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:
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?