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Off My Mind: The Importance of a Secret Identity for Superheroes

Seems like common sense but there are many heroes with public IDs.

From the early days of superheroes, one common element among them has been the secret identity. It should go without saying that if a person is going to go out and fight crazed supervillains, having a secret identity and a private life is a crucial element.

Not all superheroes have a secret identity. Some heroes don't have the choice of having one as they're identity becomes known for one reason or another. There are pros and cons to having and maintaining one.

Despite some of the obvious dangers of allowing the entire world to know who they are, there are still those heroes that continue to put themselves out in the public and continue their fight against crime. Juggling a dual life isn't easy but maintaining the secret could be one of the most important missions in a superheroes life.

== TEASER ==

A superhero without a secret identity would be equivalent to a celebrity in the real world. We see them in the tabloids all the time. They can't go to the grocery store for a quart of milk without photographers harassing them. Superheroes without a secret identity would have photographers to think about as well as supervillains with a vendetta for revenge. There are villains that will strike at the weakest point. A superhero without a secret identity can't really have any hopes of a private life. Friends and family would always be in danger. This might be the deciding factor but there are other reasons they might not have actually considered.

It's a surprise Mister Fantastic and the Invisible Woman's children haven't been put more at risk. These poor children are pretty much stuck staying in the Baxter Building all the time. They can't simply head down to the local playground. Who would want them over for a playdate knowing the Mole Man or Annihilus could attack and destroy their home at any moment?

Another issue with having kids is their safety. Reed and Sue have been pretty good parents and the Baxter Building has the most advanced security system but how many times has it been attacked? The entire building has been sent into space...twice. Social Services even paid them a visit and threatened to take away Franklin and Valeria.

What's the deductible to insure the Batmobile?

What about any sort of insurance? A hero with a public identity will have a hard time getting life, medical or even car insurance. They would have to pay super-high premiums in order to be insured. If the world knows who they are, they would always be a target and that means their lives and possessions would be at risk as well.

Without a secret identity, everyone is going to expect the hero to save the day. If something goes wrong, they'll blame the hero for not doing their 'duty.' If a crime occurred in their neighborhood and the hero happened to be busy washing their hair or mowing their lawn and failed to stop the crime, they could probably expect some hatemail or flaming bags of poo on their doorstep.

Then again, would they be able to be a home owner? Who doesn't enjoy a nice barbecue in the backyard? If they were part of a team like the Avengers that has their own mansion or headquarters, they could just hang out there. But they wouldn't really get any privacy unless the only friends they had were other members of the team.

All of this might seem like common sense but there are still heroes that refuse to even try to have a secret identity. It could be that they enjoy the thrill or attention of everyone knowing how powerful they are.

A hero that is invulnerable needn't worry about their own safety while going out to the movies. Even if the heroes don't have any non-powered friends or family to worry about, they're going to want to have a secret identity to get some peace once in a while.

It could be argued that in a city full of millions, they wouldn't always be recognized but today's celebrities know this isn't always the easiest thing to do.

A secret identity is for more than just protecting friends and family. Superheroes need to understand the importance of this.

49 Comments
Posted by RocketOrange

lol first but also i feel like public identities are horrible! Wally West as the Flash...I couldn't read a single comic without being afraid his house was gonna get blown up...

Posted by feebadger

Personally, i would LUUURVE to be the Richards' kids!

"Why haven't you done your homework, Franklin?"

"Mole Man ate it."

"Fair enough."

And The Tick? That's what my secret identity would look like. Pure genius.

Posted by InnerVenom123

Public identities don't matter if you have a f**king fortress of inescapable SCIENCE to call home! (Looking at you, FF).

Posted by ArtisticNeedham

HA, I was just writing a short story (for fun) about this topic.

Too late to read it tonight, but I'll read it tomorrow.

