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This is when, normally in a movie or television adaptation of a superhero story, the villain discovers the hero's secret identity, but is killed in that same story/arc/episode/whatever two minutes after.

This is done to heighten the dramatic tension between the two enemies, as now both are on a level playing field and the villain's threat level is elevated. However, the writers (normally) don't let the villain last that long, since if there's a bad guy out there who knows the biggest secret of the mythos, he'd definitely eclipse all other bad guys and would never cease to be a threat, at least not until he's put down for good. This can also come in the form of a coma, amnesia, or imprisonment for years and years.

A sub-trope of It's Personal and Killed to Uphold the Masquerade, but in this situation it's normally the writers' decision to pull the Secret Identity trigger when they need to raise the stakes on a particular story/arc/series, but don't want to deal with long-term consequences.

As a Death Trope, all Spoilers will be unmarked ahead. Beware.

Examples of Death by Secret Identity include:

Anime & Manga

  • This sometimes happens to Sailor Moon villains. Specific examples are Jadeite and Nephrite in the first series, and all of the Animamates. In Jadeite, Sailor Iron Mouse, and Sailor Aluminum Siren's cases, they were both killed by the main Big Bad of the series before they could tell the Big Bad they had discovered at least one Senshi's secret identity (Siren and Jadeite both died pleading that they had that knowledge, but Iron Mouse didn't even get a chance to say anything about it to Galaxia, she was so scared and blabbering about unanswerable Japanese riddles).
  • Case Closed: Pisco, a member of the Black Organization, figures out Ai's identity, but he's executed by Gin for screwing up on an assassination before he can say anything. (On the other hand, Vermouth also knows, but keeps mum due to her friendship with Shinichi's mother and perhaps also a desire to see whether or not Shinichi succeeds in taking the organization down.)
    • Done again with Irish in the 13th film.
  • In an issue of Go Nagai's ecchi superhero manga, Maboroshi Panty, when Waki, the Villain of the Week, unmasks the title heroine (in a most unusual way), she immediately pulls out a hunting rifle and offs him.
  • Subverted big time in Code Geass. After Villetta walks in on Shirley's discovery that Lelouch is Zero, she goads her into turning him in. Shirley, who has been in love with Lelouch, yet wanting to avenge her father's death that he was responsible for as Zero, freaks out and shoots Villetta... who gets better, courtesy of Ohgi.

Comic Books

  • Identity Crisis. We learn that during The Silver Age of Comic Books and The Golden Age of Comic Books, villains learned superheroes' secret identities all the time. Heroes toed the line of the Moral Event Horizon by using Zatanna to make them forget.
  • In the Batman comics, the Ra's al-Ghul subversion is the same as in Batman: The Animated Series.
    • The Riddler learnt during the Hush storyline after using one of Ra's al-Ghul's lazarus pits, and was convinced not to blab it since a riddle ("Who is Batman") is worthless if everyone knows it, not to mention that doing so would alert Ra's al-Ghul that he used a pit without permission. Later, he got both Easy Amnesia and a Heel Face Turn as well.
      • The Hush storyline in general makes it seem Batman sucks at keeping secrets, as it brings together just about everyone who knows his identity, then throws in a couple more.
    • In various continuities, Batman tells Joe Chill that he's the son of Thomas and Martha Wayne. In Batman #47 (1948), Chill blurts out to some other criminals that he "created" Batman, and they kill him. In Modern Age Batman: Year Two, Chill gets killed by the Reaper. Batman the Brave And The Bold is similar to the Golden Age version, however Batman saves Chill... but sees him get killed by falling masonry.
  • The Spider-Man comic book incarnation of the Harry Osborne Green Goblin and, after coming Back From the Dead, Norman Osborne, both knew Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and have frequently acted on this knowledge. So did Venom. This is part of the reason the Goblin and Venom used to be his most dangerous enemies.
    • The original Green Goblin actually had known Spider-Man's secret for a long time, but he did suffer from a convenient partial amnesia (when he wasn't Goblin-crazy, he couldn't remember what he had done as the Goblin and therefore also not that Peter Parker was Spider-Man) that later also affected his son Harry.
    • The Amazing Spider-Man #200 featured Spider-Man's confrontation with the burglar who killed Uncle Ben. After Peter unmasked in a scene that reads like a Shout-Out to the Batman-Joe Chill showdown, the burglar suffers a fatal heart attack.
      • In the first movie, the robber dies in a self-inflicted accident after Spider-Man pulls his mask off to him when he catches up with him in an abandoned house.
  • Perhaps a reason why The Joker has Joker Immunity is that he has had opportunities to learn Batman's secret identity, but for the most part, he does not care to know. For him, matching wits against Batman is what interests him most and having that air of mystery removed from his nemesis would make him less entertaining a foe.
  • World's Finest #173, "The Jekyll-Hyde Heroes!" Dr. Arron develops a Psycho Serum that turns the drinker into their most feared enemy and doses both Batman and Superman. He's hit with his own serum at the end, and since he fears both heroes equally, he turns into a half and half version of them. He's also learned their secret identities, but overexposure to the serum leaves him a raving lunatic.
  • This happens every time someone sees the face of The Phantom - quite in line with the Old Jungle Saying that says that anyone who does so will die a horrible death. This is despite the fact that The Ghost Who Walks really doesn't have a secret identity - and neither is he the supernatural being the Old Jungle Sayings assume he is.
    • To be fair, the (current) Phantom's wife, adoptive son, and presumably his real children have all seen his face without a mask too, and none of them have so far died horribly for it. Presumably the Old Jungle Saying has a caveat built in for voluntary de-maskings.
  • Averted in an Astro City story in which a small-time hood accidentally discovers Jack-in-the-Box's identity. He considers selling the information to the hero's enemies... until it occurs to him that those enemies are ruthless enough to use cheaper methods to make him talk, after which they would no longer need him alive and indeed would prefer him dead. He leaves town, apparently intending to forget the whole thing.

