Poll Position: Alter egos

We tend to focus on the flashy side of the super-hero business, but there's no denying that secret identities are an integral part of the genre. Which brings us to this week's question:

{democracy:149}

Discussion to follow!

  • Clark Kent (Superman): Superman isn't nearly as interesting without Clark Kent. If you lose the bumbling, inept everyman, it becomes much harder to relate to the all-powerful Super man. Clark keeps the character grounded, giving us regular folks something to relate to. Otherwise you end up with "Superman Returns" where Big Blue floats above the Earth Christ-like, completely removed from our troubles.
  • Bruce Wayne (Batman): While you wouldn't have Batman without Bruce Wayne (no shooting of the parents, no Dark Knight), Wayne has always seemed quite superfluous to me. Yes, he has money and thus we get cool Bat-toys, but I always felt Batman couldn't wait to get into the cowl and shuck the idiotic playboy already. And as the reader, I felt the same way. Bruce Wayne exists solely to allow Batman to function, which makes him the narrative equivalent of an identity pimp.
  • Peter Parker (Spider-Man): Like Superman, Peter Parker completes the character. The difference is that BOTH identities are bumbling losers in some sense. But from Aunt May to Mary Jane to Gwen Stacy, all of the greatest moments in Spider-Man's life are tied in to Peter Parker's problems. While Superman sometimes feels like he's slumming it as Clark -- you know he's invulnerable, so it's all just an act -- the fact that Spider-Man has more freedom of acting within his power while still being imminently fallible and vulnerable to the same kinds of heartaches as his alter ego really create a neat dynamic.
  • Tony Stark (Iron-Man): Like Bruce Wayne, Tony Stark's money allows his super-hero identity to exist. But while Bruce Wayne and Batman seemed like two completely separate people who frankly don't like each other all that much, Tony Stark and Iron Man have always felt much more like one-and-the-same guy.
  • Bruce Banner (Hulk): Talk about two identities who don't care for each other much! I love the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde dynamic here, with the brainy yet wimpy scientist paired with the rageaholic behemoth. The fact that it's Bruce's anger that produces the beast is especially cool.

Looking at the list, I think I'd have to say that Peter Parker is the best super-hero secret identity. And I say that because he's just as important to the stories, in an organic and intelligent way, as the Spider-Man identity is. You could see Superman one day shucking the Clark persona and just going with the flying blue underoo set, and it wouldn't change his world much. The Hulk and Bruce Banner have eliminated each other so many times over the years I've lost track, and so I can't think either one is essential. Tony Stark basically is Iron Man, there's not much to differentiate them there, and I just can't get past Bruce Wayne's essentially enabling existence.

With Spider-Man and Peter Parker, you get enough of a difference between them to be interesting, while keeping them similar enough to be relatable. Peter has interesting friends and enemies, and so does Spider-Man. Each has their own complete set of advantages and disadvantages, so neither one feels like a useless appendage to the other.

But that's just me, what do you think?

12 Responses to Poll Position: Alter egos

  1. Jim Barr. Because without Jim Barr’s intrepid police scientist genius-y detective skills, we wouldn’t have anti-gravity helmets that fling one around by the head. Like, duh!

  2. I added Lamont Cranston because it’s not only a classic, archetypal secret identity, but it’s actually not even The Shadow’s actual secret identity! At least according to one school of thought, which says that The Shadow is Kent Allard, monk-trained adventurer and WWI ace who uses the real Lamont Cranston’s identity. Others say Kent Allard may not be real either…

  3. Superman it two times.

  4. Spider-Man. I’d say till One More Day it was done incredibly well, and Civil War may have offered the chance to allow for some interesting storylines if not waved out of existence by the unholy Quesada.

  5. Thor / Don Blake.

    How does it get any better?
    Crippled doctor with barely a muscle in his body becomes a Nordic GOD… Physical perfection and battle prowess incarnate.

  6. Me, Myself & I

    Spiderman has always been my favorite hero, due in no small part, to Peter Parker. He is definately easier to relate to and I find that, given the same circumstances, I could see other people doing as he did. Many other hero stories are a bit of a stretch to figure out why/who they are what/who they are.

  7. 1. It looked like the poll has Clark listed twice.
    2. What about Diana/ Wonder Woman?
    3. What about Don Diego De La Vega/ Zorro?

    Seriously, it comes down to your basic question and how you want to analyze it.
    “What would you say is the best super-hero secret identity in comics history?”

