After reading some comics today and thinking about one of my previous questions, I was wondering "When was the first use of secret identities in Comics?"

The earliest one I can think of is Superman from his 1938 debut, but I can't tell anywhere if this is the first.

This is what Wiki has to say on the matter:

The use of secret identities dates back to the early 20th century with characters such as the Scarlet Pimpernel, the Lone Ranger, and Zorro. Starting in the 1930s, the concept of a crime-fighters, superheroes, and vigilantes (and their adversaries) adopting secret identities became more widespread in dime novels, pulp magazines, comic books, old-time radio dramas, movie serials, and other popular fiction. Such characters remain popular to this day.

Emphasis mine.

So it might be in the 1930s, but I don't know for sure or when/who was first? IT strikes me that if Superman and Batman debuted in/around 1938 with secret identities that's quite late to be called the 1930's.

When was the first use of secret identities in Comics?

3 Answers 3


The first masked hero with a secret identity to appear in comic books appears to be The Phantom.

His appearance in Ace Comics #11 (February 1937) predates Superman by four months.

You can read more here at the Ace Comic wikipedia page.

However, these appearances were merely reprints of the weekly Phantom strips. I would still say that even Superman was designed as a weekly strip he is still the first original superhero with a secret identity in comic books.

  • +1. Was just about to add Phantom to my answer wen saw yours :) Feb 21, 2012 at 17:41

From superherouniverse.com - Secret identity:

Superman is generally considered to be the first modern day superhero (while not quite the first costumed crime fighter).

AFAIR, Scarlet Pimpernell (1917?) or Zorro (1919) were the first costumed "crime fighters" (as per Wiki wording, though technically speaking both were criminals), but neither was a comic book character until after Superman:

  • I don't know if there were any comics of Scarlet Pimpernell before 1999 "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen". But the hero is generally listed as influence on Superman.

  • Zorro was created by Johnston McCulley originally debuted in print in the 1919 pulp novella, The Curse of Capistrano. His first comic book appearance was in Four Color #228 (1949)

  • Apart from the mask, weren't the Pimpernell and Zorro merely wearing normal clothing for their day? Feb 21, 2012 at 17:09
  • 4
    @DJClayworth - they both had a secret identity. Whether the identity included 100% different wardrobe or merely a mask is not, IMHO, material. Feb 21, 2012 at 17:18
  • You referred to them as "costumed crimefighters" (and technically they were both outlaws fighting government sanctioned oppression, not crime, but I think I've exhausted my nitpicking quota for the day). Feb 21, 2012 at 18:09
  • @DJClayworth - now THAT is definitely a valid point. Amended Feb 21, 2012 at 18:11
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    Here is some 5-years too late nitpicking. The Scarlet Pimpernel came from a 1905 novel, which in turn was based on a play that debuted in 1903. Also he (the Pimpernel) only has one 'l' in his name, but he does have a preceding article. Finally, since someone should have asked, a pimpernel is a flower.
    – kingledion
    May 2, 2017 at 17:10

The concept of secret identities goes back well before the 20th century. Off the top of my head, I can think of Count of Monte Cristo (mid 19th century), several Shakespeare characters, and even Odysseus makes use of a secret identity to infiltrate his house. So the concept was certainly known to literature, and I would imagine that prior to Superman in 1938, someone had adapted these in comic form.

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