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Comic Theme Time Month – Best Identity Reveal

All December long, I will be doing daily installments of Comic Theme Time. Comic Theme Time is a twist on the idea of a “Top Five” list. Instead of me stating a topic and then listing my top five choices in that topic, I’m giving you the topic and letting you go wild with examples that you think fit the theme.

Today’s topic is “what was the best identity reveal in comics?”

We all tend to dwell on the bad reveals to comic book identity mysteries, like Jean Loring in Identity Crisis, so what do you think was the BEST reveal to an identity mystery in comics history? Did you like the revelation of who Sensor Girl was? Was Supernova’s reveal a good one? The Red Hulk? The Red She-Hulk? Walter West? The Red Skull being Dell Rusk?

What is your pick?

NOTE: I loved the reveal from Thunderbolts #1 (who didn’t?), but here I’m talking more about things where the identity of a character (typically a villain) is the key to the storyline. The great thing about Thunderbolts was that the identity of the heroes was NOT presented as a mystery, but rather as a tremendous shock.

83 Comments

I gotta give it up for Busiek’s original Thunderbolts. That was a stellar reveal that set the bar, and I don’t think it could be copied today with the advance news and such.

A reveal in the truest sense of the words: Perfect long-term build up, continuity intact & NO advance previews or spoilers: Darkseid as the Master in the Great Darkness Saga!

Sensor Girl’s arc in the 80′s deluxe Legion series was pretty awesome.

The most classic example would be Norman Osborn, but I liked the Miles Warren and Bart Hamilton reveals of the 70′s even better.

Yeah, I second the reveal of the original Thunderbolts. While maybe it didn’t keep people guessing until the reveal it was still so damn shocking and great

Cyborg Superman. Geoff Johns overused him, but when the original story ran there were a lot of red herrings, and it was a surprise (to me, at least!)

It has to be the reveal that Arcane is possessing Matt Cable’s body in Saga of the Swamp Thing. Not only is it truly and utterly horrific in all its implications (and Moore, Bissette and Totlben do an incredible job at bringing out the horror when Abby realizes it) but the line “Say Uncle” is brilliant.

The Xorn/Magneto reveal as well as the Matt Cable thing.

The other thing that makes the Thunderbolts reveal so great is that there was no reason to EXPECT a reveal at all. IIRC, the Thunderbolts were just pushed as this new group of superheroes that would take over when the heroes disappeared during the Onslaught/Heroes Reborn era, and it was a complete shock that they were really a buncha villains!

Graeme reminds me that I need to catch up on my reading of my ST HCs….

A reveal I like that I doubt anyone will mention is the reveal of who Cerebus is telling all the stuff to in the Latter Days issues (I think the reveal was around 286?).

I would say Onslaught being Xavier after being “spoiled” by Magneto’s mind

…oh and him being revealed as the “killer” from Uncanny X-Men 281

I forget the Issue # at the moment but … how about the pages of the original run of the X-Men in which the kindly white haired stranger lending a helping hand of sorts was revealed to be none other than Magneto himself … only no one realized it until the big reveal later on down the line!

The Outsider is Alfred!!!

Spider Jerusalem

December 27, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Xavier as the “X-Traitor.”
The Masters of Evil are the Thunderbolts!
Anton Arcane controls Matt Cable.
Magneto: “The dream is dead.”
Leviathan revealed, and none of us guessed it.
Swamp Thing was never Alec Holland; he was just “a ghost. A ghost dressed in weeds.”
The “second gunman” in Captain America’s assassination? Sharon Carter.
Geppeto is The Adversary (I called it in the first year of the book, but still, masterfully done).

I’m pretty sure when Rick Remender reveals the identity of the new Crime Master, people will flip out. If I’m wrong about who it is, though, I’ll be quite sad (hint: I think his name rhymes with Red Feeds.)

The mastermind of Zero Hour was….Hal Jordan!

Everyone so far hit favs of mine but I got a couple out of the box ones:

The reveal as to who Dr. Fate and Fury’s child was in the pages of JSA: It forced me to go and read a critically acclaimed series from beginning to end for the first time and search for back issues of Infinity Inc.

The Red Hood reveal…. and of course that got undercut by the Infinite Crisis explanation

The Runaways traitor…. a punch to the gut that was…..

Watchmen…nuff said…..

