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mygif

For Batman it makes absolute sense, and I wish some writers would go with that – although it’s gotten to the point that he’d be really similar to Dick in his “third” – real – persona.

But for Superman, I don’t think a trial (lol) identity is necessary – he doesn’t need Clark Kent to be an exaggerated opposite the way Batman/Bruce Wayne are – as it is Superman is so incredibly different than normal people that no one would believe he has another life (and for that matter, Batman feels the same way)

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mygif

Wow. That’s actually really thought provoking. I particularly identify with the whole.. blending of social identity talk at the end there. Very pleasant read!

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That…made me think a bit. Way to go.

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Die Geisthander said on September 10th, 2009 at 3:04 am

To quote many of my internet brethren:

THIS.

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Re: the take on Superman. Waid wrote something very similar in the afterword to his Superman: Birthright comic. If I recall properly, he broke it down among Metropolis Clark (lovable, humble, bumbling idiot with a pen sharp as a nanometer), Superman (Big Blue Guy), and Kansas Clark, the person he is around his parents and Lois. To my knowledge, though, no one ever phrased it in terms of a person who became an alien. I really dig that interpretation.

At the same time, I also recall reading something Wolfman once wrote that thoroughly blew my mind. Why is Clark a reporter? It can’t POSSIBLY be about “being where the news is first,” I mean, get a police scanner, right? Use your super-hearing. No, writing is something that his powers don’t help with AT ALL. Sure, it can help with the investigation, but at the end of the day it’s just Clark, doing this thing that he’s genuinely good at and that makes a difference in the world in a way totally separate from his Superman identity.

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mygif

The quote for Waid’s Superman pitch sounded a lot like the pitch he submitted for his Fantastic Four run with Mike Wieringo, and that was definitely a favorite of mine. Unlike with the FF, of course, Superman doesn’t have one team that both created and left an indelible mark on him like Lee and Kirby did with the FF-say what you want about Siegel and Schuster, but we don’t often see Superman doing things like trapping mine owners in their own unsafe shafts to drive home the need for proper safety, or destroying entire blocks of slum housing so the goverment will make better homes. But I think the same idea-of going back to basics internally, building up from there, and then writing the stories that would result-could work well for Superman too. And maybe we might get to see some of that liberal vestige in Clark Kent, who can’t condone the idea of Superman flying over to Fox News and beating up someone for a spectacularly misleading or hateful remark-but by God, he won’t stand for it as a reporter!

I do like the idea that there is a Bruce Wayne that’s hidden outside of Batman-usually you see writers go with Public Wayne versus Batman alone, but it would be nice to see Bruce Wayne talking supervillain shop with others once in a while. Maybe even smiling once in a while. While it would have to be done carefully, I think it would be nice to see a little of the Golden Age Batman quips slip in a little there-not that Batman should start quipping in fights again, but maybe Bruce Wayne could smile a little in private, too. It might make him seem less psychotic if we got to see him with a sense of humor once in a while among his colleagues and friends.

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mygif

But for Superman, I don’t think a trial (lol) identity is necessary – he doesn’t need Clark Kent to be an exaggerated opposite the way Batman/Bruce Wayne are

I agree he doesn’t need it to hide his identity, but I think he does need it psychologically. He’s not human – he’s an alien who was raised as a human. He is still disguising himself as a human and living among us. If he acted like “himself”, the alien-raised-as-a-human who has had all kinds of incredible adventures that have to have impacted his personal growth as an individual, he’s be pretty damn freaking weird. By forcing himself to pretend to be a normal guy, he keeps a grounding in that humanity that he comes by not genetically but via upbringing.

I actually like this idea of characterization for Superman and Batman – it’s what I keep in my head and have for a long time. I actually don’t mind the comparatively ultra-competent version of Clark rather than the bumbling idiot version from the 50s – there’s really no reason for Clark to have a bumbling or cowardly identity. It made for some humor in the 50s, but nowadays writers are allowed to be a lot more subtle.

Actually, this is one way that the marriage does change Clark’s character. With a wife, he has someone he can actually be himself around and yet still keep his grounding. I always imagine his friendship with Batman to be the same way – when Superman and Batman are together, and not sidekicks or junior members of the JLA are around, they stop being symbols and disguises and actors and just be themselves.

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Andrew Jeanes said on September 10th, 2009 at 7:00 am

A good example of this third identity is MGK’s shop talk dialogue between Batman and Superman in the Thursday Who’s Who entry on Host. Bruce is a little more sardonic than Clark, but clearly sees him as a friend and enjoys ribbing him a little. Clark is self-aware enough to call out some of the absurdities of his life (“Oh. Enslave all humanity. You know.”) but is still a bit of a tight-ass.

http://mightygodking.com/index.php/2009/06/25/thursday-whos-who-host/

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mygif

Superman doesn’t have a preference when it comes to Coke or Pepsi, but Kal-El certainly buys one or the other when Clark Kent goes to the supermarket.

