Masters of Disguise and Otherwise

In most cartoons and TV shows, being a master of disguise is a somewhat misleading label. It should be a master of disguise except...? The exception can be anything; except something, except fill in the blank because every great disguise is really a terrible disguise in the making. Any disguise it seems has fatal flaw, and it’s most likely being looked at. Simple observation seems to be the Achilles’ heel of any skinwalker, changeling, shapeshifter, chameleon, counterfeiter, or sham artist.

Every master of disguise has a tell—some big, some small—but always enough for whichever hero, however dimwitted they may seem, to notice.

Zartan - G.I. Joe


Tell: Blue skin
Zartan is the classic master of disguise. He can disguise his voice and appearance as anyone he wants. These are perfect disguises that are indistinguishable from the original. Perfect in every way except (and here’s our first except) that Zartan's skin turns blue in the sunlight. He has a weird sort of photosensitive hereditary rosacea, but instead of hives or acne, you get a case of the blues (I’m calling it azuracea). Zartan's motto on his business card should read: I can masquerade as anyone on the planet as long as it’s not between the hours of 7 and 5.

In the G.I. Joe live-action movie, Zartan doesn’t turn blue, but whistles as his tell. So, in all the ridiculousness that is the G.I. Joe movie, the filmmakers drew the line at blue skin.

Follow up:

Man-E-Faces - He-Man


Tell: Different face, same body
As his name states, Man-E-Faces can change his face—it’s on a swivel stick (not good for your back but convenient for the quick change)—but he still has the same body. So, you have a big, muscle bound body with no neck and a metallic cone head, which fools who exactly? But for what it’s worth the only person in Eternia not pumped up on ‘roids is Orko, so there's quite a number of muscle bound oafs running around. Still to really trick anyone you need a total body transformation. I mean, and this just a crazy example off the top of my head, it’s like putting Nic Cage’s face on John Travolta’s body doesn’t make John Travolta Nic Cage, that’s sheer madness.

Real Man-E-Faces
Nicolas Cage Disguise: Nailed it!

He also only has three faces: a human face, a robot face, and an alien face. Instead of Man-E-Faces, he should be Few-Faces or Couple-A-Faces.

The Chameleon - Spider-man

The Chameleon

Tell: Bad choice of disguise
The Chameleon uses a gas to change his face into Silly Putty, which he then molds into whatever likeness he wants (later a computer belt does the work for him). And even though this waxy face build up is explicitly stated as his power, The Chameleon is constantly seen pulling off some rubber mask in a big reveal. Pulling off his rubber mask might actually even be his tell because The Chameleon seems to have this need to reveal himself in the showiest manner possible. If someone is pulling off a mask in the Marvel universe there's a 99.9% chance it's the The Chameleon. Being a little quick on the reveal trigger aside, The Chameleon might actually be the best master of disguise in the Marvel or any fictional universe. His cover is rarely seen through, yet it’s almost always blown. Why? Because he almost always picks the wrong person to disguise himself as. For instance, The Chameleon consistently tries to fool Spider-man by disguising himself as Peter Parker.

Team Rocket - Pokémon

Team Rocket

Tell: Names that are variations of their names
Most episodes of Pokémon featured some sort of scheme where Team Rocket disguised themselves as something or other in order to pokénap Pikachu. However, Team Rocket had poor disguises at best. Their costumes usually consist of mustaches, glasses, cross-dressing or some combination of the three (James’s cross-dressing, though, was much more convincing than Artemus Gordon’s). Plus there’s only so much you can do with Jessie’s hair. More than the flimsy disguises, the problem may have been the flimsy names they gave their flimsy identities. Jessie has taken aliases such as: Jessebella, Jessadia, Jessilina, Jessilinda, Jessilynlyn, and Jessirilyn. Even Ash should be able to see a pattern.

For more on Jessie and James’s cross dressing shenanigans, consult your local library.

Mystique - X-men


Tell: Nude
Mystique in the comics is a pretty good shape-shifter. Her only limits are body mass, her target needs to be roughly the same size as her, and she needs to have made physical contact with whomever she’s disguising herself as (these were her original powers, at least, and have been amped several times since). Other than that, she’s completely undetectable. However, the films added an interesting wrinkle. To add a more biological aspect to Mystique’s mutant powers, they made her more or less a reptile with chameleon like scales. A cool effect, but it also means Mystique is naked all the time. Now if I were fighting dudes who shoot lasers out their eyes or sprout razor blades from their hands, I’d want to be wearing armor or a bulletproof vest or, at least, shorts.

Also: Mystique seems to move around most of the time like Rebecca Romijn, which consists mostly of a catwalk sashay interspersed with bouts of kung fu.

Clayface - Batman


Tell: Can’t hold for long/muddy
I prefer the Batman the Animated Series, Matt Hagen, over all other Clayfaces. There’s like 20 Clayfaces in the comics, and Batman: TAS is a combination of the first two. In this, Matt Hagen is a brilliant but disfigured actor who uses a cream to mold his face. Of course, things get too creamy as things often do and he becomes Clayface. After that he can mold his entire body into whatever shape he wills, but it takes too much concentration to hold a shape for more than a couple minutes. Clayface eventually drops much of the disguise charade in preference to just turning his hands into giant sledgehammers and the like. So, who should be the most subtle character full guile and deception becomes a hulking tank on par with Bane from Batman & Robin.

