Social Question

El_Cadejo's avatar

Why do super heroes need a secret identity?

Asked by El_Cadejo (34529points) November 1st, 2010

I was thinking about this last night and I really just dont get it. Like I mean I understand why someone like Stark or Wayne would have to hide who they really are, but why the hell did Superman even have to make up Clark Kent? He could have just as easily moved to metropolis and just been superman. Its not like he needs to hold a residency in metropolis or something so he needs a back-story to cover. He has the fortress of solitude and for him its only a second away.

The whole idea of the secret identity is to protect your loved ones from the bad guys but if the super hero is in a new town/planet I just cant understand the need for this. By superman making up clark kent he’s just endangering everyone who knows clark if the story were to ever slip.

Anyone got some good explanations?

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40 Answers

JustmeAman's avatar

Makes for a better story and it’s in the script.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

To give us something to talk about when we are absolutely braindead.

wundayatta's avatar

They don’t want to be mobbed everywhere they go. They want to do their work anonymously, and then have a safe, comfortable space to go to without having to worry about hordes of people always asking them for help.

Another reason is that they may not want any thanks. They do the good work because they enjoy it, not for purposes of self-aggrandizement. It’s like someone being an anonymous donor to a charity. Not everyone wants to be known for the good work they do.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@JustmeAman no makes it worse, clark kent is the worst cover EVER.

@wundayatta but why do they have to go do things as a civilian? I mean what purpose does working as some lowly reporter do for superman? Nothing. As per the safe place to go, fortress of solitude

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@wundayatta There’s also the sexual issues. If Superman has an off night in the sack and asks Lois how was that, he’d be bummed to here less than super.

wundayatta's avatar

@uberbatman How do you know it does him nothing? He may like trying to pass himself off as a human. He may wonder if he could achieve anything if he didn’t have super powers?

@Adirondackwannabe Are you suggesting Clark Kent would have an off night in the sack?

iamthemob's avatar

I think that Futurama episode Less Than Hero addresses this issue pretty well. To add to what’s been discussed:

(1) Superheros cause a lot of collateral damage, and they don’t want to be billed for it.

(2) Technically, they’re vigilantes – that’s illegal.

(3) Much like CIA agent or high government official…they put their families and loved ones at risk. If they have a completely private life, that doesn’t happen.

(4) Escaping the paparazzi (plus evildoers, for a short time). Doesn’t Britney Spears wish she had a secret identity, you think? ;-)

(5) They can avoid government demands for technology that is outside the government’s understanding – consider the hearings in Iron Man 2, when Tony Stark revealed his identity.

(6) Superheroes have lairs. Sometimes, they might also want apartments.

(7) They don’t want their wives or husbands to worry while their out.

(8) That costume needs to get dry cleaned sometime.

woodcutter's avatar

when they are out of super hero mode they become vulnerable just like you and I. So to preserve themselves they need to keep the big secret. If the villains knew who they were really all they would have to do is attack them when they had their pants down, so to speak. Sort of the reason why those who carry a concealed pistol don’t want to advertise that fact and find themselves drawn into a conflict unnecessarily when the villain gets the jump on them first..

marinelife's avatar

So they are not constantly hunted in everyday life by criminals and others.

So that their families don’t become targets.

ucme's avatar

Because they like dressing down occasionally, maybe.

JustmeAman's avatar

I think they would want to get those blasted tights off as soon as possible.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@marinelife i get the family thing but superman has none. I dont so much mean why they dress up to be a super hero but why have the normal civilian life.

(1) Superheros cause a lot of collateral damage, and they don’t want to be billed for it.
Its not like they can just send a bill to batman/supermans house.

(2) Technically, they’re vigilantes – that’s illegal.
same as above

(3) Much like CIA agent or high government official…they put their families and loved ones at risk. If they have a completely private life, that doesn’t happen.
again if they dont lead that normal civillian life I dont see how anyone would know

(4) Escaping the paparazzi (plus evildoers, for a short time). Doesn’t Britney Spears wish she had a secret identity, you think? ;-)
Fortress of solitude, batcave etc

(5) They can avoid government demands for technology that is outside the government’s understanding – consider the hearings in Iron Man 2, when Tony Stark revealed his identity.
Again I didnt so much mean why they wear the costume but why have the civilian life. Like why cant Superman just be that. Why even make up clark?