That sums it up perfectly. And Brian above also has it exactly right — Clark is a schlub in an ill-fitting suit and uneven tie; Superman is practically perfect in every way; Kal-El (though I think he calls himself Clark, and everyone who gets to see him does likewise) stands up straight, looks everyone right in the eye, and jokes back and forth with his friends rather than getting ribbed.

To call back to something else, I don’t think most Marvel heroes have this, and even those that do don’t always. Steve Rogers did it for a little while a few years back (working as a longshoreman in Red Hook, I think), and the greatest Iron Man stories are about Tony collapsing into a darker version of it (IRON MAN, Tony Stark Industrialist and Playboy (who drinks a little), Tony Stark the pathetic drunk who’s desperately trying to keep being the other two because they’re all that’s keeping him alive).

Note that this trichotomy has been explicit in Wonder Woman at times.

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mygif

I’m not sure that it needs to be as much of a division as you suggest; lots of people behave differently in different situations, but I don’t feel like I have a “dual identity” just because I swear more around my friends than I do around my parents. :)

I think in the case of Bruce, it’s a process of discovery; he creates the Batman identity to become the hero he needed so badly to believe in as a kid after the death of his parents, then that meant having to become a different person as Bruce, but that wasn’t who he was either and he slowly felt like he was becoming more comfortable as Batman because he no longer felt comfortable being “himself”.

(Someday, by the way, I’d love to write an ongoing Batman series set in its own continuity, telling the story from the beginning, and tossing out the crazy psychological angle completely–showing how every step of his decision was totally rational, that Bruce is driven and serious but not crazy, and that he’s doing the genuinely right thing. If nothing else, I have the world’s best explanation for why these guys keep getting sent to Arkham. But I digress.)

In the case of Superman, yeah, it’s really worth defining the era. Post-Crisis Superman is Clark Kent, being who he is all the time, and Superman is a role he plays because he knows people need the hope that Superman represents. Pre-Crisis Superman is Superman, playing Clark Kent because he wants his other identity to be as un-Superman-like as possible to avoid people picking up that he has a dual identity. (And not as a sort of performance-art statement on the human race, thank you ever so much Quentin Tarantino. Seriously, that monologue was freaking embarrassing…)

But all the Clarks are reporters for the same reasons; people tell their problems to reporters, giving Superman some useful tips on crimes, and reporters can disappear for long periods of time and everyone just assumes they’re “following a story”. (Which is why turning Peter Parker from a freelance photographer into a high school science teacher was a mistake; sure, Peter makes a good teacher, but it’s a job that continually forces the writer to think of reasons why Peter can run out of the classroom and not get fired.)

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mygif

The Batman idea was also echo’d in Ellis’ Planetary Batman espeically in the very touching speech he delivers at the end

and since then I don’t see Batman as a creature of Fear anymore but a creature of Hope

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DistantFred said on September 10th, 2009 at 8:39 am

Superman, Clark Kent AND Kal-El’s preference in Cola is, always has been, and always will be Soder Cola.

This is FACT.

But yeah. This take on the both of them works, particularly Superman. He’s not really Superman, unparalleled paragon of virtue, or Clark Kent, kansas farmboy reporter. His real self is basically Clark with superpowers- a more traveled Clark Kent who rarely gets to be himself because he is a role model.

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mygif

Great post. I agree greatly with BSD’s comments above. So how many persons do you think that most ‘normals’ like us would have if transferred to comic media? Could we be broken down into 3 fairly distinct persons? Or should we just look at these heroes more in the the classic Id (Kal-El), Ego (Clark), and Super Ego (Superman…pardon the pun) structure to better relate to them?

Amusingly, at first glance in my pre-caffeine state I thought the article had something to do with superheros with lisps. Threecret Identity became Thecret Identity in my weary mind.

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mygif

I love discussions like this and honestly never considered the idea of Bruce as having THREE identities, but it’s true. To the public, he’s a foppish playboy. To criminals, he’s an urban legend. To those closest to him (Alfred, Dick, etc), he’s a deep thinker, but clearly cares.

Superman, it’s tough to really pinpoint. I think it would be hard for him to carry too much of his Kal-El identity. I say this because, yes, he has the archives of Krypton at his disposal, but they’re secondhand. He was born but NOT raised there, so he carries on this legacy that he doesn’t understand because his perspective is one of Earth. It’s like a family of immigrants have a son or daughter in North America and they’re raised on that culture moreso. Even then, they’re within the teachings of that culture, but Kal-El doesn’t have that.

I’ve always felt that Superman thinks of himself as Clark, first. I refer to the episode in the Animated Series, when he accidentally broke off the wing of a plane and said to himself, “Nice one, Clark”. He was raised as Clark and didn’t become more powerful until his adolescence. He’s the ultimate small-town boy in a big city.

But you’re right, he represents something much bigger, but for him, it just comes naturally because of his upbringing. He’s humble, a natural leader not by giving orders, but through leading by example.

I think it was Morrison that broke Superman down into different roles: Superman, Metropolis Clark and Smallville Clark. It’s hard to identify him as Kal-El because he doesn’t view himself as Kryptonian due to their alien nature.

