Super Heroes and Secret Identities. They go together like capes and cowls. Since the inception of the super hero in Action Comics #1, comic characters have had secret identities. Batman was secretly millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne, Daredevil was lawyer Matt Murdock, even Underdog lived a normal life as Shoeshine. But in the most recent MCU movies, Marvel has taken steps to rid its heroes of secret identities entirely.
It all began in 2008 with Iron Man, the first movie in the modern Marvel Cinematic Universe. Tony Stark, in his characteristically flippant manner, announced to the world that he was in fact Iron Man. Roll credits. Uproar. Holy crap! His secret identity is blown! How can they possibly do another movie now? What will even happen?
After that came Captain America. Everyone knew that Steve Rogers was the first super soldier. It was in the history books. Coulson had the trading cards. Then The Incredible Hulk. Nobody really knew anything about the monsters destroying Queens, so it’s really unclear as to whether Bruce’s identity was public. Thor wasn’t known on Earth until the events of The Avengers, but after that his name was hardly a secret. I assume that after having taken the mantle of Captain America, Sam Wilson will be as much a public figure as Steve Rogers ever was, but I suppose we’ll learn more about that later this year when The Falcon and The Winter Soldier airs on Disney Plus.
Black Widow, Hawkeye, and War Machine work for the government and generally seem to keep a low profile. But neither Clint or Natasha wear masks, and Rhodey is well-known among the armed forces, so none of their identities are well-kept secrets.
Wakanda’s Black Panther was certainly once a secret. But then again, Wakanda was once a secret as well. When T’Challa was apprehended and unmasked during the events of Captain America: Civil War, it seems likely that he went public.
Doctor Strange, Nick Fury, and quite a few others don’t have superhero names at all. Certainly the only one of the Guardians of the Galaxy who even has a title other than their own name is Star-Lord, and he learned during his first on-screen scene that nobody knew who Star-Lord was. I’d have to say that the same is likely true for Captain Marvel, as she hasn’t spent much time on Earth for the past decade. And it’s not as if she wears a mask anyway.
There are certainly some of the heroes we’ve discussed here for whom it’s arguable. Do they have a secret identity? It’s not entirely clear. But it’s certainly never made into an issue. Does the world at large know that Scott Lang is Ant-Man and that Hope Van Dyne is The Wasp? Not really clear, but it’s never a plot point.
In which MCU movie is it certainly made a plot point? Only one that I can think of. Spider-Man.
Peter Parker goes to great lengths to conceal his secret identity. We see him considering having Spider-Man appear at a party to boost Peter’s popularity, and even having an entirely different black costume made so that nobody will associate Peter Parker’s European vacation with Spider-Man’s appearance there. The fact that Adrian Toomes learns who he is and opts not to reveal it is a big deal.
Much was made of Tony Stark passing the torch to Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Far From Home. And Iron Man’s journey from his first film to his ultimate sacrifice and demise in Avengers: Endgame ended an era for the MCU. At the close of that film, Peter Parker was the only remaining Avenger who actually had a secret identity.
And then that was taken away by J. Jonah Jameson and his Daily Bugle program. Roll credits. Uproar. Holy crap! His secret identity is blown! How will they do another Spider-Man movie now? What will even happen?
So much for secret identities.