Clark Kenting

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How much effect posture and a different hairdo can have...

Mr. Furious: That's because Lance Hunt IS Captain Amazing.
The Shoveller: Don't start that again. Lance Hunt wears glasses. Captain Amazing doesn't wear glasses.
Mr. Furious: He takes them off when he transforms.

The Shoveller: That doesn't make any sense. He wouldn't be able to see!

Clark Kenting is the process by which a Secret Identity and/or cover story is maintained over a long period of time by asking the audience to go along with a Paper-Thin Disguise. This is also asked of the other characters in the story, with no excuses, just basically asking everyone to "Just go with it."

Takes its name from Clark Kent, Superman's alter ego, who basically looks like Superman in a suit and glasses. His nemesis Lex Luthor once even hired a computer expert to analyze Superman, but later fired her when she concluded that Clark and Superman were one and the same because he didn't think someone as powerful as Superman would deign to pretend to be a normal human.

See also Sarcastic Confession, Paper-Thin Disguise, Cassandra Truth, Cover-Blowing Superpower, Clark Kent Outfit.

Examples of Clark Kenting include:

Trope Namer[edit | hide | hide all]

As the trope namer is one of the most blatant examples, myriad justifications have been offered over the years.

  • One nobody seems to say aloud is that the comic is virtually a love letter from Clark Kent to Lois Lane. Lois Lane can never fall in love with the boring loser like Clark Kent, so she will never realize he is Superman.
  • In earlier Superman comics, he had minor Shapeshifting abilities that allowed him to look ever so slightly different as Clark Kent. This was attributed to his fantastic "facial muscle control", a Hand Wave previously used by several Pulp Magazine heroes to explain their Master of Disguise ability without making them seem too unmanly by wearing makeup. This was dropped before the end of the The Golden Age of Comic Books, and now it's mostly a Forgotten Trope (well, used in the movie Innerspace in 1987, but still not commonly known).
  • It has been claimed that, as Clark Kent, Superman unconsciously used a mild form of super-hypnosis with his glasses to make himself appear un-Superman-like, although this explanation was eventually dropped because it raised more questions than it answered.
  • The first episode of Lois and Clark provides the alternate explanation that the tightness of Superman's shorts keeps onlookers from taking too much notice of his face. Less tongue-in-cheek was a similar explanation—offered by Ma Kent in an early Post-Crisis story—that the big, bold "S" design on his chest tends to draw the eye away from his face. And Superman: Birthright proposed that the thick glasses blurred what were very intense and almost literally blazing Blue Eyes.
  • Other versions have stated that he at least avoids being recognized from photographs by vibrating slightly to mess with the details. Of course, Batman didn't recognise Clark Kent as being Superman until trying, and failing, to tranquilize him in order to change costume.
  • Radio voice actor Bud Collyer gave two distinct voices for both Superman and Clark Kent in The Adventures of Superman, the Fleischer/Famous Studios' Superman shorts and Filmation's The New Adventures of Superman.
  • Most Superman canon, from the 1970s to the current batch of comics, puts forth that the disguise is in a great deal of things that simply aren't conveyed on a comics page, and that he uses utterly different body language, mannerisms, and tones of voice as Clark Kent, making his acquaintances think he was just some guy who kind of looked like Superman. Grant Morrison's All-Star Superman runs with this to great effect, and anyone who watched Christopher Reeve in the movies knows it can be effective. When a master actor like Reeve plays the identities, the disguise feels much more believable. He made Clark such a dork, you almost didn't want him to be Superman. As the Real Life section shows, this is actually Truth in Television to an extent; most people aren't constantly looking for famous people around them.
    • Post-Crisis, this facet of the justification has been established several times. In Blackest Night, Barry Allen points it out by way of Lampshading:

Green Lantern: Clark hides behind a pair of glasses and you're worrying about me?
Flash: Clark slouches, wears clothes two sizes too big, and raises his voice an octave.

  • Furthermore, it has also been suggested that the Kent disguise works in part because (in Post-Crisis comics anyway) no one really knows Superman has a secret identity in the first place; after all, it's common knowledge that Superman is an alien named Kal-El who escaped his planet's destruction and lives in his Fortress of Solitude. But most importantly, Superman does not wear a mask like most other superheroes. This suggests to most people that he has nothing to hide. (As opposed to The Silver Age of Comic Books when everyone just seemed to know he had one.) For example, imagine if you worked with or knew someone who looked very similar to, say, Tom Cruise. Would you then jump to the conclusion that it actually WAS Tom Cruise, in disguise? Or would you think, "hey, Alan looks a lot like Tom Cruise. Weird."?
    • In the Superman/Batman storyarc "The Supergirl From Krypton" (which retcons and reintroduces Supergirl's most recent[when?] incarnation) Kara is curious as to how the Clark Kent identity fools anyone as the pair of them stroll through Metropolis in civvies. Just about that time they come across the Superman statue in Centennial Park. Kara is awestruck by the reverence Earth holds her cousin in and realizes that most people don't see through Clark Kent because they see Superman as a godlike figure, and most of them wouldn't think to look for him standing right next to them.
  • Superman also, while being very classically good-looking in his facial features and appearance, is fairly indistinctive. He doesn't have unusual eye or hair color, no facial scars of any kind, no identifying tattoos, or anything to distinguish him beyond just being an All-American looking guy. He has a certain degree of anonymity there. Clark's similarly nondescript appearance might make him a dead ringer for Superman but makes him similarly indistinct.
    • During The Silver Age of Comic Books, Superman would run into lookalikes often—from his Kandorian cousin to a movie actor—who were so similar to him that they could (and did) pass for him. Of course this was an intentional plot point.
    • A Justice League comic written by Keith Giffen indicates, via a Spy Magazine "Separated At Birth?" feature (part of an authorized parody section), that society simply thinks the close resemblance between Clark Kent and Superman is an odd coincidence.[1]
  • In addition, in Post-Crisis continuity, Superman and Clark Kent have been seen together at the same place and time several times (thanks to shapeshifters and the like), thereby making Clark Kent = Superman that much harder to put together.
    • Pre Crisis continuity too... besides the aforementioned shape-shifters, other popular means Superman used to protect his identity were the use of Superman (or Clark Kent) robots (in Silver Age stories; disposed of in the early Bronze Age) or Batman disguised as Clark/Superman.
  • A new element that has shown up recently[when?] is the fact that most people only know of Clark as a name in a byline, and only see Superman from a distance, if they see him at all. As most people don't spend a lot of time with both Clark Kent and Superman the similar appearance doesn't come up.
    • Pre-Crisis, Batman and Superman officially first learned each others' identities when Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent were forced (against their wills) to share a cabin on an overbooked cruise ship. Forced to change into their superheroic alter-egos when a crisis arose, they both tried changing at the same time in the darkened cabin at night, without the other finding out. However, bright light from outside shone into the cabin through the window, revealing to each other their identities. (A few other Silver Age stories showed Bruce and Clark having met as teenagers and one even learning their future identities, but the knowledge of their future identities were erased by the end of the story.)
      • Hilariously, the first time Bruce Wayne disguised himself as Clark, all he did was put on glasses.
    • An early John Byrne Superman story had Lex Luthor hiring a computer expert to analyze data regarding the relationship between Superman and Kent (Luthor's theories included them possibly being close friends or even brothers). When the computer concluded that Clark Kent was Superman, Luthor immediately fired the analyst and berated her for being stupid. He could not accept that anyone could be so incredibly powerful and hide behind a human face, as opposed to constantly and openly exploiting their might.
    • The reason Clark Kent's years as a television newscaster came to an end is that eventually the writers realized that showing Clark's face to the entire city on a nightly basis really should lead to someone figuring it out.
    • Subverted perfectly in the animated feature Superman Doomsday, in which Lois knows full well that Clark is Superman and is getting annoyed with the fact that he refuses to tell her.
      • Then there's this clip. He even lowers his glasses.
    • It can get pretty infuriating at times when guys who should know better are fooled by the disguise. In Legends, Superman finds himself on Apokolips and Darkseid fails to recognize that he's Superman wearing glasses. It's ridiculous enough that a sharp-nosed reporter like Lois Lane is fooled by it, but you'd expect a telepathic god who's fought Superman many times would see through it.
    • Lampshaded in this comic, from which the former top-of-the-page screenshot was taken.
    • Prior to Superman and Lois Lane's wedding, after the two had been estranged for awhile, Superman is talking to Wonder Woman about when he first revealed his identity to Lois, and she had told him that she actually suspected it the whole time (the original issue just ends after he tells her he's Superman). In Batman: Hush, Batman also speculates that Perry White is too good of a reporter to not know who he is, but just never says anything.
    • The comics did do us the courtesy of lampshading it a lot. Once, after Superman came back from the dead (it's a long story), he and Lois were contemplating how to explain why Clark Kent disappeared. Superman, naturally, suggested several classic and idiotic Clark Kenting explanations. Lois told him no one would buy it. The explanation they did use? That Clark Kent was trapped under a fallen building for over a month and he kept up his strength by eating a nearby food cache and exercising.
      • And the funniest part of that conversation as Clark went through ideas from wandering the country with amnesia to alien abduction:

Lois: No offense, honey, but who would fall for such stupid stories?
Clark: Um, you did, Lois. All the time.

    • Saturday Night Live did a skit making fun of this. Clark's disguise was horrible! You could see his Superman suit sticking out at the collar and sleeves. Turns out everyone knew his secret identity and just played dumb. They decided to screw with him and tell him that Superman is gay. It's as funny as it sounds, especially since Superman was played by Superman fan The Rock.
      • Another sketch featured Conan O'Brien as "Moleculo: The Molecular Man". Everyone quickly figured out his alter-ego was Moleculo, because of his habit of looking into the camera whenever his name is said and saying "THE MOLECULAR MAN!!!"
    • In probably the worst application of this trope, one episode of an old radio serial has Clark Kent accompanying Lois Lane to a Halloween party dressed...as Superman. When baddies attempt to do...something bad Clark Kent somehow manages to act as Superman and take them down, and still at the end of the day convinces Lois that he isn't Superman despite the fact he never changed out of his Superman costume or made any conscious effort to disguise his identity. (She comments on how similar they look at the end)
    • In the popular Elseworlds series Justice League: The Nail, Kal-El was found not by Jonathan and Martha Kent (whose car got a flat tire from running over a nail) but by an Amish family. After his adoptive parents were killed by the book's big villain, Kal took on the identity of Superman and joined the Justice League. In the sequel, "Another Nail", Kal is encouraged to take some time off. The Kents put together a disguise so he could blend in with the public. Their costume included a false beard and mustache that made him look rather creepy. Lois Lane then helped Kal with his disguise, suggesting a "less is more" approach; glasses, loose fitting clothes and a slight stoop to the shoulders. The disguise was essentially the classic Clark Kent look, prompting Kal to say, "You don't seriously think this is going to fool anyone?"
    • In one pre-Crisis story, Superman is to be featured on a postage stamp. He goes to great lengths to make sure that a side shot of him is chosen, rather than a full-face view, because if the stamp was postmarked in a town with a double-O in its name, the letters might land on his face in such a way that they resemble a pair of glasses, which might give away his secret identity. Presumably kids in the DC universe never doodle glasses and mustaches on newspaper photos, which might also be a bit of a clue.
    • Parodied in a Mad Magazine strip by Don Martin. Clark replaces his glasses with contact lenses, causing a receptionist at the Daily Planet to say, "Why, Clark! Without your glasses, you're, you're...why, you're SUPERMAN!"
      • In another Mad Magazine strip, Clark is depicted as having Superman's muscles nearly bursting out of his suit, and his cape sticking out of the back a little, commenting on what a Paper-Thin Disguise it was.
  • Clark Kent totally looks like Superman.
  • Superman: Secret Identity takes great pains to avert this. When out saving people, Clark makes sure to never let anyone see his face. He wears the Superman costume to make the witness accounts all the more ridiculous and unbelievable. Halfway through the series, he does take to wearing fake glasses in his civilian identity, but only because he was temporarily captured and doesn't want whoever did it recognizing him while passing him on the street (and he gets a lot of jokes about it at work). He's not trying to prevent people who know him personally from recognizing him, he's trying to prevent people who saw him unconscious and imprisoned from recognizing him if he has the bad luck to bump into them on the street. When he does meet people face-to-face in costume, he uses makeup and forms to alter his features enough to me unrecognizable and burns his fingerprints off of anything he handles in front of them. Despite all this, Agent Malloy still figures out his real identity.
  • One mockumentary done in 1988 (to celebrate Superman's 50th anniversary) suggested that one resident of Metropolis can tell, the dry cleaner he uses in both identities. When asked if he thinks Clark is Superman, the guy just says, "Well, suffice to say I've never seen them come in together!" with a brief chuckle.
  • All-Star Superman does this quite well - the slouch, shown in the page picture, actually goes a long way towards rendering Superman unrecognizable, as it alters his body dimensions much more than you would think. He also makes an effort to act clumsy and foolish as Clark, further separating the two personas.
  • The New 52 version of Clark uses most of the tecniques from All-Star Superman, and also has glasses that noticably magnify his eyes, making Clark look younger and more naive.
  • As this Three Panel Soul strip illustrates, a good shirt is an essential part of the disguise.
  • Clark even helps Lois out a little in one episode of The Animated Series, briefly lowering his glasses with a Sarcastic Confession. She still doesn't get it. See it here.