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mygif

@Brian: I know I’ve seen that explictly stated in the comics before. Clark telling Lois that he became a reporter because it was an honest intellectual challenge where his superpowers wouldn’t insure success. Of course, his big break was interviewing himself, so maybe that’s a bit of a cheat.

As for Batman, obviously Playboy Bruce is as much a role as Matches Malone. There was a line in one of The Onion AV comic reviews of Morrison’s Batman work that I always liked: That Bruce Wayne worked so hard at being the perfect human that he burned off all his humanity. That’s not a new concept for fiction, of course.

Anyway, I always figured that the questions was answered at the end of Sandman when Gaiman has both characters show up for Morphius wake as Clark Kent in glasses and a suit and Batman in full costume having a conversation about that recurring dream they each have of being stuck in a crappy TV show about his life.

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mygif

Brian: Yeah, Birthright was a big influence on me, and again, it’s a crime that it came out at the wrong time and got ignored very quickly in favor of the Next Big Thing. It also had a nice rationale for Clark-as-reporter: It wasn’t a matter of convenience, it’s something Clark loves and feels he needs to do. And in a nice touch, Superman defeats Luthor’s plan, but it’s Clark Kent who exposes Luthor as the responsible party.

BSD: Most Marvel heroes don’t have the threecret identity, and most DC heroes don’t either (most Flashes and Green Lanterns are the same guy whether they’re in a mask or not, for example). Just goes to show that while Batman and Superman are the oldest dudes in the house, they’re still some of the most interesting.

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mygif

You know, it doesn’t matter how many times I read Morrison’s Superman 2000 pitch, I still never get how on earth it was dismissed… Seriously, talk about missed opportunities!

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mygif

It’s okay, Al. We got All Star Superman, in return. I’m more than happy about that.

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Al: Supposedly it was politics. Waid’s said an editor suggested the four of them get together and pitch something, and a different editor thought they were just trying to poach the assignment from whoever was writing the books at the time (bad form for freelancers), and the first editor apparently never spoke up to explain the situation.

But man oh man do I ACHE to read a Metallo with a bit of Michael Myers in him. And Superman’s One More Day sounds like a much more satisfying story than Spider-Man’s.

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mygif

I’m preaching to the choir but:
Lex Luthor? The whole “Superman carries a new weight around in his heart. He knows now that Luthor, but for the path he chose, could have been his equal, his only true peer on this earth.”? How awesome is that?
And the night with Superman interview? Lois & Clark as Hepbur & Tracy (with a couple lines drafting an OMD better than anything Quesada’ll ever dream up).
Man it gets me.
As ThatNickGuy said, thank god for All Star.

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mygif

I subscribe to the theory that everybody knows Clark Kent is Superman but nobody wants to mention it ‘cuz the only reason they’re still alive is that Supes hasn’t wondered what their heads would look like squished down to the size of a pea.

“Gosh, Clark, we never can figure out Superman’s secret identity. I guess he’s just too smart for us!”

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mygif

This was demonstrated in Alan Moore’s (Pre-Crisis?) Superman Annual, where a Kryptonian fungus is killing the hero. A dreaming Kal-El sees his Clark Kent and Superman costumes talking to him. If I’ve got the timing right, he probably did see himself as an alien, because that version had powers as a baby.

He drives really far, flips out, and Swamp Thing tries to save him.

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mygif

I’m not the first comics blogger to say this, but for me, the quintessential image of Batman’s True Identity is one we saw all the time in the Bronze Age: sitting at the Batcomputer, in full costume, with the cowl thrown back and his face exposed, looking perfectly natural and perfectly comfortable. He’s not being the Playboy, and he’s not being the Dark Knight. Those are both just roles he puts on.

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mygif

YES! That’s it exactly, and I’m kicking myself now for not rustling up one of those pictures to go with the post (especially since there’s even one in Rock of Ages).

Once again showing why comics are a visual medium: Those shots of Bruce in costume but unmasked symbolize perfectly and powerfully what I spent a couple paragraphs trying to describe.

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[…] 1) MightyGodKing offers an interesting take on secret identities for two of the most iconic superheroes in comics. […]

mygif

I think it was Mark Waid who wrote in an essay that Clark is someone who wants to be like us (which you can read as just like his parents – The Most Decent People on Earth). But in order to be like us in an emotional and ethical sense, he has to spend his life being known for how different he is.

And if you’re looking for another Batman’s True Identity moment, I reckon it wasn’t The Batman who decked Guy Gardner – that was the real Bruce Wayne.

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mygif

I remember Dini saying something very similar in an interview before he took over writing on detective comics. basically, he said that “the Batman” was just a tool in Bruce’s arsenal and if he could solve a case without changing into the batsuit and still maintain anonymity he would.

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mygif

I think Justin’s view of Superman is especially true on those occasions he’s around the Legion of Super-Heroes. That’s why they call him Kal at those times: neither his smallville roots nor his public persona are especially poignant to his friends in the LSH. He’s a super powered child of Space and Earth, just like the rest of them. Perhaps this is why he has so much fun in the 30th century: he has freedom to be both super and man.

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