Where the Heroes Reborn universe actually was…. It was so obvious and yet I TOTALLY missed it

Who the “Masters” were in the Marvel G.I. Joe run and better yet, the connections between Gi Joe and Cobra forged by them….(Zartan most of all… that is still being canon in various interpretations)

and of course the BEST thing to come out of Identity Crisis: In JLA Crisis of Conscience, Batman’s conversation with J’onn about his reasoning

I know I took liberties with the last three, but part of the fun of these reveals is seeing the planning in previous issues being linked together for the surprise…

I’m going for the reveal of Wiccan and Speed as the Scarlet Witch’s twins as one of the best reveals, just in how it was done. The clues were right in front of the reader’s face, but were never really pointed out in a way that would tell the reader “Hey, there’s a mystery going on.” Only when all the pieces are together (like when we meet Wiccan’s brother for the first time, and we learn their names are Thomas and Billy) does everything fall into place and we realize that there was a greater story going on that we weren’t aware of until now.

A few that haven’t been mentioned yet:

- The Grand Wizard or whatever his name was in Captain America was really…Richard Nixon. (Implied, but not directly shown.)

- All-Star Superman: The Unknown Superman of 4500 A.D. is really…our Superman in disguise.

A personal favorite:

- Galactus in Earth X is really…Franklin Richards. I think this counts–there was a slow buildup in the latter issues towards Galactus coming back, but towards the close of the series, they revealed that the real Galactus had become a star. (Which really happened in Marvel continuity!) So the final issue did juggle the question of who he was, until his helmet came off…wham, sucker punch.

Spider Jerusalem

December 27, 2011 at 6:31 pm

The identity of Erik the Red in Uncanny X-Men #350. Bam.

Definitely Thunderbolts #1. Busiek truly hit it out with that reveal. In all the interviews, he was so cryptic and yet clear with his answers when discussing the title when it came out.

Alex Wilder’s reveal in Runaways was another good one as well.

Aunt May discovering that Peter is Spider-Man in the earlier part of the Straczynski run. That was incredibly well-handled and helped make May a much more interesting and vibrant character.

The reveal to the readers, but not to any of the characters, of Magneto being Wanda and Pietro’s father.

And definitely Darkseid in the Great Darkness Saga.

Maelstrom revealing his involvement with the last two years of Quasar stories during the Cosmos in Collision arc.

My personal favorite: finding out Ned Leads was the hobgoblin posthumously

The first thing I thought of was a comic that doesn’t even exist- Alan Moore’s Twilight of the Super-Heroes proposal for DC. The reveal that the unsolved dead boy was Billy Batson, and that Captain Marvel had actually been, for the whole story, J’onn J’onzz in disguise. Now that was a great reveal. Too bad the comic was never made.

I’ll second the posthumous Ned Leeds reveal. It was a very novel way of handling the tried and true villain-reveal, and as a general rule, I love when the shadowy figure ends up being the obvious suspect, since that’s the guy you’ve ruled out from the start.

Similarly, I enjoyed the unmasking of “some dude” as the Crime Master in Ditko’s ASM. It needn’t always be someone near and dear to the hero.

Thunderbolts would be my number 1 pick with Xavier being Onslaught/ x-traitor being a close second

I_Captain Blanco

December 27, 2011 at 9:05 pm

^ Along those same lines, the reveal in KINGDOM COME that “Captain Marvel,” who Luthor has been using to threaten everyone throughout most of the story, was actually just a grown-up Billy Batson the entire time!

The killer of the Guardians of the Globe early on in Invincible.

The reveal that shows Dash as a FBI agent in Scalped #1

The word “reveal” has almost become synonymous with Thunderbolts. It’s certainly the first one I thought of.

Going back a bit, I loved the build-up to the true identity of Carrion (the first time) in Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man #30.

Even further, a very early issue of Uncanny X-Men (#17) had a mysterious intruder to the school taking out the X-Men one by one – just as the Angel’s parents are arriving for a visit. They are met at the door by… Magneto.

A favorite of mine was from Bill Willingham’s Elementals series: Morningstar’s boyfriend proposes to her, and once she accepts, he reveals that all along, “he” was actually her old enemy Shapeshifter, playing an elaborate, sadistic game of revenge. The way the reveal plays out is just brutal.

Bruce Willis was actually a ghost…….a ghost!! That crazy Shyalaman, he fooled us all. The next shocking reveal was….the dude can’t direct, every movie got worse.