Anime & Manga[edit | hide]

  • Spoofed in Sekirei. Homura’s mouth cover would be moderately effective to hide his identity from people he only meets in the middle of battle once or twice, can’t really get a close look at him and have little or no chance to encounter him in his Kagari persona. He’s nevertheless absolutely baffled by the fact that Tsukiumi and Musubi, both of whom he lives with and have seen him very close-up in and out of disguise, can’t seem to figure it out.
  • Subverted in Busou Renkin. During the attack to the school, Kazuki tries to disguise himself with a scarf covering his face but it doesn't work. Why? Turns out his friends have known him so long they can recognize him as Kazuki from afar just by the way he walks and don't even need to see his face.
  • In Harlem Beat, Shu of Three Men is the alter ego of Sakurai Shuuji. Their only differences are the shades and attitude.
  • Spoofed at the end of the Pretty Sammy TV series, where the entire class reveals that they knew that Sasami was Sammy, but figured they weren't supposed to talk about it.
    • Possibly played straight in the Pretty Sammy OVA series - this was one of the main reasons why Sasami didn't want to be Pretty Sammy (the other was that the costume is ridiculous). However, when she goes on her first fight, no one recognizes her, so she takes it as a good sign. However, there were only three OVAs made, so it's not known if they would have went the TV route.
  • In fact, most Magical Girls look similar to their civilian counterparts, and before the 2000s, they usually looked exactly the same. Modern series like Tokyo Mew Mew, Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch and Futari wa Pretty Cure tend to change the characters' hair colour, eye colour and hairstyle to something extravagant enough that it would certainly distract any onlooker enough not to notice the magical girl's identical face. Maybe it wouldn't matter much if they did, anyway.
    • Tokyo Mew Mew is a particularly odd case, considering that, in their Mew Mew forms, the Mew Mews only add a "Mew" to their first name (e.g. Mew Ichigo) and somehow that prevents people from figuring it out—granted, in the manga (the original Japanese version anyway), the names aren't written the same, but this doesn't matter anyway. Though, in both versions, Ichigo's crush Masaya nearly recognizes her in her transformed form, and later figures out her identity. Another exception is that Minto was able to recognize the mysterious Mew Mew as her idol/crush Zakuro.
    • Futari wa Pretty Cure subverts the trope because regardless of their hair changes in color and style the enemy quickly figure out who the Pretty Cure are. As early as episode 3 Pisard simply follows some girls he sees wearing the same school uniforms as the cures and picks them out in a crowd. From then on they are attacked personally whether in civilian form or not. This continues up through Heartcatch with the only people unaware of who the Pretty Cures are are their family and friends. The enemy knows who they are from the start.
      • And Smile Pretty Cure averts this big time - everyone who's snapped out of the Bad End spell easily recognizes the Cures. It doesn't help that Miyuki can't keep her big mouth shut.
    • This trope applies mostly to Magical Girl Warriors though. Non-Sentai Magical Girls of the transforming variety such as Creamy Mami, Magical Emi and Minky Momo look radically different in their transformed state.
  • Every disguise put on by Team Rocket for the main characters in Pokémon, ever. In fact, the only "disguise" the main characters didn't fall for was "invisible suits" consisting of black suits with veils over their faces, and those managed to fool James's parents (the joke is somewhat Lost in Translation, as said "invisible suits" are actually outfits worn by bunraku puppeteers, who by tradition are ignored by the audience as they perform). Except when they're using a disguise for something wholly nonthreatening, like Pokémon contests. During contests, Ash and Brock occasionally speculate that Jessilina is actually Jessie, then hand wave it (mostly because Jessie only ever has two useful Pokémon at a time and the heroes recognize them when used).
  • Spoofed in My-HiME. Akira tries Clark Kenting as the "Secret Ninja of the School", but is immediately recognized by Takumi and proceeds to deny her true identity.
  • In Detective Conan, after being shrunk to a grade-school kid, the title character does the same thing as Clark Kent: wears a pair of glasses to hide his identity. It ususally works well, until he slips up and says information he shouldn't have known unless he was really Shinichi Kudo, who was supposed to be a distant relative. This leads to his girlfriend, Ran, becoming suspicious of him several times, but she always ends up discrediting her own finds because the evidence doesn't quite match up, due to some outside interference (usually planned by the protagonist himself). In one scene, when the character Ai Haibara returns to her original age, Conan offers her his glasses as disguise, saying that they work well enough for Clark Kent. The response from Ai is, "So are you saying you're Superman now?"
  • Parodied in Dragon Half: A giant, winged demon tries to disguise himself by putting on a pair of glasses. Nobody is fooled for a moment.
  • Subverted with brutal swiftness in Dragon Ball Z. Not only does Gohan's future girlfriend/wife Videl figure out that he is the "Great Saiyaman" in about 2 minutes (slightly longer in the anime version), she also figures out that he's the son of the last winner of the "Strongest Under the Heavens" tourney before her dad. His classmates take a little longer, but only just.
    • Played straight with Master Roshi as Jackie Chun, though—he doesn't don his usual shades and put on a wig.
      • However, Yamcha figures that one out easily enough, though he can't convince anyone because Roshi superglued the wig to his head and called in a favor to have someone stand in the audiance dressed as him, and Guku, who is not noted for his ability to read people, figures out that Jackie Chun is related to Master Roshi.
  • Gintama's Katsura Katora does this frequently. He most often dresses up in a pirate costume and calls himself "Space Captain Katsura" (yes, he actually uses his real name), though he has also also used "Katsuo" on an occasion (as in, Mario from Super Mario Brothers) with his pet/companion Elizabeth taking on the role of Luigi. With the exception of the the three main characters, no one else ever recognizes him.
    • Exception: When he briefly disguises himself as Elizabeth in order to infiltrate Takasugi's ship and actually succeeds in hiding his true identity during the Benizakura Arc. Ironically enough, Elizabeth also briefly dresses up as Katsura during this Story Arc by putting on a wig.
  • In Moetan (a parody of magical girl anime featuring a protagonist who tutors students in English), the magical girl of the show almost blows her own cover. One of her first lessons to her classmate/crush is, in Japanese and English, "Don?t you think that magical girls look the same even after they transform?"
  • Exception: In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha, the only reason the characters aren't recognised on sight is the fact they tend to fight slightly out of phase with reality—on the one occasion a non-mage saw them, they proceeded to spend the remaining two episodes of the series raving about how nothing made any sense any more.
  • Ranma ½: Ranma was able to trick Ryōga into thinking that female Ranma was his sister, just by putting on fake fangs and a head band (and despite the fact that Ryōga has no sister). This was neither the first, nor the last time Ryōga fell for such a disguise.
    • However, it only works on Ryōga. Akane can still tell she's Ranma, though in the above case she was temporarily confused by Ryōga introducing "Yoiko" as his sister, not having realised how thick the Lost boy could be.
  • Subverted in Mahou Sensei Negima! During the badge collection game, Yuna tries to trick Nodoka and Yue out of their badges, disguising herself with a mask during a festival. However, the two quickly realize who it is, as her distinctive side ponytail is quite clearly visible.
    • Later on, several people (Jack, Asuna, and Nodoka) disguise themselves in a busy place by putting on Clark Kent glasses... which are specifically labeled in author's notes as being a magical item with the effect of making the wearer blend into the background. Unfortunately, direct contact with other people tends to break the effect.
  • Justified in Powerpuff Girls Z, as anyone wearing the clothes one of the girls gets during her Transformation Sequence will appear to be that girl implying that the clothes have some kind of disguising power.
    • However only six girls in the entire series wear that style of belt buckle.
  • Subverted in Moldiver, when, once he has a hint of it, Professor Akagi only needs a few minutes to match the body shape of Hiroshi and the full-body-costumed Moldiver to confirm that they're the same person.
  • Puni Puni Poemi and Poemi Wantanabe look different enough for this to possibly work, except that they sound the same, have the same way of talking, both refer to themselves by the name of their voice actress, and the first time Poemi transforms into Puni Puni Poemi, she does it right in front of the Aasu sisters. Oh yeah, and they have the same name! And yet the Aasus are still surprised that Poemi is a Magical Girl.
  • Minami-ke has Makoto dressing up as a girl so that he can keep visiting Haruka. His entire (very convincing) disguise consists of a hairclip and skirt.
  • After the successful hijacking of a plane with Yutaka Takenouchi headed towards the US, one of the hijackers tries to avoid arrest by going to Cromartie High School and disguising as Takenouchi himself. The hijacker's disguise is actually his own mask with the kanji for 'Take' in 'Takenouchi' imprinted on it, but it somehow fools everybody in Cromartie into thinking he is Takenouchi. His disguise is a setup for some crazy situations, one in which Masked Takenouchi tells a story that gives the impression that Takenouchi has changed his character for the better, as if he had a rough life and a big criminal record. (The imposter is in his 30's.)
    • Hayashida finally figures out at the beginning of Cromartie Volume 4 that there are TWO Takenouchis, as the real one has finally come back to the US... on a bullet train with Cromartie's students on it. It doesn't help at all, then, that Masked Takenouchi suffers from motion sickness as well.
  • Princess Tutu is another Magical Girl anime that uses this trope. Ahiru doesn't really look all that different from Princess Tutu at first glance—even her Idiot Hair is still there, although the rest of her hairstyle seems to be cut shorter. However, Fakir is actively looking for Tutu and never notices the resemblance until Ahiru behaves so suspiciously (while wearing the necklace that Fakir knows Tutu needs to transform) that Fakir CAN'T deny it anymore. However, the trope is Justified similarly to Christopher Reeves' Superman—While Ahiru is klutzy, an awkward dancer and scatterbrained, Princess Tutu is graceful, poised, and expresses herself easily. Also, Tutu looks like an older version of Ahiru, including gaining a few inches of height and a more womanly figure.
    • This trope applies to Dark Magical Girl Princess Kraehe as well. The only difference between her and Rue is a different hairstyle, slightly narrower eyes, and heavy makeup, yet none of the characters seem to make the connection until Rue reveals herself.
    • Also to most people, Princess Tutu appears to be an enormous swan.
  • Not only doesn't anyone deduce any main character's secret identity in Sailor Moon (despite them using no disguise at all, with the exception of Tuxedo Mask and Sailor V), but most of the time the villains don't even bother to try. Notable exceptions are Nephrite and Zoisite: The former tried to find Sailor Moon by sending fake love letters from Tuxedo Mask, but eventually followed a false trail in the form of Naru; the latter discovered Tuxedo Mask's identity by pulling off his mask, proving that Clark Kenting seems to work on everyone but him. Most other adaptations don't seem to use the trope explicitly, although there they tend not to meet people they know while in costume anyway.
    • The manga dodged this trope completely—many people do recognize the Senshi out of costume, most notably Mamoru when he meets Usagi again after having seen her as Sailor Moon, Haruka and Michiru, who deliberately keep their distance, and numerous villains that target the Senshi one by one outside of battle without ever having met them before. A few minor characters also recognized the girls if they knew them as civilians and then later saw them as Senshi. Yet oddly Zoicite even notices that Usagi has the same hair-style as Sailor Moon, yet shrugs it off as the current fad. Also, most of the later villains could sense the Senshi by their energy, rendering the whole secret identity thing pointless.
    • The manga scene referenced above has both Mamoru and Usagi recognizing each other as Tuxedo Mask and Sailor Moon while in civilian clothes—or at least noticing the similarity. The key difference is that Usagi denies the possibility of Mamoru being her Mysterious Protector, while Mamoru actually takes the fact into account, suggesting that the ability to recognize the characters in disguise really depends on the person. (In contrast to the anime version, where Mamoru seemingly fails to draw a parallel between the Moon Princess, Usagi and Sailor Moon almost until she actually transformed in front of him.)
    • In the Live Action Adaptation Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon, the Sailor Senshi have black or brown hair and more or less plausible hairstyles in civilian forms, but the Transformation Sequence changes their hair to resemble the the styles and colors seen in the anime. It never explains why, but it's a lot more plausible as a disguise. And even with such a radical change in appearance, Ami still recognizes Usagi at first glance. Then again, she is a genius.
      • And the best part? Even when they're transformed, they address each other by their civilian names. In front of everyone. Go figure.
      • This was possibly carried over from the original edition of the manga, where they do call each other by their real names, although with some of the manga villains being able to recognize them anyway, this was at least excusable.
    • This goes both ways, as many recurring villains, most notably Jadeite, are never recognised from one flimsy disguise to the next.

Jadeite: This plan will surely work this time, because my glasses to disguise myself are much better than last episode's.

