of thinking about the whole blasted world! I do enough of that as Supergirl — and wasn't the whole reason for this move... to give myself space to be just plain Linda Danvers?
      I've been Supergirl for such a long time, it seems. Not that I'd give that up for anything... but I feel like I've totally lost hold of the part of me that doesn't scoot around the universe in shorts and a cape! I've forgotten what it feels like to be just a person... Instead of a symbol!
    • Post-Crisis Kara Zor-El was Supergirl 24/7 until her cousin warned her that she would eventually burn out and suggested that she came up with a secret identity. Kara created a civilian identity called Linda Lang, but it was merely a disguise. After failing to save New Krypton she briefly considered giving up on being Supergirl and becoming Linda permanently.
    • Post-Flashpoint Supergirl was given a secret identity in Supergirl (Rebirth). However, "Kara Danvers" was merely a tool to socialize with humans and understand them in order to protect them better.
      "Kara Danvers" is a tool for you to walk amongst the people you protect.
    • Of course, the difference between Superman and Supergirl is that Superman was sent to Earth as an infant. Supergirl actually lived on Krypton until she was... uh... however old she's considered to be as of the last reboot - a teenager at the youngest. As such, she comes standard with an identity all her own, and putting on a superhero outfit lets her be her Kryptonian self. It's understandable why Kara is the mask.
  • There's a very, very fun story in JLA (1997) #51-54 where Superman's wish that the League's members didn't have "two lives" is granted by a sixth-dimensional wishing machine. Hilarity spectacularly fails to ensue, and only Wonder Woman and Aquaman are exempt due to having no dual identities at the time. In the end, the aliens who gain control of the machine split them too. Aquaman finds himself in human and amphibian forms, while Wonder Woman is separated from clay, and she saves the day as the spirit of truth.
    • Clark Kent without Superman becomes truly timid and afraid of heights, while Superman without Clark loses touch with humanity ("call me Kal", changing to a Kryptonian-style costume).
    • Bruce Wayne without Batman has no outlet for his rage at the corruption of the world (beating two thugs nearly to death over spray-painting his car), while Batman without Bruce has no motivation and barely speaks — beneath the mask, he has no face.
      "Everyone figured if you split Batman and Bruce Wayne, you get a fop and a lunatic. Which is true. But not like we thought."
    • Kyle Rayner without the ring goes near-crazy without it to use for self-expression, covering his apartment with drawings that can't compare to what the ring would create, while Green Lantern becomes a war machine without humanity and creativity.
    • Wally West without The Flash becomes lazy and apathetic, while the Flash forgets the legacy of those who came before him.
    • John Jones freaks out when he becomes telepathically "blind", but is fascinated by no longer being vulnerable to fire (more than any other human, that is) or the Last of His Kind.
    • Eel O'Brian reverts to being a thief and thug again as his morality drains away, while Plastic Man loses track of everything but his clowning.
      • Eventually, it's Eel who realizes that everyone is slowly going nuts while separated and assembles the civilian identities to join back up and save the world as just six dudes. The message? The man behind the mask is both, or it doesn't work — for example, Superman is at his truest when he's at home in Smallville being Clark Kent with superpowers.
  • Christopher Chance, the Human Target, is a private detective/bodyguard who protects his clients by impersonating them to draw any would-be killers out. However, in modern stories, he is so good at his impersonations that he sometimes forgets his own identity in the process.
  • Rorschach in Watchmen takes it so far that he calls his Rorschach-test-shaped mask his "face"; when he's unmasked, he screams at the police for them to give his face back. He claims that before he had to Shoot the Dog he was simply "[Walter] Kovacs pretending to be Rorschach" and now it's the other way around.
    • Another indication of this is in one flashback to before Rorschach's Becoming the Mask moment, where we see him speaking normally instead of with his usual wobbly speech bubble and font. It's no wonder the prison psychologist slowly starts to think of him as Rorschach instead of Kovacs.
  • Unlike Superman, Wonder Woman was not raised by mortals, which makes all the difference. For some time in the Silver Age, she was a full-time civilian. For about two decades Post-Crisis, she had no secret identity at all. At all times, the Amazon Princess Diana is basically the real her.
  • A Secret Wars (1984) spinoff had the Thing fight his Ben Grimm persona to the death.
  • One of the more unique aspects of the X-Men is that they seem to have variable degrees of separation between their "superhero" and "civilian" personae. This is intentional: being a mutant isn't exactly something they can stop doing if they want to retire, and is often explicitly used as a metaphor for real-world ethnic, sexual, and religious identities. For example, many of the X-Men don't wear masks of any sort (Shadowcat, Emma Frost, Professor X, Beast) and seem to live quite openly and proudly as mutants. Though for decades Xavier concealed the fact that he was a mutant, he never really used "Professor X" as a secret identity because, being wheelchair-bound, he wasn't a field operative and thus few outside the X-Men and their allies even knew the team had a Mission Control type leader.note  Others will go to some extremes to hide who they are and will adapt quite elaborate secret identities (Nightcrawler, Angel) including the use of holographic projectors to make them appear "normal." This is even reflected in their codenames, which over time have become more like nicknames than any kind of serious attempt to hide their real names. Some have just dropped them altogether, while others have started using them all the time, even in private conversations or when not in costume.
    • Archangel (Warren Worthington) cited Native tradition that the mask was an expression of true identity when confronted by X-Factor (former X-Men) members with an "I Know You're in There Somewhere" Fight.
    • In Ultimate Marvel, it was originally explained that their original names were (if you will) "slave names", and their codenames were effectively their new "real" names. (This reflected the continued influence of Magneto's ideology on Professor X even after their breakup.)
  • Booster Gold is an interesting example, as his secret identity and his real identity are still Booster Gold. To the whole world, especially the superhero community, he presents himself as a selfish, bumbling fool who will do anything for fame. Secretly, he's a true and noble hero charged with protecting the timeline.
    • Even before Booster took up his role as timeline defender, he lacked an alter-ego—he was Booster pretty much all the time. Of course, his civilian identity hasn't been born yet.
  • Steve Rogers is really Captain America, so much so that it's hard for him to be a normal person. There was an incident in one Captain America comic where Cap confided to Hawkeye about how uneasy the hero worship made him feel, how he was worried about being mobbed whenever he went out, etc. Hawkeye responded by pulling Cap's mask off and saying something along the lines of "Yeah, I can see how that would be a real problem, Steve!" — Cap had to be reminded that he didn't have to be Captain America all the time, that he could take the mask off and just be an ordinary person.
    • In effect, his costume is mostly just for protection and identification during fights rather than any sort of means to conceal his identity. Even when he had a secret identity, Steve didn’t act much different as a civilian. Thus he doesn't see it as a mask but just something he wears.
  • This happens with Thor and his various alter egos A LOT, primarily because most of those alter egos are actual, separate entities; Donald Blake was a construct created by Odin for Thor to inhabit to learn humility, and Eric Masterson and Jake Olson were human beings whom Thor bonded with to save their lives. The only "classic" secret identity Thor maintained was construction worker "Sigurd Jarlson", essentially Thor in street clothes and Clark Kent-ish glasses with his hair tied back.
  • Wolverine has gone through several identities. For a time it was pretty clear he didn't know who he was.
  • Moon Knight, a Marvel Alternate Company Equivalent to Batman, created a bunch of different personas to facilitate his crime fighting, but is often depicted as mentally disturbed and unsure of his true identity.
  • The Batman-is-real-Bruce-Wayne-is-the-mask idea is invoked but averted for Kate Kane in Batwoman #0. Her narration says the obvious idea would be that Kate Kane went on Training from Hell, and Batwoman returned. In fact, the confused woman who left didn't know who she was, and it was only once she became Batwoman that she felt like Kate Kane again.
  • In Paperinik New Adventures Donald Duck has to make a conscious effort to prevent himself from acting as Paperinik even in civilian garb. Justified, as, before Paperinik New Adventures was created, Donald invented his Paperinik alter ego as a means to vent his pent-up frustration at being constantly underestimated and called an idiot: Paperinik is just Donald doing what he'd really want to do instead of keeping his bad temper and sarcasm in check.
  • The Invisibles has the "Entropy in the U.K." arc, wherein The Conspiracy has King Mob captured and tries to use a psychic probe to figure out who he is - King Mob, the occult freedom fighter; Gideon Stargrave, this extravagant "fiction suit" personality; Kirk Morrison, the horror writer; or someone else. It turns out that King Mob is all of these things at once, and has woven the stories together in order to lay a trap for any fucker who'd be dumb enough to enter his head.
    • This is later weaponized against Boy in the "American Death Camp" arc, when she's taken in by people who appear to be the enemy and told she's actually a double agent - and on top of that, they show her the "masks" she's donned before, convincing her that this is just another role she was born to play. It turns out to be a deep cover intervention by another Invisible cell, aimed at exposing the "true" Boy and purging her of her need for vengeance before it metastasizes into something worse.
  • Samaritan of Astro City is a Fish out of Temporal Water with a Ret-Gone past, so he doesn't have any identity conflicts to deal with. He does, however, use "Asa Martin" as an alias when he needs to move about in his Intrepid Reporter civilian job.
  • Power Girl has a secret identity as Karen Starr, but in her Justice League Europe days she was barely using it, as was highlighted when Ghy, an extradimensional imp from her 1988 series, took over Starrware by posing as her cousin, and Kara not only didn't notice for months, but was forced to conclude that "Gina" was doing a better job of living her life than she was. In her 2009 series she's built the Karen Starr persona back up, but still doesn't see it as much more than a disguise until Clark advises her to make Karen more of a person.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Phantom: The titular character is... the Phantom. That's who he is. Mr. (Kit) Walker is a secret identity he uses when he needs to move anonymously through an inhabited area (though post-Falk continuities tend to go with each Phantom being legally named Kit Walker).

