Superheroes and secret identities go together like peanut butter and jelly, like donuts and coffee, like radiation and the proportionate speed and strength of a spider. Unfortunately, blabbing about those secret identities also go hand-in-hand with putting on a cape and a mask.
As any and every superhero will almost certainly tell you, secret identities are a vital part of the superhero process. Keeping your real life and your villain-punching life separate not only helps to simplify things and keep your weekends free, it also keeps your friends and family safe-- from assassins and robots to people throwing sodas from moving cars.
In the end, though, most superheroes are only human (even the aliens) and sooner or later they’re going to slip up, letting someone know about their alter-ego.
This list spans the full range of regret and remorse, from mild annoyance to lost jobs to “Oh dear God, why?!” While there are a few exceptions, almost every one of the heroes on this list caused their own problems, believing that they could trust the wrong person.
So, grab your pencils and get a reporter on the line, because here are the 15 Superheroes Who Regretted Revealing Their Secret Identities.
After Guy Gardner is hit by a car in Green Lantern #87, John Stewart is introduced by the Guardians of the Universe as the new substitute Green Lantern, understudying for Hal Jordan. While the relationship is initially rocky, Stewart ultimately proves himself and takes over as Green Lantern full-time.
Not too long into that stint, John Stewart is revealed as Green Lantern by a reporter on the nightly news. For the most part, this unmasking proves uneventful, though Stewart does end up losing his job at Ferris Aircraft, as Vice President Carol Ferris is hesitant to be associated with the Green Lanterns – most likely stemming from her relationship with Hal Jordan, and the fact that she’s the occasionally villainous Star Sapphire.
By the time John Stewart shows up on Justice League Unlimited, he’s all but given up on the secret identity thing entirely, forgoing a mask and telling pretty much everyone that his name’s John.
During 2014’s convoluted reboot of the X-Men franchise, Days of Future Past, Jennifer Lawrence’s Mystique is publicly outed as a mutant and a national hero, accidentally helping to heal the growing divide between mutantkind and humanity.
Flash forward to X-Men: Apocalypse and suddenly young mutants are looking up to Mystique as a role model – a notion that doesn’t sit well with Mystique. As a shapeshifter and an anti-hero at best, Mystique has a deep disdain for the spotlight, not wanting anyone knowing who she is, much less revering her. Repeatedly, she explains to her adoring fans that she’s not a hero.
Similarly, in the opening moments of Netflix’s The Defenders, Jessica Jones is shown in the same situation: after very publicly killing Kilgrave, Jessica, a P.I. who values her anonymity, is suddenly shoved into the public eye and looked at as a hero, despite not wanting anything to do with “the H word.”
Both women are forced to do the right thing in the end, by virtue of the fact that the people around them now know who they are – and despite the fact that both of them would’ve preferred not being involved in the first place.
Until 1967’s Tales of Suspense #95, that is, when he decides he’s all punched out and retires from superheroing. In doing so, he also lets the world know that he’s really been scrawny Brooklyn kid Steve Rogers all along.
Of course, you can’t keep a good hero down, and Captain America resumes Avenging shortly thereafter, the public still fully aware of his real identity.
A while later, Rick Jones, Cap’s new sidekick (and the Hulk’s old one), is captured by Hydra. Somehow equating this with the reveal of his secret identity, Cap decides to fake Steve Rogers’ death, leaving a Steve Rogers mask atop a bullet-riddled Cap costume, somehow fooling people – and his fellow Avengers – into thinking Rogers had never been Cap in the first place.
Rogers then spends the next few issues trying to convince people that Captain America is a title and not a person, before giving up and having the Space Phantom magic away the memory of Cap’s secret identity altogether.
After being exiled to another dimension and replaced by the demon Asmodeus, Doctor Strange is forced by metaphysical law to adopt a new form if he wants to return home. He opts to wear a hood over his face, which somehow works.
After defeating Asmodeus, Strange decides he really digs looking like a guy who’s holding up a liquor store and goes whole-hog with the secret identity thing. With Eternity’s help, he adopts the alter-ego of Stephen Sanders (mystically altering all earthly documents and memories from “Stephen Strange” to “Stephen Sanders”), while still continuing to fight the forces of darkness as Doctor Strange.
Eventually, though, he ends up exploiting the Hulk and the Sub-Mariner to further his own ends, feels terrible about it, and renounces the mask – and sorcery – forever.
Forever, of course, means nothing in comicdom, and, after finding out that Baron Mordo has taken over the masked Doctor Strange identity, the real Strange goes to the Ancient One and reboots himself. Embracing magic again and erasing Stephen Sanders from existence, the real Doctor Strange returns, whooping Mordo’s butt in the process.
So, back in the 1940s, there was a popular comic book called Patsy Walker, starring the fictional Patsy Walker – both in the real world and within the Marvel universe. Jump ahead to the 1970s, and a woman named Patsy Walker joins the Defenders as the hero Hellcat.
