Dear Mr. Silver Age,
The Justice League of America members all seem like such good friends. Did they all know each other’s secret identities?
New York City
Mr. Silver Age says: Secret identities were a big deal back in the day, Matthew. The fewer people who knew the truth, the easier it was to protect the secret. But letting someone, especially a fellow hero, know could provide benefits — especially when an imposter showed up.
Being a JLA member didn’t automatically grant a hero access to the identities behind the masks, though — at least, not until late in The Silver Age. But plenty of heroes knew each other’s secrets for one reason or another.
That first arose in “The Super-Exiles of Earth!” in Justice League of America #19 (May 63). Doctor Destiny used replica heroes to besmirch The Leaguers’ name, getting them arrested. In an odd plea deal at arraignment by their ace lawyer, Jean Loring, the team pled not guilty but agreed to be exiled until they were found innocent — somehow. So they rocketed into space, where they changed into their civilian (i.e., real) identities and introduced themselves to each other. (Wonder Woman was easy to identify, and Aquaman didn’t participate.)
When the mayhem subsided, Superman used his ever-helpful amnesium to make the entire world forget their identities — and that included them. That meant they had to re-reveal their identities to anybody they wanted to have know them, but that wasn’t tough to do. What was tough to do was to make a rock wipe away the precise memories that The JLA desired from everybody in the world. Let’s not think about it.
That subsequent secret-identity-revealing to select pals was done off-panel, as was quite a bit more, apparently. During team-ups, heroes occasionally indicated they knew another hero’s name when we hadn’t seen that reveal. It’s possible that a writer assumed two heroes knew each other’s identities when they didn’t. It could happen. If it did, it happened a lot in The Brave and the Bold, where Batman teamed up with a number of heroes with whom he’d apparently shared his secret (and vice versa). Are you surprised?
So who knew whose identity, and when did they learn it? Here’s a rundown of when the Silver Age JLAers revealed those secrets, courtesy of a nifty listing in Amazing World of DC Comics #14 (Mar 77):
Superman: The Man of Steel first learned Batman’s identity (and vice versa) in “The Mightiest Team in the World!” in Superman #76 (May-Jun 52). In that classic team-up, Clark and Bruce shared a stateroom on a ship and changed into their hero togs just as a moonbeam lit up their room. D’oh!
That was the Earth-2 heroes, of course. A similar reveal must’ve taken place on Earth-1, possibly the same one. They found it mighty useful, considering how often they needed to distract a snoopy reporter or some other busybody.
When he was a boy, Superman used a time-viewer to learn Green Arrow’s future identity in “Superboy Meets the Young Green Arrow!” in Adventure Comics #258 (Mar 59). Wouldn’t you know it, a few days later, Oliver Queen arrived in town and joined Clark’s class. What were the chances? He tried to help launch Ollie’s arrow-filled career but wasn’t too successful.
Superman also knew Hawkgirl’s secret identity and, by association, that of Hawkman, because The Atom blabbed it in “Secret behind the Stolen Super-Weapons!” in Justice League of America #53 (May 67). Needing to contact Shiera quickly, The Atom told Supes and The Flash her real identity so they could rush to Midway City to gain her help.
Superman and The Flash exchanged secrets late in The Silver Age in “Who Stole My Super-Powers?” in Superman #220 (Oct 69). An alien invasion led to the two heroes unknowingly swapping identities but not powers, causing confusion in both identities until they figured things out.
Batman: The Caped Crusader knew Superman’s identity (see above) and he picked up a bunch more during his The Brave and the Bold team-ups. Or, at least, he seemed to have done so.
He already knew the Hawks’ identities when he became involved in “Cancelled: 2 Super-Heroes!” in The Brave and the Bold #70 (Mar 67). Needing help with a baffling case (in which the villain had guessed Bats’ identity already), Batman visited the hotel room of Carter and Shiera Hall, whom the papers had reported were in Gotham City for a museum convention. Shiera, in turn, made a joke about him being “rich playboy” Bruce Wayne.