    • Also in the anime the Senshi themselves can't even see through eachothers Clark Kenting whiout being clued in. They only recognized civilian!Minako because Artemis was with her despite meeting her as Venus in the previous episode. The first few appearances of Haruka and Michiru had them appear as shadows while in civilian form, then once their civilian form was introduced this stopped and it still took a number episodes for Moon and the Guardian Senshi to discover they were the same people (As well as the reverse) even thought it's blatantly clear to the viewers. Setsuna also has to tell Usagi who she is though she seemed to had guessed at it.
    • An interesting ocurrence in the S season - Usagi and co. defeat Kaolinite and assume her to be dead. Some ten episodes later, Usagi visits Dr. Tomoe and sees Kaolinite there; and yes, she does go all "OMG the villain is alive!". But then Tomoe says it's just his assistant, Kaori, so Usagi assumes it's just two people with the exact same face and almost the same name. The dub (in which Kaolinite is called Kaori Night) takes it one step further - the "Kaori" alias was changed to... Kaori Night. So now, Serena assumes that they're just two people with the exact same face and the exact same name.
      • Usagi was also thrown off by the fact that Kaolinite was actually being nice and seemed normal. And she probably had to wonder why Kaolinite would be in a seemingly nice house and have stopped trying to extract pure hearts. But still, you'd think she'd keep a close eye on her (especially with Hotaru's behavior toward "Kaori") and have told the others about it.
      • The behavior difference is also likely what keeps Usagi and co. from recognizing Uranus and Neptune as Haruka and Michiru. When in their civilian forms, the two are very nice to them, in contrast to their Senshi identities. But, you'd think that the more experienced Haruka and Michiru could figure out that Usagi is Sailor Moon -- unless you support the theory that no one in their sane mind would suspect a clumsy crybaby of being a "soldier of love and justice".
  • The Samurai Pizza Cats. People don't recognize them, even though they're fired out of a cannon built into the pizza parlor, they have the same names as their alter-egos, and their combat forms are largely their civilian forms with some extra armor and weapons bolted on. In one episode, the narrator remarks "No one recognizes our samurai heroes in their secret identities! Don't ask why, just one of the quirks of the show."
  • Seishoujo Senshi Saint Valkyrie brilliantly skewers this -- everyone recognizes that Ai Hayama is Valkyrie Ai, despite her frantic protestations to the contrary.
  • In Wedding Peach, The Power of Friendship actually acts as a shield to keep the devils from seeing who the love angels are. So this is justified... sort of.
  • In Zeta Gundam, Char Aznable adopts the pseudonym "Quattro Bajeena", but his true identity is something of an open secret. The fact that he still uses a mobile suit in his signature color of bright red doesn't help.
    • This is more of a subversion - since most of the AEUG had never actually seen the infamous Red Comet, they wouldn't of known that this shade-wearing man was actually a Zeon Ace Pilot. It isn't until the heroes from Mobile Suit Gundam (who had no idea what Char looked like till the final arc of that series) step in that Char's identity is revealed.
  • In Gundam Seed Destiny, Athrun Zala pulls the same stunt Char did, disguising himself as "Alex Dino", Cagalli Yula Atha's bodyguard. People see through his disguise rather easily.
  • Kenshiro Kasumi in Fist of the Blue Sky disguises his true identity as "Yan-Wang" in public by giving himself a nerdy hairstyle and glasses.
  • One Piece: Usopp when disguised as Sogeking. The mask still reveals his long nose and he still wears his everyday clothes under his cape. The only two people fooled by this are Chopper and Luffy.
  • In Urusei Yatsura, the Kunoichi character Kaede uses a pair of glasses to disguise herself. Everyone sees through it except the ninjas chasing after her, whose disguises are just as minimalistic. (One is wearing a surgical mask, the other just painted two stripes on her eyepatch, and the ancient clan leader is also wearing glasses.)
  • Kaitou Saint Tail: The only difference between Meimi and St. Tail is the hairstyle (St. Tail's signature ponytail) and the clothes. However, the trope is subverted because Meimi acts completely different as Saint Tail (most evident part, Meimi is quite shy but becomes an hell of a showoff as Saint Tail), takes great care at not using her magic tricks as Meimi and goes to extreme lengths to not show her face as Saint Tail. In spite of this, she was nearly found out a number of times, both by her rival in love Rina (a few stories were dedicated to Meimi's attempts at convincing Rina that Meimi wasn't Saint Tail, ending when Rina was traumatized into thinking that Saint Tail was a moustached adult man) and her Love Interest and Sympathetic Inspector Antagonist Asuka Jr. (who in the end concluded that Meimi and St. Tail are merely lookalikes).
  • In Eyeshield 21, Sena is the eponymous Eyeshield 21, a running back with unbeatable speed. Sena is the only one with a build and height even remotely close to his "secret" identity. Most of the time he doesn't even bother coming up with a good excuse for not being there when Eyeshield 21 is. Mamori, his childhood friend and the team's manager, really takes a while to figure things out, given the clues she has on hand.
  • In Persona 4: The Animation, Rise Kujikawa tries this, but it doesn't work.
  • In Katekyo Hitman Reborn, the title character often uses a variety of different disguises that can be easily seen through by the audience, but Tsuna is the only in-universe character that shares this view.
  • Subverted in Bamboo Blade. When Kojiro asks Tamaki to dress up as a new freshman named "Bureiba" in order to fulfill his kendo team's five-member quota, his old mentor (who coaches Machido High School's all-girls team) isn't fooled, and notices during a friendly match with Kojiro's team that Tamaki's and "Bureiba"'s fighting styles are similar. After challenging "Bureiba" to an impromptu match (and losing handily), he states that he knew all along, but lets it slide because it was just for practice
  • On the first glance, Lelouch from Code Geass doesn't clark-kent, the full face mask and all. But on the other hand, if you remember that Nunnally is blind and tells people apart by their voices... Yes he does.
    • There's a voice changer installed in his helmet. It doesn't make a lot of difference, but...
      • Lelouch also changes the demeanour considerably; as himself he's a soft-spoken, kindly big brother as far as Nunnally is concerned, while as Zero he is a megalomaniac Large Ham.
    • A straighter example would be Euphemia li Britannia, who disguises herself amidst hostages under a pair of Clark Kent glasses. Nobody, not even the perpetrators know it's her until she takes them off.
      • It helps that nobody knew that there would be Britannian princess present at all, so they weren't looking for her. Also, at this point Euphemia is not very important, as far as the Britannian royalty goes, and not that many people know how she looks.
    • Lelouch and Nunnally are also exiled Britannian royalty, and they hide in plain sight under their real first names but using the made-up last name Lamperouge. Granted, they were somewhat obscure, not to mention only kids when they were exiled.
  • Subverted in Ryuusei no Rockman and Ryuusei no Rockman Tribe. Subaru Hoshikawa saves Luna Shirogane's life (several times!), but she does not know it is him. She has a crush on Rockman, and ironically, he is the same kid who goes to school with her and at whose house she tries to bake food for Rockman. Kizamaro Saishoin was one of the first to suspect that Subaru's real identity was Rockman, and by Ryuusei no Rockman Tribe, it's common knowledge to both him and Gonta Ushijima. Paradoxically, Luna refuses to admit this, and for the most part no one (even Subaru!) points out any of the many flaws in her logic. Eventually, however, as the series moves on, she seems to start like Subaru as well as Rockman, and in a touching moment before Rockman enters the Denpa-wave zone, she calls him 'Subaru' and tells him she is supporting him.
  • Subverted in Hayate the Combat Butler, when Hayate instantly sees through Nagi's disguise as "Mask the Money." But then played hilariously straight when Maria puts on sunglasses and claims to be a superhero maid—Nagi, her employer, fails to recognize her and wants to get her autograph.
  • Subverted by Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne in which several people comment that Maron and Jeanne resemble each other. In fact Miyako's whole reason for trying to capture Jeanne is so that she can prove Maron's innocence. Made even more ironic in that Jeanne has not only a different hairstyle but also a completely different hair color than Maron.
  • Used in an episode of Full Metal Panic! Fumoffu where Kaname disguises herself by putting her hair up and wearing a kimono. Nobody seems to think that that attractive blue haired lady looks just like the blue haired girl who left earlier.
  • In Dr. Slump, Suppaman (an inept Superman parody) disguises himself as a reporter named Kuraaku Kenta. Naturally, Penguin Village being a Cloudcuckooland, nobody ever recognizes him.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist has Lieutenant Hawkeye disguise herself by putting on glasses and letting down her hair. Ed and Al are dumbfounded upon the (rather quick) realisation that the blonde, young, gun-wielding woman who has rushed to their aid is blonde, young, gun-wielding Hawkeye.
  • Zorro's usual costume plays this trope already quite straight, but in Kaiketsu Zorro, all Diego does is put on a cape, a hat and a less covering than usual mask that doesn't hide his friggin' hair!
  • If anything, Kotetsu T. Kaburagi (AKA Wild Tiger) of Tiger and Bunny is an even more over-the-top example of Clark Kenting than Superman, possibly in reference to him-his design has a lot of nods to Western superheroes, anyway. As it'd be cumbersome for him to wear his costume in public at company-sponsored parties, especially now that it's Powered Armor, Kotetsu has to act as his Wild Tiger superhero identity outside of his Powered Armor. It might have worked in his traditional costume, which looked a little like Batman's costume, as it made it harder to compare his alter ego's face to his actual face in the same way that Clark and Superman have the same face-but now that he's wearing Powered Armor, a skilled observer could easily tell that Wild Tiger and Kotetsu are one and the same. How obvious is the Clark Kenting, you ask? He goes about doing this by dressing exactly as he always does - same waistcoat, same Nice Hat, and same goatee - but with a Domino Mask. On public television.
    • At one point, Kotetsu tries to prove to an Apollon Media security guard that he's Wild Tiger after he's been Unpersoned by putting on his mask in front of him. The guard points out that most people (including him) don't really pay attention to what Wild Tiger actually looks like beyond a few easily replicated Distinguishing Marks, and that he could easily be a reasonably convincing cosplayer trying to sneak in—something the guard deals with all the time.
    • Somehow, it even manages to fool his own daughter.
    • Karina Lyle (Blue Rose) and Pao-lin (Dragon Kid) are also examples as they go unmasked all the time and use copious amounts of hair dye, and in Karina's case, probably just as much makeup.
  • In Penguin Revolution, actor Ayaori Mashiba conceals his identity from the public by using the stage name "Makoto Ayaori," and by wearing Nerd Glasses and leaving his hair in a disordered mess when he's not on the job. The only person shown to ever see through this is the heroine, Yukari, who recognizes him only thanks to her unique ability to perceive star talent in the form of visible wings. The trope is justified in that Ayaori is an incredibly talented actor (although you'd think someone would at least notice the name).
  • THE iDOLM@STER - Haruka puts on glasses (and a hat) to avoid being recognized in public.

Comics[edit | hide]