    Fan Works 
  • Angel of the Bat: Downplayed for most of the Batman family. Bruce at one point acknowledges he genuinely wants to be a father to his adopted children instead of just using their papers to cover up their vigilante activities, and that sometimes they need Bruce Wayne as much as they need Batman. The Seraphim, on the other hand, has totally abandoned his human identity by the time of the story.
  • In Hellsister Trilogy, Supergirl is torn between both of their identities until she decides to ditch her "Linda Danvers" persona and becomes Supergirl full time.
  • Juxtapose: Discussed and ultimately subverted when, thanks to his interactions with Izuku and his friends, Toshinori realizes that while being All Might is a major part of his life, All Might is ultimately just a facet of his real identity Toshinori Yagi, and not vice-versa. As a result, he begins reaching out to his old associates, like Gran Torino and Sir Nighteye.
  • Kara of Rokyn: After spending a decade and a half trying to juggle two different identities, the main character decides she's neither Supergirl nor Linda Danvers but Kara Zor-El; and she's sick of pretending she isn't someone she's not. So she moves to Rokyn -a planet settled by other Kryptonian survivors- where she can be herself without the pressures of being a hero or pretending she's a normal Earthwoman.
  • In Miraculous Two Weeks, Cat Noir sees Adrien as a broken shell and Cat Noir as his true self.
  • A downplayed example in The Secret Return of Alex Mack: The epilogue shows that shortly after her husband's death, Alex faked her own death and became Terawatt full-time.
  • Superman of 2499: The Great Confrontation: During the first scene, Klar Kent, the Superman of the twenty-fifth century, discusses at length the issues caused by leading a double life.
    Klar Kent sighed. The role each of the chosen El males was handed was as much a constriction as an honor. It was nothing less than having to protect a world and, very often, a universe.
    One had to become two men, and to pretend one had nothing to do with the other. It was not as easy a thing as one might expect. The third Superman had to pretend his Kent-self had been killed, and to take up the name of Jon Hudson. The fourth Superman's identity had been revealed during a monorail accident. One Superman had simply abandoned his secret identity, becoming a full-time Man of Steel until his son was old enough to succeed him. More than once, a Superman had suspected himself of becoming quietly schizophrenic.
  • In I Won't Say, both Light and L have this little crisis- Light wants L as his boyfriend but also wants to be God of the New World and L is his main obstacle. Meanwhile L the Detective wants to arrest Kira but L the person has also developed feelings for Light...
  • In Shazam! fanfiction Here There Be Monsters, Mary Marvel has trouble juggling between her different identities. Saying one word, she becomes the world's mightiest and most famous woman. But then she has to change back and becomes her plain, normal and vulnerable self. And she has to pretend Mary Bromfield and Mary Marvel have nothing to do with each other.
    Mary Marvel: "I can do something that only two other people can do. I can, I can, you know what I can do, and when I do it, it's like nothing you could ever imagine, if you haven't ever done it before. I can fly through space fast enough to reach the Sun and back inside a day, easy. I can lift just about anything, maybe including the Earth. I can punch through solid steel and laugh off bullets. The whole world knows the other me, Mom, and the other me has done so much good. So much. But then... But then I have to say the word again, and I'm just me. Plain little old Mary Batson again. And I've got to hide it, pretend, make believe I'm not the other me. Somebody might come and kill you and Jives for revenge, or kill me before I could say the word. Not that they haven't tried!"
  • In Gotham's Finest Villains, Black Mask claims Batman's mask is his "true face".
  • In Muzzled Blanc, Adrien takes the phrase "identity crisis" to new levels by attempting to cuckold himself as Chat Blanc. His fiancee replies that she loves all of him, although she does agree after all's said and done that a bit of sexual roleplay might be fun.
  • In Anything For You, the Akuma Lifeguard sees himself as Marinette's sole protector, while viewing his original self as Adrien as a coward who couldn't protect her from Lila and would only break her heart in the end.
  • Voyance has Adrien having identity issues regarding his civilian and Chat Noir self. Notably, while the other characters have a single tarot representing them, he has one for each of his personas
  • Hawkmoth Gets a Reference: When Revelation tries to force Chat Noir into revealing his secret identity, Chat says that his past self was a hollow shell that died the moment he got the Cat Miraculous and granted him new life, and that Chat is now his true self he reveals to a few select individuals while his civilian self is the mask of his father's perfect child. This is somewhat Deconstructed, as both Revelation and Ladybug are both disturbed and concerned by the confession (not helped that Chat gets forced to admit he would genuinely need therapy), with Hawkmoth also baffled and wondering how he never akumatized his civilian self before.

