Comics / Spotlight

Another Side to Me? - Superheroes' Secret Identities

By William Hillman
August 10, 2013 - 16:39

Since Clark Kent secret identities has been a part of superhero tradition. Character after character have had alter egos with jobs and friends while waiting for the right moment to changed in to their super selves. Batman and Bruce Wayne; wealthy philanthropist, Spider-man and Peter Parker; photographer, Green Lantern and Hal Jordan; test pilot, and the Flash and Barry Allen; forensic scientist. Reporter, doctor, fireman, police officer, salesman, nurse, lawyer, and stunt performer are just a few of the jobs that superheroes have held in their off hours.

The reasons for secret identities are both practical and to enhance the fantasy. It’s easier to connect with the characters if at least a part of them is like us and not many of us wear tights and can shoot lasers from our eyes. Most of us are just average people going to work, coming home, and trying to put food on the table. The “mild manner” persona is the aspect of the superhero that we can connect with which allows us to put ourselves in their shoes. It also allows us to imagine that our ordinary, everyday selves are actually just our secret identities and that at any moment we could turn in to beings of incredible power.

One of the practical aspects of secret identities are of course protecting love ones from reprisals from villains. While some have argued that police don’t need secret identities they instead have a system in place that offers them and their families protection. If a criminal were to harm a police officer or their family then other police officers would descend upon them. The courts then would assign extra harsh punishment for the crook’s crimes. Superheroes; as freelancers for law enforcement, don’t have such a system to back them up. They rely on the fact that no one knows who they are or where they live.

Another practical aspect of the secret identity is that they wouldn’t be bother by the press, fans, people curious about them, constant requests for help, or people looking to profit from them with either merchandising deals or lawsuits for damages that occurred from their battles with super villains. They can lead their private lives peacefully and how they choose. The pressure of living up to the ideals represented by their heroic alter egos can, once in a while, be eased up allowing them to make mistakes and be human. They can date without having to worry that the other person looks at them like a larger than life figure.

There’s also the fact that most superheroes have basic human needs like food, shelter, and the need for medical treatment. To meet those needs they need money. Since the idea of a superhero merchandising themselves seem less than heroic to most people that means a job. Potential employers might be hesitant to hire someone if it means that super villains could attack the workplace or that their employee would disappear if there was a crisis nearby. They also need the time to work so being able to control, to some extent, how long they perform their superhero duties allows them to spend at least a few hours earning a living.
Sometimes, especially when their secret identities are that of a reporter or police officer, these other identities can allow them to investigate things discreetly. This can be useful when the sight of a cape and tights could alert a bad guy causing him to escape. Being in a costume could also draw a crowd which would get in the way.

Besides all the practical aspects of the secret identity there’s also the way it reflects us. It could be that the reason that we find characters with secret identities or double lives so interesting is that it touches on the part of us that is divided within ourselves. We all have parts inside us that are very different from the other parts. A prison guard who never smiles on the job may go home and enjoy a comedy in private. A tom boy may have a girlish side that she doesn’t want anyone to know about. We share these different sides with different people. When we talk to a police officer at a traffic stop we’re all business but when we get home to our kids we smile and act silly. With our significant others we share our tender side but with our coworkers at the office we’re very formal. We are helpful employees, impatient clients, comedians, stern taskmasters, jerks, and good Samaritans. It can be said that we have many identities that are secret from the different people in our lives. This is a way art mimics life. The long held interest people have had in the idea of a every man going in to a bloom closet and coming out a caped wonder could be because we wish that was us or on some level we recognize that it is. It takes more than one person to make up who we are.

Last Updated: March 10, 2022 - 22:00

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