Oct 09 2011
A few days ago, I covered some of the pros and cons of writing secret identities. But that covers why YOU the author would want to use them or not. Why might a character decide not to use them? Here are some possibilities.
1. The character’s loved ones are mostly superpowered and/or not in harm’s way. For example, if the character is a superpowered alien, chances are his family members are, too, so protecting them from danger is a bit less essential. Alternately, in Booster Gold’s case, his family is hundreds of years in the future, so he doesn’t have to worry about them getting hurt.
2. The character has family/friends to worry about, but a secret identity is not an option. For example, Alicia Masters might be safer if Ben Grimm had a secret identity, but there’s no way for someone that looks as unusual as The Thing to pull off a secret identity. In The Taxman Must Die, one of the main characters is a mutant alligator that wants a secret identity (because anyone badass has enough enemies to need a secret identity, he reasons), but he surlily discovers that Clark Kent-style glasses don’t give a mutant alligator much of a disguise. (He attributes it to his poor acting skills).
2.1. The character’s origin story was caught on tape or otherwise too public to try a secret identity. Perhaps the New York Times or Daily Bugle had someone covering that new exhibit of genetically modified spiders and happened to notice that one went missing–it’s not TOTALLY implausible that journalists might do something competent, right?*
*Despite CNN’s best efforts to suggest otherwise. More on Casey Anthony at 9.
3. The character has loved ones, but is so scary that nobody’s brave enough to mess with them. For example, if a criminal happened to find out the connection between Alfred and Batman, he’d have to be pretty damn nuts to take a shot at Alfred unless he was really looking forward to pain. Bad career move. If you have a problem with Batman, it’d probably be less suicidal to gun directly for him (so that at least you’re not distracted when he comes for you).
4. The character might be so distant and/or alienated from others (particularly nonpowered civilians) that a secret identity would be besides the point. For example, is there any civilian in Dr. Manhattan’s life that he’d actually care about losing? Does your superhero even want to protect his pre-superpowered identity or is that something that’s just totally irrelevant to him now? Alternately, Batman might fit in here, too. He might be so emotionally hardened that threatening Alfred would not help a criminal achieve any desired effect (except perhaps defenestration-by-Batman).
5. For personal reasons (such as ideology, values, job, personality traits, etc), the character doesn’t use a secret identity even though he might benefit from one. Here are some possibilities that come to mind:
- Someone that had more of an ego might want the attention. So he/she might not want to keep his identity hidden. For example, Tony Stark outs himself at the end of Iron Man.
- Someone that was unusually brave and/or foolhardy might care less about the potential risk of going public.
- Someone that was a real loner might have fewer people to care about. See #4 above.
- Someone that was lazy and/or careless might not be willing and/or able to keep a secret identity going.
- Government employees might want to be open because they hold themselves accountable to the public and/or have problems with vigilantes that don’t. See Marvel’s Civil War, etc.
- Depending on the antagonists, protecting loved ones might not be an issue. For example, maybe the hero deals mainly with villains that are not particularly likely to hunt down loved ones (like Godzilla, villains that are greedy but not particularly vicious, Iowans, etc). Alternately, the world might be SO chaotic that the enemies are not organized enough to carry out an assassination (hat-tip to Dakota).
- Depending on the character’s job, security for family and maybe friends might be less of an issue. For example, if the character is a military officer and his wife and kids are stationed on a military base, they’d presumably be in less danger than the average civilian. Which is not to say it’s all fun and games on military bases. For example, most of the inhabitants of Parris Island and the outlying areas are man-eating reptiles and sharks, and you can only play a quality round of danger nut at sea.
- Someone that was unusually honest and/or Canadian might not feel comfortable lying to everybody. At the VERY least, maintaining a secret identity would probably involve lying to your coworkers and most of your friends quite often. (“Clark, the Daily Planet’s softball team needs you on Saturday. Wait, you’re busy AGAIN? What are you doing?”) And good luck explaining to your boss why you weren’t able to make the big meeting without getting fired. Also, Canadians can’t lie, which puts them at a disadvantage in the double-life department. (Maybe that’s why there are so few Canadian superheroes?)
- For whatever reason(s), other people are unusually supportive of the superhero’s work. For example, if being a superhero is totally legal and the character’s friends and family don’t have any objections, then there’s somewhat less reason for the superhero to hide his involvement.
- In the comments below, O.R. mentions pride as a possible motivation not to use a secret identity. For example, a mutant in X-Men might regard it as cowardice and/or kowtowing to non-mutant discrimination to hide with a secret identity. Alternately, a mutant that COULD take a secret identity might opt not to out of team solidarity if some of the team members could not.