    Films — Animation 
  • Discussed in The Incredibles at the very start, in an interview with the main characters. About ten minutes later it's deconstructed, when it turned out that Good Samaritan Laws and Hero Insurance just wasn't cutting it. The Supers were forced to pick an identity, and whoever chose their Super identities were denied further citizenship (at least within the United States). Obviously none of them are happy about this.
  • The LEGO Batman Movie takes the idea of Batman being the real person and Bruce Wayne as the mask to its logical conclusion and deconstructs it. Batman never stops being Batman; even at home by himself, he always wears the mask and cape and talks in the same tone of voice. He has to be forced to be Bruce for public events, but doesn't act significantly different and doesn't like it. But since Batman exists to fight crime, there's nothing for him when there's no crime to fight. No personal life, no friends or family and he can't even leave the house for his meager hobbies. The Justice League doesn't even bother to invite him to their anniversary parties. A key part of the movie is basically Batman learning to get a life.
  • Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs has the Evil Queen transforms herself into an old peddler to trick Snow White into eating a poison apple. It's hard to remember that this form is meant to be a disguise since she appears more lively and real as an ugly Wicked Witch than her cold, almost lifeless persona as the queen. Ironically, despite her goal to be the "fairest of them all," her real face is the old hag's and she finds it very liberating.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In the Star Wars saga, the Sith Lords see their Sith personas as their true identities and their original identities as their masks or separate entities that they have mentally destroyed.
    • Darth Sidious wears a dark hood over his head to hide his identity, Senator/Supreme Chancellor Sheev Palpatine, from his Separatist conspirators. However, the real mask here is Palpatine, whose kind and noble appearance is merely public facade to hide his true nature until he wipes out the Jedi Order and turns the Republic into an Empire. From that point onwards, the newly proclaimed Emperor discards his Palpatine persona completely and becomes Sidious in both thought and action, wearing his cloaked hood full time despite no longer having any reason to use it anymore. Ian McDiarmid states that Lucas wanted Senator Palpatine's face in The Phantom Menace to appear the most artificial, with the implication that his post-Force Lightning face from Revenge of the Sith isn't really his disfigurement but rather his real face all this time.
    • Despite being christened as Darth Vader in Revenge of the Sith, Anakin Skywalker acts as if he's still the Jedi Knight that fights for his loved ones and the restoration of peace to the galaxy, treating his new Sith persona as a temporary means to an end. It's only after he got horribly scarred in a duel with Obi-Wan and later learned that he indirectly killed his wife Padmé that the fallen Jedi embraces Darth Vader as his one and only identity, even going as far as declaring that Anakin is dead and that he destroyed him personally. His son, Luke, vocally disagrees with him, sending Vader into an identity crisis in Return of the Jedi until he sacrifices himself to save his son from the Emperor's wrath, thus spending his last moments as Anakin Skywalker.
    • Darth Maul has forgotten his true name, and only ever goes by his Sith name. When he renounces the Sith, he just drops the "Darth" to signify his changed allegiances. Later sources show that Maul is probably his original name, since the Dathromiran Zabrak like him all have names like that.
  • In the first live-action Spider-Man movie, there is a scene where the demonic Green Goblin and his human identity (the guy who wore the suit) talk to one another. There is only one man in the room...
  • In The Long Kiss Goodnight Geena Davis' character is an amnesiac schoolteacher. Turns out she was really an assassin with a head injury who ended up believing her cover. As she is much happier as a schoolteacher than an assassin it could be seen as a subconscious choice to live the mask.
  • In the film version of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Lucius Malfoy protests his loyalty to Voldemort, saying that the face he presents to the masses is the real mask, and that his Death Eater mask is his true face.
  • Some reference material for Indiana Jones raises the question of whether his "real" self is the mild-mannered (yet charismatic) professor Dr. Henry Jones, or the globetrotting adventurer Indiana Jones. Although neither identity is really a secret from the world or ostensibly separate from the other (he still conducts "archaeology" as Dr. Jones either way), it's implied that even he isn't sure.
  • V from V for Vendetta may apply, with the rare case that we never even learn his original identity. Still he is very clear that the V mask is his true face:
    V: There is a face beneath this mask, but it's not me. I am no more that face then I am the muscles beneath it, or the bones beneath that.
    Finch: Who was he?
    Evey: He was Edmund Dantes. And he was my father... and my mother. My brother. My friend. He was you... ...and me. He was all of us.
  • The question is begged of Bruce Banner in a deleted scene from The Avengers: "Are you a big guy that gets all little, or a little guy who sometimes blows up big?" Banner himself is unsure of the answer.
  • This is a recurring theme in the Iron Man films. Interestingly, while everyone else insists that Iron Man is just the suit of armor Tony wears, Tony Stark is insistent that he and Iron Man are one and the same. The third film goes as far as to contrast Iron Man and Tony Stark less in terms of the mask and more in terms of overall behavior: Iron Man is a hero who tries to make things better for the world, and Tony Stark is a partying narcissist who makes things worse for himself and the world as a whole, often by carelessly inspiring or enabling others to become villains.
  • Man of Steel brings a possible third interpretation into the Superman mythos: Clark and Superman are one and the same, with minimal effort taken to make each identity distinct. Clark's disguise is paper-thin because it's all he needs it to be since most people really don't think Superman has a secret identity.
  • Discussed in Kill Bill where Bill points out that Clark Kent is actually the secret identity of Superman and not the other way around. Superman has to put on a show of being Clark Kent, but beneath the surface he's Superman all the time.
    Bill: Superman didn't become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. [...] What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He's weak... he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race.
  • Batman Returns uses the public identity being the construct and the costumed alter-ego being the true identity for the three main characters: Batman, Catwoman, and Penguin. While they are officially known as Bruce Wayne, Selina Kyle and Oswald Cobblepot respectively, their public personas are masks concealing their true personalities. This is most prominent in the scene where Bruce and Selina are dancing in a masquerade ballroom, and they are the only ones without the masks. Likewise, after being driven back to the sewers by an angry mob, the Penguin screams at his minions that his name is not Oswald Cobblepot but rather "Penguin" and that he is an animal rather than a human being.
  • The Batman (2022) deconstructs this trope with Batman and Riddler:
    • For Batman, his vigilante career has consumed Bruce's life to the point that there's no distinction between Bruce Wayne and Batman at all: Bruce is Batman both in and out of costume, so much so that he retains his Batman mannerisms when presenting as Bruce Wayne. We later see that Bruce is actively neglecting his civilian life and family legacy in favor of his vigilante activities, viewing the Batman as his family's true legacy. This neglect has extended to his family's finances too, as the lack of oversight on his part is what allowed the Renewal fund to be looted by mobsters and corrupt officials after his father's death.
    • For Riddler, Edward Nashton is a nobody and a convenient disguise. He states that his custom-made Riddler mask allows him to fully express himself with no shame or limits, and mockingly claims he doesn't know which of his two passports is real or fake since he doesn't consider either to be his real name. Since he values nothing of his civilian life, the Riddler indulges himself with a series of murder on corrupt Gotham figures and a game of riddles with Batman in a twisted sense of justice. He doesn't even care if he's sentenced to Arkham for life as long as he can leave his mark upon Gotham for generations to remember. When he tells Batman that his whole persona was inspired by the Dark Knight's vigilantism, Batman is horrified to see how this alter ego conscience mindset could turn ordinary people into monsters.