Film

  • In the Spider-Man film series, Green Goblin is impaled soon after he discovers Peter's secret. In the second film, a big part of the movie marketing was that Harry would learn Peter's secret, but Harry's death wouldn't come until he made the full transition to baddie in the third movie. Peter also reveals his identity to Doc Ock, probably knowing that this trope would spell death for the doctor. In the final movie, this works against Eddie Brock/Venom, but actually leads to the redemption of the Sandman.
    • Also in the first movie the robber who (apparently) killed Uncle Ben dies in a convenient accident seconds after Spider-Man unmasks to him.
  • In the Batman film series, Bruce Wayne inadvertently reveals his identity to Max Schreck during the climax of Batman Returns, and Max is deep-fried soon after. In Batman Forever, Two-Face and the Riddler get taken out soon after they learn the truth: Two-Face suffers a Disney Villain Death and The Riddler goes mad from the revelation his Box technology getting destroyed by Batman, and is later seen in Arkham proclaiming that he is Batman and laughing.
    • Vicki Vale and Catwoman, however, manage to survive after learning Bruce Wayne's secret in Batman and Batman Returns.
  • In The Incredibles, Syndrome figures out not only who the Parr family is but also where they live, kidnapping their kid. Not long after that...
  • Batman: Gotham By Gaslight has Jack the Ripper dying shortly after Selina Kyle attempts to exonerate Bruce Wayne (as he in fact the police commissioner) by revealing him as Batman, He could have gone to prison and expose Bruce to everyone, but he instead committed suicide.
  • Mystery Men plays with this trope as the main baddie knew for years his archenemy's secret identity, but was in prison. When he gets out, it doesn't take too long before the Big Bad uses his knowledge to kill the hero. Wait...what?
  • In Batman Begins, Ducard/Ra's al-Ghul knows that Bruce Wayne is Batman, but is spared by this knowledge due to Bruce thinking of Ducard as an ally. When Ducard reappears in the finale as the Big Bad, he's toast.
  • In the 1949 serial adventures of Batman & Robin, Jimmy Vale (who is working for the Big Bad) discovers that an unconscious Batman is his sister's boyfriend. He puts on the suit and leads the other bad guys away from Bruce. Unfortunately, "away" means up to the top of a building where he then does a Martin Sheen.

Live Action TV

  • Lex Luthor in Lois and Clark: When Clone Lois tells him she's learnt that Clark is Superman, the Karmic Death is just a matter of time.
  • Two criminals in The Adventures of Superman stumble onto Superman's secret identity. Unfortunately for them, in this series he doesn't have other superheroes in disguise, holograms, or such to throw them off the trail. He takes them off to a remote cabin high in a mountain range and tells them he'll keep bringing them supplies. They don't believe him and try to escape, dying in the process.
  • An episode of The Flash live-action series has a baddie discovering his Secret Identity and blackmailing him (with even a They Would Cut You Up threat). He ended up killed by other baddies, with a Car Starter Bomb.
  • Strangely averted by Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Everyone seems to believe that it's incredibly important for no one to realize that Buffy is, in fact, a slayer, even her mother. Most of the villains already know, however, and when the muggles eventually find out, by and large there are no ramifications whatsoever.
    • It's more the fact that any time a vampire comes across a lone, blonde teenage girl who, instead of screaming in terror, makes threats and pulls out a stake, they can be reasonably sure that it's the Slayer; most of the time, they dismiss her until she gets to ready to fight, and then their eyes bug out and they say "It's the Slayer!". Her house hasn't really even been attacked by vampires (though that could also be because they can't come into dwellings without an invitation). Still completely averted with Glory though, a non-vampire Big Bad who knows Buffy's name and address and even visits her house to have a "nice" chat; Glory doesn't die until many episodes after that.
  • It happened to any bad guy who learned Zorro's secret identity in Disney's live action Zorro series.
  • In Ringer, Gemma learns that it's Bridget pretending to be Siobhan, and gets murdered, or at least disappeared, soon after.