As far as comics go, 2 come to mind. Invincible’s father, and the reveal at the end of the a small backup story called ” The boy who collected Spiderman” . A very touching tale that actually made me tear up.

Thunderbolts, sure, but really according to the actual requirements of the category, I’m having a hard time thinking of one. I haven’t read most of the ones above, but of the ones listed, most were either sufficiently forewarned before they happened “Arcane controlled Matt Cable’ ( I did read those issues all at once, but I was not surprised.) or utterly out of left field so that I felt cheated, like who the Red Hulk was. The Earth X plot sounds interesting though.

Ned Leeds was way before my time, but as I have understood from reading Peter David’s blog, the actual writers didn’t agree that it was Ned Leeds until after Ned was actually killed, so you can’t give them credit for being daringly avant garde.

my favorite reveal is one that i totally should have picked up on, but didn’t. Dell Rusk is the Red Skull! mind blown. Avengers: Red Zone, if you didn’t know. :P

Rampage is Iceman!!

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-man #17? In the 70s? Anyone?

I liked how Aunt May (the real one) finds Peter’s Spider-Man costume lying on the floor after he comes home from a vicious battle. I actually found this out from the pop-up feature in the Spider-Man 2 DVD; I have yet to read the comic…

Wasn’t there some mystery as to who Oracle was before it was revealed that she was Barbara Gordon?

I love the Sensor Girl reveal, personally.

Wasn’t there some mystery as to who Oracle was before it was revealed that she was Barbara Gordon?

There definitely was one. Amusingly enough, years later, Chuck Dixon then did a similar mystery as to who Barbara was chatting with online during early issues of Birds of Prey.

Ah dammit, just reading the comments, I’ve had about 6 stories I’ve wanted to read without being spoiled and bam! There goes that notion….

So if you could, guys, just maybe say, f’r example, “the reveal of the Adversary from Fables”, not “the reveal of X as the Adversary from Fables”?

I know, I know, I did it with Thunderbolts, and in this day and age I should know that spoilers should abound. But there are some things ya can’t unsee….

And I would argue that there WAS a mystery regarding the Thunderbolts: ergo, who the heck are these lame characters and why is Kurt Busiek (and Mark Bagley) wasting his time with them?

Too bad Power Company didn’t have a reveal like that….

OH! I kid, I kid. Especially if Kurt drops in like he does sometimes. I really did like Power Company. Neat concept, neat book, very nice Grummett art (and the intro one shots had people like Jurgens and Giffen pencilling…dang, DC, collect Power Company!)

The Thunderbolts reveal was my first thought, but seeing as it’s now off the table, I’ll go with the true identity of the villain(s) in Incredible Hulk #402.

It’s less than a footnote in Marvel continuity, but I thought it was a great moment (SPOILERS … but then, this IS about revalations so I guess there had to be spoilers)…

The Hulk is investigating something in the Amazon River basin (this was during Peter David’s run, during the time that the Hulk had Banner’s intellect and a combination of Banner and the Hulk’s personalities) and gets jumped by a Hulk-sized thug. The Hulk keeps insisting that the guy’s going to be in trouble now that he has his bearings, as soon as he starts getting mad, etc., and the guy proceeds to beat the Hulk to a pulp, finally ranting about how nothing on earth can stop him until a well-timed voice from off panel tells him to stop and he does. The voice belongs to the Red Skull, and the thug was, of course, the Juggernaut, who tells the Skull that he was right when he suggested that the Hulk wouldn’t stand a chance if he wore regular clothes instead of his Juggernaut armor, keeping the Hulk from realizing he was fighting someone he couldn’t hurt.

The cool thing was it was so obvious in retrospect – a red-haired thug who can go toe-to-toe with the Hulk – but until he started ranting about being unstoppable, like the Hulk, I had no idea who he actually was.

I hated the Xorn/Magneto reveal from Morrison – I think it was a last minute idea from him. There were no indications it was Magneto when Xorn first appeared – or that there was actually a need for a reveal. Seemed like a waste of a new character.

And Red She-Hulk? … God no! Making Betty a superhero was a silly move.

Norman Osborn being the Green Goblin, way back in the 60s. C’mon people, how could you forget that!

I don’t think people forgot Norman Osborn being the Green Goblin so much a people didn’t think it was that great a reveal. I remember when I actually read it for the first time in reprints, I found it surprisingly disappointing. I feel that it had to be something slapped together as a resolution after Ditko left the book.