  • In Super Powereds, Roy and Hershel are a very strange special case. Hershel is physically normal, but can change into Roy (originally because of stress, later by drinking whiskey), while Roy has Super-Strength and a distinctly more forceful personality. For a long time Hershel felt useless, as though he was just useless dead weight that Roy had to drag around.
  • In Robert Heinlein's Double Star, an actor on the rocks is hired by a kidnapped politician's (whom said actor does not particularly agree with) aides to impersonate him until he can be rescued, more and more becoming the politician as time goes on. In an attempt to destroy the politician even after his escape, the villains trigger a political crisis which the politician is too ill to handle. The actor continues to fulfill the role, winning the election, but the politician dies from the after effects of his kidnapping. This prompts a Downer Ending where the actor must sacrifice his own life to uphold the ideals he has now come to support.
  • From the X-Wing Series, there is Wraith Squadron's Lara Notsil again. In this case, rather than being a result of past trauma or a secret superhero identity, her problem stems from a very real conflict between who she wants to be be, and who her Imperial intelligence instructors have trained her to be. The rigorous, cruel methods used by her teachers, the constant assertions to assume her roles flawlessly because nothing else was of consequence, and the dictum to abandon everything, including emotional attachments, that would interfere with her fulfilling her mission is enough to mentally unbalance her for a time. Not only does there come a point when she is (briefly) no longer certain who she is, Lara or Gara Petothel, but she even finds herself missing Kirney Slane, a practice identity from her early days at the Academy, because Kirney's life was so much simpler and more carefree. This same identity is later adopted by her when her identity is exposed and she must take refuge with Zsinj, because she views Lara as having "died".
  • In the Dexter novels, Dexter refers to the drive inside him to kill as his Dark Passenger. In the third book, the Dark Passenger is revealed to be a demon possessing Dexter. When it temporarily leaves his body, he is unable to kill.
  • Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga: Until things came forcibly to a head in Memory, Admiral Miles Naismith of the Dendarii Free Mercenary Fleet had respect, love, and quite a bit of power. Unfortunately he was also Lt. Miles (Lord) Vorkosigan, Barrayaran Imperial Security; bound by duty, oaths, and blood to a backwards world where many still regarded him as a twisted little freak that should have been euthanized at birth. It did not help that he had fallen hard for one of the few people that knew the whole story and who, for all that she loved him back, still saw life as Lady Vorkosigan to be something akin to a death sentence.
    Miles Vorkosigan: Dammit, sir, what would you have of me? The Dendarii are as much Barrayaran troops as any who wear the Emperor's uniform, even if they don't know it. They are my assigned charge. I cannot neglect their urgent needs even to play the part of Lieutenant Vorkosigan.
    Captain Galeni: Play the part of Lieutenant Vorkosigan? Who the hell do you think you are?
    • Not to mention Miles' mother's comment that the personality of "the little Admiral" is key to keeping Miles, not sane (she explicitly doesn't believe he is sane) but FUNCTIONING.
  • Discworld
    • The clowns of the Fools' Guild tend to regard their painted faces and squeaky noses as their "real" faces. Discovering this becomes an important plot point in one of the City Watch novels.
    • In Maskerade, the character who's secretly the Opera Ghost gains an immense amount of confidence and sheer grace from wearing the mask and not appearing as himself. In the end, the witches convince him he now has a permanent, invisible mask, and he becomes an entirely different person permanently. Too bad "Becoming the Mask" means something else, because it would fit here perfectly.
  • The John le Carré novel A Perfect Spy is about a character (somewhat of an Author Avatar) who gets early training from a con artist father and for a time applies those skills as a agent, but eventually falls apart because of all of the different personalities he had maintained
  • The Bradley Denton short story "We Love Lydia Love" featured a man who is bribed to form a relationship and then break up with a singer-songwriter, in the hope of getting her to write a new album fuelled by the breakup (that's how she rolls). He has a chip in his head, containing the consciousness of her dead lover, intended to make it easier for him to fake being her perfect man. After a while, he begins to identify as much with the dead lover as with himself, and decides to stay that way and spend his life with the singer.
  • Cantra, of the Liaden Universe books, was raised as part of a society of assassins who used Secret Identity Identities to infiltrate their targets. In Crystal Dragon, she becomes so subsumed in her role as a scholar that she cannot treat her companion as human and furthermore nearly dies in a knife fight (dissertation defense is Serious Business for these scholars) because she's locked away all of her reflexes.
  • Edmond Dantes in The Count of Monte Cristo was so changed by prison that as the Count, he doesn't look at all like the idealistic Nice Guy he used to be and has some That Man Is Dead toward his earlier self. It is also odd is that Dantes creates other personas: Busoni, an intellectual and pious Italian priest who seems to be modeled after Faria who tutored him in prison, and Lord Wilmore, an eccentric British philanthropist who is an enemy of the Count. Thus, Dantes essentially divided the different parts of his personality into different identities, and his main identity as the Count represents his darker side. He ultimately ends up showing some kindness and mercy (after one of his revenges went too far), and at the end of the novel signs a friendly letter as "Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo", thus reconciling the identities.
  • Silk, the artful thief from The Belgariad and The Malloreon, has cultivated a wide range of alternate identities, each with its own name, personality and unique quirks. At one point he says that he probably lost track of what was Beneath the Mask years ago. Even his birthname and identity has become a facade. This is apparently true of his entire country, or at least the Diplomatic Corps (and it's not safe to assume those peasant farmers you just passed on the road blind stinking drunk and smelling of pig dung are not actually in fact in the diplomatic corps, stone cold sober, and bearing the title "Duke" in some other identity).
  • The Shadow's real name was Kent Allard in the pulp stories, where "Lamont Cranston" was one of many disguises (as well as an Identical Stranger who grants Allard the use of his identity). The radio series simply shaved off one instance of "Identity".
  • In Ender's Game, Valantine worries for a few days about whether she's starting to adopt some of the views she's pretending to have as Demosthenes. Then she decides that maybe that's okay, and uses it as an argument in one of Demosthenes' essays.
  • Worm:
    • Vista mentions in Chapter 9.5 (her chapter in the Wards arc) that she feels less like herself out of costume than in.
    • Bonesaw ultimately comes to see the conflict between "Riley" and "Bonesaw" as the conflict between her humanity and her passenger. After the Slaughterhouse Nine are defeated, she rejects the name Bonesaw and goes by Riley.
  • The Stormlight Archive: Early on in the series, Shallan uses her Lightweaving skills to create several fake identities to use for various purposes. Over time, however, those aliases develop into full-on Split Personalities, possessing their own goals and skills and able to seize control of the body from the original Shallan.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Chuck revealed a very similar backstory for Sarah, as was the case in The Perfect Spy: her father was a con man who ended up in prison after scamming some dangerous people. Even as an outcast high school student she had become involved in these cons and used a number of fake identities, but following the father's arrest, she was approached by the CIA whose extensive training resulted in the very different character in the show. She continues to be called Sarah.
  • El Chapulín Colorado has no secret nor civil identity, and in one episode is outright stated that Chapulín Colorado is his real and legal name. Word of God also says that he ditched any semblance of civil identity long time ago; he is El Chapulín Colorado full time. Because this is a Half-Hour Comedy Affectionate Parody of superheroes, the implications are never explored.
  • An episode of Criminal Minds featured an Con Artist who began killing his marks because he started suffering breakdowns between his fake personas and his real identity at inopportune moments, causing him to make mistakes that the victims noticed.
    • In another, the killer is a man who takes the identity of each of his victims because he basically disowned who he really was, his sense of self being weak already. In at least one case he actually starts mimicking the voice of his victims before he kills them right in front of them, freaking them out, implying that his sense of identity is cracking even faster than normal.
  • Played with on Cheers when Norm starts a small housepainting business and hires three guys to be his workers. The workers end up being lazy slackers and Norm is too nice to yell at them or fire them. He creates an imaginary persona for himself, "Anton Kreitzer" a mean, dictatorial Bad Boss who only communicates through phone or through Norm to to get his workers to stop slacking off. He goes so far as to rent an empty office and hiring a secretary for Kreitzer. When the workers get angry and try to confront Kreitzer about his harsh treatment they find the empty office. They come to the conclusion that Norm the nice guy was fake and that Kreitzer is the real identity!
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Steven Moffat era treats the Doctor's self-given title as, simultaneously, a goal he strives to live up to and the closest thing to a true name he has.
    • In "The Name of the Doctor", the Doctor tells Clara his true name: "The Doctor". He had a name before that, but that's not who he is anymore. The culmination of a whole arc around who the Doctor 'really' is ends with the Doctor being the name that matters, the one he took on when he decided who and what he was going to be.
    • In "The Beast Below", when Eleven believes his only choice is to either lobotomize the titular Beast to spare it pain or release it, killing the populace of London riding on it through space, he says he'll have to find a new name because after that, he won't be The Doctor anymore. This theme is revisited in "The Day of the Doctor" with the War Doctor, a regeneration between his Eighth and Ninth personas, who had to do things in the Time War that were so terrible he couldn't continue calling himself The Doctor.
    • Taken further in the Twelfth Doctor's era, where he says he's just a man in a box telling stories - but if he tries very hard, then on a good day, he's the Doctor. Then we get this exchange when his patience really runs out.
      Ashildir / Me: I know the Doctor. The Doctor would never —
      Twelfth Doctor: The Doctor is no longer here! You are stuck with me!
  • Lewis Lovhaug presents this as an interpretation of the Power Rangers: Dino Thunder episode "Fighting Spirit". Dr. Thomas Oliver has been a Power Ranger for a total of five years, with six different power sets and on four different teams, and, especially given that his tenure as a Power Ranger began as a Brainwashed and Crazy Superpowered Evil Side Sixth Ranger, might have a hard time figuring out who he is outside of the context of being a Power Ranger. More or less confirmed to be the case by the show's producer Jackie Marchand herself that Fighting Spirit was a "not-so-veiled metaphor about battling your inner demons".
  • In the Turn of the Millennium there was an Argentine pay-TV channel called Retro that broadcasted series and films from decades gone by that were enshrined as classics. In their advertising for the The Adventures of Superman series they used this trope (maybe as a take that against Bill's description of Superman in Kill Bill that you can see at the comic section of this trope), this is the english translation:
  • Nikita: After Alex achieves her goal of publicly reclaiming her identity as Alexandra Udinov, the believed-dead heiress of the Russian megacorp Zetrov, she spends much of the show's third season using it largely as a cover identity for missions, and admits she has little idea what it would mean for her to actually be that person.

