Saturday, April 24, 2010

Batman's Secret Identity

After awhile, even the slowest comic book fan begins to realize that there is no such thing as death for a major character. Oh, sure, the publisher may play games with a "Death of Superman" or "Batman, RIP" storyline. These days about the only characters who haven't been resurrected somehow are Thomas and Martha Wayne, and I'm not even sure about them.

So with death off the table, the secret identity becomes another way that the hero can lose, and so DC had many secret identity stories concerning Batman over the years. I'm going to try to catalog those stories as much as I can. I'll keep a running tally of the number of people who have discovered Batman was secretly Bruce Wayne. Of course, those people can be further subdivided into four main categories:

1. People who retained the knowledge.
2. People who learned that Bruce Wayne was Batman, but were later convinced otherwise.
3. People who learned that Bruce Wayne was Batman but suffered amnesia and forgot it.
4. People who learned that Bruce Wayne was Batman but died.

This will, of course, be an enormous undertaking, and I certainly invite your participation.

Robin, of course, becomes the first to learn Batman's real identity in Detective #38 (April 1940). Perhaps not surprisingly, this is implied rather than stated, as you can see from these two panels:

In the first panel, Batman is swearing him in while wearing his cowl, and in the second they are exercising together unmasked. Robin is the first of the Category 1 people to learn Batman's secret identity.

In Batman #5 a female accomplice of the Joker's named Queenie recognizes a shaving nick on Batman's face as being identical to one she'd seen on Bruce Wayne earlier. Queenie prevents another accomplice from killing Batman and takes a slug in the back for her trouble:

Queenie is the first to learn Batman's secret identity on her own, and the first of the unfortunate Category 4 people.

The second person to learn of Batman's secret identity on his own is Scoop Scanlon in World's Finest #6.
But an old actor named Mark Loring, whom Batman has loaned money, also learns the secret, and does a starring role performing the Caped Crusader shortly before dying to convince Scoop that he's wrong.  Thus Scoop becomes a Category 2 and Loring a Category 4.  Hat tip to commenter Rowerowe Fight the Power, who reviewed this issue here.


Dana Drye is referred to by Batman as "the Dean of detectives, greatest of them all," in Batman #14. He discovers Batman's secret identity and knows it for several years before committing suicide in a particularly ingenious manner so as to look like he was murdered:

Batman decides to keep Drye's secret since the master detective kept his and this becomes The Case Batman Failed to Solve! Drye becomes another category 4 decedent.

In Batman #16, Alfred the butler accidentally discovered the entrance to the Bat-Cave and became aware that his master, Bruce Wayne, was secretly the Batman:

Alfred becomes the third Category 1 secret identity learner, and the first to discover it and live.

In Detective #70, a phony mind-reader named Carlo suddenly discovers that he can read minds after a bit of brain surgery goes awry.  He uses his telepathic powers for criminal gain, and when about to be captured by Batman, plays the trump card:
But he's shot by one of the men he attempted to rob, and when, dying, he writes Batman's secret identity in the sand, it is covered up by the rising tide.  Carlo is another early Category 4.  Hat tip again to commenter Rowerowe Fight the Power, who reviewed this issue here.  Good job, sir!

Commenter Lee points out one of the more famous secret identity reveals in the Batman canon: Joe Chill from Batman #47 (June-July 1948):

But when he tells a few other crooks that he's the reason Batman took up the cowl, they murder him, only belatedly realizing that he could have told them Batman's real identity. So Joe Chill is a Category 4 secret identity discoverer.

Batman #48 (Aug-Sept 1948) features The 1000 Secrets of the Batcave, in which an escaped convict named Wolf Brando discovers the Batcave is attached to the Wayne Mansion and makes the correct deduction:

But some bats startle Brando and he falls into a whirlpool and drowns, becoming an early Category 4 person.

Batman #49 (Oct-Nov 1948) introduces Vicki Vale, a photographer who was apparently intended as Batman's equivalent of Lois Lane as a secret identity pest. She does a little photographic analysis here:

But in a very convoluted way, Bruce convinces her he's not the Caped Crusader, and Vicki becomes a Category 2 person. Vicki, like Lois, would often have her suspicions over the years.

In World's Finest #39 (Mar-Apr 1949), a mystery writer named J.J. Jason decides to test his own deductive abilities by learning Batman's real identity. He hits the mark:

But, in one of the more bizarre methods of secret identity-saving, Bruce has hired a deaf and blind man to impersonate Batman. Bruce uses his ventriloquist ability to speak for the Batman, and is able to convince Jason that he was wrong in his deduction. Thus J.J. falls into Category 2.