You could fill an entire post only with “Magnetos” reveals.

The one in early X-Men issues, the one in the Neal Adams era, the Claremont/Byrne one, the Claremont/Lee one, the one on Uncanny X-Men #350, the Xorn/Magneto, the second Excalibur series, …

And I’m sure I’m missing some.

As a kid, I wanted to know who took photos of Spidey dumping his clone down a chimney stack.

It was Harry Osborn but no one knew for ages.

Thunderbolts definately.

Does Terra’s reveal in the Judas Contract count?

oh! i totally forgot about Mockingbird in Secret Six!

Did anyone mention Doctor Octopus as the Master Planner? I dug that one when read the reprints in Marvel Tales when I was a kid.

How about Bart Hamilton as Green Goblin number 3? Not that great, but it did stick in my mind.

I’ll second the posthumous Ned Leeds reveal. It was a very novel way of handling the tried and true villain-reveal, and as a general rule, I love when the shadowy figure ends up being the obvious suspect, since that’s the guy you’ve ruled out from the start.

I’ll admit that revealing the ID posthumously was a very novel approach. Otherwise, this was real stinker of a reveal. In fact, I hated it and it bothered me immensely. It seemed totally tacked on and corny, and was the first time (but certainly not the last) Spidey comics really let me down as a kid.

I would go with the Angel/Twilight reveal if it hadn’t been spoiled. It might still be worth an honorable mention.

How about the reveal that Shira Brie was a traitor in Marvel’s old Star Wars book?

have to go with onslaught being xavier due to mind wiping Magnetoe never thought marvel would go that route with the founder of the x-men let alone make xavier bad. plus the huntress starting out as batgirl during no mans land.

Following the guidelines where the reveal is part of a built-up mystery, my picks are:

Runaways, Watchmen, Fables, and posthumous Hobgoblin!

And a nostalgic honorable mention: the identity of Photon in my first comic Nova #12 which crossed over into ASM #171. Set up as a true Agatha Christie/Scooby-Doo type whodunnit. Lots of fun. (and in hindsight, kind of a funny way to play with the death of a main character’s relative, which you’d normally expect to be an emotional issue, but it was really more of a fun mystery).

I’d have to go with the reveal that Benetech’s prisoner was Colossus. Especially considering that Marvel did some clever bait and switch to convince the fans that Jean was coming back(at one point “leaking” a Phoenix image drawn by John Cassaday and then removing the image from the Marvel website). Say what you will about how he was handled post-Resurrection, that scene between him and Kitty was one of the highlights of Whedon’s run.

The mad pie-thrower reveal in Suicide Squad.

Also, the Innocent/Tujiro reveal in Grendel.

Can’t believe no one has mentioned the reveal of who “Barry Allen” really was during the “Return of Barry Allen” arc in “The Flash.” That has to be one of my all-time favorites.

I also loved the non-reveal at the end of the “Scourge” saga in Captain America, where Cap unmasks him, and he’s just… some guy. “What did you expect?” he says. “Your evil twin brother?”

Richard Fisk was the Rose? That Norman Osborn was behind the Clone Saga? Wasn’t planned that way from the start, but it was pretty dramatic, and the guy was dead for 20+ years.

The Chief was the major villain behind the Doom Patrol, circa Morrison’s Vertigo run.

The Thunderbolts reveal was almost spoiled in the ad copy for the Hulk story where they debuted. It originally said something along the lines of “The Hulk encounters the Thunderbolts, a new group of heroes who are actually the Masters of Evil.” Luckily Peter David saw that early enough to stop it.

Thunderbolts reveal.

Great Darkness Saga

As much as I hated Civil War, the Spider-Man=Peter Parker reveal from that was good.

The Hyperclan are white Martians

That the pre-Crisis Black Canary was her own daughter with her mother’s memories! And … okay, I’m kidding about that one. Loved Roy Thomas’ stuff, even enjoyed that story, but that was a bit, um, convoluted.

I never read the story, but the reveal of who is actually behind S.H.I.E.L.D. sounds like either a love it or hate it deal.

The revelation that Peter Parker was May Parker’s son (assuming “Trouble” is still considered canon).

Yes! Astonishing X-Men #4 and its reveal. That’s a terrific one!

Faust, Paul O’Brien and others have written long pieces on the various clues that Morrison laid that Xorn was Magneto, and how the reveal fits with everything that had already been established.

