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Author Topic: Secret Identities  (Read 731 times)

Offline Tomato

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Secret Identities
« on: December 15, 2019, 05:40:52 AM »
So with a certain "totally going to stick no take backsies boy howdy" event having recently happened in the Superman books, aka Clark Kent "Coming out" as Superman to the entire world, I've been thinking a lot about secret identities as a concept in the modern era. How much of the secret identity is necessary to protect a hero's personal life and those of their loved ones, and how much is it us as fans holding onto a trope of the genre that's just... not necessary anymore? The MCU, for example, has with very few exceptions brushed secret identities aside (even Peter Parker's, though where that's going we don't know yet). I'm not 100% on either side of this one, but I wanted to discuss my thoughts on it here for the sake of getting it out of me, as it were. However, to keep myself from rambling too much, I'm gonna focus on four heroes specifically: Iron Man, Superman, Spiderman, and Batman.

Iron Man:
Spoiler: ShowHide
I wanted to start with Iron Man because, frankly, I think he's a case where the character never really needed a secret identity to begin with, and only had one because that's just what heroes had when Stan Lee created him. As Tony's "Bodyguard," pretty much anyone in Tony's life was at risk from his villain's attacks anyway, even if 90% of them weren't his villains in the first place BECAUSE they hated Tony too. And as someone in Tony's employ by his own admission, Stark was already going to be on the hook for legal issues arising from Iron Man's vigilantism, even where it wasn't hand waved by Avengers security clearances or the like.

As such, Tony's pretty much the poster child for dropping secret identities from heroes entirely.


Super-man:
Spoiler: ShowHide
Let's get this out of the way: I'm not going to address the specifics of Bendis' arc, partly because I haven't even actually read it for myself, partly because it's too early to judge the fallout from it, but mostly because I do not care about the giant Bendis hornets nest on any level whatsoever. No, I want to speak to the *idea* of Superman's identity being public, and whether I think that's where the comics should progress towards. After all, unlike Tony, whose secret identity was arbitrary and a trope even back in the 60s, Superman practically invented the secret identity.

However, ultimately... and I know I'm going to get some pushback from some members on this... I think it's the right move and that Superman's outgrown it.

Let's get the elephant in the room out of the way first: No matter how it's justified (and frankly it's worse when people do, like magic hypnosis powers), the glasses and posture thing is not going to fool people long term. I'll buy it for walking past everyday people on the street, but Clark works in an office with dozens of skilled reporters who have all met and report on Superman ALL THE TIME, and his disguise is glasses and a slight hunch. In an era of smartphones, photoshop, and snapchat filters, it's not believable, even for a guy that can bench press a planet.

More than that though, it's something that undercuts the core of Superman's character, and the values he tries to espouse. For a man claiming to stand for Truth and Justice, a crusader for the right of free press... the fact that he keeps a huge secret from people he loves and that constantly and consistently hurts them (both emotionally and via supervillain attacks) because he doesn't tell them is selfish and horrible. Even if he goes back to having a secret identity, the fact that Perry, Jimmy, and others in his life weren't trusted with his secret is a betrayal of the character.

And, to my final two "criteria"... Superman's villains always go after the planet staff (and specifically Lois) ANYWAY, and Superman's been given the keys to Metropolis enough times I doubt he'd be prosecuted for his Vigilantism.

So yeah, while I don't think new media (movies, shows, etc) should have him "out" as Clark right off the bat (before he's established himself as Superman, since him becoming comfortable as that hero is part of his arc), it's overdue in the comics and in any media where he's been around more than a few years.


Spiderman:
Spoiler: ShowHide
Let's get this out of the way: Peter Parker not telling his loved ones who he is, worrying them with his constant disappearances, and generally being an awful lying sack of garbage is annoying and needs to go away. We got the whole "I've known for a long time" bit with Aunt May years ago before it was stupidly retconned, all to maintain a nonsense status quo with him being a miserable liar is irresponsible and tired. JJ finding out was one of the best stories in the last few years, and it's the direction they should have gone ages ago.

However, for a public identity... eh. On the one hand, Peter has a number of psychotic enemies, and aside from being "that guy that takes the Spider-Man pictures" there's not a ton that'd lead most of them to his front door. But really, the worst of those (GG, Ock, Venom) already know, so it's not like Peter and his loved ones aren't being attacked on the regular anyway. Plus, Peter is an off and on Avenger, so it's not like there'd be a ton of call for his arrest or legal issues (plus, he might actually get to trademark his own identity)

That said, while I think a public identity CAN work, it is also completely within Peter's character to hold onto it even though it's not REALLY necessary. Whereas I feel Superman's identity being secret is a critical flaw in what the character's supposed to stand for, the fact that Peter holds onto his identity as a misguided way of protecting his family is perfectly in keeping with the core of his character.


Batman:
Spoiler: ShowHide
This one's a little bit tougher. On the one hand, Bruce has pretty much always never shied away from trusting the people he loves and trusts with his identity, so we almost never get any cases of the nonsensical and overplayed drama of, say Peter Parker not telling his Aunt May he's Spider Man, so in Bruce's case we only have to deal with his identity truly being public, and how it relates to the police force and his villains. Which is great, because that drama needs to die in a fire.

Regarding the police and prosecution of Batman's antics, that's always in flux. Gordon pretty much looks the other way and the Batman mask gives him enough plausible deniability to do so, but my headcannon is that Gordon's known since pretty much the beginning, but won't admit that he does. As far as villains go, Batman is the first case on this list of a hero whose villains don't REALLY tend to have a beef with Bruce Wayne, at least not all that often. Some do sure, but they don't really go after Bruce's loved ones to get to Batman, the two are pretty separate in their eyes (at least for those that don't know his identity... or don't care, like Joker). In both cases, Bruce having a secret identity is actually a good idea, because it keeps the maniacs he fights from attacking his loved ones directly, and keeps him from facing legal issues from being a vigilante. Batman is, no exaggeration, the best case for secret identities still being a thing, even without the whole "Bruce is the real mask" argument.

