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  1. #1
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Default What Happened to the Secret Identity?

    There was time when it was a big deal for a superhero to reveal his identity (intentionally or by accident).

    I remember when MJ told Peter Parker she knew he was Spider-Man. It blew my eight year old mind! Nothing would ever be the same!

    Now it seems like the concept has been watered down to the point where it doesn't matter anymore.

    In the Marvel Universe, practically everyone is connected to SHIELD or the Avengers. So bascially, Nick Fury has everyone on speed dial. I'm not a big fan of the concept, as I always enjoyed the way street level heroes fell under SHIELD's radar. Why would Nick Fury care who Daredevil is? Or Spider-Man?

    In the DCU, Superman is dating Wonder Woman and he's not that close to Lois Lane. I'm having difficulty understanding what function Clark Kent even serves in the New 52.

    So...do you think we'll see an eventual return to the secret identity? Or did that ship sail with Bendis' work on Daredevil and Avengers?
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  2. #2
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    I think it sailed long before that. Wally West outed himself as the Flash off panel back in 1987, Infinity Inc unmasked on TV in 1985 and outed half the JSA along the way, the Dazzler used her costumed identity as a route to fame in 1981...come to think of it, Jay Garrick had given up his secret ID before the end of the Silver Age (and of course, the Fantastic Four never bothered in the first place)! I think that the secret identity was a concept popularized by the pulps back in the 1930s which never really went away because it was so deeply ingrained, but which has been becoming increasingly irrelevant for decades.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Bad Wolf's Avatar
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    Did Jay Garrick's hat really protect his identity? That's even worse than a pair of glasses.

  4. #4
    S.P.E.C.T.R.E. destro's Avatar
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    There are still a number of characters who maintain secret identities. But it is definitely not the huge thing it once was.

    I think a lot of people got a bit tired of some of the ridiculous extremes certain characters would go through to protect them. At times putting people in danger, just not to reveal them. And of course stuff like the endless silver age Superman stories that were based around people trying to find out his ID (which I kind of enjoyed, but I can see how people got sick of them).

    What's kind of funny is, secret IDs make sense. First of course it protects your family and friends from harm. But today in the age of celebrity and paparazzi, it makes sense for a hero or villain to want to have a bit of privacy. The idea of them not being realistic (something that always makes me laugh when applied to comics) doesn't work here. They would make more sense than ever today.
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    S.P.E.C.T.R.E. destro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Walton View Post

    In the DCU, Superman is dating Wonder Woman and he's not that close to Lois Lane. I'm having difficulty understanding what function Clark Kent even serves in the New 52.
    Because he was Clark Kent long before he ever met Lois Lane. He was raised as Clark Kent, and had an entire life as Kent before she came along. The Clark Kent identity is not somehow tied to his relationship with Lois Lane. He has a friends, and interests as Clark Kent that don't tie into Lois in any way.
    Last edited by destro; 11-16-2012 at 11:14 AM.
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  6. #6
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by destro View Post
    Because he was Clark Kent long before he ever met Lois Lane. He was raised as Clark Kent, and had an entire life as Kent before she came along. The Clark Kent identity is not somehow tied to his relationship with Lois Lane. He has a friends, and interests as Clark Kent that don't tie into Lois in any way.
    But in Justice League, he specifically tells Wonder Woman that he has a secret ID to protect the people he cares about.

    Only...his mother and father died before he ever moved to Metropolis. So if it was just to protect others, there was no need for Clark Kent to exist beyond the borders of Smallville.

    His conversation with Wonder Woman indicates he identifies more strongly with her than with normal humans.

    Things are a bit more complicated in Morrison's Action run, but his emphasis still tends to favor Kal-El over Clark IMO.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  7. #7
    Marked for Redemption David Walton's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tony ingram View Post
    I think it sailed long before that. Wally West outed himself as the Flash off panel back in 1987, Infinity Inc unmasked on TV in 1985 and outed half the JSA along the way, the Dazzler used her costumed identity as a route to fame in 1981...come to think of it, Jay Garrick had given up his secret ID before the end of the Silver Age (and of course, the Fantastic Four never bothered in the first place)! I think that the secret identity was a concept popularized by the pulps back in the 1930s which never really went away because it was so deeply ingrained, but which has been becoming increasingly irrelevant for decades.
    There were an increasing number of heroes who dispensed with the secret ID altogether...the most obvious example being the Fantastic Four, who never had one.

    But it didn't really affect the ones who did until more recently, when the goverment got the goods on virtually everyone.
    "I came to the conclusion that the optimist thought everything good except the pessimist, and the pessimist thought everything bad, except himself." -- G.K. Chesterton

  8. #8
    Senior Member MDG's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Walton View Post
    But in Justice League, he specifically tells Wonder Woman that he has a secret ID to protect the people he cares about.
    I always thought this was a BS reason--it may have worked with Ma and Pa when he was Superboy, but since he always hung out with Lois and Jimmy and Perry as Superman, they were constantly kidnapped and threatened, so it didn't really work out.

