EDITORIAL: The Death Of The Secret Identity

Secret identities...who doesn't have one? From Superman putting on some glasses, to Jay Garrick putting a colander on his head, secret identities have long been a major part of comic books - but are they a thing of the past?

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By Doopie - 4/29/2014

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.
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KallarkKent - 4/29/2014, 7:30 AM
Those are very good points, It reminded me of this scene:



Great article btw!
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 7:32 AM
KallarkKent

thank you. I completely forgot about that bit, it's a great scene too. Freeman is great in it
sKeemAn - 4/29/2014, 7:34 AM
I don't think that the "secret identity" is dead per say. I think that certain characters don't really need it as much anymore. At the same time, know matter how good a secret you can keep someone is always going to find out.
KallarkKent - 4/29/2014, 7:34 AM
^Freeman is God ;)
MrSotoMan - 4/29/2014, 7:46 AM
Well in the Raimi movies, Spider-Man had his mask off when no one was around. Not when everyone was looking, the only time that did happen is when his mask started to burn his face from the electricity sparking out of the train in Spider-Man 2, but that was a very solid reason to take off your mask.

Spider-Man he never took off the mask, only when he was alone.

Spider-Man 2 he took off his mask to the points I mentioned and when he was loosing his spider-powers and to reveal to Octavius who he was and when Osborn took off the mask to see who Spider-Man was, all very valid points for the mask being taken off.

Spider-Man 3 he had the mask off in his apartment, was up on a rooftop with his mask off emptying his shoe from sand, the mask was ripped apart by Venom when he was bashing his face in with a giant pipe.

So no. He didn't always take it off or on some terrible writing, it was all within reason on why his mask was off.

Unlike TASM where he willingly and (recklessly) shows Gwen his powers.
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 7:50 AM
in the final fight with GG in spidey 1, the mask is barely there. my point is not whether there was a reason or not tough...and i think the way it comes off is kind of well done...more to the point people find out who is under the mask and thus his identity is compromised
MrSotoMan - 4/29/2014, 7:54 AM
@Doopie- His identity isn't really compromised though only to the people who knew him. The train is actually a good example where a lot of stereotypical New Yorkers see him, but they don't do anything about it because there is no point too. They never immediately said "Hey this guy is Spider-Man!?!? I WILL REMEMBER HIS FACE" especially after saving all of them from a high speed train that would of went off track and into the Hudson River or onto the city streets.
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 8:01 AM
fair enough it would have been a pretty traumatising experience and shock may well have set in for some, but if i was there in that train and spider-man was unmasked, i am sure i would remember his face. same goes for all the people involved in the wrestling; a wrestler themed like a spider, who can flip, jump, show feats of strength and stick to walls is remember by no-one who saw his face?

but again, the point is not how or why he becomes unmasked/recognised, it's that the identity is revealed in the first place and being revealed to the people closest to him at that.
MexicanSuperman - 4/29/2014, 8:03 AM
The whole world doesn't know Bruce Wayne was Batman at the end of The Dark Knight Rises. Why would Gordon tell everyone that Bruce is Batman?
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 8:03 AM
but aside from spiderman's mask Soto, do you think the secret part of the secret identity is old hat?
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 8:05 AM
MexSupes

thank you, that would be one of the egregious errors i mentioned at the end. i will change accordingly
MexicanSuperman - 4/29/2014, 8:08 AM
@Doopie, the chances of those people on the train seeing Peter around the city is very slim since they live in New York. Peter never gave his name to anyone at the wrestling stadium. It was probably months before Peter became Spiderman since he had to make a suit that looks expensive at shit and at of people would forget his face.
CombatWombat - 4/29/2014, 8:09 AM
very nice article, I never thought about it much until now
CombatWombat - 4/29/2014, 8:12 AM
one of the only decent parts of Green Lantern was the scene where Carol Ferris recognizes Hal through his mask
MexicanSuperman - 4/29/2014, 8:12 AM
@ Doopie, I wish the secret identity of these heroes were kept intact. I always hated that the villains knew who the hero was. At least Batman in TDKT didn't take off his mask.
ruadh - 4/29/2014, 8:14 AM
Good article, and nice to have something actually not picking at which studio this or that, and also not a wishlist of fancasting for once.

I actually get what you're saying, and yes the Raimi movies stand out as the early "gotta show his face" stories. Whether there's a plot reason to do so or not, that was the objective. I do enjoy when they play on tropes though, such as Tony Stark throwing caution to the wind and revealing himself on live news. The bit in the trailer for ASM2 with Gwen losing her temper and shouting "Peter!", then immediately realizing what she's done is another one I appreciated.
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 8:16 AM
Mex

that logic is sound, the chances are slim and i won't mention CCTV or anything. but i think people might be focusing too much on spidey's mask coming off. the point is that Peter's nearest and dearest (the people heroes normally try to keep it secret from the most) find out who he is. as do the villains. this is clearly written into the script so is it that the filmmakers don't think we'll accept it being kept a secret, or something else entirely? is it even happening at all?

i by no means think i am absolutely right on this. it's just food for thought i hope.
CorndogBurglar - 4/29/2014, 8:21 AM
Yeah, there are a lot of people that don't really need a secret identity anymore. If you think about it, the only two characters that come to mind for me are Spider-Man and Daredevil. Although I believe DD was just outed again, was he not?