    The problem with almost all of the options is when you rally think about it, is that it’d actually be fairly easy for any decent, logical criminal to figure out their arch-rivals secret identity with just a little thought:
    1. Hmm, Clark and Superman are never around at the same time. OH! And if Clark decides to join the 20th century and get contacts (Or go the LASIK route), he’d look JUST like Superman.

    2. Batman has GOT to have GOBS of money to support all of those toys. Plus, assuming we’re talking about Batman with his trusty sidekick; it stands to reason that we’re looking for a rich guy that pals around with an age-appropriate young man/boy. How many Gotham millionaires fit that category?

    3. Peter Parker/ Spidey. Okay, Yeah, this one is fairly good because how does Peter get all those great shots of the Wall-crawler unless he’s in two places at once? On the other hand, how is it Parker knows JUST where to be, to get ALL those great shots of the Spider?

    4. Tony Stark. same problem as Bruce Wayne, only magnified by the item of Iron Man just so happens to be a bodyguard emplyed by Stark Industries.

    5. Bruce Banner, I don’t have much to say about as I was never a Hulk fan.

    6. Jim Barr, I’m not familiar enough with Bulletman to comment on this either.

    7. Mr. Nedd, I’m not going to comment on as the Tick is the Tick in any of his incarnations.

    8. Thor… No.

    9. Billy Batson. Yeah, I can see this as being pretty good as it’s a ‘tween kid who transforms into a full grown man. That’s a pretty good cover as no one would believe that kid is Shazam.

    10. Lamont Cranston, I also like as he’s a well off “man about town” that doesn’t really have to work and the Shadow isn’t really known for using high cost “gadgets”.

    I think overall, my decision comes down to Billy or Lamont, and I’m giving my vote to the Shadow/ Lamont Cranston because he’s cooler and less lame than Shazam.

  8. I voted for The Shadow because even when he hides his face underneath a hat and bandana, it’s an illusion. As far as I’ve read, his identity has not been compromised… except in the movie. Natch.

    Bruce Wayne has had his jaw spotted many times by the women who loved him (Greatest Joker Stories Ever Told), and Spidey may have told the people in TV land that JJJ hates him cos he’s black, but there are far too many people who know the kid under the mask, too.

    Lamont for the win.

  9. @PCFDPGrey

    1) According to at least one thread of the comics, that’s actually the reason Clark keeps the glasses – it’s implied that they permit him to hypnotize others into seeing him as a bit older and frailer than he really is. (Don’t know how long that explanation lasted.)

    2) Bats doesn’t have to have the money, merely access to it. For all Gotham knows, he could be on somebody’s payroll. Hmmm…’Batman for Hire’.

    3) Pete’s got a deal cut with Spidey. Everyone knows that. That’s how he’s always on the scene at just the right time.

    And my own take would be Bruce/Bats, but only because the Dynamics are reversed.

    Clark, Pete, Tony, etc…they’re the person, first and foremost. The powers and the tools are there, yeah, but they support the person. The special effects are just ways that each of them copes with the world around them being more of a challenge than they’d like.

    For Batman, it’s the other way around. -Bruce- is the costume, and his money the superpower, that allows the Bat to cope with the world. It’s a case of which is the person, which is the mask – and in Bruce’s case, the answers are reversed.

  10. William A. Peterson

    Depending on how you define ‘best’, Clark is pretty darn good…
    I added Hal Jordan, just because he’s got a pretty cool gig going on (Test Pilot dating the Boss’ beautifu daughter) even before he got the ring!
    Oh, and the pedant in me insists that, while The Shadow occasionally impersonated Lamont Cranston, his *actual* Identity is Kent Allard!
    {Yes, I’m a Geek… But, you put that together with Doc Savage’s first name, and you get another important Secret I.D. that’s listed above!}

  11. RainbowSheltie

    Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne have always been a favorite, mostly for the reasons stated. Lots of money, easy playboy lifestyle and a super high-paying job that seems to let them run off and play superhero and any given time within any given 24 hour period. Although, I voted Iron Man in the end – he’s just fun. That, and I’m not in a Batman-drama-angsty mood right now.

    While I do agree that Spider Man makes a good double identity, he actually annoys me more then anything. I’ve seen a good portion of Spider Man when I was growing up, and while he does manage an interesting social life as both Peter and Spider Man – in the end, the main cause of Peter’s problems end up stemming almost solely from one person – Mary Jane. I get the guy likes her, but at one point the slight obsession (and lack of any actual “dating”) was just annoying.

    xD Go Tony Stark! You playboy you. ~

  12. I think Peter Parker has the best kept one, because ater he wishes Aunt May back from the dead, everyone remembers that he unmasked himself during civil war,but no can remember what he looked or what his name was.