  • Eminem's kayfabe is based around his personality being fragmented as Marshall (a real person), Eminem (a performer and writer) and Slim Shady (a Heroic Comedic Sociopath alter-ego). Several songs are about the eroding distinction between the personas, as Marshall begins to think of himself as Eminem, and as Eminem losing himself in character as Shady. The storyline is resolved in "Evil Twin" in The Marshall Mathers LP 2, in which Eminem and Shady trade verses back and forth before admitting there was never any distinction between them.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • At times, storylines will cross the line into acknowledging kayfabe and refer to wrestlers losing themselves in their characters. During The Undertaker's Ministry of Darkness phase, WWF did interviews with the McMahons where they refer to him as Mark and worry about what he's become.
  • Likewise, they did a series of interviews with Dustin Runnels (who wrestled as Golddust) and his then wife Terri, who went by Marlena in WWF. This led to him leaving her during one interview and becoming the even more bizarre Artist Formerly Known as Golddust.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Sometimes in Princess: The Hopeful, a Princess will come to identify more strongly with her Transformed self than her mundane identity. Whether because she's transgender or suffers from some other form of body dysmorphia, because she's disabled in her mundane identity, or simply because she's become so dependent on her Charms and Transformed attributes and Skills that she feels disabled when not Transformed, she feels unnatural in her mundane form and only feels comfortable with herself when Transformed. This can be resolved either through therapy or through the Princess joining the Court of Mirrors (whose Practical Magic lets their Princesses remain Transformed indefinitely).

