Monday, February 22, 2016

The Not-So-Secret Identity Trope

Something I didn't like about both series of Spider-Man movies was how Peter Parker always seemed to let anyone and everyone know he was Spider-Man.  Sometimes I'd shake my head and say, "Why don't you just hand out business cards reading, 'Peter Parker, Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man?!'"  I mean it got to be pretty ridiculous when he reveals himself to a whole train full of people.

The superhero TV shows I've seen aren't much better.  When "Arrow" started it was just Oliver Queen.  Then it was Oliver and his bodyguard Diggle.  Then it was Oliver, Diggle, and computer nerd Felicity.  And now it's Oliver, Diggle, Felicity, Oliver's sister, his ex-girlfriend Laurel, her police captain father, Ra's al Guhl Malcom Merlin, and probably a few other people.  "The Flash" is the same way.  The first episode of "Supergirl" I think a half-dozen people knew her "secret" identity and then they've added a few more since then.

The thing is, the whole "someone learning the hero's true identity" is not only trite and cliche, but it loses impact each time you do it.  Until like the Spider-Man movies it's just tedious and unbelievable that the whole freaking city doesn't know who he is.

Secret identity that's secret! Whoa!
I got trying to think how many people Emma Earl told her identity to in the Scarlet Knight books.  In the first book she tells her best friend Becky; "tell" in the sense she's driven crazy by a bad guy and assaults Becky.  There are two witches and the Sewer Rat who also know, though she never had to tell them because the witches have magic and the Sewer Rat has a super-sniffer.  After that...really I don't think there was anyone except her daughter.  The guy she crushed on in the first four books never finds out in the whole series.  The cop she often worked with as the Scarlet Knight literally went to her grave not knowing.  A couple of other friends she makes in the fifth book never find out.  So, yeah, Emma's secret identity was actually pretty secret.  What a concept!

I didn't go to that well too often in the Girl Power books either.  In the first book the Batmangirl character is found out by a boy who becomes her sidekick.  The Flash character gets drunk and goes to see her wife and kid and is then found out by the wife.  In the second book the Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane characters find out Supermangirl's identity when a clone shows up.  The best one was in the third book when the Robin character's mother finds out and starts critiquing her costume and choice of names.  And in the book of short stories there's one where the Flash character's daughter finds out when she gains superspeed too.  So really I guess I averaged about one reveal per book.  The Aquamanwoman character was a little more complicated.  She didn't want her people to find out she used to be the king of Atlantis Pacifica because women weren't supposed to hold power, so while she could appear as a superhero, she had to come up with a secret identity as a peasant girl, so it was kind of opposite from other superheroes.  And then in the second book she gets an upgrade and basically comes back to decree herself the queen and if anyone's got a problem, they can try to take power from her--no one does.  That's not really the same thing, though, as what superhero shows and movies do.

Anyway, I guess the point is the whole "someone learning the hero's true identity" thing can really be overdone, as can any trope.  So tread carefully.


  1. I remember thinking the same thing with spider man as in "He's already taking the mask off?" Why even bother with a mask? There are a lot of tropes with super hero movies. One that is always predictable is that at least one parent (or guardian) is going to die for sure. Then the other one is going to be threatened by the bad guys.

  2. I think it depends on the superhero. The fact that everybody knows who Iron Man is adds to the character's ostentatiousness and "huge" personality. Same with Thor and some of the others on the Avengers. But Spiderman? Yeah I think that should be held closer to the heart. So should Batman.



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