A few of her teammates point out the similar names, and Patsy explains that the fictional Patsy was in fact based on her, the real (fictional) Patsy, but, seriously, she’d rather not talk about it.
Jump ahead again, to the last few years, and real Patsy’s real friend Hedy Wolfe reprints the Patsy Walker series, only now she goes public with the fact that all the characters in the books were based on real people – including the titular Patsy Walker.
Suddenly, Patsy can’t walk down the street without getting stopped for an autograph or a selfie-- personal intrusions that she dislikes for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which is that she’s still Hellcat and there are still butts that need to be kicked, and it’s getting harder and harder to hide that fact.
The third go-round of the Teen Titans arguably proved the most popular, with original Titans Robin, Wonder Girl, and Kid Flash joined by Changeling, Cyborg, Raven, and Starfire. The Titans even got their own series of drug awareness books for a while, the true mark of a successful comic. Everything was great.
Then, during the Judas Contract storyline, they decided to let the fledgling superheroine Terra join the team.
After proving her worth by single-handedly defeating their arch-rival Deathstroke the Terminator, Terra is made an official Titan, and the rest of the team reveals their secret identities to her. She, in turn, reveals those identities to Deathstroke, with whom she’s been secretly working.
In short order, Deathstroke takes down and captures the entire team, save for the newly-christened Nightwing. Teaming up with Slade’s non-evil son Jericho, Nightwing is able to free the Titans and defeat Deathstroke, with Terra dying during the battle, scarring the team forever. Kid Flash ends up quitting, and Changeling is never the same again.
Genocidal maniac and the twin that Charles Xavier murdered in utero, Cassandra Nova was bad news even before she took over her brother’s body and outed him as a mutant to the world.
After creating her own “wild” Sentinels and destroying Genosha (and sixteen million mutants), Nova was brought to the X-Mansion, where she managed to swap bodies with Xavier, put six bullets into her own body, then masquerade as Professor X for way longer than she should have been able to, given how many psychics are running around that place.
Being interviewed on live television shortly thereafter, Nova (as Charles) told the world that he was mutant ringleader Professor X, then immediately bounced to outer space, leaving the X-Men to deal with the fallout, which mainly involved protests and fewer speaking engagements for Charles Xavier after he inevitably reclaimed his body.
Okay, so, Barry Allen married Iris West, a time traveler from the 30th century, only to see her murdered by Professor Zoom (the Reverse-Flash), another time traveler, who loved Iris and hated Barry, and also knew his secret identity because Barry left his Flash costume in a time capsule for some reason.
Obviously the whole thing sucked, but Barry moved on and fell in love again, this time with Fiona Webb.
Reverse-Flash, being evil, decides to murder her too. Flash is ready this time and snaps Zoom’s neck, killing him instantly. This results in a murder charge against the Flash, and a trial spanning two years’ worth of comics.
Flash’s lawyer, realizing that revealing his secret identity is the only way to reconcile the murder of Zoom, unmasks Barry in court – only Barry doesn’t look like Barry, because he’d recently been lasered in the face by some other villain.
Anyway, Abra Kadabra shows up dressed as Reverse-Flash, there’s some more time travel, and Barry ends up with Iris in the future, before being killed off during Crisis on Infinite Earths almost immediately thereafter.
For a guy as suspicious of the world as Batman is, a dangerously large percentage of the DC universe knows his real name. As expected, this almost never goes over well.
During Identity Crisis, Jean Loring, the Atom’s wife, murders and/or threatens a bunch of the Justice League’s loved ones, including Tim Drake’s dad, gleaning his identity from her knowledge of the Bruce Wayne-Batman connection.
In Batman #497, the villain Bane figures out who Bats really is, then ransacks his home and breaks his spine.
Talia al Ghul and Catwoman both know, and, while often helpful, both have held that knowledge over Bats’s head at one point or another. Both are also Bruce’s baby-mamas, with the ensuing children, Damian and Helena Wayne, being far more ruthless than Batman would care for, bringing them into conflict on occasion.
Finally, Batman also told Joe Chill, the man who murdered his parents, only for Chill to escape and tell his henchmen, who then shot him, blaming him for creating Batman in the first place. Chill died in Batman’s arms, ensuring that Bats lives with that burden for a long time.
In the early Tales to Astonish days of the incredible Hulk, Bruce Banner and the Hulk were actually thought to be two separate entities, allowing Banner to continue doing his thing, even as the Hulk went out and smashed up the world every night. Banner was even brought on by the government to try and stop his own alter-ego.
One of the few people who did know Banner’s giant green secret was Rick Jones, who acted as the Hulk’s sidekick. After the Hulk is sent to the future (and Banner also coincidentally disappears), General “Thunderbolt” Ross and Major Glenn Talbot start to have some sneaking suspicions about a possible connection.