  • Superman, naturally. See the "Trope Namer" section above for details.
  • Identity Crisis. Deconstructed, as villains discovered the secret identities all the time. The answer: a little mind wiping by Zatanna.
  • In the Comic series "Batman: Year One" Batman pulls off Clark Kenting in his first attempt at doing vigilante work by using make-up to make a distinguishing fake scar on his face. People focus on the scar so much they don't notice any other real details.
  • Wonder Woman also uses glasses as a disguise, although she changed her hairstyle as well. The fact that her abilities are magic-based may also help.
    • The original version stated Wonder Woman co-opted the identity of an actual Diana Prince (who, miraculously, looked exactly like her). This Diana then took off for South America to get married.
      • She returned later to ask for her name and credentials back so she could get a job to support her family while her husband, Daniel White (no, not that Daniel White—although the physical resemblance is truly terrifying) worked on an invention. Wonder Woman took Diana White's place temporarily, and found Dan to be like most men in her comics, a pig who chained her to the stove. Once his invention was accepted by the government, however, Dan mellowed, since Mrs. White could now continue being Donna Reed.
    • Superfriends once did a segment on Wonder Woman's origin. She put on a tiny little eye-mask and yet no one knew her, despite both being a princess and the fact she's lived around the same people so much that they should be able to tell its her.
  • Wiccan of the Young Avengers wears a headband and cloak as a superhero, leaving his face open to see. However, he is a Witch...
  • Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash, was an odd case. In his early adventures, he didn't seem to put any effort into keeping his identity secret whatsoever, and routinely did stuff like trying out for the Olympics under his own name, running at super speed. And in any event, his "Mercury" style helmet left his face uncovered. Later stories did have him use his secret identity (and everybody else just forgot it, apparently). His secret was supposedly was maintained by subtly vibrating his face at super speed while in public. Then in 1978, the semi-retired Garrick went "back" to having a public identity.
  • Viciously parodied in the 1980s-vintage independent comic book Megaton Man, in which the title character is a grotesquely over-muscled hulk, whose attempts to hide behind a Kent-like blue suit and glasses fool no one but himself.
  • Parodied in The Tick (animation), in which the title character attempts to adopt a secret identity by donning thick glasses, a tie and a flowered purse—while still wearing his antennaed blue spandex super-suit.
    • This is parodied constantly in The Tick, because the characters never appear outside their costumes. One episode featured him and American Maid posing as normal hotel guests, taking on assumed names, and the hotel concierge (working for the villain) only suspects something is up because the Tick picks an obviously made up name ("Nick Soapdish") and not because he's got two completely undisguised superheroes standing in front of him.
  • Subverted in Green Arrow, in one issue a cop that had been working with the hero turns up unexpectedly at Oliver Queen's home. Oliver asks in surprise "How did you know who I was?" The cop replied "Was it supposed to be a secret?" After that Oliver stopped even wearing a mask.
    • He was also instantly recognized by Mia Dearden, who pointed out that he uses a tiny little mask, has a one-in-a-million beard, and doesn't even bother to alter his voice when in costume.
    • Played straight later on, when Oliver Queen was elected Mayor of his home city without anyone noticing the similar taste in goatees.
  • Captain Marvel stories usually play this trope straight:
    • Captain Marvel Jr. is somehow able to keep a secret identity as Freddie Freeman despite the fact that his Marvel form looks exactly the same as his normal form. On the other hand, the fact that Freddie is legitimately disabled likely helps divert suspicion.
    • Likewise, Mary Marvel looks just like her alter ego Mary Batson, though Depending on the Writer, her superhero identity may be a "grown-up" version of her ordinary self. A bigger problem might be the fact that both identities share the same first name,[2] though this was avoided in the 1990s "Power of Shazam" series. In that version, "Captain Marvel" was treated (like, e.g., Green Lantern) more as a title than a unique name. Third parties would usually distinguish Mary from her brother by referring to her as "the lady Captain Marvel" or something similar.
    • Captain Marvel himself is normally an example of Older Alter Ego, but in Kingdom Come, the grown-up Billy Batson looks exactly like Marvel, which becomes an important plot point.
  • Golden Age superhero Captain Battle stretched the trope to the breaking point. In his civilian identity, he was William Battle, a World War I veteran who used to be a captain in the army. It didn't help that he didn't wear any disguise whatsoever while operating as a superhero. It doesn't help that he wears an eyepatch in both identities. One wonders how the intros for those stories went. "In his civilian guise, he is William Battle, the retired Captain! But when crime rears its ugly head, he puts on no disguise and becomes Captain Battle, man of mystery!"
  • Subverted in Invincible; best friend William figures out who Invincible is the first time Mark (Invincible) tries this in front of him.
    • His girlfriend, Amber, pretty much figures it out as well. When Mark's mom scolds him for letting so many people in on his identity, he protests that it's a lot harder fooling people in "real life" than in the movies.
    • It is however played straight with Atom Eve and Omni-Man. Especially when you realize that Omni-Man is both the world's most famous hero and, in his secret identity of Nolan Grayson, a popular and celebrated author.
    • Like the Superman example above Omni-Man/Nolan Grayson has fairly generic features to begin with. Furthermore as an author and writer (note: not a reporter) he can choose to keep a much lower profile than other celebrities and come off as a bit reclusive and eccentric. How many Calvin and Hobbes fans actually know what Bill Watterson looks like?
  • Subverted in The Authority. At one point, Apollo and Midnighter attempt to settle down in San Francisco, in order to give their daughter, Jenny Quantum, a vaguely normal childhood. As Apollo (a Superman Expy, who for this scene wears glasses) attempts to explain the concept of secret identities to Jenny, Midnighter ruins the whole charade by throwing the real estate agent 500 feet into a lake when he upped the asking price of the house they were looking at.
  • Parodied in an issue of The Avengers. Quasar, a member of the team, shows up at the mansion in his civilian identity and wearing a pair of glasses; every Avenger he meets thinks "I hope Quasar doesn't think those glasses are disguising anything."
  • Parodied in Gold Digger in the school days of one of the main characters. When some of the school staff turn out to be evil and try and conduct mind control experiments on the student body, Brittany "Cheetah" Digger's best friend convinces her to join her as a superhero as "Pink Avenger and the Cheets". Despite the fact that Brittany is the only werecheetah in the world, and the only non-human student in the school and probably city, the evil villains never saw through the disguise during their entire school stay. The rest of the student body, on the other hand... figured it out in about five seconds making it a big The Not-Secret to them, but keeping quiet out of approval.
  • Perfectly demolished in a Spider-Man story in which Ben Urich places a call to Peter Parker's cell phone, implies that he knows Peter's secret, and requests a meeting. Once on the roof of the Daily Bugle, Spider-Man asks how Urich could have figured this out. Ben's response goes on for several panels. Some of the highlights: "Peter, I'm an award-winning investigative journalist at a major metropolitan newspaper. We've been working out of the same offices, and frequently assigned to the same stories, for something like eleven years now. I'm honestly insulted you thought I was never going to figure this out." "You frequently smelled like smoke. You know who else always smelled like smoke? Matt Murdock. You told me once that you knew Daredevil was Matt Murdock. Now, how could a substitute science teacher and part-time photojournalist possibly know that Matt Murdock, a blind lawyer in Hell's Kitchen, was the vigilante Daredevil. Oh, right." Of course, a few years prior to this the fact that Murdock was Daredevil became public knowledge but had since been dismissed as false; this provides a perfectly reasonable explanation for that last one.
    • The time Peter told Ben he knew Matt Murdock was Daredevil was actually DURING the story arc where Daredevil's identity was revealed. The conversation happened before Murdock was outed in public. It actually happened because Jameson had decided to pursue an attempt to unmask Daredevil with a vengeance, and both Peter and Urich told him that they already knew who he was, but wouldn't tell him or report on it. So, long story short, that was a legitimate clue.
    • And yet, people even CLOSER to Peter than Ben, some of whom also are journalists, never figured it out. This was obviously just a way to make Urich look Badass.
    • This trope was further spoofed in another Spider-Man comic where Spider-Man briefly meets another hero, who is clearly a Marvel Comics parody of Superman. When this hero shows up without a mask on his face, Peter Parker asks how he disguises himself. The man's response is to pull out a pair of glasses and put them on. It fails.
    • Touched on in yet another issue where one of Spider-Man's contacts offhandedly refers to him as a New Yorker. When Peter responds with "How do you know I live in the city?" the man just smirks and replies "Ask me again with that Queens accent how I know where you're from."
    • Despite all of this however, Spider-Man is generally not an example of this trope as his costume covers the entirety of his body.
  • In the 1960s Disney comics spoofing Superman, no one could ever figure out why they never saw Goofy and Super Goof in the same place. This was carried over into animation through an episode of House of Mouse; at the end, Clarabell thought that Super Goof's secret identity was Dumbo. For those not familiar with the character: Super Goof is basically Goofy in long underwear and a cape. He doesn't even wear a mask.
    • It's stated it's because nobody WANTS to believe Goofy is Super Goof. The one time the Beagle Boys tried to use the police new supercomputer to find out his secret identity, everybody thought the supercomputer was still damaged by Super Goof's earlier sabotage when the computer actually told them it's Goofy.
  • In one issue of The Uncanny X-Men the beaten up father of Bobby Drake/Iceman, while lying in a hospital, asks Gambit a few questions. Bobby's father doesn't understand why some people engage in the X-Men although some of them are perfectly fine looking, just like Gambit, seeming to ignore his pretty unusual eyes. One can't blame him for that, even many colorists forget that Gambit doesn't have normal eyes, or make them blue instead of red.
  • Like everything else about Superman, this was parodied/deconstructed in Supreme Power. Mark Milton tells his government handlers he can disguise himself—and puts on a pair of glasses. The agents just shoot him that look. The fact that Hyperion has no secret identity and thus no real human contact is one of the reasons he becomes so unhinged later. Goddammit, they should've let him wear the glasses...
    • His original Squadron Supreme counterpart wore a tiny domino mask as Hyperion that covered no more than glasses would, and when the Squadron "went public", he removed it on television as if it were a dramatic Reveal.
  • Samaritan's civilian disguise in Astro City is just a pair of glasses and change of hair colour, but it's actually quite convincing, even to the reader. Of course, there is the fact that his civilian name is Asa Martin, an anagram of Samaritan.
  • In the early Silver Age Human Torch, "everybody knows that Sue Storm is the Invisible Girl, but no one knows her brother Johnny is the Human Torch". After the writers realized how stupid this plot point was, they retconned it into everyone knowing, but since they were aware of Johnny's attempts at hiding it, they respected that he didn't want them to talk about it. An earlier story where the brilliant Wizard tries, and fails, to learn Johnny's identity is quietly ignored, and he knows perfectly well who the Torch is in his next appearance.
  • Parodied in The Inferior Five, where even though only Awkwardman wears a mask, nobody knows their true identities. Heck, even Awkwardman is pretty obvious. "Nobody suspects clumsy, oafish Leander Brent is really clumsy, oafish Awkwardman!... I wonder how come?"
  • More subtly parodied in The Intimates. The teacher of the Secret Identity class is Mr. Hyde (referring to the dual identities), who greatly resembles Superman and wears glasses. Lampshaded by one of the series' signature infoscrolls in the final issue after he finally uses one of his powers: "Can anyone guess what kind of 'vision' does Mr. Hyde have? (Hint: It's temperature based, as well as being the complete opposite of 'cold')"
  • Lampshaded in The Trouble with Girls. In one storyline, Lester Girls decides to try disguising himself using a pair of glasses and the pseudonym Leroy Gals. Though his internal dialog also mentions that he's also subtly altering his posture, voice, etc. Of course he promptly meets and begins a romance with his reocuring foil who's disguised herself by wearing a brunette wig.
  • Conner Kent, the second Superboy, is one of the more ridiculous examples. He uses glasses like Clark Kent does, but he doesn't wear a freaking costume. His "costume" as Superboy is a black S-symbol t-shirt, jeans and work boots. That's right, he takes off his glasses and changes shirts, and no one recognizes him.
  • Cassie Sandsmark, the second Wonder Girl, wears a similar ensemble, but as of the most recent[when?] version of Teen Titans starting in 2003, she does not have a secret identity, which caused problems finding a school that would take her.
    • Though originally she had the ingenuity to wear a black wig and goggles, though even then her costume was mainly thrown together from what was already in her closet.
  • Power Girl carries on the Kryptonian tradition in her own series, simply wearing a slightly different hairstyle as Karen Starr. Although (especially as drawn by Amanda Conner) she is unusually good at dressing in layers, it's still hard to believe people don't make a connection. Indeed, several people do figure it out, which is lampshaded by Atlee, the latest Terra, who points out that Power Girl and Karen Starr look exactly the same. This was also lampshaded by Superman himself, who recommended against making Karen Starr the public face of her company, noting that she's not very good at maintaining an effective secret identity.[3]
  • Black Canary doesn't wear a mask, but the original Black Canary, Dinah Drake, wore a blonde wig, as did her daughter Dinah Laurel Lance, originally. The younger Canary now simply dyes her hair blonde, however, and while her secret identity was acknowledged to be a relatively thin one, it was made public by villains in a 2010 Birds of Prey storyline.
  • Red Arrow has one of the tiniest masks in comics. Seriously, it conceals about as much of his face as a pair of sunglasses would. Earlier in his career, as Arsenal, Roy Harper used sunglasses as his only mask. Even earlier, as Speedy, Roy wore a more traditional Robin-style domino mask.
  • In Italian Donald Duck comics, Donald has a superhero alter ego called Paperinik. Daisy, likewise, has taken to fighting crime under the guise of Paperinika. Despite this, the two don't actually like to work together and neither knows the other's secret identity. Which is fine... except that in the American translations, Paperinika is renamed "Super Daisy", but the stories are otherwise translated straight. This has the effect of making Donald look like a complete moron since he can't figure out who she really is.
    • Paperinik, on the other hand, is called "The Duck Avenger" in English, so the trope doesn't work both ways.
    • Paperinik's disguise works for a very good reason: the police verified he wasn't Donald. When Paperinik was still just an avenger of Donald Duck and his mere appearance was enough to terrify the entire city,[4] everybody noted that Donald looked alike Paperinik and the police saw their cars were identical, but when they examinated the car they found none of Paperinik's gadgets. Donald had just been at Gyro's place to take them off.
    • Paperinika's disguise is not that effective: when Donald first met Paperinika, he called her Daisy and asked her why she was dressed like that. Paperinika then managed to convince Donald she wasn't Daisy, and as Donald is known for his dislike of Paperinika he accidentally made her identity safer.
    • Another example is when Paperoga (Fethry Duck) becoming the debatably useful superhero Bat-Paperoga (or "Red Bat" in other countries). It's an obvious spoof of Batman and it doesn't even try to hide the actual identity. Of course it's Played for Laughs.
    • And taken even further with José Carioca's alter-ego Morcego Verde (Green Bat), another Batman spoof:[5] His costume is less concealing than Fethry's and while he's wearing it his friends still call him "Zé" or, at their most secretive, "Hey Zé... I mean, Morcego!"
  • Vixen from the Justice League is another maskless DC hero, although the rest of her costume may be enough of a distraction - or maybe she just has a public id, since her civilian profession is apparently 'supermodel'.
  • Spoofed in The Mighty Thor, when after losing the ability to turn into his mortal alter-ego Donald Blake, Thor has to come up with a new human disguise that will distract people from the fact that he's still almost seven feet tall with long blond hair and the physique of a god (literally!). Nick Fury hands him a pair of eyeglasses, noting that "they always worked for that other guy!" As if that wasn't enough, Thor then walks out the door and runs straight into a clumsy, oversized newspaper reporter named Clark, who thinks, "Gee, that looked like... I could have sworn... naaaah." It gets even more ridiculous when Thor grows a beard and maintains it in his civilian identity.
    • Later on, Thor's boss deduces that "Sigurd Jarlson" is far too athletic to be anything other than a superhero—Clearly he is none other than Spider-Man.
    • Spoofed harder by Beta Ray Bill, who on one occasion reverted to his pre-Super Soldier form and toured New York City with an overcoat and a set of false glasses w/ rubber nose and mustache. The alien race Bill was born to, although roughly humanoid, are all hairless, lack external noses or ears, and are bright orange.
    • Subverted with Eric Masterson when he wielded Mjolnir in Thor's stead, and actually grew a full blond beard whenever he transformed. It's even subverted by the Absorbing Man when he gets a good look at Masterson's face and realizes that Masterson isn't the same Thor that he's been fighting for so many years.
    • There was also the time Thor, in his later, more typical Clark Kent-ian alter ego Sigurd Jarlson, told a story to a friend's children about Thor and had to dodge accusations that he was really Thor himself afterwards. The children later discover the truth when they snoop in Jarlson's bag and find Mjolnir, although they promise to be good Secret Keepers and not tell anyone.
  • In various incarnations of the Teen Titans, Beast Boy puts Raven's attempt at a secret identity through its paces by frequently going to see her at school. None of her classmates seem to find it odd that she's constantly talking to green animals, though.
  • Kyle Rayner's first appearance as the new Green Lantern, before he chose the mask that covers most of his face, suggests that some people will be fooled and others won't. A woman rushes up to him proclaiming that he saved her years ago and asks if he remembers her, while a man comments on the new Green Lantern's different hair.
  • Supreme does it exactly the same way as Superman. As a kid he used to dye his hair, while changing into Kid Supreme, but he stopped when he realized nobody recognizes him anyway. At some point in a story Diana Dane realizes that Supreme and Ethan Crane look alike, but quickly dismisses it and points out some differences, like Ethan being shorter. She later suddenly realizes that Ethan IS Supreme. Supreme actually wonders why even Evil Genius Darius Dax gets fooled by it.
  • Greyshirt is a pastiche of The Spirit, and as such he doesn't have a dual identity... but news sources have widely speculated him to be former gangster Franklin Lafayette. Again, not that this matters because Franklin Lafayette is officially missing and presumed dead and Greyshirt doesn't keep a secret identity, but the point (and subversion) is that people are almost certain about who is under that mask.
  • For a brief time in Iron Man, Tony Stark decided to become a normal 9-5 worker and so he shaved off his facial hair and put on a pair of glasses.
  • Somewhat mocked in Empowered, where while stalling for time, the titular heroine tells her captors that she's actually a guy and is wearing a highly convincing 'gynocamoflauge' suit to appear female, as nobody would suspect a hero's secret identity to be the opposite sex. When they buy it (because everyone knows superheroes are messed up), she goes on to claim that one of her male teammates is a woman in a male-looking armoured suit which she originally built to control her hot flashes, a female one is really a guy with very nice legs, and a third is actually a mutated cocker spaniel. Said teammates are not happy about this when the 'truth' hits the headlines.
    • Although Emp wears a mask as part of her standard costume (which is usually the only part of her costume to stay on, she had a job at one point as an Empowered impersonator, and put on a completely unconvincing Southern accent as part of her 'disguise'. Well, in addition to the knockoff Empowered costume.
      • Would you expect a superhero to work as an impersonator of herself? I wouldn't, and apparently the other superhero impersonators and a legitimate supervillain didn't too.
  • In Issue #0 of the Batwoman series Batman has been surveilling Katherine "Kate" Kane to determine if she is the person behind the Batwoman mask. He knows she has the skill to be Batwoman, she is the daughter of two career soldiers and she earned the position of Cadet Captain at the Military Academy at West Point, and she also has the motivation: her mother and twin sister were murdered when they and she were kidnapped in her childhood, but he does not know if she has the drive to be Batwoman. To test her he decides to "mug" her and see how she reacts, and he disguises himself with a black wig. Only a black wig. In the narration, he muses how "Clark" always said the simple disguises were the best. Batwoman herself averts the trope; not only does she wear a face-concealing mask, but her long red hair is actually a wig that covers her much shorter (albeit still red) hair.
  • The Marvel Comics Avenger hero Echo utilized the perfect disguise to escape legions of ninja warriors. A man-suit. Being a slender female, bulky fake muscle/armor hid her curves well. Those without super-senses were fooled.
  • Fables has the Witching Cloak which can disguise the wearer in many ways and means. The Big Bad knows this and instructs his soldiers to question anyone with a funny backstory. A new soldier's transfer story is torn apart and he is slain. The wearer of the Witching Cloak had been a cleaning lady all along.
  • Played straight for a while in Wolverine, with Logan creating himself the secret identity of "Patch" in Southeast Asia, which consisted of putting on an Eyepatch of Power and not popping his claws. This was later subverted: apparently everyone realized there aren't a lot of short hairy men with wingtip hair, but decided it was safer to just humor The Berserker who stores knives up his wrists.
  • For a while, Starfire of the Teen Titans managed to keep a secret identity as a model by simply covering her glowing green eyes with a pair of sunglasses. Apparently no one noticed her orange skin. Apparently people just thought it was fake and a celebrity gimmick, but have you seen her body? Or her hair?
  • A tie-in to Crisis Crossover Fear Itself shows that Speedball has been working at a volunteer organization devoted to helping survivors of the Samford Disaster. Since he's blamed for said disaster (rather than the villain who actually did the killing), he's been disguising himself with a pair of glasses. Being the Marvel Universe, people are smart enough to see through it. Being the Marvel Universe, people are also stupid enough to try and beat up the indestructible guy whose powers are fueled by pain.
  • Perhaps the most over-the-top parody of this trope ever can be found in Elseworlds 80 Page Giant. It features a title page from a fictional Silver Age story where Batman's secret identity is Adam, as in "Garden of Eden" Adam. Despite the fact that he is literally the only man in the world, Eve still can't figure out that Batman and Adam are the same person.
  • Phantom Lady, at least for most of The Golden Age of Comic Books, didn't wear a mask or change her hairstyle and still managed to keep her identity secret from her boyfriend (and everyone else).
  • Averted in Batman during the year that Dick Grayson was filling in for Bruce as Batman. It takes James Gordon approximately ten seconds to go 'You're two inches shorter than the guy who normally wears that costume, so what the hell is going on here?' It takes Dick recounting several incidents they shared from his prior career as Robin before Gordon accepts that, yes, he is Batman's legitimate replacement, and even then he is still obviously aware that the current occupant of the Bat-costume is not the original one.