Also, he’s mud. Highly intelligent, super permeable mud, but mud all the same.

Simon Templar - The Saint

Val Kilmer

Tell: Val Kilmer acting
Templar is a great thief and master of disguise but you’re forever trapped as a Val Kilmer character. Think somewhat burnt out method actor, actually, sounds a little bit like Matt Hagen from above. For instance, The Saint can’t disguise himself as the President for instance, but he can disguise himself as Val Kilmer playing the President. This is not an entirely bad thing, and who doesn’t enjoy telling people their name is Bruno Hautenfaust? And please don't say you're more familiar with the Roger Moore version of The Saint because you're not. Still same rules apply, but Roger Moore instead of Val Kilmer.

Hauten gets faust with it!

Peyton Westlake - Darkman


Tell: 99 minute time limit
Westlake invented a synthetic skin that lasts 99 minutes before it disintegrates, unless, of course, it’s in a total dark environment. It’s kind of like Zartan in that respect, as long as he stays away from well-lit areas, he’s fine. Good lighting is the real enemy of the disuise master. That’s probably why he’s called Darkman because in the dark no one can see his true identity.

But in the dark we’re all masters of disguises!

Side note: The original Westlake was played by Liam Neeson, while in the subsequent films, Darkman II: The Return of Durant and Darkman III: Die, Darkman Die (these were real movies, and those were the real names of those movies), he was played by Arnold Vosloo who also plays Zartan in the G.I. Joe movies. Which means the actual face of the world’s greatest master of deception looks like vaguely bloated Euro trash. Hey, und dummkopf! Watch out for the CD-changer in my trunk, eh?

Slitheen - Dr. Who


Tell: Farts
The Slitheen are aliens who hide underneath dead humans’ skins. Although, the Slitheen are limited to using overweight humans because they need the extra legroom. A side effect of this is they seem to fart all the time (a gas of deteriorated calcium builds up in the compression process). So, if you need someone to disguise as a flatulent, fat man, they can do the job, but any other disguise is asking a lot. Remember they did take over half of England like this so it’s not entirely useless. But if I may mix my sci-fi franchise metaphors for a minute, it’s kind of like Kenny Baker being stuck inside R2D2, and instead of Kenny Baker it’s Andre the Giant, and instead of a robot, it’s a meat sack. All things considered, I imagine calcium gas is not the worst smelling part of this.

Andre D2

Also, zippers on their foreheads.

The Changelings - Star Trek


Tell: Odo face
The Changelings are a race of shapeshiters not entirely unlike Clayface. Although, the Changelings never seem to morph into anything remotely useful, just the occasional bird or puddle. A seem to recall a lot of puddles. The biggest problem with Changelings was that they weren’t that good at changeling-ing. If you need to disguise yourself as a human and the best you can do is Odo, then you’re probably not doing a good enough job. Odo face doesn’t fool anyone. Human faces have things like details: wrinkles, laugh lines, and such (mostly such). Odo’s face though was Odo looking (namely suchless). Which makes me think if a Changeling changed into an animal like a cat or something, would other real cats think that the changeling cat had a jacked up Odo face?

Lil bub
I’m not saying Lil Bub is an alien shapeshifter, I’m just not saying that he’s not an alien shapeshifter. As Bertrand Russell once said, “Eh?”

Additionally, Odo could only hold a solid form for 18 hours before he needed to rest in a liquid state. So, yet another disguise with a time limit.

Brain - Inspector Gadget


Tell: Dog
Brain is a master of disguise the same way Bugs Bunny is a master of disguise. Except instead of fooling Elmer Fudd into falling in love with him, he accidentally tricks Inspector Gadget into thinking he’s a M.A.D. agent. A mustache or hat seems to be enough to fool Inspector Gadget, but the problem with Brain’s disguises is that he’s still a dog. Most of the hijinks actually occur because of Brain’s inability to say, “Dude, I’m not with M.A.D.” In fact, if he could talk he probably wouldn’t even need to wear a disguise, he could just explain the situation to Gadget. Which actually brings us to Penny, why not just tell her uncle what’s going on instead of telling her dog to keep an eye out on him?

In the end, I think masters of disguises seem to make better villains than heroes. I think there’s something slightly dishonorable about the art of disguise. Although, Sherlock Holmes actually made use of it quite a bit, but it was mostly just used on Watson and mostly just to say, “Haha, you idiot, I’m Sherlock Holmes, bitches!” So, if you're looking to hatch an evil plan, maybe, hire some assassins or something. If you want to throw a kick ass surprise party then look no further than the master of disguise. Bitches.

Tips to a great disguise

  1. Stay out of the light
  2. Make sure you have the right body type
  3. Wear a watch
  4. Pick a Val Kilmer appropriate role (being a method actor helps)
  5. Keep a spare pair of jean shorts handy
  6. Do wear a fake mustache
  7. Don't Crossdress
  8. Don’t fart
  9. Don’t be a dog
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