A few issues later, in “So Thunders the Cannoneer!” in The Brave and the Bold #77 (May 68), Batman ran into a mite-sized problem, so he called Ray Palmer and asked him to “drop his atom-smasher and coming running!” Being a trained scientist, Ray quickly decoded the message. Like Batman calling Ray Palmer wasn’t notice enough.
Barry Allen was taking a tour of Gotham City’s police HQ with tour guide Batman (those were the days), when trouble broke out in “But Bork Can Hurt You!” in The Brave and the Bold #81 (Jan 69). Barry couldn’t get away, and Bats got clobbered by said Bork. Licking his wounds, The Caped Crusader concocted a plan, which he explained in a storeroom as Barry changed to The Flash. “Have costume, will travel … old buddy!” Barry replied. Batman was apparently “old buddies” with a lot of his JLA teammates.
Flash: The Scarlet Speedster knew the identities of Superman, Batman, and Hawkgirl (and Hawkman), as noted above. He also knew the real identity of his long-time partner, Green Lantern. They learned each other’s secret in “The Duel of the Super-Heroes!” in Green Lantern #13 (Jun 62), their first two-man team-up.
The boys met during a working vacation with their significant others, during which Iris West wanted to interview Hal Jordan. Naturally, that led to mayhem, which led to Barry learning Hal’s secret while he was mind-controlled. (It happens.) When things calmed down, Barry returned the favor.
Green Lantern: In addition to The Flash (noted above), The Emerald Gladiator learned Batman’s secret, but only for a short time, when he helped defeat “The Tick-Tock Traps of The Time Commander” in The Brave and the Bold #59 (May 65). Said Commander used his time-controlling powers to learn Batman’s secret identity and then ambushed him. He also learned GL’s identity and sent him a telegram that revealed Batman’s identity in order to ambush him, too. In the end, GL wiped The Commander’s mind of their secrets and he also wiped his own mind of Batman’s identity to keep them even.
Aquaman: The Sea King didn’t have much to trade with the other Leaguers. But he did know Batman’s secret — or at least the Caped Crusader thought so, when Aquaman became “The Sleepwalker from the Sea!” in The Brave and the Bold #82 (Mar 69). During said sleepwalk, he encountered Bruce Wayne, who identified himself and reminded the dazed Sea King they were acquainted, noting, “You know who I really … stay back!” Did Bruce really think of himself as “really” Batman?
J’onn J’onzz: The Martian Manhunter knew the real identity of Green Arrow (and vice versa), as readers learned in the first The Brave and the Bold team-up, “Wanted — The Capsule Master!” in The Brave and the Bold #50 (Oct-Nov 63). GA called in JJ to help corral criminals who seemed to be Martians, and The Manhunter showed up at The Arrow Cave. Later, the three heroes went undercover in their civilian identities, where they called each other by name.
Wonder Woman: The Amazon Princess didn’t know anybody’s identity! They probably feared that, being a girl, she couldn’t keep a secret. (Please address all letters to Editor Brent Frankenhoff, care of this magazine.)
(Editor’s note: See Mr. Silver Age’s email at the end of this column. I’m not taking the heat for that line.)
Green Arrow: The Emerald Archer knew only The Martian Manhunter’s ID, as noted above.
The Atom: The Mighty Mite may have known Batman’s identity, since Bats knew his (as noted above), but Bats also could have learned it when other JLAers might have (see below). Ray Palmer also knew the identities of The Hawks, as he teamed up with them on a regular basis. But it wasn’t until their second adventure together, when they beat “The Master Trap of The Matter Master!” in Hawkman #9 (Sep 65) that they swapped secrets.
During that adventure, which was mostly about The Hawks, they were reduced to tiny size. They called their mite-sized buddy for help, and he took them to Palmer’s laboratory to reverse the curse. To explain how he knew his way around the lab, The Atom grew to human size and revealed his identity. In return, The Hawks took off their masks, to reveal they were Ray’s friends, The Halls. Small world.
Hawkman: In addition to knowing Batman and The Atom’s identities, as noted above, Carter Hall knew, well, all of The Leaguers’ IDs. It happened when The Key tried to become “The Key-Master of the World!” in Justice League of America #41 (Dec 65). Having learned that he and his teammates had been brainwashed, Hawkman wanted to warn them of the danger. But he didn’t know where they were, since they’d been tricked into disbanding The League.