Anyway, the F4, The Avengers, Punisher, Iron Man, Wolverine, The X-Men...none of those characters care about their identities.
GizmoEl - 4/29/2014, 8:25 AM
One of my biggest gripes with the original Spider-Man series was how often Spidey's mask came off.

I hope TASM2 doesn't go that route. I'm also really glad we didn't get another rehash of the drama about not telling his girlfriend about the secret in the TASM series. I'm glad he told Gwen right away and that reveal was probably one of the better ones I've seen.
DrunkenNukem - 4/29/2014, 8:51 AM
@Doopie

Good editorial man, but i dont understand the Aquaman fans part tho.

sKeemAn - 4/29/2014, 8:54 AM
I believe the X-men need secret identities because they cant be in public seen as mutants fighting in the streets. That would make them even more outlawed by the public.
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 8:56 AM
yeah in the intro i said no-one likes Aquaman which obviously isn't true...is it?
cipher - 4/29/2014, 8:56 AM
Heh, even as a child I thought Stark's whole "bodyguard" cover was ridiculous. I mean, I don't know.. maybe I'm f*cking crazy or somethin', but- isn't the whole idea of being a bodyguard dependent upon your ability to recognise a potential threat and deal with it accordingly? Or at least, I dunno- BE THERE? The dude's "bodyguard" only EVER showed up AFTER the shit hit the fan hard enough to paint a gooey Rorschach blot on the walls for 25 feet across. Not to mention the two were rarely ever seen together. Hahaha, it's just so bloody daft. I used to sit there wondering "well, what the f*ck, most of these celebrities don't leave the house without at least stuffing a rat in the purse and calling it a 'dog' even if they forget their panties, but this bastard can't be bothered to at least ACT like the dude covers the toilet when he's shitting up a storm?"

I mean, that's why I loved what the movie did. It's just "well, f*ck you, I'm Iron Man. Now spread 'em wide ladies", 'cause why wouldn't he, y'know? I mean, I love how they took the trope and sorta just said "f*ck it". I'm not a fan of Green Lantern at all, but I loved the part when Carol just stops and goes "what, did you think I wouldn't recognise you because I can't see your cheekbones?!"

So, to answer your question- no, I don't think the secret identity is dead, but, at this point it's simply not as important anymore. That's why I appreciate it when they sorta just play on the tropes a bit, it keeps things fresh.
cipher - 4/29/2014, 8:56 AM
Good write-up, Doop.
DEVLIN712 - 4/29/2014, 8:58 AM
Batman's villains are really stupid. They found out Dick was Nightwing, a.k.a grown up Robin but were unable to put two and two together to figure out that Bruce Wayne was Batman
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 8:59 AM
DEV that's what got me writing this article in the first place. Jim Gordon not knowing his daughter is batgirl is also another biggie.
Gusto - 4/29/2014, 9:00 AM
I hope my secret identity as a
high profile male stripper never
gets blown.
DEVLIN712 - 4/29/2014, 9:02 AM
Going back to that scene in TDK:
In the comics, the Riddler was obsessed with finding out who the Batman was, his name was even a play on words, E.Nigma. In TDK, Mr Reese is a Riddler easter egg. He tries to figure out the identity of Batman and his name is a play on words. Mr Reese is an allusion to mysteries.
DEVLIN712 - 4/29/2014, 9:03 AM
Nice write up BTW Doop. You're getting into writing editorials now?
DrunkenNukem - 4/29/2014, 9:03 AM
@Sid

YOU ARE BACK!!!
sKeemAn - 4/29/2014, 9:05 AM
Some secret identities are just really stupid. One of the reasons Superman Returns was so awful for me is you can be talking to one character, then turn around and talk to the same character with glasses on, and not know who that person is.
DrunkenNukem - 4/29/2014, 9:07 AM
but i do like Aquaman, he is badass now

DrunkenNukem - 4/29/2014, 9:09 AM
yeah, i mean some secret id are lame, and outdated
cipher - 4/29/2014, 9:10 AM
Yeah, it's nice to see you writing some editorials, Doop.

:)
Doopie - 4/29/2014, 9:15 AM
i am enjoying the writing of editorials and hopefully i can give everyone something a little different from the normal stuff we see (not that there's anything wrong with them)

as for aquaman, my favourite incarnation is in Batman: The Brave and The Bold cartoon where he is voiced by John DiMaggio and is just ridiculously over the top - it's well realised and funny
Gusto - 4/29/2014, 9:22 AM
Cipher's secret identity is safe with us!

Gusto - 4/29/2014, 9:23 AM
As is Sid's!

DrunkenNukem - 4/29/2014, 9:32 AM
damn Gusto

TheGoddamnPeel - 4/29/2014, 9:47 AM
To be fair to TDKR, it wouldn't be too much of a coincidence that Bruce Wayne and Batman both died on the same day as during Bane's takeover of Gotham and the end fight, dozens of cops, civillians and even members of the League of Shadows died. So Batman in theory could have been any of them.
AgentZero - 4/29/2014, 9:50 AM
Man of Steel takes the cake for stupid secret identity.

He went to a freaking MILITARY BASE. You'd think that with all the cameras inside the building they would look up who he is because they know he has been living on the planet.

Then Lois brings the military to HIS HOUSE to take the Spacecraft he came in and they didn't bother inquiring who lived on this farm. I guess soldiers don't have to report anymore. And the general still doesn't know who he is at the end ?

And I'm not even going to mention the guys at the Daily Bugle who saw him kiss Lois and were too stupid to recognize him at the end.
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