Comic Book Legal Defense Fund

Pulp Culture
Superheroes make do
without secret IDs


June 13, 2002
By Franklin Harris

Once upon a time, secret identities were as much a part of being a superhero as tights and utility belts. But not anymore.

The secret identity is the latest superhero cliché to fall under siege. And in recent months, heroes have been getting outed left and right.

 © Copyright Marvel Entertainment Group Inc.
In the newest issue of "Iron Man," billionaire businessman Tony Stark reveals his dual identity to the world, ending the hassle of making everyone think Iron Man is his bodyguard.

Meanwhile, the current "Daredevil" story line has a New York tabloid proclaiming on its front page that Daredevil is really blind attorney Matt Murdock.

For now, Murdock is playing a game of deny, deny, deny. Who, after all, can seriously believe a blind man is a superhero? Lucky for Daredevil that nobody knows about his "radar sense," which, when it comes to fighting the bad guys, is better than having normal eyesight.

"Daredevil" writer Brian Michael Bendis and "Iron Man" writer Mike Grell are best known for their crime and espionage works, respectively. Now, they and other writers are bringing the gritty, street-level styles of those genres to superhero comics.

After all, given modern methods of snooping, how can anyone hope to keep a dual identity secret?

After years of fooling everyone with only a pair of glasses, even Superman is having troubles.

The whole world doesn't know Clark Kent is Superman, but his archenemy, Lex Luthor, does. And that is bad enough, especially since Luthor is the DC Universe's president of the United States. (And you think the candidates we have to choose from are rotten!)

As for Batman, well, he has decided that he is better off without a secret identity, because someone has framed Bruce Wayne for murder. And Bruce Wayne can't sit in jail while Batman has work to do.

So, for now at least, Batman is Batman full time, which suits him just fine, because, in his case, Batman is the real person and Bruce Wayne is just an act.

Even Spider-Man isn't safe. Under the guidance of "Amazing Spider-Man" scribe J. Michael Straczynski ("Babylon 5"), Aunt May has caught on to Peter Parker's secret, resulting in the best stories so far of Straczynski's tenure.

Where will this madness end? Not before it reaches the X-Men, at least.

"New X-Men" writer Grant Morrison outed Marvel Comics' most popular characters by having Professor Xavier go on national television and tell viewers that his school for gifted youngsters is really a school for mutants.

At the time, the professor's body was under the control of an evil twin sister that we never knew he had, but the damage was done anyway. Now, anti-mutant protesters are camped outside the school's campus.

Of course, some heroes, like the Fantastic Four, have never bothered to keep their superhero identities separate from their private lives. And when George Perez revamped Wonder Woman in the mid '80s, he ditched her civilian identity, Diana Prince. Soon after, the Flash went public with the fact that he is really Wally West.

But most superheroes kept their secret identities intact until now. Now, you never know who will come out of the closet next.

How far will this go? It's hard to imagine Spider-Man's and Superman's secrets going beyond their small circles of friends and enemies. But Batman doesn't really need Bruce Wayne, at least not while his bankroll is safely stashed in numbered accounts.

It all depends on how many clichés longtime readers are willing to sacrifice to the cause of reviving interest in comics.

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