So Katar put on his Absorbascon, learned their identities, and warned them in their civilian guises. GL wiped the knowledge The Key had learned about them from his mind, but there was no indication he did the same to Hawkman.
On the other side of the ledger, the entire League (at least, Batman, Flash, Atom, Wonder Woman, and J’onn J’onzz) learned Green Lantern’s identity in “History-Making Costumes of the Royal-Flush Gang!” in Justice League of America #54 (Jun 67).
A near-fatal beating put Hal Jordan in the hospital, and Barry Allen quickly alerted the other League members that he was dying. They showed up at Hal’s hospital room, which had to have raised an eyebrow or two among hospital staffers. The team took over the case Hal had been working and, after recovering, he neglected to zap their brains.
The team (Superman, Batman, Batgirl, The Flash, GL, and GA) also seemed to have learned The Atom’s identity when they became “Winged Warriors of the Immortal Queen!” in Justice League of America #60 (Feb 68). Queen Zazzala (aka The Queen Bee) turned the teammates into tiny insect-like drones. The Atom grew to his full size, which freed him of her control, and he stopped her. In doing so, The Leaguers saw his face. But unless they’d recognized him from a scientific journal or something, they shouldn’t have known who he was.
The entire League (i.e., everyone listed in this column) learned Green Arrow’s identity during the mayhem known as “Operation: Jail The Justice League!” in Justice League of America #61 (Mar 68). GA learned of the aforementioned operation (by Doctor Destiny) but couldn’t stop it.
So he used the knowledge he’d gained of The Atom’s real identity from the previous adventure (he must read the scientific literature) to prevent The Mighty Mite’s ambush, unravel the mystery, and signal the team. For some reason, he met his teammates at HQ as Oliver Queen, whom The Atom identified as they arrived. Ollie must’ve revealed his ID to Ray after saving him. Fair’s fair.
To round out this sudden spate of ID-exposing, Wonder Woman revealed her identity in “A Matter of Menace!” in Justice League of America #69 (Feb 69) after she lost her Amazonian powers. She went to the team to warn them that GA was being framed for a crime, but it wasn’t until The Flash identified her that they took her seriously.
The Flash had no inside knowledge that we know about, but maybe Barry just put two and two together. Actually, it was more like one and one, since she wasn’t even wearing her Diana Prince glasses. How hard would it be to recognize Wondie in a red dress?
So many secrets being revealed so quickly opened the floodgate, and soon they clearly knew each other’s identities. We learned how identity-revealing became standard practice a few years later in “The Great Identity Crisis!” in Justice League of America #122 (Sep 75).
It was called “An Untold Tale from the JLA Casebook,” and the opening caption explained that this adventure had reversed their policy of keeping identities secret. It happened some time after Justice League of America #74 (Sep 69), since Ollie was wearing his new GA duds. The tale involved Doctor Light tricking the League into giving him entry to Superman’s Fortress, where he used Supes’ amnesium to power a ray gun he turned on them. The gun scrambled their knowledge of their identities, switching them around haphazardly.
In each other’s guises, they fell prey to Doctor Light’s ambushes, which makes little sense so we won’t go into them. But the amnesium didn’t work on Superman, and Aquaman had no “secret” identity to scramble, and they avoided the traps Light set for them. Then they used their selective identity knowledge to set the others straight. For instance, Superman knew that the guy who thought he was Bruce Wayne was really Barry Allen, aka The Flash, and it went from there.
Afterward, by some logic I can’t explain, Green Arrow decided that, if they’d known each other’s identities, Doctor Light’s plan wouldn’t have worked (even though it didn’t work, anyway). GL agreed and proposed that membership in The League required revealing your identity.
Then all they had to hope was that nobody gave away who they were by accidentally calling them by their real name or, you know, showing up at their hospital bed in costume.
Known to fans worldwide as “Mr. Silver Age,” Craig Shutt has waxed nostalgic about comics of old in CBG since 1992. Send comments and suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Ask Mr. Silver Age” is © 2012 Craig Shutt