Thursday, February 28, 2013

Misconceptions on Secret Identity

Something that most people assume about superheroes is the general idea that if a hero's mask were pulled off and his/her face were seen, the hero's identity would be irrevocably revealed. This is pretty far from the truth. Watch this clip from an episode of Justice League Unlimited, in which, by freak accident, the minds of Lex Luthor and The Flash were switched.

In reality, the fact is that seeing someone's face means almost nothing unless you literally know the person, and even then, it's not a guarantee. "Everybody looks like somebody" applies. If someone saw Clark Kent without his glasses, they wouldn't say "OH MY GOSH IT'S SUPERMAN;" they'd probably say, "Hey, mister, without your glasses on, you sort of look like Superman. That's kinda funny."

The Spider-Man films have dealt with this repeatedly. Sure, people like Mary Jane and Norman Osborn  would recognize him under the mask, but dozens of average New Yorkers see him unmasked and don't know anything about who he is other than "he's an average-height white guy with brown hair."

The only people in horrible danger of being recognized would be celebrities, like Oliver Queen and Bruce Wayne. However, even they have the "everybody looks like somebody" rule to protect them to an extent. And since they both largely stick to the shadows, darkness can help cloak them.

So, before you cry foul at Clark losing his glasses or Spider-Man pulling off his mask AGAIN, remember this and calm yourself.


  1. I think Batman absolutely has to keep his mask on. Bruce Wayne is so well known I think he would be recognized almost immediately. When it comes to Superman I've come to believe his secret identity has to do with far more than his glasses. Clark is timid, slump shouldered, nearly invisible to everyone around him whereas Superman projects the exact opposite. That's why I think his secret identity is actually believable.

    1. Bruce is one of the ones in greater danger, yes, although it's doubtful that a single onlooker could instantly see his face and deduce the entire thing. If you saw a bank robber whose mask fell off and was revealed to be Christian Bale, you wouldn't think, "OH MY GOD! CHRISTIAN BALE IS A BANK ROBBER!"
      At most, you'd describe the guy to the police as "kinda looking like Christian Bale."

      Clark's "weakling" persona is explained as being part of his "mask", yes, but in many stories, Clark is assertive and not at all sheepish. George Reeves, Kirk Alyn, Dean Cain, and Tim Daly (animated series voice) all portrayed Clark as a normal guy. In the post-Crisis 1986 Superman reboot in the comics, Clark never exactly tried to hide the fact that he was a gigantic muscular guy (because, really, how could he? Loose shirts and large jackets only help so much) and he acted like "himself" as Clark. Instead of hiding Clark, he basically hid Superman. He would still appear in public as Superman when he was needed, but made sure he was never photographed. In that same series, Lex Luthor ended up finding conclusive proof that Superman and Clark were the same person, but he threw aside the evidence and declared it false because Lex, in his arrogance, could not comprehend why someone with Superman's abilities would choose to be a lowly reporter.
      But, really, the reason no one (specifically Lois) realizes that Clark Kent is Superman is because that aspect of the story is meant to be a fairy tale romance.

  2. You definitely know more about this than me and I think my idea of Superman comes a lot from the movies only. Personally I like the idea that the way he portrays himself even without a mask on is enough for people to look at him and go "nah" instead of "hey".