Fan Fiction[edit | hide]

  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic Progress, Princess Luna wants to learn more about modern life, having spent a millenium as Sealed Evil in a Can, so she disguises herself as the mortal pony Miss Selene. To avoid being recognized, she uses a magic amulet that causes onlookers to not register the fact she is who she is. The shape of the amulet? A pair of glasses.
  • In The Secret Return of Alex Mack, Alex makes an extensive effort to visually differentiate herself from her superhero identity, Terawatt. Terawatt's masked costume incorporates platform boots, a padded bra and a shoulder-length light-blonde wig along with subtle makeup (actually coloration on a saran-wrap-thin sheet of plastic that adheres to her face, for near-instant application) to appear older and much taller, and she deepens her voice and speaks in a manner she sometimes thinks of as pompous. Meanwhile, in her "civilian" identity, she's gradually dyed her hair several shades darker than her natural blonde and cut it pixie-style, and habitually wears flats to appear much shorter than Terawatt. Terawatt also tends to hover anywhere from a couple inches to a foot and a half off the ground at all times just to reinforce the illusion of height; most observers think she's in the vicinity of six feet tall or more (as compared to Alex's 5'7"). Played with a bit, also, in that Terawatt occupies a role in her world much like Superman's in the DCU—and her secret identity is a journalist. (Well, journalism student.) Averted several times by persons (most notably Sheila Rosenberg and Margaret Walsh) who put together a lot of little details—her chin, her gestures, a few other things—and figure out her identity.

Films -- Live Action[edit | hide]

  • One could say that this was subverted in the classic Richard Donner Superman films: Christopher Reeve's vastly differing (not to mention EXCELLENT) portrayals of Clark Kent and Superman really made you feel that he could get away with the disguise. To play the role of Clark Kent, he wore the glasses and slicked his hair back, sure, but he also slouched, stammered, and raised his voice by an octave so that there was a tangible difference between Christopher Reeve as Clark Kent and Christopher Reeve as Superman. This is most obvious in the scene from Superman where he's about to tell Lois the truth (but doesn't), and in Superman 2 where she figures it out on her own. All Reeve does is stand up straight and speak in his normal voice and suddenly he's another person. Superman 2, 3, and 4 also throw in a form of Obfuscating Stupidity to the mix by making Clark The Klutz to add to the disguise.
    • In an interview given after Reeve's death, Margot Kidder (Lois) says that Reeve was adamant that Clark Kent behave nothing like Superman. To paraphrase Kidder, "Clark moves differently, his shoulders are held differently... he's a completely different person."
    • A similar good example comes in Superman Returns, where Lois explains Superman's height to Richard. Richard then says: "How tall would you say Clark is?" Clark draws their attention by clumsily knocking something over, then waves at them with a silly/embarrassed grin on his face, looking for all the world like a complete ditz, and Lois and Richard both burst out laughing.
  • Parodied in Mystery Men, as one of the character realizes that Captain Amazing looks identical to his "benefactor", but without glasses. The theory gets shouted down, as without glasses, he couldn't see anything.
  • Semi-Film, Semi-Real Life Example: Albert Walker of The Agony Booth has twice admitted that he was fooled by the disguises of characters in some of the bad movies he's reviewed, which is shameful given the otherwise low quality of everything else in the given films. Specifically: Gene Simmons in Never Too Young To Die, who dresses up as a friendly agent despite his character being a flagrantly over-the-top transvestite, and Paul Freeman in Shanghai Surprise, supposedly dead and disguised, again, as an ally.
  • Count Olaf (played by Jim Carrey) in the film version of Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events disguises himself as a scientist named Stephano (false mustache and a shaved eyebrow) and a sea captain called Captain Sham (wooden leg, and a beard). Although in the books Olaf can easily be recognised when in disguise because he has a tattoo of an eye on his ankle, his disguises are still comically inept.
  • Lampshaded in the movie Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi: total nerd Suri disguises himself as fashion victim Raj by shaving his moustache, changing haircut and putting other clothes on. He later explains to a friend that if he managed to fool his wife with the disguise, it's only because God decided to help him. The trope is also slightly subverted because, like in Donner's Superman movies, it's not just the clothes that change but the character's whole behaviour. Suri and Raj talk, move and behave differently, which later leads Suri to become jealous of Raj because he wonders if people do not prefer him (why hello there, Split Personality!).
  • In The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939), Sherlock Holmes (Basil Rathbone) disguises himself as a singer at a party. His disguise is so good that he feels audacious enough to get on stage in front of everyone and sing a tune. His disguise? Nothing more than a fake mustache. It's all in his facial contortions and mannerisms, and it comes across as totally plausible that nobody would recognize him.
  • Played utterly and painfully straight in Public Enemies. John Dillinger walks into the FBI office dedicated to hunting him down, plastered with his own picture and talks (briefly) to a detective there. Needless to say, no one recognizes him. Apparently Johnny Depp with a tiny beard, sunglasses, and a straw hat is insdistinguishable from cleanshaven Johnny Depp with a fedora. This also happens to a much less extent at another point in the movie where he's sitting in a movie theatre that broadcasts a public announcement urging the theatre goers to look for This Man, turning left and right in their seats to look around for him. Once again, he goes unnoticed.
  • In It Happened One Night, Peter and Ellie fool the detectives who are sent by Ellie's father with acting like a low-class married couple.
  • Subverted in The Phantom, or at least in the Rob MacGregor novelisation. Diana works out the Phantom's identity without much help, telling him that she first began to figure it out when he appeared moments after Kit disappeared.
  • Mocked by Mad Magazine in their spoof of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. April: "Why do you wear a mask?" Raphael: "So no-one knows I'm a turtle, of course!" The turtles' masks are doubly silly because they don't have a secret civilian identity: if anything, their masks exist to reveal their identity, not to conceal it.
  • Cillian Murphy's character in Peacock is a quiet wage-slave who keeps to himself. Cillian Murphy's other character in Peacock is a woman who lives in the same house, looks curiously similar, and often appears right after Cillian has gone upstairs (you know, plus the time it would take to put a wig and some eyeliner on). Nobody ever gives any sign of knowing, the only possible rationalization being that maybe in small-town 1950s Nebraska, maybe it just didn't occur to them that Cillian Murphy would probably wear a dress given half a chance.
  • In Sugar and Spice, the cheerleading squad robs the supermarket bank branch, dressed as...cheerleaders. In Betty doll masks. Arguably Fridge Brilliance as: 1)Who would suspect actual cheerleaders of robbing banks, and: 2)The number of cheerleading groups in a general area.
  • Subverted hilariously in Green Lantern. Hal Jordan tries to disguise his voice while speaking to Carol Ferris. It works for about a minute, but as soon as she gets a good look at him she knows who he is.

Carol: I've known you my whole life! I've seen you NAKED! You don't think I would recognize you because I can't see your cheekbones?!

  • Jason puts on a fake mustache to imitate his father to fool the principal in Mystery Team. It doesn't work.
  • Played with in Steel where, due to the title character being 7-feet tall, those who see him in both identifies know. Lampshaded with the Big Bad:

Burke: (upon seeing Steel for the first time): "Now I wonder who that is."


Literature[edit | hide]

  • The villains in A Series of Unfortunate Events seem to be quite good at this, possibly because most of them are identified by a few distinguishing features—such as a monobrow, baldness, or very pale faces.
  • Cleverly averted in The Shadow Pulp Magazine, where readers are first led to believe his secret identity is Lamont Cranston (as he is in the radio show) but the very next novel has the real Lamont Cranston wake up to The Shadow, Master of Disguise, in his room, quite perfectly borrowing his face. The Shadow also commonly goes by five other identities, some borrowed, some invented, as well as single-use identities in many stories. Readers had to wait seven years to find out his real Backstory in "The Shadow Unmasks," which involved Faking the Dead twelve years beforehand and arranging to be miraculously "found" when he needed a new primary identity.
  • Ripliad: Tom Ripley pulls this off very successfully in the first novel: blonde hair and a big smile, and he's Dickie Greenleaf. Slightly darker hair, a meek slouch and non-prescription horn-rimmed glasses, and he's Tom Ripley. Subverted twice because (a) the novel goes into extreme detail about Tom's preparations and his fear of being caught, and (b) Tom is so completely batshit insane, he almost believes he's two different people.
  • In Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, Lisbeth Salander had insisted on her punk rocker girl appearance so heavily, even comically exaggerated it during her trial, that she could adopt any other persona and nobody would recognize her, as they were not expecting that. She disguised as a blonde and carried a fake passport by the name 'Irene Nesser' and nobody, policeman, border guard or airport security man cared to look closer.
  • In David Eddings' The Malloreon, 'Zakath takes advantage of this after he's more or less shanghaied into joining the companions on their quest. Despite being the Emperor of nearly half the world, all he has to do is grow a beard and change clothes to go unrecognized; he explains that most of his subjects have only ever "seen" the Emperor as an image on coins, and of the minority that have seen him in person, most saw only the guards, attendants, and trappings around him. No-one would expect to see the Emperor riding through the backcountry unattended, unshaven and in ordinary clothes.
  • The Star Wars Expanded Universe gives us Corran Horn, who hides as one "Kieran Halcyon", with some dye to make himself a blonde. Everywhere
  • This phenomenon is mentioned in a few Discworld books, but Moist Von Lipwig of Going Postal and Making Money turns Clark Kenting into a lifestyle and an artform.
  • In Beyond The Blue Moon, Rupert and Julia return to the Forest Kingdom as Hawk and Fisher, and count on their both having aged to conceal their real identities. With the masses, it seems to work, mostly because their official portraits are so idealized as to look nothing like they'd looked even when they were younger; at the end it's subverted, as everyone who'd actually known them admits that they'd recognized them both immediately, but kept quiet about it for reasons of politics and/or to respect their wish for anonymity.


Live Action TV[edit | hide]

  • LazyTown villain Robbie Rotten wears at least one Paper-Thin Disguise in all but a few episodes, yet is never recognised even by the adult characters until he is 'unmasked', usually due to his hat falling off. In one episode, he removes all but the headpiece of his costume, yet is not recognised until the headpiece comes off, and in another episode (The Laziest Town) serves free ice cream to the townschildren unquestioned while wearing just a false moustache and a food service hat.
    • Subverted later in the same episode, when Robbie walks into Mayor Meanswell's office still wearing the moustache. The Mayor had this to say:

Mayor: Hi Mr. Rotten. Did you grow a moustache?

  • Teri Hatcher, appearing on Saturday Night Live during the run of Lois and Clark, got the opportunity to mock this during her opening monologue. She starts by telling the audience about the teasing she gets for playing the clueless Lois Lane, but explains that it's just part of the show and nobody is really that dumb. Then Will Ferrell comes on and asks if he can make an announcement. He puts on a pair of reading glasses... and Teri starts panicking, asking "Oh my God, who are you?! Where's Will?!"
    • While Cain isn't quite the master of dual roles that Reeve was, he still did a fairly good job of making Clark and Superman two very different characters. Clark is cheeky, casual, and aggressive when he has to be. Superman is stiff and authoritative.
    • In terms of the secret identity even being an issue, Lex Luthor's realization that Superman has a secret identity and "walks among us" is a key turning point for Luthor's antagonism toward Superman partway through Lois and Clark's first season.
    • In another episode, Lois gets Supes' powers and dons a costume as "Ultrawoman". Just before facing Jimmy and the Chief, she panics: "They'll recognize me." "No they won't," Clark calmly assures her—and they don't!
    • In another famous scene in Lois and Clark, Tempus, a man from the future, comes back in time and tells Lois that she's famous... for being "the most galactically stupid woman who ever lived", demonstrating by putting on and taking off a pair of glasses over and over saying "I'm Clark Kent! No, I'm Superman!" Turn that light down, would you?
    • The assassin Deathstroke (no, not that one; this guy had magnetic powers) donned a pair of glasses when he and his wife socialized with Lois & Clark in their civilian identities and neither he nor Superman recognized each-other, despite having given the Man of Steel a serious beating earlier, which proves even Superman can be fooled by a pair of specs.
    • A few people have noticed how much Superman looks like Clark Kent without glasses. They're either dying in Superman's arms or, in the case of Lois, waved it off as being under the influence of a Love Potion and idealizing the object of her affection (Clark) as looking like Superman.
      • With the love potion, Superman pretended to be influenced by it when he had had it applied to him in his disguise, so Lois did have a situation where Superman and Clark seemed to react to the potion differently, making potion reaction a theoretical difference. Why this does not cause an unrelenting investigative reporter like Lois Lane to want to know why Clark can resist something that overcomes even superman probably raises more questions than it answers.
  • Jack Styles from Jack of All Trades wears a hat and mask to obscure his identity as the Daring Dragoon, but doesn't do anything to hide the fact that he's the only one on the island with an American accent, that he has the same style of ridicule toward the captain, and showed up the same day Jack did.
  • Hilariously referenced in the live-action Tick series, where a Superman-like hero dons a pair of glasses (still wearing his costume, mind you), and The Tick immediately mistakes him for someone else.
    • At the end of the episode, the hero was taking off and putting on his glasses every few seconds right in front of everyone, and The Tick forgot who he was each and every time.
  • Stephen Colbert has been known to drop hints. Mild-mannered reporter, hmm? The hair does look familiar...
  • Regularly parodied in Allo Allo with LeClerc. Whenever he arrives in one of his pathetic disguises, he pulls Rene aside and says "It is I- LeClerc!". He confirms this by raising his glasses, which is a bit absurd since he normally wears glasses anyway. On occasion, he has revealed himself by removing a false moustache... exposing the nearly identical real mustache he always has. Naturally this exasperates Rene no end.
  • The Power Rangers. Their idea of keeping their identities secret is to always hang out together and wear clothes that, in some way, correspond to which Ranger color they are.
    • Somewhat justified by the full face helmets and the fact that the color clothes are a subtle clue clue.
    • Even more justified for for young Justin in Power Rangers Turbo as Bulk and Skull point out he's too short to be a Power Ranger.
    • There are also some episodes wherein people try to find out the Rangers' secret identities, but once the truth glares them in the face they ignore it. Then what was the point of trying!?
    • Many is the time the team members call one another by name in front of civilians with nary a consequence. Hilariously subverted in Power Rangers RPM, where the "Ranger (Color)" designation is often used in combat when they are one of the teams whose identities are NOT secret.
    • Wild Force is one several seasons where the Rangers simply don't have secret identities, or simply don't bother to maintain them (others being Lost Galaxy, Lightspeed Rescue, Time Force, SPD, Operation Overdrive, and RPM). They seem to dish out the information on a need-to-know basis, but don't actively try to keep the secret
    • In Power Rangers Dino Thunder villainess Elsa manages to spend most of the season working as the principal of the Rangers' high school. Her disguise is limited to a business suit, glasses, and eventually, a haircut. It's even lampshaded practically by name when her identity is revealed.
      • This one is especially bizarre as with the way the reveal is played, it seems the producers seriously thought the audience wouldn't recognize her either.
  • Hannah Montana. All the girl does is put on a wig and sparkly clothing and she is instantly unrecognizable.
    • Miley Stewart does tend to act a bit more "small town country girl" when she isn't Hannah. Maybe not Christopher Reeve level, but still a possible example of personality making a difference.
    • Her best friend and sidekick disguises herself by wearing multi-colored wigs and dressing up in punk(ish) clothes. Her father disguises himself by wearing a fake mustache. When Miley's male friend was let on the secret, he adopted his own on-stage disguise, wearing a fake goatee and dressing in sports/stereotypical rap clothes. And amazingly enough, no one is the wiser.
    • Her father's disguise is the weakest of all of them. He doesn't even wear the mustache all the time. Does he even care if anyone figures out that Hannah and Miley are the same person?
    • The show did Lampshade this in one episode where Jackson calls out the Trope Namer himself while Miley and Robbie are getting in costume.
  • Let's not forget Chandler and Monica's Secret Relationship.
  • Played straight in Battlestar Galactica with Gina, the Number Six Cylon who assassinates Admiral Cain and later hides out on Cloud Nine, hidden only by a wardrobe change and glasses. RDM admitted in the podcast that it wasn't one of their best moments.
    • There are no critical plot points hinging on Gina not being recognized by someone who already knows a Six well.
    • There is also The Plan where two Sixes, Shelly Godfrey and "Tough Six" appear side by side, yet don't seem to be noticed. Somewhat justified in that they do look and act different. Godfrey wears a suit, glasses, has blonde, fluffy hair and an insecure demeanor. Tough Six was wearing leather, chains, had brown, straight hair with blonde streaks and acted far more aggressively. Cavil lampshades it, noting the effort Sixes take to differentiate themselves. Also, this was before it became public knowledge that humanoid Cylons (a) existed and (b) had copies. A human observer would think they were normal twins.
    • Far more noticeable was the Doral copy, after another Doral had been on the ship as public relations officer. He thought it would be enough that his suit was teal and the other's had been burgundy. This is why Cavil had him blow himself up.
  • Mentioned in Whose Line Is It Anyway. The scene from the hat is "The inner thoughts of super heroes."

