Secret Identity Crisis
By Philip Schweier
February 9, 2021 - 09:58
Let us cast our thoughts back to the 1940s, when the rules were so much simpler. Comic book characters were born of a gimmick they would use to fight crime. Donning a pair of tights, a cape and a domino mask (the kind that covers the eyes and nose), they could battle bad guys who were evil for the sake of being evil. Their motivation was greed and avarice, sure and simple.
Along the way, they hide their identity from their girlfriend or employer, and possibly pick up some orphan child to become their sidekick. Thankfully, that particular trope has been retired. Former sidekicks have mostly grown up and claimed their own super-secret crime-fighting persona, or maybe retired altogether.
It’s inevitable that story-telling techniques evolve to reflect the sensibilities of an audience. One noteworthy comic book editor suggested comics need an enema every decade or so. This usually happens in some universe-spanning crisis, or the inevitable re-set to #1, Volume whatever.
Super-heroes today either form partnerships (Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger), alliances (DC’s Blue Beetle and Booster Gold) or go it alone entirely, occasionally joined by teammates from an all-star group of fellow crime fighters.
Marvel has done secret identities right in its cinematic universe. Hawkeye and Black Widow are codenames; Everyone knows Steve Rogers is Captain America, it’s an open secret, the same way we know Lady Gaga is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta. (Okay, if you didn’t know that before, you do now.)
Many celebrities have stage names. Not just Archibald Leach = Cary Grant, but the more theatrical names, such as 50 Cent, Ice-T or Sting. Sometimes we know their real names, but unless we see them in the context of their profession (on stage or screen, all glammed up) we may not recognize them buying chips & salsa at the local Kroger, as their tour bus passes through town on their way to their next performance.
Equally so, we’re not like to recognize a Steve Rogers out of uniform, or identify by name the young man with brown hair (Spider-Man 2, 2004) in the red and blue costume.
But Batman is one the publisher’s oldest characters, and exposing him is fraught with peril. Perhaps Bruce Wayne could become a recluse, while Batman becomes more public; reversing which of the identities is the urban legend.
Just as characters have forsaken tights in favor of body armor, I foresee new heroes developing less from lab accidents and alien origins. It represents a more realistic approach as to how/why these heroes (and villains) adopt more theatrical personas – flight call signs, special ops code names, and yes, even showbiz stage names.
Secret Identity Crisis
Identity Stunt #1
Identity Stunt Exposed!
Trans Identity in Fiction: Life Before Transition
Revisiting The Bourne Identity – The Original Bourne Film
Legerdemain - The Best Identity Crisis Story with the Atom
Green Lantern's "Secret Identity" Ryan Reynolds Powers Own Comic Book Bio
Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and The Unmasking of Cold War America
Announcing the Grand Opening of the Identity Circus