Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Top Ten Dumbest Secret Identities

Article by Michael McDaniel

One thing that always gets to people who haven’t read comics before is the superhero genre’s use of the secret identity. They are used to secret identities for spies, a profession that specifically requires the need to be in the shadows and out of the limelight, but for superheroes, who constantly find themselves the center of the public’s attention, the idea of a secret identity defies their expectations. This is especially true of those heroes who wear little to no mask.

Yet the secret identity is a staple, and one that was created to help suspend disbelief for another staple, vigilantism. The secret identity has been under attack for a while now from within the comic world. Heroes are revealing themselves to the world (and we will no longer accept the extreme, note absurd, lengths writers will go to reverse the outing), but there are a few superheroes who have only hurt the cause of the secret identity over the years. These few, that have done so much to push away those unimaginative masses unable to suspend their disbelief any farther, are now named here in the Top Ten Dumbest Secret Identities.

10. Edward E. Nigma (Riddler) –

No one said that villains can’t be on this list, and there are certainly several on here, but the Riddler is acting as a representative of all those secret identities that are just too witty for their own good. The man’s name is ‘Enigma’ and is such a horrible pun that even as an eleven year old kid I hated it. A lot of the character’s problem’s now stem from his constantly shifting portrayal within the different Batman books. One book he’s a reformed P.I., the next he’s the ultra-campy Riddler of Frank Gorshin fame, and then he’s the creepy, insane Riddler of comic yore. This is within the same three month span too, pick a personality already!

9. Bruce Banner (Hulk) –

I struggled with the idea of putting him on here, but I couldn’t resist. I hate on Hulk/Banner a lot, but it is criticism born of my love for the character. The idea that Bruce Banner wouldn’t be a readily recognizable persona in the Marvel Universe is beyond inane, yet he isn't. The Hulk has been ‘rampaging’ across the globe for a long time for people to not know who Bruce Banner is. Oh, most people certainly know who his name but wouldn’t they have his face posted EVERYWHERE: “If you see this man then back up slowly without any sudden movements or irritable noises.”

8. Tony Stark (Iron Man) –

This is really one of the oddest stories in the history of secret identities. Iron Man has revealed his secret identity so many times over the years that any emotional or dramatic impact it might have had is now lost. Time and again Tony has had to have either a remote controlled Iron Man suit or his friend Rhodes act as Iron Man so that he can ‘re-prove’ his secret identity. It got old before it was even used.

The idea that he would pose as his own bodyguard is just silly. If it is illegal to do what he does then why is it suddenly more acceptable if the person doing it is a bodyguard? “No it’s ok officer, I’m a bodyguard. I watched an important training video at bodyguard school, just stand back.” What a pompous ass.

7. Sunspot from the future (Reignfire) –

Oy, this one is a bit more personal, I’ll admit that, but the horrible way it was handled had me pretty vexed. I hate being vexed. The story goes that Sunspot, real name Roberto, had developed an evil persona, or some such nonsense, that caused him to become the evil Reignfire. Cable went into his brain and shut the bad part down. End of story, and while it wasn’t that great it at least got the job done without too much confusion. This was Fabian Nicieza’s story and it was to be ended there.

Then John Francis Moore came in and mucked it all up. Reignfire was ‘discovered’ (retconed) to be a cellular construct that just happened to pattern itself after Supspot. To explain the already established ‘evil persona’ story, Moore created a mental link between the two. What a mess. Fortunately for all involved, Reignfire soon died off as most fans had had enough of that kind of goofy bullsh!t.

6. Prince Adam (He-man) –

In the beginning, there was He-Man, a master of the universe, and all was well. Then some twit thought it a good idea to give He-Man a secret identity, as if one was needed! What the hell did He-Man need to keep secret? He lived in a giant freaking castle and rode around on a green tiger! He was a master of the universe and didn’t need to hide from anyone.