Colin (as Superman/Clark): Now they recognize me... (mimes taking off glasses) Now they don't... (removes glasses) And now they recognize me...

  • Smallville, though still following the No Tights, No Flights rule of its producers, now has Clark Kent donning a disguise where he lets basically everyone but Lois Lane and a few random people on the street see his face. Literally, everyone. In fact, all of his friends, family, enemies, superhero buddies, and random people he saves know his double identity because his superhero disguise was either the same red and blue he always wore, and then a black trench coat. So basically the only person who he doesn't reveal his secret too is his girlfriend, who he has several times said this season is the most important person in his life.
    • This will evidently change; in "Homecoming" Clark sees a future where Lois is his confidante and lover; she knows his secret (they apparantly celebrate the anniversary of the day when he told her), and goes so far as to punch out a helicopter pilot to prevent him from seeing Clark lifting the helicopter while in his civvies. This episode also lampshades Clark Kenting by having Lois chastise younger Clark (not knowing that he's from the past) for showing up to work without his glasses, and later when Clark meets his future self and is taken aback by the glasses and slicked back hair.
    • As of "Masquerade", Clark has finally officially adopted the Bespectacled Wimp disguise. The effectiveness is demonstrated when a guy runs into him by accident. He's profusely apologizing to the rather large young man who, earlier in the show, so blatantly oozed heroism that people were automatically respectful in his presence and almost fawning over him. And then he notices the new glasses and apology from Clark that it was probably his fault. Almost instantly the submissive demeanor essentially becomes "Out of my way, nerd!"
  • In Unhappily Ever After, Tiffany tests the theory that guys only like dumb girls by chatting up the same guy in the school library as though she were two different people, one smart and one stupid. The only visual difference between her two personae is a pair of glasses; she doesn't change her clothing or even her hair. It still fools the guy.
  • The Cape at least has a mask, but somehow no one recognizes him from seeing the lower half of his face and hearing his voice. This includes his archenemy, his old partner, and even his wife and son.
    • Slightly justified in that he's supposed to be dead, and no one expects a dead guy to be a masked hero.
  • In a Superhero Episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch when Harvey becomes "Mighty Teen" through magic he starts to wear thick glasses when he's in civilian mode.
  • Dark Justice: Judge Marshall goes unrecognized when he lets his hair down and takes off his glasses, allowing him to become a Vigilante.
  • Humorously referenced by the Initiative guys in season four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though their full body and face mask suits are far more convincing than Superman's disguise.

Forest: This is the burden we bear, brother. We have a gig that would inevitably cause any girl living to think we are cool upon cool, yet we must Clark Kent our way through the dating scene, never to use our unfair advantage. Thank God we're pretty.

    • For most of season five, nobody made a connection between Glorificus and her disguise, and when Spike finally did, everyone got instant amnesia when he tried to tell them.

Spike: You do remember? (beat) Is everyone here very stoned?

  • Nobody at Amanogawa High School ever seems to connect Kamen Rider Fourze to Gentaro Kisaragi. This might not look like an example since Kamen Riders wear full-body costumes and helmets, but Fourze and Gentaro are both boisterous goofballs and Gentaro's friends can be seen at every one of Fourze's battles giving him advice (and calling him by name). And it's not a visibility issue, since Gentaro is actively trying to befriend every single person at AmaGaku and is therefore known all over the place. It might help that civilians rarely hang around Fourze's battles and he doesn't get any press.
    • The same series has Kamen Rider Meteor, who even Gentaro and friends don't recognize as their friend Ryusei Sakata. In this case, Ryusei actually does try to act completely different, being quiet, friendly and cowardly normally while being brash, arrogant, and a competent fighter as Meteor. Interestingly, in his debut episode, Gentaro sees right through the Clark Kent act, saying that he won't befriend someone who's lying about who he is. Later in the episode when a frustrated Ryusei punches Gentaro in the face, Gentaro says that they're cool now because he got a glimpse of the real Ryusei in that punch.
      • As of #27, Meteor's identity has been exposed and found out by Cancer Zodiarts. What's bad about it is this is all Ryuusei's fault.
  • Wonder Woman TV series: While this trope was played straight in all the series, it was notably averted at "Mind Stealers from Outer Space (Part 1)" when the Skrills, an alien race who steals minds to sell them into slavery, discovers easily Diana Prince's secret with only a slide projector:

Unquestionably, the same human.

Puppet Shows[edit | hide]

  • Done for laughs, of course, on the third-rate variety show ("Second-rate variety show!") The Muppet Show by Mark Hamill. He first appears in full Skywalker costume, and gets pegged as Hamill right off the bat—only to run out the door to get his "cousin" and reappear seconds later dressed casually as Mark Hamill. And of course, at the end of the episode, both appear onscreen just to mess with Kermit's mind.
  • Mocked in the French satiric show Les Guignols De L Info with Super Menteur ("Super Liar"), the "superheroic" alter-ego of Jacques Chirac. Even Only Sane Man PPDA keeps wondering "Who could be Super Menteur?" On the other hand, his "superpower" is to make everybody believe his Blatant Lies, including "Jacques Chirac isn't Super Menteur!"


Theater[edit | hide]

  • This is Older Than Steam: in Shakespeare's play King Lear, the Earl of Kent(!) returns from banishment in a fairly flimsy disguise to help the king. Even before he goes mad, Lear fails to recognize him along with everyone else, despite having known him for years.
    • Later in the play, after Edgar is accused of plotting against his father the Earl of Gloucester, he tears at his clothes and covers himself with mud to disguise himself as a "Bedlam beggar". The disguise is good enough to fool his father, his godfather King Lear, the Earl of Kent (who is also in disguise and who Edgar fails to recognize) and the King's fool (easily the smartest person in the whole cast). In the final scene of the play, Edgar dons another disguise that fools his half-brother Edmund, though the stage directions imply that he may be masked.
  • In fact, many of Shakespeare's plays use this, including most of the comedies. In Measure for Measure, the Duke, who rules the city, wanders around speaking to all the main characters with no attempt at disguise other than a priest's robe. In Twelfth Night and As You Like It women dress as men with little effort other than wearing men's clothing. Rosalind (the protagonist of As You Like It) remarks, in short, that no one will pay attention so long as she wears breeches and carries a sword. Orlando, the man in love with her, doesn't recognize her, even when she "pretends" to be Rosalind so he can practice courting. Most scholars agree these disguises would have been useless and flimsy, so the audience could easily see through them. This, mostly, is the joke, because women were not allowed to act in Shakespearian times; you would have a man who was playing a woman who pretended to be a man imitating a woman and so on. Also keep in mind that, until roughly the 1950s, clothing was pretty much how you told who was a man and who was a woman. People just went with the gender suggested by the clothing.
  • Pick a Mozart opera, any Mozart opera—and many, many others.
  • The Barber of Seville (both the original play by Beaumarchais and the opera by Rossini) play this for laughs.


Video Games[edit | hide]

  • Psychonauts, in the level "The Milkman Conspiracy", where holding a particular item causes the spooky trenchcoated agents to believe that you are the sort of person that would normally be carrying such a thing. Since the agents are themselves mental constructs doing the same thing, you might expect that they'd see through this quicker. Then you remember that they are the mental constructs of an insane conspiracy theorist, and all makes sense.
    • This brings up some confusing Fridge Logic. Do the agents believe you're what you say you are? Do they think you're a fellow agent disguising yourself? Or do they see through the disguise, but can't call you on it without also compromising their own disguise, which they hold onto for fear of being found out by their fellow agents who they don't realize are fellow agents and oh dear, I've gone cross-eyed.
      • The item makes the disguise in a sense. Through use of the Clairvoyance ability you can actually see how the agents perceive you. With no item in hand they see you as a cardboard cut-out of yourself looking shifty and sly. Item in hand, they see you as whatever you present yourself as, again as a cut-out. Paper-Thin Disguise indeed.
    • You can also (in the real world) slip by the very nearsighted Crispin by wearing a straitjacket, an award statue that looks like a claw-hand, and a framed portrait of his boss.
  • Played with in Super Robot Wars Original Generation 2, where Elzam's disguise as Rätsel Feinschmecker is utterly transparent, and even he knows it. But because it gives the rest of the group Plausible Deniability about the fact that an ex-Dragon is working with them, everybody goes along with it. This mostly consists of substituting "Rätsel" for "Elzam", even when talking about something that was officially done by Elzam.
    • He even gets away with just ditching the disguise when he has to go to a funeral. It would be tacky to wear the disguise to the funeral, after all.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater has the spy EVA very obviously disguised as a scientist named Tatyana. The only difference is adding a pair of glasses and making her hair a little neater. The game treats this like some amazing secret, with Snake & Co. repeatedly wondering who on earth that girl could be, and even dropping little hints.
    • Mocked to hell and back in Peachi's comic version, where Ocelot actually figures it out and repeatedly tries to tell his commander, only to get rejected out of hand every time.
    • Snake does this no less than twice. First, he must pose as a scientist to infiltrate a small weapons lab. He puts on a lab coat and glasses. The second time, he must pose as a maintenance worker to infiltrate an even larger fortress. Only now, he also has an eye patch, and the enemy knows his face.
      • Humorously, wearing the mask you get at the start of the game makes it easier for the enemy to see through both disguises.
  • In the video intro to Rayman Raving Rabbids 2, Rayman infiltrates the Rabbids' ranks by donning a disguise consisting of a pair of Rabbid-style googly eyes on a headband, a sink-plunger loaded into his gun, and a lungful of helium. One of the senior Rabbids is on the lookout for Rayman, carrying the CD slip-case for the previous game as a reference image, and comes close to rumbling him—until Rayman lets loose a Rabbid-like manic "BWAAAHHH!", which dispels the Rabbids' remaining doubts.
  • In Mega Man Star Force, nobody seems to figure out that Geo Stelar is Mega Man unless he's explicitly transformed (Or changed back) in front of them. Combine the hairstyle, the voice, the eyes and the fact that Geo is close to the scene every time before and/or after something goes wrong would kinda make people think. In the anime, Bob Copper actually puts two and two together... and, in a moment of unbelievable stupidity, actually asks if Geo is one of Mega Man's groupies (Much to Geo's own surprise). In the same anime, when Luna finds out, she goes into a state of complete denial, despite the insistence of Bud and Zack and Omega-Xis showing up in front of them at times. Granted, her denial faded in the final episode of Tribe, but still.
  • City of Heroes features a mission in which your character has to infiltrate a Freakshow base. In order to facilitate this mission, you're given a disguise. What is the disguise? A rusty, spiky chestpiece (worn over your regular costume) and a bright red mohawk (ditto).
  • Early on in Final Fantasy VII, the characters disguise themselves as enemy troops to steal passage aboard a boat. For the most part, this works quite well, as Shinra troops are covered in head to toe with armor and baggy combat jumpsuits, but there are two major exceptions: Barret, the big black dude with a gun for an arm dressed as a sailor, and Red XIII, a cat/wolf-like creature who can't walk very well on two legs and whose tail sticks out of his uniform!
    • They actually play with it some in this case. Upon Arrival, one conversation option results in Mr. Gun Arm being described as looking like 'a bear wearing a marshmallow suit', and he ends up hogging up the bathroom looking at himself in the mirror, wearing said sailor suit, if he's not in your party. As for Red XIII... he dances back and forth from foot to foot, obviously having issues standing on two legs, but comments that he 'makes a pretty good human being' when you talk to him... after which he turns to the side, allowing you to see the tail (flaming tip and all) sticking out of his pants.
  • Played with in Mana Khemia: Alchemists of Al-Revis. The resident superhero, "The Flay", fights crime in the school, alongside his Sidekick, who is The Hero in the main story. Their costume? It's a mask that covers only their eyes, while still wearing their Custom Uniform. And everyone is fooled...
  • Done both ways in Team Fortress 2, depending on the team. Spies wear a mask that consists of the face of the class they're disguised as. If you're on their team, you can see them as a spy. If not, well, it's a perfect disguise (until the shooting starts).
  • Maria in Silent Hill 2. Although more intricate than "standard" Clark Kenting (clothes, hair, cosmetics, vastly different personality) James once mentions that she looks a lot like Mary then never mentions the resemblance again. Heavily justified though in that not only is James completely batshit insane but it isn't really Mary at all, merely a construct James has invented due to among other things his refusal to accept her death. Yes, it is a very strange game.
  • Yeager in Tales of Vesperia does this when he disguises himself as Regaey. Granted, the name was a dead giveaway, but his demeanor as Regaey was very meek compared to his actual personality.
  • Why, of course you couldn't be Kafei, the mysteriously missing husband-to-be! You only have the same distinctive purple hair that is on your mask, and you only received a letter meant for Kafei in a public place!
  • Lego Star Wars II: Stealing a Stormtrooper's helmet is enough to fool the Death Star's stormtroopers and security systems ...even if it's Chewbacca, whose head cannot fit into said helmet.
  • The trope is an essential part of the 'Hitman' series of games. Walk calm, wear the right uniform and carry the right gun in the right way (ie. out-of-sight or in off-hand). Otherwise, trouble.
    • The second game actually subverts the trope: disguises consist of a simple uniform and sometimes (Russian levels) a hat. It doesn't matter if someone sees your face, getting out of sight and changing uniform will fool that guy, even though your face is clearly visible. There's one exception: the Japanese levels. Guard uniforms here include a balaclava and NV goggles but despite these and the fact that it's night, the snipers scattered around the level WILL recognize you.
  • In Alundra 2, it is obvious to the player that the Pirate Queen's bodyguard is Flint's father, but Flint and everyone else can't see it. His outfit and hairstyle are unchanged from the last time Flint saw him, the only difference being the addition of a mask.
  • Rafael aka Phantom R of Rhythm Thief. His diguise is wearing a Cool suit and Fedora. Extra points for using glasses in civillian mode.


