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  • Why is a Secret Identity so Important?

    Greetings from the Odinson,

    A super hero’s secret identity has been a part of the genre since the very beginning.  To some Clark Kent is a mild-mannered reporter for the Daily Planet Newspaper, but most of the world only knows him as Superman, the Man of Steel.  By day Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy and highly successful businessman, by night he is the caped crusader and rooftop vigilante known as the Batman.  For years one of the major plot points for the Amazing Spider-Man was that he didn’t want the world to know that he was in fact teenager Peter Parker.  One, it would make his loved ones targets for his enemies.  Two, his boss J. Jonah Jameson, editor-in-chief of the Daily Bugle, hated Spider-Man and would fire Parker if he ever found out the truth.  And three, Parker was always afraid that the shock of learning his secret would cause his aging beloved Aunt May to have a stroke.   

    I believe in the importance of a secret identity, but to my surprise, after a quick discussion here in the Lone Star Comics Office, I learned that some did not agree.  More on that in a moment.

    What got me thinking about secret identities is the fact that Batman in the last few decades seems to have gotten really sloppy about protecting his.  I for one can think of few other things that would be worse for a super hero than a super villain learning his secret identity.  Just think of the danger Lois Lane, Ma and Pa Kent, Jimmy Olsen, Perry White, Lana Lang, and others would be in if Lex Luthor or Metallo knew Clark Kent was actually the Man of Steel.  Not even Superman can be everywhere at once.  Just check out the trouble Spider-Man found himself in when his arch foe the Green Goblin discovered his secret identity in Amazing Spider-Man #39.  This led to a tragic event in Amazing Spider-Man #122

    So back to Batman, he’s gotten really complacent it seems when it comes to protecting his secret identity.  At first, only a very few knew that Batman was in fact Bruce Wayne.  His butler Alfred, Dick Grayson (the first Robin and current Nightwing), and Barbara Gordon (Oracle and once and future Batgirl) were the only ones that knew the truth.   Then, his closest allies, members of the Justice League of America, learned his secret identity.  Superman, Wonder Woman, Martian Manhunter, the Flash (both Barry Allen and Wally West), Green Arrow, and Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) all refer to Batman as “Bruce” quite often.  Even sometimes in the heat of battle, which seems rather irresponsible.  What about the sidekicks?  The Teen Titans all know each other’s secret identities.  And as friends do, they talk and share, so it is no great leap to suspect that Donna Troy, Starfire, Speedy (sorry Arsenal, you will always be Speedy to me), Cyborg, Beast Boy, and Raven all know that Bruce Wayne is Batman.  Wildcat and Richard Dragon, both of whom Bruce Wayne trained with before becoming Batman, know his secret identity.

    The second Robin, Jason Todd, who is now the gun-slinging vigilante known as the Red Hood, knows.  The third Robin, Tim Drake, now going by Red Robin, of course, knows.  Former Batgirl Cassandra Cain and current Batgirl Stephanie Brown both know that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Azrael, for a while replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman so obviously he knows.  I’m not completely sure if the current Teen Titans all know each other’s secret identities but Superboy, Red Robin, and Wonder Girl do, so that’s two more names for the list. 

    Let’s not forget that Bruce Wayne has a soft spot for the ladies, a fact that makes his judgement impaired when it comes to keeping his secret identity a secret.  Vicki Vale, Silver St. Cloud, Sandra Bordeaux, Talia al Ghul, and Selina Kyle all know Bruce’s biggest secret.  And whether in the movies or within comics continuity, Batman just can’t seem to keep his secret safe from the fairer sex.  Not only is Talia the daughter of one of the Batman’s greatest enemies, but she and Bruce have a son together (see Son of the Demon and Batman and Son), Damian Wayne the current Robin who, of course, knows his daddy’s biggest secret.  And Selina Kyle is the master thief known as Catwoman who depending on her mood can be a bitter enemy of the Batman’s or his loyal ally.       

    Now here’s where Batman really gets careless with his secret identity, and the following names are what got me thinking about this in the first place.  Ra’s al Ghul, leader of the criminal empire known as the League of Assassins and arguably, next to Lex Luthor, the most dangerous criminal mastermind in the DCU, knows Bruce Wayne is Batman.  He is Talia’s father and mockingly always refers to Batman as “Detective.”  The monstrous Bane knows Batman’s secret and used this knowledge to sneak into Wayne Manor and catch the Dark Knight off guard and mercilessly break his back.  In the aftermath of his defeat by Bane, Bruce Wayne sought out Lady Shiva for training, spilling the beans, as they say.  Shiva is a world class assassin that has crossed swords with the Batman on several occasions.  During the classic tale The Judas Contract, Deathstroke the Terminator discovers all the secret identities of his enemies, the Teen Titans.  Deathstroke is a crafty villain and if he knows all of Dick Grayson’s secrets, you can bet your bottom dollar that he knows Bruce Wayne’s.  Thomas Elliot, a childhood friend of Bruce Wayne’s, grew up to become the criminal mastermind Hush, yet another foe that knows that Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman.

    A colleague of mine suggests that it doesn’t matter that these villains know the Dark Knight’s secret identity, as he puts it “What does this knowledge get them?  …a punch in the face?”  Basically implying that it doesn’t matter because the Batman is the baddest dude around and he can defend himself no matter what.  The fact that Bane used this knowledge to break Batman’s back aside, I don’t argue the fact that Batman can take care of himself, but what about those he cares for?  What kind of danger would Alfred, Vicki Vale, Silver St. Cloud, Julie Madison, Lucius Fox, and other people Bruce Wayne cares about be in if the Joker or Two-Face found out his secret identity?  If Superman can’t be everywhere at once, then Batman surly can’t.  Aunt May getting shot (see Amazing Spider-Man #538) and the sacrifice of his love for Mary Jane (in One More Day) was certainly a harsh lesson for Peter Parker to learn when it comes to keeping his secret identity a secret. 

    Here are a few more chinks in the armor that is Batman protecting his secret identity.  Cassandra Cain is the daughter of Lady Shiva and the world renowned assassin and erstwhile Batman foe David CainRavager and Jericho are both members of the Teen Titans and the children of Deathstroke.  And depending on what storyline is happening they could be either villain or hero.  How about close confidants like Lucius Fox, Bruce Wayne’s business partner, Dr. Leslie Thompkins, a long time friend of the Wayne family, and Police Commissioner Gordon?  These are very smart people and it is not a leap to suspect that they have deduced the truth. 

    One of the biggest ways a super hero can insure the safety of those close to him and protect his private life is by keeping his secret identity just that, a secret.  Above are over thirty names of people who know that Bruce Wayne is in fact Batman.  Now that’s a problem.  Especially for a guy who is not bullet proof.  And if all these people know, how many of their friends and family members are now privy to Wayne’s secret?  And these are just the names that I can think of off the top of my head.  I’m sure there are dozens of others that know Batman’s secret identity (I’m not 100% who on the Outsiders knows).

    All I’m saying is that for his safety and for the safety of those close to him, in the future, Batman may want to be a little more careful and better at keeping his secret identity a secret.  Hopefully, this will be one of the things that DC Comics addresses in the fall when they re-launch the new DC Universe.        

    This is Odinson bidding thee farewell

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