Prince Adam was to become the secret identity of He-Man, and he would hold up his sword to become He-Man, later copied by Thundercats. This is an obvious case of someone burdening a perfectly fine character with attributes it doesn’t need. A secret identity for a roaming barbarian badass in the world of He-Man just doesn’t make sense. Like a Rolls Royce dealership in Lubbock, TX.

5. Logan/James (Wolverine) –

I’m so sick of all the continuity wrangling, flashback craze, and memory implant stupidity. Wolverine’s origin story was decent. Then we get a muddled and overly complex addition from
Daniel Way
, all for a book called Wolverine: Origins yet isn’t really about his origins so much as just his past.

Wolverine was a samurai, a black ops agent, an abused experiment, an X-Men, a lumberjack, and has had more wives than most Saudi princes, not to mention two kids. So much of the past has been retconed as fake that I’ve long ago lost track of what was real or not. I honestly stopped caring too. I don’t care about his past. I don’t care if he has one or not.

4. Magneto/Xorn Fiasco –

This is a similar story to the Sunspot one. Xorn was created by Grant Morrison and was always intended to be a cover for Magneto to infiltrate the X-Men for nefarious purposes. While I personally didn’t like this idea, it did make a modicum of sense and was at least plain to see that it had been the plan from the start.

Then an odd series of things happened as various writers were allowed to come in and make some random sh!t up. For one, Chuck Austen (I think) created a brother for Xorn because he liked the character that much. Well, if Xorn was really just a cover for Magneto then why the hell would he have a brother? And does anyone really want a weak copycat character? No.

Then it gets even worse. Brian Bendis recently has shown that Xorn was, in fact, really Xorn and not Magneto. He just used the persona of Magneto in hopes of uniting the mutant population. Xorn is now a bodiless spirit that is the collected consciousness controlling the leftover energies from the de-powered mutants. Got it? Yeah me neither and that’s why it’s a fiasco. The Morrison tale couldn’t be read any other way than with Xorn as a cover for Magneto. It was a good character but bringing him back in such trite fashion does no one any good.

3. Oliver Queen (Green Arrow) –

This secret identity has only recently become a problem. Green Arrow is DC’s Robin Hood persona who’s always had a leftists/anti-authority spin, fine so far. Then Oliver Queen ran for and won the position of Mayor for Star City. As the picture shows, Oliver Queen is the only man in the entire world who has a beard like that. He’s been protecting the streets of Star City as the Green Arrow for a longtime now, doesn’t anyone see the resemblance! How does he get away with it! I feel like I’m taking crazy pills!

2. Billy Batson (Captain Marvel) –

Billy Batson has grown up to become 14 or so, but he was originally a little kid. I’m talking six or seven here who had been transformed by the wizard Shazam into Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel is a Superman-esque hero and really doesn’t have much going for him beyond his little transformation trick from small kid into large, hulking man and back again. I’m sure it’s a great party trick, oh, the kid is SEVEN and he won’t be going to any parties. When he’s Captain Marvel he tends to act like an innocent adult, hmm, sounds a lot like Superman?

Maybe it was a decent idea in the 30’s when kids were stupid and played stickball in the streets, but nowadays kids need a little more. And no adult is going to identify with a seven year old. A realistic use of his powers would be for Billy to sneak into titty bars or rated R movies, not fight crime.

1. Clark Kent (Superman) –

Like so many of the number ones on my list, they are pretty obvious. Any comic fan not living in a fanboy echo chamber will have at least one friend who’ll complain about the ridiculous secret identity between Clark Kent and Superman. While Frank Quitely may do a decent job of covering it up in All-Star Superman, the fact remains that it is an anachronistic concept. People would notice the similarities and catch on.

As one of the most well known superheroes ever, it is a more a phenomenon that so many people have gotten over the absurdity of his identity than it is a wonder that Superman hasn’t shunted his Kent persona. By this point, it has become tradition for tradition’s sake and DC is more afraid of pissing off the die-hards who spend hundreds a year on Superman crap than actually take the risk of changing the character for the better.



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