Posted by Paracelsus

There ARE some superheroes/heroines who "go public" and seem not to be worried about the repercussions- pace FF, Wonder Man, Iron Man, the late Janet Van Dyne( aka the Wasp), but they seem not to have any relatives-by blood or marriage(or if they do have them they keep a discreet distance from their famous kinsman/woman). One "pro" for having a secret identity is basically that everybody, even a superhero (just like soldiers in wartime) needs to "kick back and let their hair down"- this is difficult when you "go public". Another "pro" is id the hero/heroine is a religious type, they can go to their place of worship( church, mosque, synagogue, ashram, temple-whatever), without fearing that it will be attacked by a super villain and their fellow worshippers or clergy will sue them for wilfully endangering their coreligionists.( in America especially, suing people-even Presidents- see "Jones v. Clinton"-is a national pastime)

No, no matter how inconvenient the old dual identity shtick is, it is preferable to not just putting yourself but also your family members( by blood or marriage) in harm's wear by "going public". To be honest, there ARE supervillains like Dr.Doom who have refrained from attacking the FF's family members or relatives(this is probably tied to his concept of himself as a man of honor, as Sue Richards noted in FF#259, when he-or his robot doppelganger- physically struck her; he would kill her but striking her physically was beneath his dignity-or so she thought) even though he knows that they exist, but such relatively altruistic types are rare in the super villain world!

Terry

Posted by Eyz

Well, real life actors and sportsmen are actually annoyed by fans, paprazzis and whatnot...so imagine superheros who actually save the city/world/timestream/aliens/etc..

That and the supervillains getting to them in their private lives/loved ones! :P

Posted by Hoboseid

What is it with Superman's retarded disguise

F*u*ck Superman

Bat, the Tick and Spidey are much better

Posted by pspin

Except for FF, the public identity angle never really worked out well for anyone

Posted by DXmagma

This wouldn't a problem if those unpatriotic hippies like Captain America and Cable had let the registration act pass!

Posted by victoriancuckoo

secret identities are definitely one of my favourite part of any superhero's story, the idea that we wear multiple masks is such an important part of modern identity that it seems fitting that it would be tackled in one of the most modern genre's for storytelling.

Posted by Outside_85

Someone should mention this to Red Robin

Online
Posted by RedheadedAtrocitus

As for the argument of kids I can see the secret identity as something paramount to a superhero's security, even if more often than not superheroes don't have children walking around by their side. As for the insurance that would almost seem necessary for superheroes to have a secret identity when applying for it, for in this Viner's humble opinion, insurance companies are some of the greatest thieves of modern times and need to be properly monitored in absence of total regulation. Home ownership and common sense aside, it would seem then that there is much to warrant the use of a secret identity for a superhero. In my case I think the greatest reason above all is just as you stated before...who wants to be a superhero 24/7? Who really wants everyone to know they are super all the time and be readily available to be on hand to save the day? Superheroes have lives too. It doesn't always have to be about securing the lives of family and/or loved ones. Even superheroes need a vacation!

Posted by Bemitri

If a hero is willing, the government should be able to brainwash into believing or erase the fact that both the hero and the person he knows have actually met or had a history together (Maybe by the Psi Squad of the SHIELD). That way, when the identity is made public, there will be no "social life" to be hurt.

Posted by MetropolisKid41

I really prefer the secret identity route. It really allows for better stories and characterization in my opinion. You get that double characterization, Bruce Wayne and Batman really are 2 different people, and its awesome to see that Dynamic played out when its done right, and what drives both of them. I have really enjoyed Snyder's run on Batman and seeing Bruce & Batman attack the same problem from 2 different angles.

Edited by Decoy Elite

Spider-Man revealing his identity was the worst.  
 
Spider-Man says outing himself will cause all his villains to attack his family. He outs himself. His villains attack his entire family.  
 
Seriously, he knew better. :/

Posted by Kairan1979
@DXmagma said:

This wouldn't a problem if those unpatriotic hippies like Captain America and Cable had let the registration act pass!

Captain America? Unpatriotic hippie? Are you high or what?
Posted by azza04

Mark Milton, Hyperion from the Supreme Power series had a public ID. But he was working for the government and they took care of everything for him. He had know real friends or family, and was virtually invulnerable and could fly where ever he wanted. That's pretty much the only scenario where you wouldn't need a secret ID.

Posted by DXmagma

@Kairan1979 said:

@DXmagma said:

This wouldn't a problem if those unpatriotic hippies like Captain America and Cable had let the registration act pass!

Captain America? Unpatriotic hippie? Are you high or what?

Only on the truth!

Posted by DXmagma

@Decoy Elite said:

Spider-Man revealing his identity was the worst. Spider-Man says outing himself will cause all his villains to attack his family. He outs himself. His villains attack his entire family. Seriously, he knew better. :/

Too be fair, Spidey was pro registration and figured the government would protect his loved ones once it passed.