    Video Games 
  • The first Metal Gear Solid has Decoy Octopus, an operative of FOXHOUND capable of imitating other people perfectly, even going to the length of draining their blood and putting it in his own body. He has to go through psychological conditioning after every mission, due to the extent he "becomes" the other person.
    • One of the series' themes is Solid Snake's namelessness - villains accuse him of "not having a name", and Snake implies as such when Meryl asks him for his real one. His desire to live a normal life is symbolised by him introducing himself as his real name, David, to Meryl/Otacon depending on the ending you get. In the original draft of Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty, Otacon was to call Snake "Dave" when the two of them were in private, but that was dropped for good, leading to the impression that Snake still thinks of himself as "Solid Snake" and not as David. His mother calls him David in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, and according to the MGS Database he has the people around him start to call him David after the game's events.
  • The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker: The King of Red Lions, Jabun and Ganondorf all consider Tetra to be Princess Zelda first and foremost, with her pirate persona being a cover identity to hide her from the eyes of Ganon. Tetra disagrees; she views herself to be a pirate captain before princess, and hates being called Zelda in The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass. It's not surprising that after Hyrule is permanently flooded, Zelda permanently reverts back into Tetra and her future descendants immortalize her pirate identity and name despite technically being Zelda I of New Hyrule.

