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Ranking the Most Convincing Superhero Alter Egos

Why do superheroes have alter egos—and which of those identities is the real them?
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As Buffy Summers once said, “Having a secret identity in this town is a job of work.” Some superheroes hide their real names to protect the people they love, while others invent identities in order to pass as human. Here are our favorite superhero alter egos ever.

There might even be legal ramifications for these masked vigilantes, and having an alter ego could help keep them out of trouble. Sometimes, they jealously guard their identities—and other times, they blurt out their superhero status on national television. Not all superhero alter egos are created equal. Which ones are convincing… and which ones are just embarrassing?

Note: Fans of Marvel and DC know that comics continuity is complicated. There’s an inevitable amount of cherry-picking involved in a list like this, and we’ll be relying heavily on the MCU and DCEU to keep things simple. Unless it’s more interesting to delve into the comics. We’re just having fun here, folks!

Clint Barton

Unlike many superheroes, Clint Barton is just a dude. A very talented dude, sure, but he doesn’t possess unnatural powers. That makes him one of the most human characters in the Marvel universe. He’s uniquely vulnerable, not just because of his mortality but also because he has a family. Protecting his identity by calling himself Hawkeye also protects his wife and children.

Or at least it does until they die in the Snap. Then he develops a new persona—the masked vigilante Ronin. Although Clint’s history in the comics is more complicated than what we see in the Avengers movies and the follow-up series on Disney+, the major beats remain basically the same. Of course, fans of Hawkeye know that his wife—Bobbi Morse in the comics and Laura Barton in the MCU—is a costumed hero in her own right. Whether she’s a former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent or Mockingbird, Clint’s wife doesn’t need to be protected from his superhero identity. That sets their relationship apart from many other heroes, who hide their true nature to protect their loved ones.

Rather than masking his superpowers by pretending to be an ordinary person, he’s an ordinary person who uses his persona—whether it’s Hawkeye or Ronin—to give himself the space to do extraordinary things. Clint is very clear about the fact that he knows it’s ridiculous for him to be fighting alongside literal gods, but he does it anyway.

Matt Murdock

Marvel | Netflix | Disney+

Comic books have not historically been sensitive toward people with disabilities. Although Clint Barton’s deafness is a notable exception, more often comics lean into the idea that a person who has a disability must gain superpowers to “make up for it.” That’s what happens with Matthew Murdock, who is blinded as a child. His other senses develop to the point of being superpowers, allowing him to “see” despite his blindness.

When he’s not fighting crime as Daredevil, Matt Murdock is fighting a different kind of battle in the courtroom. In the “Supreme” arc of his comic, Murdock explains, “As Daredevil, I get to save the world. As a lawyer… maybe I can fix it. I need them both. That’s what I realized. The warrior and the lawyer. It doesn’t work if I only have one.”

That balance is a lot healthier than some other heroes I might mention (I’m talking about Batman, and we’ll get to him soon). However, he still puts himself and the people he cares about in danger as he pursues the path of vigilante justice. Throughout his run, Matt has considered leaving his superhero life behind because of how much it has cost him, but ultimately, he just can’t quit. That’s too bad for Foggy and Karen, who are always in danger because of their proximity to Daredevil.

Barbara Gordon

Barbara Gordon as Oracle
DC Comics

Barbara Gordon is the daughter of Commissioner Gordon and began her comics career as a librarian. She’s incredibly smart, with an eidetic memory and a genius for high-tech gadgets and computers. That becomes very important after Batman: The Killing Joke.

While Barbara Gordon initially ran around Gotham as Batgirl—kind of the Skipper to Batman’s Barbie, if you will—things changed in 1988. That’s when Alan Moore’s graphic novel saw the Joker shoot Barbara in the spine as part of a plot to drive Commissioner Gordon insane. His plot includes taking photographs of Barbara, who is bleeding out and naked on the floor, and sending them to her father.

I know that The Killing Joke is considered to be a classic, but I’d like to think that Barbara Gordon had more value than as a prop in a sadistic game between the Joker and Batman. Alan Moore has since said that he regrets the decision to cripple Barbara, but it did lead to the rise of her second superhero persona. After becoming paralyzed, Barbara Gordon still has her razor-sharp intellect. Although she’s now a wheelchair user, she becomes Oracle, the information broker behind the scenes for Suicide Squad, Batman, and Birds of Prey. As one of the very few disabled heroes without superpowers to “compensate” for her disability, Oracle was seen as a beacon of positive representation.

