“You think it’s easy keeping a lid on your secret? I’ve got to think about it every time we’re around other people to make sure I don’t slip. I’ve got to remember to say ‘meteor rock’ instead of ‘kryptonite’. And I always got to cover your unexplained exits.”
– Pete Ross, Smallville 3×09 – “Asylum”
Even with the Mentor’s guidance and the Damsel’s love, the Hero still needs some extra support as he continues his superhero life. For that, the Hero must turn to his best friend, the Confidante. The Confidante is there to be the Hero’s friend, to listen to his problems and help him make the hard choices. The Confidante also reminds the Hero of how important both of his identities are and helps him keep his secret.
Heroes are passionate by nature; a man must feel pretty strongly about something if he is willing to wear tights and a cape in public. The Confidante plays the levelheaded foil to the Hero. As an outsider, the Confidante is able to think more logically about the problems the Hero encounters. For instance, in the Smallville episode “Vengeance” (5×13), a criminal named Snake steals a watch that belonged to Clark’s recently deceased father. Clark wants to confront the criminal himself, but Chloe warns him that his emotions are keeping him from thinking straight. Chloe wants to find an alternate way to get the watch back instead of Clark going off to attack, and possibly kill, the thief. Clark speeds off anyway, but realizes later that Chloe was right and apologizes.
Confidantes are also responsible for protecting the Hero’s secret identity. They provide excuses when the Hero has to dash off for some derring-do, scoff at accusations, and make sure the Hero never leaves home without his mask on. Some Heroes, such as Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne, stop caring as much about their civilian life, and it is up to the Confidante to make sure that the Hero continues to keep up appearances. Similarly, the Confidante also needs to make sure the Hero doesn’t slack off on his superhero duties. They need to make sure that the Hero never becomes disillusioned or gives up being a superhero. It is common to hear Confidantes remind the Hero of how many lives they have saved and how much better their city is for having a protector.
The Confidante always has an established relationship with both the Hero’s superhero and civilian identities, even if he doesn’t know that they are one and the same. Jimmy Olsen may not know that Clark Kent is Superman, but he is still plays a pivotal role in continuing Superman’s existence. Jimmy idolizes Superman and never has any doubts that he will do the right thing and save the day. Jimmy’s faith in Superman helps Clark have faith in himself.
The many faces of Alfred Pennyworth.
Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred is an exemplary Confidante. Most incarnations of Alfred have him play the Bat-Family’s straight man, the only one of the bunch who is always able to keep a calm head on his shoulders and usually the only one who thinks about protecting Bruce’s secret identity. Alfred is also the only person Bruce can talk to about troubles as Batman, and Alfred is always quick to supply some sagely advice.
Another of my favorite examples of a Confidante is Rhodey from Iron Man: Armored Adventures. In this version of the Iron Man story, a teenage Tony Stark builds the Iron Man armor and fights crime, all while attending high school with his friends Rhodey and Pepper. It takes a while for the formerly home-schooled Tony to adjust to high school, and being Iron Man doesn’t make it any easier. Without Rhodey’s help, it would be impossible for Tony to balance his two lives.
Rhodey takes care of both Tony and Iron Man. He makes sure Tony doesn’t slack off too much in school and helps him battle the various super-criminals who attack New York. Like Alfred, he often tries to convince Tony to take time to think about situations instead of blindly diving into them. For instance, in the episode “Field Trip”, Tony has to ditch his Iron Man armor inside Stark Industries, where the villainous Obediah Stane might discover it.Pepper and Rhodey help Tony retrieve the armor by organizing a school field trip to Stark Industries. Throughout the episode, Rhodey points out various flaws in Tony’s logic. For instance, Tony thinks that the suit isn’t in immediate danger because it was left in an empty vault, but Rhodey is quick to point out that Stane would be searching the whole building to figure out why Tony was there. After Tony and Rhodey retrieve the armor, Rhodey has Tony (as Iron Man) drop him off with the rest of the students so no one will be suspicious, while Tony was kicked off the tour and so can safely appear outside. It is this kind of thinking that makes Rhodey so essential.
It is common for Confidantes to also fill another roles. Many Damsels take on Confidante-esque duties after they discover the Hero’s secret identity. If the Mentor manages to survive the first act, they usually become more of a Confidante. For instance, Charles Xavier moves back and forth between being Wolverine’s Mentor and his Confidante during the X-Men trilogy. In addition, several Secondary Heroes start off as Confidantes who decide to take on more active roles.
While Confidantes help the Hero in his fight for justice, the Confidante does not have the same heroic arc. The Confidante is the Hero’s friend, not his partner in crime-fighting. If the Confidante does start wearing his own pair of tights, then he becomes a Secondary Hero. The Secondary Hero looks up to the Hero as a Mentor and follows his own heroic path.