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Unmasked: Six Heroes Who Are Really Bad at Secret Identities

Unmasked: Six Heroes Who Are Really Bad at Secret Identities

By Joshua Lapin-Bertone Thursday, December 1st, 2022

Welcome to the DC House of List-ery, a weekly feature where we list off all the ways the DC Universe continues to surprise us.

The DC Universe is filled with masters of disguise…and then there are these guys. Look, any superhero can tell you that keeping a secret identity isn’t always easy, but some heroes don’t even seem to be trying. Occasionally that’s by design, but more often than not, it’s just that they couldn’t be bothered. And that’s not good! Secret identities help keep both you and your non-super-powered friends and family safe. There’s a reason why they’re pretty much the norm in the superhero community. So, with that in mind, it’s time to unmask (as if they were masked in the first place) six DC heroes who are really bad at secret identities.

We’re doing it for their own good, really.


Donna Troy

We’ll give Donna Troy a little slack for this one, since she didn’t have a secret identity when she began operating as Wonder Girl. But in 1969’s Teen Titans #22, she decided to adopt the human identity of Donna Troy and made zero effort to disguise herself. To make matters worse, Donna Troy became a high-profile fashion photographer, while Wonder Girl continued to appear on camera. In 1980’s New Teen Titans #2, Donna even flippantly said she was lucky nobody had connected her to Wonder Girl. In other words, while some heroes bend over backwards to hide their secret identities, Donna Troy doesn’t even try and still somehow manages to pull it off. That’s got to be maddening for some of her fellow Titans. Maybe that’s why when she became Troia, she decided to go public with her secret identity, ending the “masquerade” once and for all.


Starfire

Donna Troy’s not the only Titan we need to call out. There’s also her teammate and former roommate Starfire.

That’s right, during the early years of Marv Wolfman and George Perez’s New Teen Titans, Starfire—despite her obviously non-human appearance—had a secret identity. Starfire’s brilliant disguise was to cover her green pupils with sunglasses. It was a way of hiding in plain sight, but considering Kory would go on to become a world famous and highly visible fashion model, it feels pretty much destined to fail. After all, how many orange-skinned people are there in the world?

You know what, don’t answer that. I’ve been to a few bad tanning parlors. In fact, maybe that’s why if anybody thought that the orange-skinned Starfire looked just like supermodel Kory Anders they were too polite to say. Still, in 1982’s New Teen Titans #16, Kory was shocked when her fiancée Franklin revealed he knew her secret, which shouldn’t be a surprise since the names Koriand’r and Kory Anders aren’t exactly miles apart. Eventually Kory stopped bothering with maintaining a secret identity, but it’s not like she was taking it seriously in the first place.


The Golden Age Flash

If you thought the Arrowverse’s Barry Allen was careless with his secret identity, wait until you meet Jay Garrick. He’s the original Flash, a founding member of the Justice Society of America—and an extreme show-off. Remember all those superhero origin stories where the protagonist realizes they must keep their new powers a secret? That’s not how Jay Garrick rolls. Once he gains super speed in 1940’s Flash Comics #1, Jay immediately begins showing off his new powers to everyone in his vicinity. He uses his speed to do mundane things like return library books and play tennis with himself—in plain view of everyone. Jay “hides” his identity by wearing a helmet that only covers the top of his head, and later stories would retcon that he vibrates his face so that nobody recognizes him. Of course, this vibration retcon ignores all the times he used his power for school sports or even competing in the Olympics. It also ignores how his entire city seemingly knows his identity in Flash Comics #3. Jay Garrick’s secret identity seems to be a “secret” in name only.


Mary Bromfield

Mary Bromfield is another Donna Troy situation, with Mary making no effort to disguise herself while crimefighting. Only it was far worse, at least for the years she went by “Mary Marvel,” because her heroine identity had the same first name as her civilian identity, Mary Bromfield. Later retellings (like Jerry Ordway’s The Power of Shazam) would soften this blow by having her morph into an adult when she transforms, and calling herself “Lady Marvel,” but the original Golden Age stories did no such thing. In fact, Mary Bromfield would often transform in front of villains and civilians. At least Superman has the presence of mind to go look for a phone booth somewhere (which has to be MUCH harder these days than it was when he first started). Fortunately, now that she’s the new Champion of Shazam, the shared first name will no longer be an issue, but she’s definitely going to want to be mindful of where she says that magic word.


Superman (And No, Not Because of the Glasses)

Speaking of the Man of Steel, we’ve all heard the jokes about him disguising himself with glasses, but that isn’t why he’s on this list. (If any of you still need proof that the glasses disguise could work, check out Christopher Reeve’s performance in 1978’s Superman: The Movie. He shows how Clark Kent and Superman can seem like two separate people, and it’s a masterpiece.) Unfortunately, Superman’s comic book counterpart has been careless with his secret identity in other ways. Clark Kent and Superboy both happened to leave Smallville at the same time and relocate to Metropolis together? Some people could buy that coincidence, but Lois Lane sure didn’t. In Action Comics #597, Jonathan and Martha Kent tell Lois that they had raised Superman as Clark Kent’s secret brother. Look, Jonathan and Martha are wonderful, decent people and I think it says a lot that they’re so bad at lying. But seriously, THEY’RE SO BAD AT LYING! Then there’s the fact that Superman is ALWAYS hanging out at the Daily Planet with Clark Kent’s friends. It’s little wonder that Lois figured out the truth as soon as she did. Of course, it doesn’t help that Superman can’t seem to stop revealing his secret identity to the world either.

If you think things got better Post-Crisis, then you’re kidding yourself. In Action Comics #597, Jonathan and Martha Kent tell Lois that they had raised Superman as Clark Kent’s secret brother. Remember when people made fun of that marvelous armored hero for pretending to be his own bodyguard? We think pretending to be your own secret brother is worse.


Stripesy

All he does is change his shirt. That’s it.


Okay, now it's time to hear what you think. Let us know which superhero you think has the worst secret identity right now over in the DC Community!

Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DC.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.

NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of Joshua Lapin-Bertone and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.