And then DC ruined everything with the New 52, handwaving Barbara’s paralysis away and reinstating her as Batgirl.

Louis Sendak

Scarab/Louis Sendak
DC Comics

Okay, this is a super deep dive, but I couldn’t make this list without briefly mentioning one of the most unique alter egos in comics. In a short-lived Vertigo series by John Smith in the mid-90s, Louis Sendak is an elderly man living alone with the memory of his long-lost wife—or is he something more? Sendak was once a superhero, and his powers came from an otherworldly artifact known as the Scarabaeus. Although he used these powers to fight crime in the 1940s, he quit the superhero life and settled down with his wife, Eleanor.

Tragically, Eleanor gets trapped in the magical dimension where the Scarabaeus came from, and Louis ends up spending the next 40 years trying to save her. We meet him when he’s 78 years old. After being left for dead by an assassin, he reconnects to the source of his power and reverts to his hale, hearty 20-year-old self. As long as he’s in superhero form, he gets to be young again. He’s kind of a reverse Shazam, and I can’t think of a more convincing alter ego than being a septuagenarian. Nobody is going to guess that Louis Sendak is actually Scarab.

Bruce Wayne

Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne
Warner Bros. Pictures | DC Films

The dynamic between Bruce Wayne and Batman is a complicated one. I’m hardly the first person to point out that Bruce Wayne is the mask Batman wears, not the other way around. His playboy persona is similar to the Scarlet Pimpernel, the fictional hero of the French Revolution created by Baroness Orczy in the early 20th century. As Sir Percy Blakeney, he’s a useless fop that no one takes seriously. But as the Pimpernel, he’s the fearless hero who fights to protect innocent victims of the Reign of Terror. Blakeney endures the insults and dismissiveness of society because he knows that what he’s doing is important.

Batman’s relationship with his own humanity and with society at large has always been more complicated than that. Especially since Frank Miller’s take on the character in the 80s, the character has gotten increasingly dark, and the contrast between the glittering world of billionaire Bruce Wayne and the Dark Knight has never been more apparent. Batman/Bruce Wayne might be one of the top three most famous alter egos in superhero comics… but it’s really unhealthy.

Diana Prince

A still from promo images of WW1984
Warner Bros Entertainment

When you’re an immortal warrior goddess from another world, how do you fill your days? Diana of Themyscira, better known as Wonder Woman, chooses to live as Diana Prince. Over the course of her long history in the comics, Diana Prince has been a nurse, an intelligence officer, an astronaut, and a business tycoon.

What’s most interesting about this alter ego is that in some versions of the character, Wonder Woman is powerless as Diana Prince. That was the case in the Lynda Carter TV series, as well as some comic book arcs. It happened again in Wonder Woman 1984, when she unwittingly traded her powers for the return of her true love, Steve Trevor, while holding the Dreamstone.

Whereas most superheroes use their alter egos to provide a measure of safety and normalcy to their lives, Wonder Woman’s alter ego doesn’t always work that way. It’s as much of a blessing as a curse. I don’t know if Diana Prince’s limitations were a commentary on how women are robbed of their power by the trappings of traditional femininity… or if it was just an excuse for her to do the twirl.

Clark Kent

The reigning champion of alter egos will always be Clark Kent. Kal-El could have chosen to be a billionaire playboy or titan of industry. Instead, he lives a relatively humble human existence as a reporter for The Daily Planet. To disguise his disarmingly handsome face, he puts on a pair of thick-rimmed glasses. That’s it. That’s the disguise.

Of course, there’s more to it than just the glasses. It’s the way he carries himself. Christopher Reeve stands about six inches taller when he’s Superman, and his voice lowers half an octave. Even though Superman is essentially a demigod compared to us mortals, his Clark Kent cosplay makes him relatable. Human. Not only can we, as the audience, connect to the character, but in terms of storytelling, Kal-El’s alter ego allows him to remember why humanity is worth protecting.

That’s the real power of an alter ego in comics. And no one does it better than Superman.