Web Comics

  • Zigzagged in almost every possible way in the Ciem Webcomic Series. Most of Candi's enemies die long before getting the chance to figure out that she's Ciem. Oftentimes, by their own devices.
    • Even when they know that Donte is Emeraldon and that Emeraldon has Ciem as a sometimes-sidekick; and that Donte has a girlfriend whom he visits frequently, who just so happens to be the same ethnicity as one of Shalia Flippo's daughters, whom they suspect of being the Chosen One, and who even has the same first name, they still can't figure it out! And her only disguise that she's not a Flippo is dyed-red hair and her ex-husband's last name!
    • Kolumn plays it straight, being the second Big Bad after Kimi to deduce what should have been obvious to everyone. Yet, those two invert the trope by being killed more because they don't know that Dolly is the Earwig than because they know Candi is Ciem.
    • Jeraime is saved by having the Musaran AI visor destroyed, allowing him to be freed from his Brainwashed and Crazy state and pull a Heel Face Turn.

Western Animation

  • In Batman: The Animated Series, this is subverted as Ra's al-Ghul actually knew Bruce Wayne's secret for a long time, but never planned to expose it to the world or even hold it over Bruce's head, and his death came years and years after the first conflict with Batman.
    • Hugo Strange also learns it, and lives. However, Batman sets him up and makes the supervillains he's trying to sell the info to think he's planning to betray them. Consequently, none of them believe him when he tells them the truth.
    • Dirty Cop Gil Mason removes Batgirl's mask and realizes it is Barbara Gordon, whose father he'd been framing and being said girl he likes. He is so horrified by the discovery he lets her go and hits his head. Mason falls into a coma and is never seen or mentioned as having come out of it.
    • Batman Beyond: Before he can expose Bruce and Terry's secret on a tabloid television program, Ian Peek's Intangible Man gadget turns him completely intangible and he falls to the Earth's core.
      • Notably, they come close to discussing the concept in this one -- Bruce was sure someone would find out eventually, and is disappointed, "galled", that it had to be a loudmouth full of hot air like Peek. As it turns out, upon learning that Peek is in danger from his own belt, Bruce is also willing to still try to save him, until he figures out how dirty Peek's hands are, Peek gives a Motive Rant that amounts to "my star power meant more than his life", and he's still trying to blackmail him, at which point, uncharacteristically even then, old man Bruce just seems to give up on trying to save his life.
    • Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Joker dies not long after telling Bruce he learned his secret identity after torturing Tim Drake. Twice, technically.
    • Batman the Brave And The Bold. Joe Chill is killed by a building collapse after Bruce Wayne reveals his identity to him as Batman.

 The Phantom Stranger: Funny how he was standing right under that ceiling that fell.

The Spectre: I wouldn't know anything about that.

  • Superman: The Animated Series: A corrupt police officer tries to kill Clark Kent when he finds incriminating evidence about the officer in a murder case. Clark survives (for obvious reasons), but lies low while he continues investigating. In the end, the officer is convicted and Clark mysteriously reappears. As he is sent to the gas chamber, he can't figure out how Clark could have survived, and then makes the inevitable conclusion — "He's Superman!" — just as the switch is pulled.
    • In the 60's Superman cartoon, Parasite immediately learns Superman's identity when he drains Clark, which for the genre savvy is a clue that he is going to die at the end of that episode. And he does.
  • In The Batman, shortly after threatening to reveal Bruce's and Dick's secret identities, The Joker killed Wrath and Scorn for The Only One Allowed to Defeat You reasons.
  • In Iron Man: Armored Adventures, three villains have learned Iron Man's secret identity. One of them got slapped by Laser-Guided Amnesia and the other was put in a coma for the trouble. The third, ever the pragmatist, decided to keep it a secret so he could blackmail Tony with it after Tony had some major financial assets to his name.
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