(6) Superheroes have lairs. Sometimes, they might also want apartments.
....why? Why in the fuck would you want an apt if you had the mother fuckin batcave?

(7) They don’t want their wives or husbands to worry while their out.
most arent married, those that are know.

(8) That costume needs to get dry cleaned sometime.
and teh reason for not having more than one is?

Cruiser's avatar

Because tailors who make real good super hero costumes are very hard to come by and they are merely looking out for their own best interest there. I mean just imagine how overwhelmed the Green Hornets tailor would be if people were able to find out where they could get threads like that done!!

JustmeAman's avatar

I told you they are not real and it is written in the script.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@JustmeAman omg really its not real? I had no clue. Why do the writers feel the need to give super heroes a civilian identity? Better?

JustmeAman's avatar

You obviously aren’t a writer. You didn’t know they were not real. Really LOL

iamthemob's avatar

(1) Superheros cause a lot of collateral damage, and they don’t want to be billed for it.
Its not like they can just send a bill to batman/supermans house.
They can send a bill to Bruce Wayne – that man’s friggin loaded. He was Bruce Wayne before Batman, you know. Clark Kent was also raised by the Kents as Clark BEFORE he took on the Superman mantle. They can also place either under arrest for mayhem

(2) Technically, they’re vigilantes – that’s illegal.
same as above
same as above

(3) Much like CIA agent or high government official…they put their families and loved ones at risk. If they have a completely private life, that doesn’t happen.
again if they dont lead that normal civillian life I dont see how anyone would know
Those who don’t, then wouldn’t have a secret identity.

(4) Escaping the paparazzi (plus evildoers, for a short time). Doesn’t Britney Spears wish she had a secret identity, you think? ;-)
Fortress of solitude, batcave etc
They aren’t allowed to go out for lunch, ever? They can’t have a friend, ever? See a movie ever? Again, if they don’t want a civilian life, they don’t need a secret identity – but how much would THAT suck.

(5) They can avoid government demands for technology that is outside the government’s understanding – consider the hearings in Iron Man 2, when Tony Stark revealed his identity.
Again I didnt so much mean why they wear the costume but why have the civilian life. Like why cant Superman just be that. Why even make up clark?
This addresses some of the aspects of attempting to have a civilian life that are shared by both celebrities and superheroes. It’s not _the reason why, but a reason why it makes it easier to have them._

(6) Superheroes have lairs. Sometimes, they might also want apartments.
....why? Why in the fuck would you want an apt if you had the mother fuckin batcave?
Because…friends can’t come to your batcave like they can to your apartment?

(7) They don’t want their wives or husbands to worry while their out.
most arent married, those that are know.
Extend it to the loved ones generally…

(8) That costume needs to get dry cleaned sometime.
and teh reason for not having more than one is?
Those things are expensive, dude!

The honest, real reason why this happens is, of course, that superheroes that have secret identities, generally, gained powers or had the public identity of the non-powered individual prior to revealing the super-powered identity to the public. Superman didn’t make up Clark Kent – he was Clark Kent, and in essence, “made up” Superman. Same thing for Spiderman – he was Peter Parker. They had lives and formed bonds before taking on the superhero mantel, and want to protect those lives from invasions from elements of their new, superhero lives.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I figure it gives them the ability to go “undercover” and blend in with the common folk so they are better placed when a villain wishes to do a dastardly deed.

Plus they can make a fortune in bar bets. “Hey, Betcha’ 20 bucks I can bend this spoon!”

lloydbird's avatar

To get away from all the adulation. Constant. Relentless.
It would be very nice for them to feel normalcy.
If only occasionally.
(Not to mention ‘The element of surprise’.)

SelfConsumingCannibal_IsBack's avatar

So everyone doesn’t try to sleep with them!

Blondesjon's avatar

Because it’s not national news if Clark Kent gets busted buying a dime bag.

weeveeship's avatar

To avoid getting hunted down by the Mafia

El_Cadejo's avatar

Again, a lot of people seemed to have misinterpreted my question. I didnt mean bruce wayne should go running around as himself out on the streets. I mean why even keep up the bruce wayne thing. Why not just pretend he died/moved far away or something and JUST be batman.

though as I said wayne is a bad example, too high profile to disappear.

iamthemob's avatar

@uberbatman – for the same reason why people don’t want to go into the witness protection program – they have formed lives and have people they love. Why would they give that all up.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@iamthemob so again I bring up clark kent. He moved away from small ville for metropolis. His parents already knew about his abilities. Far as I know, the only people from smallville he went back to visit were his parents. So why even go to metropolis, become a reporter, and keep up the kent thing. Why not move there and just be superman . Whenever he missed his family he could easily fly back home.

iamthemob's avatar

Everyone outside him doesn’t know that the Kents raised him. If they did, they would use the parents against him. It allows him to continue to have a civil life. And consider the Lois Lane issue – often, storylines revolved around people attempting to use Lois against him because they knew he had some sort of relationship with Lois. No one would use her if she just had a relationship with Clark – no one would care.

