Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The REAL Secret of Secret Identities

I was just reading an old Superman story and something occurred to me regarding his and all superhero secret identities.

Superheroes usually say that their secret identities are necessary because, if their enemies knew who they REALLY were, their loved-ones would become targets. Kinda makes sense. Even if you're invulnerable, as long as your loved-ones aren't, they are your real weakness. Kryptonite be-damned.

So, I was reading that Super-story and was reminded that the bad guys have known about his "special relationship" with Lois Lane for a looong time. She's been attacked a ton of times, not because she's Clark Kent's friend or associate, but because she's Superman's "girlfriend"... or, at least, she was. The same is true of Jimmy Olsen. How many times has "Superman's pal" been attacked or threatened to hurt Superman or lure him somewhere?

While it's true that his parents have rarely been attacked (that I know of, anyway) because of their association with him, the fact is that the only way a superhero's secret identity is fully effective is if he or she doesn't (appear to) get close to anyone in the super-identity.

Superman's got teammates, associates, and friends. Spider-man's had buddies, friends, and associates, t00 (although possibly less-publicized). Robin's been Batman's Achilles Heel for some time; long enough for his capture to become something of a cliché. I'm sure there are other examples.


So, what's the answer? Should everyone become as unaffected and unemotional as (the current) Batman, sans-Robin?

I've heard people criticize secret identities before, but for different reasons.


What do YOU think?

7 comments:

John Lombard said...

It's because Superman isn't really interested in Lois, which is why he said "er" and made a feeble excuse whenever she cracked on to him!

West said...

Come again?

MacQuarrie said...

The real secret is part of the primal power of myth. Having a supremely powerful being masquerading as an ordinary citizen gives the reader a point of empathy with them. We all feel that we're like Superman, special on the inside and dull on the outside.

It's part of what makes the characters work. It worked with the Scarlet Pimpernel and Zorro long before comics. It worked in stories of King Arthur traveling incognito, and of Zeus assuming human form.

The "to protect my loved ones" explanation is a rationalization to facilitate keeping the practice.

Without it (and a bunch of other trappings of the genre that we're all eagerly throwing overboard), superheroes move from the world of myth into the world of melodrama. That may not be an entirely desireable thing. Myths endure. Soap operas are transitory.

West said...

Interesting p.o.v., Mac. (Welcome, btw.)

This mildly contradicts what I said in Brandon's thread, but I'd like to see a writer touch on this topic a bit. Maybe have some superhero explain his or her reluctance to get close to other "supers" in this way.

Maybe that could've been part of Nightwing's reluctance to starting a new group/team.


Regardless of how they go about it, I'd really be interested in seeing how such a world would function... or if it could function.

Ragnell said...

I think it would certainly make the "superhero identity" more professional. More of a career choice than the lifestyle choice most comic book companies play it up as.

But it'd be hard to write it so every character can hide his feelings that well when he saves a loved one.

Batman's choice may be the wisest, but it only works because he's naturally like that. Not every personality type could pull it off.

West said...

re: I think it would certainly make the "superhero identity" more professional. More of a career choice than the lifestyle choice most comic book companies play it up as.

That's an interesting idea, to me. I also think we can get a glimpse of that in some of the non-Big Two comics. (I'm thinking of Image, especially, but damned if I can think of a single example, at the moment.)

re: But it'd be hard to write it so every character can hide his feelings that well when he saves a loved one.

Yup. I think that'd work FOR the concept, instead of against it, though.

If it's hard to write, then maybe it's also hard to DO. If it's hard to DO, then maybe people should fail a little here and there in the attempt to keep others at arm's length.

STORMWATCH! There's an example of where it was against the rules for super-types to dance without their super-tights.

I don't think it was explored as much as it could've been, but I was intrigued by what we DID see. (I'm not yelling, btw. The caps are just for convenient emphasis).

re: Batman's choice may be the wisest, but it only works because he's naturally like that. Not every personality type could pull it off.

Yup. I think that'd be interesting to see. I also think it'd have the potential to wear out pretty quickly unless deftly handled, but few trends last forever. Grim n gritty was GREAT... until it wasn't. Same with bell-bottoms... then they came back.

DC seems to be working on increasing their internal consistency. I think this is one area with high potential for improvement AND entertainment... and, therefore, $$$.

John Lombard said...

Well, I half-agree with MacQ -- I agree that the idea of the secret identity is part of the myth's primal power, but because it's the experience of childhood. When we're young enough, we think we're invulnerable and perfect like superman, but we have to lead a "secret life" as a dull kid. But when you grow up and get real power over your life, you slowly integrate both sides of your life.

Which is why I like the idea of a Lois-Luther-Superman triangle -- it's so Oedipal. Here's Superman, this perfect being, and he can't understand why the only woman around prefers this funny-looking, balding, older gentleman... I mean, he's Superman, what's this Lex Luther guy got anyway!?

West: I was refering to the frequent scenes in old Superman comics where Lois would come on to him somehow and Superman would say "er" and then make a lame excuse to avoid her.