Which is why the whole Batman Inc thing still kinda bothers me... on the one hand, it's the perfect defense for anyone smart enough to trace the Batman tech that he's paying for: Of course Bruce Wayne developed and paid for it, he admitted to funding the Batman. And he's such a fopish fool that he's probably paying some shmuck to run around and fight for him. But on the other... oh hey, I hate Batman, I'm a psychopath, I guess I'll go after Bruce Wayne and all the people he cares about to punish him for Batman's transgressions. Plus, oh yeah, all those legal issues resulting from Batman's violent war on crime are now directly at Bruce's door. It solves some issues, but creates others.

Offline kkhohoho

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Re: Secret Identities
« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2019, 03:26:01 PM »
I agree with most of that, but I'm still a bit iffy on Superman outing himself. On the one hand, yes, he absolutely should have told Jimmy, Perry, and the rest ages ago. That the entire Justice League knows who he is but Jimmy and co still don't have a clue is horrendously selfish and thoughtless on Clark's part, and goes against what the character is supposed to stand for.

That said, I think there's still an argument for Clark having an SID, at least in regards to the general public. As Superman, Clark is one of the busiest and most prolific heroes around. He's constantly saving the day and dealing with all sorts of crises and disasters in and out of the League, and is such a beloved and famous Superhero that everyone wants a piece of him. If Clark had to be Superman 24/7, he'd go nuts. He needs room to breathe. To just be Clark without having to deal with the pressure of being Superman all the time. And having a SID handles that nicely.
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Offline GhostMachine

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Re: Secret Identities
« Reply #2 on: December 15, 2019, 04:09:24 PM »
As far as Superman goes, I agree with kkhohoho. If Clark was Superman 24/7, he'd go insane. The Clark identity lets him have a normal life, downtime and breathing room. HOWEVER, I think Jimmy and Perry White should have been let in on it a long time ago. "Sorry, Mister White, I can't do the story on the fashion convention, because Luthor is at it again, and I have to stop him from destroying downtown."


Offline Tomato

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Re: Secret Identities
« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2019, 04:56:53 PM »
See, I get that... but I think there's a level where him wearing the suit and glasses, even with his identity out there, kinda already does that. I'm not saying he should be walking around in Wal Mart in his Superman costume, he'd still go around the same as ever. You don't expect to see Chris Hemsworth walking down the street in plain clothes, and I think even with him being honest about being Clark, especially after the public shock dies down I think him walking down the street is going to be any different. You might get the occasional fanboy or sommat that draws attention to it. And as far as "he needs to have his own life..." doing what, exactly? Relaxing at home with his wife? Catching up with paperwork at the office? The worst case is he has to deal with a bunch of paparazzi around his home now, but this is a man that can super-speed his way in and out AND has a fortress of Solitude to fall back on if he's REALLY feeling like he needs to get away from it all.

And, my point again is... it undercuts his entire stance as a symbol of truth and justice for him to be lying to the public. I don't think he'd want to do that forever, which is why I think it's a natural evolution for the comics to take. Superman is too good a person to do that, in my eyes.

Really, I think the biggest issue with the whole thing is actually how it affects his job. On the one hand, this being the place where Superman works will generate a LOT of new business in the short term. But Clark's ability to report on issues? Yeah, there's no way corrupt politicians are going to open up to Superman the same as ordinary farm boy Clark Kent. It also creates a HUGE conflict of interest regarding the Planet's previous and future stories about Superman, both in general (he's literally an employee), and specifically every article written by Superman himself and his wife.

Offline SickAlice

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Re: Secret Identities
« Reply #4 on: December 30, 2019, 08:26:19 AM »
A few things aside just the technical merits in general it's a metaphor for the struggle of balance between the ego and superego and between living up to a title, like a job for instance and our at home selves. Something we all struggle with. Iron Man is moot to me, he's been out for a long time now in comics and currently his identity, well his identity and whether he even has one is in question and I'll leave it that to avoid TPB spoilers. Superman is dependent on reading the arc and more Event Leviation. It's situational and a tactic he is using against his enemies whose tactic themselves is using the characters secrets and private lives against them, a reflection of the digital information era of course. Also mirrored in the Batman books and Heroes In Crisis. Then add the New 52 reboot up to Rebirth and specifics about the current Superman in the comics and...eh, okay huge mess there and we would just end up in a circle. So I suppose just going with overall history of the character and jumping back before say Flashpoint I say the identity doesn't make much sense and specifically happens to be the his biggest weakness, worse than Kryptonite so he should have came out a long time ago just by logic. Same with Peter though that seems to be the very thing the current books are addressing and tying up that One More Day story. It's more a valid point when it comes to teen characters who still live at home with mom and dad. Like Miles isn't public really but his parents know. That sounds realistic to me. I can't imagine a kid sneaking around between home and school and superheroing every day without a hitch. Though it looks like that subject is what's on the menu for Marvel's next Civil War iteration anyways so I guess we'll see. It's a hard line at the end of it all given the fictional world and situations these characters deal with. I know what I do but also I don't have to deal with being joined with an alien being or having nuclear blasts come out of my hands or fighting hordes of demons daily and what have you so it's difficult to play semantics all the same. It somewhat of a dated trope though, I'll give it that much.