In Batman #64, Killer Moth correctly deduces Batman's real identity:

But he later becomes convinced he was wrong, and thus falls into Category 2.
In Detective #173, Killer Moth decides to have plastic surgery to make him look like Bruce Wayne. Once he takes over Bruce's life, he quickly discovers his secret:
But at the end of the story:
So Killer Moth also falls into Category 3.
In Superman #76 (May-June 1952), Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, very improbably, find themselves cabin-mates on a cruise ship. And when an emergency arises, they discover each other's secret identity:

So Superman/Clark Kent becomes a rare Category 1 secret identity discoverer.

In Batman #71, Commissioner Gordon becomes obsessed with finding out Batman's secret ID:

But Bruce cottons to his plans and foils them. In the end, Commissioner Gordon realizes that he's better off not knowing.

In Detective #179, Deuce Chalmers believes he has deduced Batman's secret identity. To prove it, he impersonates Batman while Bruce Wayne is stuck performing as mayor for a week. However, Batman foils him by hypnotizing the mayor's secretary and disguising him as Bruce Wayne. Chalmers is a category 2 person.

In Detective #213, the Mirror Man learns Batman's real name via an x-ray mirror device that he stole from a scientist:

But Batman realizes that his secret is out and convinces the Gotham Gazette to run an article about the many times his secret identity has been falsely believed to be Bruce Wayne. Thus, although the Mirror Man remains a Category 1 person at the end of the story, he is unable to convince anybody else. The Mirror Man returned about a decade later in Batman #157 (Aug 1963):

This is a complicated story that ends with Alfred dressed up as Batman in the scene shown above and Bruce Wayne as himself. In an amusing bit, Alfie (as Batman) gives a kiss to Vicki Vale to prove how much he appreciates her intended help on the case, however mistaken she was about his real identity (she had indeed hired an actor to play the part of Bruce earlier), causing this crisis. Anyway Mirror Man was a long-time #1, apparently converted to a #2 in this issue.

In Detective #217, a janitor named Barney Barrows is accidentally exposed to rays that stimulate his brain powers enormously. With his new mental abilities, deducing that Batman is Bruce Wayne is a snap:

But Barrows forgets Batman is Bruce Wayne a few days later, when his brain returns to normal, so he becomes a Category 3 person.

In Detective #226 (December 1955), we learned that Batman had studied detecting with a private eye named Harvey Harris. To protect his (later) secret identity, he had dressed up as Robin, and not revealed his real name to the detective. However, Harris had deduced it on his own:

Harris had died by the end of the story, so he falls into Category 4.

Batman #96 included the story Batman's College Days. Joe Danton was a rival of Bruce's in college, and gets his revenge on the people who snubbed him back then by plotting to kill them all in a cruise on a doomed sailing ship. At a crucial moment he recognizes a scar on Batman's wrist as one he had caused to Bruce Wayne, and it appears that even if the cruise survives, he will reveal the secret to the other Gotham U grads on board. Improbably:

Joe Danton is another Category 4 secret identity discoverer. In Batman #101, we learn that an unnamed man had discovered Batman's secret identity:
By accident, Alfred puts that cape in with the rest of Batman's costumes. Later, in a hurricane, the cape and cowl is blown away, and so Batman must track it down before someone discovers his identity. This is a variation on the classic story, The Secret of Batman's Utility Belt, where people find the missing item and use it to solve personal crises. A daredevil gets a movie job by wearing the cape, as a movie director watches him and sees him performing great stunts. An aviator who's become afraid of heights wears it and conquers his phobia by saving a little girl's cat, which has crawled out onto a ledge. As it happens, neither man discovers Batman's identity because the daredevil doesn't read English (he's French) and the message was destroyed before the aviator found the cape by... Superman, who happened to discover it in between the other two:


Hat Tip to NESboy on that one.

In Batman #120 (Dec, 1958), we learned of Bruce's great-uncle, Silas Wayne's disappointment in Bruce, who he thought was a "rich idler". Bruce made some efforts to demonstrate that he was more than that, but in the end he seals the deal with his dying uncle by revealing that he is the Batman:

A Category 4 identity revelation.

