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Spider-Man unmasked - the history of his secret identity being revealed

Spider-Man unmasking in comic books
(Image credit: George Marston / Marvel Comics)

Peter Parker's secret identity as Spider-Man is arguably his greatest weakness. He's often gone to dire lengths to preserve his anonymity from his enemies to protect his loved ones - and his failures, when his enemies have figured out his secret, have often validated his fears of his family being targeted.

This dynamic is one of the core themes of the recent movie blockbuster Spider-Man: No Way Home, in which a cadre of supervillains who know Peter Parker's secret (and a couple of extra Peters Parker from other realities/movie franchises) make their way to the MCU and threaten not just Spidey, but the lives of those he cares about.

Andrew Garfield, Tobey Maguire, and Tom Holland in Spider-Man No Way Home

(Image credit: Sony Pictures)

No Way Home is about to receive a streaming release on March 22, followed by a Blu-ray/4K Ultra HD release on April 12, putting the story of Peter Parker's struggle with his secret identity back in our minds. That struggle between Peter, his secret life as Spider-Man, and what that means for his loved ones is one of Spidey's oldest character conflicts - and as we said, the times he's failed to strike the right balance have had serious ramifications on his life.

While it would be difficult to catalog all the times a single person or a villain has sussed out Peter's secret (that happened for the first time when the Living Brain cracked the case in 1964's Amazing Spider-Man #8 (opens in new tab)), the history of Pete's public or semi-public unmasking goes back just as far, and as in the MCU, J. Jonah Jameson plays a key role in the saga of Peter's secret identity. 

So here's the history of Spider-Man being publicly unmasked in comic books, including many of the stories that set the stage for Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Amazing Spider-Man #12

Amazing Spider-Man #12 cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

The first time Peter Parker was publicly unmasked, it was at the hands of his arch-foe Doctor Octopus all the way back in 1964’s Amazing Spider-Man #12 (opens in new tab)

Dizzied and harried from the flu, Peter is somewhat depowered leading to a handy defeat at the hands of Doc Ock, who subsequently unmasks Peter in front of a crowd of his friends.

Of course, because Peter was beset by illness, he didn't put up much of a fight, leading the assembled public to believe Peter was simply impersonating Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man #87

Amazing Spider-Man #87 cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Peter’s next public unmasking came a few years later in 1970's Amazing Spider-Man #87 (opens in new tab), in which Peter, again suffering from the loss of his powers due to a bout of the flu, believes he's permanently lost his abilities.

As a result, Peter decides to give up his life as Spider-Man, dejectedly revealing his secret to his family and friends – just in time for him to kick the flu and get his powers back.

Ready to become Spider-Man again, Peter enlists his friend Hobie Brown – a.k.a. the Prowler – to appear alongside Peter as Spider-Man, convincing everyone once again that Peter's secret identity is merely a hoax designed to protect the real Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man #139

Amazing Spider-Man #139 cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

J. Jonah Jameson's long quest for the truth of Spider-Man’s identity came to a close for the first time in 1974's Amazing Spider-Man #139 (opens in new tab), in which Jameson obtained some photos of Peter Parker disposing of the body of his own clone. 

Jeez Louise.

Fortunately, Peter was prepared for Jameson to confront him with the photos and faked some of his own pictures that "proved" Jameson's were fakes designed to fool him.

This wasn't a full-on public unmasking, but does give context to Jameson's hunt for Spider-Man's secret – and constituted what may have been Peter’s closest call to being truly and irrevocably outed as Spider-Man (until a few years later, of course).

Civil War #2

Civil War #2 cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

Peter's biggest identity reveal happened in 2006's Civil War (opens in new tab), a story in which Tony Stark backed legislation that would force superheroes to reveal their identities and operate under government guidelines, leading Captain America to oppose his one-time ally with two groups of opposing heroes forming under the leadership of each Avenger.

If that sounds familiar, it formed the basis of Spider-Man's MCU film debut, Captain America: Civil War, in which Peter Parker followed in his comic book footsteps to side with Tony Stark under Stark's mentorship.

Unlike the film, however, in the comic book Civil War Peter Parker is an adult who sides with Stark when Tony offers him a job and security through Stark Industries. As a result of his support of the Super-Human Registration Act, Peter seals his association with Stark by publicly unmasking and revealing his identity as Spider-Man to the world, making him a publicly known hero like his mentor.

In the end, however, Peter would come to regret this decision. In 2007's 'One More Day (opens in new tab)', an attack on Aunt May which occurs as a result of Peter's unmasking, leaves her near death. Peter makes a deal with the demon Mephisto to save her life and to conceal Peter's secret from the world once again in exchange for the end of his marriage to Mary Jane.

Of course, in the continuity created by Mephisto's power, Peter covered his identity by contacting his old ally, Doctor Strange to cast a powerful spell that would remove the knowledge of Peter’s secret identity from the whole world, including people Peter had individually told such as his friends and family - the same story beat that was adapted in Spider-Man: No Way Home.

Spectacular Spider-Man #6

Spectacular Spider-Man #6 cover

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)

That wasn't the last time Peter would make a key revelation about his identity. In 2018’s Spectacular Spider-Man #6 (opens in new tab), Peter revealed his identity to J. Jonah Jameson after a heartfelt and difficult conversation about the way their lives have intertwined and the tragedy that has followed them.

And from there, Jameson would up accidentally spilling the beans to Norman Osborn, at that time operating as the Red Goblin, though Osborn never got to publicly capitalize on the revelation before being defeated.

Peter's secret has stayed mostly intact since, but he's lately had a very different challenge in terms of his identity as Spider-Man.

(Image credit: Marvel Comics)
(opens in new tab)

Following a bout of severe radiation poisoning caused by a fight with the U-Foes, Peter Parker was recently in the hospital for months. At the same time, his clone Ben Reilly came back into the picture, taking Peter's place as the main Spider-Man with the backing of the sinister Beyond Corporation.

That story, 'Spider-Man Beyond', is about to wrap up, with a new relaunched Amazing Spider-Man #1 to follow in April. Though most of the story of the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man volume remains under wraps, the teaser included with the new series announcement shows Spider-Man in a smoldering crater with his mask shredded to expose his face, with the caption "What did Peter do?"

Does this mean Peter Parker's secret is about to come back to bite him again? Knowing the good ol' Parker luck, as Peter often says, we'd say it's a definite danger.

With a new volume of Amazing Spider-Man about to launch, it's the perfect time to stay informed on all the new Spider-Man comics planned for release in 2022 and beyond.

George Marston
George Marston

I've been Newsarama's resident Marvel Comics expert and general comic book historian since 2011. I've also been the on-site reporter at most major comic conventions such as Comic-Con International: San Diego, New York Comic Con, and C2E2. Outside of comic journalism, I am the artist of many weird pictures, and the guitarist of many heavy riffs. (They/Them)