My facial skin is allergic to any fabric so I never put on a mask. My alter ego is called Stack Man. One of my special ability inherited from my Kryptonian dad is the fringe; this is the most amazing power one can ever dream of except invisibility.

To keep a long story short, I want to uphold justice, while wearing my favourite cape and keeping my identity a secret, without wearing any headgear or mask. Is there a possibility, a way of manipulating everyone around me to momentarily lose the ability to recognize familiar faces, particularly my face?

(Don't worry, my spider sense inherited from my surrogate mother—it's rather complicated—allows me to evade cameras! Use alien magic sparingly.)

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    $\begingroup$ I'd just use a body armor with full helmet. Hides the face and stops some bullets. Makes you look more imposing, too. $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 7:46
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    $\begingroup$ @Ville Niemi: but I'm more confident of my look than my strength... $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 7:50
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    $\begingroup$ No Capes! youtube.com/watch?v=M68ndaZSKa8 $\endgroup$
    – Raisus
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 7:54
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    $\begingroup$ Are you looking for an explanation of fringe science?! $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 7:55
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    $\begingroup$ Have you tried wearing glasses when you're not doing your super-hero thing? $\endgroup$ Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 16:04

10 Answers 10


Give them something else to see, like epic ear and nose hair.

Moist had always been careful about disguises. A moustache that could come off at a tug had no place in his life. But since he had the world's most forgettable face, a face that was still a face in the crowd even when it was by itself, it helped, sometimes, to give people something to tell the Watch about. Spectacles were an obvious choice, but Moist got very good results with his own design of nose and ear wigs. Show a man a pair of ears that small songbirds had apparently nested in, watch the polite horror in his eyes, and you could be certain that that would be all he remembered.

(Making Money - Pterry)


Prosopagnosia is triggered by a disruption to the processing of faces in the fusiform gyrus and temporal cortex. For induced cases, this is mostly due to the creation of lesions on the area brought about by trauma. But we're not interested in permanently harming people, just disrupting their temporal cortex... temporally...

The fusiform gyrus occupies specific areas of the brain (see this animation) and thus could potentially be targeted for disruption. Jostling the gyrus directly could disrupt the normal firing of neurons to either dampen responsiveness or increase random noise.

Either option would have VERY interesting secondary effects, since that area of the brain is ALSO implicated in synaesthesia, dyslexia, facial hallucinations, and symptoms of autism.

  • Dampening the brain activity in that region would make it harder for people to read language, perceive color, or perceive emotions/communicate with others.
  • Increasing neurological activity in the fusiform gyrus could induce visual hallucinations, which brings me to my proposal...

Your hero uses a carefully attuned infra-sound device that creates standing vibrations inside the skulls of everyone nearby. This defensive weapon excites the neurons in the gyrus, targeting the fusiform and surrounding lingual (encoding visual memories) and parahippocampal (memory encoding and retreiving) gyri. Basically, this operates as a temporary memory loss ray that protects your identity. The fun part is that with induced synaesthesia, villains have a harder time fighting you as their visual field is flashing colors due to the random tonal noises of your infra-sound.

Basically, all they remember afterwards is random noises and a riotous rainbow...

P.S.: Technically, setting up a standing wave to target the fusiform precisely is difficult since everyone's skull is a slightly different size. That's why targeting the surrounding areas of the gyrus is a better, more reliable strategy...


There was an episode of Dark Angel where a character in it was simply, easy to forget: http://darkangel.wikia.com/wiki/Brainiac

People didn't notice him, or were quick to dismiss him (if you're not familiar with Dark Angel, this particular character was engineered that way).

In one scene there's a squad of SWAT agents running right at Brain (the characters name) and still not noticing him. It's never explained in the show, except that he was engineered to be unnoticeable.

The power of your character could be something similar. Or he could have a kind of psychic aura he can turn on at will. This aura makes the human brain unable to form the link from short term memory to long term memory when it comes to his face (or even things he's done) and so people forget him. Kinda like the Neuralyzer from the movie Men In Black.