  • Nailbat from AntiBunny identifies more strongly as the masked hero than as his original identity of Mors, so much so that he sees himself as Nailbat in his own mind. By the end of the story he's entirely cut ties with anyone who once knew him before.
  • Elliot from El Goonish Shive as a part of superhero genre parody superpowers package spell got a superheroine form and three extra identities: a boring cliché, an annoying cliché and an attention whore cliché mild-mannered, angsty and party animal socialite "alter egos". Earlier it was established that The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body, but it only mattered as hormonal changes in opposite sex and "Female v.5" forms. It's also established that Elliot can override the personality changes if he concentrates.
  • Played With in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja. He's always a Doctor and a ninja, but when he got a large number of flesh wounds, he was shown as having two separate personas.
  • Both Evil Spinnerette and Mecha Maid from Spinnerette refer to their normal names as their "given" names, though Spinnerette still considers her superhero self the fake identity, though that is starting to unravel, as she can no longer comprehend life as a normal human to the point she'd rather die then be human again.
  • In Dumbing of Age, Amber/Amazi-Girl is practically portrayed as on the edge of a full-blown dissociative identity disorder. She has been known to lash out at her Secret Keepers for calling her by the "wrong" name, and on one occasion when faced with a choice To Be Lawful or Good, decided that Amazi-Girl might have to do the lawful thingnote , but maybe Amber was allowed to do the good one.note 

    Web Original 
  • Sailor Nothing: Himei fears her new Dark Magical Girl Sailor Nothing persona could remain dominant even when she's not transformed, that Shoutan Himei will also become nothingness.
  • The Red Panda, of Red Panda Adventures, is scornful of the man he once was, a millionaire playboy who was so bored he picked up superheroing for a lark... and ended up Becoming the Mask when he realized how empty his life had been. Kit Baxter's understanding of this side of the Red Panda is his given reason for why she was accepted as his sidekick when she revealed she knew his identity and wanted in, rather than hypnotizing her into forgetting about it.