    Anyone remember the TV episode where a crook and his moll find out Supes' identity so he sticks them on a snow-covered mountain until he can "figure out what to do with them"? They're there about 5 minutes before they try to climb down and fall to their deaths. Always reminded me of this:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Bigger here: http://fantasy-ink.blogspot.com/2011...e-is-lois.html
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  9. #9
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    The diminishing use of the secret identity is one of the few developments of current superhero comcis I don't mind. A lot of them never made much sense or seemed to be of any use in the first place.

    It's funny they still keep a lot of those silly domino-style masks on some characters who don't even have a secret identity and that don't conceal anything anyway. I was just looking at a preview and saw one on Medusa of the Inhumans. What's the point? It doesn't look particularly cool and serves no practical purpose that I can see. I suppose it's just one of those things, like the shorts outside the tights, that are so traditional people tend not to see it.

  10. #10
    what happens next? tolworthy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by destro View Post
    secret IDs make sense. First of course it protects your family and friends from harm. But today in the age of celebrity and paparazzi, it makes sense for a hero or villain to want to have a bit of privacy.
    I hadn't considered that. You mean like Hannah Montana? I know that princes and princesses often pretend to be paupers in fiction, but it seemed problematic to me. Do any real world celebs have secret IDs? I mean the top level ones, the ones with 24/7 paparazzi?

  11. #11
    To burn and to rise Mormel's Avatar
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    I have always been quite fond of the concept of the secret identity. I like the conflict that it creates for many superheroes.

    It is for this reason that I disliked it when Marvel pushed the notion of superheroes no longer needing to keep their identity secret via the Superhero Registration Act that was put into execution in Civil War.

    I thik I'm one of few readers who even liked the X-Men of all people trying to conceal their superhero identities when they were dating (see Iceman and the Beast, Jean when she was in college, and early Colossus and Nightcrawler).

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mormel View Post
    I have always been quite fond of the concept of the secret identity. I like the conflict that it creates for many superheroes.

    It is for this reason that I disliked it when Marvel pushed the notion of superheroes no longer needing to keep their identity secret via the Superhero Registration Act that was put into execution in Civil War.

    I thik I'm one of few readers who even liked the X-Men of all people trying to conceal their superhero identities when they were dating (see Iceman and the Beast, Jean when she was in college, and early Colossus and Nightcrawler).
    It always seemed very impractical for Angel, though. I remember reading X-Men even as a small kid and thinking there's no way he can fold those wings up under his coat like that, and even if he could there's no way no one would notice it.

    But the secret identity sometimes made sense; characters like Spiderman or Daredevil and so on, who either had ambivalent relationships with society or needed to protect or hide their everyday citizen identity for obvious reasons. Interestingly, one of the most effective uses of the secret identity motif in recent years has been in the tv series Dexter.

  13. #13
    S.P.E.C.T.R.E. destro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by David Walton View Post
    But in Justice League, he specifically tells Wonder Woman that he has a secret ID to protect the people he cares about.

    Only...his mother and father died before he ever moved to Metropolis. So if it was just to protect others, there was no need for Clark Kent to exist beyond the borders of Smallville.

    His conversation with Wonder Woman indicates he identifies more strongly with her than with normal humans.

    Things are a bit more complicated in Morrison's Action run, but his emphasis still tends to favor Kal-El over Clark IMO.
    To me he is just saying that this is why he doesn't live his entire life as Superman, not that Clark is less important than Superman. But sure, this sort of thing is open to interpretation.
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  14. #14
    S.P.E.C.T.R.E. destro's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by tolworthy View Post
    I hadn't considered that. You mean like Hannah Montana? I know that princes and princesses often pretend to be paupers in fiction, but it seemed problematic to me. Do any real world celebs have secret IDs? I mean the top level ones, the ones with 24/7 paparazzi?
    I'm not very familiar with Hannah Montana. But while many of them don't take it to a full on Secret ID level, they regularly go out in disguise. Maybe some do have SIs, I have no idea.

    I would think in the superhero world, they would be constantly harassed by people wanting things, press following them, etc.. if they didn't have some way to escape. And not all of them are going to have a Fortress of Solitude or Bat-cave to run off to.
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  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by destro View Post

    I think a lot of people got a bit tired of some of the ridiculous extremes certain characters would go through to protect them. At times putting people in danger, just not to reveal them. And of course stuff like the endless silver age Superman stories that were based around people trying to find out his ID (which I kind of enjoyed, but I can see how people got sick of them).
    Yeah, I think DC kind of killed the effectiveness of the secret identity. For me anyway. Their stories in the silver and bronze age are just full of heroes acting like complete tools in order to try and protect their precious secret identities. There's one issue of Adventure where Supergirl actually lets a guy she was hanging out with get dragged off by attacking mermen because she doesn't want to reveal her secret identity. By the time she leaves and comes back, they are gone with their new human slave, nowhere to be found. I mean, what the heck. And all the silver age stories that were just complicated games where someone was trying to discovers Superman or Batman's identity and the hero has to come up with some trick at the end to prevent it. So tired and played out.
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