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    $\begingroup$ The Shadow Knows! It's the power to cloud men's minds. Actually that's The Shadow from the radio show, the pulp magazine Shadow lacked supernatural powers of psychic invisibility, but he was a master of misdirection and artful concealment. There are multiple examples in science fiction of characters with non-physical invisibility, effectively a psychic aura. $\endgroup$
    – a4android
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 8:47
  • $\begingroup$ You are correct! I had absolutely forgotten about the Shadow. Although I'd watched the movie as a kid (where he had psychic powers). Not sure how the movie would hold up now but I enjoyed it then. Sherlock Holmes, and his nemesis Moriarty, were masters at disguise and hiding in plain sight - other good examples... $\endgroup$
    – Shaun K
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ Very similar to the technology the Tardis from Doctor Who employs. People know it's there and will walk around it, but they don't pay it a second thought. In one episode he gives keys to a few people that give them the same ability. $\endgroup$
    – SGR
    Commented Sep 13, 2016 at 13:18

The brain processes information on many levels. At lower levels lots of information is integrated and signal passing is mostly lateral, meaning that raw data that comes into our brains first goes through many parallel networks which share the responsibility of filtering out information that is recognized from the raw data and passing the compressed version, the unrecognized portion of the data (unrecognized at the lower levels), up to higher layers which are weighted to try to recognize the parts that were not filtered out at the lower levels.

Basically what this means is that there is a hierarchically lower part of our brain that recognizes lines, curves and shading to delineate objects and start to find the field of depth and color. At a higher level those signals integrate so that more complicated features can be recognized such as an eye, or an ear, or a nose or a mouth - but this does not yet form a face, nor does it recognize it, but it is very close. At a higher level, those features integrate into faces. At yet a higher level the concept of a face is determined to belong to a person, but which person depends on what faces we have stored in our memories. New faces, like any other memory are stored in the context of the events that surround them.

In other words we have a complex hierarchy of processing and spatio-temporal memory that leads to recognition, but there is a very small and focused portion of the brain that does the work of taking all of the lower signals and forming a spatio-temporal memory of a face. This is because that process relies greatly on the part of the brain that recognizes an object (to the brain, at this point in the hierarchy, an object is just a small collection of signals from other neurons) as a face. If you can selectively disrupt that very small and fairly regular (across individuals) portion of the brains of observers, then you can hijack their ability to remember your face.

My favorite way to do this, with a bit of clever technology, is called Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation. This could perhaps be hand-waved to work as you need in your vicinity while in public.

By this I mean a small, perhaps pea sized region in the brain, which would be in roughly the same position in most people's brains.


I would say you can take also inspiration of ForgetMeNot whose power is to be forgotten, altough he has no control over it and it makes him a bit depressed.

Otherwise do you know parfume? The hero has "no odour", and an extreme sense of smell, which he uses to create a parfume so people ignore him.


You could project a Telepathic Illusion that makes your face appear to look like someone else. Rather than being a particular image that you consciously project, the ability might function autonomously by projecting the image of whomever the person currently viewing you has most recently thought about, or some random aggregation of the facial features of various people they have seen before.

While this does not directly affect memory, it can indirectly inhibit someone's ability to remember your face by displaying subtly different features each time they look at you. This has the added benefit of producing confused and discreditable eyewitness reports, since you will look different to each person, and should not expose any particular pattern of disguise that could be picked up on by a cunning investigator.


What you need is a sexy sidekick.

Distractarella origins

Source: The League of Super Redundant Heroes

Seriously now, this has been exploited by the likes of George R.R. Martin and his folks. In the Wild Cards series, there are at least two characters who grab everyone's attention to themselves wherever they go. Succubus and Kim Toy had seduction related powers, and got to use them do distract people a few times (though in Succubus case, it was not intentional).