I’d say the Xorn reveal was the best. Thunderbolts gets a lot of credit for its big reveal, but the story didn’t really give the reader time to get invested in the characters.

Harvey Dent’s wife being a “Holiday” in “The Long Halloween”.

Second the Reverse Flash reveal in “Return of Barry Allen”.

And out of the box: the man on the street being the kid in the dream sequence in the Morrison JLA Starro/Dream story in JLA 22/23 (Sorry, I refuse to acknowledge the other name).

I just remembered another one from the Earth X trilogy: the reveal that Daredevil (not Matt Murdock) was nobody. There was rampant speculation that he was Deadpool, Mr. Immortal, Curt Connors, and I don’t know who else. The “Paradise X: Devils” special humorously ran through all of those possibilities and ultimately came up with “Sheesh, why do I have to be ANYBODY?” It was Jim Kruger sort-of giving a humorous pushback to his readers.

Flash Return of Barry Allen was a great one.

But the one I thought of later was the reveal of the Fourth Man in Planetary. I read the trades and probably should have seen it coming, but I didn’t. I’ve read that at the time the issues were coming out, people thought it was so obvious.

Here’s another one no one’s mentioned. It’s a little bit out of left field, but it kinda fits: the first time we actually SEE Mary Jane Watson. We’ve been thinking along with Peter that she’s gonna be a dog, and then va-va-voom!

I can’t believe no-one’s mentioned the reveal in The Golden Age that…

SPOILERS!!

Dynaman has the brain of Adolf Hitler!

darkseid in legion. favorite story ever.

who had visited wally as a kid turning out to be wally older.

didn’t ‘killing joke’ reveal joker as the red hood for the first time?

Am I the only one who figured out that Darkseid was the villain in The Great Darkness Saga? I mean, one of his minions was wearing the no-way-there-can-be-two-of-the-same flying harness his son Orion used. Plus: GREAT. DARKNESS. Sheesh.

How are we this far in and no one, as far as the finder shows, has mentioned Ozymandias as the villain in Watchmen?

That might be the best reveal ever or at least top 5.

Ok, my bad. I see Watchmen was mentioned but not Ozy himself.

Since when has “reveal” become a noun? Don’t you good folks mean “revelation”? Both my dictionaries define “reveal” as a transitive verb. Not a noun.

Perhaps this comes as a revelation to you.

Wertham did say that reading comic books rots your mind…

A couple people have mentioned the appearance of Magneto in the Savage Land but another Neal Adams drawn issue, #65?, had the first reappearance of the presumed dead Professor Xavier. Someone else had been killed in his place after impersonating him (I wonder if that character is still dead, and I’m not naming him on purpose) The reactions of the X-Men really told me this was a big deal. So what if it’s happened half-a-dozen times since.

The true identity of… PROCTOR!!!

…anyone? No? Okay then.

@English Teacher, “reveal” became a noun on March 15, 2003. Please make a note of it.

@English teacher: Reveal became a noun a few weeks after “big bad” did.

I’m pretty sure that directors, authors and other story creating types have been using reveal as a noun for as long as I have been reading them.

Seconding Morrison’s DOOM PATROL #57: The Chief caused the “accidents” that created the original Doom Patrol. Oh, and he’s evil and is going to destroy the world.

Is this the first major “everything you know about this book is a lie” retcon? It seems so old hat now, but it that time (1992) it completely blew my mind.

I’ll second Kirayoshi on Colossus.

Tears were in my eyes with
“that scene between him and Kitty was one of the highlights of Whedon’s run”

Seconding Morrison’s DOOM PATROL #57: The Chief caused the “accidents” that created the original Doom Patrol. Oh, and he’s evil and is going to destroy the world.

Is this the first major “everything you know about this book is a lie” retcon? It seems so old hat now, but it that time (1992) it completely blew my mind

Swamp Thing’s The Anatomy Lesson pre-dated it by several years.

…and they ALL would have gotten away with it if it was not for those damn meddling kids!

And how can no one mention the reveal of the mastermind in Nextwave: Agents Of Hate #12? And I’m not talking about Baby Modok! gaaaahhh I miss that book so much….

Nextwave probably wins about half the surveys Brian has posted this month, but it is a tad postmodern, so perhaps that doesn’t mean as much as it would otherwise. However much it would mean otherwise, I’m not sure.

But yeah, great series. Looks like ‘Secret Avengers’ might be almost as good though.

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