Dramatic Unmask

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Harley Quinn: "Ain'tcha gonna take his mask off and find out who he is?"
The Joker: "And reduce my primal enemy to a mere man? Harley my dear, I'm so disappointed in you. Where's the fun in that?"

Batman: The Brave And The Bold, "Emperor Joker"

When a masked character takes off his mask, revealing his identity to a shocked character and audience.

When The Hero decides to invoke the Dramatic Unmask it can be the moment they finally chose to reveal their secret identity to an ally or love interest. A gesture of trust that understandably means a lot within crimefighting circles. Their enemies will often attempt to unmask them in the hopes of making them more vulnerable by endangering not only their life but that of the hero's loved ones. Exposing a hero can also have the added benefit of having the authorities attempting to incarcerate them. After all they are vigilantes.

In the case of the Villains the big reveal may be the final part of their plan. A old face come to haunt the hero from the past or worse someone they trusted. Expect villainous characters to be especially smug if this is a complete surprise to their opponent. When the villain desires to hide behind anonymity, expect the protagonist to be the one to go about unmasking him, sometimes at any cost, so that justice is served.

Across media there is a tendency to conveniently overlook why an individual isn't unmasked when he or she's at the mercy of their foe earlier in the story. This is more commonly seen with villains, who despite having the time to put their unconscious victim into an elaborate Death Trap, don't take a moment to remove a mask. Justified in that it's done for the sake of preserving drama and most audiences will let it slide to prolong the guessing game. In some cases the rivals will even lampshade their desire not to learn the others identity as it would reduce their Arch Enemy to being a normal person rather than their larger than life Alter Ego. Although in some stories this is precisely why they want to unmask their nemesis.

Often occurs along with Luke, I Am Your Father or Samus Is a Girl. Can include Bandaged Face or Latex Perfection. Relative of Dramatic Curtain Toss, a subtrope of The Reveal.

Examples of Dramatic Unmask include:

Individuals Unmasking Themselves

Anime and Manga

  • Code Geass: Lelouch reveals his identity to Kirihara in Episode 11 to get his support, and later unmasks himself to Euphemia when she tells him she already knows who he is.
    • He does it again in the second season finale when the Black Knights turn against him due to Schneizel's Quote Mine and accuse him of deception.
    • Don't forget about Kallen in the first part of season 1 finale when she removes her mask covering the half of her face, revealing her identity to Rivalz, Shirley, Milly, and Nunnally.
  • Bandit Keith in Yu-Gi-Oh!, even though he's obviously Keith. Made more absurd in Yu-Gi-Oh the Abridged Series, where he still has his Verbal Tic.
  • Subverted in Cromartie High School: a new guy comes to Cromartie and claims to have changed in his personality, re-igniting certain principles of badness once lost in the students. They don't know who the heck he is, though, because they've never seen his face before - because Masked Takenouchi realizes that he forgot to put on his mask.
  • Inverted in Death Note, where Near dons a dramatic mask for Light's benefit.
  • Subverted in Naruto, where Naruto, Sakura and Sasuke spend an entire episode debating what secret Kakashi might possibly be hiding under his mask, possibly thin lips, buck teeth or some other facial anomaly. They try and trick him to take it off but have all of their plans fail, until he finally offers to remove it. Under is mask is... another mask.
  • At the beginning of the finale in JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Vento Aureo, Vinegar Doppio walks behind a pillar when approaching Polnareff and emerges from the other side as Diavolo, the main villain of the storyline. Even though the audience is in on this at this point it comes as a huge shock to Polnareff.