Consider also that, regardless of whether he knew anyone, someone might use anyone or the entire town of smallville. That’s putting a target on a whole lot of people just because you want to be superman out in public.

El_Cadejo's avatar

@iamthemob true but if he never went to metropolis posing as kent he never would have met lane and the the whole thing would be avoided. why not just pose as kent when he goes home?

iamthemob's avatar

@uberbatman – but you see – that’s him having a secret identity! ;-)

The point is there are reasons for it – whether or not you think they take it to far is another issue…but in many ways, artistically, the secret identity is always the way for a reader or viewer to be able to relate to the character – without it, the superhero becomes too “alien” and there is no way to make a connection…beyond the simple, “Wow…look at that dude.”

El_Cadejo's avatar

@iamthemob fair enough. Id just like to see a super hero that stopped needing civilian side.

iamthemob's avatar

@uberbatman – Most of the Mutant heroes in the Marvel comics exemplify this. The problems that they face because of it have, historically, been allegorical to the civil rights movement at the time, interestingly (consider the mutant registration act).

El_Cadejo's avatar

@iamthemob ohhh good point i didnt even think about the mutant community. Though I think thats a bit different since they didnt so much decide to put on the cap and fight just because. They were born looking significantly different. They then later decided to use it for good or evil. Definitely a good point though.

I always loved the whole underlining civil rights thing in xmen

stormking21's avatar

I just wanted to clarify a few things.Number one Kal-El who we all know is Superman did not create the Clark Kent identity.He crash landed in the fields of Smallville as an infant and was discovered by the Kent family.Jonathan and Martha Kent were the ones who found him.It was they who gave him the name Clark Kent and so he was raised and only knew himself as Clark Kent.It would be later on when he was older when he would learn the truth from his parents as well as his true birth name not to mention the fact that he is not from earth but indeed an alien from another planet.

Clark Kent (Kal-El) would eventually leave Smallville for the big city known as Metropolis where he would create the Superman persona.Some stories have shown his mother was the one who created his colorful costume while others have shown him wear a special clothing made from his home world with his family symbol on the suit.A fabric that was nearly as indestruble as he was.Fire proof,Rip proof and so on.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Still though, once he created the Superman persona, why even keep up with the clark kent thing. The man is fuckin superman. But yea lemme spend my off time working as a reporter at some newspaper agency….

stormking21's avatar

The reason he kept the Clark Kent thing is because it was the identity he grew up with half of his entire life.It’s like if you or me growing up and only knowing ourselves as who our friends and family see us but then discovering that the life that we once knew isn’t the whole story.Then we find out that we originally had another name and now we’ve also realized that we have an amazing gift to do incredible things.Just because we learned about that now we can suddenly do amazing things does not mean that we’d instantly give up who we once were.

The fact is Kal-El was raised up with the name Clark Kent and he has friends and family who know him as Clark Kent.For him to say “I do not want to be Clark Kent anymore” would be out of character for him.It would be like giving up a part of himself not too mention breaking Martha Kent’s heart.Plus it would be odd to see him leaving the friends who only knew him as Clark Kent in the past and saying goodbye to them forever.Jonathan Kent and Martha Kent raised him and under their guidance he grew into the man we know today as Superman.He grew into a man who is humbled and the bottom line is Superman is who he becomes when someone needs his help or the world needs a savior.When Kal-El is in his civilian role as Clark Kent he gets to relax and to blend in with the crowd.

