When Did Pepper Potts Learn Iron Man’s Secret Identity?

By z20z.com 10 Min Read


  • Pepper Potts, Tony Stark’s love interest, took a surprisingly long time to discover his secret identity as Iron Man.
  • Pepper initially resembled a character from The Bob Cummings Show, but was later given a conventional makeover.
  • Happy Hogan eventually discovered Tony’s secret identity in Tales of Suspense #70, while Pepper didn’t find out until Iron Man #65.

This is “Got Me a Secret,” a feature where I spotlight notable instances of comic book characters revealing their secret identities to people (or people figuring out the secret identities themselves). Today, we look at the surprisingly long time that it took for Virginia “Pepper” Potts to discover that Tony Stark was Iron Man.

Due to her usage in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where she was played by Gwyneth Paltrow, Virginia “Pepper” Potts has become Iron Man’s most notable love interest, but what’s interesting is how rarely she was actually depicted as a love interest for Tony in the comics until the movie came around. What’s also interesting is how long it took for her to actually discover Tony’s secret identity as the Armored Avenger!

Pepper made her debut in 1963’s Tales of Suspense #45 (by Robert Bernstein, Stan Lee and Don Heck), where her debut, along with that of Happy Hogan’s, was notable enough that they got name checked on the cover!

The issue opens with Tony Stark doing an automobile race, when his car crashes. A bystander heroically risks his life to free Tony from the flaming wreck of his car. Tony tries to reward the guy, who turns out to be a boxer named Happy Hogan, but Hogan tears up the reward money and explains that what he really needs is a job, and so Tony hires him as his bodyguard/chaffeur…

Tony hires Happy Hogan

When Tony and Happy return to Stark Industries, we meet Tony’s personal secretary, Pepper Potts…

Pepper Potts makes her debut

At the time, Pepper Potts was modeled after a character from The Bob Cummings Show, Schultzy, the secretary of the lead character on that series, who, like, Tony Stark, was a playboy. Like Pepper, Schultzie wishes she could date her boss. Amusingly, Schultzy was played by a young Ann B. Davis, who won two Emmys for the role. Davis, of course, most famously was later Alice the housekeeper on the iconic sitcom, The Brady Bunch.

Five issues later, someone (Lee? Heck?) decided that the Schultzy riff was too much, so they decided to give her a makeover, and so in Tales of Suspense #50, Pepper was now a conventionally attractive woman (and very much in keeping with the types of ladies that Heck was known for drawing. He was a talented romance artist)…

Pepper Potts gets a makeover

See how Happy notes that he liked Pepper’s old look? Well, that leads to a sort of love triangle where Happy and Pepper slowly but surely start to date, as Tony is rarely around, and Happy is ALWAYS around. This leads to Happy learning Tony’s secret identity, and Pepper realizing which of the two she truly loves!

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When did Happy Hogan discover that Tony Stark was Iron Man?

In Tales of Suspense #70 (by Don Heck, Stan Lee and Vince Colletta), Iron Man is in danger, and Happy has to risk his life to save the hero. On the way to saving his life, Happy finally figures out that Tony is Iron Man. Meanwhile, while Happy is risking his life, Pepper realizes that she actually DOES love Happy, as she is freaking out that he might get hurt…

Happy risks his life to save Iron Man

Happy IS injured, but it is not that bad, but it’s not GREAT, either, but as Happy passes out, he lets Iron Man know that he knows that he is Tony Stark. Iron Man reflects on the fact that even though he and Happy were romantic rivals for Pepper, Happy was still willing to risk his life to save him, which impresses Tony a lot…

Happy reveals he knows Tony is Iron Man

One of the weird things in Tales of Suspense when Gene Colan took over the Iron Man feature was that Colan wasn’t necessarily used to working in the Marvel Method at first, where Colan would have to plot out the issue himself for the most part, and then Lee would add dialogue (after presumably going over the basic plot with Colan first), and so in a lot of early Colan stories done in the “Marvel Method,” stories had a real rushed ending, as he had to quickly resolve plots, and it was in one of those issues where we learn, in just the last three panels of the story, that Happy and Pepper have eloped in Tales of Suspense #91 (by Colan, Lee and Frank Giacoia)…


Happy and Pepper then leave Stark’s employ, but we routinely check in on them in the new Iron Man solo series that debuted in 1968 (after Tales of Suspense became Captain America’s comic book). Despite being married, Happy keeps Tony’s secret for…I really don’t know why. He really should have told his wife.

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When did Pepper Potts discover Tony Stark was Iron Man?

Years into the series, Pepper asks for her old job back, as she and Happy are having some financial concerns due to the high inflation of the early 1970s. In Iron Man #58 (by Mike Friedrich, Steve Gerber, George Tuska, Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito), Pepper is forced to save Iron Man’s life, and we get confirmation that she does not know Tony is Iron Man….

Pepper has to save Iron Man

Happy is not pleased with Pepper going back to work, and he actually leaves her whle she is on a working trip with Tony. Pepper and Tony get closer, and in Iron Man #63 (by Friedrich, Tuska and Esposito), they kiss…right as Happy walks in on them!

Happy walks in on Tony and Pepper kissing

Happy beats Tony up in the next issue, and then storms off.

In Iron Man #65 (by Friedrich, Tuska and Esposito), Happy uses his knowledge of Tony’s secret to mess with Pepper, who notes that she dislikes Iron Man…

Pepper doesn't like Iron Man

so Happy then shocks her by revealing that Tony IS Iron Man!

Happy reveals that Tony IS Iron Man!

In the next issue, Iron Man is in trouble, and Happy actually tries to help by putting on the armor, which he will also use to show Pepper that he IS telling the truth, but when she shouts at him not to risk his life, he realizes that she still cares for him, so he decides NOT to go into battle as Iron Man. Tragically, a boxer buddy of his, Eddie March, takes a different pair of the armor, and goes into battle, and almost dies.

While Tony is on a mission overseas, Happy comes up with an idea for him and Pepper to be happy again. In Iron Man #71 (by Friedrich, Tuska and Esposito), Happy asks for a job, and he and Tony reconcile their friendship…

Tony rehires Happy

Two issues later, in Iron Man #73 (by Friedrich, based on a story idea by Tom Orzechowski, and artists Arvell Jones, Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney), we have confirmation that Pepper believed Happy’s reveal of Tony’s secret identity, and now they’re all cool with each other…

Tony can finally share his life with Pepper and Happy

Tony even shows Pepper how his armor works…

Tony shows Pepper how his armor works

Years later, after Happy is tragically killed, Pepper and Tony finally get together romantically.

If anyone has a suggestion for a new Got Me a Secret, drop me a line at brianc@cbr.com.

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