Comic Books

  • Partly Spider-Man during Marvel's Civil War arc. While it has this effect on the people watching him in the story (and is a Dramatic Unmask in delivery), the readers already know who he is.
    • Subverting this is a Running Gag in Ultimate Spider-Man. Peter Parker gets dramatically unmasked frequently, but no one ever has any idea who he is, since he's just some high school student.
    • Subverted even more in the original Amazing Spider-Man series where Doctor Octopus unmasks him in front of the other students who immediately recognize Peter but refuse to believe a geek like him could possibly be Spider-Man. They even convince Doc Ock himself that he caught not the real Spidey but just some kid in a cheap costume, preserving Peter's secret.
    • Played perfectly straight, however, when the Green Goblin originally unmasked himself as Norman Osborn during Stan Lee's original run on the title after Steve Ditko left and John Romita Sr. took over on art.
  • Batman, who is Crazy Prepared is seldom dramatically unmasked. The plot contrives to stop those who would unmask him before it happens. Or he's wearing another mask under the first one so he remains masked even if he removes the cowl. Of course, this makes it much more dramatic on the rare occasions when the mask does come off—most memorably when he pulled it off himself to show Joe Chill, his parents' killer, who he really was.
    • He's sometimes Crazy Prepared enough to cover his upper face with paint or another mask in anticipation of being unmasked, so as to still conceal his identity. One time when Batman was trapped at gunpoint by Gotham Police and they ordered him to unmask himself. He did it... only to reveal a blond guy who is nothing like Bruce Wayne.
    • Sometimes in the animated series, he wears a mask over his cowl, so he can take the former off dramatically before kicking the bad guys' asses.
    • Somewhat recently in the comics, Batman fought the Red Hood to a standstill; during which RH managed to strip Bats of one glove and his utility belt before ripping his mask off. Stoically, Bruce made no attempt to cover his face. His secret was safe, however: The street they're fighting on was empty and the Red Hood, aka Jason Todd, already knew.
      • ...who himself has just performed his own Dramatic Unmask, with a twist: he's wearing a Domino Mask under his helmet, which of course doesn't hinder Batman recognizing him in the least. Later, a villain asks him why he wears a mask under his helmet, to which he answers:

Red Hood: I did it once for dramatic effect and then it just got to be a habit.

    • Grant Morrison's recent run on Batman and Robin spent twelve issues building up speculation around who mysterious masked man Oberon Sexton was, with many readers speculating that it might be Bruce Wayne himself. In a dramatic unmasking, he is revealed to be The Joker.
  • An issue of Young Justice has a group of young heroes on a camping trip playing Truth or Dare. Robin is challenged to remove his mask. Turns out he's as Crazy Prepared as Batman himself and has decided to wear an inner mask for the occasion to preserve his identity.
  • This is the emotional climax of JLA: Year One. The newly-formed League is struggling with confusion and mistrust; disheartened, they start to turn away from each other...and Flash pulls off his cowl and announces his name. After a beat, the others follow suit.
  • Also used in JLA: Tower of Babel, in what is essentially Mark Waid riffing on his own earlier storyline a generation later. In Year One the breakdown in trust is caused by Martian Manhunter making contingency plans against every super on the planet and an enemy making use of them; in Tower of Babel the same thing happens with Batman's countermeasures. Batman leaves the League in the aftermath, but later rejoins after allowing everyone into the Batcave with all the computer files unlocked, and revealing himself as Bruce Wayne.
    • While everyone is pretty gobsmacked at that, that's nothing to the reactions when Clark Kent introduces himself. Most of the younger League didn't realise Superman even had a secret identity.
  • In the Story Arc "The Trial of The Flash" Barry Allen takes his mask off in open court to reveal...a face we've never seen before. Luckily (as it turned out) he had just recently been in a major fight during which he sustained massive facial damage, and took the opportunity to get his face not just repaired but redone. Even his hair color is different.

Cross Media


  • Undercover Brother. The title character, while masquerading as an elderly janitor and James Brown.
  • Khan's removal of his mask in Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan. For a reveal where it's doubtful that anyone didn't realize who it was going to be, Ricardo Montalban still does it masterfully.
  • Inquisitor Makkabeus from Damnatus.
    • Arguably twice, as he rips it off again during his battle of wills with Nira.
  • Parodied in The Strange Case of the End of Civilization as We Know It (a bad Sherlock Holmes spoof, featuring Holmes's incompetent great-grandson and Watson's incompetent grandson). At the end, Watson strips off his Latex Perfection disguise--he's really Mrs. Hudson, the housekeeper, and she's really an American villain out to destroy the world.
  • One classic example is more a classic unhooding in The Adventures of Robin Hood, when the King reveals himself to the Merry Men. The shedding of a stark plain black cloak for the bright red and gold tunic and armor makes for a powerful impression.
  • Happens multiple times in works featuring the Predator; where the creature removes its mask to reveal its face. Many times accompanied by "What an ugly motherfucker."
  • Both subverted and played straight in 'Spider Man 2. He loses his mask while saving a train full of people, but no one recognizes who he is. Played straight later on when captured and brought to Harry Osborn who rips the mask off and DOES recognize him...
  • At the end of the original Halloween, Michael Myers is finally unmasked to reveal...a surprisingly attractive man.
  • Parodied in Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th, wherein the villain has so many masks, the characters unmasking him eventually become bored, and the unmasking itself stops being dramatic.
  • The Scream series is probably one of the biggest examples, having all seven killers of the franchise unmask themselves to the ever-Final Girl Sidney Prescott, either by attacking her directly, or by killing one of her friends in front of her.
    • The only exception is Charlie from Scream 4, who reveals himself to the audience (but not Sidney) by stabbing his Ship Tease and leaving her for dead. He does promptly reveal himself to Sidney right afterwards, though.


  • While on Adumar, Wedge Antilles wears a lavender half-mask when he doesn't want to be recognized and swarmed by a crowd that half-worships him for his Improbable Piloting Skills. Twice he takes it off to reveal himself to other offworlders, once to Admiral Rogriss, later to Iella Wessiri.
  • Chris Wooding's Broken Sky series has one of these at the end of Act One, where Ryushi learns that the Spirit-Mask Warrior; the one responsible for killing his father is, in fact, his elder brother Takami.

Live Action TV

  • Power Rangers does this for a lot of Sixth Rangers. The most memorable one in this troper's mind was the White Ranger from the second season, who turns out to be Tommy.
  • The Mexican talk show Contrapunto ended up playing host to one of these in 1984 when longtime lucha libre icon El Santo publicly unmasked for the first time in his 50 year career. This is widely considered to have been Santo's way of saying goodbye to his fans as he died a week later from a heart attack.
  • Leela does this to Magnus Greel in the Doctor Who serial The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Sharaz Jek does this to himself in The Caves of Androzani. Neither result is pretty.

Video Games

  • In Xenosaga episode III, the Red Testament takes off his mask and reveals himself to be Kevin, Shion's dead lover.
    • Also in Xenosaga episode III, the White Testement removes his mask, revealing himself to be Albedo, the Big Bad of the second game. A Genre Savvy gamer would have been able to guess his identity before hand, however.
  • Darth Revan takes off the mask in a scene of Knights of the Old Republic. It turns out Revan is the main character!
  • Happens early in Golden Sun, with Felix.
  • DiZ does it near the end of Kingdom Hearts II, although the "dramatic" part is debatable.
    • Played a tad bit straighter with Vanitas, The Dragon of Birth by Sleep, during the Final Episode. Holy... Namely, the fact that he has Sora's face, but with black hair and yellow eyes.
  • Master Chief takes off his helmet at the end of Halo but his head is conveniently off-screen. And if someone somehow looks at him anyway... he's got another helmet under the first one.
  • The Shyguy victory animation from Mario Power Tennis actually shows him walking up to the podium where Luigi will give him his trophy, but he trips on the last step before the top, causing his mask to fall off. Luigi sees the Shyguy's face (but the player doesn't) and is freaked out before the Shyguy puts his mask back on and takes his trophy.
    • This was also reused in Mario Strikers Charged Football.
  • An inverted variation happens in Overlord II, where Florian confirms his identity as the Emperor by putting the mask on.

Web Comics

Web Original

Western Animation

  • Justice League and Justice League Unlimited: While neither character's Secret Identity is ever a plot point, both Hawkgirl's and The Question's unmaskings are presented as dramatic, romantic scenes.
    • Also during the Freaky Friday episode, Lex Luthor, while in The Flash's body, decides to take off his mask and check a mirror. However, he has no idea who he's looking at.
      • This is also an inside joke aimed at the actor who voices Flash in the JLA animated series, Michael Rosenbaum, who also plays Lex Luthor on Smallville.
      • Same thing once happened in the comics. Heat Wave, one of Barry Allen's Rogues, finally got his old enemy's mask off but didn't recognize him. (This can trigger a little Fridge Logic: why do bad guys think they'll recognize the hero with his mask off, anyway?) Barry then had to worry that the villain might someday put a name to the face he'd seen, but Heat Wave's eventual Heel Face Turn removed that danger.
      • This trope backfired a little differently on Manfred Mota, a one-shot villain. Mota had fought the first two Flashes and thought they were the same man in different costumes. When he powered himself up to fight the third, he won easily, and triumphantly unmasked his foe to the public—who already knew. Wally West had recently made his identity public. Oops.
    • End of season 2: "Clark Kent, Wally West, Bruce Wayne!"
      • In more detail: To avoid detection from an occupying army, Martian Manhunter suggests hiding in plain sight in civilian clothes. Not a problem for MM, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern, who don't have secret identities to begin with, leaving just Flash, Superman, and Batman. Flash expresses doubt, saying that while he trusts everybody, he's not sure if he's ready to reveal his identity. Batman, completely living up to his legacy, proceeds to list off their identities, ending with himself as he pulls off his cowl. As Flash puts it "...Showoff.".
  • Subverted in South Park: Cartman convinces fourth-grade superhero Mysterion to take off his mask and reveal his identity in order to prevent threats to public safety (à la The Dark Knight); Mysterion complies, only to reveal that because the face of every fourth-grader on the show looks exactly the same, it is impossible for the viewers to know his true identity. Cartman and the rest of the characters, however, recognize him immediately.
    • In a later episode, it is revealed that Mysterion is Kenny.
  • In Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, Spidey unmasks himself because he wants to show trust to Angelica and Bobby, who he's figured out are Firestar and Iceman, respectively. And they're both shocked to discover he is Peter. Particularly Bobby.
  • During part of the beginning of The Great Mouse Detective, when Basil is disguised, full-body, as a fat white Chinese rat.
  • Virtually every woman with a speaking part who isn't a regular on the old G.I. Joe cartoon was, in fact, either the Baroness or Zaranna in disguise, complete with a scene in which she pulled off a Mission: Impossible-style face mask to reveal her true identity to the always astounded Joes. Especially hilarious in one episode where a woman wearing glasses turned out to be the Baroness wearing her usual glasses under a mask which had its own pair of glasses.
  • Twice in one episode by Robin from Teen Titans, appropriately named Masks. He turns out to be Red X, wearing his Robin mask under the Red X mask. Unfortunately, it was insanely obvious since Scott Menville sounds the same in every role he plays.
  • Tighten actually does this near the end of Megamind during the scene where he decides that he's better off as a villain and starts destroying the city.

Real Life

  • This news story about a would-be real-life superhero on trial:

Jones put his mask back on after the hearing to speak with reporters — then dramatically removed it again to reveal his true identity.

Unmasked by Other Characters

Anime and Manga

  • In Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha A's, Chrono captures and forcibly removes the disguise of the Mysterious Protector, sending the mask spinning, revealing them to be the Catgirl familiars of Gil Graham.
  • An interesting aversion occurs in Jubei-chan season 2, Ninja Mikage manages to unmask Freesia in a fight....but Freesia is in her adult form, and has never used it for anything but fighting the main characters; so it's meaningless.
  • Yuri Killian does this in Kaleido Star to confirm his suspicion that the mysterious "masked performer" showing up his newly-bought Kaleido Stage is really Layla Hamilton, who allegedly quit performing.
  • At the climax of the first season of Code Geass, Suzaku shoots Zero's mask, splitting it in half and revealing Lelouch's face under it.
  • While Tuxedo Mask's identity is known rather early to the audience, some version still do this scene. The anime has Zoicite knock off his mask - but in a subversion, nobody except Beryl and Zoicite see his face. The manga actually does this out of order - after rescuing an unconscious Sailor Moon in battle, Tuxedo Mask takes her back to his apartment. When she wakes up, she sees Mamoru, still wearing some of his uniform but otherwise already unmasked. He lets her put his mask on his face as she puts two and two together.
  • Bleach: Sajin Komamura blocks an attack on his friend using his helmet, breaking it apart and revealing that he is an anthropomorphic wolf. While the scene is played up a bit for drama, no one present actually cares what he looks like.
  • In Medabots, Space Medafighter X gets badly injured, and his golden mask begins to crack. When it is broken it reveals... a second, white mask! Space Medafighter X is really the Phantom Renegade!
  • One Piece
    • This trope is toyed with in one point where it's strongly implied that the other characters have met Iron Mask Duval before. (Luffy even claims that the crew should know his face.) When Duval's helmet is finally kicked off, it turns out that Duval is a total stranger. The crew only knew his face because it was identical to the poorly done sketch used by the Marines for Sanji's wanted poster.
    • The CP9 reveal their true identities during the Water 7 arc in One Piece.
  • Schwarz Bruder from G Gundam is eventually seen without his mask near the end of the series (although one character had already seen his face before that point) and at this point it is revealed that Schwarz Bruder is actually Kyoji Kasshu.
  • In Gundam Wing, after Zechs Marquise finds himself distancing himself from OZ's leadership and rebels by rebuilding Wing Gundam, he's sentenced to Trial by Combat. Over the course of the battle, his mask cracks and finally shatters, at which point he drops his former identity as OZ's Lightning Count. He still uses the Zechs Merquise name, but only as an alternative to his real name, Milliardo Peacecraft.