    Western Animation 
  • In Miraculous Ladybug, there's a strong indication that Adrien feels pressured into hiding his true self for his restrictive father's sake — pressure he no longer feels as Cat Noir. Although the main difference between "Cat Noir" and "Adrien Agreste" is that the former dials his verbal filter back a bit and makes more lame puns, so the identity crisis is more about him having some self-confidence issues than being Lost in Character. That said, he is quite hurt when Kagami, during their brief stint as a couple, insists that his "clown"-like behavior is not Adrien's true self, and is made quite happy to hear Ladybug say (under the effects of a Truth Serum-like power) that, despite trying to hide it, she actually likes Cat Noir's sense of humor, "clown" and all.
    • The episode “Kuro Neko” adds another angle; after a falling out with Ladybug, Adrien wants to retire from heroics. However, Plagg persuades him otherwise by telling him that a Miraculous user’s costume is shaped by their inner desires and feeling. Thus, by focusing on his civilian self, Adrien turns into Cat Walker, who is polite and friendly just like civilian-Adrien, with Plagg stating that this persona is just as true to himself as Cat Noir.
    • The Amnesia Episode “Oblivio” hints that neither the civilian or hero identities are entirely masks, for both Ladybug and Cat Noir. Without their memories, the personalities of Marinette and Adrien are a mixture of their usual selves, instead of clearly being one or the other.
  • Jem often realizes that she is "jealous of herself" and has to be manipulated by her own supercomputer into maintaining her Secret Identity.
  • In Batman: The Animated Series, The Riddler shows signs of this in his second appearance, rebuking Batman when he refers to him as "Nygma" because "Edward Nygma no longer exists" after his career was ruined by his greedy boss insisting that the Riddler is who he really is now.
    • Batman Beyond: As mentioned in the Comic Books section, it's shown at the end of season one's "Shriek" that Bruce has it all figured out.
    Bruce Wayne: The voice kept calling me Bruce. In my mind, that's not what I call myself.
  • Interestingly the DCAU seems a little vague on the subject. For instance, whenever Bruce/Batman was feeling particularly depressed (such as in the Justice League episode "Hereafter"), he'd lose the deep "Batman voice" and revert to the soft style of speaking he always reserved for "playing" Bruce.
  • In Transformers, Punch is an Autobot who masquerades as a Decepticon named Counterpunch to gain information. In the Dreamave continuity, he starts suffering blackouts as Counterpunch; it is likely that if Dreamwave had not gone bankrupt, Punch's character arc would have involved such a situation.
  • Darkwing Duck was Drake Mallard before becoming Darkwing, but in the years between that point and him adopting Gosalyn he had been neglecting his civilian identity, to the extent that the pilot episode shows him living in Darkwing Tower and it's only after the adoption that Drake Mallard buys a house. Considering that the main character is rather egotistical, it was probably in no small part due to the fact that Darkwing Duck was much more popular than Drake Mallard.
  • Young Justice (2010): Miss Martian wants to be known by her shape-shifted "Megan" persona, and definitely not as a white Martian. In season 4, an argument with her sister Em'ree leads M'Gann to turn into her White Martian form and decry that this isn't who she is. Afterwards, M'Gann's mother notes that M'Gann's birth form felt as false as when M'Gann tried to make herself look Green, and that her more human-like "Megan" persona is now her true form.
  • Steven Universe: Rose Quartz and (Crystal Gem) Pearl turn out to have started as the Secret Identities of Pink Diamond and her Pearl. Eventually, they faked the death of one of their original selves and assumed their constructed identities full-time.
  • In The Spectacular Spider-Man this trope is treated as extremely negative and showing signs of extreme mental problems.
    • Green Goblin questions Spider-Man as to which persona is the real him, his civilian persona or his superhero persona. The series leaves it ambiguous, although the line seems to reflect the Goblin more than it does Spidey, considering how different the villain is from his own alter ego Norman Osborn.
    • Electro slips into this as his sanity declines. While he starts out as thinking of himself as still being Max Dillon, by Season 2 he proudly proclaims himself to be Electro and freaks out whenever anyone calls him Max.
    • A very tragic case happens with John Jameson/Colonel Jupiter, who starts off as a kindhearted man who keeps his personality after being given powers by alien spores. However, as the spores alter his brain chemistry, he slowly becomes more ill-tempered and paranoid until he starts referring to himself as Colonel Jupiter while threatening to crush his enemies.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television. Some musicians and artists are known to have issues about losing their identities in some fictional construct.
    • This is one of the plot points in Man on the Moon, a biopic of Andy Kaufman. Another infamous example is Peter Sellers, who stated "There was a me, but I had it surgically removed" on the Muppet Show. See Alter-Ego Acting.
    • In fact, Sellers' fascination with Chance the Gardener stemmed from this. Preferring to lose himself in characters to set aside his own personal flaws and make audiences, those close to him, and himself happy, Sellers was quite understanding of Chance's situation as someone who made others happy solely by reflecting what others wanted.
    • According to some who have worked with him, satirist Daniel Whitney is slowly vanishing behind Larry the Cable Guy (which has also gone from being a satirical character he did at the end of his stand up routines to being the whole thing and losing the satire). Talk about Nightmare Fuel...
      • It's very telling that even in an interview with 60 Minutes, Whitney appeared in character as Larry—somewhat muted from his on-stage behavior, but still very much Larry. Either Whitney is dedicated to the pretense that Larry the Cable Guy is who he really is, or the Dan Whitney of his initial stand-up career was the real pretense, and he's a better actor than anyone gives him credit for.
      • One concerning thing is that when he voiced Mater for Cars, he requested to be (and was) credited as Larry the Cable Guy, not Daniel Whitney.
    • David Bowie stated in interviews that he was terrified of the possibility of completely becoming Ziggy Stardust. He stopped adopting such specific stage personas in 1977, after — with the "help" of his cocaine addiction at the time — the heartless Thin White Duke of Station to Station came close to consuming him.
  • "Witty Ticcy Ray", a Tourette's sufferer (including a limited degree of Hollywood Tourette's) in The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat believed he had to fight off his disorder from eclipsing his real personality.
  • Former professional wrestler The Ultimate Warrior changed his name from Jim Hellwig to Warrior after leaving wrestling. Almost all the wrestlers who worked with him recounted him as being an egotistical asshole even outside the ring. But all those wrestlers mostly worked with him after he'd gotten famous. The people who'd known him before recounted that Jim Hellwig was a nice, soft-spoken friendly guy. Jim Ross suggested that he'd ended up fighting his in-ring persona, and the persona won. As he got more famous, the moments where he was Jim grew less and less.
  • In Beyond the Mat Vince McMahon says of Jake the Snake: "I was never able to tell the difference between Jake Roberts the performer and Jake Roberts the person, because frankly I never knew which one I was talking to. I don't know that they're not the same."
  • El Santo lived in his wrestling mask his entire career, going so far as to have chinless masks that allowed him to eat while costumed. He briefly removed the mask just once in an interview to bid goodbye to his fans. He was even buried in it.
  • Jorge Luis Borges wrote the short story "Borges and I" to explain the curious relationship between the normal person he was, and Borges, the literature Sacred Cow Sophisticated as Hell Gentleman Snarker construct he had created and his public were expecting to meet. (You can see the story at the quotes page).


Video Example(s):


Batman Beyond - "Shriek"

Bruce considers his true self to be Batman, even years after he's retired from the role.

How well does it match the trope?

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Example of:

Main / SecretIdentityIdentity

Media sources: