If you aren’t reading Brian Michael Bendis’s run on Superman, then you are missing out on some of the most captivating Man of Steel stories this side of Krypton. Earlier this year, Clark Kent revealed his secret identity to the world, and the aftermath has been a must read. Not a hoax, not a dream, not an imaginary story—the glasses are off and the secret is out! Of course, this isn’t the first time the world has learned that Clark Kent is Superman. Kal-El’s double life has been exposed plenty of times in the past, but he’s usually been able to put the genie back in the bottle. Don’t believe me? Well, in honor of Bendis’s current storyline, let’s revisit a few, shall we? Here are nine other times the world learned Clark Kent was Superman!
Superman #20 - “Superman’s Secret Revealed”
Superman’s first public unmasking was an unlucky accident resulting from a prank. Lois Lane put together a gag headline that revealed that Clark was Superman and sprung it on him as a joke. Clark was momentarily worried that his secret had been exposed, but was relieved to learn it was just a workplace gag. However, a printing accident caused Lois’s headline to be published with the next edition of the Daily Planet and hijinks ensued.
Perry White almost fired Lois for the blunder, but Clark decided to save Lois’s job by offering to lean into the “hoax.” Clark would “pretend” to be Superman for a few days, and then the Daily Planet would reveal that the whole thing was a prank. It must have been a really slow news day because amazingly, Perry White went for this. Clark pretended to be Superman, but also pretended he wasn’t really Superman. Everyone said “just kidding” after a few days, and life went back to normal, and readers decided not to form an angry mob around the Daily Planet.
Action Comics #194 - “The Outlaws from Krypton”
Clark Kent’s next unmasking came courtesy of a Kryptonian criminal named Mala. Mala had survived Krypton’s destruction because he had been incarcerated in a prison ship at the time of the apocalypse. After making his way to Earth, Mala disguised himself as Clark Kent, unaware that the reporter was Superman’s alter ego. Mala didn’t put much effort into his disguise, and did many non-Clark Kent things, like bending an incoming vehicle with his body. When people asked “Clark” how he did that, Mala decided to say he was Superman, not realizing the real Kent was the Man of Steel. (Don’t you hate it when that happens?)
This status quo lasted less than a day, as Mala soon decided to reveal his true nature and kidnap Lois Lane. After the Man of Steel rescued her, Lois revealed that Mala had only been impersonating Clark and Superman, and the secret was restored…temporarily.
Adventure Comics #235 - “The Confession of Superboy”
One day during a high school class, a teenage Clark Kent decided to toss caution to the wind and reveal that he was Superboy. The impulsive act puzzled his classmates and teacher, but Clark was able to put his money where his mouth was by demonstrating his powers. Over the next hour he got a taste of public life as fans chased down Clark Kent, criminals targeted his parents and Clark realized revealing his secret to the world was a big mistake. Luckily some amnesia gas—oh yes—soon leaked from below the Earth’s surface and caused everyone in Smallville to forget the previous hour.
But hey, it gets even nuttier! It turns out that Superboy knew the amnesia gas was coming, so he had decided to reveal his identity as an experiment to…uh, test whether the gas really worked or something. Fortunately, it did and once everyone had breathed their fill of that sweet, sweet (and oh so convenient) amnesia gas, Clark Kent’s Kryptonian heritage was back to being a secret.
You know, we laugh but if amnesia gas really did seep out from beneath the earth, HOW WOULD ANY OF US REMEMBER IT?!? In fact, how do you know it hasn’t already happened? You know that one conversation with your spouse that you completely forgot? YOU SHOULD TOTALLY BLAME IT ON AMNESIA GAS!
Yeah, uh…it hasn’t worked for us yet either.
Superman #142 - “Flame Dragon from Krypton”
YEEESSSSS!!! Longtime readers know we’re big fans of the Flame Dragon from Krypton here at DCComics.com, and if you love the story as much as we do, you know that it totally belongs on this list. (Heck, we might have put it on the list even if it didn’t belong here. It’s the freakin’ FLAME DRAGON FROM KRYPTON, after all!)
But for those of you who haven’t read it, a group of explorers somehow capture a Kryptonian dragon. (Hey, it’s just as believable as an entire town getting conveniently dosed with amnesia gas, okay?!) The dragon escapes and like dragons are wont to do, breathes deadly, scorching fire onto Clark Kent. When the smoke clears, Clark and his clearly very flammable business suit and glasses are gone and Superman remains, with his identity now exposed to Lois and the other reporters. After defeating the dragon, Clark dressed himself up in bandages and pretended he had been injured from the beast’s terrible flame. This doesn’t explain why Superman was standing exactly where Clark had been seconds earlier, but it was enough for Lois and the other reporters to buy. For the time being, Superman’s secret identity was safe once more.
Superboy #107 - “Clark Kent, The Super-Showoff”
Clark Kent must’ve been easily bored in high school, because this is the second story where he randomly decided to reveal his secret identity during class. Clark reasoned that he was tired of Superboy getting all the credit and it was about time that his true identity got some of the heroic accolades.
We can understand where Clark’s coming from there, but then he started acting oddly and doing things like erecting a giant statue of himself in the middle of town. Can we say super-ego? It turns out that he had been affected by Red Kryptonite, and once it wore off, he realized the terrible mistake he had made. Fortunately, some not-very-bright criminals attacked Kent at his home—a whole town of people you can rob and you pick the Boy of Steel?!—during which Superboy removed a Clark facemask, revealing Superboy’s smiling face underneath. Superboy told the citizens of Smallville that he had only impersonated Clark Kent to lure some criminals out in the open. The citizens of Smallville, who were undoubtedly used to these shenanigans by now, decided it was easier to believe this far-fetched story and move on.
At least until some more amnesia gas leaked and they forgot the whole thing.
Action Comics #331 - “Clark Kent’s Masquerade as Superman”
Clark Kent’s life is turned upside down when Lois reveals that he’s Superman in a gag newspaper headline that—hey, didn’t we already do this story?
Action Comics #331 is an updated retelling of Superman #20, but with a few new twists. As part of the Daily Planet’s “hoax,” Clark must pretend to crush coal into diamonds and a few other clickbait-y acts that apparently everyone was too dignified to suggest back in the 1940s. However, the story ends like the first one did, with the Daily Planet revealing that they published fake news and receiving zero consequences.
Action Comics #345 - “The Day Candid Camera Unmasked Clark Kent’s Identity”
Here’s a history lesson for all the young people. Back in the 1960’s there was a popular hidden camera prank show called Candid Camera that was hosted by this guy named Allen Funt who was like the Ashton Kutcher of the Boomer generation. Anyhow, Clark Kent found himself in hot water when he changed into Superman inside a fake telephone booth that had been set up for the show. (Seriously, with all of their races to see who was the fastest, did the Flash never tell Superman that he could change into his super-suit on the run?)
Unfortunately, Clark’s ill-chosen wardrobe change happened while the show was being broadcasted live to an audience of millions. When Mr. Funt revealed the cameras, Clark had to do some fast talking to explain why he was caught changing into Superman. Clark told the live television audience that he realized he was being pranked, so he decided to turn the tables on them by changing into a gag Superman costume. Everyone bought it, giving Superman the last laugh.
Superman #423 - “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow”
From silly and gimmicky to one of the best Superman stories ever written. After the reality-altering events of Crisis on Infinite Earths, Alan Moore wrote a two-part story that served as a finale to Superman’s Pre-Crisis adventures before John Byrne’s Man of Steel limited series rebooted the mythology. During the first act of the story, Toyman and Prankster attacked Clark Kent with a small army of Superman toys. When the tiny toys attacked Kent, his outer garments were burned, revealing his Superman outfit underneath. Since this attack occurred in front of the WGBS news staff, Clark Kent’s secret identity was finished.
Obviously, the masquerade as Clark Kent didn’t benefit him anymore, so Superman abandoned his human identity entirely. Things took a dark turn from there, though, and by the end of the story some of Superman’s closest allies were killed and the Man of Steel faked his own death, living out the rest of his life as mild-mannered Jordan Elliot. Fortunately, that didn’t last long, as the effects of Crisis took hold, resetting Superman’s history and restoring Clark Kent’s secret.
Sometimes, there’s nothing like a good Crisis.
Superman #43 - “Before Truth”
During DC’s New 52 era, Superman was put in a difficult situation when a cyber-terrorist known as Hordr discovered his secret identity. Hordr began blackmailing the Man of Steel, forcing Superman to undergo painful torture to test his abilities. Naturally, Lois couldn’t bear to see her friend being tortured, so she made the choice to reveal Superman’s secret to the world, ending Hordr’s hold on him. This time there was no amnesia gas, or last minute “it was just a hoax” fast-talking. Superman’s identity was out there, and it had lasting ramifications on his life. Depowered and exposed, Superman lived life on the run and it took some time for him to forgive Lois.
Years later, Superman was presumed dead and the interdimensional imp known as Mxyzptlk masqueraded as Clark Kent, informing everyone that he had never been the Man of Steel. As for Superman, he had been split into two energy beings (it’s a long story) and after fusing back into one, the Man of Steel’s history was modified and the world forgot his previous unmasking. It may have taken a cosmic event, but Superman got his secret identity back.
See, nine whole times Clark Kent has figuratively taken off those specs and boldly declared to the world, “I’m Superman!” But we can’t blame you for forgetting, and we’re not about to blame it on amnesia gas (though you never know!!!). Rather, in the world of comics, things change so quickly, and one minute Superman’s identity is known to the world, and the next he’s getting saved by Crises and tricksters from the fifth dimension. But that does beg the question…how long will this current stretch of super openness last? That we can’t tell you, so we do recommend you grab Superman Vol. 3: The Truth Revealed if you haven’t yet read it and make sure you’re caught up. Because the only thing more mind-blowing than Superman revealing his identity to the world is seeing what Superman writers come up with when they decide it’s time to undo it.
Joshua Lapin-Bertone writes about TV, movies and comics for DCComics.com and DCUniverse.com, is a regular contributor to the Couch Club and writes our monthly Batman column, "Gotham Gazette." Follow him on Twitter at @TBUJosh.