Comic Books

  • Subverted/lampshaded in the Buffy Season 8 comics: Twilight starts to unmask himself, but only because his neck itches. He never lifts it past his chin.
  • Watchmen, both the comic and the movie, shows the police finally apprehending and forcefully unmasking Rorschach. To surprise of the audience, he turns out to be a previously introduced background character.
  • Roger Stern's original run on the Spider-Man comics of the 1980s introduced the Hobgoblin, the fourth replacement of the then-deceased original Green Goblin. Unfortunately, the mystery of the Hobgoblin's true identity was dragged out for literally years on end and as various writers and editors took the place of Stern and Danny Fingeroth, it was forgotten whom Roger Stern had intended the Hobgoblin to be. The way Tom DeFalco continued the saga made many people think that it was Ned Leeds, only Christopher Priest (then Jim Owsley) sabotaged that by summarily killing off Ned Leeds in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine #1. In the end the matter was dropped into Peter David's lap to resolve at short notice in one issue, and he decided that Leeds had been the Hobgoblin all along. It wasn't until Stern returned for a few issues to the Spider-titles years later that he had the real Hobgoblin returned and Spider-Man unmasked him as fashion mogul Roderick Kingsley. Many fans cheered, but many others reacted with: "Who???" The "real Hobgoblin" subsequently had his ass handed to him by the original Green Goblin (returning from the dead) and wasn't used in the mainstream Spider-books for the years, not returning until a brief appearance during "Big Time".
  • A Darkwing Duck comic in Disney Adventures had Mondo the Mad Mask Misappropriator, who unmasks heroes. He almost gets Darkwing but he had several masks on under his Domino Mask.


  • William Wallace in Braveheart unmasks one of his opponents in the Battle of Falkirk, revealing him to be Robert the Bruce, who William thought was an ally.
  • Ever After: when the Wicked Stepmother unmasks Danielle at the Masquerade Ball, it wouldn't really matter - except she then proceeds to tear Danielle's false identity to shreds.
  • Happens to Aladdin with his Prince Ali disguise (first by Jasmine, then by Jafar) although without an actual mask.
  • The Legend of Zorro has the eponymous hero being captured and unmasked by the bad guys, who also have his wife and child in tow. Elena already knows his identity as do the audience; the only important character it's a reveal for is his son.
  • Cars 2 featured a variation of this: At the end of the film, Mater actually lifts up Miles Axlerod's hood to confirm the fact that he is really the evil mastermind behind the Lemons.

Live Action TV

  • Done in the finale of The Prisoner with Number One. Turns out that Number One is a monkey. Only that happens to be a mask as well, so there's another Dramatic Unmask. This time, it reveals Number Six.
    • In an earlier episode, A, B, and C, Number Six's dreams are being tapped into and viewed by Number Two - in his dream, No. 6 makes a big show of unmasking the mystery man behind his resignation... Number Two! It turns out 6 got wise to the dream tapping technique and fixed it so he could consciously alter his dream and mess with his captors' heads.


