Whether by day you are a struggling photographer working for a paper that hates you, or a reporter who also flies around saving the innocent, or a newspaper publisher who moonlights as a masked vigilante...geez there are a lot of superheores working at papers...a secret identity has always been an important thing for a superhero. It hides who you really are protecting the ones you love from let's say, being thrown off a bridge, and gives the opportunity for some much needed downtime. But in this age of CBMs - and what an age it is - is the secret identity no longer required?
Since I started reading comic books as a boy one thing that, aside from vanquishing evil, was essential to all heroes was that nobody knew who they really were, and if anyone did they were their closest friends and confidants. Batman had Alfred, Spidey had Bruce the gargoyle, and Aquaman had ......oh yeah, no-one likes Aquaman. Whether a mask or cowl, or a different hairstyle and demenour the hero worked hard to keep his true identity a secret. It is something almost every hero has dealt with; god forbid an arch-nemesis learn where you sleep at night.
Secret identites in comic books have always required some suspension of disbelief, after all who can believe an investigative journalist like Lois Lane (or any other person) wouldn't see through Kal-El's 'disguise'? Or a detective like Jim Gordon wouldn't suss the richest guy in town is also the vigilante with his own plane/super car/everything? Suspension of disbelief is a huge part of superhero comic books. If you can't believe a man can fly for 22 pages, then it's probably not the medium for you. But asking someone, even a child, to believe that no-one could figure a heroes identity isn't just asking for a suspension; it's asking you to believe these characters are stupid. I always had a bit of a problem with it and it seems as though filmmakers are also shying away from using the trope all that much.
But! They all still wear masks!! They sure do. But let's take a look at the reveals shall we?
Raimi's Spider-Man Trilogy (2002 - 2007)
When does this guy keep his mask on? This is in my eyes, the film that started it off. Not CBMs obviously, but the need for the star to have 'face-time'. Tobey Maguire is constantly out of his mask or has some of it torn off. This happens in every film and by the end there is no significant character who hasn't learned his identity, barring J Jonah Jameson and Aunt May (who hints at knowing). Every villain knows him. By name. And the reprocussions for his loved ones is not inconsequential. Added to this a whole train load of people and you've got to think the old 'secret' identity isn't worth all that much.
The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005 - 2012)
To pay Nolan his dues Batman Begins addresses this issue head on. On his reconnection with Alfred, Bruce says he needs to be more than a man; he needs to be a symbol and it's Alfred who points out he needs to protect those closest to him. But then what happens? Bruce proceeds to tell Rachel, Ra's of course already knows (and so too do Talia and Bane) and his identity is 'figured out' by John Blake. But this isn't all; Bruce even tells Jim Gordon which, whilst this may not result in the whole world finding out, there must be a little suspiscion over Batman and Bruce Wayne dying the same day. By this point it may not matter so much as Bruce is 'dead', but it really does throw secret out the window.
Iron Man Trilogy (2008 - 2013)
The start of the MCU...and what does Tony do? He only tells the whole world at the end that yes, he is Iron Man. There's even a joke about people not believing that the old shellhead is Tony's bodyguard. And who would right? So not only does the world know of Tony's extra-curricular activities which could paint a giant target on him , he goes as far as revealing his home address in the third film....secret indeed!
Man of Steel (2013)
Love it or loathe it, Man of Steel did very little to keep Clark's identity as the alien Zod was searching for a secret. Lois Lane is able to track him down by following stories and local hearsay until she ends up at the Kent farm. Someone needs to tell General Swanwick right? He'd lose fewer drones that way for sure. Pete Ross is another character who knows but thankfully, he's a stand up guy and the 'secret' is safe...for now.
So where does that leave us going forward? From the examples above it seems clear that the pressure of maintaining the secret identity that has been such a major factor in comic books over the years is being phased out in CBMs. There are many more examples too but for the sake of brevity it's been boiled down to the big-hitters and some of the highest grossing.
In a time when CGI is so good you really will believe a man can fly, have filmmakers decided that it's a step too far to ask the audience to ignore the fact that it's so painfully obvious who these people are? Let me know your thoughts...is the secret identity truly dead? And have I made any egregious errors or omissions?
DISCLAIMER: Please don't take any of my comments as 'bashing'; there is at the very least some parts I like in all of them. And to any Aquaman fans, that was just a bit of light-heartedness. Honest.