Posted by Decoy Elite
@DXmagma said:

@Decoy Elite said:

Spider-Man revealing his identity was the worst. Spider-Man says outing himself will cause all his villains to attack his family. He outs himself. His villains attack his entire family. Seriously, he knew better. :/

Too be fair, Spidey was pro registration and figured the government would protect his loved ones once it passed.

Then he should have waited. :P
Posted by Hashbrowns

@DXmagma said:

@Kairan1979 said:

@DXmagma said:

This wouldn't a problem if those unpatriotic hippies like Captain America and Cable had let the registration act pass!

Captain America? Unpatriotic hippie? Are you high or what?

Only on the truth!

As Mark Twain put it: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."

Captain America understood that.

Posted by DXmagma

@Decoy Elite said:

@DXmagma said:

@Decoy Elite said:

Spider-Man revealing his identity was the worst. Spider-Man says outing himself will cause all his villains to attack his family. He outs himself. His villains attack his entire family. Seriously, he knew better. :/

Too be fair, Spidey was pro registration and figured the government would protect his loved ones once it passed.

Then he should have waited. :P

It was a publicity stunt. They figured once this kid was out in the open people would realize that literally anyone could become a super hero and that the bill needed to be passed.

@Hashbrowns said:

@DXmagma said:

@Kairan1979 said:

@DXmagma said:

This wouldn't a problem if those unpatriotic hippies like Captain America and Cable had let the registration act pass!

Captain America? Unpatriotic hippie? Are you high or what?

Only on the truth!

As Mark Twain put it: "Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it."

Captain America understood that.

Sounds like Mark Twain was a hippie bastard as well.

Posted by AlKusanagi

As mentioned, I think secret identities are paramount to the safety of friends and loved ones. Most heroes are out there putting themselves in danger every day, so their own personal safety isn't an issue, but they need to keep people around them safe. If they didn't have anyone then a public identity would be less of a problem.

My main gripe with a public identity wouldn't be the loss of anonymity, but the face that since everyone knows you're a hero, you'd be pestered 24/7 be people needing help, many of them probably with trivial issues.

Posted by Or35ti

Of course superheroes need secret identities! Without one what's to stop supervillains from dropping bombs on their house or their neighborhood every other week?

Posted by Lvenger

Clark Kent in the mirror. Puts glasses on. Now I'm Clark Kent. Takes glasses off. Now I'm Superman. Puts glasses on. Clark Kent. Takes glasses off. Superman. Lol random post but seriously my point is that something like this wouldn't be enough in our current society where we're monitored 24/7. Even most of the real life superheroes' identities are known so what's the point in the mask and costume?

Posted by kennybaese

Aside from the larger repercussions of Parker unmasking on live television that didn't work out so great (it could have been pretty fantastic in my opinion, but the fact that they just retconned it super lazily), that scene in Civil War was one of my favorites. Osborn realizing that he had thwarted over and over by a 15 year old kid was pretty great.

Posted by difficlus

@walkingcarpet said:

Aside from the larger repercussions of Parker unmasking on live television that didn't work out so great (it could have been pretty fantastic in my opinion, but the fact that they just retconned it super lazily), that scene in Civil War was one of my favorites. Osborn realizing that he had thwarted over and over by a 15 year old kid was pretty great.

agreed...

Posted by The Impersonator

@Decoy Elite said:

Spider-Man revealing his identity was the worst. Spider-Man says outing himself will cause all his villains to attack his family. He outs himself. His villains attack his entire family. Seriously, he knew better. :/
Posted by Fantasgasmic
Without those hypnotic glasses, he's forced to improvise.
Posted by VioletPhoenix

@DXmagma said:

This wouldn't a problem if those unpatriotic hippies like Captain America and Cable had let the registration act pass!

because superhuman registration with the government has an amazing track record? Or because the government has done a bang-up job with helping or protecting the super-powered community before?

Posted by RedR0bin

I don't think that a super hero would be able to successfully do his/her job if they did not have a secret identity. Not only would you be putting your family and friends in danger from villains, but most super heroes are actually breaking laws all of the time. Therefor, not only would villains be after you, but the law enforcement as well, ie Batman

Posted by acer51

Well Franklein plays with the Power pack kids alot he's even a partial member.

Posted by DXmagma

@VioletPhoenix: Exactly. This is practically a non-issue, if only they'd give the decision making process to the government.

Posted by jah1nc

I thought there was already a post like this.