  • The Phantom of the Opera, especially the silent film.
    • Although, in the most recent film adaptation, many people found the unmasking during "The Point of No Return" more Narm than drama.
      • IT'S TERRIBLE, HE HAS A BAD SUNBURN! Christine, run!
    • The Musical has Christine unmasking him twice, but only once can the audience see.
      • In the UK tour celebrating the show's 25th anniversary, she only does it once. The first time she sees him unmasked, he's removed it himself with his back to her and she pulls him to face her.

Video Games

  • Whenever Kirby defeats Meta Knight, his mask flies off and you see...Meta Knight is basically a blue-colored Kirby. How cute! He promptly wraps his cloak over his face and retreats.
  • Vega of Street Fighter has scenes like this. Though his identity is known anyway and the mask is only to protect his face, several adaptations of the games still make a big deal out of him being unmasked by other people and thus having to show his face. Some of the games let the player knock off the mask themselves. He also has a taunt where he takes off his mask himself.
  • The Knights of the Old Republic example above is, of course, inspired by the scene in The Empire Strikes Back with Luke and the hallucinatory Darth Vader.
  • Sadistically played with in Mass Effect 2—Shepard takes Tali's mask off during the culmination of their romance, but we, the players, don't get to see what is underneath her mask before she and Shepard start kissing. Then, to keep the rating where it is, the screen fades to black. Bioware thinks they're funny, evidently.
    • And look what they've wrought...
    • They've realized they can never match the fandom's expetations, and leave it an eternal mystery...
      • Jossed: it is possible to get a photo of Tali's face in Mass Effect 3: a slightly recoloured stock photo.
  • In the Water Path to Frozen Essence, Mina accidentally pulls off the Oracle's hood enough to see his face. The player doesn't recognize the character (whose face isn't shown in any other path), but Mina does and the shock is enough to break her out of her Trauma-Induced Amnesia.

Web Comic

Web Original

  • Actually a dramatic re-masking in Italian Spiderman, where Italian Spiderman rips off the face of his enemy to reveal it to be his enemy Captain Maximum who wears a luchador's mask.

Western Animation

  • This is mandatory in nearly every episode of Scooby-Doo ever made. "Now let's see who you really are!" It's pretty much the Trope Codifier for most people.
    • Parodied (like everything else) in the Johnny Bravo / Scooby Doo Crossover, which had them pulling off numerous masks off of one person, including this one exchange in the middle:

Everyone: Joe Barbera?!
Johnny: [looking at the camera] Who's that?

  • Slade is forcibly unmasked twice in Teen Titans, but both times are somehow twisted around into The Un-Reveal. In the first season, the shadows conveniently blocked his face from view, and in the fourth season, he was conveniently dead, and thus his face was nothing more than a skull.
  • Though he's already aware of her identity, Sentinel knocks off Blackarachnia's face-concealing helmet in Transformers Animated and reveals her mutated face to the audience for the first time. It's noteworthy in that Blackarachnia had spent the entire series lamenting how hideous she had become as a technoorganic, when in reality the only people who'd commented on her form thought she was smokin'. Under the helmet? Nightmare Fuel!
  • In Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Blue Spirit", Aang does this to the mysterious rescuer Blue Spirit, revealing Zuko, his main enemy.
  • Parodied in The Mask, where Pretorius tries pulling off the hero's mask only to find another thing below (a skull, another mask). At one point, alter-ego Stanley Ipkiss's face is seen... but the hero removes that, as it is another mask.
  • Subverted in ReBoot when Bob removes Hexadecimal's mask. There's nothing underneath it and energy erupts out of the hole where the mask was. Bob has to put the mask back on her to stop her from exploding.
  • Spoofed in an episode of American Dad. Roger poses as a college professor, but things go horribly wrong when his "seize the day" philosophy causes a student to murder his father. Near the end, Roger admits that he isn't even a professor, and demonstrates by ripping the patches off his jacket's elbows, causing the student to gasp in shock.
    • In another episode:

Stan: Give it up, Roger!
Roger: I'm not Roger, I'm the Phantom!
(Stan pulls off "The Phantom"'s mask)
Stan: (gasps) Roger!
Roger: Well, yeah, I...what?

  • In The Legend of Zelda episode "Sing For A Unicorn" Sing attacks Link and Zelda, and they presume she's a monster for a short while. When they work out she's human they grab her and unmask her in such a style that it's a Shout-Out to Scooby Doo.