Web Comics[edit | hide]

  • Parodied in the "Punyverse" arc of Sluggy Freelance. As a Running Gag, characters keep noting, "Who would have thought that Princess-Princess is the secret identity of Secret Angel Princess Princess-Princess? Boy, that sounds stupid when I say it out loud."
  • Lampshaded in Smithson. Micki has met both the local superhero and his alter ego, Chuck, but hasn't figured it out yet, despite having seen Chuck without his glasses. Chuck is astonished at that.
  • Happens in El Goonish Shive, to the point where Tedd can fool Will and Gill without even meaning it—they call him an impostor when they see him without his glasses. To be fair, though, those are really big glasses and they seem not to know what glasses are.
    • Also massively parodied with an incredibly lame (but apparently successful) government campaign to hide the presence of aliens on earth by such methods as having them wear T-shirts that say "Homo Sapiens".
    • More recently, Rhoda used this to hide from people harassing her following her appearance on the TV News the day Pandora appeared. It worked, both on fellow students and on at least a few readers.
    • Another example that's more like the trope namer is Elliot, whose Gender Bender abilities let him invoke The Mind Is a Plaything of the Body to hide the fact that he's also Cheerleadra.
  • Parodied in the "superhero fantasy" arc of Boy Meets Boy: one character points out that Foxman's roommate Collin looks identical to his nemesis His Mind Kills, but wholeheartedly accepts Foxman's explanation that they can't be the same because His Mind Kills wears goggles.
  • Played straight in Girl Genius when Agatha, Wooster, Zeetha, and Krosp ride right in through the gate of Mechanicsburg just after a giant hologram of Agatha has been seen and discussed from as far away as China with Agatha wearing no disguise of any kind, instead relying on the cover story they came up with. Only von Mekkan figures it out and because the Castle rather blatantly points her out, even the fake Hetereodyne doesn't notice.
    • In Mechanicsburg's defense, there's a big difference between "discussed" and "discussed accurately". And Agatha wasn't wearing that dress...
  • In Lost In Space, a (fat, smoking) cherub tries to infiltrate a group of Super Soldiers loyal to the Chaos God of Disease and Decay, which he succeeds in by coughing.
  • Bad Guy High has SuperDan, whose costume is him putting on a cape.
  • PS238 uses an interesting variation—Tyler is given a secret identity as part of his training as a Badass Normal. Metahumans, even those who go to school with him, can not recognise him once he changes into the costume. Only outright telling them to their face convinces them otherwise. Normal people who know him recognise him instantly and wonder why he's wearing a costume. Tyler wants to know how and why the hell this works, because it doesn't make any sense.
  • Parodied and subverted in Fans! when one of the main characters notices the obvious similarity between new superhero Hyperman and up-and-coming reporter Lance Clarkson. When she confronts Clarkson about it, it turns out that they aren't the same person, and that Clarkson has been playing it up to make people think that they are.
  • Parodied and subverted in PvP. Two characters are speculating on the identity of LOLBAT, when one suggests it's Rex Roffle and another says that's obviously silly. Besides the obvious Meaningful Name, he looks and acts just like LOLBAT, complete with the mask. Then, the next day, we find out that LOLBAT ia actually Butler, so unless he's keeping up three identities, Rex Roffle is just a random Identical Stranger.
  • Everyday Heroes has Uma and her father (aliens stranded on Earth) disguise themselves by wearing glasses and doing their best to blend in with humans... despite the fact that they resemble cows.
  • Parodied in Captain Excelsior, where everybody except superheroes and supervillains can see through the disguises.
    • And we're not even talking about Paper-Thin Disguise here, even a hint of a mustache on a superhero who usually doesn't have one makes him invisible to other supers.
  • Parodied in The Adventures of Dr. McNinja, where the Doctor attempts to disguise himself as a different doctor by... pinning his name tag on his coat. While still wearing his ninja mask. Nobody is fooled.
  • Captain Broadband keeps a Secret Identity Costume on him at all times (plus a Sidekick Gimp costume for his sidekick). He's yet to use it though.
  • Amazigirl from Dumbing of Age. The fans have taken it and run with it, though.
    • How does Ultra Car hide those tires under his costume?

Web Original[edit | hide]

  • Justified in Sailor Nothing—one of the Magical Girl powers they possess is an inability to be recognized unless someone thinks about it really hard.
  • Played straight and subverted with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, in which, while Penny apparently does not recognize Villain Protagonist Dr. Horrible as her laundromat buddy Billy, his Arch Nemesis Captain Hammer does, likely from having seen his video blog, and uses this opportunity to ruin Billy's life even further by trying to steal Penny, the girl that he loves.
    • Penny finally 'mistakes' Dr Horrible for Billy the end when she is delirious and near-death, leading her to reassure him with the painfully ironic line, "Captain Hammer will save us".
  • Shadow Hawk of Epic Tales may have a full body costume, but he uses his birth name as his superhero identity. His logic is that it's such an obvious connection, that people will think it's too obvious. So far everyone who has met both of his identities has been able to figure it out, as well as a few who have only met one of his identities, but know of the other.
  • Subverted in the Whateley Universe stories. In the beginning of the third Phase book, on the first day of school at the Whateley Academy, the headmistress Mrs. Carson gives a speech to the new students. Before the end of the talk, Phase has figured out that the headmistress is also the superheroine Lady Astarte. By the end of the book, Phase has figured out that Mrs. Carson is also a former superheroine of the 80's, Ms. Might. By the end of the fourth book, Phase has figured out that the early-thirties-looking Mrs. Carson is actually in her mid-seventies and has had at least two other superhero identities over the decades.
  • Coach Z actually tries to convince everyone that he is both Damp Towel Man and his creatively-named secret identity, Dan Towelman. As usual, nobody cares.
  • Linkara can't figure out Doctor Insano's true identity...even while looking at a picture of Spoony, he's more inclined to guess That Chick With The Goggles.
    • Nobody can seem to recognize The Nostalgia Chick when she has her hair down and wears messy clothes, either.
  • Parodied in this five-second film


Western Animation[edit | hide]

  • Parodied in Cow and Chicken. When anyone entertains the thought that Cow and Supercow could possibly be the same cow (being the only two sapient cows in the Universe no less) that idea is always shot down by the fact that Supercow speaks Spanish.
  • The Hooded Claw does this routinely in The Perils of Penelope Pitstop, even when Penelope should be reminded of his alter ego, Sylvester Sneekly.
  • In the original He-Man and the Masters of the Universe cartoon, characters would often note how Prince Adam would run away whenever the Monster of the Week showed up, but would never take that line of thought any further even though He-Man looked exactly like Adam with less clothes and a tan.
    • Averted in the more recent revival, where He-Man looks nothing like Adam. Other characters still often notice Adam skipping battles, but instead think he's a coward who's been running off to hide.
    • Seanbaby poked fun at this with this exchange.

Fisto: Hey, Mekaneck, what's Prince Adam doing fighting Modulok, all shirtless and glorious?
Mekaneck: That can't be Prince Adam, Fisto. Prince Adam's giant green cat doesn't wear a mask.

  • Bugs Bunny can fool anyone who was just chasing him by hiding his ears and tail, even though he's still a six-foot gray-furred rabbit. They may be distracted by other things, however.
  • The Beagle Boys in DuckTales (1987), who walk around with their masks still on.
    • Speaking of DuckTales (1987), there was an episode when the triplets tried to figure out Gizmo-Duck's secret indentity. Fenton was offended when they got it wrong. That didn't even tip them off.
    • In another episode, Scrooge himself takes up a superhero identity, only to have a Jerkass reporter ruin it by showing apparent footage of said hero turning to crime. No one notices that not only is this costumed duck not the same one, but it clearly is the reporter instead.
  • Boris and Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle. Though this might be due to the fact that they has no idea who Boris and Natasha are in the first place. Though sooner or later you'd think that he sees an awful lot of similar-looking short men and tall women with Pottsylvanian accents, anyway.
    • "That voice ... where have I heard that voice?"
  • Lampshaded in Superman: The Animated Series when Supergirl attempts to disguise herself with a pair of glasses and a wig—Superman/Clark Kent sees right through her Paper-Thin Disguise despite the fact that it's a more elaborate disguise than Superman himself uses. Well, Superman/Clark Kent does have X-ray vision...
    • Lana Lang outright averts this trope in the DCAU; one of her questions to Superman at their "first meeting" is whether Martha made his costume. Lois plays it straight as an arrow, though.
  • Transformers are sometimes guilty of this. Not only do some robots have parts of their alternate modes easily identifiable in robot mode, but often their faction symbol is visible even in their alternate mode, and this doesn't seem to be a dead giveaway, even to those who know what the symbols mean.
    • Sources indicate that at least some of the fiction-writers (comics, cartoons) would like to have the disguises actually be disguises, but Hasbro demands that faction symbols be visible in both modes as a form of "brand recognition" (read: Viewers are Morons). In fact, pretty much the only Transformers toys that didn't have blatantly obvious faction logos in alternate mode were those from the Alternators toyline, which was based on licensed cars (and even then, most of them still sported faction logos on their license plates anyway). Imagine if DC Comics would insist on having Clark Kent wear a Superman "S" somewhere on his clothes so he could be easily recognized by readers/viewers/buyers (in the case of action figures)...
    • Interestingly, in the Generation 1 episode "Making Tracks", Tracks disguised himself as a regular car by making his Autobot symbol invisible. Makes you wonder why none of the others ever thought to do that.
    • In the third episode of the original series, the Autobots decide to set up an ambush for the deceptions. Hound uses his holographic projector to make a fake "rocket base" and the Autobots will be in it, under disguise, to attack the Decepticons when they show up to raid the base. What disguise do the Autobots go for? If you guessed "In their car mode in the base's parking lot." Congratulation, you're smarter then an Autobot. They decide to don labcoats and pass for the human scientists. Despite the fact that even the smallest of them is twice as tall as a human and about 3 times as wide. And made of metal. With shoulder-mounted guns. Yes, that plan failed.
    • With all this talk about symbols, it's easy to forget that many of the vehicle modes themselves are obvious giveaways. On the reasonable side of things, Prowl and Streetwise become the only Japanese highway patrol cars in the United States. At the opposite extreme, Blast Off is a ludicrously undersized undersized purple and olive green space shuttle orbiter, a disguise that can only be made worse by the addition of—of course—Decepticon symbols.
    • And it gets better/worse. In an episode of a Japanese version of Transformers, Optimus Prime tried to disguise himself as a Budha statue.
  • Undercover Elephant on CB Bears wore disguises that primarily relied on a single prop (a chef's hat, a pink tutu, etc.) and a thin ribbon-mask. They nonetheless worked, at least until his sidekick Loudmouse "blew his cover"... despite being, well, an elephant.
  • Mercilessly parodied in the Animaniacs short Chicken Boo. Despite his ability to masquerade as anything from a rocket scientist to an idolized leading man movie star with nothing more than a pair of glasses or a wig, he is a naked 6-foot-tall not-anthropomorphic-at-all rooster that talks only in clucks. Attempting to blend in with humans in this fashion, he succeeds perfectly (with the exception of one derided outcast in each cartoon that keeps saying he's just a giant chicken), until his disguise falls off, at which point he is driven away by screaming mobs.
    • One of the few segments that altered the scenario ever so slightly was a crossover between "Chicken Boo" and "Katie Ka-boom", a girl who has very violent moodswings. In this episode EVERYONE except Katie herself is able to see that her boyfriend is actually a giant chicken. This results in her turning monstrous when her parents tell her this, not believing them until the end where Boo's disguise is removed... at which point she turns monstrous again and destroys the entire house, sending Boo flying because he didn't tell her he was just a chicken.
  • Most versions of Mighty Mouse depict the hero as not having a dual-identity at all, but one more modern cartoon gave him one in the form of Mike Mouse, who really had this problem. The "disguise" was nothing more than a change of clothing for a hero who didn't even wear a mask.
  • The penguin Feathers McGraw in the Wallace and Gromit short "The Wrong Trousers" disguises himself as a chicken by wearing a large red rubber glove on his head.
  • Despite wearing her Jem Star Earrings in both of her identities, no one expects the mysterious Jem to be Jerrica Benton—must be because of the pink-colored Eighties Hair she gives her rock-star identity. Or because of Synergy's ability to use holograms to show Jem and Jerrica in the same place at the same time.
    • Beyond the hair, the two still look nothing alike, Jerrica's face is rather simple and plain looking, while Jem's is much more detailed. Although they have the exact same voice.
  • Eponymous Invader Zim has a disguise consisting of a pair of contacts and a wig (which is completely solid and doesn't move at all) that manages to fool everyone but Dib. Partially justified in that in the entire series there are maybe half a dozen characters smarter than a sack of hair.
    • There was an episode where he lost one of his contacts in front of a crowd of classmates, revealing his red compound eye. People were suitably shocked, until he explained it away as a very bad case of pinkeye.
    • Also happened in reverse with the Irkin fry cook lord Sizz-Lor. He wore a gas mask while kidnapping Zim and then proceeded to take it off. Zim didn't recognize Sizz-Lor at first (even after he put on an apron with his name on it) until he put on his little white fry cook hat.
    • There was also an episode wherein two aliens tried to abduct Zim. Their disguises were worse than his (if that's possible), and not even Zim was fooled.
  • Becky Botsford is Word Girl, but nobody, not even her friends and family realize this (except once or twice; still long after they should've realized it). Even though she has the same height and build, and she doesn't cover her face at all.
    • The show, being an Affectionate Parody of superhero cartoons, goes out of its way to parody this, too. Becky's friends and family are constantly commenting on how Beck "just missed" seeing Word Girl, or that she sure looks a lot like her, etc. One villain, Tobey, actually even caught on right away when he was introduced to Becky and purposefully put her in a situation where she had to reveal herself—but she sent her monkey sidekick out in her costume instead, and Tobey saw him from a far enough distance that it looked like it could have been the real Word Girl. In the episodes after his introduction he constantly hints to Becky that he still believes she's really Word Girl—he just has no way to prove it, considering he supposedly saw them together in the same place.
    • In the Comic Book Adaptation, Mr. Big suggests that Word Girl's secret identity would be revealed if they could only remove her hood - The same hood that doesn't even cover most of her hair.
  • From Gargoyles: The Hunters wear a mask with three large red diagonal slashes across the face. The original Hunter, Gillecomgain, has three large diagonal scars across his face courtesy of Demona, which is the reason he Constantine chose the symbol. Macbeth, who knows and bears grudges against both, is completely shocked by the relevation that they're the same guy, despite knowing that Gillecomgain has three scars on his face and the Hunter has three identical scars on his mask.
    • Averted by later Hunters, including Jason, Robyn and Jon, as they don't have facial scars and use different accents when not masked.
    • Gillecomgain didn't invent the idea behind the Hunter's Mask, either; Constantine did. (To be more precise, Constantine was so impressed by Gillecomgain's ardor in destroying gargoyles that he used Gillecomgain's face as a model for his own symbol of anti-gargoyle terror: painting his head almost entirely black, with three red stripes across the face.) It wasn't until later that Gillecomgain used the black executioner's mask with the three red stripes, which was modeled after Constantine's face paint.
  • Parodied to hell and back in Drawn Together. When Captain Hero adopts his "Secret Identity", Tim Tommerson, literally the only change he makes is to put on glasses—he doesn't even remove his costume. That said, Tim Tommerson and Captain Hero were seen in the same room and even kissed each other in the two part finale.
  • Parodied in the "Pie Man" episode of The Simpsons, "Simple Simpson".