In Batman #121, a crook named Alec Wyre tails a bat that Batman had sent as a warning to get out of town, back to the Batcave, and learns that Bruce was Batman.  However:
Wyre joins the many crooks who learned Batman's secret identity but died soon thereafter.


A few issues later, in Batman #125 (August 1959) a secret identity crisis made the front cover:

In the story, Batman, Robin and a criminal named Gurney are transported to another dimension. Batman wins an athletic competition and is startled to learn that the prize is to be king of that world, although he must reveal his face in order to be crowned. Reasoning that his secret identity didn't matter in this other dimension, he agrees, but Gurney observes the scene and recognizes Bruce. They eventually find their way back through the dimensional portal, but have lost all memory of their time on the other planet. Thus Gurney becomes a fairly rare Category 3 person.

In Batman #134 (Sept 1960), Bruce receives a surprising letter:

Using clues they found in the letter and envelope, Batman and Robin manage to defeat two criminals, who turn out not to be Mr X. A third letter gives them the key clue; it's Tod Allen, a friend of Bruce's from the Sportsman's Club. However, when they visit his office:

Tod Allen falls into the unfortunate Category 4.

Batman's New Secret Identity is the cover story to Batman #151 (Nov 1962):

This is something of an unusual tale in that Batman's secret identity is learned by everyone, when Batman and Robin prevent a runaway car from hitting a bus full of schoolchildren. After the impact, Batman is kayoed and his mask falls off. He takes on a new identity:

But eventually those identities are discovered as well. Fortunately, it's Alfred writing another one of his stories:


The Joker story mentioned came a few months earlier, in Batman #148 (June 1962). Here's the cover:

But it's a fake-out, as the bright light shining in the Joker's eyes temporarily blinded him from seeing Bruce.

Batman revealed his secret identity to the Elongated Man in Detective #331 (September 1964):

But it's an Category 3 revelation. The Elongated Man has been hit with a ray that will give him amnesia about what he's done for the last 12 hours, so Bruce knows he won't remember the information.

In a very improbable moment, Batman reveals his secret identity to Jimmy Olsen in World's Finest #144 (September 1964):

Thus Jimmy becomes the only Category 1 person to learn Batman's real identity in the Silver Age, and only the third person to whom Bruce revealed it voluntarily.

In Detective #351 (May 1966), Aunt Harriet stumbles on the elevator that goes down to the Batcave, and despite some initial doubt comes to the obvious conclusion:

However, Bruce and Dick quickly realize the danger and convince her that they are just good friends with the Dynamic Duo. So Aunt Harriet falls into Category 2.

In Brave and Bold #83 (Apr-May 1969), Bruce adopts Lance Bruner, the orphaned son of a family friend. Lance is a bad seed, as we learn when he stumbles on the entrance to the Batcave:
At the end of the story, Lance repents his wicked ways, just in time to stop a bullet intended for Robin. Thus, he falls into Category 4.

In Batman #208, we are introduced to Mrs Chilton, who (according to that one comic only) was the housekeeper for Bruce's Uncle Phillip, and who took on the responsibility for raising him. She reveals (to us) that she's aware that Bruce is really Batman, but the real shocker comes later:
That was retconned in the 1980s. Instead of Mrs Chilton, a doctor named Leslie Thompkins had been responsible (along with Alfred) for raising Bruce after the deaths of his parents, and she, too, was aware of his dual role as Batman.

In Brave & Bold #85, Bruce reveals his secret to Edmond Cathcart, the son of an old friend who wants him to run for his dad's Senate seat:
At the end of the story, Edmond self-hypnotizes himself out of knowing Batman's secret identity, so he becomes a Category 3 person.

Batman #232 features the first appearance of longtime Batman nemesis Ras al Ghul, who introduces himself by announcing that he knows Bruce Wayne is Batman:
Obviously, Ras' servant Ubu knows as well, and his daughter Talia, all of whom fit into Category 1.

Who knows what man lurks beneath that cowl?  The Shadow knows:
Another rare Type 1.


In Detective #475, we learn that Silver St. Cloud, a love interest of Bruce's, has learned his secret:

Silver retains the knowledge, marking her as Category 1.

In Batman #304, we are introduced to Dr. Douglas Dundee, a close friend of Thomas Wayne, and something of a mentor to Bruce while he was growing up.
Another rare example of Bruce revealing himself voluntarily to someone.

