Friday, June 29, 2012

Secret Identities

I recently wrote about Spider-Man's wisecracks. This got me to thinking about the differences between a costumed hero and his secret identity.

Back in the Silver Age, you got the feeling that a DC character really was his costumed version and that his secret identity was a disguise. This was certainly true for Superman. His real personality was the guy in the cape. When he put on Clark Kent's glasses he assumed a different personality. He was timid and clumsy. I was never sure why he would want to be Clark. It was a lot of work with little return.

Batman was rich but he never spent any time in his mansion or enjoying his wealth. He was always out patrolling with Robin. The Flash pretended to be slow (and always arrived late for dates).

Contrast that with Peter Parker. That was who he was. When he wore a costume he acted a little differently, mainly by being more assertive and making wisecracks. That was perfectly normal. Most people act like this when they know that they are anonymous. That is why Internet trolls and flame wars happen.

Daredevil was similar. He really was a blind lawyer. He just downplayed his additional senses. When he was in costume he was acting by pretending that he could see.

The Fantastic Four didn't even bother with secret identities. Neither did the Sub-Mariner or Doctor Strange. The X-Men kept their identities secret from the outside world but they spent most of their time at the school. They were unique in the lengths they had to go to to hide their identities. Cyclops had to wear special glasses. The Beast had special shoes. Angle strapped his wings to his body, something that he compared to wearing a strait-jacket.

Thor and the Hulk really were different people. When they changed identities they gained several inches height and spoke differently.

Captain America went out without his costume but never established a life outside of the Avengers (until the 1970s). Even then, he never changed personalities. Giant Man and the Wasp wore masks but didn't seem to have a life outside of crime-fighting and research. At some point their identities became known but no one commented on it when it happened.

Back at DC, Green Lantern had the most fully-developed secret identity as a test pilot with a (small) supporting cast.

Then there were the Metal Men - robots who didn't need secret identities (they tried establishing them in a last-ditch effort to escape cancellation but failed). Metamorpho, the Element Man was a freak whose identity prior to his transformation was publicly known.

Martian Manhunter was a shape-changer and took on different identities. The Specter was separate person from his host body although he still needed to merge with it to rest.

Anyway, my original point was that Silver Age Marvel heroes "real" identity was the person behind the mask. In many cases they didn't even bother to wear a mask. DC heroes, especially hold-overs from the Golden Age, put on an act when they took off their mask.

This was part of the appeal of Marvel heroes. You didn't have to become a different person.

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