You actually believe that Clark Kent would want to be out there being Superman 24/7? Even Superman needs a down time, which allows him to spend time with his friends,family or wife.Without the Clark Kent identity Superman would go crazy.We’ve already seen what happened to him when he tried to police the world 24/7.He created an army of Superman robots and even though he was controlled by Dominus this was a precautionary tale of Kal-El giving up his earth identity as Clark Kent.I could go on and on but it would be pointless.Kal-El would never give up being Clark Kent because it’s who he is.That’s the bottom line.While you wonder why he doesn’t give up the Clark Kent identity, I ask you this.Would you be willing to give up your best friends and family to play superhero 24/7? or give up your entire identity to do without any income of any kind? Or any means of support? Even Superheroes need to make money.

stormking21's avatar

One other thing that I want to add is that you just might get your wish come 2013.You wondered about why can’t Superman just give up the whole Clark Kent name and identity.When 2013 comes Dc Comics will no longer own the copyrights to Clark Kent,Lois Lane and if I’m right the Daily Planet too.The full rights will go back to the family of the creator of Superman.The family already currently owns the copyrights to Superman’s origin story so you won’t be seeing that in the new movie called Man Of Steel.

iamthemob's avatar

@stormking21

The reason he kept the Clark Kent thing is because it was the identity he grew up with half of his entire life.It’s like if you or me growing up and only knowing ourselves as who our friends and family see us but then discovering that the life that we once knew isn’t the whole story.Then we find out that we originally had another name and now we’ve also realized that we have an amazing gift to do incredible things.Just because we learned about that now we can suddenly do amazing things does not mean that we’d instantly give up who we once were.

I agree with most of what you said about the reasons for maintaining the “secret identity” except for the above. I think that with Superman the issue is not whether he would choose one over the other, but the fact that he maintains a dual identity instead of a unified one. In essence, finding out he was Kal-El is no different in terms of practical identity than any adopted child finding out their birth name or origin. The issue is the fact that as Clark Kent he pretends not to have powers, and lies about being Superman. Your reasoning above actually would argue against him doing so because it is in fact discovering this past and these abilities and then denying that they exist to everyone that you know. Instead of giving up Clark Kent, he’s giving up Kal-El.

stormking21's avatar

The thing is that though Clark Kent was born on Krypton and named Kal-El by his birth parents I never meant that he gave up on his true heritage once he learned the truth.My reasoning of why he never gave up the Clark Kent identity is the fact that this was who he grew up as and to those humans he befriended along the way such as Lana Lang and Pete Ross.Just because he hid his abilities from them for so long does not mean that Clark Kent was ashamed at what he could do.My argument is actually pretty clear if you try to understand what I’m trying to say.

It’s all about reading between the lines and another is that Clark Kent never gave up his identity as Kal-El once he learned his true birth name.He actually embraced it but it wasn’t like he could go around now dressed as Clark Kent and proclaim to the world that his true name was Kal-El.The only people who call him that are his close superhero friends and it’s not like they actually shy away from calling him by his birth name either.It’s just that now they have an option between Clark or Kal.Like I said I’m sorry that you did not grasp my explanation more clearly.The only other way I could have explain it was by putting myself in the superhero shoes.I was merely trying to explain to the gentleman that Superman never invented the name Clark Kent in the current stories.

As for the 1930’s story it might be another situation if the folks at the orphanage where he grew up as a super strong baby didn’t name him Clark Kent.It was never fully explained other then the fact then that Clark Kent created the Superman identity to fight injustice and as Clark Kent a mild manner reporter he gets to work closely with a feisty reporter by the name of Lois Lane.It makes sense for him to have two identities instead of one.As Superman ( Kal-El ) he gets to make a difference using his amazing out of this world abilities to save the world plus inspire others to strive for greatness.I get your point as well but I never denied that he had to choose one identity over the other.

I just pointed out that he was given a name as a baby then a toddler and Clark Kent was who he became as he grew up on the Kent farm and he learned what it meant to be human and that compassion as well as the strong guidance from his parents made him become the Superman we know today.So of course he would never give up one identity over another because they all define who he is.His birth name defines his true alien heritage, his earth name defines his roots and the lessons of what it meant to being a human (This part Clark Kent deeply cherishes.One he would never give up for anything.) and Superman represents the very best of him.

It’s when being Superman can he truly soar above the clouds and just be himself.Superman is a savior,leader and a champion for those who are too weak to fend for themselves.When they look up at Superman, the people around the world sees perfection.As Superman other superheroes sometimes stare in awe of just being in his presence.A superhero identity is the cloak that protects their loved ones from their enemies.Without it they might as well leave an open door invitation to all the super villain’s leading up to the front steps of not only that hero’s friends but also their families who would then be hostages or just another victim to send the superhero over the edge.

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