Posted by Cakeman3000

@MetropolisKid41: I was never a fan of believing that Batman and Bruce Wayne are two different people because it gives off the feeling that Bruce Wayne is schizo or multiple personalty disorder which isn't so. Bruce is self-absorbed by Batman but the character himself does not have D.I.D.

Posted by The Stegman

In the Dc universe- secret identities are very important 
 
 
In the Marvel universe- they're not important at all..unless you're Spider-Man

Posted by Zeroclops

@The Stegman said:

In the Dc universe- secret identities are very important In the Marvel universe- they're not important at all..unless you're Spider-Man

Well said. That's why I like Marvel, more unique situations.

Posted by AmazingSpidey_707

Have the FF ever mentioned why they have there identities out there to the public?

Posted by fred9101

Some powers are easier to hide than others, in civil clothes. This is not the case with super strength, however, it may be easy for a hero to forget his strength in front of others, especially when others want us to tell the truth... Like Supergirl here:

Edited by MetropolisKid41

@Lvenger:

See but that's just the thing, its more than just glasses. The way Clark acts and prevents his powers from benefitting him is why his secret identity works so well. Clark is humble and constantly getting screwed over and made fun of, no one would believe that Superman, the most powerful man in the world, would let his alter ego constantly get the shaft and stepped on. That's why in Byrne's early run on Superman post-Crisis was so awesome, he has Lex Luthor being told that Clark kent=Superman and Lex gets angry at his worker and tells them they are a moron, refusing to believe that someone as powerful as Supes would ever lower himself to be "a scab" like Clark Kent.

@Cakeman3000: I wasn't saying that Bruce is schizo, I guess I didn't word that correctly, I didn't mean it like that. I just mean the way they approach things are totally different. And I think it's very important when writers give Bruce & Bat distinct character traits and show them acting differently. Bruce runs a tight ship at Wayne Enterprises that is fully in line with the ideal business plan, yet Batman is vigilante absolute justice. In the end since they are one in the same they have the same end goal, but use completely different means to get there, one in the light of day, the other from the shadows. Its a very complex dynamic that I believe is essential to the character.

Posted by Migz13

Personally.. Super Heroes are like spies. Having secret identities adds up to their mystique and charm. Plus it also makes them more mysterious and at the same time more selfless as they shun personal fame and acknowledgement for the greater good.

Posted by Lvenger

@MetropolisKid41: I know. That's one of my fave things about Superman, the fact that he is in so many ways like us, demonstrating nurture over nature but is capable of much more and conceals that behind a brilliant disguise which plays him up as a clumsy fool that can deceive even one of the most intelligent men on the planet. Well said sir.

Posted by Doctor!!!!!

I like my secrets.... and I hope they don't care about them...

Posted by saoakden

I rather have my identity kept a secret so I can have some peaceful time with my friends or family when I'm not being a Superhero if I was a superhero.

Posted by allison_scag

Can you imagine Batman driving in his bat mobile being photographed on all sides by paparazzi, then getting blind sided and crashing his car into a lamp post ?

Posted by Jnr6Lil

@Decoy Elite said:

Spider-Man revealing his identity was the worst. Spider-Man says outing himself will cause all his villains to attack his family. He outs himself. His villains attack his entire family. Seriously, he knew better. :/
Posted by waezi2

We live in a dangerous world. People die of all kinds of reasons. To have a secret identity, dosnt always protect you. As far as I understand, the risk of dying in the bus, are preaty high. Spiderman and Ironman had a talk about it in Invincible Ironman 7(awesome comic, by the way). Having a puplic known identity, has its good sides, and its bad sides.

Posted by kasino

any superhero who went public should be attacked 24/7

no reason not to continuously take a chance at killing them or their love ones

if your a criminal and someone of no legal power is forever taking you down that person would have to move once you knew where they lived

What happened to Spidey should be Iron Mans life every day, no constant characters because getting close to someone would mean they would soon be dead

why no villain said I'll key all these hostages if "Superhero" doesn't kill themselves is beyond me. If they are public the people can look at them and go your not heroic, would be dumb to do but the world would be at a crossing point.

Posted by kav

Interesting. We actually did a parody review of the infamous silver age story: "Why Superman Needs a Secret Identity" http://www.championcitycomics.com/2011/08/kav-tony-break-it-down-action-comics.html

thats the first installment if you search the site under Why Superman Needs a Secret Identity you'll see each installment as we tear this comic apart!