Do you ever open the fridge and look around, close it and then immediately forget what you saw? The mind tricks itself all the time. I have this amazing ability to forget names. It's like magic. I've met people who I have to immediately ask to repeat their names because there's something in my brain that just instantly drops it. It's hilarious when I drop it a second time even though I'm ready and trying really hard.

It probably has to do with attention limits and some sort of weird social thing I'm doing when I first meet people.

An illusionist practices this technique to exclude things from your attention (look over here while I hide the ball). I can imagine someone with the natural ability to apply a face forgetting nudge. Someone with the natural talent might not even be able to explain how it works. It could even lead to interesting situations where it doesn't work perfectly on everyone, or came into play by accident.


For a more primitive type of manipulation, have you thought of face-paint? It should bypass whatever allergies you have that prevent the wearing of masks or other headgear. It won't make people unable to recognize each other, but will interfere in their ability to recognize you - and it may be more ethical to tweak what people's eyes are seeing rather than than messing with people's minds by the hundreds. Because meddling with people's minds like that seems, invasive, and creepy, and inappropriate to me.

So, there are three basic choices I can see in face-paint. You can go for an overall palette swap, tinting visible skin an varying shades of one color - or even a few, if you're willing to follow anatomical contours and be consistent about it - the basic idea being that you are "naturally" that color, so people won't be looking for or recognizing a human-colored version of those facial features. Or else you can go with the exceedingly subtle, which takes some studying and practice and a steady hand, and use the makeup to manipulate the eyes watching into seeing a slightly different face - through suggestions of light and shadow, slight thickening or thinning lines, shading and blending just a bit. The third option, less recommended, is the simple "I am wearing face-paint" option, where all that's needed is sufficient coverage - though this has downsides like being really obvious about hiding identity, and encouraging people to target or track the paint to find who's beneath it, and so on.

The key to this attempt is consistency, of course, you need to convince people not only is that your actual face, but also that you wouldn't use makeup to hide it - so people won't be trying to smear the makeup, or wash it away, or be looking suspiciously at anyone who has makeup kits anywhere they go. The paint itself should be very subtle, thin and easy to wear since it needs not to smear (since all that's needed is a suggestion to misdirect the eye). There should be some paints or dyes which could be found or made that will not smear easily, or will only come off with the proper solvents, that can be comfortably worn long term - thick layers and moist paint (grease based) will be uncomfortable, but something light and dry will be wearable.

Depending on how messy the fighting is likely to be, it might be wiser to tint or shape the civilian face, instead - as being less likely to get smeared or washed off in battle. The tinting would have to be subtler - but even a few shades of tan in the human-normal range might be enough to fool someone's perception, and the subtle facial feature shading should work either way...or even both ways, so an unexpected bare-face might reveal some vanity and the use of make-up, but maybe so not the other identity without the face-paint tricks to get to that face from bare. Shade the nose a little thinner, the brows a bit more arched this way, and rounder nose and thicker brows that way - and not only are your two faces further apart than makeup can do (since it really only needs to do half-way), but people would only ever be comparing your bare face to the face they expected to see, not any other faces that look kinda similar unless they've seen both, and bare-faced-from-both-directions, and also recently enough they can remember clearly to compare side by side.


The brain mechanism associated with facial recognition which is typically involved in prosopagnosia (face blindness) is very closely related to the mechanisms used for spacial orientation -- eg, finding ones way in a city. When one mechanism is disrupted so is the other, in most cases. Oliver Sacks wrote of having both disabilities, and I likewise have both.

So to provoke face blindness in an individual one could conceivably provoke disorientation through some mechanism. But what that mechanism might be, I don't know.

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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't answer the question of how to achieve the desired effect. $\endgroup$
    – rek
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 2:04
  • $\begingroup$ @rek - Sure it does -- you just provoke disorientation. Watching a presidential debate should do it. $\endgroup$
    – Hot Licks
    Commented Sep 14, 2016 at 2:27

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