Distraught and thinking that Banner’s dead, Jones confesses, betraying Banner’s trust and letting the government know that Bruce Banner and the Hulk are one and the same, thus putting them both on the run and creating one of The Incredible Hulk’s most enduring plotlines.
The son of a serial killer, Hunter Zolomon became a criminal profiler to stop people like his father. This line of work put him in contact with Wally West’s Flash, and the two became good friends, with Wally even revealing his true identity to Hunter.
This proved to be a terrible idea. After Hunter was paralyzed during an attack by Gorilla Grodd, he began to resent the Flash, believing that Wally could have stopped the attack – and Hunter’s confinement to a wheelchair – if he’d only done what Hunter had asked him to.
Deciding, in true supervillain fashion, that the only way for Wally West to become a better Flash would be for him to suffer personal tragedy, Hunter tries to use a time-traveling cosmic treadmill (yes, that’s a real thing), only to explode it instead, gaining super speedster powers. Hunter, now going by Zoom, snaps his fingers and creates a shockwave, causing Wally’s wife, Linda, to miscarry.
The Flash, also in true supervillain fashion, then traps his nemesis in a time loop where he has to repeatedly watch his father-in-law die.
Uh, can someone remind Wally that he’s the hero here?
In 2002’s Iron Man #55, Tony Stark publicly reveals that he is, in fact, Iron Man. Because of some legal fine print that Tony didn’t read, this revelation leads to the government creating a bunch of knock-off suits of weaponized armor that nearly blow up Washington, D.C.
Stark manages to save the day and is briefly appointed as the Secretary of Defense, before resigning in shame after almost starting a war with Latveria.
Being “out” also leads Stark to believe that the Superhuman Registration Act is a good idea, leading to Civil War and a bullet in Captain America’s brain.
The MCU Iron Man, meanwhile, gets his home blown up by the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, nearly killing Pepper Potts in the process. Yet again, he ends up kicking off a Civil War, though this time no one dies.
Hollis Mason was the original Nite Owl in Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, operating primarily with the Minutemen during World War II. In the early 1960s, he retires and writes a tell-all autobiography, revealing his secret identity and thrilling the world with his exploits as a superhero.
Fast-forward twenty years and Mason is now running an auto body shop. His superheroing days behind him, Mason nonetheless inspires Dan Dreiberg to take up the cape and cowl and become Night Owl II. Dan, however, doesn’t tell anybody who he is.
After the costumed Dreiberg leads a violent prison break to free Rorschach, the gang known as the Knot Tops want revenge on Nite Owl II – only they don’t know about the Roman numerals.
Breaking into Hollis Mason’s home, the gang, thinking he’s the same Nite Owl that they just fought, beat the former superhero to death with his own awards-- because there is no such thing as too much irony in Alan Moore’s world.
Shortly after Daredevil reveals his secret identity to girlfriend Karen Page, she bails on both him and New York in general, unable to deal with what that means. A few years later, she’s addicted to heroin and starring in pornos.
But wait, it gets worse! In need of a fix, she sells Daredevil’s real name for some skag, at which point her dealer sells that name to Kingpin, who then absolutely wrecks Matt Murdock’s life in the Born Again storyline, outing him to the world, getting him disbarred, and firebombing his apartment.
Eventually, Matt Murdock’s identity is hidden again, only to be revealed once more in Daredevil #32. Trying to cut a deal with the F.B.I., the villain Silke trades Daredevil’s deets for a reduced sentence, at which point the agent in question leaks the ID to the Daily Globe.
Matt, with Vanessa Fisk’s help, talks his way out of trouble, only to be forced to confess under oath a short while later in Daredevil #35. This time Matt is less lucky, though, and gets disbarred from practicing law in New York.
Eventually, he uses the Purple Man’s kids to magic his identity out of the public consciousness once again.
Spider-Man is known for his motormouth, which might explain why he’s told pretty much everyone who he really is.
In Amazing Spider-Man #87, Peter Parker gets the flu, only instead of drinking some orange juice and taking a nap, he decides that this must mean that his powers are gone and Spider-Man is no more.
Wandering into a party with Spidey’s mask in his hand, he tells his friends that he’s the friendly neighborhood wall-crawler, much to their surprise. A week later, he gets better and pays the Prowler to put on the costume, thereby undoing his confession.
In Amazing Spider-Man #200, Spidey tracks down the burglar that killed Uncle Ben, then takes off his mask and yells at him so loud that the burglar has a heart attack and dies.
Finally, in Civil War #2, Spider-Man reveals his identity yet again, this time resulting in Aunt May getting shot in the chest by one of Kingpin’s goons. She lapses into a coma and, despite an infusion of Pete’s radioactive blood, is all but dead.
Making a deal with Mephisto, May is healed and the world forgets that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. All it costs him is his relationship with Mary Jane.
Can you think of any other heroes who regretted revealing their secret identities? Sound off in the comments!