When Robert Downey, Jr. said “I am Iron Man!” at the end of Footloose (just kidding; you know what movie he said it in), it made perfect sense. Tony Stark is one of the biggest egotists out there. He has fame and fortune and loves being in front of the camera. Why wouldn’t he tell everyone that he’s a superhero billionaire playboy in an expensive flying suit? However, I have tons of comics in which Iron Man takes painstaking measures to ensure no one deduces that he’s Iron Man, employing every trick up his sleeve to show to the world that he’s not who he says he is. Does Tony not have loved ones he wants to take care of? Is he not worried that supervillains won’t go after Pepper Potts or the person that takes his out his trash to get revenge on Iron Man’s actions? What’s changed?
The answer is that WE have changed. We live in an era where people become famous literally by accident. People one day go to sleep sad and lonely and the next day they’re a meme or they’re trending on Instagram or they are a YouTube celebrity. We have bombarded the internet with photos of our meals and images of us at the gym smiling instead of working out. The idea of becoming famous is both exciting and commonplace. There are many “shortcuts” available for fame. Instead of years of practice and auditions, one might be able to hit it big on American Idol. Instead of a bank loan or spending years raising capital, one might be able to get funded on Shark Tank. Thanks to Big Brother and Real World you can be famous just for living in an apartment and being piggish to your roommates. In America, we don’t have a royal family like there is in Great Britain, and the closest thing we have to royalty are celebrities. We love celebrity athletes, chefs, and criminals. Why not superheroes?
There are some comic book characters that have embraced this from the very start. The X-Men never really used secret identities. Although they had code names, this was a way of liberating themselves from their oppressive homo-sapien moniker. The Fantastic Four were quite open about their identities, but then again they were less superheroes and more super scientists. They weren’t fighting crime the way Spider-Man and Moon Knight do; they were scientists challenging the unknown that also got into fights. I doubt that their mailman was going to get any death threats from the planet-eating Galactus. Don’t people like to say that they know a celebrity through whatever degrees of separation? Would you say you were friends with Captain America or Thor if that meant the occasional kidnapping attempt by Doctor Doom? I think most people would give a resounding yes.
There has been some experimentation with this in recent years. In the very popular Marvel series Civil War, Spider-Man revealed his secret identity, however, the result was Aunt May almost getting killed (admittedly the bullet that almost killed Aunt May was intended for Peter Parker). In the current run of Superman, Lois Lane reveals the Man of Steel’s secret identity. Other characters such as the Punisher, Hulk, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern continue to operate with their identity publicly known.
In an age where we are looking for more and more realism in our comic book movies, it seems like the best way to be real is to embrace the fact that people want to be seen and heard, and what better way to do so than by being a famous superhero?
Is there still a need for secret identities in the year 2015? Sound off below in the comments or leave a message on ourTwitter feed.