In Detective #494, Doctor Bradford Thorne, the Crime Doctor, recognizes a bandage that he had put on Bruce Wayne:

But in the following issue, a criminal boss named Silversmith poisons the doctor in an effort to force him to reveal Batman's real name. Our hero gets him to a hospital in time to save his life, but:

Chalk Dr. Thorne up as a particularly unfortunate member of Category 3.

There are many more secret identity stories to come; this post will eventually be huge.


Running Totals:

Category 1 (Learned and retained the knowledge): Dick Grayson, Alfred, Superman, Mirror Man (from 1954-1963) Jimmy Olsen, Mrs Chilton, Ras Al Ghul, Ubu, Talia, the Shadow, Silver St. Cloud, Leslie Thompkins, Dr Douglas Dundee,

Category 2 (Learned and were convinced otherwise): Scoop Scanlon, Vicki Vale (multiple times), J.J. Jason, Killer Moth, Mirror Man (1963-onwards), Aunt Harriet,

Category 3 (Learned but had amnesia): Killer Moth, Gurney, Elongated Man, Dr. Bradford Thorne, Barney Barrows, Edmond Cathcart,

Category 4 (Learned but died): Queenie, Mark Loring, Dana Drye, Carlo, Joe Chill, Wolf Brando, Joe Danton, Tod Allen, Harvey Harris, Unknown Man (Batman 101), Silas Wayne, Alec Wyre, Lance Bruner.

12 comments:

  1. No-one, I repeat NO-ONE should ever, under ANY circumstances divulge their secret ID to Jimmy Olsen!

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  2. That makes Supes a hypocrite. Jimmy is supposedly his best pal yet he doesn't trust JO with his secret ID. This had to be written under the checkered flags

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  3. You overlooked at least one category 4 instance, Pat.

    In the oft-reprinted "The Origin of Batman" (Batman #47, June-July 1948) Batman deliberately reveals that he is Bruce Wayne to Joe Chill, his parents' killer. Chill is later gunned down by mobsters (highly improbably IMO) infuriated that he was responsible for Batman coming into being. Only after Chill is dead do the crooks realize they've killed the only man who could have told them Batman's secret identity.

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  4. Yeah, the Jimmy Olsen bit drove me crazy the first time I read it, too. The Weisinger-edited issues of World's Finest are about as crazy as it gets.

    Lee, good point about Joe Chill; I'll add him to the mix in the next day or so.

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  5. I can't dip back into the Golden Age, but a couple of examples come to mind:

    Composite Superman. A Category 3 case...twice!

    "The Untold Legend of Batman". The most excellent mini-series of 1980 that covered all things Batman in three compact issues. In it, Batman is bedeviled by someone fully cognizant of his dual identity. In the end, it turns out the mystery man was himself, suffering from a concussion. SO, Bruce Wayne is both a Category 3 and then a Category 1!

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  6. There was a silver age JLA story where evil duplicates of theirs appeared and started committing crimes. The League was forbidden by law to appear in their costumes, so they operated in their civilian identities and learned eached other's real names. At the end of the store, Superman uses "amnesium" I think to erase the memory of the secret identities from each Leaguer's mind.

    Sometime after this, and I don't remember when exactly, all the JLA openly knew each other's identities.

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  7. Great post! I hope you continue it soon, as I'd really like to know who else knows Batman's secret identity.

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  8. no more updates?

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  9. Roger C. Carmel was a villain in a 1966 or '67 TV episode. He suspected that Bruce Wayne was the Green Hornet and that Britt Reid was Batman. There was also a World's Finest Dollar Comic in the late 1970's where another lame villain found the abandoned Arrow Cave, assumed it was the Batcave, and concluded that Oliver Queen was the Batman.

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  10. Thanks for the update, Pat. Glad to have made a contribution.

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  11. In World's Finest #6, a reporter named Scoop Scanlon figures it out, but is convinced otherwise when Bruce Wayne appears with Batman -- but Batman is actually a dying actor who owed Batman a favour named Loring. Thus two more for the list -- Scoop is a Category 2, and Loring a Category 3.
    See my review of this comic at http://goldenagebat.blogspot.ca/ for more deets!

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  12. Here's another one for you: Detective Comics #70, "The Man Who Could Read Minds", a mind-reader named Carlos goes on a crime spree and blackmails Batman from stopping him by threatening to reveal his secret identity. He ends the story a Category 4 -- dead without having been able to reveal anything.
    http://goldenagebat.blogspot.ca/2013/08/detective-comics-70-december-1942.html

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