Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Letting the Hulk Out of the Bag

As I have discussed in the past, the secret identity thing could be considered a fate not quite as bad as death. That is, because even the dullest reader in the Silver Age pretty quickly realized that the main hero in a comic never died no matter how close he came (or somehow came back to life after a brief period of time), the secret identity reveal became something that could credibly happen and cost the hero quite a bit as he would either have to retire or create a new identity.

Of course, the problem is that editors back then did not want to create new identities for their established heroes. Oh, they might tease us with it occasionally, and sometimes (e.g., with Superman) more than occasionally, but the story would end in one of a few ways: the discoverer would be conned into thinking that somehow he had gotten it wrong, would suffer amnesia, or would die by the end of the story. On exceedingly rare occasions, the discoverer would turn out to be trustworthy and keep the secret.

Even Marvel was not above using the secret identity revealed "teaser":
In that instance, Peter Parker had the flu and fought so terribly that everybody who watched the removal of his mask ended up believing that he had just pretended to be Spiderman. That's why Tales to Astonish #77 stands out as something new:
And it was no tease; inside, Rick Jones, convinced that Bruce Banner is dead, reveals his secret to Major Talbot:
And not only did Major Talbot not die, but Rick went on to tell Betty Ross, Banner's girlfriend:
You know the old joke? Two people can keep a secret if one of them is dead. Well, with Rick and Talbot and Betty knowing about Bruce Banner being the Hulk, it isn't long before the word gets pretty widespread:
Even the President finds out:
And so the Hulk becomes the first superhero to have his "secret" identity widely revealed.

Note: The Fantastic Four and Doctor Strange never really had secret identities (although in the Strange Tales series it is strongly implied that nobody knows Johnny Storm is the Human Torch), and the Elongated Man decided to let everybody know his real identity of Ralph Dibny voluntarily.


Michael Jones said...

My favourite identity reveal/cover up has to be the Mike/Matt Murdock one.
I don't recall absolutely but was Hank Pym ever really secret?

Pat said...

Mike, I covered the Mike Murdock stories awhile back:

I am not sure how hard a secret Hank Pym kept himself, but as Giant Man he certainly wore a mask.

Michael Jones said...

I recall your Murdock post fondly.

True, even as Yellowjacket he wore a mask. Yet Janet Van Dyne was always in the limelight, surely she was outed as the Wasp at some point.

Pat said...

Yeah, and looking at Avengers #45 she refers to him as Hank Pym in front of photographers. I'll have to do some checking to see what the story is there.

Anonymous said...

Although the unmasking is startling, I thought the story leading up to it was almost as forced as Mike Murdock (and not half as entertaining): Battling the Hulk, Ross unleashes Banner's ultimate invention, The T-Gun, with no idea what it does. Son of a gun, it apparently kills the Hulk (hence Rick's confession) but in reality it's a time machine and Hulk winds up in the distant future where the Executioner, for no particular reason, is leading an alien invasion of Earth.
Reading the first volume of Essential Hulk, I suspect Stan wrote the Hulk stories at 3 am after he'd finished plotting the stuff he cared about, and pretty much wrote whatever popped into his head.-Fraser

Comicsfan said...

This brought back memories of an issue of Spider-Man where he'd been injured after a battle with the Vulture and was ripe for unmasking. But the police prevented it because of a possible issue with violating his civil rights. I don't know what civil right would warrant legal action if someone were to be unmasked, particularly given Spider-Man's troubles with the police--but it was an interesting twist on the whole secret identity issue.

Anonymous said...

I remember a late silver age story where Robin gets unmasked by the doctor treating him. But there are millions of people in Gotham City and the doc has no idea who the kid is. An unusual touch. -fraser

Pat said...

Fraser, I talked about that story a couple years back:

Great plot twist.