Marge: I knew it was you all along.
Homer: Was it the [Spider-Man parody] kiss?
Marge: No, it was clearly you in that costume! I mean you would have to be an idiot not to see it from the start.

    • Also, earlier in that episode, Lisa says "Dad, you're clearly the Pie Man. We've been getting his mail for weeks."
    • There was also the episode where Homer was making up conspiracies and posting them on the internet. The homepage showed a picture of Homer with a black bag over his head with a white "X" on it. The bag and the shot of Homer are seperate pictures, and at one point Homer's face is visible for a second before the bag loads. Later when Homer tries to reveal himself at a press conference, nobody believes him until he puts the bag on in front of them so they can see the resemblance.
    • Within the comics this trope is played with using the ficticious comic book hero Radioactive Man. One of the man's distinguishing features is a large lightning bolt-shaped piece of shrapnel sticking out of his head, therefore when he is in civilian clothing he must hide it by constatly wearing a hat - the other characters hardly ever acknowledge this.
  • The eponymous heroine of Miraculous Ladybug; Marinette's rather public heroic identity is just Marinette with a domino mask, and not even her closest friends seem able to connect the dots.
  • The eponymous hero of Danny Phantom, Danny Fenton. White hair, a jumpsuit, different-colored eyes, a tan, and a shared first name do not a good disguise make, kid.
  • Teachers Pet is about a dog who dresses as a boy and goes to school, and nobody notices he's a dog.
  • Mercilessly parodied, along with a bunch of other Superman-related tropes, in The Real Ghostbusters episode "Captain Steel Saves The Day".

Peter: All he did was change clothes and put on a pair of glasses! Some disguise!
Winston: Hey, don't knock it, man. It works.
Peter: Let's hope Dr. Destructo's near-sighted.

  • Parodied in the Superhero Episode of Futurama where Fry, Leela, and Bender become superheroes. Somehow the public does not realise that the only one-eyed woman with purple hair in the entire city of New New York is, in fact, the one-eyed purple-haired superheroine Clobberella. Even her own parents are fooled.
    • This is made even more blatant by the fact that Leela and her mother are the only purple-haired female cyclopes in the entire universe.
  • Teamo Supremo's leader Captain Crandall never really changes his appearance between his superhero and civilian identities, costume aside. This makes one wonder how his own mother can't seem to put two and two together and figure out why there's some superhero running around who looks exactly like her son, though in the last episode it's revealed she's been aware of him being a superhero the whole time.
  • Captain Caveman. His segments on the early 1980s The Flintstone Comedy Show, featured Cavey working alongside Wilma and Betty at the newspaper "The Daily Granite" under the guise of Chester, the copy boy. Cavey's "disguise" consisted of a pair of glasses, a bow tie, and speaking in a higher-pitched voice... and that's it. Apparently nobody suspected the only two guys in Bedrock resembling walking hairballs, Chester and Captain Caveman, of being one and the same (with Wilma and Betty criticizing Chester for his clumsiness and telling him he "should be more like Captain Caveman").
  • Parodied in reverse on an episode of The Fairly OddParents. The Tooth Fairy makes Timmy a dental themed Wonder Woman parody in order to stop an evil dentist. His only disguise is a tiara that inexplicably prevents anyone from discovering his "secret identity". It's implied that the reason no one can recognize him is because the Tiara replaces his trademark pink hat.
    • The Crimson Chin does it better. He wears glasses and a hat... over his mask, and does nothing to hide his comically large Lantern Jaw of Justice.
      • Worth noting, of course, that said glasses are not even on his face, but sit on his huge, jutting chin.
    • The show also parodies this when Timmy puts on a mask in one episode involving Catman where every time he puts it on, Catman can't recognise him as his sidekick. Despite actually watching Timmy put the glasses on. This is much to the annoyance of Timmy, with Catman going "Where did X go? X, you're back!" or something similar.
  • The Swat Kats used to work for Commander Feral, but he can't figure out their identities. It's even worse when you realize that they work at a salvage yard owned by Feral and use his throwaways to save his tail.
    • Possibly justified in that Feral is shown to have next to no interaction with the SWAT Kats in their civilian identities. He put a pair of slow-witted, pain in the butt cats in charge of making sure they're working at the salvage. Also, Feral commands many pilots, which likely includes some hot shots and almost certainly includes some that don't like him personally.
  • In Mighty Orbots, geek inventor Rob Simmons is also the leader (and pilot) for the eponymous Combining Mecha. His costume change consists of simply removing his glasses and swapping his lab coat for a flight suit.
  • Lilo and Stitch. Have you ever seen a blue dog, or a tourist with four eyes?
  • Parodied on Tiny Toon Adventures in an episode where Babs became "Super Babs". At the end of the episode, the boys realize that Super Babs might be someone they know, and start trying to figure out whom; after a pause, Plucky turns to the others and says "Who do we know named 'Super'?"
  • Parodied in El Tigre, where Rodolfo's civilian guise is the outfit worn by Clark Kent in the Fleisher Brothers Superman cartoons. And worn over his costume, including his mask.
  • Phineas and Ferb: Doofenshmirtz cannot recognize Perry the Platypus without his Nice Hat.
    • Oddly enough, he can't recognize Perry if he were wearing anything else. Like when he showed up dressed as a plumber:

Doofenshmirtz: (Perry removes his mustache) "A platypus plumber?" (Perry puts on his hat) "Perry the platypus plumber?" (Perry removes his tool belt) "*gasp!* Perry the platypus!"

    • The hat also tells Doofenshmirtz it's Perry, even after he and Candace switched bodies!
    • Lampshaded in the tv movie "Across the 2nd Dimension," when Doof-2 actually points out, and attempts to teach his counterpart the fact that just because the hat is removed, it's still the same platypus.
  • Phil and Lil from Rugrats can fool anyone by just putting the ribbon on Phil's head, or removing Lil's ribbon, despite the fact Phil wears pants and Lil wears a dress.
  • Inverted in an episode of The Spectacular Spider-Man when the Chameleon starts impersonating Spider-Man. While most people are fooled, Captain George Stacy smells a rat, noting that the guy claiming to be Spider-Man is too tall and broad to be the legitimate web-slinger.
    • He also positively recognizes the real Spiderman despite his new black symbiote costume because his body type and mannerisms match those of the genuine hero.
  • Played With on South Park: it's rather obvious that Professor Chaos is really just Butters wearing aluminum foil, but the only person who figures this out is Dougie. His parents and Stan have also seen him in his getup, but just don't seem to care.
    • Later, when the other South Park boys play superhero their identities are also fairly obvious, except for Mysterion. However, he's the only real superhero anyway; everybody else just correctly sees a bunch of kids playing. Captain Hindsight is a straighter example.
  • Spoofed in an episode of American Dad, where Roger ends up with one of his personas developing into a split personality. To convince "Sidney's" girlfriend that he's Sidney, he puts on glasses and sweeps back his hair. He even does this while turned away from her, resulting in the girlfriend getting confused and asking where Sidney went.

Real Life[edit | hide]

  • Jay Leno and Jimmy Kimmell pulled this off by disguising themselves as reporters.
  • Jimmy Kimmell's cousin once snuck into Super Bowl media day simply by dressing up in the uniform of Carolina Panthers Kicker John Kasay. It worked, because of all the hundreds of reporters who covered the event, none actually knew what Kasay looked like.
  • Because of the controversy surrounding his election, Abraham Lincoln dressed up as an old woman for his own safety to get through Baltimore on the way to his inauguration. Maryland was a pro-slavery state where Lincoln was incredibly unpopular, and there were reliable reports warning of an assassination plot. Since he was 6'4", he had to hunch over to pull this off.
  • Most of Sacha Baron Cohen's characters are this. Like Borat, which consists of a mustache and accent.
  • Andy Kaufman and Tony Clifton. If anything, this is an inversion. The Tony Clifton costume consists of heavy makeup and facial appliances to the point where he resembles Andy Kaufman not at all. If you didn't know that Clifton and Kaufman were one and the same you'd be hard pressed to make the connection.
  • Harold Lloyd, an inspiration for Clark Kent, found that he took off the stage glasses of his most famous film character, no one recognized him.
  • Charlie Chaplin without his moustache and Nice Hat.
  • A documentary on spying had a section regarding disguises and how they're used, with a former CIA specialist explaining how simple disguises can work wonders if you play on observers' expectations. As a demonstration they had people assigned to trail a blonde woman dressed in jeans, a hoodie, boots and a ballcap, carrying a backpack. The woman faked drinking a lot of water and thus had a reason to duck into a bar to use the bathroom. While they were intently observing the bathroom and the back alley door, they never noticed the brunette wearing a little black dress, heels, and carrying a small purse who strolled out the front door on the arm of the man who'd been waiting for her.
  • An inversion occurs with pornstar Eva Angelina in that her glasses have become so synonymous to her general appearance that she's gone to conventions without them and wasn't recognized at all.
  • Comedian Groucho Marx painted on his famous mustache with grease paint for most of his career. He was surprised to find a large crowd of fans who had gathered to see him at a train station completely ignored him when he got off the train. Realizing what had happened, he ducked into his car and smeared on a grease paint mustache, and was instantly recognized. There is even a story (probably apocryphal) about Groucho house-sitting for a friend in Beverly Hills. He was taking advantage of the swimming pool and had the cops called on him by the neighbors. No one would believe he was Groucho Marx without his mustache.
  • Reportedly, Marilyn Monroe would employ this with a curly black wig, a pair of sunglasses and some loose-fitting clothes. She was also apparently very good at changing her body language in public, to the point where she was able to walk completely ignored in a crowd—until she fluffed up her hair and struck a pose, and was instantly swarmed.

"Do you want to see her?"

  • Many decades ago, photographs were rare and hard to produce, and people with the artistic skill to do a composite sketch were scattered much further apart. Thus a fugitive could reasonably move to another place without notice. The Wanted Poster was less effective than it is usually played to be; criminals on the run were often chased by former acquaintances, the only people who could recognize them.
  • Stewart Copeland in the years 1978 - 1980; a link.
  • Aviator Charles Lindbergh actually used the alias of Careu Kent when visiting his secret second family in Germany.
  • Shakira went unnoticed in public for a couple of months by wearing modest clothing, going by her middle name and wearing a baseball cap.
  • The use of a fake distinguishing feature such as a scar can make people focus on the scar so much they don't notice any other real details.
  • Eric Morecambe, at one time half of the most famous comedy double act in Britain, used to get by in public by taking his trademark glasses off and affecting a limp. His son has stated that this worked so well he wouldn't even get recognised by people sitting next to him on trains or planes.
  • Many models can have relatively normal lives by simply wearing minimal or no makeup, pulling their hair back into a simple hairstyle like a ponytail, and wearing some reasonably conservative clothing. Since most people see them professionally made up, and often in photoshopped images, it's easy for them to be less noticeable.
  • Jewel went onstage at a Karaoke bar as 'Karen', wearing a wig, glasses, and false nose, and was unrecognized. (A few people even called her 'homely'.) She sang a few of her own songs, to acclaim from the crowd. She then stripped off the disguise and went back in as herself and sang a few. No one made the connection. Admittedly, it was dimly lit.
  • Murderer Ted Bundy was able to walk around in broad daylight for days while a wanted fugitive whose face was plastered all over TV. The only attempt he made at a disguise was drawing a mole on his face with a marker.
  • Video footage of Tom Cruise, UPS deliveryman. He didn't attempt to disguise his face or his voice, he didn't even wear a pair of glasses—he just put on a logo'ed shirt and a ball cap and went around delivering packages. No one recognized him.
  • According to Hugh Jackman, he once cosplayed as Wolverine. At a San Diego Comic-Con. No one twigged, and he actually got complaints for being "too tall".
  1. Justice League America #38 (1990)
  2. Albeit one of the most popular names in the English language
  3. Power Girl #22 (2011)
  4. for good reasons: his very first heist included stealing the mattress Scrooge was sleeping on, repeatly beating up two cops that tried to arrest him and forgetting to hide the explosive candle that can destroy a manor (that's how Gladstone accidentally blew up Paperinik's first refuge), and many of his early adventures ended with someone humiliated and sometimes gravely beaten up (usually not by Paperinik, who limits himself to have someone find a good reason to beat up Paperinik's current victim). That's why his full superhero name would be Paperinik the Devilish Avenger
  5. The main difference between the two being that Red Bat is a parody of Silver Age Batman (both in terms of costume as well as goofy gadgets) while Green Bat is a parody of the modern Batman (dark ominous costume and little to no gadgets)